Category Archives: Fitness

The CEO Trainer

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Yes, I happen to be training CEOs, as in personal training them. In fitness, yes.

I don’t have the pretension to train people to become CEOs. And yes, I have been one, at some point: I was chairman of an LLC I founded, and later even took over CEO duties after the person who had that title and I disagreed on how the corporation ought to be run. I eventually resigned, having reached a communication impasse, despite having positioned all the elements necessary for the company to operate from thereon. Life is too short (#YOLO, right?), and the combination of growing debt, loss of income and personal savings, at the expense of my marriage and children’s present AND future was PTSD enough to make the only logical choice that I needed to make. Here, the “CEO Trainer” concept is mix of analogies of being the CEO of a training session as well as a training business (the latter obvious, therefore less expanded upon today).

Success can be measured a variety of ways. The most common one is through one’s material wealth (no need to elaborate), another is through the resilience one shows at rebuilding oneself from scratch, rising from the ashes. Having had to do the latter several times, not necessarily through failure, rather circumstances (health can be one, on two occasions for me, the most recent tied to the LLC experience, which helped make the choice in favor of my family).

Then there’s success that can be measured in the value you bring to others. It does not get quantified by your bank account, the mansion or many supercars in your “stable”. I received an email from an aspiring fitness trainer that simply stated “You are dropping a lot of bombs to think about (…) You are changing the way I think about fitness!!! Thanks, man”. That right there, is value. Another example was an ex-client thanking me for sending them on an improved professional path by inspiring them to take a specific course/certification, which increased their value as a job seeker. I also offered a third client a revenue sharing opportunity in a project that I spent nearly two years developing, using my platform, my database and captive audience to get professional exposure, in exchange of some sweat equity and services, in the hopes of creating a launchpad for that client’s business, with a barter of services in return (the client’s value).

This isn’t a post where I seek a pat on the back or a medal for recognition. It’s a way to run your business, any business, and if it happens to be a fitness business, of which you are the CEO, even if you are your own unique employee, you need to understand that your greatest asset is also your greatest liability (you). To reduce that liability, you need to increase the value you provide. Not your material wealth (as it can become a target, another form of liability for greedy ambulance chasers), not your resilience and ability to stand back up after a setback (like an economic recession for instance), but the intangible value you provide to others, which is reciprocated in how others perceive you and the services your deliver.

Seth Godin, in his book Linchpin, refers to “delivering” as “shipping”. “You must ship”. If it’s a book, publish it! If it’s a good, manufacture it! If it’s a meal, cook it! If it’s a photo, develop it! (Yes, even digital photography needs developing, in the “digital dark room” that is Photoshop).

It all sounds easy when it’s written. And simply stated, right? Any CEO will tell you, however, that it’s a complicated process that relies on the synchronicity, alignment and understanding of people and external factors ranging from having charged batteries for your equipment, a trusted & verified vendor (not someone who tells you they “can” do something, which you find out later “can” doesn’t mean “should” or “can do it proficiently”) to a clearly defined, understood and acknowledged process you can hold someone accountable to, because inevitably, someone at some point will drop the ball, and in order to recover from that setback, you need to know exactly where and why the ball got dropped.

The CEO needs to have a working understanding of what the CFO, CMO, COO, CTO or any other C-level position is doing, both in function and timeline (function being what the position entails, and timeline being where in the “shipping” process is the individual involved and are they doing their job properly).

When I was learning how to ride a motorcycle, I learned two acronyms to make sure that my bike was safe to ride. T-CLOCS was the first, inspecting the bike itself: Tires, Controls (hoses, handlebar, cables…), Lights (and electric), Oil (and other fluids), Stand (side or center). If you’re a trainer, make sure your gear is safe: rubber bands not worn (snapped those once, cut the top of my hands, bled profusely), rack (someone once left a cable running through my kettlebells. I picked one up and started walking away, the whole rack came down in an avalanche of iron), cables, chains on the heavy bag etc.

The second thing you do as you are about to ride is FINE-C. These are the various things you turn on to start the motorcycle. Fuel (toggle switch, although most new rides these days are fuel injected), Ignition (turn the key), Neutral (that’s your transmission) and Choke (again, lesser concern these days on modern bikes, though I like my bikes vintage, and with a little maintenance, they can outlast the lifespan of a car). Overseeing that aspect makes you knowledgeable as the CTO, or Chief Technical Officer. As the CEO, a working knowledge suffices (you don’t need to know how to build the treadmill or how to cast the iron in the kettlebell’s mold).

