Unconventionally Fit…

The World Got Smaller…

Ewa and I first crossed paths in the early days of fitness blogging. Her blog was directed towards outdoor fitness; hiking, trail running, and the occasional piece dealing with breast cancer. At that time my blog was still geared toward indoor fitness; strength, cardio, and proper eating because I foolishly thought people gave a shit. Around the same time fitness blogging began to die, Facebook arrived. Ewa and I connected there, and continued to dialogue relating to a healthy lifestyle.

As the social media era evolved and brought the world closer together, I began getting requests from people in the fitness blogging community to offer my training services from a distance. Using Skype, Youtube videos, texting, and email as tools, I took on several distant clients as their fitness consultant. Ewa was among the first of these.

A 17 Inch Window To The World…

Despite that she had access to thousands of trainers in the immediate San Jose area, she felt that an established level of trust with me, would not have been immediate or even guaranteed had she picked a random trainer from one of the gyms in her local area.

Making use of the equipment she had at home; an adjustable bench, squat stands, barbells and dumbbells, I designed a series of workouts for her which she found to be useful for overall conditioning for trail hiking and running. Over the course of several months we would Skype weekly to discuss the quality of these workouts, the progress made, and adjust her workouts according to this dialogue.

Sleeps Less In Seattle…

Several months back Ewa relocated to the Seattle area. Around the same time, she made the decision that she would climb Mt. Rainier in June of 2015. With said climb in mind, and a level of trust already established she contacted me and asked if I would design a conditioning program to support her preparation. For me this was an opportunity to work more deeply into my craft, and I happily agreed.

Something a bit more than a day hike...

Something a bit more than a day hike…

Utilizing the tools that she inherited in her new location; a crude exercise bench, some rusty barbells, adjustable dumbbells, and something to step-up onto, I designed a series of 4 workouts to be done in rotating fashion with one or two days rest in-between.

Rust shmust.  It's all about gravity management...

Rust shmust. It’s all about gravity management…

Due to her being a limited sleeper, her workouts take place early in the morning, often before sunrise, in the dark and cold Seattle pre-dawn. Due to her limited living space, her strength equipment is located on a covered patio behind her house. Covered is good because it keeps out the rain. Time of day and season though, will have her working out in some pretty cold temperatures.

Four On The Floor…

The structure of the 4 workouts I designed for her are the sum of these intentions:

  • To help keep injury free during the climb
  • To maximize hip, leg, and low-back strength
  • The (help) promote an increased cardio capacity
  • To support the mechanics of repetitive motion
  • To provide increased balance
  • To provide increased flexibility

Each workout contains 6 exercises. Exercises are done in pairs (supersets), 3 sets of each before advancing to the next superset. All 4 workouts are designed to be completed in under 55 minutes.  The higher repetition lower body compound movements are incorporated to help improve conditioning; lung capacity, VO2 uptake, etc.  The upper body movements are the standard 10-12 repetitions, and beginning next week, we will alternate heavier upper body days, incorporating sets of 5, always with an emphasis on form.

(there is a link at the end if you wish to see videos of these exercises)

Workout #1 Strength & Conditioning

Superset #1

DB Incline Bench Press 3×10-12 reps

Walking Lunges 3×20 reps

Superset #2

1-Arm Dumbell Row 3×10-12 reps

Squats To Bench 3×20 Reps

Superset #3

Step, Curl & Press 3×20 reps

Stiff Legged Deadlift 3×10 reps

Workout #2 Strength & Conditioning

Superset #1

Standing Shoulder Press With Dumbbells 3×10-12 reps

Standard Deadlifts 3×20 reps

Superset #2

Crossover Crunches 3×20 reps

Lunges Of Choice 3×20 reps

Superset #3

1-Legged Heel Raise From A Step

Lateral Raise With Dumbbells 3×10-12 reps

Workout #3 Strength & Conditioning

Superset #1

Barbell Bench Press To Neck 3×10-12 reps

Standard Lunge 3×20 reps

Superset #2

Standard Deadlift 3×20 reps

Shoulder Press With Barbell  3×10-12 reps

Superset #3

Bent-over Barbell Row 3×10-12 reps

Overhead Squats 3×20 reps

Workout #4 Emphasis On Flexibility

Superset #1

Chest Fly With Dumbbells 3×10

Lunges With Torso Rotation 3×20

Superset #2

Ball Tucks With Pushup 3×10

Straight Legged Deadlifts With Feet Crossed Over

Superset #3

Cross Bench Pullover 3×10

Barbell Upright Rows With Barbell 3×10

Of note: Ewa’s trail, backpacking, running, and cycling workouts were administered by her. I only took ownership of her strength workouts.

