The Value Of Slow…

I got a question recently from a fellow trainer about why I use exclusively slow repetition speed with my clients as well as my own workouts, and why I don’t include some explosive training and higher repetition speed. She supported her question with some scientific data about the benefits of explosive training. I thought some people might find my perspective interesting if not useful even if they disagree, so here is my reply to my friend’s question:

“This is where I differ from most trainers and strength coaches I know.   I don’t put science at the top of my learning pyramid.  I put logic and common sense there, and science in the middle.  There are many scientifically proven reasons why faster and explosive repetitions can benefit an athlete.  As previously discussed though, the injury/benefit ratio increases whenever momentum enters an exercise.  This increases because in most instances the load is greater, and due to the faster speed combined with a heavier load proper form cannot be adhered to as well – period.

apply-quick-style-to-pyramid-shape

I have to decide who among my students are legitimate athletes.  It turns out that there are very few. For the middle aged man wanting to improve his body, I am of the opinion that all the changes he is looking for can be had with slower, more controlled repetitions, thus minimizing risk/benefit ratio and putting him in a better position to reach his goals.  Same thing with the mom who wants to tone up and take off her baby weight, as well as the obese and morbidly obese students.

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When it comes to student athletes at the high school and middle school level, their bodies are still developing and an injury in the weight room might have severe long-term consequences.  Also worthy of consideration is that the habits they learn in the weight room as teens will likely stay with them for life. This is a huge issue with me.  High school sports coaches and even some PE teachers are more often poor strength coaches, but often looked to as supremely knowledgeable.

This leaves a small group who could really benefit from fast and explosive strength training; high level competitive athletes.  Can it benefit them and enhance muscle growth as well as performance…?  Absolutely!  However, I read a study last year that a majority of minor injuries in the NFL take place in the weight room; pulled hamstrings, torn biceps, torn pectorals, low-back strain, neck issues, etc.  This goes back to the risk/benefit ratio.  For men or women to whom thousands if not millions of dollars are at stake for every performance, the benefits of explosive training certainly outweighs the risks, and most would-be injuries can be dealt with and recovered from.

That’s pretty much where it ends with me.  On a personal level, I have run long races, biked far distances, lifted very heavy weights, stood on a posing platform, and conquered dozens of physical obstacles with this body – despite that I have done no explosive training and that my repetition speed in the weight room has been slow and fully controlled since1986 or so.

Lastly, what gets missed in fast or explosive repetitions is, for me, what holds the greatest value in strength training; the intimacy which takes place between the mind and the body when weights are lifted more slowly and through a complete range of motion. This is a connection that is on par with many forms of yoga, and in my opinion is just as spiritual.

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I’m a science minded person, but no scientist, and no institution is without some level of agenda, as I have my own.  My agenda is safety combined with results.”

That was my response to my friend. I’m not opposed to high level athletes using faster or explosive repetitions in the weight room. However, for the average liftasaurus or weekend warrior, it’s my opinion that slower, more controlled repetition speed comes with as much benefit as anyone needs, and a lot less risk. Be well… rc

Trainer Roy Cohen is available for online consulting. Learn more by clicking here.

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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 Wang Chung.  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.

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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!

 

The Law Of Gyminished Returns…

This is Part I of a 2 or 3 or maybe even a 4 part essay on my perception of the current state of gym culture. We’ll see where this goes. Please check back in a few weeks for Part II.

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A big box of followers…

I have spent the past 5 weeks training in a chain gym for the first time in many years. As a fitness trainer and a relentless observer of people, this has been a thought cultivating experience.

I can’t help it, with each workout my mind continually toggles back and forth between what I am doing, and what everyone else is doing. So compelled am I to believe that I am always on the most correct path, that I am usually left to believe that most everyone else in the gym is on a dirt road to nowhere.

I won’t go so far as to say a majority of these gym regulars are foolish or blind followers, but I will say that most I observe are being completely inefficient in what I perceive they are trying to accomplish. Regardless of what their goals are; weight loss, body sculpting, or conditioning (it’s usually some combination of these), I’ll suggest that most I see here are not on the most direct path to where they wish to go.

I often ponder obsess on this question: Why do people believe that buying a gym membership is enough…?

