Continuing with my series about some of the most fundamental exercises I use with my clients, I recently did a Facebook Live video about the pushup. Pushups are great bodyweight exercises that can be done in a number of positions to accommodate just about every level of fitness. Build upper body strength with this great move!
I thought it might be helpful to do a series of videos on some of the fundamental exercises I use when I train my clients (and myself!). This is the first of those videos, which I first posted LIVE on Facebook at www.facebook.com/exerciseoutside. Hope you like it!
The world might feel extreme, but your workouts shouldn't be.Read More
My colleague Mike Romano and I have started a series of events that we are hosting on Facebook called "Modern Body Moves". In this series, we address the issues that arise in our bodies as a result of our modern lives...much of what I have written about here in this blog. We love doing these videos because it gives us a chance to reach out directly and provide you with some strategies to help combat the pain and discomfort that can come with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle trapped behind a computer or a cell phone...
In case you don't follow me or Mike on Facebook, I've attached the latest segment here so you can watch. Would LOVE feedback and your thoughts. And, if you try these exercises, and you have any questions, definitely reach out. I'd love to hear from you.
With the increase in a sedentary lifestyle managed by technology, our bodies and our health are at risk. Skeletal changes will occur, as well as increase fatalities due to metabolic damage as a result of inactivity.Read More
[This is the first in a series of essays about the state of the human body.]
We learn at an early age that we have come to our current physical state over millions of years adapting to our environment. We accept that over the course of this long stretch of time, we moved from single-celled creatures to those with multiple cells. We changed from animals in the water, with gills and fins, to those inhabiting the forests, covered in hair and walking on all fours. A large percentage of the population understands that this “theory” is indeed true. We adapted to our surroundings by discarding that which we don’t need and improving that which we do.
Even before I became a personal trainer, I started looking at people’s bodies. I know that sounds weird, but it was as if I was looking for clues to people’s personalities through their bodies. People with good posture and a deliberate yet relaxed stride might be the confident ones -- leaders. Those who walked quickly, with short steps, head looking down were perhaps shy and nervous. Big bellies could either be lots of beer to match that happy-go-lucky face, too many steak sandwiches or even a new mother.
Over time, these bodies started to merge into a vision. I realized I was seeing the future. The more I looked at people, the more I noticed shared traits in their posture and physical structure.
I started to think about the future, and about evolution. I started thinking about how we developed into animals who walked upright, on two legs and how it’s the result of millions of years spent adapting to our environment.
Who or what is to say that the process is over?
So, naturally, I asked myself, “What would Future Human look like?”
A vision came to me. This person had a long neck that didn’t extend upright between the shoulders, like ours does, but rather a neck that extended from the sternal notch (that little divot between our collar bones) at about a 130 degree angle. Facing downward.
This person had two, not five, digits on each hand. Each hand consisting of a thumb and a giant “finger”. Like a mitten.
With the trappings of our modern life, and the increase in our technology-driven and sedentary lives, it didn’t seem like such a freakish vision of what we could become.
I kept that image of a hunched-over, four fingered person alive, but in the back of my mind, for years.
Then I became a personal trainer.
Again, I found myself looking at bodies. And now I was working with them. I was looking at them in order to help them get healthy. I became aware of a theme, for lack of a better word, in the the issues and complaints that many of my clients shared.
“My hips hurt.”
“My lower back hurts.”
“My neck hurts.”
I thought back to my vision of Future Human.
And it occurred to me that Future Human is closer than we think. In fact, Future Human is a result of how we live our lives in modern society. It’s the shape and posture our body is taking as it adapts to its environment.
We live our lives looking at our phones and tablets, sitting at our desks or in our cars, watching television, Netflix and Youtube and our bodies are adapting to what we are asking them to do. With rounded shoulders, forward-tilting heads and forward pointing hips, we are in the midst of an evolution. What I and my colleagues see in the gym with our clients is indicative of something we can call Modern Body Syndrome.
It looks like this:
I’m not saying everyone’s body will morph into something hunched over, but the more time we spend ignoring the effect the environment has on our own bodies, the more chance we have of not only altering our physical structure, but of doing real and long term damage to our health and well-being.
