Mindset

You are what you THINK

I’ve experimented with Wix Website Editor and decided just to stick with wordpress. 
It’s been quite some time since I’ve written on my blog and I sincerely miss it. There’s something about writing that just helps me clarify all of my thoughts. Things have settled down and now it’s time to continue.
Here’s the latest of what took place since my last blog:
  • I moved into a new home
  • Added a new puppy to the family
  • Found a new church to attend (Vantage Point) 
  • A new career path within teaching
  • Hosting exchange students
  • Forged a stronger relationship with my beautiful amazing wife
Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to present to my school districts’ employees. The topic? Non-cognitive (psychological, however, in the field of education they call it non-cognitive which doesn’t make any sense) factors that impact student performance.
Educators tend to focus on curriculum and pedagogy, in other words, what is being taught and how it’s being taught. In my personal opinion, that accounts only for 20-50% of the entire picture when it comes to equipping our youths with the necessary skill sets to be able to reach their potential.
What’s missing is the psychological, or motivational, component. This entails:
  • Beliefs about themselves
  • Their goals in school
  • Their feelings of social belonging
  • Self-regulation skills
I’m sure that most of us agree that the way we think has some effect on our lives. That our thoughts create our reality. Yet more often than not, we allow our lives to be shaped by our environment.
Our same exact thoughts will always lead to the same choices.
The same choices will create the same behaviors.
The same behaviors will produce the same experiences.
The same experiences will create the same emotions.
Those same familiar feelings and emotions will drive the same exact thoughts.
Most people think the same thoughts, perform the same actions, live by the same emotions, but secretly expect their life to change. Navigating their world through different levels of unconsciousness.
When I observe my high school students, most live in a state of unconsciousness that’s driven by their own egos and familiar emotions. They navigate their world with much more distractions often more concerned with other people. The unfortunate problem is that the last person they tend to focus on is on themselves.
One of my life goal is to reach enlightenment.
What does this mean? Eckhart Tolle from Power of Now explains it:

A beggar had been sitting by the side of a road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walked by. “Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap. “I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger. Then he asked: “What’s that you are sitting on?” “Nothing,” replied the beggar. “Just an old box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.” “Ever looked inside?” asked the stranger. “No,” said the beggar. “What’s the point? There’s nothing in there.” “Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.

I am that stranger who has nothing to give you and who is telling you to look inside. Not inside any box, as in the parable, but somewhere even closer: inside yourself.

“But I am not a beggar,” I can hear you say.

Those who have not found their true wealth, which is the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.

The word enlightenment conjures up the idea of some super-human accomplishment, and the ego likes to keep it that way, but it is simply your natural state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you. It is finding your true nature beyond name and form. The inability to feel this connectedness gives rise to the illusion of separation, from yourself and from the world around you. You then perceive yourself, consciously or unconsciously, as an isolated fragment. Fear arises, and conflict within and without becomes the norm.

I love the Buddha’s simple definition of enlightenment as “the end of suffering.” There is nothing superhuman in that, is there? Of course, as a definition, it is incomplete. It only tells you what enlightenment is not: no suffering. But what’s left when there is no more suffering? The Buddha is silent on that, and his silence implies that you’ll have to find out for yourself.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding of Buddha. The word Buddha comes from the Sanskrit word Budh, meaning, “to be awake.” So my end goal is to live and experience each moment in a state of full consciousness.
To make it a habit of asking myself, “What’s going on inside me at this moment?” Easier said than done, but just like with any skill, it takes practice. Aside from this, I meditate most days of the week in the mornings and use my lifting sessions as a form of meditation.
Each repetition can be broken down into the following:
  1. Inhale: using your diaphragm to provide stability through the ‘core’
  2. Create tension: flex certain parts of the body for stability
  3. Lift: starting the lift, start-up position
  4. Stretch: lowering the weights and feeling specific muscles providing the stretch
  5. Isometric or transition: creating tension in the correct places and using that stretch reflex
  6. Finishing the lift: the concentric (for the most part), maintaining tension, exhale, and finishing
Mindfulness practice comes in when you are fully present and have your awareness on these different components within each repetition. It’s learning to be present in your body and connected. The opposite? It’s ignoring the signs that lead to certain movement dysfunctions, headaches, energy levels, pain, and so on! One of the main reasons why I don’t allow my high school football athletes to blast music while they lift is that I don’t want mindless work. Mindless being that my students are more focused on the music and social distractors rather than on their own bodies trying to communicate with the mind in subtle ways.
I believe that in order to solve many of our worlds’ problems we must look within ourselves rather than searching outward.

What’s your priority?

One of the perks of being a teacher is enjoying my summer break. It provides the time for me to reflect and figure out ways to get better. Also, enjoying life with my wife is a definite plus!

My wife and I HB

Current books I’m really enjoying are: The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I highly recommend these books for both professional and personal development. I often undervalue myself because as far as I remember, I was a little cocky SOB in my early to mid 20s. For some reason, as I get older, I have more doubts and am more fearful when performing new activities. These books help me understand why I do what I do and how to change my habits (more than 40% of actions aren’t actual decisions, but habits). Also, I’ve learned a cool trick to speed up my reading. Watch this video HERE.

