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Gymnastics

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I have never really understood people who say that they have nothing to do. There are so many interesting things to do and so many fascinating things to learn that I will never feel that I run out of things I want to do. Sure, I might still be bored at times, but that’s certainly not because of a lack of things to do. Two things I like a lot are sports/exercising and cookies, so before we move on to the central part of this article, let’s talk about sports and cookies.

Sports and cookies

I have practised some kind of sport for as long as I can remember and I have never stopped; there has never been a period in my life where I haven’t practised or learnt some new sport. At the moment, I’m in the gymnastics team at National Taiwan Normal University and I’m enjoying it immensely. I practice as much as can, which normally means around fifteen hours a week, but sometimes more than that. During the summer while I’m back in Sweden, it’s much less, but I still practise.

Counterbalancing this, literally speaking, I also have a penchant for cookies. However, I’m not an epicure or something, I just like eating cookies, usually quite a lot of them, something most of my friends know (cookie monster!). If it weren’t for my arduous exercising, my body shape would probably be spherical by now, so in a sense, cookies and sports cancel each other out, at least when it comes to body weight.

However, practising swimming, running, diving, martial arts or unicycling, body weight isn’t really a crucial factor. Sure, all these sports will be easier if you are strong per kilogram, but you can still practise them at an amateur level without caring too much about what you eat. When I competed in martial arts, weight mattered, but not in a sense that really influenced my life. It was more a matter of seeing how much I weighed and then applying for the correct weight class.

Gymnastics and the weight of weight

Gymnastics is different. Every single exercise is a battle against gravity. When you go to the gym, you have an absolute scale of reference and you can see that today, you managed 80 kg whereas last month you could only handle 75 kg. You also gained weight, mostly muscle mass.

This wouldn’t necessarily be good fro a gymnast, simply because what matters is the ratio between your strength and your body weight. In other words, the goal isn’t just to get stronger, it’s to get stronger per kilogram. If you want to make a reasonable gym comparison, you should stop recording kilograms and just report % of body weight for all exercises.

handstandWhy it’s hard to lose weight

Thus, I have deliberately tried to lose weight ever since I realised that one obstacle in the way of achieving some things I’m working towards is body weight. In short, everything I do when practising gymnastics would be much, much easier if I weighed less, so it makes sense to lose weight. The first challenge is to successfully do this while still consuming a reasonable amount of cookies.

The second challenge is that I can’t lose weight if that impairs endurance or strength too much. That would be stupid and defy the whole purpose of losing weight in the first place. Some basic research told me that most people who try to become stronger (in absolute terms) while losing weight at the same time seem to aim towards losing no more than 0.5 kg a week.

Think about that for a bit. For someone with my weight and daily exercise volume, it means that I should decrease my calorie intake by around 7%. Everyday. For several months.

A question of discipline

That requires some serious discipline. I know that some of you labour under the false impression that I’m the uncrowned king of self-discipline, but this is a very good example that I’m not. I have tried to accomplish this for many, many years (at least five or six) and failed every time. Provided that I keep to the above plan, one package of cookies puts me back by more than a week! If That means that if I’m diligent all days of the week except one, I will be standing still. I’m pretty good at being disciplined for limited amounts of time, but even the strongest resolve weakens sometimes.

In short, being determined to succeed 99% of the time isn’t enough, because that 1% renders the 99% meaningless. It sounds harsh and it is.

A milestone reached

This time is different, however. I write this article as some kind of monument. I have have succeeded reaching a goal I set up quite a long time ago, which was to weigh 75 kg on average for an extended period of time without significantly losing strength in absolute terms. That’s what I have done. It took me about half a year to go from just below 79 kg to just below 75 kg today. This is what the long and winding path to my goal looks like:

weightWhere do I go from here, then? In theory, I could lose a few more kilograms before it starts being unhealthy, but I don’t think it’s worth it. Instead, I plan to keep my weight just below 75 and try to improve my strength and endurance without letting my body weight bounce up again. This goal is open-ended, of course, but I think that simply maintaining my current state is an achievement in itself.

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I try to do at least one time log every time I change my habits drastically, usually because of larger changes in my life in general. This is the first time log I’ve made since returning to Taiwan and the goal was to examine how I generally spend my time. If you have no idea what I time log is, read the next section. If you already know and only want to read about the result, skip the next section. If you don’t care about my time log at all, you shouldn’t be reading this article. Read this Wikipedia article about the velar lateral ejective affricate instead.