In the next essay, we will cover what Modern Body Syndrome is and how it effects us.
Working out is like life. We need to get strong and balanced before we can show our power, and if we don't practice it, we forget what we can do.Read More
[This article was first published on MindBodyGreen on August 6, 2016.]
I'm a runner. I love to run. More often than not, I feel like I can run forever.
Once I get past that first mile and settle into my pace, my body, my music, and my breath, I am in my happy place. I run for quiet. I run to think. I run to come up with things to write about. Sometimes, though, my runs aren't so great. Something hurts, I feel heavy or, like today, I can't catch my breath.
While I was running and found myself short of breath, I started to think about how many clients I have who often feel as if they can't get enough air. They get winded very easily. They can't slow their breathing down after some cardio or a short, intensive burst of exercise.
So they often ask, "What's wrong with me? Why can't I catch my breath?"
If you are otherwise healthy and have been given the OK from your doctor to exercise, here are my thoughts on why you may be so out of breath.
1. You just aren't breathing.
Seriously. I cannot tell you how often I have to remind my clients to breathe. Whether performing chin-ups or running sprints, you can bet that more than once a day I say, "Are you breathing?" Not only is it important for you to breathe while exercising for obvious reasons, but it's important to breathe for some not-so-obvious ones as well.
If you exhale while pulling up on your chin-up or pushing up on your push-up, you will be able to move through that exercise with greater ease. If it's still difficult for you to remember to breathe, here's a trick I use and coach others with as well: Exhale. Exhale so you can hear yourself exhale. If you exhale, you have to inhale.
Exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale. That's breathing.
2. The weather is messing with you.
"There's no bad weather; there's only bad gear" is a sentiment many a hiker, runner, skier, or other outdoor activity pursuer may utter at times in his or her life.
But when it comes to breathing, there is indeed bad weather. Some people have trouble breathing smoothly and deeply when it's humid, others when it is very cold. Know yourself and know what conditions work best for you. If you have trouble breathing in hot weather, slow down your runs, work out inside, or make another adjustment for the elements.
Don't blame yourself; blame the weather.
3. You're training too hard.
This may seem obvious, but the harder you work out, the faster you will need oxygen.
You have to train to train harder. If you are at the point at which you can't breathe, then you've gone too far. It's much easier to start easy and increase your power, your speed, or your weight. It's way harder to decrease it. The work is already done. If your first mile is your fastest ever, you can bet the next one won't be. But if you warm up and build up, working toward the heavier weight or the faster mile, you will make it. And you will have the air to breathe while you do it.
And here's a bonus tip on how to make it easier to breathe: Practice.
This, too, might seem obvious — but it's overlooked. Take some time each day to really breathe. Lie down on your back, close your eyes and your mouth, and breathe in and out. Fill your belly with air, and slowly exhale all that air. It will expand your diaphragm, allow for more oxygen flow, and it will feel really good. I promise.
On June 17, the website MindBodyGreen published this piece I wrote! I was so excited that they liked what I wrote and that my message of positivity and motivation could be shared with so many. I plan to write more for them so keep your eyes peeled! (You can check out the original post here.)
I'm A Personal Trainer: Here's The Advice I Give Every Single Client
I always knew that becoming a personal trainer would teach me new exercises and the function of major muscle groups. I’ve learned about the body, for sure and have been able to successfully share that knowledge with some amazing people. I’m grateful that, through my work, people end a session happier than they started.
But I never could have guessed how much my profession would teach me about people—their minds, their motivations, their differences, and their similarities. I’ve seen every form of body, complaint, and excuse. And while I recognize and remind everyone that every body is unique, there are a few things that are appropriate to most (if not all) people with whom I come into contact. Here are the seven things I share with ALL of my personal training clients, no matter what their circumstances:
1. The more specific your goal, the better.
Lots of people want to lose weight or tone up. But the more specific the goal, the better chance you have of success. I have a client who, when we first starting working together, said that her son was having his bar mitzvah and she wanted to look amazing. We worked together twice a week, she ate well, and supplemented our sessions with her own exercise, and she looked unbelievable. The more specific your goal, the easier it is to measure success.
