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I'm All In: What Poker Taught Me About Life and Business

The photo above was taken in 2010 I believe while I was playing in the World Poker Tour LA Poker Classic at the Commerce Casino. 

I used to take playing poker very seriously. I spent countless hours playing out hands in my head, reading forums and books to go along with thousands of hours spent playing online (before it was deemed illegal). My best stretch was when I was 22 and cleared a shade under $10,000 in 4 months during a summer. I was pretty good but I really disliked the unhealthy lifestyle that came with playing for 8-12 hours daily to make a living.

Poker is a zero sum game. This means that in order for there to be a winner, there has to be a loser. And at times the best play was to target those who would exhibit signs of addiction as those people aren't playing a sound game, mathamatically speaking, This is not something I feel particularly proud of but that's the game. 

And while I no longer play to pay my bills there were a lot of lessons I picked up playing cards.  Many lessons that translates over to life and business. Here are a few of them.

Expected Value (EV)

In probability theory the expected value of a random variable is the sum of the probability of each possible outcome of the experiment multiplied by the outcome value (or payoff). 

Simply stated EV (in poker) is the amount of money you can win or lose on your average bet. It's often explained by flipping a coin, which is an example of neutral EV. What are the odds it will be heads or tails? Over a small sample size it's 70% tails, extrapolated over 1,000 or 10,000 flips, it will be closer to 50/50. 

No one, not even the best players win every tournament, let alone every single hand they play. Whether you play well or poorly, you'll win some and lose some. Good players are profitable over the long haul because they maximize their spots when they're winning and minimizing losses when cards aren't running their way. They focus on making good decisions regardless of the outcome.

This rings true in business. If you continue to put yourself in the best position by playing the positive percentage plays, more often than not you'll be a winner. 

Which leads me to the next point. 

You can do all the right things and still lose

This one drove me insane. How can I be an overwhelming 95% favorite and STILL LOSE!!!

Because like in life, you aren't in control of everything so anything can happen. Yes you should've won, you should've gotten that business because you're better than your competition, but a'las they've decided to go with Joe-Trainer instead. That's completely out of your control and you need to accept the cards of life as they fall even if they're not in your favor. Move on to the next play.

Always Moving Forward

Piggybacking off the last point, even if you don't get the business, you can't dwell on it for long. Continually beating yourself up for mistakes isn't going to help you change for the better. It's only a complete failure if you fail to learn from your mistakes.

There were so many times I made the wrong move at the table which cost me tournament wins and money! I was angry/sad for a bit but ultimately I would reflect on what I could've done differently. There's no point in being upset with something that's now in the past.

Learn from the past, be in the NOW, and always be preparing for the future

Bankroll Management

If I bring in $1,000 and spend $900 of it on going out. I'm not left with much else for anything else. Let alone any unanticipated expenses. 

Knowing how to budget your money is an invaluable skip to learn. You need to stay within your means because you never quite know what might happen. In the case of Poker it might be a few dry months where your cards couldn't hit the side of a barn; in life it could be a car accident or broken appliance you clearly weren't expecting.

It goes without saying again: Always be saving and stay within your means so you can weather the bad times. If you take one too many risks, you might play yourself right out of the game. 

Know Your Numbers

What are the odds of flopping a third Ace when you have two of them in Texas hold em?
Odds of flopping a straight?
How about completing a flush on the river if I only need one last card?

I know these numbers off the top of my head like the back of my hand. I'm not rain man, I just memorized them. But knowing your numbers is just as important in business. 

What's your conversion rate for free consultiations to paid clients?
Run any marketing campaigns? What's your CAC (customer acquisition costs)?
What are your food costs? 

You don't need to know these things at an accountant level, but you should know what's going on behind the scenes. Knowing the lingo helps you communicate with experts and understand what's going on in your business. 

In case you were wondering:
Flopping 3 of a kind 8.5:1 or 10.5%
Flopping a straight about 1%
Completing a flush on the river, assuming you have all 9 remaining cards of that suit, is roughly 18%. 

Understanding basic human psychology

Most people have watched high level poker on ESPN and imagine that pros can detect any facial tick or lean which gives them an edge. While this is sort of true, what great players pick up on are patterns. I would often pay close attention to deviations in patterns:

How did they play after losing a hand?
Does that change if it was "unlucky" versus playing poorly? Do they even think that was a poor play?
Are they more talkative when they're nervous? Do they always take a sip of water when making a borderline decision?

