What Happens To Your Body When You Stop Exercising?

Your body is a work of art. Whether you’re sitting there right this second feeling body confident, or if you’re a little bit unsatisfied with it, there’s no getting around one simple fact: the human body is incredible.

Your body adapts to its environment without your conscious input. If it needs something, it tells you. If it has enough of something else, it tells you that too. In fact, your body is such a miracle that it can change its shape, size, strength and flexibility practically overnight. Well, you probably wouldn’t notice until a few days/weeks later, but it can happen… if you help it to.

When you exercise, or don’t, certain changes will happen. We all know that exercise can lead to fat loss, muscle gain and better overall fitness so, by definition, we can be certain that not exercising will likely do the inverse. But how long does the latter take? What happens when we go through a period of not doing any exercise? Maybe we’re nursing an injury or have an illness or are just generally unable to commit to exercise for a while. I’m not guilt-tripping anyone, we’ve all been there.

Losing Cognitive Function

Already sounds a bit scary, doesn’t it?? But the truth is that the first area of the body to be affected during a period of detraining is the brain. According to research just 10 days of no exercise is enough to lead to lesser blood flow into the brain, subsequently affecting areas such as the hippocampus: the brain’s learning and remembering HQ

Losing Endurance

Shortly afterwards you’ll notice a drop in your endurance levels. By decreasing your activity levels, it’ll begin to feel increasingly more difficult to carry out the same tasks with the same level of intensity. Research involving marathon runners cutting back on their running recorded a large drop in the amount of blood being pumped into their hearts as the period of detraining lengthened.

Losing Strength

It’s only after 2 weeks that your strength and endurance gains will begin to wilt. Frustratingly, getting them back will take longer than that. After you’ve passed a month of detraining research has proven that the beneficial effects of strength training on physical mobility are reversed.

Gaining Fat

Unsurprisingly, avoiding physical activity can lead to an increase in body fat. Surprisingly, it could take 4-5 weeks for it to become particularly noticeable. Recent research, which saw a group of swimmers take some time off, suggests that bodyfat could increase by up to 12%.

The Take Away

By putting physical stress on your body, regularly, your body will react by either burning away fat/increasing muscle mass, or maintaining its state. Remove that input, that stimuli, and it will, effectively, begin to deteriorate.

So what can you do if you are unable to train? Move just a little! The important thing is not to remove physical activity entirely. If you’re nursing an injury can you do an alternative exercise to help keep you active? If you’re ill/bed bound, maintain an active mind (although focus on getting better, please!).

As you return from a period of not training as usual, remember that you will likely be at a lesser level than when you first entered your period of detraining. Don’t expect to be lifting your PB’s for a little while or setting new time records with your sprints. Maybe even ease back into things with more gentle work like yoga or dance.

In fact, consider training in ways that will help keep your body from becoming accustomed to specific exercises. If you run, swap out hitting the tarmac for other types of cardio like swimming or cycling; if you lift iron regularly, see what you can do with your own bodyweight, etc.  

Above all else, take it easy before you take it hard otherwise you’ll end up out of the game again!

May, June and July 2018

“Your lean process should be a lean process.”

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After reflecting on the delays between the last couple of posts, I have realised that batching them together should be an approach experimented with. By batching them together quarterly the process potentially becomes a little more streamlined, a little more substantial and just a little less intrusive.

As such, the last three months, May, June and July, are covered here.

May 2018

Copenhagen

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One of the elements of #Project20nine that I had been most excited about was taking part in Nordic Run in Copenhagen. The race would be the first time that I’d ventured to another country specifically for this kind of competition. It also had the added bonus of doing so with a friend. Yet, what transpired over the course of a few days was far more than just doing the run and hanging out with great people. From start to finish it was a trip that was a non-stop joy ride of all things awesome. Here are the major beats of this symphony of adrenaline and experience.

10am, Thursday – Coffee training session with Exmouth Coffee Roasters, London

Before leaving for Demark, there was coffee to be enjoyed. Let me begin by saying friends or not, the folks over at Exmouth Coffee Roasters are wonderful and, in my opinion, make some of the best coffee in the city.

Today I’d arranged to spend a few hours with Martin, the chief roaster, coffee expert extraordinaire and all-round Jedi with a coffee bean, to learn the basics of being a barista. That is, I was going to learn how to brew, and pour, the perfect coffee-base.

So, over the course of a morning, I learnt:

  • How many grams of ground beans make the ideal coffee and at what temperature and for how long;
  • how much pressure to tamp the grounds with;
  • how to begin to determine a good coffee from a bad one;
  • how to froth the milk and then pour it for Flat Whites and Cappuccinos.

The answers, forever etched into my brain, are there for the taking but it’s not here that you’ll find them. No sir. The answers are to be found during a lesson or two with Martin – the finest way of learning them.

9pm, Thursday – Land in Copenhagen; briefly catch up over chicken soup; bed

From coffee-making to luggage-packing, we headed home and left almost immediately for the airport and boarded a flight bound for Copenhagen where, upon arrival, we were quite literally jumped upon by Lina. Welcome back to Denmark!

7.30am, Friday – Quick grocery shop then First-day-of-holiday Breakfast followed by 4 hours of mountain boarding

Having turned up late on Thursday night we Four Musketeers hung out for an hour or so over Stefan’s tasty chicken soup before we turned in for the night. It was a school night and our hosts still had work on Friday. So we got up, hydrated and headed straight out for some groceries. The walk to the supermarket is about 20 minutes away so it was approaching 10am by the time we whipped up breakfast.

After breakfast it was back outside to make the most of the good weather and our time. We’d been left as the temporary custodians of a couple of electric mountain boards and there was no way we were going to flounder such a generous offering.

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What followed was more than 4 hours of zipping along the quiet backstreets, country paths and coastal walkways.

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4pm, Friday – Head down to the docklands for a bungee jump and a bite to eat

As a way of kicking the weekend off we’d planned on doing a bungee jump down at the docklands. Up until about a week before I’d always considered bungee jumping a no go – jumping from the Death Zone with nothing but a little string around my ankles to keep me safe? Hmm, that doesn’t seem quite sensible. But, when such opportunities to experience new things unexpectedly present themselves then there can be only one response: ‘when are we doing this?’.

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You might have caught the great little speech Will Smith gave about the life lesson he learned after jumping out of a plane.

“The best things in life are on the other side of terror, on the other side of your maximum fear, are all of the best things in life.” Will Smith

It’s true. Sure, bungee jumping isn’t skydiving (that’s for a future post) but skydiving is not the point: confronting fears and doubts and uncertainties is. There’s a moment, the space between holding on to the platform and falling towards the earth, that feels like a vacuum. In that moment there is a total clarity and a total awareness that washes over you: suddenly the crispness of the air is so much crisper, the peace of such a height is so much richer, the weight off one’s body so much more present and the focus of one’s mind so much sharper. In that moment fear falls away and even jumping out after it won’t bring it all back.

10am, Saturday – Nordic Run. Game on.

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This is what we came for. The Nordic Run first appealed to me, I confess, because the medal is so damn cool. Have you seen it??

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Doing the run also meant doing so with a buddy, getting a bit of exercise and, generally, having a blast doing something so physical. The majority of the course was set out along the beach, itself an undeclared obstacle (ever tried running a high intensity 5K on soft sand?), and was filled with around 30 different things to climb over, lift, climb under, climb through or generally traverse successfully in order to save oneself from time penalties and forfeits.

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The crowd was super focused and there was a sense that this kind of event is second nature to much of the population. Unlike Tough Mudder there’s a real sense of independence and zero emphasis on teamwork – seldom did I see anyone looking for help or support from anyone else and on the one occasion I offered a hand, it took a moment for the person to relent and accept it.

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Despite remaining invested in our own progress, Stefan and I crossed the line with respectable times as a team. This is race I’d love to do again and again.

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1pm, Saturday – Viking re-enactment camp

This one was a little bit of a ‘will we, won’t we’ visit given that we’d run the race in the morning and didn’t know whether we’d all be in a fit enough shape to make it. But of course we were! Never doubted it for a second.

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The camp was exactly what it says on the tin: a Viking re-enactment camp filled to bursting with authentic camp sites, market stalls and food venders, people dressed in period-specific clothing and, the reason we came, Viking battles.

Stefan’s team had a number of matches that afternoon and so we dropped by to watch and cheer them on. I’d not fully anticipated such viciousness but having become familiar with the armour and equipment and rules and etiquette throughout the last few visits to Copenhagen, finally seeing the combat brought all of the pieces of the puzzle into place. Yes, it’s violent and people clearly do get hurt but pound for pound this doesn’t seem all that more dangerous that rugby or American Football. Or maybe it is… those swords, axes and maces do look a little bit scary.

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5pm, Saturday – Collect the rabbit, make a new best bud.

I’ll come right out and say it: I want a rabbit now. I mean, look at him…

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He did get a bit rough one time though and somehow managed to take me down and stand atop of me like the champ he is.

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By the way, if anyone knows the breed of this little guy I’d love to know. Hands down the coolest little rabbit I’ve ever seen!

10am, Sunday – Spend the day exploring Faxe

Wow. This place, in this weather, is startlingly beautiful for an old chalk pit. After the excitement of the last couple of days walking around Faxe offered something of a change in pace and a more laid back time to spend all together.

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9am, Monday – Wakeboarding

‘Hey guys, we’ve got, like, 2 whole hours before we need to jump back on the plane. I think we’ve got time to do something. Who’s up for wakeboarding?’

Boy, if there’s been a trip this year that has defined ‘fun’, it was this one. Rounding off a weekend packed full of adventure was a morning session down at the cable park. I’d never wakeboarded before and was excited to finally give it a go. The four of us turned up nice and early, so keen were we to make the most of our time that we had to wait 20 minutes for the crew to open up. Once we’d lugged the gear on site and paid for entry we changed into our suits and headed down to the water ready to rock and roll. Having been briefed by our resident wakeboarding pro I felt confident that I knew what I was doing. Only, knowledge does not equal experience, as I found out the hard way…

Stepping up to the edge of the platform, cable in hand and wearing a Big Boy board that was nicely strapped to my feet, I waited for the snap of the line to hoist me towards the water and a virgin’s glory. I’d glide around the course with the grace of a swan coming in to land on a calm boating lake and arrive back at the start to the wild cheers and applause of my friends and fellow boarders. And so it all happened in slow motion. The sudden tautening of the line, the micro bounce into the air, the hoist towards the water, the heart-skipping realisation that ‘yes, I’m doing it!’. But then, as if time itself realised there was some catching up to do, I raced from slow motion to super fast forward and slammed, face first into the water. I’d made it about a meter before faceplanting the frigid Danish waters and catching a mouthful of the seaweed reaching up for me.

I would have gotten right back to it if it hadn’t have been for the fact I’d almost dislocated a shoulder and would spend the next month waiting for full mobility to return to it. Should have worn the beginner board…

1pm, Monday – Flight home.

With that, and after the rest of the gang had officially shown me how the pros do it, it was back home for a quick shower and some dry clothes before hurtling off to the airport to catch the plane before it left without us.

Hero of the Month: Mark Cousins

Mark Cousins (1965 – present) is a celebrated film producer and director. His works include the incredible The Story of Film: An Odyssey and The Story of Children and Film. His books include The Story of Film: A concise history of film and an odyssey of international cinema (upon which ...An Odyssey is based) and The Story of Looking. Mark’s perception of, and passion for, cinema is second to none and inspiring for its range and depth. I first watched ..An Odyssey upon release in 2011 but had owned the book since first publication way back in 2004 – I would have been 15 years old at the time and this book made a particular impression on me and it remains an essential read for all cineastes.

His most recent film, The Eyes of Orson Welles, was released earlier this year.

Books

  1. Neil Gaiman – Norse Mythology
  2. Tim Ferris – Tribe of Mentors

June 2018

The Folks Got Remarried

About a year ago, on their 29th anniversary as husband and wife, my parents decided it was high time to do it all over again. To celebrate the 30th year together as a married couple, they chose to do so with their family and closest friends and invited us all to witness the renewal of their vows. For them it was about saying thank you for a life together and for the community of friends and family that has built up around them. The day was beautiful and really reminded me that love, actual, real love, is time immortal. I was even asked to give a little speech…

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Nida

This was a wonderful little 3-4 day adventure in Nida, an idyllic resort town nestled towards the southern-most part of Lithuania’s half of the Curonian Spit, which lies between the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea (the other half is a Russian territory). For half a week we visited the dunes, saw dolphins, explored historic sites, ate tasty food, splashed about in the sea (hey, if it’s only painful for a moment before your legs go numb then it’s good for a swim….right?), played ‘stupid’ (I’ll never be smart enough for this game), road bikes, went for runs and did typical, holiday things. I’d never been this far east of Lithuania before (it’s not possible to get any further east) and had never been away with the in-laws before either and both were a real treat and a highlight of the month.

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Completion of The Portfolio

Over the last couple of months I’d been piling time into this in the hopes of using it to secure a little bit of part-time writing work. Most evenings and a fair bit of time squeezed into the weekends resulted in the below 40 pages. The idea was that it would be a CV and portfolio rolled into a package just like an actual magazine. The reason it took the best part of 2 months was that alongside producing the content I was also getting to grips with learning how to properly use Adobe InDesign – a software that I’d never used before but have since built a substantial knowledge of and affinity for.

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That’s how it started out, a few doodles in a note book. Here’s the finished thing:

http://online.anyflip.com/hjgo/qvaj/

Building this from scratch, educating myself about the basics of magazine layout and construction and how to use a completely new piece of software was a fun learning journey and one which I’d like to continue developing into the future.

Hero of the Month: Anna Biller, Film Director

Anna Biller (?? – present), is the director of the unexpectedly charming film, The Love Witch. The film, which Biller has gone on record for stating how some of her crew had deliberately tried to sabotage it, currently holds a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. As a point of comparison, Oscar-winner The Shape of Water holds 92%

For those interested, here’s a trailer.

Fun fact: Biller’s partner is Robert Greene.

Books

  1. Christopher Ross – Mishima’s Sword
  2. A Geek In Japan – Hector Garcia

July

The Color Run

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Ah, The Color Run, you are not what you appear to be, my friend! Your name (officially spelt the American way, no matter which country you’re in) is misleading as only half of it is correct.

