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weight lifting

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What Does Male Fitness Look Like

Photo Courtesy: WWE

Photo Courtesy: WWE

Growing up in the early 90's I spent a large amount of time watching WWF wrestling. These larger than life men running around in their underwear with muscles captivated me. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Slyvester Stallone were all over the movie screens with their oiled up muscular bodies; what boy didn't want to be like Rambo or the Terminator! I wanted to be like them.

5'7" 135lbs

UThat was me my senior year of high school. And this was AFTER discovering what a gym was. I had gained 10 solid pounds over the summer and was "on my way" to being like these guys I idolized as a little boy. 

Today I have a different perspective on the "ideal" male physique. Are we driven to want big, lean muscles because that's something we legitamely want or have we been told by others that's the physique we should aspire to?

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Most men interested in fitness have seen this meme on the internet. From a performance stand point it doesn't make any sense. The activities while similar (both are running) require two completely different physiological adaptations. One is endurance related and the other is power based. To compare the two is apples and oranges.

What I get from this photo dives deeper into the consciousness of Men. It illustrates the point that we should want to be big and muscular. But Why? From an early age we're told that unless you're big and muscular, that you weren't a "real man". Hell even our action figures were buff! So If you don't look like an upside triangle with a giant V-taper, you don't fit society's ideally male body. You aren't built for survival.

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Does this mean you think the marathoner isn't fit? 

Fitness means a lot of different things. I believe being fit comes in a variety of shapes, forms and modalities. Each physique is capable of things the other cannot do. It doesn't mean one is better than the other, it simply means they're different. 

"That dude is scrawny"

So what?
Why does it even matter? I believe it comes down to this: 

How big is big enough?
How strong is strong enough?
How fast is fast enough?

I would argue that unless your job is professional bodybuilder, weightlifter or athlete there should be more or less a target for you to aim for. Why do we lift weights, run and eat well? Other than looking good, its to live a long healthy life. Yes you should strive to always be getting better, but just because someone doesn't fit YOUR ideal depiction of fitness doesn't make them or their goals lesser than.

I'm sick of hearing bodybuilders saying those powerlifters are fat. 

I'm sick of weightlifters saying those bodybuilders aren't functional or mobile.

I'm sick of runners saying I don't do weights because then I'd be slow like those powerlifters.

Regardless of what you enjoy doing, there's A LOT to learn from each other. So instead of focusing on all of our short comings, we should be helping each other get better and be happy. But a lot of guys won't because talking smack is easier than raising each other up, because putting others down means you're a man. A real man, right?

I say that's one insecure man, now could you oil me up while I wear my man thong-singlet for my 10k meet?

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I'm Not a Powerlifter

Once upon a time I trained with the goal of competing in a powerlifting meet.

My all time best would be (in a self conducted pseudo-meet) as I never quite had the nerve to pull the trigger to get on the platform in my Wrestlemania singlet. 

Squat: 330lbs
Bench Press: 300lbs
Deadlift: 415 lbs
Total: 1,045
At a weight of 149lbs

I no longer squat ass to grass and hardly barbell bench press or deadlift off the floor with a straight barbell. Not because I can't but because I don't need to. 

Squat

I have fantastic mobility and am able to perform a back squat that rivals most lifter's front squat yet I have no reason to squat that low and heavy on a regular basis. Aside from a brief flirtation with olympic weightlifting, there's almost no reason me to go that deep other than "just cuz, hit depth bro".

I now perform a variety of split squat/lunge variations and almost exclusively perform barbell squats to a box (about a hair below parallel, but I'll mix up box heights depending on how I feel after a run). For ME to get ready to squat ass to grass required a good amount of stretching and mobilization which I decided I no longer wished to do every other workout.*
*(Note: This isn't to say I still don't have to stretch, roll out and mobilize, it now takes a fraction of the time which is important to not waste time or energy pre-lift.)

If I do perform a free standing squat it's because the box is taken, and I'll perform front squats or an anderson squat off the pins. I will also throw in DB or double KB goblet squats during the week where I'm squatting as deep as possible to maintain mobility. 

Barbell Bench Press

This is the one lift I've taken out and noticed zero changes in performance or physique. I had finally achieved a 2x bodyweight bench press and was ecstatic, however I also had a chronic pain in my shoulder and elbow. I no longer wanted to push through the aches and pains. 

