The No’s Have It

(Originally posted May, 2009)
Are you committed to achieving the goals of living a longer life, and to live with a better quality of life as your hair succumbs to frost? Is your desire to, not just want to keep up with your children, but to possess the energy, the speed, and the stamina to stay a step ahead of them? Do you wish to take a softer body and forge it into something hard, more faceted, and compelling? Or, do you simply wish to break a few hearts as you strut through your daily life at work, at school, or in your community?

Any one of these could pass for a noble fitness goal. However, if you are serious about success in this, you better stock up the word no – you’ll be needing a lot of them.   
Want to succeed?  Get yourself an armload of these...

Want to succeed? Get yourself an armload of these...

In fitness there exists an aura of negativity surrounding the word no. No is too often associated with being deprived of something wonderful such as edible treats like pie, candy or ice cream. Saying no can also leave one feeling void of a moment, or of feeling isolated from your proximate surroundings – like skipping a movie with friends, just to avoid the popcorn or Juju Bees. It’s as though with each no uttered on behalf of your fitness aspirations, lightning strikes, thunder claps, and the black crow of negativity flies swiftly in and out of the scene with your sense of enjoyment held firmly in it’s greedy talons.

What flies freely with your ambitions...

The concept of no is not equal to the concept of zero. We’re not Mayan mathematicians here, just a growing heard of dumb-happy fitness enthusiasts trying to feel and look better. So explore with me that the word no is a tangible and positive building block for your fitness success. No is a stone which can be can be assembled into the structure of personal success, reaching beyond the heights of a Mayan pyramid.

Don’t get me wrong, saying no isn’t always easy. Saying no isn’t automatic. Take the dessert menu for example. If desserts are the devil, and they are, the dessert menu is a bright neon sign which reads:

“Welcome to hell, it’s a really nice place here, you’ll have a lot of fun and nothing bad will happen while you’re visiting.”

Funny, we follow that sign again and again. Dessert menus are the wicked sum of aesthetic appeal, glorious options, and a subtle temptation that appears so harmless at a glance, but will pistol-whip you with reality — only after you realize what you just ate. Say no to desserts 90% of the time and you’ll be a head of the game.

Here’s some real math for you every night dessert people: If you eat dessert nightly, and the average dessert is (let’s suggest) about 400 calories, in a year’s time you could lose 41 pounds in exchange for 365 no’s. No sounds better already, doesn’t it?

In the yin and yang of it all, all nos offer up a yes...

In the yin and yang of it all, all no's offer up a yes...

Saying no can be productive in your workouts too – pain for example. That burning sensation often associated with strength training, yoga, Pilates, short term intense cardio, or even steady state cardio, might be holding you back from the full potential of your workouts. Just say no to the pain, and say no to stopping or backing off from your exercises just because it burns a bit, and you might be saying yes to success.

No works. When you have completed that which you set out to do, your no will have turned into a resounding yes to the achievement you have realized. You will walk taller for having pushed yourself with the help of a few no’s.

One no doesn’t always do it though, sorry to say. Sometimes a series of no’s is required. That’s when saying no can be it’s hardest, because multiple no’s usually mean there is a family member or a loved one at the receiving end of your no.


“No Honey, I would rather workout or go for a walk right now, than sit and watch Dancing With The Stars.”


“No Sweetie, I just finished my run. I would prefer not to follow it up with an ice cream cone.” These no’s are pretty hard, and can certainly be disruptive to a relationship.

No’s are not always appropriate in these instances. Sometimes a no disguised as a yes can be more suitable.

“Yes Mom, I’ll have a slice of your pecan pie, but just a sliver though – tryin’ to watch my weight.”

No feelings were hurt in this instance, and little harm was done to your form by ingesting a sliver, rather than your Mom’s typical three pound serving of pie. Sometimes, it’s just better to keep the peace with a no-light, disguised as a yes.

No’s are limitless, you may use them as much as you wish. You need not worry about running out of no’s, they grow within you like kudzu along the Alabama roadside. No’s are self replenishing. No’s will always be there for you to lean on when you are faced with hard choices. No’s are like poison arrows in the bottomless quiver of your discipline – available to be drawn and fired into the heart of temptation whenever he approaches you.

