No Cheat Meals Required

My goal in this post is to encourage you, to educate you, and to encourage you some more.  If you will persist without exception, you can reach your health and fitness goals.  For the most part, you are where you are in life in terms of your health because of choices and decisions that you’ve made.  If you don’t like where you are, simply start making new choices today, and all your tomorrows can be different.

The buck really stops with you.  Be willing to accept complete responsibility for your life including everything that happens to you.  Life will always throw curve balls and occasionally fast balls and they can hurt.  This will never change however you always have a choice in how you respond.  Once you let go of responsibility and place the blame for your circumstances on some outside force, you give away your power to effect positive change in your life.  Life is not always fair but you can always rise above and beyond your struggles.

Have you ever heard someone say they are going on a diet after a certain event or period of time?  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and family vacations are among the most commonly named.  And yet, do you know what these people are really saying?  Their underlying intention is to eat everything in sight because they know lack and deprivation are soon to follow.

Unfortunately, this is how most people view dieting, and the truth is that it simply doesn’t have to be this way.  Most diets are based on deprivation and a strict list of do’s and don’ts.  They don’t offer the flexibility required for long-term sustainability and leave their followers with a high likelihood of relapse.

What if I said there is a better way to stay on track for the long term?  Would you be interested?  Well, there is and it’s not really a diet at all.  In fact, I have purposefully stopped saying diet unless absolutely necessary and prefer to use the word nutrition.  The word diet naturally has an err of restriction associated with it, and that can create struggle for people from the very start.

As I said in the opening paragraph, you’re where you are today in terms of your health because of choices you’ve made regarding food and exercise.  If you’re not happy with where you are, all it takes is making different choices.  You’re not a slave to your past.  Outside of possible medical limitations, your past has little to no bearing on the present and or your future.

Belief test.  When I meet with a new client, we always discuss their goals and I ask on a scale of 1-10 where they are in terms of confidence in reaching their goals.  Few say 10 as there is typically a gap created by some past negative experience causing a lack of belief in the present.  How about you?  What’s your belief with regard to reaching your goals?

I wrote about this in detail here, however in brief, let’s consider that I’ve given you a brand-new shiny axe with the following instructions.  Go home and with the biggest tree in your yard, take 5 swings a day.  This is just a mental exercise so please just pretend if you don’t have any trees in your yard.  Now, I’m not asking you to go chop wood for hours at a time.  Just take 5 swings a day…every day…rain or shine…hot or cold…every day…no matter what.  If you do this consistently and don’t miss a day, will the tree fall?

Swing Your Axe!

If you’re like virtually everyone I’ve ever asked that question to, you said some version of “yes”…eventually.  Right?  It’s very logical.  And that’s how I want it to be with your goals.  If you will persist without exception, you will reach your goals just as logically as our imaginary tree will fall.

So, what do you think is the number one challenge my clients share with regard to their nutrition?  Answer:  “I don’t know what to eat”

Do we go with the coffee and doughnuts or the heart healthy omelet and fruit?

Do we go with the double meat cheeseburger with onions rings, two special sauces, and bacon or the grilled chicken and steamed veggies?

Do we go with the deep dish pizza or the grilled salmon and steamed veggies?

Now logically we all know what the three healthy choices are, and yet the last time I checked, the doughnut, burger, pizza, and overall fast food industry is doing pretty good.  So, for all the practical knowledge we have about what constitutes a healthy meal, why do we still eat “crap”?  It’s because logic plays a small role in what we eat compared to emotion which plays a massive role.

Remember this little scenario: Fatigue plus a lack of preparation equals the path of least resistance.  And that convenience is a slippery slope.  If you don’t have a daily plan for having healthy food available when you get hungry, you’re going to eat something and we tend to do a poor job with our nutrition when we’re starving and flying by the seat of our pants.  The answer by the way is integrating meal prepping into your life.  It is one of the master skills to adopt in your quest for optimal health.

Got willpower?  Yes?  That’s great, however I will let you in on a little secret.  It will fail you.  You see, your willpower is like a battery that starts each day at 100%.  Then as you resist temptations throughout the day, your battery drains.  That’s why after a full day of resisting all the temptations we’re literally bombarded with; you can literally walk into your home on flat “0”.  That’s also why most of our “bad” eating and drinking habits seem to manifest in the evenings because we’ve got nothing left.

So, what do you do?  The secret is not to resist but to remove the temptations as much as possible in the first place.  You have to create systems and habits that protect yourself from yourself eliminating the need for discipline and willpower in the first place.  You may not be able to do much about your office environment or the make up your city if you’re out and about on daily appointments, but you can be prepared each day with your own healthy food options.

There is one environment that you do control and that’s your home.  That’s why it’s so important to exhibit discipline at the grocery store.  When you’re staring at the tub of Ben & Jerry’s in your freezer after a long hard day with no willpower left, Ben & Jerry’s is going to win time and time again.  Hint:  What you bring home from the store, you will eventually eat.  That’s why it’s so important to make good choices at the store.  You’re literally setting yourself up for success or failure once you get back home.

So how many of you have ever been on a diet?  See if this little scenario resonates with you.  You start a new diet and you’re all fired up thinking this time, you’re going to make it.  Next, you meet two of your friends for lunch and they are “not” on your diet.  In fact, they are eating and drinking and having a big time and you’re literally white knuckling the table cloth in an effort to keep from giving in to their fun.

And so, you do great in avoiding the appetizers, you order a healthy entree, and now it’s time for dessert.  You’ve already determined that there’s no dessert for you and yet your friends both order cheesecake…and cheesecake is your kryptonite!  Now as you’re literally holding your breath, one of them offers you a bite and you give in.  It’s so amazing that you now rationalize ordering a piece for yourself.