I get distracted easily and my wife gets on me all the time when I’m playing my Clash of Clans too much. What helps me, for most of the days, is really to focus on my morning routines and rituals. It’s a constant work in progress that I’m always trying to tinker with. My typical day starts with waking up at either 4:50 or 5:00, drinking a pre-workout, 1-2 glasses of water, making my bed, getting dressed and hygiene, and then hitting the gym at 5:20. I do my morning workout and get home at 6:30 (if I’m not training anyone at 7 am). I take a shower, meditate, and I write in my journal; random thoughts and notes on what I read the previous day. As of this week, I’m going to use 5 questions to guide me in my journal, I stole the idea from Tim Ferriss’s recommendation of using The 5-minute Journal (I have plenty of journals so I just use the questions, but it does make for a great gift):

1. I am grateful for…

2. What would make today great?

3. Daily affirmation. I am…

4. 3 Amazing things that happened today.

5. How could I have made today better?

Drinking water in the morning and making your bed seems so insignificant, but they have an influence on your mental and physical state. The journal is to help me with my subconscious thoughts and to stir critical thinking so I stay focused on my 1-2 tasks I need to accomplish. Our mind is powerful and our subconscious plays a larger role in our daily lives than what we tend to think.

Pavel Tsatsouline had once mentioned that one of the strategies for success in life is to have balance with priorities. A question that I often get and what I see most people do in the gym often goes against the idea of having priorities. At around noon, a handful of my school’s custodial staff does a quick workout. It often consists of all upper body movements: bench, curls, triceps, shoulder flyes, etc. People tend to form habits because in terms of efficiency, the body wants us to use the least amount of energy. So to provide a recommendation, I would attempt to answer, “if I were stranded on an island, could only pick 1-2 tools, and only had 10-20 minutes to train, what would I do?”  I’ll bring with me a barbell and kettlebell. I would perform 1-2 big movement exercises, such as a snatch, clean, swings, deadlift, squats, press, and a pull. Now this is for those with goals of getting strong and building muscle. After achieving good mobility and stability through your joints, training for strength should always be the #1 priority. I’ll explain in another post.

It’s about priorities. Based on our limited time, we must attempt to answer: what is most important and will give me the most bang for my buck. To get a bit scientific so we all get a better understanding, let’s look at this chart.

Motor Unit Recruitment

So what’s a motor unit? Take a look at this picture.

So to simply understand these two images, your muscles are basically worthless without your brain telling it what to do. A motor unit is basically a neuron telling a part of the muscle what to do. In my previous post, I had mentioned that your body doesn’t use every single muscle fiber in every muscle of the body. It’s quite the opposite.

Your body is always striving to use the least amount of energy at all times! That’s one of the reasons why more than 40% of your behavior comes from habits. Just as thinking deeply expends a lot of energy so does focusing on strength to move large amounts of weights (especially when moving it fast). So when you perform exercises that are explosive (sprinting (and no, running for more than about 10-15s is not maximal sprinting), plyometrics, explosive medicine ball work, olympic lift variations, etc) it requires more of your individual muscle fibers (hundreds of thousands) within a muscle to work and the synchronization of multiple muscle groups working together.

Motor Unit Recruitment

When I train my athletes, clients, and myself, I stick to exercises that produces the greatest results to meet specific goals. So when you look at the chart and compare it to a meal, look at it as the red being the appetizer, the orange and yellow being the main course, and the blue is the desert. And the exercises that are listed only consists of a handful, there are plenty others. When you train for strength, you increase your body’s furnace, or your body’s ability to burn calories, and most of personal training clients want to lower their body fat. In addition, strength is the foundation for power and speed for my athletes.

I’m trying to live my life acknowledging my priorities and trying to ignore the distractions. I don’t get caught up with events or situations I can’t control. I need at least 80% of my energy to be channeled into my priorities so I can go to bed a better person than when I woke up.

Mindfulness

The end of the high school year took place last week. My first year as a teacher has come to an end and there are many lessons to be learned. For starters, I need to do a better job planning and managing my classroom. To be an effective teacher is draining and it isn’t an easy job. Yeah, I get to enjoy the perks of holidays and summer breaks, but once I’m in the classroom, it’s all about making sense of a lot of information at one time; student’s responses; gestures; attentiveness; interests; understanding; etc. It’s tiring because you really have to be in the PRESENT and connect with students (which most of us know aren’t very stable since they are teenagers!).

HS Graduation 2015

As mentioned in my previous post, HERE, I had been learning Jiu Jitsu during the school year and now have experimented with another endeavor during my summer break. People either love it or hate it. I have grown to be indifferent to it and learned to keep an open mind (as there are positives and negatives to everything). After the first week, I must say that my conditioning level has improved. What made me do it? My lovely wife! At 5:30 in the morning! For starters, I don’t like to do conditioning work. When you are in a group and have a coach to hold you accountable (and a hot wife cheering you on), it’s a heck of a lot easier to finish and to push your self.

So this past week, I had attended 4 CrossFit workouts for conditioning work (1 of those emphasized strength) and during the afternoon I would perform my 20-minute strength training (alternating between deadlifts/press and bench/bent over rows). During the day, it’s training the incoming freshmen and preparing their bodies for the rigors of football. I’m doing a handful of one-on-one personal training and started my group training sessions with my school staff.

FullSizeRender

A helpful tip that I learned from Pavel Tsatsouline is that he recommends working on the grip and midsection (aka ‘core’) to improve the quality of strength. I took his advice and have been working on my grip strength through the use of Captains of Crunch Hand Grippers. Ideally, I try to do about 60-70% of the reps I normally could do (so if I can do about 10, I perform 6-7 reps) every 15-30 minutes (or when I can remember). For my ‘core,’ I perform standing planks and tense my core (to include every muscle from the neck down) for about 10s every chance I get. Sounds simple right? Try it out and remember the emphasis is to train the nervous system; your ability to recruit and use your muscles. For me, I feel a significant difference in my lifts with little training time.