Buying a guitar is seldom enough. Buying golf clubs is seldom enough. Lessons on how to use these are usually purchased with them, or shortly thereafter. However, joining a gym is too often a purchase made with no intention of learning how to use it.

At best, a new member might workout with a friend and do what their friend does – who learned from another friend, and so-on. People sign up, show up, and when they are not shown by theirs friends, they just mimic what they see other gym members doing. What could possibly go wrong…?

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The law of gyminished returns…

If a person does something inefficiently in the gym for months or even for years, and nobody ever corrects them or offers them a more efficient path, they ultimately become a veteran of failure, but a veteran nonetheless. As a veteran of the gym they are watched by beginners. Beginners see what gym veterans are doing, and they copy it. Gym culture is now many generations deep into this way of learning.

Think of it as a cassette tape from the 1970s. Back then we could copy an original cassette to a blank cassette on our home stereo. If one then took that copied tape and subsequently made a copy of that copy, the fidelity would decrease. Each successive copy of a copy would lose another degree of fidelity. After so many generations of copying the copies, the music would become less true to its original incarnation.

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In a very real sense, that has been happening with gym culture over period of decades. In particular, how exercises are performed and the volume in which they are performed. As more and more people have copied what others have done before them, who have copied what others have done before them, the overall productivity and effectiveness of the culture has been reduced. That is just my opinion.

Pump up the volume, someone told her…

The most common inefficiency I see though, is too much exercise volume; too many exercises, too many sets per exercise, and too many days per week. Again, this is not just limited to beginners. I have seen many experienced gym goers who exercise with too much volume, and too much frequency. I saw an example of this yesterday. A young woman, maybe 23 years old, and she didn’t appear unfit, but was clearly not any kind of athlete.

I first saw her performing set after set of barbell bench presses. Shortly after, I saw her doing dumbbell bench presses. Sometime after that, I saw her doing chest flies. Later, she was doing push-ups followed by more chest flies.

In the amount of time in which I was able to do multiple exercises for multiple body parts, and complete an entire workout, she had exclusively worked one area of her body, her chest, and did so with an unnecessarily high volume of sets – regardless of her goals.

Because curiosity got the better of me, I broke my never talk to people in the gym rule and asked her about her high volume of training. She explained that she wanted to make her cleavage line more pronounced so a friend suggested that she do every chest exercise she could think of. Good plan!

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I thanked her for her time and walked away without passing judgment. Notwithstanding that she could have already achieved that goal by simply changing her diet, and doing 3 sets of push-ups a day for a month, I wasn’t her trainer, it wasn’t my gym, so it certainly wasn’t my place to offer unsolicited advice.

What is water…

As I looked around after my conversation with the young woman, I better observed that there were many more in the gym just like her – people who had the best of intentions, but were on road to nowhere, or on the road to not very far.

Whether these people were just guessing at what they were doing, copying other members, or getting their strength training instructions from a cassette tape friend 4 generations deep, it was clear to me that few people in the gym were the beneficiaries of sound instruction which related to their specific and unique objectives.

I suddenly felt the old fish in that David Foster Wallace commencement address. What is water…? If I had been brave enough to point out the water to any of them, they would still have no idea what I was talking about… Be well. rc

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Please take a moment to scroll up and rate this, and be sure to check back in a few weeks for part-2 of this essay. Part-2 will address fitness trainers in big box gyms. Hint: If you ever see trainer turn his back on a client mid-set in order to take another bite of oatmeal with chia seeds in it, he’s probably not your guy.

Oh, and there’s this from Girls Guns & Glory. 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!

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!

Successfulish…

 This is Part I of a 3-part intermittent series on education, success, and how I fell through one but still landed in the other. Part II will show up some time down the road.

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My Father’s Path…

For a majority of my life I have had a conflicted perception of the word success, and all that goes with it. Like his father before him, my father raised me to pursue excellence in life. He dedicated much of his life to providing my brother, and I opportunities to create successful lives. He did this with diligence, and a great deal of love if not with an overwhelming passion.

My father’s idea of success was linear, direct, and had a clear progression; college, business, suburbia – man in a gray suit kind of stuff. What he really wanted, I believe, was for my brother, and I to take his path, but to find better results than he was able to. I have often wondered if my father sacrificed his visceral idea of success to better enable the superficial idea of success that society, and his own father immersed him in.