For the trainer, that’s your client’s body, form, alignment, understanding of what to do for any given exercise. “Get your motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure…”, you see where I’m going. You’re the CEO of the session, the workout, your client becomes the product that you ship, resulting from the services you provide, you oversee everything in that LLC, the limited liability corporation that lasts for the duration of the session, or the training package (i.e. commitment the client made to train with you).

As the CEO, you are responsible for overseeing the (metaphorical) “finances” and be an acting CFO: you manage the budget, allocate funds here based on the needs, make projections. That’s how you manage your client’s efforts, routine, sets, reps and project potential outcomes. You have to know your numbers, adjust them if needed, course correct (after all, they are just projections, sometimes based on previously proven strategies with a certain product/client, sometimes a wishful best case scenario with a new product you’re testing/new client you’ve started, and it doesn’t come out quite as expected, as it’s not an exact science, no matter what the Gurus try to tell you).

You also need to have marketing and sales down (otherwise, you won’t be in business very long if you can’t turn a profit). Your CFO duties overlap to a point with those of the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), and your marketing starts as simply as having other people see you train clients and how you treat them, how they progress (Advertising). It’s also how you approach a non-client, or how a non-client approaches you and how you handle their query (Glengarry Glenn Ross’ ABC -Alway Be Closing- comes to mind, though today’s approach is more subtle, less aggressive and more rapport oriented). This falls into your Inbound marketing approach. You reading this is an example of this. We’re building a rapport, I am not selling you on my services, not pitching you, rather discussing a problem, or offering a solution. The pitch comes later and the prospect is more willing and trusting to convert into a buyer.

Fitness is a business. Just like Show Business. And it’s not the richest actors you always remember, it’s the ones that make the greatest positive impact, that use their fame to do good, to promote causes, to make you think, tickle your brain, offer a new perspective, and not just entertain.

Don’t just train for the sake of training, going through the motions. I already covered the concept of having a training session, a workout, tell a story. A goal gives you a direction, whereas a program gives you one of many suggested paths to that goal. Value will give you a lasting business.

Is The Hulk better than Spiderman?

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I had the opportunity to interview Stan Lee in 2003, as I was still moonlighting for “Hollywood” red carpet premieres, as the Daredevil movie was coming out.

Daredevil was in his category of characters who would become superheroes by an amazingly coincidental concourse of circumstances, nothing short of magic. Instead of trying to rationalize with science he couldn’t explain or justify, he decided to come up with mutations, as part of human evolution.

His mutant superheroes were faced with discrimination in their story lines analogous to racism, homophobia or any other societal fails for human beings.

Allow me to regress and diminish the potential seriousness about the topic to something way less important, especially when terrorist attacks occurred once again, this time on Belgian grounds, using Stan Lee’s pantheon of characters as backdrop to make my silly, yet valid point: is The Hulk better than Spiderman?

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Judging from what I see, read or hear from some peers in the community, it would appear so. The balance weighs heavily in favor of the big green guy as being the only form of fitness that matters, that is relevant and all others are a joke. Yet, we could argue that Spidey’s strength, agility, flexibility, climbing and jumping abilities make him a lot more versatile, and his control over his body and actions make him more useful and functional than essentially a creature his alter ego can aim more or less.

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In the training, as well as “perception of what strength means” community, Hulkmeister represents what we should aim for, that his abilities trump and fix everything that’s wrong with us. And no, it is not stated in a way that implies the pursuit of strength, rather implies a certain physicality, which is extremely useful on a daily basis for any desk job (if you didn’t detect it, that was sarcasm).

 

Wait, I hear a fanboy mentioning to me that post-Banner can jump really f*$%&ing high and far. I had to use The Hulk because most people know who he is. So let me amend to this other guy (if you saw the first solo Wolverine movie, you may recognize the character), who is a slightly more realistic fictional character to make a point for something I see a lot of being sold as the end-all be-all supreme attribute of health: enter the Blob.