Whilst I cannot contest the amount of fun everyone seemed to have here I can’t help but feel a bit let down by it. First, the sheer volume of people, coupled with the number of them deciding not to run, resulted in a <25% run rate. The course, running through streets and pedestrianised areas, was inevitably tight, which only compounded the difficulty in finding space to run. For this reason I believe the run should be considered the ‘Most Laid Back 5k on the Planet’… In fact, whilst ‘The Color Run’ might be a snappy, marketing ploy, ‘The Happy Color Walk’ would be far more accurate. It’s lovely to do, once, with friends, for the experience of getting caked in colourful dust but for anyone expecting a nice little run should look elsewhere…

Spartan Race

Ok, now we’re talking. This is how we do social running and obstacle dodging. Vita and I had signed up to do this one together: our first one together! Nothing about this race was a disappointment: the weather was fantastic, the course was rewardingly challenging, the volume of people was just right and the overall atmosphere was lovely. Oh, and the medal was very cool too!

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The thing that made this course particularly tasty was that a lot of it was built on the side of a steep hill, and the starting line was positioned right at the foot of it. However, we quickly found a rhythm and hustled our muscles to push and pull us along the path. Along the way we climbed the obligatory cargo nets, traversed balance beams, climbed ropes, dragged sledges, threw javelins, hauled sandbags and generally beat ourselves up all in the name of personal growth and discovery.

By the time we got to the finish line, after jumping over flaming chunks of tree, we were buzzing for the next one…

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Skydive Training

This has been part of #project20nine since before it even became official and the experience was gifted to me by Vita. So finally, after making it to the glory of summer and finding a free weekend to book in, I headed down to Redlands Airfield in Swindon for 6 hours of pre-jump training and, hopefully, good enough weather to complete the experience – after all, this year the UK had been subjected to one of the hottest, driest summers on record, was it really going to start storming now?

The answer, unfortunately, was yes. But the afternoon was a lot of fun and has set me up for a future jump when the weather is kind enough to allow us to do so!

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Hero of the Month: Tony Robbins, the ‘why guy’

Tony Robbins (1960 – present), life coach and philanthropist (among many, many other things) has proven to be a hugely enlightening individual for me over the last 18-24 months. Yes, he has a huge following and has been at the top of his game for the last 4 decades, but the way he explains his approach to life, the values he holds and how others can shift the perspective on their problems is nonetheless incredibly motivating.

Books

  1. The Legends of Luke Skywalker – Ken Liu
  2. The Food and Cooking of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – Silvena Johan Lauta

And with that, we’re here in August for the final Quarter of being a 20-something. The next 3 months have some pretty significant things lined up and I’m very much looking forward to experiencing them all…


This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 

36 Hours in Baden-Baden

Germany is a beautiful country and Baden Baden is no exception.

In fact, it’s so good they named it twice.


Perched on the edge of the Black Forest, straddling the River Oos and just a stone’s throw from the Rhine, the historic spa town has been a favourite of the rich and famous for centuries. Now, it’s a favourite of mine too.

Once named Aurelia Aquensis, Latin for ‘Aurelius of the Waters’ (after the last emperor of the Severan dynasty, Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander Augustus), the town has officially gone by the more humble Baden-Baden since 1931. ‘Baden’ , of course, meaning ‘bathing’ in German although technically here the name is a derivative of an earlier form of the plural of ‘bad’ (bath), hence ‘baden’ (baths).

However, spa towns built around hot springs are not uncommon throughout Europe and, not unlike the UK’s Bath, there are other towns with the same name: Baden in Vienna, Baden near Zurich… The doubling up for Baden Baden was an attempt to distinguish it (although for fact-fans, prior to ‘Baden-Baden’ it had been known as ‘Baden in Baden’… I’ll leave it down to you to find out why). 

And worth distinguishing it is.


Doing

Given as the town has almost exclusively developed around the 50-68°C hot springs, it would be unreasonable to expect the town to have a great deal of activities on offer. Besides shopping, the majority of interesting things in Baden-Baden are there to be seen (it is necessary to venture a little further outside of the town to find activities such as paragliding, mountain biking etc.). However, the 3 most defining attractions of the town do involve interaction…

Caracalla Therme

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The first of the 2 high profile spas in the town, Caracalla is without a doubt a relaxed way to spend a few hours. In fact, a visit to Baden-Baden positively requires it and if using spa facilities in Germany is a new experience for you, then Caracalla is a great start.

Split over two levels: a pool complex on the lower, a sauna one on the upper, the spa is a mini-paradise of relaxation. The pool waters go up to a very warm 38C and offer a variety of features, including mini-waterfalls, to enjoy. Down here is also a large steam room, a cold plunge pool, several outdoor pools and a large sun lawn. Upstairs is the unclothed section that is filled with a variety of saunas, plunge pools and sun decks. 

You’ll find you have a variety of entrance options and my advice is to pay for the full day ticket so that you wont have to worry about overstaying and paying the extra 70cents every 10 minutes – it’s more economical to pay the extra few Euros for an unlimited day stay.

You can read a more in-depth post about Caracalla Therme here.  

Top Tip: take a towel unless you want to rent one.

Friedrichsbad

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The other notable spa in the town is Friedrichsbad, the Roman-Irish bath containing precisely 17 stages of mind-body relaxation. This is the far more unique experience of the two, although not for the reasons one may assume. However, the thing that seems to interest everyone most about this spa is that it is to be experienced entirely naked. 

For the uninitiated this might come as a shock, or a thrill, but once those British/American reservations about nudity are shaken off along with the clothes, being in such environments with clingy swimming shorts or bikinis will soon seem unnatural. Frankly, you’ll get a lot more attention if you turn up in anything other than your birthday suit. So, for about 3 hours you roam around the spa, experiencing the steam rooms and pools fully unclothed.

Towards the end, of course, the process slows a little and you’re wrapped in a blanket, made all snug like some bug in a fluffy rug and can doze or meditate for a little while in the Reading and Relaxation rooms.

The other thing about Friedrichsbad that is somewhat curious is just how regimented it is. The 17 stages are timed and are practically policed in order to ensure your experience is optimal. You even get a watch to keep you aware of time spent here and there. Go over the time you paid for and you’ll incur additional costs.

Yet, the thing that really makes the place unique is the building itself. The 17th century (built 1877) building is majestic from the outside but experiencing it from the spa itself makes for a wonderful environment. Particularly the central, domed hall, beneath which is their largest pool.

Between the architecture, lack of pretension and just shuttling through the remarkable variety of water temperatures, rooms and procedures it was a thorough adventure and I loved it.

But you can read a more in-depth post about Friedrichsbad here.  

Top Tip: That thing you’re worrying about? Don’t worry about it. No one else is.

Kurhaus

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The third of Baden Baden’s Big Three Attractions is the charming Casino at the heart of the town.

Whilst the building was original designed in 1824, the casino element only came into its own about a decade later when gambling was prohibited in France. 

Fun Facts:

  1. Between 23rd and 28th September, 1981, the 11th Olympic Congress was convened in the Kurhaus. 
  2. The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, was inspired by his visit to the Kurhaus casino.
  3. Marlene Dietrich once declared the Kurhaus to be “the most beautiful casino in the world.

Seeing

Romische Badruinen: The Roman Bath Ruins

The town has been a go-to destination for relaxation for centuries thanks to the Romans who really put it on the map. They loved the waters so much that they developed the area to really make the most of them, evidence of which can still be seen today.

Right by Friedrichsbad Spa, two particular areas to look for are:

  1. The Soldier’s Bath beneath Friedrichsbad spa where you can see the ancient heating system
  2. The Roman Wall that still reaches 2m high.

The ruins are preserved behind a glass case after an excavation unearthed them in the mid-1800s. Of course, you can have a guided tour but a little self-exploration is usually much more satisfying.

The Old Town

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Baden Baden is a treasure trove of cobbled streets, little nooks hiding a peaceful home/cosey coffee shop/winery, and historical sites. There’s a lot to appreciate in terms of architecture but there are also a lot of artisan shops, jewellers, cafés, bakeries, restaurants and ice-cream parlours. Sure, the the population is not big (50,000 approx.) but it is well served. 

A wander around the Old Town might also reveal other little treats like: 

  • The Stiftkirche (housing the tomb of Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm, Chief Commander of the Imperial Army, who died in 1707)
  • The Convent of the Holy Sepulchre

Florentinerberg

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A favourite place for the Romans to bath back in the day, you can check out the ruins of those baths within a rather charming little garden. 

The Kurgarten 

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This is the garden in front of the Kurhaus and is immediately accessible from the centre of the town, and even more so should you have arrived via public transport as this is the heart of town. It’s tucked in amongst a handful of the town’s biggest draws, like:

  1. Kunsthalle
  2. Theater Baden Baden
  3. Mamutbaume
  4. Museum LA8
  5. Stadtmuseum Baden Baden

Catch it at sunset on a warm summer day and you’ll have found another wonderful slice of tranquility although bear in mind that this is a popular area. In fact, the Kurgarten is frequently host to a number of events, including the New Pop Festival, the Oldtimer Meeting and the Christmas Market. 

Trinkhalle

IMG_20180421_175800.jpgPerched at the bottom of the pleasant hillside walkway up to Mamutbaume, and just a stone’s throw from the Kurhaus, the Trinkhalle was actually built as an 1839 addition to it. Step into the portico for a stroll by several 19th century frescos of some of the famous locals or take a pew on one of the several benches that line it. 
 
Inside, to quench your thirst, take a sip from the mineral water. It’s free and, legend has it, Baden Baden’s Elixir of Youth. 

Neues Schloss

In the Florentine mountains on the edge of the Black Forest, Baden-Baden’s historic New Castle (Neues Schloss) was built by Margrave Christoph I in 1479 and was occasionally used as a residence by the former grand-ducal family. Purchased by a private group in 2010, it’s currently under development as a luxury hotel under the Hyatt name. Once it’s reopened, it will certainly be worth a visit for its interesting architecture and fine views.

Russische Kirche

The pretty Byzantine-style Russian Church was completed in 1882 and is probably most recognisable from it’s impressive golden dome and fresco decoration. 

Kloster Lichtenthal

This abbey, founded in 1245, lies at the end of the Lichtentaler Allee. The Cistercian abbey also houses a church where several generations of the town’s margraves are buried.

Paradies am Annaberg

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Perhaps the place for a picnic, or certainly a moment or two of quiet contemplation, these Italian gardens are filled with water features and provide wonderful views over the Aldstadt and the surrounding hillsides.  

Mt. Merkur

The perfect place for a little additional adventure, the mountain is a great spot for hiking, picnics and, yes, paragliding. A short bus ride from the centre of town will drop you at the funicular, which will take you to the very top. If not for the activities, head up for the stunning views of Baden Baden and the Murg Valley.

Museum Frieder Burda

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The museum’s striking architecture will let you know you’ve found the place long before the signs do and the quality of the art inside (including Picasso, Gerhard Richter and Jackson Pollock originals) will let you know it’s the real deal. 
 
German art collection, Frieder Burda had originally planned to open a museum closer to his home in France but ultimately settled on Baden Baden. The €20 million building designed by architect Richard Meier houses temporary collections as well as permanent. 

Lichtentaler Allee

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There’s no other way to really describe this as perhaps one of the most rewarding walks I’ve ever enjoyed in the middle of an urban space. To call it picturesque is verging on disingenuous given how beautiful it was on a spring morning. 

Stretching 2.3km along the River Oos, from Goetheplatz to Kloster Lichtenthal, the impossibly lush walk is literally peppered with sculptures amidst a carpet of flowers and tapestry of bridges criss-crossing the cobbled river bed.

The Fabergé Museum

A new addition to the town’s portfolio of attractions, the museum worships all things Fabergé. Home to over 700 pieces, the museum’s centrepiece is the Rothschild Fabergé Egg – built in 1902 and worth more than 11 million Euros. You’ll also find the last egg Fabergé made as well as the diamond, gold and birch wood Karelian Birch Egg.

Brahm’s House

Tucked away inside Brahm’s House, the building Johannes Brahms spent his summers for the best part of a decade [1865 – 1874], is the Blue Room. Frozen in time just as he might have left it, the room is a pleasing insight into the environment he wrote many of his most famous pieces. 

Festspielhaus

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Built inside the 1904 building that was originally Baden Baden’s central train station, the Festspielhaus is a colossal concert hall (currently the second biggest in Europe) that seats 2,500 guests and is home to a huge, eclectic variety of performances every year.  

Stiftskirche

Taking centre stage in the middle of Marktplatz is the Stiftskirche – an unmissable, pink church standing proud and like a mish-mash of Gothic, baroque and Romanesque architecture. 
 
In the tombs of the Princely House lie the remains of 13 margraves, whilst several other officials lie in the various other tombs. For history buffs, the Collegiate Church has undergone several renovations over the last 150 years. 
 
If you happen to pass it by one afternoon, check out the stained-glass windows.

Paradies Cascade

An area of fountains and cascades, the Paradies was built in 1925. Look out for the ornamental garden which stretches along 3 streets of of the town’s bigger homes and mansions. Interestingly, the water comes from an underground spring and its waters fall a cool 40 meters. 

Altes Schloss, Hohenbaden

Built in 1102, the Altes Schloss or Hohenbaden Castle, was home to the Margraves from the 11th to the 15th centuries. Whilst it is mostly ruins now, you can head up to the Old Castle for outstanding views of the town and surrounding countryside. It’s a little out of the way though so bear that in mind if you planned on walking everywhere.  

The Baden-Baden Museum

Should you have the time, a visit to the museum will provide an insightful education about the town’s rich and eclectic past. You’ll find a generous number of displays regarding it’s Roman heritage, various stone monuments, more typical artworks and a collection of interesting antiquities and paraphernalia. Not essential viewing, but worth it if you have a spare hour.


Eating

I had a bit of a rule for this trip and, in hindsight it sounds odd, but it was instigated for a reason. The rule was this: 

  • no eating in restaurants.

Ok, so even now it sounds odd (especially as I, like the rest of us, enjoy a meal out) but hear me out. The reason I imposed this was so that I could maximise my time spent doing other things and, moreover, to force myself into situations where I had to be creative and rely more on my German language skills. Sure, it would be easy to wander into a restaurant and be served in a very quick, and clinical way, but I wanted to work a little harder, glutton for punishment I am. 

