Service With A Smile…

This week I sat down with the intention of writing a manifesto of sorts, on how new fitness trainers should conduct themselves.  Seems I got offtrack and ended up writing this.  Perhaps some of these can be superimposed on other career paths -or life paths…

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Pride And Circumstance…

I take pride in a handful of things in my life. Of them, I am most proud that as a trainer – as a businessman, I have kept a full schedule since the first week I opened here in Fallbrook in 2000. In 16 years, I have done almost no marketing or advertising. I drove into a small town, looked around, decided I wanted to stay, set up shop, and within days my business course was primarily set

A good part of that is accidentally landing in a great demographic. A fair portion of the population here have discretionary time and money. That doesn’t represent all of my clients though, as I have a more than few working people who have become puzzle masters to fit me into their budgets and schedules.

Social Circles And Demographics…

I say often of doing business in a small town, that if you do a good job for 1 person, 5 more people will know about in a week. If you do a bad job for someone, 10 more will know about in a day. That ideal is as much responsible for my consistent schedule as any.

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Gonna die in a small town, and that’s probably where they’ll bury me…

Though we don’t all live in small towns, most of us do live in small circles.  In the information and social media era, where business reviews can be published online in seconds, treating the customer right matters more than ever.  It may sound a bit simplistic, but doing a good job for the client is the most important part of my job.

Meet & Greet…

I do my best to greet every client at the door. This isn’t always possible on days when I have back-to-back sessions, or when sessions run late. I do though, attempt to greet every client before they enter the studio. Meeting a client at the door gives them a feeling of immediate security in what is too often an intimidating environment – the gym.

Meeting someone at the door shows them you are there for them, as much as you want them to be there for you.

Dings, Pings, And Echo Location…

Clients come with inherent aches and pains, some more severe than others. Through a written medical evaluation, I take inventory of any medical or physical issues prior to my first session with all client, and then I am sure to remember them.

Each time I meet a client at the door I ask them for a quick rundown of how they came off of our last workout in the form of soreness, stiffness, or aching. If I have done my job well, the answer should not influence the workout ahead. If they speak of any dings or pings, I adjust the workout accordingly.

Throughout the course of the workout I will ask frequently how they are feeling – if I am pushing too hard or not hard enough. Most often I don’t even listen to their answers. I learn all I need by looking into their eyes as they hear the question. This is like echolocation with dolphins; I send I signal to them, they send one back to me, and I know where we are in the course of a workout.

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When echolocation goes bad…

Before starting a session, I also ask them the last food they ate and how long ago they ate it. This information can also influence the direction and the result of a workout.

Don’t Eat In Front Of Clients…

If one’s job is to instruct and motivate, it’s hard to accept that this can be done with a mouthful of cold oatmeal or sipping from a shaker cup as many trainers do. Eating and talking lacks professionalism.

I can’t say I have been perfect here. There are those days when sessions run back-to-back and I have said excuse me to the client, and then asked permission to grab a bite as we begin the session. I can honestly say that in 16 years in Fallbrook, I have done this less than 16 times.

I also keep my phoned turned off during sessions. That hour belongs to my clients, not to me.
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Business Cards…

Former Levis Strauss executive and Bit-by-Bit Computer Rentals founder, Tim Cling once told me,

“Business cards aren’t what you give to people, they are what you take from people! You take the card, you call the number on the card, you introduce yourself, and explain concisely how and why you can help them.”

That is the best business advice ever extended to me. Too many fitness trainers put enormous stock on designing and handing out business cards – cards which get tucked away, thrown away, or otherwise used to stabilize the lose air conditioning vent in their car.

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Great for helping balance uneven table legs.  As a form of marketing…?  Not so much…

In the year 2000 I had 1,000 business cards printed up. In 2015 I still had 950 of them. What few I handed out were used as appointment reminders, or scratch paper for my personal notes.

On Form, Focus, And Conversation…

Overstating the obvious; a trainer should never turn his back on their client. A trainer’s eyes should always be fixed to the client’s exercise form – period.

Only when I am sure a client’s form is correct, does any conversation take place. I have no issues with a client talking during the course of their exercise, so long as they are moving and breathing properly.image76-e1422567572804

One of the better aspects of life as a fitness trainer is the conversations which have taken place in my studio through the years. In a sense, those conversations have given me a master’s degree in life. My older clients offer me wisdom. My younger ones offer me context from which I can better appreciate that wisdom.

There is much to learn from listening to the experiences of others. I get to do this all day long. I won’t hear the wisdom though, if I’m not listening, so my ears and my mind remain open at all times.

Relationships And Progress…

Making my living as a fitness trainer is about progress, of course, but it is also about relationships. It took me far too long to learn this. Cultivating and nurturing those relationships is paramount to any level of progress a client might experience, progress being a relative term.  Only if there is trust with the client, can I add a little more, push a little harder, and ask a little more of them over time – always in small doses. That is where progress comes from. They progress as the student. I progress as the teacher.

