A Few New Gigs: How A Love Of Others Finally Surfaced, And Finally Slowed Me Down…

A Quick Inventory…

It wasn’t that long ago, that I was immersed in the relentless pursuit of all things physical – or as many as I could fit into a day.  Lifting heavy weights daily.  On a rapid hike.  My stair-stepper, treadmill, or bike. I have used all these to escape from the world around me.  As recently as two years ago, I might have done all those things in a single day.  That was my pace for years.  Sitting still, I have long reckoned, left me vulnerable to the chaos of the world around me, and more so, to the turmoil within.  In mathematical terms…

Spare Time + Movement = Escapism

I would fit in time for work as I needed to, but only because I had to – work is what supports my movement.  In hindsight, between work and exercise, I left little room for anything or anyone else in my life.  As I consider this now, it seems I have spent the past 2 decades running away from the chaos of the day, and from the puppets in my head, soliciting lesser thoughts to my weakness.

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Wars, natural disasters, school shootings, the relentless media and social media, the strained relationships of my past, and the abundance of ignorance around me, have never been fast enough to keep up with my racing heart and trekking feet.  My daily action has also been a method of self-medicating one (possibly more) mood disorders, and increasingly, I wonder where I fall on the spectrum.

As the distant worlds though, and the worlds more proximate to me have grown more complex, and seemingly more chaotic, the worlds within me have simplified.  Though I still find value in my daily action – strength training cycling in particular, my need for a physical release has lessened, and my desire for escapism has minimized, or shifted.  Rather than running away, I find myself running toward…

The Guillotine Chop…

If there was one factor – one moment that helped me revaluate my disproportionate level of physical activity, it is the day my mother moved in with me.  Okay, if comparing mom moving in with me to a guillotine chop sounds unsavory, I’m being kind.  In truth, her moving in was more like a dull bread knife cutting into the fragrant baguette that was my self-absorbed life.  Deep down though, I knew what I was getting into, why I was doing so, and honestly, I have never questioned it.  As my mother ages, she is going to require more from me – and that’s a most honorable gig.

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Shortly after moving in, my mother quit driving.  Step 1 of my changing life began.  If my mother was not going to drive, I would make certain that she would still get out of the house each day of her life.  My hiking time, would become my time to take mom shopping, to her exercise class, or to lunch.  There were several other reasons that I gave up my daily hike, but that it consumed nearly 3-hours of my day, and was usually in the middle of my day, was reason enough.  This would now be mom’s time.

Paging Doctor Doolittle…

One day in 2012, a friend observed my dog sitting on my lap as we watched TV.  She pointed out that as I stared at the TV, my dog had his head pressed against my heart as he stared up at me – like I was his world.  Though I’ve always been a dog person, that was the moment I became a Dog Person.  The entertainment my TV brought to me was meaningless drivel to occupy my mind.  But to my dog staring up at me as I watched TV, I was his entire world.  From that day forward, I have dedicated no less than a large chunk of time to sitting down each day, and holding my dog on my lap – feeling his head pressed against my heart.  My workout my might get shortened, or skipped altogether in favor of my dog’s attention.  Yet another honorable gig…

Shortly after mom moved in, and after my dog won my heart – again, a cat named Mischa entered my life.  My soulmate family grew by one more.  Mischa, like Stroodle, requires a certain amount of lap time each day.  I provide this to her, unquestioned.  So, as the love of my mother and of my pets has expanded, there has simply been less time for running away from the world via exercise.  No complaints though.  In exchange for my time, I receive dividends of love. However, I have also noticed that taking mom to the thrift shop, petting my cat, and walking my dog – and doing so for them, are also ways to escape from the worlds around me.

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Friendship And Community…

As I have found myself giving more time to my mother and to my pets, I have begun to question why I haven’t been giving as much time to my neighbors and my community. I have long believed that volunteerism in a small town is what is keeps community blood flowing.  I have not done much in the ways of volunteering here in Fallbrook.

This week I submitted an application to join the local Rotary Club.  Shortly after, I sent an email to the director of the local Senior Care Foundation, offering my services to conduct workshops on balance and walking for the seniors in my community.  I know time spent engaged with these organizations will cut into time otherwise allotted for physical escapism.  Two more honorable gigs…

The Life Of Pie…

As I reapportion the 19-hour pie that I refer to as my waking life, the thing I’m most coming to realize is this…

…my need to escape from the chaos of the day is very real.

However, it’s just as gratifying, perhaps more so, to run toward something than to run away.  Maybe…  Jhciacb

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Throwback Thursday…

TBT…

Social media has given us Throwback Thursday; an idea from which we can reflect on and share people, moments, or situations from our past. I enjoy seeing what others have to share. I also sharing my own experiences. In times when social media can be chaotic, clumsy, and ridiculous, TBT is simple fun.

