Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pet Peeves

Lots of things bug me. I get annoyed by little things pretty easily. As long as something doesn't affect me personally, I can usually let them roll off my back. What you eat doesn't make me shit, right? No harm, no foul. I suppose now is as good a time as any for me to get some things that bug me about the industry off my chest.

1) When a personal trainer doesn't know the name of an exercise.
Happens all the time, unfortunately. I understand that there are a LOT of exercises and some of them go by several names. However, I sincerely feel that if you don't know the name of an exercise the you don't know it well enough to be coaching a client through it. Even if you don't know the "proper" name, you should know enough to be able to create a name. You may not know what a "cable woodchopper" is, but you should have enough education about anatomical positions and planes of motion to be able to call it a "cable trunk/oblique twist" and have another fitness professional understand what it is. (I won't even get into the fact that you shouldn't be doing cable chops anyway.)

2) When a trainer progresses a client to a new variation that they can't do.
What good is doing a hands and feet elevated pushup if your client can't even do a regular pushup with their chest on the ground? Why bother doing a single leg squat off of a box if the client can barely do a passable goblet squat? Stick to the basics; your client is going to get more out of doing a simple exercise correctly. Why would a trainer progress someone too quickly? Personally, I think it happens when the trainer doesn't believe enough in their own ability and their own programming. Have faith that what you're doing is working, you don't need to impress the client with fancy tricks.

3) When a trainer lets the client get away with horseshit form.
Hey trainer, do you do quarter squats? Half pushups? Does your chin get over the bar on pullups? I bet it does. So why not ask of your clients what you ask of yourself? Don't let your client get away with shitty form just so they can add a few pounds to the bar or do a few more reps; their self-esteem would get a better boost by being able to do the exercise correctly. This usually occurs when a trainer is either too lazy to fix it, or isn't confident enough in their ability to correct the faulty movement pattern. Either way, the client suffers and the trainer ends up looking like a wiener.

4) When a trainer uses their phone during a session.
This one is inexcusable. Come on, man. Really? Texting during a session? That's just bush league. Chances are that if you're the guy texting during a session your clients are also doing quarter squats on a Bosu ball. Get out of my gym and out of my industry, please. Thanks.

5) When a trainer lacks the basic programming ability to make someone an effective workout.
I get it, a little. Programming is a skill that takes a long time to hone. I've gotten ok at it, but I'm still far from great. I've saved almost every program I've ever written so that I can go back and re-read some of the early ones. Holy dogshit, Batman! Talk about crap! I kept at it, and got better though. I understand that not all trainers are proficient at programming, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be proficient at writing out a well-balanced workout for your clients. If you work with someone once per week, doing a chest hypertrophy workout isn't the best use of your time. Do a full body workout. Break it down into the basic human movement patterns: squat, hip hinge, push, pull and carry. Hit all of these movements and you'll at least have a balanced workout.

6) When a trainer trains themselves differently than their clients.
What, are you scared it's going to be too hard for them? Scale it back. No one says they have to squat 135 on their first day out. If you believe that compound lifts and sprints are the key to your own success, then why wouldn't that be the best way to train your clients? If you love to deadlift, get your clients deadlifting. If you know how to utilize a bodybuilder split in the most effective way possible, impress that knowledge upon your clients. If you do CrossFit on your own time, why not introduce the same style to your clients? Do a big compound strength exercise and then follow it up with some metabolic conditioning. Why train yourself one way, and then go do the Cybex Circuit with your clients? If you believe in something, teach it to your clients. They will appreciate the passion you bring along with that information.

You can now consider this mini-rant closed for the moment. I know that I'm not the best trainer out there, and that I have a long way to go, but being aware of these faux pas makes me a cut above the rest. Hopefully your trainer doesn't do any of these, or you don't recognize this as something you do with your clients. If it is, then hopefully my tips as to how to prevent/change it will be useful. The health/fitness/strength industry is something that I truly love and am passionate about; I hate to see it bastardized by people who just want to make a buck. Have a good day, folks. Go lift something heavy!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Another post about shoes!

Well, it's been a long time since I wrote anything regarding footwear choices. The topic isn't quite as hotly debated as it was a year ago, but I still have my own thoughts on the subject. The recent surge in runners training outdoors for the Boston Marathon has led me to think even more about footwear than usual. Let's jump into it, shall we?

Where it all begins
Your foot is made up of 26 bones and articulations that create one functional unit of propulsion. 5 phalanges (toes) in the forefoot, 5 solid bones to create the arch, and the two bones that form the heel and the ankle. The articulations are such that the bones, in one direction, create a strong stable platform, but in another direction seem to be entirely mobile and flexible. Your foot is covered with small muscles, tendons and ligaments, and the bottom is covered with the plantar fascia. This is what, ultimately, provides us with propulsion and balance.With that brief anatomical run down of the foot, let's talk about how that effects us.

