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!

Confessions Of A Cutter…

I confess, I have been in a cutting phase lately. By “cutting” I don’t mean sitting in a dark room with heavy mascara on my eyes, listening to Bauhaus, and hacking away at my wrists with the jagged edge of a broken Coke bottle. Cutting, in the fitness vernacular, is a reference to the cutting of body fat. I want to bring mine down a few percentage points, so I have changed up my eating a little bit.

Great music to cut by.  Even for cutting weight...

Great music to cut by. Even for cutting weight…

When I (and millions of others) have done this in the past it has been with a protocol of eating twigs, kale, small amounts of brown rice, egg whites, fish and very little else. Those of us who have cut on such diets always seem to spend a great deal of time preparing less than glamorous meals, that we might be living in a lesser state of enjoyment for their tasteless deprivation. I have been there many times.

This time out, as I have in the past, I am getting as much of my calories as I can from vegetables, fruits, and animal protein sources such as lean beef, chicken, and sea food. However, this time out I’m a little too busy and a little too idontgiveafuck to go about things the way I have in the past.

Fine.  Really.  Just cutting calories...

Fine. Really. Just cutting calories…

For example, one thing I have been doing through this cutting phase that is very different from my past protocol is that I eat on the run much more. Rather than spend the 30-45 minutes preparing and eating my usual breakfast of eggs and steamed vegetables each morning, I’m keeping it simple with an Egg McMuffin on the way in to work. Yes, an Egg McMuffin. Take note, most days I get the regular Egg McMufin too, not the Egg White Delight. On the days I’m fortunate enough to eat at home, I’m partial to the Jimmy Dean bagel/sausage sandwiches.

You may not agree with me on this one, but I'm right!

You may not agree with me on this one, but I’m right!

Lunch these days is even simpler – almost always a Greek chicken salad at one of the local diners, or a salad bowl from Chipotle. Good ingredients, served up quickly, and usually under $10. I have things to do. When I do prepare my lunch ahead of time and bring it with me, it’s usually just frozen vegetables – well seasoned and thrown into a plastic container with some cut up chicken or pork on top and that’s it.

Under $10 at the local diner.  Oh, and a cute girl brings it to me!

Under $10 at the local diner. Oh, and a cute girl brings it to me!

And when I'm in a real hurry...

And when I’m in a real hurry…

My daytime snacks are taken mid-morning and mid-afternoon and usually include a cut up apple or grapefruit, accompanied by a cheese stick and a few Triscuit wafers.

Dinner for me is just as simple; usually a small grilled steak or piece of chicken with asparagus or broccoli, and a small salad. Or maybe just some quick-stirred ground beef tossed into a romaine leaf – always followed by a single spoonful of ice-cream.

Ten minutes - start to finish...

Ten minutes – start to finish…

Dessert -- one spoonful at a time...

Dessert — one spoonful at a time…

My last meal of the day is roughly 4 tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt stirred up with a scoop of protein powder. I have this right before I go to sleep.

I have made the argument for a long time that our nation would be a MUCH healthier place as a collective if everyone who lives in a state of obesity simply ate an Egg McMuffin for breakfast, had a Smart Ones and a piece of fruit for lunch, and a reasonable dinner. I can make the argument just as easily and just as strong that those who wish to cut the vanity 5 or 10 pounds could eat the same way with great results. This is simply about portion control, ease of transaction, and commitment.

Whatever your feelings are about corporations, monoculture foods, and GMOs, please save them for another argument – that’s not my point. The point is that I have been successfully cutting body fat eating this way, and I haven’t had to think twice about it. Keep in mind I’m about 8 weeks in to this cutting phase and down about 10 pounds. Though I recommend losing no more than ½ pound per week for most people, my decline is more rapid due to my bicycle commute to work each day.

This eating protocol isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t have a fancy name. It’s not trendy. It’s not endorsed by Reebok, CrossFit, or Dr. Oz. It is though, simple, inexpensive, tasty (a relative term, I know), sustainable, affordable – and it will work for anyone willing to commit to it. For me this about going from 180 lbs. to 165 lbs. There are millions of people though, who might benefit from such a simplistic because their lives depend on it.

