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February 6 2014

Offering the same excuses for pixeline inaction holds very little water, I admit. Yes, I have been very busy with other writing, managing now to make almost a living out of it. Yes also that the primary motivator when starting this blogge was really the self-satisfaction of seeing my work in a context that may permit me to believe that other people were reading it and appreciating it, to some or other degree. This factor was largely rendered redundant with the increase in other projects which in essence see me write dozens of things which then reach far wider audiences. If you like the idea of people reading your stuff, you inevitably devote more time to writing things that several thousand people will definitely read, rather than something that four or five people may read.
But excuses aside, the increase in activity has meant that I can generally turn stuff out faster, which means that a daily blogge here may not take more than ten or so minutes to finish. So strictly speaking, yes, I should be writing more. Itís also the only place where I get to write about myself endlessly without losing any business :)
Not that I am proud of the personal trait at all! I can mitigate it but wonít bother, certainly not since recently I learned that I am actually capable of sustaining a conversation without gravitating back to the subject of yours truly, and that doing so has the twin rewards of firstly making people more interested to know you, and secondly actually makes the conversation more interesting for me too. Yes, I knew all this before. Like I said, there can be the tendency to gravitate to certain leitmotifs, and itís quite easy to end up focusing on a subject without even realising it.
As part of my journalism course I was recently required to compose a personal profile based on a face-to-face interview with somebody who would be considered to be of interest. It was tempting to do this with one of the celebs I know personally, but ultimately the idea of a training course is not to practise chatting to your friends. So I thought about a few possibilities and settled on two people I thought I would like to meet.
One is a Kazakh chess player who in spite of her young age has already attained the status of grandmaster and has beaten big names in the chess world such as Anatoliy Karpov, he of the epic struggles with Garry Kasparov in I think the 1980s. This is still in the pipeline and I hope to run a feature about her soon here
My Destination
The basic idea of My Destination is to promote Kazakhstan to the English speaking world. I know some of my articles read like Iím singing the national anthem, but I honestly donít think there are many people better placed to do this particular job than me. Certainly not at the prices I am prepared to work for. Although my interview was originally intended to be an assignment, and was submitted to my tutor, the sub-incentive was to get a feature on our website with a focus not just on travel options or places to eat out, but on a person of local interest who would help us paint a rosy picture of the country.
So the choice was Aygerim Dauletbekova, who I have to say is one of the nicest people Iíve ever met, and the interview was so easy to do because she is so easy to get on with. The course outlined how hard it can be to do an effective interview, so add to that doing one in your seventh language with a supermodel, and you can be forgiven for being a little unnerved. But it went well, and I was prouder to see it on the site than anything else Iíve ever had published there.
Here
I have other ideas now. I want to run a series of features called People of Kazakhstan in which we promote the country by showcasing achievement. After all, itís the people who make acountry, even if from a tourism point of view there is more value in putting the focus on things to do etc.
Coming back to the profile, my tutor made some really insightful comments which will help me write the coming ones a bit better. But he accepted that the slant was not just the person and that the sub-angle was really the country itself. Itís interesting training to be a journalist and finding out all the things which may be obvious but only when they are pointed out to you. To be honest, Iíve always written as Iíve seen fit, and itís been nice to hear that people rate my work. But one does not simply walk into Mordor and write to the standard of Fleet Streetís finest without some awareness raising first.
I donít even read the papers, never have. So when you produce a news story which begins with the name of the protagonist, it seems perfectly logical. But then you learn that itís bad journalism to put names in the standfirst (the introduction) unless the person is of such significance as to merit the article really being about them. I suppose a personal profile always would be, but a local news story of some woman who saves a drowning dog would not really say exactly who she was until into the second paragraph.
I donít really have any aspirations to be a staff journalist, and even if I did there are no English language journalists working in this country for one single publication (that I know of). The competition I have may come from broadsheet reporters but their remit is essentially different than mine, and I donít think they would be prepared to turn out copy for My Destination for the payment I receive. For this reason, I basically have total control over the content of the output for the people I work for, and am virtually guaranteed to sell everything I write. Quite an enviable situation for a writer.
Away from the PC, I am refreshed and surprised to remain fully motivated with my muscle building programme, in spite of not really having built all that much muscle. Maybe I have, but the change is gradual, and I donít often bump into people I have not seen for a year or so. Another limiting factor is the amount of body fat I have. This is not to say I am fat, but the percentage I have is more than a fitness model should have, and for this reason it obscures muscle definition.
Informed bodybuilders recognise two main processes in their programme, bulking and shedding, the latter sometimes known as cutting. Thereís no mystery about them, bulking is building muscle and shedding is losing fat. But the paradox is, they are almost impossible to achieve at the same time, simply because they require two highly contrasting body states.
Bulking requires you to take in high amounts of calories and convert them to muscle. Shedding requires you to be in a calorific deficit so you can lose body fat. Itís essentially difficult for a non-beginner to achieve both these aims at the same time, so well-planned programmes incorporate periods of bulking and cutting over a long period. They say that 10% body fat is the maximum you should be before you even need to think about bulking, although it depends on the aim of course.
I would ideally be looking to lose 5% myself, but Iíve fallen into the trap. The fear that all men have of losing the muscle theyíve gained during bulking.
Top trainers understand that non-training would result in loss of muscle, but they would also remind lifters that where body fat reduces, the guy actually looks bigger because of the enhanced definition. And itís also possible to continue weights during a cutting programme for maintenance reasons. I guess this would seem like the answer then. But as I said, Iíve fallen into the trap.
Another common mistake people make is thinking that it is load which stimulates muscle gains. To a degree it does, and to get the fast twitch muscle fibres going you need to work with heavy weight, sometimes. But the modern approach to bodybuilding, as opposed to strength building, is to move away from simple lifting and onto a more scientific approach known as hypertrophy. This is radically different from basic weight lifting in that it is not the amount you lift that makes the difference, but the way you lift.
The key approach is known as TUT, time under tension. The strongest guy in the gym is not always the most impressive body builder, and some of the fitness models you see around the place often train with comparatively light weights. This is because they adopt the TUT approach, and centre their sessions around keeping the muscle under constant tension.
Take barbell curls. Where somebody can curl 55 kilos, as I can, with the basic technique, this often involves the muscle relaxing at the high and low ends of the movement, especially when the bar is at its lowest point and supported by the extended arm in a vertical position. Try it, you can probably hold it for several minutes. This is because the muscle is not under tension. If you then hold the same weight but keep the bicep under tension, maybe at an angle of 160 degrees, you can probably hold the new lower position for about ten seconds.
The theory, and practice, of time under tension is to complete the set without releasing the contraction in the muscle. This means that you can lift a lot less, but will gain a lot more. I remember dropping my weights on some sets by 75% to achieve this time under tension, and by the end of the set the pain is considerable. On other sets, I have yet to adopt the new approach because I liftnot inconsiderable weight and do not wish to deprive my vanity of the satisfaction.
They say, when youíre in the gym, lift like a bodybuilder and not like a weightlifter. Train your muscles, not your ego. And at the end of the day, nobody cares how much you can lift. But there are plenty of people who may be impressed with how good you look.
Or may not, I know itís not everybodyís cup of tea, but Iíve always wanted a fitness model physique, and after about three years working towards one, what gains I have made constitute an important step towards an ambition that at my age, I donít have a million years left to achieve.
If anybody is interested in building muscle, I would recommend the Hypertrophy Max programme, or failing that, some of the amazing insights and motivation posted online by the co-creator, Vince Del Monte, from whom I have probably learned enough to become a personal trainer myself.
Not that I want to.
 

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