If you wish to see video demonstrations of any of these exercises in action, please follow this link to my youtube channel, type in the exercise name, and have a look.

Variations Of Normal…

As her workouts unfolded during the first few weeks of this process Ewa took ownership and made a couple of suggestions which we incorporated into the workouts.

  • She began doing all forms of lunges (except those involving a torso rotation) with her backpack on rather than weights on her shoulders or in her hands. This, in order to replicate balance and core strength required for her climb.
  • To do the Step, Curl & Press with her climbing boots. To replicate the footing placement, and balance required during her climb.
These boots were made for... ...climbing!

These boots were made for…

On Success…

Of course it won’t be known until the climb in June how successful these workouts will have been in support of the climb. Through the videos and emails we have exchanged though, I am able to monitor her exercise form, suggest when it’s appropriate to increase weights, repetitions or incorporate more rest.

So far progress has been quite good. That, however, has less to do with workout design, and more to do with work ethic.

I look forward to writing this June about Ewa’s successful, injury-free climb. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from  R.X. Bertoldi.  Enjoy…

The Aztec Is The Snowman…

A Father Of Good Intentions…

I often tell people I’m a Colorado native. In truth, I moved here at the age of 6. I was born in Massachusetts. As a child, my father spent his summers in Gloucester, MA playing at Cressy’s beach, eating fried clams from roadside stands, and absorbing the persuasive scent that is the sum of wooden pier pilings, fish scales, salt water, and sea breezes. In the early part of my childhood, my father ensured I got to spend time in Gloucester savoring those same experiences. My father raised me with a reverence for the sea, and all things lobster.

The sea; it's a different kind of romance...

The sea; it’s a different kind of romance…

In 1968, partly due to business, and partly due to a desire for an expanded outdoor life, my father moved our family from the east coast, to Colorado. From an early age he had me involved in outdoor activities; camping, scouting, and skiing. In truth, I never liked Colorado – or appreciated it. I saw the snow, the cold, or anything which might threaten my core temperature as a foreboding aggressor. I was a beach boy at heart.

Salt Water Exposure…

My father ensured that we did spend time at the ocean. On trips to Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington, I was transformed when I experienced the sea. It was a trip to San Diego though, when I was 11 that would change how I would see my life – for the rest of my life. It was during that trip I felt what I can only describe as a sense belonging for the first time in my life.

This is the first time I identified the difference between being on nature, and being in nature. Yes, I could stand on a mountain and ski down it. I could pitch a tent on a hillside and witness a simple view. However, to be inside the ocean meant I wasn’t on it, I was a part of it, and that changed me.

Mission Bay as seen from the Bahia resort.  My favorite little San Diego hotel...

Mission Bay as seen from the Bahia resort. My favorite little San Diego hotel…

On our return from San Diego I had a hard time sleeping at night. Something so wonderful, that had become a part of me in a short time, had been taken away too soon. I had become resentful to live in landlocked Colorado; a resentment which would fester for another 12 years.

I have a clear memory of awakening in the middle of the night once in middle school, having dreamt a glorious dream about playing in the ocean and the comfort that brought me, only to realize it was just a dream. I cried myself back to sleep, and woke the next morning in a state of sadness that would linger for weeks.

I spent time in the school library looking at books with pictures of surfing, sailboats, and oceanscapes. These brought me moments of wonder. Television and movies that took place at the ocean always took president with me. I watched Flipper, Gilligan’s Island, and even McHale’s Navy relentlessly in reruns, all the while planning my escape.

No Mountain Magic…

As clearly as I remember that ocean dream, I remember my mountain realities.  My father, with the best of intentions, had me on skies at an early age. Though I never resisted it, I have no memory whatsoever of a pleasurable day in the wind and snow, though they did account for many of my weekends. And then there was Boy Scouts.

I am grateful for the survival skills I learned in Troop 5 – the only area scout troop that regularly camped in winter. That I had to learn how to make snow caves in 60 mph winds, and wash up in 30 degree river water did not scar me, though it did form the me that I would not become as an adult.

Snow caves; I know how to.  I hate to...

Snow caves; I know how to. I hate to…

Rescued By The Coast Guard…

With life as a gym instructor doing little to offer security in my early adult life, and life in Colorado doing even less to support my inner waterman, I would eventually sign a piece of paper that would change that. On surrendering my soul to the US Coast Guard, I knew one thing was certain; that I would see the ocean every day of my life.

From Cape May to Key West, and a few spots in-between, the Coast Guard provided me the opportunity to plant my toes in the sand, find my ocean solace, and gave $400 per month for the privilege. Though Coast Guard life wasn’t always easy, I was able to find peace daily by looking at or riding on the sea.

