Friday, August 1, 2014

Childhood Obesity

As some of you may know, in addition to being a coach/trainer/mom, I am a professor for the ISSA’s online college.  I also teach a seminar designed specifically for trainers and coaches and have written a book on training in the context of the bigger picture and how to utilize your training knowledge in the most effective and compassionate way.  Coming up in October, I will have the privilege of teaching an afternoon seminar on training kids for trainers, parents, and coaches.  I’m really looking forward to this.

In addition to my own kids, I’ve been working with kids in training and teaching situations since I was fifteen years old.  I come from a long line of teachers and education experts and teaching has always come naturally to me whether its teaching kids to ride horses, lift weights, develop sport skills, or improve their math and writing skills.  So, I have a lot of experience with kids.

Yeah, its a problem, a parenting problem.
One of the big subjects that comes up a lot in training personal trainers is the childhood obesity epidemic.  It gets a lot of attention and we all agree that it is a problem.  However, I differ from many of my colleagues in that I think the problem is very different from what most people think it is and I think it needs to be approached from a different perspective.  There really isn’t a good answer to this problem, but a lot of it is the fault of parents and caregivers who just don’t know any better, don’t know how to educate their kids about nutrition, or don’t know how to control their own over-eating issues.  Being straight here, if your kid is overweight and you have junk food in your house, you’re part of the problem.  Overweight parents are more likely to have overweight kids and that’s not a genetic issue, it’s a lifestyle issue.  Likewise, parents with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia tend to have children with the same issues.  Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen mothers tell their teenage daughters, “maybe you should order a diet soda”, or tell them they are too chunky in the middle of a growth spurt.  Own your own problems, don’t pass them down to your kids.

Obesity may be a problem, I like this much less.
That being said, I think that our society’s obsession with six-pack abs is incredibly unhealthy and expecting children to be lean throughout their development is unrealistic.  Many children are “chubby” before the onset of puberty and that’s completely normal.  Give them a few years and they usually shoot up several inches, or feet, and keeping weight on them becomes the problem.  My youngest son is a lot “softer” than my older son who has had a six-pack since he was two.  It upsets him a great deal and he won’t take his shirt off at the pool.  He’s eight years old and I find this very disturbing.  He’s a big boned strong kid and if he follows in my and my husband’s footsteps, he’ll be a tall, lean adult.  He is active and eats a healthy diet, I don’t see a problem.  But society at large has already made him feel “fat”. 
  
The gal on the right is totally aware of her weight.  No need
to point it out.  It never helps.  Never.
In the case of my son and other heavier children, I have a real problem with some trainers’ need to “diagnose” kids with obesity and treat it like a disease.  Let’s be honest here:  Fat kids know they are fat.  And we can tell they are fat by looking at them.  No need to measure, poke, prod, and make a big deal of it.  Kids are very sensitive about their appearance and making a point to measure exactly how fat they are is kind of cruel.  If obesity is a child’s primary problem, tracking progress is certainly in order, but anything more than a waist measurement and an occasional weigh-in is just not necessary.  I coach a few weight class sports, Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, and I am very careful to not make a big deal out of what weight class a kid is competing in, especially if they are girls.  All I require is focus and hard work and that’s the point of having kids compete in sports.  If they are overweight to the point that it affects their health, again, its mom and dad who need some help with nutrition and making better choices.

Rhinos are awesome and should never judge themselves
based on what unicorns can do.  
And let’s talk about genetic variation.  Humans come in all shapes and sizes.  Making a child feel like she needs to be a dainty princess when she is built like a bulldog just isn’t fair.  Likewise, making a kid feel like he should look like he’s chiseled out of marble when it’s clear he’s programmed to carry 20% bodyfat isn’t fair either.  If a kid is active, eats a healthy diet, and is happy, we don’t need to pressure them to look like underwear models.  Carrying some amount of extra weight is not necessarily a health problem and obsessing over it only causes unhappiness and low self-esteem. 