From this I am also reminded, living on this earth is also about relationships. Cultivating and nurturing those relationships is paramount to any level of progress we might experience as a species. If there is trust with one another, only then can we ask a little more of each other, and push a little more over time – always in small doses. Be well…

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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 Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Enjoy…

Fan Day Go…

“Me winning isn’t. You do.” Ty Webb

The Jig Is Up…

Some athletes know when the time is right to hang up their cleats. John Elway is the supreme example of this. After a storied career and 3 Super Bowl losses, Elway won 2 Super Bowls back-to-back and called it a career. We hold in high regard, the athlete who goes out on top and rides into the sunset at the pinnacle of his professional success. That metaphor endures, as we all wait for Peyton Manning to make it official sometime this spring.

Other athletes though, hang on too long. Brett Favre. Muhammad Ali. Michael Jordan. The list goes on. With many athletes, playing the game is too ingrained in their psyche. For them it’s less a matter of letting go, and more a question of who they will become when their careers are over…?

Run Ricky Run…

I was in middle school. I have a clear memory of my father leaping from his chair, landing on his feet with arms in air and fists clinched as he screamed…

“Run, Ricky, run!”

Denver Bronco, Rick Upchurch, was running a punt back for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders. My brother and I watched silently beside him.  That may be the day I became a sports fan. I wanted what my dad had – passion. Within a few years I was every bit the zealot my father was, but it didn’t end with the Broncos.

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Run, Ricky, Run!

As I grew older, and I better understood the games of football, baseball, golf, track & field, boxing, and other sports, my capacity as a sports fan grew. So too did my desire to follow these sports. Then one day I woke up and cable TV happened. Enter ESPN.

Sports Center became a requirement, 2-3 times per day. It was Cliff’s Notes for sports fans. I could enjoy several sports, and more than a few games in just 60 minutes. This did not eliminate my desire to watch complete sporting events on the weekends, it only enhanced the experience during my workweek. Crude math suggests that in my adult life I have spent some 15,000 hours watching sports news & highlights, sports analysis, and listening to sports talk radio.

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Go Big Screen Or Go Home…

In the early 2000s I was living alone in a 3-bedroom house. I had TVs in my master bedroom, my kitchen, my living room, and even one in my walk-in closet – that I not miss a moment of Sports Center as I was preparing for, or winding down from my workday.

One morning in 2005, on realizing the ridiculousness of having 4 TVs for one man living alone, I gathered them and placed them on the sidewalk in front of my house – to be taken by whoever wanted them. They were gone in an hour. Though well past my peak as a sports fan, I was done with sports and ready to retire. Time to give my attention to other interests.  Then one day I woke up and the internet happened…

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We take it for granted now, but in 2005 the idea of using a computer as a TV set was somewhat fresh. Internet speeds were improving, live streaming was crude but increasingly available, and suddenly I found myself unretired, once again watching Sports, and Sports Center from my 15” window to the world — every chance I got.

This was less a matter of letting go, and more a question of who I would become when being a sports fan was over…? I didn’t know what else to do with myself.

Slowly though, I began to come to my senses and realize I was well past my peak as a fan.  This came to a head in 2011 when Tim Tebow lead the Broncos to victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a playoff game.  Earlier that week,my father – you know, the “Run, Ricky, run” guy had a mild heart attack. He lay scarcely conscious in a Las Vegas hospital as the Broncos marched off the field in victory that day. Already on hospice, my father would never watch another Bronco game. That was the 1st time I truly thought; it’s only a game.

Sports Transcends, And Body Slams…

In an era when professional athletes are seen as crybaby millionaires, and as people increasingly turn away from sports due to everything from allegations of domestic violence, performance enhancing drugs, concussion syndrome, and that the underlying current that all sports is the ejaculate of corporations stroking their wallets, I have defended professional sports for its transcendent qualities.

Sports gives us a reason to come together. Sports separate us, if only for a while, from the boss, the workplace, the responsibilities of the yard, the bills, the wars, and school shootings. Sports fulfills our need for ritual in an increasingly secular world. Sports can elevate us from an otherwise dreary life.

Sports though, can also be brutal.  It make a good day bad in an instant.  Sports can body slam us and give us an emotional beat down that even a bad boss or a cheating girlfriend couldn’t. Ask anyone who has ever watched their team lose a Super Bowl.

After The Thrill Is Gone…

It’s too late for me to hang up my fan-cleats the pinnacle of my career. That should have happened when I drove my 7-year old daughter home from the parade in downtown Denver after the Broncos won their first Super Bowl in 1997

When the Broncos won the Super Bowl for the 3rd time last week I should have been overjoyed. I should have cried, tipped over my coffee table, and run around the neighborhood screaming as my brother and I did in 1997 when they won their first. I didn’t though. I just sat in my chair and thought, that’s nice, as I continued to pet my dog and reflected Super Bowls past.

It was less a case of being grateful that Denver won, and more the comfort of knowing they didn’t lose that soothed me. I was relieved I wouldn’t have to spend the next 3 weeks in a state of pointless depression. And that was my signal to walk away once and for all. I just don’t enjoy it as much as I once did.

