Ultra Mel and Jon

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Monkii Bars Bodyweight Training Device – Product Review

We’ve been using the Monkii Bars ultra-portable bodyweight training device for a few months now and have really found, among all their benefits and features, their versatility to be what serves us the most.  Always wanting to find new gyms out in nature and frequently wanting to workout while travelling, have made the Monkii Bars incredibly useful for us.  Now we could go on all day about every detail in a super nit-picky review, but we just want to touch on the aspects of this piece of equipment that affect us the most, being ultra marathon runners, yoga and acroyoga practitioners and world travellers.

 

PRODUCT UPDATE: Since writing this post, Monkii Bars 2 has been released, and they are a serious improvement on the incredible originals. Shop Monkii Bars 2 Now and get 5% OFF

travel workout equipment

Monkii Bars – Technical Specs

Just so you have a good idea of what we’re talking about.  The Monkii Bars are a pair of super lightweight suspension style system, that act similar to a pair of gymnastic rings, for bodyweight training.  They would be almost like an incredibly lightweight TRX system.

The bars themselves are 8 inches in length, weigh less than one pound as a pair, but they are strong enough to hold up to 220 lbs.  How can something so lightweight be so STRONG?  Monkii bars are made with some incredible materials, including hard Maple wood for the handles, Spectra materials in the line, and aerospace aluminum for the attachment hardware.  The lines that come standard with each pair of Monkii Bars is approximately 18 feet, making it extremely versatile to do all kinds of exercises, attached to all kinds of things!

ultra marathon runners

 

 

 

Monkii Bar Pro’s

Compact Design

The technical specs above give you an idea of how lightweight the materials these bars are made out of really are.  But the beauty part of them is the entire line and attachment piece stuff into the handles themselves, so when all packed up you have to 8 inch handles!  These are super easy to carry in your hands as you run, toss in a pack, and of course pack into a suitcase for travel.  They also come with a small piece that attaches the two while being stored/carried to help keep them together.

Simple Setup and Take Down

The attachment piece of hardware can be a bit unique if you are used rock climbing hardware, but like anything new it only takes one or two times before its almost second nature to it.  The instruction card that comes in the box gives some super easy to follow instructions that get you setup in just a few minutes.  Now that I understand how the mechanics of the attachment piece work, and I’ve set up and taken down our Monkii bars a bunch, it will usually take me between 3-5 minutes to set the bars up to be ready for a workout.

VersatileBodyweight training monii bar promo code

The one thing that stands out with the Monkii bars when you compare it to things like gymnastic rings or a TRX system, is their simple versatility.  Rings are designed to be used a certain way.  TRX you have to set up your anchor and can only attach to that.  Monkii bars you can literally wrap that line around anything you can think of then hang, pull or drag until you’re done training.  We’ve obviously attached it to high hanging poles and tree limbs, we’ve used the door attachment which makes it easy to hit an indoor workout, we’ve strung it to stairwell railings, we’ve hung it off a boardwalk and propped out feet up on the railing up the boardwalk to get a bit more difficulty in the workout, we’ve even wrapped the line around a big log to drag it along the beach.  I’ve seen some of the wild Monkii Ambassadors rig up huge boulders to do farmers walks.

And I know what you’re thinking, if this thin little line is being dragged and strapped to so many things, won’t it break.  Well right out of their websites FAQ; “Our Spectra® Line is insanely durable and strong. However, we’re certain that some of our users will be wild enough to wear down the line. If this happens, we have you covered.”  So if you ever do break the line, it will be replaced free of charge!

 

Monii Bar Drawback

As we mentioned above, we like bringing our bars with us on runs so we can find something to strap onto along the way, and get a bit of calisthenics worked into our workout. With the bars taking 3-5 minutes to setup, it creates a bit of a downtime, allowing your heart rate to drop down. This might be good to build up some energy for your bar workout, or bad because now you have to get your heart rate back up. Small thing that really has no easy fix, and no other product can really handle this issue, but just one thing we noticed.