So, I thought that by bypassing restaurants I could get up and out, maybe explore further afield for, say, a grocery store where English was a genuinely limited option or hunt the streets for a food stall or somewhere a little more rustic and authentic of the local experience. And you know what? It worked pretty well! 

Breakfasts

My hotel did not come with an included breakfast option so I opted to hit the road, both mornings, and find something, somewhere, that would be a good start to the day. 

On the Saturday morning, I wandered the town in the beautiful rising sun, already in my t-shirt, and picked up a coffee to go from a cafe that had just opened and dropped into a bakery for a nutty pastry and pretzel. Ensuring I got also my fibre and protein intake in, I spotted a supermarket and grabbed an apple, a handful of cucumbers and a carton of quark. 

Sunday morning I repeated the walk as I enjoyed it so much and loved being out in the brilliant morning sun but this time settled for another coffee to go and a cream cheese pretzel. On the way to the airport I snacked on a few banana chips. 

Lunches

Fresh wholemeal baton with low-fat cream cheese, tomatoes, ham and a smoothie on Saturday.

Sunday is not applicable as I was already at the airport.

Dinners

Friday night dinner, immediately post Friedrichsbad was a margarita pizza from a small pizzeria as at 10pm this was literally the only available option. 

Saturday night dinner was a homemade salad with cured meats, fresh bread, almond milk and a banana. 

**Altogether it is clear that the trip was not built around food. I’d used the weekend as a physical and mental detox and so ate a lot less than is typical for me.  


Coffee

Coffee is such an integral part of any city break it’s pretty much a prerequisite to stake out some strong candidates. Here’s a handful of highlights:

Trinkhalle

Literally, ‘the drink hall’, this building contains a water pump tapped into the 17,000 yea-old Friedrichsbad spring. Completely accessible, the town has long been hailed for its healing waters and this is Ground Zero for tasting it straight from the source.

The building itself is also rather charming and makes for an ideal spot for a few photos en route to take a coffee, which you’ll find at the Trinkhalle’s cafe and bar.

The other useful thing about the site is that thanks to its tourist appeal, a tourist desk is tucked away on site.

Café König

Over 250 years and showing no signs of slowing down, Tolstoy is one of several notable patrons of the cafe and it’s no wonder the rich and/or famous have dropped in. Head over for a coffee, stay for the delicious Kuchen (cakes).
 
See here.

Kaffeehaus Baden-Baden

Despite lacking originality in its name, Kaffeehaus Baden-Baden amply makes up for in quality and ambience thanks to the alluring aroma of freshly ground beans and the gentle whiff of baked goods.
 
See here.

Kaffeesack

Another pleasant little artisan coffee joint, you’ll find this one up a cobbled street in relative privacy. 
 
See here.

Sleeping

A town like Baden-Baden has high standards, so depending on budget, preference and approach, one could opt to pay £100’s per night or £10’s.

In general I believe that travel is not defined by the opulence of one’s accommodation simply because I don’t plan on spending much time inside a hotel when there’s a whole new world to be exploring. Yes, expensive hotels are fun and lovely and comfortable, but unless you’re looking to impress someone or thoroughly treat yourself then I’d suggest using that excess budget for more interesting, culturally specific things.

In my case, I opted to shoot for an available room at Hotel Magnetberg. Certainly towards to the lower end of the budget, Magnetberg is nonetheless somewhere I can happily recommend. Clean, fantastically located and incredibly peaceful, it’s a 10 minute stroll into the centre of town and perched on the hill as it is provides excellent views of the surrounding area.

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Interestingly, my original booking was £140 although after cancelling that booking and making a new one, I paid £113. They also have an on site sauna should the options in town not be to your liking (not likely, but possible) or you simply can’t get enough of that sweet, sweet steam. 

In fact, the reason for booking here was, as always, entirely practical. Having hunted through the AirBnB ads I found that staying in the hotel was a cheaper option than 95% of the available options. And, moreover, the location was second to none in terms of convenience. 


Keeping Active

As we all know, travel is never an excuse to get lazy. In fact, travel is quite the opposite: it’s the perfect opportunity to get a little creative with your workouts as well as to take in a host of new environments to be active in. Here’s a couple of ideas to help make sure you don’t lose any of those hard earned gains…

T’s Workout Game Plan

So, you’ve got 36 hours in the town and, as luck would have it, you forgot to schedule your rest day to coincide with the trip so it’s business as usual. I chose to do only one ‘workout’ during the stay, as the town is a place to be explored on foot and so I anticipated covering a healthy number of miles just by walking. 

Option 1

Hire a bike and take to the roads before your morning coffee. The roads will be even more quiet during the magic hour, you’ll get to see the sunrise as you glide around the town and will work up a nice pre-Pretzel-and-cream-cheese sweat. 

Option 2

There are a lot of open spaces in Baden Baden. Find your own and try the following bodyweight circuit, with each exercise done for 30 seconds and no rest until a circuit has been completed. Once you complete it once, rest for 60 seconds, and start all over again. Aim for 5 times round: 

  1. Jumping Jacks
  2. Mountain climbers
  3. Plank press
  4. Burpees

Once complete you’ll find your heart rate elevated nicely. Take a 2 minute break, but keep moving. A slow walk around your area dynamically stretching will keep the blood flowing. Now, try the following: 

  1. Pushups – 50 reps at whatever level you choose (dive bomber, full, half etc.)
  2. Jumping Squats – 100 reps, achieved through any combination of reps
  3. Lying leg/knee raises – 3 x failure

And to cool back down:

  1. Walking lunges – 20 steps one way, 20 steps back. Do this 3 times and you’ll be set. 

Job done, you’re on holiday remember…


Sample Itinerary for a 36 Hour Stay/ Weekend Break

Friday

5pm: Arrive at airport. Take bus to centre, find hotel and check in.

7pm: Head down to Friedrichsbad – it’ll be super quiet by this time so you’ll have the place pretty much to yourself. 

10pm: Dinner at the hotel as most restaurants will close by 9pm.

Saturday

7am: Lay-in followed by an early morning run and bodyweight circuit

8.30am: Back to the hotel for a quick shower

9am: Head into town for breakfast of a coffee and a pastry (because, hey, you’re in Germany and the bakers know what they’re doing)

10am: Take a walk through the town and see:

  • Kurhaus
  • Trinkhalle
  • Festpielhaus
  • Lichtentaler Allee

11.30am: Jump on a bike and try looking at the world from a new perspective. Find a nice spot for a lunch-picnic.

1pm: Head to Caracalla Therme

6pm: Leave the spa and take an early evening stroll around the town. 

8pm: Find a restaurant around the centre of town for Bavarian cuisine and some of the famed local wine.

10.30pm: Back to the hotel, pack, bed.

Sunday

8am: Final packing, checkout

9am: Final stroll through the neighbourhood – aim for no place in particular so as to get [mildly] lost for the last time. Pick up breakfast en route to the bus stop.

10.30am: Begin journey to airport 


What To Pack

I travel light. Lunking huge backpacks around, the stress and tedium of waiting for stowed luggage…it’s not for me. So over the years I’ve refined my packing to the bare minimum and find the following itinerary for a weekend/short trip ideal:

  1. Change of underwear [socks, boxers] per day of travel (if less than 10 days – any more and provision to do some laundry or buy cheap, fresh undies out there)
  2. 1 t-shirt per day of travel 
  3. Pair of jeans
  4. 1 pair of functional footwear (trainers/walking shoes = perfect if you don’t plan on a fancy restaurant or business meeting)
  5. Water bottle
  6. Laptop, charger, adapter
  7. Notebook and pen
  8. Various high protein snacks
  9. Sunglasses (if sunshine is expected…)
  10. Yoga strap
  11. Multivits
  12. Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, comb/brush, anti-bac gel, cleansing face wipes, grooming kit [although all consumables could be bought out there too]
  13. Compressible jacket (in case of rain or drops in temperature), or the jacket you wear to the airport
  14. Book
  15. Passport, tickets

…you’ll find that you will wear a good percentage of the above and can comfortable keep the rest in a small backpack or holdall. 


Cost Breakdown

For a weekend break, whether as a solo-retreat or some romance, Baden Baden is not too different from the UK, unless you decide to stick to the many high-end boutiques that line the streets…

Travel is particularly cheap and convenient and in general you could get by on a very modest budget. 

  • Flights: £33
  • Hotel: £113
  • Stansted Express: £25 [return]
  • Transfer to hotel: EUR40 [Taxi]
  • Transfer back to the Airport: EUR3.50
  • Caracalla Therme: £23 + EUR6 towel rental
  • Freidrichsbad: £32
  • Coffee and pastry budget: <EUR10
  • Food budget: EUR25
  • Additional spending money: sky’s the limit…
  • TOTAL: £226 + EUR88.50

Travel Essentials

Getting there

Daily flights from London Stansted to Karlsruhe-Baden Baden airport [aka. FKB] are served by Ryanair

General information can be found here

 


This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 


Image sources:

All other images are the author’s own.

Getting Naked in Germany

For some of us, nudity is no big deal – we all have a body so being naked it about as natural as it gets. For others, it’s a bit like the end of the world. However, it’s well known that nudity in Germany is much less of a taboo than it is here in the UK or in the US. In fact, wearing clothes in certain environments is positively forbidden. 

The spa is one such place…


There are two prominent spas in Baden Baden and both involve nudity. For one, it is mandatory, and the other requires you only to go au naturel should you wish to use the sauna complex.

The two spas are the historic Friedrichsbad and the far more modern Caracalla Therme. Although, fact fans, when Friedrichsbad opened in 1877 it was received as the ‘most modern bathing establishment in Europe’.

Friedrichsbad

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This one is most likely the more notorious of the two, simply because it is mandatory to be naked for the entire experience. So, this is where we’ll begin. I’ll try to provide as clear an overview of the process of attending so that, should you be planning a visit, you’ll know what to expect.

That said, there are several pretty good blog posts and articles out there that offer some illustration of the experience and prior to by own visit I found them to be particularly useful. Special thanks to Submerged Oaks and FollowBenandJenna.

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Here is a more specific plan of the complex.

Inside Friedrichsbad

The interesting thing about Friedrichsbad is the precision that has been implemented into what is considered to be the optimal bathing experience. 17 separate areas (referred to as ‘stations’) are provided for bathers: a calculated journey through various hot air rooms, steam rooms and a variety of different temperature pools.

How It All Works

Upon arrival you buy an entrance ticket (ranging from Basic through to a Deluxe package) and make your way up the grand staircase.

NB: It’s important to note that the spa is predominantly a mixed-sex experience although there are a few days where the bathing stages are split. The spa is essentially double sided: on one side is several stations for men only (on non-mixed days) and the same for women on the other side. Only the central pools (stages 10 and 11) are always mixed, but you could skip these if you wish. However, skipping them is not advisable given how spectacular those two particular rooms are. 

Inside the changing room you’ll use your wrist band to go through the turnstile and get changed into your birthday suit. A spa attendant will greet you [yup, you’ll be naked, they won’t, deal with it] and send you on your way to the first of the 17 stages.

Oh, the other really interesting thing is that each stage has been given a recommended usage time. The recommendations are incredibly specific: some are 3 minutes, some are 5, some are 7. Not more, not less.

But, I’ll tell you a secret. I disobeyed the rules and spent much longer in some and maybe a little less in others (I’m looking at you, freezing cold ‘Cold Water Bath’) and didn’t get told off, didn’t suffer any adverse side effects (yet) and wasn’t ostracised by my bathing brethren for such recklessness.

The 17 stages look like this:

  1. Shower
  2. Warm-air Bath
  3. Hot-air Bath
  4. Shower
  5. Soap and brush massage (optional)
  6. Shower
  7. Thermal Steam Baths
  8. Thermal Steam Baths pt.2
  9. Thermal Full Bath
  10. Thermal Whirlpool Bath
  11. Thermal Exercise Bath
  12. Shower
  13. Cold Water Bath
  14. Drying Off
  15. Cream Application/ Cream Massage (like the brushing, the cream massage is optional if you pay for it)
  16. Relaxation Room
  17. Reading Room

There is a lot of showering and I guarantee you’ll come away feeling cleaner than you’ve ever felt in your entire life.

Getting Naked

This is the elephant in the room and no doubt why many of the readers here are reading this at all. Perhaps you’re interested in Friedrichsbad because it really is a novelty, perhaps you want to see if you can handle the maximum exposure or perhaps you’re just curious about how it all works. The one thing that everyone will realise, if being naked in public is new to you, is that it’s no big deal. Nobody will slink around checking you out or perving and those fully dressed spa workers? Think your schlong is the first they’ll have ever seen? They work there, remember? They would have lost count on the first day.

However, if you’re still a little trepidacious about the whole situation, here’s a few thoughts to hopefully put you a bit more at ease:

  1. Literally, as soon as you’re naked, you’ll be in the majority. You’ll blend right in. As biased as we are to our bodies, they’re all super similar and it’s only the minor degrees of difference that distinguish us from one another.
  2. Honestly, no one cares. They’re not their for an oggle-fest, they’re there for some me-time; some relaxation and to feel good. Minding their business is all they’ll be doing, not checking you out.
  3. It’s not elitist in there. Everyone might end up using the stages at the same time as you: the overweight, underweight, aged, young, tall, short…
  4. In Germany, textile-frei (i.e. no clothes allowed) is absolutely, 100% normal. You probably already know how liberal the country is as a whole when it comes to nudity. Head on down to some public parks on a sunny day and you’ll get the picture. As soon as you let go of your own cultural conditioning and embrace the German one, you’ll realise just how boring it really is.
  5. That heart-pounding you feel as you commit to visiting the spa, as you pay for a ticket, as you enter the changing room (oh, by the way, chances are you’ll already be in the thick of naked folks by that point) and then begin to get undressed? That feeling will cease almost as soon as you take your first step into the spa area. Heck, you might even chuckle a little bit at how worried you were about, well, nothing!
  6. And think about it: how comfortable can you really be if every time you step out of one pool to head to the next you’re rearranging your bikini or shorts? Or if you’ve been out of water for a while how chilly those swimming costumes will begin to feel…

Pre-Station 1

In the changing room you’ll find an incredibly large cotton towel waiting for you in the locker. It’s bigger than a picnic blanket and it’s not really for hiding all your special bits with – you need it for covering the loungers in the first few stages.

