Education or Experience?

edu or exp

Any idiot can learn how to squat and then learn how to teach someone how to squat. Really, YouTube, a recording device, some patience and self-awareness are about all you need to learn and perfect your own squat. Figure out how to concisely verbalize those lessons to a new person, and bam, you have just become a personal trainer.

Ok, all joking aside, I certainly don’t mean to discredit the years and years that people put into their craft to effectively help people achieve their goals. All I am saying is that the barrier to entry is low and it really isn’t all that difficult. This will make sense and come full circle, don’t worry.

On this journey, you’ll basically identify that there are more or less two foundational squat mechanics. That which you might call the “Olympic” squat where you are squatting with a narrower stance, as upright as possible, with a full range of motion in order to accommodate the lowest squat possible (for catching a clean/snatch, as an end game for the movement) versus a box squat or a powerlifting squat, which is wider, just breaking parallel and more flexion at the hip; more geared towards moving as much weight as humanly possible through a defined squat parameter (past parallel to full hip lockout).  Yes, there are variations, supplementary movements, and so on, but this represents the two foundational squats out there.

Two squats, two purposes. One is not better than the other, it all depends on what you want (surprise, no reason you can’t train both!). One is more quad dominant, one is more glute dominant. You can figure out, without too much trouble, that this is basically how the big squats are accomplished. And, why lookey there, I just did exactly what I proposed and have come to these conclusions! I can now teach someone how to squat!

By analogy, I can go online and find out what is legal and illegal. I can, as a consequence, not break the law. To keep it nice and simple, I can avoid penalty by simply not punching people in the face. I can also advise people and say, “you cannot punch people in the face, it against the law.”

However, to go back to our squat, if someone were to come to me and say, “my hip really hurts when I do this, what should I do?” this becomes a lot more tricky.

Now, if you have 20 years experience, there is a strong chance you have seen something similar and have a solution. But, there is another component too – education. The educational process is not to learn HOW to do things, in most cases. It is learning, theories, precepts and principles so you have the tool kit to critically evaluate a given set of data (because nothing will ever reflect the neatness of a text book example) and parse through the available solutions for the best one.

I’m not sitting here trying to make an argument that education is more important than experience. Let me repeat that, I am not making the claim that education is more important than experience.

I am making the argument that all of the people out there discussing why one is more important than the other (saw some content on Facebook that I can no longer find) are completely missing the whole goddamn point. They are both equally important. They are complementary in every way.

By analogy, without law school training, I would be fundamentally ill-prepared to evaluate legal documents, comb the literature and present the best case for a client with an adept understanding on how laws are written and interact. The educational background gives you the tools to evaluate the landscape; the practical experience gives you the ammunition to present your case in the most effective way possible. You don’t learn how to prosecute in school. You don’t learn how to evaluate the law by practicing your persuasive delivery.

You cannot eschew or neglect one for the other. If you are seeking advice, you want a coach or trainer who doggedly follows the latest and greatest in the academic field and is constantly honing his craft out on the gym floor. What is the possible downside of a coach with 20 years of experience and an educational background that is constantly refined and evolved to match the best current understanding of the physical human condition?

We are so persistent in “making a case” or “taking a side” that we lose sight that if we are truly to be professionals, we have to stay abreast of the current trends of knowledge. Just like a lawyer keeps abreast of the current laws and statutes and a structural engineer keeps abreast of the current codes and guidelines within their jurisdiction. There is no substitute for being a polymath in your discipline. You should know it all. Further, you should know how to apply everything you know.

Is this not clear? Why are all of these people coming out saying that they learned nothing in a Bachelor’s Degree program and learned more in a 2-day seminar hosted by CrossFit?

That’s fucking absurd.  Well, maybe they did.  But, that is a crazy thing to say with the thrust of the point being that  CFL1 is somehow, by implication, more important to your career as a coach than an educational background. I have no bachelors degree, practiced my craft in the gym for a few years on my own, went to the CFL1 and learned NOTHING. I suspect the bachelor’s degree would present a host of information I am completely naive to. Isn’t this scenario simply representative of where our knowledge lacks? If you have no practical knowledge, a CFL1 is probably immensely helpful in practicing your hands on abilities to coach and program – you could argue that is what it is specifically designed to do.

Let’s put it this way. If you are looking at a coach and he says, “education doesn’t matter.” Run the other way. If you are looking at a coach that says, “I have all the degrees and knowledge, my experience doesn’t matter” (probably much less likely, lol) run the other way.

If you find a coach that says, “I have lots of experience and also continually educate myself within my field” you have found a coach that is worth the money. Don’t let this super polarizing bullshit sway your decision making. You want someone who takes ALL aspects of their profession seriously, not just the parts they favor the most.

If you are an aspiring coach, take this to heart. You cannot spend all day in a library learning how to coach and program just like you cannot spend all day on the gym floor and expect to have an in depth understanding of anatomy. Do it both, ladies and gentlemen, every other professional worth a damn is doing the same.