What is time logging and what is it for?

A time log is very simple. Just write down everything you do for a given period of time and you have one. Exactly how detailed you are and for how long you keep at it depends on what your goal is, but you should be fairly specific and do it for at least one “normal” day (i.e. don’t choose a weekend or a day which isn’t typical of how you normally spend your time).

The goal with a time log is to become aware of how you spend your time. What you want to do with this information is up to you, but in my case, I want to see if my perception of how I spend my time matches how I actually spend it. Most people who do their first time log find out that they actually spend much less time working or studying than they really think, for instance. I’ve done many time logs in my life and I’m sort of past that, though.

You don’t need to be a personal development freak to be interested in time logs. A time log isn’t about controlling everything you do and trying to become more productive, it’s about awareness. I’m fine with spending ten hours a week playing computer games, but I want to be aware of the fact that I’m doing it. I want to do it because I want to do it, not because I do it without actually thinking about it. Or, to quote Socrates:

“The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”

This quote obviously has problems, but it I do think that self-awareness is one of the most important abilities or skills to posses. It influences everything we do and enables us to understand who we are, who we want to become and how to get there. Doing a time log is one step on the road towards better understanding of oneself.

My time log for a week in March 2013

Since my schedule is radically different each day of the week, I decided to record a whole week. This means that I wrote down everything I did between 2013-03-15 and 2013-03-21. I also sorted everything I did into crude categories to facilitate the analysis and the writing of this article. To give you an idea of how detailed my time log is, I recorded about 300 activities in seven days.

Below, I have presented some stuff I find interesting from the time log:

  1. Time spent using different languages
  2. Time spent on different types activities
  3. A closer look at overlapping tasks
  4. What I have learnt from this time log

Time spent using different languages

People sometimes ask me how much time I spend using different languages and I have written about this earlier (Internal discourse and operational languages). Of course, it’s close to impossible to time internal discourse, so this is merely an overview of the languages I use for the various activities I’m engaged in. Note that I have omitted activities that aren’t related to languages at all, such as sleeping, eating or playing non-language related games.

language-chart

  • Chinese: 67 hours
  • English: 29 hours
  • Swedish: 2 hour
  • (Non-language): 70 hours

Is this result surprising? No, not really. Is it representative for what I normal week looks like? Sort of, although I do believe that I normally spend more than one hour a week listening/speaking/reading/writing Swedish. This almost matches my expectations, although I think I would spend more time using English than I actually did. Most of the English comes from listening to the Economist and a lecture series about linguistics, as well as editing and writing articles on Hacking Chinese.

Time spent on different activities

The list below is a breakdown of different kinds of activities in my life. The categories aren’t very well defined and should be taken with a pinch of salt. For instance, “studying” doesn’t merely include actual studying (reading textbooks, reviewing vocabulary and so on), but also using Chinese to do other things.

  • Studying (85 hours)

    • Chinese: 37 hours
    • Linguistics: 28 hours
    • Meta: 4 hours
    • Not Chinese: 16 hours

The high number for “linguistics” comes from reading a book about Chinese phonology, listening to lectures about Chinese grammar (both live and recorded) along with related homework and so on. “Not Chinese” refers to other attempts at educating myself, including a lecture series in general linguistics (the other category is only for Chinese linguistics in Chinese) and some other projects I have running in the background.

  • Essential (62 hours)
    • Sleep: 51 hours
    • Other: 11 hours

“Sleep” should be obvious; “other” means things like eating, showering, brushing my teeth and so on. This category is pretty boring in general, but I will say some interesting things about it below.

  • Gymnastics (16 hours)

This is self-explanatory, I think. Includes stretching.

  • Social (13 hours)

Mostly with classmates, team mates (gymnastics) and online (social media not included).

  • Hacking Chinese (4 hours)
    • Writing, editing: 2 hours
    • Social media, updates: 2 hours

Again, this should be self-explanatory.

