If Your Why is Big Enough…

As a master trainer and nutrition coach, I talk to a lot of people about their weight loss goals.  One statement I always make is that I want this to be the last time they ever start a weight loss program.  My purpose is to instill belief in them that they can be successful and also lay the groundwork upfront that we want to avoid relapse.

Surely you’ve heard of someone who lost a good bit of weight only to gain it all back a short time later.  The problem?  It could be many things however I would say that one of the biggest reasons is that “diets” don’t work.  Counting calories or balancing macros or going Keto or Paleo or whatever may result in some short-term success, however, these strategies can fail in the long run.

So, how do you achieve success in reaching your ideal body weight and then maintain it for life?  There are a number of core skills and behaviors to adopt and master but first, let me say that my purpose in this post is not to focus on the nutrition and exercise part of weight loss.  The following deals with the emotional side because after all, how we think controls everything.

First, we need to consider the three levels of motivation which I learned from my mentor, Nutritionist Keith Klein:

Fear-Based:

Have you ever received a bad report from your doctor saying you need to lose weight?  How about a friend or family member commenting that it looks like you’ve put on weight since the last time you’ve seen each other.  As a nutrition coach, I hear on a regular basis people complain that their clothes don’t fit and use this as a reason to lose weight.

While not positive, these can be great if they will get you into action.  The only problem is that without action, this type of negative motivation can wear off.  It’s called the Law Of Diminishing Intent – the longer you put something off, the less likely you are to do it.  So, if you receive any form of this fear-based motivation, my best suggestion is to get into action quickly, before it goes away.

Results-Based:

So, you get the bad doctor report telling you to lose 20 lbs and you take action.  You change your nutrition and you start exercising and after a couple of weeks, you’re down
5 lbs.  Now the next level of motivation kicks in.  You’re thinking after 5 lbs that you just might be able to reach your goal because you’re getting positive results, and so you’re all the more determined to move forward.

Two weeks go by and you’re down 10 lbs and a few weeks after that 15 lbs, until finally after a few months, you hit the magic 20 lbs.  Now one of two things could happen.  By the way, there’s no such thing as neutral or treading water in life.  You’re either moving forward or falling backward…there is no in-between.

If the only thing you’ve been fixated on is losing the 20 lbs, you may find yourself slipping backward.  This happens to many people because they only set short-term goals and once achieved, there’s nothing left to strive for.  The worst-case scenario is that you gain all the weight back which sets you up potentially to fall into the “Yo-Yo” dieting syndrome.

If you’re not sure of what I mean, it’s as simple as this.  If you go on any type of diet plan and lose for example 20 lbs, some will come from fat, but some will come from muscle.  Your best strategy for maintaining as much muscle as possible is to incorporate strength training along with your diet plan.  All the “cardio” in the world will not help retain the muscle that lifting will.

Let’s say you do lose the 20 lbs and the makeup is roughly 15 lbs from fat and 5 lbs from muscle.  Then for some reason, you decide to give up on your diet and go back to your old ways…slowly gaining back all the weight you lost.  The sad part is that most of the weight gain will be fat…with little muscle.  The only way to gain back the lost muscle is to earn it in the gym.

Now repeat this “lose/gain” scenario a handful of times in your life and you can see the damage that can take place.  Every time you lose and gain, you’re effectively increasing your body fat to muscle ratio.  This is a really bad thing that you want to avoid at all costs because your metabolism will systematically slow down as a result of the lost muscle.

The key to avoiding the fallback is to set not only short-term goals like losing 20 lbs but to also work on building in new and positive behaviors that you can effectively work on for the rest of your life.  This is the necessary action required to transition to the third level of motivation.  If you only set short-term goals, you will live your life in fits and starts.  If you will blend in long-term growth in conjunction with your goals, you will achieve far more and the ride will be much smoother along the way.

Inner Based:

I wish there was a shortcut I could offer you, but unfortunately, it just takes time.  From the results of focusing on long-term growth and building positive behaviors into your life, you will reach a point where outside circumstances no longer derail you.  Your fitness journey becomes a way of life regardless of the curve balls that life will inevitably throw.  The key is a continued focus on both process goals in the short-term all while keeping a long-term perspective.  You simply move forward and persist without exception.

