Choose Your Trainer Wisely…

Do As I Do And Also As I Say…

I am proud to have mentored a handful of people into fitness training careers. Another friend and former client completed her initial NASM fitness training certification this week.

On her completion she posted the following question on her Facebook page:

“So now that I got my fitness trainer certification, do you think I should get in shape? I mean like for real?

This is actually a serious question. A friend of mine and I are having this ongoing conversation, in which I claim that a trainer is like a coach and needs to know how to teach fitness and how to motivate but doesn’t have to necessarily be an athlete him/her-self. Just look at the coaches of Olympic gymnasts, for example.

My friend disagrees saying that expectations of fitness professionals are different than those of coaches. There’s probably some truth to that. What do you think?”

The thread of answers to her question were more mindful and insightful than I would have expected. To extract the commonalities from the many answers suggests that being in immaculate shape should not be a requirement or even a consideration for her. However, being in reasonable shape should be attempted if not maintained. Below is my own reply:

“I think it’s important to be in reasonable aesthetic shape, and able to perform movements as well as, if not better than your clients.

You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to be ripped, jacked, or shredded. You need to be able, and you need to be mindful.

Since you are both able and mindful, end of discussion.”

What Is In Shape…

Of course what lays at the heart of this question is the definition of in shape. I once defined my own belief on what constitutes in shape or fitness as follows:

“Physical Fitness is the sum of average or above average balance, flexibility, strength, stamina, and confidence. If these can be displayed while maintaining a reasonable aesthetic form, all the better.”

I stand with that definition today. Of course the terms average and reasonable aesthetic form are subjective.

What Does A Fitness Trainer Look Like…

I have been associated with dozens of fitness trainers through the years. They have come in all shapes and sizes, and though my place is not to judge, when I have judged other fitness trainers, I have done so exclusively based on 2 criteria; their knowledge, and their ability to communicate that knowledge. That, THAT is what a fitness trainer should look like!

Through my own career, my shapes and sizes have varied. I have been extremely lean at times when preparing for long distance races, bodybuilding, or living with longer bicycle commutes.

I have been bulkier at times when focusing on strength, relaxing my eating standards, or when I have backed off of (but never away) from my own fitness regimen. Despite what I have looked like, my knowledge base and my ability to communicate that knowledge has only increased. There have even been times when you might have looked at me and thought I might need a fitness trainer, and that’s kind of my point.

When the picture below was taken, I was not proud of my aesthetic shape. Nor was I ashamed of it. At the time this picture was taken, I was actually quite strong, as well as posting very good times on my bicycle and with my trail running, despite that the picture might indicate otherwise. In fact, at the time this picture was taken, I was very competitive within my circle of hardcore fitness friends. I was also working a full schedule as a fitness trainer.

When one friend saw this picture, he sent me an email stating,

“My god Roy, get that under control.”

Maybe I will, I thought, maybe not. That picture did not define, in any way, my client’s experiences with me.

Cyclist, trail runner, strength trainer, and professional fitness trainer.  Circa 2011

Cyclist, trail runner, strength trainer, and professional fitness trainer. Circa 2011

Factual Selection…

I have read many times what to seek when selecting a fitness trainer, and I have also been asked this question regularly. Of course what is written by others, and what I believe are often in contrast with one another.

What a trainer looks like should be among the least of one’s considerations when choosing a fitness trainer. I also believe that education, certifications, and continuing education are not the most important factors in the selection process.

Teaching physical fitness; the sum of balance, flexibility, strength, and stamina is not rocket science. Though a basic education and some experience is needed to teach these qualities, it is the ability to communicate them and to effectively demonstrate them which matter most.

Cyclist, trail runner, strength trainer, professional fitness trainer.  Circa last month...

Cyclist, trail runner, strength trainer, professional fitness trainer. Circa last month…

If you are looking for a fitness trainer I will suggest that communication skills and ability to demonstrate proper exercise matter much more than the shape of their arms, the size of their waist, or the titles they have won. Look past the electric tan and the hairstyle. Before selecting a fitness trainer, ask to watch them at work. 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 David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights. 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.

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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.

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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…

Intentional Trainer…

Critical Mass…

It has been pointed out to me that I can be excessively critical of fitness trainers not named Roy Cohen. Maybe. I am confident though, that even the greenest trainer in the average gym knows more about the basics of strength training than a majority of the members in that gym at any given time. My criticisms more often relate to the intentions of the trainer, and his methods.

Above all things, what matters most to me when teaching strength training, are safety and efficiency. If a trainer ensures the safety of the student, and plans an efficient workout, then a positive outcome is more likely. I see this combination, of safety and efficiency, rarely when I visit box gyms.

More often what I see in other trainers are people standing over their clients, scarcely engaged, hypnotically counting, and largely forgetting the task at hand; helping establish an improved physicality for the student.