So, yeah, basically what I’m saying here is that the childhood obesity problem is not a problem in children.  It is a problem in adults.  It is caused by adults making poor nutritional decisions, not encouraging or allowing their children to be active, and refusing to see the problem for what it is.  A lot of it is caused by ignorance, but it’s also caused by laziness and a lack of attention.  Adults can make this a lot worse by not recognizing what a normal weight range can look like and insisting on perfection instead of “good enough”.  We need to take better care of our children by taking better care of ourselves, having looser tolerances, and leading by example.  Kids are awesome and in my experience, the best way to motivate kids to play sports, eat a good diet, or exercise is to show them what they are good at, not telling them how fat they are.    

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

There Is Nothing Wrong With Jogging

A whole lot of people genuinely enjoy running.
There is nothing wrong with jogging, walking, biking, swimming, doing yoga or any of the other things that people enjoy.  The human body is capable of a lot of things and most sports involve a good amount of endurance based training.  However, jogging and running have lately gotten a bit of a bad rap.  There are some people who say a few miles here and there are okay as long as you are lifting heavy and those who say that one should only ever do short sprints and others who say that running is completely unnecessary and will give you osteoporosis, arthritis, adrenal fatigue, and kill you before your time.

So what is the actual truth?

Running, for many people, is a fun activity that is good for stress relief, cardiovascular exercise, lower body strength, and a good way to get outdoors.  Fresh air is good for you, sunshine is good for you, and guess what?  I’ve never met a runner who didn’t have at least a bodyweight squat no matter how “frail” they might look.  All that running builds strength in the legs and running is WAY better than sitting on the couch.  And in terms of conditioning, put a runner through any conditioning circuit and they will grind themselves into paste.  There is no off switch.  If you feel your gym based conditioning is lacking, try taking up some long steady distance running for a few months, that’s the missing link.  This cardiovascular base sticks around for a while and eventually erodes so it is good to drink from the running well occasionally. 
    
I do both, its fun.  If it wasn't fun, I wouldn't do it. 
People who rely on running only for fitness over long periods of time may experience joint pain, postural deviations, and injuries.  Of course, they also might not.  Some people are just more resilient than others.  But for the ones that do, this is because most people cannot live on running alone.  Full body strength training is necessary to keep the full body healthy and strong; however, the degree of strength training that a recreational jogger needs to feel good is not necessarily powerlifting or Olympic lifting.  Bodyweight work and light resistance works just fine.  So the point being made here is that running is not bad, but avoiding strength training is not good.  So, do both, problem solved.

The reason most joggers jog is because they don’t feel like running as though they just hit a hornet’s nest with a rock.  Got it?   They don’t want to run faster.  And that is okay.  Yes, if they wanted to run faster for longer distances, they should include some intervals and sprint training, but the key question here is:  Do they want to run faster?  Maybe they just enjoy the process.  Everyone needs something in their life that they enjoy, let them enjoy it.  No need to judge.  If anyone told me I needed to play golf faster or paint faster, I’d wonder why they felt the need to have an opinion on that.
 
I'd rather throw stuff than run.  But its okay.
Personally, I don’t care for running or jogging.  Every once in a while, I get it into my head that I want to run a few miles and I do, but it doesn’t happen that often.  I’d prefer to walk, lift weights, and throw.  I get a good mixture of endurance, strength, and power training that way and it makes me feel good.  However, I do know quite a few people who just enjoy jogging and mix in some other strength and power work in whatever mode works best for them and that makes them feel good.

A few years ago, I trained for a Tough Mudder and had to work up to running twelve miles after forty years of never running more than three or hiking more than seven.  The run training itself was so stressful I had to stop lifting for eight weeks so that I could recover from my running sessions and keep progressing.  My gym based conditioning didn’t really translate to my running and even though I could lead and teach a 45 minute kettlebell class at the time while my students were breathing too hard to talk, trying to jog for 30 minutes just about killed me those first few weeks.  My strength served me well during that time as I never really got postural fatigue, but my legs and hips were really put to the test.  However, I have to say I enjoyed the challenge of focusing on that end goal and just putting in the work.