Another life hack I have been implementing is the use of meditation. I often think that the word often gets associated to some random nonsensical act rather than what it is intended for. One thing about me is that I love learning from others, especially those that have achieved a high level of success in their respective field(s). I would say that about 70-80% of these people practice the art of meditation. My lovely wife introduced it to me and challenged me to try it out (that’s one of infinite reasons I love her, she challenges me to get better). After starting it up for a few weeks, I noticed that my focus becomes clearer; more relaxed with less worrying about tasks I can’t control; more energy; and being more proactive in getting things done. All you basically need to do is to find a quiet room, sit, focus on your breathing, and clear your mind of all thoughts. If a thought happens to come across your mind, acknowledge it, push it aside, and re-focus on your breathing (breathing through your belly, aka diaphragmatic breathing). An app that I use is Calm. The first 7 days is free and I never purchased it but use it for the background noise.

Having to create a curriculum for my high school’s at-risk (of failing) students, a question that I have been attempting to answer is:

How do I shift student’s motivation towards academic success?

Just thinking about this answer, I couldn’t help but notice all the distractions we now have compared to when I was growing up. With each passing decade, there are countless more activities to do in order to keep ourselves ‘busy’. We tend to lose connection to ourselves: the mind, body, and spirit.

When I speak of the mind, I’m referring to who we truly are. Our passions and interests. Our inner voice. I’m a believer that the mind is much more powerful than the capabilities of the body itself. Our subconscious has more to do with shaping who we are than we might imagine.

The body is a vehicle to carry us through the journey during our lifetime and we need to make sure it’s running on all cylinders! It constantly sends us information, but often times, we choose not to listen. It is often said that the body has the capabilities to heal itself.

The spirit is our connection to other people and the world we interact with. The source of energy that flows from within, to others, and our natural surroundings.

The mind, body, and spirit are interconnected. With all of our distractions, we simply neglect these components and tend to lose touch with who we truly are. Rather than looking outwards to find fulfillment, I propose that we must look inwards. Mindfulness is about getting in touch with our inner selves. It’s about being in the PRESENT. It’s about being fully aware of all the stimulus around us; from the noise, smell, heat or cold, our pain or aches, our thoughts, etc.

So I have been practicing being more mindful; being more aware of my morning routines and the transitions between my activities to spur creative thoughts. Each day I eliminate any negative energy and try to focus on what makes me happy and what I need to accomplish.

What’s Your Fluff?

It’s been far too long since my last blog post! Life throws you into a whirlwind and sometimes you just have to hold on for the ride. Let me update you on what has changed in my life…

  • Working full time as a teacher, hired on to develop an Academic Support curriculum and to teach health science
  • For the fall semester, got more experience as the strength & conditioning coach to work with water polo, baseball, soccer, basketball, in addition to football
  • Took up training Jiu Jitsu (something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile and was further inspired by an old friend Sam Yang, check his page out)
  • I finally moved in together with Amanda
  • Taking it a step further, got engaged to her
  • Knocked it out of the ballpark and made the ultimate commitment and married her
  • Is there more to say…

Wedding

I’m enjoying my spring break, away from the kids. I get to use this time to breath a little, reflect, and hopefully create a game plan to finish the year off. Also, I’m using this break to cut off my body’s addiction to caffeine. Yes, I do currently have a headache as I’m writing this!

A typical day of mine will looks like this:

5:00-6:00     Meditate (as of yesterday), ironing clothes, eating breakfast, hygiene, visualize the day
6:00-6:45     Drive to work and either listen to a strength & conditioning podcast or meditation music to clear my mind
6:45-7:00     Classroom set up, drop my lunch off, and finalize teaching plan
7:00-8:00     Open weight room for athletes and staff. 8-15 athletes and 2-3 staff members on average
8:00-2:00     Teaching, meeting with coaches, and struggling to positively change the mindset of my at-risk students
2:00-3:45     Football offseason program: speed, agility, and/or conditioning with strength training
3:45-4:30     Personal time to re-energize (or try to at least)
4:30-5:30     Tues/Thursdays I train w/ emphasis on strength along with Jiu Jitsu training; other days I work on the next day’s lesson plan or take a power nap
6:00-7:30     Jiu Jitsu practice Tues/Thurs/Sat (at least that’s the goal); training a client or grading papers working on lesson plan
8:00-9:00     Eat with my wifey, relax, errands, and reading interesting articles on Facebook and emails
9:00-9:30     Read a book (currently reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and the fourth book of Ender’s game)
9:30-10:00   Lights out!

During the weekdays, my wife and I don’t turn the tv on (there are those seldom days) because we choose not to make time for it. Instead, we both value sleep, so we strive to get at least 8 hours. Usually it’s closer to 7. Some fluff that still take up my days are time spent on those game apps on my cell phone. I’m still striving to be more productive and I had recently heard on one of my podcast that one of the key strategy to achieve success is to have,

BALANCE WITH PRIORITIES

For example, if my main priorities are:

  1. Family
  2. Health
  3. Career

I know that being happy for me is to balance my time and energy on those 3 listed items. If I get too sucked into my career and health, my wife will let me know.