Intentions…

As a trainer who always invests in the best possible outcome to a given workout with my students, the hardest thing for me to witness in other trainers is a lack of intention. Yet this is the most obvious flaw I see in other trainers – that they would rather be anywhere else.

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There is a good foundation for the cliché that trainers become trainers because they don’t want to get a real job. I can even say that of myself to a degree. I often tell people I get to do recess for a living, but I take my recess seriously. The trainers who don’t take it seriously, make that cliché shine.

Last week I was training in a local box gym. Since I know an executive with that chain, I spoke to her in advance of my workout. She suggested I keep my eye out for a trainer I’ll refer to as Agent RubberMade. She explained that Agent RubberMade was the busiest trainer at that club, that he made good money, was highly regarded, and even trained the president of the company.

Why do I call him Agent RubberMade…? On identifying him at the gym, and watching him for several days, I had regularly seen him eating out of  little RubberMade containers which were ever-present in his hands – while with clients.

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That this trainer is highly popular does not surprise me. He is a competitive bodybuilder, is good looking, and seems to know his stuff. Sometimes I guess that’s all you need. That fact that he knows his stuff is a bonus to his clients. Even if he didn’t, he’d probably still make a good living, and be highly regarded because, good looking bodybuilder…

It’s been 5 weeks now since I’ve been keeping my eye on Agent RubberMade, and he is an adequate trainer though I don’t believe his reputation is deserved. People are certainly getting something in exchange for the time and money they are giving him, but I don’t doubt they are getting full value.

Eating during training sessions notwithstanding, I have seen Agent RubberMade display most of the common stereotypes while training his clients. Texting. Stepping away or turning his back on his client in mid-set to talk with other gym members. Being excessively enthusiastic and back-slappy to the point of annoyance. Allowing his clients to talk during an exercise. And of course the big one for me, not paying enough attention to exercise form.

All that said, his clients are still better off with Agent RubberMade than without him. Without some amount of leadership and instruction, a new gym member has few choices but to mimic the actions of others – who have mimicked others through the generations of fitness enthusiasts, and so-on.

Cash Cow…

Something you may be surprised to learn is that with most of the big chain gyms, the trainers have one job above all others – to generate revenue for the facility. This is done in two ways. One, by selling more training sessions to existing clients. The other is where the real money is made, in getting their clients to bring in new members in the form of friends, family, and coworkers.

That’s right, the criteria for a trainer keeping his job is not in being a good trainer. It’s in being a good salesman. In the corporate structure of most chain gyms, the dedicated salesperson is a job in decline. In the current era, it is the trainer who is depended on to increase revenue for the club. And that business model works.

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Two days ago I ran into an old friend who now trains for this chain of gyms which I am now a member of. He is an excellent trainer, and has been at it for much of his life. After my workout, he and I sat at his desk and caught up a bit. He discussed the sales revenue he generates for his club. In his best month working there he generated $9,000 of new business, though he averages $6,000. That’s pretty good for the club since they keep 60% of that. The trainer gets the rest, but then has to pay taxes and liability insurance out of that.

If the club employs 4-5 trainers bringing in that much new revenue, then that’s $18,000 per month in sales from the floor after the trainers are paid, walk-ins and counter sales notwithstanding. The good news for me as a member of this chain is the 75/25 rule of corporate gyms. That is, 75% of the members which pay monthly dues never uses the club, thus supporting the 25% who pay and do use the facility.

Dedicated Space…

A great irony for the consumer of paid training sessions in big box gyms, is that they are often relegated to small areas in the gym known as the trainer area. These areas often have limited strength and functional fitness equipment. They are in place to keep trainer and client free of the primary workout areas, especially during peak hours when multiple trainers and clients in the open workout area can create traffic jams.

For the cost of a years membership, you can have a "trainer area" in your own basement..

For the cost of a years membership, you can have a “trainer area” in your own basement..

Of course the irony is that the client is not only paying for his gym membership as well as expensive training sessions, but that for all of that money he is corralled into a smaller section of the gym which has less equipment to work with. Many exercises done in the trainer area are body weight exercises which could be done on a person’s living room floor.

Options Away From The Box…

With that in mind, I’ll suggest a better option for many would be to train in a private fitness studio. I don’t say that because I own one. I say it because I have a good understating of the fitness industry at both the micro and the macro level.

Most private fitness studios are not in business to increase profits each month. They are in business because they are run by, and employ people who are more likely to care, and wish to positively impact the lives of others.

I'll suggest that a client/trainer relationship in a big box gym, rarely becomes a life long friendship...

I’ll suggest that a client/trainer relationship in a big box gym, rarely becomes a life long friendship…

Hiring a trainer who will come to your home is also an option – depending on what your goals are, as well as what equipment you may have at your home. This can be a convenient, and far less expensive option than going to a chain gym.