Well, consider that our very complex feet were built to work in a certain way, but then culture came around and we went and changed the way our feet work. We cover them in shoes with hard stiff soles that don't let our feet feel around when we walk. We stick firm plastic insoles into our $150 Brooks SuperDynamicStabilityUltraRide running sneakers so that our foot becomes, essentially, one solid piece with no movement or feeling. The best analogy I've heard compares feet in shoes to a hand taped up and put into a 16 ounce boxing glove. You've taken something that is naturally very flexible, mobile and sensitive and covered it up and changed its use. Watch a UFC fight, they use tiny little 4 ounce gloves and don't punch nearly the same way a pro boxer does in his big bulky gloves. So, what happens when we wrap our feet in huge stiff shoes and go for a run? Well, we change our whole gait cycle. Yup, we throw on shoes and we effectively change the movement pattern that evolution decided was the most effective way for us to run and move. Seems like a good idea, yeah?

The gait cycle is divded into two phases: the stance, and the swing. The swing is then broken down into 4 more phases: heel strike to flat foot, foot flat to midstance, midstance through heel-off and heel-off through toe-off. This description is really more applicable to the gait cycle of walking rather than running, since a proper running gait cycle should NOT include a heel strike. Let's take a look at some videos, shall we?

So, these videos are depicting just how different running with shoes on and off can be. You can see the heel strike with the shod foot, and the spike of forces that are sharply sent through the body. In the bare foot, you can see how the runner lands on his forefoot, which applies the pressure through the foot/ankle at a nice even rate. This forefoot strike is what runners should be trying to achieve in their gait. Now, as a disclaimer, I'm not suggesting that simply running with shoes on causes a shitty gait cycle. However, the cushioning of the shoe allows you to have a shitty gait cycle and not notice it. This is very evident when I stand in the window of my gym on Saturday morning and watch people train for the marathon on Beacon Street by having what appear to be moving seizures. Just dysfunctional movement patterns out the wazoo. Also, I'm not suggesting that having someone run barefoot or in minimalist shoes will magically correct their gait; if someone has only a dysfunctional gait cycle ingrained in their body, they will continue to have one when they take their shoes off; some people just run like dogshit. However, if they spend enough time trying to do it correctly while barefoot, their body will compensate in the appropriate manner It's called the SAID principle: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. This means that your body will change when forced to. Running with a heel-strike while barefoot is really uncomfortable, and your body will try to avoid the movement causing the pain.

Ok, so now you don't want to run in your Brooks Moon Shoes, but you can't go barefoot yet. I get it, I don't think being barefoot is necessarily the best idea for a runner. Let's explore your sneaker options. The Nike Free is the most well-known minimal sneaker on the market; everybody and their mother is wearing them nowdays. Why? Because Nike marketed the shit out of them and they look nice. However, within the minimalist world, these shoes don't hold a lot of water. Why? Because they really are NOT that minimal.

On the left we have the latest Nike Run2, and on the right we have the current New Balance Minimus Trail Zero. You can see pretty easily that the heel on the Nike shoe is significantly higher than that on the New Balance. This makes the Nike a very good transitional sneaker for someone getting into the minimalist scene. When someone wears high-heeled shoes for a very long time, they will often experience a plastic deformation of their soft tissues; in this case, the achilles tendon. It becomes short and stiff after years of being in the plantar-flexed position. This will cause discomfort when someone suddenly goes barefoot, since they are essentially walking around with their achilles in a stretched position! By starting off a really flexible shoe like the Free, they can start to adjust to a flatter more neutral sneaker. In my personal opinion, the Nike Free is going to cause as many running related injuries as the traditional running sneakers. Why? That big cushy heel. It still protects you enough that you can run with sub-optimal form without really experiencing any pain or discomfort. The Free is, in no way, a bad sneaker. I own a few pairs and I love them for walking around and working. They are flexible and light and they look really good.

A sneaker like the New Balance Minimus Zero (zero drop from heel to toe, i.e. a perfectly flat shoe) takes a little more work to get into for most people. The number of zero drop shoes available are plentiful: New  Balance, Vivobarefoot, Altra, Vibram and Inov-8 all make shoes that have no difference in height between the heel and the toe. Some of these shoes come with a thicker sole than others, but all provide the neutrality that our feet desire.