If my life is filled with too much fluff or fluffiness, then those are just distractors that prevent me from getting to the core of what needs to get done. For example, with exercises, there are almost an infinite amount of choices so based on your goal, time, accessibility, and other factors, you get to the core of what’s most important and disregard the others.

Now with that understanding, we can apply this to our own training.

In my opinion, training for strength is, or at least should be, the priority.

Simply put, your body does not use every muscle fiber in a muscle. You have over 600 muscles and with one muscle, you can have 10 to 100s of these individual fibers.

Just like you don’t really use every part of your brain at one time, you don’t use every single muscle fiber in a muscle. Some researchers would say that if you were to use 100% of every muscle fiber in all your skeletal muscles, it would create enough force to crush your skeletons. The average person, only uses about 20% of their muscle fibers and experienced powerlifters (decades of experience) can use upwards to about 60%.

What does this mean?

According to Pavel Tsatsouline, training for strength is a skill that impacts the nervous system. It is the concentration of mental force. Simply put, without the nervous system, your muscles are pretty useless. This can explain those feats of strength that Bruce Lee displays or Lamar Gant being able to deadlift 661 pounds at a weight of 132 pounds.

So during your full body training sessions, place an emphasis on these two points.

  1. Your Grip
  2. Your Midsection (‘core’ as it’s called in the mainstream)

Grip – With all your exercises, grip the heck out of the weight you use whether it is a dumbbell, kettlebell, and/or barbell. Crush it!

Midsection – Place an emphasis on contracting your midsection as tight as you can. Try performing a standard plank on your elbows (make sure your elbows are underneath your shoulders). Focus on flexing all your muscles from the neck down. Lock your knees, squeeze your glutes, squeeze your elbows as if there are tennis balls in your armpits, make tight fists, and contract your abdominal muscles as if it is squeezing your spine or as if little ninjas were kicking your rib cage. With maximal contraction, hold for 10 seconds.

These two areas of your body has the capability to help recruit neighboring muscles, called irradiation. If you contract a muscle, the tension from that muscle will spill over to those around it. For example, if you make a fist, you probably feel your forearm muscles tense up. If you squeeze and make a tighter fist (a white knuckle fist), you’ll feel contraction in your biceps, triceps, shoulder, lats, and chest muscles. Same applies to your midsection.

Your grip and midsections are areas of your body that has the greatest propensity for the tension to overflow to the neighboring muscles. The more tension you able to create, the bigger your furnace will end up becoming.

So if your body was that of a car engine and you have a 6 cylinder engine, let’s get all 6 cylinder’s to fire rather than drudging around with only 2 cylinders working.

Next time you are training, experiment with it and let me know how it works out.

If anyone is interested in on-line training, please feel free to email me. I currently have room open for a few more and this will be filling up fast.

What category do you fit into?

This year is more than halfway through and just a friendly reminder that another year is closing to an end.  So if you’re not working towards where you want to be or not living the life you want, it’s time to take control.  As far as where I’ll end up teaching, I’ll find out in the next 2 weeks.  Yea I know, having your fate in the hands of someone else sucks.  And I’ll be making a promise to myself that this is the last time I’ll be in this position.

Last Thursday, Amanda and I had our movie night and we ended up watching Divergent.  The storyline is similar to the Hunger Games in that the population is separated into different factions with each having a distinct role in society.  Divergents are those that encompasses all the traits of the factions and are rebellious to being confined to one train of thought.

There’s a common theme that I believe is important to understand.

Throughout history, we as humans have survived and conquered the world because of our ability to work together as a group through our intelligence and communication.  We were able to hunt large predatory animals, fight off neighboring tribes to defend resources, invade nations, and utilize technology to support superiority of a group.

It is in our human nature to feel the desire to want to belong to something, to be loved, to feel needed.  This pact mentality has allowed us humans to have survived the past 150,000 years or so.

Let’s fast forward to the year 2014.  The groups, pacts or whatever you want to call it, you can belong to is almost infinite.  You can separate people into so many categories: racial, socioeconomic, age, nations, religion, sex, political, personalities, and so on.

Currently, we live in a world that has gotten a lot smaller due to technology.  Large corporations are now multinational corporations.  As a result, I believe that one of the key traits to achieving success is to have an open mind and be divergent.

According to google, the definition of divergent is:

  1. Tending to be different or develop in different directions;
  2. (Psychology):  (of thought) using a variety of premises, especially unfamiliar premises, as bases for inference, and avoiding common limiting assumptions in making deductions

I believe that when you have become embedded into one particular group, your train of thought becomes narrower.  Rather than thinking broadly, you think in terms of only looking through a telescope (rather than being able to see the big picture).

Just like with anything, when examining the fitness world, there is so much division as a result of a pact mentality.

As a physical education teacher, we teach 5 components of physical fitness which are:

  1. Cardiovascular endurance;
  2. Muscular strength;
  3. Muscular endurance;
  4. Flexibility (which I prefer to replace it with mobility/stability); and
  5. Body composition

To define fitness, it is described as,

To prepare; make ready.  A combination of physical and mental attributes that allow you to: Meet the demands of everyday life and perform tasks that require ABOVE NORMAL EFFORT. Being physically and mentally Fit, decreases the chance of injury or bodily harm.  Most importantly it can improve your quality of life.

Now, I would have to agree with it.  If one achieves decent levels of those 5 components, it can definitely improve the quality of one’s life.

Now let’s examine our fitness industry and the various popular groups (that involves resistance training) associated to it.