Lastly, every couple of weeks I put it aside for a day.  Pizza, fish & chips, orange chicken from Panda Express — whatever.  I choose my battles always remembering that if I win 2 days out of 3, I’m ahead of the game.  If I win 3 days out of 4, that much more.  And even if I win 1 and lose one, it’s still a break even proposition.   Just some food for thought – so to say Be well… rc

A meal like this every couple of weeks does a soul -- and a body good...

A meal like this every couple of weeks does a soul — and a body good…

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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 Perry and the Travelers. Enjoy!

A Fair Comparison…

I’m about to compare people’s desire to spot-reduce body fat to their need for religious salvation. To amuse you even further, I will also compare myself to Confucius.

A Day At The Beach…

About 10 years ago I took a day off to enjoy the beach with a few friends. At the time I was in my mid-40s, pretty lean, and definitely in good aesthetic and functional shape. I kind of like being at the beach – it’s a nice reward for the efforts I put into my exercise and eating regimen. It was just a casual surf day, a little chicken on the fire, some cold beer, and some sun on our backs… and hips… and bellies.

The gentlemen I was with though – my social contemporaries, had a little less back, and a little more belly and hip. As the afternoon unfolded we lay in the sun, chatted, and eventually questions began to come my way about what exercises can be used to lose body fat; hips, bellies, etc.

The Lost Diet-tribe…

I went into my normal diatribe about how fat loss is almost exclusively related to dietary concerns, and that there are no exercises – NONE which can foster or expedite fat loss in a particular region of the body. My response was based on two factors; empirical science, and my time in position working with others. Or as I like to call them, knowledge and wisdom. Confucian-like wisdom.

High on the mountain top...

High on the mountain top…

My friends appreciated my explanation, but as is always the case, they were not pleased my answers. The very idea that one has to eat less and be patient in order to lose body fat is far too similar to the story of eternal salvation; live a long time, be patient, do all the right things, and heaven awaits – but not until then!

Savior Questions For The Beach…

Later that afternoon we played some pickup football in the sand with some younger guys, two of whom happen to be defensive backs for a local junior college. One of the guys was extremely lean – shredded, and was impressive to look at. He and I began talking about the weight room when my friends joined in, asking him what he did to get his abs so developed.

First point of clarification: This was a 19 year old man who was genetically gifted, both athletically and aesthetically – that’s what skill position players in college football are.

Second Point: His only job was to spend his mornings and afternoons running sprint intervals at top seed on the practice field, tear up the weight room, and to sleep through classes and meetings. This is what college football players do – even more so at the JC level. Guys like this can and often do eat whatever they want. And by JC, I mean junior college – for now.

Now if that contradicts what I said earlier about spot-reduction, understand there is a big difference between doing a few sit-ups to lose inches, and spending a majority of one’s day running sprints and lifting weights.

No, Spot. No!

As my friends watched and listened, the JC player began to describe what he did to get his abs. I could feel the knowledge and wisdom I had shared with them earlier disappear as they created more room in their heads for something which better suited their high expectations – JC wisdom. The fact that my friends could see this man’s abs in action was all they needed in order to have false hope. And a savior was born – if not anointed.

JC, but not JC...

JC, but not JC…

Notwithstanding, the ab exercises this guy described were not only unnecessary to condition the abs, they were unsafe for anyone not already in excellent physical condition. They were abdominal exercises which offered more risk than benefit – but that’s another story.

Looks perfectly safe -- and smart...

Looks perfectly safe — and smart…

The Lightbulb…

And that’s when the light went off for me, what does it say about the human condition that when we want something so badly we often pin our hopes on things which not only seem too good to be true, but can steer us away from sound wisdom, common sense, and even science…?

We see this in all areas of life, from Keith Urban’s instant guitar success course, to investment advisers who too often throw darts on our behalf when we aren’t looking, to houses of worship claiming they alone possess the exclusive path to salvation.

There seems to be an innate desire in all of us to abandon wisdom, experience, hard work, and patience, in order that we get more of anything and get it sooner. Sadly, this includes deliverance from evil, or from adipose.

