Training Tips & Anecdotes

Tips to be your best in the gym and life. Stories to make you laugh and sometimes see the light...

Top 10 Excuses Not to Exercise

I am not known for my patience; my learning and coaching style is one of a militaristic drill sergeant and I do very well on both the giving and receiving ends. The best way for you to motivate me is to tell me I can’t and get in my face.  I will rise to the occasion often in full fighting mode.   I’ve learned the hard way that doesn’t work for everyone and most days I adjust my style to my prospect or target.

Not today.  Sometimes you just have to tell it like it is. . .

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1. You don’t have the money.  It’s an investment in your health.  You don’t have to have a personal trainer or exclusive gym membership; all you need to begin is the will to do so.  Walk, jog, run or bike and do basic body weight exercises to begin.  Invest in a pair of dumbbells one set at a time; add in a medicine ball, then a barbell as you can afford and before you know it you will be on your way to a well stocked home gym.

2. You don’t have the time. We all are given the same 24 hours in a day. We can all find 1 hour 3 times a week to do something physical in order to improve our health and activities of daily living.  Give up television, surfing the net or whatever is standing in your way.  Worst case – find 30 minutes three times a week.

3. You’re under too much stress right now.  And other people aren’t?  Part of the reason you’re so stressed is because you’re not doing anything to relieve it.  Your stress will be lessened if you physically work some steam off.  And you will be better able to handle challenging situations and problems

4. You need to lose some weight first.  Well let’s start with not walking to the refrigerator so much and moving it outside or into a gym.  Lifting heavy things and conditioning will initiate and expedite the loss of body fat. Reign the diet in simultaneously.

5. You hate to exercise.  Well I hate to break it to you but it’s as vital to your well being as sleeping and eating.  Find something you like; there are many forms, methods and modes.  You may not love it but you will love the results and that should be enough to keep you motivated.

6. You’re too old.  You’re too old not to; you can improve your strength at any age.  Use it or lose it; prevent dis ease and disability before it happens.  If you’re already there you can usually lessen the degree if not reverse it.

7. You don’t want to get sweaty and it hurts.  Sweating is healthy, take a shower afterwards.  Sweating will aid in the releasing of toxins in your body.  Don’t overdo your exercise in the beginning; move in a progressive yet intelligent manner in regards to volume, load and frequency. Realize there will be some discomfort along the way.  No pain no gain.  Suck it up buttercup.

8. I don’t want to work that hard.  Then get used to mediocrity in all areas of your life at best.  Buy some long term care, you’ll most likely need it.

9. You’re not seeing results.  Evaluate your training program.  Do you have goals and a plan and program to achieve them? If not take a step back and get that figured out.  If you’re not losing weight that is most likely nutrition based in which you need to evaluate your food intake.  Keep an online food log for a week to see where any problems may lie.  That will enable you to know what to change.

10. You don’t know what to do.  Hire a personal trainer or join a group exercise class; if that is not an option take advantage of the wealth of free information online.  With some research and effort you can learn.

There you have it.  Questions?

Moral of the dissertation:  You can have excuses or results but not both.

Yoga for Type A’s

I know yoga is somewhat good for you.  I wholeheartedly embrace the concept of some form of ‘exercise’ to undo the muscle shortening resulting from heavy weight training be it mobility drills, yoga, tai chi, meditation or the like.  Yes, we need to balance our yang with some yin.  For those of you that do not know me I am 85% yang.  Not always a good thing.

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Over the years I have tried my share of yoga classes from gentle restorative to Hatha, Bikram, and power Vinyasa styles.  I’ve had both good and bad experiences, instructors and classes.  For the most part I just don’t get a whole lot out of it and yes I realize it takes more than one class in a blue moon.  I’ve had periods where I went consistently yet still garnered nothing more than a little better workout the next time I lifted.  And that didn’t always happen either.

For starters I just don’t bend in the ways the pretzels aka hardcore yogis do.  And “find your breath” and “let it out loudly” doesn’t come naturally to me.  It generally takes me until the end of the class to even begin to calm down and grasp that feeling and then it’s over.

While on vacation last week (the five days out of the year I do yoga consistently) I went to my favorite studio M Body in Neptune Beach.  I went my first full day there and had an ok class.  I intended to sprint on Friday but a family gathering in the morning had prevented that and by the time that was over so were my intentions to sprint.

