Monday, December 30, 2013

Even Coaches Need a Coach

Nowadays in the health and fitness industry, it can be difficult for the average person to know what value their trainer's certification offers.  Generally speaking, every system, piece of equipment and/or style of training has been grabbed by a shrewd business person and had a "certification" attached.  Spinning, bootcamps, kettlebells, cardio kickboxing, barre, Zumba, yoga, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, Indian clubs... I can keep going.  And for every good one, that teaches their participants something of value that they can pass onto their clients, there are nine others that give you a "certification" simply for attending - regardless of whether or not they have an idea how to implement what they've been taught.  Worse, though, are the trainers who have simply learned from books and videos, and never actually been coached themselves - but who then try and teach others this same skill.

The next time you are looking into hiring a coach, instead of asking (and potentially being dazzled by) what their certifications are, instead try to find out what they've been coached in themselves - then decide if whatever they've been taught is the direction you would like your own training to go.  Because whatever style they've been taught/coached is going to have the greatest influence over what they pass onto you - in some way or another.

And if they've never been coached in anything extensively, and/or aren't currently being coached - look somewhere else.

Trust me.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Darwin and the Industrial Revolution

Amongst other things.

Our Western culture, our society, and our lifestyles have evolved.  In the distant past, physical health wasn't for people who could "make the time", or strictly for those who "enjoyed it" - it was the necessary standard.  Those who lacked it were, in Darwinian fashion, eliminated.  As science and technology improved, ironically, it meant we had to do less and less - and now we see people living longer than ever before.  But what quality is this extended life?  Attached to machines, moving with extra supports or aids - if it is the result of disease or injury, then that's one thing.  But if it's simply because we felt exercise was too low a priority - well, shame on us.

I read a metaphor a couple of years ago, and to be honest, I don't remember precisely who it was that said it.  I think it was Michael Boyle, although I may be wrong - and if the individual whom I'm taking this from reads this blog, feel free to correct me.  But essentially, the question was - what if you received one car your whole life.  You were given it very young, but it was the only one you were ever going to own.  Take care of it - oil change, rotate the tires, 2x per year overall maintenance - and you would still have a dependable vehicle to get you from A to B when you were 90 years old.  But ignore these maintenance routines, and just drive it until it gives out - well, you're going to be without a car by the time you're in your mid-30s.  Or, at best, you're going to be trying desperately to salvage what is left and hoping to keep it running in some form.  If this were the choice, what would you do?

Your body is your vehicle, and you only have one for your whole life - treat it with some respect, before it's too late.


Monday, December 23, 2013

"Functional" Training?

A lot of equipment to accomplish very little.
We hear this buzzword a lot, nowadays - either as a marketing tool ("Come in and do FUNCTIONAL training...!") or as an oversimplified/under-educated descriptor ("I do FUNCTIONAL training...!").  And more often than not, we see in our heads the nonsense that can be found in the accompanying picture.  

Truth is, "functional" training is any type of training that allows us to do what we want to do, only better.  So everybody's definition of "functional", just like their program, is going to be different (though I defy anyone to show me a reason for the exercise being demonstrated in the accompanying picture applying to anyone, for any reason other than it's fun to play around with this particular type of equipment).

To simplify the concept even further, we can break our daily needs down into about 9 basic movements, and simply try to improve at each of these if we want to be "functional".  Now, depending on your goals and or your sport/skill, some of these will need more attention than others - and similarly, for some who have a genetic contraindication or injury may not be able to train every one of these.  However, barring these limiters, consider restructuring your training so that you address all of the following equally in your program to allow for a solid foundation of "function":
  1. How to Pick Something Up (the "hinge" or "deadlift" pattern)
  2. How to Sit Down and Stand Up (the "squat")
  3. How to Push Something Away in Front of Us (the "horizontal press")
  4. How to Pull Something in Front of Us Closer (the "horizontal row")
  5. How to Put Something Away on the Top Shelf (the "vertical press")
  6. How to Pull Ourselves Back Up on the Cliff (the "vertical pull")
  7. How to Move Forwards/Backwards/Sideways (the "lunge")
  8. How to Throw a Ball in Front of Us (the "extension/anti-extension" pairing)
  9. How to Throw and Catch a Ball from the Side (the "rotation/anti-rotation" pairing)

Now, this is extremely simplified, and most of our daily movements are actually a combination of two or more of the above - however, if we are not adept at them individually, then how can we possibly be good at them when they're put together?

And that, in a nutshell - is "functional" training. 


Monday, December 16, 2013

The Problem with the "Swiss Army Knife" Approach

You ever try to use the scissors on a Swiss Army pocket knife?  Aside from small gift ribbon, the things are pretty useless for cutting.  Like most of the other items on it, they're good for small, menial tasks that come up - but if you need to do anything more substantial than whittle a hot dog stick at the campfire, or tighten the screw on your drawer, you need to get the actual tool that's needed.