 

Would We Recommend Monkii Bars

Whether you are a big calisthenics fan, an endurance athlete looking for some fast and light ways to keep muscle mass balance, a big traveller who is always on the go and living out of a suitcase, or even someone who just doesn’t like going to a public gym, the Monkii Bars would suit you well!  They have created a super innovative product to make fitness simple and accessible for everyone, no matter where you are, and the makers themselves are great people who really believe in their product and what it can do to the fitness industry.  If you feel like giving them a try, we’ve dug up a promo to get you all 5% off!! Get your set of Monkii Bars

ultra mel and jon training monkii bars vs trx

 

9 Must-Have Travel Items for Athletes

Traveling Can Be Hard on the Body, Especially an Athlete’s Body

Through years of racing internationally and interacting with other travelling athletes, we have compiled what we’ve found to be the must-have travel items for athletes.

1. Travel Roller®

The absolute smallest “good” roller we have found. Strong enough to get deep, but a thin cushion to not be extreme, this roller gives you an amazing recovery rolling session. The best part about it though is the centre is hollow, so you can stuff clothing inside the roller and not lose room in your suitcase. Or depending on your travel destination, the roller will house a bottle of wine just right for you to safely bring a bottle home with you! Shop Travel Roller® Deluxe Foam Roller

2. Compression Socks

Any style will work, and there are many companies making them these days. Compression socks are great to wear on the airplane to reduce swelling of feet, and can be worn during runs or after workouts for recovery. There are so many uses, this is a vital travel item. You can find so many options at your local running store, we always like to buy local, so if you are in Canada, visit Runners United, as they often have great deals on good brands.

3. Universal Adapter

There are way too many available today, but through all the ones we’ve tried and tested, the “WanEway” All-in-One Universal Travel Adapter is by far our favourite. It was a recommendation from Tim Ferriss, and we totally agree with him. About as light as you can get, while offering adapters for just about anywhere in the world, this little thing comes with us on every trip. So if you want to keep your iPod, laptop, kindle, speakers, or GPS watches charged up for runs or workouts, this will be essential for international travel.

travel jacket for athletes

4. Inov8 Rain Jackets

 

Sure they can be any brand, but we’ve tried a few and these ones are the best we’ve tried. A waterproof breathable jacket that is super compact is tough to find, but incredible for outdoor style of travel. Will keep you dry in the rain, can be worn out to dinner (though nothing fancy) but can be worn on runs, these are just a great thing to pack for your trips. Men’s jackets/Women’s jackets

5. Skipping Rope

Whether you are in a crunch for time or simply aren’t sure where to run in the surrounding area, a super light skipping rope can help you build a high intensity workout with limited space. We love the cable speed ropes because they are extremely light, very fast and durable to handle workouts just about anywhere. The one in our suitcase right now is Cable Skipping Rope (by Outrigger)

6. Greens Powder

This can help keep your energy and immune system up and running during your travel or while on the road and not eating as healthy as you would at home. We are obviously partnered with Prairie Naturals because we find they make an outstanding line of products. There Blueberry Greens-Force is pretty wicked because it tastes good even when mixed simply with water.

7. Monkii Bars

Equipment isn’t always easy to find while travelling, and Monkii Bars has made one of the most travel friendly suspension style training setup available. They weigh almost nothing, compact down super small, and still offer you a good variety of exercises to help you get a good strength workout while on the go. Get 5% off a pair of Monkii Bars

athletic travel essentials

8. Dehydrated Food

This one is really only important if you are traveling to a country where the cuisine is unknown or questionable. If you are going somewhere well developed, then your meals should be all set, and healthy food is not too hard to find. But in countries where they don’t appreciate flavour, or ingredients, and finding a tasty meal that is somewhat healthy for you is relatively hard to find, you might want to pack one or two dehydrated meals. They can cover you in a jam, and give you a solid meal by just adding boiling water.  Agreed, a dehydrated meal might not be the absolute healthiest meal, but this industry has changed drastically over the past several years and some high quality ingredients are being worked in. A couple of our favourites are made by Harvest Foodworks and Backpacker’s Pantry.

9. Organo Gold Coffee

Let’s face it, some countries just don’t know what a good cup of coffee tastes like. But are you really ready to buy a crappy instant coffee to bring with you? Organo Gold Coffee is an instant blend coffee that all you have to do is add water. What make them awesome is they are made from a variety of mushroom powders, so they are a superfood powerhouse that will energize you the same a a cup of joe, but with much less caffeine.

