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Movement

The body is designed to move for 6 hours a day and sit still for 1 or 2. We begin with a program designed to fit your life that starts getting you back to what you were designed to do.

Strength

Strength training is crucial to
ensure you don’t suffer in unnecessary pain or discomfort. Strength also means resilience. A strong body is one that will serve you well forever.

Conditioning

The heart is the most important muscle and we train it as such. All programs include adequate cardiovascular fitness to ensure you stay as healthy as you look.

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What if you could feel, look, and perform better than you did in college — before jobs, kids, and all those work functions started taking their toll on your body and your waistline?

What if you could make more progress in the next few months than you have in the past decade - and all in less time than you likely are now? 

1-1 Training is without a doubt the fastest and surest way to achieve any physical goal you have…BECAUSE IT’S WRITTEN JUST FOR YOU. 

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We don’t need fancy machines or gadgets to entertain you. Using a combination of kettlebells, barbells, and bodyweight training put together with a programming system that has been proven to work for over two decades our blue-collar system can help you too.

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How to Improve Loaded Carries

Loaded carries are much touted as a fantastic way to train the core musculature while simultaneously improving grip strength and work capacity.

 But are they the best way to perform carries?

Firstly, we need to distinguish between physical capacity and core competency. What most people chase when they use farmer walks is to grab the heaviest thing they can hold onto and then walk as far as they can. That is not necessarily the same thing as training for core control – don’t ever confuse quality and quantity.

To begin we need to define some terms.

Functional training – to improve ability in an upright bipedal stance. If gait or posture is negatively affected, then the training has actually reduced function as one or both have been negatively impacted.

Core control - The core’s real function is to protect the spine, especially from flexion and rotation at the same time. Sahrmann wrote, “The keys to preventing and alleviating spinal dysfunction are (1) to have the trunk muscles hold the vertebral column and pelvis in their optimal alignments and (2) to prevent unnecessary movement.” (Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes).

The functions of the core are usually only thought of in terms of activities. That is, they can perform lateral flexion, rotation, and flexion. However, they can also oppose all those movements and when viewed through the lens of improving function genuine core control isn’t as simple as moving the most weight possible.

Good core control allows you to maintain pelvic and muscular function and alignment. If you use the heaviest weight you can for farmer walks you will not walk with normal gait. So it’s both non-functional as well as reducing core control. It may be useful for core capacity, but that is different to core control.

Returning to functional training for a moment, and with a quick glance at human evolution, we see a clear pattern. We were designed to do things contralaterally. That is, when one lower limb moves, the opposite side upper limb moves too. You can see it in both walking and running but it is also how we kick, throw, and punch. Everything powerful that we do athletically is done contralaterally.

 McGill showed that a unilateral carry creates greater muscle activation, particularly in the opposite side’s external oblique and glute medius. However, the missing part for most people is that he didn’t focus on limit loads, but on loads of roughly a third of bodyweight. In his test he used a 30kg load.

That may not seem like it would be heavy enough to work but consider the reality of trying to unilaterally hold a load while trying to walk with perfect gait and posture. As it gets heavier the first thing that happens is that the weight bumps into your leg changing your gait. The second thing that happens is that posture will change to counterbalance the load. Neither are enforcing good posture or gait.

I happened to be part of FMS when Grey Cook first introduced their now well-known six position carry test. This is a unilateral carry test where you simply walk while holding a kettlebell in one of six positions. The positions are right and left suitcase walk, right and left rack walk, and right and left overhead walk. For the test I used a 20kg kettlebell while weighing 85kg. In the suitcase position we see optimal activation at loads of 35%- 45% of bodyweight

Step one in the process of developing a healthy lower back and optimal core control will be to use a load that is somewhere between 20%-30% of bodyweight as a starting point.  

 But what if we want to go further? What if we’ve developed competency and now want to develop capacity? How do we do that while still addressing core competency?

FMS have now introduced a functional capacity test that is a farmer walk using 50%-75% of bodyweight with an expectation that you can cover at least 250 yards in 90 seconds. While that might be a great test, 75% of bodyweight isn’t going to be much use to an emergency services worker wearing 20kg of gear and having to drag a possibly unconscious victim to safety. How do you achieve the strength to do that while using less weight and maintaining good gait patterns?