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Let’s get back to reality for a second. On one hand, being super strong and able to lift superheavy weights is pretty cool and plenty useful. On the other hand, being svelte, spry and mobile is useful, makes it easier to navigate the world around us, and is generally a greater indicator of health, especially when cardiovascular disease and other diseases tend to follow certain body types. To have the confidence to be proud of one’s strength achievements and get off your tush frequently to pick heavy stuff up and put it back down is admirable. But please, do not hide behind that strength under the guise of health.

There are still other things to consider, such as how the joints can only support a certain frame for so long, how taxing extra mass is on the body and wears out internal organs, and that carrying excess body fat is hazardous to your health. My job is not to motivate, rather educate and my intention is not to shame those who struggle with fat loss. As good coach will tell you, eat like an adult, get off your ass, exercise, rest and do not latch on to one aspect of fitness because it won’t get rid of whatever unhealthy thing you’re trying to fix by itself.

Look, everything has a purpose. A Lamborghini Aventador is beautiful, but it won’t take you far off-road. An oversized 4×4 Hummer is powerful and intimidating, but it won’t win you the Indy 500 or last long in a chase. The family crossover vehicle will carry your groceries, your camping gear, a few kids to little league practice, your office supplies and nowadays will pack enough powerful ponies under the hood without being too thirsty to hold its ground, even if it’s not as cool.

Georges Hébert discusses “strength” in his book on physical education for women:

“Physical strength, in its broadest sense, is made up of various elements [1], of which the most important ones are:

  • Resistance, endurance or breath, which allow the execution without failing of prolonged work, gymnastics or other, to sustain the same efforts and also to bear fatigue of any kind.

This element of strength, the most precious of all, depends greatly on the value and function of the internal organs. It is the natural outcome of regular and methodical training, as well as routine work of any kind; finally, it also depends on a hygienic and regular lifestyle, free of excess.

  • Pure muscular power, or simply muscle, which enables the execution with various body parts of sufficient efforts in many aspects: pull, push, squeeze, grab, lift, carry, throw, hoist, hit to defend, etc.

This element of strength depends directly on the degree of development achieved by the muscles, as well as the nervous arousal communicated by will, meaning the power of the nervous system.

  • Speed, meaning the ability to be able to do quick moves, rapid extensions, spring launches, sudden stops, etc.

This element of strength depends above all on the more or less high sensitivity of the nervous system, which transmits the command to the muscles to move into action. It also depends on muscular quality and more or less joint flexibility. Long muscles are more favorable to quick actions than short, thick, ropey muscles.

  • Agility, meaning the ability to not only to use one’s muscles and use one’s skills, but also to preserve strength to postpone the effects of fatigue.

Energetic, but clumsy individuals generally waste their strength without function or precise goal. They are often, because of that, inferior to those of medium strength who know how to better manage their efforts more adroitly.

  • Resistance to cold, as well as heat and any weather.
  • Energy and any other virile qualities: will power, courage, cold-blood, decisiveness, firmness, tenacity, the taste for action. Finally, self-control to dominate one’s fears under any circumstances, resist physical and emotional pain, etc.

An individual of medium physical value, but energetic, focused, courageous and tenacious, is always superior in life to an individual having exceptional physical abilities, but soft, lazy, scared and without mental toughness.

  • Knowledge of the process of execution of the fundamental exercises (basic educational exercises) and at the same time, a sufficient ability level in all of them.
  • Finally, sobriety, meaning temperance and moderation in eating and drinking, and frugality, meaning simplicity in choice of nutrition.”

[1] The Strength Code contains the detailed works characterizing strength and the practical tracking of those skills (another book to translate on my list).

 

Addition by subtraction, or how to simplify the workout for better gains of any kind.

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Regardless of what your ultimate goal is in fitness, maintaining all-around athleticism remains key for your daily activities. And frankly, there is no ultimate goal, because that means it would be the end, with nothing to look forward to beyond. Goals change. Life, give or take a few variables, on the whole, does not.

You need to eat, sleep, rest. Your health and work will change, and how you eat, sleep and rest will adjust, like your training program. Unless you are competing as an athlete or are playing a superhero on TV, you don’t really need to be this big, or that strong. Really, you don’t, and don’t let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. You do need to stay mobile, stay strong, maintain your muscles, and you do need to walk up stairs, pick stuff up, hold on to things, carry them, run to or from something, even if just walking quickly or avoiding something. Stay Spry!