I occasionally will perform a shoulder width barbell bench press with zero arch. In terms of muscular development and joint health using dumbbells has been much better for ME. If I need to do something heavy, it'll be dips which I'm close to performing one rep with my bodyweight hanging off me. I can still press 100lbs+ dumbbells and about the only thing I can no longer do is barbell press heavy which makes sense due to the lack of specificity. 

Deadlift

One of the last times I deadlifted 400+ off the platform, of course my client only took a photo instead of a video

One of the last times I deadlifted 400+ off the platform, of course my client only took a photo instead of a video

My FAVORITE lift. 

When I was 17 years old, I threw my back out performing a deadlift incorrectly. It no longer bothers me but there are certain movements which when performed heavy enough makes my low back tick. Heavy deadlifts do the trick. I got to 405, that's good enough for me. 

I will usually pull a conservative stance sumo now anytime I get the itch to pull off the floor, but now almost exclusively use the trap bar to do all my pulls. I can pull multiples of 405lbs off the platform without having my low back/sciatic nerve hate me the next day.

If you don't compete, you don't need to be programming with a fixed mindset of "the big 3" lifts and everything else being an after thought. 

If you train to be a better athlete, you don't program like a powerlifter. If you want to have bigger glutes or larger pecs; powerlifting MIGHT work for some while leaving much to be desired for other individuals. 

I routinely work 12-15 hrs/day, and what's often lost in the sea of social media PR's is a simple fact that if I'm tired there's a higher likelihood I might get hurt...
which then means I can't work...
If I can't work, I don't make money...
And then my cat's can't eat. Ain't nobody taking kibble out of my cats mouths!

To ME it's risk-reward, and it's simply not worth it to me any longer. You can still get at it without performing "the big 3".

I squat, deadlift, and pull to improve my running performance. And I bench to make sure I don't wind up like a typical long distance runner. That's why I lift, why do you? Just something to think about. And now some photos of my cats! 

An excuse to post photos of my cats? D'uh!

An excuse to post photos of my cats? D'uh!

4 Tips For Ladies to Feel More Comfortable in the Free Weights Section

It's been close to 7 years since I last stepped foot in a commercial gym to train. I worked in one of the busiest facilities in all of southern California, and the one thing that remains the same is the crazy ratio of men-to-women in the free weights section. 

In that time I've had the pleasure to work with many women who have said to me they were very intimidated by the free weights area of the gym. Even after finishing their time with me and being more knowledgeable than their male friends "who lift", they still feel uncomfortable around the barbells and dumbbells at their local gym. 

Because of this many ladies stick to cardio classes, aerobics, or machine based strength training; all of which are good but inferior as it pertains to really making positive physique changes. 

Here are four tips to help ladies to feel more at ease in the weight room. 

1. Put your headphones on and wear something that makes you feel confident. 

AH! The universal sign to GET LOST AND LEAVE ME ALONE, earphones in (sadly some guys will ignore this).

Feel free to turn it up and rock out to whatever it is you're listening to and just zone out for that 40-60 minutes you're in there. You'll drown out the grunting, weights banging and annoying guy asking if you need help to refill your water because you know, you're a woman and you're a delicate flower who shouldn't lift more than 5 lbs!

What you wear will of course depend on what makes you feel like a badass. MOST guys will not bother you, but of course there's always one or two bad apples that stare and gawk in the most obvious way possible. No wonder many ladies feel weird lifting weights. So there's a creepy guy nearby and I need to perform RDL's. Yeah I'd rather hop onto the elliptical.

To this I would tell management about it if you don't feel like slapping this idiot upside the head yourself. I would routinely have to walk up to these guys and let them know we had received some complaints about uncomfortable levels of starring and if they didn't stop we'd have to ask them to leave. 

Get it together guys! Quit being assholes. We all pay the same amount for the gym you're attending, be cool!

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2. Have a plan once you're in there.

If you have to wander around trying to figure out what to do, it will only lead to you feeling more uncomfortable and unsure about what you're even doing in there. 

