fitness

'I did a workout with Commando Steve, and he taught me my new fitness mantra.'

When the offer of a workout from Commando Steve landed in my inbox, I was a little... scared.

I like a challenge but I also really hate burpees, and something about the whole thing just seemed like... a thing that burpees would get involved in. 

I crossed my fingers and agreed. I would be put through my paces (and probably burpeeing) for a good cause after all, as Steve is an ambassador for the Cerebral Palsy Alliance's STEPtember fundraising challenge.

The goal is for people to take 10,000 steps per day each day of the month, raising money for initiatives to ensure people with cerebral palsy can live their best lives. So yeah, I guess I'll burpee to that.

Watch: This is... how I went. Post continues below video.


Video supplied.

Plus, with many of us living extended periods of time in lockdowns I was keen to pick his brain on a couple of things: 1. ways to diversify my exercise, because my own home workouts became... monotonous months ago, and 2. motivation tips, because surely even the Commando has days where he doesn't want to do... anything? Right? RIGHT?

Before long, the workout had arrived and yep... burpees were there, waiting patiently to inflict their pain. Sigh.

Besides that, I was actually pleasantly surprised at the plan: it was less 'destroy yourself for an hour' and more 'mindfully move your body for short bursts of time'.

Plus, the only equipment needed was a timer, which made it accessible for all of us stuck at home. Here's how it all went.

The warm-up.

I don't know about you, but to me warming up has always been the most boring part about exercise. It just feels... meh. I've tried very hard to change this mindset, because I know it's also super important and the best way to set yourself up for a good workout.

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What I enjoyed about Commando's warm-up was... the diversity. I didn't know what the heck was coming next. It was also a lot of dynamic moves (side steps, punches, high knees) which are my favourite kind,  to get the muscles warm, with some more mindful stretches thrown in the mix too.

It began with:

  • 10 jumping jacks
  • 10 uppercuts
  • 10 high punches
  • 10 high knees
  • 20 heels to backside
  • 2x backpedal jog
  • 2x sidesteps left to right
  • 10 jumping jacks

Then:

  • 5 downward dog to plank
  • Cobra stretch
  • 5 cat cow stretches
  • 10 scorpion stretches (five each side)
  • 10 alternating Superman arm and leg extensions
  • 10 Superman arm and leg extensions (both arms and legs)
  • 10 side planks (each side)
  • 5 thread the needles
  • 10 hip thrusts
  • 10 dead bugs (each side)
  • 10 alternating heel touches
  • 5 frog squats
  • 5 toe touch to overhead reach

YEAH. THAT WAS JUST THE WARM-UP.

Suffice to say... I was warm.

Later, I asked Commando the importance of getting warm before going too hard or fast.

"Especially as I've gotten older, I've found the warming up part extremely important just to prepare the body, the nervous system and mind for exercise," he explained.

"It encourages the body to move more freely, and when you're asking more of it, the body has the ability to provide. Whereas a lot of training methods, it's straight into the deep end and then you're playing catch-up."

Yep. So if you're considering skipping the warm-up, at least chuck in a couple of downward dogs. It's for your own good.

The workout.

After warming up, it was on to the main event.

This consisted of seven two-minute rounds, followed by a one-minute rest, of:

  • 21 squats
  • 15 sit-ups
  • Nine push-ups
  • Burpees - as many as you could fit in the remaining time

Sounds... simple, right?

Mostly, yes it is: I have a tendency to overthink my exercise, and I found it helpful for a professional to give me permission to get back to basics. 

These are all pretty standard body weight movements, so I appreciated not having to focus on anything too complicated - rather than worrying about WTF a Bulgarian such-and-such was, I can just... squat, sit-up, push-up and sweat.

But seven rounds felt like a lot. That's a lot of burpees. Like, A LOT A LOT of burpees.

Me, in despair at learning about 'max burpees'.

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Then, as I began working out and flowing through the first couple of rounds, I realised that knowing each was just two minutes of movement made it less daunting and served as excellent motivation to push myself because I knew a break was only around the corner. 

Plus, when the rounds only last two minutes, time flies. This was a revelation - since when do exercise minutes feel fast??? 

I went hard, got very sweaty and felt like I'd had a really satisfying, well-rounded workout in just 21 minutes.

Oh, but did you think I was finished? Ha ha ha. That's me laughing, but probably also Commando.

Here's where his 'finisher' comes in. It's called that because it's before you finish the workout, but probably also because it will metaphorically end you. 

For the finisher, Commando had me doing two rounds of, with a 30 second break in between:

  • 30 second leg raises
  • 30 second lying knee tucks
  • 30 second plank

Okay, THEN I collapsed in a heap on my mat.

After the workout, I spoke to Commando about it all (he did not apologise for the 84 burpees I completed, FYI) and he explained how he found these kinds of interval workouts really helpful in keeping people motivated throughout their workout.