How to get your friends to do CrossFit


I seriously cannot believe I just wrote that and am about to write this blog. Don’t worry, this comes from a place of complete earnestness. This is not “how to get your friends to join your cult and drink your kool-aid,” it’s not “how to make everyone feel everyone feel as cool as you feel” or how to break your friends will and force them to try something. Funny thing is, I believe that this advice could be applied just about any endeavor for which you have enthusiasm, your friends are nauseated by your participation but you still want them to give it a shot. I heard crocheting has a competitive, cult like culture associated with it as well…

The situation I am discussing is basically the following: you know someone and, hey, this is a program that you feel someone could get some distinct benefit from. Maybe they are stuck in a rut or they have plateaued or what they are doing isn’t working or whatever.

I also have to imagine that this needs to be written for the obvious backlash out there against CrossFit. One-too-many overzealous friends have badgered and pleaded with some other friend to give it all up and praise the glory of Glassman. And when they resist, “suffer the wrath of my endless Facebook posts!” Let’s be real, no one needs coaching on how to tactfully approach their friends about Jai alai, because no one gives a shit about Jai alai – despite it looking tremendously badass.

There is a barrier to overcome for these types of progressions in all dimensions. Exercise used to be jumping jacks, “pushups” and smoking a doctor recommended brand of cigarette. A guy like Jack Lalane really pioneered the idea of lifting weights and the concept that fitness actually mattered where there were tons of detractors who thought it would be bad for you and so on. As well, in parts of Asia (witnessed first-hand) there are loads of these devices that I thought all but died in the 60’s. Fitness is evolving, that’s a fact, and I believe that a sensible (more on that later) CrossFit regimen, and other HIIT variants, is an excellent use of time to develop a high level of fitness.

So, how to get your friend to do CrossFit without being a tool about it.

There are some interesting dynamics going on here. First of all, it is not 2006 anymore, you can’t just say to your friend, “I heard about this thing and I want you to try it” and that’s enough. Because at that point, it was a secret, it was still pretty much totally underground. You were doing them a solid by exposing them to something new – letting them in on the secret. Well, the secrets out, it’s not new, it’s a cult and it’s all over the place and sponsored by goddamn Reebok.

Very few fitness minded people have not heard of CrossFit at this point. You are dealing with over exposure at this point, and a lot of it is bad exposure.

If they have had enough good exposure, chances are they will have already tried it on their own. The point of all of this is to simply get them to try it and let them decide for themselves. I will be the first person to admit that CrossFit is not for everyone, we have had a number of people come through our gym with fitness problems to which CrossFit was simply not the answer. I used to be fairly naïve and gregarious about this and assumed that CrossFit was magic and designed with blessed favor to cultivate fitness awesomeness in every mortal creature.

As the glitter wears off and you see it for what it is: a reconfiguration of common and well understood movements with some additions of their own creation organized into a fun, interesting and effective (hopefully) program. With that, you realize it isn’t necessarily for everyone.

But, if you have someone who is reasonably young, reasonably fit and of at least a mildly competitive nature (likely having played competitive sports growing up) getting them to try it is about equivalent to “DUDE, you HAVE to try sushi at least ONCE! I know you don’t like fish. If you hate it, we never go back, swear.” Strangely, I have encountered a large number of people who both “hate” sushi and have never tried it…curious.

But I digress – If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. If you want to run, body build, do yoga – that’s fine. But, I maintain that everyone owes it to themselves to dip a toe in the water just one time to make sure you aren’t missing out.

If they do like it and it does impact their life the way it has impacted so many other lives, it is almost that quasi-religious experience, “have you heard the good news?” knocking on doors kind of thing because you are so excited about something that you want to share it with everyone. Crossfit does this to people, not all people, but Facebook should be evidence enough that CrossFit is something that people actively talk about.

And, there is a very practical outcome to all of this, the potential for improved fitness.

But, this has to come as a sensible CrossFit program. What do I mean by a sensible CrossFit program? First it has to have a structured and organized strength component, it can’t just be wacky, random, 2 sets of 50 at whatever weight or just jumbling 25 strength movements into a 4 week program. Or the misconception that strength gains are realized through WODs (they aren’t).

It’s got to be 5-3-1, Starting Strength, Smolov (ok…probably not Smolov) or some organization of your own creation that makes sense, is progressive and yields long term strength gains. That is what a strength program is about.

And then there is the conditioning component, namely, the WOD. That is the visible, salient, glamorous fun portion. But, let’s be clear here, the WOD is not where you get stronger. It’s where you apply your learned skills to a unique conditioning environment and achieve that unique HIIT response.

To be absolutely clear, you do not get better at cleans by doing them in a WOD. You get better at cleans by doing cleans. You get a very high impact conditioning response by doing cleans in a WOD. First and foremost, this is something that everyone needs to understand. The WOD is often unfairly attributed to be the “totality of a CrossFit program” and what and where the gains come from. No. Not even close.

It’s that high energy component that makes it accessible, interesting and sustainable (i.e. not boring) in the long run. And, by virtue of the likelihood that someone will stick with it, the place where appreciable fat loss and cardiovascular/muscular endurance can be obtained.

Next, what is a sensible conditioning program?