This is one of the biggest problems in the health and fitness industry today - everybody is trying to do everything for their clients/patients, because a) ego prevents them from being willing to share or admit there's something they're not good at, and b) in an effort to save money, clients/patients cut corners.  The thing is, you can't do everything  well as a service provider... at best, you can do multiple things "okay", and at worse, you're doing a disservice by providing one or more sub-par services.  As an example - I would never call myself a "run coach", or try to offer coaching/teaching on running skills - I'm a mediocre runner at best.  But I can coach fundamental movement and strength skills that will help your running, and because I myself receive coaching on running I have experience to fall back on in terms of designing the strength and movement program.  One of the more frustrating things I run into is when I'm working with an athlete, and their skills coach decides to throw in something extra, like 400 burpees and jump squats after practice for "power development", and the athlete comes to our strength session completely fried for our session.

I believe that everyone - from service providers to the clients/patients - would benefit from everybody working together as a team instead of each single-soldier trying to do it all... and until the industry as a whole realizes it, there's going to be a forest full of people each trying to cut down a tree with a saw the size of their finger. 


Friday, December 13, 2013

The Age of the Mullet Has Passed

Visual recreation - not actually me.
When I was in high school, I had a sweet, sweet mullet.  Actually, by current standards, it is an absolute abomination of hair – but in 1988, everyone had one.  Fortunately, like acid-wash jeans and stirrup pants – and with the exception of a few people who refuse to let them die – the mullet has been relegated to punchlines and period movies.

This is the type of thing I frequently see in fitness today (metaphorically speaking – not literally).  Some new research comes out suggesting cause and effect, or a new product/system that has a very cool and marketable spin, and suddenly everyone – professionals and participants alike – decide that it is not only a good way to train, but actually the BEST, and ONLY way to train.  Running in the 70s, aerobics in the 80s, Tae Bo in the 90s, p90x in the 00s... everything from yoga to kettlebells to Crossfit, you get devotees who swear that if you are doing anything else you’re wasting your time and might as well just give up.

The problem is, people are always looking for the “magic bullet” – and it makes it easy for marketing geniuses to wrap it up in an easy-to-sell package. 

So to help you choose what direction to go with your own training, here is my list of questions you should ask (and answer) for yourself before jumping on the bandwagon:

Is it easy to implement?  Guess what – it’s probably not going to work.  Results take persistence, patience, practice, and time.  Nothing worth having is “easy”.

Does the risk equal the reward?  Okay, there are obvious targets for this criticism, but I’ll take a less controversial example – sit-ups and crunches.  Personally, I doubt that doing crunches and sit-ups, even 100 a day, are going to make your back explode and leave you in a wheelchair.  However:  if you have a bad back, they’re not going to help.  And if you spend your days sitting at a desk or in a car, then all this will do is put you into a chronically hunched-over position – which may not be causing any pain, but stooped posture sure never helped.  And they will do nothing – I repeat NOTHING – to help develop a six-pack.  So, I would ask – the risk might be minimal, but there seems to be very little reward... and if that’s the case, why are you doing them?  (I will add – that “because they burn” is never a good answer).

Finally – are you getting the best value for your dollar?  If you are working one-on-one with somebody, they’d better be teaching you the whole time.  If all they’re worried about is how many calories you’ve burned, how tired/sweaty you are, or how many reps you’ve done... then you’re wasting your money.  A real coach has a reason for every single exercise choice, will not let you “work through” bad repetitions, and couldn’t care less about how many calories you’re burning – because they are there to help you develop a skill.  If all you care about is burning calories, sweating and “hurting” from your workout then save your money – find a building with a lot of floors, run up the stairs to the top and back down again for 3omins, and for the last 10 stairs don’t run down, just throw yourself down.  You’ll burn a lot of calories, you’ll be sweating, and you’ll hurt – and all of this without spending any money.

Really, this is hardly a comprehensive list but rather the questions to consider as “gatekeepers” – the first step to evaluating the quality of your potential choices.  In the end, just make sure that the ends justify the means – in safety, value and results.  And remember - the basics of health and fitness (strength, cardiovascular health and balanced nutritional plan) never change, and never go out of style.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Hollywood Did It Again

Does this look like someone who's been forged on the battlefield?
Well, they've cast the new Wonder Woman for the upcoming "Batman and Superman" movie directed by Zack Snyder and she is Gal Gadot from the "Fast and Furious" movie franchise.  All I can say is - I hope that they're going to put her through a massive strength and hypertrophic training program for the next few months until they start filming because  I'm not going to lie - there is no way someone so scrawny was raised a warrior princess by Amazons.  