Wow!  You’re thinking that was the best cheesecake you’ve ever had in your life and you’re also thinking that cheesecake is NOT on your diet…the diet you’ve now blown at least for the day.  So now what do you do?  You’re committed to getting back on track the next day but for now, you’re thinking that if you’ve blown it, you might as well blow it good and you proceed to order 2 more pieces of cheesecake.

Where does this all or nothing thinking come from?  If you were to have a flat tire on your way home from work today would you:

  • Fix the tire yourself?
  • Call for roadside assistance?
  • Or slash the other three tires?

Simple problem, simple solution.

They apparently slashed the other three tires.

Now hopefully you wouldn’t pick the third option and yet why do we essentially slash the other three tires in the restaurant scenario?  I learned this many years ago from my long-time friend and mentor, Nutritionist Keith Klein, in Houston, TX.  It’s called the psychology of deprivation.  If you deprive yourself long enough from whatever your favorite thing or things are, you will eventually crash.  You will give in and eat and most likely eat to excess.

What’s your kryptonite?

Following this “crash” will come feelings of guilt, remorse, and disappointment.  In many cases you will resolve all the more to strengthen your discipline and to not give in the next time around.  Unfortunately, going head to head with deprivation is a losing battle where you will eventually be crushed.

Remember, there’s no such thing at good or bad food.  In the image above, the apple is not “good” and the cake is not “bad”.  The apple is arguably more nutritious than the cake however both can have their place in a balanced and healthy nutrition plan.  You can have your proverbial “cake” and eat it too?  Interested?

No Cheat Meals Required

Last year when working with a potential new client, she asked me if she would be able to have “cheat” meals as a part of her weekly nutrition plan.  I quickly told her no and her face immediately dropped.  Then I said however, you can have several “treat” meals each week.  Her face brightened somewhat but she was clearly puzzled.  She asked, “What’s a treat meal?”

My response was that there’s no way that you can spin the word cheat as a positive.  To label an experience as a cheat meal is to essentially label yourself as a cheater.  A treat on the other hand is something someone gives you which is cool.  Or, it’s something you earn because of positive performance.  I learned this little strategy years ago and it’s called 90/10 compliance.

Let’s say that you eat on average 4 meals a day…breakfast, lunch, dinner, and an afternoon snack.  4 meals a day times 7 days a week is 28 meals.  If you will be compliant with your healthy nutrition plan 90% of the time, you can have a 10% flex factor to eat whatever you want.  10% of 28 is 2.8 or let’s round up to 3 free or treat meals per week.

I do have two little caveats.  Please don’t decide to have a treat meal after an especially long day at work where your willpower is shot and you’ve not prepped anything in advance for dinner.  Calling Pappa John’s under the circumstances and calling it one of your treat meals is probably not going to end well because you’re not thinking straight.

Instead, plan to meet friends for dinner on a Saturday night at your favorite restaurant.  Enjoy whatever you like however stick to normal portion sizes.  Don’t go to Olive Garden and polish off one of their Tour of Italy or wherever plates by yourself.  That’s enough food for two people easily.

And then most importantly, walk away from the table with no guilty or remorseful feelings.  You didn’t blow anything so there’s no reason to go off the rails.  We are social beings and you simply enjoyed a good meal with friends.  Even if it was less nutritious than your typical 90% fair, you didn’t do any damage.  Ultimately, allowing yourself a few weekly treats will keep you sane, emotionally healthy, and on track for the long-term.

Closing thoughts for my readers:

I’m sharing the info in this post in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

God of All Comfort

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Most people struggle emotionally with food at least at some level and I’ve certainly had my battles over the years.  My biggest problem initially was adopting the false idea that eating “perfectly” was the only way and that eventually caused me to develop some rather unhealthy behaviors.

If you struggle with food, consider what I’ve shared however if your struggles are severe, please don’t feel like you have to go at it alone.  Negative habits can become like steel cables wrapped around you, and the only way to break them is with outside help.  My prayer is that you will be willing to reach out for help as needed.

Best of luck in your journey.

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A Thank You Long Overdue

Early on Friday morning July 14, 1995, my phone rang and it was my Dad.  I was getting ready for work and his call came as a surprise.  Somehow, I knew before he told me the reason for the call.  My Grandad, George Elbert Perkins, has passed away at 89.  He had been sick for some time and while I was heartbroken on the one hand, I was also grateful that his body was finally at rest and his soul at peace with God in Heaven.

For some background, my Grandad and I were very close and I have only the fondest of memories of my time with him growing up.  I used to love to visit my Grandparents as we would always have a big time.  From fishing, to hunting, to horseback riding, to playing in my treehouse, to playing checkers, we were never at a lack for fun things to do.  

Learning to ride

One of my best memories is “camping” out in my Grandparent’s bedroom when I was just a little boy.  In their original home, their bedroom was upstairs with the guest bedroom located downstairs.  Let’s just say I had an overly active imagination as a child and tended to struggle with nightmares.  All that considered, there was no way I was staying in the guest bedroom downstairs all by myself.

My Grandparents lived on a farm with “woods” close by and my mind would conger up all kinds of scary things that might get me if I slept downstairs alone.  The solution was to place an extra mattress on the floor next to my Grandparent’s bed where I would happily and safely sleep within only a few feet of them.

Me with my Sweet Grandparents

Now fast forward back to the call with my Dad.  It’s been so long that I don’t remember any more about that day or the next however the day of the funeral stands very clear in my mind.  I was living in Dallas and my Grandparents lived in the small East TX town of Jasper…some four and a half hours away.  I left early Sunday morning and drove straight to my Grandparent’s home in time to visit with family and guest before the funeral.

It was good to see that part of my family and to catch up with some distant relatives I had not seen in years.  Shortly after, we loaded up and went to the funeral home for the official ceremony.  The service was held at the First Baptist Church where my Grandparents had faithfully attended and served for many years. 

Learning to climb

Once the service was over, we were invited to come down to the front of the auditorium to pay our last respects.  My Grandad’s casket had been open prior to the service starting but I had not dared go down and look.  Now as a part of our overall family, we all made our way down and passed slowly by the casket.