As you make your way from the changing rooms to the first station, it’s likely you’ll be met by a couple of the spa team who will explain the process to you and to show you where to go.

Station 1: Shower

At the entrance, grab a pair of spa slipper and in you go.

The showers are pretty special. Several large shower heads, each replete with a single hand crank for operation, all looking like something from the turn of the 20th century and fitted along the left hand side of the room as you enter it. You’ll scrub up here for the recommended time of 3 minutes, although no one was timing. At least not when I went…

Once officially clean, you’ll head on through to the next stage.

Station 2: Warm-air bath

This room is a bit like the relaxation rooms you might find in your local Turkish bath house. Tiled, and full of wooden sun loungers, this room is moderately warm (54°C) and a laid-back (pun intended) start to the journey. As you settle into your chair (for the recommended time of 15 minutes, please) you’ll find your body temperature begin to rise and set you up for the next room.

Station 3: Hot-air bath

Almost the same as Station 2, here the temperature has been upped a little to 68°C, which will be enough to get your sweat on. It’s suggested that you spend 5 minutes here which, I would argue, feels just about right. Spend longer if you want to though, as it is pretty relaxing.

Station 4: Shower

Back in the shower (you’ll realise the way through all the stations will take you back and forth a little bit. For example, this shower is the same one as Station 1). The recommended time here is a brisk 1 minute although the shower is so good you might want to break the rules again…

Station 5: Soap and brush massage

Ok, so, up until now you’ve had your trusty picnic blanket but upon entry to Station 5 you’ll be asked to deposit your towel into a basket and slide off your slippers too. Now, there is absolutely no hiding.

If you paid for this service, you’ll be asked to slide onto one of the 2 tables where you’ll receive a brushing like you’ve never had. If not, you’ll head on through to the next stage.

As I arrived late, I did not opt for this in an effort to not feel rushed, so here’s the description from the website:

The soap and brush massage is a particular highlight of the Friedrichsbad. It’s optional and can be booked in addition to the bathing experience. For eight minutes strong hands move over your entire body. Water and soap is spread evenly and afterwards you are massaged with a brush. This acts like a skin peel and is the ideal preparation for the following bath in the curative thermal water. The massage enhances the circulation in your skin – a fountain of youth for your body.

Tip: As an alternative to the soap and brush massage, try the honey skin peel. The honey penetrates deep into the skin cells quenching the skin with moisture.

You can get a taste as to what this look like here.

NB. In her excellent summary of Friedrichsbad, Jenna (of followbenandjenna.com) suggests choosing the soft brush when you’re given the option. Having caught a glimpse of the brushes, I’d second this…

Station 6: Shower

Shower time again and by now you’ll have gotten the hang of this showering business pretty good. Time yourself and see if you can scrub-a-dub-dub for the optimal 60 seconds.

Station 7: Thermal steam baths

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This is the first of the steam baths and you’ll go in with a nice new little butt-mat. Pick a seat on the tiered seating steps, and use this little blue and white cushion to keep things hygienic.

It’s recommended to spend 10 minutes here but without a clock it’s difficult to tell how long you’ve been in. However, expect to want to spend longer that this enjoying the warmth and clinging of the steam and the wonderfully meditative quality of watching the thermal waters trickle down one of the walls.

Once you decide you’ve had enough, drop your cushion in the basket by the door to Station 8.

Another video for your research.

Station 8: Thermal steam baths

As is the case with Friedrichsbad, the next stage takes things up a notch and you’ll immediately notice that this room is warmer than the last. Time spent here is recommended to be 5 minutes.

Station 9: Thermal full bath

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Take another shower to rinse yourself of that steamy sweat and slip into the first pool: a balmy 36°C in temperature and a really treat to dip into. The pool is big enough for a fair number of people but when I went I shared it with only 2 others so it was very easy to relax in a good amount of space. The suggested 10 minutes here is, again, not quite enough so to all you rule-breakers, enjoy yourself.

Station 10: Thermal whirlpool bath

Things take a turn for the cooler now as, at a full 2°C colder than Station 9, the thermal whirlpool is 34°C gentle jet-propulsion. The pool is incredibly shallow, by the way, and for most people will likely come no higher than about knee height.

You won’t really notice the change in temperature although if you do spend the full 15 minutes in here you might begin to feel it towards the end.

Station 11: Thermal exercise bath

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The piece d’resistance and maybe the reason you came. This is the pool beneath the lovely dome and it does not disappoint on any level.

The thermal exercise bath is 28°C and you’ll know it as soon as your big toe takes the plunge. However, as the name suggests, a little bit of exercise (read: swimming) will get you alive. In fact, despite feeling frigid upon first entry, the temperature of the pool was so refreshing I spent a lot longer in here than the suggested 5 minutes. I even went back and forth to it about 5 times between showers and using Station 10 a handful of times.

See here for a little video.

Station 12: Shower

Back to the shower again and the tip here is to spend the full 3 minutes (or more, if you’re naughty) under particularly warm water because what’s next might make you squeal a little.

For the record, I did not, but I’m pretty sure I could hear someone yelping in shivery fright as I was showering.

Station 13: Cold-water bath

At 18°C we’re not in the bahamas any more. Like splashing about in the Arctic sea with nothing but your best intentions hiding your shrinking modesty, you might wonder why on earth you’ve been invited to end your bathing rituals with such torture.

The answer, as you may decide to find out, is that such a sharp cool down will leave you feeling revitalised and all tingly.

The recommended time spent here: ‘brisk’.

Station 14: Drying off

Head on back through the entrance way, grab a towel, take a seat and dry off. The towel you are given this time is much plusher than the picnic blanket you started with: it’s big, and fluffy, and cosey.

This area is intended to encourage you to enjoy the process of drying off. It’s also suggested that you can best enjoy this process by spending precisely 4 minutes doing so. I’m pretty sure I spend 3 here, and neither of the two spa practitioners told me off.

For those you curious as to how one might dry themselves, here’s the official video.

Station 15: Cream application / Cream massage

Two things will happen here. Either you will apply body lotion to yourself or, if you paid for it, someone else will do it for you. The lotions provided are advertised as being scented differently (indeed, in the ‘creaming area’ there are several dispensers) although I did not really notice much difference.

I’m pretty self-sufficient so I managed to put my own body lotion on and yes, my skin was left feeling even smoother and softer than before. But, body lotion is body lotion, so refrain from going too crazy with the freebie.

8 minutes is all it should take by the way, but this is perhaps the most questionable calculation. Surely the time spent here is relative to body size, hand size, experience with self-application and the desire to do so in the first place.

If you’re thinking about the cream massage, check out the promotional video.

Station 16: Relaxation Room & Station 17: Reading Room

The end of the journey is kind of a two-in-one. The Relaxation Room and the Reading Room are, from what I could see, the same space. 30 minutes in each (ergo 60 minutes in total) is, for me, quite a generous recommendation and one that I certainly did not adhere to. If I want to doze and/or read, I’ll do that at home. It’s nice to sit in here for a handful of minutes, sipping on one of the fruit teas available, but more than that seems a bit of a waste of time.

Conclusion

The overall experience of Friedrichsbad is one that is both memorable and thoroughly recommended. It is one of the 2 main spas in Baden-Baden and is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.


Caracalla Therme

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The other spa option in Baden Baden is Caracalla Therme, and it’s literally next door to Friedrichsbad. Whereas Freidrichsbad is predominantly a pool spa, Caracalla Therme is far more modern, far more spacious and provides greater variety.

It’s split into two halves, which are most easily distinguished between an upstairs and a downstairs. On the lower level there are:

  • a handful of pools,
  • a steam room,
  • some therapy rooms,
  • a restaurant,
  • the changing area,
  • showers,
  • and a garden space.

…and in this area it is compulsory to wear swimming costumes. Here’s a corporate link to the bathing area on the ground floor.

On the upper level, which is reached by a tight little spiral staircase right next to the restaurant, there are:

  1. a number of saunas,
  2. steam rooms,
  3. plunge pools,
  4. foot baths,
  5. sunbathing areas,
  6. showers,
  7. a bar,
  8. jacuzzis,
  9. relaxation rooms

…and up here it is mandatory to be textile-frei. As soon as you enter the area from the turnstile you have to leave your costumes, and inhibitions, in the shelves provided and you and your towel will be free to explore as you see fit.

Ground Level Pool Area

Certainly the more busy and populated of the two levels, this is the family area and here is where a lot of poolside frolicking and splashing and general hooplah happens. Stay for the atmosphere and the sun lawns if the sun’s a’shining.

Indoor Pool

This is the pool that’s in all the promotional material, front and centre. And, like the biggest pool at Friedrichsbad, this too is beneath a domed ceiling. The water here is a very comfortable 34°C. It’s not really a space for swimming, as so many people enjoy just sitting or hanging around in the warm water. It also has a selection of water features: water jets of differing pressures and sizes.

It’s also worth noting that none of the pools at the spa have a depth that exceeds 1.35m.

Outdoor Pools

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Outside there are 2 pools: a large, 32°C, one and a smaller one with a temperature of 35°C. Like the indoor pool, there are a number of different water feature options such as a waterfall, a water mushroom, massage jets and a water current. There are also 2 whirlpools, each 38°C, to be enjoyed if they are not too busy already.

Hot and Cold Water Grotto

Sounding something like a watery kind of Christmas, the Hot and Cold Water Grotto is exactly what it says on the tin: a grotto-like space with a 38°C pool and a smaller, hide-away of a pool, that’s kept at a chilly 18°C. It’s recommended that you hang out in the warm water for about 5 minutes, nip round to the cold one for 10-20 seconds then back to the warm one to repeat the cycle.

Aroma Steam Room: 43°C

As far as steam rooms go, this one is pretty big. There are 4 pockets that each have enough space for about 6-8 people to sit comfortably. The temperature is maintained at 43-46°C whilst the humidity is kept maxed out at 100%.

Brine Inhalation Room

Not really the sort of space I enjoy, the idea with the Brine Inhalation Room is to open your passageways and clear them for better respiration. The room itself is 38°C to 40°C where a natural brine ‘trickles through blackthorn twigs creating a fine salty mist in the air’. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

The idea here is to stay for not more than 20 minutes for the effects to be optimal and to pair it with a refreshing cold shower immediately afterwards.

Sauna Level Area

The upper level is split into a further 3 areas: one indoors, two outdoors. The indoor area is the first that is reached, although immediately to the right upon entrance is the first sunbathing area.

First Sun Deck

This area is relatively compact but comfortably houses about 15 permanent loungers and easily has space for 20-30 people should they want to all stand about together. It looks down through the atrium at the pools in the lower level but is largely secluded from all other areas.

Indoors

Once you’re inside, the area really is cavernous. Saunas to the left of me, saunas to the right, oh, here I am, stuck in the middle with…choice.

In this area there are 5 different saunas:

  1. Spectaculum: 90°C
  2. Vitality Sauna: 90°C
  3. Aroma-Sauna: 85°C
  4. Meditation-Sauna: 65°C
  5. Ladies’ Sauna: 90°C

There is also a:

  1. Sanarium: 57°C
  2. Steam Room: 47°C
  3. Refreshments bar
  4. Jacuzzi
  5. Lounge area
  6. Blue Space Sensory Room
  7. Green Room
  8. Million showers

Spectaculum: 90°C

This is a huge, theatre-like sauna where every hour a spa attendant will perform a ritual of wafting the hot air around using a combination of whipping the air with a towel and gently pushing the air towards each patron in turn with a large, fan-like instrument. This process lasts for about 12 minutes and during the time no one can enter, although of course, people can leave should the heat become too much.

At 90°C it is also one of the hottest saunas upstairs and definitely worth a few visits: the hourly performance is unmissable.

Aroma-Sauna: 85°C

Another aroma sauna where the aromas are changed everyday. It’s also lit with different coloured lighting that ‘supports and reinforces the relaxation process and leads you to experience unimaginable physical and mental relaxation‘.

Meditation-Sauna: 65°C

Inside the meditation sauna sounds of the sea and/or birdlife and nature are pumped in through discrete speakers to help aid a sense of meditation. And you know what? It works really well! The low-ish temperature is always comfortable and on my visit I clocked one older gentleman taking a nap. I knew he was asleep because he was snoring…

Sanarium: 57°C

The Sanarium, at 57°C is another relaxation space that may not be entirely to the liking of everyone looking for warmer sauna experiences but is nonetheless a calming environment to at least explore for a few minutes. The humidity is capped at 55% which, in combination with the temperature, does contribute to a more natural space in which one could feasibly switch off entirely. Unlike the higher temperatures on the saunas, this one doesn’t raise the heart rate by much so does not ever feel like an endurance test.

Steam Room: 47°C

This is a spacious steam room, though smaller than the one on the ground floor by about 50-60%. However, it is a more rewarding steam room, more comfortable and apparently far less crowded. At 47°C I found myself drifting into a very relaxed state very quickly and dropped in repeatedly.

Ladies’ Sauna: 90°C

There’s also a Ladies’ Sauna which is coupled to the fact that Wednesday is Girls’ Day. I don’t recall seeing signs labelling any sauna as the ‘Ladies’ one, although having visited all saunas on the site on a Sunday, men and women used all saunas freely.

Outdoors

Outside, there are two more saunas that have been built on the side of the mountain:

  • Fire Sauna: 95°C
  • Forest Sauna: 85°C

Between the two there are also a handful of cold showers and more space for sunbathing and/or lounging.

Fire Sauna: 95°C

wellness.germany.baden.baden.caracalla.therme.003.jpg

The Fire Sauna is housed around a large log fire that reaches the enormous temperature of 95°C. The log cabin, like the Forest Sauna, is made from a Finnish wood called kelo, of the polar pine tree, and is evidently a wonderful material for sauna cabins.

The cabin is incredibly dark which makes the fire all the more hypnotic and despite its hot, hot, heat it can be easily to lose yourself in here for a good number of minutes, especially if you find yourself with enough space to lay down.

Forest Sauna: 85°C

The other sauna here, the Forest Sauna, is a little cooler at 85°C although you might not really notice it. In here, the heat is different to the Fire Sauna. Whereas the heat there is particularly dry, the heat here comes from the steam oven (excitingly automated to distribute water onto the hot cools every so often), called the ‘Maximus’.

