May 14, 2020

During lockdown I’ve really been missing working out in the gym. I know, this isn’t at the top of many people’s lists, but it’s become an important part of my life especially as it relates to stress management and overall wellness. I’ve found exercise to be pivotal (as I’ve written about before).

Idea

Around two years ago I started taking boxing seriously, and the physical conditioning was fun and super tough. I wanted to be able to do similar workouts at home or in the gym, so I put together a web application that would randomly generate workouts based on the template from my boxing coach.

I created two base workouts:

  • All Rounder. This would include various types of suicide runs, mixed in with random functional exercises.
  • Functional. This would consist of just functional exercises, grouped in sets of three.

The workouts would last between 30min and 40min, including a 10min skipping warmup. Each workout also had a difficulty level based on the exercises that were included in the workout (a burpee is harder than a push up, so would have more points). The aim was to finish a workout within a given time in order to “beat” the workout.

As I used the web application more, and got continued feedback from a good friend, the value proposition started to take shape.

I called the application “Fight A Bear” to be answer to the question: how strong and fit do you want to become? Enough to fight a bear. It’s a humourous way to look at pushing yourself enough to get large improvements.

Mobile

This app needed to be available on your phone so that you could easily do the workouts wherever you were. I decided to put in a few months and learn React Native (I used the excellent course from Handlebar Labs) and came out the other side knowing how to build a cross-platform mobile app.

I got some designs made from my go to designer and she knocked it out of the park. These were then built into the app, the functionality and flow worked on, and through continuous testing and usage the app become something real.

The backend that powers the mobile application (written in Go, of course) has also been improved time and time again, with a bunch of handy features like printing out a random nature image with the details of the workout, ready to share with the world. I also added different types of workouts and have started to really improve the hooks on the app.

Results

Using the application solidly over a three month period led me to become the fittest I’ve ever been. I would do an average of four Fight A Bear (FAB) workouts a week, sometimes as much as six, and honestly felt like a machine. At the height of my fitness I would do an hour long boxing session, mainly consisting of sparring and pad work, and feel recovered enough at the end of the workout to be able to do it all again. It was incredible.

It also led my friend and I to do the “Bear Fun Run” in Cape Town, South Africa. This consisted of running around Cape Town, up and down the mountain and hills, while doing functional exercises at regular intervals. The net result was a 21km run and 300 of each: burpees, push ups, mountain climbers, squat thrusts and squat jumps, over five and a half hours. It was an incredible feat.

Usage

However, in the months that followed I stopped using the app. I became more interested in weights and was willing to sacrifice fitness and functional exercise for size and strength. There is always a trade off here, and trying to build size while doing FAB workouts would be tough.

In the months that followed my fitness dropped, as expected. I put on a few kilograms of muscle but that feeling of being able to conquer anything went away. It was super interesting to see the difference between the two types of exercise: one made me feel physically strong (“lifting heavy things” strong) and decent size gains, while the other made me also feel physically strong (“functionally fit” strong) and slightly less but still decent size gains. However, the biggest difference was the feeling I had when I was super fit - like I could do whatever I wanted. This didn’t happen through lifting weights, although maybe I didn’t reach a sufficient level of lifting weights to get to this point. The type of feeling at some local peak could differ too (I can lift anything I want vs I can do a triathlon).

COVID

Then the lockdown came. In the UK we have always been allowed to go for an hours' exercise a day, so my fiancé and I took up running during this time. It’s been great, I’d previously been an avid runner so this was a throwback to some good memories and I’m excited to get strong at running again. Recently, we have been allowed to go out as many times as we want in a day, as long as we keep the social distance. This was a good a time as any to get back in to FAB.

I put in a few hours here and there to get the application up to speed, both on mobile as well as the server, and have reached something I am super happy with. You can now record timing for each exercise, so the goal time is realistic for you, and there are several more exercise types and programs to do. You can also see your totals which is pretty motivating, and there are some great social aspects that are almost done.

I’ve only done four workouts but I am already seeing progress - it’s unbelievable. I’ll write a separate post on what I think makes FAB a good system, but pushing yourself just a little harder than you would normally leads to some big growth (in fitness, physically and in mindset).

In Closing

I’m falling in love with this type of fitness again, and can’t see myself falling out of love with it any time soon, especially with the great changes to the app I have planned. This type of physical fitness makes a person feel so good, so if you are able to pursue this - I would recommend 10/10. You’ll see results within the first week and it is addictive (in the best way).

You can give the Fight A Bear app a try, would love to hear feedback!