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!

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!

First Step On A New Road…

Hunting For Smells…

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

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

From Peace To Macabre…

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

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

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

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

The Intimate Bond...

The Intimate Bond…

The Eagle, The Snake, And The Rationalization…

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

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

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

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

The Intimate Bond…

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

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

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

Social & Moral Evolution For Some…

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

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

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

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

The 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 Hand…

The Hand…

We have all seen the infant who seems bewildered by the sight of his own hand held in front of his face. He stares at it with fascination, knowing it holds amazing powers yet he has no idea what those powers might be or that he is even in control of that hand. Over time he will learn that hand is an extensions of himself and the power it does hold, good or bad, will only and always be wielded at his discretion.

I see a parallel between that infant/hand relationship and the relationship between humans and social media. It’s not a stretch to suggest we are only now learning that social media is an extension of ourselves in how we interact with others. Like the hand of the infant, in time we will learn how to use social media for good, for bad, or for purposes of indifference, but it’s still new enough that we spend more time fascinated by it and placing it in our mouths than we do honing our abilities to use it intelligently. For my part, I am trying hard to break that barrier.

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Ask The Ignorant First…

A Facebook friend posed a fitness question to her constituency recently that reminded me of how new and detached that social media hand is from the infants we all still are. The question was this:

To all my workout buddies, which is best for cardio, burning fat, and building muscle; bike riding or running? Obviously I have other workout plans but I’m really just referring to cardio and out of the two what helps more with burning fat and building muscle?

The replies to her question were many, and of course they were varied. As I followed the thread throughout the evening it was clear that the answers arose quickly enough that they were not well reasoned and certainly not well researched. They were immediate reactions of superficial knowledge belief that were offered by a sea of non-experts who likely gained that knowledge at the watercooler.

The Mecca Of Fitness Knowledge...

The Mecca Of Fitness Knowledge…

I didn’t comment on the thread nor contact her privately to offer my advice, despite that I have strong opinions on the very nature of the question, as well as the ridiculousness of the many answers.

My takeaway from the experience of watching this unfold was multifaceted. My most immediate thought was of the infant hand; that this in no way utilized the power of social media for good, despite her good intentions. In this case, the hand was advanced enough to reach out, but ended up being placed on the proverbial hot burner on the stove. If she takes the wrong advice, or attempts to blend several of the questionable replies into her fitness regimen, she might get burned.

Take the wrong advice and...

Take the wrong advice and…

My thoughts then drifted in hope that she would not heed any of the bad advice – which is usually the most attractive. One tip; that Zumba burns more calories than running, made me chuckle. Another; that protein ingested immediately after a workout is necessary to gain muscle, made me wince. I could go on and on.

What struck me most though by this question, is that it was a reminder to me that fitness expertise and information provided by legitimate experts is too often undervalued and underappreciated by the general public. The idea that useful information can be picked off a tree like an apple haunts me – ongoing. The more social media is used in instances like these, the more cheapened good information and good resources become.

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I will wish my friend good luck in her fitness endeavors, but will suggest that little will change in her realizing those goals so long as her Facebook friends are her trainers and consultants.

The Hand/I Coordination…

We’re still learning to use the hand. It is ours to manipulate and to use for good, bad, or indifferent results. If we are to use it for the pursuit of knowledge, only practice will allow us to use it with greater dexterity, accuracy, and to obtain more fruitful results.

When we use it blindly and without much thought, it is not that different than the infant staring at the hand before his eyes before placing it in his mouth as a toy to chew on. Increasingly, I attempt to use social media technology for more intelligent purpose though every so often, a pretty food picture must be shared. Be well… rc

Dinner this past Thursday...

Dinner this past Thursday…

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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 HuDost. 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!

A Fair Comparison…

I’m about to compare people’s desire to spot-reduce body fat to their need for religious salvation. To amuse you even further, I will also compare myself to Confucius.

A Day At The Beach…

About 10 years ago I took a day off to enjoy the beach with a few friends. At the time I was in my mid-40s, pretty lean, and definitely in good aesthetic and functional shape. I kind of like being at the beach – it’s a nice reward for the efforts I put into my exercise and eating regimen. It was just a casual surf day, a little chicken on the fire, some cold beer, and some sun on our backs… and hips… and bellies.

The gentlemen I was with though – my social contemporaries, had a little less back, and a little more belly and hip. As the afternoon unfolded we lay in the sun, chatted, and eventually questions began to come my way about what exercises can be used to lose body fat; hips, bellies, etc.