Focusing on small steps can really add up to big change, and I learned the following two examples from my mentor, Darren Hardy.  So, imagine standing at the bottom of a one hundred story building with a spiral staircase going to the roof.  Your task is to climb the stairs all while looking at the top.  As you can imagine, given the enormity of the goal, it could be quite overwhelming.

Now take your eyes off the top of the stairs and focus them on the step right in front of you.  Now take the step.  Not too bad, right?  Now, take the next step.  Still not bad, right?  In fact, it’s no more difficult than the one before.  If you will break your goals down into bite-sized chunks and focus on one little chunk at a time, you can walk to the moon.  The key is to simply not look up.

Now imagine that there’s a 20′ plank on the ground about 2″ thick and 12″ wide.  The offer is $20 to walk across the plank.  Do you take it?  Of course, it would be an easy $20.  Now imagine if the same plank was between two one hundred story buildings and I offered you the same $20 to walk across.  Would you do it?  Probably not, right?

Now, what if your most treasured family member in life was on the opposing roof and the building was on fire?  In fact, the fire is only a few floors below the roof and moving up quickly.  The only way to save your loved one is to cross over the plank and carry them back to safety.  Would you do it?  Of course, and without hesitation.  The change in circumstances changed everything.

You see, when your why is big enough the facts don’t matter.  That’s why it’s so important to identify your why.  It could be one thing or it could be several.  It doesn’t really matter.  The important thing is to really dig deep and determine your true reasons for going after your goals.  People who go after their goals based on just sheer grit and determination will often fail.  It can be like pushing a piece of string.

If you have a piece of string on a table and you try to push it from behind across the table, it will bunch up on itself.  If however, you pull it along the table with your finger, the string will follow along in a clean straight line.  Holding your why out it in front of you can really act as a magnet to help pull you along and help keep you on track towards reaching your goals.

I read an article about Jerry Seinfeld a few years ago and the author asked him to share one of the biggest reasons for his success.  Jerry replied back that it had to be his wall calendar.  The author, clearly confused, asked Jerry to explain.  He said that when he first started writing, back when no one knew anything about him, his goal was to write every day.  Some days he wrote “gold” and other days he wrote “garbage” however the ultimate goal was to write.

Further, he had a big honkin’ wall calendar where every day that he wrote, he would cross off the day with a big red X.  Between the commitment to daily writing leveraged by the physical act of marking off his calendar, Jerry’s daily efforts produced the gold that we know to be the sitcom Seinfeld and beyond.  Today the term is called gamification, and it’s a powerful tool that companies use to drive results both with the products they produce and with their employees to boost performance.

Closing remarks for my readers:

In closing, I have some very concrete action steps for you to consider.  First, you have to determine your why or why’s along with your goals and write them down.  I like sticky notes and learned this little trick from my long-time mentor, “King of Sales”, Jeffrey Gitomer.  Also, determine the 2-3 key behaviors that you will need to adopt in achieving your goals and write them down as well.

Now post them in the following places to help keep your focus laser-sharp on what you’re working to achieve and why.

  • Bathroom mirror
  • Bedroom mirror
  • Front of your refrigerator
  • Front of your microwave
  • Front of your laptop or desktop
  • Front of your steering wheel

Change in any area is never easy and sometimes it can be really hard.  If you will surround yourself with your goals and your reasons for pursuing them, they will help you stay the course, especially when the storms of life come crashing in.

And above all, persist without exception.  I heard this phrase from another of my long-time mentors, Andy Andrews over 20 years ago, and it’s become a part of me.  Never stop pursuing your dreams.  If you will persist, without exception, you will reach them.

Best of luck in your journey.