Taking in the limitations and abilities of the person participating is essential. One can’t just throw someone a barbell and say “30 snatches for time,” that is completely reckless and irresponsible. It also cannot be “long for the sake of long”, “varied for the sake of varied” or “complex for the sake of complex.” Everything should have a purpose, complement the other aspects and be designed in a way that it is performed with intensity, technique and power. Absent that, it is just sustained movement that “gets you tired and shit.” And plenty of CrossFit gyms do that, I totally concede that.

So, we have gotten that out of the way, and you know I am a reasonable person who doesn’t believe in CrossFit witchcraft and bullshit. My passion for strength, conditioning and fitness takes the form of participation in CrossFit. Nothing more, nothing less.

The conversations that take place are really the critical portion to get someone to CrossFit (or anything for that matter) and have it actually mean something. This isn’t just trying to get someone to participate in your faddish interest or force someone to participate because their resistance to your enthusiasm subconsciously implies that there is something imperfect with your obsession. This is not unique to CrossFit. Try and badger someone into do ANYTTHING and you will be met with the same human forces – “fuck you; I’m not going to just do something because you like it so much.”

Chances are, asking them to do a class with you is a best first approach. But, if at THE VERY FIRST MENTION that doesn’t work, you have to try another route. Don’t just hound someone, people hate being hounded.

If you get the sense that they are not into this from the get-go, I wouldn’t even bother asking. Here’s why. People are stubborn. This has nothing to do with, “oh, I know what’s best for you, just do this for your own damn good” kind of mindset – if you are trying to show someone something new, they are generally reluctant, ESPECIALLY if it has the mixed reputation that CrossFit has. If you find your friend has never had fish before in their life, pestering them to have a bite of your fish at dinner “because it’s so good dude, you don’t know what you are missing!” is a surefire way to ensure they will NOT try your fish.

I would say, the best first thing would be to go work out with them. Ask them to go work out with them on their terms. Then they say, “Oh you want to do that CrossFit stuff?”

And you say, “No, let’s just work out, lift some weights, do some squats, have some fun and do whatever.” It doesn’t need to be super structured. Just spend some time with your friend, as you should…as friend.

But, it’s a moment to find out what they are after. If you can tell right off the bat that what drives them is having sick, monster, gun show arms, then CrossFit is a disservice to their goal. Or if they want to be skinny and model thin, you are barking up the smith machine.

So why try and bend them in that direction? Logically telling them that it “isn’t functional” or “strong is the new skinny” or whatever trope you happen to have on hand, isn’t a way to convince them to abandon what they are after. In this case, you would be a shitty friend to try and force them into the mold you have chosen for yourself.

Hopefully, if you are in a position where you are saying CrossFit changed me and I am so much better for it, you had better either have some performance outcomes or weight loss outcomes that are READILY available to display. That is, if your friend handily out-lifts you or you look just the same as when you started CrossFit, maybe YOU should check out THEIR routine and catch up with them first.

Just because you DO CrossFit, is not a reason to brag. It should be accompanied by some appreciable demonstration of that benefit.

There are plenty of people who are emphatically not good at CrossFit and just love the environment and to be a part of it and the workouts they get are great for them, and that is fine. But, if you are trying to convince someone of the efficacy of CrossFit and you haven’t yet realized the benefits of the efficacy of CrossFit…then you aren’t going to be a very good selling point.

But, on the other hand, if you go and your squats look great and, “holy shit, have you really lost 20 pounds?” And you break the bad information and violations of CrossFit by simple demonstration of good movement, then you are a living breathing testament to it, without vocalizing a word about it.

Maybe it’s not squats, you are on the peck deck or the shrug machine, but those muscles are popping and showing your sweet gains and you are having fun working out – because fitness is fitness, and working out is working out, no matter what you do.

Then you are building a bond, you are meeting them half way. “We are friends, I want to work out, lets workout.”

Let it come up. If someone asks you about CrossFit, tell them your story. You don’t have to tell them about Fran and your clean total and how kickass thrusters are and how it’s functional and, “by the way” in the most condescending way possible, “the workout YOU are doing isn’t functional, FYI Bro DiMaggio.”

Just tell them your story.

“The thing I really love about it all is that when I went in, the people are super nice and the coaches are helpful. And, I just fell in love with fitness again.”

Now the message is key, if you aren’t in love with fitness, don’t say that. But, if you are in love with fitness, that is something to envy. It’s a primal cue that everyone can resonate with. Everyone wants to be passionate, love what they do, feel excited and interested about the time they spend.

“You remember when we swam together? The training, the competitive elements, that camaraderie, the drive. I get that with CrossFit. It fills that hole in my life, I fucking love it.”

What’s so bad about that? It’s authentic, it’s what you are after; it’s the basic mechanism that drives people to make decisions. Did you have to mention Rich Froning or the Games Open and how you narrowly edged out “some jerkoff from Ohio for 24,000th place” ? No, that’s crazy stuff. That is wacky kool aid talk for people IN THE CIRCLE.

Likewise, if you get all defensive when people talk about fish flopping pullups and all the usual attacks against CrossFit, you look like an immature idiot who can’t accept valid criticism. Not to mention, the peculiarity of people leaping to the defense of strangers online. If someone gives you shit, personally, about your workout styles, simply state why you do what you do. Keyboard warriors are annoying from all fronts.

