Category Archives: Play-based training

Breaking the habit, breaking the jump

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Up in the 5AM hour on a Sunday morning.

Thank you, 2-yr old Branson.

Not hot out yet, pleasant, balmy. 6-yr old Fletcher wakes up a little later. As their powers of destruction combined begin to rise as well, divide and conquer becomes the strategy. I’ll go out with Fletcher, Branson will cuddle with Mommy at home (or as I found out, he wreaked havoc all over the house…)

Now, I’ve also been devouring Julie Angel’s book Breaking The Jump and the re-discovery of concepts I have been preaching yet becoming complacent to with too much “easy strength” work made me want to sharpen my edge. Two of these, paraphrased quotes/concepts from the Yamakasi original crew are “you become good at what you do a lot of” and any stunt has to be done three times: the first time is to do it, to “break” it. The second you do for yourself, to make sure it was not a fluke (clients: sound familiar?) and the third time you do it for someone else. Since I had my 6-yr old coach/pace-setter on his bike (and also joining on some stunts), I had to show off anything and tell him to look (it pushes me to get his approval, I want to be a cool dad, yes, and it’s good that our 36-yr difference shows one can still do cool things).

The regimen was simple: run, jump onto, clear, jump off of. Rinse, repeat. Surfaces included: brick, concrete, dirt, polysoft playground impact attenuation surface and sand.

Obstacles were: wooden bleachers, jungle gym, overhead signs, stairwells and railing. The jungle gym/playground area includes slippery walls (only a very dry bare foot would grip), railing, thick supporting tubes/beams, a fun tower etc.

Heights varied from 4 feet to about 12 feet.

Drop/depth jumps were seated, standing and backwards or from vaulting over a railing and landing below.

Cat jumps/hang were either single, or hopping from one height to the next before vaulting over or dropping down. No less than 3 times each.

The ‘injury’ (a minor cut on my shin hitting the bottom of a railing during a hop from one cat hang to the next, higher and to the side) occurred at the intersection of distraction and overconfidence. The mechanics were there, I got a little sloppy from getting distracted by a dad who was looking at me with this WTF look, as if my actions were going to cause his kid to act like me and get hurt…

I tend to like solo work, however, the same way I enjoy surfing with at least one friend paddling out with me, the fun of pushing further with Fletcher asking me to jump onto the 12-ft (or higher) sign at the park, muscling up and jumping over, then immediately reversing the direction of it, justified why such training is best done with someone at your side. Silent inner competition and, well, showmanship 🙂

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.

the_hulk_by_joejusko

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!

Live the Natural Method

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ACE (American Council on Exercise) released its forecast of the top 10 fitness trends for 2016.

I didn’t really see what I have been exploring since 2008 when I realized what I knew from NASM was too reductionist, and had Wildfitness open my eyes to new ways, which were anything but.

Judging by Connor McGregor’s recent win, but more so the phenomenal boost “movement” received and the likes of Ido Portal and Erwan LeCorre latching on the the opportunity to grow their approach, I do believe that a return to the source is truly at the forefront of fitness. And judging by the warm reception my translation of Georges Hébert’s Practical Guide to Physical Education and his Natural Method approach to fitness, I feel I’m on the right path. Check out this post by Daring Standards.

I am extremely thankful for this, as it gives me a new purpose and a new drive to bring more of Hébert’s work forward. It is important to give him credit, rather than try to steal for oneself for marketing purposes. Ultimately, Hébert himself credits his predecessors, just like Pavel Tsatsouline did with his kettlebell training system, and related strength training Russian influences. Pavel improved and systemized, like Hébert did. Not everyone does like them, and instead covers up an existing system or style with a new name, or unnecessary complications, not actual updates.

Movement is essential, it’s simple, it’s life. This is why I put together this little slideshow that includes family pictures, where my kids get to run, jump climb, throw and my wife and I get to partake, carry them, throw them, fight with them etc. Towards the end of the slideshow, you’ll see my friends Nick Bustos, Melody Schoenfeld, Patrick Hartsell, Ron Jones and James Neidlinger in action, some photos not released yet, modeling the programming of Hébert’s method, with simple  updates, upgrades, modern twist and access to gear that always existed but was made more user friendly (I am not against progress…)

Enjoy!

Complete your session

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This is one of those philosophical statements with layers of meaning.