Like some kind deconstructive self-evolutionist, I spend much of my internal life reflecting on fingerprints of others; the persons and moments which have been most pivotal in my life. There is one person though, who has had more influence in my life than anyone.

The Person, The Place, And The Cause…

I was waiting outside Russel Dorren’s homeroom class in the west building of Cherry Creek High School in 1976. The kid standing next to me was a year older. He and I knew each other casually through the weight room of the local recreation center. He was short, had pale skin, wore tight fitting Levis, had a small waist, and shoulders so wide that they stretched the back of his tucked in flannel shirt to extremes. He was Scott Rupert.

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Cherry Creek West Senior High School

Scott was the only kid in school with that bodybuilder look; broad shoulders, a small waist, and round arms barely contained by sleeves. We see that look everywhere today, but in the 1970s it was rare, especially in high school.

Waiting for the classroom to open, Scott invited me to workout with him sometime at the 20th Street Gym in downtown Denver – a more serious weight room he had discovered. He described it as the “Gold’s Gym of Colorado”.

A week or so later, I stepped out of my comfort zone and went with Scott to the 20th Street Gym. It took 3 bus connections and about 90 minutes to get there one evening after school. I walked in and the place smelled of effort and intensity – what others might have called sweat. Disco music provided a faint soundtrack, but was good accompaniment behind the rhythm of clanging weights.

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20th Street: The Gold’s Gym Of Colorado…

I had never seen such a concentration of bodybuilders. I immediately keyed in on one man, John Suddemeyer. John wasn’t big, but he had a very tight physique; vascular, and athletic.  He had what bodybuilders of the day called the finished look.

Through the evening Scott would point out all the local bodybuilders and powerlifters who comprised the regulars. There was JT LaSasso, whose acne covered back left droplets of blood on the bench press after set he performed. Rich Clench, Mr. Colorado, with arms that looked more like adult water wings. Steve Ponzi, a local powerlifter who made his living bouncing at bars and collecting hard money loans. Finally, there was Al Mack. Al had a 22” neck and more resembled a brown bag full of bowling balls than a human being. Al Mack would become an early mentor to Scott.

My 132 lb. high school frame felt very out of place, but I stuck around and trained legs and shoulders, feeling inadequate while Scott and Al Mack did 45 minutes of uninterrupted pull-ups. Mostly, I used the time to observe. I learned more that night by watching others, than I had in my previous 2 years at my local rec center gym.

Fast Forward…

Sometime after that 1st workout at 20th Street, I decided I would put all my eggs in one basket, and cover that basket. Due to the long bus commute, I couldn’t train at 20th Street too often, but frequently enough so I could keep observing, and keep learning. Inspired and better educated, I would transfer what I learned at 20th Street to my rec center workouts. Within a year I weighed 165 lbs.

Scott would later runaway release himself from high school on his own recognizance, and head to Brownwood, TX to learn from world class powerlifter, Doug Young. When he returned from Texas Scott was larger, stronger, and better informed. Scott would share that knowledge with anyone who would listen. I listened.

Scott spoke of Doug Young’s unusually slow eccentric (negative) phase of the bench press. In Scott’s words (paraphrased), lowering the bar to the chest more slowly, provided a better opportunity to connect with one’s power zone for an increased maximum lift. That ideal – the slow negative, changed my life forever.

Over time I would make my own study of slow negatives based on Young’s technique. I dissected it, studied it, and applied slow negatives to virtually every strength exercise I would ever perform or teach.

From that study I would understand that slow negatives, a full range of motion, and a very slow transition during the cross-bridge cycle, are superior for stimulating muscular growth, increased strength, and the best dividend of all, an increased awareness and command of one’s physicality which applies to all functional movement beyond the gym doors.

I have made a good livelihood teaching the value of slow negatives in strength training.

Sir, Yes Sir…

Scott would go on the enlist in the United States Marine Corps, and have an excellent career. Now retired, Scott and his wife live in Las Vegas where he continues to powerlift and train with weights regularly. Through social media, Scott and I reconnected a few years back and I am grateful.

Nearly 40 years after he took me to the 20th Street Gym, and decades after he taught me about Doug Young’s slow bench press style, I can say Scott’s presence in my life has impacted me more, and steered the direction of my life more than any other influence.

Fingerprinting…

We are the sum of many influences; from the date and zip code of our birth, to who we meet and when we meet them. Whether we realize it or not, we are guided through life by the presence of others. I’m certain Scott will read this, though I’m pretty sure he’s had no idea how much his presence influenced my life.

As we are guided by the influence of others, we should care to remember that we also do a fair bit influencing – of leaving our own marks on others wherever we may go. I know the fingerprints I have left behind haven’t always been clean, but I try hard these days, to be cautious when I touch the lives of anyone else. 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 Bad Company – one more fingerprint Scott left on my life. 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!

Sets-sual Healing…

Under the phrase, strength training, the opening paragraph of Wikipedia sites some of what strength training supports; bodybuilding, weightlifting, powerlifting, as well as several strength-related sports that we’re all familiar with.