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The Only Big Screen I Need On A Sunday…

I live in a beautiful place. I have things to do, friends to see, a business to run, and some would-be volunteering to pursue. Like my meat-free lifestyle, I am going to give a sports-free lifestyle a legitimate chance without the expectation of perfection.  After all, I do still have meat on occasion, and the Masters is only weeks away. Maybe that will be a cheat day 4 days. I am committed. 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 The Dharma Violets. Enjoy…

Epidemicology…

Caveat: I chose not to cite any data sources in support of this essay. There is much conflicting data on the topic of obesity and health. The opinions expressed here are based solely on my experience in health & fitness, my observations, as well as books, data sources, and websites which, it turns out, all agree with me.

Not Really…

We are all familiar with the term, obesity epidemic. We see reports, studies, and media programming that remind us how dangerous yet widespread the obesity epidemic has become. We are led increasingly to believe that being overweight is unhealthy, avoidable, and wrong.

I’m not going to argue in favor of, or against obesity. I’m going step back and share my big picture perspective that obesity is less an epidemic and more the unavoidable result of our increasingly complex food system and shifting cultural values, and that fighting obesity on an individual basis will not slow or stop the expansion of the expansion.

The Flow…

While it is true that obesity, as defined by the CDC, has increased steadily over the last 6 decades, I believe that any large scale reversal of that pattern will not be the result of the individual mechanisms we use to fight obesity on a personal level, such as gastric related surgeries, liposuction, excessive dieting, excessive exercise, nutritional supplementation, and pharmaceutical support. With these means being more available and more used than ever, and obesity still being on the rise, that math does not add up. It simply demonstrates that, collectively, fighting individual obesity is not working to reduce obesity overall.

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Though some individuals find success with using exercise, diet, and medical/pharmaceutical technologies to reverse or to avoid obesity, a majority of people who use these resources will not find success in the long-term. I believe any permanent change to the cultural obesity trend will be the result of both large and small changes in our food system, over time, which are organized and called for by society as a collective, similar to the changes in civil rights, animal rights, and global ecology that we have seen in recent decades.

Those efforts to change the food system are already forming and gaining traction, but the arc of their results is a slow turning. Examples of this are laws requiring calories to be included on menus, local food movements, transparency in food manufacturing & marketing, and social awareness created by the propagation of literature; books and documentary movies on the subject.

As It Relates To Health…

We have been fed the ideal over time that obesity is intertwined with heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and the probability of early death – a lesser quality of life notwithstanding. Increasingly though, there is data that suggests that obese people who exercise regularly, and include reasonable amounts of fruits and vegetables in their diets are no more likely to suffer from these ailments than people of average body weight. Some call this fat but fit. I call it, doing one’s best within a failing system.

Still, many people who fall into this category of larger, but healthy, attempt to fight their obesity by the means mentioned above, because they feel a social pressure which suggests they are unhealthy and undesirable. Whether or not they are unhealthy is coming into question, and that fruitless debate continues. Being socially or personally undesirable is simply a matter of bigotry.

As It Relates To Vanity…

Yesterday I visited a friend in the hospital who, for the last 13 months, has been dealing with the severely debilitating consequences of a lap-band surgery gone bad. I am removed from the internal thinking which led to her to the decision to have lap-band surgery, but from the outside looking in, though she might have been overweight at the time of the surgery, she was attractive and seemed to be in good health.

That is, her surgery was as much about vanity and/or social pressure as it was about health. My friend will remain in the hospital for at least several weeks. Her life has been in jeopardy as a result of this failed surgery on at least two occasions, though it appears now she will ultimately be okay.

Wide And Prejudice…

The epidemic which scares me more than the so-called epidemic of obesity, is the epidemic of prejudice toward heavier people. If a person wakes up in the morning and fails to eat fruit and Greek yogurt for breakfast, fails to remove the pile of clothes from the treadmill and put in a hard 30 minutes, or if they fail to stop at the gym on their way to work, they are not a bad person. And doing any or all of these will not make them a good person.

Being a good person is more related to mindfulness, kindness, and noble effort. Being a bad person, I suspect, is more related to disrespecting people, institutions, and animals – period. Body weight and body size have nothing to do with one’s character. Judging somebody for their shape size or weight does – period.

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The Slow Turn Of A failed System…

When I look at our social values as it relates to body image, male or female, young or old, and when I observe what it is that we revere and what we are willing to do in the name of looking better or being leaner, I often shudder.

I don’t fault anyone for wanting to pursue or maintain an attractive appearance, and I have certainly put effort into that ideal through the years. I’ll suggest though, for those who strive to improve their physical appearance, that before they begin, they closely examine the potential for cascading consequences which may result from the means they choose.

The quest for a smaller stature, and the emphasis we place on it is as old as culture itself, and I’m not arguing we abandon that pursuit. I’ll suggest though, similarly to civil rights, animal rights, ecology, and government, that the system we have allowed to place us here, and that we are all caught up in, is more in need of repair than any of us as individuals. I believe the arc of this system improving is on the rise, though obesity may still be a social issue for a few more decades.

That obesity is a contributory factor to poor health is, in my opinion, still just a theory. That we treat obese people with a greater guard, is simply a shame. 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 Dharma Violets. Enjoy!

