Category Archives: Book

Attitude: mindset, posture or both?

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When I took on the task on translating and adapting Georges Hébert’s Complete Guide to Physical Education, a.k.a The Natural Method one aspect of the translation was to be able to use terminology that can be understood, even if not 100% defined at the time. Sometimes I would go literal, sometimes I chose a term that is close enough to give any given movement its own name, for easier and faster referencing.

The main example is the choice of the word “slit”. I didn’t want to call it a split because we will usually picture either Jean-Claude Van Damme doing a perfect split between chairs, or a gymnast/ballerina.

BLOODSPORT, Jean-Claude Van Damme, 1988. ©Cannon Films/courtesy Everett Collection

BLOODSPORT, Jean-Claude Van Damme, 1988. ©Cannon Films/courtesy Everett Collection

I didn’t want to call it a staggered stance, which it is also, because I prefer something that you can identify with as few negative connotations as possible (like staggering drunk somewhere) or for simple cueing (“stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a staggered stance”, for instance when describing the lower limbs placement of a fighting stance). I chose slit because the stance in which you extend the leg, especially going into  backwards slit, reminded me of a sexy leg showing through a cut or opening in a dress. A slit is defined as “a long narrow cut or opening”. It is actually a literal translation of the word “fente” in French (sounds like “font” almost, nasal “n”). And, frankly, it is kind of sexy when you lean backwards, “slit” that leg forward, open your hips. You can see that as a dip in ballroom dancing.

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“Attitude” in French is one of those words that has two meanings (not double-entendre, which is an incorrect English adaptation of the word double-entendu): posture and a measure of one’s mental state or behavior. Incidentally, this is true in English as well, as “attitude” can be defined as “a position of the body proper to or implying an action or mental state”.

Let’s think about it for a bit. Visualize an army of soldiers marching in perfect unison and steady cadence. Watch them stop and stand at attention. Their posture and attitude will project a sense of confidence, skill, team collaboration and more. Now visualize a contrasting image of a slouching person whose assistance you need. Not hugely confidence-building…

Bringing the mindset to the work, or letting the work adjust your mindset is a two-directional, mutually beneficial relationship. One motivates, gets you started. The other is reflective of discipline, keeps you going. Act your way into proper thinking, or think your way into proper acting.

A good way to strengthen that attitude, that mindset, is to test yourself. The frequency can be up to you so long as it yields a positive change in your actions. My recent motivation was (and is, because I haven’t finished it), the book Breaking The Jump. Reading about the limitless, “having no way as a way” instinctive yet pushing the boundaries of the reptilian survival brain got me moving, got me making time I don’t normally, have (yet found), taking away from sleep, rest, TV time or other. My mindset improved.

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Similarly, I am no fan of running. I don’t like it when I start. I do like it when I finish. Not because it’s over, or almost, but I actually enjoy it. My runs have to be populated with other activities (training, Parkour-like exploration) so I can blend the euphoria of having done something cool and pushing a limit, but also that validates the way I train, as it promotes this end-goal of playful functionality with survival applications.

Don’t worry about looking or feeling silly if you go out and attempt even a strongly regressed variation of an American Ninja Warrior contestant. It’s the baby step that that person once took, that jump that broke their caged mindset and freed their mind to explore more of what they can do.

 

Expanding The Natural Method to Equipment

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A conversation, or rather a question I frequently have seen in various groups I belong to, when it comes to natural movement patterns and not limiting the association to Hébert’s Natural Method, is: what makes a movement natural?

How is lifting a rock overhead any more natural than a barbell, for instance? Because a rock can be found out in nature, and a barbell is a man-made object, therefore it’s not natural?

Is squatting with a sandbag better than doing a double-kettlebell front squat?

The Natural Method is not about the tool, nor is it about the execution of a movement with a tool-specific technique or form. Additionally, this statement is also not about form-bashing or questioning one organization’s technique or approach. Quite the contrary, it’s surface level rather than digging deep, if I may say so.

Yes, essentials of good form require solid foundations in technique and form to ensure a safe execution, which leads to long term progress. There comes a point where you individualize, personalize and find your way. You can find your way by finding what you truly want and need, with trial and error, experience, education and observation. The guidelines set for any given tool serve as your launchpad to proper execution.