The obvious one can be “finish your workout”, or finish what you started, even if not in fitness.

The more subtle one has to do with The Natural Method and what Hébert calls a complete session, a session that addresses fundamental movements as well as functional exercises. Mobility, strength, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, agility, coordination, dexterity, harmonious and balanced muscular development, as well as breath work.

Even if they were included in the Functional Exercises portion of his book, and the reason I chose to release those chapters as standalone books, swimming and combative techniques (self-defense, boxing, wrestling) are complete sessions.

By issuing a call to action to “complete”  session, I invite you to explore how you can make a training session include all of the elements to, well, make it “complete” (forgive the redundancy).

A good example because I intend on expanding the work to other disciplines or activities, can be surfing.

It’s not hard to break down the activity and see that it is a complete sport, and see how obvious it is:

  1. Balance stimulation (vestibular and visual systems).
  2. Aquatic training.
  3. Environmental resilience.
  4. Fundamental arm positions.
  5. Fundamental leg positions.
  6. Strength training.
  7. Support work.
  8. Core work.
  9. Agility.
  10. Rescue ability (you are connected to a floatation device that can served to aid you or someone in distress).
  11. Cardiovascular endurance.
  12. Speed.
  13. Power.
  14. Multiplanar movement.
  15. Harmonious development of the muscles.
  16. Corrective exercise elements.
  17. (BONUS): developing the skill of reading elements like water movements (waves, tides, currents), wind patterns and how to adapt to a constantly shifting environment.

One could argue that there is nothing natural about surfing: we do not possess the appendages to glide standing up on the surface of water, and have to resort to man-made devices which also are shaped out of various materials to fulfill the ability to, well, surf the waves, and paddle into them before that. By the way, all those points above can be chapters for The Natural Method: Surfing. And it doesn’t have to stop here, obviously. I’ll go as far as I can with what I know, but I also am recruiting others to complete the collection for the aspects I don’t know.

But so is weight training: we use tools to improve what we have.

So, we use the laws of Nature, physics, our physiology and we don’t even think about how all those systems interconnect: the visual, vestibular, muscular etc. Our reflexes are constantly stimulated and repetition is what makes us better and we get to play and have fun.

Natural, in the end, to me at least, means: what comes naturally over time. Key is in the last 2 words: what may not seem natural at first will with rote. So, cross your right middle finger over your index and slap it on your left palm and go do that. Then, once you’re up on that board and riding that wave, close your fist, extend your thumb and pinky, and do a little propeller move with your wrist.

Natural Method Kid Parkour

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A little while ago, I posted some clips of my (now) 5 year old son who was jumping from a height that makes most parents cringe, as if I was a bad dad risking my child’s health.

Some are natural athletes, others are made to be athletes. Some are genetically gifted, some still won’t look as good as the fitness models and movie stars despite smart, dedicated and disciplined training. Looks aside, we can all develop running, jumping, climbing and other skills. For when our daily environment doesn’t provide the stimulation or equipment to achieve a high skill level, a method is there for us, a system, and that’s what Georges Hébert created, and others since applied, by “reverse engineering what the best athletes do naturally”, to quote Pavel Tsatsouline.

Without further reading, watch this 3 1/2 min video of my son who developed his skills over the years. You’ll see that the jumps I posted a few weeks ago now will look less impressive, because they’re almost “expected”, after you see the training in his early walking stages that brought him to where he is today. Fast forward to the future in your mind. Maybe I’m not the bad parent, maybe I’m the one who prepares him…

You can get all three books by clicking this link, by the way:

Buy all three books on Amazon by click here

Über Fitness part 2 (final)

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Are you a well-rounded athlete if you are the top guy in your sport?

Does specialization make you better than general fitness?

These two questions are leading because their phrasing most likely steers you to the answer “no”, especially if you are educated in the field of fitness, or at least well-read.

Athletes, more specifically professional athletes, tend to have imbalances because of overuse patterns and the demands of the sport. The resulting specialization creates not only imbalances, but potentially limitations. Of course, we can argue that some sports offer some sort of all-around balanced development, but in general, the hyper focus on the task to accomplish makes it difficult for a sprinter to run a marathon, a bodybuilder to fight in the ring, or a gymnast to be a good diver (the latter example because gymnasts are taught to always land on their feet and the concept of going head first after some flips doesn’t compute).