No, you just roll with the punches and own what you do, tell you story and be earnest about it.

Next, invite them to do something else besides CrossFit. You are a multi-dimensional person (hopefully!). If every time you meet them, you are hounding them about CrossFit, you are effectively wrecking your relationship.

Bike ride, hike, surf, paint, whatever. Again, this is a friend, just hang out with them. Doin’ stuff.

It becomes an adventure; you are going back forth “who gets the best wave” you know, “bet you can’t jump that gulley.” You know, immature, risk seeking bullshit. Chances are, if they aren’t into that anyway, then CrossFit might just be too weird and reckless to begin with.

And, once again, it is just you living life, having fun and not everything being about CrossFit.

By this point, what you are trying to build up is that it’s just another fitness thing that people like and you don’t have to talk about all the time. But, if you’re down, it can be a lot of fun. It doesn’t work itself into every facet of your life or change you (well it might, but you are communicating with a new entrant, not a die-hard kool-aid buddy).

The whole goal to get them to want to try it for themselves. “Hey what’s up with that CrossFit thing?” They say after several weeks of you never mentioning it at all. “Yea, it’s pretty cool,” you nonchalantly mutter over your shoulder. “If you want to try, I think you can do a free class” you indifferently suggest. “I think I can bring a friend to class if you want.” And that’s it, the seed is planted, let it grow or let it die – let them come to the conclusion themselves. This isn’t to be manipulative. It’s just to be a good human and let people find roads for themselves. Help them along the way as that is how decisions get made; people want to figure it out for themselves. You figured it out for yourself, you didn’t get dragged into a class and forced to indulge someone else shoving shit down your throat.

You had a need, you found a solution and you are happy with it. You figured it out, you found it. Now you are possibly helping someone in the same way. It’s not going to be done by being an asshole and insisting that their workout is inferior or not functional or stupid shit like that.

It will never be accomplished by being a know-it-all, elitist asshole as many CrossFitters have, quite unfortunately, come to be known.

The Next Market Disruption: Distinct or Die

The Next Market Disruption

Kodak, Blockbuster, Nokia, Sears – what do they all have in common?

Once untouchable brands relegated to penny stocks for their failure to adapt to market transitions. What is in store for fitness?

In 2011, the first CrossFit Games open debuted. In 2015, there are 10,000+ (quickly approaching 15k) boxes out there. With every passing day, CrossFit becomes less and less unique and more of a commodity. If you think otherwise, you are fucking kidding yourself. Go look up 10 CrossFit websites and tell me how they are appreciably unique.

So what is the next market disruption? CrossFit has caused quite a stir in the fitness industry, but it has the potential to become as complacent and flabby as the giants, upstarts and disruptive before it. Myspace anyone?

So, what does the future hold?

I have no answers, but would gladly entertain some ideas.

What is Orange Theory Fitness and why should you care?

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What is orange theory fitness and why should you care?

I’ll let them explain what it is. The rest will be about whether or not you should care.

Full disclosure, I have not attended a class and don’t really plan on it. It’s not because I’m stubborn, or think it’s a bad workout – I really just don’t have the time. I also feel full license to comment on “that which I have not experienced” because the marketing materials, people’s feedback and the general organization of it is pretty self-evident. I know what HIIT training is and how it works – I don’t need to experience this particular brand to experience what a quickly beating heart-rate does to my metabolism.

More to the point, if fitness regimens in general get results of any kind (Insanity, p90x, Tae Bo…whatever) I am all for getting off the coach and moving. In theory, I support what Orange Theory Fitness (OTF) has to offer.  I’m not here to hate on OTF for the sake of hating alone, you’ll see.

So, I was scanning their content as I happened across one of their ads and got curious.  They do, after all, have a location close to our box.  What I came across first rustled my jimmies a bit, because of the “we’re not CrossFit” trope that seems to closely accompany a lot of their materials.

So, I got to digging and what I found wasn’t the least bit alarming. I was legitimately concerned that, because there was a need to proclaim they were not CrossFit, that it was INDEED a close enough analogue to carve out market share. I don’t think the claim needs to be made any further – this is definitely not CrossFit.

I happened upon yelp, and what I found was both alarming and amusing:

“… His class was exciting, electric and entertaining.  He danced, he sang and he instructed his students to ensure we got the best work out we could.”

Rest assured, this reviewer would have a poor time in our classes because we neither sing nor dance as a mechanism of motivation.

“…let’s get back to Jesse and the reason I’m writing this review.  He got fired.  I wrote the owners to express my disappointment in this decision.”

The singing, dancing monkey got fired? Maybe he should have been a fitness instructor first and foremost…

Then there is this video which has all of the makings of a trendy Vodka commercial. Now don’t get me wrong, CrossFit is super guilty when it comes to use of flamboyant colors, thumping basslines and display of the hawt athletes, but that sort of ends up being a consequence of the culture (for better or worse) rather than a thinly veiled primary selling point that this is “going to be a blast, girlfriend!”  Let’s put it this way, the CrossFit roots are dirty and painful – the marketing of Games Athletes in their unmentionables came later.  It is also replete with dated buzz words like “ignite your metabolism” and goes back to the 90’s with this weird, borderline meaningless data of heart rate alone – very reminiscent of this phase in fitness.