I’m not suggesting that working with trainers in big box gyms is a bad idea. I am though, suggesting that if when one takes crowds, cost, and the trainers intentions into consideration, I would not choose a chain gym as my first option. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks for Part III of this series; a look at the many exercises that make no sense whatsoever. Oh, and there’s this from the great J. Mascis. Enjoy!

Eating As It Relates To Exercise & Fitness: Outline For My December 9 Workshop…

This is the outline for my December 9 workshop on Eating As It Relates To Fitness & Exercise, to take place at the Nederland Community Center.

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Sustainability

Regardless of what methods a person chooses to lose weight, add muscle, or better condition themselves as athletes, unless that person chooses a path of sustainability, any progress made will be temporary. This workshop has several agenda points:

  • To share thoughts on eating as it relates to exercise, which are sustainable.
  • To help avoid choosing extreme means.
  • To help avoid trend hopping.
  • To provide practical advice which is relevant, and has been proven to work.

The Math Of Calories

Per Hour: Calories burned per hour are dependent on several variables; level of daily activity, relative muscle mass, BMR (basil metabolic rate) An average woman in her late 40s burns roughly 1700 calories per day, or roughly 70 calories per hour.

While Asleep: While sleeping, the same woman will burn calories at a slightly lower rate – approximately 10% fewer. So in an 8 hour sleep, she will still be using 500 calories worth of energy.

Don’t Eat After 6pm (wrong answer): So if a person does not eat after 6pm, and has breakfast at 8am or later the following day, that person is going more than 50% of the day without ingesting necessary fuel, though a majority of her overall calorie burning will take place between dinner and breakfast. That math does not add up. Not only is it okay to eat a snack later in the evening or prior to bed, it is recommended.

Skipping Meals

Skipping meals is among the most common methods people use to lose weight. This may work for some in the short-term, but rarely is this a sustainable option.

Hibernation theory in a nutshell: It’s simple; if you are not bringing calories into your body on a regular basis, your brain sends a signal your body to slow down the metabolic process. It senses fewer opportunities to take in fuel, thus it conserves what it’s given, and also slows down the use of stored fuel (body fat) as an energy source. When the body gets fuel on a more regular basis, the metabolic process is heightened, maximized, and more efficient with using stored ingested fuel as a form of energy, rather than storing it as body fat.

Quick Eating Ideas

Meatloaf: In the past I have relied on meatloaf to get me through some of the busier times in my life. Meatloaf is a vague term, and isn’t always associated with healthy eating. However, when the right ingredients are used, not only can meatloaf be healthy and support an exercise lifestyle, it can be convenient and also support a busy lifestyle. In busier times, I will make two bison or turkey meatloaves on a weekend afternoon. After they cool, I cut each one into 7 slices, wrap them in cellophane, and put them in the freezer. I then have 14 meals available for the taking. Paired up with a small premade salad and/or a piece of fruit, a slice of meatloaf can be filling, nutritionally fulfilling, and balanced.

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Coffee Creamer Protein Powder: I am not a huge fan of drinking meals vs. eating them. There is much data to suggest that drinking meals regularly has a negative impact on the metabolic process. There is as much data though, that suggests skipping meals is worse. I will acknowledge that in today’s busier than ever lifestyle, there are times when drinking calories and nutrients may be a person’s best option. For those busy on-the-go mornings, and for those who don’t like to eat breakfast, a reasonable alternative is a scoop of protein powder in your morning coffee in place of creamer.

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I won’t suggest here what types of protein powders are better – please message me privately if I can help. I only offer that a scoop of protein powder stirred into your morning coffee rather than creamer, can add flavor and provide needed calories after your overnight fast. Accompanied by a piece of fruit, this might not be ideal compared to a prepared meal. However, for active people this will serve you much better than skipping breakfast or grabbing a muffin on the go.

Cold Oatmeal Stored In Containers: Like the meatloaf, pre-making large amounts of oatmeal and storing it in plastic containers in the refrigerator carries a level of convenience. Cold oatmeal may not sound appetizing, but it actually has the consistency of bread pudding, and isn’t messy if you eat it while driving.

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Frozen Meals: Chemical additives notwithstanding, for their convenience, taste, nutritional balance, and expense, frozen meals such as Lean Cuisines, can be a useful tool in calorie management. The arguments against these, relative to the person’s goals, rarely hold up with me. Additives, GMOs, blah blah blah. If the goal is calorie management, its’ hard to go wrong with a balanced frozen meal, and a piece of fruit for lunch or dinner.

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Exercise Recovery

Eating for workout recovery is often misunderstood. I’ll start by suggesting that post workout eating should be relative to the workout itself. What to eat for recovery matters much more for hardcore athletes than for those chasing weight loss or general fitness. Protein is perpetually touted as the best nutrient for workout recovery.