  • Miscellaneous (22 hours)

    • Games: 13 hours
    • Social media, news, Wikipedia: 4 hours
    • Teaching Swedish: 3 hours
    • Snigel.nu: 1 hour
    • Time-log: 1 hour

Any category system will have a “all the other stuff I couldn’t fit into the other categories” category and here it is. Games refer to various online games or Rubik’s cube (mostly the former, though). The second point is somewhat arbitrarily grouped, but since I didn’t spend much time on any of those things, it simply didn’t feel worthwhile to analyse further.

A closer look at overlapping tasks

I really hope you have better things to do than adding all those numbers up, but if you do, you will find that the total time is 202 hours. A week has 168 hours. This is because some tasks overlap. However, I only note overlapping tasks if I’m able to do both adequately at once.

The activities that most often overlap are the “essential” ones plus any kind of studying (I almost always listen to lectures or something educational while eating, walking, doing the laundry and so on). The “games” category actually overlaps 100% with other activities, meaning that I never play games without listening to something worthwhile at the same time.

A typical day in March 2013

What follows is an edited extract from my time log. I’ve removed references to particular people, overly detailed category information and some other things I don’t want to share online. I have also swapped some activities to try to make this day match what is most typical of my life right now. The time noted is the time when that activity ends. Asterisks (*) denote activities mainly in Chinese. In cases where activities overlap, I have simply omitted the less important one (often “eating”, “walking” and so on).

This is a slightly modified version of Monday 18th:

06:05    Sleep
06:12    Essential
06:47    Social*
06:59    HC    Daily check-up
07:08    Misc    Social media, news
08:28    Phonology*    Writing
08:31    Misc    Social media
09:01    Grammar*    Lecture
09:15    Social*
12:14    Class*    Teaching
14:02    Social*
14:04    Meta    Time log management
14:06    Misc    Social media, news
15:16    Phonology*    Writing
15:28    Grammar*    Lecture
16:10    Phonology*    Discussion
16:26    Phonolgy    Planning
16:30    Meta    Time-log management
17:23    Economist
17:50    Sleep
17:56    Essential
18:12    Grammar*    Lecture
21:01    Physical    Gymnastics
21:14    Grammar*    Lecture
21:23    HC    E-mail, comments
21:30    Misc    Social media, e-mail
22:00    Economist
22:31    Phonology*    Writing
22:54    HC    Social media, e-mail
23:06    Physical    Stretching
23:44    Economist

What I have learnt from this time log

These are my thoughts after doing this time log, looking through the result and writing this article:

  • I spend more time than I think doing things I want to do
  • I spend much less time on social media than I thought I did
  • I spend much more time on language consumption rather than production
  • I spend almost no time at all being creative
  • I sleep more than I thought (slightly above seven hours per day)

To be honest, though, this time log is probably the least helpful I have ever done. It mostly tells me that I’m on the right track and that I spend a huge majority of my time doing things I actually want to do for various reasons. Now, this might be useful in itself (it’s a great morale boost if nothing else), but it isn’t very helpful.

The two major things that are lacking include deliberate practice target at areas of Chinese I know I have problems with (I’m talking about actual skills here, so linguistics doesn’t count) and creative output. I need more of that. Much more. However, I also feel that I’m way behind in my reading, so as long as I feel that writing articles like this one is enough to satisfy my need to express myself in writing, I might be fine with this for the foreseeable future.

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More than two weeks have passed since I arrived in Taipei and I think it’s high time to tell you a little bit about what has has transpired during this period. I’m not going to give a detailed chronological account, mostly because I don’t like to write like that but also because I doubt many will be interested in reading it. Instead, I will write about a few topics I find important. Hopefully, this corresponds at least roughly to what you’d like to read about.

Settling in

I now feel that the place I live is also my home. That didn’t take very long, although it would be wrong to say that the process is completed. Settling in is an ongoing process that is never fully completed. However, unpacking all my things, putting up some things on the walls, cleaning up a bit and similar things helped quite a bit. I will show you more later when I think I have something to show.

Adjusting

There are many different kinds of adjustments. First, it took me about a week to get rid of the jet lag completely. It only took a few days to be able to sleep okay, but it took a week before I could go to bed at a reasonable time and sleep soundly until morning.

Second, the climate is as different from Sweden as it can be. Sweden is dry and cool, Taiwan is humid and warm. I don’t think I will ever adjust completely, but now the weather has cooled down somewhat, which makes me happier.