It was being at sea most of all which consumed me. I always felt humbled and appreciative of my life when there was no land to be seen. I once remarked to a shipmate several hundred miles into the Gulf of Mexico, as rough seas and waves crashed around us,

“These noises are ancient. Among the first sounds ever made on the cooling Earth, was the sound of waves crashing into other waves.”

Life on the Cutter Acushnet could be hard at times, but it came with a great view...

Life on the Cutter Acushnet could be hard at times, but it came with a great view…

During my time in the Coast Guard I would marry a girl from Colorado and we would return there when my enlistment ended. We often joked that I was an Aztec, and she a snowman. One longed to worship the sun and the water, the other the mountains and the seasons.

While married, we bounced around the country on frequent whims, catering to one another’s geographic mood swings. We would live in coastal Mississippi, Colorado, Arizona, and California.

Home Again Home Again…

For 15 years after my divorce, I lived in San Diego – the land of that childhood vacation that drew out my appreciation for waves, and initiated my resentment toward mountains and winter. For 15 years I enjoyed surfing, hiking, cycling, kayaking, picking my own oranges, and patio lunches – year round.

Every person has their favorite place.  Mine is Sunset Cliffs, San Diego.

Every person has their favorite place. Mine is Sunset Cliffs, San Diego.

When I made the decision last May to leave San Diego and return to Colorado to be closer to my family, it was heartfelt. Leaving behind relationships, some quite dear, was hard. Willfully leaving behind the ocean was a self-administered kick to the gut.

I will always remember turning my back on the ocean for the last time as a San Diego resident. There would be no holding back of tears. I wept, openly.  During my first few weeks back in Colorado, I awakened at night several times, in the same way I had as a child dreaming of the ocean, and cried myself back to sleep.

Walking The Walk…

I would eventually settle in the mountains near where I skied, camped, and hated all things cold as a child. Something unexpected happened though, on my arrival. The mountains began to move me and humble me, and in ways they never did as I grew up here.

Three times daily I take slow walks with my dog, looking down upon the community, the reservoir, and the snowcapped peaks adjacent to the town of Nederland, Colorado. During these walks time has slowed down for me. The chaos that circulates in my head, previously held in check by the sight of pelicans riding air currents produced by ocean waves, has been soothed by the greatness of these mountains I resented as a child. Three times daily I am compelled stare in wonder as terra merges with troposphere.

Double you owe double you spells... ...Wow!

Double you owe double you spells…

Lessons Yet To Be Learned…

Do I love the ocean any less for my new found appreciation for these mountains…? Certainly not. I am still sad at times when I crave to paddle out, sit on a board, and dangle my feet in the kelp as I wait for the next wave. I have simply expanded my value set. As just one of the billions of bit custodians of this Earth, I am learning to appreciate her more – regardless of where I stand. Let go the now. Touch the next. Be well… rc

All things must pass.  It was a great run SD.  Thank you...

All things must pass. It was a great run SD. Thank you…

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Comments are closed this week. 

Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Adam Cohen, son of Leonard and no relation to me. Enjoy…

Common Myths And Misconceptions In Strength Training….


Offered by trainer, Roy Cohen

Muscle Mass…

The largest misconceptions I address on a regular basis have to do with gaining muscle mass – or not. The example I most often use is that of a female bodybuilder I coached for a couple of years. She was not in the best of shape. A middle-aged mother of four, she had been roughly 40 pounds overweight, and a cookie addict. She was doing group fitness classes, losing weight, and making good progress. She and I met when she decided to add strength training into her workout regimen. She had a good work ethic in the gym, and an absolute commitment to changing her eating habits. Within a year, not only had she lost a great deal of weight, but she developed an admirable physique.

Why this should be of interest: When I first began working with her, she was weighed hydrostatically (underwater) to establish her body fat percentage. It was 26% at that time. Her lean body mass was 119 lbs. After two years of rigorous workouts, and with the physique of a competitive bodybuilder, she was weighed underwater again; 121.5 lbs. In two years’ time, after all that weight training, she had only gained 2.5 pounds of muscle.

From before to after: Only a 2 ½ pound gain of muscle

From before to after: Only a 2 ½ pound gain of muscle

LESSON: Strength training for women, even using the highest level of intensity, you won’t get big, bulky, or man-like. Strength training takes the muscle that you already have and helps you harden it, clarify it, enhance its shape, and get MUCH better at using it – outside of the gym where it matters most.


I often address the misconception that strength training causes people to lose their flexibility. This concern arises from one group more than any other; those who practice yoga. It’s simply untrue. Strength training done properly, has as much utility, and can enhance flexibility as much, if not more than most traditional yogas. Strength training is simply the act of stretching – with weights in your hands or at the ends of your legs. Using appropriate weights slowly, through a complete range of motion, will enhance your flexibility. Simultaneously, it can serve a person much better than yoga in slowing down the inevitable loss of bone density.