Grandad looked peaceful enough and I thought they did a good job with preparing his body for the viewing.  I had only been to a few funerals in my life at that point and this was my first time ever to lose a close relative.  While the whole experience was very emotional, I had not really cried that much…yet.

After our family and guest had paid their last respects, the service was called to an end.  People were milling around in general giving the funeral staff an opportunity to change gears in preparation to move the proceedings to the grave side.  I was standing at the back of the auditorium when my Dad’s second wife, Charlotte, came up to check on me. 

My parents divorced when I was just a baby and had both remarried.  It was positive enough going back and forth between my Mom and her second husband and my Dad and his second wife, however it was not without challenges.  Divorce is never easy on any part of the family and I definitely had my struggles. 

Charlotte and I had an overall solid relationship but there were some occasional rocky moments.  Looking back at both her and my Mom’s second husband, Jeff, I know now that they were doing the best they could with an extremely challenging situation.  Being a parent is hard enough.  I can only imagine how difficult it would be to play the role of a step-parent.  Although we didn’t always get along, I believe in all my heart that they had the best of intentions with their care of me.

Charlotte Chandler

Given our past, I was a little taken back when she first approached me.  We chatted for a moment and then she asked if I had spent enough time with my Grandad before they closed the casket.  I told her yes and yet with her woman’s intuition, she asked me again, if I was sure.  A lump formed in my throat and I realized that I had been largely holding back my emotions up to that point.  

She kindly suggested that it was okay for me to go back down and say my goodbye’s one more time before it was too late.  And so down I went to see my Grandad one last time.  As I stood there by his side, memories of my whole life with him flashed through my mind.  It was only then that I finally accepted that this would be the last time I would see him this side of heaven…and that’s when the tears started welling up inside me.

Feeling as if it was time to leave, I turned around and there stood my Dad right behind me.  That’s when the flood gates opened and I just crumbled into his arms.  We didn’t say anything.  I just needed to cry and truly let go of the fact that my Grandad was gone.  

The graveside service was a blur at that point and I made the long trip back to Dallas to start a new job the following Monday morning.  For all these years, I have always been so grateful to Charlotte for “pushing” me to say a proper goodbye to my Grandad.  Were it not for her, the exchange between me and my Grandad and Dad would have never happened…and for that I will be forever grateful.

Thank you, Charlotte, for always doing your best to love me like your son.  I know our relationship wasn’t always the best, however you will always hold a special place in my heart for your actions the day of my Grandad’s funeral.

Closing thoughts for my readers:

The late great Jim Rohn said it well with the following:

 “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”

Jim Rohn. 

When it comes to expressing love or gratefulness or a simple thank you, have the discipline and courage to do so.  The last thing you want is to live with the regret of not speaking the words you know you should said have when you had the opportunity.  We are not guaranteed the next five minutes…much less tomorrow so live every day as if it’s your last.  

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The Smurfs, a 12 Gauge, and an Old Magnavox TV

After my last two posts, I thought a little levity would be appropriate so I’m going to share the story of one of the most embarrassing moments in my life. My parents divorced when I was just a baby and while my Mom had primary custody, I went to visit my Dad and Grandparents every other weekend. I grew up in the small East TX town of Nacogdoches and my Dad and Grandparents lived in Jasper which is about 75 miles Southeast.

Best that I can remember, I was in Junior High at the time and it was the norm for my Grandparents to pick me up directly from school on Friday afternoon. We would swing back by my home, grab my bags, and it was off to my Grandparent’s house. They were retired and my Dad was working so it always worked out great for them to pick me up. Plus, I cherished my time with them.

There were three Dairy Queens strategically located between Nacogdoches and Jasper and we typically hit one of the three for ice cream on every trip. Further, there was and still is a Pizza Hut that we used to frequent on Friday nights. I used to love to go there and bring the leftovers home for breakfast the next morning. There’s was nothing quite like cold pizza for breakfast at my Grandparent’s house.

On this particular weekend, my Grandmother was not there. She was out of town and so my Grandad had come to pick me up alone. It was late fall and the cooler weather had already settled in. And so with cooler temperatures comes hunting season. While I had never been a big hunter, my Grandad and I had shot up half the countryside with my pellet gun and 22 rifle. I really wasn’t into hunting so much…I just liked to shoot stuff.

The plan that weekend was for me to stay with my Grandad on Friday night and then go over to my Dad’s on Saturday. For your reference, my Grandparents owned a farm with several acres of land west of their home with two big stock ponds located at the edge of their property. My Grandad had shared on the drive to his house that if I wanted, we could slip down to the ponds early Saturday morning to see if any wild ducks had landed for the night. Are you kidding me? Wild ducks! I was fired up!

I was so fired up in fact that the next morning, after breakfast, I ran upstairs to grab my Grandad’s 12 gauge shotgun. Now he had told me before on numerous occasions to be careful with his shotgun because shells tended to get stuck in the magazine. It was a pump shotgun and you could literally pump and pull the trigger resulting in a dry fire and then repeat that action and consequently fire off a round.

I knew this and yet that particular morning, I failed to heed his warning. And so as I was walking back down the stairs to the living room, I was literally pumping and pulling the trigger the whole way with lofty thoughts of dozens of wild ducks just waiting for my Grandad and I to sneak up on them.

I know what you’re thinking. What an idiot! I know. In my defense, I did check to make sure there was not a shell in the chamber. It was the whole “shell sticking in the magazine thing” that tripped me up.

Now remember, I’m just a kid and Saturday mornings are for cartoons. Though not my favorite, the Smurfs were on and the scene unfolding had Azrael the cat chasing the Smurfs. In a split moment where I completely lost my mind, I aimed the 12 guage at the TV at point blank range to “take out” the cat before he could get the Smurfs. Much to my shock and horror, the gun fired just fine this time completely blowing away my Grandparent’s old Magnavox TV.