Martial Arts are a great example of this. At first, you teach a person how to adopt a good fighting stance that allows both offense and defense. You throw that jab or cross without dropping the non-punching hand cover that side’s cheek and ribs as the punch hits its intended target (air, mitt, bag or face). If there is an opponent on the receiving end of that punch that is faster than you and counters quicker than you punch, having that ‘guard’ minimizes damage to your person, depending on how well protected you are.

But, eventually, from that structured minimal effective dose, you develop your own style, stance and you may even drop your hands, keep them free to “operate” and deflect, trap, block more efficiently than she you started. When you start from nothing, with no skills, you need a starting point.

The upcoming Natural Method Training book will be rich in photos and succinct with words by contrast. The reason behind it being I don’t need to reinvent instruction on how to properly clean, rack and press a kettlebell or two. It’s already out there, from a variety of sources and chances are, if you are reading this, you already know at least one way to do it, and may even teach it.

My Ninjutsu teacher, the late Shihan Steven Petrus always told us “don’t focus on the exact technique, focus on the motion“. A punch or a kick comes, you can avoid it by triangulating out of the way, deflect it, block it, take it or trap it, and counter with a kick,a punch, a throw. Yes, we’d start by working off of a choreographed sequence, and over time would build variations, only to eventually reflexively respond to the strike and adopt whatever motion is necessary. Haven’t most of us heard or read Bruce Lee’s quote about having no way as a way? When it comes to equipment and The Natural Method, all movement is natural. We follow the pathways our body allow us to operate in. The knee only bends one way, or the elbow, and if you go against it, bending it “unnaturally”, your experience will not be a fond one.

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Don’t look for barbell squats, bench presses or deadlifts in the book, and please do not complain that they are lacking because they are important for X, Y and Z. The Natural Method is about all-around development in many elements of fitness and not all of us have hours to devote daily to only one facet of fitness. And not all of us have hours daily to devote to several aspects of fitness to become supremely well-rounded.

Do not misinterpret this also as an under-achieving stance. Not everyone is going to become as well-rounded as Captain America. Let’s start where you are, and go from there. Learn the lifts, the jumps, the throws, the basic educational exercises that will keep your body efficiently balanced, muscularly, esthetically and functionally, and then as time allows and conditioning improves, move on to the cooler, flashier skills.

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Until then, use the equipment to fulfill that purpose, and equipment evolved as much as we did, only faster. Just because you are not in the woods jumping over boulders, throwing stones or climbing rocks, trees or vines doesn’t make your session any less natural. Going out is awesome, yes! But doing stuff in a gym two blocks away from you because you live in a city and have no car is more important. Don’t delay your fitness.

The Return of a Bad Health & Fitness Trend

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I know it feels I am very Hébert-centric these days, and that’s probably because I am engrossed in the translation of one of his book as well as the adaptation of the program design and training of another. What is actually happening is that things fall into my lap, verifying the importance of my work, confirming that everything good and bad has been done before, and sooner or later resurfaces.

Case in point: in my junk email today, an ad for a waist slimming device was delivered. A century ago, this was the corset, which Hébert described as a torture device deforming women and causing all kinds of health issues.Now, a revamped version of it has appeared, and as any good marketing piece, it checks off what’s emotionally connected to the target demographics socially programmed “wants”, with benefits that can be attained without doing any work for it, and carefully worded claims which in fact, as only potential and not guaranteed.

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Now, let’s take a look at the benefits and break those down:

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1) Reshaping of waistline: this is an external process, fake, like a push-up bra, encouraging lack of activity and fitting into a standard that may not be the physiology of every individual woman.

2) Helping define curves: does it rearrange, tucking here, pumping there, shuffling skin and fat around (because muscles, even at rest, aren’t going to move a whole lot if they are developed properly)?

3) Helping you feel toned: so you *may* “feel” something that isn’t there (muscle tone), tricking your brain momentarily (until it shuts the sensation down, like wearing silk or not noticing perfume you put on). The problem remains: if you have no muscle tone, this doesn’t provide muscle tone.

4) Smoothing of rolls and bulges: Hébert wrote “For centuries, many poor creatures, to satisfy this criminal concept, have condemned themselves to deformity with the force compression of their flanks.” Hiding under a cloak is only deception, not health, of self and to self and others. 