111addy

Those same friends did not benefit from the exercises they learned from the young football player that day at the beach. They probably never attempted them. More to the point, my friends did not accept or benefit from the sound wisdom and experience I offered them, and they could have – if only they hadn’t been looking for sooner, easier, and miraculous. 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 John J. Presley. Enjoy!

Function Follows Form…

From Strength Comes Wellness…

I have dedicated much of my adult life to championing the utility of strength training. Not just as a means of making muscles bigger and prettier, but because I understand the values of wellness associated with it. Strength training provides benefits that few people recognize, though most everyone would appreciate them. In no particular order, these are among the leading values of strength training:

  • Increased flexibility
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Improved balance
  • Enables better fat loss than cardio (please repeat that one over and over again)
  • Personal confidence
  • Enhanced strength outside of the gym
  • Slows down the inevitable loss of bone density

They key to maximizing these dividends is in being deliberate in one’s actions once inside the gym, and not just going through the motions.

111benefits

But Few People Care To Know…

A lack of optimal execution in strength training is the largest reason why people don’t obtain the benefits that come with lifting weights. Attention to proper strength training form can not only accelerate benefits, it can guarantee them. A lack of results and the related dings, pings, and injuries which can be associated with strength training done incorrectly, often lead to a state of disdain for the gym, yet people often continue to go anyway as something they feel they should be doing – because so many others are doing it.

Poor strength training form is so widespread that I often believe it will never be overcome as a cultural phenomenon. I will suggest that more than 90% of a gym population at any one time is working less than optimally toward their goals and related benefits, and in many instances they are working far below a fruitful outcome.

A generations deep copycat gym culture has assured that proper strength training form is scarcely utilized by the masses, leaving strength training’s greatest potential; to be a viable form of wellness as well as disease & injury prevention, largely unfulfilled.

A recipe for success, yes...?

A recipe for success, yes…?

What is most striking about the lack of attention people give to proper form with the weights is that it is almost exclusive to strength training as a form of exercise. In yoga and Pilates, for example, the underlying focus of any practitioner, be it in a class or done solitarily, is to master the form – regardless of how much time is involved in doing so.

Martial arts works much the same way. A good sensei will only advance a student who demonstrates exceptional form in a kata. If that form is not met, the student must return to practice and test again later.

In strength training though, the next step to advancement is usually nothing more than the ego based decisions  to add weight or increase repetitions regardless of form, because it is assumed that in strength training progress comes exclusively from more, not from improved.

A recipe for success, yes!

A recipe for success, yes!

There’s More Than One Way To Be Poor…

I see examples of poor strength training form daily, often to the point where I feel the blended emotions of sympathy, disgust, and frustration – simultaneously as I walk about my local gym. By far, the two most common violations I see are fast repetitions, and partial repetitions.

Fast repetitions: There is a widespread misconception that speed in strength training translates to explosiveness. On one level this is true, notwithstanding that of the many values of strength training, explosiveness should not be high on the list for the middle aged businessman or the new mother wishing to lose her baby weight.

When athletes train for explosiveness, momentum is an underlying element to their training. As momentum and force increase, the opportunity to become injured increases proportionately. Most athletic injuries are caused by forces upon musculoskeletal structures that exceed the structure’s tensile limits.  This means injury is caused by excessive force or excessive motion. What could be more excessive than repping out in the loose form that most people use when lifting weights…?

Partial repetitions: Though less dangerous than fast repetitions, partial repetitions offer little benefit with regard to strength and functionality. An unrecognized value in strength training is tendon strength. Tendons are where muscles taper, increase in density, and fuse muscle to bone. Having strong tendons offers joints better support. For balance, day-to-day agility, and functionality, having strong tendons is as important as having strong muscles.

Tendon strength can best be increased in the gym when exercises are taken through a complete range of motion. Partial repetitions keep load on the muscle bellies with minimum engagement of the tendons. However, when muscular extensions (negative reps) are complete, it is the tendon that bears much of the load prior to a subsequent contraction. These full extensions help strengthen tendons, offering joints more support outside of the gym.