Third, there is food. I didn’t encounter any problems during the first week, but for some reason, my stomach hasn’t behaved properly this week. I think it’s getting better, so I don’t intend to do anything about it. It’s only natural that it takes a while to adjust, even if I didn’t encounter such problems last time I came to Taiwan.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, it’s necessary to adjust socially. This is a very complex process that works on many different levels. I think this is the kind of adjustment that takes the longest. Fortunately, this isn’t a real issue in the modern world. It’s not as if my contact network in Sweden has disappeared.

Studying

My main reason for coming back to Taiwan is that I want a master’s degree in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. My previous experience of the university (National Taiwan Normal University) was mixed (to say the least), but now after finishing the first week, I can at least say that the courses look promising in theory (and so do the teachers). How it will be to actually study here in the long-term I don’t know, but I like what I have seen so far.

I’m taking three courses this semester:

  • 華語文教材教法 (Chinese Language Teaching Methods and Materials)
  • 話語語音教學研究 (Studies in Phonetic Instruction in Chinese)
  • 漢語語音學 (Chinese Linguistics)

I don’t know yet how much time it will take to complete these courses with a reasonable grade (I need 80/100 for my scholarship, 70/100 is the normal pass score). My advantage is that I have studied most of these subjects before, apart from Chinese linguistics. I feel that I have a fairly good grasp of Chinese phonetics and phonology, at least in English. I need to (literally) translate this knowledge and expand it. My obvious disadvantage is of course that most classmates are native speakers and that I will require much more time than them both to read and write the required amount.

Apart from this, I also have Chinese language class twice a week. I don’t know much about this yet,so I’ll tell you more about it later. I just hope that the content of that course is geared towards our program, so I don’t end up with having to learn lots of extra stuff that isn’t really applicable to anything else I’m doing.

Practising gymnastics

I will be able to practice gymnastics very seriously during my time in Taiwan. We’re talking about ~20 hours a week, depending on how much time I feel that I can spend. This makes me very happy indeed. Perhaps this is hard to understand for people who don’t know me well, but having a physical activity that I enjoy is very important for me. The alternative would have been swimming and gym, and compared with that, gymnastics is much better in every single way. I will write about this more later as well, for now let it suffice to say that everything is working well.

Conclusion

So far, everything has been working very well. I have encountered no serious setbacks but have instead stumbled on (or actively found) some really good opportunities. It remains to be seen what I will think in a month or so, when I should have settled in more completely and when I should have a better picture of what my courses really entail in terms of workload and how interesting/worthwhile I find them. I’ll probably write articles about other topics before then, but expect a post like this again in a month or two!

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Summer vacation this year means that I have much more free time on my hands than I usually have. I will spend most of it studying Chinese, but I also intend to keep practising gymnastics as much as I can. I feel that I’ve been lacking in focus recently, so here are some goals I’d like to achieve before august is over. If you don’t know what a certain move is, using Wikipedia or YouTube will usually give you a very quick answer.

Muscle-up to handstand on rings

This is a goal I’ve had since last autumn and it can easily be divided into three parts: muscle-up, press to handstand and handstand. On rings. I’ve been working on my muscle-ups for quite a while now and at last I seem to have got the hang of how to do them. I can do about five-six consecutive muscle-ups now, which feels quite solid. When rested, the first few are quite easy, which means that I consider the first step completed.

Press to handstand is a lot harder for me. I’m bad at it on the ground, so moving it to the rings isn’t easier. I’m partly lacking strength here, but mostly I think it’s a matter of technique. I haven’t practised this a lot, but give me two months and it should be okay.

Handstand in rings is something entirely new for me. When practising on a lowered pair of rings, I can sometimes hold a handstand for ten seconds or longer, but getting to this position without kicking is fairly difficult. Holding the handstand will require some practice, but I don’t think it’s a major problem since my goal is to hold the position with balance for just a few seconds.

Straddle planche

Planche is my nemesis. It’s probably the exercise I’ve focused on the longest without having accomplished (or even being close to accomplishing). Recently, however, I have been starting experimenting with a straddle planche, which feels within reach, but still very, very hard. I think there are three approaches to achieving this: lowering down from a handstand, normal straddle planche with spot and planche leans/pseudo planche push-ups. In any case, this puts tremendous pressure on the hands, elbows and shoulders, but I haven’t felt the slightest pain so far.

