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Tuesday, 22 December 2015

UK House Price History since 1952...

This is more for my own curiosity...

Green line = Nationwide UK house prices, corrected for inflation, since 1952 plotted on a log scale (left axis). The trend line is exponential and therefore appears linear on this scale.

Purple line = UK population plotted on a linear scale (right axis).

Comments are from wikipedia's article on UK economic history.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Buying a House... (aka taking out a 25 year loan)

Buying a house, or more specifically, taking a 25 year mortgage (which is what most people need to do to buy a house), at the present moment is like taking a bet on interest rates. This is not a bet I feel comfortable making.

Take a look at the following graph:

It shows UK interest rates since 1694. There's something distinctly odd about the graph on the right, where we are now...

Taking a 25 year loan, which in the UK is generally only fixed for 2 years at a time (you could fix for up to 10 years, but the penalties for needing to repay early or remortage can be hefty) is equivalent to betting that the following will happen:

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Excellent muscle gain article...

Just found this on Lyle's site.

It's an excellent article on the effect of different rep and set ranges.

I've always been a fan of lower rep ranges (5 to 8); lower set ranges (2-3) and higher rest periods (3-5 mins). The article shows nicely that this is still a good choice for both strength and size gains, but with the warning that lower reps with higher sets tends to stress the nervous system and lead to injury and fatigue.

I'm currently experimenting with fine-tuning my rep and set ranges based on how each muscle group responds to reps in the range of 5 - 15. I think I've settled on my "optimal" reps and sets based on the following protocol:

For several weeks, I trained each exercise with a set of 5 reps, then 10 reps, then 15. As always, when I was able to lift a weight for the assigned number of reps, I would increase the weight the following week. After several weeks I could then determine what the maximum weight I could lift for each exercise and each rep range. Being a total spreadsheet and graph nerd, I produced the following:

It shows a best fit curve for all of the exercises that I do (Leg Press, Deadlift, Weighted Chins, Weighted Ring Dips, One-Arm DB row, DB Bench).

Three important things stick out from this graph:

1) DB Bench quickly suffers loss of strength as the reps increase.
2) DB Row maintains a good weight through all rep ranges.
3) All other exercises behave similar to each other - suffering only slight losses in strength as reps are increased.

This probably indicates that, at least for me, the biceps contain more slow-twitch / endurance-type muscle fibres and the triceps contain more fast-twitch / strength-type fibres.

As a result, I have modified my sets and reps slightly to the following routine:

Workout A:

Leg Press / Squat
(10x reps warmup set @ 25% weight - e.g. 30 kg)
(10x reps warmup set @ 50% weight - e.g. 50 kg)
7x reps at maximum weight for that rep range (e.g. 100 kg)
10x reps at maximum weight for that rep range (e.g. 90 kg)

Weighted Chins
7x reps at maximum weight for that rep range (e.g. +35 kg)
11x reps at maximum weight for that rep range (e.g. +25 kg)

DB Rows
(10x reps warmup set @ 25% weight - e.g. 10 kg)
(10x reps warmup set @ 50% weight - e.g. 20 kg)
10x reps at maximum weight for that rep range (e.g. 40 kg)
15x reps at maximum weight for that rep range (e.g. 36 kg)

Workout B:

DB Bench
(10x reps warmup set @ 25% weight - e.g. 12 kg)
(10x reps warmup set @ 50% weight - e.g. 22 kg)
5x reps at maximum weight for that rep range (e.g. 45 kg)
8x reps at maximum weight for that rep range (e.g. 40 kg)

(10x reps warmup set @ 25% weight - e.g. 50 kg)
(10x reps warmup set @ 50% weight - e.g. 70 kg)
7x reps at maximum weight for that rep range (e.g. 140 kg)

Weighted Ring Dips
6x reps at maximum weight for that rep range (e.g. +30 kg)
8x reps at maximum weight for that rep range (e.g. +20 kg)

I've found each workout takes around 1 hour, which is ideal for me. I'll do Workout A, then rest the next day, then do Workout B. Thus, I'm going to the gym every other day and hitting each muscle group every fourth day.