Now, no disrespect to the actress - this is directed at the director, the producers, and frankly, society as a whole.  What is it with audiences that they are afraid of seeing an athletic, and therefore a muscular woman?  She doesn't need to look like an "Oxygen" magazine cover model, but she should look like she can flip a car, press a 200lb criminal overhead, and jump a 10ft wall.  This is not to say she isn't strong (although based on every picture I've seen of her since the announcement, I'd have to see it to believe it), but she's supposed to look the part... it's a movie.  

Again, I'm hoping that the decision makers on this movie have every intention of having her physically transform - and this may be more likely than we think based on Snyder's history ("300", and "Man of Steel") where he took the lead actors and made them undergo months of physical training to become the characters that they were representing.  But these were all men - and Hollywood's propensity for double-standards is far from a new development.

I'm hoping that 6 months from now I'm happily eating my words - but I'm not getting the cutlery out just yet.


Friday, December 6, 2013

The Best YOU Can Be

It's interesting, actually, how much we allow our definition of "fit" and "healthy" to be manipulated by the media.  I don't think this is anything new, to be honest - for years advertisers and ad executives have been "reflecting" (I would argue that they are actually "directing") and therefore perpetuating an infatuation with an image of what healthy is supposed to look like.  And, thankfully, there seems to be the beginning of a pendulum swing back, a backlash against the creation of this impossible ideal (and for what it's worth, guys, it's not only the ladies who are getting sucked into this).  I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago ("Don't Chase an Image"), and a couple of days ago Sasha linked to another great article about the dangers of the whole "Fitspo" trend ("Why 'Fitspiration' Isn't so Inspirational").  And if you don't feel like reading the articles, take five minutes to watch the following video, from Jean Kilbourne's"Killing us Softly":

I can say as a trainer and coach, as well, that it's exceedingly frustrating when someone we're working with achieves a new benchmark, a personal best that's a physical accomplishment beyond anything they've achieved so far, and all they can say is "yes, but I still have this roll here".  In fact, it's heartbreaking - to have someone who is unable to celebrate because they don't look like an airbrushed and photoshopped fitness model or celebrity.

I say "enough".  Let's stop focusing on what we look like, and start setting our goals on physical accomplishments that reflect something more than whether or not we look "ripped" or have a "six pack".  Yes, weight loss may be the first step - because it might be what's needed in order to accomplish your first 10km run, or it might be that you need it in order to reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease, or simply because we want to move better and live a long, quality life.  What is irrelevant to this is whether or not we have washboard abs, well defined shoulders or the dangerously misdirected "thigh gap".

Leave the image.  Dare to achieve.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ninjas Jumped Cornstalks

So - when I was about 13, I was really into martial arts... specifically, ninjas.  Like, way into them - as in, I had non-lethal weapons and pictures of target points on the body hanging on my wall.  Quite frankly, it was a good thing that I didn't have many (read: any) girls that came into that room, because it certainly wouldn't have helped my cool factor.

But I digress.

One of the stories that often came up when I read about the ninja was about their training regimen.  Amongst other things, when the trainee was a child, they would plant a corn seed.  Every day, they would jump over the corn seed 100 times.  Now, corn grows quickly, so they would have to jump higher and higher - but from one day to another, it wasn't a hugely noticeable difference.  But from week to week, month to month - it would go from inches to feet.  Once they reached a height that they failed to clear 100 times - they had to plant another corn seed and start all over again.

This, at it's heart, is what can make your training successful.  Now, I'm not suggesting you limit your training quite this much - I mean, we need to have fun as well - but you should dedicate a certain percentage of your fitness training time to dedicated practice of all your basic skills.  If you are constantly changing what you're working on, you never build any sort of foundation and never really progress - like a hamster on a wheel.  Frankly, this sort of dedicated practice is exactly what will make other activities more fun - because you're building the foundation elsewhere for success.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

I Can't Wear V-Necks

Something I've come to accept is that I can't wear v-necks.  In a sweater, sure - as long as there's a t-shirt underneath.  But as a standalone t-shirt?  Not a chance.

I felt this was pretty much a sure thing, enough so that I never bought them myself.  But a few years ago, my wife bought me a couple for Christmas and while they were very nice - good material, good colors... despite my best efforts, they just looked wrong.

This is sometimes the case with certain exercises for people.  No matter how hard they work at a particular one, it either looks bad or they wind up sore in a way they shouldn't be.  Now, if it's from technique, then having a good coach can help clean that up.  But if it's simply that the way you're built doesn't line up with that particular form of movement, then sometimes... sometimes we have to let that exercise go.  Again, a good coach can help you determine which scenario applies and, if it's the latter, offer some other exercises that will allow you to work that same movement.  But in the end, sometimes we need to be willing to accept that we shouldn't do certain types of exercises, and allow ourselves to move on... simply put, we're not all meant to run long distances or straight-bar deadlift.

Unless we're talking about skinny jeans on men or the "Insanity" program, of course.  Because those are absolutely never okay.