I remember it like it was yesterday and that was a long time ago. My Grandad came running in from the kitchen and I was just standing there with the gun in my hands, smoke coming from the barrel, and smoke coming from the TV. He didn’t scold me and I honestly don’t remember much of what was said. We had a “quiet” breakfast and under the circumstances called off the duck hunt. I had done enough “hunting” for one morning.

To cover my handiwork, my Grandad literally put a big towel over the TV and brought in their smaller kitchen TV to sit on top. When my Dad came to pick me up, my Grandad made up some story about the bigger TV being “out” in an effort to cover for my stupidity. He told me not to say anything and that he would handle it. It would be our little secret.

Well you know how that worked out. The weekend passed and I was back home safe and sound Sunday evening with my Mom when the phone rang. It was Dad and he was not happy. Furious would be a better description of his tone. He had stopped by my Grandparent’s home and happened to peak under the towel revealing the mostly destroyed TV and at that point, my Grandad spilled his guts.

There have been only a few occasions in my life where my Dad was ever really mad at me and it always just ripped my heart out. Never mind the fact that I was completely guilty as charged. I just hated disappointing my Dad. It’s been so many years now and we’ve never really talked about the TV incident further. Regardless, the event will be forever imprinted in my mind and I’m quite certain I will never forget how our duck hunt was spoiled because I shot a cartoon cat on TV.

Closing thoughts for my readers:

This will be my shortest closing remarks ever. While still not a hunter, I’m totally in favor of being armed and have numerous firearms in my home. Regardless, you simply can’t be too careful when it comes to any type of firearm where the stakes are high and one simple mistake can result in a loss of life.

Happy Hunting!

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Prayers for My Friend Damon

In March of 2019, in our daily staff meeting, I was directed to reach out to a new member named Damon Taylor. Damon had just recently joined and had not gone through his new member orientation. He had expressed interest in working with a trainer as he was trying to get back into shape after a rather traumatic event.

Damon had gone to Oklahoma City to visit his daughter and her family where he was brutally attacked by a group of thugs and left for dead outside of a restaurant. This was back in early 2019 and the temperature that night was well below freezing. The result was frostbite in one of his feet where he almost lost his toes. When we first met, he was still wearing a protective boot however thankfully on the road to recovery.

Damon and his sweet Granddaughter

Damon has quite the colorful background serving as a Marine from 1988 through 1995 fighting in both the Gulf War and Iraqi Freedom. Upon retiring from the military, he ultimately wound up with his own financial planning business based in the North Dallas area. When we met for the first time he was super excited to get started with his training and further wanted my help with his nutrition.

While alcohol had been a part of his life before, the experience in Oklahoma City pushed him to leave the bottle behind and further caused him to find his way back to God. There’s always a silver lining in every adversity and Damon was living that to the max. We agreed to train one day a week and he committed to doing 2-3 more workouts per week based on my program.

Damon and family

Beyond his training, we cleaned up his nutrition and added in the supplements needed to help his body recovery and progress from his efforts. Damon was all in from day one and used to crack me up with his “pre-workout” drink. The product is literally called “Hyde” as in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He’s already one of the most high strung individuals I’ve ever met and with the addition of the “Hyde” formula, he was hilarious to work with.

From March until early August, he made tremendous gains in strength and improvements in his body composition adding muscle mass and dropping body fat.
I love working with clients who take their training seriously and Damon was in for the long term. That all changed on August 14th when he went to his eye doctor after struggling to read a simple bill at a restaurant.

Damon and Mom

His eye doctor directed him immediately to the emergency room where he reached out to me saying he would be missing his normal Saturday workout. This was a Friday evening and so I was proactive in following up on Saturday. At that point, a MRI hadn’t shown anything and he was waiting for a CT Scan for further investigation. His last communication was a promise to let me know the results.

On Sunday morning, I received a text that literally took my breath away. It said terminal brain cancer…6-12 months. A few days later, he had emergency brain surgery to remove the major portion of the stage 4 Glioblastoma. While the surgery was successful, there were still tumors in four other areas of his brain where the cancer was impossible to remove.

New battle scars

After 11 days in the hospital, Damon’s doctors determined to attack the remaining areas with chemo and radiation. We sat down two weeks into this process in the cafe at our gym for him to tell me his “story”. I offered to write this tribute for him because of his love and service to our country and for his efforts now in seeking help for his fellow soldiers who are less fortunate than him.

Moving forward, Damon will take the month of November off from treatments to evaluate with his doctors at UT Southwestern and Duke University. Ultimately, they will determine if any further treatments are warranted. The prognosis from his collective doctors from the beginning was that he would not survive. Without treatment, his life expectancy would have been 3-6 months. Now with treatment, the best he can hope for is maybe 12-15 months.

Damon and Granddaughter

As Damon shared his story, I barely had words to communicate. Here was a man sharing not only what he had gone through but also what he planned to do with his remaining time…Lord willing. In so many cases in life, we can usually empathize to some degree with someone going through an extreme trial. In Damon’s case, I couldn’t even begin to image how he must feel.

As a Christian, Damon shared that he has peace with God and that one of his major priorities is to make amends with various people where relationships have been strained over the years. Further, he has already taken all the necessary steps to transition his company to his partners and to insure that his family will be well provided for.

God Bless our Troops

Beyond his family, Damon’s larger mission is to draw attention to his fellow veterans who unfortunately do not have the same type of benefits due to their service record. As I mentioned above, he fought in both the Gulf War and Iraqi Freedom and was exposed to depleted uranium, two different kinds of nerve gas, and oil well fires…which are highly toxic. It has been established that Damon’s cancer only comes from radiation exposure which he most certainly was in Desert Storm.

Because of his lengthy service record, Damon was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) which qualifies him for a 70% disability rating. This insures that he is well taken care of in terms of medical expenses. He explained that just because you fight in a war, does not automatically give you the tag of PTSD which would limit your disability rating.