Because we know based off both evolution and research that muscle activation in various core musculature is increased when the load is contralaterally held, we can expand this out to much heavier loads but still maintain the feel of it being unilateral. Research shows that as load increases, muscle activation does too. For example, a 100kg farmer walk could be performed as 40kg in one hand while the other holds 60kg. The best way to accomplish this and not negatively impact gait is with a trap bar or specific farmer walk handles that allow loads to be carried that don’t get in the way of your legs.

If we consider all of the muscles of the core based off Sahrmann’s quote above, we need to look beyond just muscles of the midsection though. For instance, because the lat borders the spine for roughly two thirds of the spine’s length, it has a role in spinal stability. Similarly, the muscles that control shoulder function such as the rhomboids and traps will also play a role in core control.

Not surprisingly, as weight is moved up the body from the suitcase position to the rack position and then overhead we see muscle activation increase in the upper body muscles. Choosing between 15%, 20%, and 25% of bodyweight in the overhead position we see muscle activation increase in both lower and upper traps, serratus anterior, and latissimus dorsi as load increases, with corresponding increases in trunk muscles, especially both obliques. However, greatest activation of those same upper body muscles is seen in the rack position. For the rack position we would pick loads of 25% - 35% of bodyweight.

Why would you choose one position over the other?

For greatest loads lifted you would always pick a symmetrical load and hand position such as the farmer walk. It is our naturally preferred way to carry anything for a reason. If you want to use maximal load but in an asymmetrical loading you would pick the farmer walk still but adjust the loads so one side is significantly more than the other. For best results I would use 60/ 40 as the balance as you will find 70/ 30 very difficult as loads increase and grip, not core stability, will become the limiting factor.

However, if we want to maximise core muscle activation we would choose both an asymmetrical load as well as an asymmetrical carry. For best results allowing maximum loads you would pick the suitcase carry on one side and rack carry on the other. The hardest part of this movement is getting the racked bell into place and then keeping it there while you suitcase deadlift the other bell into place. For this reason, the racked bell should be kept limited to 25% of bodyweight. The lower bell can be made as heavy as you want. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a maximum of 75% bodyweight total meaning an 85kg athlete would use a 24kg kettlebell in the rack position, while using a 40kg bell for the suitcase carry.

Overhead carries can be added in but the loads used should be lowered to a maximum of 25% of bodyweight. The most convenient ways to do this is to get your overhead weight into the rack position, suitcase deadlift the other weight in the opposite hand, and then press your racked weight to overhead.

While studies show that an overhead asymmetrical, unstable load increase activation I will caution people against a double hands overhead walk. It seems like a good idea looking at it on paper and they can certainly be very challenging. However, the realities of modern work, poor posture, and stiff shoulders usually mean that people will do something odd with their heads to counter their lack of shoulder mobility. That could lead to something as benign as a sore neck or it could lead to something as severe as a broken bone in their neck. (Sadly not an exaggeration. I have seen someone snap a spinous process in their neck from getting a kettlebell overhead and having to fixate it there. An injury known as a clay shoveler fracture). When I started to see a lot of clients getting sore necks when I introduced double overhead carries I removed them from my programming and all neck issues cleared up.

Programming tips:

Core control is very different for a someone who only trains in the gym versus someone who actively pursues outdoor activities or works in any kind of tactical or emergency service. A strongman competes in events that usually last two minutes or less. A mountain athlete or tactical operator may need to stabilise their spine under the heavy load of a pack, while carrying a weapon or fire fighting equipment, for many hours. For that reason I like longer sets of 60-90 seconds. Because the loads are relatively light this should offer no massive grip issues for people. These longer than normal sets will teach both core control as well as strength endurance of the core muscles.

Because set length is relatively long this should be treated like any other strength endurance work and performed two to three times per week for three to four sets at a time. This would tie in excellently with heavy sandbag get ups for maximal strength and then the asymmetrical carries for longer periods. This is a great representation of what it is like getting your heavy pack on once loaded with game, getting to your feet, and then beginning the haul out. Or, getting your teammate into a fireman’s carry and then getting him or her to safety.