Monday, November 25, 2013

You Don't Want Me to Build Your New Deck

Seriously, you don't.  Construction really isn't my strength.

But let's say, for a moment, that I actually was a decent handyman - as a hobby.  I coach, teach and train 5-6 days a week, but on my off times and in the evenings I enjoy building things.  Back in university, maybe I worked a summer job helping framing, and nowadays get out to the garage to build  birdhouse, a fence along the back... something along those lines.  Now, you decide you want to build a house from scratch - you need to level the ground, put in the foundation, make sure it's structurally sound and will last for a century.  Would you want to put all of this in my hands, or, although it's more expensive, would you hire a professional who makes their living at it, constantly educating and practicing what they do to elevate their craft?

If you'd rather hire me in this case to save money, well... what can I say.  You'd get what you pay for.  But if the thought of this is ridiculous, then let me ask: why would you hire a trainer who works full-time at another career, and trains people in their spare time?  


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Don't Chase an Image

An article popped up recently on the Huffington Post in which the author highlighted the illusion of the "before and after" pictures we always see posted with various ad campaigns, usually for some sort of "fat burning supplement", "workout accelerator", or "extra-super-powerful protein/creatine meal replacement ass-kicker" that's crammed into the latest "fitness" magazine.  And yes, I'm using quotes on the word "fitness" because these publications are often nothing more than a glossy, full color  128pg advertisement, hocking psuedoscience and fads while continually perpetuating misinformation strictly because doing what's popular sells... even if it's a lie.

Reading the article reminded me of another one I had read earlier this year, written from the female perspective and demonstrating the same thing. (You can read the Huffington Post article, "Seduced by the Illusion" by Andrew Dixon here, and the earlier post "The Hidden Truths Behind Transformation Pics" here at MelVFitness).  In fact, the author of the former latter article goes into more detail about a true transformation that she undertook, again with before and after pictures, that covered close to three years.  She goes on to say, thought, that the person in the "before" picture, while not the healthiest she'd ever been, was a much happier individual than the one who had obsessed, dieted, and deprived herself in order to get the look she wanted for the "after" picture.
The point is, make your choices in health and fitness based on what is good for you, not because some a picture in some magazine is telling you that it will make you look like something else - because more often than not, the image you're seeing is no more real than those you've seen in  "Grimm's Fairy Tales".


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How Many Calories Did You Burn?

I've grown to hate this question.

I've grown to hate it because it's another example of people fixating on a number as a measure of their success or failure, either during a workout or throughout a week.  Worse, the people for whom these numbers become important lock onto them so much that their mood for the day is dictated by these stupid numbers, whether their on a scale or on a watch.  There are folks out there who weigh themselves 2-3 times a day - and when you suggest they try going without getting on a scale for... say a month - they tell you they can't.  They can't stop.  Or they do a strength-based workout, focused on quality movements and heavy lifts of 4 repetitions, with 2-3mins of rest after each set.  And maybe they even set a personal best on a lift, but then they look at the stupid watch and say "Oh, but I only burned 100 calories.  What a shitty workout" and they leave feeling uninspired and lazy.

This is not okay.

If you read this, and think "Oh - I've said that" then please, re-evaluate.  Focus on something other than a number - focus on an achievement.  And then train for that.  Stop basing your sense of accomplishment on an arbitrary number that can fluctuate based on external influences beyond your control.  Instead, set your sights on experiences, where the journey is as much of a reward as the "finish line".

Train to live.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Almonds and Exercise

I don't know what it is, but lately I've been finding that clients I talk to are adding more and more into their training programs - doing at least one, if not two workouts per day.  Which, in and of itself (and if properly managed) isn't a problem - if you're doing a multisport, such as triathlons or adventure racing, you'll know that there are extended periods of time where this is the norm.  However, if you've had a good coach or program designer, you also understand that they have to be of varying intensities, and you have to organize the week so that you are working a variety of systems (regenerative, aerobic, high intensity conditioning, strength, etc).

However, that's not what I'm hearing about.  More commonly, it's that they are coming into the gym and doing a moderate to high intensity resistance session 2x a week, running intervals 1-2x a week, and then doing some sort of home program nonsense like "Insanity" 2-4x per week on top of all that.  And, not surprisingly, they're finding that they are plateauing, burning out or getting injured.

Like everything else, exercise is crucial to a healthy lifestyle - it's as important as everything else that fills the day, like work, family, friends, and so on.  However, like these (and other) things, there is a tipping point - a place where it can become too much, and the returns begin to diminish.  Or possibly, in a worst-case scenario, they may actually start to have the opposite effect.  Unfortunately, what people tend to do in reaction to this stalling in their progress is to try and do more, adding another couple of "fat-burning" runs, or extra high-intensity sessions into their week... then become more and more frustrated by the lack of progress or decline in performance/results that become apparent.