Front lever

This is the opposite of planche, but is significantly easier. I still can’t hold a full front lever, though, but I think that might be because of a bad attitude or weak determination. I think that strength-wise this position should be within reach, it’s just that I don’t believe that I can do it. So, within two months time, I definitely think it’s possible to reach my goal here. The ultimate goal is five seconds or more, but for the summer, I would be happy with two or three seconds, just to be able to hold the position at all. More time is easier to add than achieving the basic position in the first place.

Multiple back handsprings

I’ve realised that bending backwards is one of my biggest flexibility problems. My hip flexors are the main problem, but the abs certainly don’t help. Thus, handsprings don’t come very easily to me, so even doing one was a challenge (I did my first on floor a couple of weeks ago). However, I want to develop this further and be able to do back handsprings on the floor without hesitation. To prove that I know what I’m doing, adding an extra one seems like a good idea. If I can do two, the first one has to be quite good.

Round off back handspring

This is a bit similar to the handspring above, but since my round offs are quite bad, I think it’s a good idea to add a goal including them. Also, being able to do these properly means that a number of other combinations become available, simply because it’s then possible to enter a back handspring with a running start. People have told me that this is actually easier than an ordinary handspring, but that still remains to be seen.

Round off back flip

I can do fairly solid back flips standing still on the floor, but since my round offs aren’t good, I have yet to combine these two. This should be quite easy though, once I actually start practising round offs more seriously. Including this and the previous goal will hopefully enable me to focus better.

Wall walks

I’ve had the goal to walk 100 metres on my hands for quite a while now (many years), but I’ve given up at least twice. This is not a matter of balance as some people might think, but pure strength and endurance. Handwalking mainly taxes arms, shoulders and back, but it feels pretty much like the entire body is involved. Wall walk simply means walking on my hands against a wall, tapping shoulders between each step. The goal is to do these at least once every week. I currently do 3 x 100 taps.

Future updates and progress reports

I will report back whenever I succeed with one or more of the above goals. If possible, I will provide either pictures or video. It might be hard to achieve all the goals, but I will definitely try!

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Reading the tag line on this website, it’s easy to believe that I’m a person who enjoy mostly abstract things, or at least activities that require more mental than physical effort. That might be true, but one reason that I don’t write more about physical activities is that there seldom is anything of interest to write. I exercise, I don’t necessarily like to write about it. However, there is one exception.

As I’ve noticed more than once, using my website as a screen on which to project my goals and dreams has been a useful method to accomplish said goals and fulfill those dreams. During my two years in Taiwan, there were a number of factors that limited my progress (mostly climate, but also lack of training partners), but now that I’m back in Sweden, it’s time to get serious if I ever want to achieve anything.

What I’m going to do is specify a number of things I want to achieve (these have stayed the same for a long time and I don’t think they are likely to change a lot in the future) and then I’m going to report regularly (perhaps once every two months or so) to make sure that I’m making progress. Some of the skills I describe here are incredibly hard to learn, and since there are quite a few of them, it’s unrealistic to believe that I will make progress on all fronts at all times. However, I intend to move in the right direction and I intend to start now.

Below is a description of what I want to achieve and where I am at the moment. I’m not going to explain the exercises, so if you don’t know what something is, use Google or YouTube. I will also hazard a very rough guess on how long I think it will take to achieve this skill with diligent practice. These estimates might be completely off, but I prefer to write something which is wrong rather than not writing anything at all.

Planche (nothing weird, just very, very hard)

This is a skill I’ve been working on for quite a while now. It takes a lot longer to learn than most people believe, because of the high risk of injury in the elbow and shoulder joint due to the extreme stress they have to take. I’m still stuck at doing tucked planche with straight back, but I might start experimenting with the straddled version in a month or so. The final goal is a minimum of five seconds.

ETA: 1,5 years

Front lever (on horizontal bar or rings)

I’ve been doing front lever progressions for about the same time as planche progressions, which is some time now, but with too many breaks. I would be ready for straddle front levers now if my legs were more flexible in that direction, but, alas, I can’t.  A tucked front lever with straight back is way too easy (I’ve held it for over a minute), so I need to find another way to progress. Right now I’m doing the straddled version with bent knees. The goal is the straight position for at least five seconds.