 


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The Big 4 for 40 Year Olds

I've written many times about what are the most essential components of health and fitness for those over 40. You can even read in depth my thoughts about it in my Fat Loss at 40 book. 

One of the bigger issues with this is due to my personality. You see, I don't like wasting time or words. I want to cut to the point, get the message across and move on. 

That can be problematic because people then think I have somehow missed something. They confuse word count with effectiveness. Back when I wrote for various magazines I would sometimes be forced to write more than I really wanted because the articles had to be a certain size for optimal SEO. 

So when I write about things like 8-7-4-3-2 people think that what I have laid out is something ineffective. They mistake my seemingly simple answers and assume that there wasn't mountains of study that went into those answers. That I chose to not bore the reader by placing endless scientific studies to back up my ideas is more my desire to not waste anyone's time than it is an effort to overly simplify things. 

This can also be problematic during the 28 Day Challenge. People take my stripped down ideas that have removed all the fluff and try to remove more. They don't understand that it took me thirty years to bare the essentials back to just what is contained within the 28 Day Challenge. Stripping it back is like trying to save weight on a race car by taking one wheel off. There's nothing in there that doesn't need to be there. 

As an example for how powerful the original idea of 8-7-4-3-2 is let's look at what a week of training following that system is actually like: 

  • Sleep 8hrs a night. 
  • Walk at least half an hour a day, or 3.5hrs/ week. 
  • Eat clean, healthy food daily in line with your calorie needs. 
  • Train your cardiovascular system 3 times per week. 
  • Train strength 3 other days per week. 

Adding this up it means that we're already up to 9.5hrs of activity per week. For some perspective, the government guidelines for exercise are 150mins per week or 2.5hrs. So this is nearly 4 times more than the minimum recommendation. But it doesn't end there because the 2 is for recovery work. It says that you need to spend twice as much time on recovery as you do on stressful training. So if you train an hour a day then you need to spend 2hrs a day on some type of recovery method like massage, foam rolling, meditation, yoga, etc.

As a bonus, your daily walks do count towards this, but we still need to find 12hrs total to counter the 6hrs of actual training. If you walk an hour a day instead of half an hour, then you need another hour per day, 6 days per week, taking your total time focused on your health up to 18hrs per week, or over 7 times the amount of activity for the week that the minimum guidelines recommend. 

Despite its seeming simplicity, that is going to get amazing results when you tie in the sleep and diet elements. 

To get a new result that is far beyond anything you've accomplished before, you have to be prepared to do things you've never done before. As the saying goes, "if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got". 

The Big Four are: 

  • Fat loss/ body composition
  • Aerobic fitness
  • Maximal Strength
  • Flexibility

So what does it take to make these elements work? 

Let's dig into diet to see what might need to change for you to go to the next level with your diet: 

Alcohol likely needs to be either reduced drastically or removed completely. It stops you burning fat effectively making your diet work much harder than it needs to be. It causes poor sleep making training the next day harder. 

You will need to eat with a purpose every meal instead of making your choices based off emotions. Your food will need to be chosen based upon your desire to achieve a goal, not on how tasty or satisfying it might be right now. 

To go along with that, can you put off short term reward for longer term achievement? Many cannot. They seek to soothe the insecurity they've felt during the day with food and alcohol. 

Boozy lunches and weekend brunches will likely be replaced with chicken salads and hikes or runs. Are you prepared to be mocked for your food choices at work functions and choosing health over conformity? (This genuinely happens yet you could order a bucket of KFC and a beer and no one would say a word out of fear of fat shaming you. But they'll happily fit shame you for trying to better yourself). 

Late nights will need to be reduced or removed too. Poor sleep makes you crave bad food choices the next day making it twice as hard to stick to your diet. 

Snacking in front of the TV will need to be removed too. So will TV time actually. No one with a six-pack is eating a bowl of chips or ice cream while watching House of the Dragon. Instead, they're probably tucked up in bed so they can get up early and train before work. 

Are you mentally prepared to accept that most of the so called muscle you built is nothing more than fat? It's very common in the gym to hear people talk about their weight as if it's a badge of honour. Most people are carrying far less muscle than they think they are and when they strip it back it's eye opening for them. In general, most people are carrying double the body fat they believe they are. Are you mentally prepared to appear much smaller? I can think of many clients I have had who would rather be fatter to appear bigger than to actually be healthier and leaner. 