The Pot On The Burner…

The Blender In My Head…

I spend much of my waking time in various states of conflict. Conflicted over matters such as events in the Middle East, Wall Street, the corrosion of America’s political structure, and the ever-increasing social complexities of mankind. I spend as much time conflicted over smaller things such as the ethics of fast food, bicycle culture, as well as changing trends in the arts and in entertainment. Conflict, it seems, is my essence.

The blender in my head...

The blender in my head…

One tool I have used through the years to (help) manage this inner turmoil is my morning meditation; it re-centers me. Each day on sit on the floor of my shower in total darkness, with the lights off, and with warm water cleansing the remains of yesterday’s dust from my skin and from my soul, and recite the following meditation aloud:

I thank you for receiving these words.

I thank you for a new day and new chance to walk in the right path.

I ask forgiveness for the sins I have committed and the mistakes I have made. Help me have awareness that I learn from those sins and those mistakes that they don’t become repeated.

I thank you for the blessings and opportunities which surround me. Help me have awareness that I recognize and appreciate those blessings, and help me have determination to fulfill those opportunities for the betterment of this world, the people in it, and the people in my life.

Help me speak the truth this day. Regardless of what situations I find myself in, and what circumstances surround me, help me remember that it’s better to stand in a room empty of words than to breach the truth for the sake of a sound.

Help me remember that my place is not to judge – that what person looks like or what they don’t look like, is not a reflection of who they are. Help me remember that behind every pair of eyes is a heart, a soul, and a life’s worth of circumstances I know nothing about.

I ask, on behalf of my loved ones, for their good health, for their safety, for their comfort, for peace, that they know love in their lives, and for strength during difficult times.

Help me take time to remember the animals in this world and in my life, that I give to them as much as they give to me. Thank you for the lessons they teach me in unconditional love, living in the moment, kindness, humility, and most of all, forgiveness.

Help me be a good man today. Help me walk tall, speak few words, be far in my reach, and help me be kind.
I thank you for hearing these words, and I love you. Amen.

Schmaltzy, I know, but it’s a part of me.

Estuary. Oceanside, CA

Estuary. Oceanside, CA

Dances With Schmaltz…

This Schmaltz Waltz is my most valued daily ritual. When I do this, who I am speaking to is unknown by me.  I suppose I speak to myself mostly – a way of reminding myself how I wish to live. It would be a fool’s task and childish game for me to suggest it’s god, God, or the Universe receiving those words. Perhaps I just speak to the underlying current that 14 billion years ago worked and reworked very little matter into increasingly complex matter which became more complex matter still, and that somehow the tiniest fragments of all that matter would become me.

Despite that my morning ritual resets and calms my early day, the conflict in my head soon returns and increases as the day goes on. Is combating ISIS worth the risking ground troops over…? How broad is the 2nd amendment…?  Is grass fed beef better for society than feed lot beef…? Should we eat beef at all…?  TV is the devil!  Thank god for college football on TV!!!  Chap-Stick or Burt’s Bees…? And so goes the blender in my head.

On the road to Santa Cruz

On the road to Santa Cruz

Despite that my morning meditation does little to eliminate this chaos, it does slow it down – if only for a moment. I can easily imagine how much worse it might all be without my daily reminder. I call it meditation, though others might call affirmation, mantra, or even prayer. Regardless, I’ll suggest we not be too quick to criticize those who participate in such contemplative practices, be they secular or religious.

A rare flat day. Carlsbad, CA

A rare flat day. Carlsbad, CA

Without such practices – rituals which regularly remind us to take step back and recenter, culture might be that much more chaotic. Maybe prayer is just the social equivalent to raising the pot off the burner before it boils over – only to place it immediately back down. We call off the overflow, but the boil beneath the surface remains. 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 Fray. Enjoy…

A Call To Think Before We Follow…

Richual…

Arrive. Light the candle. Do the gesture. Say the words. Sip from the cup. Eat the thing. Read the verse. Talk with some like-minded folks. Leave.

Arrive. Unzip the bag. Lift the thing. Do the stretch. Sip from the bottle. Eat the thing. Read whatever, while your legs move. Talk with some like-minded folks. Leave.

When viewed in these terms, it’s hard not see parallels between the observance of religion and the observance of exercise. Largely, both are based on ritual in the day-to-day practice. I think it’s fair to say, whether we are talking about religion or we are talking about exercise, many who observe these rituals don’t viscerally understand how their rituals, or that their rituals have evolved over time.

It’s also fair to suggest that many who observe these rituals don’t understand how those evolutions have been influenced by those of varying levels of intent through the decades. Often, people have been indoctrinated into these cultures and rituals superficially, without adequate study, and have only the feeling that they should be observant.  Many people feel if they aren’t observant, they will be seen by others as missing something important in their life. That is, they go through the motions unwittingly, because they feel they should.

The Bible Of Fitness…

Lore has it Rabbi Hillel was approached by a student to recite the entire Hebrew Bible while standing on one leg. The story goes that Rabbi Hillel took to one foot and spoke,

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

An early Hebrew interpretation of The Golden Rule.

The only rule that matters...

The only rule that matters…

Most religious scripture is just that; commentary on a very simple theme which, when lived by, serves us well as individuals and as societies.

