Monday, June 2, 2014

Physical Development and Coaching is in the Hands of Amateurs

Not sure how many people who read this blog are aware of this, but on Saturday one story from the NHL Combine (a series of physical tests used to evaluate draft prospects) immediately dominated the scene before being quickly swept aside in an effort to deflect attention.

The number one draft prospect, Sam Bennett, could not do a single pull up (read the story here).

Sam himself, as you would expect, shrugged it off - probably as much out of embarrassment as anything else - saying that the number of pull ups you do won't help you win games.  Most of the scouts and coaching staff seemed to echo this sentiment, and dismissed this abysmal display of physical fitness as not particularly relevant to hockey.

Here's my question: if someone is so weak that they can't pull their own bodyweight up to a bar even a single time, how well do you think they'll resist the forces of a 200lbs body slamming into them at 30mph?

There are so many issues at play here, and any one of them would make a worthwhile article, but suffice it to say that a lot of it stems from the fact that the development of these athletes is being managed by people who have no idea what they're doing.  They've watched "Youngblood", Gatorade commercials and a bunch of videos online, and/or they're referring back to their own youth and how they trained and decided that these things have given them the expertise necessary to develop top-notch athletes.  It doesn't.

It takes more than attending a class, watching a video or even training yourself to learn how to develop an individual's physical and athletic potential and for those of us who DO take the time to understand it, it is a constant evolution and never-ending research - trying to evaluate what methods are hype, what are groundbreaking, what really works and what to eliminate.  There is no single degree or certification that will tell you 100% that a person knows how to do this, and fewer still who possess the multitude needed to be knowledgeable and effective.  Add to that the fact that this individual also needs to have the temperament, empathy and natural ability to coach, and you understand why phone apps, books and someone who did a weekend certification because they "really enjoy fitness" can never replace the skilled coach - and really, this applies to everyone no matter whether they want to learn how to pick up their baby without throwing their back out, or complete a pull up at a pro-sport combine.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It Can't All Be Fun

I read an article today that really resonated with me for a variety of reasons - the following are simply my thoughts based on the article, so you're gonna want to read it first:

 Every Kid Does Not Deserve a Fucking Trophy

My thoughts after reading:
  1. To wit:  I don't have kids, so although I agree with what the article is saying I'm not about to get into a back-and-forth with an actual parent about child-rearing.  However - I think that the general message of this can be applied to ourselves, in work, family and health.
  2. Sometimes shit just needs to get done, and no one else will do it.  Take care of it yourself.
  3. You may not always get along with your family, but they're all you've got.  Weather the bad times, and relish the good.
  4. The counter to the above point: if there is someone who's truly toxic in your life, be it a friend or family member - don't hold their bag of shit (not my line).  If they're willing to address it, offer support and help - but change has to come from them.  Don't keep beating your head against a wall.
  5. Improving your fitness and health is not always "fun".  You need to find ways to keep in enjoyable - tying it into bigger and more exciting goals, or things that you love doing - but to really improve, you have to work at it.  Sometimes that work is really hard.  Sometimes it's not fun.  And sometimes you'll be bad at it.  But quitting is the only real failure.
  6. You don't "deserve" anything.  The world at large doesn't recognize karma or work ethic, so learn to take your own intrinsic satisfaction from doing the right thing and working hard - because if you're doing everything so that someone congratulates on you a job well done, you're destined for disappointment.
  7. Learn to see the value of being a good person and contributing positively to the world around without it being based on a reward - you'll be a happier person.
  8. And finally, stop expecting others to do any of this and being disappointed when it happens.  Everyone else is everyone else - you can only take care of things under your own control.  Anything that's not - let it go.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Health and Fitness = The Real 50 Shades of Grey?