Everyone could use a little more Nature.  
So, yeah, jogging is no guarantee of a fitness model body, but guess what?  Neither is strength training.  In my last article, “Five exercises for your best bikini body ever”, I address this fact.  Crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  A more ideal physique (whatever form that may take) is the blend of nutrition and exercise that works best for you.  And this can take a lot of forms.  However, more ideal health, which is a much better goal, is served by a good mixture of nutrition and both endurance and strength training in a way that is not overly stressful to your body and allows you to enjoy your life.   Find ways to be strong, healthy, and enjoy your life and don’t worry so much about whether or not someone finds your way of exercising to be morally inferior.  Unless of course your particular sport is Kitten Baseball or Hand Grenade Hot Potato, because those are the things we should be outraged about.  Not jogging.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Five Exercises for Your Best Bikini Body Ever!

This article isn't what you think. Every time I see a title like the one above, I cringe a little bit. All the crunches, deadlifts, turkish getups, pullups, or burpees in the world cannot guarantee delivery of a perfect bikini body. A perfect bikini body, if we only consider appearance, is the combination of good bone structure, musculature, metabolism, and good skin. Feeling like you have a perfect bikini body is a lot more complicated and not many people will ever feel this way even if they look like they jumped off the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. And its okay. I think average human bodies are pretty awesome and when you consider what they can do, and not how they look, you might feel the same way.

But back to our exercises. 

I'm no bikini model, but I am very happy with
my physique and work hard to maintain it.
I do actually think that there are some exercises we can do to not only improve how we look and feel, but greatly improve our quality of life. The most important thing we need to exercise regularly is Patience. Exercising patience will help you stick to your healthier diet, continue your exercise program, and reap the rewards of slow and steady progress. It is simply not healthy to lose more than 2 lbs per week over a long period of time (I know, initial weight loss can be more dramatic) so slow and steady wins the race. But, if you consider that in a year's time, you can lose 100 lbs, that sounds a lot more significant. Likewise, if you are trying to build muscle, it takes time. For many people, it may require three to six months of consistent work to see noticeable gains. Personally, it took me two years of heavyish squats to get my hips and glutes to the size I wanted. A four inch all around gain, but its here to stay.

There is no guarantee, no matter how much weight you lose, how much muscle you build, or how much plastic surgery you have that you'll be happy with the results. So, the next exercise we need to work on is Self-Acceptance. Not just acceptance of the way you are, but the things you need to change. Are you as healthy as you can be? Are you as happy as you can be? Can you do the things you want to do? If you are truly accepting of yourself as is, there is no need to defend the changeable flaws that are hurting you. Whether its losing weight, becoming more active, or changing your outlook, when you see what is holding you back, its easier to move forward. And in turn, you can accept and be proud of the changes you've made. I occasionally suffer from mild depression and it is what it is, a normal part of being human. I used to wallow in it and get all wrapped up in my own bad feelings which was no good for anyone, especially my kids. Now I accept that although I occasionally get down in the dumps, when I focus on things other than my state of mind, its a lot easier to get out of that hole.

One should never deprive themselves of pie.
The third exercise is Self-Discipline. This one is tough. In our busy lives, we can often get sidelined by our schedules. Not only does it become difficult to get in our daily exercise, but we may also be in situations where eating and drinking in an ideal fashion is far more difficult. There is a lot of social pressure to eat a certain way and at certain times. My least favorite social activity when I worked in a research lab was the regular birthday celebrations that went on. Not that I'm against wishing anyone a Happy Birthday, but I am against having birthday cake forced on me at least once a week when I'm trying to watch what I eat. I found when I skipped the celebrations, someone would always put a piece of cake on my desk and if I attended the celebration and declined the cake, I got a lot of odd looks. As if I was trying to make people feel bad. I wasn't, just trying not to outgrow my pants. Self-discipline is not just about denying things to yourself, but taking control of what you can do to make yourself more successful. For example, every week, I cook about 5 lbs of chicken which I use for the majority of my meals. Because I eat very clean for most meals, when it comes time to enjoy a meal out or I feel like baking a pie, I can indulge. Practicing self-control the majority of the time allows you to enjoy your life. I can occasionally skip the gym, have a pajama day, or eat cheesecake for breakfast because the rest of the time, I am in control. I am not saying this is easy, but it requires daily practice.