Second Sun Deck

This area is tucked right at the back by the Fire and Forest saunas and is a much smaller space. Hidden away on a small walkway in the trees, several sun loungers line the area, just as several more are positioned outside each of the two saunas in this outside area. Given that the trees provide so much more shade (the First Sun Deck has no shade until the sun goes down) this space appears more inline with lounging: a quiet space to nap or read or cool down.

Conclusion

Caracalla Spa is fantastic, there’s no escaping that. It’s big, it’s inclusive and provides a lot of options. Yes, the sauna area is a highlight for those who enjoy saunas but as an experience on the whole it can’t be faulted. I misjudged how long I would be on site for an opted for a 3 hour pass at the check-in. My suggestion is to pay the handful of additional Euros to get the day pass and even though 4-5 hours is probably the max you’d want to stay there it will save you a little money in the long run as if you go over the allotted time you’ll pay EUR4.20 for every additional hour/ EUR0.70 for every additional 10 minutes.

 


So, Friedrichsbad or Caracalla?

I had gone to Friedrichsbad expecting the experience to trump all else Baden Baden has to offer, but it is not its highlight. Sure, it is relatively novel and an entirely lovely experience, but it has its limitations.

The first is that it is all indoors and when the weather is fine, being outside at Caracalla is infinitely more rewarding.

Friedrichsbad also seems to be the kind of place that would lose it’s charm upon repeated visits whereas Caracalla is a much different experience. In fact, I was legitimately disappointed to have to leave Caracalla and should my stay have been even one day longer I would have visited it again.

I also think that it is worth highlighting that during my time in both spas it seemed pretty evident that there was a greater male contingent than female.


Final thoughts: The Benefits and Etiquette of Bathing Naked

We English have it all wrong. Our Victorian-era prudishness has stolen from many of us of one of life’s most natural pleasures: enjoying the skin were are in and not being embarrassed by our biology.

In the UK, nudity is highly sexualised: if you’re naked, it must be Sexy Time. But nudity has so much value it is difficult to summarise succinctly, but try I will.

  1. Bathing naked frees us from wet, clingy, uncomfortable clothing that restricts our movements, rides up our bum cracks and ultimately sexualises our bodies even more than our naked forms.
  2. No clothes means greater hygiene: sweating into swimming costumes means we’re keeping all of the impurities that sweat from our skin on our skin! It also means that whenever we sit on a sauna seat, a spa seat or even get into the pool we’re depositing whatever is in our costumes wherever we go for everyone else to enjoy.
  3. Bathing naked also frees us of inhibition and insecurity. By being comfortable in our own skin we’ll probably become even more comfortable in clothes too and not worry about whether we look too fat or too thin in them. Hurray for #bodypositivity.
  4. It’s cheaper too. Obviously.
  5. Dont’ forget full body tanning if you’re at a spa/sauna with outside spaces (like Caracalla). Win win.
  6.  Maximum Vitamin D exposure – the more skin exposed to sunlight the greater amounts of the magic D vitamin we’ll take in. And right now, Vitamin D levels are way below recommendations.

This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 


Image sources:

Taking the First Step Towards a New Obstacle: Tough Mudder 5K East London

‘Charm is a product of the unexpected.’

José Martí

The Tough Mudder 5K was never part of the plan. But, somewhere along the way, it emerged and proceeded to muscle its way into first place.

You know what? It turned out to be a doozy.

My relationship with Tough Mudder doesn’t begin here though. Back in 2014 I’d signed up for the Tough Mudder Half in Kettering but had decided to volunteer the day before. I did this for 2 reasons:

  1. Volunteering for a half-day shift meant that I would save quite a generous amount on the ticket prices. The shift bagged me an 80% saving on the ticket price meaning that rather than pay £120+ to take part, I would have paid <£30. Had I have volunteered to work an entire day, I would have been able to run for free.
  2. Working at the event also meant that I’d get to check out the course before running it, and generally get a good feel for the event. I’d meet fellow Mudders, connect with potential team mates and have a largely risk-free opportunity to evaluate my commitment to the actual run.

However, things didn’t go as planned and despite working the shift and betting thoroughly excited about taking part, a change in my schedule meant that I would not be able to run the course the following day. Damn.

So fast forward 4 years and I finally get round to running an event. Given as one of the aims of the year is to run a number of courses, the 5K proved to be an ideal opportunity to warm up into the season.

The interesting thing about the 5K is that, for Tough Mudder at least, it’s a new event. Whereas the events have, historically, been confined to a variety of 5 and 10 mile Challenge Courses alongside the Race Series (which, if a runner is good enough, can lead all the way to the World’s Toughest Mudder event) and, as the name would suggest, involve an awful lot of mud, the 5K is a little different.

Billed as ‘Tough Mudder’s cousin in the city’, the 5K is designed for city dwellers and, what’s more, there seems to be a real consideration of the what that really means. Public transport and easy access. So getting back across the city, riding the tube/bus and covered in dripping mud just wouldn’t work.

In fact, the first thing the FAQs state is: ‘You won’t be getting muddy though, so no need to worry about bringing spare clothes or towels’. As a bit of a clean freak, I liked this bit very much.

The Course

So, having seen the Half a few years ago I figured the set up would be pretty similar, and it was.

Despite waking up to a very damp London, I arrived at the Mudder Village a few hours later and found everywhere to have dried up considerably and sky a less intimidating shade of grey than it had been upon departure.

After spending an unexpectedly long time following the frustratingly sparse signs to the site, I proceeded through to Check-In where time stamped wrist bands were provided, along with an after-run-beer voucher, a RFID chip and a photography sticker that would allow for easy identification of myself in any official photographs.

The Village was filled with several food/coffee stands, a handful of promo tents, a small picnic area, toilets and a smattering of runners waddling around in the quagmire of churned up mud and turf. At this point I realised I’d taken that note about not getting muddy a bit too literally. But there were many other people dressed very similar to me, and besides, city or not, mud is part and parcel of any Tough Mudder event.

The thing about Tough Mudder, and these kind of fun run/obstacle races in general, is just how inclusive they are. This is not an event that attracts the Fit Elite. The age limit for entry dips as low as 14 years old and looking around it was clear that a fair number of teenagers had signed up. So too had an entire microcosm of the London demographic: young, old, in shape, out of shape, solo runners, team runners, couples, friends, colleagues and everyone in between.

From the Village area it was also possible to see a few of the obstacles, so it was nice to get an idea of them in my mind before heading out. I stretched and moved a little to warm up and headed over to the briefing pen.

Spilling through the gate and into this waiting area I was joined by around 100 other runners and we were led through an odd dance/getting-to-know-each other routine by the DJ, before slipping into a warm-up sequence of star jumps and screaming at each other. Job done, we joined in with the Tough Mudder Pledge and were on our merry way towards Obstacle numero uno.

The Obstacles

In the run up to the event an email is sent that provides various bit of information about event day things: what to do if you want/need to change your start time, how registration works, what to bring, what happens to spectators etc. The other thing that is provided is a course map.

As we can see, there are 11 obstacles dotted around the course and they all have names. Some names seem pretty self-explanatory, like Get Low and Mudder Wheelbarrow, whilst others…not so much. Devil’s Beard? Giant A-Hole? Most of the obstacles are either listed on the website, or are up on YouTube, but a few of them are not. These are the obstacles I’d be going in blind for.

But, what’s the worst that could happen?

Bale Bonds

Looking at the map, the first obstacle seemed a fair distance away from the start line but in fact it turned out to be a little less than 1km. This first little run proved to be an immediate deconstruction of the crowd of runners that had just exploded across the start line. It was also here that my first consideration blossomed: how should I be pacing myself here?

I’m a confident runner, but this was not a race and I wanted to enjoy the experience with no pretension to ‘winning’ or leading the pack. I settled in behind the front 10% and found a rhythm. Also, having signed up as a solo runner, I did not have a team mate(s) to keep in line with.

The obstacle in question was a relatively easy introduction to the course: a selection of hay bails that required traversing. The first two rows could effectively be leapt over and the third simply had an extra level, so required just a smidge more effort.

Nevertheless, by this point my blood was warmed and I was already loving it. Grateful for the lack of rain (this is London we’re talking about, after all) I jogged onwards to…

Skid Marked

Having done my research I was curious to find out how successful I would be with this one. Looking at the pictures and a few videos it seemed as though being the first one up would be a bit more tricky than the bails.

I took a run up at an empty wall and muscled my way up and over. I realised that my muscle up training is actually having some transferrable, functional value! I turned round and offered a hand to a few other runners and by the time I jumped down from the wall myself, I found that they had waited for me. Suddenly part of a foursome, we headed on towards something called a…

Devil’s Beard

Despite an intimidating name, the Devil’s Beard is in fact a large cargo net tied to the ground. All we had to do was shuffle under it and shimmy our way back to freedom. Oddly enough this one proved more challenging than Skid Marked simply because of how awkward it was. Though not heavy, the netting continually caught hold of my heels meaning my rhythm was broken by having to frequently untangle them!

We figured that the best way to deal with the obstacle was to stay close to each other, keep as tall as possible and allow the netting to roll over us. After around 30m we rolled out onto the track and heading onwards towards the…

Giant A-Hole

From the Village, the Giant A-Hole is the most impressive looking given its size and function. The construction ultimately served as two different obstacles and the first meant clambering over it.

Built to resemble the ‘A’ of its name, this first encounter meant picking our way up a couple of levels that increased in gradient, using more cargo netting to do so, walking over the top and descending the other side. The genius of this one is that after a few obstacles and the 2km run, doing so requires a little more core strength than first impressions might initially indicate.

Safely back on squidgy, muddy ground, the four of us hustled on over to the next station: a 100m stretch of grass with absolutely nothing on it…

Mudder Wheelbarrow

Arguably the most basic challenge on the course, this was the first obstacle that would be impossible to do solo. Jumping over the bails, climbing the wall, crawling beneath the net and climbing over the ‘A’ could quite feasibly be done with no input from anyone else. The Mudder Wheelbarrow, however, is a two-person game.

As old school as it was basic, the obstacle required partners taking turns in driving the ‘wheelbarrow’. The first person assumes a press-up position whilst the other grabs their legs and supports their weight as they move towards the check point. Partners swap roles and head to the next point.

Having only recently recovered from a wrist injury I was interested to see how it would hold up and was relieved and grateful that it presented no problem at all. So, after catching our breaths for a collective second, the four of us ploughed on to the…

Hero Walls

‘Berlin Walls’ as described here, although remarkably similar to the Hero Walls

Not too dissimilar to Skid Marked, the biggest difference here was the height and the gradient of the wall. Whereas the Skid Marked walls are maybe 7ft high and angled forwards slightly, the Hero Walls are around 10ft high and perpendicular to the ground. The only way for the whole team to get over was work together.

Planting myself at the bottom of the wall in a crouch, I linked my hands together to provide an elevated platform and one by one the group climbed up and over me which each subsequent climber helping to pull the next up.

As I was tall enough I was able to jump up and catch the top of the wall and was helped up by my new Mudder chums. We were proving to be a very nicely functioning team!

We did this a second time before stepping on the gas and making for…

Get Low

A welcome respite and an opportunity to catch a couple more breaths, Get Low is the quintessential crawling-through-mud exercise. Ducking under a low wooden frame roofed with chicken wire we crawled on hands and knees until a dropped level forced us fully prone and crawling like commandos.

Not much need for teamwork and not much effort required. But if we thought that was relaxed, one of us was in for a treat at the next station.

Clean & Jerk

One of the few obstacles that had alluded me in my research, the Clean & Jerk proved to be another obstacle truly dependent on working as a team. It is, essentially, a stretcher carry: One person hunkers down onto a canvas stretcher whilst the rest of the team carried them round to the finish line.

Our lightest member, Mathilde, put her feet up and we three guys shuffled round the course. Mathilde was able to recover a little bit of energy whilst we all stepped off the throttle somewhat so as to a) keep our passenger safe and free from a bumpy ride and b) to power back up just a little.

In fact, by this point (which was only 4km) the exertion of the course was noticeable. Whereas a 4km is a comfortable distance, the added work makes it feel more like 7 or 8km.

Nevertheless, with less than 1km to go only a few more obstacles awaited us, the first of which was…

Hanging Out

Now, I love suspended rings, ropes and most things that allow me to swing about in the air so this one was one of the more enjoyable challenges of the entire course.

The other challenge connected to the ‘Giant A-Hole’ frame, Hanging Out is a series of 12-15 monkey rings that simply require traversal. This was more relaxing than anything and whilst one of the team needed a little guidance regarding technique, we all glided through this one comfortably.

Everest

Almost immediately after Hanging Out, the next obstacle was laid out. This time there would be no swinging around: Everest is a quarter-pipe obstacle requiring a sprint and jump technique in order to overcome it.

Opting to run third, two teammates made short work of it, running and jumping with grace. I took my run up but hit the pipe with a little too much mud on my shoes and so slipped as I jumped. Fortunately I managed to catch hold of the ledge and both Mudder Buddies managed to grab me and so I clambered up on the first attempt. A relief, as during the wait to start I’d caught a glimpse of several runners having real trouble with this one. Like, crowd-gasping, everyone-is-watching trouble.

Our fourth member followed suit and was up and over in a blink. We stayed back and helped a few other runners up before climbing back down and teeing ourselves up for the final obstacle…

Pyramid Scheme

Let’s be clear about this, Pyramid Scheme is the 5K’s definition of teamwork-obstacle. The Wheelbarrow and the Clean & Jerk aside, here’s an obstacle that is not for the one-man army. In fact, it’s the only obstacle on the course that required simultaneous input from the entire team.

The picture above provides quite a good indication of the challenge but picture this: a 25ft, smooth surfaced wall at a 45 degree incline. Even the world’s great sprint and jump technique isn’t going to help here.

So, two teammates stood at the base of the wall and I clambered up them to the mid-level support beam. With a helping hand from a fifth runner I positioned myself so that the fourth member of the team could climb up the first two and use my legs to pull himself up to the midway point too. I stayed put to provide the same assistance to the next runner and the runner after that. Once everyone was up they moved to the top level and helped to get me up too.

