Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Guest Post: Mark Fisher on Orange Theory

For a number of reasons, Orange Theory has come across my radar with greater frequency over the last few months. Full disclosure - I have never attended a training session at an Orange Theory, so my own opinions have been formed based on (what I consider to be) experience in, both as a participant and as a coach, similar training sessions and protocols.

Now, that being said, today I came across a couple of pieces on my Facebook feed about it. The first was an opinion piece that was written by Kelsey Miller for Refinery 29 (you can see the original article here), and the second was the response to the article by Mark Fisher, of Mark Fisher Fitness (www.markfisherfitness.com) in New York. Now, I've come across a lot of Mark's material before - interviews on podcasts like "The Fitcast" (hosted by Kevin Larabee - a resource I highly recommend), posts he's written on Facebook, and, frankly, the hugely positive reviews I've read by both clients and other fitness professionals I highly respect.

So when I saw he'd posted a response to the article on Facebook, I was immediately interested in hearing his thoughts - and after reading it, decided that he'd basically said what I would have liked to, but probably better. I immediately asked him if he minded me reprinting it here on the blog, and he said "No problem". It means this is a longer post than I normally write, but hey - just keep the tab open and come back to it later. :D

Thus, without further ado - Mark Fisher on Orange Theory, ladies and gentlemen.

"I have to start this post by first qualifying I am a fitness agnostic; you've never seen someone more committed to "don't make the perfect the enemy of the good" than I am. However, I do want to share some thoughts about this...
  • While I understand the appeal of heart rate monitoring to provide objective feedback, my concern with applying it en masse continues to be that we know not everyone's heart rate fits into the box. As much as 20% of the population is seriously above or below what standard heart rate calculations would indicate. This means you could have some folks working too easy, and more potentially troublesome, some working too hard. Particularly if you have hyper competitive people. If you use the Karvonen formula and take into account resting heart rate, that seems to be better, but I have a feeling that's tough to do at scale? Not sure how they do their formulas here. Admittedly, I would actually like to integrate this into MFF at some point with MyZone or Polar, I just haven't figured this piece out yet. (Because many people I respect use it in their group training, I assume they have and I just don't get it yet haha) 
  • I think the progressive circles of the industry have started to understand the need for moderate doses of cardiac output work (which is now cool, because it's no longer dangerous steady state cardio or even more uncool, "aerobics"). Particularly with deconditioned populations, it's helpful to build some capacity here before trying to live anaerobic dreams, not just for performance but also for recovery (which I maintain continues to be underappreciated when the goal is fat loss). To some extent I think this is self regulated when new folks join a gym and can run their own race. However, if you're immediately going after a (potentially inaccurate) anaerobic heart rate goal, I imagine developing this base could be compromised.
    • Two other subnotes:
      • You could actually program aerobic capacity work WITH heart rate monitors if you developed your programming around it. And potentially even more effectively. You'd just have to buy into the value (which not everyone does, and that's fine, you do you.)
      • THE BODYBUILDERS WERE RIGHT ABOUT THE VALUE OF STEADY STATE hahahahaha (I know, I know, they often did higher volumes, but still...)
  • There may be a missing movement proficiency piece in all of this. I do think it's possible to get so focused on movement that you lose out on other fitness qualities. But I still think part of our mission as fit pros is to develop some base movement capacity as a foundation. To me, this feels like an important "life thing." Otherwise, if you take a deconditioned person and make them jack up their heart rate while doing exercises with uncertain technique, you're at the risk for training in some less-than-ideal patterns at best, and injury at worst. This doesn't seem to address the goal of "getting up and off the ground at will as one ages."
  • Now again, I'm an agnostic. I don't think this is "wrong," and I don't mean any of this as a critique, I'm just thinking out loud. And I DO call the Ninjas my baby/girlfriends, so I know I can be an overly worrisome Mommy/ Boyfriend who wants the best for his beloveds haha. I'm always a fan of people moving, I know there's more than one way to skin a cat, and I'm supportive of anyone looking for progressive ways to take care of people in small or large groups. I think making group training fun and effective for the general population is important to help our whole society embrace the gift of movement and fitness.
I'm the first to admit I don't have it all figured out, but I would just gently suggest there may be a more sophisticated way to do this. I don't think we have to choose between fat loss and good movement (particularly since the former is largely driven by diet). Additionally, if the goal is to balance short term results with longevity, I think there "could" be challenges to the latter with gamifying things like fat loss and heart rate with super driven people who intuitively think more is always better.

Admittedly, it will likely be harder to scale because it will require more coaching, but such is life."