My family spends a lot of time every summer at the pool and at the beach and I've noticed a lot of bathing suit bodies over the years. When it comes to physical exercise, while there are certainly some basic ones that will improve your physique, the biggest improvement to most people's bodies comes from changing their diets. Getting enough protein and not too much fat and carbs can dramatically change a person's physique. Exercise helps, but diet is the main player. If you want a bigger back, shoulders, legs, butt, etc. then you don't really have to move beyond the very basic: squats, pushups, rows, lunges, pullups, etc. Really. If you want to really add mass, you need to get into a weight room and move some weight regularly. But, for most people, walking daily, doing a bodyweight routine 3-4 times per week, and watching what they eat is all they need to dramatically change their physique. It has been shown that regular exercise improves mood by minimizing depression and anxiety thus playing large role in our mental health as well as our physical health. It has also been shown that people who regularly exercise also have a more positive body image. Whereas a lot of young girls these days are worried about their thigh gap, I had one young teen weightlifter who affectionately referred to herself as Quadzilla. She was proud of her muscular legs because she was strong. So for this particular point, just exercise! Its good for your body and your mind.

The Highland Games are my reason to
train and training makes me feel good.
Last, but not least, exercise Good Judgment. We all know we need to exercise and eat well to stay healthy and happy, but there is a lot of misinformation out there about diet, exercise, mental health, medicine, etc. Don't get caught up in the waves of nonsense. The truth is, if something sounds too easy, it probably is. If something makes you uncomfortable, there is probably a reason for it. Don't allow the cacophony of voices claiming to have the best diet, training program, or approach to living your life drown out your own. There is nothing wrong with reading what other people have to say on all these subjects, but sometimes, we just need to turn down the noise and instead of adapting our lives to the prescriptions of others, we need to integrate what is good for us and tune out the rest. This may mean that you ride your bike every weekend and work out with a trainer three days a week. It might mean that you do yoga every morning and train for triathlons. It might mean that you train for bodybuilding competitions, or compete in strongman, or simply go for a long walk every day. For me right now, its lifting weights three days a week, training for Highland Games, and walking my dog once a day. Why? Because it makes me feel good. Both physically and psychologically.


Next time you see an article claiming to have the best exercises for a bikini body, flatter abs, bigger butt, smaller waist, bigger brain, think about the above. There are no simple answers or quick fixes when it comes to living the best life you can. But, exercising patience, self-acceptance, self-discipline, good judgment, and simply exercising go a long way in helping with that.   

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

DNA Weightlifting Club

The DNA Weightlifting Club has been making some great strides lately.  My fellow coaches, Diana Ceron and Steve Johnson of CrossFit RDU, and I have managed to qualify four lifters for Nationals this year.  I'm just going to take this opportunity to show them off a little bit.

Anna Johns has lifted for me for about three years now.  She has always primarily been a CrossFit competitor, but last September began focusing solely on weightlifting to qualify for and compete in the American Open.  As a 58 kg lifter, she currently has a 142 kg total and after competing in the CrossFit Open is back to training for weightlifting.  She is competing at a weightlifting meet at Port City CrossFit this weekend and I expect her total to go up.  At Nationals, I'm confident we'll see a significant improvement.  Here we see her making her snatch opener attempts at 61 kg for this weekend's upcoming meet at Port City CrossFit.