5) Helping to feel fuller: yes, the best weight loss tools are the knife and fork. Caloric restriction alone isn’t enough. Nutritional balance is needed.

Now, let’s take a quick look at what happens internally. I will not comment, the pictures are worth, as the saying goes, a thousand words. Discuss amongst yourselves.

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Poor posture and waist, chest and abdominal deformities in women

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The last 4 chapters of Hébert’s book on physical education for women deals with the areas of the female body that are in constant scrutiny in our modern society. Despite the progress we have made over the past century, the objectification and enhancement/alteration of those body parts thanks to digital software and its propagation over the inter webs is no different from the instruments of torture used in the name of fashion 100 years ago.

I do like how Hébert differentiates the chest from breasts and its development.

I think this will make for an eye-opening topic and I would love the feedback from ladies, asking them to bypass the fact that a man wrote the book; Hébert did recruit many volunteer ladies who were not shy about either exposing their bodies, but also allowing him to study and share their progress over a period of years as part of his research on the topic of female physical education. Granted, women now train more like men than was popular a while ago, but he clearly mentions that training for women is no different from training for men. The presentation of the programs may be different (call it targeted marketing), but it is a visionary approach that still has its day in our modern society.

Here is the outline of those chapters:

CHAPTER V. The abdomen and its deformities.

  1. The abdominal belt. Its line and normal curvature.
  2. Importance of the development of the abdominal muscles for health, beauty and strength.
  3. Common abdominal deformities in non-developed women.

CHAPTER VI. The breasts and their deformities.

  1. Distinction to establish between the chest and the breasts. Beauty of the chest’s shape.
  2. The breasts. Normal and defective shapes.
  3. The three stages of breast sagging.
  4. Causes for the sagging of breasts.

CHAPTER VII. Natural waist and its deforming by corsets.

  1. Judgment regarding a thin waist and the fashion of the corset.
  2. Disadvantages of corsets on health.
  3. Disadvantages of corsets on beauty/
  4. So-called rational corsets. Natural or muscular corset.

CHAPTER VIII. Postural beauty or ugliness.

  1. Importance of good posture.
  2. Causes and disadvantages of bad posture.
  3. Characteristics of correct posture.
  4. Characteristics of incorrect posture.

You Have To Ship!

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Seth Godin, in his book Linchpin, mentions that no matter your craft, you have to ship, to publish, deliver. Artists ship, not just factories from their warehouses. You ship your art by bringing the paintings to the gallery, even if they’re not done in your mind.

Studios release movies, and sometimes may change stuff, add footage, delete some, provide a Director’s Cut on the DVD. But they back something into the theatrical release.

When I took on the task of translating Georges Hébert’s Practical Guide to Physical Education, I wanted to share the content as quickly as possible, within reason of course. The labor of love associated with it, the journey and discoveries along the way, took a tremendous amount of time that a married, working father of two, with a start-up company to boot, had to squeeze at the expense of other things.

I certainly could have taken my time and released it all at once upon completion of the entire translation. Instead, because of trending interest and alignment from friends with their historical research, as well as using the successful model of movie Studios releasing trilogies over time, the process of breaking things down allowed me to get better reacquainted with the material I was exposed to in my youth, and I was able to build, organically with my limited resources, interest in The Natural Method. People who never heard about it discovered something of value and interest, while people who already knew about it, and practiced as well as formed groups, on social media or in their cities, contacted me with appreciation for making Hébert’s work more accessible with the English language.

My self-imposed deadlines are very much that: self-imposed. No one really cares about them, but it keeps me accountable, and on schedule. Keeping things open-ended, as any time management expert will tell you, can result in things never getting done. Additionally, through a tried and true process I experienced myself in everything I’ve done, people are better off with getting pieces of information at a time. Otherwise they tend to skip over what interests them less.

You could argue that I am removing a person’s choice to work at their own speed, and who am I to have such power? It truly only matters during the timeline of the translation of the books. When trilogies like Star Wars, The Lord Of The Rings, The Matrix came out in trickle fashion, audiences were forced to wait. Now, it’s all available at once.

For those familiar with Hébert’s method, maybe getting it all at once would have been the way to go (which right now doesn’t matter, because nearly all the books are out, from this first guide). But for those un-familiar with it, the timely release of each section of the Practical Guide To Physical Education offers gradual discovery, application and everything positive related to the step-by-step learning process.