I'm going to work from the assumption that if this describes you, you haven't spoken to your coach and been upfront about this - because if you have, and if you have a good coach, they would already have told you everything I'm writing about here.  If not, then please keep this in mind:

More isn't always better.

Or an alternative example - almonds.  Almonds are a powerful superfood, with plenty of positive attributes that contribute to your health: such as "good" fats, lowering sugar and insulin spikes in your blood after eating, to name a couple of examples.  But this doesn't mean you can eat an endless amount every day.  At some point, these benefits become outweighed by things like lack of variety, other missing nutrients and massive caloric overload.  

So look back over your last few weeks of training, and consider the types and/or intensities that you've been working at... have you been eating almonds as part of a well-rounded nutritional plan, or eating bags and bags of nothing but?


Thursday, May 23, 2013

You Can't Do It All... At One Time

Working with the general population in the fitness industry, you come across all types - the former athlete looking to get back to their top shape, the 40 year old who NOW decides it's time to learn how to move, the executive athlete, the recreational elite... you name it.

That being said, a common problem they all have is a lack of defined vision - sure, they have goals, but they're all over the map and, more often than not, conflicted with one another.  They want to complete this half marathon trail race, that 160km Cycling Fondo, get a six pack for the beach this summer and be able to deadlift 300lbs.  This leads to a training regimen that covers such a broad spectrum that they wind up running themselves into the ground, but never getting any further ahead.

Get off the hamster wheel.  Decide which one is the most important to you at that time and train for it.  Regardless of how long it takes - complete it, check it off the list, and move onto the next thing.  Maybe because you are pressed for time, you choose based on the one that's most realistically accomplished with only 8 weeks of training - or, possibly because it's on the bucket list, you decide to do the one that takes a full year of training.  Either way, committing 100% to a goal gives you that focus, that narrowed spectrum that opens the door to success - and, quite likely, if you stay the course you'll find that some of the other things you've been working towards wind up being achieved as a result.

After all - you can't reach a finish line if you don't choose a race.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Who's Hands is Your Body In?

One of the biggest problems with the personal training (and even strength and conditioning) industry is that it is more or less self-regulated.  Meaning it's not particularly regulated at all.  In fact, you don't legally need any sort of course or education to call yourself a personal trainer/strength coach, and this can lead to, at best, poor results for the client.

In an effort to help you see through this, I thought I'd offer some thoughts on our own hiring standards - after all, if we wouldn't hire them for our facility, why would you want to hire the cast-offs?  (I should note - having the qualifications that I list below only get you the first interview; if you don't have the right personality, not amount of certifications or education will get you hired.)

Firstly, I ignore any "group fitness certifications" like bootcamps, spinning, and so on.  You can pad your resume with these if you like, but I couldn't care less.  Knowing how to manage a crowd is great, but it doesn't mean you have the slightest clue about how to coach movement and performance.  And frankly, a DJ at some nightclub probably knows how to manipulate the energy of a room better.

I do look for a degree.  Preferably in Kinesiology, though this is not the golden ring many people (potential clients, doctors, etc) seem to think it is.  While it gives an individual a leg up, it doesn't guarantee they can apply, practically, any of the knowledge crammed in their heads.  However, having any sort of degree does suggest a familiarity with academia and higher learning - so it's always a plus.

If someone doesn't have a degree in Kinesiology, I will then look for other credible certifications - and these can be counted on one hand.  I expect to see a certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and/or the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP).  As a side note - a Kinesiology degree is a prerequisite for the CSEP certification.

There are a few other training backgrounds that I personally have experience with, and that will have extra credibility with me - however, they are not necessarily something the average potential client would need to know about.  That being said, the above qualifications will at least give you a starting point to aid in narrowing the field if you are looking to hire someone; and also keep in mind that if they are easy to book in with and come at a lower cost than any of the others you've spoken to, there's probably a reason.  A high price doesn't guarantee quality, but do you really want the lowest bidder with a wide-open schedule taking control of your movement and performance enhancement?


Thursday, May 2, 2013

If Your Trainer Still Has You Doing Crunches - Find a New Trainer

Okay, maybe not.  Maybe I'm leading off with a dramatic title in an effort to stir a bit of controversy.


Truth is, it's not because I think that crunches are inherently dangerous.  Let's be honest - if you do three sets of 20 crunches at the end of the workout, and the discs in your lower back explode on your 60th repetition, the odds are pretty good they were going to do that anyway - probably when you bent over to tie your shoes, or something equally innocuous.

Feel that?  It's a deep, deep burn.
No, I have an issue with crunches more because they are useless.  Or, if not useless, then one of the least effective movements in the exercise library with one of the smallest returns on your investment.  As with any exercise you might be given, you have to ask yourself "to what end am I doing this?", and then evaluate if the goal corresponds to the work being done.  