There are many starter programs out there that would be beneficial for ladies such as Strong Curves by Bret Contreras and Kellie Davis and Lift Weights Faster by Jen Sinkler. When you have a direction, it allows you to go in there and handle business. 

3. Find a good gym. 

Finding the right gym is important to really excelling. If you aren't comfortable in your gym how will you be able to let loose and have at it!?

Independent gyms seem to be a better option but tend to be inconvenient with most only having one location. Certain commercial facilities are better than others and within each company there are better locations (equipment, parking, amenities, etc). 

I was a member of 24 hr fitness, and would rather drive 10 minutes to another location simply because I felt most comfortable there over one down the block from me. If it allows for better results, it's worth the commute. 

4. Hire a Trainer

Cough Cough...Hello there! Haha. 

I'm on the fence when it comes to this as I've seen my share of TERRRRRRRRRIBLE trainers at commercial gyms. 

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I mean turrible. Thanks Chuck!

But what they can do is help show you the layout of the facility and some basic movement patterns. Beyond that it's a bit of a crapshoot what type of trainer you'll end up with. Some are better than others, ask around and you'll tend to find which trainer at the facility fits your personality and goals the best.  

Unless you hire me.
You're golden with me! ;-)

If any of this information here was helpful, insightful or even just a little funny and you know someone who might benefit from it...please do share!

3 Things All Desk Workers Need to Do Daily

It works...in theory

It works...in theory

I'll bet by reading this title you just sat straight up in your chair. Spending 8 hours behind a desk and then hitting the gym with these common issues is a sure-fire recipe for an overuse injury.

I've outlined the top three problems and a few videos showcasing mobilization drills to help undo some of these dysfunctions before you go deadlift the car that parked too closely behind you out of the way.   

(You can interchange desk worker with "People who spend 2 hours commuting every day")

NEED: Deep Diaphragm Breathing

Individuals who work desk jobs often exhibit shallow breathing. This person ends up with a dysfunctional breathing pattern overusing the secondary muscles like scalene, sternocleidomastoid and pec minor. This will impair your ability to properly raise your arms overhead which will the limit your pull-ups and all pressing motions. 

Your chest rises as the intercostal muscles contract. Yet, the stomach is drawn in by activation of the tranverse abdominis muscle and the diaphragm is not engaged. And while this position looks better in trying to appear slimmer, it also reduces the total amount of oxygen available by only partially expanding the lungs. This also results in weaker core stabilization. Which you can imagine is a disaster when our desk worker attempts squats with only half their available core stability.

Break up the adhesions with a lacrosse ball before moving onto the back to wall shoulder flexion mobilization. When performing both of these be sure to give a nice hard exhale each time you extend. This is exhibited in the final video in the section by Dean Somerset when he's performing dead bugs.

When learning how to properly engage the core and integrate movement, my go-to is the dead bug. 

NEED: Thoracic Extension

To go along with a rounded forward head posture is an excessively kyphotic (rounded) thoracic spine and internally rotated humerus. This will likely lead to issues with scapular positioning as well. I won't go into too much detail here since poor thoracic positioning also impairs hip position. 

I do however advocate both t-spine foam roller extensions and the bench t-spine mobilization below. Combine the movement with the deep diaphragmic breathing and you're on your way to moving better!

For a more in depth breakdown, Jill Miller breaks down how the aforementioned dysfunctional breathing affects thoracic positioning. 

NEED: Hip Mobility

Being seated all day you'll end up with excessive lordosis (anterior pelvic tilt) which often manifests itself in lower back pain/stiffness. If you notice there's a degree of overlap in all of these problems. This leads to poor alignment which results in subpar performance in almost every lift including upper body ones too.

Our back extensors (mainly the iliocostalis lumborum and longissimus thoracis) help to counteract shear force, but they are either "locked" at the mid-back or "shut off" from flexion. In his book "Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance," Stuart McGill notes that the ability of the back extensors to counteract shear force is a function of spine curvature.

A neutral spine shows the angle of the extensors are at 45 degrees. However when the spine is flexed it reduces the angle by 10 degrees anteriorly and shear forces cannot be counteracted. When you have poor thoracic mobility, you'll most likely end up with poor hip position when it comes to squats and deadlifts; and thus likely open yourself up to injury.