Why is heart rate the ONLY metric available? Why are all of the “strength” movements, negligibly weighted to begin with? Why is “power” confined to the rower? My primary curiosity would be to how this type of training translates over to the basic, common, fundamental bench marks of fitness that predate CrossFit by a long shot (despite CrossFit boldly defining Fitness in its own terms).

How fast can you run a mile? How high can you jump? What load can you carry as a % of your bodyweight? How accurately can you move an object from point A to B in space?  Then, additionally, all of the stuff that CrossFit dictates as essential components of fitness: mobility, explosiveness, deadlifts, pullups and so on.  I don’t suspect that a side-by-side comparison of two individuals over a 6 month period would very often favor OTF, for the very reason that these things aren’t employed in the training.  Another way to look at it, I don’t think that any of our athletes would find it particularly challenging.  I have no idea how someone who is “skilled” at OTF would fare in a standard WOD.  Just how fit could you get doing this type of training?

And then, there is the element of safety.  I won’t bother discussing the safety of CrossFit, because I suppose most people’s minds are made up, but, I will happily share some yelp reviews regarding the safety of OTF:

“I injured my rotator cuff at orange theory. They pressured me into using a weight that was far too heavy for an isolated rotator cuff exercise (7.5 lb, how does that sound to you?!) ”

It actually sounds pretty light and you pretty pathetic – honestly.  The trainer also sounds like an idiot.

“I picked up the lightest weight on the rack and I was told “you can do better than that!” I indicated that I was in pain DURING the workout, and I got a “but doesn’t it hurt so good?”

This doesn’t reflect poorly at all on OTF, honestly!  It comes down to a client who has no idea how to use weights and a coach who has no idea how to coach someone who has no idea how to use weights.  And when I say “no idea how to use weights” that involves the ability to KNOW that a weight is too heavy from experience, not refrain from it simply due to lack of confidence (and cave due to pressure).  No experienced person gets persuaded into using inappropriate weights – that is precisely what experience is.  And, at the end of the day, the coach should be able to navigate that scenario with a little more tact.

But, this all happens in CrossFit too – I hope the lesson is that poor communication leads to injury.  Ultimately, the person in question is absolutely right, they should be allowed to choose a lighter weight without harassment.

But, in any event, if you are getting off the couch, active and achieving your fitness goals (whatever they may be) – who am I to judge between what four walls you accomplish that?

My honest take on it is that this is the next stage in “Spin Class” phenomenon and a close sister to the boot camp – I’d be far more concerned if I was running strictly a boot camp. It has all of the makings with peppy, dancing trainers; encouraging, go-go attitude regimented by zone (reminiscent of hills, flats, sprints, etc. with various resistances) and set in a themed environment. It actually is quite clever, probably effective and polished to the T from a marketing perspective.

I really do hope they can effectively distance themselves from CrossFit – for anyone who remains bewildered despite the chasm between them

5 Quick Tips! And, why I’m so sick of this shit.

Something has been really pissing me off lately. I joined twitter and, as a consequence of seeing twitter-esque content (that is, short snippets of grabby stuff) oriented towards fitness, have seen an enormous amount of content that goes something like this:

“Want to get X? Then do Y!”

Harmless enough. The click often leads you to a diet or exercise or something like that that is helpful in the attainment of your goals. But, there are some implied elements of this that I find despicable.

First, it is always accompanied by a picture. That picture is of a fitness model. That fitness model’s physique is directly implied to be the result of said workout tip, by virtue of the feature to begin with. No one would aspire to be a mildly out of shape guy trying Y for the first time on his way to X. The featured model has achieved X, which is why you trust the nature of activity Y to begin with. This is an age old trick – use bow-flex, ab-thingy, home-gym contraption and YOU could look just like THIS GUY who *cough* doesn’t include any aspect of this bullshit in his routine but is coincidentally available to demonstrate its use nonetheless. I’m not singling out any major fitness publication or program in particular for inventing this treachery; I just want everyone to be clear what is going on at face value.

Plain and simple, it’s fitness bullshit and I’ve had about enough. Want to know how I know it’s bullshit? Because the dude featured always has a physique that is the result of basic body sculpting activities to achieve the end of an aesthetic build.   This type of build most likely comes as a result of basic muscle building based on the tried and true (surprise!) split of some iteration of Bi/Tri, Chest/Back, Leg/Core, Cardio, Rest cycle with enough variety in movement to avoid boredom accompanied by careful food intake monitoring in order to avoid fat retention and promote muscle gain – and it works like a motherfucking charm! But, that is not the point. The people you see in photos work very hard for that aesthetic result and, I dare to say, rarely use gimmicks to achieve that. Getting to look like that is actually about as simple as following a gourmet French cookbook – the process is simple enough to understand, the proper execution is beyond most people’s capability.

So, when they take you to the video of teaching split squat jumps with perfect form, you are ACTUALLY privy to some scrawny Fitness Magazine staffer taking you through the moves. There is nothing wrong with split squat jumps – they are a fine conditioning tool. BUT, WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO THE FITNESS MODEL?!