And then, as quickly as it began, we’d finished. Climbing down from Pyramid Scheme we took a 10 step job to the finish line where we were adorned with headbands and invited to collect our finisher’s T-shirts, a bottle of water, a granola bar and a cider.

Having started 40 minutes earlier, it wasn’t the fastest 5km, but having paid little attention to setting personal bests and working together with a lovely little team, the time was not a concern in the slightest.

Sat together in a mild state of runner’s high, we realised that we’d done a good job running together. It seems the next run is only a sprint and jump away.


The Advice

So, having now run the course, the advice for any one thinking about taking part in the Tough Mudder 5K is pretty simple:

  1. Go with a sense of fun: this is not a race
  2. Enjoy the spirit of Tough Mudder and actively help others
  3. If you’re running solo, don’t worry – there’ll be plenty of others around to help out.

That’s it!

Oh, and be prepared to get a little muddy. Probably not head-to-toe caking, but enough to make you question how much you like the trainers you’re wearing…

The Verdict

Difficulty: 2/5. Some technically demanding obstacles, but overall a light 5km run.

Level of fun: 5/5. Even more enjoyable than I had originally expected.

Cost: £35 (with a small discount)/ £60 without

Value for money: Excellent


This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 

November & December Overview

“How did it get so late so soon?”

Dr. Seuss

I’d apologise for being late but, like Antoine de Saint-Exupery said:

“The time for action is now. It’s never too late to do something”

Ok, I apologise. No excuses.

In a previous post I set a number of goals to accomplish for November. Launch date was 5th November and, in general, it was a healthy start to monthly goals and check ins. There were a couple of set backs but ultimately most goals were accomplished. 

Here’s how things stand:

  • Book a floatation experience @ London Floatation Centre or Floatworks
    • Booked: @ London Floatation Centre. Due to the rather busy last few weeks  and now being in Vilnius attendance will be in January so as to make the most of it. See below. 
  • Contact a new hero/inspiration: Ella Frances Sanders
    • Emailed: 12th November, after several read-throughs of both ‘Lost in Translation‘ and ‘Speaking in Tongues‘. Both of which are beautiful books and both come highly recommended.
  • Join a class @ Foundry Fit
    • Joined: NOT ACCOMPLISHED
      • I managed to pick up a delightful helping of De Quervain’s tenosynovitis [the swelling of the tendons on the inside/thumb-side of the wrist] after getting a bit carried away with handstand practice. This repetitive strain injury is a very annoying and painful niggle that means weight-bearing exercises wherein the wrist is flexed and pressure applied (yup, handstands, but also press ups, military presses etc.), or reaching movements coupled with extension of the thumb (even grabbing the bar for a pullup is a bit tasty), are particularly troubling. I’ve taken to wearing a wrist restraint in order to accelerate recovery but given the nature and location of the injury, it will be sometime in the new year that I’ll be able to get back to normal. For now, workshops, classes and handstand practice will have to go on the back burner. The good news is that the wrist is clearly on the mend. 
  • Go swimming at least twice; consider Sunday afternoons.
    • First Swim: 26th November
    • Second Swim: Missed. Dammit.
  • Finish reading The Slaughterhouse Five and then read The Year of Living Danishly.  
    • Slaugherhouse Five: Completed 11 November 2017
      • Witty, sharp and relevant then, now and tomorrow. Super short read. It’s filled with hilarious lines like:
        • ‘Montana was naked, and so was Billy, of course. He had a tremendous wang, incidentally. You never know who’ll get one.’
      • …and cynical ironies like:
        • ‘That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones’
      • Note to self: watch the movie now and see how it compares. 
    • The Year of Living Danishly: Completed.
      • Loved it for its charm, inspired by its image of Denmark [I wouldn’t mind a year of living Danishly myself now…] and encouraged by Helen’s bravery to up sticks and embrace a new culture with wide open arms. 
  • Learn 300 new Lithuanian words
    • Video: Technical difficulties
  • Book in for a deep tissue massage
    • Booked: Royal Spa, Birštonas. 30th December.
  • Post a blog for each of the following:
  • At the end of the month upload a video detailing the success/failure of the above
    • Technical difficulties
  • Other accomplishments:
    • UKAD accredited adviser

Difficulties

A couple of things happened during the month that threw a bit of a spanner in the works. The first was a wrist injury. Despite having a slight twinge for a few months it became significantly more debilitating at the start of November and it became clear that I had De Quervain’s tenosynovitis. I’d had this before and recognised it immediately after waking up and feeling the tendon ping during the regular morning stretch. It’s not a particularly uncommon condition and though the causes are not precisely documented it is most likely to stem from repetitive actions.

De Quervains tenosynovitis affects the tendon/s on the inside of the wrist that facilitate thumb movement. It makes thumb flexion (i.e. thumbs up and grasping the thumb in one’s fist and rotating the hand downwards) painful and consequently renders anything like pinching, grabbing, making a fist and internal rotation very uncomfortable. It also makes excessive flexion painful too, hence the difficulty with pressups and handstands. Also, say good by to screaming guitar solos.

As the tendons in the wrist are protected beneath a sheath there is a somewhat restricted area for them to move through. In this instance as the tenosynovitis is ultimately inflammation of the synovium sheath (which is further protected by the tendon sheath), that space becomes less and so whereas once the tendons could slide smoothly beneath it that movement will continue to irritate it.

In most cases simply resting the wrist is the best way to deal with the condition although in more extreme circumstances it is possible to have steroid injections or minor surgery to release the pressure.

Whilst resting the wrist there are a few things that can be done to help, all of which can be done whenever and wherever is most convenient:

  • Limit and avoid activities that may promote further stress on the tendon and therefore increase pain and discomfort
  • Wear a wrist brace or a splint to restrict movement and lock the hand into a more consistently stable position
  • Apply ice packs for 5-15 minutes, several times a day
  • Adapt necessary lifting activities [like lifting babies, super cute puppies and bags of delicious, fresh vegetables]
  • Do rehabilitation exercises such as those below:
    • Thumb lifts and opposition stretches
    • Manual thumb flexion
    • Self massage
    • The Finkelstein stretch
    • Wrist flexion and extension
    • Ulnar deviation (with and without resistance)
    • Finger spring
  • For pain relief anti-inflammatories such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help but I’m not a big advocate of any kind of drug use. So, this one is here simply by way of acknowledging a relatively obvious remedy.

The Other Mighty Pain in The Buttocks

My phone contracted a serious battery illness and I had no choice but to admit it into a specialist care centre for a transplant. That was at the start of December. This meant that for most of the time I was without a conveniently sized camera to record daily life. That’s put a bit of a spanner in the works for goals 20-22. So, either I need to reconsider how I can achieve them (currently I have no idea as to when I can expect the phone back as my emails to the tech centre are being ignored) or retrofit those 3 spaces with other exciting items. 

In apprehension of retrofitting them, I propose the following amendments to the Developmental section:

  • #20 – Start a blog and commit to it
  • #21 – Schedule a self-development day before the end of February 2018 and schedule one for every month that follows
  • #22 – Do something painful, scary and/or both every day [post on IG once we’re back in the 21st century and have a phone to do so with].

Sorted.

Now, as we’re already in January it’s pertinent to outline the goals that I set myself at the end of November for December before slipping into the plans for January. Many have already been acted upon.

December

  • Tough Mudder
  • Nordic Race
    • Signed up. 19 May 2018. Strandparken
      • In a beautiful twist of a fate a very good friend, who happens to live right by Strandparken, is also running the race. Hurrah for race buddies. 
  • Blood Work [including RBC, cholesterol, testosterone, Vitamin D]
    • Completed, waiting on results.
      • Fun fact: I can only get my blood test results through the GP I initially requested them through. I did not know this. Having lived in London for 3 years I only signed up to the local GP surgery in December… in order to request the blood tests. Here’s the process: 
        • Call surgery to arrange registration then attend surgery to complete paperwork.
        • Make appointment to have initial consultation with doctor. Expect to wait approx. 2 weeks.
        • Visit doctor and chit chat about this and that. Ask to have a blood test and receive a document to take to nearest blood test centre.
        • Plan not to eat and drink (except H2O) for 12 hours.
        • Arrive at blood test centre and take a ticket. Wait to be seen. 
        • Have blood taken (by a very professional phlebotomist – I’m not a fan of blood tests. It’s not the sight of blood but rather the cringe-inducing image of a sharp object being inserted into the tender, tender crook of my elbow. Yeuch) and head to work.
        • Wait a week for results. 
        • Make another appointment to see the GP. Expect to wait another 2 weeks.
        • Wait for phone call but doctor never calls.
        • Make new appointment, wait longer. 
      • But, I jest. I completely understand the need for a GP in the process of collecting results: a blood test is a blood test no matter the reasons it went ahead and the test may very well throw up some unexpected, and potentially distressing results.
  • Skydive
    • Provisionally pencilled in for June
  • Swimming
    • First Swim @ Impuls. Vilnius. 23rd December
    • Second Swim @ Impuls. Vilnius. 28th December.
    • Third Swim @ Royal Spa, Birštonas. 29th and/or 30th December.
    • Fourth Swim @ Impul. Vilnius. 31st December.
  • Blog Posts
  • Read
    • Artemis – Andy Weir
      • I’ll say this: Artemis proves The Martian wasn’t a fluke but it might take a few chapters to appreciate the language style. Jazz’s first person narration is even more chatty/mate-y than Watney’s vlogs.
    • The Book of Dust – Philip Pullman
      • Welcome back, Mr. Pullman. 
  • Contact a new hero: Helen Russell
    • Contact: 31st December 2017
  • Have a manicure
    • Done. What a dream! Who knew? 
  • Application to NFTS Diploma in Script Development
    • Submission pending.

December was unexpectedly more busy than planned. Hence the serious lack of posting. I did a lot of getting stuff done, but finding the time to make substantial posts was a bit too tricky. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise in relation to the above goals was the manicure. As a (I like to believe) relatively typical male, nail care hasn’t, historically, been near the top of my list of concerns. But now that I’ve had one. Oh boy. It’s just skipped a few places closer up that list. For the first time since birth my nails looked sharp and tidy. There’s no before picture as evidence but Operation Clean Up T’s Nails resulted in something special. Observe:

IMG_0966IMG_0963IMG_0965

Ok, enough of the nails already because then December screamed into January…

I love new year. It’s a blank canvas if you want it to be, a fresh stage upon which to be someone new or try something different. Or, it’s simply a new space on the calendar. I posted a recent blog about it. 

I’m still feeling excited about the year. Here are some of the chief goals:

January 

  • Flotation Tank
    • Booked and scheduled for 22nd January
  • Porchester Spa
    • Scheduled for Friday 19th January
  • Pedicure
  • Book a massage
  • Swimming
  • Begin new training
    •  In preparation for the runs I need to incorporate more cardio into my workouts alongside endurance work, more mobility drills and, unfortunately, cold water acclimatisation. Expect to see a post for this shortly (and see below).
  • Blog posts
    • Monthly weigh-in and muscle-in: Going into #project20nine what are my baseline stats?
      • To be posted on 14/01/2018.
    • 29 Things to be Grateful for in 2017
      • To be posted on 15/01/2018
    • How Much Coffee is Too Much Coffee?
      • To be posted before end of Jan
    • Where’s my concentration? The disappearance of the human attention span
      • To be posted before end of Jan
    • How to make the most of a long weekend in Reykjavik
      • To be posted before end of Jan
    • How to Meditate With Purpose
      • To be posted before end of Jan
  • Contact a new hero: Tim Ferriss

That’s it. Happy new year: make January count!

Over and out until the next one…


This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 

The 1 Thing More Effective Than New Year Resolutions

It’s January 6th 2018, less than a week since New Year’s Day. Have you managed to stick to your resolution/s? Have you hit the gym every day? Have you managed to go without a single cigarette all week? Or has there been a hiccup along the way?

Be honest with yourself. No one is judging.

If there was a hiccup you’re not alone. In fact, it’s quite likely that some of us who had planned to start the year with a resolution didn’t even get that far. I’ve got a handful of fingers counting off people I know who didn’t even make it a day.

In fact, in a YouGov poll (carried out on behalf of LowLow) over 60% of the UK planned on making a new year resolution for the year 2015. Almost one third (32%) of those participants admitted that their resolutions are usually broken by the end of January, compared to just 10% of them who said their resolutions remain resolute all year.

So, if you did hit a bump in the road, no one is judging. Really. Stop being so hard on yourself. You did better than others just by turning up.

And for those of us who are still going strong: you’re awesome, keep it up. Only 359 days left.

But there’s something I’d like you to think about.

Why did you wait until January 1st to get started? If a new year resolution is self-improvement, why did you put off being a better version of who you already are?


“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”

Benjamin Franklin

January 1st is an arbitrary date.

It’s not a law to make a resolution and start it on the first day of the year. What’s more, by lining up at the starting line of the new year, you’ve inadvertently put yourself at a disadvantage:

You already have an excuse ready for failure

In the pressure to keep up with everyone else, you’ve probably clutched at a stock answer resolution rather than making a deeply personal choice. You probably set up a resolution because hey, that’s what we all do on January 1st… Was your heart even in it?

Everyone’s watching and everyone has their expectations

More than close friends and family that you consider ‘everyone’, asking each other what new year resolutions they’ve made is a go to conversation point in the first few weeks of the year. That barista serving you a coffee. The charity worker wanting you to sign up to make monthly donations. The postman. The milkman. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker?

That’s everyone.

You’re more likely to take set backs more sensitively

“I’ve ruined the year.”

“What’s the point?”

“I was never going to succeed anyway…”

We’ve become attuned to making grand statements of intent at the start of the year because we attribute the new year to a blank canvas. With this mentality, we have to wait the entire year before we get another one. So, if we are anything but perfect in our interaction with our resolutions it’s like we’ve stained the year with failure. 

Here’s the truth: it doesn’t matter! Every day is a blank canvas. Every moment is. We can start a fresh any time we choose and we can try again each and every time we want and need.

You’ve removed the opportunity to use each day for self betterment, no matter what number it says on the calendar

By allocating a single day every year to kick off a resolution; to make a change or do something that you’ve waited months to be allowed to official begin, 363 opportunities to do just that have been rejected by definition. 

See you next year, Mr. Opportunity to Be Whoever I Choose To Be.