Posted in Andy Andrews, attitude, fat loss, goal setting, Health & Fitness, jeffrey gitomer, ketogenic diet, Nutrition, personal development, seeking wisdom, self talk, success, Uncategorized, weight training | Tagged , | Leave a comment

My First Week – Working Out At Home

As a fitness professional and nutrition coach, the events of the past two weeks have been life changing. Last Monday afternoon, March the 16th, my boss sent a group text to our team saying the gym would be closing that evening at least through the 29th.  Immediately my mind began racing with the ramifications. The biggest for me personally were the impact on my family and friends, the well-being of my clients, the well-being of my company and co-workers, and the well-being of our nation.  

The purpose for all my blog posts are to offer encouragement and this one is no exception. I’m going to share what I did this past week and suggest that you can do the same.  My workouts were done with very minimal equipment and yet I was able to get in a great training effect each day. If you have more equipment at your home, then you’re only in a better position to get your training done.

Only God in heaven knows how long it will take for things to return to normal. I’m hoping for the best and yet I’m preparing to train at home for an extended period…just in case that reality comes to pass. You can get in good workouts at home. It just takes a mental shift. Once you get your first workout done, the next will be easier and your belief and confidence will build with each succeeding session. 

My first suggestion is to stick to the same routine in terms of when you used to train as much as possible. If your schedule has changed due to recent events and it makes more sense to train at a different time, then book and commit to the new time…just like you did when you were still going to your gym.

My second suggestion is to go through the same preparation that you did at your gym.  Given the limitations of your equipment, go through the same warm up process including  listening to the same music if relevant…all with the intention of creating the same feel for your mind and body. Just pretend you’re starting a totally new routine and embrace the change rather than giving into the thought that training at home with limited equipment is going to suck.  

The following is what I did starting Tuesday morning the 17th through Saturday morning the 21st.  I had already completed the first two days of my training week starting on Sunday the 15th.

Tuesday:  Calves and Cardio



I ordered a set of resistance bands on Monday evening however as of Tuesday morning, the only equipment I had was a set of 25 lbs kettlebells. How do you train calves with two kettlebells? Well, as a fitness professional, I am creative, I am driven, and I am a little crazy.

My apartment is on the first floor of a three-story building. The stairs going up to the upper floors are just outside my door and I simply used the bottom step for my calf raises. My goal was just to get in a solid training effect so I set a target of 10 sets of as many reps as I could, holding a kettlebell in one hand and holding onto the handrail with the other.

All total, I did 400-500 reps and my calves have seriously never been so sore in my life. As I wrote this post on the Saturday the 21st, my calves were still store. After calves, I decided to use the stairs for my cardio. Sticking with the kettlebell theme, I walked up three flights carrying a kettlebell in one hand and then down the other side switching hands. For the next round, I just did the opposite with my hands.

Being an over achiever, I walked the stairs for just over an hour. I figured the intensity was a bit lower than using the stair master or elliptical at the gym, and so I made up for it with more volume. It was a good start to my efforts at home under the circumstances.

Wednesday:  Chest, Back, and Shoulders

My resistance bands were not due to arrive until Friday so I still only had two 25 lbs kettlebells. The workout was pretty simple. I used a small filing cabinet with a pillow on top for my “bench” and did high rep chest presses paired with rows. Like my calves the day before, the reps were really high because I was making up in volume what I couldn’t achieve with intensity and or heavier weights.

Next came standing overhead presses paired with pullovers again using my makeshift bench. In total, I did only four exercises and yet it was a great little workout as you can see from the screen shot from my Fitbit above.

Thursday:  Core and Cardio

On Wednesday afternoon, I ran to Walmart to pick up an ab wheel and stability ball. And to my surprise, my resistance bands were waiting for me when I returned home. This put me in a much better position for my Thursday morning core routine. Given the lack of cardio equipment, I just doubled up and did four rounds of my normal core circuit. As you can see from the image above, my core routine is challenging from a cardio standpoint. To add a little extra intensity, I also integrated in some kettlebell swings just for fun.