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Return to Play from MCL Sprain

Not me.
I did a little write-up on the process from a first-person perspective. Keep in mind, this is an "n=1" scenario - timelines, results and protocols will differ from person to person, and practitioner to practitioner...

What It's Like to Recover From an MCL Injury


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Who Trains Your Trainer?

Whether you're looking to hire a trainer/coach for the first time, or you've been with someone for a while, there's one question you should put to them - sooner, rather than later:

Who's YOUR coach?

Before I go any further, I think it's important to distinguish between "hiring a coach" and "trading sessions" - the latter being something that's pretty common in our industry. Trading sessions are still a valuable resource, because they allow for a little bit of extra energy to be injected into a session, gives trainers an opportunity to see what else is out there, and allows them to pick up a new trick or two. However, when I say that trainers need a coach, that is not the scenario I'm talking about. What I mean is that they should hire (in other words - pay) someone to design a program and coach them - teaching them new skills, as well as helping them to practice and refine their current ones.

You see, a few years ago Sasha and I had decided to take part in a two week business-development program (fitness specific) and one of the first questions from the teacher was "Which of you has a trainer?" - to which the reply was generally "Not me". He then asked why, and the usual reasons were given - "not enough time", "not enough money", "I can do it myself"... but he silenced all of us when he followed up with "If you don't see the value in the investment, how can you ask somebody else to invest in the exact same thing with your business?"

How indeed?

Further to this, I also believe it says something about the coach in general.  It suggests that they are open to learning, that they have the humility to recognize they still have things to learn, and that they truly believe in what they're asking you to buy into. It also means that they understand things from a student's point of view - the challenges and obstacles that are faced, ways to overcome them - all of which are experiences that will be invaluable to you as their client/athlete/student.

So the next time you see your trainer, or are shopping around for one, be sure to ask them who is their coach... and if they say don't have one, put them on the spot and ask them why.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Varied vs Random

So, let me lead this off by saying that I get it. People sometimes just want to work out, and work out hard - no definitive plans or outcomes. It's not something I enjoy a great deal myself - if I want to do something active and with a randomness to it, I'll play a sport - but there are those for whom just going in the gym and working hard for the sake of working hard gets them going. So all the power to them (as long as it's not some sort of "punishment" or justification for their lifestyle, nor because they're falling for the P90x "muscle confusion" nonsense - but that's a different topic). The problem lies in the fact that far too often, I think that people pick exercises simply because they're "hard" - but then the session winds up being a random assortment of exercises when just a couple of tweaks can make the session both varied AND productive.

Firstly, there should be a balance in the exercise selection - and that means that the session should aim to have as close to 1:1 ratio of push to pull. This is harder than you might think - since most people are significantly stronger in the push (front) than they are in the pull (back), the "high rep" or "more challenging" exercises end up being all pushing. As an example, I saw one of those videos shared the other day that had the "12 Minute Fat Blasteroo"-type sessions, and it consisted of the following: Jump Squats x 20, Push-Press x 10, Mountain Climbers x 20, Push Ups x 10 - and you were supposed to repeat them as many times as possible in 12mins. The problem, when you break it down is that for 3 out of 4 exercises you are pushing (squats, press, push-ups) and for the 4th, you're stabilizing while still using the pushing muscles. So although it's "hard", you'd have a mean sweat going, you'd be tired, and you burned some calories - well, unless the next 12mins is all pulling exercises, you are running a seriously one-dimensional session. Do this too often, and you can see how it would start to become an issue.

Secondly, there is often a failure to recognize that an integral part of interval training is the recovery phase. Again, in seeking that lung-burning, sweat-puddle on the floor, Gatorade commercial-type effort, people do exercises back-to-back, or integrate what is known as "negative-recovery" (the recovery time is shorter than the work time) into their "intervals". If you do this for too long, or too often, in a session a number of things start to happen: your strength decreases, you become more mentally fatigued, and there is an inevitable decrease of quality on each consecutive round. A key element of getting the most from the "work" portion of the interval is to allow the body to "recover" properly in between - and the higher intensity the effort, the longer the recovery needs to be. A side-note - programming opposite movements (ie. push-pull) can be seen as a form of incomplete recovery and may be part of the strategy - meaning that while you're doing one movement, you're recovering from the other. Just keep in mind that it is an "incomplete" recovery, and you should still be taking some time in the set/workout for full recovery. If it is an "as many rounds as possible" set, add the phrase "with recovery" into that title when you read it - in other words, how many sets can you do in a certain time while still recovering properly. Just like the "all-push" sessions, do this too frequently and you'll hit those plateaus faster and faster, finding it that much more difficult to break the plateau or worse, see a decline.