What my father had really wanted in life, he confessed to me in his later years, was to have taught school in the winter, and run a camp for kids in the summer. At some point though, with a wife, a mortgage, and kids of his own, I believe he became driven by dollar signs rather than canoes, and campfires, and the gravity of the business world drew him in.

The man with the plan, and the pocket comb.  Each successful in our own ways...

The man with the plan, and the pocket comb. Each successful in our own ways…

Against The Grain…

My definition of success has always been murky, malleable, and has evolved through the years. By the time I was in my late teens though, my definition of success began to solidify, and was in obvious contrast to my father’s intentions for me, and to the flow of common American culture.

As I began to explore my idea of success, the distance between my path, and the path my father laid out for me grew further apart. Looking back today, I am better able to reconcile my father as a young man, with the man he would go on to become. When I was younger, I couldn’t comprehend this.

By my father’s standard, and by the standard of culture art large, the first step on anyone’s path to success is obtaining a college degree. My father had been down many career paths, but he began as an educator at the high school, and college level. He would often say to my brother, and I,

“Get your ticket punched boys, and you can go anywhere”.

Inferring that a college diploma was guaranteed a ticket to success. This was so heavily instilled in me that by the time I was in my early teens I came to believe that people without a college degree were a lesser form of life, and less worthy of life’s rich pageant.

In truth, I believe my father wanted me to feel this way. He would often take time to impress upon me the toil, and struggles of those went through life with a wrench in their back pocket, pushed a broom, or drove a municipal bus. Because he was my father, I believed him. I have only recently come to see that this isn’t true, that there’s no shame in hard work, and that success is simply a state of appreciation.

American Dream…

My American dream has always been more simple than most; I don’t want to be forced to do the goosestep down Main Street. That’s it. I would like to have access to water, shelter, and to have the opportunity to work hard for anything beyond.

One does not need a college degree to pursue shelter, food, and a few nice things. One simply needs to have ambition, a good work ethic, and reasonable expectations of life. Those too, are qualities my father instilled in me, and they have served me well.

I recognize that I’m a minority with this way of thinking, and I don’t wish offend anyone who has worked hard to reap, and enjoy the finer things in life. That has just never been my trip. I have always been content with just enough. I often suggest to friends that my dream house has four wheels, and gets good mileage. I am approaching that dream house, and hope to move in within the next 3-5 years.

My dream house.  I will never again by a car I'm not also able to live in...

My dream house. I will never again buy a car I’m not also able to live in…

School Is Out Early…

I struggled with school from an early age. In elementary school, reading could be so strenuous that it often lead me to nausea. My math skills were several years behind, and I barely survived middle school with Ds. Despite this, I was advanced into high school.   In high school it became clear to me within weeks that I would probably never graduate. The text books I used seemed to be written in a different language. I failed typing, Art, and even PE.

With an open campus, and a modular schedule, I could go to high school every day, never walk into a class room, and just sit and visit with friends in one of the three cafeterias which were available. This was my existence for a year and a half. I would register for school, never go to class, get Fs, and placate my parent’s attempts to get my head right by promising I would try harder. In a school of 4,500 students, I fell through the cracks.

At one point I was even put on the short bus to study with all the other challenged learners. Unfortunately, most of them were there out of laziness, and not need. I was surrounded by stoners, with teachers who weren’t dialed in, and nothing was being done to help me improve my lack of learning skills. One day at 16, I just released myself on my own recognizance, and never looked back.

I would spend the next couple of years working odd jobs, sleeping with the television on, lifting weights, and trying to figure out what success truly was, or if it would ever be within my grasp – largely disbelieving that it would be.

Though I would ultimately take my GED, and attend college, my father’s notion that success, a college degree, and a suburban mortgage were synonymous, became a poison in my veins that has worked against me more than it ever served me.

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Please check back in a few weeks for Part II of this series. Oh, and there’s this from Albert King.   Enjoy…

Defective Personality…

“My greatness is the sum of all my personality defects.  Well, most of them anyway.”  Me

Personality defect #1:  Growing Up Cohen…

This I know:  My mother and father loved me very much.  My childhood was safe, and my opportunities were numerous.  I was never threatened, abused, or otherwise compromised as a child.  I was taught right from wrong, good from bad, truth from dishonesty, and to say please and thank you to everything that moved.  And for all of this I was loved, housed, fed well, and given 50 cents per week.