Note that there's only one set of deadlifts. I've found this an intense exercise and that one set is all that is needed. (Having recently set a record for my weight category in a drug-free powerlifting competition, the evidence seems to back this theory up too!)

A Magic Bullet Appears...

OK, this post might be somewhat controversial for two reasons - 1) There are no (legal) magic bullets when it comes to fat loss and muscle gain and 2) nicotine is generally associated with cigarettes, which are without a doubt, Not Healthy.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I want to talk a little about my recent positive experience with a form of tobacco called snus. It's essentially a ground, moist tobacco popular in Scandinavian countries. I first tried it while working in Norway, when a friend / colleague there offered it to me. Willing to try anything once, I gave it a go. Being a non-smoker, my sensitivity to nicotine is quite high, so I soon found the effects a little too strong (light-headed, racing heart, agitation).

However, I have since found that it's available in differing strengths, and somewhat more importantly, in pre-packaged bags known as portion snus. This far easier to use and less messy.

I recently entered a powerlifting competition, and having been within the weight limit for several weeks (59 kg / 130 lb), I found myself with one week to go, but 1kg over the limit! Desperate to ensure I made the weigh-in, I did some research and found that nicotine has very similar effects to a substance known as ephedrine, which itself is an analogue of adrenaline. Ephedrine has long been used by bodybuilders to shred the last of the bodyfat, which is the hardest to metabolise. However, it is not (legally) available in the UK and perhaps more importantly for me, is also a banned substance on the IPF / WADA list. (As I probably mentioned before, I have decided to take the drug-free route to achieving my maximum size / strength). You can see / judge my level of leanness from a recent pre-diet photo in a previous post.

Nicotine's effects are two-fold, which is why it's so useful - not only does it blunt hunger, meaning that the necessary requirement of a calorie-deficit isn't so tough to manage, but it mobilises fat stores (i.e. up-regulates lipolysis). I found that this was incredibly useful. Not only was I not hungry while dieting, it seemed that this was partly due to my body finally having access to the tough-to-reach final fat stores. The key point here is that nicotine, in combination with a calorie deficit, is a useful dietary tool. Something that fellow blogger Peter at Hyperlipid has also noticed.

I still need to mention that, like Peter, I believe the key to losing body fat is by minimising insulin levels. This is best achieved by reducing carbohydrate intake and/or eating less frequently. The true magic bullets to my last-minute weight loss were heavy weight sessions in the gym, combined with a single modest meal of steak and salad, keeping carbohydrates to around 50 g (or less) on non-workout days and not allowing more than about 100g carbohydrates on a workout day. The nicotine just helped to "eat into" the modest remaining fat stores and also remove the hunger that would have been present as a result of the calorie deficit - probably in the region of 500-1000 calories per day.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Finding the perfect diet and thoughts on magic bullets...

I've found the perfect diet.

It's perfect because:

  • I enjoy it.
  • It's now effortless.
  • I can do it forever.
  • It fits around my lifestyle.
  • I'm never hungry.
It's perfect for me. It might not be perfect for you, but you can find something that works.

The magic ingredients for me have been:

1) Removing my sweet tooth by cutting out sugar (exceptions detailed further down). 
2) Eating less often (once a day actually!)
3) less on some days and more on others (when I go to the gym for example).
4) much less carbohydrate.
5) more fat.
6) simpler food choices

Here's where I get my calories from:

The following links have been influential on my gradual migration away from carbs and towards fats:

Here's an example of what I eat on a lower calorie / no exercise day:

Dinner (since I don't eat breakfast or lunch)

125g mixed vegetables
125g cherry tomatoes

Simmered / reduced down with a little butter, soy sauce, cider vinegar.

250g fillet steak
50g roquefort cheese 

Oven-cooked at 170'C with a little butter for about 15 minutes (rare). The cheese is added to the top in the last 5 minutes of cooking.