I'm not sure how many people read the same things I do in the fitness industry, but if they do I suspect one of two things will happen:
  • They will be swayed by one of the "health and fitness" gurus who speak all-knowingly (and extremely charismatically) about something or other, and before they know it, they're swept away in the excitement of whatever ideological movement this happens to be, dropping deeper and deeper into the tribe and getting more and more defensive and close-minded to any sort of criticism or analysis that contradicts their new belief system.
  • They will come across another point that says the exact opposite of what their new system says, and then another.  But then they'll read something else that supports it.  Then another that tears it apart.  Then one where both sides are arguing the same thing, but getting stuck on semantics.  Back and forth, back and forth until the they're left weeping and unable to do anything in a corner (metaphorically).
So here's what we, as an industry, need to do.  
  • We need to stop trying to systemize and simplify everything to a simple flowchart.  Every person is unique, and for us to really help someone, we need multiple approaches in our "back pocket" to draw on.  
  • Continue to learn, evolve, practice, and develop higher and higher levels of critical thought.  
  • Stop dismissing everything that comes along which is contrary to what you (currently) believe, but stop jumping on every bandwagon.  
  • Learn to tell the difference between an ideology and a slickly-wrapped "product" based on an unproven theory (or worse, one that has already been disproved numerous times).  
  • Stop allowing the (healthy) development and debate enter mainstream media and social media - it just confuses the layperson.  
  • Raise our standards.  Stop letting people who failed as entertainers become "fitness gurus" (Tracy Anderson, Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper... I'm talking to you.  Oh, and you too, Jenny McCarthy, though you're dangerous on a whole different level).  
  • And finally, stop being so judgmental.  Accept that your own system, as it stands now, may very well look completely different in 10 years, based on what the industry continues to learn - and in doing so, be part of that learning and developing instead of one of the people banging your fist on the table insisting the the earth is flat.
There are so many incredible things out there waiting to be discovered, and we can help so many more people, if we'd just put our own egos aside and start trying to work together.  *Sigh*  But then, is cooperation really part of human nature, or am I just hoping for an uncharacteristically optimistic outcome?

You know what?  Don't answer that.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

And Now Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Program

The Olympics are over and I'm sad to say that I didn't get a chance to watch all of our athletes in action, but I did see some memorable moments, including an early morning gold medal game.  Go Canada Go! 

With the games now behind us we're back to our regularly scheduled programs.  I wouldn't categorize my television consumption as excessive but I did notice its absence during the Olympics.  It's not uncommon for me to unwind at the end of the day with a television show.  I'm not glued to the boob tube but I did miss catching up with some of my favorite characters and found myself wondering more than once this past month what to do with my free time?  Meeting up with Olivia Pope and her team each week had become a habit for me - a routine of behavior that's repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously.

I had a similar eye-opener last October.  Although I normally eat pretty clean, I decided to take on the Whole30 saying no to grains, dairy, sugar, legumes and alcohol for thirty days with no cheats, slips or "special occasions."  The most revealing part of the program was recognizing my cravings as habits.  For instance, why did I "crave" wanting to treat my taste buds on Mondays?  What was so special about the first day of the week for me?  After thirty days of thinking about it I came to the conclusion that Mondays were my Fridays, and I was in the routine of treating myself with a well-deserved yummy yucky to unwind after my work week.

So what do these two seemingly unrelated topics, television and treats have in common?  For me?  Unconscious indulgence.  A sneaky saboteur that disguises itself as part of my regularly scheduled program.  And while it's fine to trade my time for television or treat myself to a yummy yucky every now and again, it becomes a problem when it's no longer a conscious choice - but instead a result of training unconscious habits.

If you can't unwind until you've had your post-work wine or find yourself looking forward to going to the movies for the treats, not the show, you may be a victim of the unconscious indulgence.  The great news is behaviour can change.  You got yourself into the predicament and can get yourself out by recognizing your routine and taking the "un" out of unconscious.

Do you have an unconscious indulgence you'd like to share?

~ Sasha

Monday, February 17, 2014

Don't Kill My Buzz

One of the hardest things for a coach to manage or work around is when the biggest obstacle to a client's success is their "support system".  Unfortunately, it is an all-too common occurrence where the very individual that you turn to for encouragement, motivation, accountability and inspiration - is the same one that holds you back.  It might be your spouse, best friend or sibling - but often their fear of failure or lack of confidence means that instead of helping you succeed, they instead choose to passive-aggressively manipulate or control your actions to prevent you from improving where they can't.  I still remember the first time I dealt with this as a coach, way back when I first started in the industry 12 years ago - he was really trying hard, eating healthy lunches at work and training 4-5x a week, but would go home and his wife continued to feed him crap food.  She'd complain that she didn't want to eat what he was eating, and she'd complain if he didn't eat the food she'd "worked so hard to prepare".  After 6 months, he was no closer to his number one goal (weight loss) than when he'd started.

There are three ways this can turn out.  If you are not a strong enough personality to get by this, then you'll wind up on the hamster wheel with the other person... getting two steps forward, then falling two steps back. 

The second way it can go is that you stand up to the person - they can make the choices they make for themselves, but you are not going to let their baggage hold you back any more.  They can join you on the journey to success, or they can keep doing what they've always done and you'll leave them behind.

The best result would be that you stand up to them, and it elicits change - they realize that they are holding both you AND themselves back, and instead of fearing and avoiding the challenge, they join you in tackling it - and together you become that much stronger.

Sadly, the first scenario is the most common, but here's hoping somewhere, someone reading this will change their approach as a result of it.  Look at your journey into health and wellness - are you being held back by your support network?  Or are you the one holding someone else back?

Stop fearing change.  Take control, and direct the change you want to see.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Beware of "Experts"

I'm a knowledge junkie.  