 

What Are Your Favourite Travel Items for Athletes?

We’d love to hear them, so share some of your packing essentials in the comments!

The Simplest Way to Build Strength

To Build Strength is Simple, It’s Not Easy

I’m sure many of you clicked on to this post with a certain level of skepticism. In this day and age, there are so many people trying to sell you products and services that wildly over promise and under deliver results. We won’t be selling you anything or trying to convince you this will be easy. But everything we will share will you here, are from our own personal experiences, and it truly was the simplest way for both of us to build strength that we never knew was possible. There are three steps to this method, but they won’t happen overnight. The first is entirely mental and it required shifting some of what you might believe about strength and how to build it, then the second and third steps will require some work!

Enough talk, let’s break this all down and start finding that strength you never knew you had.

straight arm scapular strength yoga

Step 1: Stop Resisting the Strength You Already Have

Your body works in a delicate balance. Front body and back body, left side right side, up-down, diagonally, and on so many other axis’ and movements planes. When you have resistance on one side, it debilitated the other side from working properly. Get rid of that resistance and both sides will function better. In context of strength –> When one muscle chain is tight, it can literally resist and impinge the opposing side. So by removing this tightness, or this inflexibility, you free the opposing side to express its full capacity of strength.

Think about it this way. If you have two horses who are trying to pull a carriage, it makes sense that if one horse is strong and the other is weak, then assuming both horses will try their best, the strong horse will end up pulling more weight, and they are likely to walk in circles because that weaker horse won’t keep up. This is essentially what happens when you have strong muscles and weak muscles, and this is primarily what keeps people like chiropractors and physiotherapists in business. 

Now, imagine those two horses are the same size and equally strong, but one decided to stop moving and actively drive his feet into the ground to stop the carriage. The other horse is going to have to work insanely hard to even try to move that carriage. He’s now, not only going to be pulling the entire weight of the carriage, but the weight of the other horse, PLUS fighting the opposing force of the horse who’s putting on the brake.

This is what is happening when you have tight muscles all over the body that are never being stretched or otherwise worked out to try and get them to relax. They grow exceedingly tight and begin to resist the muscles you are focusing on working out and trying to get stronger. But in reality, they are in an uphill battle with that tightening muscle. (Or, your one horse is getting stronger and stronger, only to pull that stubborn horse who is braking harder and harder)

 

Method to increase the flexibility that unlocks strength

The two of us, for those of you who don’t follow our blog, are ultra marathon runners primarily, are certified yoga and acro yoga teachers, and love to dabble/cross-train with interval training, calisthenics, gymnastics and other bodyweight disciplines.

Adding in yoga of any sort to your daily or weekly routine can result in unbelievable increases in flexibility and proprioception, both opening up new forms of strength. Rolling, with a foam roller, trigger point style of balls or a recovery roller stick can really help you release tight areas of your body that you don’t know are tight. Maybe it’s your lats that have just seized up over years of weight lifting, and now they are your biggest shoulder mobility limitation. Or maybe like so many of us in the western world, you have tight hips, hamstrings, glutes or lower back muscles, from all that time we spend sitting. Rolling just for 10-15 minutes every day can absolutely shock you with the mobility gains you will see in a matter of a few weeks.

 

For those of you who still doubt this ideology that flexibility will increase strength, take time to listen to the Tim Ferriss podcast episode with Christopher Sommers from Gymnastic Bodies. Best quote out of that talk = “If the best in the world are stretching their asses off, then why aren’t you?”

building strength with yoga

 

Step 2: Strengthen Up Your Weakest Muscles

On some level, most of us already know this, but you are only as strong as your weakest muscle, and it;s true. If you want to use our horse analogy again (because talking draft horses just screams strength!), then a team of horses pulling a carriage are only going to be as strong as their weakest horse, or can only go as fast as their weakest horse. Two major areas where this will shine will be in your foundation, and in your core. Build strength in these areas and you will begin to look at movement in a whole new way.