To an extent this is true, but there is no need for immediacy here. Since rebuilding blood sugar and glycogen stores post-workout matter most, taking in simple sugars in small amounts after a workout can have a positive effect. I know many seasoned athletes, myself included, who go straight to the Gummy Bears after a session. Just a few will do the trick though.

Later, I will have a meal which will include an equal portion of protein and carbohydrate to further aid in exercise recovery. The carbohydrate is necessary in the utilization of the protein.

Protocols

There is no shortage of eating protocols being thrown about these days as being supreme. If any one protocol were truly supreme, no other would likely get results. Clearly this is not the case. Paleo, Low-fat, Mediterranean, Eating Right For Your Type, Low-carb, and High-protein diets among many others all have one thing in common; they are centered around calorie management.

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With the truth being in the middle, calorie management and portion control, not the specific protocol, matter more.

I know of no eating scheme that provides for unlimited quantities of any food group, with the exception of green vegetables. When it comes to eating protocols, what matters most is picking one and sticking with it. My own suggested eating protocol for fitness and wellness can be referred to as – The Balanced Diet.

I don’t think it’s farfetched to suggest that including modest amounts of protein, carbohydrates, right fats, and simple sugars into one’s daily eating scheme would doing anything other than to promote health and fitness. To eliminate any of these suggests that nature is ignorant and we are superior.

In fact, a balanced diet based on portion control and calorie management is often overlooked by people as they jump from trend to trend, subscribing to any or all of them for the short-term, and none for the long-term.

In fitness, as in life, the answers are often right before our eyes. We miss so much when we look beyond simplicity in search of magic. 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 John Fairhurst Band.  Enjoy…

An Open Letter To Leaders In The Fitness Community….

Dear Fitness Leaders,

Congratulations, you are a leader in the fitness industry – I bow down.  Whether you lead by the dozen, or lead by the millions, the eyes of your followers are on you.  Please keep in mind though, that the eyes that follow those who follow you, are also on you.

Whether you are new to fitness as a career, or you are one of the many established “experts” in the field, please allow me to share my thoughts with you, on how to better conduct yourself in an industry that isn’t just evolving, but one that is erupting vomiting its way into chaotic advancement. 

Don’t forsake the trust that got you where you are…

Understand that when people choose to follow you, right off the bat, they have given you something sacred, and something that should be most coveted by you – they have given you their trust.  Nurturing that trust may be the key to both longevity, and respect in your fitness career.  I’ll suggest that your career will be only as fulfilling as your respect for that trust goes.

You can use the trust of those who follow you to advance your career.  Or, you can use the trust of others as an opportunity to grow with them, to learn more on their behalf, and to advance the causes of fitness as a whole.  I think this is a good way to be.

People have chosen you.  Regardless of their reasons for that choice, they have placed their trust in you.  They hear the words you speak, they read the words you write, and they retain the actions they witness from you.  If you’re going to lead, lead with honest words, honest actions, and humility.

If you refer to your followers as disciples, I’m asking you right now to wear a tin foil hat so I know who you are.

Shut The Fuck Up Settle down Francis…

Making noise and rattling cages to prove yourself right is only slightly less savory than making noise and rattling cages to prove others wrong.  You may be wise.  You may be educated.  You may be experienced.  You may be all of the above, or some combination, and you may even be right.  You don’t however, always have to establish yourself as right. 

It’s actually not too hard to be right, and to be quiet – simultaneously.  This skill will serve you well in your career.

Don’t just lead, support…

Don’t lose sight that among our primary roles in this industry is the role of being a support system for those who follow us. 

To properly lead, it’s not enough to just point and say, go!  It’s of greater importance to understand the horizon from the vantage point of those furthest back.  Remember to stand beside those who follow you at the most critical times, maintaining awareness and respect of the differences between their view of what’s ahead, and your own view.

Ideally, the best support system a student or follower will have will be their friends and family.  Too often though, this proves not to be the case.  Though it’s not possible to be emotionally available to all of your students, all of the time, I’ll suggest you strive to be as available as you can be when needed – and you will be needed.  This will go a long way in helping them fulfill their goals.

Lead by example…

As a leader in my own community, I strive to ensure that I lead by example.  Some days that example is better than others, but I live with the knowledge that the eyes of my community are continually on me.  Whether I am in a grocery store, a restaurant, an athletic field, or a bar, my community is watching.

Though I often joke that at the end of the day it’s all about Roy, at the end of the day I know this is not really true.   

At the beginning of the day, fitness leadership is about sharing.  At the end of the day, it’s all about reflecting, to better share the following day what I have learned today.  In-between the beginning and the end of the day, fitness leadership is about many things, but above all else, it’s setting good examples.