Be it temptation from within to not exercise, or temptation from the outside to eat the wrong foods, with each no uttered in the face of fitness virtue, the clouds part, giving way to beams of light which will illuminate the path to your fitness goals, whatever they might be. Be well. rc 

The Golden Rule; Fitness Prophets vs. Fitness Profits…

There And Then:

 Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

 That is the incarnation of the Golden Rule which I was raised with.  It hung on a wall, imposed over a Norman Rockwell painting, in a hallway of my childhood.  On this ideal, my Jewish father and Christian mother could agree.  This sentence would become the only religious scripture or creed which I have ever needed, or depended on.

No more words need be spoken, nor written...

 Lore has it that in the era when counting the years backwards merged into the counting-forward years, Rabbi Hillel was confronted by a student to recite the entire Hebrew Bible while standing on one leg.  The story goes that Rabbi Hillel took to one foot and spoke,

  “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary.  Now go you, and learn it.”  Rabbi Hillel

 And really, most religious scripture is just that; commentary on the theme of the Golden Rule.  A whole lot of words, poetry, and agenda, assembled, rewritten, manipulated, and utilized through the centuries, but none of it more important than what Hillel prescribed to his student while standing on one foot.

Hillel The Elder...

 Here And Now:

 A client lent me a book recently, written by the “official trainer” of Dr. Phil.  My most immediate thought was that this trainer must suck, because as far as I can see, Dr. Phil is still fat, and looks to be just a couple steps ahead of Oprah on the road to necessary gastric by-pass.

Dr. Phil is in... danger of having too many chins.

 However, the author’s credentials were in place, and at first glance it seemed like an easy read.  I dove into the book head first, always accepting that, as the “official trainer” to myself as well as some other folks, I am in an ongoing learning mode.  At first glance the book seemed to offer something new because its’ title and subject matter related to increasing one’s metabolism.  Notwithstanding, animals with a faster metabolism die sooner; humans be warned.

 Diving into the book head first I landed in the shallow end, where I hit my head on the concrete floor of yet another book of fitness commentary; from agenda, and for profit.  Straight ahead reading quickly merged into topic hunting, which evolved into bullet point reading, which ultimately turned to summarizing the book in less than 20 minutes.  This was easy because the book’s content was no different than any other diet or exercise book I have ever read.  Nothing new, just extended commentary on the golden rule of fitness; eat modestly, and move some.

 Though it’s been said before in many more words, by many fitness prophets who have gained much in fitness profits, please allow me to summarize, right here, most of what you need to know about fitness and weight-loss:

  •  Include challenging, yet achievable exercise in most of your days.
  • Eat reasonable portions of reasonable ingredients, at reasonable times, and don’t eat crap.

 That’s it, the Rabbi Hillel version of every fitness book ever written.  I even typed that passage while standing on one foot.

 In truth, there are good fitness and wellness related books out there, though none that I care to recommend. Some offer solid information about exercise and proper eating, and are presented in a layperson’s terms.  As common religious scripture can be used for the purpose of bettering one’s lifestyle, some of these fitness books can be of reasonable value in providing guidelines to use in changing one’s body.  It is the reader though, who must first accept the simple themes of just move, and eat properly.

 As a point of fact, we can all agree that our national lack of movement, and lack of right-eating are among our nation’s most daunting enemies. We can also agree that fighting fat and lethargy requires a war-like psychology. That said, if there is a fitness bible which expands upon the basic creed of eat right and move, it is The Art Of War, by Sun Tzu.

"Hey, you guys up for some plyo....?"

 Clearly written for the modern fitness enthusiast, The Art Of War is an easy read, and is based on your greatest asset – your own common sense. Simply substitute the term body-fat for the term enemy in each passage. You may also substitute the terms exercise and right-eating for the term battle. Chapters 6 and 9 are worth a second read.

 As you find yourself moving about in book stores or the supermarket checkout line, and you see all those for-profit books and magazines – those fitness bibles written by fitness prophets prescribing particular fitness regimens based on their own agendas, remember that they are all just commentaries on the only themes that matter; eat right, and move.  Be well.  rc

Downward And Upward…

I hear this assertion every so often,

  “Roy, you just don’t know what it’s like to be overweight or out of shape!”

 A decade ago when I decided to assign a name to my fitness endeavor, I had no choice but to place the word emerge within my trade name; Emerge Fitness. To my way of thinking, emerge, is the most important word in a fitness program, just ahead of relentless and commitment.

 Onward And Downward

 On Father’s Day of 1993, rather than spend the day being a father, I chose to spend it being a brother. It was also near the occasion of my 31st birthday. To serve as both gift and celebration for this birthday, my older brother gave me the gift of skydiving lessons and my first jump from an airplane.