Foundation –> This will include whatever muscles are having some form of interaction with the ground below you. (Or if you are working on inversions, then above you)  If you’re a runner that gets shin splits, you need to focus on your lower leg muscles, find out what is strong, what is weak, and correct the imbalance. If you are trying and trying to balance in a handstand, there’s a good chance your hands are not strong enough to balance your weight, and the most common weakness that will help you improve will be by working your extensor muscles in the back of the forearm.

Core –> Block out the idea that your core is only your 6 or 8 pack. Think deeper than that. Think about solidifying your transverse abdominals to build that true strength. Static holds (with proper form) held for good chunks of time can really begin to tax and grow those deep, huge muscle groups. ***Personal opinion, but planks, might be one of the absolute best ways to grow this deep core strength. Forearm plank, wall plank, side plank, rotating plank, the options are endless***  It will also begin to teach you how to connect your core structure to your limbs, and once this foundation is locked it, more advanced movements like handstands, planche and levers become much more accessible to you.

 

 

Step 3: Stay Consistent Every Day

This step is extremely dependant on the first two. Once you have convinced yourself that increasing flexibility and range of motion will help unleash strength and once you’ve identified areas that are holding you back from being truly strong, then it’s time to go forth and work through the motions of building strength.

We won’t go into specific training plans or recommend any fitness regimes because there are about a billion people out there doing that already and it’s just too much of a debated topic. In the end, it really doesn’t matter as long as you do it with the right direction, motivation, and methodology.

To share our personal account of building strength here is a general breakdown of our experience over the past 8 months.

Starting point: Ultra distance runners already, moderate cross-training background, a 200hr YTT and a 200hr Acroyoga teacher training under our belts.

Routine: When schedule allowed our training schedule looked pretty similar to this for about 7 out of the last 8 months. (All of the below is given “per week”)

  • 5 Strength Workouts  – 40 minutes of a blend between yoga and advanced body movement
  • 6 Skill Building Sessions – 10-15 minutes of dedicated practice on one specific skill (hand balance, handstand, etc)
  • 4 Run Workouts – Ranging from 1-3 hours mostly – Mix of intervals, tempo runs, beach sprints, long easy runs, long hikes and recovery runs.
  • 1-2 Crosstraining – 30-90 minutes – Biking, calisthenics, yin yoga, or other yoga practice for the most part

Stretching: Where did we fit in all of this strength building stretching to get massive flexibility gains? Deep stretching was working into the strength workouts (a little throughout and a bunch in the last 10 minutes), we would always make time for 5-15 minutes of dedicated stretching after running (don’t care what the controversial research papers say about it affecting your running, we value longevity and mobility more than we value high run performance), and the same goes for all cross training workouts, we would always leave 10 minutes or so at the end to stretch out.

Results: Differences could be seen after a few weeks, as we noticed flexibility started increasing. The true improvements to strength came after 2-3 months of consistency in what we were training. Free handstand, press to handstand, one arm hand balances, lolasana (had to go Sanskrit there, just don’t know what people are calling that in other disciplines) all started to take form, and we’re beginning to get tastes of more advanced movements like hanging levers, straddle planche, and just starting into hollow back handstands. These kinds of results might take longer for you, they might come faster, but the bottom-line is you have to be willing to believe in the process and that you are working through what you need to work through.

mobility helps make runners strong

Amazing Stretches For Road Trips

We’ve all experienced that feeling of getting out of the car after a long day of driving and stretching out from toes to fingers. It’s one of the few drawbacks to exciting road trips. Whether it’s driving to your favourite music festival, exploring a new country, or even making the trip home to visit family, everyone has reasons for opting for a long haul in the car, rather than flying. Mixing a bit of our knowledge from all our yoga teacher trainings, our ongoing recovery practice we use to combat tight and stiff muscles from ultra marathon training, and our every growing list of road trip experiences, we’ve put together our top 3 stretches for road trips that will help you stay loose and mobile even after a long drive.

1) Elevated pigeon

Pigeon pose is a miracle yoga pose that helps stretch out your piraformis and your glutes, which can both get very tight after sitting for hours on end in ergonomically brutal car seats. The hard part is you rarely ever feel like getting down onto the floor in your hotel or after you just get in the door, to crank out a few useful stretches. This is why we like the elevated pigeon position (And yes, there may be a thousand other terms for it, but whatever). It can be done on a chair, a lower table, even the hood/trunk of your car if you want to stretch at a pit stop, but we find it incredibly easy to simply use the side of your bed as you get ready to go to sleep.
 stretches for road trips

How to get into it?