On Saturday I woke up alive and ready to go so I warmed up with a 5 minute walk and then did a few 200’s at a slow pace to get the blood flowing and the joints lubricated to this foreign activity of running not to mention running in the sand.  I started feeling pretty good and loose so I began 100 m sprints at about minute 17 minutes in.

They have these cool barrel shaped trash cans positioned every 100 m so the plan was to sprint 100, walk 100 doing somewhere around 10 of them.  At the end of the fourth sprint  I was bent over and gasping for air, on my exhale out came a loud “HAH”.  Gee where did that come from I wondered?  That’s what the instructor was telling us to do yesterday during the yoga class.  I just couldn’t seem to let out a loud “HAH” then.  No problem now.  In fact as the sprints continued that’s exactly what I did naturally after my heart beat was loudly pounding and I was gasping for air.

I ended up doing about 12 sprints and rounded it out with a cool down walk back to the hotel.  I felt GREAT!! Knowing I needed to stretch it out I decided to hit the yoga class.  I knew I would get more out of it and I was feeling some delayed openness in my hip from Thursday’s class.  Yes, it took my body damn near 2 days to process it.

I sat down in my hotel room for ten minutes while waiting for the class and had some water. When I went to stand up every joint in my body rebelled.  Off I hobbled to the yoga class.

What I noticed immediately upon starting was how calm I already was.  I had no trouble finding my breath or yelling HAH on the exhale during the 75 minute power vinyasa class.  I got so much more out of it; I was calmer and more focused.  I had never worked out before a yoga class perhaps that is the key.

Having already gotten the majority of my agitation and stress out it was one hell of a cool down. For us Type A individuals perhaps a few sprints before the yoga class is the key. . .

Build from a Foundation of Strength

If you were going to build a skyscraper what do you think would be the first and foremost important step after drawing up a blueprint?  It would be the foundation.  Building floor upon floor on a less than solid foundation will cause the building to crumble or at the very best make it weak and susceptible to chronic problems.

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Neither is desirable and the construction of your body is no different.  While endurance, flexibility, stamina, power, coordination and agility are all very important aspects of fitness one of the biggest mistakes I see both beginners and veterans of fitness make is a failure to strength train or strength train properly.  You need to make strength a priority in order to build a better and more functional body.

With many current fitness trends emphasis is placed on high volume, low weight exercises designed to increase endurance yet do very little to improve strength.  In a novice athlete body weight exercises are an excellent place to start; you must be able to initially squat period before adding a load.  Common sense. But beyond the initial stages doing countless reps, often with poor form and shortened range of motion will do nothing to build someone’s strength and quite possibly lead to overuse injuries.

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I see many ‘classes’ out there where you have someone (typically female yet often male) doing 50 – 100 reps of push ups throughout the workout when they do not even have the basic strength to do one properly.  So how is that helping them?  Push ups are only a part of the solution and only when done correctly with strict attention to form and in a progressive manner. Have them start with an elevated surface where they can maintain position, go through a full ROM and gradually decrease the height as they get stronger.  In addition, add in dumbbell or barbell bench or floor presses to further strengthen horizontal pushing strength.

And if you don’t all you’re going to get is a weak person that can knock out 20 half assed push ups.  This applies to squatting and pulling movements as well.  “Oh but I want to lose weight” is the rationale generally given to higher volume lower weight training.  “I need more cardio, I don’t want to bulk up”.

Well folks, newsflash:  weights don’t make you bulky, cupcakes do.  Dial in your nutrition, lift some heavy stuff and get in some metabolic conditioning and watch your body transform like you’ve never seen.  Oh yea, you’ll probably build some muscle, rev your metabolism, have more energy, sleep better and lose some weight. Rocket science it is not.

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Next time you’re at the gym, skip the spin class, elliptical machines and head over to that sparsely populated area–you know–the weight room where the empty squat racks and dumbbells are. Build from a strong foundation by prioritizing strength; learn to do the basic weightlifting movements with attention to form, detail and body awareness.

Do your conditioning after your strength training and make it count by putting forth some effort.  Take it outside when possible, embrace the elements and keep it short and intense. With a solid base of strength it won’t take much to turn your body into a lean mean performance machine!

Train Alone or with a Partner(s)?