Commando told me that psychologically, interval training can be a nice change of pace because you can pick up the intensity, knowing a break is not far away. It's also a good way for people to stop their minds drifting away with them.

"Especially when its body weight as well, [with interval training] you can keep people interested and engaged, and have a format that leads to that sense of accomplishment," he said.

I found that to be true: here I was, too many burpees down, but feeling very accomplished.

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Also, I had to cheekily ask why people like him make people like me do burpees so much. BECAUSE BURPEES SUCK.

He laughed, and then spoke so passionately about them I nearly came around. Nearly.

"That's the beauty of it. You can play with it. You can go 'let's go 100 burpees for time' or we do five, every minute on the minute, so whatever's left of that minute you can rest. So then, after that time you've done 50. There's beauty in programming and having fun with things," he said.

"Someone might not like the burpee, but they work everything, they work every muscle in your body, they work your aerobic system, they work your anaerobic system, they help to strengthen, they're a dynamic exercise snd there's the ability to do them with greater intensity as well... That's why people don't like them, because they hurt."

That they do.

For me, Commando's interval workout was fun in the gritty, exercisey way that I love and exactly what I needed to mix up my routine while stuck at home. I am personally really motivated by DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) and the next day, my muscles definitely felt the change of pace.

It was short, sharp and effective, and definitely the kind of workout I'll be adding to my routine going forward.

Heck, I could do it again while watching an episode of TV and still have time left over. I consider that a (sweaty, fatigued) win.

I eventually found the strength to stand up again, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to ask Commando a few other exercise based questions, and it resulted in me finding my new fitness mantra. Seriously - I'm about to tattoo this on my forehead.

Here's what I learned.

Where the heck do I even begin?

Commando had some important advice for anyone feeling lost or completely overwhelmed by all the noise surrounding fitness, which is... probably everyone, amirite?

"It's really difficult when you're on your own and we live in an era of so much information, and it's really easy to get lost. You can Google and get hundreds of different workouts coming up, and which one do you start with? 

"Being a trainer and a coach and wading through it all, I'm of the opinion that if you don't know, seek the help of someone who does. Someone like myself, signing up and doing some personal training sessions or group sessions and learning the ropes," he said. 

This helps to get - and hopefully keep - you on the right track, and gives you knowledge about form that will ensure you're getting the most out of your hard work and lessen your risk of injury.

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Obviously, IRL would be ideal - but lots of virtual options are available at the moment due to stay-at-home restrictions.

He also suggested group fitness - such as the live Zoom workouts he's been doing for STEPtember participants - as more casual, less intimidating environments for anyone finding their feet.

How do you stay motivated?

Motivation and discipline are... tough. Even when we know we much we enjoy those post-exercise endorphins, it can still feel like such a chore before you get going.

Commando's own discipline towards fitness didn't happen overnight.

"It comes back to the goal or the purpose behind why you're doing it," he explained.

"That process for me, it's taken years and I live and breathe this stuff. I can devise a lot of joy and sense of satisfaction from what I do, especially when its exercise, because I've got that intent and focus - whether I feel like I'm up for it or not. 

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"It's a habit, and doing anything different - that's what feels abnormal."

So... how does Commando recommend we do that?

Take it one step at a step.

One of Commando's most helpful tricks is to take things one small step at a time, because that usually leads to the next step, and the next, until suddenly you've done a full workout.

"One step at a time: let's warm up, three-five minutes. Then, I'm going to do some stretch work, go through a bit of a flow. Do some downward dogs, lunge, get in some rotation. Prepare that body for exercise and then see how I'm feeling. Majority of the time from there, I'm ready to go," he said.

Build your own routine.

"Do things to prepare yourself for exercise," he explained. 

"If you get it done in the morning, make sure your runners are nearby and you've got your clothes ready. Get out of bed and put it on, have a drink of water or have the coffee machine ready to go.

"The more that you do that the better you'll get at it. It's like educating yourself in something new. Academically, we can find we can do that but when it comes to educating and exercising the body so many people struggle with it."

Be your own source of encouragement.

Okay, in all my years exercising, this might be the single most helpful thing anyone has said to me. AND IT'S SO SIMPLE.

"Be your own source of encouragement."

Because really, this is all a mind game.

"I read this book many years ago by a Buddhist master, and he talks about when he was 12 and entered the monastery," Commando said.

"They had to get up at 4am to meditate and he struggled, and they gave him leniency because he was so young and they knew he'd figure it out, and what he figured out was when that alarm sounded to get up, what he had to do was put his feet on the ground and get out of bed before that first thought.

"It's the mind thinking that trips us up. There's all these distractions, all these smoke bombs thrown to try to get us out of things. If we become the masters of that, then the discipline - 'be your own source of encouragement' - comes with it.

"It's all mindfulness, it's all psychology. Actually exercising our body, when you get going, is the easy part."

Yep. That is unless Commando Steve makes you do 84 burpees.

Feature image: Instagram @commandosteve/Supplied.