My childhood might not quite have been the Ozzie and Harriet show, but it more closely resembled the TV life of the 1950s than it did the Ozzie and Sharon show.  Still, from an early age I developed a strong desire to withdraw from my family, from my social peers, and spend a great deal of time in self-imposed isolation.

It wasn’t enough to be alone though, I had to be moving while I was alone.  I would ride my bike, skateboard, swim, dive in the pool, shoot baskets, or just walk for hours at a time, and could not be any happier for my introverted exertions.  At an early age, solitary exercise was my house of worship, and remains my sanctuary to this day.

photo(10)

Still the best way I know to be alone…

The two go well together for me; solitary and exercise. Give me one without the other, and they will each be appreciated.  Give me both, and they become trans-formative medicine.

Personality defect #2: Mass Appeal…

I can’t remember the first time I really took notice of a person’s musculature.  Maybe I was 12 or so.  It might have been a football player on TV, a bodybuilder, a guy swinging a sledge hammer on a road crew, I’m not sure.  I do know this; that from a very early age, the sight of lean, well formed, larger than normal muscles on a person compelled me – male or female.

Not just on people either.  As a child I would stare for hours at pictures of Seattle Slew and other race horses of the era.  The lean musculature of racehorses had a gravity my eyes could not resist.  My mom couldn’t get me out of the primate exhibit at the zoo either – the width of a gorilla’s back, and the squareness of his chest was something I wanted too.  There has always been something about the ornamental quality of large muscles in motion which has captivated me.

Triceps are a little weak, but LOVE his chest....

Triceps are a little weak, but LOVE his chest….

At some point, maybe near middle school, I made this connection; that I possessed the ability to go from just looking at and admiring muscle, to becoming the muscle.  On this realization, the course of my life began to take shape.  Personality defects #1 and #2 were about merge into the pathway expressway on which I would haul through the rest of my life.

Personality defect #3:  Hardworking In All The Wrong Places…

As my desire to create muscle on myself increased, I required more and more time in isolation to work on the muscle project.  My requirement for solitary exercise would now consume me.

By the time high school came along, it had gotten in the way of my solitary exercise.  I was so involved, as both the sculptor, and the sculpture, that I released myself from high school on my own recognizance.

Drop out.  Chalk up.  Lift.

Too cool for school...

Too cool for school…

Solitary exercise, in the form of weightlifting, had become my single biggest priority.  Oh, and there were also the sprint workouts which I began to do 2-3 times per week, which I enjoyed much for the challenge, and the conditioning, but also for the solitude.

As my adult life would further unfold, solitary exercise would expand to include running, cycling, surfing, kayaking, and more.  The older I got, the more important my medicinal movement became. It also became my livelihood.

Personality defect #4:  The World Begins With Me…

It is this defect, #4, that enabled defects #1 and #2 to become defect #3.  I put myself first in most situations – for most of my life.  I think science may have it wrong.  From my vantage point, the universe is didn’t actually begin until the day I was born – and that’s how I have lived for most of my life.

I like to think that I’m no longer as selfish as I was for the first 5 decades of my life.  I now recognize that there are 7 billion persons on Earth not named Roy Cohen.  With this realization, I think it’s fair to say that I have become a pretty giving person of my time, of my money, of my heart, and of myself.

My solitary exercise is still the largest part of my life, though I now include others more frequently as I partake in the joy of wearing myself down – wanting to share the experience.  In running, hiking, lifting, and cycling with others, I have learned to be more malleable in my exercise ways, and am finding new life from my movements, and fostered new friendships that have enriched my life.

Personality defect #5:  Reconciling Utility vs. Fulfillment…

As I have written before, it’s my belief that the car with the most, and the hardest miles on it will likely go to the junkyard first.  Of course maintenance, quality of fuel, and quality of miles are factors, but using the body to excess is not necessarily a recipe for a ripe old age.  Still, I push hard, and I push daily.

I won’t know until much  later in life whether all my personality defects, and my lust for movement have served me well, or will have beaten me down.  It will probably be a little of each, but that’s how life is.

Going equine one more time.   Seattle Slew-perman...