So, who should be wearing what kind of shoes? Well, in my humble opinion, everyone should be doing something barefoot. Everybody. At the least, I'd like to see all of my clients doing their dynamic warm-ups in un-shod feet. Unfortunately, the gym I work at right now won't allow for that. Beyond that, I'd like everyone to deadlift in bare feet. This is a simple way for us to allow the intrinsic muscles of the feet to experience an external load without moving through the gait cycle. Lunging in bare feet is tough for a LOT of people, so it's not something I really move towards; personally I stick to squats and deadlifts as my main barefoot lifts (both bi-lateral and uni-lateral versions). Who should run in these kinds of shoes? Well, if someone MUST do long-distance running, they should wear whatever is comfortable for them. A good friend of mine runs marathons, owns Free's and runs in fully supportive Adidas sneakers. Why? He has a great stride, great forefoot strike and has no running related pain. He runs beautifully in fully supportive shoes, so why change? Another good friend of mine runs exclusively in Vivobarefoot's and has no running related pain. Again, the similarity here is a beautiful stride. When you run perfectly, you can wear whatever you want on your feet and it won't matter. If you look like a monkey humping a doorknob when you run, you're going to experience pain regardless of what's on your feet.

If you want to try running in minimalist shoes, I would say that's a good idea. Take it slow, though. Start with some Free's. Let your feet adjust to the feeling of a light flexible shoe. Spend some time in those before you try a flatter shoe. Do your warm-ups barefoot, do a few lifts barefoot. And, for the love of God, seek out a good running coach if you look spastic when you run.

This was a helluva long post, thanks for bearing with me. If you learned even a little bit, then I did my job. Go lift something heavy!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cocky or Confident?

It's a question that gets posed often. Where is the line drawn between being cocky and being confident?

You're cocky if you can't back any of it up. You're confident if you can. That's all there is to it.

I've been called cocky for quite a while now, overly-confident some people will say. I say these people are civilians. In my world, you can't get better unless you're confident. If you approach a loaded barbell and aren't 100% sure that you are going to crush the lift, you're done. Don't even bother un-racking it. Just the other day, I was doing resistance band squats with my training partner Dan. Neither of us have squatted with a bar on our back in quite a while, so we were going to just take it easy. Because we are knuckleheads, we started working our way up with heavy singles. We had 100 lbs of bands on the bar (at the top) plus 275 bar weight. This means that when standing up with the bar on our backs, it felt like 375 pounds. I started to un-rack the bar and had to put it back down because it felt like the heaviest thing in the world. Dan questioned the sanity of doing this lift. I took a big breath, said "fuck it" and nailed the lift. That is the confidence that we gain from weight training. In the weight room you are constantly faced with new goals. You will fail at these goals before you succeed almost every single time, which means you get comfortable failing and comfortable succeeding. This builds confidence and character. Being able to always say "I'm gonna do it next time".

So, who is cocky? Cocky people are the just the ones with confidence and nothing to back it up. All shine and no substance. Cocky people may have achieved a level of success in some aspect of their lives, but I bet they did it without ever having to deal with failure. The guy who keeps getting the right job at the right time. The guy who gets the girl he wants without ever having to experience heartbreak. The guy who has a bank account overflowing with cash without ever having to double check his balance before grocery shopping. The guy with huge arms and a 6pack who can't deadlift 225 pounds. These are the cocky ones, the ones who take success for granted.

Not me. I've tasted failure more than I care to recount. I know what it's like to hope you card doesn't get declined at the grocery store, and I know what it's like to have my heart broken. I've been crushed by weights and I've set personal records. I don't take success for granted, I savor it each time I achieve it. That's why I'm confident; because I know that I will do whatever it takes for me to get to each new success in my life. I have the confidence to accept each defeat as a stepping stone to get to an even better place when I succeed. Weight training has taught me all of that. It's also taught me to not care what people think, I'm my own person.

Go lift something heavy. Then lift something heavier than you're capable of. If you can learn to fail, you'll love to succeed.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A model of inefficiency

"I hate doing this exercise, I'm so bad at it"

"Sprint? No way, I'm awful at it!"

"You want me to jump rope? I can't! I'm terrible at it!"

People, we all suck at something. For instance, I suck at rowing (on the ergometer) and swimming. These are things that, when performed, leave me absolutely smoked. Why, you may ask, would I want to do these things then? Why not do something that I'm good at, like sprinting?

Well, think of it from the perspective of your car. When it's brand new and runs perfectly, it is super efficient and burns a minimal amount of gas in order to get you around town. When your car is a 12-year old hoopty, the engine is beat up. It doesn't run smoothly, and as a result you burn through gas like nothing.

In real life, your body is the car, your muscles are the engine, and your energy systems (ATP/CP, Anaerobic and Aerobic) are the fuel. When you're good at something, let's say running, you can do it in a very efficient manner and burn the minimal amount of "gas" necessary. When you're bad at something (rowing) you flail around like a monkey humping a doorknob, and as a result burn huge amounts of energy. The good thing about all of this, is the caloric expenditure that you get. When I do a workout that involves rowing, I'll always be ridiculously hungry that night. Just not enough food to put into my body. Why? I burned a million calories during the workout, and then my EPOC (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption) was through the roof for the rest of the day. Boom, metabolism: stoked.