Why aren’t there jacked dudes nationwide doing split squat jumps all day to get those oh-so-succulent abs? Um, because of the old bait and switch, that’s why.

The general fitness industry has been recycling the same old shit for decades: apply this magic and get results! Why can’t you just simply write out what Zyzz does on a double-sided sheet of paper and call it a day? Oh, right, because it is much more profitable for a publication to dole out snippets of work and then recycle said snippets a decade later when everyone has moved on and you have a new audience. All the while, the guy in the picture (implying they have done these moves to get those results) have done nothing more than dedicate a tremendous amount of time and energy to figuring out for themselves and making it happen. Worst of all, is the explicitly implied message that all of this is easy – all you need to do is follow some overly-reductionist routine.

Can I interject and declare that the only way to get what you want is hard work? I’d like to outline some mainstream fitness regimens and what you can expect to look like if you WORK YOUR ASS OFF (we’re talking like a decade here folks…if you are starting from scratch, that is). If you are aspiring to fitness goals, pick what you want to look like (and/or who you would like to perform like), and work your ass off. Here is what the end-game looks like for these various lifting regiments, based on what the best in the industry have served us up. Rest assured, they practice what they preach and got where they are by none other means than following the general paradigm of their activity for a LLLLOOOOONNNNNGGGG time. Here is what you can expect with years of dedicated training.

Body Building – It comes in many forms, but we will go with the prototypical “bulky” version, from a lay person’s perspective. The goal is size, muscle separation and looking like a goddamn action figure. You get a side bonus of being strong as fuck. No-split squats involved.

bb1 bb2 bb3


Aesthetic Building – (i.e. the paradigm that every cover magazine guy follows) – “body building lite” a more “natural” look to the body building routine. Big shoulders, arms, chest, narrow waist, cut legs, cut abs. But, focused on proportions. You will also get strong as you could ever want to be. No-split squats required.

ab1 ab2 ab3


Power Liftingand/or strong man (pretty much ends up the same) – Brick shit house. The only thing that matters is moving that weight/object. The only thing that matters is contributing to those totals. Split squats are a waste of your precious time.

sm1 sm2 sm4


Olympic Lifting – All legs and back. The only thing that matters is getting that weight over head in two ways…snatch and clean/jerk. The only thing that matters is contributing to those totals. Split squats are a waste of your precious time. Just look at those quads…it’s like he’s got 3 goddamn knees!

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CrossFit – Bulky arms, stupid big mid-section, stocky legs, underdeveloped chest (relatively) and as ripped as the aesthetic model, but much different proportions. Yea, split squats might be a part of the routine, but definitely as an afterthought to the 1000 other movements you could pull from and have way more fun doing.

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Honestly, I have no idea what you would look like if you followed a “quick tip” style of workout regimen. Probably something like this:



Because you got duped into thinking you can “quick tip” your way to success. I, for one, spare no opportunity to mock this shit, because in the end having worked so hard myself for modest gains (recognizing for myself, as the marketing target, just how pervasive the mindset is that gains “should” come quickly). It should come as no shock that I find it heinously misleading that you can feed people bits of scattered solo movements or three-steppers and expect to encourage lasting change in those individuals.  The crazy thing is, there are oodles of low/no cost information available online (i.e. Starting Strength, 5-3-1 strength) that expressly outline a complete program that are widely applicable to all sorts of goals.  And they work!  And they are FREE.  However, they aren’t easy – that might be the problem.

Of course, any representative from these sound-byte oriented parties would retreat to say that this is not their intent and that they encourage a sustained workout routine. And of course, people will take umbrage declaring “their publication is true to its audience.” Well, then I’m not talking about you. We all KNOW who the culprits are and can smell the bullshit a mile away. So I’m not going to fall over myself making caveats and avoiding hurt feelings, sparing individuals from the assault. If you do it, you are shit. If you are true to your audience, you are true to your audience.

What am I really saying, in the end? What is the point of this rant? Well, as a gym owner, people stop by and want to do what we are doing and, in the process, I have to dispel an entire upbringing of “quick fixes” and “top 10 steps.” People have become irreconcilably convinced that strength and fitness goals ought to be easy, if only they had the magic recipe in the form of the “perfect” program or diet. News flash – everything works. Zumba? Works. Yoga? Works. P90x? Works. They all do what they proclaim to do, if you are a dedicated zealot to the cause.

Want to know the reason why it may have not worked for you? Because you weren’t dedicated. You didn’t’ make a life change. You didn’t abandon the notion that it should be easy and failed to work hard enough to realize your goals. This rant is equal parts directed at the producer of this nonsense information and the consumer of this information. They conspire in tandem to create dreams, but not results. They coddle, sugar coat and skim over the important details to make people think they can get what they want. Both parties are complicit in actively deceiving themselves and creating an environment where no one has accountability to actually produce a change.

In the end, here is the challenge – the test to see if you are selling the bottom line or bullshit. If people did explicitly what was in your publication for a year, would they be on the right path to looking like the person the cover?