The exercises are as follows done in one big circuit…repeated 4 times:

  1. Ab wheel roll outs – 20 reps
  2. Stability ball step offs – 20 reps
  3. Resistance band kneeling chops – 10 reps / side
  4. Resistance band reverse kneeling chops – 10 reps / side
  5. Stability ball jack knives – 20 reps
  6. Ab wheel roll outs – 20 reps
  7. Kettlebell swings – 20 reps
  8. Body saw with a foam roller – 20 reps
  9. Weighted floor crunch with both kettlebells – 40 reps
  10. Kettlebell swings – 20 reps

Friday:  Legs and Arms

Of all the days, this was the one where I felt the most disadvantaged given the lack of equipment. When my boss gave us the word regarding closing earlier in the week, I immediately drove to the gym to get my trap bar. I don’t have any weights at home but I at least wanted my bar.

My challenge then Friday morning was how to add weight to my trap bar when I didn’t have any. As mentioned above, I am creative. I took my trap bar and strapped the kettlebells to each side with elastic knee wraps. The total weight was only 95 lbs however in line with the theme of the week, I made up for a lack of weight with lots of volume. I paired this with an exercise I actually used to do years ago and was grateful to be able to pull it out of my trainer toolbox.

If you take a stability ball combined with a resistance band set with ankle attachments, you can do two-leg or single-leg loaded stability ball leg curls. I used my two heaviest bands and it was actually quite hard.  

The second pair of exercises were kettlebell squats paired with single-leg deadlifts holding the two kettlebells in the working hand. Again, the volume was high and the training effect solid. To finish up, I did standing kettlebell curls paired with lying kettlebell extensions using my stability ball.  

Saturday:  Cardio

Saturday is normally my day off where I will typically take a long walk at home before work. If the weather is agreeable, I will walk outside. If it’s cold or raining, I will utilize my apartment complex gym which has a couple of treadmills.  Given the “virus”, our apartment gym is closed and I really didn’t feel like walking in the 42-degree weather.

So, for fun, I walked the same stairs I used back on Tuesday again with a kettlebell in tow.  This morning however to spice things up, I did 15 kettlebell swings at the bottom of each round of stairs. This added effort kept me plenty warm and eliminated the issue of the cold weather. All total, I did a little more than 100 flights of stairs and approximately 450 kettlebell swings. I’ve never done anything like this before and I suspect my hamstrings will be a little extra sore, but it was fun and way better than just walking in the cold.

A Sample Routine for You

The following is a simple two-way split that you can do 2-4 days per week. Just alternate the two routines back and forth up to a total of 4 weekly sessions.  I designed these routines with a minimalist strategy in that all you need is a resistance band set.  With the vast number of exercise options and variations available depending on the equipment you have, you’re certainly welcome to substitute other like movements.  My primary intent is to share a balanced and simple program you can follow until we can get back to our regular gyms.

Routine A:  Chest, Back, Shoulders, and Core  

1A  Resistance band chest press:  2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
1B  Resistance band back row:  2-3 sets of 8-12 reps

2A  Resistance band chest fly:  2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
2B  Resistance band reverse fly:  2-3 sets of 12-15 reps

3A  Resistance band shoulder press:  2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
3B  Resistance band lat pulldown:  2-3 sets of 8-12 reps

4A  Resistance band lateral raise:  2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
4B  Resistance band straight arm lat pulldown:  2-3 sets of 12-15 reps

5A  Plank:  2-3 sets of up to 30 second holds
5B  Resistance band Pallof press:  2-3 sets of 10 reps / side

Routine B:  Legs, Arms, and Core  

1A  Resistance band squats:  2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
1B  Resistance band leg curls:  2-3 sets of 12-15 reps

2A  Walking lunges:  2-3 sets of 15-20 reps
2B  Resistance band pull through:  2-3 sets of 15-20 reps

3A  Resistance band drag biceps curl:  2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
3B  Resistance band overhead triceps ext:  2-3 sets of 8-12 reps

4A  Resistance band preacher curl:  2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
4B  Resistance band triceps pushdown:  2-3 sets of 12-15 reps

5A  Mountain climbers:  2-3 sets of 15-20 reps
5B  Bird dog:  2-3 sets of 5-10 second holds per arm / leg x 3 for one complete set

Optional exercises based on ability and equipment:

Kettlebell front squat or Goblet squats

Stability ball Jack Knives or Kettlebell swings

Closing thoughts for my readers:

You can train at home and be successful.  At the minimum, you can pick up a set of resistance bands for less than $25 bucks.  The set I ordered from Amazon was as a little more at $40 but I think you will find a number of options from different retailers in this general price range.  I purchased my kettlebells years ago and you can find them at a variety of retailers both local and online.