I have been told many times that this book or that book is the bible of exercise. I have purchased dozens of so-called bibles in my fitness life. Each one of them has contained variations and over complications of what can be reduced to a simple theme; eat properly, exercise regularly, be consistent. In a sense, that is the golden rule of fitness.

Most exercise scripture is protracted commentary on the theme of proper eating and movement. A lot of words, variations, and agendas assembled, rewritten, manipulated, and utilized for good and for lesser intent. None of it though, more important than the simplicity that Hillel prescribed to his student while standing on one foot.

The only fitness bible you need. Hint: There are no pages inside...

The only fitness bible you need. Hint: There are no pages inside…

Who Wears The Collar: Dogma And Leadership…

I can’t pinpoint the year, but somewhere in my mid-teens is when I made the connection between religious leadership and leadership in exercise. When I was 15 years old my church gym was the Eisenhower Park Recreation Center in suburban Denver. The biggest, strongest guy there was Gary Dorren. Gary was in his mid-20s, puffy if not muscular, with red curly hair, and made his living as lineman for Mountain Bell.

Being the biggest, strongest guy in the gym made Gary the go-to guy for advice from us smaller folk. In a sense, he was our minister, and he even sold himself to us in this way. One problem; Gary was the beneficiary of good genetics and quality pharmaceuticals, not the pinnacle of wisdom nor education. He was qualified to be a telephone lineman, not a gym priest. It was poor vetting and high expectations of my friends and I which elevated his stature in our naive eyes.

One of the first pieces of advice that Gary offered me was that if I wanted to make good gains, I needed to eat a loaf of bread a day. So I took the sacrament, and for several weeks thereafter, I ate a loaf of bread every day of my life. I gained nothing but body fat.  That wasn’t the only bad advice Gary gave me, nor was he the only one who sent my eager mind down counterproductive paths through the years.

As I grew older I sought fewer answers from the exercise clergy – men like Gary who stood on the mountain top.  I quit listening to others and began looking for those answers within, where I would ultimately find them. At the heart of my search, alongside common sense, was the golden rule of fitness; eat properly, exercise regularly, be consistent.

Though I would advance to make this a career, create and share my own commentaries on that central theme through the next several decades, I have always kept my opinions streamlined and easy to comprehend, for myself as well as for those I teach.  With leadership comes responsibility. From my own perch, the responsibility I take most seriously is the idea of keeping things simple, and keeping agenda filtered out to the best of my ability.

The overcomplicated, relentlessly dogmatic, and ever changing trends in fitness are selling a lot of gym memberships, DVDs, books, magazines, and supplements. Cardio theaters fill like pews on a Sunday, pockets get lined with cash, and though there are some beneficiaries from this process, many more just go through the motions not knowing why, and with little to show for it.  At the end of the day, most answers will come from within, and individual success will be the product of simplicity and consistency. Go now, and learn it. Be well… rc

Post Script:  Please feel free to superimpose this message over the ideals of religion, business, higher learning, and politics….

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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 Harlem. Enjoy!

The Primary Colors Of Strength…

Few Ingredients…

We learn the primary colors early in life, often before we even learn to read. From combining just 3 colors; red, yellow, and blue, all other colors can be reached. Often though, we don’t need much more than the primary colors to achieve a creative conclusion.

Though many great works of art include a myriad of colors from across the spectrum, it is the seasoned artist who understands best where and how to apply those colors, or even if they are needed. Even so, some of the most advanced artists through the years have been touted for their simplest works. We call this minimalism.

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The Workout As A Form Of Art…

All traditional strength exercises are variations of 6 simple movements; pushing, pulling, bending, torso rotation, squatting, and raising the extremities laterally. Every strength exercise is a variation of those 6 primary movements.  What is a workout, if not an expression of creativity…?

Pushing: The use of force to transfer a load away from our body. There is vertical pushing, horizontal pushing, downward pushing, and pushing through any angle in-between.

Pulling: The use of force to draw a load toward our body. We can pull from overhead, pull from in front, we can pull from below, or we can pull from any angle in-between.

Squatting, bending, torso rotation, and raising the arms and legs laterally have as many variations.

Other ways in which we can vary our pushing and pulling are by adjusting hand positions. Wide grips, medium grips, narrow grips, overhand grips, and underhand grips can all be used to promote variety in the pushing and pulling aspects of strength training. These varying angles and hand positions allows us to direct tension to different areas of our musculature. In squatting, varying one’s foot position can have the same effect.

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Primarily Speaking…

I try and teach my students that not every painting requires every color. In fact, the works of art I appreciate most are those with few colors and few complexities. Similarly, not every workout needs every possible angle, hand, or foot position. This is a mistake I see frequently with others; the more is better mindset. Walk into any gym and you’ll see people of all ages and all levels of proficiency performing set after set of many variations of the same exercise by changing angles, hand, and foot positions until they are exhausted.

Though I also tend to pursue this type of variety in my workouts, I do so more on a monthly basis, not by the workout. That is, in the course of a month I might include bench presses performed on an incline bench, on a flat bench, or on a decline bench.  I might perform chest presses on a machine, with dumbbells, or with barbells in a month’s time – there is value in all of these, but rarely do I duplicate them in a given workout. Not only can that duplication be detrimental to the muscles by over training them, it is a very large waste of time – my most valued commodity.