Range Of Motion In Strength Training = Flexibility

Strength Training is simply the act of stretching; with weights in your hands or at the ends of your legs…

The Knee/Toe Line…

There is a popular axiom in fitness; that if one were to draw an imaginary vertical line from the tip of one’s toe to the ceiling, that when one is doing squats or lunges their knees should not cross that imaginary line. Nope. Here’s why: This is relative thing. Everybody has different proportional length to their feet, tib/fibs, and femurs. For example, I have medium sized feet, short tib/fibs, and relatively log femurs. This means that my knees will cross the knee toe line every time – even when I am using my best, most upright squat or lunge form.

In my best, deepest squat, due to my physical structure, my knees will always cross the toe line. This does not mean it’s not safe...

In my best, deepest squat, due to my physical structure, my knees will always cross the toe line. This does not mean it’s not safe…

Conversely, a person with long feet and a shorter femur, might be squatting in horrible form, yet still never cross the knee/toe line. What matters most is that when one squats, lunges, or uses a leg press machine, they maintain a flat-footed posture, but bare weight and stress over the heels. By baring weight over heels, the stress is applied to the high profile muscles of the thighs, hips, and glutes, and not putting excessive stress on the knees.

Frequency & Recovery…

“I did weights yesterday, so I shouldn’t do them today – I need recovery time.” This is another one I hear too often. For people training with moderate weights, with moderate fitness goals, and with moderate intensity, they will be fully recovered biologically from their workout within about 6-8 hours.

The idea of necessary recovery day in-between strength training sessions has grown to a mythic size in fitness culture. Unless you are a bodybuilder and performing a high volume of work with heavy weights, 2-3 days recovery time after a workout is not needed. If you are a mom seeking to better manage your toddler, or a carpenter wanting to better manage the positioning of plywood on the job, strength training daily and even duplicating the same exercises in a 24 hour period won’t hold you back – it may actually help. This relates to another often frequently asked question; “how often should I be strength training…?” That is a relative question and can only be answered after answering these two questions:

  • What are your boundaries…? The would-be perimeters of work, family, job and community.
  • What are your goals…?

Only after those two questions have been answered, can one begin to assemble a plan of how much time per workout, how many days per week, and so-on. Once that is determined, then an exercise schedule which fits within one’s boundaries can be assembled.

Only after you can you sort these out, can you assemble an attainable fitness plan

Only after you can you sort these out, can you assemble an attainable fitness plan


The sexy term in fitness these days is core. When people speak of core it is most often in relation to sit-ups, crunches, and six-pack abs. Your actual physical core is not your abs. It’s the broad base of your low-back (including your spinal erectors) and extends down to your high gluteal area. This is your geographical center for strength.  More on that in the next works shop. The abdominal muscles (and tendons) exist, along with muscles of the low and middle back, to stabilize your torso when your body is under strain. That is, they are meant to flex much more often than they are meant to move.

The real core...

The real core…

As lists of the top 5 ab exercises get thrown around the internet, the gym, the office, and the TV set, the most relevant and functional of all abdominal exercises never seem to make those lists. If you’re a regular strength trainer, skier, runner, cyclist, or just an active person, you’re probably already offering your abdominals all the functional training they need. My two favorite examples of exercises which strengthen and condition the abs are deadlifts and squats. Without realizing it, flexing your abs and low-back during such exercises is what keeps you from scattering your vertebrae all over the floor.

My favorite ab exercise Deadlifts...

My favorite ab exercise Deadlifts…

Flexing your abdominal muscles is a natural involuntary response during most strenuous movement, including strength training, running, skiing, cycling, and even gardening or carrying laundry. In strength training for example, regardless of whether the exercises are performed on machines, with dumbbells, while seated or standing, your abdominal muscles continually flex while you are lifting, doing what they are supposed to do – stabilize your spine. Notwithstanding, kinetic abdominal exercises such as sit-ups, crunches, and leg raises do not determine or influence the shape of the abdominal muscle – AT ALL.

Genetic predisposition does that. The only tendons in your body that fuse muscle to muscle, and not muscle to bone, are the tendons of the abdominal group. Those tendons are what create those lines between the muscular sections of your would-be six-pack. Your mom and dad dealt you those tendons and their shape, and no exercise you choose will influence that genetic predisposition.

Yes, the abdominals do allow one to sit-up and to crunch, but movement is a secondary responsibility for the abs. Flexion for the sake of stability is their main mission. If you do any amount of regular lunging, deadlifting or squatting, then your abdominals are getting their share of functional work.