Every year, I like to think back to the various tips I learned over the previous twelve months that had a positive impact on my health, training methods, mindset, and anything else that has improved my quality of life. In no particular order, here's what I got for 2017:
- Using a yoga hammock (aka yoga swing) has been the best addition to my recovery routine! Using inversions on the yoga hammock to traction and decompress my spine has resolved a 6-year-old lumbar disc injury within a few months. I also have many new options for doing assisted stretches, especially for the hip flexors, which can be difficult to stretch effectively without a partner. And just think, none of the chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, or physical therapists I saw during that time recommended using any form of traction for lumbar disc injury! Even if you don't have an injury, the yoga hammock is a great tool to use after a heavy workout that required loading of the spine with exercises like squats and deadlifts, or after a long car ride or plane trip that resulted in your back and hips to stiffening up. There are plenty of "aerial yoga" tutorials on YouTube that you can watch to familiarize yourself with the yoga hammock, or better yet, go take a few classes until you are comfortable using the apparatus on your own.
- The various beginner progressions to the gymnastics planche are some of the most effective ways to strengthen the extensors of the thoracic spine. The fatigue and soreness I experience in the upper back after a planche workout is very similar to how the upper back feels after a heavy front squat session. It goes to show that sometimes seemingly unrelated exercises can benefit each other!
- A good dehydrator is an invaluable tool for meal prep! Making your own jerky at home is really simple and much cheaper than store-bought jerky. You can also avoid unwanted ingredients and additives. Besides making jerky, you can also dehydrate fruit and raw nuts (after soaking) to make your own trail mix blends and nut butters. When I buy fresh herbs like rosemary, dill, and oregano, they tend to come in much bigger bunches than I would be able to utilize before they go bad, so now I dehydrate the remainders and use them later. I find that the flavor is more potent than the dried herbs I get from the store. I use the 9 tray version of the Magic Mill dehydrator.
- While we're on the topic of kitchen tools, another useful addition to my collection is my large-capacity stove-top pressure cooker. It's great for big batch cooking (stew, chili, roasts, ribs, stock, beans) and, for most recipes, it develops flavor and texture better than a slow-cooker. There's a bit of a learning curve when using a stove-top pressure cooker, but it's easy once you get the hang of it. There are electric, programmable pressure cookers too, which are another great option, especially if you are looking for versatility (they can also be used as a rice cooker, steamer, and slow cooker), but they will be a bit limited in their capacity. The model I use is the Presto 23qt Pressure canner and cooker, which, as the name suggests, can also be used for canning.
- Utilizing einkorn wheat in my cooking has been a great alternative to modern wheat and it allows me to avoid the digestive issues and inflammation-related symptoms that I get from ingesting modern wheat varieties. If you are someone who has food sensitivities to wheat and gluten, you might want to give einkorn wheat a shot if you want to expand your dietary options. If you make bread, I recommend preparing it as a sourdough, which will also improve digestibility and nutritional benefits. Check out my video on einkorn wheat pancakes.
- Here's a tip that will help you to never miss/skip a workout again. It is something that I've been using for a while, but I thought I'd share it on this year's list. If you are ever short on time and can't get your full workout in, or you just don't have a lot of energy to train at the moment, instead of skipping your session or postponing until the next day, decide to do a few hard sets of the first 1 or 2 main exercises that you had planned for the day, which should only take you 15-20 minutes. The duration of the session might be short, but if you are doing hard, focused work, it will be more than enough to continue making progress, and is much better than doing nothing. You may even find that the next time you go through the full workout, you are stronger because the abbreviated previous session allowed you to recover more fully.
- Looking for shortcuts can be one of the biggest wastes of our time. We all want to find ways to achieve our goals in less time, with less effort, but sometimes, just doing what you already know how to do and starting now, instead of searching for an easier way, is the fastest way to achieve your goal. Learn and adapt as you go, but don't delay your progress by searching for the "best" way. Obviously, this can be applied to many different areas of your life outside of health and fitness. A quote attributed to Mark Twain says it best: "The secret of getting ahead is getting started."
Here's to more learning in 2018!