2. Step away from the scale.
If you are already trying to get fit or lose weight, please don’t weigh yourself. And if you have to weigh yourself, for God’s sake don’t do it every day. We’re not boxers or wrestlers trying to fit into a weight class. Instead of standing on a scale, look in the mirror. Do you (generally) like what you see? Do you feel healthy? Do those skinny jeans fit you better than they did before? Maybe your sex life has improved or you are sleeping better. Use a more personal scale to judge your progress.
I have a very good friend who weighs herself every five minutes. I’ll get a phone call from her and she’ll say she gained 2 pounds. Sometimes I think those 2 pounds will disappear after one good trip to the bathroom! It’s really about not sweating the small stuff. And 2 pounds is small stuff.
3. Eat real food.
A shake from a mix is not real food, nor is it a meal. If you increase your exercise, do not decrease your calories. You need fuel to power your body. After all, it’s a machine. If you don’t feed it, it will feed itself by storing fat to power your demands on it. You don’t want to store fat.
4. See the whole you.
Don’t pick yourself apart. You are more than a collection of parts. You are not the swinging skin under your arm or the little bit of fat that pokes out of the side of your bra. You are not the cellulite on your thighs. You are all of these things and more. And trying to fix one thing you think is “wrong” through exercise is only going to cause imbalances and more problems. You are a whole person with a whole body. Train your whole body.
5. Strength is power.
Feeling stronger is not only physically powerful but emotionally powerful. As I improved my fitness and strength, I found myself feeling more empowered and independent. It’s a great feeling when your body responds the way you want it to, whether that’s having a more powerful tennis backhand, getting ALL the grocery bags out of the car AT ONCE, or finally doing that fifth push-up.
6. Find your own path, and accept that it will change.
What works for others might not work for you. I need to eat food before I go for a run or to the gym or the pool. Other people can’t even fathom that idea. My body doesn’t like to run more than two to three times a week. (And it’s usually twice.) Even when I’m training for a longer-distance race, I know that I can’t add days, so I have to figure out how to get ready by listening to my own mind and my own body. Use a diet or a training plan as a guide, not as a contract.
7. Know that you CAN.
Your mind is a terrible thing to waste. While we all have thoughts of insecurity or fear, it’s important that we don’t stay there or act from that place. If you want your body to do something—get stronger, run farther, swing harder—you have to want it and KNOW you can do it. Let doubt enter your mind, but also show it the door. Don’t linger on the less productive emotions.
I was flipping through my photos the other day and came across this quote I had captured on my cell phone. I must have taken this picture a while ago, but I honestly don't remember when I did.
What is about our own struggles that make us want to retreat? How did we evolve into people who have shame about not being perfect, or happy, or "where we are supposed to be?"
It's almost cliche to remark that physical fitness is a metaphor for life, but in this case it's appropriate. When we embark on a path to better our physical self, it generally is born from a place of dissatisfaction. We yearn for change for our bodies, whether it's losing weight, training for an event, or reversing the negative health effects of a lifetime of poor eating, but we struggle to start. We get scared. We question ourselves, saying things like "What if it's too hard?", "What if I can't do the exercise?", "I don't have time", "I'm embarrassed to try" and "I don't have money".
Very often, we get stuck in that place of fear and it derails our efforts. Once we can take the first step, whether it's joining a gym, taking a class, or putting on sneakers and running around the block, it breaks the cycle of fear and we can move forward.
In life, as in fitness, this happens over and over again. Sailing along in life, everything seemingly fitting together nicely and then BAM! life throws you a curve ball and you don't think you can handle One. More. Thing. You want to retreat and hide and maybe you do for a while, but in the end, when you break that cycle and recognize the struggle for just what it is rather than let it define you, you move through it, and transform.
And in fitness, as in life, moving through the struggle is best achieved surrounded by love. Working out with friends, or in a place you feel comfortable, will help you achieve your goals. That means, simply, that you don't have to do Crossfit if Yoga is more your thing. Find your thing and do it.