Function Follows Form…

Despite the popular engineering edict to the contrary, in strength training function follows form. That is, the better form a group of muscles exhibits during strength training, the better they are likely to perform outside the gym where they are needed most. Ask me what I do for a living and my answer is simple; I teach proper form in strength training. Anything beyond that is secondary. A few basic concepts worth noting:

  • Range of motion = flexibility.
  • Eliminate momentum in a strength movement = reduce the chance of injury.
  • Concentrate on the primary muscles involved with a lift = create a greater awareness (intimacy) with one’s muscular skeleton.
  • Improve control of a weight in motion = improve the body’s command of itself.

Still, it’s simply enough for most to walk into a gym, do some pushing, some pulling, perhaps some bending and squatting, and do so in a haphazard fashion with the exclusive goal being to increase capacity or quantity.  To me this is similar to sitting down to a pricey meal and eating it quickly while washing down every bite with a swallow of a soft drink. What’s the point…?

Which makes more sense, this…?

Or this…?

To this day, before I add weight to any movement or attempt more repetitions, I always ask myself, “Could I have done that last set any better…?” Only if the answer is no will I attempt to increase my load or capacity.

The execution of proper form, in my opinion, should be the highest priority in determining improvement with strength training.

With Benefits Comes Enjoyment…

I hear regularly from people that they strength train because they feel they should or because their doctor suggested it, often followed by, “but I don’t really enjoy it”. If you fall into that category, please consider this: I take pride in teaching people to actually connect with strength training – often to a point where it becomes transformative and meditative – a necessary part of their weekly routine.

The perfect repetition, and all the benefits that go with it is anyone’s for the taking. It’s not always easy. Moving weights properly can burn at times, and there can be mild discomfort in the moment. I will suggest though, that on completion of a set – of a workout in this fashion, there can be an exhilaration and sense of cleansing that is just as powerful as yoga, Pilates, or going to church.

The singular repetition of a strength exercise executed in proper form, through a complete range of motion, and dialed into with absolute concentration, is as cleansing to me as a breath of fresh air. For that one moment, I am alone in a perfect state that transcends time. I am not even aware that there is a world beyond my repetition, let alone beyond my workout. That I get to repeat this state over again daily, weekly, and yearly, and to know that it comes with the benefits of improved wellness, is among the greatest gifts I have known as a physical person. 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 the genius of Corey McAbee. Enjoy!

 

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…
…climbing!

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 Trouble With Expectations…

I sometimes think the psychology of body image is beyond human comprehension; at the academic level, the personal level, and all places in-between.  I truly believe that.  At the very least, understanding what is required to effect change of the human is beyond human acceptance in most cases.

I had an incident last night with a woman who wanted me to tell her what she wanted to hear – not what was real. This is something I have faced many times through the years, and despite my knowledge and experience, I most often come out the loser in the debate.

A woman, a professional educator by trade, asked me some fitness related questions. She is in her early 60s. Like many, she has concerns about body fat, muscle tone, and overall body image. Of course, abs, and thighs were chief among her concerns.

As is often the case, I explained that 80% of the changes she was looking for relate to dietary changes, and not exercise. I explained that, though exercise can influence the shape, density, and strength of the muscles, the loss of body fat is primarily dietary.

She explained that she was a “healthy” eater.

When I asked what she ate for breakfast, she explained that she rarely did. As I began to explore her eating in greater detail, it became clear that she’s an average eater, and certainly not eating in a way that is consistent with reducing body fat.

As the conversation continued, she became agitated that I was not providing what she wanted to hear. As I explained the reasons why should would not see change eating within her current scheme, she exclaimed that it was her body and she knew it better than me.

And that’s where the disconnect usually begins; at the moment when a person wants me to tell them that they can keep eating the way they have been, mix in a few target exercises, and see noticeable changes within a few weeks. This is the impossible dream sold by the billion dollar fitness industry.

The more I explained that effecting change in the human body requires much more than a few special exercises, and mixing in a superfood or two, the more then conversation deteriorated to a point of finality – the agreement to disagree.

As a point of clarification, I classify the woman in question as both slim, and healthy. For being 60 she’s ahead of the game. So not only is the issue of body image at work here, so too are convoluted social expectations; the idea that we should look like something other than who we are at a given time in our life.

