Do Not Diet or Set a New Year’s Resolution in 2014

Happy New Year! I sincerely hope that 2013 was a fantastic year for you and that 2014 will be even better. However, I do NOT want you to diet or set a New Year’s Resolution this year. Why? Please read on…

Diets Do Not Work

As someone who regularly works with people who want to lose weight, I am painfully aware of the fact that diets simply do not work. The Canadian National Eating Disorder Information Centre writes here that those attempting a diet are more likely to gain weight than lose it! And researchers from UCLA note here that after analyzing over 30 long-term studies, they observed that at least 2/3 of participants gained back the weight they lost (if not more) during short-term diets. Armed with this knowledge, it would be downright foolish to attempt a 30-day challenge or some other restrictive diet with the goal of keeping weight off long-term.

New Year’s Resolutions Do Not Work

I have an article about willpower coming out in the January 2014 issue of the Performance Menu, in which I cite several gloomy facts about the utter failure of those who set New Year’s Resolutions. In one informal study led by Quirkology, the success rate one year later was just 12%! Fitness and nutrition juggernauts Alwyn Cosgrove and John Berardi have noted time and time again how your chances of success when adopting new habits drastically decrease when you add too much at once. The numbers are alarming: one habit at a time yields an 85% chance of success, whereas two habits lowers to a shocking 35%, and three habits is almost zero! Just as with the knowledge of diet failure rates, the stats here should steer you away from doing what most people do when it comes to setting New Year’s Resolutions.

What To Do Instead

If your goal is to lose weight in 2014, then there are a couple options I would recommend:

  1. For quite literally instant weight loss, cut off a limb. (Actually, I can’t say that I recommend this option. You would lose weight though.)
  2. If you want to lose body fat and keep it off for the rest of your life, then talk to the people at Precision Nutrition. They are the largest and most successful nutrition coaching company in the world. They even tailor their free web content by gender! I highly recommend this course for men and this course for women. And if you are a trainer looking to level up your nutrition coaching skills, then check out this course.

If you have other goals unrelated to body composition, then here is what I recommend:

  1. Prioritize your goals. Go so far as to make a numbered list.
  2. Now take number 1 on your list (let’s say it’s, “Meditate more often”) and make it more specific (“Meditate for 5 minutes every day.”).
  3. Set an end date when you will re-assess your success. February 1st should work well.
  4. If and only if you accomplished your number 1 priority, then you may continue on to the other items on your list in a similar fashion.

For an added bonus, post your goals to the comments here or as a status on Facebook. Pay someone $20 to hold you accountable. Or better yet, find a social network with similar goals so that you have communal support.

And lastly, if you would prefer one-on-one coaching, then I am looking for online coaching clients in 2014! I have helped several people lose weight in the past, and I have personal experience when it comes to adding lean muscle mass and learning new skills. Thanks for reading!

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Reps and Resources

Just a quick post today to get you guys a bit of information about what I have been up to. I have created a “Resources” page that features a few links:

Precision Nutrition’s Coaching Program is top-notch in the field of sports and exercise nutrition. This link brings you to a free 5-video course, and from there I highly recommend their certification program. They focus on principles rather than ideologies, meaning it is better to get results using varied means rather than stick to just one method. In this course you will learn both nutritional science and basic coaching psychology.

Precision Nutrition’s Fat Loss Course for Men and Fat Loss Course for Women are great resources, and these links bring you to a free 5-video course about eating to achieve leanness and confidence. From there you can sign up for their Lean Eating coaching program, which I highly recommend simply based off the thousands of people who Precision Nutrition has helped lose body fat. If you are interested in seriously committing to losing excess weight in 2014, then there is simply no better place to go than here.
Also, I spent the past weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina attending an Original Strength Workshop led by Tim Anderson. Without giving away too much, Original Strength is based around the ideas Tim originally espoused in the book Becoming Bulletproof, and it is centered around the idea of “pressing reset” on your body by focusing on breathing, rolling, rocking, and crawling. We went through hundreds of progressions and regressions for each of the movements, and all those reps really helped the group learn the intricacies of the drills better.

