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!

A Failed Conversion…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End Of A Meaningful Streak…

Field Marshall…

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

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

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

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

Cardio Party…

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

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

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

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

On a challenge day with Marshall...

Warming up before a challenge day with Marshall…

The Pact…

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

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

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

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

All Things Must Pass…

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

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

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

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

The one that got the better of me...

The one that got the better of me…

Best post-workout nutrition in Fallbrook...

Best post-workout nutrition in Fallbrook…

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

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

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

The Exercise Graveyard – Graveyard…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Flemish entertaining legend, Bobbejaan Schoepen. Enjoy!

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!

Confessions Of A Cutter…

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

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

Great music to cut by. Even for cutting weight…

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

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

Fine.  Really.  Just cutting calories...

Fine. Really. Just cutting calories…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And when I’m in a real hurry…

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

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

Ten minutes - start to finish...

Ten minutes – start to finish…

Dessert -- one spoonful at a time...

Dessert — one spoonful at a time…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Oddity To Commodity

Cleft Values…

The more available a commodity becomes, the less value it usually holds. Muscle seems to follow that axiom. At a time when lean muscle mass is more accessible and more prevalent than ever, I’ll suggest its value, in the way it is appreciated by its possessor and by those in the periphery, is on the decline.

In this era when round triceps and striated deltoids are the desired look for the 18-24 year old bro set, I liken muscles to cubic zirconia; readily available, the cheaper the better, fake is ok as long as it looks real, and at the end of the day it’s usually ill-used and underappreciated. Muscle has become a young man’s bobble.

What most attracted me to recreational bodybuilding in the 1970s was the rareness of human muscle as a commodity. The contrary nature of cleft muscle in a sea of otherwise ordinary beings was so compelling to me that I would build my entire life around attaining and preserving it. And because it has been a calling for me, I have never allowed myself to take it for granted.

It’s Time To Meat Up…

I currently split my workouts between my own studio, and a typical commercial gym in a nearby suburb. On any given week more quality physiques pass through that gym than existed in the entire city of Denver in 1977. That’s not an exaggeration. I see outstanding physiques on bros and buddies alike that would rival the competitive physiques at the highest levels in the 1970s.

Most of the physiques I see in this gym are not competitive bodybuilders. They are simply competitive followers, who wish to have what all the other young men have – even if they don’t understand what it does or why they want it.

111meatup

We first came to appreciate superhuman physiques with our superhuman heroes; Tarzan, Conan, and later on The Hulk, Superman, and GI Joe. Each new generation seems to have added a layer of muscle.

111gijoe

Later on, superhero physiques with even greater proportions could be found in the ranks of the NFL, the UFC, and even the NBA became has become a domicile for action figures.

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Today ornamental muscle transcends sports. Actors, news anchors, and even comedians commonly display physiques that 30 years ago would have been considered out of the ordinary if not world class. Our social expectations have evolved that we equate muscle to male relevance. This often makes me wonder; what might we equate a lack of muscle to…? That question haunts me, ongoing…

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Earning Is Learning…

Clearly I’m not against the achievement or even the display of muscle. Cultivating functional and aesthetically pleasing muscle has been my occupation, my vocation, and the most grounding influence in my life. What it is that gives muscle a place of such esteem for me, comes down to a single word – appreciation. I appreciate the musculature of my body. Not just for how it looks, or how well it functions, but because I appreciate and enjoy the process of using and preserving it.

When I talk with young men in the gym I often hear of the pain, the suffering, and the long hours associated with making meat. Suffering…? Suffering is finding out your kids is dead. The tactile act of repeatedly extending and contracting my triceps, even to the point of a slight burning sensation is a luxury, but is nothing I grieve over. Long hours in the gym…? I’m done in 45-50 minutes. Pain…? My workouts help keep all those pains associated living everyday life at bay.

Despite my occasional suggestions otherwise, I regularly witness methods of exercise which defy science and logic, yet they have become central to the acquisition of muscle. The potential for physical and emotional injury seems to increase with every new bad idea. From excessive muscle overloading to squatting on a phisio-ball, there is much I just can’t reconcile with science, let alone common sense.

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Accidentally Jacked…

To me the biggest disconnect that I regularly see with young men and strength training is that they rely heavily, if not exclusively on blindly following others who blindly follow others, rather than exploring their own abilities as it relates to their physicality. They fail to connect their minds with their bodies.

Many of the young men I see boasting that meat-nouveau have attained it with little consideration for how they got there or what it’s really worth. In a frustrating irony, bad ideas, youth, and good genetics can still combine to create good results early on. A willingness to lean on extreme supplementation and pharmaceuticals can accelerate this process with even less thinking involved.

While youth, good genes, and drugs may combine to build a decent physique in the short term, to have intelligently pursued and acquired a lifestyle of well used muscle is a path of exploration worth knowing. For me, this quest has provided the foundation for all the subsequent intellectual journeys I have taken.

Possessing muscle in the long-term is a commitment that I’ll admit can sometimes be a burden. The dividends though, far exceed the investment for those willing to learn as they earn. I’ll also say that possessing muscle is a responsibility. It should be carried with dignity, used with respect, and displayed as art, not as something to be worn at spring break with a pooka shell necklace. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button in my head.

Oh, and there’s this: To this day, the biggest grossing private event held at the Whitney Museum Of American Art was to raise funds for the movie Pumping Iron. Today we can see comparable physiques in any gym in the country.  Sad…

Function Follows Form…

From Strength Comes Wellness…

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

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

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

111benefits

But Few People Care To Know…

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

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

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

A recipe for success, yes...?

A recipe for success, yes…?

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

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

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

A recipe for success, yes!

A recipe for success, yes!

There’s More Than One Way To Be Poor…

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

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

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

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

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

Function Follows Form…

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

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

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

Which makes more sense, this…?

Or this…?

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

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

With Benefits Comes Enjoyment…

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

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

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

please take a moment to scroll up and rate this.  thank you.

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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!