You’re not that grand, and neither is your idea of fitness…

It’ pretty easy to believe, and subsequently suggest that being “fit” is the right way to be and to live.  Fit, at best, as a vague term which can mean many things. 

Too often leaders in the fitness community strive to pass off their own fitness values as an improvement to someone else’s life.  I have been guilty of this myself.  Often times what we pass off as fitness can be detrimental to longevity and physicality.  This is something I continually struggle in coming to terms with. 

Just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I should do it – or that it’s going to help me live longer and better.  Notwithstanding, suggesting that others do it may be detrimental to their physicality, their longevity, and their health. 

Circles beyond our own…

There many people in the world who never formally exercise or eat “clean”.  There people who could care less about a lunge, a set of repetitions, a chicken salad, or a WOD.

Humility

There are many people who are content with who they are and have no desire to look like an action figure.  There are even people who are obese and okay with it, as there are people who are out of shape and okay with.  There are people who live to eat, and not eat to live as we always suggest.

That those people don’t play in our fitness circles makes them no less valid, no less worthy, and no less of a person.  I know of many great people doing amazing things in the world who eat Pop-Tarts, tater-tots, and other hyphenated non-foods.

I know of family leaders, business leaders, community leaders, and just plain salt of the earth folks who could give a frog’s fat ass about what we think is so important in the name of fitness.

I’ll finish by suggesting that each of you step back, take a good distant look at you consider fitness to mean.  Then, take a good distant look at the rest of the world and consider, for just a moment, what they might believe fitness to mean.

From this perspective, to truly quantify and establish how exercise may benefit someone’s life – how it may benefit society as a whole, is much harder than science has lead us to believe.  In fact, it’s not possible.  And you, you little fitness expert, are no more of a spec on the ass of humanity than I am, and please never forget that.

Go now.  Mount your high horse and charge on!

Sincerely,
Aggressively Humble Guy

PS: If you are a political, business, or spiritual leader, same shit goes for you.  rc

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see what  happens when I hit the “stop” button on the blender in my head. 

Into the mystic…

Into the mystic…

Yesterday I wrote on my Contemplative Fitness Facebook page about how I believe an extended calorie deficit is required to promote fat loss.  By and large what I wrote was accepted, but there were a few comments, and a few more private emails which suggested (reminded me) that at some point a calorie deficit may not be enough for fat loss to continue.  This is true, and at some point there does exists a gray area.

The ideal of fat loss is based on manipulating a system.  Like all systems, the metabolic system has varying components and influences.  Components and external forces work with or against each other to determine the result of that system.  Examples of these variations included quantity of caloric intakes, insulin resistance, hormone production/fluctuation, sleep, activity level, and food intolerances to name just a few.  These all can influence metabolism, and subsequently fat loss.

I’ll suggest that most people attempting fat loss, be it for aesthetic reasons or for reason of improved health, don’t have a clue where they stand with regard to many of these factors, with the exceptions of caloric intake, and activity level.  Thus, people focus on primarily on caloric intake, and activity level because these are within an individual’s mental grasp, and immediate control.  Ghrelin production?  Food allergies…?  Not so much.  Many people reading this will have to use The Google to find out what ghrelin even is.  Few people know of their food allergies, intolerances, or hormone discrepancies.

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When I talk about these intangibles in metabolism, the analogy I like to use is that of cardio activities.  Many people who attempt fat lost engage in a cardio activity to help accelerate the fat loss process.  It’s clear that burning calories is good, and that cardio burns calories.  With this in mind, people take to their cardio theater somewhat intelligently, yet somewhat blindly, and go 30, 45 or 60 minutes at a time – whatever.

Rarely (never) have I seen anyone calculate the precise cardio duration required on a given day to meet their goal based on these variables; BMR, BMI, age, blood sugar at inception of exercise, KCals of the current 24 hour span, and caloric intake of the current 24 hour span.

If someone were to calculate their required cardio duration for a given day based on these variables, it would probably not be the cookie cutter 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or 60 minute of cardio commonly done.  I don’t know of anyone who uses that kind of math to accurately calculate their daily cardio activity to the precise minute needed in order to maximize fat loss on a given day.  I don’t even do that myself. I just choose 30 minutes, or 45 without knowing the details of what I truly require on that day.  In short, I eyeball it.

Back to calories in vs. calories out.  The broad brush stroke that I painted yesterday is just that; a broad brush stroke.  By and large if one lives in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time, one will lose body fat – we just eyeball it as best we can, despite the many unknown intangibles involved.