I first met Meredith Buckner last Fall.  She is a coach at CrossFit RDU and a dedicated athlete.  As a 53 kg lifter, she recently made a competition total of 134 kg.  I think she's got another 10 kg in the tank.  This is Meredith at the Athletic Lab competition in mid-February making a 70 kg clean and jerk.


Diana Ceron, who is also one of our coaches, trained with the Colombian National Team for a number of years and is technically far ahead of most lifters I've seen.  She's currently competing as a 63 and has snatched 85 kg  and clean and jerked 100 kg in competition.  We hope to have her down to the 58 kg weight class by Nationals in July.  Here is Diana with a 100 kg clean and jerk.


Our newest member is a natural athlete and has strength to burn.  As a former football player, Richard Koonce can currently squat 500 lbs for reps and recently qualified with a 303 kg total.  We expect that to go up over the next 8 weeks of training as we mainly need to hone technique and confidence.  Here is Richard doing snatch pulls with 184 kg/405 lbs.


I'm so very proud of all our weightlifting club members and need to thank my fellow coaches, Diana Ceron and Steve Johnson for their continuing support of the club and our athletes.  As an aside, CrossFit RDU is one of the few gyms in North Carolina with a true focus on strength.  With both a powerlifting club under the guidance of three-time world IPF champion Phil Farmer and a stand alone weightlifting club, CF RDU is one of the few gyms I would feel confident sending my clients for focused and progressive strength training.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Advancing the Ball

In the book my colleagues and I wrote for our Practical Strength project, Play the Ball As It Lies, we lay out the foundations of good training:  simplified mastery of a few tools and attention to the individual yield far more results than complicated one-size-fits-all programming.  I do feel, however, that we've just reached the tip of the iceberg in terms of reaching our target audience and convincing them of the benefits of strength training.

As is pretty clear  in most of my articles, I work with a diverse crowd:  Kids, competitive athletes, masters athletes, people in rehab, and average folks who want a better quality of life.  I want to focus on two of these groups in particular here:  Kids and older folks who are either just beginning fitness or trying to sustain a long term athletic career.  With these folks, strength is invaluable. I've seen it reverse long term damage, improve performance, and lengthen periods of time between (if not eliminate altogether) debilitating injuries.  In fact, anyone I know who has kids in athletics, aging parents, or are, themselves, experiencing pain or physical difficulty in every day life gets the same response from me.  Strength training is a must.

Strength training makes you stronger.  Duh.  But what else does it do?  Good question.  A lot.  Its like teaching a kid to read and its a very lucrative investment.  An investment in joint stability, core stability, tendon and ligament strength, increased coordination, injury prevention, and improved performance.  The catch 22 that I run into with this is when people ask me, "Who should I train with?  Should I let my kids strength train? Should I send my parents to X trainer?"  This is where I pause.

Two of these kids are mine.  The other is also mine, but only
in the sense of the coach/athlete relationship.  I care way more
about their health than my ego.
Not all trainers are created equal.  More importantly, not all trainers, or strength coaches, or certified strength and conditioning coaches, or exercise physiologists, have the training or experience to properly supervise anyone in the weight room.  I've worked in a lot of gyms and have seen a lot of things I wish I didn't see.  Thing is, a lot of it is subtle.  I've seen kids ruin their knees doing heavy squats that are "almost there" form-wise.  I've seen people performing cleans with a rounded back and pulling mostly with their arms (this is a hip movement).  I've seen deadlifts performed with backs rounded like a Halloween cat, all under the supervision of a "head strength coach".  Likewise, I had a weightlifter who had to cut her training short because her cheerleading coach never thought it was useful to tell the girls to land "lightly" on their feet.  This is a hugely important cue for jump training.  After two years of cheerleading, this 13 year old had no cartilage left in her knees.  I take this stuff seriously.  I believe in good strength training, but I don't trust many of the people charged with coaching or teaching strength to do it right.