225g Clandeboye greek style vanilla yoghurt
25g chopped macadamia nuts
1 scoop of vanilla casein (Milk Protein Smooth from MyProtein)
25g single cream 
1 tablespoon of mascarpone

Total carbs = ~35g
Total fat = ~100g
Total protein = ~110g
Total calories = ~1300

And when I go to the gym (usually every other day, but no less than twice per week):

Post-Gym Shake

1 whole raw organic egg
500ml Alpro coconut milk (fresh - chilled section, not the long-life stuff)
3 scoops MyProtein unflavoured whey


1 whole pizza cooked from frozen (I'm too lazy to make my own, especially after the gym)


200g mascarpone
75g frozen berries
15g honey
25g chopped macadamia nuts
25g single cream

Total carbs = ~ 130g
Total fat = ~ 160g
Total protein = ~85g
Total calories = ~2300

I no longer count calories. I just eat more like the first setup, rather than the second, to lose fat without even trying. If I want to gain muscle, I'll just eat more like the second setup and make sure I'm not gaining more than about 1 lb per month.

I've settled at a bodyweight of 9st 4lb / 130lb / 59kg. At a height of 5' 4", this equates to a BMI of 22.3 and has me looking like this:

The flat(ish) stomach is from 90% diet, 10% gym and 0% cardio.
The increased muscle mass is 100% gym and 0% cardio.

My gym routine is the following (based on Starting Strength and LeanGains):

Workout A = Leg Press; Weighted Chinups; Dumbbell rows.

Workout B = Dumbbell benchpress; Deadlift; Weighted Dips

I'll go to the gym no more than every other day and alternate each workout so that it looks something like this:

Monday = A
Wednesday = B
Friday = A
Sunday = B
Tuesday = A
Thursday = B
Saturday = A

I've split it like this and chosen these exercises because I enjoy them; muscle groups get worked every fourth day; there's an equal amount of push and pull (too much of one can lead to imbalances and injuries); compound lifts; enough variety while maintaining simplicity.

Each exercise, other than deadlifts, looks something like this:

Warm-up set (25% weight) x 10 reps
Warm-up set (50% weight) x 10 reps
Working Set (100% weight) x 5 reps
Working Set (~85% weight) x 10 reps
Working Set (~65% weight) x 15 reps

Deadlifts use the same warm-up sets, but only one working set of 10.

Rest periods are 3 - 5 minutes.

I've settled on this rep/set routine mostly for enjoyment and psychological reasons. It's important for me to feel like I am making progress and succeeding. Progress happens over the years, so having lots of small successes along the way is important in the long run. [Insert cliche about it being a marathon, not a sprint here]. Each working set is a completely different weight and rep range. I get three opportunities to beat my previous weight for each exercise. I'm also getting plenty of variety - the first set is HARD. It's all I can do to move the weight. The third set BURNS - it's all I can do to move the weight - not because of the weight itself - because of the lactic acid in my muscles and lack of air in my lungs!


Notebook + pen are essential. I keep a note of exactly how many reps and how much weight I achieved for the working sets and will increase it next time if I'm able to get the minimum number of reps.

At a bodyweight of 9st 4lb / 130lb / 59kg my lifts are currently:

Leg Press = 375 kg x 5 (or squats of 110 kg x 5)
Weighted Chinups = +35 kg x 5
Dumbbell Rows = 41 kg x 5

Dumbbell Bench = 42 kg x 5 (or 46 kg for 2, achieving Beast Mode bench on Fitocracy)
Deadlift = 129 kg x 5 (or 155 kg for 1)
Weighted Dips = +46 kg x 5 

This is after 5 years of consistent training without too much deviation from the routine. I'm pretty happy with this and about where I should be:

Strength targets for men:

2 years training

Deadlift = 2 x bodyweight
Squat = 1.6 x bodyweight
Bench = 1.2 x bodyweight
Chinups = 1.2 x bodyweight

5 years training

Deadlift = 2.5 x bodyweight
Squat = 2 x bodyweight
Bench = 1.5 x bodyweight
Chinups = 1.5 x bodyweight

10 years training / elite level

Deadlift = 3 x bodyweight
Squat = 2.4 x bodyweight
Bench = 1.8 x bodyweight
Chinups = 1.8 x bodyweight

I hope some of this information-overload benefits others in their quest for some sort of diet / exercise routine that's workable and enjoyable!