Should someone live in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time, and not lose body fat, I will suggest the following things:

1.      Know your BMR.

2.      Accurately track your ingested calories daily to ensure there is a continued deficit.

3.      Accurately track your kinetic calorie expenditure to ensure you are promoting a deficit.

4.      Track your sleep patterns.

5.      Spread your calories out as evenly as possible through the course of a day.

The science of metabolism is getting better, but like all sciences in this era, there are at least as many unknowns that there are knowns.   If you follow the steps above, ensure their accuracy, remain true to them for an extended period of time, and still do not lose body fat, see an experienced endocrinologist to explore potential hormone imbalances, and food intolerances.

Your general practitioner or primary care physician may be a good person, and may have even coached your kid’s ball team, but he or she probably knows slightly less about the many variables in fat loss than the monkey-see-monkey-do editors of Shape magazine, or the Fitness Blogasaurus you put such blind trust in.

It’s a science, but not a science wholly understood just yet.  I will always suggest that when questions arise, you yourself should dawn the lab coat, be the note taker, collect the data of you, study that data as it applies to you, be the scientist, and hopefully master your system before you place it in the hands of professional amateurs.  Just my opinion…  rc

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Spain.  Enjoy…

A RUN FOR FUN IS QUICKLEY DONE…

This is the final installment of my intermittent series on running.  To revisit the first three essays, they are available here.  Part I, Part II, Part III

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Gone with the wind…

For those who have followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I have maintained a love/hate relationship with the ideal of running – throughout my entire life.  I have run though, because I do fitness for a living.  Since running is an alleged standard of fitness, I have always felt a responsibility to perform at an average level, or a little above on rare occasions.

Here’s the truth:  I hate running more than a hundred yards or so at a time – I just do.  Not far beyond the quarter mile mark of most every run I have ever taken, the act of running has become a joyless chore that I can’t wait to complete.  By the end of most runs I find I would rather be whipped across my back with a salt encrusted porcupine than take another step.  Still, I have run.

I have felt this way since my first cross country run in the 7th grade.  During the thousands of runs I have taken since, I have most always wanted to stop a run, turn, and slowly walk home.  One word has always defined my running experience; hateful.  I find the feeling of running hateful.  Despite these feelings, I have run thousands of times – thousands.  I have run competitive 5ks, 10ks, 1/2 marathons, and full marathons, and have even participated in a 200 mile relay race from Huntington Beach to San Diego.

Competing in last year's Ragnar relay from Huntington Beach to San Diego.

Competing in last year’s Ragnar relay from Huntington Beach to San Diego.

I have run alone, I have run with friends, and I have run with strangers on occasion.  With the exception of one 1/2 marathon, and a couple of inspired runs in Athens, and on the island of Mykonos last year, I have found little joy in running, only obligation.  I have pretended to like running as I have pretended to like a cute girl who scarcely knows the recipe for toast.

roy_athens

After a rare inspired run at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens last year….

Breaking the chains of obedience…

Sprinting however, the act of running my guts out, and being immediately done with it, I have always appreciated.  And I’m good at it.  I have been fast for short distances my whole life, and I recover quickly from such runs.

Where for the past 10 years or so I have regularly fit at least a few 2 to 4 mile runs per week into my schedule, often longer and more frequent runs when race preparations have warranted it, I now divorce myself from the emotional ball and chain that is the joyless run.  I cite irreconcilable differences.

Sprint protocol….

I have taken up once again with a flame from the past; interval sprint workouts.  I have loved, enjoyed, and always looked forward to these – since I was a teen.  That’s just how I’m wired.  I write essays, not novels.  I run sprints, not distance.  In the absence of those regular short distance runs, I have begun again to enjoy a 30 minute sprint workout, one which I have been doing on and off since I was 17 years old.

My unscientific protocol, which  have enjoyed in the past, and have come to enjoy again is simple; I run 70-100 yards at roughly 70% – 80% capacity.  I stop, I turn, and I walk back to where I started.  I then immediately turn, and run again.  I do this uninterrupted for roughly 30 minutes.  I walk away stimulated, cleansed, refreshed, and better conditioned for my efforts.

This protocol is nothing I have ever read about.  It can find no scientific basis to support it.  I’ve never met anyone else who does it, though I have shared it with others, and some of them continue it to this day as a primary form of exercise.  I made this workout up when I was an awkward teen looking to fill a void in my non-social Friday and Saturday nights.

I have always found this workout to be challenging, achievable, good conditioning, and dare I say less toxic on my joints than longer slower runs.  Perhaps this lack of harshness has to do with a sprinting stride being more horizontal than a jogging stride, thus minimizing impact on the feet, and the supporting joints.  That’s just logical speculation on my part though.

Let me make clear, this not based on the currently in-vogue Tabata protocol.  Nor is this a question of HIIT vs. steady-state cardio.  This is Jhciacb protocol at its best; a recipe exclusive to the creator which I have used at various times in my life to sooth my brain, alleviate my stress, stay on the leaner side, and make me feel good – if only for a moment.