Going equine one more time. Seattle Slew-perman…

Of course these are not all my personality defects, only the ones which serve this essay.  I’m not a bright man, but I’m guessing I have a personality defect or two that I’m not willing to advertise.  So for those who truly know me, PLEASE feel free this week to drop them into the comments section and help fuel the conversation.  Be well.  rc

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.
Oh, and there is this from the Grande Roses, enjoy…

Laboratory, Me…

Objective…

To sustain muscle that is functional, strong, flexible, not burdensome, and looks good, without garnering some of the negative consequences which are often associated with recreational bodybuilding, such as aches, pains, stiffness, and spending hours in the gym.

Good news, my previous internal thesis on this hasn’t changed in over a decade, this is just an update. This is a direction I began to head in my early 40s, and lived it pretty well for about 10 years or so,. Then, in 2011 I got a little cocky, and stepped it up.

Boot in the ass…

Through my 40s, my workouts, and physique were on autopilot. After I turned 50 and while training a couple of female bodybuilders, my ego got the better of me and I put myself on an unsustainable path – for a while. Though I did not increase my training volume (sets & reps) at all, I did increase the frequency of my strength sessions; often training for 10 or 12 consecutive days prior to taking a rest day. I also began using creatine for the first time in my 30+ years of training.

My cardio protocol during this period was basically just a hard 2-mile hill run 5 days per week, followed by (10) all-out 70-yards sprints with little rest in-between. On the weekends I would engage in longer trail runs, and distance cycling – up to 40 miles.

After 18 months of pushing hard in the gym, I was using weights on most exercises that I had not used previously – I was a gym strong as I had ever been. I attribute these gains to good note taking, consistent training, a high level of concentration during the workouts, protein augmentation, and to the use of creatine.

Though I did not weigh myself hydrostatically during this period, I’ll suggest that by the end of those 18 months, I had only gained about 2 pounds of lean body mass (muscle), despite that I experienced profound gains in strength during this period. I peaked at roughly 160 pounds, and (estimating) 11% body fat.

Hole in my boot…

Because I pushed very hard in the gym, and with the running and cycling during that 18 month period, I eventually reached a burnout period. My body was just tired – most of the time. Living in a calorie defecate, despite that was not a huge defecate, may have also contributed to the burnout. The weight room became more an altar of obligation than the sanctuary it had been for nearly 30 years. I was experiencing continual body aches which I had not previously known. I was excessively tired through the course of my workdays. I was completely out of love with the ideal of recreational bodybuilding.

I took 6 weeks off, and relaxed my diet.

Reboot…

When I restarted after my layoff, I could not fully engage again. I wondered if I was trying to force something that wasn’t there. My body was still feeling the effects of pushing too hard for too long with not enough fuel. My strength training was uninspired, and down to 2-3 days per week. I also switched my cardio from running and sprinting, to walking on a treadmill at 15% grade at for 30 minutes 6 days per week. Since I hate running, and enjoy treadmill walking, this protocol will remain ongoing – it is sustainable for me.

Before I dug in to earn my way back into sustainable shape, I decided to take one more layoff – this time for 3 weeks with intent to reframe my mind as well as body, and contemplate what I was strength training really mean to me — to my essence.  During this phase I lived off Little Caesar’s, microwave burritos, Modelo Especial, and came to the eventual conclusion that I want my workouts, and eating to be sustainable always — but I already knew that, I just needed to remind myself of who I am. Definitely gained some body fat, but with no guilt whatsoever for having done so. When enough was enough, the weight room and vegetables began calling me once again – this time with a smile.

Despite the layoff, and the relaxed eating schedule, I jumped right into training with the heaviest weights (in most movements) that I have ever used. My emphasis of increasing poundages has been more focused on my primary compound movements (denoted below as 5 sets of 5 reps). On the lighter, one-dimensional stretching, and isolation movements (denoted below by as 3 sets of 8-10 reps), I have been using challenging weights, but have refused to sacrifice form for the sake of increased weights, or additional repetitions.

I have been rotating through an 8 workout cycle, on a 4 days on, 1 day off routine. My workouts, listed below, take less than 45 minutes each. My eating has been consistent with my last peak, the only exception being that I am maintaining bare minimum calorie defecate. As previously mentioned, my cardio has been limited to treadmill walking.