ETA: 6 months

Handstand push-up with clap (freestanding, forehead to floor, jump with clap, land with balance)

This feat looks very hard, but I think it firmly belongs in the “easy” range of the exercises I’m presenting here. I have a record of seven consecutive freestanding handstand push-ups and I don’t think I need that much more to add the clap. It will require more explosive strength, but that certainly isn’t impossible to get.

ETA: 6 months

Muscle-up (on bar or rings, with control, from dead hang)

A muscle-up is something I’ve never practiced specifically to achieve, but since I’ve done a fair amount of related exercises, I think it should be okay. The problem comes with the “control” and “from dead hang”. There should be no kipping here. At the moment, I can do an asymmetrical muscle-up on bars and rings, but that’s a lot easier than the real thing.

ETA: 1 year

Muscule-up to handstand (on rings, can you even do this on a bar?)

This exercise is of course a continuation of the previous one and should take a bit longer, but not very much. The biggest problem here will probably be the press to handstand on rings (provided that the muscle-up is already achieved). This will probably be hard, but not as hard as the muscle-up in the first place.

ETA: 1,5 years

Hand walking 100 metres (harder than it sounds)

I learnt to walk 30 metres in a week, but then spent a year moving up to 60 metres. Then I lost courage and didn’t make it farther than 70 or something like that. This is a goal I’ve had for a very long time, but I don’t plan to keep it for very long. Some endurance for hand-walking and handstands should do it, with some dedicated extra workouts now and then.

ETA: 1 year

One-arm chin-up (same as planche, nothing weird, just very, very hard)

Just to make things clear, this is a one-armed chin-up we’re talking about, not just simply using one hand but two arms or something like that. This exercise is similar to planche in that the elbow joint is under extreme pressure and one must proceed cautiously. At the moment, I’m doing weighted chins (5 sets of 3 reps with 15 kgs), but I should alternate with negative one-arms and add more weight.

ETA: 1,5 years

Handstand to elbow lever and back (requires some mean back muscles and balance)

I can do both quite easily since none of the exercises are difficult. The transition between them, with a straight body is something completely different, however. It’s very hard for me to say how hard it is, but I assume that general core strength, more handstands and planche training will do most of the job. I don’t plan to do any seriously dedicated work on this one for quite a while.

ETA: 1 year

Handstand to planche and back (almost impossible, but I’ll include it anyway)

Same as the previous exercise, except the trivial elbow lever is changed to the murderous planche. I don’t seriously think I will achieve this skill in anything that can be called the near future, perhaps never, but since it’s really cool (it requires so many different aspects), I want to write it here anyway.

ETA: 5 years

Front flip (standing still from solid surface)

Everybody knows what this is, nothing weird. I want to be able to do it standing still from a solid surface. The progressions are quite obvious (decreasing speed and making the ground more solid), but I still think I need more height to even try this. Right now, I can easily do this from 10 cm in a swimming pool, but that’s not the same thing. I need more height and better landings.

ETA: 1 year

Back flip (standing still from solid surface)

Same as above, but backwards. This ought to be easier technically, but I’ve worked a lot less on backward rotations in general. Since height is as important here as it is for front flips, they go hand in hand. Rotation speed forwards is not a problem, but it might be backwards. We’ll see.

ETA: 1 year

Front handspring (we’re talking about a lot of stretching)

If you’re ten years old, this skill is not very hard to achieve, but for me it will be. The problem is that my hip flexors are way, way too tight, which means that I probably can’t do a handspring at all, even if my technique was perfect. So what we’re looking at here is a lot of stretching for a year or so and then some practice.

ETA: 1 year

Back handspring (a little bit easier, but still lots of stretching)

I haven’t heard this from any professional yet, but it should be easier backwards. Still, it’s the same hip flexors than don’t allow me to bend in this direction very much, so much stretching will be needed. In fact, that’s the main reason I’ve included it here. I think it’s downright unhealthy to be as inflexible as I am in this particular plane of motion.

ETA: 6 months

Some final comments

If you want to help me achieve this, the only thing you have to do is ask me now and then how it’s going. You don’t need to know anything about gymnastics, simply making me think about this more often and show that you care will help a lot. Also, wish me good luck, because I will need it badly!

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