I pray to Crom…

With regard to my many running friends who will find blasphemy in my contempt for distance running, I am truly sorry.  I don’t share my feeling about longer runs to offend you, and I respect that running brings you such joy.  However, I have never experience that kind of joy from running distances.  The stress of forcing my sprinting square peg into a distance running round hole has just grown tiresome.

I’m not out to bash your god, distance runners.  I’m just no longer willing to be obedient to him.  In running as in life, I don’t pray to your god, I pray to mine.  For far too long now I have forgotten the importance of being true to that ideal – in running as in life.  Be well…  rc

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Please check back in two weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there is this recent video which fittingly accompanies a great song from Gary Numan.  Enjoy…

The inner light…

The inner light…

It took me a long time to have this picture taken.  That is, it took a long time during the photo shoot.  You see, I had to stop and cry a lot.  Taking my shirt of, and revealing the body shown below made me feel worthless – based on where that body had previously been.

Roy_Pig

Taken on 9/11/12. Ironic, as it looks as though I committed and act of terrorism — AGAINST MYSELF!

I had to come face to face with it though – with what I had allowed to happen to my body.

This photo was taken on 9/11/2012.  Ironic, as it appears I was in the process of committing an act of terrorism – against myself.

In truth, I just let my guard down for a while.  “For a while” could easily have turned into forever, but I didn’t let that happen.

No, I’m not going to insert of photo later on in this post of how I look today.  Trust me, I look fucking great.  That’s not my point.

I’m sharing this for two reasons:

1)  To let those who struggle with issues of personal fitness, eating, and body image know that we are all human, and we can all become vulnerable to life’s challenges – even experienced fitness trainers.

As a fitness trainer, former marathon runner, lifter, cyclist, bodybuilder, and life-time practitioner of daily action, I became vulnerable to all things which anyone else might find blocking their path; depression, relationship issues, self-loathing, junk-food-medication, alcohol, and more.

Once I when I realized I was down though, I chose to get back up, and here I stand.

2) To remind those prejudiced, zealot fitness assholes who think they know everything about life, about exercise and eating, about how to change the body, the mind, and the attitude, but who actually prize physical appearance above all other virtues, that at the time this picture was taken, I was still very active.

Shell shocked, but still functioning…

At the time the picture above was taken, I was running with my running pack each week, and fairing quite well.  I was lifting daily, and ahead of the game with my poundages.  I was still a good business man.  I could still crack a nice joke.  I could still turn a phrase like ringing a bell.  I was still a good father, a good friend, and a good citizen in my community.  And what I looked like didn’t have a fucking thing to do with who I was on the inside.

Yes, I want to look good – but looking good is only a shell.  Though my shell may ebb and flow through the rocky course of my life, so long as I live my intentions, who I am on the inside should never waiver.

I no longer look like the picture above.  If I did though, the only thing that would be changed about me, would be how I’m perceived by (some) people around me.

But that wouldn’t really be about me, would it…?  It would be about them, and their prejudiced tendencies with regard to physical appearance and beauty, which can be separate from functional fitness.

In truth, I do prefer the way I look today over the way I looked in that picture.  And trees are made out of wood.  I went to a party several weeks ago wearing a pair of jeans I could have worn in high school.  There was a confidence in doing that which escapes description.

The confidence that comes with looking better and possessing a higher level of personal fitness does, I believe, enable me to contribute better to all facets of my existence.  Perhaps that is the single greatest rationalization of my life.  I don’t know…

Looking good, feeling good…

This I do know: There is a difference between aesthetic fitness, and functional fitness.  Aesthetic fitness is simply the act of looking good – looking good is optional.  I believe all of us though, have a responsibility to be functionally fit – the progression of our society depends on it.

I won’t attempt to deny the superficiality that is behind my pursuit of being aesthetically fit.  I would rather go through life with aesthetic fitness than without it.  I try very hard though, not to judge any person for any reasons, least of all for what they look like or how they function.

In my day-to-day psyche I work very hard to remember that in the end, none of us will be judged by the shape our abs or whether we do sinister justice to that little black dress.

In the end, we will only be judged by the deeds of our minds, of our hearts, by our actions toward others, and that whatever we do, be done out of love.

Taking me back…

As far as getting back to my current level of conditioning an appearance goes, to change the landscape of the human body; both in terms of ability and in terms of appearance, there are not two more important words than:

–          Awareness

–          Discipline

I became aware of that which I wanted to change.  I applied the discipline required to affect those changes.

In fitness, I believe these are the only two words which matter...

In fitness, I believe these are the only two words which matter…

With a healthy respect for those two words, an entire attitude can be formed, and a body can be changed… Be well.  rc

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Please check back in two weeks to see what happens when I hit the “stop” button on the blender in my head.
Oh, and there is this from Poi Dog Pondering.  Enjoy….