 I was pretty excited about skydiving from the beginning. My instincts had told me that to place 3,000 feet between myself and the Earth’s surface was not consistent with common sense. But those were my marital instincts.  My inner hairy-man instincts had rationalized that as a former student pilot, there was no more danger involved in skydiving than there had ever been in floating a few thousand feet above the ground flying a Cessna.   A funny thing happened on the way to the Earth.

 Fortune was in a whimsical mood that day, and placed a small air bump on the trail between me and my first successful jump from an airplane. As I released myself from the wing strut of the aircraft, I flipped over backwards as my parachute deployed. During my flip, a portion of the rectangular airfoil became tangled in the nylon cords attaching it to my back.  My trip down, I then realized, was going to be quicker than expected. Spinning, and scarcely in control for 3200 feet, I hit the ground like a just clobbered Floyd Paterson, and rebounded with the approximate coherency of Floyd the barber.

 Damage was done.  I would spend the next year or so of my life in a back brace, and confined mostly to my house and to my bed. Though I was fit, and in excellent physical shape at the time of my accident, my injuries had disposed me that I was no longer able to engage in exercise of any kind. And then,

 …depression set in.

 I would not enter a gym again for nearly three years. Three years of eating out of boredom and eating out of depression, which ultimately lead to eating out of addiction.  Something I still battle each day of my life. Confined to a stagnant life in recovery, my daily lunch time scenario was like this:

 Each day around noon, during the transition from Jenny Jones to Judge Wapner, I would make the following call,

 “Hello, Dominos? It’s me, Roy.  I’ll have the usual, and ah, there’s an extra $5 in it for your driver if he stops to pick me up a pint of Haagen Dazs on his way!”  Click.

 And so it went for the next few years of my life. 

 I had been told by the specialist whose care I had been under that I was to never lift weights again, and that challenging exercise of any kind would be doubtful. With no exercising, there was no incentive for me to change the poor eating habits I had developed.

 Onward And Upward

 One day as I scurried about a shopping mall seeking a last minute fix to appease a Mother’s Day mess up, something in a store window caught my eye; a round man with a bloated face. He appeared as wide as he was tall. Within his swollen expression I could see the eyes of a fit man trapped inside and calling to get out. He was me.

 No bend in the glass; truly, I did not recognize who I was for just a moment. I looked at the man in the reflection with a prejudice I was no longer entitled to; that of a fit man. I had seen myself, really seen myself as fat for the first time. Three years in the making, my masterpiece was apparently complete; Roy “Lardass” Cohen had been unveiled to my own eyes. Never again, I thought to myself, NEVER AGAIN.

 It’s been said that it’s better to have never had money, than to have had money and lost it. I can’t say, I’ve only been on one side of that equation. Relating to health and fitness though, I concur. I drove home from the mall that day repeating “never again” to myself over and over.  And though I knew I could eventually get myself back into shape, looking so bloated I was too embarrassed to join a gym.   I would spend what savings I had, and build a crude, but comprehensive weight room in the basement of my home.

 For two years I spent many evenings in that weight room – many more not. For two years I hid behind baggy clothing. For two years I battled junk food as junk food battled back. For two years I experienced a series of failures in the weight room, ands failures in the kitchen – frustrations born that the change I sought would not come soon enough.  For two years there would be more failures than successes. Some fat was lost. Some fat was gained back again. Regular exercise took place, and took protracted layoffs due to frustration also took place. But then I would think and remember the man in the reflection; never again.

 After a couple of years of trying unsuccessfully, I strung together a series of three months when I did not miss a single workout – not one. During this period I did not skip a single healthy meal, or indulge in junk – not once.  Those would be the most important three months of my adult life. Those three months of eating healthy and not missing workouts offered but a few physical changes. However the feeling of accomplishment for not missing workouts and not eating junk was a feeling of elation magnified. So I lowered my shoulder into another three months and met elation again – exponentially. And so it went, and so it still goes.                                                                                     

It’s been years now since I worked myself back into shape despite the injuries from my skydiving accident. Each day I still think to eat all the things which once made me fat. I still think to skip workouts because there is something important to watch on television, though Judge Wapner and Jenny Jones are long gone.  I also still think of the fat man in the mirror and then I say to myself, “never again”.

 The ongoing sum of consistent chicken breasts, broccoli, strength training, and cardio may be not be so glamorous, but they have added up to never again.  I’ll take never again over Roy “Lardass” Cohen any day.