Training is on level three of Paula Lean’s hierarchy of needs; right after food and sleep.  I consider it a vital aspect of my physiological needs for without it nothing will be as great as it can with it.  Now that that’s been settled should you train alone, with a partner or in a group?

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I’ve done all three at different times of my life and have enjoyed them all with a degree of success in each.  I’ve been fortunate to have many great training partners and groups over the years.  Currently we have a crew of five.  Out of those five at least one is always with me generally these two ladies. . .

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Through thick and thin Michelle (left) and I have been training together since 2002 and Stephanie made it a threesome in 2009.  That’s longer than a lot of marriages last.  Oh we’ve broken up a couple of times.  Once over a marathon and another when Steph (center) just “wanted to be skinny and get some cardio in”.  Grass is always greener and good to try new things but neither of the break ups lasted very long.  Back together again and stronger than ever.

I stick to a pretty regular training schedule and it takes an act of Congress for it to get cancelled or interrupted but I much prefer not going it alone most days.  The competitiveness of the extra push I get as we each have our strengths and will try to one up each other.  On different lifts we encourage the other to keep up or surpass us.  It always makes me lift a little more or do a little more than I would alone.

The camaraderie.  The girl talk.  The silliness interjected periodically.  Not a loss of focus, just some humor. I struggle with technology Steph struggles with her straps.  But when you’re doing heavy rack pulls they’re essential.  So today when she was struggling I asked her how do you like your guy, up or down.  “Up” she replied.  Ok, so strap is up, hand in .  Voila lesson learned. Got to be able to relate.

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Or on a not so great day the support can pull you through; bonds are formed and friendships are deepened.  Heavy rack pulls with a dear friend and training partner will rejuvenate your soul and make for a helluva better day and life.

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Alone will generally only work for a short period of time or certain situations.  Long term training with a group or partner for most of us will enhance our workout, our results and the enjoyment of it.  Train on!

Holiday Gainz

The Holidays.  A very busy and often stressful time of year for many people.  The worst thing you can do is cut your workouts.  You will double your stress and ultimately compromise efficient use of the time you do have.  You’ve got extra tasks on top of your normal agenda; parties to attend, decorations to put up, gifts to buy, you’re not eating as well as you normally do, may be drinking more and you’re likely getting less sleep.

The holidays are meant to be enjoyed and being a Type A I have failed to enjoy them in the past. But not anymore, here’s my best tips. . .

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  • Skip the excuses.  I don’t buy them the other 11 months of the year I’m surely not going to buy them now.  We are all given the same 24 hours in a day.  We all have some combination of children, career, family and multiple obligations; it’s how you structure and use that time that makes the difference.
  • This is NOT the time to set PR’s although it’s not unheard of.  You’ve less time and energy; don’t stop working out, modify or cut back a day.  I typically train 4 days a week and get at least 1 recovery workout in a week. Around turkey time when the demands start escalating I get 3-4 workouts in per week.  My ‘recovery’ day is generally about 8+ hours of chores and non stop holiday prep on the weekends.

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  • Change it up.  One of the best times to lighten up your typical heavy training.  No, I’m not suggesting you give up weights but take the reps up to the 8-15 neighborhood and do a little hypertrophy cycle.  After all you’re eating more cals you just might add a little muscle in spite of yourself.
  • Change the time of your training.  If you usually train at night but are too busy with parties and shopping switch it up to the am, that way nothing will get in your way and it sets the stage for a productive day. Generally train in the am but find you’re needing the extra sleep?  Try a midday workout, might be just the boost you need to power through the afternoon

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  • Just not enough time? That’s kind of the theme of this post and ties in with changing it up.  Shorten your workout; if strength is your primary focus can the met con or keep it very short.  If conditioning is your focus (and I wouldn’t recommend that unless you have a solid foundation of strength) lighten up on the strength and stick to more conditioning; for some that is a great stress reliever.  You can pick the pace back up in January.
  • Take a rest day.  Yes, even tho you are not getting in as many workouts or as long of workouts the mind must have a day or at least an afternoon where you break from everything.  Personally I generally take Sunday afternoon; I turn off ALL social media channels and chill.  Spend some time in nature, watch an old movie, whatever relaxes and refreshes you.
  • Begin the goal process.  Take some time during the month to reflect on the past year of training; what went right, what didn’t, what are your training goals for the upcoming year.  This is a great time for reviewing, revamping and rewiring your mindset for the upcoming year.