So the next time you're doing a "HIIT" session, "Metabolic" session, or "Conditioning" session, consider the above points. If you're designing it for yourself or it's self-regulated, be sure to give yourself the balance of exercises and to take the necessary recovery between exercises/rounds. If you're programming, be sure that you're looking at your exercise selection and creating this balance for your client. And if you're paying someone to do this for you - start paying attention to this and make sure that more often than not these two points are being addressed. Remember - just because a workout is hard, doesn't necessarily mean it's good.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why the Kettlebell?

Many of the people who follow my Facebook or Instagram posts are (justifiably) going to be under the impression that I'm a die-hard devotee to the kettlebell. (Anyone following my Twitter, on the other hand, probably just thinks I'm a generally angry person). While the latter is somewhat true - I pretty much just use Twitter to rant - the former is not necessarily accurate. It is not so much that I'm a kettlebell super-fan, as I'm a results super-fan - and there are few tools that I find more broadly applicable yet equally effective than this small, odd-looking cannonball with a handle.

There are a couple of different "styles" of kettlebell, and within those are a number of different schools, interpretations and variations. The two main styles include what's known as "long-cycle" kettlebell, which focuses on developing a form of strength-endurance through movements that are as efficient as possible, and "hardstyle", which focuses on powerful, explosive technique. Which one is better? Neither - it all depends on what outcome you are looking for in your training.

What first drew me to start using the kettlebell in my training, and learning how to do them properly, was when I heard Charlie Weingroff (a well-established physical therapist in the US) speak at the Okanagan Strength and Conditioning Conference back in 2011. Two things he said that resonated: first off, that "pound for pound, you will not find a more effective tool for training loaded movement", and secondly, "anyone can swing a kettlebell - but not everybody knows how to do a kettlebell swing". I came back from that conference and immediately sought out the services of coach, applying the kettlebell to my own training and testing for the StrongFirst™ certification a year later.

The beauty of the kettlebell is it's simplicity. There are, at it's core, essentially 6 basic movements - the swing, the squat, the clean, the press, the Get Up, and in a prime example of coordinated movement, the kettlebell snatch (for a little more detail on the snatch, go here).

Working off of these basic movements, and creating variety through the weight, volume, timing, etc, you can generate results that cover everything from rehabilitative work to strength and conditioning, with only 1 or 2 of these portable little items and your own bodyweight.

Now, that being said - for this to be safe and effective, you really need to learn how to do it properly from a trained and qualified coach. A short-list of some of the various certifications that you should keep an eye out for if your looking for an instructor include the RKC™ (Russian Kettlebell Certification), SFG™ (StrongFirst), and WKC™ (World Kettlebell Club). They may come from different styles, but the certification process for at least these three are rigorous and demanding - a coach that has earned their stripes in one of these has spent a great deal of time learning the methods that they will be passing onto clients and students.

As I said at the start, there are a number limitations to the kettlebell - and despite how this article makes it sound, I actually use a broad variety of tools and methods for training (myself, clients and athletes), depending on the outcome I'm trying to achieve. Not everyone wants to spend the time learning how to use a kettlebell properly - which is fine. We have barbells, sandbags, plyometrics, bodyweight, dumbbells, ViPR, landmines - the list goes on, and in some cases, one of these may be better suited than the kettlebell. But if you're looking for a simple, adaptable, transportable piece of equipment - the "multi-tool" of the health and fitness world - you'll be hard pressed to beat the kettlebell.

~ Guy

Monday, November 9, 2015

What Does It Mean to You?

The other day I had someone ask me about which fitness tracker I recommend, because they were looking to add a little something extra into their training. I told them that a Bluetooth heart rate strap (I personally like the Polar H7) and a basic app on their phone to measure and record heart rate was probably adequate. They seemed disappointed by this; I think they were hoping for something a little more... expansive.

"But why something so basic? What about a Garmin, with GPS - or better yet, what about the Fitbit? I hear it measures daily steps, can track your sleep, and measures heart rate as well?"

"Great," I said, "but what are you going to do with that information?"

And ultimately, that's what I see as the problem with the numerous apps, watches, fitness monitors and other gadgets available to people. They give a lot of information to the individual that winds up being meaningless. Your maximum heart rate during a session was 162bpm - what does that tell you? You slept 7.37hrs last night, with 2.5 cycles - and this means...? You took 10,000 steps today? Burned 367 calories during that run? Compiling endless amounts of information is only valuable if you are going to analyze and use what is collected.