And in life, as in fitness, surround yourself with people who love and support you. These people see you and believe in you even in your darkest moments. Use them to remind you that you are still you, and that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.
We all struggle. It's called change. Some of it is hard. But everything is constantly in motion so if you are struggling now, remember that the struggle will end.
I just finished reading a book about basketball.
But it wasn’t about basketball at all.
In the memoir “The Hoops Whisperer”, Idan Ravin recounts the journey that led him to become the trainer trusted and loved by the top NBA and WNBA players. As I read this book, I found myself less interested in the tales of drills practiced by LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, and more focused on the tools Ravin uses to develop these drills. His skills as a trainer are not the result of years of education in sports training, but rather a consuming passion for a sport that was born in him as a child and never died.
I recently had a conversation with my uncle, a self-made success story, about being self-employed. Looking for reassurance that I was on the right professional path, I asked him “When did you know you were going to make it?”. He responded by saying, “I think I know what you are asking me and all I can say to you is Just. Keep. Going. Keep doing what you’re doing. Persistence. 90% of the people give up along the way.”
He didn’t answer my question. But he gave me the answer I was looking for.
Both my uncle and Ravin reinforced in me two things I already knew, but didn’t trust myself enough to listen to.
You have a goal. It might be to lose 10 pounds. It might be to swim a mile in open water. I want to grow my business.
I’ve learned about the power of persistence as a result of my own physical pursuits. In 2012, I trained for and completed a 107-mile ride across New Jersey. I had a goal and I pursued it and, most importantly, I didn’t give up. What happened? I was successful.
We have to let go of the fear that sneaks in to derail the path on which we seek our goals.
Trust Your Intuition.
I prepare my workouts for my clients before their sessions. I like to feel prepared, to have taken the time to think about each client and design a workout for them that they can complete, but one that also challenges them. There are times that a client walks into the gym, however, and it becomes obvious pretty quickly that what I had planned just isn’t going to work.
In these moments, I let go of my plans and work from a new starting point. There are certainly times that fear creeps into my head in the form of self-doubt, and a thought such as “What am I going to do for the remainder of the session?” forms in my brain, but I let that pass and I allow the answer to come. It comes from intuition.
You have to believe that you already know what to do.
Ravin, in his book “The Hoops Whisperer”, consistently reminds us that success both as an athlete and as a trainer comes from listening to what is in your heart. If we can try and move through life with both ears to our hearts, we will realize that we already know what is right and how to achieve our goals. It’s just a matter of listening.
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It's Thanksgiving eve, and in between the floor sweeping, tart baking, and playlist making, I'm finding myself reflecting on the many things for which I am thankful.
As a personal trainer, I spend each day working with people in both body and mind. I watch bodies, I show people what to do with their bodies, and I encourage them to believe that when they know -- in their minds -- that they can hold the plank 10 more seconds, or do a kettlebell swing, or run a mile, they will be successful. It's not about believing, it's about KNOWING.
I'm acutely aware, however, of the pressure we put on ourselves. On our minds and on our bodies. Men and women alike are guilty of picking themselves apart and focusing on a specific area of their body they don't like and that they want to fix. In addition, we all fall prey to moments of self-doubt, to insecurities, to lack of motivation and discipline and we are all guilty of wallowing in those mind-states from time to time.
But today, on the eve of my favorite holiday, I hope that we all can turn those thoughts around and feel thankful to our bodies and to our minds. Whether you are working out or not, your body is working for you. And if you are indeed pushing your body beyond what you thought you would ever be able to do, even more reason to give thanks.
Your mind, and its connection to your body and the work your body does, deserves appreciation and gratitude as well. For what is more powerful than the power of the mind, in that it brings your desires into synchronicity with your abilities.
We are beautiful machines.
As a personal trainer, I feel like I am constantly moving. I'm demonstrating a movement, or I'm picking up weights to give to my clients, or, sometimes, I'm doing a bear crawl with them. I also find time to move for my own benefit. Running, swimming, cycling, or my own workouts. By the end of the day, when I get to slow down, it feels magical.