Double starfish face...

Double starfish face…

My teaching focus these days is primarily geared toward strength training for utility, and as a form of wellness, though I’m all for helping people who want to look better because I possess that skill set as well. Confidence, like exercise, is a life skill. I will remain forever starfish-faced though, when confronted by people insisting I tell them what they wish to hear. 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 The Buffalo Killers.  Enjoy!

Vacation Bits…

Fun Shows…

A new friend made a comment to me this morning – one that has been resonating for a few hours. She said I look like I’m having a lot of fun being back in Colorado. Why yes, yes I am having fun. I have always tried though, to have fun wherever I live or wherever I have found myself. I won’t say having fun is among my highest priorities, it’s not. A weekly dose of fun though, can serve to keep life’s many orbiting social cancers at bay.

For many years one of my core tenets has been that I build a little bit of vacation into every week. This hasn’t always been easy, but when I have tried it’s always been within reach. Vacation bits don’t need to last long to be transformative. They only need to be appreciated to provide some healing returns.

The Mars Corporation sells us Milky Way bits; for those times when we want to appreciate just a taste – when an entire Milky Way is too much. I like to nibble on vacation bits – to appreciate just a taste in an otherwise busy week. Let’s admit it, like a full size Milky Way, an entire vacation can be just too much.

Vacation Bits.  Now available in minis...

Vacation Bits. Now available in minis…

In Or Out…

Being active, and in good physical condition better enables vacation bits. Participating in any outdoor activity is always like bit of vacation to me; hiking, kayaking, cycling, and even slow leisurely walks with my dog. These are things I do regularly. Just walking through the woods though, with my camera and my dog touches me far more deeply than boarding a jet, taking a cab to a hotel, checking in, going to sleep on a strange bed, only to wake up the next day so I can take walk through some different woods with a camera and no dog.

Just a few minutes into the woods and I'm a different person...

Just a few minutes into the woods and I’m a different person…

Being physical is not a requirement for taking a vacation bit. Just being outside and staring at some part of nature for a few moments can often be enough. To simply observe something natural, with no agenda but to appreciate its magnitude has very often helped me better understand my lack of. Even those who live in urban areas often have magnificent parks as vacation bit outlets. If we have a tree to appreciate, a hill, or even a garden, then we have access to a part of nature which is bigger than us.

At a suburban park near Denver.  Nature is anywhere we find it...

At a suburban park near Denver. Nature is anywhere we find it…

Sometimes a vacation bit will simply involve me turning off all my electronics for a few hours, and clean something in the house. The sound of nothing at all in the background, as I experience the tactile therapy of folding laundry, scrubbing a toilet, or organizing a closet is often a welcome break from the constant static I hear in my mind as those around me attempt to change my channel.

Sipping a coffee or a beer, and looking out a window at home sooths me a bit more than paying $200 per night to do the exact same thing on over a distant landscape in a place I don’t call home.

The Patio Law…

Within these bits though, there is one vacation bit in particular which frames my mood better than any other, and this is one I do regularly; dining outside. I actually feel there should be a law – that if a person has the opportunity to dine outside, be it at home or in a restaurant, and chooses not to, mandatory jail time!

A typical Sunday lunch in San Diego...

A typical Sunday lunch in San Diego…

I dined outside today for what may have been the last time for the next 6 or 7 months. That will take some getting used to. For nearly 15 years in San Diego I have taken lunch on my home or a restaurant patio year round, and did so almost daily. That experience has done as much to sooth my day as exercise or writing. Winter will be here soon. I suppose my replacement bit for my patio lunch will be lunch by the wood stove, watching snow fall. Indeed, just taking time to enjoy a meal is vacationesque.

See you in May.  'Sniff...

See you in May. ‘Sniff…

It’s The Moments Which Matter…

If you think about, it’s not the vacation from start to finish which transforms or recharges us. Travel can be rough; time zone changes, snippy sky waitresses, and strange accommodations can kill a vacation mood. Also the stress of prepping work ahead of time so we can get away, and the constant dreading of the catchup work when we return can spoil a good time. And then there’s the spending of all that money. I have rarely enjoyed the vacations I have taken as complete bodies of peace.

