We put Tamsa Kabir under the Instructor spotlight to discover how he combines sport science, mental models and gymnastics for an altogether different training experience.
How did you get into personal training?
I studied a BSc in Sport Science at Brunel University; I was already into fitness and staying in shape, but also I saw how unfit and unhealthy some of the people around me were. Some friends and family weren’t the best role models health-wise, so I set out to see what I could do about it.
A lot of the theory and research in sport science doesn’t apply directly to the average city workers’ life, so after I graduated I started personal training to learn and understand what makes people tick and to inspire them to a better quality of life.
Way back when, in secondary school, I suffered from plantar fasciitis – the connective tissue along the bottom of your feet gets micro tears in response to exercise, so when you wake up in the morning, especially if you’ve trained or played sport the day before, moving your foot feels like walking on glass. It stopped me from playing sport, so fitness was my way of finding out how to solve the issue biomechanically.
Your Instagram shows you in some impressive acrobatic poses; what is it that appeals to you most about that sort of training?
The human body is extraordinarily well designed for efficient movement and adaptability but modern working life is very sedentary. I am interested in how people move at each extreme - athletes and acrobats versus the general population - and how to bridge the gap. Everyone can strive to perform movements outside of their current comfort zone.
You can go to the gym and do classic lifting like benching or squatting, but it doesn’t really take you away from the posture and mobility issues of daily life very much - you’ll usually still leave the gym with the same issues you walked in with.
When you have a mobility, gymnastics-based conditioning and overall movement focus, everything becomes about building an efficient system – minimising your weak links. For example, you will struggle with both hand balancing and heavy powerlifting if you don’t know how to control your breathing with your diaphragm. The movement focus really raises your baseline and requires a level of commitment that’s a little bit more than just showing up.
One of the things I encourage with clients is that you have to be as curious about how to do things as I am about teaching you how to do them. It can’t be just that you’re showing up and getting fit; it’s about being able to explore your own limitations and your own body. Some people, especially when they’re focussed on weight loss, just want to show up and be shouted at – that’s what I do classes for! In my one-to-ones, you’re here to be mentored, not just instructed.
Part of your training is about building ‘strong mental models’; what do you mean by that?
One example is around goal setting, where we use visualisation. We’ll visualise the ideal scenario, whether that’s your ability to do something, or confidence in a situation – and that isn’t just about having a six pack by the summer, it’s about how you’re going to feel when you’re with your friends and family on the beach. Then we work back from there – your outcome goal - and look at what it’s going to take to get you to that point – your performance goal. For example someone who can perform a strong baseline number of reps in pull ups, push ups and pistol squats, while having the motivation to eat well, will develop a six pack just as a bonus. We set those performance goals, then look at the process required to achieve them. That mental model – the pyramid of outcome, performance and process goals – is in your mind every time you train.
We also look at things like mindfulness and breathing patterns – coaching people on why those things are important. It completely upgrades your performance.
You’re reading The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, which is about hero myths and journeys – how are you finding it?
The author focuses on the principles of various hero stories and legends, which lets you take that framework and apply it to everything else. One of the interesting things in the book is about different cultures. I have applied it to my experience of Southern Africa, a lot of traditions have been lost over the last few hundred years; people have kept what seems fun, but some of the things that were there to keep people healthy or to have other benefits on society have disappeared. The idea of a hero journey applies today through how you create new traditions for yourself and your loved ones that have an impact on your future wellbeing like being able to look after your children better or stay injury free.
That links into the idea of future proofing your body, which is a big part of your philosophy.
Future proofing your body is investing in your future self by training effectively and organising your life in a way which promotes a high quality of life and longevity through the decades. The actions of your 30 year old self set the mark for what you will be able to do in your 50’s and 60’s all the way through to your 80’s and 90’s. Vigorous exercise has been shown to keep the brain, heart and lungs healthy. Mobility training keeps your joints healthy. Eccentric strength training keeps your muscles adaptable to whatever spontaneous adventures you put them through. It all has a purpose.
When you think about being a role model for those around you, staying fit as you age, being able to chase your kids around the park - it gives you an incentive to go to the gym other than just wanting to look good for social media.
What are your own fitness goals?
I’m ages away from the freestanding handstand push up, but I’m slowly getting there! Also I’ve been training outdoors for most of the summer, so my classic strength moves like squatting and deadlifting have dropped quite a bit – over the winter I’m going to focus on re-establishing a baseline in those! That lower body strength translates into my ability to do other things; even running or elements of obstacle course races become harder without that hip, knee and ankle strength.
What’s the plan for the next year?
I want to relate my training back more into behavioural change, so that I can really influence those who struggle through the fitness process. I’m going to create more of a culture of self-improvement around my personal training brand.
There are also aspects of various training styles that I incorporate into my own style and coaching, such as barefoot training mechanics, animal flow and yoga style movements and traditional strength and conditioning. I aim to gain qualifications and more knowledge in these areas over the next few years. Animal flow level 1 will be early next year.
You can follow Louise on Twitter: @iamlouisesmith