I'm aware of it, and although I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing, it can be difficult when every article, book and seminar that you come across looks like it might have something to offer.  I like to be "in the know" of the developments in my industry, even if it doesn't mean that I'm becoming an "expert".  No, to become an expert you need not only knowledge but experience and application as well - all of which take time which is, sadly, a rare commodity.

Now, to be clear, I won't implement anything into client programs without taking the time to become, if not an expert, then at least adept at the tool/system/principle that I'm working with.  To that end, late last year I decided I would take the NCCP Level One Olympic Weightlifting Course.  Frankly, I never had any intention to implement this system into my own methodologies, because it is a sport in and of itself requiring diligent practice and movement acquisition - there are other ways to generate similar (if not identical) physical adaptations with movements that are simpler to learn.  But if I'm going to say "No, I don't use Olympic weightlifting in my programs" I wanted to have the knowledge and experience to explain why.

So I signed up.  And I was awful at it.

Actually, I take that back.  I wasn't awful, but it wasn't pretty.  The limited experience I had with it had been based on the books I'd read, the DVDs I'd watched, transfer of knowledge from other systems, and so on.  But nothing - NOTHING - replaces being coached by an expert.  And in a true lesson of humility, I found myself completely out of my element, struggling to complete some of the most basic components of Olympic lifting.

I was terrible.  And I loved it.

Being that bad at something got me to focus in.  I wanted to leave the weekend competent, able to continue practicing on my own and better understand what I was reading and watching, and that meant laser focus and taking advantage of every coaching instruction I was given - because I only had two days to draw on.

It was brilliant.  I loved it, I gained a much greater understanding of it, and I'm much better at the skills/techniques involved.  But I am far, far (FAR) from being an "expert".  

You see, there are far too many "experts" out there who have done no more than complete a weekend workshop who suddenly feel that they are capable of utilizing this knowledge at the highest level possible.  Quite frankly, some of the worst of these are university graduates, who come away from their four year degree with a lot - A LOT - of knowledge but little to no practice and even less experience.  And yet the piece of paper in their hand makes them feel that they are an "expert".

This is not a slag on university grads, university programs, the certification courses or anyone else who is reading this and getting ready to send me an angry email.  It's simply an observation that there are a lot of people that, through the benefit of social media, hype and marketing, have become designated as "experts".

So be cautious as you seek advice, guidance or coaching - and check to make sure that the individual you are working with is all they think they are.  Seems to me that the louder someone is in proclaiming themselves an "expert" - the further they are from being one.

~ Guy

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Problem with Run Groups

Let me say off the top that this is not meant to talk anyone down from running clubs, running in general, or aerobic exercise.  Whether you prefer "high intensity interval" training, "metabolic resistance" training, old-fashioned weight training, kettlebells, bosu, bootcamps, spin class... well, you get the idea.  Regardless of what it is that you do, what's important is that a) it's not going to hurt you, b)  you enjoy it, c) it's active and d) it's the appropriate exercise selection to your goals (meaning, for example, don't expect yoga to significantly improve your 10k run time).

That being said, it's important to keep in mind that running is a fairly advanced activity from a biomechanical standpoint, and not everyone is meant to log long (and for the sake of definition, I'm actually going to say that anything over 5km at a steady pace is "long") runs on a regular basis.  There are some who are born with the innate running gene and they can simply start running, increasing their distances over weeks and, despite the quality of their run stride or program, they excel.

But these are the outliers.  And at the other end of the spectrum are the people who do everything right, but in spite of this, they wind up unable to run because of injury (I'm not speaking about the type of injury that can happen to anyone - like rolling an ankle stepping off a curb).  And then there's the middle of the bell curve - the people who simply start running and, without a proper movement and strength foundation, wind up with small, nagging injuries that impede performance or completely curtail the training altogether.

And that's what leads to my frustration.  Many run groups are lead by, at best, people who were good runners (though not necessarily coaches) or, at worst, people who fill the role for no reason other than they're a positive and encouraging personality that's willing to show up every week.  In either case, it's rare that these leaders have the education, practice and coaching ability to develop the fundamentals necessary to improve your running safely.  So, lacking this ability, as people keep showing up, sometimes not losing the weight they wanted to, sometimes hitting plateaus in their performance, and sometimes developing chronic injuries, the group leaders just keep high-fiving,  encouraging and, ultimately, offering consolation when the individual hits the point where they simply can't run.

It would be nice if these run groups would recognize this weakness in the service their providing and come up with a solution from the outset, rather than having a physiotherapist, chiropractor or sports med doctor on speed dial.  It might be as simple as understanding the basic biomechanics of running so that they can take a proactive approach to referring out, or even having ongoing training for the leaders to help them institute a decent dynamic warm-up/movement preparation into the program.