On Jumping (post 1 of 2)

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Jumping consists of giving the body a sufficient impulse in order to cover a distance or any obstacle in one leap.

It is important to distinguish:

1)   The educative jump on a prepared surface with a predetermined obstacle.

2)   The applied jump with real obstacles.

These two types of jumps are useful, both from a practical standpoint as well as physical development.

 

The effects of jumps on the body are the following:

1)   They engage the most important parts of the body, particularly the cardiorespiratory functions;

2)   They have a powerful action on the muscular development of the lower limbs and the abdomen, especially jumps without momentum;

3)   They develop agility and hand-eye coordination;

4)   They strengthen the feet and ankles and train the body to sustain various kinds of impact;

5)   They promote flexibility and a sense of equilibrium/balance to avoid bad falls.

Applied jumps or over real obstacles do not differ from educative jumps in their mechanism of execution. In addition to the benefits described above, they provide a mental benefit, because they help overcome the apprehension brought upon the obstacle and to dominate, in certain situations, the instinctive feeling of fear. They thus promote becoming calm, cold-blooded and with a spirit of quick-thinking.

Jumping is not just a form of exercise of unquestionable functionality. Its regular practice helps avoid many injuries such as: sprains, contusions, fractures etc, which often are due to a lack of balance in the falls or lack of specific training of the feet and ankles.

 

 

Fitness for the busy dad

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There area lot of resources our there for new moms, but not a whole lot is geared at new dads.

Not wanting to steal our beloved spouses, partners or lady friends thunder, I only want to point out the ratio of resources, based off my limited research on the subject.

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

No one is ever prepared enough for parenthood. I have a lady client who is due in June, and a colleague who just became a proud daddy of a little baby girl himself.

I have some tips I would suggest for dads, as I did when the whirlwind of fatherhood, its intrinsic sleepless nights, constant exhaustion and resulting hormonal setbacks, not to neglect how eating habits are affected (if new parents are lucky, kind souls will bring the poor but happy saps some comfort foods, which also in some cases may cause setbacks as the kind of foods Mommy ingests get passed on to Baby and may cause gas, discomfort or other).

1) Focus on strength, and Easy Strength at that. Forget hypertrophy goals. Conditions are NOT prime for that.

2) Rule of 10’s: no more than 10 working reps per exercise.

3) Keep workouts short: 20-30 min.

4) Keep frequency realistic until you set a groove (you won’t, by the way, so aim at 2-3 sessions per week in the beginning, remember you have to be there for your beloved wife and baby, and even more so if you have more than one child).

5) Circle your drills: go from one exercise to the next with a little bit of rest in between (not a circuit, which is back to back). That way you can push hard on each set of each drill, but get adequate rest in between sets of the same exercise.

6) Pick compound moves rather than isolated exercises, meaning using more than one joint and several muscles. Big reliable moves like squats, deadlifts, presses (bench or military). Focus on form and intensity, like 80% effort for a few reps, whether it’s dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells.

These are a few tips you can use for one type of program. Not the only one, just a suggestion that is manageable and beneficial.

Feedback welcome!

 

Old School Fitness is the new “new”

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Group training of old, whether it’s Georges Hébert’s Natural Method or LeProtti’s La Sierra High School’s eerily similar programs, all came together because of needs and causes greater than ourselves. It’s not about chronology or who was first, rather sharing a vision while fulfilling a need for the Noble Purpose.

I haven’t visited China and wonder if they have such programs still in place, and I welcome any education or comments on the subject. I just have a visual in my head of large groups of individuals performing martial arts in unison. I know other countries have a profound respect for their wellness.

I recently released the second installment in Hébert’s trilogy on Fundamental Exercises, and was fortunate to watch a teaser for an upcoming documentary I will be heavily promoting once it gets near being released on La Sierra High School’s PE program. Watching the athletic and very functional bodies of the students, the development of their student-teaching approach, mostly in outdoor conditions as in Hébert’s process of air baths and resiliency really shows the importance of developing all-around athleticism first. As a Southern California resident, I feel bad for not training outside enough (especially since in West Los Angeles, parks are not restricted in their use like in Santa Monica. For readers who do not live in Los Angeles, Santa Monica personal trainers are required to pay hefty permit fees and licenses to use public parks. One of my police officer friends in Santa Monica even told me he finds the law unconstitutional, so he doesn’t enforce it).

