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.