Bodybuilding

This goes way back to ancient Greece.  It was the athletes in ancient Greece who trained not for aesthetics, but as a means to improve athletic performance within the sport they participated in.  By mid-19 century, it became increasingly popular that weight training was a means of improving health and strength.

Eugene Sandow, born in Prussia in 1867, is known as the father of modern bodybuilding.  He traveled to America in the 1890s and was billed as the ‘world’s strongest man.’  Along with his impressive feats of strength, his audiences were awed by his physical appearance which led to the development of modern day posing routines.  He helped promote bodybuilding and as a result official weightlifting competitions began to take place.  First, the World Championship in 1981 held in England.  Secondly, the 2 weightlifting events in the 1896 modern Olympic games.

Then Joe Weider, starting in 1936, further helped popularize bodybuilding in the United States.  He developed Your Physique magazine (which is now called Muscle & Fitness), built a set of barbells out of his garage, founded the first nutrition company, and is known for creating Mr. Olympia.  Then in the 1970s, both he and Arnold Schwarzenegger united (Arnold was influenced by Joe’s magazines back in Austria) and most of you know the rest.

It is important to note that during the 1950s, bodybuilders, powerlifters, olympic weight lifters all lifted together.  All performed a clean, front squat, back squat, press, and deadlifts because of the limited equipment (only had barbells to train with).

Powerlifting 

The modern sport originated in the 1950s in the United States and United Kingdom.  In these days, if it weren’t the clean and press, snatch, and clean and jerk, the other main exercises such as the squat, bench (gained popularity in 1950s), and curls were considered the ‘odd lifts.’  From 42 recognized lifts back in its genesis, the ‘strength set’ (curl, squat, bench) became the standard lifts. In 1966, the deadlift replaced the curl.  Bob Hoffman’s York’s Barbell company was influential in popularizing the sport in the United Stated.

Olympic Weightlifting

Originated as one of the field events in Track and Field in 1896.  In the early 1900s, competition lifts in the Olympics included:  ‘one hand’ snatch, the ‘one hand’ clean and jerk and the ‘two hands’ clean and jerk.  In 1924, the 2 handed press and snatch were added, making a total of 5 lifts.  In 1928, one handed lifts were dropped leaving only 3 main lifts: clean and press, snatch, and clean & jerk. In 1972, the clean and press was omitted leaving only the 2 main lifts that exists today: snatch and clean & jerk.

Americans had dominated this field from 1904 to 1968 and Tommy Kono was the best U.S. Olympic Weightlifter in our history having set world records in four different weight classes.  Since 1968, however, the U.S. has won only 3 medals (none being gold).

Strongman

Prior to the strongman competitions you witness on ESPN, in the earlier times, strongman referred to men who displayed feats of strength.  The recent competition you see yearly entitled, ‘World’s Strongest Man,’ was created in 1977 and evolved into what it is today.

Some of their staple competitive events include:

Atlas Stones; Axle Press; Car Flip; Deadlift; Dumbbell Press; Keg; Vehicle pull; Log Clean and Press; Squat; Tire Flip; Yoke; Log press; Farmers Carry; Sand Bag Carry; Power stairs

CrossFit

CrossFit, Inc. was founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai (ex-wife of Greg Glassman) in 2000, prior to that it was coined Cross-Fit in 1996. CrossFit training is officially defined as “constantly varied functional movement performed at high intensity.” That might sound like a random mash-up of adjectives, but it’s actually a succinct summary of the central CrossFit methodology.

“CrossFit is not a specialized fitness program, but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of 10 recognized fitness domains,” says founder Greg Glassman in the Foundations document. Those domains are: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.

According to coach Joel Jamieson,

Perhaps the best way to sum up what this training philosophy is all about is to look at their own description of their core training philosophy taken from the CrossFit website, “We’ve used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart disease and cage fighters one month out from televised bouts.  We scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs. The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree not kind.”  This simple statement cuts to the core of the entire “general rather than specific” philosophy and provides the context to their training methodology.

Now for the ultimate question…

Which training method is the best??

Before I answer that question, let’s all be clear on the semantics here.

Physical activity is everything you do when you aren’t at rest. It’s basic movement, with no goal beyond getting from one place to another.

Exercise is movement you do on purpose. It includes sports practice, jogging, yoga, backpacking, swimming, cycling, or anything else you think is important enough to take precedence over all the other things you could be doing at that moment. (Note: If you can operate your cell phone while exercising, you aren’t actually exercising. You’re just proving you can walk and chew gum at the same time.)

workout is an exercise session that’s deliberately strenuous. You start with the goal of working up a sweat, pushing your muscles and your circulatory system toward their limit, and giving your body a challenge from which it will have to recover.

Training is a system of workouts designed to achieve specific biological adaptations.

According to Mark Rippetoe,

Training is not about today. It’s about the process of going from where you are now to where you want to be later for the purpose of meeting a specific performance goal – usually at a specific time for more advanced trainees on a competitive schedule, but at first for the simple purpose of completing the novice phase of training, the first few months when it’s easier to add weight every workout and get stronger very quickly.

During a training cycle, each individual workout is important only because of its place in the whole process. Subjective judgments about how the workout felt are important only insofar as they provide information that would make the next workout better. Training can’t be accomplished randomly, because randomly applied stresses do not create a specific adaptation. This is especially true if during the intervening period many other stresses have been applied that conflict with the adaptation necessary to improve a specific quality (strength, power, speed, endurance).