These workouts have not lent themselves to any excessive fatigue, or achiness. I attribute this largely to a relaxed cardio schedule, a little more food, and reduced strength session frequency. I remain convinced that, for me, too few rest days, as well as excessive running intensity had more to do with my previous aches, and lethargy, than my strength training has.

Lastly, within the scope of these workouts, I rest only long enough between sets to stretch out the muscles being worked during a particular movement. Example: After every set of a hamstring exercise, I stretch my hamstrings for 30 seconds. I rest long enough to stretch, and stretch long enough to rest.   Again, these sessions taking less than 45 minutes.  Routines below.  Videos below routines.

Chest/Triceps #1

Incline Bench Press Free Bar 5×5

Pec-Deck Flies 3×8-10

Flat Triceps Extension 4×5

Overhead Triceps Extension 3×8-10

 

Back/Biceps #1

Wide Grip Lat-Pulldown 5×5

T-Bar/Long Bar Row 3×8-10

Bench or Machine Bench Curls 5×5

 

Shoulders/Calves #1

Overhead Shoulder Press Free Bar 5×5

Cable Lateral Raise 3×8-10

Seated Calf Raise 5×8-10

 

Legs #1

Prone Leg Curls 3×8-10

Leg Extensions 3×8-10

Smith Machine Squats 5×5

 

Chest/Triceps #2

Machine Incline Bench Press 5×5

Dumbbell Flies 3×8

Triceps Pushdown 4×5

Triceps Overhead Cable Extensions 3×8-10

 

Back/Biceps #2

Bent Barbell Rows or Cable Mid-rows (I prefer cable due to an ongoing shoulder injury unrelated to lifting. Fuck running) 5×5

1-Arm Cable Rows 3×8-10 Raised Deadlifts 3×8-10

Concentration Curls 5×5

 

Shoulders/Calves #2

Dumbbell Overhead Press 5×5

Dumbbell Later Raise 3×8-10

Standing Calf Raise 5×8-10

 

Legs #2

Leg Press 5×5 Standing

Lunges 3×10

True Squats 2×20 (moderate weight)

Chest/Triceps #1

Incline Bench Press Free Bar 5×5

Pec-Deck Flies 3×8-10

Flat Triceps Extension 4×5

Overhead Triceps Extension 3×8-10

Back/Biceps #1

Wide Grip Lat-Pulldown 5×5

T-Bar/Long Bar Row 3×8-10

Low-Back Extensions 3×8-10

Bench or Machine Bench Curls 5×5

Shoulders/Calves #1

Overhead Shoulder Press Free Bar 5×5

Cable Lateral Raise 3×8-10

Seated Calf Raise 5×8-10

Legs #1

Prone Leg Curls 3×8-10

Leg Extensions 3×8-10

Smith Machine Squats 5×5

Chest/Triceps #2

Machine Incline Bench Press 5×5

Dumbbell Flies 3×8

Triceps Pushdown 4×5

Triceps Overhead Cable Extensions 3×8-10

Back/Biceps #2

Bent Barbell Rows or Cable Mid-rows (I prefer cable due to an ongoing shoulder injury unrelated to lifting. Fuck running) 5×5

1-Arm Cable Rows 3×8-10

Raised Deadlifts 3×8-10

Concentration Curls 5×5

Shoulders/Calves #2

Dumbbell Overhead Press 5×5

Dumbbell Later Raise 3×8-10

Standing Calf Raise 5×8-10

Legs #2

Leg Press 5×5

Standing Lunges 3×10

True Squats 2×20 (moderate weight)

Where this should lead…

My goal weight is 168 pounds bodyweight at roughly 14% body fat by May 30. Through my self-experimentation and note taking through the past 12 years or so, I believe this to be sustainable, ongoing. I would like to maintain these workouts and this condition at least until my early 60s, with few modifications, and only occasional layoffs. This should not put me anywhere near a state of depravity. We shall see. Pictures to follow – maybe.

Note that the exercises have a fairly equal blend of barbells, dumbbells, machines, and cables. Despite what nonsense floats around out there, there are values in all of these, so I use them all to my advantage.

As always, if you have specific questions about exercises, their values and applications, please contact me, via this website. Be well… rc

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I hit the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from The Billy Nayer Show.  Enjoy!