Ok. some vacations are worth the stress and money.  Mykonos, 2012...

Ok. some vacations are worth the stress and money. Mykonos, 2012…

Though I have traveled a good deal, seen some amazing people, places, and things, what has most defined my vacations through the years has not been their entirety or magnitude. It has been those few brief moments – those little bits of enjoying the calm between the vacation storms which have transformed me most. Those moments are within reach for all of us – weekly. We can only experience them though, if we remember to build them into our lives and if we take time to appreciate them when they happen. 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 in place of music this week, please take 2 minutes to enjoy the most formative television scene I have ever watched; the wisdom of Ted Baxter. Enjoy!

The Elemental Peddler…

Little Fear Of Challenge…

I have put my body at risk many times in my life, and in many ways. Varying forms of exercise, recreation, an inherent requirement for physical for fulfillment, and outright curiosity have been the force behind most of these actions.

I have self-administered multiple tests to the physical me, to better understand the conscious me.  Running long distances, lifting heavy things, jumping from great heights are among the many challenges I have completed in order to test my resolve with physicality.

I’m about to take on a new test of the physical me.  One that will test my fortitude in a way it has not previously been challenged, and will be the hardest experiment I have taken on yet. It won’t be resolved in an hour, a day or even a week. It will be ongoing. Though it seems daunting to me right now, when I look back at our pioneer ancestors, or see how people live in other parts of the world today, what I am about to take on is really quite little.

From Four To Two…

In 2008 I gave up driving in favor of a bike. Giving consideration to my circumstances, and the life I wanted to live, I saw little need for a car. I gave my Jeep to a girl who had just gotten her driver’s license. Later that week I went to WalMart and bought a Schwinn beach cruiser as a replacement for the Jeep.

Great for short distances...

Great for short distances…

My commute to and from work at that time was roughly 2 miles. Only a few hills were involved, I was in excellent physical condition, and I lived in the San Diego area. Not only was this not a sacrifice, it made sense. My commute took all of 12 minutes each way. I rode daily past orange trees, bougainvillea hedges, and was in shirt sleeves and shorts most of the time. This was not a hardship, it was a joy.

Within a few months though, my living situation changed. My commute to and from my studio became further and much hillier. The beach cruiser was no longer a useful substitute for my Jeep. I bought a commuter road bike for the 7 mile journey each way. My commute then took 35 minutes or so each way, six days per week. There was no longer a need for structured cardio.

Better for longer commutes...

Better for longer commutes…

The exertion of this my commute was so significant, that for the next several years I would wake up in the middle of the night, cook half a box of angel hair, cover it with butter, suck it down as though I hadn’t eaten in weeks, and go right back to sleep. Through it all, my body weight stayed a constant 172.

This longer commute wasn’t a joy, but it was still no burden. Six days per week, through wind, rain, and tonsillitis – I enjoyed the challenge.

Home Again Home Again Jiggity, Uhm….

In May of this year I made the decision to move back to Colorado – where I had grown up and lived much of my adult life. I wanted to be closer to my family. Of the many little decisions that were made within that bigger decision, was my choice to remain a bicycle commuter. Though Nederland, Colorado and Fallbrook, California have many things in common, a mutual climate is not one of them.

Nederland is similar to Fallbrook in that they are both small, rural towns with expanded outlying areas, and can be a pedestrian friendly. Fallbrook could get cold in winter, often dropping below freezing. Traveling on bike, often before sunrise, at speeds up to 35 mph, it could be uncomfortable, if not bone chilling.

Nederland gets cold too. Ass beating cold. And windy. On a windy day, people here often park their cars facing into the wind, so the more flimsy side windows don’t get blown out by flying rocks.  I once called my brother in Nederland, to wish him a happy New Year.  When I asked him what he has doing for New Year’s Eve, he explained that he was nailing blankets over the windows in his home to keep out the sub-zero chill.