Since Training is a process designed to produce an adaptation, this process necessarily entails more than a short period of time, because the adaptations necessary for high-level performance take time to accomplish.

Strength, for example, can be improved for many years if the processes that produce it can be continued uninterrupted by injury or distraction. The closer you get to your genetic potential for any given adaptation for performance, the slower progress will be and the more critical the method by which the stress is applied will become. This is merely the principle of diminishing returns, whereby a value approaches a limit asymptotically, and is in evidence throughout the universe.

It must be said that not everybody is interested in Training. For many, Exercise is good enough. They just want to burn some calories, get a little conditioning work, and have better abs. This is fine, for those people. But the second you want more – when you decide that there will now be a goal to accomplish with all this gym time – you’ve graduated to Training.

So now that we’ve all gotten on the same page, let’s delve into the question of which method is the best?

IT DEPENDS!!

Within these different styles of training, there are countless training methods associated to each and the reality is that there is no such thing as a perfect training program.  If you know of someone or you happen to find an advertisement that tells you of a perfect training program then be cautious of your wallet.  The reality is that every person on this earth is unique and not the same.  Yes there are many commonalities between all of us, however, there are also differences that exist.

So as a strength and conditioning coach (also known as a physical preparation coach) and personal trainer, I need to have knowledge in the following to name a few:  rehabilitation, prehabilitation/correctives, assessment tools, flexibility, mobility, stability, strength, power, endurance, speed, development of work capacity to include aerobic, lactic, and alactic energy systems, and nutrition.

I am a jack of all trades that specializes in none.  I choose what is best in order to achieve a specific result.  Before you engage in dichotomous thinking by labeling a training program to be good or bad, let’s examine the philosophy of and learn from one of the greatest martial artist in our history.  Bruce Lee was ahead of his time during the 1960s and his style of fighting was progressive for many of the traditionalist.  His philosophy was,

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own.”

He basically utilized the best parts of each training discipline and discarded the useless ones to make his own style.  The rest of the martial arts community didn’t really catch on until the past two decades (40 years later) with the emergence of Mixed Martial Art, or MMA.  He was definitely divergent for his time.  Whenever you watch a fight nowadays, they don’t distinguish or acknowledge the different disciplines any longer.  A fighter has to be skilled in various disciplines to be successful and that is why there’s an enormous amount of time spent on skill development on the mat for these guys and gals.

Now let’s go back and examine what is useful from the various training methods:

Bodybuilding

  • This style focuses on building muscles, known as hypertrophy.  There are various methods used to accomplish these.  More advanced methods are: giant sets, rest-pause, drop sets, superset, staggered, German volume, 20-rep breathing squats, etc.
  • Repetition typically ranges between 6-12 (more reps can be performed for legs), sets of 3-4, and rest periods of 30 to 90 seconds.
  • Intensity varies between moderate-low to moderate-high.
  • Great if your goal is to build muscle or cycle in between strength or power block periodization (it gives the body a little bit of a break).  The great Tommy Kono used to use this method for 2-4 weeks after an Olympic weightlifting competition.

Powerlifting 

  • Focuses on one quality only, ABSOLUTE STRENGTH.   It doesn’t matter how slow they move the bar, the primary focus is on how much they can lift on the squat, bench, and deadlift.
  • Big compound movements allows for better overall strength gains and strength is a quality that most sedentary adults lack
  • According to Vladimir Zatsiorsky, a professor of kinesiology and exercise science, estimates the average person can voluntarily utilize only about 65 percent of her potential muscle power. A trained power lifter might reach 80 percent.
  • Neural adaptations need to be made to increase muscle power potential to build muscle.  If you see someone who can squat over 400 lbs or press 225 lbs overhead you can bet they have more muscle than someone who can squat 135 lbs and press 90 lbs.

Olympic Weightlifting

  • Focuses on one quality, STRENGTH-SPEED (power), to perform the 2 competitive lifts in the Snatch and Clean & Jerk.
  • Very time consuming to develop technique to be good at these two lifts.  If you can’t snatch your bodyweight, then your not that good.
  • Great and fun for people who likes to be challenged and for those that have time to learn.
  • Variations of these lifts are good for teaching triple extension to create power and to absorb force

Strongman

  • Focuses on one quality only, ABSOLUTE STRENGTH.  Unlike power lifters, they exhibit their strength in multiple ways through their competitive events.
  • It’s fun and different than traditional methods of resistance training such as barbells, dumbbells, machines, etc.
  • It helps build overall strength and girth (which is needed for athletes to help build a protective armor).
  • Farmer walks or any other type of carries was stolen from these guys.

CrossFit

  • It has done more to promote fitness over the past decade and since the majority of Americans are overweight and sedentary, I’m all for it.  Whatever get people off the couch and moving.
  • Has done more to popularize Olympic weightlifting than Olympic weightlifting themselves.
  • It has promoted people to perform big compound movements and to WORK HARD which is lacking for most people that visits commercial gyms.
  • It has broken the barrier and promoted women to lift heavy!
  • It taught the value of competition and the power of working within a group or community.