My ab wheel and stability ball are from Walmart at $12 and $15 respectively.

Again, this is just a simple temporary training solution.  Hopefully we will be back in our regular gyms sooner than later.  Maybe now more than ever, you have to make your training a priority because there are so many competing distractions in our homes.  There’s no reason to not take care of yourself physically including your nutrition during the increasingly challenging times we’re living in.  

You can do this…and I believe in you.  

Best of luck in your journey.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline”

2 Timothy 1:7

 

Posted in attitude, cardio training, Circuit Training, Faith, fat loss, goal setting, Health & Fitness, home training, learning from mistakes, muscle preservation, Nutrition, personal development, strength gain, success, Uncategorized, weight training | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Food: Liar, Thief, and Destroyer

The popular culture often trivializes people’s struggles with food making reference to their indulgence in “comfort foods” like it’s no big deal. While women are far more likely to be a  target, trust me, men struggle with food just as much. The sad reality is that turning to food for comfort is a losing proposition because food will never comfort you.

“False Comfort Food”

Oh, it may taste good in the moment, but it will never fill the void you’re trying to fill.
In reality, most people at least to some small degree, occasionally struggle with emotional eating. For others, it’s a war they wage daily that too me, is so much more difficult than for example, an addiction to alcohol or drugs.

You don’t need alcohol or drugs to live and yet food, the very thing you battle, is an absolute necessity for daily survival. It can be like walking a proverbial tight rope where you’re constantly struggling to maintain balance. And with just one false step or bite, you can plunge into overindulgence.

Food can be a “liar”, “thief”, and “destroyer”. If you really do struggle with emotional eating, then you know what I mean. Food will lie to you when you’re feeling tempted to indulge. And when you’re behavior really gets out of control, food can rob you of your peace of mind and ultimately destroy your life.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There’s a difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder. Stuffing yourself to the point of minor misery at Thanksgiving could almost be considered disordered eating and yet it’s a culturally accepted practice. But that’s way different than someone who regularly binges and then forces themselves to throw up to keep from gaining weight. That’s calling Bulimia. And don’t forget Anorexia where people literally starve themselves also for fear of gaining weight.

If you struggle with either of the latter conditions, please seek professional help. Dealing with these challenges is way beyond my scope of practice or the intent of this post.  However, for those who occasionally struggle with feeling out of control with their eating, I may be able to offer some practical suggestions.

First of all, if you struggle emotionally with food…

  1. Identify your triggers and seek to remove or avoid them. For most this will be people, places, and activities. If you find yourself every Friday afternoon after work at happy hour with a certain group loading up on margaritas & chips & queso, you might consider a change. The people may be fine but the place and the activity you’re taking part in is not doing you any favors with your health.

  2. If you determine that your social group is okay and that the problem is the place and activity, then seriously consider changing up your scenery. If they’re really your friends and have your best interest at heart, they will be supportive. If they resist the change, then you have a choice to make. Remember, your associations in life will make or break you…so choose wisely.

  3. This last point is heavy, but it could really help. When you’re facing a “binge”, you only have two paths to consider. If you shut your thinking off to the “after” and focus all your energy on satisfying yourself in the present moment, you will likely give in. If however, you can take a deep breath and really consider the “after”, you may find your escape.

    Now if you’re willing to take that breath and seriously consider the absolute consequences of what you’re considering, then the next step is to move. I literally mean to get up and out of the physical place you’re in. If you’re at home, go for a walk or a drive. If you’re at your office, get up from your desk and again go take a walk. If appropriate, call a friend. Act your way into a different feeling. If you stay in your current place, you may unfortunately slip back in your thoughts only to come face to face with the enemy…the binge.