The Lost Diet-tribe…

I went into my normal diatribe about how fat loss is almost exclusively related to dietary concerns, and that there are no exercises – NONE which can foster or expedite fat loss in a particular region of the body. My response was based on two factors; empirical science, and my time in position working with others. Or as I like to call them, knowledge and wisdom. Confucian-like wisdom.

High on the mountain top...

High on the mountain top…

My friends appreciated my explanation, but as is always the case, they were not pleased my answers. The very idea that one has to eat less and be patient in order to lose body fat is far too similar to the story of eternal salvation; live a long time, be patient, do all the right things, and heaven awaits – but not until then!

Savior Questions For The Beach…

Later that afternoon we played some pickup football in the sand with some younger guys, two of whom happen to be defensive backs for a local junior college. One of the guys was extremely lean – shredded, and was impressive to look at. He and I began talking about the weight room when my friends joined in, asking him what he did to get his abs so developed.

First point of clarification: This was a 19 year old man who was genetically gifted, both athletically and aesthetically – that’s what skill position players in college football are.

Second Point: His only job was to spend his mornings and afternoons running sprint intervals at top seed on the practice field, tear up the weight room, and to sleep through classes and meetings. This is what college football players do – even more so at the JC level. Guys like this can and often do eat whatever they want. And by JC, I mean junior college – for now.

Now if that contradicts what I said earlier about spot-reduction, understand there is a big difference between doing a few sit-ups to lose inches, and spending a majority of one’s day running sprints and lifting weights.

No, Spot. No!

As my friends watched and listened, the JC player began to describe what he did to get his abs. I could feel the knowledge and wisdom I had shared with them earlier disappear as they created more room in their heads for something which better suited their high expectations – JC wisdom. The fact that my friends could see this man’s abs in action was all they needed in order to have false hope. And a savior was born – if not anointed.

JC, but not JC...

JC, but not JC…

Notwithstanding, the ab exercises this guy described were not only unnecessary to condition the abs, they were unsafe for anyone not already in excellent physical condition. They were abdominal exercises which offered more risk than benefit – but that’s another story.

Looks perfectly safe -- and smart...

Looks perfectly safe — and smart…

The Lightbulb…

And that’s when the light went off for me, what does it say about the human condition that when we want something so badly we often pin our hopes on things which not only seem too good to be true, but can steer us away from sound wisdom, common sense, and even science…?

We see this in all areas of life, from Keith Urban’s instant guitar success course, to investment advisers who too often throw darts on our behalf when we aren’t looking, to houses of worship claiming they alone possess the exclusive path to salvation.

There seems to be an innate desire in all of us to abandon wisdom, experience, hard work, and patience, in order that we get more of anything and get it sooner. Sadly, this includes deliverance from evil, or from adipose.

111addy

Those same friends did not benefit from the exercises they learned from the young football player that day at the beach. They probably never attempted them. More to the point, my friends did not accept or benefit from the sound wisdom and experience I offered them, and they could have – if only they hadn’t been looking for sooner, easier, and miraculous. 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 John J. Presley. 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.

111NBA

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…

111carrotop

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.

111overlaod

111ballsquat

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

111pooka

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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

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_______________________________________________________________

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

 

The Fingerprints Of Others…

I’m big on appreciating formative moments in my life; those times when a person, a circumstance, or an occurrence makes an impact so indelible that it will stay with me for years to come. I refer to these as the finger prints of others. Rarely a day passes without me reflecting on some of the fingerprints others have left on my life through the years.

From profound tragedies, to near-death experiences, to simple observations or words of wisdom that people have offered me through the years, the fingerprints of others have shaped who I am – because I allow them to.

In the past couple of months two occurrences took place that fall into this category; formative moments that I won’t let go of anytime soon.

There, But For The Grace…

Last week I was walking my dog on a well-manicured greenbelt in-between a sea of suburban dwellings clad in stucco and topped with ceramic roofs. Well out of his place, my dog and I were approached by what appeared to be a homeless man, unkempt and not walking too well – perhaps drunk.

The greenbelt of happiness...

The greenbelt of happiness…

As the man got closer, my dog, who has barked or snarled less than a dozen times in his 9 years on earth, began to growl at him. It also appeared, as he got closer, that he was well beyond drunk. Barely able to walk, but he headed our way intentionally – perhaps to ask for money.

My dog, Stroodle, sneered more as the man approached. I had never seen this behavior from him before. The homeless man, I suppose because he may have been in fear, kicked at Stroodle. Understand, he did not kick him, he only kicked at him. However, as Stroodle’s steward in this life, my protector instincts took hold and I punched the man in the chest. Not to be mean, but to keep him from hurting my dog.