Note: I have excluded women entirely from this comparison as the claims made are rarely as straightforward as the men. The element of “beauty” is all-together absent from the male discussion and the forefront of the topic when discussing women. Height, breast size, waist, facial features, hip structure and so on play important roles in perception that have no real analogue in the visible male figure. Thus, I won’t make the mistake of lumping the groups together. It’s a tricky business being a woman, and I am not going to pretend that I know what it feels like to be marketed to as one. I suspect, however, that many of the same principles apply.


Why is fitness so hard?

Oh, that makes no sense as it very easy for you? You are the exception, the freak and the idol of jealousy for the rest of us common folk who work our asses off for modest gains. Go away – this isn’t for you.

Now, surrounded by common company, let’s get to the bottom of this. I feel the question is actually quite simply answered by the fact that fitness (used in the general sense of the pursuit of any physical endeavor) is no harder than anything else, we simply have two problems facing us that shape our view of it incorrectly.

  • Many life things have gotten easier by comparison
  • Fitness is sold as something that is easily obtained


Things in Life

Think about it, 200 years ago, it was a struggle to feed and clothe oneself. It was difficult to travel, it was difficult to necessarily find clean water, and it was difficult to get an education, among hundreds of other things. In fact, few things were easy – except contracting horrifying diseases and being killed in the name of this king or that.

Things have changed tremendously – in the western world, food is plentiful, few people are killed in farming accidents, there is an educational institute of some kind or another on every corner and we can fly half way around the world in the time it takes to watch the collection of works directed by Adam Sandler.

But, some things remain the same. It is no easier now to get fit than it was 200 years ago. Despite having access to great information, tools and programs, the actual effort required is no different than it would be at any given time. In fact, I am prepared to argue that if you took a farmer from 1814, gave him all the food he needed and told him, instead, to dedicate his hours of toil in the fields to hours of toil in the gym, we could create a monster.

This man, by example, is used to things being arduous, difficult and taxing. In our comfortable modern lives, physical taxation is something that is more of an opt-in than anything else. As a result, we quit so easily. Further, we don’t have to be fit – millions live well into their 70s by luck and absence of threats alone without a single thought to their health. It is easy as fuck to simply exist, why put in the effort?

This is also the reason why you find so many superb athletes come out of Russia, China and other places where athletics (especially Olympic endeavors) can be a way out of their situation and into a sustainable form of living. This represents a means to success rather than just a hobby or something that rich people do. They have to get Gold to put food on the table. Despite Michael Phelps’ incredible ability and prowess in swimming – he’s a middle class white dude who could have just as well went to college, got a desk job and made a fine living in the US. This just isn’t the case for people who seek fitness – this can only be the case for those who require fitness, of some kind or another, to live their life.

Quite simply, it is the difference between need and want. Where your ordinary affluent westerner can afford to pursue fitness as leisure, there are many others who elect to pursue it as a means to an end. The game changes significantly at that point. Most of us can, contrarily, afford to not be fit.

This brings us to the next item.


Fitness IS EASY!

Seriously, this bothers me to no end to see fitness and fitness analogues (equipment, pills, memberships, videos, etc.) sold as simple consumables that require only a credit card number. Fitness is sold as something that is as easily accomplished as installing new carpet or mowing the lawn – if only you wished for it to be, had the resources and then just did it, it would be done.

Fitness would be more adequately compared to learning a new language or changing career fields. If you have no experience in this area, you will be up against a large number of obstacles and, without persistence and grit, you will likely fail.

Fitness should be treated like a part time job – you either put in consistent hours to get that supplementary paycheck, or you quit and focus on something else. If you go in to your part time job 1 hour every 3 weeks, you wouldn’t have much room to complain about the measly $49 extra that ends up in your bank account. If we add in some element that required you to pay a flat amount to do this work (i.e. the “gym membership”) to the part-time work equation, this would be an example of where you end up losing money on the venture

This all begs the question – is it worth it? Well, that all depends. Is learning Spanish worth it? Is the dedication required an attractive compromise to gain the utility of the language? Is the time spent in the gym worthwhile in order to improve your life capability and look shredded? That’s up to you – but, make no mistake, it does in fact require time and dedication. The Fitness Industry has lied to you repeatedly and consistently for decades. The more quickly you realize this and either go all-in with fitness or decide it’s not for you, the better off you will be.

Fitness is a LIFESTYLE, make no mistake. Just like you cannot be a Heart Surgeon on the weekends or a double black belt shogun of some kind or another by attending a class every odd Tuesday for 6 weeks, you cannot achieve fitness goals unless you think in the 6 month, 1 year, 5 year and eventually lifetime perspective. A doctor has the benefit of knowing that they have 10 years ahead of them filled with intense education and long hours.

Someone who is woefully out of shape or with lofty fitness goals (being “shredded”) does not seem to particular realize that, not unlike the doctor (not to trivialize their training by comparing heart surgery to six packs), they have a path in front of them that requires investment, dedication and long term planning.

In the end, I observe two factors that make fitness seem very difficult to the average onlooker. In the end, it is no more or less difficult than anything worth doing. If thought of in the right context (learning a new language) and understanding that it takes a timescale similar to that of mastery within any skill domain (music, education, language, craft skills, programming….etc.) we are now presented with a realistic view that can be more readily undertaken with a fully aware and cognizant mindset.

