The commuter's guide to calisthenics on the go

You may be doing more exercise than you think during your daily journey into work.

At some point at the end of the week or beginning of the month, we all resolve to improve our fitness regime. For those who begin work early or have to commute, we endeavour to exercise in the morning so that the eight or ten hours we spend sat in front of computers don’t take their toll on our bodies. To endeavour is one thing, to execute is another. Exercise in the evening you say? When you reach home at 8pm and have things like laundry, cooking and tidying to do in the three hours before you have to sleep again this isn’t always possible. Sleep, for many, takes precedence over the aforementioned measures of self-improvement. This morning, I saw the journey from a different perspective - as it turns out, commuting can be quite an athletic act, requiring co-ordination of the mind, muscles and mobile phone clock. The following is based on my daily commute into London.

Reluctantly wake up at 6.45 am. You’re still a little sleep-deprived from the previous few weeks of work, and sleeping late last night doesn’t help. Have another 15 minutes in bed; you only need to leave the house at 8am.

It’s 7.30 - only half an hour to get dressed, eat breakfast and make a sandwich for lunch. Spring forth to the bathroom, grab your toothbrush and get brushing whilst simultaneously running the shower to eliminate the first 30 seconds of cold water (that would otherwise deliver a cruel slap to the face). Hop out and begin your warm-up – the “hot out of the shower dance” – a strange wriggle-walk triggered involuntarily by the horrific temperature change experienced on exiting the shower. Jump into your clothes (add a few extra minutes of indecision if you didn’t have them ready last night.) Oh dear, you still have "bed head" and only 17 minutes to eat and make lunch. Move it!

Sartorial solutions gained, time for “The Sandwich Sprint”. Grab bread and sandwich fillings from the fridge, slap both sides together and shove into a box. Stuff this in your bag/ dedicated lunch bag and run this to the front door, making sure you power off on the balls of your feet to avoid heel strike induced injuries. Right, breakfast … cereal again. Lunge towards the draining board and grab your bowl, decant cereal and milk. Don’t forget a quick sniff test before you’re unpleasantly surprised by a mouthful of sour milk and cereal. With just under a minute to spare from munching on breakfast, perform “The Breakfast Bowl Bleep Test.” Plonk your bowl next to the sink and run to the front door to catch to your lift the train station.  Don’t forget keys, wallet, train pass and "lovingly" prepared lunch.  Areas worked: soleus, gastrocnemius, quadriceps, core muscles.

The journey begins.

You’ve just reached the station at 8.09am, the  train to London Paddington has just pulled in; you have 45 seconds to board it. Get ready for “Commuter Cardio and Calisthenics Part One” in 3-2-1… GO!

Quickly seek out the 10-inch gutter space on the left hand side of the corridor. Streamlining your profile is key; shoulders back, stomach in, all bags in front of you. Slip through the mass of professionals and school goers. Nimbly jog up two flights of stairs to the platform. Lean forward to eliminate bounce and keep on the balls of your feet for maximum speed and accuracy climbing each step. Triple Jump onto the train, and peer into the carriage to spot a window seat occupied by a "considerate" commuter’s handbags. Spotted one? Lucky you! Scurry down the narrow aisle, smile sweetly at the commuter. More often than not, they’ll wearily “bum-shuffle” inwards, giving you the aisle seat. Such is the power of non-verbal communication! Sit down with your back straight and pull in your stomach muscles, commuting does not condone bad posture. Use the 40 minute journey to replenish oxygen supplies and read some news. Areas worked: Quadriceps, pectorals, deltoids, core muscles.

It’s now 8:50 and you’re at Paddington, caught in a mass of tired but wired commuters slurping the last of their morning beverages. Weave in and out of people to make it to the Bakerloo line’s ticket barriers in a manner similar to the Illinois Agility Test. There’s an added challenge, the people/cones are moving so proprioception is of paramount importance. Always look over your shoulder before changing direction, the last thing you want is to be knocked by a series of briefcase wielding wildebeests. Areas worked: Soleus, gastrocnemius, quadriceps, gluteus maximus.

Descend the escalators, twisting your torso and keeping your knees bent to balance. Bags should be held close to the abdominals functioning as an elbow shield and as kettle bells. Keep close to the inner side of the platform to reach a less crowded square foot of platform. If unable to board the first train, angrily clench your “glutes” until the next tube arrives. Areas worked: Iliopsoas (used to lift your legs up and down), quadriceps, gluteus maximus, pectorals, deltoids, core muscles.

Now begins Commuter Calisthenics Part Two– “Tube Surfing”– testing one’s ability to overcome the incessant jerks and jolts courtesy of the tube driver. Squeeze onto the crowded carriage, face the doors and assume an L-shaped stance, feet hips-width apart. Keep your knees bent, core engaged, and arms forcibly pinned to your sides. To aid balance, focus on interchanges marked out on tube maps, or on more amusing things like protruding nose hairs if you’re stuck in the middle of the carriage, uncomfortably close to the next person. Areas worked: Core muscles, gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, quadriceps.