Remember, you can only eat so much and then you must return to reality. Regardless of what is waiting for you, do you want to take that step under normal circumstances or in the midst of a food “hangover”? I promise, no one wants to be a parent, child, friend, or name your occupation or activity under the cloud of a food hangover. I know full well from personal experience that the most common feeling is to simply want to shut yourself off from the world.

A lonely place to be.

Part of the struggle people face is actually self-inflicted by pursuing perfection with their eating. They possess the false notion that you have to eat “perfectly” all the time to achieve and or maintain an ideal body weight. There is no such thing as good or bad food…only more or less nutritious food and both can have their place in a balanced and healthy nutrition plan.  

When you deprive yourself long enough from whatever your favorite thing or things are, you will hit a wall. Nutritionist Keith Klein, in Houston, TX, calls this the psychology of deprivation. After a lengthy period of severe restriction, you will have a trigger event that throws you over the edge. It could be as simple as a long and stressful day at work which leaves you feeling nothing more than…I want my Ben and Jerry’s.

It doesn’t have to be this way…either.

For the positive, you can avoid this whole scenario by treating yourself on an appropriate basis with a normal serving size of whatever your favorite thing is. I wrote about this in detail in “No Cheat Meals Required“, but the essence of the strategy is this. It’s called 90/10 Compliance.  Regardless of how many meals you eat per week on average, if you will make 90% of them clean and on track, you can have the other 10% to loosen the reigns and enjoy your favorite foods.

I only caution you in two ways. First, don’t decide after an extra-long and stressful day that it’s going to be a 10% or “treat” meal night. That’s probably not going to end well because you’re not thinking straight. Consider planning in advance when your mind is clear and then stick to this second little guideline. Eat whatever you want but stick with normal portion sizes. Then walk away with no guilty feelings.

This little practice will work for the majority and will keep you from running smack into the wall of deprivation. The only time this may not work is if your emotional eating is a little more advanced and you have certain trigger foods where when you have a bite, you’re likely to eat the pint…or tub.

For me, this is store bought sweets. I decided after years of struggle to simple abstain…period. I love my homemade treats including cheesecake and cookies and my daily pancakes of course, but they’re all super healthy and don’t cause me to lose my freakin’ mind.

Amazing! and Healthy!

Equally Amazing! and Healthy!

Only you can determine whether a given food is okay to occasionally enjoy or not. If you find yourself going in with the best of intentions and yet you consistently end up out of control, you may have identified a trigger food that you simply need to avoid.
Another possible solution is that you could come up with a healthy alternative.

Precision Nutrition is the name of an industry leading coaching and educational company. I have their Level 1 certification and I’m currently working on their year-long Level 2 master-class certification. PN does amazing work and the info they teach is life changing.

Precision nutrition is also a philosophy of eating and preparing meals. You can take any dish that might be considered less than healthy, like store bought pizza or Mexican food or sweets and totally change them for the positive. When you pull out the excess sugar and unhealthy fats and replace them with clean proteins and healthy fats, you really can create some great tasting and healthy meals.

My favorite way to start the day.

I love my daily shakes!

This has been my go to strategy now for years. I have three protein shakes a day and they’re all different in terms of what they do for me and in how they taste…and they’re all amazing! Further, I have protein pancakes literally every day of my life unless I’m traveling. It’s my own recipe, it’s super healthy, and they are incredible! These collectively feed my sweet tooth daily and yet I’m never tempted to over-indulge.

Closing thoughts for my readers:

Writing this post has been on my heart for some time. As a nutrition coach, I work with people daily who struggle with food and I just felt compelled to share. If you really do battle with your eating, consider getting some help. The most successful people from all walks of life have coaches and seeking professional help with a food struggle is really no different.