My bicycle commute to from home to work is only 1.6 miles here, mostly downhill. It takes less than 5 minutes and it’s a hoot.   My commute home is mostly uphill. It involves nearly 1,000 feet of climbing and takes about 22 minutes. It sucks. My sustained heart-rate approaches 180 bpm toward the end. And this is still summer. I expect with temperatures in the single digits, and winds that often reach 50-60 mph, this commute will be hateful in winter.

My forever bike...

My forever bike…

Of course there will be days when peddling at all will be prohibitive. Gravity, snow and ice will be no match for 2 wheels. On those days, I will walk. Still, I am committed. My goal is to get through this, my first winter in 15 years, without owning a car. Beyond that I won’t say. If I am successful, then I can see no reason why I can’t do it again next year. If I am not successful, I will be honest about it, and you’ll be sure to read about it here. Stay tuned, and please be well. rc.

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I hit the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Sol Cat.     Enjoy!

Hear Here: A Tale Of Jaw Cardio

Work-out Kryptonite…

For the better part of 20 years I have been able to work-out alone in my basement gyms, garage gym, or in the fitness studios I have owned. Occasionally I have had partners, but for the most part it has been me. Alone. Solo. Smile.

One of the better garages  have had...

Royland, 2003:  One of the better garages have had…

Through the years I have been able to avoid intermingling with lunks throwing weights, unnecessarily grunting, and messing up the place with traces of blood after prying their acne covered simian roid-backs off of the bench press.

I have also been able to avoid clueless cardio bunnies dressed like porn stars, with their ponytails fishing lures swinging back and forth as they stare aimlessly at CNN in front of them, all the while not really knowing where Libya is – and such.

"Like, I know how to make toast..." "Shut up!  I know how to make toast too...!"

Girl on right:  “Like, I know how to make toast…”
Girl on left:  “Shut up! I know how to make toast too…!”

And best of all, I have not had to navigate through the sea of old men in striped warmup suits taking up space as they read the Sunday Times in-between sets of the only exercise they know, triceps pushdown, as they loudly exchange ideas amongst and between them about how to save the world.

Yup, for 20 years I trained in my underwear if I wanted to, listened to audio books, lectures on physics or religion, and only occasionally loud music. My best training partner was the clock on the wall, there was no monthly auto-draft, and the gym was always open – to me.

I have though, maintained memberships pubic gyms – just in case. I have used them sparingly, only on those days when I needed to get out of my own studio for reasons of sanity, or to join my friend Marshal for our lunch time pre-burrito StepMill sessions.

When have ventured into public gyms, I have always aimed my head at the ground, kept earbuds plugged in, and I made eye contact with nobody. All of this to avoid the one person I knew could ruin my work-out, and subsequently my day; Jaw Cardio Guy. You know, that one guy who could carry on a 20 minute conversation about nothing, all by himself, and still hold me captive, all the while keeping me away from my precious deadlifts. I hate that guy.

A face I hope to never see again; Jaw Cardio Guy...

A face I hope to never see again; Jaw Cardio Guy…

On those occasions when Jaw Cardio Guy would be so insistent that we speak, that he could break me from my trance and get me to take out my earbuds just to appease him I would, in very clear terms, make him aware that my time is precious, my work-out is necessary, and his conversation was kryptonite. I’m just not nice in those scenarios.

He-man Of The People…

I’m now working out in a public gym regularly for the first time since 1995. This gym is also where I have the proprietary interest for my fitness training business. Since each person working out there is a potential student, being a dick is not an option. Each conversation I have may augment my livelihood. Notwithstanding, this is my community now and being philanthropic with my time and my expertise is the right way to be.

Still, there remains my desire to be deep in focus, lost in my meat during my sets since strength training is the methadone of my existence. Despite this, if I am going to be the man in this town, I must be a man of the people and find middle ground.

For about a month now I have been assimilating myself into the local gym. I have already met some nice people and a few of them have become students. I have also been dragged into conversations that two years ago I would want or have no part of. Now I see these conversations as human, and am learning how to appreciate them and engage in them without losing the rhythm of my work-out.

This I Have Already Learned…

To let go a bar after a completed set and take a few minutes to answer a gentleman’s question about which exercises might help offset his sciatica, is not the end of the world. He will probably never be a student, but I enjoy watching him fulfill my suggestions, and can see that it’s already helping him.