Data without context is nothing more than numbers. Personally, I love collecting as much information as I can - but that's because I enjoy the process of breaking it down and interpreting it. For most people, though, the endless score of details that you're given on your health, while mildly interesting to begin with, quickly becomes little more than static before finally being forgotten.

So when you're trying to decide what type of fitness tracker/monitor/app you would like, try to narrow it down before you spend the money. Find something that gives you feedback which is of value to you, that you can (and WILL) apply to your training. You may find that you don't need to spend the big bucks on an elaborate piece of hardware after all.


Monday, November 2, 2015

What Is "Fit"?

I have a client - let's call him "Jimmy J".  And let's call him that primarily because I enjoy the alliteration of "Jimmy J".

Anyhow, "Jimmy J" (see how much fun it is to say that?) is actually a real person - and knows that I'm writing this using him as the example. I explained that because his question is one that I get so often (actually, quite frequently from "Jimmy J" himself) that I felt it would make a good article..

"How do I know if I'm fit?"

Actually, that's not exactly how he phrases it. More often he berates himself for failing to meet some random measure, and then asks me why he's not getting "more" fit. And when I get his email about it (for about the 1000th time) my reaction usually looks something like this:

Because you see, Jimmy J is one of the fittest guys I know. 52 years old, keeps up with (or beats) guys 20 years his junior during conditioning sessions and hockey games, does 90min trail runs with his dog on the weekends, has deadlifted over 300lbs... it's a level a 25yr old would envy.

But instead, he'll say "I don't understand why I'm not getting better. None of this should be so hard".


First of all - as I've pointed out to him (numerous times), if he didn't feel like he was working hard during a hockey game, he'd just work harder. The same goes for his trail runs, the conditioning classes, etc. In fact, to be honest, I have to constantly reign him back - remind him that if he keeps pinning the pedal to the floorboard, he'll burn out. But further to that, he seems to struggle to understand (along with many other people) that the reason it's not getting easier is because his definition of "fit" is a somewhat arbitrary and subjective moving target. Not how fast he completes a 10km run relative to the last time, or how quickly he's able to recover between shifts - it's how he "feels" during the effort.

And therein is the problem. Without a specific and tangible measure for what "being fit" means to you, you are NEVER going to know if you're getting any better.

The moral of the tale is this: if you are the type of person that wants to be able measure improvement, you have to first define what that means to you. It may be medically-based (blood work done through your family doctor, a stress test, etc), it may be strength based (how much weight you're able to move), it may be aerobically based (how fast you complete a 20km time trial on your bike) or it may be a combination of these (and more). Once you've determined what matters to you, then assess your starting point  and commit to a program, doing "check-in" assessments along the way. If the numbers are improving, the program's working. If they're staying the same or declining, then it's not and it's time to re-evaluate the program (one caveat: once a person has been training for over 6 consecutive months, we're talking about a period of 12-16 weeks to remeasure, not a couple of weeks).

Otherwise - it's like going on a road trip without choosing a destination... then being upset that you don't know how far you've come or how close you are to being finished.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Injury Prediction and Reduction

I came across this particular study ("Examination of the Effectiveness of Predictors for Musculoskeletal Injuries in Female Soldiers") on my Facebook news feed regarding the predictive ability of various assessments regarding injury, and I was going to share it there with a few comments. On reflection, I thought that a) it would probably be a little long for a shared link, and b) it might be better served through a quick blog entry.

Firstly, in the interest of full disclosure - I hardly consider myself an authority on reading and interpreting the results of any study, and in this case I only read the abstract (which I linked above). That being said, a few of the things that jump out at me:
  • The FMS when used as a whole overall score, did not offer any predictive value towards injury potential as no significant differences were noted between the injured and uninjured group in terms of overall FMS score. However, those scoring zeros (which is an indication of pain) during one or more movements screened had a higher occurrence of injury.
  • A lower score in three particular fitness tests (in this case defined by anthropometry, a single leg triple hop jump and a 2km run) was a noticeable predictor of injury, and even more so when combined with zero scores in the FMS as well as the 10m sprint. That being said, they state that more testing is needed to determine the threshold for these categories in their predictive ability.
  • There are a few limitations to the study: they are all soldiers, they are all female, and there are only 145 participants. 
  • Further, the abstract does not specify what the training protocol used during the three months of training were, what the types of injuries are, or the level of competence in the individuals performing the FMS (the last point being something that proponents of the FMS mention virtually every time one of these studies fails to support the FMS as an overall predictor of injury).

In short - within the constraints of this particular study, those who have pain in certain fundamental unloaded movements, and those who are in a decreased level of fitness, stand a greater chance of being injured... even more so if these occur in a combination.