Most people want to do crunches for a couple of reasons - because they believe it will equal the ever elusive six pack.


The "six pack" is primarily a result of good nutrition and genetics.  If you eat badly and/or don't naturally have them, then all the crunches in the world ain't gonna change it.

More importantly, our society is built around doing work in the crunched position - sitting in a car, sitting at a desk, sitting in front of the TV... why would you then want to head into a gym and repeatedly put yourself further and further into a position that you already spend all day in?

So the next time your trainer tells you to lie on your back (or on the bench, or on the stability ball) and do 20 crunches... look them in the eye and ask them why they want to waste your time and money, then grab that stability ball and do some rollouts or saws.

Maybe you can teach them something new.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Would You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?

My wife and I were talking about this the other day, and how the way someone approaches their time in the gym would likely reflect how they'd handle the overwhelming potential for a horrible death during an outbreak of the zombie virus.

We spend at least 1.5hrs a day in the car together.  We talk about lots of things.

Anyway, we figure that right from the start, if they're not fit and active they're going to be the first to go down.  Remember that the first rule of surviving a zombie apocalypse according to Zombieland: "cardio".  Actually, say what you will about them - at least in the initial stages of the infestation, the majority of those who survive the first wave are going to be Crossfitters.  Keep that in mind the next time you're doing a corrective exercise with bands on the floor and they're deadlifting 500lbs before sprinting on the treadmill and eating a raw steak with no hands.

Now, that being said, once the first wave eases off and you settle in to survive then every group will be made up of certain "types" - and Sash and I figure what type you are may be determined by your training style.  Below I've listed a VERY scientific breakdown of the types, their likely approach to training, and their chances of survival.

The Grinder:  The likely majority of the group, following the plans of the others.  Steady, hard workers that know when they're out of their element and will follow others if there is an intelligent, common sense approach to the plan.  Training Style:  Works out steadily and consistently, and has for years.  Keeps in moderately good shape - certainly nothing elite, but far better than sedentary.  Won't push through anything too challenging (sometimes a good thing, sometimes a hindrance).  Long Term Chance of Survival: 65%

The Whiner:  You know this person.  In the group, they're the ones who always break down when things get stressful, crying and freaking out at just the wrong times (like when you're locked in a room with no apparent escape).  While everyone else is trying to find a solution, they're sobbing in a corner.  Training Style: Steady (meaning they aren't the type who come in just after New Years, train, and then disappear until the next January) but they are inconsistent, constantly missing workouts because they have a cold, or allergies, non-specific foot pain, or something else.  And of the workouts they make, half of those are terrible because they are trying to "work through the cold" (or some other nonsense).  Long Term Chance of Survival: 10%

The Guardian:  Always quietly looking out for the whiner - usually it's a spouse or a sibling.  They never contradict the whiner, and they will often deflect the abuse that the rest of the group is directing at the whiner.  In fact, the whiner's survival is pretty much dictated by their guardian - the rest of the group will generally want the whiner gone as they're dead weight on the group.  If the guardian dies - the whiner is likely not far behind.  I should note - the guardian is often the right hand man/woman to the "leader" (see below).  Training Style: trains hard, smart and steady, and never misses a workout... unless needy spouse/sibling wants them instead.  Long Term Chance of Survival: 50% (if they can survive the death of the whiner relatively unscathed, both mentally and physically - chances increase to 80%).

The Pseudo-Hero:  Full of bravado.  Runs headlong into a room of the undead and takes them all out, allowing the group to rush through to the vehicle on the other side.  Makes them valuable, but their lack of common sense and restraint may be a liability - at least in terms of their own survival.  Their lack of fear may keep them alive longer than you might expect.  Training Style:  Injury - what injury?  "Sick" is a state of mind!  These folks will train no matter what, and always at 125% - which means they're chronically injured but somehow still find a way to pummel their bodies.  They're in great shape, but not as good as they could be with a little bit of planned moderation.  Long Term Chance of Survival: 70%

The Leader:  May or may not appear as the group's leader to begin with - not necessarily an overt captain, and may not want to be.  Steady, strong, willing to take the risks if they make sense, but won't willingly go into a situation without a plan - however, if the situation dictates, able to be creative, modifying and applying what they know.  Conviction in their thoughts and confidence in their knowledge draws others along with them. Can't do it all on their own, and know that - needs the backing of the pseudo-hero and the guardian to make it all work.  Training Style: researched, well-informed and planned - pushing themselves when new limits need to be reached, and backing off when they know they should.  Others will often ask them questions about their training because of the results they see - but few are actually interested in the patience this approach requires.  Long Term Chance of Survival: 85%

~ Guy

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Tired of the Crossfit Argument?

I know that I am.  I'm tired of people asking what I think about it, and then when I give an opinion it raises a whole whack of arguments for and against that almost inevitably becomes heated.