Though variety will help to foster progress in hypertrophy and functional physicality, it is variety over time which matters much more than variety within a workout. Like the simple painting, simplicity in the structure of a workout can offer more from less.

It’s Not Rocket Science

We live in the granite counter top generation. We decorate every wall. Most of us have at least some clothes in our closet which we rarely wear or have never worn. Our phones have more power than most of us can comprehend, and our cars now do things which we could do on our own not long ago. Increasing social and technical complexity are among our many co-masters.

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For my time in the gym, that is where the real beauty is; in a lack of complexity. I usually perform one variation each, of 6 basic movements in my workouts, and use the 13.7 billion year old force of gravity to affect them. Despite what social media, many fitness trainers, and the fitness industry at large might have you believe, it’s not rocket science – it’s a simple art. Be creative, and 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 Van Morrison. Enjoy!

The Elegant Plateau…

Road Detour…

In life we often find ourselves traveling a road which takes us in a direction that was once obvious and fitting, but in time becomes no longer consistent with our personal growth and changing values.  So we choose a new road, one which we see leading us in a better direction or into the next phase of our life.  Somewhere down that road, we may realize we’re back on the original road we turned off of.  Either consciously or subconsciously we’ve circled back only to find that we’re headed in that same direction which we had exited for all the right reasons.

As it relates to my relationship with strength training, several times since my mid-40s, I have chosen to leave one road in favor of the road which makes more sense for the next phase of my life.  It usually doesn’t take long though, for me to end up back on the road I left; the road of bigger, stronger, leaner.  That was the right road for the younger me, but no longer.

At least 3 times in the last 10 years I have said enough is enough in the pursuit of more; more strength, more mass, more lean.  I well understand the limits of age; that the human body will only get so strong, so muscular, so lean.  So I choose a new road; the road of the elegant plateau.  The elegant plateau is a direction where if I don’t get any stronger, any more muscular, or any leaner, I’m ok with it.  That if I can just maintain what I have as I grow older, that is progress enough.

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This Time I Mean It…

Nearly 10 years after I first told myself enough is enough, I found myself on the road to bigger, stronger, leaner yet again.  Daily in my strength workouts I note in my journal how challenging or not a movement is.  If it’s not too challenging, and the form is intact, I note to increase the weight for the next workout.  In some exercises I’m actually using more weight in proper form than ever.  That this progress is doable is feeding me ego.  It is also stifling the very purpose for my workouts.

This pursuit of increased poundages is not breaking my body down excessively.  It isn’t hurting me.  It isn’t stressful.  It’s simply a departure from a philosophical tenet; that I just don’t need more of anything.  In all other aspects of my life I pursue less or just enough, yet when it comes to my workouts, I have been pursuing more.  I’m done.

I am once again committing to the road of the elegant plateau – and this time I mean it.  Simply stated, I will no longer pursue more strength, more muscle mass, or a leaner physique.  The condition I maintain today, is also the site of my next month.  If I can maintain this condition ongoing, I’m ahead of the game.

I look ok in a form fitted shirt – even when it’s tucked in.  I push reasonable weights in proper form.  I can run as fast as needed if being chased by Frankenstein.  I’m as lean as I’m going to get.  For all of this, I have few aches and much confidence.  I work out first and foremost to enjoy it.

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Buddhabuilding…

Bodybuilding light, or Buddhabuilding as I like to think of it, is based on the structure of traditional bodybuilding for larger purposes, but with a little less intensity, a little less volume, and a more moderate load.  It is still concerned with strength, size, and aesthetics so far as maintaining them goes.  However, it carries with it more utility in the areas of functional strength, balance, flexibility, sustainability, and the best aspect of all, a transformative, meditative state during the workout that just isn’t there when I’m in pursuit of more.

Buddhabuilding also incorporates balance and stretching movements in-between sets.  That is, if I’m doing 3 sets of incline bench presses, in-between sets I’ll either hold a stretching posture for 30 seconds or perform a balance exercise for 30 seconds, then on to the next set with more balance or stretching in-between the sets which follow.

The weights used with a given strength exercise are by no means light.  They are challenging, yet achievable, and lend themselves to a meditative state as I am better able to concentrate on the muscles involved.  This is where a connection takes place between my mind and my body that just isn’t there when the weights are heavier.

The Soundtrack & The Result…

One of the better aspects of Buddhabuilding to me is the soundtrack.  I gave up listening to music while exercising years ago.  These days it’s books on philosophy, religion, and cultural evolution which lead me through my games with gravity, efficiently building body and mind simultaneously, one hour at a time.  I had a great run at Buddhabuilding from 2005-2011 when I got greedy again and wanted more.  It’s time to get back to being me.

Liking my workouts – loving them has been the methadone of my existence for years.  It’s where time stands still for me.  I find that when I’m pursuing bigger, stronger, leaner, the physical results may be glorious, but that timeless state that sooths my soul is elusive.  When the weights are more moderate, the concentration is higher, and my mind is similarly stimulated, the result is a transformative workout, and that result is much more needed in my life than larger triceps.  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 is this from Jason Falkner.  Enjoy!