A single, larger goal is more daunting than choosing to make small changes more consistently

Typical resolutions are easy to think of:

  • Exercise more
  • Lose weight
  • Eat more healthy
  • Quit smoking
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Save £XX
  • Learn a language
  • Spend more time with the folks
  • Start a business 

By looking at the intended goal: to lose 5kg, to hit the gym 6 days a week, to nail Lithuanian, we can lose sight of the journey and the little steps that it takes to get there. If we see the individual components of the goal we can feel more confident and empowered. 

So, ask yourself, why do tomorrow that which you can do today?

The 1 Thing More Effective Than New Year’s Resolutions

“The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment”

Tony Robbins

Waiting to start a ‘resolution’ on January 1st is time wasting. It’s deliberation and it doesn’t serve you well.

Here’s an idea: resolve to start today.

If you want to lose weight, why put it off until January 1st? It won’t help and it won’t be any easier if you do. In fact, chances are you will have made the decision to commit to a new diet and exercise regime in December, right before that final festive binge. Waiting until January 1st isn’t going to be easier, it’s going to be harder. Think about it.

If you want to learn a new language this year and have asked Santa to bring you a nice teach yourself guide to German crack it open on Christmas morning and test out wishing everyone Frohe Weihnachten. In the 7 days until January 1st you could have learned 70 new words.

What if you’ve vowed to finally give up smoking? If each cigarette you smoke is going to steal 11 minutes of your life…quit yesterday.

We’re all champions of our own fate and there’s no value in waiting to make it. Once we shake off the mentality that a new year is a new start we’ll free ourselves to the potential of every new day.

So, if you want to achieve something, don’t wait for Go. 

Simply go for it. 

Making resolutions stick

Worthwhile resolutions are not difficult because of a lack of enthusiasm for it. A worthwhile resolution is one that you desire the outcome of. It’s a goal that you want to achieve and understand what it takes to do so.

A resolution shouldn’t be something that you don’t want to do. Doing what you don’t want to do is difficult; doing what you want to do is something else entirely.

It’s hard work but there’s a thrill in the chase.

Somewhere out there on the horizon, nestled on the precipice of 2019, there’s a podium waiting for you to climb. It’s a podium with only one step.

First place.

Make it or break it, you’ll climb that step a winner with a smile on your face.

Let’s break it down…


The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘resolution’ as:

A firm decision to do or not to do something.

The word ‘decision’, of course, referring to:

A conclusion or resolution reached after consideration

And ‘consideration’ means:

Careful thought, typically over a period of time.

So therefore we can say that a resolution is:

A firm conclusion to do, or not do, something reached after a period of careful thought.

In other words, you’ve taken stock, evaluated your needs and wants against the cost of achieving them, and come to the realisation of what you need to do in order to get them.

So in order to build a resolution that you can find success in there are a handful of simple tactics to use.

They’re the 4P’s of resolution building:

  1. Personal
  2. Positive
  3. Precise
  4. Perceptive

Success Is Yours, Take It [1. Personal]

The resolutions need to be meaningful to you. Even if the goal involves a third party the goal still belongs to you and you’ll still be the one responsible for it.

Both Tony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within and David J. Schwartz’s The Magic of Thinking Big are fantastic starting points for personal goal-setting.

Consider The Cup Half Full [2. Positive]

No, quitting smoking will not be effortless.

No, losing weight won’t just be a walk in the park.

No, learning Mandarin will not be easy. 

But yes, you’ll feel great once you remove cigarettes from your life or fit into those sexy jeans again or flirt with the pretty Chinese girl in the airport lounge. 

Nothing worth having in life ever came easy but nothing easy ever really had much value. 

Specificity [3. Precise]

Remember at school being asked to make SMART goals? The principle applies here.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Let’s take a common resolution: to lose weight, and apply the SMART principle.

First, make the goal..

Specific

How much weight do I want to lose? Why do I want to lose it? Can I visualise the end result? What is the definition of my goal?

By being specific you will have a goal with clearly defined boundaries and therefore a clearly definable measure of success. This is the Big Picture.

Measurable

What are my micro and macro goals? How much do I want to lose in the first month? How will I track my progress?

The breaking down of a goal is fundamental in understanding how best to accomplish it. Want to lose 5kg in the next 5 months in time for a summer on the beach? 5kg (the goal) becomes 1kg per month (the macro goal) which becomes 250g per week (the micro goal). Now you have regular, weekly evaluation points to allow you to understand the rate of your success and make any adjustments more frequently, as needed. This is your Road Map of Check Points.

Achievable

What do I need in order to lose the weight? Am I able to do these things? If not, is there a workaround or alternative? Do I have the resources to allow me to do what I need to?

This is where you devise a plan of action. You’ve got a Big Picture, you’ve got a Road Map of Check Points, now it’s time to figure out your approach. Have a plan A and a plan B, with a plan C and a plan D tucked away for safe keeping in case of emergencies. After all, failing to prepare is preparing to fail, right? Consider this the Itinerary of Accomplishment.

Realistic

Is losing this amount of weight possible?

Simply put, does everything seem like a sure thing? It might take really hard work to get there, but between visualising success and charting a course for it, will the time and energy invested in it pay-off? Or, put another way, what else good can come from it if you don’t make it? Have a Voice of Reason. If you’re working on losing those 5kg but only manage to reach 3.5kg that’s still a net loss and a net gain: you’ve lost weight and, in all likelihood, become a lot fitter, healthier and more in tune with eating right since starting. Win win. 

Time-bound

Do I have enough time to realistically achieve my measurable goals? Again, what are my micro and macro goals? What time frame do I have to work with?

Intrinsic to your evaluation of how realistic the goal is, understanding the time constraint is really important. After working on the S-M-A and R a closer look at the time you have to work with may trigger amendments back along the chain. Perhaps you have so much time that you are able to step things up a notch and aim to lose 5kg as well as add 1kg of solid, rippling muscle. Or, perhaps upon reflection 5 months is pushing it. Maybe 5kg should be 4kg. But be objective rather than subjective: if deep down you know it will simply take a little more hard work…work a little more hard. This is your Application Period

So, by utilising the SMART principle you’ll have used your Voice of Reason to settle on a Big Picture, plot out a Road Map of Check Points and draw up your Itinerary of Accomplishment all within your Application Period.  

Pay attention to the process

“The journey is the thing…”

Homer

Aiming to achieve a particular goal, like losing a certain amount of weight or learning a language, is motivating and exciting because of the anticipation of success. 

But there’s more. 

Going from zero to hero is a journey; it’s a joy ride through lessons, failures, successes and all the grey areas in between. 

So, keep an eye on the prize but enjoy every moment. It’s the time between starting and finishing that ultimately offers the greatest reward. You’ll come face to face with the unexpected, be asked to dig deeper than you realised you could and reach higher than your dared to believe you ever would. 

And, when all’s said and done, zoom out from your Big Picture and you’ll see that it’s just another marker on the Road Map of Check Points. 


The Takeaway

Track and assess: consistently

Making a resolution for a prolonged period of time (like a year) naturally makes it a longitudinal goal. Things change all the time and, certainly towards the start, your rate of success will be an unknown quantity. A predication at best. The micro and macro goals that you’ve lined up may not necessarily go as planned as you’re likely to be sailing in uncharted waters so track and record your progress daily, review every goal and use this new information to move forwards to the next one.

Expect the unexpected

Every road has bumps. Life happens so the more ready we are for disruptions to the plan the better equipped we will be to deal with them so that our goals and resolutions can still be accomplished. 

Build strategies into your goal-setting 

You’ve considered your goal in relation to the SMART principle and have thought about potential pitfalls and hazards [A]. Use this evaluation to devise backup plans, workarounds and opportunities to mitigate as much disruption to your success as possible.

Don’t be greedy: Prioritise 

What is the big goal? The more resolutions you have, the more your focus will be split. Focusing on one thing at a time will make you more likely to accomplish it. If you like a lot of entries to tick off, break your big goal down into as many micro and macro goals as you like. You’ll feel super accomplished as you tick-tick-tick everything but will remain 100% centred on the big goal.

Let it go.

If you happen to have a bit of a tricky day and end up falling off of the Resolution Wagon don’t let it ruin the resolution. Pick yourself up and get right back on. Failing one time shouldn’t stop you from trying again. And again and again if necessary. Remember, it’s your resolution. No one’s watching. No one’s judging. 


 

9 Things Everyone Should Do Before 9am

“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment.

Full effort is victory.”

Mahatma Ghandi

21st century living is busy. Life is full on and time is not on our side. A full-time job, kids and social responsibilities mean that we’re often left with little space and time for ourselves.

It seems like we have little opportunity to grow, right? How do we do it? If we don’t figure it out, before we know it the day, the week and the month will have passed us by and all we’ll have done is…well, got up, gone to work, and fulfilled our responsibilities.

Before we know it we’ll have blinked and fast forwarded 25 years and be left standing in the dust, wondering where all the time went.

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose”

Lyndon B Johnson

Winning the day by being super productive and motivated immediately upon waking is a message that we’re surrounded by and it’s not a new ideology.

Carpe Diem? We’ve got Horace to thank for that one.

It’s a message that we’re surrounded by for a reason: it’s a truth. And more than that, with a little effort the output can be tenfold the input.

But it’s all well and good being told this: actions speak louder than words.

So let’s take 9am as the average start to a working day and work backwards from there. If you’re an early riser then bonus points to you, but rising early and having a good night’s sleep too might not equate with certain lifestyles so it is necessary to find balance.

We must shape our days with focus and value. If we want to achieve things then we need to understand how best to use the time we have.

First things first:

Recalibrate

Like putting on a pair of slippers, sliding into a comfortable routine is easy to do. Most of us have our routines and those routines are most likely to be effortless.

But here’s the secret: we have to put a little effort in. The more effort we put in, the greater the return on our initial investment. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And to do that we need to lay new foundations.

21st Century Debt & Mission: You

This article is a call to arms.

This is Mission: You, and it’s designed to help cultivate a more fulfilling lifestyle that will eventually become second nature.

Is your downtime spent well? Spent conscientiously? Or, like many of us, have you somehow become accustomed to filling your time with distractions and inconsequential activities? An hour flicking through IG feeds? Youtubing one too many cat videos? Binging on boxsets a bit too often? Fun things, but in the grand scheme of it all…fruitless.

It’s the 21st Century debt. We’re spending more and more of our own time on nonsense and accruing an interest on it that can only be paid back one way: making smarter choices on what we spend the rest of our time on.

But we have to consciously make the decision to switch.

Here’s the truth: we’re all masters of our own destiny.

That means YOU are the master of your destiny. And mastery of one’s destiny begins with mindset.

Believe in You.

Here’s another truth: small changes add up to a big difference.

With new year upon us why not set yourself the small goal of experimenting with making a small change to your comfortable routine? Replace those comfy old slippers that you’ve worn in just how you like them with a new pair and soon you’ll find that you’ve worn them in just the way you like them too. Only, that new pair of slippers will be the 2.0 version. Super slippers worn by a super you.

All it will take is a few hours every morning doing 9 simple things summed up by 9 simple words:

  1. Hibernate
  2. Hydrate
  3. Meditate
  4. Activate
  5. Invigorate
  6. Ingurgitate
  7. Motivate
  8. Evaluate
  9. Facilitate

Get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep [1. Hibernate]

Getting enough sleep is a basic, fundamental need. Our candles are not designed to burn at both ends. Maslow (1943, 1954) identified five tiers of human needs:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs 

At the foundation of the hierarchy are our physiological needs: those things that we cannot do without. ‘Food, water, warmth, rest’. These are basic needs.

In the UK, the Royal Society for Public Health has recognised that the population is under-sleeping by an average of almost an hour every night. That would equate to an entire night’s sleep lost every week. That 21st century debt of ours? It’s accruing from the get go.

Under-sleeping has knock-on effects too:

  • Poorer dietary choices
  • Higher levels of stress
  • Loss of focus and concentration
  • Higher risk of cancer and strokes
  • Increased weight gain
  • Reduced immunity
  • Reduced libido
  • Mood fluctuation
  • Impulsivity
  • Substance dependency
  • Decreased memory
  • Reduced communication, creativity and socialisation

On the other hand, getting enough sleep has a myriad of benefits*:

  • Less stress
  • Increased creativity, communication and socialisation
  • Better metabolism
  • Less risk of depression
  • Reduced risk of cancer and strokes
  • Less weight can and greater muscle gain after exercise
  • Improved memory
  • Increased immunity
  • Less inflammation
  • More stable moods
  • More likely to have a better diet
  • Less impulsive

For adults, we generally need 7-9 hours. Getting enough sleep is fundamental to the success of the 9 steps identified in this post so the key is to work backwards. Do you function better with 7, 8 or 9 hours? Maybe you need less, or more? The point is this: if you want to wake up at 5am to capitalise on those early morning hours then bedding down at 1am isn’t going to cut it.

Remember: recalibrate. If you need 8 hours and want to get started at 5am then it should be lights out at 9pm.

The other thing to note in here is the value of sleeping in the nude. Sleeping butt-nekkid has been proven to be incredibly healthy.

By sleeping naked you can help reduce your body temperature and a lower body temperature leads to much better sleep thanks to lower levels of cortisol. Higher levels of cortisol lead to feeling anxious and unsettled. Cortisol is the stress hormone.

The production and release of melatonin and growth hormone is also affected by higher temperatures so stripping down will only help that magical growth hormone work its magic in helping to keep you looking, and feeling, more youthful for longer. In fact, HGH is intrinsic to weight loss and muscle gain too.

Other benefits include:

  • Increased confidence
  • Higher sex drive and improved sex life
  • Improved metabolism
  • Increased blood circulation
  • Healthier skin

At the very, very least you’ll also be less stressed thanks to better, deeper sleep.

A Glass of Water is Your New Best Friend [2. Hydrate]

According to The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the average adult male and female needs an intake of 2.5 and 2.0 litres of water respectively, per day. The Natural Hydration Council provides further, succinct guidance here.

So, once you’ve woken and sprung right up and out of bed, drink a small bottle of water. A 500ml bottle of water consumed first thing in the morning will do a handful of things:

Fire up the metabolism

A study published in the Journal of of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism exploring the effects of Water-Induced Thermogenesis found that ‘drinking 500 ml of water increased metabolic rate by 30%.’