There is no hack for any exercise, other than for the sake of breaking form so you can find it again. Like saying “there’s no place like home” after you’ve been around the world.

Pick a few things, do them well, do them often. Like, five. Do them for a while. Don’t count the reps, just do as many as you can in a short, predetermined duration of time (10 minutes?) and stop anytime you know or feel your form looks like crap. Start maybe by doing it as well as possible, then when the clock runs out of time, do something else, and come back to the previous exercise the next day.

Rather than add more stuff to do, to eat, to supplement with, get rid of what’s not super essential. If you did a chest exercise, a quad dominate exercise, a back exercise, a shoulder dominant exercise and a hamstring dominant exercise and have time for something else, go twist, rotate, throw, jump, climb or punch. But don’t add another chest exercise if it doesn’t make you better at something else other than pushing the buttons out on your shirt.

Or, if you ran, climbed, punch & kicked, jumped onto or off of something, and threw something, broke a nice sweat, feel a little tired, with a grin and sense of satisfaction: you’re good! keep at it.

Ignore the magazines, the pressure. Easier said than done, right? Do the stuff mentioned above, I promise you the pressure eases up as the feeling of well-being increases!

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.

It’s Hydrostatic, Orthorexic, Body Dysmorphic, it’s Greased Training!

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Did you see Richard Gere’s post on FB that’s been shared many times, the one about his super healthy friend who did all the right things and now is dying of two forms of cancer, versus another acquaintance who by all standards should have died long ago for leading an extremely unhealthy lifestyle? Doesn’t matter, we all know stories of people like that.

How about the meme about how exercising leads to you being alone when you’re old because all your other friends are dead, and in the meantime move while going nowhere (treadmill)?

I have, as most of us trainers have at some point, run into someone with either an eating disorder or an unhealthy exercise addiction, or both (as one tends to tie into the other). One client of mine couldn’t bear to see herself in the mirror, disappeared for a bit, came back with an amplified bosom, which bought her only about three weeks of happiness and self-confidence. Another was used to getting her previous trainer yell and push like an evil drill sergeant and had such conditioning from her bulimia that she could never do any movements that put her in a prone or leaning forward position without throwing up. Seriously! I only trained her one time then politely parted ways, as I refused to administer punishment for whatever was “broken inside”. Some challenges are best left to trained professionals in the field of psychology. Then there’s also the  individual with a touch of Munchausen Syndrome and orthorexia associated with bombardment of photoshopped images in the media or chasing the fountain of youth in denial of the reality that aging exists, even if you can slow it down.

The point is that despite all of us knowing that cigarettes cause cancer, having unprotected sex or driving while impaired are dangerous behaviors, some still do it. And we also all know that certain results are not achieved realistically or within the framework of what fitness marketers, even trainers, are selling you (unless proper expectations are explained).

I remember a client who told me that he wasn’t happy because after 2 years of training with me, he didn’t have the body of someone who trains twice a week with a trainer. All the education and expectations management in the world would not resonate, because people like to blame. You pay for a service, you want results. And when you get results but they don’t match your expectations, it’s the provider’s fault. Who’s to blame? Me for not educating, or the multimillion dollar assault of ad copies telling you that with just 8 minutes a day twice a week you will get the body of a demigod-looking model who has spent hours in the gym daily, slaved for years, entered dietary hell with the discipline of a Samurai?

The answer is somewhere in-between. There’s also the point where I have to, like the song says, “let it go, let it go”… I don’t hold that fork, I don’t buy the food, I don’t follow the clients for 166 hours a week (only 2, which is about 1.2% of the week), they have the info, the map, the instructions.

While you do need to get off your ass and train consistently, eat sensibly, you also need to understand that you can’t complain about the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do. At the same time, do you really need the six-pack abs? Do you need to bench press eight wheels? Yeah, OK, I’m all for a high goal to achieve, the journey, etc. I get it, no need to throw in some comment about that. Dig deeper is what I’m asking. Is the pursuit of the goal worth it? Don’t you have something better to do, like be fit, be healthy, have fun, work and do something you love (other than weightlifting) and concentrate on something that makes a difference in someone else’s life (and another weightlifter’s life doesn’t count!)?