This reminded me of a bigger picture point that although we all can occasionally gravitate towards the 5-minute instant fix, sometimes simple repetition is king. If you are learning a new skill, regardless whether it is speaking Spanish, playing an instrument, or doing barbell snatches, you need to do reps and reps and reps and reps. I once had a drumming student e-mail me asking about a particular rudiment, called a “flam drag.” My response was, “Play 1,000 flam drags over the course of the next week, and then let me know if you still need my help.” He never responded!

Thanks for reading! Remember to check out my article in the November issue of the Performance Menu, and be on the look out for another one coming up in January!

Get People Excited About the Basics

If you are ever in need of a bout of inspiration in the health and fitness world, just travel up to quaint little East Greenwich, Rhode Island for a weekend. While there, be sure to stop by the Poliquin Group‘s brand new facility, complete with a 20,000-square-foot gym (with all Eleiko bars and plates), a supplement bar (all Poliquin line), a café (entirely gluten-free), a classroom (state-of-the-art), and even a student lounge (with couches, refrigerator, etc.). Heaven exists people, and it’s in Rhode Island.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the Dynamic Movement in Sports Symposium hosted by the Poliquin Group. Saturday belonged to Coach Christopher Sommer of GymnasticBodies.com fame. This guy has been a Junior National Team coach for about 40 years, so what he says is law. It was very cool to work with someone who had zero desire to over-hype, blow smoke, or romanticize his product; rather, his method has been proven over and over again through his athletes. In the very near future I will be working through his Foundation Series, which comes highly recommended from many others in the field.

On Sunday morning Jeff Serven of Trident Athletics gave a lecture on his view of CrossFit, heavily informed by legends such as Mark Twight of Gym Jones, James FitzGerald of OPT, and Charles Poliquin of Strength Sensei, not to mention Jeff’s 10 years spent as a Navy Seal. I found this presentation to be very refreshing because he spoke openly and plainly about what it is we need to do as fitness professionals: get results, regardless of allegiances or biases towards any one sport, method, or program.

Derek Woodske, a Poliquin Group staff member and overall badass, gave the last speech of the day on supplementation recommendations for CrossFit athletes. Suffice it to say that the biggest thing I learned from listening to Derek talk for 2 hours was that I need to listen to Derek talk more often. The guy is incredibly open-minded and easy to talk to, especially for someone who has the wealth of training and coaching experience as he does. Check out his video blog here.

All this recap leads me to a crucial point I was reminded of this weekend: coaches and trainers need to get their athletes and clients excited about mastering the basics. Which basketball team will win: the one who shoots 8 for 20 from the 3-point arc, or the one that’s 18 for 20 on lay-ups? Or what about a general fitness client: should they try box jumps if they cannot properly squat with just their bodyweight?

For instance, you’ll often hear about some of the best weightlifters in the world coming into the gym and warming up the exact same way, every single session. Why is that? Probably because they are still working on mastering the basics: squatting, hinging, knee position, hip position, shoulder position, bar speed, extension, etc.

In the context of martial arts, you should always adopt the white belt mindset: humble, eager to learn, and respectful of the process it takes to improve. Gordon Emory, the owner and head instructor over at Charlottesville Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, recently sent out an email that ended with, “A black belt should be a master of the fundamentals.” And believe me, you do NOT want to get triangle-choked by Gordon.

Now if you are a trainer like me, then here’s something to mull over:

  1. Clients come to you because they are interested in fitness. Their goals are to look good, feel good, and have fun.
  2. Your first priority should be to get them moving well in basic ways: squat, hinge, push, pull, breathe, walk, etc.
  3. In order to do so, you need to keep them excited about their progress, and use what they want (look good, feel good, have fun) to motivate them to improve.
  4. Shortly thereafter, you should start discussing the fundamentals of nutrition, NOT some crazy 30-day challenge. I’m talking about real food, meat and veggies, colors on your plate, drinking water, etc.
  5. At some point later you should mention sleep quantity, stress levels, setting goals, etc.

Sexy? Hell no. Effective? It will be, but only if you as a coach or trainer get people excited about mastering the basics. Thanks for reading. By the way, check out the November 2013 issue of the Performance Menu for an article I wrote titled, “Health and Fitness Production vs. Consumption.”