I don't know what the solution is here.  Obviously, the training industry needs to take a leadership role in making sure their trainers are executing their training correctly and not just profiting on the tests they administer.  Even more so, the colleges selling degrees to students who are meant to be authorities in our high school and college weight rooms should make sure that their graduates are teaching biomechanically sound movements.  I think training is about teaching, correcting movements, and coming up with sound programming templates that advance the individual in a way that is safe and effective.  This doesn't seem to be the goal of most programs.  Hands on training and mentoring, which rarely happens, is far more important in this arena than all the questionable training theory based on experiments performed on novice athletes and electrical devices.  (That's purposeful snark, but check it out, its mostly true.)  Lastly, I think there should be a grassroots movement to educate our children and their PE teachers and sports coaches on how to properly prepare their bodies for the stresses of sport and play through focused strength training.  There are several individuals amd groups starting to target this niche with sound hands on teaching techmiques.  I teach this to third and fourth graders, it is possible.  Furthermore, I teach this to parents and coaches and trainers and I know there is a demand for it.  

Too bad being a bad-ass viking impersonator
isn't a sport.  Cause he'd have made
the pee-wee team.
Sports in the US are mostly about selection and not development.  You don't make the team?  You don't get to play.  Too bad there's only a few weeks of practice before we select who gets to play.   If we truly believed that most kids could get to about 75% at one sport or another and made an effort to get them there, we could get them there.  If we truly believed that middle aged men and women don't need back surgery, but instead, could strengthen their bodies in a way that would lead to lifelong improvements in both quality of life and acitivIty level, we could get them there.  If we truly believed that many of the symptoms of old age including loss of balance, cognitive ability, muscle loss, depression, and weight loss, could be improved with sensible resistance training, we could get them there.

Demand more of your coaches, your trainers, and your children's athletic programs.  This should be the norm and if we create enough of a demand, we will increase the supply.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Self-Reflection

This is about as provocative as I get.
I am a personal trainer and a weightlifting coach. I'm also a mom with three kids. Being a woman in this industry often means that when I tell people what I do, they expect me to bust out the leg warmers and lead a dance class or show them pictures of myself with a fake tan and a six-pack. Lately, with there being more of a focus on strong women in this industry, I'm expected to be post pictures of myself in "sexy beast mode," maybe showing off a picture of my ass while talking about the glories of squatting for the female posterior. In other words, people expect me to be the half-naked, vapid, overly enthusiastic, two-dimensional caricature of a female fitness professional.

I'm not a fitness model, an aerobics instructor, or a gym bunny. I'm a trainer, a coach, and sometimes I'm a competitor. I'm not big and I'm not strong in the Grand spectrum of strength competitors, but I'm smart, I work hard at what I do and I'm always willing to learn more. More importantly, I know how to observe, assess, teach, and program for my athletes in a way that they continually see good results and avoid injury. I'm proud of the work I do.

As a coach, I have a few things working for me that I think have set me apart in this world:

  1. I am analytical to a fault. I am a biochemist and the ability to objectively analyze things was drilled into me for years as I completed my studies and worked as a medical researcher. I accept nothing at face value. I continually question my plans and methods. This means I continually analyze and question pretty much everything I come across. 
  2. I see myself as a teacher. I have always believed in treating my clients and athletes as students. I want them to be aware of what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong and how to keep moving towards "more right". 
  3. I have good observation skills. I trained horses and taught riding lessons for a number of years. I have a good sense of body language and subtle shifts in position, effort, and center of gravity. This takes a lot of time just watching and analyzing movement.
So, in a nutshell, my trainees and I think I'm good at what I do. So do my fellow coaches. However, being a female who does not resemble the stereotypical sexy gym beast, I feel I have to constantly prove myself in this industry. Being largely involved in weightlifting, powerlifting, and highland games, its men I have to prove myself to. I am not given the benefit of the doubt. I'm left having to demonstrate in some way that I know something about training. I'm often given the old, "oh, isn't she cute with her tiny little arms and talk about bench pressing".  