Telling someone, “no, I’m not using that bench – go ahead” while I’m mid-set of a fairly heavy squat did not cause me to drop the bar, stop the set, cause my legs to shrink, or cause me to get fat. It simply caused me to smile and take an extra breath.

Where I once wouldn't be caught dead talking in the gym, I'm now likely to be found dead-talking...

Where I once wouldn’t be caught dead talking in the gym, I’m now likely to be found dead-talking…

If a political discussion comes my way while I’m doing dumbbell flies it won’t deter from completing my set, any more than it will persuade me to change my world view mid-rep, though it might help me better read the pulse of my community. I will eternally though, label an asshole an asshole if he or she uses the term, “nigger president” as happened so frequently in my last community.

Mostly, I have learned that talking, being friendly – being outright social in the gym can be a very human experience, enrich my day, and will not cause me to lose my gains. Along with work, human relationships are what we are here for. How blessed am I that I get to combine both on a daily basis… 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 Reunion.  Forty years later I still nailed it word for word.  Enjoy…

Lead us not…

Who’s Your Cheerleader…

The standard of what we call fitness has become skewed and distorted. Priorities are misguided, leadership lacks, and followers are not blind so much as they are just subject to a necessary yet almost random faith in an increasingly complex subculture which, in my opinion, is headed in the wrong direction and does not need to be so complex.

I don’t recall where I was or what I was doing when the screaming trainers of reality TV, CrossFit, and Navy Seals became the leading spokespeople for the fitness industry. Respectfully, I get that reality fitness shows may inspire people, CrossFit looks cool, and Navy Seals are good at killing bad guys in difficult situations.

a1sealaa

None of these though, and I mean this emphatically, are helping people who are truly in need of improved fitness, the way those people need to be helped. Nor do I believe they represent sustainable fitness values. They better represent good marketeering, confusion, and conflicting information.

Most people who seek improved physicality need three things in order to achieve change:

1 – A relatable cheerleader

2 – A basic understanding of just a few principles of movement and eating

3 – A schedule of movement and eating to adhere to

When assembled, these three things can serve many more, far more, than a stellar WOD, some bitchin’ before and after pictures, or a screaming trainer in an unsustainable boot-camp workout. Not that anyone is in compliance with these for the long-term anyway, but that’s my point.

It just seems that people are placing their fitness faith on all the wrong shoulders, all the while overlooking some simple principles and not-so-difficult decisions that are much more useful for changing their physicality than the trends, promises, and good marketeering that dominate the fitness culture of today.

From Confucius to confuse us…

It is a 3,000 year old Confucian ideal that we have a responsibility to take care of ourselves on behalf of our families, our employers, and our communities. Society simply functions more efficiently and at a higher level that way. Relinquish our physicality as a collective, and things begin breaking down proportionately as a society.

a1confu

This in no way is me being judgmental of those who have lost or decreased their physicality. A quick glance of our culture though, will quickly illuminate a growing disparity. We just have an increasing segment of the population on their way the gym for an unsustainable workout screaming, go big or go home! Yet we have another increasing segment of the population eating moon pies, shooting insulin, and looking for a way out of those behaviors, but looking primarily to the go big or go home set for inspiration. The middle class of fitness is disappearing.

Buddhabuilding: The Middle Path…

At times I have been guilty at being extreme with my personal fitness. Rarely though, unless requested and paid appropriately, have I ever preached or led a client down an extreme or unsustainable exercise path. One of the things that attracted me to the ideal of recreational bodybuilding to begin with is that it’s an old person’s endeavor. Strength training can enhance a quality of life, while also prolonging it, though I see few people or entities teaching strength in moderation these days.

a1budd

I would love to see those who don’t exercise do more of it, and eat a little better. I truly believe that would serve our society better. I would also like to see those who lead do a little less screaming, a little less boasting, and be a little more mindful of their leadership. And for those who truly are seeking leadership to help motivate and improve their fitness, I beg you, please let sustainability be the cornerstone term in your search. 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 Prine cover from Stu Larsen and The Once. Enjoy…