 

Range of Motion as a Method of Progressive Overload

Alright people, let’s geek out. I mean, seriously, let’s get into the nitty gritty details of what it takes to get better in the gym. In fancy exercise science talk, the term progressive overload means “the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training.” That means that every time you step foot into the gym, you are trying to improve at least one aspect of your fitness program.

You typically have a few options when it comes to stepping up your training game:

  1. Volume: Do more work (e.g., 5 sets of 5 reps instead of 3 sets of 3 reps).
  2. Intensity: Do harder work (e.g., lift 205 lbs off the ground instead of 185 lbs).
  3. Density: Do the same amount and kind of work, just faster (e.g., a 3-minute Fran instead of a 5-minute Fran).

Let’s go a step further and add Range of Motion as a Method of Progressive Overload. I’m talking about how long of a distance you move a certain load in any given exercise. For instance, the standard range of motion for squatting in the sport of CrossFit is that the hips need to travel below the knees at the bottom, and the hips and knees need to reach full extension at the top. Similarly, for pull-ups, the chin needs to travel above the bar at the top, and the elbows need to reach full extension at the bottom.

So how can we manipulate range of motion in order to gradually increase the stress placed upon our body during exercise? Let’s start talking specifics: back squat, deadlift, handstand push-up, and muscle-up.

Back Squat: Let’s say you can squat 315 lbs with a low-bar position, wide stance, and powerlifting range of motion where you stop when the hips are parallel to the knees. Rather than just strive to add weight to the bar, another option in order to increase your fitness would be to then make it a goal to squat 315 lbs with a high-bar position, narrow stance, and Olympic weightlifting range of motion where you descend completely until the hamstrings cover the calves at the bottom. By moving the same weight a greater distance, you have performed more work!

Deadlift: So you can deadlift 405 lbs from the floor… what next? Try this: over time work up to be able to pull, say, 425 lbs, but from a higher position, where the bar begins at your knees instead of at mid-shin level. Once you can lift a heavier weight from this decreased range of motion, then (yep, you guessed it) you will work towards being able to deadlift 415 lbs from the ground. This just demonstrates that range of motion is a two-way street: you can increase range of motion and decrease load, or decrease range of motion and increase load.

Handstand Push-up: As mentioned in my previous post on Progressions and Regressions, you can strive to make improvements in your handstand push-ups by manipulating the range of motion. If you can do a headstand push-up (where your hands and head are both on the floor at the bottom), then strive to work up towards a legitimate handstand push-up (where your hands are elevated such that only your head touches the floor at the bottom). As a regression, you could do what many CrossFitters do and begin by doing mini-HSPU’s with a stack of ABMAT’s beneath your head as a cushion as well.

Muscle-up: Here’s an example that’s a bit less intuitive. When practicing muscle-ups, scale by starting from a bent-arm hang at the bottom. By decreasing the range of motion required to pull yourself up and over the rings, you have made the movement a bit easier to perform. Then, of course, over time gradually work towards being able to muscle-up from a complete dead hang with straight arms at the bottom.

Okay, phew, there we have it. Hopefully these tips make the concept of Range of Motion as a Method of Progressive Overload a bit more clear in your minds. Use this the next time you’re in the gym! You are training sub-optimally and leaving potential performance gains on the table if you only ever strive to increase weight or decrease time without regard to range of motion. Thanks for reading, and please share!

Pluralism in Health and Fitness

This past weekend I traveled to Asheville, North Carolina for a weekend-long workshop with Yuri Marmerstein, a Las Vegas-based acrobat and handbalancer seen here:

Attending the seminar were CrossFitters, Olympic weightlifters, yogis, acrobats, handbalancers, gymnasts, and martial artists. We spent two whole days practicing handstands and learning basic capoeira. The whole experience was fantastic, not only because Asheville is such a vibrant and unique place, but also because my fellow attendees implicitly understood something that most people do not: Pluralism in Health and Fitness is a beautiful phenomenon to be celebrated, not a matter for argument. There are way too many health-related issues, causing numerous troubles for people (one of such: http://sideeffectsofxarelto.org/what-did-johnson-johnson-and-bayer-hide/).