For some additional resources on healthy eating, consider the following:

Gourmet Nutrition: The Cookbook for the Fit Food Lover

Healthy Treats from T Nation

Eating for Life from Bill Phillips

Best of luck in your journey…

Posted in attitude, better mood, better sleep, Health & Fitness, personal development, seeking wisdom, self talk, the power of associations, Uncategorized, wise choices | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Saying Goodbye to My Friend Paul

On Monday November the 25, 2019, I received a text from my client and good friend, Mary Durie.  She said that if I wanted to see Paul again, it would need to be soon.  Paul had been battling liver cancer for several months and after exhausting all options, his doctors had sent him home.  Hospice was called in and they were doing their best to make Paul comfortable during his last days.  For more background, go to Prayers For My Friend Paul.

Fortunately, it was my day off and I promised Marie to come over right after lunch.  As I explained in “Prayers”, Paul was a big time Dr. Pepper lover and had recently gained the taste for Hershey’s with Almonds.  So, on my way over, I stopped at Kroger’s and bought him a little pack of 7.5 oz miniature DP’s and two extra-large Hershey candy bars…with almonds of course.

My door knock was greeted as usual by the barking of their two little dogs, Thelma & Bandit.  One of Paul’s nurses answered the door and led me back to Paul’s room where he was watching an old Western.  Due to a recent fall which slightly fractured his hip, Paul was pretty much bed ridden without help from his caregivers.

When I walked in, his face lit up and he was so surprised to see me.  To my shame, it had been too long since my last visit.  All was forgiven when he saw his Dr. Pepper and Hershey bars.  He was curious to know how I knew about his new found love for chocolate, and I explained that Mary had told me.

We chatted for a bit and then Mary came in to join us upon returning from running a few errands.  While I was thrilled to see them both, I could see everything I didn’t want to see in Mary’s expression.  Paul was running out of time and it was hard to find the words.  I mean, what do you say to someone who’s facing their end.  For the positive, I knew Paul’s faith was solid having had that conversation months before.  He was a believer in Jesus Christ and his salvation was secure.

As Paul started to struggle with nodding off, Mary said that it was probably best for me to leave however she asked me to pray with Paul first.  So, I knelt down by his bed and took his hand and asked for God’s grace and mercy to be with him.  It was short but from the heart and with that I gave him one last hug and Mary walked me out.

As we stopped just inside their front door, I asked if I could come back that Friday as I knew my schedule would be light.  She said that today would probably be the last time as Paul’s strength was rapidly going down.  Little did I know how prophetic her words would be.  As it turned out, Paul’s pain level spiked the next day and the nurse had to give him extra pain meds which helped, but he was never the same.

Looking back, I’m so grateful for seeing him one last time still in good spirits and relatively pain free doing at least a few of the things he loved…watching Westerns with a Dr. Pepper and Hershey bar.  He passed that next Saturday morning and Mary was good enough to let me know that same day.  I had been booked solid at work and never saw her text until I broke for lunch at 1PM.

As I promised Mary months before, I attended Paul’s funeral the next week.  Fortunately for my schedule it was literally right across the street from my gym and I was able to rearrange my calendar accordingly.  There was a nice turn out and I was all the more thankful for being able to go.

After signing the guest book, I made my way in and down to the front where there was a big picture of Paul on a tri-pod.  They had a private service for Paul that morning so the afternoon event was more of a memorial service to him.  To pay my last respects before the service officially started, I stood in front of his picture as my mind filled with memories of all the times I worked with him in the gym.

I couldn’t help but cry as the enormity of Paul being gone set it.  If there was any silver lining, it was good to know that his spirit was now at peace and his body restored after the battle he waged with cancer.  Mary came in soon after surrounded by family and sat down towards the front.  I was able to give her a quick hug before taking my seat.

For the first few minutes, they just played a slide show from Paul’s life with the song, Leader of the Band, playing in the background.  The one thing that struck me both from my time with Paul and from seeing his pictures was that he loved people and he loved life.  By the way, he loved his golf too which naturally made us kindred spirits.  I will always remember our many conversations about Indian Creek where he used to play and practice…and where I used to work as a club professional…many years ago.

Paul…you were a good man and I will never forget our time together.

God bless you.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

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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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