In our modern world, we wear busy-ness as a badge of honor. How often do we find ourselves in a conversation in which we are listing all the things we have to do? Who we have to drive to what practice? Laundry, food shopping, work, life....
I rarely hear people say "Today I spent an hour reading" or "Today I took 30 minutes and watched traffic go by" without adding something about being lazy, or a slacker. We feel the need to make an excuse for being un-busy.
If you are an athlete, or exercise regularly, it is important to give your body a break. And not only when it is telling you to do so (through pain or other such sensation), but rather before your body tells you it needs a break. Make sure that you schedule a day without exercise in order for your body to reset. Make sure you fuel your body in a way that allows it to have enough fuel to not only do your workout, but to recover from it.
As I write this, I'm recovering from a cold that knocked me on my butt. Sometimes your body not only talks to you, but forces you to listen.
Think about your daily routine.
Chances are, you spend a decent amount of your time during the day sitting at a desk, or driving a car, or looking at your cell phone. Maybe you spend a great deal of each day doing all three of these things.
The trappings of our modern life force our bodies to take a shape that defies proper posture. Our head is forward, our upper back is rounded and our shoulders are forward, and our hips are forward. When we are sitting, the muscles in the front of our hips (the hip flexors) become shortened and tight.
All of these tweaks to our posture caused by activities we cannot avoid can lead to head and neck pain, lower back pain, a rounded (hunched) back and more.
This is Modern Body Syndrome.
I can't think of one segment of the population that doesn't suffer from some form of this. Seniors, in general, become more sedentary as they age. Middle age parents (my people!) spend time shuttling their children around between activities and sit at desks for long hours in their highly demanding jobs. Teens and tweens spend ridiculous amounts of time texting their friends and posting on Instagram, as well as sitting in class.
I have a theory about the future of human skeletal evolution. Someday in the very distant future, whatever species inhabits our planet will find a skeleton with a neck that protrudes from the upper chest, and hands with two digits. A thumb and a forefinger. Because that's all we will need for texting.
I'll post more about ways you can stay aware of how modern life is affecting your body, and some things you might do to try and combat the ill effects.
For now, stand up, move around, look straight ahead and breathe deeply.
(Thanks to my friend Daniel Featherstone for the use of his amazing photo at the top of this post. It's a perfect example of Modern Body Syndrome. Check out his work at www.danielfeatherstone.com)
If you are a parent, how many times do you think you have asked your kids to sit still? Remember hearing that from your parents? Turns out the instinct that kids have to move around should be heeded.
The results of a small study of girls aged 9-12 were recently of published in The New York Times. In this study, the small group was monitored either sitting consistently or sitting with breaks to ride a stationary bicycle.
You can click on the link and read the article for the specific results, but the overall picture is frightening. More pronounced in girls, as per the study, the group that sat for three hours straight experienced a reduction in blood flow by up to 33%. Keeping in mind that these are young kids, it's astounding to understand that a relatively short stint of sitting can produce such a dramatic effect. It's akin to what happens in adults, and can have dangerous, long-term results.
Sitting has become an integral part of our modern life. We work at desks, in front of computers, sitting down. We drive cars. Take note of how much time you spend sitting.
Combine the fact that we are sitting for hours with the fact that when we are sitting, we usually have poor posture. Inside and outside, this modern life is causing our bodies to take a shape that is not only unattractive, but unhealthy, inside AND out.
Now, with studies like this one, we can see how it is negatively effecting our children on the inside as well as on the outside. Kids are born with good posture, but the trappings of our modern world forces them into unnatural positions at earlier and earlier ages.
I am certainly not advocating for a technology-free existence for our children. It's the reality of their world and it would be damaging in its own right to deny them access to technology in all its forms. But it is our role as parents to limit it, to monitor it and, at the same time, to encourage the use of their iPads, iPods, PS4s and more be done in a manner that can reduce the strain on the body.
Ask your kids to think about their posture. Have them look in the mirror. Show them how good they look when they stand up straight, with their shoulders down and back, and their heads on straight. And ask them to think about how much better they feel when they stand up straight.
Encourage them to take breaks from their video games and to run around. If they aren't motivated, do it with them. Take a workout break! Jumping jacks, skipping, a run around the block. All of these things are wonderful for the body, the mind and your relationship with your children.