Damon and Daughter

For his friends who fought in only Desert Storm, who were subjected to all the same toxins that Damon was, because of the nature of their service, they in many cases did not receive the tag of PTSD. After leaving the service, it is standard procedure for the government to provide medical coverage for five years. However without the 70% disability rating, after five years, the coverage runs out. Unfortunately there are many cases of veterans coming up with cases of cancer and other issues directly attributed to Desert Storm and yet they are left to take care of themselves with no support from our government.

Damon has already met with Secretary of Defense, James Madison, to ask for help for his fellow veterans. Outside of time with family and friends, the effort to seek further help for all veterans struggling with their health will be Damon’s final and most important legacy.

Damon’s Prayer Warriors

As I write this, Damon is planning a mid-November trip to Washington with his family to share with them a piece of American history that means so much to him. They will be touring the White House and if things go well, he may gain an audience with officials beyond just the basic tour for sake of telling his story.

God bless you Damon for your service to our country and God’s speed as you go “home” for the last time.

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Prayers For My Friend Paul

As a fitness professional, I meet all kinds of people and I’ve been blessed to work with a wide assortment of clients. In mid 2018, my boss asked me to reach out to a lady who was looking for a trainer for her and her husband. He told me the gentlemen in particular had some significant health challenges, however little did I know what I was getting into.

After emailing back and forth, we set our initial date to meet and I eagerly looked forward to my first visit with Paul and Mary. When they arrived at the club, we sat down in the cafe to get better acquainted. Mary was wrapping up a successful career in finance and was in the process of selling her company. Paul was a former dentist who had unfortunately gone to war with colon cancer a year or so prior to our meeting.

While Paul survived the cancer, it took a tremendous toll on his body leaving him bedridden for months. He was always slim but the cancer and subsequent treatments caused him to drop down to approximately 110 pounds. Further, in the aftermath of his cancer, he suffered a few small strokes and started showing early signs of dementia.

Because of extreme nature of Paul’s background, I was a little intimidated about working with him due to the state of his health. He had gained back to 130 pounds or so but was still very weak given his traumatic experience.

As usual when I first meet a potential new client, we cover the basics of their background including daily nutrition. Mary went first and there was nothing unusual about her diet. Paul on the other hand, had and still has some of the most unique eating habits of anyone I’ve ever known.

Paul’s Favorite Breakfast

When I asked about his breakfast, his reply was cinnamon toast with bacon and Dr. Pepper. No, that was not a typo. Not water, or milk, or coffee, just Dr. Pepper. In fact, about the only thing he would ever drink is Dr. Pepper. We moved on to lunch and while he doesn’t eat the same thing every day, his favorite is by far a Wendy’s Baconator…with a Dr. Pepper of course.

Paul’s Favorite Lunch

Oddly enough, I discovered that Paul used to do most of the cooking before his health declined so dinner could be anything. Mary said he still liked to cook, but bless his heart, he tended to overcook things a bit leaving them sometimes basically inedible.

After our initial interview, I knew Paul was going to be a handful and he didn’t disappoint. Training Paul was always the highpoint of my day. From the beginning, they worked with me three days a week and I always looked forward to our time together. As my schedule permitted, I would always try to meet them out in the parking lot and walk them inside. The same would go for their departure where I would typically walk them back to their car.

Paul and Mary became an immediate hit in the gym and there were a handful of other members who would always come over to say hello offering words of encouragement…especially to Paul. I shared with all of them over the course of time regarding Paul’s struggles and they were all the more enthusiastic in encouraging him.

Because of Paul’s Dementia, his short term memory was not the best. I would always ask what he had for breakfast or what they were planning for lunch. For the most part he would remember, but there were days where his mind would just not cooperate. Oddly enough, his long-term memory was almost ironclad. As a fellow lover of the game of golf, fishing, and John Wayne, we had many an interesting conversation.

Paul’s Favorite Movie

With Paul’s exercise, I basically kept my hands either on him for support or would stand very close by. Again because of the challenge with his short-term memory, it became the standard to constantly remind him of what he was doing including hand, feet, and overall body positions.

Practicing our Steps…

Because of Paul’s strokes, he was left with his balance somewhat impaired. He really doesn’t walk but sort of shuffles along. This condition makes steps potentially dangerous for him due to the risk of falling. So Mary and I cooked up the idea of him practicing his “stepping” in the gym.

Right Foot Up…Right Foot Down

The funny thing is that we would take turns leading with his right or left foot. He has greater control over his left so we would always do more sets of leading with the right. There were many times where he would be 100% in his sequencing which I always praised. There were however times where he would get his feet mixed up and lead with the opposite foot. This used to wear him out as he’s very competitive and always strives for perfection.

The only way he would do this exercise was for me to hold his hand.

Serving Paul and Mary the past year and half has truly been a blessing. Unfortunately his health has taken a severe turn for the worst. It all started with a routine scan given his former battle with colon cancer. The scan showed a mass on his liver which turned out to be stage 4 liver cancer. The news hit them like a freight train and Mary stopped her training due to the overwhelming emotional toll.

Paul however was a trooper and continued to come to the gym three days a week for a period of time before it was decided how to proceed with treating his cancer. Anna is their housekeeper who comes every morning during the week. She would faithfully bring Paul to the gym and then run errands while we went through his workout. His will to keep showing up under the circumstances generated tons of support with the morning crew at the gym who knew of his health challenges.

After seeing several doctors, surgery to remove the cancer was ruled out as his body was just too weak and frail to survive. They settled on a version of chemotherapy that would take a period of months. It was agreed to have further scans done after the fourth round of chemo to assess the progress of the procedure. Unfortunately the chemo was making no difference and their doctor strongly urged them to stop the treatment.