First Step On A New Road…

Hunting For Smells…

We call it, hunting for smells.  It’s the 3-4 times daily ritual of my dog, Stroodle leading me on a walk along the streets and nature trails which run through town.  We go at his whim, at his pace, and are guided exclusively by the scents of the day.  My primary job is to ensure that he safely navigates the intersections he must cross as his nose guides us through town.

More recently we have come to rest briefly at the halfway point, a small grassy park just a block off of Main Avenue. Once there, we lay on the ground together for 20 minutes or so and Stroodle warms his bones in the sun as I find purity and peace by watching the calm of his face as he does this.  This is one of the more grounding and beautiful experiences I have known.  The other day as he lay in warmth, with the sun shining on his face, and with my hand gently stroking his head, I had never seen him so content.  It stirred a few tears from me.

From Peace To Macabre…

As I held one of Stroodle’s legs in my hand, I took note of the musculature.  Not from the perspective of a fitness trainer, but from that of a carnivore.  I was looking at his meat.  Only the night before, I had enjoyed one of those roasted chickens from the grocery store – the ones which smell so good under the heat lamp that I have to buy one almost every day because I can eat one almost every day.  And that’s when I looked at Stroodle differently; I envisioned how some 3rd world refugee or indigenous hominid might view his leg as I have viewed the legs of chickens time and time again.

The rapid fire chain reaction in my mind began immediately.  First, I was upset that I even went there – that I envisioned my dog as someone’s entrée.  I went further by picturing his leg without skin and this disgusted me but I couldn’t stop.  Worldwide, I thought, few animals have avoided being meals to other animals, dogs and humans included.  Suddenly, some words popped into my head and I froze.  They were words I heard spoken several years earlier by the singer, Morrisey while being interviewed on British television…

“If it has a mother” he said, “I won’t eat it.”

That has always made sense to me.  As the parent of a child and as the steward many dogs through my life, I wouldn’t want anyone eating my children – or my dogs.

The Intimate Bond...

The Intimate Bond…

The Eagle, The Snake, And The Rationalization…

I have been down this road several times before. Under the influence of inspiration, and motivated a bubbling morality, I have told the world that I am all done eating animal products of any kind.  The longest I have ever made it was 6 months in 2012-2013.

Though my intentions had always been sound when turning away from animal products, I have applied the brakes to my stance against eating them, and dipped my fork back in the trough, by contemplating a single experience I had years ago…

In 2005 I was paddling a kayak down the Middle Loop river in rural Nebraska on a hot summer afternoon.  As I turned a corner in the gentle current I looked to the shore to see an eagle swoop down, grasp a snake in its talons, rise up 50 feet or so, and thrust the snake into the ground killing it instantly.  The eagle returned to carry the snake away, presumably as takeout for its family.

This became an ongoing reminder to me during my vegan times that animals have been eating animals since there have been animals.  And that is where the rationalization to fight my moral current with this topic has always ended; with the realization that man too is an animal who has been eating animals since man has been man.  And then I saw my dog’s leg as meat and I froze in my thoughts.

The Intimate Bond…

I recently read The Intimate Bond, a book which chronicals man’s relationship with animals since hunter-gatherer times.  Among the many ideals that were exposed to me by this book is that through much of civilization, man has revered and respected the animals he has raised to eat.  Through some of the earlier times, man has paid lesser respects to what we now call household animals; cats & dogs.  It seems now that paradigm is upside-down.  Many of us hold our household pets in higher regard than members of our family.  That, and it’s okay for chickens and cows to be kept in cages, injected with steroids and antibiotics, and subsequently slaughtered only to be dressed up with just the right amount of rosemary and lemon.

Through books like Nonzero, The Better Nature of Our Angels, and The Intimate Bond I can see the trajectory of man’s gentile is getting better over time – slowly, but consistently.  There are many things which were once common place that we no longer find socially or morally acceptable; burning witches, drowning cats, and corporal punishment in schools to name a few.

I can’t help but think that 200 years from now, along with the asinine notion of growing decorative turf lawns in the American west, and sending fossil fuels into the air by the metric ton, that the idea of raising animals to kill them cruelly, and eat them nonchalantly will be something our descendants will find disappointing if not shameful.

Social & Moral Evolution For Some…

Going back to the eagle and the snake.  That eagle has not evolved morally or socially and probably never will.  Eagles 5,000 years from now aren’t any more likely to consider the snake’s feelings than the eagles of today.  The eagle reacts out of instinct and necessity.  I don’t.  I react to options and choices.  For me I’m choosing to follow my heart and my conscience, even if people see me as a fool.

I understand that a skeptic or critic might question my stance on the use of leather, other animal related products, services, and where I might draw the line.  In truth, I have no response to this at the moment.  It’s a duality that I will have to navigate for now, but I will be exploring ways to minimize the use of all animal products until the systems that stewards animals can show me a better side.

I have taken meat and animal products out of my diet before and yes, I have gone back.  On occasion, I have even questioned whether or not plants feel pain and if so, then what to eat.  Looking at my dog’s leg though, and contemplating it as though it were a piece of meat is a place I don’t think I can ever come back from, but I’ll keep you posted.  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 Cornershop.  Enjoy…

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.