It comes down to understanding how people normally act and if or when there's a change, deciphering what it means. When dealing with clients who are resistant to change, knowing how to pick up on non-verbal cues has been an invaluable skill to have cultivated.

Implied Odds

This is calculating the odds of completing your hand and the future bets you would collect if you do. You need to take stock of the percentage chance you have to complete you hand versus the amount of money already sitting in middle of the table. 

Simply stated: Calculating risks is a little more cut and dry in poker since it's all math. But the same basic principles apply where you need to take stock of what an investment of time or money will cost you, and whether or not it's going to be worth doing. If you make decision"x" what will be your return on investment? And how long will it take for you to break even?

Poker is a game that's easy to learn but hard to master. There are only a few of the lessons I've picked up from this game. I believe poker is a fantastic training camp for those looking to cultivate skill necessary for business and critical thinking. 

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Social Media: Where Pros Give Unsolicited "Advice"

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It's late one night and you're scrolling through a social media feed on your phone and come across some friends working out. Like most individuals you might give them a like or comment about how that's awesome or congratulating them on a new accomplishment in the gym.

You go to the comments and see:

"Not hitting depth, smh"
"I'd be careful, your back shouldn't be like that"
"Shoot your hips back more and focus on arching"
"Leg drive! Arch! You'll push more once you learn to do that"

The "Fit Pro" Commenth

You click on the profile of the individual who left one of these types of comments and discover they're trainers and coaches who've decided they know best on how EVERYBODY should train.

Now I'm not talking about the fitness enthusiast who fancies themselves an uncertified trainer because they have a six pack or competed in a powerlifting meet. I'm talking about a true "professional" who puts food on the table training others. These are the guys I have a gripe with. I used quotes because these "pros" aren't very professional. 

Here's why it's a load of bull for one fitness "professional" to call out another publicly on social media.

I'm ACE, NASM, NCSA, ISSA, ABC123 CPT

While you may not agree with what you're seeing, it's also not your job to be judge and jury for all things fitness simply because you passed the most rudimentary of Personal Training certifications. Nor does ripping off someone else's training philosophy and system suddenly make you an expert. As a professional it is your job to help YOUR clients and contribute to the fitness industry. It's easy to move on and not waste your time being the form police. Instead of tearing others down why not be a positive beacon building others up by reaching out. Don't try and hijack someone else's feed by putting them down and trying to show how superior you are and why they or their followers should add you, they won't.

Did it ever cross your mind that the person you're critiquing is the very person in the video, a person who is NOT a professional but a paying customer? Now I know what you're thinking, hey if that coach did a better job the client would be moving better. Heres the problem with that line of thinking. You have no context as to how long this client's been training and more importantly how much progress said client has made.

While you may be watching someone perform a squat to a less than desirable depth or deadlift with a slightly rounded back, you didn't know that the coach wanted the client to be focused on hip positioning today. They're crushing their hip position and in time I'm sure they'll fix that back position as well. This often can be the case for very untrained individuals because they can easily become overwhelmed with dozens of cues and checkmarks. A good coach breaks things down into easy manageable steps. Sharing progress is that, progress and not the final product. Critiquing the technique of a beginner is as ridiculous as over analyzing a T-ball swing, really man what are you doing?!

Social Media Crusader

Here's my biggest gripe I have with other fitness "professionals" criticizing other pros via social media: Your critique can be the sole reason another person loses business and is unable to keep the lights on in their home. Said client may read your comment and decide that maybe their trainer isn't good and decides to stop. While you may think you're doing a service to the industry, all you're doing is a being a jerk. I've meet thousands of trainers, some good and some needing more CEU's, but for the most part they've been good people. Judging others coaching abilities isn't up to you! Who are you to be reaching in and taking money out of somebody else's pockets?! Don't be upset with them, be upset you aren't better at marketing your services to help more people. 

I firmly believe the cream rises to the top. If a coach is good they'll succeed on their own, just like they'll run themselves out of business all the same if they don't deliver results. It shouldn't be because you're planting the seed of doubt into their client's head. Yes sometimes these coaches have their clients performing less than stellar technique on a regular basis but also remember that their poor training only highlights how good you are without saying a single word. 

If you really feel the need to criticize another coach, for all that is good and holy just send them a private message.

Lastly lets stop being lazy with these bot comments and copy+paste DM's. I get you're trying to build up your following but you're trying to do so by being lazy and trying to take a short cut. Some of these comments don't even make sense, I'd ask for a refund for that bot if I were you.