This is why you will often (hopefully more often than not) hear your trainer say that steady-state cardio is NOT the ideal way to lose weight. Your body gets into a groove with steady-state cardio that allows it to conserve energy. It's like going 65 mph on the highway; you're just cruising. Now, go get in your car and jam the gas pedal to the floor and get up to 40 mph, then hit the brakes. Once you're down to 15 mph, jam the gas again. Repeat multiple times. What happened to your gas tank? It's probably empty, because you just did interval training with your car. Speeding up and slowing down repeatedly is an extremely inefficient way to get anywhere, whether you're running or driving. You wanna burn a shit-ton of calories, while making sure to boost your metabolism for the next few hours? Do some sprint intervals.

You don't necessarily have to be "poor" at a movement for it to be inefficient; some movements are intrinsically inefficient. Burpees, sled pushing, lunges (ugh), and some loaded carries (overhead carries, offset, odd objects) are all movements that require a huge muscular effort from your whole body, as well as requiring quite a bit of input from your cardiovascular system. Regardless of how "good" you get at these movements, they are going to be tough. They are just exercises that aren't very efficient.

So, the next time your trainer to tells you to do something that you're not good at, consider not complaining it. There's probably a good reason for it, and it probably benefits you.

Go lift something heavy!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

You have 2 ears, 2 eyes and 1 mouth...

...use them in that order. 

Yesterday I went down to the BSC in Downtown Crossing with my co-workers Dan and Will to attend a seminar held by Tony Gentilcore. It was a great opportunity to hear one of the bright minds in our industry talk without having to travel or spend a huge amount of money. It may not have counted for CEU's for anyone, but you should never miss an opportunity to learn more from someone who know's more than you do. 

The seminar was based on assessments: what they use at CP, what you should be using with gen-pop clients, and what these assessments will tell you. This is exactly stuff that I want to get better at: I know I can take someone from a 75 pound deadlift to a 400 pound deadlift. Writing a periodized strength program, or getting someone to lose weight are things I feel comfortable with (Comfortable; not perfect. There's a lot more left for me to learn.) What I feel my weak area's are are knowing what to do with the results of an assessment. Let's say I assess someone and they have poor thoracic extensibility; is it tight internal rotators, poor t-spine mobility, tight lats, poor c-spine mobility or weak upper back muscles? I can see what the weak point is, but I'm unsure which issue to address first. Same with the hips; I can see that a hip is falling out when someone lunges, but I'm unsure where the weakness starts (leaky roof syndrome). Is it instability at the ankle? Weak VMO? Weakness on the other side of their hips? Tight hip flexors? The list goes on.

This seminar helped to address some of those questions. What it also helped to do is make me realize how much I have left to learn. It was a very humbling experience, just like every time I hear someone speak. My whole journey right now is about address my weaknesses, and I just uncovered another one. I did feel good that I knew a lot of the mobilizations that Tony showed us, and I use them with clients too. I know the right applications of these exercises, but I need to work on my ability to explain exactly what it is doing. Yesterdays seminar also served to foster my hopes of doing my internship out at CP next fall, the amount of stuff I could learn from those guys is immeasurable.

Last, but not least, a funny moment from yesterday. Tony was talking about how he saw Dr. McGill speak three times, and that he actually recognized him once and said "hi" to him, which made him feel like the coolest guy in the room. Well, yesterday when Tony started off his seminar he said "I was talking to Mike and Dan about this seminar..." and pointed at us.


Of course, we played it cool though. Stone-faced. We didn't get up and cheer, or even elbow each other and smile. But, when we got off the train to walk back to our gym, we brought it up and realized that we had both had the same internal reaction. Ended up giggling like little schoolgirls about it. 

It was a great experience yesterday, one which has given me a kick-in-the-pants to learn more about the stuff that I don't know. What do you suck at? Whatever it is, go do it today!

Monday, February 20, 2012

My New Crush

There's something about those CrossFit girls, man. I was watching some of the 2011 CrossFit games on ESPN this Sunday and was quickly struck by one of the competitors: Julie Foucher.

If you know me, you know why she is the one that struck me. Brown hair, brown eyes and lifting weights. Boom, smokeshow! Not only is she very pretty, she is also a monster. The event I watched showed her keeping pace with Annie Thorisdotter; the eventual female winner of the games (Foucher ended up coming in 5th). Not only is Foucher easy on the eyes, but she's also a med student at the University of Michigan. Beautiful, smart and strong? Sign me up, thanks!

Why am I writing this post about her? Because it's always nice for women to see someone who is strong and beautiful. No one in their right mind could call this woman "too bulky". She is 5'4" and 125 pounds, completely "normal" stats. She doesn't look bulky because she's not covered in a layer of fat over her muscles.