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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!

See Sections…

Wake Up Shake Up…

There are at least 5 things that must be done immediately on my awakening. Switch on the coffee pot. Open the back door for the dogs. Warm up the shower. Pee. Acknowledge dogs. Pee again. Feed dogs. Step into shower. Acknowledge dogs from shower.

Then, a little coffee, a little Sports Center, a check of the headlines to see who’s dead, and I pack my crap for the day. It all passes in a blur before I’m out the door for my morning commute. Just short of 15 miles, and roughly 50 minutes in duration, my bicycle ride to work each day is a joy.

 The Sections…

Section 1: Temecula, CA is where my commute begins; the only Mediterranean climate in the US. The first 3 miles are a flat stretch along Pechanga Parkway – the perfect warm up. On fresh legs and fueled by an apple and black coffee, the rhythm of my morning synchs perfectly. I travel at roughly 24 mph for this stretch. The air is usually crisp with a moderate to heavy marine layer overhead. There is no wind, and on strong legs I glide effortlessly through the sea of red ceramic roof tops.

When I turn left and head south on Old Highway 395, I have an immediate climb of 250 feet over the next 1.2 miles – not a chore on fresh legs, and a good way to gather my senses for the impending day. With that single left turn, I transition from suburban to rural. This stretch is a series of 2-lane switchbacks that provide a few great glimpses of the Temecula valley as I climb my way out of town.

Temecula valley...

Temecula valley…

With just a slight change in elevation, I’m now pushing into the marine layer that was once above as the mist keeps me cool. Years of geological evolution have adorned these hills with large boulders in captivating postures. I imagine them as what condominiums might have looked like in the town of Bedrock. Sadly, this crosses my mind every morning.

Flintstone Condominiums...

Flintstone Condominiums…

The mist that cools me...

The mist that cools me…

Section 2: After I reach the top of the switchbacks most of the next few miles are fairly straight and slightly downhill. As I cross from Riverside County into San Diego County, I transcend climates as well. The scrub oaks and arid hills give way to eucalyptus trees, some palm and succulent nurseries, and the floral greenhouses along the way – because everything that can grow in San Diego’s north county will grow. The scent of eucalyptus wafting through the fog smells better than freshly brewed coffee.

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This is the easy section of the ride with only 2 brief uphill sprints, but mostly my legs move to support the downhill glide. The final mile of this section is a steep downhill on which I usually coast to prepare my legs for the brief but exhilarating climb that begins on section 3.

3 miles of a slight downhill...

3 miles of a slight downhill…

Palm nursery on Old 395...

Palm nursery on Old 395…

Section 3: I turn right and cross over I-15 before I begin a short climb up East Mission Road headed into Fallbrook. This gets my heart-rate up for a few minutes, but it’s no chore. When I reach the top I usually sit up, let go the handle bars, and pull my shirt up to wipe sweat from my burning eyes.

Crossing I-15...

Crossing I-15…

The balance of my ride into work is an aesthetic gift. The ride is flat or slightly downhill with a few fun curves. I push this section hard since the peddling is easy, but I always take time to enjoy the great scenery that channels cars and bicycles alike into Fallbrook, including the little vineyard shown below.

Strawberry fields for seconds...

Strawberry fields for seconds…

Vineyard on East Mission Road...

Vineyard on East Mission Road…

The ride into Fallbrook on East Mission is roughly 4 miles, and is medicine for my soul. These views, along with the early morning fog are a large part of why I live here.

Welcome to Fallbrook...

Welcome to Fallbrook…

My Gears And Thoughts…

My bike has a double crank set. Unless transitioning, I’m always in 1 of 3 gears. Sadly, I actually have names for these gears. Even sadder, they are pathetic names; My Gear, My Other Gear, and My Different Other Gear. If I am not in one of these gears during the course of my ride, I have somehow failed with my sleep, fuel, or attitude.

Along the way my thoughts drift to the farthest reaches of my imagination, but never are they too far from what matters most — my ears.  A good defensive cyclist rides with his ears first, knowing what’s behind matters more than what is in front. Most injured cyclists never see the vehicle that hits them. Still, my thoughts during my ride entertain me far better than any aspect of popular culture ever could.

Morning on Main Street...

Morning on Main Street.  Studio view…

Still Growing As An Athlete…

Explosive athletes are physically strong for short bursts. Endurance athletes are mentally strong over long periods of time.   This commute is somewhere in the middle. I have always been a good explosive athlete, but never mentally strong with endurance sports. Though this commute is only 15 miles, it’s more than a sprint for me. I am attempting to break through the mentally strong barrier. Since beginning this commute several months ago, I am actually making strides in that direction. I’m pushing hills harder, scarcely coasting on flats, and I speed up for red lights rather than slow down for them.

My ride home is a different story.   It comes at the end of the day, in heat, usually in wind, is mostly uphill, and always after my daily workout with the weights. There is no joy there. It is simply an obligation that I must return in order to enjoy my morning commute once again, but that is a story for another essay. Be well… rc

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Roy Cohen is also available for consulting from a distance.  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 Sleepy Jackson. Enjoy!