Pop one leg up onto the side of your bed (or chair or table) and cross your leg in front of your body so that your shin is facing in front of you. (See picture) Keep your back foot planted on the ground and slide it back as far as is
comfortable to you, eventually working your way to having the back leg locked out straight. To make the stretch less intense, move your front heel in towards your hips, and to make it more intense, slide the foot away from your hips until eventually your shin will be parallel with the edge your propping your leg on.
travel stretches

2) Wall Quad Stretch:

This stretch will work wonders on your quads and hip flexors, which have become an infamously tight muscle chain in the first world where sitting is everywhere. Keeping these muscles lengthened will help your hips stay relaxed and level, which will lead to good posture, reducing hip and back pains.
deep quad stretches

How to get into it? 

Find an empty space on a wall or in front of a chair/couch (if you know your quads are super tight the ladder tends to be a little gentler).  Start on your hands and knees and slide back towards the wall as close as you can.  Draw your right heel up to your butt and slide the right knee closer to the wall (eventually we want the knee touching the wall, but start about 6 inches away and move closer from there).  Next step, step your left foot forward so its flat on the floor just outside your left hand. (ps. don’t worry we aren’t graceful making that move either;))  You might be feeling this in your quad or hip already, if so take some time here to let things lengthen.  If you want a little more then bring your hands onto your left knee and slowly rise the chest to end up in a lunge looking position.
yoga for hips

3) Shoulder Opener:

A lot of people have incredibly tight shoulders. This mostly stems from two things in our modern day lifestyles, i) we hunch a lot while sitting and even standing, ii) we workout our shoulders unevenly, creating an imbalance in the interior and posterior muscles. Now whether you have tight shoulders or not in everyday life, if you sit in a car seat for any period of time, its a good chance you won’t be sitting in an “optimal” position to keep your shoulders neutral. The trendy bucket seat designs almost force us to collapse into them and roll our shoulders slightly forward. So getting a bit of shoulder opening will help counteract this.
shoulder opener poses

How to do it? 

You can luckily do this one during a rest stop along the trip, at a hotel between driving days, or at home after a long drive. If you have a wall available, this will be easiest, as you can adjust to your own height, but if your in a parking lot, you can often times use the side of your car. Prop your hands up on a solid surface (wall or side of car) high enough so that your arms are about at a 45 degree angle when standing upright. Now hinge at the hips and drop your head between your arms. Slowly relax the shoulders, and work the crown of your head towards the surface your leaning up against. If your head touches no problem, then move your hands down the wall and go deeper. Still nothing, your shoulders are probably fine!
With each one of these stretches for road trips, aim to hold each one for 2-3 minutes if time allows. So with that in mind don’t force yourself into the stretch. Simply relax into them and let your muscles release. These are amazing stretches for keeping you loose and mobile during long road trips, but at the same time can be super helpful to anyone who drives a lot in their day to day life. If you have any others that you find beneficial during long drives, then please share in the comments so everyone can try them out.
Are you a runner and want to increase mobility/flexibility? Be sure to read our Yoga Poses for Runners!

Yoga Poses for Runners – Part 2

With all of the great feedback we received from out post a while back (Yoga Poses for runners #1) sharing some of our favourite yoga poses that we thought runners everywhere should try, we thought it was time for round two.  This time we’re focusing on the upper legs and hips for the first three, then going to turn a bit of attention to your shoulders and back muscles, which so many of us accidentally neglect from time to time.  So whether you run 5k’s all year and can’t get enough of them, or you’re taking on an ultra marathon of unimaginable difficulty, these could help you stay loose and free from injury!