So when training, don’t pigeonhole yourself to only one train of thought.  If you find yourself adamantly defending one training method based on a person’s comment, you are probably sucked into this tunnel vision mindset.  So an example of a training workout that incorporates these different facets may look something like:

1a) 1-arm DB snatch 3×5 on the minute

2a) Trap bar DL 3×6 w/ 2 min rest

3a) Goblet squat 3×10 on every even minute

3b) Chest supported rows 3×12 on every odd minute

4a) Farmer walks 2×40-60 yards

In closing, here are the key points:

  • Expand your vision and don’t get sucked into one train of thought, be divergent!
  • “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee

  • Every person is unique and there is no PERFECT TRAINING PROGRAM.  Every program is flawed so focus on developing a few qualities (Endurance/Hypertrophy/Strength/Power) at a time.

  • Physical activity, exercise, workout, and training all have different meanings and purposes.  If you are looking to achieve a specific fitness goal, learn to develop a training plan to help you achieve that goal!
  • Divergent is an okay movie, nothing spectacular.

 

Ways to Improve Your Workout

Greetings! Hope everyone is enjoying the start of summer and making plans to stay cool.  I was able to enjoy celebrating my good friends’ sons’ birthdays (1 and 4 years).  This past week seemed longer than most as my experiences led to a breakthrough in my personal development.  First off, with the help of my other half, Amanda, I realized I was getting way too comfortable with my lifestyle and needed to have more of a sense of urgency to get my life started and moving.  I had to sell my first car with 258,000 miles on it because I was driving around like it were a ticking time bomb and replaced it with a Prius.  Training my high school football athletes started, along with getting the necessary facilities set up since the previous earthquake forced the school to replace a few items.

On a final note, last weekend Amanda and I watched X-men and what an awesome movie!  When you go to watch a movie with high expectations and it exceeds that, then you know it’s a great movie.

As you all know, I have been lifting weights since I was 12 years old that started with a cheap weight set that included a bar, curl bar, and a bench set.  I was so obsessed about lifting weights that I literally packed a few weights and a small curl bar in my suitcases when traveling.  I got caught when I had to check in my luggage and let me tell you that my parents weren’t too pleased…

I have been a member of a commercial gym since I was about 13.  Being the youngest of 3, I love people watching.  So the following post are ways you can enhance your workout.

Before we go into various ways you can improve your fitness, let’s get on the same page about our wording in describing what we are doing.

Physical activity is everything you do when you aren’t at rest. It’s basic movement, with no goal beyond getting from one place to another.

Exercise is movement you do on purpose. It includes sports practice, jogging, yoga, backpacking, swimming, cycling, or anything else you think is important enough to take precedence over all the other things you could be doing at that moment. (Note: If you can operate your cell phone while exercising, you aren’t actually exercising. You’re just proving you can walk and chew gum at the same time.)

A workout is an exercise session that’s deliberately strenuous. You start with the goal of working up a sweat, pushing your muscles and your circulatory system toward their limit, and giving your body a challenge from which it will have to recover.

Training is a system of workouts designed to achieve specific biological adaptations.

So the following will describe what most people do and how it can be improved.

1.  Not Having a Specific Goal/Not Working Towards Your Goal(s)

Whatever it is that you do, it always has to come down to how is it helping you achieve your fitness goal(s).  If you cannot properly defend your actions as if you were in front of Judge Judy…then maybe you need to rethink what it is you’re doing.

Say that your goal is to build muscle and most of the week you are running on a treadmill, elliptical, taking classes, or walking around your neighborhood for about 30 minutes to an hour each week  and your strength training includes performing a few machines 2 times a week before or after you run, then I hate to say it, but there’s a better way!

If your goal is to get jacked and huge and you come in the gym each day choosing to do exercises of 3 sets of 10 reps (mostly sticking to machines that doesn’t consist of a squat/press/deadlift/row/pull-ups), focus more on supplements rather than your overall diet (and not eating enough calories), and you don’t have a plan then I hate to say it, but there’s a better way!

I’m not saying that you won’t get any type of result either. If you’re used to not doing anything at all and you increase your activity levels by doing anything then you’ll get results for a few weeks.  But remember, this blog is about how you can do things better.

Solution: Create a few fitness goals with a specific timeframe.  Make sure your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.  If you can find someone close and share these goals to hold you accountable, even better!

2.  Not having a PLAN.

Most of us have heard the quote, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail.’  Will you see results without a plan?  It depends.  For most people that are consistent in getting their butts to do any form of exercise and are eating healthier, then yes (until you reach a certain threshold).  For those that want to get stronger and build muscle?  Hey it worked for me in my 20s where all I did was a workout each time, but I did have 4 years of proper instruction and coaching.  I came in, lifted as heavy and as long as I could (without a warmup cause when you’re young, who needs one!).  It gave me results in that I was able to bench and squat a significant number because that’s all that mattered when you are a young male adult.  But guess what, my body eventually paid the price which left me with a banged up shoulder, elbow, and I had the pleasure of tearing my groin muscle.

I don’t know about you, but if I had a destination to reach, I would want to get there in the shortest amount of time while feeling great!  So with a better understanding of physical activity, exercise, workout, and training, I’m sure the question will arise in which one is best?  My answer is, it depends.  One is not always better than the other.  For example, if you choose to park further at work and when shopping, choose a longer route when walking to a destination, and take breaks to walk around every hour at your desk job, you are engaging in physical activity that frankly will burn more calories than exercise or training alone when you add up the numbers for the week.  So it depends on your goal.

Solution: With that said, understand that there is no perfect training program and there isn’t a one size fits all.  At the end of it all, the goal is to keep your goal THE GOAL! For starters, create a simple plan in terms of how many training sessions you can get in a week, 1-2 ways to increase your physical activity, and 1-2 things you can do to improve your nutrition.  Still confused?  Find a qualified coach or trainer, it will save you time.  Keep It Super Simple.  If not, you won’t stick to it.