That being said, recently a colleague of mine (Dr. Ben Stevens) wrote an extremely well thought-out series of articles based on his experience with Crossfit.  Dr. Stevens himself is not actually a "Crossfitter" per se, but he works closely with a couple of the local facilities and will sometimes train out of them (if you want to read his posts, which I strongly encourage, start here).  He asked for  thoughts from a wide variety of individuals, and I was flattered to be included in the group.

I didn't want to write a quick (and possibly glib) response, and decided to read the three articles in their entirety first.  Then, a number of other items came across my metaphorical "desk" that seemed to be worth consideration in regard to my response as well - one was what I'll call "The Crossfit Study" for lack of an expeditious title (you can see the abstract here), and a review of Crossfit from an academic standpoint on one of my favorite podcasts, "The Strength of Evidence" (look for them on Facebook).

I will lead off my thoughts after reading/listening to the above with the following disclaimers:
  • I am going to be uncharacteristically serious - please note the above picture to see how serious I'm being.
  • I am going to do my very best to be sincere, unbiased and gracious - if I come across as inflammatory, sarcastic or like a douchebag, it is truly by accident.
  • I am not writing this to get into a fight with anyone - if you've had success with Crossfit and swear by it, all the power to you.  If you're offended by all things Crossfit, I'm not looking to make you a fan.  This is simply a collection of my thoughts after some recent, careful reflection of a few articles.

Firstly, the community they've created, the hype and the marketing they've managed to elicit, are extraordinary.  Getting away from machine-based, isolation movements and back to the raw, simple strength and conditioning is a good thing, as is the move towards achievement as opposed to aesthetics.  Finally, as the study (albeit a small one) and the anecdotes show - it seems to work.

The issues arise with the method itself, in my eyes, rather than the results.  As Dr. Stevens points out in his second article - there are a lot of things that are staples in the Crossfit "programming" that are, put nicely, ill-advised.  Some of the exercises are never good (high pulls, overhead swings and ballistically repetitive box jumps), some are not good in an escalating density-type format or fatigued state (Olympic lifts), and some are only good/useful/appropriate with a very small segment of well-trained individuals (handstand push-ups).  Also, while I appreciate variety for the sake of enjoyment as well as creating a broad range of skills - if there isn't some degree of repetitive, quality practice and periodization, then the sticking at certain plateaus that individuals reach (which will be different for everyone) are inescapable.  Finally, as both the study above shows in a(n admittedly) small segment, but which anecdote (and innumerable YouTube videos) demonstrate as well - I personally find the injury rate to be unacceptably high (and for the sake of this post, I use the term "injury" to refer to both acute as well as chronic/overtraining injury).

Dr. Stevens finished off his series by making suggestions to improve the Crossfit program; and one of the most common defenses of Crossfit's participants is that "we don't do x or y at our box, and the instructors adjust/modify/periodize/scale everything for each individual".  To which I ask: if you remove and/or change all of the items listed above and those suggested by Dr. Stevens, then what, exactly, are you left with that differentiates Crossfit from any other high quality strength and conditioning facility or high intensity circuit training?

As I said before, this is a general summation of my takeaways from various reviews, articles and analyses of the Crossfit phenomenon, and hardly in-depth.  My suggestion is, if you take issue with anything I've said above, simply read the references I've listed and consider your opinion again.  I'm not saying it will change your mind, nor will arguing on a blog post back and forth change mine. 

In the end, whether you take up running, cycling, mixed-martial arts, Crossfit, powerlifting, Kettlebells or even Zumba - what matters is that you are being guided and coached responsibly, that you are getting results, and that you are having fun.

In the words of Astar, the robot - "Play safe."


Smith, MM, AJ Sommer, BE Starkoff, and ST Devor. "Crossfit-based High Intensity Power Training Improves Maximal Aerobic Fitness and Body Composition." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Epub Ahead of Print)
Stevens, Ben, Dr. "The CrossFit Chronicles." Valeo Health Clinic. Valeo Health Clinic, 11 Mar. 2013. Web.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Calling All Ladies, Are Tight Ta-Tas Your Problem?

My letter is B (my mom always said anything more than a handful was a waste).  Well, if I’m being completely honest maybe a large A unless I’m heading out for a night on the town, in which case it’s a small C (with some help from Victoria Secret).  What am I talking about?  Boobs.  More specifically, about the pectoralis major muscles which are the muscular part of the breasts in both men and women.

Heading out for a night on the town!
Pectoralis comes from pectus which is Latin for ‘breast’. Major means it’s the largest of the four pectoral muscles, which in no particular order are: Pectoralis major, subclavius, sternalis and pectoralis minor—which brings us to the conclusion of both our anatomy and Latin lesson for the day.

Why am I talking ta-tas in Latin?

Some of my large-breasted sisters (both real and fake) are well aware of the connection between the weight of their breasts and the aching in their upper back, but they're often unaware of the strain heavy breasts can place on their pectoral muscles. 