With all options exhausted, their doctor recommended bringing in hospice and to focus on making the most of each day with Paul’s remaining time. At this point, only God knows how long Paul will be with us. As I write this post, the latter steps involving hospice were just put into play so this info is timely and up to date.

Closing thoughts for my readers:

For further info on Paul’s status, click on the link below for his CaringBridge site:

Paul Stone

While I always try to offer an encouraging word in my closing thoughts, this post is clearly different. When I first met Paul, I never would have imagined that things would end up as they have. Prayers for Paul and Mary and their family and friends will be appreciated.

In honor of Paul, I encourage you to love your family and friends and live each day to the fullest because you never know when things may change. We’re not guaranteed the next five minutes…much less tomorrow so make the most of every moment.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

“He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”
Psalm 107:29

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Psalm 23:4

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
John 14:27

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
2 Timothy 1:7

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Romans 8:28

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No Sit Ups Required

After thirty five plus years of training including left knee surgery, right shoulder surgery, a torn left bicep, and a herniated disc between my L4 & L5 vertebra, I definitely err on the side of caution when it comes to exercise selection.  All strength training movements come with a degree of risk, however some are clearly more potentially dangerous than others.

This is especially true when it comes to core training.  The core actually involves a group of muscles that encircle the body in a 360 degree fashion.  When the average gym member uses the term, they’re more likely referring to their “six pack” or “abs”.  For sake of simplicity, let’s agree that the core includes all the muscles that encircle your midsection and low back.

My purpose in this post is to offer some practical guidelines for some of the most effective and safe exercises to train the core while protecting your spine.  The world is full of example of practices that people hold on to because that’s they way they’ve always done them.  I hate this argument as a basis for doing anything.  What if the way you’ve always done something is wrong?

A large portion of gym members still rely on flexion, lateral flexion, and rotational based movements which is quite the opposite of what the brightest minds in the world of fitness are teaching.  Ever hear the phase “What you don’t know can hurt you”?  Well, when it comes to core training, it really is true.

Pop Quiz:

What are the four primary movement patterns that can herniate a spinal disc?

Not sure?  Okay how about these?

What is your ratio of flexion verses anti-extension based exercises?
What is your ratio of lateral flexion verses anti-lateral flexion based exercises?
What is your ratio of rotational verses anti-rotational based exercises?

If you’re not sure or worse yet, have no idea what I’m referring to, please read this posts in its entirety as the information I’m sharing could literally save you from long-term injury to your spine.

Let’s start with the first question regarding herniating a spinal disc.  I tell my clients that their discs are like jelly-filled doughnuts.  Every time you move your spine out of neutral, you’re putting stress on your discs.  Your spine including your vertebrae and discs is extremely resilient and will stand up under a ton of pressure, however, there is a breaking point and that’s called a herniated or ruptured disc.

A great analogy is to consider a basic wire coat hanger.  You can bend it back and forth a few times and it will take the stress with little damage.  However repeating this pattern over and over will lead to the hanger eventually breaking.  This is how your spine functions.  It allows for natural movement so that your body can do all the amazing things it does.  However the spine will only take so many repetitions of moving out of neutral before it will “break”.

So to answer my question, the four primary movements that can herniate a disc are excessive flexion, lateral flexion, extension, and rotation.  In layman’s terms this means, sit up variations, side bends, machine based loaded back extensions, and machine based loaded rotational exercises.  If these movements make up the bulk of your core training, you’re subjecting your spine to a high degree of risk.

If these are the primary exercises you’re doing and I’m suggesting that you do something else, what might these exercises be?  In concept, most people focus on training their abs by specifically moving their spine.  This as I’ve explained is potentially very dangerous over a period of time.

Note the following by Michael Boyle who is one of the foremost experts on the planet in strength and conditioning, functional training, and general fitness:

“The abdominal muscles by design are stabilizers, not movers.  Even if these muscles were movers, ask yourself how many sports or sporting activities involve flexion and extension of the trunk.  The answer, if you really know sport, is very few”

“Functional anatomy has determined that the primary purpose of the core musculature is the prevention of motion”

“Instead of seeing the muscles as trunk flexors and lateral flexors and prescribing exercises such as crunches and side bends, I now see them as anti-extensors and anti-lateral flexors and more importantly can now envision a concept that has come to be called anti-rotation.  Core training is really about motion prevention, not motion creation”

Note also the following from Dr. Shirley Sahrmann FAPTA, PhD, PT Professor of Physical Therapy/ Neurology/ Cell Biology and Physiology at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri.

“A large percentage of low back problems occur because the abdominal muscles are not maintaining tight control over the rotation between the pelvis and the spine at the L5-S1 level.  The lumber range of motion that many personal trainers and coaches have attempted to create may not even be desirable and is in fact potentially injurious”

“The overall range of lumber rotation is approximately 13 degrees.  The rotation between each segment from T10 to L5 is 2 degrees.  The greatest rotational range is between the L5 and S1, which is 5 degrees.  The thoracic spine, not the lumbar spine should be the site of the greatest amount of rotation of the trunk.  When a person practices rotational exercises, they should be instructed to think about the motion occurring in the area of the chest”

Rotation of the lumber spine is more dangerous than beneficial and rotation of the pelvis and lower extremities to one side while the trunk remains stable or is rotated to the other side is particularly dangerous”

That last quote should put the final nail in the coffin of flexion and rotational based core training.

Hopefully now you will be open to the idea that the safest and most effective way to train the core is to keep your spine stable while moving your arms and legs.  This can include simple body weight exercises and also utilize cables, dumbbells, med balls, battle ropes, and ect.

The following are some of the most common exercises I witness people doing that are potentially injurious along with some safer and more effective alternatives:

Stop These:  Basic Sit Ups; Roman Chair Sit Ups; Leg Raises; and Glute Ham Sit Ups

Sit Up

 

Roman Chair Sit Up

 

Hanging Leg Raise

 

TEst

Glute Ham Raise Sit Up

The biggest problem with all these movements is that they’re primarily hip-flexor exercises with very little emphasis on the “abs”.  If you’re standing up straight and you raise up one knee, that’s hip flexion.  One of your most powerful hip flexors is the Psoas which ties off of your T12-L4 vertebrae, and runs down into the legs.