Never mind. Always mind…

Controlled Hysteria…

It’s said often that the mind is more powerful than the body.  If a person taps more deeply into his mind, his physical capacity can be greater than if he attempts physicality with his body alone.  We’ve all heard the myth of the mother lifting the car off of her endangered child.  That, and similar stories have been recounted through many years in varying regions of the world.  Myth isn’t something that never happened.  Myth is something that happens over and over again.

The phenomenon known as Hysterical Strength is involuntary.  Hysterical strength seemingly can’t be summoned, only experienced.  It is unique to an unexpected moment, such as seeing a loved one trapped under a heavy object.  However, anyone who has been involved in strength training with more serious intentions, and who is familiar with this phenomenon, has surely attempted to experience that kind of superhuman strength on demand.  I have.

I wonder if she's wishing she hadn't picked it up...

I wonder if she’s wishing she hadn’t picked it up…

In fact, I deliberately draw from my mind as much, if not more, than I do from my body when I attempt to lift successively heavier weights.  Not just with heavier weights either.  I also draw more from my mind when I seek to lift the same weights for more repetitions, or in more complete form.  This mindset has been the primary tenet of my style of strength training for a majority of my life.  Because I’m not genetically gifted in the areas of strength and power, I have learned to use my mind to take my body places that my genetic predisposition could not meet.

One of the least explored aspects of strength training, for far too many people, is that the body is used almost exclusively to carry the load in the weight room.  The mind is too often left on the wrong side of the gym doors.  For many, it seems, there is no supreme connection between mind and body.  To me this is at the heart of progress.  So much potential remains unfulfilled when the mind fails to enter the workout.

Where my workout really takes place...

Where my workout really takes place…

Foster The Progress…

Physiologically the human body does not change that much from week to week, and less from day to day.  When we intelligently track what the body is capable of in the form of exercise journaling, we have information available to us that can be used to feed our minds, and help us increase the body’s capacity.  I have written down nearly every workout I have taken since I was 15 years old.  That’s a lot of information.  It is the most recent workouts though, that offer the most useful information; what have I done for me lately…?

My workout journal.  Written in a code so confusing the Rosetta Stone couldn't hep...

My workout journal. Written in a code so confusing the Rosetta Stone couldn’t hep…

If I have recently used a given weight for a certain number of repetitions of a particular exercise, then I know I have it within me to do it again.  True, some days are better than others.  Some days, I’m just not feelin’ it.  But that’s my point.  On those not feelin’ it days, it is more likely that my mind is not feelin’ it, with my body acting as directed by my mind. 

When I wrap my hands around a bar and begin to lift, I have one goal above all other goals; to complete my set with better form than the set prior, despite that fatigue from prior sets has minimized my capacity.  As I do this battle with gravity, I understand that the outcome takes place in my mind first.  Only after my mind accepts the impending task, is my body directed to execute that task.  It’s all I think about in-between sets.  I simply try to create myth, over and over again.

“Every battle ever fought is won or lost before it takes place.”  Sun Tsu, from The Art Of War.

The Art Of War.  Best fitness book ever written...

The Art Of War. Best fitness book ever written…

I live that ideal with every set of every workout.  Whether I’m successful in achieving this is not as important as consistently attempting call my mind into the workout.  I accept that my body is only going to get so strong.   I simply seek to make a priority of going to a place in my mind where I think exclusively about increased capacity and perfection in form.  I take what I know my body is capable of, based on history, and I then ask it for at least as much, and often end up with just a bit more.

From this management of my exercise, my capacity can be maximized to fulfill my potential.  Capacity and aesthetics are my joint destinations.  Though my body may be the vehicle, it is my mind that plans the route and steers the course.  Be well.  rc

Religiously Fit…

I often use the analogy of faith when speaking about a fitness lifestyle.  Matters of faith are where we often make our most mindful decisions.  Fitness dogma may sound silly, but there is a definite parallel between religious faith, and the realization of fitness objectives.

To succeed in fulfilling a fitness agenda there must first be curiosity. After curiosity, there must be structure, leadership, ritual, and obedience. Finally, there must be belief; the belief that something better awaits a person for adhering to the observance of the ritual. Sounds like religion to me.

I actually do celebrate my fitness as my primary religion, and I’m not ashamed to say that because it’s not where my true faith lies.  Exercise is however, where I’m best connected to my creator and to my potential.  Exercise is where the inner me and the outer me come together.

If one is going to toss stone tablets, one will need strength, balance, and a strong core…

If one is going to toss stone tablets, one will need strength, balance, and a strong core…

Suggesting that exercise be compared to religion may be offensive to some people, as suggesting that Toy Poodle be the other white meat.  Still, to be whole is to be physically reverent, not just spiritually reverent.  Be well.  rc