A Failed Conversion…

I was approached by a man at a local coffee shop the other day. He and I had met briefly once fore. A conversation ensued between us. The man, knowing I am a fitness professional, asked if I was familiar with a nationally known multimedia fitness enterprise. The program in question is scientifically based and assures, if applied properly, an outcome of increased muscles mass and decreased body fat with just 15 minute workouts. The program calls for high intensity workouts, supported with a high fat, moderate protein and lower carbohydrate diet. I played dumb and told him I had never heard of it. I sensed immediately that I lost points in his mind for my ignorance.

As he explained the program to me, he suggested recruiting me and my facility as a resource where he could test and apply it. As we discussed this, it was clear that he had an intelligent grasp of the physiology and nutrition. I explained to him my own value-set when it comes to exercise, strength training in particular, and eating. I said nothing to debunk the science of the program he was advocating. I well understand the efficiency of high intensity training. I simply used more science, some logic and a smidge of experience to support my stance the high intensity training, despite the science behind it, might not be the best option for many most.

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Still, he kept suggesting that I look at the website, the book, and the science behind this enterprise. He felt it might change my values and subscribe me to something better than what I am already teaching. He felt this high intensity program might also open a new world for me, for my clients, and for my business, and he was willing to be my guinea pig.

In truth, I am familiar with the program he was discussing, and I believe the science behind it is solid. Variations of high intensity training have been applied to many fitness enterprises over the past 15 years or so. I have practiced variations of them and taught some as well. Despite this, I have never bought completely into exclusively high intensity programs.

I gently let him know that my own fitness ideals are sum of many years of training, studying and practicing my craft, and that I wasn’t going to let go of those values regardless of the science behind what he was suggesting. It was clear that he saw me as a narrow minded buffoon who probably just takes people’s money in exchange for letting them go through the motions as I stare at my cell phone all day long. We exchanged business cards with what I’ll suggest was a mutual assurance that they will never see the light of day again.

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I have been down this road with people many times. I am a very science minded person. When somebody approaches me about high intensity training I can tell at a glance whether they are sincere, if they understand how demanding that type of training can be, if they are capable of it, and if they truly understand the bleakness of the associated nutritional component. If they are, I absolutely know how to apply those principals for maximum results, and I have a track record of success stories which demonstrate my competence.

However, even proven science has to fit an individual’s body and lifestyle to be effective in the long-term – it has to work within the scope of a person’s life. I don’t care how sound the science is, many genres of high intensity training aren’t agreeable when superimposed over a less than fit body or a less than fit lifestyle. My firsthand experience has seen high intensity training push more people away from an exercise lifestyle than toward one. For many people, high intensity exercise isn’t fun, isn’t sustainable and won’t be the foundation of the lifestyle change they actually need.

I know there are exceptions to this; that’s where before and after pictures come from. However, for every before and after picture posted on a magazine or website, I’ll suggest there are tens of thousands of people who feel they gave money away in exchange for doubt, frustration, and perhaps even some humiliation – for buying into something they could not sustain or that never made sense to them to begin with.

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All of this I can let go of because I have faced it many times, so I wasn’t disappointed that the man I spoke with had no interest and was unwilling to learn more about my own more moderate approach to fitness. What will remain with me though, in the foreground of my conscience, is that the man who approached me is an evangelical minister. Essentially he wanted to hire me away from my own faith that I might subscribe to his. When it became clear that I was unwilling to make that leap, he spoke to me as though I were a lost soul. And so it goes… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens with I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from The London Souls. Enjoy!

The End Of A Meaningful Streak…

Field Marshall…

Thirteen years ago a tall man with a square jaw and well-groomed gray hair burst into the gym where I trained my clients. He threw his wallet and keys on the counter and loudly exclaimed,

“I want to hire the oldest male trainer you have, and with the broadest shoulders.”

Just by chance I happened to be the oldest male trainer in the facility, with the broadest shoulders, and also happened to be at standing there. A business relationship was born. He told me what he wanted from me as a trainer, and how soon he wanted it. His name was Marshall, a Fallbrook local who ran several international businesses. He explained he spent a great deal of time bouncing between Europe, Asia and South America and didn’t workout too often on the road. When he was home in Fallbrook, he continued, he wanted to workout every day.

In the beginning Marshall took more to me than me to him. I don’t do abrupt personalities well. Also, I wasn’t accustomed to being told what to do or how to do it by my clients. This was Marshall’s style though, and probably and what made him successful as a businessman.

Cardio Party…

Despite being 10 years my senior, Marshall was almost as fit as me from the start. He hired me, I would quickly learn, not for my knowledge, experience or advice, but for the appointment. Traveling 2-3 continents per month, and with many business related arms constantly reaching for him, he knew the only way he would make it to the gym regularly would be to pay a lot of money to someone to meet him there.

Marshall always showed up on time, allowed me to push, never complained, and we had similar values in life. I was helping raise a preadolescent girl at the time we met, and he had 2 who had just finished college. Over time, he became an excellent role model for me as both a father and as a businessman.

After several months of working with Marshall my schedule got increasingly busy. Since he and I were equally matched in our physicality I began to jump in with him during his workouts. This was convenient for me, and reassuring for him. From the start we were very competitive with one another.

Every Friday we would have challenge day. This was simply he and I picking 6 strength machines, 3 each, putting the pin at the bottom of the stack and seeing who could do the most reps with the entire stack. We were so evenly matched that if he won one week, I would usually win the next. Though Marshall was a good partner for strength workouts, he was an excellent partner for cardio. When he was in town, we would do daily lunch time cardio sessions together for the next 7 or 8 years.