Believe me, I get it. I too suffer from an occasional case of body dysmorphism, which changes frequently: too fat, not big enough, too slim, or chasing strength, size or whatever because of how good someone else’s marketing is over how confident I am in my decade and a half of training and education (academics and in the trenches). I too get confused. I too think some things matter when in the end, they don’t because no one’s going to care that I lifted X amount of weight, and no one’s going to remember that I lifted X amount of weight. The things I hope to be remembered for are the things I passed on to my clients, my friends, my children and strangers through books, blogs, workshops, training sessions, chance encounters. Things of ephemeral or lasting value that extend beyond the 73 inches of height or slightly wider wingspan.

Long story short: training appropriately, eating well, interactive physical play, solo activities done in a group matters. Extremes don’t. Do this to be around and pay it forward, not to get validated by 1000 likes on your selfie post only to feel like crap if your next post drops by a couple hundred.

We’re not the center of our own Universe, as I heard in the Love 4 Training podcast episode 16. And it’s very true!

 

“Oscars” of Fitness and Chris Rock comment about Kevin Hart

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How in the world did I manage to tie the 88th Academy Awards to this blog post? Is it about the fitness of certain male and female celebs for their superhero movie roles or fury road action?

Better yet, how am I, Mr Blond-haired, green-eyed white male connecting to Chris Rock and his on par tirade of Hollywood’s discrimination or lack of opportunity offering to minority actors? I particularly liked his opinion on not separating men from women actors, as it’s not a competition like track, rather an unnecessary disambiguation as performance is not tied to a person’s ability, other than to act.

No, I am only attaching myself to Chris Rock defending his integrity by saying that his refusal of hosting would not stop the Oscars from taking place, and that if he hadn’t accepted the gig, it would have (jokingly) gone to the extremely talented comic du jour Kevin Hart. Essentially, his ability to Always Be Ready and perform on stage regardless of the venue is where his art and craft come to life.

I was recently asked to participate and lead a fitness video for a popular fitness chain. My understanding was that it was down to me and some other guy, and since I haven’t heard back and the shoot is coming up very soon, I am guessing the gig went to the other guy. Now, I’m not going to name the fitness chain, and what I am about to write bears no negativity towards it. Like saying I don’t play the violin, but it doesn’t mean I have anything against playing the violin. Rather, the chain’s image and type of workouts doesn’t reflect what I personally promote with the Natural Method, my training programs and the methods I employ for myself and others. Even so, if you don’t know me (which is everyone in the world except for my FaceBook and direct friends, or my book and blog readers, this means nothing.

Had I gotten the gig, my answer to anyone wondering about why I’d do such a video shoot is simple: Always Be Ready! The process of becoming an all-around athlete via The Natural Method is to prepare you for any physical challenge life throws at you. The method was created to develop people who can protect themselves, their family, their community and ultimately, their nation. You’re not trained to battle only one way, but you need to be able to handle any kind of battle, right?

So, it doesn’t matter if you have to do some kind of workout that doesn’t directly reflect your philosophy or style (“sorry, bro, I only Oly Lift with barbells, running and kettlebells is for wankers”). If you aren’t able to perform for a general, all-around fitness task that’s thrown at you, your system doesn’t work, your method is a fail. Like the saying goes: you’re only strong in times of trouble, otherwise your strength is only a weakness.

Making it as a personal trainer is difficult. Heck, I even thing it’s harder to make it than being an actor (if you seek recognition and fame). I don’t have numbers to back this up, but I am pretty sure if you compare the ratio of celebrity trainers to the actual amount of trainers in the world vs the ratio of successful, famous actors to the obscure unknowns, the discrepancy is greater amongst trainers!

What would this have done for me? Well,firstly, it’s a paycheck and I am not against feeding my family. Secondly, getting your name out there helps you get recognized, and if you have a message to bring to a larger scale, it doesn’t hurt to have a platform and a captive audience! What your message is is entirely up to you, and that’s where your integrity comes from. Sometimes, we do have to be accept an opportunity and turn it into something great.

Now, I have no clue what I would have actually done for the fitness company, I do know that I would have done a great job and by kicking ass, I would have made my point that I was able to deliver and perform because of my ongoing preparation.

What’s The Natural Method and what does it mean?

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Shouldn’t I have answered this question many moons ago?