Any sit up variation and especially where your feet are anchored is engaging the psoas to a high degree which again is tied to the lumber spine.  The hanging leg raise is also a common exercise and yet it places far more emphasis on the hip flexors rather than targeting your abs.  Further, repeated reps of these exercises can be a recipe for disaster for the lower back in the long term.

Do These:  Plank; Ball Plank; Ball Plank w/ Arm Motion; Stir the Pot; Body Saw; Jack Knife; Step Off; Ab Wheel; and TRX Fallout

Plank

 

Ball Plank

 

Ball Plank w/ Arm Motion

 

Stir the Pot

 

Body Saw

 

Jack Knife

Step Off

 

Ab Wheel – Start

 

Ab Wheel – Midpoint

 

TRX Fallout – Start

 

TRX Fallout – Midpoint

All of these alternative movements can be classified as anti-extensors and are based on keeping the spine stable with movement coming from the arms and legs.  They can be very challenging and yet safe.  The only exception regarding hip flexion is the Jack Knife.  While it does involve hip flexion, the spine stays neutral and the pressure on the low back is very minimal.  The Jack Knife is essentially a plank with leg motion and instability added and it really is a great exercise.

Stop These:  Side Bends; and Hyper-Extension Side Bends

If sit ups are considered forward flexion, a side bend is simply lateral flexion.
Your spine moves in multiple directions and excessive bending in any direction can ultimately do damage.

Side Bend

 

Side Bend

Hyper-extension Side Bend

Do These:  Side Plank; Suit Case Carry; and Waiter Carry

In the class of anti-lateral flexors, the Side Plank is a valid exercise however I seldom use it because it can be uncomfortable and rather boring.  I would much rather have even a relative newbie doing Suite Case Carries.  They’re basically a walking side plank working the same muscles with the addition of a nice conditioning effect that really will spike your heart rate.  If you push yourself to the point that you’re challenging your grip with some decent weight, you might be surprised at how difficult these can be.

Side Plank

 

Suite Case Carry

 

Waiter Carry

Stop These:  Rotational Abs

This hits home particularly hard with me because of my past with the game of Golf.  I started playing at 11 and actually spent the first few years after college as a club teaching professional.  In 2008, when an MRI showed my herniated disc, the doctor said something had to go…golf or weights.  As much as I still love the game, I gave it up to save my back.  Rotational stress will wreck your back and I think my herniated disc was far more a result of literally thousands of swings over many years of playing verses the work I did in the gym.

Rotational Abs

Do These:  Cable Chops; and Paloff Press

In the class of anti-rotators, these are fantastic exercises that challenge the core around a stable and neutral spine.  You can do either exercise both standing and kneeling with the ability to create lots of variety based on the position of the pulley.

Cable Chop – Start

 

Cable Chop – Finish

 

Reverse Cable Chop – Start

 

Reverse Cable Chop – Finish

 

Paloff Press – Start

 

Paloff Press – Finish

Stop These:  Back Extension Machine

The problem with this machine is the amount of load it places on the lumbar spine.  Muscles are designed to work in units and the low back is meant to function together along with the glutes and hamstrings.  These machines really do a great job of isolating the lower back and that’s the problem.  Your lower back was not designed to handle extreme loads in the absence of the glutes and hamstrings.  Quite simply, there are much safer options.

Low Back Machine

Do These:  Bird Dog; Single Stiff Leg; Kettlebell Swing, and Reverse Hypers

I’ve been using these exercises with my clients for years with no issues.  All maintain a neutral spine with the low back, glutes, and hamstrings all working together.

Bird Dog

 

Single Stiff Legged Deadlift

 

Kettlebell Swing

 

Reverse Hypers

Do These:  Bonus – Metcon Exercises

The following are exercises I use primarily for the metabolic conditioning effect however they all challenge the core to a high degree.  For a demanding core conditioning routine, combine a handful of the latter core exercises with the following in a giant 10 exercise circuit and have fun.

Keep your reps around 15-20 for the core and metcon exercises where counting reps is appropriate.  Then shoot for a hard 45-60 seconds for the timed metcon exercises.  A couple of rounds of this type of program will leave you with little need to do any “traditional machine based cardio” because you will be pretty much done.

Battle Ropes
Med Ball Slams
Vertical Chops
Ski Machine
Rowing Machine
Farmer Carry
Tank Push

Battle Ropes

 

Med Ball Slams

 

Vertical Chops

 

Ski Machine

 

Rowing Machine

 

Farmer Carry

 

Treadmill Based Sled Push

Closing thoughts for my readers:

I saved this for last because I see it so often in the gym and wanted to make a special point.  Go back and re-read the quotes from Michael Boyle and Dr. Shirley Sahrmann from above regarding the inherent danger in rotating your lower body back and forth around a fixed upper body.

A Really Bad Stretch

You will often see people stretching their low backs in the precise manner Boyle and Sahrmann are speaking out against.  I’ve heard people argue that it feels so good to stretch their lower back and that may be true, however that doesn’t make it beneficial or safe.  Scratching an itch may feel good in the moment but repeating it for a period of time will eventually draw blood.  Ouch!

The lower back simply wasn’t designed for a high degree of mobility.  To borrow again from Boyle and his sports analogy, athletes producing high levels of force like a baseball pitcher for example are doing so with little movement in the low back.  Power in this case comes from driving the legs in contrast to the rotation of the upper body…all centered around a stable core.