I always refer back to Diane Lee's quote when someone tells me that they're going to start running:

You don't run to get fit.  You get fit to run.


Monday, January 20, 2014

The Art and the Science

There's a bit of a riff in the health and training world right now, between those who like to think of themselves as "field" scientists, and those who like to base their practices on evidence and research.  And as in the case of everything in life, you have people at each extreme end of the spectrum, people who take advantage of those positions, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

On the one end, the evidence-based people are those who refuse to acknowledge possibilities unless there are numerous, broad spectrum and peer-reviewed studies confirming a concept.  While evidence is valuable and necessary in order to help create new concepts and expand our capacity for learning - it can be limited because a) research takes time to do correctly, and b) sometimes we don't know what we're looking for.

On the other end, there are those who insist that the research is always behind what is developing in the "field", or outside the lab.  They push concepts or "systems" that have no evidential support based on their own experience, and they forget (or ignore) the research, dismissing it if it doesn't support their beliefs.

So how are we supposed to know what to believe?  Well, there's the rub - many times the people leading these positions are very charismatic personalities, with a powerful belief in what they're speaking of that makes it hard to ignore.  Their conviction can be so powerful that it is hard to argue with them, particularly if we are less-educated on the subject.

As coaches, the best thing we can do is learn how to bridge the gap between the art and the science.  Stop speaking in absolutes - what is taken as fact today may very well be dismissed 5 years from now when a new study comes out.  Similarly, what works for one doesn't work for all, even if it IS and evidence-based practice.  Stay open-minded, read the research, remain optimistically skeptical - and continue to learn. 


Monday, January 13, 2014

...And Thus, the Pendulum Swings

Remember barefoot running?  Yeah, that was pretty cool - but so totally 2013.  Now we have the Hoka - the antithesis of the minimalist movement.  Because apparently, returning to some degree of normalcy in the middle of the road isn't enough - nope, we need to fly 100% in the opposite direction.


In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I have never run in the Hoka - and, to continue with this disclosure, I will also say that I have absolutely no intention of it.  The Vibram toe shoes were bad enough (never wore those, either, though I do wear the New Balance Minimus while I work and do my resistance training), but this takes it to a whole other level.  I will keep my eye on the research so that I can stay informed (thus far, from what I've read, there hasn't been any studies conducted on oversized soles) but I'll be straight up - if the only way I'm going to be able to run is by wearing a pair of platform shoes that resemble part of a clown costume, then that's probably my body's way of telling me that running isn't my best training option.

Besides - all I have to do is wait 5-10 years and everyone will probably be running barefoot again. 

Or maybe on their hands, and bypassing the lower half of the body entirely.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Underwear and Kraft Dinner

When I was in university, like most other students, I was on a pretty tight budget.  This tight budget necessitated choosing wisely when it came to expenses and, in the long run, taught me a great deal about weighing the pros and cons on items and deciding when to spend the "good" money.

Two such examples were underwear and Kraft Dinner.  For the longest time, I would but the 5 pairs for $3 pack at the local Army and Navy... and that five pair would last me maybe a month.  The stitching would unravel, every pair had a slightly different cut (some less comfortable than others) and you'd wind up with holes where there shouldn't be holes.  Similarly, I'd buy the 12 pack of generic macaroni and cheese and, to be honest, they were about as flavorful as the box that they came packaged in.

Well, a couple of illuminating events occurred early on in these university days.  First off, I came home for my first weekend and needed to grab a quick lunch, so pulled the Kraft Dinner from my mom's shelf.  I have to say - the difference in taste between the generic mac and cheese and Kraft Dinner was extraordinary.  Next, at Christmas I received a couple of pairs of Calvin Klein underwear... they were like heaven had been stuffed down my pants and wrapped around the boys.  Not only that, but I think I was able to wear that underwear for the next year and a half (not consecutively) before they gave up completely.

So here's the thing - firstly, I don't eat Kraft Dinner very often anymore - not unless I'm desperate.  And Calvin Klein's?  They're ridiculously expensive - I don't care how heavenly they might feel.  But at the same time, I don't buy the 5 pairs for $3 package, and there's a pub near the house that makes the most amazing baked macaroni and cheese for about 12x the cost of a package of KD.

The lesson is this: some things, you just don't look for the cheapest route.  You don't need to go to the other extreme (a lot of times, you're paying for a name or a brand, but not any better quality) - but there are certain times you just shouldn't scrimp on.  Mac and Cheese, underwear - and your health.  Just because a trainer or bootcamp is super-cheap, it doesn't mean it's what you should be doing - in fact, you might want to ask yourself why it's so cheap.

Remember - you inevitable get what you pay for.  Be smart about where you cut costs.