Below are two of my favorite drills to help open up the hips, the split-stance kneeling adductor mobilization and 1/2kneeling hip flexor stretch. 

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What You Need to Know About Popular Home Workout Programs

“So I was doing (insert home training program or app) and now my knee/back/shoulder hurts”

Every so often I have a well meaning client consultation to help treat injuries accrued from poorly planned exercise programs targeted to women via “12 weeks or less bikini body” and guys through high intensity 3 month “muscle confusion” programs.

It's vital to appreciate that no exercise or training system is without its flaws. It's only because of these flaws or perceived flaws about lifting weights that these dangerous and inefficient programs are able to flourish in the first place.

Here are 4 reasons why bouncing around in front of your TV or smartphone isn’t the best place to start your new exercise regimen.

Beginners need to master body weight movements first.

When someone is inexperienced, they need to stick to bodyweight movements before increasing the intensity and/or adding weight. Where these programs fail individuals is in their exercise progressions. The belief that because you’re a beginner, you should perform high rep sets is problematic. This is the opposite approach I would take.

If you’re new to exercise, then it’s probably your first exposure to a lot of these movements. The likelihood that your form will be acceptable on rep 20 after only learning it a few minutes before starting is going to be low. This also applies to trainers who deem it necessary to throw 135lbs on the bar for a back squat on day 1!

Controlled Tempo first before ramping up intensity

From a principle-based point of view, these injuries are no surprise to me. After all, if you don't have weights, the only way to make your customers "feel the burn" is to perform high reps at a fast pace, with minimal rest between repeats. That particular combination of variables increases fatigue while simultaneously decreasing movement control, which decreases net safety.

Many programs are too quick to progress you with little said about proper jumping and landing mechanics. When an individual lacks proper motor control, they’re unable to absorb the forces placed on their joints through multiple squat jumps and jumping lunges. This is exponentially worse if the individual is overweight or obese.

One size doesn’t fit all

If only it were that easy to create a training program that helps people become stronger, leaner, faster, and less prone to injury – those type of results require the expertise of an exercise professional, not a multi-level marketing convert masquerading as a fitness trainer.

A proper assessment is the key to creating a well balanced program. Neuromuscular Therapist Johnny Tea of JT Athletics works closely with individuals to un-do much of the soft tissue damage from home based or mobile fitness app programs. He mentions “when a program lacks a thorough assessment, it will lead compensation patterns with the end result often being an injury.”

Related: How to Select the Best Strength/Personal Trainer to Meet Your Goals

Isn’t doing something better than doing nothing?

No, I don't think anything's better than nothing, and here's why.

As seen by the infomercial before and after testimonial it works for some individuals. But for every one person who succeeds, there are dozens who give up long before they can really make a positive change to their bodies. Many give up because there's no accountability when you don't need to leave the house. If you quit, no one will know!

Now imagine that you're really out of shape and you haven't seen your toes or other important appendages in years, and they're understandably anxious about starting a new exercise program. Many of these individuals already lack confidence to even step foot in a commercial gym. Some believing that they need to work up to joining in the first place or feeling the need to "get in shape" before hiring a personal trainer. Injuries aside, the damage done on ones psyche is huge and not worth the risk to me. 

So What To Do?

Can someone with no prior experience get in shape simply by downloading an e-book or following along with a DVD program? Yes of course, but I would be weary of most of the “popular” options out there.  If the choice came down to two options:

  • Save money upfront by buying a program and doing it at home but with the likelihood of an injury and bills to see doctors and therapists down the road.
  • Spend a little bit more money upfront to get a solid program or hire a qualified trainer to teach you how to properly execute movements and think for yourself in the gym.

I would go with the latter.

Here are a few I trust and would recommend to anyone I know looking for a progressive program to do on their own.

For the Ladies:

1.     Lean and Lovely by Neghar Fonooni 

2.     Strong Curves by Bret Contreras

3.     The Modern Woman’s Guide to Strength Training by Molly Galbraith 

For Men

1.     High Performance Handbook by Eric Cressey 

2.     High Tensile Strength by Dean Somerset 

3.     Bulletproof Athlete by Mike Robertson 

Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t take an opportunity to plug myself! If you’re in the Los Angeles area, I would be glad to work with you barring availability. Fill out a form and I’ll contact you soon.




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