Something else that I wanted to mention very quickly is my recent interest in the elite-level CrossFitters; the one's who compete at the games. The men, it seems, have all been CrossFitting for several years before making it to the elite-level. Interestingly, the women seem to be able to achieve elite-status within a year of starting CrossFit. Why is this interesting to me? Because it means that these women are coming into the sport with a really strong base of athleticism/strength, and all they are really doing is learning the movements necessary to compete. Thorisdotter actually had trouble at her first games competition because she hadn't learned how to do muscle ups yet! From a few profiles that I've read, a lot of the elite level women have a heavy background in gymnastics (which helps to explain their fantastic power:weight ratios). I'm not suggesting this is a hard and fast rule, but just something that I noticed a little bit.

Go lift something heavy today!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Can't or Won't?

This is a question that we deal with on an every day basis in a commercial gym setting. You can't do any more, or you won't do any more?

Many of our clients are not athletes, nor were they ever athletes. They found fitness and training for a reason, but often times those reasons don't involve wanting to really push their limits. People want to get healthier and fitter, but many don't understand what they are truly capable of. This is where the job of a Personal Trainer really differs from that of a Strength Coach. My clients have no idea what they can do, and I need to teach them that they are capable of so much more. A strength coach's clients (athletes) know that they are capable of more, and need a coach to help bring that out of them.

"I can't" is one of my least favorite things to hear in the gym, especially before you even try something. How do you fucking know what you can't do? Try something hard once in a while, I bet you'll surprise yourself with what you can do. "I can't" means that you're giving up before you even try. It means that you're just going to roll over and die without finding out what you're really made of, it means that you're scared of failing. People are so scared of trying hard and failing at something; they are scared to find out what their weaknesses are. I embrace my weaknesses, that's the only way to know how to make yourself better.

What you really mean when you say "I can't" is "I won't". I won't attempt this lift. I won't keep sprinting. I won't do another set. I won't stop eating sugar covered shit all day. These are self imposed limitations set by someone who has never experienced what they are really capable of doing. One of my favorite sayings is "whether you think you can, or think you can't, you're right". If you tell yourself that you're going to be able to do this last set of push-ups, you're going to increase your chances of success exponentially. If you sit down and say "I can't do it", you already lost.

Most of my clients have never experienced real pain caused by exercise. The kind of pain you have to fight through on the first day of football or basketball practice. Not the pain of an injury, but the pain of exhaustion to the point of not being able to see straight. Lungs burning, legs shaking, world spinning; that kind of pain. The kind of pain you have to mentally fight through. I learned to deal with it because of sports when I was younger. I was always an athlete, but I was never the best. I had to fight tooth and nail to make every team that I tried out for. I made those teams based on hustle. I wasn't going to shoot my way onto the high school basketball team, so I made damn sure that I worked harder than anyone else. Another set of suicides? I'd be the first one on the line. Loose ball drills? Time to leave some skin on the court. Being mentally tough is what kept me on the team.

Getting a little winded or some muscle burn is not pain, that's a little discomfort. That is something you can (should) work through. Don't get tired, get tougher. The human mind is the limiting factor in your potential in the weight room. You are capable of so much more, if you're willing to work hard enough to achieve.

Don't be afraid to work hard, go lift something heavy; find out what you're really made of.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Everyone has up's and down's, and I'm no different. I have my good days and my bad days; I may be an Alpha Male Apex Predator but I have the same kinds of problems that everybody else has.

Thankfully, there is someone who can put my stupid problems into perspective for me without even knowing it. Her name is Ms. Ornstein and she is a member at the gym I work out. She is about 87 years old, comes from Hungary, and is one of the most inspiring women I've ever met. She comes to work out 4-5 times per week, and does a handful of our group exercise classes. She always stops to talk to me about food and exercise, and constantly has questions about how to switch up her routine. Oh, did I mention that she is a Holocaust survivor and wrote a book about her experience.

So, when I get down in the dumps because this girl doesn't want me, or my apartment sucks, or I don't make enough money, I can go to the gym and have a quick chat with Ms. Ornstein. She is constantly happy, regardless of the day or time. When appropriate, she relates stories of her past struggles with an ease and a sort of forgiveness that is rare in this world. She never speaks of her struggle with hatred, contempt or anger. It's simply a part of her life that she is able to reach back upon in order to educate a younger generation. A story that I've heard her tell a few times is from her 18th birthday; one of the guards knew it was her birthday, and gave her a half eaten apple as a present. She says it was one of her favorite presents ever.

Ms. Ornstein will often talk about how her time in the camps piqued her interest in fitness. Being strong and physically capable is one of the things that helped her actually make it through the camps. She knows, from experience, how important it is to be physically fit and able to perform hard work. She also will always stop to talk about healthy eating, and what she is cooking for dinner that night. She loves to eat hearty, healthy food and understands the importance of good food from a very different perspective than the rest of us.