***Before you get cracking though, always remember WHEN and HOW you stretch is important.  Make sure you’re muscles are a bit warm (couple sun salutations or 10 minute jog can always help with that!) and try to avoid static stretches before any kind of workout.***

 

#1 – Gomukasana – Cow Face Pose

Gomukasana yoga for runners cow faceAbsolutely no idea where that name came from, but this one can be magic for some people.  Start from a seated position with legs outstretched, cross your right foot over your left leg and tuck it back near your left butt cheek.  Sitting up nice and tall, allow your knee to fall forward.  This may be enough for you (it was when we started doing it;)) or you can go a bit further.  Keeping your right leg where it is, draw your left foot towards your right butt cheek and allow the left knee to lay on the floor.  Check in to make sure your right knee is stacking right over the left AND that both of your sitting bones are on the ground. (If one is lifting off the ground try sitting on a block)

cow face pose for runnersThis is the basic posture, but feel free to play from this position to suit your needs; folding forward, fanning your feet out to the side away from your body, whatever feels right!  This is great for people with tight hips and people prone to pains along their IT bands.  Make sure to do both sides, and sit in this one for as long as you can comfortably, these muscle groups take a while to let go.

 

 

#2 – Ananda Balasana – Happy Baby

Happy baby, how can this pose NOT feel amazing!:)  So start off laying on your back and draw your knees up to your chest.  Spread your knees apart and reach your arms IN BETWEEN your knees to take hold of your feet along the inside of the foot, the outside of the foot, or the big toe. Now rise your feet up to shine the soles of your feet to the sky.  Maybe you get there, maybe not, thats just where we’re moving towards.

happy baby yoga pose

Alignment check in –> Has your lower back lifted off the ground?  Try to press it back down and keep the whole spine long and in contact with the ground.  If your feet are facing up to the sky, then next step is to draw your knees down towards your armpits.  For runners, you might always want to take some time to try straightening one leg at a time, your hamstrings will likely have a love/hate relationship with you during this one so take it slow;)

#3 – …quadasana? … alright this isn’t exactly a yoga pose, but you’ll still love it!hip stretch yoga for running

Find an empty space on a wall or in front of a chair/couch (if you know your quads are super tight the ladder tends to be a little gentler).  Start on your hands and knees and slide back towards the wall as close as you can.  Draw your right heel up to your butt and slide the right knee closer to the wall (eventually we want the knee touching the wall, but start about 6 inches away and move closer from there).  Next step, step your left foot forward so its flat on the floor just outside your left hand. (ps. don’t worry we aren’t graceful making that move either;))  You might be feeling this in your quad or hip already, if so take some time here to let things lengthen.  If you want a little more then bring your hands onto your left knee and slowly rise the chest to end up in a lunge looking position.

quad stretch for runnersOnce you’re this far, you have two options to focus this stretch a bit more.  A) Pressing your hips and shoulders back towards the wall behind you will target the stretch along the quad.  B) Allowing the hips to draw forward and down to the floor will target the stretch deep into the hip flexors.  Some people might even get more into the hip by keeping their hands on the floor and sinking the hips low.

 

 

 

#4 – Garudasana – Eagle Arms

**If you want full Garudasana, google it, we’re only focusing on the arms**

Anyone out there where a pack? Ever feel like a 70 year old getting out of bed when you take that thing off after a long run? How about stage racers, how heavy was your pack last race?  I think you’re getting the point, runners’ shoulders can get pretty tight and we rarely pay attention to them.  Truth is, tight muscles in and around the shoulders, chest and back can restrict the expansion of your ribs and therefore your breath as well.

 eagle arm preparation yoga for runners eagle arms yoga pose for runners eagle arm variation yoga

 

 

Eagle arms can be done standing up straight, sitting up straight, in a wide legged forward fold, and even at your desk or in your car!!!

 

 

 

This one is simple, take your right arm and swing it under your left (imagine stacking the centre of your humorous bones), and interlace your forearms as your point them up to the sky.  You may only be able to connect the backs of your hands together, or you might have no problem bringing your palms to touch.  Where ever your are, keep the elbows lifted to shoulder height, and when that begins to feel comfortable, try pressing your forearms away from your face.  Hold this one for 30 seconds to a minute, and repeat on your other side!

 

If you have any questions or comments on these postures feel free to comment below, or send us an email at [email protected]  If you’ve found these postures helpful, we’d love for you to share them with your run groups!!:)

 

Run Free and never let tight muscles hold you back;)

Mel’n’Jon

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