We could discuss that with the Crossfit games, the displays of athleticism are tremendous (and I guarantee you the competitors’ training is anything but WODs), but that would be perceived as a cheap way to get readers 😉

Back to Georges Hébert and his Natural Method, since it’s still an unknown subject to 99.99% of the fitness population. His goal is all-around athleticism: a balance of speed, endurance, strength, mobility, skill and functionality. According to Hébert, games, sports and manual labor are the finality of physical education. These forms of physical exercise are useful for the following reasons:

  • They augment the general physical value of individuals and extend what can be called “physical knowledge”.
  • They entertain the “taste” for physical activity by breaking up the monotony of methodical training.
  • They help perfect agility, develop a sense of practicality, promote ingeniousness by giving complete freedom to individual action.
  • They satisfy a need for variety and pleasure by providing a release from methodical training.
  • They demonstrate functionality and bring out the advantages of good physical preparedness. Greater success is achieved, indeed, even more in the various branches of physical activity as one is better prepared thanks to methodical training (strength and conditioning).

So, what are we learning with Hébert’s Natural Method? Is it yet another secret sauce never revealed to you until now? While I could say if it’s new to you the answer is yes, the reality is that it’s a method that withstood the test of time, and that if you are a fitness enthusiast, your skills and abilities deserve the right to rekindle with your body’s natural desire to move well, as it is engineered to do so. Forget fat loss, muscle gain or some other specialized goal. All of that comes naturally, and it is so much more than just the moves posted on various social media. The philosophy behind the method is very wholistic and revolves around 3 major points:

  1. Hygienic action (not about being freshly scrubbed, read Book 1 if you want to know what that means in details about cleansing the system through air baths, circulation etc).
  2. Functionality/Utility.
  3. Mental benefits.

We all need that, we tend to forget those aspects too frequently, and that’s what the Method is also about 🙂

Workshop Syllabus Bulletpoints

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Photo from The Natural Method: Fundamental Exercises (Book 2) translate by Philippe Til

THIS IS A “REFRESHED” POST INITIALLY PUBLISHED IN MAY OF 2015:

If you are reading this and want to register, click here and bring a friend and get a special discount of 2 people for $229 (save $129 on the second admission, or almost $65 each).


Standard/Special




I realize many these days tries to come up with some new method of training. Marketing gimmicks are running amuck on the ole “Interweb”. There have never been more public “secrets of fitness” than in the last 2 years, if I were to believe the numerous newsletters I get from people telling me they have the secret(s) I am missing in my training.

The best tools for training are your body and things you can get your hands on, to lift, put back down, throw, catch, climb on etc. The best tools for weight loss are your silverware and that hole in the bottom third of your face, or quarter depending on your facial symmetry. (Thank you, James Neidlinger, for “the best tools for weight loss” arsenal tip from your recent Facebook post).

To placate the skeptics or explain to the curious, below is what we’ll cover on October 24 at The Natural Method Workshop, in Los Angeles, CA, at The Gym @ Hayden.

It first starts with the upright posture which aligns and prepares the body for movement. Without a strong upright posture the movements taught will not be as effective. Once we are comfortable with the upright posture then we can start to explore movements in the entire kinetic chain.

  1. Arm Movements: positions at hips, shoulders, chest, neck and derivatives, as well as why we do them, what they do and how.
  2. Leg Movements: various “bends”/flexion/slits. Combine with 1.
  3. Suspension: hang and do leg stuff. Or lie down if you can’t hang to get similar benefits*. Btw, that noise also works your Dear Abbies. And hits the body parts from 2, like, hard, and from 1, but differently. And yes, that’s some aspects of pull-ups, but not limited to. This isn’t a class on pull-up variations.
  4. Support Movements: stuff that looks like push-ups, but isn’t limited to. This isn’t a class on push-up variations, though you may recognize or learn some.
  5. Balance Movements: equilibrium. Although symmetry is also balance, this is more literal. Combine with 1 and 2.
  6. Hopping Movements: not jumping. Hopping. Not like a bunny. More like jump rope (without the rope), or skipping as some call it. Not skipping like a kid, though I recommend you do that. It’s fun and beneficial and my friend Paul Daniels once taught a class where some people forgot how to do that. Combine with 1.
  7. Trunk Movements: the torso, the thoracic stuff, aspects of the core. Flexion, extension, twisting, rotation. Combine with 1 & 2. Wakes up your vestibular system. You need that.
  8. Breathing: why cover that last? Because now, we get to redo everything 1-7 but make it even better.
  9. Add tools and repeat 1-7 with 8 throughout.