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How I Solved My Sleep Dilemma

My struggle with sleep has been ongoing for some time although it went to a whole different level last year when I went full-time as a fitness professional.  My challenge has never been in going to sleep.  My ex-wife would say I could literally be talking one second and snoring the next.  The problem was with me staying asleep and waking up early…sometimes more than an hour before my alarm…and often hungry to the point that there’s no way I could go back to sleep.

I tried numerous sleep supplements and none made any difference.  One particular product from GNC gave me some pretty wild and crazy dreams.  Valerian Root was one of the key ingredients and it is known to cause “vivid” dreams.  Unfortunately it didn’t improve my sleep.

As a trainer, it seemed that my busiest days where I would often go over 10,000 steps on top of my personal workouts were followed by the earliest mornings in terms of me waking up hungry.  Clearly I wasn’t eating enough.  The challenge was where to add the extra food and how much.

A “busy” Saturday.

I’ve been lifting weights since high school and at 51 this year, I’ve spent the bulk of that time training in the early mornings.  As a result, I’ve always placed the majority of my carbs earlier in the day in my post-workout shake, breakfast, and lunch.

It is widely accepted that our bodies respond best to carbs in the hours immediately following a workout using them for recovery rather than storing them as “extra”.  Consequently, my afternoon snack and dinner have always been made up of lean proteins, healthy fats, and fibrous veggies…but little to no starchy carbs.

That used to work in that I had no issues with my sleep, however as the years passed by, the quality of my sleep diminished.  After talking with Keith Klein, my long-time nutritionist in Houston, TX, and Paul Kriegler and Jacob Webb, members of our corporate nutrition team with Life Time, I was definitely open to change.

All three collectively believed I was under eating in general given my level of activity and that I especially needed to add in more carbs at night.  They suggested that my low carb dinner was setting me up for low blood sugar during the night, and that was the cause for me waking up.  That all sounded great in theory and I made the changes they suggested. Unfortunately, in the short run, it didn’t really help.

And then, I found the answer…

Have you ever heard of the risk factors associated with blue light exposure?  Bottom line, we as humans are very sensitive to light.  Many years ago, before electricity, our daily schedule was largely driven by natural light.  When the sun came up, we got up and did our thing.  When the sun went down, bed time was soon to follow.

When the sun goes down, our body naturally produces more melatonin which is our sleepy-time hormone.  With the introduction of electricity followed by an ongoing proliferation of technology, our exposure and in many cases over-exposure to light in the evenings has steadily increased.  The blue light that comes from our screens including our phones, tablets, games, and TV’s is particularly damaging in that it can literally suppress the production of melatonin and ultimately alter our circadian rhythm.

Some positives…far more negatives.

If you’re basically glued to your screens right up until you go to bed, good luck with your sleep.  This doesn’t even include the stimulation to our brains from the very thing you’re doing with your screens in the first place.  This can only exacerbate the problem of not properly winding down before attempting to drop into a deep and sound sleep.

For me, learning about the effects of blue light and really light in general was life changing.  I was guilty both at night and in the morning for different reasons both with equally damaging results.  For years, I have been very much plugged into my screens in the evening which never kept me from going to sleep, however I would routinely wake up multiple times a night so clearly I struggled with staying asleep.

Waking up extra early in the morning was totally self-inflicted despite my best intentions.  Before I became a fitness professional, my career was in sales, and I would regularly set my alarm up to an hour early in order to workout before making it to an early morning appointment.  I probably did this to some degree several times a month for the past ten years or so.

In my research I found that exposure to blue light in the early mornings can actually reset your body clock.  Wow!  As a creature of habit, I always start the day with coffee, my bible, and my lap top.  So every time I got up early on purpose, exposing myself to the blue light from my computer and phone, I was slowly teaching my body to wake up earlier and earlier.

Then when I started working as a trainer last year, I was waking up early partially due to hunger and yet I would still start my day the same way…with my coffee, bible, and lap top.  Talk about a negative compounding effect.

To break the vicious cycle, I took drastic measures.  Thanks to the advice from my  nutritional advisers,  I finally figured out how much to eat every day to match my high activity level.  This pretty much solved being overly hungry even if I did happen to wake up extra early.

My blue light “blocking” strategy includes the following:

1 – Setting the “night shift” on my iPhone for 2.5 hours before going to bed.

2 – Downloading the F.LUX app on my lap top which allows you to customize the timing of it’s blue light blocking effect.

3 – Purchasing a pair of blue light blocking clip-ons for my prescription reading glasses.

GAMEKING Ultra Lightweight Blue Light Blocking Clip On Glasses

4 – For watching TV, cooking, and any other domestic activity, I purchased a basic pair of blue light blocking glasses.

Eight Sleep Blue Wave Glasses

5 – And finally, because my two desk lamps are LED (emitting blue light), I purchased an OLED desk lamp which I use strictly after 6PM until going to bed.  OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diodes and has ZERO blue light.

Ascend OLED Desk Lamp

The results?  My sleep has completely changed.  According to my Fitbit, the length and quality of my sleep has steadily improved.  Now after several months of putting the latter pieces into play, I pretty much sleep through the night sometimes with my alarm going off.

Trust me…that hardly ever happened in the past.  I’m not really sure why I ever set my alarm in the first place because it would never go off.  Now as crazy as it may sound to those who battle with their snooze alarms every morning, it’s almost a welcome way to start the day as it means I got a much needed good night’s sleep.

Closing thoughts for my readers:

For those of you using your cell phone as an alarm, these closing remarks are just for you.  Do yourself a huge favor and go buy an inexpensive alarm clock.   If your phone is close to your bed, whether you’re using it as an alarm or not, you will be compelled to check it.  Simply remove the temptation completely by leaving your phone somewhere outside your bedroom.

The worst thing you can do for your sleep is to check your phone during the night.  Your brain will light up like a Christmas tree and it will take some time for you to calm back down and get back to a deep sleep.  Trust me, social media or email or whatever can wait until the next morning.  It’s not worth the damage to your sleep which is vitally critical to your overall health and well-being.

 

 

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