3.  Not Monitoring and Adjusting What You’re Doing

To explain it simply, if you are not losing weight or body fat, not getting stronger, not seeing an increase in your muscle size, your back still hurts (or whatever body part it is), or whatever your goal is and you’re not doing anything to change what you’re doing then nothing is going to change!  If say, my goal is to get to the other side of a wall and all I’m doing is running into it over and over again without any luck, I need to stop and come up with a different strategy!

Solution: Have a journal in which you keep a workout log.  If you want to achieve the best versions of YOU, then have a workout log like all the professionals.  At the end of the week or month, if you are not progressing, you need to reevaluate, readjust, and reimplement your plan.

4.  Exercise Technique

If there are approximately 700 muscles and each muscle has hundreds to thousands of individual muscle fibers, wouldn’t you want to be able to recruit as many of them when you perform an exercise? Won’t it lead to more strength and power?  Won’t it lead to more work being performed so that you burn more calories? Remember your body is always striving to do the opposite, to conserve as much energy as possible (like how I drive my Prius!).

Having proper technique is the most fundamental aspect of training.  If your joints aren’t optimally aligned, the muscles around it won’t be able to work together synergistically to create the maximum amount of force so you can do WORK.  If you can’t or choose not to go through a full range of motion on an exercise (for the overwhelming majority of your lifts), you are not using and stressing all of the muscles you potentially can use.

Over the years of observing, here are my top exercises that people tend to have the poorest technique with:

1.  Deadlift

This exercise gives you the most bang for your buck, meaning that it works the most muscles.  It, however, is the most difficult movement pattern to learn, understand, and actually perform.  It requires a level of ‘core’ strength to stabilize your spine (so it doesn’t move) while your hips (hamstring/glutes) do the work.

If not, what science shows isn’t pretty…

Deadlift Back Loading

And if you’re still not convinced and are afraid…let’s just say that prolonged sitting is worse. Read here. 

2.  Military Press

Most people don’t have the core stability to once again keep the body stable and spine in a neutral position.  If you watch the above video and look just at the upper body, it resembles an incline press with the lower part of the back in an awkward position that causes unnecessary shear loading.  I’m not saying it’s wrong, but if you don’t want to damage your back then stay away from it.  A good press should be like this…

 3.  Rows

Now the majority of your muscle mass is located on your backside.  So it’s important that you develop those big muscles that pretty much serves as a foundation for you to perform your movements.

human-muscles-back

When performing a row (it can be using a machine, cable, dumbbell, TRX, barbell, or a tree branch), most people tend to only use their biceps and upper traps.  I see it all the time, people’s head shift forward as they pull.  If you can’t feel the middle part of your back, including your lats, then you ain’t using them.

For starters, I love having my clients perform the infamous batwings made famous by Dan John.  Haven’t had anyone yet tell me they didn’t feel the muscles in the middle of their back after these.  I for one, go back to these to further strengthen my back.

4.  Squat

Most people are knee dominant.  Most activities we do outside the gym is knee dominant.  Knee dominant basically means that the muscles in the front are doing most of the work (your quadriceps).  It becomes problematic when there isn’t a balance between your other leg muscles (mostly your backside), hips, and ‘core.’

  

Remember there’s a common theme with all these lifts…

Your ability to maintain neutral spine by having your so called ‘core’ providing stability by contracting those big muscles is important.  There are many different variations of each of the above exercises including the squat, which I won’t go over today.  Just understand that you need to strive towards maintaining a neutral spine position.  If you don’t feel like you can do it, let me reassure you that you were able to do it before…

I’m not saying that everyone can squat deep as the above picture, but most people can improve their squat pattern to resemble something close to this…

Solution: Learn proper technique.  Find a qualified coach and learn it, unless you have months and years to learn it yourself through a lot of trial and error.  A good coach can have you performing these exercises with good form and maximal muscle contraction in as short as a few days to a few months (all depends on the individual).

4.  Not Understanding Basic Principles of Exercise Physiology

In my previous post, I explained some basic ones that people ought to know HERE.

With a basic understanding, you should know that with any form of fitness activity you choose to do in order to get the desired body you want, you are the manipulator of stressors.  How your body adapts to these purposeful stressors you impose on your body will ultimately govern whether you are able to reach your fitness goal(s).

Your body is a multi-systemic organism and you have to look at it as a whole rather than parts.  If your fitness goal is to gain muscle mass and improve strength, yet you barely get 5-6 hours of sleep a night, it will be rather difficult to achieve set goals (unless you’re one of the few genetic freaks).

For example, with some basic understanding of such principles based on science, you should know that the core is meant to prevent excessive motion rather than to create it.  Yet you see people do only such things for their core:

Now, am I saying that these exercise are bad??  I try not to categorize exercises in such categories because each may have its time and place.  I, however, like to think in terms of what is best for my client or athlete based on their needs.  If I know that the ‘core’ region is to provide stability, I would prefer such exercises because it gives my clients or athletes more bang for their buck.  For most cases, I would choose exercises such as:

or

So in closing today’s post, use these following steps to help you improve your level of fitness.

  1. Create a goal
  2. Create and implement a plan
  3. Monitor, adjust, re-implemeent, and re-evalute 
  4. Learn proper exercise technique
  5. Strive to understand what you’re doing

If you have any questions, post em up so we can create a discussion!