And you’ll learn how to weave it all together for durations of 5, 10, 20 minutes or whatever time you need/have/want and whatever goal you aim for.

So, people, get ready to move, well and throughout the day. (quality and quantity guaranteed). And when we’re done, you’ll be tired and happy and free. Like getting some. And the next day, you’ll feel it before you’ll get to talk about it.

This is just a taste of what can be achieved with the method.

Ideally I would love to teach the method over multiple days covering other movement qualities like: walking, running, climbing, throwing, lifting, rescuing, swimming without water, jumping and more. But in 8 short hours, you get plenty of coverage of the fundamentals so you can explore and even program.

*benefits vs goals will be explained. Benefits are things that stay the same, no matter what the goals are. Like opening up the chest vs building a bigger chest.

Update on “what are you training for?”

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Not necessarily an archived post of mine, rather a question that is worth repeating/asking oneself or others.

I am currently reading a book, finishing up actually, by Robert Heinlein called Beyond This Horizon, which deals with a Utopian society, gene selection in offsprings and creating perfect lines. Scary science fiction and the direction of eugenics, trying to get people back to being “natural” through a revolution against the “eugenic” establishment. Without digressing because this is not a topic related to fitness, there is a quote in the book that makes sense when it comes to our training; the paraphrased quote is that we humans, conceptually and practically, have no specialization like most animals do, and by contrast, it’s this general adaptability that places us on top of the food chain.

In that train of thought, I couldn’t help noticing a direct link to Hébért’s Natural Method because in his ideal to help develop a well-rounded athlete through walking, running, swimming, jumping, lifting, climbing, fighting techniques, rescue techniques and general manual labor as well as games, Hébert and Heinlein are dealing with the same topic. Hébert mentions his method as the foundation for all activities and minimum requirements to be an all-around responsible citizen. He doesn’t cover specialization on purposes because that becomes the choice of the individual. It’s also like going to college, where the majority of the units necessary to obtain a degree are actually general education, then personal choices lead the direction for classes geared at one’s major.

I could go on with more details with Heinlein’s storyline, but this is another post, if there is interest. Or you can read his book. This circumventing of the question with this thought process is only aimed at having you answer why you train? Do you train just to go to the gym or do you have an actual end game, goal or testing ground? Remember enjoyment too, not just the hard work without the payoff of the skill.

In my case, I just spent nearly 4 days surfing a cumulative 14-16 hours and feel perfectly fine, not exhausted, not sore, just pleasantly rejuvenated and overhauled. My body looks actually better, fuller, more developed because of everything surfing provided me, as well as the perfect environment (good friends, a warm locale and no work, without any real concern for nutrition other than light day eating and evening fueling for the next day). So, yes, I train myself to be a well-rounded athlete so I can be primed for activity when called upon.

Five reasons you need to jump

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Why jump?

The question rather should be: why not jump, if you are capable?

Lately, I’ve been just bored of squats and deadlifts, or any leg training exercise. Just a matter of staleness. My musculature is lean and proportional, and I’ve been always conscious to maintain balance. But there are times when I need to make training fun and set discipline to the side for a little bit. Actually, strike that: I still am disciplined, I just need a bit of variety. And I remember how powerful and sculpted my legs were when I was doing more martial arts. For my general activities, I don’t need to power lift and while I have enjoyed it for years (the process, the lifts, but not for the goal of competition as I am not that athlete). And power generation is just a measure of application of power and methodology.

I am leaning more and more to a natural approach, in the sense of chasing my kids and running around. But, if you’re experiencing some staleness as well with your lifts and need something to give you a nice (neural) break from the traditional, here’s what Georges Hébert has to say about jumps (and I should post what he says about running too, something that is making a comeback with new -old- findings). And, since I live in Southern California and as a personal trainer, having the year-round ability to train outdoors with the available training equipment the various parks offer, like pull-up bars, monkey bars, parallel bars, why not take advantage? Anyway, read up on the 5 reasons why jumping’s good for you!

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 also 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.