I have answered that in a few podcasts actually, the latest one from Joseph deLeo at Leo Training (link to come when it’s live)

I belong to a closed group on Facebook called the Movement Mavericks, started and monitored by Rannoch Donald and Neil Hill, who are not only huge supporters, they are also great promoters of proper movement skill and walk the walk when in comes to being all-around athletes and servicing their clients as such.

One way to explain it and make it a bit different from any answers I provided thus far is that it is simply the full development of our organism as nature intended, without excess or (whatever the opposite of excess is). Nothing unnecessary, nothing superfluous. We can all understand the notion of not having excess fat, being physically inactive, or needing to be physically active because we no longer are concerned with being part of the food chain. We don’t have to hunt and gather to survive, therefore we’re not utilizing our “naturally designed” physiology. I suspect some will potentially take offense, reject or misinterpret Georges Hébert’s vision when it comes to muscle building or strength training for what he considers to not be natural.

Hébert rejects things we now refer to as powerlifting, or bodybuilding. Training for hypertrophy is such a popular thing, especially among men, and it has been for decades (think of the Pumping Iron days and the buff look of superheroes). And while we can all value strength, how much strength do we truly need? We do like to say that strength trumps everything, that it’s a great go-to fix for most issues (and I agree), there has to be a limit, at some point. Hébert’s motto of “be strong to be useful” can also be translated as “be strong to be functional”. The subtle variation can be detected if you speak French and are familiar with both the original text and my humble translation/transliteration.

Indeed, much like I still struggle with the best English title for the book on women’s physical education, I modified the exact terminology of the original books to reflect a more current understanding of training. Terms we know and can identify quickly and currently may very well be used differently in 20 years. An example of a change I made a decision on is (and you can attack me for the stance, the choice was necessary and this blog, or any other platform like a workshop or speaking engagement can serve the purpose of further explaining my choices): utilitarian exercises, which I renamed functional exercises. Hébert calls them “utilitaires”, for utility, like a utility knife serves a purpose, or any tool. We like to call that functional today, and while utilitarian may be more appropriate, I still have to engage people in a way they understand it. I can’t break too much ground or challenge mindsets without some way to have people identify with it first.

So, reverting to utilitarian, “être fort pour être utile” has an element of functionality and because his program, his Natural Method is geared at all-around athleticism, a focus on just strength training, while it may provide one with the usefulness of being strong for a specific task, automatically eliminates other utilitarian or functional features. For instance, a strongman will usually not have the ability to run long distance, or run very quickly, yet someone who is a runner only (let’s pick an endurance runner) will not have the strength to be useful at other tasks. And because the Method originates from a military need, it all comes back to the source of what Dr Ed Thomas like to teach:

  • Medical/corrective
  • Military/Martial
  • Visual (for a harmonious development of the body)

Also, the hyper focus on strength training only, at the expense of other aspects, is a direct validation of the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands).

Let us not misinterpret consequently that the Natural Method doesn’t apply to people with muscles developed beyond a natural environmental need (there is no such thing as environmental need, globally speaking, unless you’re a sherpa, a Maasai warrior or other exception). Bodybuilding has no real function, yes. But who cares? What’s important is the bodybuilder being able to have a certain level of skill in other areas: agility, coordination, basic climbing or scaling, throwing light or heavy objects, being able to run. I happen to work with bodybuilders who value the work and principles brought forth by Georges Hébert and apply them in their training while still working on developing their muscles beyond what Nature intended or daily needs call for (and I am not talking about drugs or other things, only that unless specific attention is given to hypertrophy, muscles will only grow so much from basic labors required in the wild).

There is a reason why many ‘natural’ movements (as in philosophies or fitness approaches) like to refer to our hunting and gathering ancestors looking a certain way, because no caveman would pick up a rock or tree trunk and dead-lift it for reps with the goal to get stronger or bigger. It simply didn’t exist or didn’t fit into the lifestyle. Today, it’s a choice and an interest with a health benefit, whereas fitness then was a necessity for survival. No one actually dies today directly from being unfit (heart disease will do it for you as a consequence only) because rare is the person who has a saber tooth tiger chasing them. Gazelles and lions get it, but we don’t have to. We’re not getting picked out of the herd anymore.