Stroodle; center of his own attention...

Stroodle; center of his own attention…

The man fell to the ground and began crying. He was a sad wretch with bloodshot eyes, in filthy clothing, with no apparent direction, and then he was crying – and I had just hit him.

I attempted to help him up, but he refused. He then turned away from me, and staggered off in another direction leaving a scent of body odor and alcohol that would stay with me for a few more hours. As he was ambling away, Stroodle kept growling at him.

In the same scenario I would do this again – protect my dog using minimal force — but what was minimal…?  I can’t let go though, of the grown man on the ground crying at what I had done, though I know he was probably crying over much more.

I couldn’t help wonder where the man had been, what had lead him down this path, and where he might end up that day – or any day. There, but for the grace…

A Pee, A Picture, And A Pistol…

I had been traveling from Denver to the San Diego area last month helping a friend relocate her belongings. Rather than see her pay movers, I volunteered to load and drive a 26’ truck across the American west, with my friend and her dogs as the chase team. She was on a budget and I needed a road trip. It was a good fit.

On morning #2 of our trip we left Richfield, Utah as the sun rose. Just a quick stop for gas, and my obligatory 12-pack of Diet Coke to caffeinate the long haul ahead, and we were soon on the road. After an hour or so, I needed to make room for more Diet Coke by releasing that which I had already consumed.

We were clipping through the red clay and green scrub about an hour north of Cedar City, Utah when I spied travel complex with a large rainbow canopy above the gas pump islands. No city, no town, no other signs of civilization – just a gas stop alone in the desert. As I pulled into the complex, my friend followed me. It was soon evident that the travel plaza was no longer in business, just a truck stop ghost town. To a guy like me, that’s a playground.

If you're ever near Cedar City, Utah, ya might look elsewhere for a place to pee...

If you’re ever near Cedar City, Utah, ya might look elsewhere for a place to pee…

Since we didn’t need gas or food, and I still had to pee, I decided to give the place my business just the same. That’s when my inner child got the better of me, and I decided to explore and photograph the abandoned buildings of the complex – something I do frequently cross-country trips.

As I photographed one of the abandoned gas islands, a small SUV approached me at a decreasing speed until it came to a halt beside me. A man in a shirt and tie, but with no coat was behind the wheel. He had mirrored sunglasses that looked more like 2 compound eyes.

“I’m going to ask you to leave” the man said in a whisper. “This is private property”.

Me being me, I asked him if he was a representative of the owner, and if so could he prove it. I turned and continued to photograph some broken glass outside one of the structures.

“Hey” he shouted, “I am the owner!” That’s when I looked down to see a small handgun pointed at me.

Ok, I said. I’ll be moving on. No further words were exchanged.

I walked slowly back toward the 26’ truck where my friend was waiting outside her car, giving her dogs some water. I explained that we should get going, but said nothing of the man with the gun – since he had been out of her sight the entire time, and I didn’t wish scare her.

Up in the truck, back on the road, and still trembling from my experience, my eyes spent equal time divided between the road in front of me, and my side view mirrors for the next several hours. I would not see the man with the small SUV and the compound eyes again.

So Many Changes In Such A Short Time…

Despite my military service, and hanging out with some questionable characters in my young adult life, I had never before stood at the barrel of a gun facing back at me. Not for a moment did I think the man would pull the trigger, but afterward I could not let go how the life of my daughter might have changed if I had made one more sarcastic remark that could have put him over the edge. I continue to wrestle with that one. A fingerprint on my life, to be sure.

Unrelated to the story, just a cool picture of a snail along the greenbelt.   Taken with an iPhone set to mono...

Unrelated to the story, just a cool picture of a snail along the greenbelt.
Taken with an iPhone set to mono…

Last week I punched a homeless drunk in the chest, only to see him fall to the ground and cry. Yes, I was defending a helpless animal, but I had to hurt a person in order to help a dog. Another fingerprint from which to learn, and yet another wrestling match to take place in my head.

It is the fingerprints of others, as much or more than my own actions through the years, that have shaped who I am and who I am still to become. Like fingerprints on a doorknob accruing over time, the person I am today is much dirtier than the man I was 20 years ago. Of course unlike the doorknob, the fingerprints left on my psyche aren’t dirt so easily washed away. The dirt stays with me because I allow it to. In this case though, let’s not call it dirt – let’s refer to it character. 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 Ry Cooder. Enjoy!