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  • Last but not least –have some fun.  Yes, it’s the holidays — connect with friends and family for sport or games, isn’t that one of the reasons we train?

Take these tips to the box, gym or playing field to make this holiday season your fittest yet and don’t be surprised if you find Santa leaves some gainz under your tree!

Warm it Up!

Taking the time to warm up properly will not only enhance your workout and performance but go a long way towards preventing injuries and ensuring you are working out way into your golden years.  I see many people both young and old skipping or rushing into their workouts.  That’s when sub par performances and injuries occur.  How long should you warm up for?  Well that depends on what you are doing.  Your warm up should be specific to your workout or game/race for the day.  If you struggle with flexibility or are ‘more mature’ you may need a more thorough warm up to address these limiting factors.

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Personally I like a progressive warm up.  One that builds from a slower to faster pace and increases in intensity from when the warm up began.  There are countless ways, modes, exercises and drills one can use for a warm up but we’ll look at three specific examples for today’s post.

Being ‘more mature’ and challenged with flexibility limitations I like to start out with 3 to 5 minutes of some type of mono structural activity.  I want to raise my core body temperature and let my body know it’s time to move. That could be a light jog, a row, versa climber, bike or jumping rope.   Just something to get my blood flowing and wake up the body along with the mind.

  • Upper Body Workout:  a lifting workout that involves both push and pull.  After the mono structural activity of choice I will move on to some mobility or iso stability drills which could also be called ‘prep’ work.  Some examples but not limited to would be pillar to plank press ups, scapular depressions or reverse shrugs followed by some body weight exercises.  i.e. push ups and ring rows. Maybe some isometric holds thrown in, i.e. handstand holds, supermans.  The pace is one that allows focusing on perfect movement not a race.  I often add in at least one drill to open the hips.  While we are primarily working the upper body, it is all connected.  Lastly I add in some dynamic work before hitting the weights.  I’m warm now, I have a light sweat and it’s time to amp up.

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One of my favorites for an upper body workout is the 5 way mb plyo circuit where I am hitting a wall with a medicine ball.  I’m also rotating so everything is getting primed to move. The warm up will generally take me 15 to 20 minutes before I am ready to hit the weights.

  • CrossFit Wod:  it’s specific to what’s on the board for the day.  Let’s say it’s a back squat 5 RM and a 10 minute amrap of 1 rope climb, 10 thrusters and 15 swings.  Using a 4oo m run for the mono structural activity works well in a large group.  When they come back in we’re going to do 2 rounds of 10 scapular depressions (warm up the upper back for the heavy squats), 10 yards of spiderman lunges (get the hips open), side pillar hold with hip raise (iso stab) and then 3 rounds of 3 reverse ball tosses (violent hip extension) and 5 box jumps for the dynamic movement.  They should be ready to go.  After finding their 5 RM and before moving on to the conditioning portion we will have them warm up to their thruster weight with a few lighter sets

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  • Sprinting:  100 m sprint E2MOM for 20 minutes.  That means we’re going to sprint afap (as fast as possible) 100 m every 2 minutes for 20 minutes.  Depending on how fast one is sprinting means the rest will be between 1 minute 50 seconds and 90 seconds — that should cover most everyone.  The rest is semi adequate for decent speed repetition. What does that mean?  It means you’ve going to pretty much be running balls to the wall so you better prepare your body lest you pull a calf, quad, hammie or glut.  The shorter the race, the longer the warm up.  I would shorten the mono structural and lengthen the dynamic aspect of the warm up.  There are numerous excellent dynamic sprinting drills to choose from.  They should progress from the less dynamic to the more dynamic as the warm up progresses.

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Stretching:  thoughts abound on when and the best types.  Some dynamic pre wod for certain types of workouts is recommended but in regards to passive most definitely post wod.  It’s important–for sure but I do not feel passive stretching makes for a good warm up.  It’s best done at the end after activity has ceased and when the muscles are really warm and conducive to lengthening.

If you’re younger and have excellent flexibility you may be able to reduce the warm up by about 25%.  If you’re like me — tight, inflexible and over 50 and wish to continue this you had better take your warm ups seriously.  In other words,you can’t cut corners if you want longevity in the game.