Near miss…

So today was the day I began to give notice to most to my clients – yet again.  More on that later…

Cyber-archeology…

I have 4 Facebook friends who are now dead, but still have active Facebook pages.  This haunts me, ongoing.  I check those pages periodically.  Not with the expectations that my friends will come back to life, but as a way of keeping their memories alive in my heart.  Maybe this is one of the more useful aspects of Facebook.

I read recently that with the increasing decline of new Facebook users, that by 2090 everyone on Facebook might actually be dead.  At that point, and when blogging has run its trendy course, all I have spat out through the years by way of social media will simply be a silicon fossil to be someday excavated by a cyber-archeologist.  This may or may not be my last essay. We’ll see.  If it is, it’s been a fun few years.

Through it all I have thought to share some ideals, and values as they relate to fitness and exercise, that they might be relevant to the lives of others.  Of course I have shared some non-fitness ideals as well. Perhaps years from now if the content I have written is excavated and studied, it may actually mean something to people who may be interested in what I have had to say.  I’m pretty sure the readers of today though, aren’t committing my shtick to memory.

 Leading, And Futility…

I’m basically I’m no longer comfortable with a leadership role in fitness and exercise.  Certainly not in the social media anyway.  This isn’t a joke.  I almost walked away from my business entirely today.  However, a friend and client convinced me to sleep on it for a year or two, and reminded me that social media is my fitness hobby, not my fitness livelihood.  We sat by my fire pit, and talked about the upsides and downsides of me walking away.  Once he got me to listen to my own words, I realized how fortunate I am to have the business, the lifestyle, and the clients I have.  The state of my industry though, has changed dramatically in the past decade, and has done very little to improve on itself.

Unrealistic expectations cultivated by social media, in my estimation, is a cancer attacking good fitness intentions everywhere.  What the general population wants from fitness leaders and resources is this; exercise that cures aging, prolongs youth, and fosters hotness.

News flash:  Youth is a synonym for history.  Aging is inevitable.  Hotness is little more than an interruption in getting more familiar with someone who we might love more deeply if we only choose to look more closely.  Clearly the majority of my social media audience and I are on different pages when it comes to these.  I’m just not willing to play the looking good game anymore.  Both in teaching and in writing, espousing exercise for the sake of hotness is something I’m no longer willing to participate in, even if I do practice it to a degree.

Almost...

Almost…

I have written and taught for years that we have a responsibility to age.  Though I believe we should attempt to do so with the best intentions, and under the best possible circumstances, we should proceed with caution, and respect the historic record of aging – for it is a requirement of living.

Gray hair. Wrinkles.  Sagging boobs.  Woodies gone south.  Skin that bruises ever easily.  Crackling bones.  Shifts in posture.  Loss of bone density.  Belly fat.  Memory lapses.  Hair loss.  Waning aesthetics.  Lethargy. Veins, and not the good ones.  All of these can be met, and addressed to a point with exercise, but none can be avoided.

Jhciacb; Part Ricky Williams, part Syd Barret…

I confided to my friend today that I have been approaching critical mass in my career path for a few years.  He, and I sat by my fire pit, and talked about whether or not I’m burned out or really willing to call it a career.  He asked me what I would do if I walked away from this.  I suggested a job at Home Depot, or an assembly line.  I have no debt so I don’t require much money.  When he was done chuckling, he just made sure I listened to my own words, and then made sure I listened to them again.  I did.  I walked away from our meeting realizing that I’m here, and in this for the long haul – but in a functional, and in person kind of way.

I will no longer attempt to use social media to steer the good ship, Fitness.  Fitness is in rough seas, and has a minimum of lifeboats. The passengers can’t make out the horizon, and the pilots can only describe a horizon that isn’t really there, and that is a horrible combination.

Yes, I am experiencing some degree of burnout, but I still love what I do.  I am now just going to increase the focus on my analog clients, and devote less time to promoting my values by way of social media.

As one client put it today when I called to tell him I was through,

“I depend on you.  Without you, Roy, there would be no exercise in my life, and I don’t trust any other trainer.”

I’ll take 28 of those, over a million Facebook likes who aren’t listening any time.  Be well…  rc

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Please check back at some point to see what happens when I hit the stop button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from The Stone Roses. Enjoy…