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.

 

 

Posted in better sleep, blue light risk factors, Diet, learning from mistakes, Nutrition, nutrition for better sleep, sleeping problems, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The 135 Calorie Solution

As a master fitness professional and nutrition coach, I find that many people struggle with snacking at night.  Two common reasons are habit and boredom while the third is a bit more insidious.  Controlling hunger is a huge key to successfully managing your weight and many people set themselves up to fail at night by under eating earlier in the day.

In my nutrition coaching sessions with new clients, the percentage that skip breakfast is typically high which often results in struggling with snacks and in particular sweets at night.  Those who skip breakfast inevitably seem to make less healthy choices later in the day with the culmination being to consume the largest portion of their calories in the evening.

Technically you can under eat for the day in terms of calories consumed and still end up gaining weight because you take in more than your body can handle in a short period of time.  Ever hear the old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?
Well, there’s a lot of truth to that statement and the benefits of starting with a solid breakfast are numerous according to oatsovernight.com:

  1. Having a solid breakfast will reduce your overall appetite throughout the day
  2. You will ultimately eat less throughout the day
  3. You will have better memory and improved cognitive performance (better thinking)
  4. You can help prevent type 2 diabetes
  5. You will weigh less with a lower risk of obesity and have healthier BMI measurements

So if the first step in managing hunger is to have a good breakfast followed by a solid lunch and dinner with 1-2 snacks strategically placed in between, then what about late night snacking?

A Blast From the Past…

Back in the late 90’s I used to have a small protein shake literally right before bed.  It wasn’t really a shake but simply a couple of scoops of whey protein with just enough water to mix it completely.  I would place this mixture in the freezer for a half hour or so and it would harden up to form a nice little frozen treat just before bed.

Fast forward to the present and I’ve learned that a better solution for a night time protein treat is not a fast absorbing whey but rather a super slow absorbing casein.  Another key to managing hunger is regulating blood sugar and casein is a much better choice because of how slowly is breaks down in the body.

Ever hear of the suggestion that you shouldn’t eat after a certain time at night?  That is about as random as saying everyone should drink eight glasses of water a day.  I don’t believe in cookie cutter solution or random absolutes.  How much you drink and what time you eat should be tied to the individual needs of your body and overall life schedule.

Last year I didn’t get off work until 8PM having my dinner immediately afterwards.  I would finish my meal by 8:30 at the latest and be in bed no later than 9:45.  That’s only 1 hour and 15 minutes between finishing my dinner and turning out the lights and my body handled that schedule very well.  I maintain single digit bodyfat year round so clearly eating after 6PM wasn’t hurting me.

No what you eat and how much does make a difference, but there’s nothing wrong with having a balanced and appropriately portioned meal later in the evening.  Further,  including a late night snack can make perfect sense if it fits your daily schedule and life style, and matches up with your overall daily caloric requirements.  In the case of the casein, it might actually help with your sleep because of better blood sugar regulation during the night.

The 135 Calorie Solution

One scoop of Optimum Gold Standard Casein has approximately 120 calories, 24 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fat, and 1 gram of fiber.  It comes in a variety of flavors with my favorite being chocolate peanut butter.  Mix this with a 1/2 cup of sugar-free almond milk plus a couple of packets of sweetener and you get a super thick protein pudding that taste pretty amazing.

 

Now you can eat as described above or as is my preference, throw the mixture in the freezer for an hour and then enjoy as a frozen treat.  For something so simple to make, it really is good and way better nutritionally than indulging in ice cream or some other high calorie snack food.

It’s really as thick as it looks…and it’s super yummy!!

I now have numerous clients that have added my casein protein pudding to their nutrition strategy with great success.  These are clients who used to struggle with unhealthy evening snacks who now rely on the casein as a much better alternative.

Closing thoughts for my readers:

If you currently struggle with snacking a night, take a look at your eating habits earlier in the day.  For my clients, having breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack, and dinner is pretty much the bare minimum standard.  Ask yourself, “Am I eating because I’m bored, out of habit, or am I truly hungry”?