The Crossfit movement tries to adhere to that, actually, by pushing it to excess, though. That’s the spirit of competition (something Hébert rejected to a point, as he believes in competition among peers during training and development as a way to equalize all trainees, but not for the sake of competition and scoring). Hébert didn’t care about being Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger, but he believed in being strong, fast and harmoniously developed based on the stimulus provided by all the activities. He was a generalist, a jack of all trades, and you know what? That’s not such a bad thing to be. Consider pro athletes: their ultra specialization makes them broken, physically, sometimes mentally and there is a reason sports careers are short (the career spans depending on the damages caused by the activity on the body). They are masters at their craft, for a while, and many end up badly hurt after they retire. For the rest of us, being fit, strong, functioning individuals is a lifetime journey, its span only affected by our health and fitness.

I also believe in moderation, of course. What’s the point of being too strict if you’re miserable all the time? And how are you truly enjoying yourself if you’re unhealthy, in pain, popping pills all the time and unable to do basic tasks, be they for fun or utility? On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being totally inactive and poorly eating and 10 being gangbusters gym rat orthorexic antisocial, choose to be an 8: eat well, train, and reward yourself with a few vices that you earned. But only if you earned them. If you fall below a 6, you’re not even average or median, you’re simply far below optimal. The difference between 8 and 10 is just as big as the difference between 6 and 8, but it’s far easier to get from 6 to 8 than it is to get from 8 to 10, and the benefits of being an 8 over a 6 are vastly, vastly worth the effort. Claiming lack of time is simply stating that “it’s not a priority”.

As a friend of mine recently said on FaceBook, try to say from now on “it’s not a priority” rather than saying “I don’t have the time”, and see how you feel. Is your health not a priority? Your strength? Your bank account? Your family?

Is training to failure really bad?

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For years, I have heard that training to failure is bad, as you only “teach your body to fail”.

I also read, hear and see compelling evidence of people who do that top achieve a certain level of muscular mass gain. While it’s not a sustainable process, limited to a single set, it is still done and the argument for it, versus the one against it, is that it stimulates growth hormone.

So, I am taking a neutral stance, or Stu McGill’s answer of “it depends”, which I will base solely on semantics.

First off, what is failure? Simplified, it is the inability to continue (in this context). T-Nation (Testosterone Nation) has quite a few articles on the topic of failure, and they even define the various stages (technical being one of them, where form fails, but one can still keep going until reaching muscular failure, which, when spotted, is the inability to do a single rep, even partial).

Are we really training to fail, or are we training to push harder? Is the body really learning to fail, and what does that mean? That when that log falls on your leg in the woods, you can only lift it off your limb 7 times and the 8th time, you can’t? Maybe after the first time, you might want to watch what you’re doing and not have to repeat that mistake. I think it’s training the mind honestly.

I am a big proponent of an”Easy Strength” approach to training, but I also believe in having to go all out once in a while, otherwise, you really train yourself to fail by not pushing, by learning to walk away. An all-out “to failure” set will require more recovery, and your performance in the gym on the same lift next time will tell you if you need more or less recovery.

The other argument I want to make on that “meme-friendly” saying, and it’s something I disagree with despite respecting the source, is because the same school of anti-failure also promotes “supra-maximal”holds, meaning attempting a certain lift with a weight that one cannot lift normally and fighting, fighting, fighting even if only isometrically holding it at the sticky point for 5-10 seconds, because you are then allegedly teaching your CNS to handle the load. But, if you are not lifting the weight to full range of motion, isn’t that a fail?

How to Olympic athletes, or fighters, train? Do they train harder at times to make the event easier, or do they train easier to save their energy? Both concepts work, both are used, and it’s a matter of trial and error for the individual, or mindset.

I personally am not looking at high mass gains right now. I don’t have the bandwidth, the caloric funds, the recovery time and frankly, the setbacks associated with moving around at a weight that takes away some of my mobility, agility and actual daily needs, with the associated maintenance and added wardrobe. However, by adopting the “no failure” concept for too long, I have lost the ability to push way past the burn at times, and that, IMHO, is a dulling of that survival instinct.

 

What do you think?

 

How your digital devices and apps do not move the needle.

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You downloaded the latest G50Xtreme workout series, you bought the compression training apparel, have the app on your smartphone and checked in via social media at your gym to keep yourself accountable, and posted a sweaty selfie so we know you didn’t just show up and lie. You’re doing it!

 

 

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You then grab a super-greens superfood drink, enter its caloric info into another smart app and track your intake of nutrients. Off to shower, a clean dinner of steamed veggies and grilled chicken or white fish with a sprinkle of pepper and a squeeze of lemon, and a small glass of Chardonnay (c’mon, live a little now, ya hear!)

You calculated at the end of the day that you burnt X amount of calories (and you’re on track), fulfilled your workout quota and beat it by 10% from last week, so now you can add a restorative session of yoga or Pilates. Book a massage, because your body needs it and you earned it.

Crash on the couch, catch up on emails with House Of Cards playing in the background on Netflix, finish up that presentation for tomorrow. Turn off the tube, but turn on the Kindle for a little reading on how to be more effective, assertive and confident (you’ll follow up with the podcast in the morning on your way to work). Sleep 6 hours or less, and after 12-16 ounces of overpriced coffee in the morning, it’s off to the races again. You sit for 8-10 hours. Wait, no, you have a standing desk too, because more and more offices do that, because it’s good for you.

How you doin’?

What are you working towards?

Why is the standing desk good for you? No need to tell me, by the way, I know you read the research, Self magazine and GQ tweeted about the benefits.

My question was about your workout: what’s it doing for you? Is your posture better? Fewer headaches? Good alignment and muscular balance? Right on!

Now, can you get those results without all the digital noise around you? Can you also apply your fitness to your everyday activities: do you hunch at your desk, do you stand evenly, is your neck bent at 45 degrees staring at screens, or do you practice good posture outside the gym, are you mindful when sitting, walking, standing, carrying your messenger bag?

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Bottom line: if you’re not getting the results, the digital gizmos and social media wear thin and become useless landfill fodder. Because if you’re so disciplined that you’re making progress, you don’t need them. And if you are not disciplined, no amount of toys will fill that gap between you and your goal.

Save some cash, save some time, reconnect with yourself and people without a crutch. Dumbo eventually learned how to fly without holding on to his feather.

“Am I getting better?”

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“Am I getting better?” is a question a client asked me recently, and I’ve heard variations of it over the last decade and a half. Some can have a negative feel to them, like “I feel like I’m not getting better, our sessions are still hard sometimes” or “I don’t look like I’ve been training with a trainer after _____  (insert duration here)”, or “wow, I’m so out of shape, I can’t do X or my performance on this is Y” (where I have to refer people to the SAID principle).

WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING?

To the title question, there is no magical answer, yet people expect magical results. However, the answer is always yes. You may have to cajole someone into the answer, or educate them. As fitness professionals, especially when our clients trust us, they need encouragement, but it also needs to stem in reality and accountability. I had the “am I getting better?” question asked by someone whom I trained via video conference, after 2 weeks of training only. My answer was prefaced with more questions and education so that the answer sinks in, with the following elements:

  • Is it easier to do certain things (from the mundane to the workout specific)?
  • Is soreness from lack of activity gone?
  • Is your appetite going up (physical activity will usually stimulate that, as muscles want to be fed, to simplify this concept)?

I allow people to self-assess from their own baseline while educating them on the process, the idea of consistency and duration of a training program, and how it makes things better in their lifestyle.

WHAT ABOUT THE NEGATIVE REMARKS/QUESTIONS?

When someone feels they’re not getting better, I show them their training logs, anything and everything measurable. “Here, your previous benchmark was at X reps with Y load, today it is X+10 reps with 1.5Y load, so you have improved in strength and muscular endurance”.

As for the visual esthetics, I also emphasize that you can train twice a week and twice a week only, but if you don’t follow a regimented lifestyle that encompasses proper nutrient intake, adequate sleep and recovery, maintenance training will help you from getting worse, and while it will make you fitter and healthier, the only way to tell would be “what do you think you’d look like if you hadn’t trained at all the past 2 years while maintaining the same diet and lifestyle?” While we can never know unless they have a twin as their control group, we communicate and educate our clients.

Also, when someone claims having poor cardio endurance but only wants to train to lift heavy weights, or vice versa; your body adapts to what you get it ready for.

In the end, clients are in the driver’s seat. We just need to give them a good road map.