Its about the lifters guys, not us.
At the American Open this year, I had to fight my way through a crowd of goatee-ed alpha males all pushing each other around and clamoring to adjust their lifters' attempts, none of whom had the decency to allow me to approach the judges' table to check on my lifter. Luckily, I'm small and was able to slip between the barrel chests and armpits to adjust my lifter's attempts. In fact, during a few sessions, I had to remind a few male coaches that the answer to "can we share your warm-up platform?" is "YES". Well, except for Zygmunt Smalcerz, he was a true gentleman and not only let me share his lifter's platform, he helped me change the weights on the bar.

As a local USAW judge and referee, I got into a full-blown altercation with a coach who felt that he had the right to let his lifters damage the meet equipment by slamming bars after they made their lifts. After asking him politely not to do it, he tried to intimidate me by addressing the audience and create an uproar. Would he have done that if I was a 300 lb man? I think not. (Slamming bars in a meet is now a red light offense so I won't have to deal with that problem anymore.)

My main point is that the world of strength and conditioning, weightlifting, and powerlifting, this is still very much a man's world. and they don't know what to make of me. I routinely meet male coaches who very obviously do not take me seriously. Then there are those who act like they are taking me seriously but slip in the casual innuendos and their real intentions become apparent. This has happened in this field more times than I care to count. Guys, don't take my politeness for deference. I'm damn good at what I do and if you bother to engage me, you might learn something.

Just do good work.  It shows in a lot of ways.
 Happy clients is one of many.
There are exceptions. At my first national weightlifting meet as a coach, I got quite a few stares. It was clear that the other coaches were wondering what the heck I was doing in the warm-up area. Until my lifter began warming up. And then I got some appreciative looks, some compliments for my lifter, and even a "Nice work Coach!"

This industry is about a lot of things: Egos, sex appeal, money, popularity, celebrity, and all that other nonsense. Here's what I think it should be about: Teaching people to be better physically and mentally. That takes an intelligent, patient, and insightful approach. It doesn't take six-packs, money, sexy clothes, fake tans, silicon, reality tv shows, or podcasts. It takes people who are willing to put their time and thought into the well-being of others. It’s important, especially if you care about the people you train. That's why I'm willing to keep pushing ahead in this industry even when it’s unpleasant. I'd like to think that there are a lot more trainers out there willing to do the same.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Play the Ball As It Lies: The Art and Science of Teaching Strength

Well, we've finally done it.  The seminar textbook for the Practical Strength project is now available as an ebook.  If you are a trainer or train yourself, its worth a read.  The fitness industry relies too much on confusing information, celebrity personalities, and a lot of nonsense.  It really can be very simple.  Not easy, but simple.

Purchase the Book


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Its not complicated.

A good coach is a good teacher.
Matching socks not required.
This article is going to start off talking about diet, but that's not what its about.

I recently hired a performance nutrition coach.  I hadn't ever considered doing it before because, well, I know performance nutrition.  If I give someone a plan and they follow it, they will lose fat, gain muscle, all the stuff they want to do.  But, that's the hard part right?  Following the plan?  I've been trying to follow my own plan for the better part of a year and, well, I'm not really good at telling myself to shut my mouth and make better choices.  Sometimes the coach needs a coach.

My nutrition coach gave me something relatively simple, not so different from what I would give my clients, but tailored specifically for me.  Amazingly, I'm finding that I am doing some things very differently under his direction.

1.  I'm following the plan and not making excuses, justifying substitutions, thinking I can think my way out of not eating ice cream every day.
2.  I'm sticking to my training plan and making time to train because if I don't train AND eat the right way on the right days, it doesn't work.

So, did I need "THE" magic diet prescription?  Or did I need someone to tell me that this was the plan that I would be sticking to if I wanted the results I want?

A little of both I think.  I spend so much time thinking and planning for others that I don't really have a lot of time or energy left to think about myself.  This is the primary reason I handed over my training plans to a trusted colleague a few years ago and I've trained better every since.