Say what? 

Pectoral trigger points can cause back pain, heart arrhythmia's and false heart pain.  They may contribute to development of a dowager’s hump (think Quasimodo) and, their indirect effects on neck and upper back muscles sponsor headaches, jaw pain and other symptoms of the head, face and neck. 

So, what’s a girl to do? 

How about some self-myofascial release or self-massage with a tennis ball, lacrosse ball or even better one of the acupressure balls found in the Travel Roller.  Massaging with a ball against a wall is very effective for the entire pectoral region (read:  tight ta-tas).  If your nose bumps into the wall, try the technique next to a doorway, letting your head hang through the opening.  Go back and forth in slow, steady movements and aim for about 10 to 12 rolls.  This can be done every day, but at the very least you should be doing it before the start of your resistance training sessions (you do lift weights, right?)  After the trigger points are gone, stretching and postural retraining (read:  getting rid of not-so-sexy-Quasimodo hump) are quite appropriate and can have beneficial effects.

So ladies no matter what your letter, let’s spread the word and help get pectoral trigger points off our chest (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist). 

~ Sasha

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mr. Miyagi Had It Right

"Wax on, wax off".  The secret to not only a shiny, "like new" polish on your car... but also to success in fitness and training.  How?  Because of focused repetition and practice.

"Give me a second.  I'm sure there's another chore I don't want to do."

I realized this a couple of weeks ago - I love to read about, evaluate and try new ways to train, new exercises and methodologies - anything that can help develop performance.  But the base, the foundation, is not so much about "how" you're training, but "how often" and "how well".  I thought back to when I was training in Tae Kwon Do, and the fact that our warm up was exactly the same every single training session.  3-5 days a week, I followed the exact same warm-up and cool down.  I started doing the same warm-up (as much as I could remember) every single day, and found that I was moving better, more balanced and more fluently every day.  I felt better during my training sessions, and during regular, every day life.

You see, consistency is the key.  Daily practice and diligence.  Obviously, if you set specific aesthetic or performance based goals, then you have specific daily tasks that you need to practice - but if general health and wellness is your goal, then find a routine that involves a little mobility, a little movement, some balance and some coordination and practice that.  Every day.  From now on.  Then find a way of eating that is natural and unprocessed - I don't care if you go Vegan, or Paleo, or Zone or Atkins - whatever you choose, make sure it's real food.  Then do that every day.  From now on.

Consider it an investment in your future.  For the (relatively small) sacrifice it might require today, the pay-off when you're 70yrs old and still climbing trees and playing frisbee on the beach in your retirement will make it all worthwhile.

Now show me "Paint the Fence".

P.S.  If you've never seen the original Karate Kid, then a) thanks for helping date my pop culture references and b) get out there and see it.  You're missing out.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pain Is Not Your Friend and Don't Play Limbo With A Lightsaber!

Come close, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  Are you leaning in?  I want to make sure you can hear what I’m about to say (especially if you train with me).  Pain is not your friend and you should never (excluding extreme circumstances) live with pain.  Unless you happen to be dating or married to one of the members of the American hip hop group, House of Pain.  I digress.

Too often a client will show up to train and let me know that they’ve ‘buggered their shoulder’, ‘tweaked their knee’ or ‘strained their lower back’ doing something that they probably shouldn’t have been doing - like taking limbo to a new low at a house party on the weekend – which is a problem, but not the problem.  Life happens, and unless you’re living in a full body cast things are going to come up.

If you're going to limbo, don't limbo with a lightsaber.
So, if the problem isn’t your new low at limbo on the weekend, than what is it?  It’s when pain persists and you don’t do anything about it.  It’s when you take pain into your house (read:  your body).  When pain becomes a friend, albeit an annoying one, but one that you just don’t have the heart to get rid of.   

That’s the problem.  If your body speaks, listen.  I have a 10-day rule; if your body has something to say, and you’re not going to lose a limb unless treated, I say give it about 10-days to go away.  Please use common sense when applying this rule.  If you break a leg don’t expect it to magically heal in 10-days, this is a “do not pass go” straight to the emergency room.
When dealing with pain and applying the 10-day rule, honesty is always the best policy.  If you have to alter your movement to accommodate your life due to what’s happened, than pain is still present.  When pain plays hide-and-seek, it always wins.  If you’re using phrases such as, “It doesn’t hurt when I turn it like this,” or “I stopped doing that because it hurts,” pain is still hiding your house.  Find it, get help and get rid of it. 

Newsflash, your body is connected and if something isn’t pulling its’ weight (literally) something else will have to pick up the slack.  Your body is amazing but not superhuman, so eventually whatever is working overtime is going to go on strike.  Pay attention to your pain to avoid injury.  And, if you want to train for limbo let me know.

~ Sasha