So now we look at what seems to be very simple diet advice and see that what it entails is a very large number of things to consider, plan for, and overcome. And this list is by no means exhaustive. 

Let's look at the cardiovascular training:

Firstly and most importantly, what is your BMI? If your BMI is 30+ then some choices will be no good for you, like running. It'll simply expose you to too much risk of injury. Because you won't have a heavily engrained training habit yet it'll be easy to give up on yourself and quit at the first niggle. Instead you'll need to choose a method that is less load bearing. That will mean you need a big focus on food. Whether you like it or not, you're going to have to change there eventually to get what you really want. 

Do you have any injuries? If you've got knee or back issues then cycling and rowing may not be good choices. Are you prepared to go and get them treated, however long that takes, so that you can tackle them with a healthy body? If you don't have the money for treatment readily available, what will you give up so that you can afford treatment? 

To really gain fitness you're going to need to push these sessions out for time, especially on weekends when you should have the flexibility to train longer. It's not unusual to do a 3-4hr session on a weekend. Again, late nights Friday that prevent you getting up early to get that in, boozy nights, and piggy brunches will need to be sacrificed to make this happen. 

Because you're going to be out running, riding, hiking, and otherwise enjoying yourself, are you prepared to lose friends? Your friends who focus all their catch ups around food and not the company will fall by the wayside. Are you prepared for them to tell you that you're no fun, need to loosen up, and then eventually just stop speaking to you as you make them feel insecure about their own lack of health? (Again, this is no exaggeration as I have seen all of these things happen). 

Do you know how to structure your training for maximum effect? If not, are you prepared to pay the money for coaching or spend the time reading up on how to do so? Or are you more tied to the cult of busyness and how tough you appear to others than a result? 

 Now let's look at strength training:

Are you injured? If yes, have you got the time and resources to get treated? You cannot build much strength or muscle on an injured body. 

Given you are seeking to go to a new level, the knowledge you already have won't be enough. If it were, then you'd be at the new level you aspire to. Are you prepared to pay the money to learn or to spend the time to learn? Either way you're going to spend something to gain the knowledge you require. Personally, I can always earn more money. However, the clock is always ticking and I can never get back time. I would much rather pay for that knowledge right now than potentially waste my time learning the wrong things. (Again, I can't count the number of times someone can tell me all this crazy stuff they know but can't explain why their workouts haven't progressed in a year - they've focused on the wrong things and wasted that time). 

Are you prepared to be challenged? Many aren't. They seek confirmation of what they like rather than actually achieving that next level. I have had people tell me that they aren't sore at all from workouts and are unhappy while telling me they've achieved a new level of fitness. They're not actually after that new level of ability, rather they seek to demonstrate their manhood or toughness as a badge of honour. Are you prepared to open your mind and take on new lessons, or are you stuck in your ways and more concerned about how your workout appears on social media? 

Will you do the work properly? Pull ups are a great example of this. No one cares how many half pull ups you can do with a bent arm starting position and your nose barely clearing the bar. But are you tied to a number that makes your ego feel better, or are you tied to progress? Most people's egos cannot handle a big slump in their numbers. 

Will you work hard? Most people coast. By far, the most common message I send a client is to tell them to add weight to an exercise. Most are coasting at about 60-70% while patting themselves on the back for even making it to the gym in the first place. Are you prepared to do the work every day? 

Flexibility is such a massive subject it would require its own post to do it justice. Suffice to say that because the basic formula is that you will spend twice as much time on recovery methods as training methods that your attention to detail, knowledge, and consistency is twice as important as for the others (with the exception of food, which is probably two times more important again). 

Look at the list above. The seemingly simple advice I wrote about initially years ago in 8-7-4-3-2 comes with dozens of behavioural changes that need to be made. Does that seem so simple now?

But that's the real power of the program and the Big Four. If you change them you will change the person you are. That way you're now doing something different, which means you will get that new result that has always eluded you. 