I continue working on my own social media presence, it takes work and if you're a true professional, you'll be working on it yourself. 

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The Best Workout For Your Butt

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What I want to lay out for you is the framework for a program you can alter accordingly based on how you're feeling and what you see staring back at you in the mirror. 

I'll outline a few guidelines and you can increase weight, reps and exercises as you see fit along with the rationale for why.

Progressive Overload

This is the concept that you're continually be trying to get your body to adapt to the stresses you're placing on it. It's a key component to both growing a muscle and decreasing body fat to improve muscle tone.

When discussing progressive overload, it's about building strength. You want to build strength because:

  • Stronger muscles are generally larger muscles
  • Strength gets rid of nagging pains (I.E: Nagging low back pain)
  • The stronger you are the heavier your rep work will be (more on that in a moment)

Getting Your Reps In

After the main strength component will be more targeted repetition work. Think of this as supplemental work to the squats, deadlifts, and thrusts you'll be doing. Often this includes things like lunges, step ups, and squat-deadlift variants. Even here we still want to be moving the weights in an upward trajectory albeit not as aggressively. 

Targeted Glute Work

You'll be performing some sort of glute work EVERY SESSION. This is a concept borrowed from High Frequency Training. Short band exercises will be included every time. Skip the abductor/adductor machine, band work is a superior option since it will maintain structural balance of the joints and muscles.

Program Overview

Day 1: Main Strength Day + Rep Work

Strength will be a Squat, Deadlift or Hip Thrust in a progressive manner. The numbers listed below simply mean a percentage of your one reputation max. You would test then plan your month accordingly. Your warm up sets DON'T COUNT towards the 5 work sets.

For example lets say your 1RM is 200lbs.
You warm up: Barbell-5x, 55lbs-5x, 80lbs-5x, 100 lbs-5x, 125lbs- 5x. NOW you perform 5 sets of 8 at 70% which would be 140lbs.  

  • WK 1: 5x8 @70%
  • WK 2: 5x5 @75%
  • WK 3: 5x3 @80%
  • WK 4: 5x2 @85%

Rep work (5 sets of 8-12 reps) can entail:

If you Squatted: Reverse lunges, step ups, front squats
If you Deadlifted: KB Swings, cable pull throughs, Romanian deadlifts

Afterwards you would perform a superset (back to back) of core and a side lying clamshell (3-5 sets of 15-20 reps). 

Day 2: Main Thrust Day

Today you'll be performing a lot of prone hip extension movements. If you're someone who's happy with the size and shape of their legs I would opt for the glute bridge over a hip thrust.

I would treat it similarly as the squat and deadlift strength days where I'm progressing clients through the rep ranges while simultaneously increasing the weight on the barbell. The one difference would be the final set or two. 

EX: 5x10 Hip thrust @70% of best thrust. 
185lbs- 5 sets of 10 repetitions. 

On the final 2 sets of 185 lbs I would perform a hard long isometric hold at the top squeezing the glutes as hard and as tightly as possible.

Now where the real magic happens: perform 2 more sets decreasing the weight about 30-50% for no less than 20 repetitions. Even better if performed as a continuous hip thrust.

Supplemental Work: I would include MORE thrusts or bridge variations like single leg and stability ball leg curl+bridges along with a seated band abduction for no less than 20 repetitions.

Day 3: Unilateral Day

This day would include split squats, Bulgarian lunges and reverse lunges. These days will often be a variation of 5-8 sets of 8-12 repetitions each side.

I would then include a superset of side lying clamshells with frog pumps (4 sets of 20) and core work. 

Day 4: Power

This day you can pair however you like:
Squats + Vertical Jumps
Deadlifts + Broad Jumps
Thrusts + Swings

I'd keep the weights more conservative on this day, your goal is to get a good pop from the weights and train explosiveness. 

Afterwards I would include more band work: Seated band abduction into bodyweight weight hip thrusts off the seat (5 sets of 20) and core. 

Notes:

  • You should perform some sort of upper body pulling every day, examples include: Rows, pulldowns, inverted rows, and chin/pull ups. 
  • 2 days of upper body pressing, examples include: Push ups, dumbbell bench presses, dips, landmine press variations, dumbbell overhead press
  • Core work should include: rollout variations, paloff presses, side planks, planks, and offset loaded carries like a one arm farmers walk. 

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Personal Training and Massage

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Walk through your local gym you'll see dozens of personal trainers stretching their clients. No doubt this has been going on forever, but is technically outside of the personal trainer's scope of practice.