Whether you seek weight loss, muscle gain, strength development, Hébert’s process will get you there. Focus on moving well, moving more, eating accordingly but without hyperfocusing on counting every calorie, rather balancing vegetables, carbs, fat, non-processed foods etc. Any personal trainer will get you moving, but not just any personal trainer will get you results. I am proud to say that all of my peers, be they in Southern California or in other states, follow rules of planned flexibility: we operate with a plan of action, a road map to fitness, but we take scenic detours which still get us to our goals.

Enough rambling, get the second book HERE. And if you don’t have the first one, get it HERE TOO. 

Remember, with proof of purchase, I can send you the PDFs and even some extra goodies exclusively, not available or advertised on Amazon!

 

 

Book Two is here!

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The Natural Method: Fundamental Exercises

The second installment of The Natural Method: Fundamental Exercises is here available to download!

With proof of purchase, I will also send you 6 lesson plans (and the pdf of the book if you wish), done-for-you training sessions where the order and configurations of the book’s laundry list of exercises is already planned into 6 out of 7 sections. The 6th section will be your individual program (I’ll be happy to design it for you for a fee 🙂 )

You of course can read a bit more about the book’s content by visiting this page on my web site, not just the amazon link.

The major upper body exercises, lower body exercises, trunk and core exercises, as well as breathing and more are all outlined in detail in this training guide.

A must-read for less than a cup of java at a major coffee chain, whether you are a personal trainer, group instructor, pro team coach or just a fitness enthusiast, this will help you rediscover true joy of movement, a birthright of yours many have lost over time.

“Keep the goal the goal” -Dan John

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I believe Dan John said that, and even if he paraphrased it, it doesn’t matter, I attach it to him.

Dan was recently also #1 on the top 40 list of most relevant trainers. I never met the guy, which is kinda funny considering I’ve attended most workshops offered by Pavel Tsatsouline, who lives near me and with whom I had coffee recently to catch up. Together they authored “Easy Strength” and I am even following a program of Dan’s, a 5 days a week program revolving around 5 chosen exercises (in my case, the barbell Bench Press, the barbell Deadlift, the kettlebell Clean & Jerk, the kettlebell Snatch and the double kettlebell Front Squat).

The expressing titling this blog post extends beyond that of a fitness goal, or how to stay on track with a workout plan with discipline, motivation, commitment and vision. It actually applies to the release of the second installment of The Natural Method trilogy of books based on Georges Hébert’s Practical Guide to Physical Education. My goal is the release of the book in Amazon’s Kindle store, which as of now is 5 days behind schedule. Its release remains the goal nevertheless.

In fitness much like in life, we experience setbacks, roadblocks, challenges as well as favorable currents. An injury, like an ankle sprain or tennis elbow or shoulder pain can set back our training. Then, we can, with the help of a qualified physical therapist or a personal trainer, get back on track. The goal remains the goal, which is to achieve it, to see the task to completion.

The content of the book is done: the upper body exercises with the arm movements and arm positions; the lower body exercises with leg flexion, extension, single leg balance; the trunk stability and mobility (which lack thereof are too common issues people experience and need to be addressed in injury prevention) and of course the break down of proper breathing patterns and breathing exercises. It doesn’t matter where you train, whether you’re a personal trainer in Los Angeles or in Minneapolis (well, I guess it matters when building up resistance to cold, my money is on the trainers in Minnesota vs the trainers in Southern California!)

The cover, the html formatting for the Kindle, the option to download some training lesson plans on the Action-fitness.com web site and the logistics associated with that are the slight delays, as well as my webmaster’s recent bout with the flu and the business of New Year’s resolutions (yes, many people make resolutions not just in fitness, but also in business and he got swamped). And just like in fitness, where a personal trainer can choose to establish a business around injury prevention and proper movement patterns, with a well designed workout plan, there is still the element for the unknown, the accumulation of circumstances (like the cumulative injury cycle) that lead to a delay.

But if you have a plan, a solid plan, get back to it, adapt or adjust where necessary and your vision is focused on that clear goal, following the plan will get you to that goal.