No more trying to cram a new habit on top of the rest of your life. Rather, create a new life and mindset that focuses on these elements and craft new habits around them that support that lifestyle. 

 

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Mountain Biking Fitness at 40+

One of the natural progressions for many as they get older is a change from road running to trail running. The constant change in surface as well as gait is far less harsh on the body than running on hard surfaces.

Cycling is no different. Many get into road cycling initially as their body can no longer tolerate running in the first place. Over time they develop a love for all things two wheels but as we get older still there is often a subtle shift towards trail riding/ mountain biking. Unlike road running this has little to do with the trauma of cycling on a hard surface, and far more to do with local traffic. More and more I hear from guys in my age group that they no longer want to ride on the road anymore because of concerns over traffic. And next thing you know they’ve ditched the lycra for baggies and are looking at mountain biking. In fact, one of Australia’s best ever cyclists – Ryan Bailey who was a double gold medallist in track cycling at the 2004 Games – has said he no longer rides on the road for safety.

Eventually, after a few rides and getting to know the sport, people start to wonder about entering an event and how they should best train for these things. Mountain biking can be roughly split into two categories – cross country (XC) and gravity events like enduro and downhill. While there may seem to be some similarities between road racing and cross country, the physiology required is quite different. And then from cross country to enduro it is different again.

When it comes to figuring out how to train the best place to start is with a simple self-analysis. Included below are the bare bones physiology of road racing, cross country, and enduro. You’ll see that what is required for each sport is different enough that success in one won’t imply success in another. It should also give you the best starting point for where your own training plan should focus to begin with. The statistics below are taken from male elite competitors in each event. If there are two or more numbers listed it’s because I also found non-elite numbers. If there are three figures listed it’s because there was also a “competitive” class listed. This is normal in road racing where you commonly have four or more grades of racing possible, with A or Category 1 being  the highest.

Road Racing:
VO2max – 74.8, 78.7, 85.6
Body mass (heigh and weight)  – 179cm/ 66.9kg, climbers – 175cm/ 62. 4kg.
Power – 332.8, 391.5, 438.5

Cross Country MTB:
VO2max – 70.0, 75.4
Body mass – 177cm/ 67kg
Power – 375.5, 395.4

Enduro:
Vo2max – 63.5, 65.8
Body mass – 69.6kg, 75.1kg
Power – 541w, 658w (between 5.5w/kg and 6.2w/ kg)

Why do these numbers matter?

Numbers matter because they can tell you what can realistically be expected from entering an event. For instance, if I planned to enter a 100km MTB XC event I could never expect to win. I am 15-20kg too heavy. That weight comes at a huge penalty whenever an uphill section needs to be completed as it would be like having to carry a spare bike slung on my back for the entire event. In organised events using short loops where you may have to repeat the same climb multiple times in a single event I could never hope to finish high up compared to someone who had the same fitness but carried less weight penalty. It always strikes me as odd that cyclists in general will spend thousands on carbon to make their bike lighter but spend nothing at the supermarket to buy foods that will help them maximise their functional weight on the bike. Between fancy new carbon wheels and a salad I know which I’ll choose every day of the week for performance gains. In fact, Tyler Hamilton – one of the best cyclists of the modern era, both for his race performances as well as his drug use – has said that given the choice between using EPO to increase his hematocrit 3% or losing three pounds that he would take the three pound weight loss every time.

Looking at peak power you may think that for XC racing that power isn’t so important. Don’t be fooled by the numbers. A road race is performed on smooth roads where tire grip is excellent. On a slippery dirt track that may be covered with slick roots or rocks grip is hard to find. The lower power numbers seen are taken from in race data using power meters, not on an erg. What you do see is that body mass is very similar to uphill/ climbing road race specialists and that makes complete sense given the nature of XC racing that features multiple short climbs in a single event. Looked at as an average over a season of World Cup races the average men’s XC race features 1942m of climbing in a two hour time frame. The infamous Alpe D’Huez climb in the Tour de France has fast times around the forty minute mark, and sees a gain of 1071m, for some reference. So in a two hour XC race the men will cover roughly two climbs up the infamous Alpe made up in multiple short climbs.