In other words - if it hurts to move a certain way, and/or you're unfit, you're more likely to get hurt training.

I think we tend to over-complicate things as fitness professionals in an effort to "sell" the next great system or ourselves, and probably do a disservice to the public that looks to us for guidance by doing so.



Side note: I'm open to any comments and respectful dialogue/debate about the above, but if you are so set in your thoughts that there's no way you'd ever consider a different point of view, I likely won't continue responding. Also, if you in any way begin to troll or become rude/spiteful, I'll delete your comment. Dissension is welcome - it's how we all learn - but etiquette and manners are fundamental in a debate. In my blog, anyway.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Choosing Your Path - Part Two

(This is a three part series on getting started with an exercise program.  In Part Two, we'll look at choosing a program - you can read Part One here.)

Once you've decided where you're going, next you have to figure out your mode of "transport".  This can have a significant impact on your success, since the most important part of any program is - wait for it - actually doing it.  So consider the following questions your "Gatekeepers" - the checklist you'll apply to your various options to help narrow them down to the perfect fit.  If the program or training method you are considering fails one of the litmus tests below, then you're probably better served looking elsewhere.

Is It Safe?
This should be obvious, but given some of the programs that are out there being utilized, clearly it's another example of "common sense ain't so common".  Maybe it would be easier to think of it less black and white, and more in terms of scale of balance - does the reward outweigh the risk, and is the risk something you are capable of  taking?  For example - if you rely on being physically fit for work, then any program that offers a significant chance of inhibiting this ability through injury is likely not worth the gamble - no matter how great the payoff. 

Is it Effective?
This goes to what you've already done in Part One, where you've defined your one or two primary goals.  Assuming it's passed the first Gatekeeper (the risk/reward balance is acceptable), you now have to figure out if the program is efficient in helping you reach your goal.  Given that most of us already have to carve out time to dedicate to our health, we don't want to be putting this commodity towards a wasted effort.  If you want to run faster, you probably shouldn't make the bulk of your training high intensity metabolic work - and if you'd like to lose body fat, then your time is better served in ways other than hours of running on a treadmill.

Is It Fun?
Like the "is it safe" question, maybe this needs to be worded somewhat differently.  After all, there are a lot of training styles that, in themselves, aren't inherently "fun" but that offer an intrinsic satisfaction.  Rather than trying to measure this by whether or not you're smiling the entire time you're doing the chosen activity (which, frankly, would probably be a little creepy anyway), ask yourself : a) if there is a significant element to the training that you enjoy (hitting a new PR in a specific lift, or earning your next belt in a martial art), and b) if you're going to be able to do this for weeks/months/years on end.  Anything that feels too much like a chore - like something you're doing because you "have to" (self-imposed or otherwise) - likely sets you up for failure.

Now, the final step towards success - finding the right guide...


Monday, August 17, 2015

Choosing Your Path - Part One

(This is a three-part series on how to get started with an exercise program.  Today in Part One, we'll look at getting started in the right direction from the beginning).

When embarking on the road to fitness, you're faced with many, many different possibilities - some good, some... well, not so good.  It can be difficult to find the right path when media and peers are throwing you so many different options - so what is the best way to go about it when the sheer number of choices can be so incredibly overwhelming?

I find that the best approach is similar to when I'm trying to clean a very messy room - pick one area, deal with it, then move onto the next, whereas looking at the entire room at once can be completely demotivating.  Thus, using that (somewhat tenuous) metaphor, try the following and with luck you'll start the process confident in the direction you've chosen...

Determine Your Overall Goal
Don't look at specific exercises (yet).  Before you even start, determine the primary thing you want to achieve.  Is it simply to live a healthier lifestyle?  To lose bodyfat?  To run a 10km race in a certain amount of time, or to finally complete a chin up?

Any and all of the above have merit - don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  But knowing where you're going is a key part of taking the first step.

Understand What Is Required to Reach Your Goal
This is an important part of getting in the right mindset.  For example - losing bodyfat will require an adjustment to your diet, and likely involve a conscious awareness of what you're eating.  Alternatively, running a faster 10km race will involve, not surprisingly - a lot or running.

Decide If Requirements of the Goal Align with What You're Willing to Do
Bottom line is you can't change lead to gold.  So if your goal doesn't match what you're willing (or able) to do, then you need to either adjust the goal, or change your mindset.  Choosing a destination when you're unwilling or incapable of doing the work to get there can only lead to disappointment and frustration.

Keep in mind, goals can change - the route is rarely, if ever, a linear path.  But there is a significant difference between adjusting to obstacles along the way and going down the entirely wrong path in the first place.

Next: Choosing the Right Coach