On a challenge day with Marshall...

Warming up before a challenge day with Marshall…

The Pact…

Early on Marshall and I made a pact with our cardio workouts. We agreed that once we began a cardio session, we would not stop until it was completed — regardless of how hard we pushed. Come rain, shine, or torn meniscus in process, we fulfilled our commitment to each other for years – never stopping during a cardio session regardless of how badly one of us wanted to quit.

Marshall once fell of the StepMill with a hurt knee. Without missing a beat, he climbed back on and completed the 45 minute session – primarily on one leg. I gave him credit for not stopping since he kept one hand on the StepMill during the fall.

24 Hour Fitness Oceanside, CA. Where high intensity lunch meetings took place for years...

24 Hour Fitness Oceanside, CA. Where high intensity lunch meetings took place for years…

All Things Must Pass…

Marshall and I parted ways when I relocated my studio too far for us to be able to meet for lunch cardio. Sadly we lost touch shortly thereafter. The partnership might have dissolved, but the pact to never quit a cardio session regardless of how hard it might get, has lived on with me for years. In all this time, regardless of how hard I have pushed or how badly I have wanted to stop, I never quit a cardio session early or to even take a break.

Early this morning on my high-stepping elliptical machine I just wasn’t feelin’ it. Understand that my cardio is always hard. On a scale of 1-5, I always shoot for a 4, never settle for a 3, and often reach a 5. Most days my ending heartrate is 160 bpm or so.

Some days are better than others. Today was one of those others. Burning legs. Higher than average heartrate. An otherwise occupied mind, and on the heels of a poor night’s sleep, I  wanted to stop almost from the first stride. Twenty-five minutes into a 40 minute session I simply stepped off the machine. I’m still not sure why.

I walked to the window which looks out over Main Street and saw the sign for Pedro’s Tacos – a place where Marshall and I had eaten many post-workout carne asada burritos together. Seconds later I was back on the machine completing my 40 minute session. Even though I finished the session, for the first time in over a decade, I violated what I have long considered a sacred bond.

The one that got the better of me...

The one that got the better of me…

Best post-workout nutrition in Fallbrook...

Best post-workout nutrition in Fallbrook…

I really don’t know why I chose to step off the machine. Age…? Changing priorities…? The good sense to finally respect and listen to my body…? I don’t know. Tomorrow I will start another streak of uninterrupted cardio sessions, not knowing if it will last years, months or only weeks. I will assume though, that Marshall is out there somewhere, still fulfilling his part of a pact we made so many years ago. Be well… rc

Veteran trainer, Roy Cohen, is available for online consulting and workout planning.  Click here to learn more…

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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 The Exponents.  Enjoy!

The Exercise Graveyard – Graveyard…

Quit All Strength Movements – Before It’s Too Late!

I had a couple of back to back cancellations last week. Rather than clean the studio, get my own workout in, or do a little networking in town, I went to Google and YouTube to explore lists of the top exercises which experts suggest people should never do. I know these exist because my clients occasionally forward them to me. These are lists that have been published online by fitness trainers and those in the know who feel they should have the final say in your workout.

I learned quickly in my little study of a place I had scarcely heard of previously; the exercise graveyard. The exercise graveyard is the place where fitness trainers and experts cast off exercises which they find inefficient, useless, or are dangerous. Apparently the exercise graveyard is larger and more populated than I had previously known. So large in fact, that it’s apparently home to most known strength exercises.

After a couple hours of exploring lists of these inefficient, useless, and dangerous exercises, I came to realize that strength training, by the collective thinking of the trainers who have published these lists, is an unnecessary indulgence which offers little benefit and comes with abundant risk.

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Below is a cumulative list of some of the exercises which these trainers feel belong in the exercise graveyard:

  • Squats
  • Leg Extensions
  • Incline Bench Presses
  • Decline Bench Presses
  • Flat Bench Presses
  • Overhead Presses
  • Low-Back Extensions
  • Deadlifts
  • Stiff Legged Deadlifts
  • Leg Presses
  • Leg Curls
  • Upright Rows
  • Bent Over Rows
  • Barbell Curls
  • Bench Curls
  • Standing Calf Raises
  • Pull-Ups
  • Lat-Pulldowns
  • Anything done seated
  • Anything done behind the neck
  • All machines
  • All free weights
  • All isolation exercises
  • Jumping
  • All types of crunches

I found these and many others scattered between the various lists which I searched. And that’s where the idea of an exercise graveyard breaks down for me – completely.

I understand why those experts argue against doing any of these exercises. If I chose to, I could use science and logic to support arguments against any of these movements. I could also use science and logic to argue in favor of any of these exercises – and that’s kind of my point with this little rant.

While it is true that there are some exercises which carry more risk, some that are less efficient, and some that should be avoided relative to a person’s goals and abilities, which exercises a person includes in their strength training routine should be a lesser factor than how those exercises are applied and performed.

So as friends and family members forward you lists of exercises which belong in the exercise graveyard, please take them with a grain of salt. Invest your intelligence in how you approach and apply your strength exercises, not in which ones to avoid.

I’ll go on the record as stating I am in favor of any exercise done intelligently, in proper form, and within reasonable bounds. I’ll state just as clearly that I am against choosing exercises blindly, performing them haphazardly, and doing them too heavy, too often, not often enough, or just because someone else says you should.  It’s time to place the exercise graveyard in a grave of its own. Be well… rc

veteran trainer, roy cohen is available for online consulting and workout planning.  click here to learn more.

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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 Flemish entertaining legend, Bobbejaan Schoepen. Enjoy!