Talking to her and knowing her struggles always makes me feel like a huge bitch. How can I complain about girl problems or apartment woes when I still have everything that I have? My family and friends, a roof over my head and food to eat, a job and a future. There is someone I see almost every day who was thrown into a concentration camp and treated as less than human. My problems really aren't that bad, all things considered.

Next time you get down, take some time to think about how bad your problems really are. Some of us have serious problems, that much I understand. But at the end of the day, the things that weigh on your mind most often really aren't that bad.

Think about it. Go lift something heavy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How to shop like a Savage (Budget Style)

Maybe this is kind of a random post, but it's my blog and I can do what I want!

It seems like more people than I would expect have a tough time with grocery shopping. It's a "skill" I've had for a long time, so I guess I always took it for granted. Sure, everybody knows how to go to the store and pick stuff up and pay for it; some people even know how to cook! But, it seems that meal planning and shopping is more of an art than a science. Today, I'm going to outline my meal plan for the week and what I bought at the grocery store.

I usually spread my shopping between 2-3 stores: Shaws, Trader Joes, and Whole Paycheck. I spend the least amount of time at Whole Paycheck, because I just can't afford to pay $17.99/pound for organic apples. I buy all of my "big stuff" at Shaws/Stop and Shop just because of the pricing. Trader Joe's is where I head for a few small thing each week; I don't always love their produce and I don't think the pricing on their meat is competitive with the bigger stores.

Without further ado, here is what I bought at Shaw's this week:

4 Packages of Baby Spinach @ $2.99 each
1 Sweet Vidalia Onion @ $1.01
1 Red Pepper @ $2.54
5 Gala Apples @ $5.27
6 Bananas @ $1.95
1.83 pounds of ground beef @ $8.03 ($3 coupon too!)
4.79 pounds of pork cutlets @ $10.97
1 package of bacon @ $3.99
1 gallon of whole milk @ $4.29 (I have a little over 1/2 a gallon in the fridge already.)
2 dozen large brown eggs @ $4.58 (2.29 each)
3 Larabar's @ $1.79 each
1 can of organic pinto beans @ $1.29

Total = $58.25 (with a total of $12.81 in savings with my Shaw's card)

Later, I'll go to Trader Joe's and buy some packages of trail mix, cheese sticks, and chipotle hummus, as well. This will add another $10 or so to my total.

All of this food will translate into meals in this way: The eggs and bacon (plus ham I have in the fridge) will become up to 4 breakfasts (the eggs will be 4 meals, the bacon will last for 2). The Ground beef, onion, pepper and beans (plus garlic, sweet potato, and the aforementioned hummus) will get stir-fried and become a few lunches/post-workout meals. The pork and the baby spinach will get turned into 4 dinners for the week. The apples, bananas, Larabars, cheese sticks and trail mix will join some Metabolic Drive protein shakes (made with the whole milk) as "snacks" whenever needed during the week.

All in all, this is a really good week of shopping for me. The big win for this week is that I'll be eating a leafy green every night for dinner. This is one of those things that I know I'm supposed to do, but always have a tough time doing. If my choice is between spinach or more meat, I usually opt for more meat. So, for the grand total of about $70, I'm able to get 12-15 meals and snacks for the week. Keep in mind, my meals are twice the size of a normal person, and that my snacks usually get up to about 600+ calories.

Shopping isn't so hard; take a look at my list and see how you can tailor it for your needs. I try to keep my grocery shopping costs on the "low" side of things (I could easily spend at least a hundred bucks each week). If you're on a different kind of budget, you may have to alter a few things. I am, in no way, suggesting that my diet is perfect; but it's what works for me. Just make sure you're aware of the meals you NEED to eat each week, and you'll have a good idea of how much food you will really need to buy. Don't over-buy, either; everything I purchased is 100% going to get eaten.

Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't wish a happy Valentine's Day to everyone reading. While this may not be my favorite "holiday", it's a good time to tell someone you love them. Love is a rare and special thing, if you really feel that way about someone you should let them know. Even if you know they won't return the sentiment, I think it's always worth telling someone; what if you never got the chance again?

Have a great day everyone, make it a win! Go lift something heavy!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Win Every Play

I recently read something (I actually can't find the source) where Jim Wendler talked about his days playing college football. He said that one of the best pieces of advice he could provide his team with was to forget about winning the game, but to focus on winning each play. If you win each play, the culmination of the efforts will result in a win. Makes total sense, right?

This is something I found that I can apply to my life. I know what my goals in life are, but no matter what I do I can't speed up the process that will get me there. Each day will add up to a week, each week to a month, and each month to a year. I need to focus on winning each day, week and month. If I can gather up more wins in that time frame than losses, I'll have had a successful year.

What "wins" am I referring to? Anything, it doesn't matter. Each day is filled with dozens of little challenges. If I choose to make a healthy breakfast instead of going to Dunks, that's a win. If I can ingest my 200+ grams of protein in a day, that's a win. Every day with a workout is a win. Avoiding people who raise my stress level and spending time with people who make me happy are both wins. Choosing to do something that will make someone else's life a little bit better, that's a huge win.