Flush the body of toxins

The kidneys eliminate toxins and waste products from the blood and urine, as well as process water-soluble toxins from the liver. Without proper hydration, the kidneys will not have enough fluid to do their job and so instead of flushing out waste through urine, the body will retain it.

Rehydrate you

You haven’t taken in any fluids since you went to sleep 7 – 9 hours ago. If you need more proof of dehydration, check out the colour of your urine.

Keep you from eating too much

The logic here is simple: if your stomach is filled with a zero-calorie substance, you’ll be less likely to feel hungry and, thanks to the lack of calories, will also be less likely to put on weight.

Refresh, and improve, brain function

The brain is 75% water and the most fatty organ in the body. Without water you’ll feel lethargic, be less focused and be more prone to mood swings.

The Japanese Water Theory of consuming between 800 – 1.2l of room temperature/lukewarm water upon waking is equally beneficial, if not more so. In addition to the above, it is said to:

  • Help clear the colon
  • Reduce the risk of headache
  • Give the skin a healthy glow
  • Rid the body of waste
  • Improve immunity
  • Help alleviate conditions such as diabetes, kidney stones, asthma and angina.

Our bodies are over 70% water; we’re literally made of the stuff.

Clear Your Mind and Focus [3. Meditate]

Ed Zwick made his first Tom Cruise movie in 2003. Inspired by the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigō Takamori, The Last Samurai is a historical epic that follows a United States calvary captain, Nathan Algren (Cruise), as he ventures to Japan to help train Imperial soldiers in the war against the rebelling samurai warriors. During the first conflict he is captured but rather than be treated as he expects to be, Algren is invited to understand the way of the samurai and treated as a guest.

One of his earliest lessons is to clear his mind:

Nobutada: “Please forgive…too many mind.”

Algren: “Too many mind?”

Nobutada: “Hai (yes).  Mind the sword, mind the people watch (watching), mind the enemy, too many mind.  No mind.”

Algren: “No mind?”

Nobutada: “No mind.”

This exchange between Nobutada, a young samurai warrior, and Algren is a wonderful way to think about meditation. If there are too many things filling your mind, they’re distracting you and destroying your focus. ‘Too many mind’ is distracting – aim for ‘no mind’.

Meditating early in the morning/soon after waking is a great way to cultivate positivity. One way to meditate is to focus on the things that bring you joy and those that you are grateful for.

“Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

Robert Emmons

Beginning the day in a state of gratitude and thankfulness will make you more likely to attract positivity and the best the universe has to offer. Gratitude begets gratitude: it’s magnetic and infectious.

Exercise [4. Activate]

According to the British Heart Foundation’s ‘Physical Inactivity Report 2017‘, around 39% of adults in the UK fail to meet the government recommendations for physical activity. In a population of 65 million, over 20 million people are not active enough.

Put another way, the World Health Organisation ranks sedentary behaviour among the top 10 leading causes of death worldwide.

If you want to increase your health, happiness and productivity then there’s no time to waste: get familiar with a regular exercise routine immediately. This doesn’t mean pulling on the lycra, headlamps and reflective arm bands and setting off for a trail run at 5am in the bleak mid-winter. Get thee to a gym or a pool, or to a morning yoga class. Or maybe stay home, throw on your copy of Insanity and forgo putting on any gym kit.

The key is to get moving.

The benefits of physical activity are endless and need no introduction. But if you need just a little more inspiration, exercising for just 60 minutes in the morning can lead to:

  • Less stress
  • Greater, and sharper, attention
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle growth

Sound good? Treat your body well and in return it will treat you better.

Use it or lose it, mi amigo.

Wash Off [5. Invigorate]

Once you’ve got your sweat on, it’s time to get it off. But if you thought exercise was a tough packet of biscuits to open, this one ratchets things up a notch.

Ever spent time in a sauna and then cooled off under a nice, icy cold bucket of wet death? Or ended up midway through washing your hair when the hot water runs out? For an instant, the world ended, right?

But cold showers have been proven to have many positive effects and choosing to embrace the cold for a few moments each morning can actually have a big, positive impact on your wellbeing. They can:

  • Build willpower
  • Speed muscle recovery
  • Relieve depression
  • Increase your alertness
  • Improve immunity and circulation
  • Increase testosterone and boost fertility
  • Improve skin and hair

It might take nerves of steel to turn that dial from the red to the blue, but a couple of alternating blasts of cold water will amount to less than a minute. You’ll step out of the shower feeling tingly, energised and ready for the day.

Eat A Healthy Breakfast of Protein, Slow Release Carbs and Good Fat [6. Ingurgitate]

Ok, so I struggled to find a word ending in -ate for this one. I’m talking about refuelling. I’m talking about…

Breakfast.

Breakfast is probably the most vulnerable meal of the day. It’s the first fuel we give to our bodies so getting it right can be tough, or boring. Or both. We’re busy people and skipping the Most Important Meal of the Day is easy to do, and certainly easy to neglect.

It’s common knowledge that:

  • Sugary cereals.
  • Buttery white bread toast.
  • Office donuts and a latte.

…are bad. And that:

  • Oatmeal
  • Eggs
  • Greek yoghurt

…are good. But how do we get the balance right?

There are plenty of studies out there telling us what’s good and what’s bad but as with any meal planning and macro counting, being sure seems to get more and more complicated the more we look into it.

As a rule of thumb Dr. Jacob Wilson, professor and director of the skeletal muscle and sports nutrition laboratory at the Applied Science and Performance Institute in Tampa, Florida, suggests to aim to consume 30-40g of protein, 30g+ of slow release carbs (oatmeal is an easy go to) and 20g of fats (nuts, seeds) at breakfast for a clean, longer lasting source of energy and quality nutrition.

For me, that’s a 5 egg omelette and a small bowl of almond milk cooked oats topped with a spoonful of nut butter. In other words, every day is Christmas.

Listen to Something That Gets You Going [7. Motivate]

Are you partial to an audiobook? A certain podcast? A little bit of ABBA Gold?

Try making the switch to listening to something that is both uplifting as well as educational on your commute to work and you’ll be adding an extra depth to your cognitive stimulation.

If the average length of an audiobook is approximately 11 hours and the average length of a daily commute is 90-120 minutes then getting through a book a week, or just over, is very doable. Over the course of a year you could squeeze in an additional 50+ books.

That’s a valuable acquisition from little input and little inconvenience: time spent waiting is wasted time spent.

What’s more, you’ll feel good: you’ll arrive at work entertained and engaged.

Consider Your Goals [8. Evaluate]

Keep a log of the things you want to achieve, both in the long term and the short. Ideally a 5-15 minute stint of journaling each evening will allow to you assimilate ideas. It will also allow you to highlight the more pressing goals.

Each morning, review them. The few minutes spent reading through them will help to provide the day with purpose and give it a perspective.

What’s more, considering the long term goals on a regular, or daily, basis will encourage you to think about them frequently too. Engaging with them will contribute to the mindset of accomplishing them and propel you towards doing just that.

Carpe Diem [9. Facilitate]

Seize. The. Day.

You worked through the 8 steps to get here and it’s not even 9am yet. You’ve woken, hydrated, meditated, worked out, washed off, eaten a healthy breakfast, reviewed your goals and learnt something. You’ve done the important stuff and you still have a full day ahead of you.

Congratulations, you’ve just won the day. Now, go crush it in those mighty, champion hands of yours and be safe in the knowledge that the seeds you sowed this morning will flower into a beautiful crop.

With all of the above completed, you’ll find you have a sharper focus, a higher degree of productivity and a bounty of motivation to keep you moving forwards. And upwards.


Conclusion

By the time 9am rolls around, think of all you will have achieved before most of your colleagues have even thought about seizing the day. You’ll have laid the foundations for a successful day.

You’ll feel more motivated, work better, exude more positivity and generally be the winner we spoke about earlier.

What’s more, you’ll soon begin to see real change in your life. You’ll attract more of what you want, you’ll do work that stimulates you more and your relationships will become even stronger, deeper and more fulfilling.

The Law of Attraction, which states that the universe manifests the things that we give our energy and focus to, will reward you with greater success and happiness and all it took was the seed of a tiny change to how you start the day.


*For further reading on the benefits of sleep, the RSPH has published an interesting guide here.

How To Wake Up Early and Conquer the Day

“Discipline equals freedom”

Jocko Willink

I wake up at 5am almost every day. Whenever this comes up in conversation I am always aked ‘Why do you get up so early?’, which is then usually followed with ‘How do you do it?’. The answer is much simpler and far less crazy than you might think.

Allow me to break it down:

1) Carpe Diem

I’ve put in the effort to get up early, have formed the habit over that last 50 days and now have a fresh day to embrace. I don’t want to mess up my hard work. I’m going to handle whatever challenges lay before me today and I’m going to win my own race. I’m going to seize the day, Mr Keating.

2) Those few hours before the rest of the world is awake are the magic hours.

Put simply, there’s more space, it’s less busy and more peaceful. Watch the sunrise, hear the birds before the traffic, sip on the fresh brew of the day: there is a meditative quality to the small hours of the morning that I love.

3) Body clock

After a while the body clock readjusts naturally so it’s no big deal anyway. ‘Early’ no longer means what it once did and I don’t have to worry about a screeching alarm clock waking everyone else up.

4) Better sleep

So long as the mattress is comfy and the environment in general is conducive to a good rest then it’s very likely that you will have wound down from the day sooner and hit the hay earlier. If you’re the kind of person that has developed an appreciation of The Early Rise, then you’ll have built your routine around ensuring you get all the sleep you need.

5) More productivity

Getting up earlier than usual, until it becomes usual, has an effect on one’s mindset too. By getting up early I’ve set myself up to be productive (not ‘busy’ – those two words are quite the opposite).

6) More positivity

You’re not rushing, are you? You’re up and cracking on with the day so there’s no racing for the bus, or to get ready whilst the kids have to get ready too, or trying to beat the flatmates to the bathroom just to get a couple of extra minutes of hot water. I guarantee once you start waking up earlier, you won’t start feeling more pessimistic.

So, how do you become an early riser?

1) Don’t start by going all out. If you usually get up at 7am, trying to immediately shave off two hours to get up at 5am will be too much too soon. Spend a fortnight up to a month, dialling your wake up time back by 15-30 mins incrementally until you reach that new sweet spot. Just don’t forget that the aim isn’t to cut back on sleep! Whatever is removed in the morning, add it onto the night. It’ll just be a case of going to bed earlier.

2) Which is the second point. Recalibrate bedtime. You’ll find that if you’re up earlier you will naturally feel tired earlier anyway but the trick will be getting out of any bad, bedtime (badtime?) habits that could keep you up until your old, usual time. So, some practical advice:

3) No phones in the bedroom! Keep your mobile away from the bed. Ideally keep it on charge in the office/kitchen/wherever. The purpose is to remove the temptation to look at it whilst in bed. Not only is this incredibly unsocial and unsexy for whoever you share a bed with, but holding that bright light so close to your eyes at night will screw with your circadian rhythm and affect the quality of your sleep. If you fancy reading something, go Old School and use a book. And, if you absolutely must have the phone near you at night because you use it as the alarm, stick it on flight mode until the day has begun.

4) Cut the caffeine. If you love a hot drink, try to keep it decaffeinated after 3/4pm (ideally earlier). The half-life of caffeine in the body is anywhere between 4 and 6 hours.

5) Don’t eat heavy late in the evening. Your body will be put into gear to digest it all which, along with the energy the food releases, will make it more tricky to get some early shut eye.

6) Until your body clock is reset, you’ll likely be using a alarm clock to get up. But here’s the trick: keep that clock out of arm’s reach! This way, there’ll be no snoozing and to turn it off you’ll have to get out of bed so you may as well just stay out 😉

7) Once you are up, don’t dilly dally. Hit the shower, take a leak, wash your face. Whatever you need to do to wash that sleep away. It might be tough to get that going, but it will be come a routine and a familiar pattern before long.

8) Don’t give in to the self-talk. ‘Oh, it’s ok matey, you can sleep for another five‘; or ‘You know what, screw it. Let those other early birds catch the worms this morning, there’s always tomorrow for us ol’ sport.’. That inner voice is super quiet and not worth listening to. Don’t give them the speaker phone.

**Oh, one thing to note. You will know the difference between needing to stay in bed and simply wanting to. Your body is incredibly adept at giving you signs so don’t ignore them.

9) Getting up early is all well and good but you should have a reason that you’re doing it for. Even if it’s just because you realise how much you love the peace at that time of the day, find your reason! Without a reason there would literally be no point.

10) Is there a radio show you could catch after you hit the gym or spend an hour working on a project? Perhaps there’s a super sexy new coffee bean waiting to be ground, filtered and latte-ed up? Whatever it is that you enjoy, this is your reward for waking up.

11) Know too that if you’re getting up, and getting up, damn well make the most of it, soldier! Once you’re up you’re in command of the day. Boss it. Crush those tasks and make the first couple of hours of the day Your Time for Winning. By the time everyone else up, you’re already a champion. ‘Early’ will soon be description, rather than a dread.


Typically I get up five minutes before the alarm (which I now set simply as a safety net), whip out of bed to the kitchen to stick the kettle on and head for a wash. Get back to the kitchen where I’ve prepped the coffee kit the night before (along with the post-gym smoothie and porridge/eggs ingredients) and get dressed into the gym kit I laid out last night too. I’ll pour myself a small black coffee (I keep it small and relatively weak as coffee on an empty stomach can have adverse effects on the stomach and the circadian rhythm too) and be out the door for the gym within 15 minutes of getting up.

On the mornings that are not designated for gym work, I stretch at home and do a little bit of bodyweight exercise: press-ups, squats, planks, stationary holds etc. and then do something practical from the list of the day’s jobs.

By the time I get back/finished, I’ve still got enough time to wash and have a quick cuddle with the Good Lady as she wakes up. There’s usually also time to eat together. This is my reward: 2-2.5 hours of making the day mine.


This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. Today the author doesn’t feel a day older than he should. In fact, if you asked him how he does feel, he’d probably tell you he feels no different to the way he felt at the beginning of being a 20-something. He would also tell you how much he enjoys being however old he is at any given moment and that he feels hungry. But then again, he’s always hungry.