Best of luck learning your new language!

People are Not Dogs

Bear with me…

I was up in the hills the other day with three dogs – an old dog, a young dog and a puppy. Their behavior was remarkably different and I think lends a concrete lesson to approaching fitness and goals of any kind for that matter.

Old Dog – Poor old Dixie is about 11 years old at this point and, while still in great condition for a dog of that breed and age, just not her former self. She diligently walks along, never straying too far from her humans and just maintains a steady, if not somewhat labored, gait to and fro snuffling here and gazing doggily into the distance there. In years past, she would bound through the hills, chase cows, roll around in whatever feces she should find and, if you weren’t careful, become a brown spot in the distance barely within ear shot. Those days are gone, but she dutifully takes her walk through the hills and appears to enjoy the experience in any event.

Young Dog – Sadie is a few years old and basically operates on a balls-to-the-wall system of propulsion. It is actually rather amazing an beautiful to watch her spring and dance across the hills, bounding with endless fury to some curious hole 300 yards away. And, before you know it, she is a white spec of fluff that damn near time traveled across a small gulley, hill and rocky outcrop to explore one of a 1000 burrows of unknown habitation. There is an allure to her carefree rampage across the hills – no worries of “rolling an ankle” (if such a thing is possible for a dog), receiving a life ending bite or misjudging a hill for a cliff and jumping inadvertently to a broken leg. Just pure bliss as she darts about the tall grass.

Puppy Dog – Salami is just a few months old and, while curious and full of energy, is still just too floppy and uncoordinated (not to mention, disobedient) to go off leash in the big wide open. She is operating within the imposed confines of her humans and hates every moment of it. However, at the end of the day, she is exhausted beyond anything she has ever experienced – 2 miles of walking is probably 400% longer than she has ever gone in one sitting. But, she will grow, mature, get her legs about her and learn the commands that will eventually prevent her from getting lost in the hills.

The lessons may be apparent already, but to spell them out:

Don’t have to be an old Dog

Dogs will operate in the maximum capacity that they are able – no more, no less. They don’t “push” themselves in the sense that they will do up to and exactly what feels comfortable and most right. An old dog won’t try and run with the young dogs. But, we as people can make a conscious decision to avoid this. For better or for worse, we can elect to go beyond our comfort zone and try to push the envelope beyond what our genetics, culture or natural inclination would have us rather do. Among the hardest things for adults to do is learn a new language. Why might this be? Well, theoretically you have mastery in one already – starting over sucks a big one. Communication is also critical to human function, robbing yourself of that ability is frustrating. Also, the utility derived from being receptive to new languages later is life is pretty low, from an evolutionary perspective.  Then there is time, opportunity and so on and so on. When absolutely forced, humans make do and learn what they have to. But, do you really think there is anything stopping a truly determined person from seeking out, learning and mastering a second language? There will be hurdles, but greater feats have been surely accomplished. New goals and skills of any kind are like this. By the time we hit 30, we are, for better or worse, old dogs prone to do exactly what is comfortable. But, we can consciously elect to ignore that, transcend our animal brains and learn something new. We can make a forced choice to be something we are not. We are not dogs – we can choose our fate if we so desire.

Be a Young Dog!

When you are able, go balls to the wall! Why not? What is at stake? Let’s be clear, stupidity is not the same thing as operating to your fullest ability in any given context. If the motive is to avoid injury, let’s be clear – avoidance of pain is not the same thing as the pursuit of pleasure. One can operate in both a high intensity fashion AND be safe to the extent that you avoid some catastrophic injury. Yes, the tweaks, aches and pains will be there. BUT, if you like to Ski – let’s not pretend you aren’t putting something on the line when you hit that black diamond super pow for the last run of a long day. Without risk, the reward is invariably low. It’s up to you how you wish to proceed, but understand that those who don’t put it on the line rarely stand to gain much. Don’t ask Mark Cuban for advice on how to pinch your pennies or Randy Couture what the best method for shoulder injury is. You most certainly won’t be a billionaire or legendary (and old) mixed martial artist, but you can still be awesome and be a young dog!


Understand that you might be a Puppy

The adage goes by a million different phrasings, but is most aptly captured by stating, “you must walk before you can run.” To apply this to CrossFit in particular, I think the confluence of events that most often leads to injury, and thereby criticism, is athletes and coaches not understanding their inherent limits. Taking a newbie and introducing things that require a mastery of preceding steps…and then ignoring that the preceding steps are still a work in progress. There is a difference between being able and applying that ability to go balls to the wall and taking the time to learn and grow into a state that allows for that. It is a subtle distinction, but a necessary and important one. Basically, it boils down to the idea of shortcuts. A very frequent question is, “are there any shortcuts or tricks to X?” No, there are none. The best shortcut you could ever discover is that there are NO shortcuts and proceed from there. In the same way, there is no way to magically make my puppy older, wiser or better behaved. It is a slow and steady process. The upside? Like it or not, the processes undertaken to learn as a puppy will exhaust you, teach you and improve you in any event. That little puppy dog was all tuckered out despite having performed about 1/10 the activity of the young dog. But, it was necessary to her adaptation to the environment and preserving her safety so that she can become a young dog!