I can't constantly worry about all of my big-picture / long-term stuff. There is not one single thing I can do right now that will make any of those things happen, some stuff is just out of my control. I can't do something today that will guarantee me the career that I want, the love that I want or the life that I want. I have to take each day as it comes and trust that everything I do will work towards a better future for myself.

What will you do today to start setting yourself up for the big win?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Strong is the new Sexy

I had an epiphany the other night. No, it wasn't just that strong is sexy; I've been aware of that for a while. We all know that women who lift are hot.

I know a lot of people who "work out". I know very few people who train; people who get after it with a purpose and a plan. Two of the women I know who train with a passion (incidentally both current/former Crossfitters) are also the two women I know who I would say have the closest to ideal bodies. They have both spent several years training heavy with compound movements (squats, deadlifts, presses, snatches, cleans) and have achieved pretty respectable strength levels, as well as achieving pretty low body fat percentages through proper nutrition. They also are the only two women I know who never complain about their bodies. I've never heard either one of them complain about their weight, or the size of their calves, or their arms being too bulky for their shirt. The two of them ooze confidence because they know they are strong, capable and sexy.

I had this epiphany when talking to a female friend about training. She kept insisting that she didn't want to get big and bulky (ugh). (Note: TG said the other day that "not lifting so you won't get big and bulky is akin to me saying 'I don't want to sprint today because I don't want to win the 100M gold medal next week'"!! Epic) I showed her a picture of one of my friends who trains (she was doing a rope climb) and she insisted that she looked "too muscular". I nearly reached through the computer to shake her. Here is a woman putting on an amazing display of total body strength and skill by climbing up a rope, and someone else feels the need to judge? Not only that, but the one with the long list of goals is the one judging? Is this bizarro world?

Yes, I know its an upside-down femur. Relax, it's funny!
Isn't todays world all about empowering women to do more? Aren't we supposed to be all about breaking down gender barriers, and "allowing" women to do anything men can do? Why try and knock down a woman has achieved something, then? The F'd up ideals of beauty that society has provided have taken such a strong hold that we can't appreciate the dedication and hard-work that it took a person to get to where they are physically. The funniest thing is that while this girl is sitting here judging another female on her muscularity, 9.5 out of 10 guys would walk by either of my friends on the street and trip over their tongue on the way by. Interesting that the two women who participate in heavy weight training are completely comfortable with their bodies and are free of any insecurities or food disorders.

Enough of this, go lift something heavy. Set a PR today. Eat meat. Be happy!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Quest for 200

So, as is customary for me, I have a constantly changing set of goals. Other goals continue to stay the same, but I keep adding little things to my list.

All of my goals, thankfully, lend themselves to similar paths of achievement. It's not like I will have to change my whole style of training in order to achieve any of these goals. My current list of strength related goals all stay the same, with a minor difference. I want to attain and maintain a bodyweight of 200 pounds. Currently, I hold steady at 196-197 and easily fluctuate up to 198. I haven't seen my weight drop below 196 in quite some time. The second half of this goal is that I want to get down to, approximately, 8% body fat for the summer time. This will be tough to do, 8% is pretty low. I'm really interested to see what I look like under 10%, and summertime is the time to do it, right?

I know that in order to get to 200, I just need to eat big and lift big. I've been feeding myself a steady diet of huge amounts of food mixed with lots of heavy lifting. Beef, cheese,  eggs, milk, eggs, potatoes, rice, protein, more milk, peanut butter; these are what my days consist of, and it is beautiful. My training partner, Dan, and I have also been subsisting on lots of heavy compound lifts. We decided that the percentage based 5/3/1 programs we both started just weren't going to cut it. The variability of our schedules and how we felt day to day just wasn't going to be a great mix with the percentages. Instead, we are adopting a very simple auto-regulated style of program. We will stick a particular rep scheme week-by-week but will allow ourselves to us whatever weights feel appropriate for that day (while keeping a constant progression in mind). Squats, deads, bench pressing and push pressing are going to be our main lifts.

The other piece of my puzzle is our new-found interest in metabolic conditioning. In an attempt to learn more and better understand CrossFit, we have started to work met-con's into our weekly routines. Once, twice or three times a week we are performing actual CrossFit workouts or similar, highly metabolic, workouts. I am also going to try and get better at rowing on the erg, since my currently I row like old people screw (it's gross). These metabolic conditioning workouts is going to play a big role in my ability to get down to 8% body fat. In terms of the body composition goal, I'm not so concerned about my diet. There are a few carb sources I'll need to cut out, or figure out a better time to eat them, but all in all my diet is what I need. I will, though, be putting some thought towards doing 6 weeks of the Paleo diet leading up to the summer.