Here’s what I mean. Have you ever seen or heard two people arguing about eating Paleo vs. Vegan? Or what about one person trying to convince another to do CrossFit vs. Yoga? What happens is that we tend to over-compartmentalize certain camps in the health and fitness world. Yes, I understand that at times there are real, genuine differences between certain viewpoints. However, there is also plenty of overlap among various “belief systems” out there, and sometimes all it takes is a change in perspective to become aware of this.

Paleo or Vegan? Well regardless of what they might think about eating animals, I am willing to bet that both care about animal welfare, eat a ton of fruit and vegetables, and make food and nutrition a central part of their lives. Why not share some recipes, make some restaurant suggestions, or have a potluck? CrossFit or Yoga? Whether or not they choose on a barbell or shavasana, both groups prioritize their physical fitness, train to improve their strength and mobility, and do plenty of bodyweight movements for exercise.

Whether or not you think religious pluralism is a good idea, there are definite benefits to engaging with those in your community who may or may not practice the exact same habits that you do. My personal fitness journey has taken me from team sports in middle school to drum corps in high school and college to triathlon, yoga, and CrossFit as an adult. Nowadays a typical week involves a lot of gymnastics, some jiu-jitsu and muay thai, and a little bouldering. Throughout all these experiences I always learn something new from those who practice different activities from myself, and I always walk away with a better understanding of my own views.

If this post inspired you, then go out this weekend and try something new! How about a capoeira class, a sunrise hike, or cooking beef tongue? Just some ideas! Thanks for reading.

Review of Ben Musholt’s “Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia”

This past July I was on tour with my band in northern California when I came across an article on Breaking Muscle written by a Portland-based physical therapist and parkour athlete named Ben Musholt. The more I researched this guy, the more I liked him! A short list of his experience includes parkour, freerunning, gymnastics, martial arts, capoeira, trail running, snowboarding, and beyond. I greatly respect whenever a fitness professional is well-versed in multiple disciplines instead of just a single domain or speciality. Check out some of Ben’s skills from his American Ninja Warrior Regional Semi-Final in 2012 (ignore the title, the name is wrong):

I also learned that Ben was raising funds for an exercise encyclopedia he was planning to release in October called Mad Skills300+ pages of workout movements with over 700 illustrations on disciplines ranging from bodyweight to kettlebells to barbells and more? I’m in! I made a donation and have been eager to see the finished product ever since. Here’s the book trailer from Ben Musholt’s Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia (available on Amazon here):

Having donated to the fundraising campaign, I was afforded the opportunity to read through an electronic copy of the book this past weekend, and in short, I love it! There are so many positives to how this book was put together. First off, in the Introduction Ben writes, “The broader array of movement skills that you train, the better athlete you will be.” Sound familiar? In my “What Are We Really Training For Anyway?” post I concluded something very similar: “Train to learn new skills, gradually and progressively, so as to become capable of and masterful in more complex movements.”

Second, this book achieves exactly what it set out to become: an exercise encyclopedia filled with brief descriptions and illustrations of movements; not some sort of esoteric treatise on movement philosophy. Because of that, Mad Skills is an invaluable resource for personal trainers, CrossFit coaches, martial artists, and athletes of any sport. Heading into the gym to do squats today? Check out Ben’s chapter on leg strength (aptly titled “Pillars of Steel,” love it!) to get some ideas of possible subtle variations on your routine. Or do you need some ideas on programming for your athletes? Ben includes an entire chapter on push-ups, so there’s no reason to stagnate, plateau, or get bored in your training anymore.

This book is also very comprehensive. It is quite a daunting task to set out and list all the possible exercise movements that are out there, and I can only imagine that it must have taken Ben years to compile all this information. Here’s a brief list of the variety of entries in Mad Skills: shadow box, ginga, cossack squat, plate pinch curl, bodyweight chest fly, zercher lunge, neider press, barbell sit-up, double KB windmill, KB bear crawl, sandbag overhead squat, plank push-up, breakdance push-up, handstand leg raise, cocorinha squat, precision jump, archer pull-up, towel drag, quadruped skiers, stability ball bird dog, fireman carry, scorpion downward dog pose, revolved side angle, rectus femoris stretch, levator and scapula stretch. Phew!