 The name Emerge Fitness was born of this story; that as I stepped from out of the blubbery shell which once held me hostage, and into a more reasonable form, I truly did emerge. In seeing that round face in the reflection, I also saw the eyes of the healthier man calling to me to throw him a line. Look carefully at your reflection today.  Your own eyes will tell you everything you need to know.   Be well.  rc

Learn And Burn… (Dances With Dogma)

I recently relocated my fitness training studio. I was lucky, I had help. Weight lifting stuff is really heavy. The move went well, and was completed ahead of schedule. I am blessed to have had such strong and diligent helpers – who also own trailers.

When all was set up on the other side – when the machines were put in place, the weights were stacked, and the cardio equipment was aligned, one of my helpers asked me if,

“during your alone time in you gym, do you ever crank up Metallica and really put your weightroom to use?”

A question which immediately evoked memories of my youth; the sounds of clanging weights intermingled with David Lee Roth screeching from deep within his tight pants, while my puffy-armed friends and I lifted weights much heavier than we had earned, in the dungeon gym of our youth. My surprising answer to that question made me smile a secret smile, as I smelled a hint of my maturity on my own breath.

Nope. No Metallica. No loud music. No disco. No metal.

“No music at all when I workout.” I explained.

Not even on heaviest squat day, during my hardest, most challenging cardio sessions, or on my longest runs do I listen to music anymore.

I gave up music and exercise a few years back when I realized I wanted to read more, but being self-employed, found that I could not allow myself time to read. The soundtrack of my workouts these days is the narrator.

I am a selfish man with a profoundly selfish agenda; improving me. In that sense, I am no different than many other gym rats who seek to improve themselves aesthetically by exercising for hours each week. But I am even more self-centered than that; I seek to improve myself on the inside too – I am also a book rat. Since exercise is what I teach, what little free time I have must be devoted to exercise and not to reading – that I might walk the walk.

Enter modernity and the i-Pod; books on i-Tunes, and Podcasts. I came to realize that my lack of reading time could once again be found if I were willing to accept it as listening time instead – hearing books while I exercise. Mind and body working together on different agendas simultaneously? An ambidextrous mission of the complete me.

I was apprehensive about this at first, that my workouts might suffer for a lack of rhythm in the air, and my efforts in the gym might yield fewer returns. I immediately learned that just the opposite occurs; meaningful occupation of my brain during the course of challenging exercise has increased my exercise intensity. As well, the exercise seems to increase my ability to discern and retain the information heard.

My Personal Soundtrack

I’m a Cohen, which means I create plenty of fiction in my head. The only books which captivate me these days are books of non-fiction. While working out I listen to books on history, philosophy, government, concepts, ideas, and I especially favor books on religion; that they may help me better understand and adapt in a rapidly changing world.

During the course of the last recent years workouts I have listened (often repeatedly) to the Tao Te Ching, the Confucian Analects, many excerpts of the Bible, the Qur’an, as well as other religious text from our human spiritual past. I have listened to many important books on the history of mankind as well, great empires, not-so-great empires, governments, movements, ideas, concepts, and critical thinkers from Epicurus to Tom Payne, and from every era of man.

I am grateful that I have spent these recent years learning as I have been moving – broadening my mind, as I broaden my shoulders. It is not just books which lead me through my workouts. There are Podcasts too, of radio programs such as, Speaking Of Faith, Fresh Air, and others which offer me information which I find beneficial in our evolving social structure. Listening to Lincoln’s speeches, the great sermons of Billy Graham, the imposition of Akhenaten, and even episodes of Car Talk, have helped ground me when I have most needed it.

There are those hardcore fitness enthusiasts who will read this and scoff, insisting that intense exercise must be done to loud, fast-paced music – that workout intensity and workout integrity will suffer without it. In my workouts, which can be pretty intense, that has not been the case. It has been a good fit for me to invest in the learning of ideas, faiths, and the rituals of others, as I observe the my own ritual; the ritual of movement – religiously.

If God, god, any deity, historic figure, idea, or concept is present in my workout, there’s no cheating a set of squats, no slacking off on the run, forgoing of a planned stretch or posture. These inspiring figures, places, and ideas are the best workout partners I have ever known, and have inspired me to push harder and smarter, both in and out of the gym, than ever before.

In the end, if Jesus, Muhammad, Diogenes, Darwin, Humanism, Hinduism, Charity, or any Dances With Dogma are involved in my workout, it is sure to be a great workout – inside and out. Be well. rc