What it doesn’t reference, at least until much later in the citations, is wellness. Even at that, it does so scarcely. ‘Sniff…

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A conflict in the posse…

I recently received and email from a fellow trainer. She was seeking advice on how to deal with a client whose bodywork practitioner suggested that her strength training was too hard on her body, and counterproductive to his own work. The person in question had decided to give up on strength training altogether as a result of this practitioner’s influence. The trainer in question sought my advice as to how to retain this client. I suggested only that attempting to keep her was a losing cause for all involved.

Though I have respect for most aspects of wellness and healing arts, the term bodywork practitioner reeks of guruism. This term is most associated with therapeutic massage, but no massage therapist I know, from any genre, refers to his or herself as a bodywork practitioner. I could similarly pass myself of as a practitioner of skeletal-muscular engineering. Or not. Regarding this trainer’s concern, I’ve seen and dealt with this first hand on multiple occasions.

The issue here is layers deep, but at its core this is an issue of perception. To deal with and overcome this issue would require changing a person’s total belief system when it comes to wellness and physicality. No easy task. Though I will never quit trying, my success rate in changing a person’s entire belief system is quite low.

Peeling back the layer…

The first layer that needs to be peeled back is so thick that it obscures all others, and in fact may be the only layer which needs to be removed at all; that strength training is the red headed stepchild of the healing arts. In fact most people don’t associate strength training with the healing arts, or even as a form wellness. Too often, the wellness community views strength training as an endeavor for knuckle draggers, mirror gazers, and views it as mindless, harsh on the body, extreme or, all of the above. That reputation though, is well deserved. And guess what…? Overcoming that reputation lays solely the leaders of today’s strength training community.

Sometimes you can peel back the layers, other times they need to be whacked...

Sometimes you can peel back the layers.  Other times they need to be whacked…

In the 40 years since a strength training renaissance was inspired by the movie, Pumping Iron, weight rooms across the county have been used and seen largely as places where meatheads go to throw weights around, grunt, scream, buy steroids, and otherwise avoid meaningful employment. Again, that’s on us. Clichés become so and are perpetuated because too often they are true.

Science and common sense…

While gym rats from the 1970s through the current era have been doing their best to paint a curious, if not bizarre image of the weight room and all that goes with it, scientists at the university level have been working hard for decades to breakdown, examine, and demonstrate the value of strength when practiced correctly by the general population.

Gym Rats:  Spreading bad ideas like diseases since the early 70s...

Gym Rats: Spreading bad ideas like diseases since the early 70s…

The list of benefits associated with proper strength training is extensive, and real. I’m not going to site them here, but there is no shortage of data available to the curious. Physiologists by the thousands have demonstrated time and again that there is much utility associated with strength training as a form of wellness, and that it is beneficial to all age groups. Science notwithstanding, common sense shouldn’t be ignored either. There is no scenario I can envision, when strength training is practiced properly and under intelligent instruction, that it can have a negative impact on the human body. Who reading this would like to be a little less strong, or less capable of anything physical…? Suggesting strength training as a negative can be analogous to suggesting one not take care of their car’s engine.

The Pantheon Of Wellness…

For people who have the means to hire me, it’s not uncommon to have more than one me in their life. This can be part of the problem. I have had clients contract my services who have also had on their payroll, Rolfers, yoga masters, Tai Chi Sifus, Pilates instructors, pain management specialists, bio-cranial therapists, reflexologists, and more.

Not a guru.  Just trying to help people find, if not reach, they're goals...

Not a guru. Just trying to help people find, if not reach, they’re goals…

Though I have never had an issue being just one aspect of someone’s pantheon of wellness, the very idea of an expanded support system comes with inherent conflicts. I can say honestly that for my part, I have always been respectful and supportive of other wellness practitioners who also consult with my clients. I can also say though, that the same mutual respect is rare. The respect I have seen in the pantheon of wellness through the years seems to fall something like this:

  1. Yoga
  2. Pilates
  3. Massage Therapy
  4. Chiropractic
  5. Acupuncture
  6. Rolfing
  7. Reflexology
  8. Everything Else
  9. Strength Training
Ah, the true pantheon of wellness...

Ah, the true pantheon of wellness…

I’m sincere when I say this; I don’t expect this to change in my lifetime. I can only hope that the practitioners and leaders of the strength training community of today will try hard to present themselves with increasing intelligence, and carry themselves with an improved decorum into the future so that, at the very least, my grandchildren can see strength training take its place above, “everything else”.  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 Morphine.   Enjoy!

Lead us not…

Who’s Your Cheerleader…

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

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

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

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

1 – A relatable cheerleader

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

3 – A schedule of movement and eating to adhere to

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

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

From Confucius to confuse us…

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

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

Buddhabuilding: The Middle Path…

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

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

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