So, this idea that sometimes the coach needs a coach is an important one because the truth is, we all do better with a little outside coaching no matter what it is we're doing.  Writing, teaching, learning, we all do better when we have someone to provide a little guidance to help us take ourselves from point A to point B.
To train for the Highland Games, I didn't need
a complicated plan.  I needed to learn to throw.
To bring this around to my area of expertise, I see in the fitness industry these days a trend where enigmatic individuals promote their complicated and enigmatic diet and training protocols and receive great fanfare and praise from the masses.  Let me translate that to be less snarky:  There are training programs all over the market these days that are the end-stage training programs for very experienced athletes who have been training for 10-20 years.  There are also overly complicated nonsensical programs being pushed as one-size-fits-all solutions for a number of different sports and disciplines. Due to "I-can-do-it-all" syndrome, its more and more common for people to believe that they need to adopt the practices of elite athletes and follow complicated programming for their general fitness needs.  And like the title of this article says, its not that complicated.  There's no need to buy into this idea that advanced and complicated is the way to go and I'll tell you why.

Most people do very well with a simple program and the guidance of a thoughtful trainer or coach.  The plan does not have to be complicated, it has to address the needs of the individual and there's no better way to do that on an ongoing basis than to have someone who is knowledgeable give you regular and helpful feedback.  A simple plan and a thoughtful coach will lead to more success than all the complicated plans you may come across.  It doesn't mean that training isn't hard or demanding.  But, with a simple template to work from and good feedback, a plan can be far more efficient and exclude all the extraneous nonsense that can negatively impact recovery or even get you injured.  Perhaps it is also easier to follow a simple plan when you have a coach to guide you as you have someone interested in your success.

Since he was already competing in track and field and
baseball, Francis's powerlifting program was all
about a few lifts with good form.
I will go so far as to say that a coach who gives you too many instructions or restrictions is not confident in his or her plan and has decided to cover ALL bases just in case.  But, this isn't the role of a coach.  The coach is there to steer you on the best course, prioritize your needs in the context of the plan, and keep you motivated such that you reach your goal.  If my nutrition coach told me to drop all grains, dairy, and fruit, I would know he didn't really know what he was doing and was trying to starve me into my body composition goal.  Instead he gave me some calorie ranges to start out with, some macronutrient recommendations, some solutions to some issues I was already having, and some relatively high expectations.  He expects me to succeed and so do I.

A good coach will start you off slowly on whatever course you are on.  He or she will assess where you are, see what you can handle, enhance your strengths, and improve your weaknesses.  All through simple observation and feedback.  If you are trying to eat an elephant, swallowing it whole is neither possible, nor safe to try.  You have to do it just like everyone else, one bite at a time.  

If you are a coach or a trainer and have your own training goals, follow your own advice and hire a coach.  Think about what you want out of that relationship and empty your cup.  Be prepared to do what you are told, but at the same time be wary of overly complicated schemes and a lack of support.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Embrace Being Vulnerable

A friend sent me this TED talk earlier today and I encourage you to sit through the full twenty minutes.  It is indeed, life-changing.  For me, it made me realize how much I appreciated my family and our "vulnerable" whole-hearted approach to life and also made me realize why I felt so bad when I shared my life with those who were not vulnerable, but merely sat by and judged.

The one "thing" I would like for all of you to take from this regarding training is this:  If you are not training to do the best that you can do, regardless of outcome, think about why.  Are you ashamed that someone may think less of you?  Do you feel you simply can't do any better?  Are you worried that if you don't come in first, second, etc., that you aren't worthy to compete?

For some of you, these questions may seem strange, yet, they are the challenges that most of us run up against and therefore decide to stop trying.

I have a friend who once ranted against people entering competitions "for fun".  I didn't understand it til now.  Its not that one can't have fun competing, its just that if you aren't trying to do your best, consider why?  Because you do, indeed, have a best.  And its better than you think.  Don't be afraid to be vulnerable.  Its the only way to use your whole heart.