I just read an article on Ironman.com about a man who, at 50 years old, decided to register for and train for his first Ironman triathlon. The story isn't about how amazing it is for a person "of this age" to achieve such a tremendous athletic accomplishment, but rather about the spiritual journey he experiences during training and during the race itself. The subject of the story, Michael Lantz, presumably has a strong relationship with God, and through that, he is able to use his training and racing for a purpose.
Reading this article brought back some memories from this past summer. There have been some big changes in my personal life in the past year, and throughout much of this time, I find myself thinking about my own relationship with God (and by God I don't mean a bearded man, white robe, judgement sort of entity.) Do I even have one? How do I manifest it and pay homage to it?
As part of this questioning, I tried many things. Writing. Reading. I tried to find peace and reflection through meditation, but, as has happened many times before, I thought, "That's not for me." Or is it?
During this time of internal questioning, I was on a run along a street I run along very often, and I was reminded of the relationship I have with running. No, it's not simply a means to a goal of being faster, stronger and able to run longer. Rather, it's a time of reflection for me. It's a time that is all mine, where I am forced to be alone with my thoughts. And in that time of active motion, I find my thoughts "un-jumble". I am able to think clearly about things that have been jumping around in my brain. The thoughts settle, and, remarkably, my brain and my mind quiets.
The picture of the church at the top of this entry is a beautiful church I pass on many of my runs. Often, as I run by, there are people entering or leaving for services, a celebration, a funeral.
It always strikes me, in those moments, as I'm running by, that they have their church, and I have mine.
I am fortunate to work in a gym that is a very short walk to the South Mountain Reservation, a 2,100 acre preserve of woods, trails, rocks, rivers and animals. It's a place I love to go to with my dog for hikes and contemplation.
It's also a playground.
On beautiful days, I'll take my clients outside, running along trails, sprinting up hills, and using rocks and logs as benches and hurdles. It's a great way to spend a session.
Today was one of the days. As I was out on the trail with my clients, it occurred to me just how very fortunate I am. I happen to really enjoy what I do. I truly like my clients. I get to share with them the magic of what happens when you step outside and walk into the fresh air of the woods. It's not a bad way to make a living.
The woods provide us with a perfect antidote to Modern Body Syndrome. When we get up and move, we are using our bodies in the way they were meant to be used. When we get the opportunity to spend some time moving in the outdoors, we not only provide our physical body -- the skeleton, the muscles -- with exercise and training necessary for it to stay strong and sturdy throughout our life, but we also provide our spirit with exercise. Fresh air, the sounds of birds, the drop in temperature when you walk out of the direct sunlight and under the protection of the trees -- all of this is exercise for our inner self.
Nature provides us with the perfect gym.
I'm not a huge tennis fan, but I do love to watch the US Open. I happened to catch the end of a great match between American Varvara Lepchenko and Mona Barthel of Germany.
At the end of the match, Lepchenko was interviewed about her win. The question was something along the lines of "How did you do it? How did you pull this win out?". Lepchenko, with a big, sweaty grin, said "I kept fighting and fighting and fighting and fighting."
She went on to express her gratitude for the support of the fans, and her emotions about advancing for the first time in her career to the fourth round. It struck me as a very emotional speech, right from the heart, pure and raw.
I really connected to her statement about fighting. It made me think about the deep connection between the mind and the body and how important it is to achieve success in physical pursuits. As a triathlete, I know that when the mind is strong, the body is strong. There have been so many times when I've been training or racing when I know that the only reason I was able to complete the task was because I knew I could complete the task. I kept fighting. Fighting doubt, fighting fatigue, fighting the voice inside that says "This is stupid. Go home."
You don't have to be a professional athlete (or even an amateur one) to understand and work towards achieving a strong connection between the body and the mind. It can be present in a short workout, or a long run. And yes, we all have days where we head out for a swim, or head to the gym for an hour, and it just doesn't work. What do we say in those instances? Often times we say "My heart wasn't in it."
I think that's a way of saying we just didn't fight to finish it that day.