Well, that's my update for now. Have a great day, and please go lift something heavy!

UPDATE: I wrote this post sometime last week. As of today, I weighed in at 201 pounds!! This is a fluctuation, and I certainly will bounce back and forth around 200 before it is a solid weight for me. I also hit two PR's (personal records) this week: a 415 pound deadlift and a 200 pound push press. Thrilled!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Training is fun!

This past Friday, some co-workers and I headed up to Total Performance Sports in Everett, MA for some shits and giggles.

This was my first trip to this gym, and it was a sight to behold. Immediately upon walking in, I got a warm fuzzy feeling; like I was supposed to be there. We strolled around the gym taking it all in, and there was a lot to take in. Over here are elevated lifting platforms, here are our EliteFTS Collegiate Power Rack. There are the atlas stones and some strongman logs. 50 yard turf strip with Prowlers and drag sleds. Every specialty bar you could think of (my first time ever actually seeing a buffalo bar). Farmers walk handles, rickshaws and yokes. Chains, bands (wow, a gym that doesn't make their trainers buy their own bands!), GHR's. That? Oh, no big deal, just two EliteFTS monolifts. They have every single toy that a person could want or need to get bigger, faster, stronger or leaner.

We were there for the strongman equipment, and it was easy to find. The atlas stones were first on our list and the set-up was pretty cool. The stones we found were on a platform that was really just about a foot of rubber mats, so that when you dropped the stones it wasn't too loud (still pretty goddamn loud though). The three stones inside were, I think, 118 lbs, 160 lbs and 230 lbs. This was my first time doing the stones, so my "technique" was sub-optimal. Man Strength was used to lift 118, and 160 took a little bit of muscling around. 230 was a bear and I couldn't get the stone into my lap. Two of the guys with us had experience with stones, so we went to look for heavier ones. We were directed out back to the shed where there was more equipment.

That's right. This gym sent us outside to an un-monitored shed that was filled with atlas stones, tires, farmers walk handles, Prowlers, bars and plates; all intended to be used in the parking lot. This was such a foreign feeling to me. I've spent so much time in my cushy commercial gym lately, where the manager was hesitant to even get kettlebells (an implement he admits to being unfamiliar with) for fear that a member would hurt themselves with them. Yup, you read that correctly. FML.

We quickly got some tunes going in there, affording my coworker the ability to dance to keep her body-temp up, and sorted through the 15 or so stones to find the ones we could use. We played around with them for a while, working on speed and technique with some "light" stones. I believe the heaviest that I was able to get to my chest was 200 pounds. One of the guy's with us proceeded to mash his finger between a stone and the platform, scraping off a LOT of skin. He went inside to get it cleaned up, and the employee's only asked us to make sure we cleaned up any blood. That's right, no one freaked out and told us to stop for fear that we would sue. Just rub some dirt on it and clean up the blood.

When we finished with the stones we moved on to some farmers walks. Lately, loaded carries have been one of my favorite things to do, both with myself and with clients. I think our first walk was about 150 feet with maybe 260 pounds? We went through that twice. We then almost doubled the weight, and cut the distance by half. Dan and I were now doing our carries with, if my math is correct, 500 total pounds. The girls were doing theirs with 275. This weight was actually more than I have ever even deadlifted before. My first attempt to lift it resulted in no movement. I laughed for a second and then was reminded to stop being a pussy. I got serious and completed the lift and the walk, twice.

Covered in smiles and chalk, our crew went inside and spent some time doing log clean-and-presses. This was a pretty easy lift for me to learn, and I worked up to the log + 90 pounds for a few sets of triples. I have no idea what the log weighed, I just lifted it.

To finish up, we used my favorite thing in the world, the Prowler. Dan and I loaded up 270 on the push sled, and 135 (plus our coworker, Jen) on the drag sled. We pushed down and back, and then dragged down and back twice, with ample rest between each set. To say that my quads were blown after this would be the understatement of the century. As we laid around and recovered for a few minutes, I did something foolish and did a half-assed rope climb with my feet on the floor; intended to demonstrate how we could use a rope with our clients at the gym. This spawned a Man Challenge, of course. First was a rope climb from a seated position, then we did a double-rope climb, jumping your grip rather than going hand-over-hand. This is the kind of stupid stuff that competitive people do for no good reason.

All in all, this was one of the most fun workouts I've had in many moons. There was not enough food in the world to go into my body that night, nor enough sleep. I took a nap a few hours after finishing the workout and I woke up already sore. I'm writing this post on Sunday (worked out on Friday) and the soreness I'm experiencing is remarkable. My traps, mid-back and delts are just absolutely smoked. My forearms are covered in abrasions from the stones. My triceps shake when I try to support my own body-weight. I can't wait to do it again.

Try something new. Find a gym near you that has this kind of stuff, start slow but challenge yourself. Lifting heavy shit can be a load of fun!