Twenty minutes of simulated surfing later, it’s time to change tube lines and perform a super set of lunges and kettle bell training- “Line Change Lunges!” Ascend the escalator and single flight of stairs, lean forward and use your bags as kettle bells. Don’t forget to deeply inhale plenty of stagnant tunnel air with every second stride or you may end up with a stitch! Board and prepare for round two of “Tube Surfing”- this train delivers Richter-Scale worthy rattles whilst leaving and pulling into stations, and occasionally moves in the opposite direction. “Please mind the gap between the train and the platform” as you leap off and weave your way to the exit.

Exit in sight, begin “Light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel Lunges.” Scale two or three steps at a time as you climb three flights of stairs to the exit. Allow your glutes, calves, and quads the full range of motion to ensure a consistent rhythm till you reach the top. Areas worked: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, soleus and gastrocnemius, core muscles, pectorals, biceps.

Pass through the ticket barriers. If someone cuts in front of you, add an extra three glute clenches, and head towards the subway to begin “Commuter’s Cool Down”. Descend the stairs, keeping each step light. Mind the tramp poo on the bottom two steps! Briskly walk through the dank corridor and head upstairs on the balls of your feet. Ignore the inefficiently bouncing gait of the commuter in front .Good form is essential. Keep your swipe card handy as you purposefully stride towards the office building. Pass through the corridor and into the lift. Check your hair, straighten your trousers and take some deep breaths.

Arrive at your desk having burnt about 150- 200 calories in a total body work-out during your hour long commute. Plough through your day with boosted circulation and prepare for round two at 6.10pm

The images featured in this article are part of a photographic project on the theme of commuting.

Blackfriars station, 9.45 am (Photo: Surabhi Khanna)
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So much for "the table never lies" – data unravels football's biggest lie of all

London side Brentford FC are using data to rethink the usual football club model.

It’s a miserable day for practice, the rain spitting down on the manicured training pitches of Brentford Football Club. Inside a tiny office marked Director of Football, Rasmus Ankersen is waiting for his phone to ring. The winter transfer window closes in 11 hours and there are deals to finalise.

Ankersen, a 33-year-old Dane with a trim beard and hair pulled into a small ponytail, seems relaxed. Perhaps he knows that the £12m transfer of the striker Scott Hogan to Aston Villa is as good as done. Or maybe his comfort comes from Brentford’s performance this season. The small west London club sits safely in the top half of the second tier of English football – at least according to management’s own version of the league table, which is based on “deserved” rather than actual results. Officially, on 31 January, when we meet, the team is 15th of 24.

“There’s a concept in football that the table never lies,” says Ankersen, whose own playing career was ended by a knee injury in his teens. “Well, that’s the biggest lie in football. Your league position is not the best metric to evaluate success.”

Brentford are an outlier in English football. Since the professional gambler Matthew Benham bought a majority share in 2012, they have relied on the scientific application of statistics – the “moneyball” technique pioneered in baseball – when assessing performance.

The early results were positive. In 2014, Brentford were promoted from League One to the Championship and the next season finished fifth. That same year, Benham’s other team, FC Midtjylland, which is run on similar principles, won the Danish Superliga for the first time.

Yet in 2016 Brentford slipped to ninth. Despite the disappointing season so far, Ankersen insists the strategy is the right one for “a small club with a small budget”.

Underpinning Brentford’s approach is the understanding that luck often plays a big part in football. “It is a low-scoring sport, so random events can have a big impact,” Ankersen says. “The ball can take a deflection, the referee can make a mistake. The best team wins less often than in other sports.”

In a match, or even over a season, a team can score fewer or more than its performance merits. A famous example is Newcastle in 2012, says Ankersen, who besides his football job is an entrepreneur and author. In his recent book, Hunger in Paradise, he notes that after Newcastle finished fifth in the Premier League, their manager, Alan Pardew, was rewarded with an eight-year extension of his contract.

If the club’s owners had looked more closely at the data, they would have realised the team was not nearly as good as it seemed. Newcastle’s goal difference – goals scored minus goals conceded – was only +5, compared to +25 and +19 for the teams immediately above and below them. Statistically, a club with Newcastle’s goal difference should have earned ten points fewer than it did.

Moreover, its shot differential (how many shots on goal a team makes compared to its opponents) was negative and the sixth worst in the league. That its players converted such a high percentage of their shots into goals was remarkable – and unsustainable.

The next season, Newcastle finished 16th in the Premier League. The team was not worse: its performance had regressed to the mean. “Success can turn luck into genius,” Ankersen says. “You have to treat success with the same degree of scepticism as failure.”

Brentford’s key performance metric is “expected goals” for and against the team, based on the quality and quantity of chances created during a match. This may give a result that differs from the actual score, and is used to build the alternative league table that the management says is a more reliable predictor of results.

Besides data, Brentford are rethinking the usual football club model in other ways. Most league clubs run academies to identify local players aged nine to 16. But Ankersen says that this system favours the richer clubs, which can pick off the best players coached by smaller teams.

Last summer, Brentford shut their academy. Instead, they now operate a “B team” for players aged 17 to 20. They aim to recruit footballers “hungry for a second chance” after being rejected by other clubs, and EU players who see the Championship as a stepping stone to the Premier League.

It’s a fascinating experiment, and whether Brentford will achieve their goal of reaching the Premier League in the near future is uncertain. But on the day we met, Ankersen’s conviction that his team’s fortunes would turn was not misplaced. That evening, Brentford beat Aston Villa 3-0, and moved up to 13th place in the table. Closer to the mean.

Xan Rice is Features Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times