It’s these short climbs that tends to really set MTB apart, even when looking at enduro. An Enduro World Series event will typically take in ~55km and feature over 1600m of climbs. While that may sound like not a lot of climbing you have to take into account that more than half of the distance covered in an enduro event will be done going downhill. The Alpe D’Huez climb is 13.8km so that means that again roughly double the height of the Alpe will be done at each event getting your bike back to the top of each hill before your next run. This effort will be combination of both walking your bike uphill as well as pedalling. Because the climbs aren’t timed the body mass of competitors can be a bit higher, aiding their strength and strength endurance for these long punishing days.

How should I train?

The first step in any training plan is to focus on your health first. There’s not much point in throwing away your health chasing performance in your hobby. Usually when I work with clients we focus on fat loss first because I know it will have the greatest impact on their overall health as well as their performance for most outdoors events. The short version is that your doctor will love you and your endurance performance will go through the roof as you drop some weight. Looking at the numbers you’d also need to ask yourself if that is healthy and realistic for you to try to match elite cycling weights. I know that dropping down to 70kg would be unhealthy for me, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to maximise what I can and minimise non-functional mass. That means the first objective of my training plan should be weight management and getting rid of as much fat as possible.

The second part of the training equation is base fitness. Regardless of whether you want to do an XC epic that is 100km or enter your local gravity enduro you’re still going to be on the bike for hours. The best way to develop all day fitness on the bike is… to do longer sessions on the bike. Despite what the modern fitness world will tell you, you can’t gain all day fitness on short interval training. Save that for close to your event to develop event specific climbing ability to allow you to punch out short climbs. One of the most frequent comments I hear from people about their event performance is that they suffered from cramps. The usual suggestions then are to start using electrolytes. A better way to think about it though is that it’s not a chemical problem, but a physical one. Muscles cramp in longer events because you’re asking them to contract more times than they ever have before. The simplest and most obvious solution isn’t to spend money on supplements, but to become fitter.

The best way to develop all day fitness is with low to medium intensity rides lasting two hours or more. There is no reason these can’t have a technical component to them. One thing to consider with technical training is that at high heart rates the brain struggles with fine motor control. In other words, if your heart rate is sky high because you’re going as fast as you can on the descent you’re going to struggle to learn new skills. Calm it down a bit, ride at about 70% of your maximum speed, and work on those technical abilities. remember – if you can’t do it slow, then you won’t be able to do it fast either. Keep the climbs moderate and work on those technical skills on the descents. You’ll be amazed at what deliberate practice can do for you versus just going for a ride on the ragged edge on every descent.

The next part of the training base is climbing ability. As mentioned before, weight loss is a vital factor in climbing ability so step one of developing your climbing will take place in the kitchen. Step two is deliberately working on climbs as part of a normal trail ride. Climbs can be a useful way to maximise your return on training time. They can develop power, fitness, and obviously climbing ability. If you target the right climbs then you won’t need to do much other specific fitness work prior to an event. My favourite hill climb reps involve a hill that is 3-4mins that can be done completely seated. I’ll repeat the climb three times, with just a roll down recovery. On the third climb go and do a technical descent working on your skills and repeat. Keep in mind that enduros and XC races will often feature 1000m+ of climbs for the day so that is a good target for an individual ride.

In the following basic week format I’ve included performing strength training because smart masters’ athletes know they should keep it in their training year round. Strength training is like armour plating your body against injury.

Basic week:

Monday – upper body strength, core.
Tuesday – 2 sets of 3x3min climbs.
Wednesday – Full body strength, core.
Thursday – Easy technical ride working on bike handling skills.
Friday – 3-4 x longer 10-20min climbs.
Saturday – Long easy ride, technical descents, easy climbs.
Sunday – rest day. (Bike washing and food prep).

Conclusion:

While elite endurance athletes are often very different to the rest of us in terms of body shape and size we can still get clues as to what is the best way forward regardless of our passion. Right size your body to fit the demands of the sport so that you can get the most enjoyment from it then tailor training to fill in the gaps in physical performance. Don’t forget that a large part of MTB racing – whether enduro or XC – will come down to bike handling. There’s no point in working on your fitness solely on an erg on Zwift and building a big engine only to have zero bike handling skills. Where possible the most important element is to ride your bike as much as possible

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