Lastly, the last chapter in the book, titled “Cooking it up,” is a very straightforward, to-the-point summary of how to construct an exercise program. Ben mentions general athleticism vs. sport specificity, sets and reps, variety, social support, recovery, and the bottom line, which is that “movement is the answer” and “just go play.” And it is important to note that throughout the book Ben is able to do just that: keep it playful. We’re talking about exercise people… moving your body and external objects through space because, in one way or another, we want to do it! As a resource to be referred to time and time again over the next few decades, I highly recommend Ben Musholt’s Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia to all human movers.

Top Five Coaches You Should Follow

Keeping it simple with this Monday’s post: the Top Five Coaches You Should Follow, along with brief commentary about my experience with each one. I hope this will inspire you to pursue some of their educational offerings!

1. Charles Poliquin

I had to list Charles Poliquin first because he has probably influenced everyone else below in some capacity. Although he recently separated from the Poliquin Group, he is now building his own brand called Strength Sensei. My experience with Charles was initially through his Poliquin International Certification Program, and both Levels 1 and 2 which I have completed were chock full of great quality information. Another thing that really stands out when you attend a Poliquin event is that they have seriously high standards for everything that they do. Taking an online exam? You have to score 92% or higher to pass. Doing squats at their gym? You will be prescribed split squats if your butt winks even the slightest above parallel. Drinking green tea from their café? It’s organic from Whole Foods. Charles Poliquin and his team are all-around health and fitness experts, so I recommend you follow them for advice on everything including strength training, conditioning, nutrition, supplementation, and lifestyle.

2. Ido Portal

I would be completely remiss if I did not mention Ido Portal and his team on this list. A CrossFit trainer first pointed me in Ido’s direction online in 2009, and I have been hooked ever since. Let me try to do his work some justice with a few brief links: The Floreio Art and his Self-Dominance video, The Improper Alignment Speech, and the Raw Brahs Interview with Ido Portal. Movement is the central theme in Ido’s work, and movement can come in various forms, such as handbalancing, capoeira, gymnastics, weightlifting, dance, etc. I am currently working through some online coaching through Ido and his team (thanks Odelia!), and I am looking forward to meeting him at the Dynamic Movement in Sports Symposium in Rhode Island in November.

3. James FitzGerald, aka OPT

The bottom line is that if you coach CrossFit, you need to learn from James FitzGerald at Optimum Performance Training. Not only did he win the CrossFit Games in 2007, but he also has more experience both in the gym and in the research lab than anyone else I have ever heard of. His Coaching Certification Program will be the gold standard for fitness coaches moving into the future, as it includes modules on Assessment, Program Design, Nutrition, Life Coaching, and Business Systems. Furthermore, his Big Dawgs blog is probably the best example of group programming that’s out there, as he has different levels for different athletes. Having met James and heard him speak a few times, he is as passionate about health, fitness, and sport as they come.

4. Martin Rooney

I was only recently pointed to Martin Rooney and his Training for Warriors program, but after watching him speak a few times, I could tell he was someone I needed to learn from. The biggest takeaway from the Training for Warriors online certification I completed this summer was Martin’s simple yet profound commitment to walking the walk in addition to talking the talk. Not sure you can trust what your coach is telling you to do? What if he is also having his very own daughter complete the same style of training? That probably means he believes what he’s telling you is true! Plus it doesn’t hurt that Martin’s coaching background includes these guys from Brazil who do jiu-jitsu… oh yeah, the Gracies!

5. John Berardi

Last but certainly not least, is John Berardi from Precision Nutrition. It’s just impossible to argue against what John Berardi has accomplished through his career: multiple degrees in exercise and nutrition, coached athletes at the highest level (GSP, for instance), and developed the largest online nutrition coaching programs in the world. I would recommend reading his short e-book “All About Intermittent Fasting,” as well as his role in Nate Green’s hilarious journey “Bigger Smaller Bigger.” Currently I am about halfway through the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification program, and the textbook, workbook, and videos are absolutely top-notch.

That’s it, thanks for reading! Feel free to comment with any other coaches who have you inspired you.