Scope of Practice- Procedures, actions, and processes that a healthcare practitioner is permitted in undertaking. 

Scope of Practice for Personal Trainers (according to NSCA)

 "Developing and implementing appropriate exercise programs, assisting clients in setting and achieving realistic fitness goals, and teaching correct exercise methods and progression.” 

Nowhere in there does it mention any sort of muscle manipulating techniques.

Ouch That Hurts

Hey can you move back to that other spot...a little lower....YEAH! OUCH! You got it. 

This was a typical exploratory palpation session with clients whenever they were unable to release muscle on their own and so it made sense for me to get it out for them so we could get back to training. When I started doing bodywork I had already been a trainer for over 5 years and was decently versed on anatomy and biomechanics.

This all is a rationalize for what I was doing, which was outside the guidelines of my liability insurance and scope of practice. The results I got were positive across the board, but I also knew I wasn't allowed to do what I was doing. The more injuries I would encounter, the better I got at feeling healthy tissue and fibrous restrictions in the fascia and muscles. Though in the back of my mind I knew what I was doing was illegal.

I observe dozens of coaches, many of whom I see jam their elbows and fingers in areas where they shouldn't be. And not because now that I'm a manual therapist I'm on my high horse but because they're actually pressing down, rather hard I might add given the discoloration of the skin around said area, into a place where there's way too many nerves or organs.

Pot Meet Kettle

I will never tell any other coach they shouldn't be placing their hands on their clients, because that would make me a giant hypocrite. I do however advise these coaches to exercise ALOT of caution. In an effort to add value to sessions coaches range from the harmless assisted static stretching to downright dangerous let me dig my elbow into your anterior triangle. 

What I've Learned

I Didn't know WHY only how
A Manual therapist, massage therapist or LMT has undergone more extensive training than personal trainers where it pertains to understanding of how and more importantly WHY to work in a given area. They learn more manual muscle testing and specific assessments to address movement compensations. I could copy a technique but didn't fully grasp the methodology behind it.

Most trainers who perform assisted soft tissue via foam roller, ball or roller stick think: harder is better. It's not.

Getting work done on you doesn't in turn show you how to treat your clients
Copying a given technique performed on you might help YOU, but could injure your client. In the same way you wouldn't give a 65 year grandma the same exercise protocol a 25 year old would receive, the same goes for soft tissue manipulation. In the past I've seen coaches receive a quickie treatment only to see them performing the exact thing on their clients that same evening.

I hadn't earned the right to put my hands on clients. Trainers are not therapists.
Many colleagues who are both manual therapist and trainer had to juggle massage therapy school and a full slate of clients at the same time. Depending on where they're located, schooling can range from 500 hours to over 1000 hours. And while this may be a lot or a little depending on how you look at it, it's a large commitment for anyone with full time obligations. 

Trainers are not physical therapists. Most of the corrective exercises seen today don't work because the coach implementing them lack an understanding that the issue needs both manual therapy and corrective exercise.

I of course will not fool myself thinking that I am anywhere near the level of a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) either. I always had a firm grasp on anatomy, or so I thought. I came to see that I lacked a comprehensive understanding of:

  • Origin and Insertion sites
  • Layers above and below muscles
  • Feeling the difference between muscle and organ
  • Progressions for treatment
  • Contraindications with degenerative and acute diseases or injuries

I understand now I had not earned the right to put my hands on a single client because I had not committed to fully understanding the topics above. I had not put in the time, literally. I thought because I could recite muscles and actions off the top of my head that I could manipulate muscles. I was wrong. On one hand all the clients I've helped has allowed me to get a head start on my education in treating soft tissue restrictions but I also understand I probably shouldn't have ever laid a hand on a single person, no matter the outcome. 

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Exercise Breakdown: Depth Drop

Everybody wants to get faster and jump higher. For most clients they have to learn to slow themselves down to go faster. 

This isn't some Yoda jedi mind trick, it really does mean that by learning how to effectively slow yourself down, you'll be better abled at accelerate safely out of said stop. 

There's not a whole lot to it except this cue: Land like a cat, not a dog.

Most cats at least, are pretty quiet when they move around. There's been times I'll be sitting forward in my chair only to lean back a bit and discover a cat behind me now. Gotta be nimble and quiet like cat.

If when you land you make a loud THUD foot slapping the ground noise, you're too loud. This also applies to box jumps where you're stomping onto the box. When you don't land controlled and softly it only shifts the weight more onto your joints, and that's a recipe for injury down the road.