Only you can honestly answer these questions and then take the needed action.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having an evening snack if it’s healthy and compliments your body’s daily energy requirements.  If you’re struggling in this area, I encourage you to reach out for help from a registered dietician or certified nutrition coach.  Life is too short to struggle with food and help from a qualified professional could make all the difference.

Best of luck in your journey.

 

Resources:

Optimum Casein via Bodybuilding.com

Optimum Casein via Amazon.com

Optimum Casein via Ultimate Sports Nutrition (In Dallas, TX)

 

 

Posted in better sleep, casein protein, Diet, Health & Fitness, late night snacking, Nutrition | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Swing the Axe!

From my perspective as a master fitness professional, one of the biggest challenges people struggle with is a lack of belief.  Those desiring weight loss especially tend to lack the belief that they can make the lifestyle changes needed and then stay on track long enough to reach their goals.  As a trainer, it is my responsibility to fill in the gaps where necessary and filling the belief gap is critical if clients are to ultimately take enough action to get sufficient results to start believing in themselves.

The following little analogy is from world renown leadership expert and my long-time mentor John Maxwell.  Here’s the set up.  You have a large tree in your back yard and I give you a brand new bright and shiny axe along with simple instructions.  Your task is to take 5 swings a day at the tree.  I’m not asking you to spend hours at a time…just 5 swings…every day.  My question is, will the tree fall?  Almost without hesitation, the answer that even my most extreme weight loss clients give is “yes”.

Bingo!  The answer is so obvious that regardless of how little belief the person has in themselves, they readily and logically feel that they can tackle the task of falling the tree…if they just persist long enough.  As soon as I get this answer, I immediately turn it back to them and reassure them that if they will treat their fitness goals the same way, their “tree” will fall as well.

There is tremendous power in consistent small steps taken daily in pursuing any goal.  Another question I ask is “what happens when you double a penny every day for 31 days?”  Most have no clue so they are shocked and usually a little disbelieving when I give them the answer.  Do you know?  The answer is $10,737,418.24.

Now here’s the catch.  The math is the same from day 1 to 2 just like from day 30 to 31 and it never changes.  It’s just simple duplication.  From day 1 to 2 you go from $.01 to $.02.  From day 30 to 31, you go from $5,368,709.12 to $10,737,418.24.  Again, the math never changes…the key is the daily action taken.

I teach my clients that their consistent efforts compounded over time will allow baby steps to add up to incredible and life changing results.  It doesn’t take huge extraordinary leaps of faith or action at any point.  Just take small, faithful, little steps…daily, and you can accomplish even the most seemingly impossible goals…including weight loss or whatever your goal may be.

Closing thoughts for my readers:

Jerry Seinfeld was once asked by an interviewer the secret to his success.  He gave credit to his wall calendar.  Confused, the interviewer asked for further explanation.  Jerry said in his early years with the television show Seinfeld, he set a goal to write every day.  Some days he wrote “crap” and some days “gold”.

Regardless of the outcome, if he completed his daily writing, he put a big check mark on his calendar for the day.  It became a game after some time where he had such a string of “X’s” going that there was no way he was going to break it.  The daily victory of being able to check off the calendar played a big role in his success helping to produce one of the most popular sitcoms ever.

Whatever you’re striving for, break it down to the most simple daily tasks.  And it really must be simple.  Best selling author Jim Collins said in “Good to Great” that if you’re pursuing more than 3 goals at any one time, then you’re just spinning your wheels.  You may have many goals overall, but you must discipline yourself to focus your energies on only a select few and then really give them your complete focus.

The sun shining down is simply warm but focus the light through the right type of lens and it will produce a laser that will cut through steel.  This is the kind of focus you need to accomplish your biggest goals.  And remember, it doesn’t need to be complicated.  In our penny example above, the action was simple daily duplication.  The key is to take consistent action over the long haul which will yield incredible results.

Best of luck in your journey.

 

Posted in attitude, Faith, goal setting, Health & Fitness, John Maxwell, leadership, life path, Nutrition, personal development, self talk, success, Uncategorized, weight training | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment