Potvin Personal Training

The front splits is one of those positions I think people remember doing as a kid, when they were slim and nimble, instead of something they've never been able to do. This trend is one of the reasons I think anyone is capable of achieving the front splits. This is juxtaposed to the middle splits, “the Van Damme Splits”, which some people will never be able to get due to their hip structure. I was not one of the lucky few kids to spend my childhood learning how to catapult my body through the air with just my own weight and a spring board. Actually, the first time I ever did gymnastics was when I was 22 in college and I had a blast. I loved it so much I continued to train gymnastics on my own at home and especially during lock-down. I know that If I started a young age I'd be doing it to this day. But you don't have to share this love of gymnastics or be an ex-gymnast to get the front splits.

Compound Lifts, Compound Stretches

At my gym and to the people I train I'm known as the guy with really big legs who can do the splits(not very catchy, but at least it's something), I'm also known as the barefoot guy but that's another story. My background in Powerlifting gave me an appreciation for big, effective, and efficient compound lifts. If you've ever Powerlifted or you've been lifting for a decent amount of time you've probably heard of the Big 3. That's the Squat, Bench, and Deadlift. The big 3 are also the powerlifts, they're called the Big 3 because they represent a selection of exercises that have the biggest bang for buck. Meaning, if you did these exercises, and only these exercises, you would be able to build a strong and respectable physique. Why? because these lifts are compound, meaning they hit multiple muscle groups at the same time. Compare a squat to a bicep curl, and don't worry I have nothing against curls (Curls for the girls); a squat hits all extensors of the back, the glutes, the quads, the calves (yes it's true), and even the core. Meanwhile, a bicep curl hits the bicep and a bit of the forearm. Now if i asked you to just pick an exercise to build as much muscle as you could in the next 3 months which one would you choose? Exactly. The bicep curl! —just kidding— the squat obviously because it hits so many muscles at once.

This concept can likewise be carried over to stretching and mobility. Stretching has a 'Big 3'. Compound stretches, like compound lifts, are stretches that stretch multiple muscle groups at once. For instance, the front splits represents one of the Big 3, the other two are the middle splits and the back bridge. The front splits can hit the hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, and depending on your hip angle the inner groin. If you take the stretch further and lift your arms straight up and bend laterally you'll stretching the lats and core. Compare this to a simple hamstring stretch or the dreaded and hopelessly ineffective quad stretch, you know the one all runners halfheartedly do prior to a workout. Again if you were to choose one to get as nimble as you could, you'd have to pick the front splits. And this is where the benefits begin to accrue for normal-not interested in handstands and flips-people.

The benefits of the splits.

Because the splits represents one of the big 3 compound stretches and is therefore one of the best bang for buck in terms of mobility training. Those who are busy, or have other concerns and obligations, can spend a little time working the splits and undo a lot of the damage that a sedentary lifestyle has done to them. Likewise, their increased flexibility can extend their safe range of motion during regular exercise and make it less likely that they injure themselves in any given workout. Winter is coming up and maybe you're a runner. Imagine slipping on ice, sometimes you just fall on your ass, other times your legs decide they don't like each other and THEY SPLIT. Wouldn't it be better to already be able to do the splits, then to learn them in the middle of a run? Take it from me, it's not fun to learn them in 3 seconds and it also makes it very hard to walk home afterward.

In short, you should work on getting the front splits because:

  • They represent one of the 'best-bang-for-buck' compound stretches. Quick. Efficient.
  • You can begin to undo the damage sitting has done to your hips and back.
  • Being more flexible means your body can safely move through larger ranges of motion, this means you're less likely to injure yourself during exercise or during a fall.
  • It's a cool party trick!

Universal Principles of Stretching

Flexibility isn't rocket science and usually just requires small and consistent effort over time. The splits may seem out of reach to you if you've never trained them or cant touch your toes, but getting them is actually rather simple. For a majority of people and an overwhelming majority of the time you will just be sitting in the splits for 30-60 seconds 3 times a day. That's usually enough to illicit a change. And by “sitting in the splits” I don't mean the full splits, I mean at your current level of splits whether that be 2 feet above the ground or 3 inches. Before I introduce the program I used to get the front splits, I will introduce a few simple, but important, principles of stretching.

1) Relax – If you're super tense while stretching, especially to the point that your breathing is abnormal, you will not make progress. This may seem optional because it's so simple, but relaxation plays a vital role in increasing your range of motion. The reason for this has to do with the nervous system and it's two main divisions: The sympathetic and the parasympathetic. For instance, take a man that's never stretched a day in his life. If you asked him to do the splits, there's no way in hell he could do it. But, if that man for whatever reason was unconscious and you propped him up he'd be able to get into the splits no problem. You see this all the time with unconscious people, their bodies go completely limp and they can assume some pretty wild positions. Why? because their nervous system is no longer restricting movement, in other words it's maximally relaxed. Prior to being knocked out, the brain/nervous system was inhibiting range of motion because it deemed that position unsafe. It activated the sympathetic nervous system (i.e. fight-or-flight) and contracted the muscles in your hips and legs to keep the body in a position it deems safe. Why would your body do this if you physically have the ability? Well, it's actually right in assuming the position is unsafe. If you never spend any time in the splits, you probably don't have the strength to be in that position and could injure yourself trying to support your weight down there. It's like a man that hasn't walked in 5 years, all of the sudden (by a miracle i guess) deciding its time to go for a sprint. Bad idea. But that doesn't mean sprinting is bad for you or dangerous, likewise the splits aren't dangerous. This is why I say everyone has the ability to do the splits, it's just convincing your body it can. And you will never convince your body it can do something if your reaction to that stimulus is 'Oh no I'm in danger', it'll just tighten up more next time because you've reinforced what it already knows.

2) Stretch to discomfort, not pain– this is an extension of the first principle in a way. When you stretch to pain you will unwillingly tense up and thus activate the sympathetic nervous system. This will result in unproductive stretching. However, you don't want to be completely and utterly discomfort free. To get better at anything you need to go slightly beyond what your capable of now, you need to get out of your comfort zone. Likewise with the splits, you need to go just a bit beyond your comfortable range of motion, into discomfort and stay there until its normal, then repeat, ad infinitum (or stretchitum?). 3) Stretch warm – There's nothing wrong with limbering up cold as a warm-up, but these should just be stretches to reestablish a range of motion you already currently possess. Furthermore, these stretches should be dynamic in nature. Think leg swings, butt kickers, etc. You shouldn't try to test your limits of flexibility while cold because you could end up tweaking something or at a minimum cramping. 4) Never exit the stretch using the same muscles you've been stretching. – When doing the front splits I like to exit by just falling towards my belly and using my hands as support until I can get my legs out of the position. 5) Rest! – No I don't mean sleep. You should treat flexibility training like barbell training. You have sets and rests. You do your 30-60 seconds of static stretching to discomfort, not pain, then you rest of a minute or two and walk around or do a stretch that hits another set of muscles. I prefer the latter as it's just more efficient to get all my mobility done in a circuit.

Program Layout

Now that you have the principles of stretching down pat, you can start to learn the routine!

1) The first part of the routine, and hopefully the only part you need, is static stretching!

Static stretching is: * After a decent warm up you will assume the position you're trying to improve. If it's the front splits, mimic the front splits, if its the bridge, get into the bridge or a close variation. * You will lower yourself into the stretch until you reach discomfort, then you will hold the stretch there until the time is up (30-60s). Remember to RELAX and breath deeply. Many times you will find that the initial discomfort you were feeling fades and you can descend further, by all means. * Rest for a minute or two then get back into the same position, usually a bit lower than last. Repeat this 3-5 times.

That's it. Super simple! Now again, this tends to be all most people need to achieve the splits, but if you find that after 2 weeks you haven't made any progress, and no other variables have changed, you may have to use more advanced techniques to continue improving. So, first give this a shot, bookmark the article and come back to it if you get stuck. Otherwise, ta-ta for now!

2) Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching

PNF stretching is similar to static stretching in that you will hold a position for an extended period of time and slowly descend, but you're adding a little bit of sauce on top of this one.

a) Descend into a stretch the same way you would if you're were doing normal static stretching. b) Once you reach discomfort, take a deep breath and on an exhale go a bit more. c) Now, and this is the reason its a bit more advanced, you will contract the stretching muscles as hard as you can without tensing up globally. d) Sit in this isometric contraction for about 10 seconds then relax and you'll descend more, repeat 2-3 times and then rest.

Again this bears repeating. RELAX. This is rather counter-intuitive considering you have to tense in some places and not others, but it's crucial that you're sending the “A OKAY” signal to your nervous system so that you don't end up tightening up more after you stretch. Because that's what will happen, you think you're making 'extra progress' by really pushing your limits that day, but really your body remembers how painful that position was and says 'no no no'.

3) If PNF stretching didn't get you to the full, ass-to-floor, splits then you may need to add a bit of weight to sink further.

a) Again get into the splits like you normally would, stretch to discomfort. b) Then grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it while you go through a PNF protocol again. This extra weight should help sink you further and strengthen the muscles that are contracting in that position so they allow further range of motion later.

Warning: Weighted stretching is an advanced technique and you can hurt yourself if you are not paying attention. I know this because I have. If you start to panic or something feels off, drop the weight and roll out of the stretch. But really the key is to keep calm and stay focused.

And that's all I have for you right now, there are some types of stretches and mobility work I didn't go over and they definitely deserve their own post. But, hopefully you can use this simple routine and the principles that underline it to achieve the splits this year! P.S. you can do this routine everyday, go by feel, if you're feeling really sore its time to take a day off!

Stay fit!

I've personally run into this misconception more times than I'm comfortable with ignoring and I figured it's time to set the record straight, if not for others, at least in an articulate way for myself.

Diet Soda Is Not Bad For You

Diet soda is not bad for you, or at least not in the same sense that most people think. Diet soda, defined as a carbonated beverage containing a low-calorie artificial sweetener like aspartame, sucralose, stevia , or others, has been scrutinized as a beverage that is “just too good to be true.” Because diet soda lacks calories and therefore there is no longer a caloric detriment in drinking it, people reason that there must be some less obvious downsides to it otherwise it's essentially magic. Consequently, certain scientific studies have been highlighted for demonstrating the damage diet soda has on metabolic health and risk of cardiovascular disease like heart disease and diabetes type 2 (Source: 1, 2). However, these studies only demonstrate a correlation, not a causation, between diet soda intake and a disease state. This is far from proving that diet soda is the metabolic villain it's often played out to be. Instead, the more likely explanation is that people who drink diet soda are often more likely to consume an unhealthy diet alongside it and therefore their health consequences are an effect of the overall diet rather than diet soda alone.

The Lesser of Evils ![Always drink in moderation, my friends]

The hypothesis that diet soda's correlation to bad health is due to the consumer's overarching dietary behaviors rather than the soda itself is supported by Gardener, et. al. in the Northern Manhattan Study (Source). Gardener and her colleagues found that diet soda's role in, and subsequent correlation with unhealthy individuals, was due to it being used as a coping mechanism. That is, these already unhealthy individuals, in an attempt to balance their caloric intake, sought out diet soda as a “lesser of two evils” that could satisfy their sugar cravings without adding to over calories consumed. Although evidence that of it's effectiveness in managing obesity and heart disease is lacking, this study still demonstrates that the consumption of diet soda often occurs when individuals are already unhealthy rather than as a behavior that leads to that state.

The Real Consequences

The real problem with diet soda, which is an issue shared by all soda, is its effects on dental health. In a literature review by Cheng, et. al., soft drink consumption was strongly linked to enamel erosion and tooth decay (Source). This result was mostly attributed to the acidity of soda, although the presence of natural sugar increased consequences. So the issue with soda, all soda, is not mainly it's calories, or lack thereof, but rather it's acidity and the damage that does to enamel overtime. However, this does not mean diet soda, or even regular soda, is the devil, rather you should just avoid over-consumption.

Always drink in moderation, my friends.

In the past few years, but especially during the pandemic I've messed around with running a lot. I say messed around because I was never really able to turn it into something I was as disciplined with or excelled at like barbell strength training. I owe this largely to my chronic struggle with shin splints, which one time actually turned into full blown stress fractures, as well as the improper form that most likely led to the shin splints.

I tried everything to fix my shin splints. I ditched my ol' reliable gel Asics and went minimalist and even some days unshod. I had read Born to Run which is a great book, but perhaps not the most scientific. This had inspired me to transition to barefoot/minimalist running in a spurt of enthusiasm to emulate the Tarahumera runners who run with nothing but what is essentially Tevas. I ran on asphalt unshod, no need for trips to the foot spa, I was exfoliating every week. After this masochistic endeavor, I adopted zero-drop shoes which promised the same supposed benefits of barefoot running without the aches and pains of skin-to-asphalt. I saw this transition as a panacea, but it wasn't. Within the next few months I was back to the drawing board, or rather the chair, because I couldn't walk much without excruciating shin pain.

Half a year later in my second to last college semester I chose jogging as my final activity elective thinking that this would force me to fix whatever nascent issues I had with my form. My idea was sink or swim. Well with risk of getting long winded, this time I ended up with stress fractures, despite trying to adopt every proper cue of running possible.

Every run, I had a laundry list of cues that would perfect my form. I would focus on quick steps, not having an egregious heel-strike except for on downhills, looking ahead, tilting at the ankles, not swinging the arms cross body, not over striding, head up, chest out, hips up front, tense the core, relax the shoulders, etc. Although my head was in the right place, I let my neuroticism get to me and tried to fix every single small thing at once. I wouldn't stick with one cue or even a handful of cues for long enough to master them, instead I wanted all of them yesterday. Which gets back to an issue I've brought up in previous posts and has plagued my running 'career' to date. That is, I lacked patience. From the get go I was looking for a one size fits all solution, and if I couldn't find that the next best thing was all of the solutions. I didn't have the nuance to try a few things, see if they worked, and then make adjustments later. I wanted this solved yesterday, and who could blame me really I mean shin splints suck and I had already dealt with them for years, but you don't recover from illness by drinking bleach. So, finally I arrived at a balanced approach which was a combination of a few strategies.

First, I stuck with the same intensity and duration of running until I was comfortable with it. If you increase your mileage or duration too quickly, like going from running 3 days a week for 30 minutes to 6 days a week for 30 minutes. You risk injuring yourself with no fault due to your form, because the body just cant recover from that massive increase in volume.

Second, I slowed the F#&! down. I started running at an easy or conversational-pace which is great for multiple reasons. Running at an easy pace means that you are maximizing aerobic adaptions while minimizing stress on the body, I ran just hard enough to make sure I was improving, but not any harder than that. This is what many pro-runners recommend beginners or even professionals at the beginning of their season do to build what is called an “aerobic-base” (See: Lydiard Method). Also these easy runs allowed me to implement the final solution effectively because I didn't have to use every ounce of my willpower to maintain my pace and instead could focus on other things.

Finally, I ditched that laundry list of cues and stuck with one I felt fixed nearly everything at once. That is, to extend the hips forward like when you're having sex... You penetrate the sky? Anyway, what this cue helps with is turn on the largest muscle in the body and the most important one for running, the glutes. When the glutes are turned on the stress can shift from the quads and lower legs, which were compensating, back to the glutes which are now firing on every stride. Say so long to quad and calve cramps!

In sum, I adopted a balanced and patient approach to running in which I didn't try to get ahead of myself, literally and figuratively! I focused on what was important: staying injury free, enjoying the process, and making gradual improvements overtime.

Everyone has tasks they must do, but rather not do. Normally we get around this by telling ourselves what we ought to do, or what kind of person we ought to be. This mindset can definitely get results, as with many problems, there are multiple solutions. But we know that some solutions are better than others. I'm not a fan of tyrannizing myself into doing things I know I should be doing. I don't think it's sustainable to continually beat yourself up over every shortcoming or failure. For instance, when I was a waiter I would come into work and try to be as efficient as possible with everything I did. As a waiter my job was not limited to the tables, there's a lot of work to be done behind the scenes and in-between orders. I would take advantage of any downtime to get a head start on tasks that would normally be started much later in the shift. My coworkers quickly noticed this and appreciated it immensely. However, my boss didn't share their outlook and instead decided to focus on any other small weakness I manifested. Specifically my RBF(Resting Bitch Face), even though I would work my hardest each shift it didn't matter because I wasn't smiling. And so I was constantly hounded for this minor slip-up of not showing my gleaming pearly whites while making my rounds. Eventually this destroyed my motivation to show up and try my best at work because I realized my efforts were never recognized and my mistakes shined bright. After a couple months of this petty tyranny, I quit.

The key point in this store is in considering the alternative way it could have gone. Instead of taking for granted all the extra work I was putting in, my boss could have rewarded this behavior to reinforce it and keep me motivated to improve. This way she could have had her cake and ate it too. I would be happy to practice improving my RBF, while still doing all the extra work on the side. Why? because It would be clear to me that my efforts were appreciated. And I could see my shortcomings in a different light. Instead of seeing all the things I'm not so great at as an endless laundry list of tedious tasks, I would see them as endless potential to meet.

Tons of people treat themselves like my boss did to me. They're a terrible boss and a worse employee. Why? Because they magnify every shortcoming and never acknowledge their successes. Who would want to wake up and everyday and work under that kind of “leadership”. No one. So, the next time you're about to lambaste on yourself for forgetting to do something, or missing a workout, or not hitting your protein goal for the day. Take a moment and consider everything you've accomplished and use that as a buffer against the negativity.

In Lewis Carrol's Through the Looking Glass, Alice and the Red Queen are constantly running but remain in the same spot. The Red Queen explains the predicament “Now, here (in Looking-Glass land), you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.“This statement serves as the catalyst for Van Valen's “Red Queen Hypothesis”in which species have to “run” or evolve in order to stay in the same place (not extinct). It's a rather tragic conclusion to make about the nature of life, but it remains convincing. This hypothesis does not only apply to Darwin, it can apply to business. Even the largest companies like the A&P grocery chain (who?) can fail. It can apply to fashion. Clothing companies must frequently innovate and keep up with the latest styles or risk falling into obscurity, remember the Romphim? Yeah, me neither. But most importantly (to us at least), the Red Queen applies to health and fitness.

Use it or Lose It

This hypothesis extends to the fitness world as well. The Red Queen is embodied in the phrase “use it or lose it!” which refers to the degeneration and atrophy of muscles and the cardiovascular system due to disuse and neglect. It takes less than 3 weeks for your V02 max and muscle density to atrophy during a layoff. This effect is magnified or minimized depending on how active you are. For the purposes of this article activity is defined as anything that causes extended elevation of heart rate and/or light perspiration. So, that would be walking, gardening, or light house work. All these things can minimize losses in fitness because you're still stressing the bodily systems somewhat and the adaptions you've previously made have more reason to remain. You're still using it, all be it not as strenuously, so you won't lose it. However, if you were to go on bed rest these losses would be greatly magnified because not even gravity is being resisted anymore. NASA has conducted multiple bed rest studies in a pursuit to understand and better treat the consequences of zero-gravity conditions on the body. Bed rest simulates these conditions because the largest and most impactful stressor to your body is gravity. The less you have to fight it, the weaker your muscles and bones get. One of the findings of these bed rest studies, the first of which were performed in the 70s, was that just 2-weeks of bed rest is comparable to 20 years of aging. This means, that over the course of 2-weeks you will lose the same amount of strength, muscle density, muscle quality, and bone density as you would in 20-years of aging. So, truly you must use it or lose it! You must continue to stress the body or it will fail you, and the best way to do this is through regular exercise that routinely stresses both the cardiovascular system and the skeletal-muscular system. However, because gravity is our biggest contender light housework, gardening, and walking are sufficient to maintain a baseline of health if you are injured and cannot workout. But, what you never want to do is go on complete rest. Complete rest is a treatment that is worse than the disease. So keep moving and don't take yourself too seriously!

All the best.

It's your first day back to the gym. For month's you've been doing body weight calisthenics and challenging your body in different and productive ways. But, nothing matches the feeling of have hundreds of pounds of iron strapped across your back or in your hands. At a deep and visceral level it is satisfying like nothing else. So you're excited to get back into the gym and see where your at...at everything. You start with squats because squats are THE KING. Then you move onto the bench, the overhead press, throw in some rows and pull-ups to keep things balanced, and then finish off with some deadlifts. Oh don't worry I haven't forgot about the most important exercise! You decide after the deadlifts to do a burnout set of curls and extensions. Now you are sufficiently fried and you feel great, but the soreness is already closing in on you. Actually, you've felt your adductors tremble ever since the second set of squats but the excitement helped you ignore it so you moved on. But now it's even hard to get up the stairs and you've literally just finished the workout, you weren't expecting to feel sore until tomorrow at the earliest and it's not like this was a ridiculously big workout, you only did about 2 exercises per muscle group max. You wake up the next day and as soon as you try to pull yourself out of bed you feel it. From your calves to your neck, everything is twinging in pain as you try to semi-squat yourself out of bed. It works, but you feel like every muscle in your body just tore at once. The rest of the day continues like this, you have so much muscle soreness and weakness that going for your evening walk, even though it's one of the best things you could do to heal, just isn't possible. It takes 3 days for you to stop feeling intense soreness and to be able to resume your workout routine. But instead of learning from your previous mistake, you wore the soreness like a badge of honor and ended up making this same mistake after every big and small layoff from training for the next 3 years...... SCENE

Don't be that guy

Don't be this guy, or rather, don't be me! Every time I took a layoff whether it was forced or voluntary, I would return like this. My excitement was commendable, I wouldn't say most people get their socks off to barbells and plates! But I let my excitement get the best of me and I would always over do it. This is bad because that intense soreness I felt isn't an indication that I made better progress that workout than I would during a normal workout. On the contrary, I actually didn't make any progress during the workout and lost about half a week of progress because of it. Why? Well, because when you damage your muscles so much, as is indicated by very intense soreness, it is counter-productive to muscle growth. Simply stated, your muscle has to be repaired so much that it cannot spend any resources on growth. This does not mean that if you're sore you aren't making progress. Actually, soreness really isn't a great indicator of progress once you become acclimated to training, although some soreness is fine. So, it's great to be excited to return back to training, nothing hits the legs quite like weights do, but remember ITS BEEN AWHILE. Take it easy the first few workouts. Think of it like this, you have to put minimal effort in to get max gain! Just a set or two of each exercise max and don't go to failure, then gradually bump it up over time until you're back to your pre-layoff workout volume. Oh- – and remember to have fun! Take this grace period to try out different exercises or styles of training you've been avoiding, you might find something you like or be more sure that the way you had been training was the best for you. Either way, don't be afraid to spice it up!

The Daily Basics

Fourth of July just passed and it's definitely summer now, if it wasn't already. Rightfully so, I've had a few clients notify me they will be taking the week off to celebrate or just unwind. This is great and I highly recommend it as there are many benefits to taking time for yourself and it may even aid fitness More Info Here.

However, this post really isn't about the benefits of taking time off per se. Rather, I want to share a few stretches that can accompany you during your time off (well really anytime). These can be done daily and at a minimum three times a week. These stretches will help maintain or expand your mobility to ensure that you retain a supple, injury-resistant body.

Without further ado:

  1. The Couch Stretch Couch As per our modern environment and even more so now in these unprecedented time, we are constantly sitting in chairs. And although I should be prompted to preach to you the benefits of frequent walks, spending less time indoors, and switching to a standing desk, I know it just isn't practical for most of us. Instead i recommend you spend 5-10 mins everyday undoing the damage sitting is doing to your hips and lower back. And that solution, my friends, is the couch stretch. What I like to do when spending extended time at the computer is take a pillow and place it on the ground in front my computer chair, put my knee on the pillow and my foot on the seat and sit there switching back and forth between each side every two minutes or so. more info

  2. Pancake Pancake The Pancake stretch is another great hip opener which targets the inner thighs. Getting familiar with the pancake stretch can help relieve back pain caused by tight hips, it aids with hip flexion, and can reduce the chance of groin pulls. I usually knock out this stretch right before bed or when I'm reading articles on my phone. I'll sit on the ground, arch my back so that I don't bend at the lower back, and tilt forward at the pelvis. I recommend spending 5-10mins in this stretch, you can break it up or do it all at once, but just make sure not to push it too hard. more info

  3. Back Bridge Bridge Many of us will remember this stretch from grade school or gymnastics. This stretch opens up the entire chest, shoulders, and thoracic (upper) spine, as well as the hips! However, this stretch does require some baseline flexibility and strength in the shoulders. If you are having trouble getting into the proper position: arms extended, head off the ground, lower back arched (not hyperextended), then try the half bridge instead. a word of warning If you are new to this stretch and you find yourself fatiguing quickly, please TUCK YOUR CHIN if you feel like you're about to fall. This will protect your head from an awkward fall, and you're doing this in front of others, it will protect you from the embarrassment I received :D

I recommend 30 second holds for 3 sets.

Its no secret that I think training, and pretty much everything about Fitness, is vastly more complicated than it needs to be. I mean, it’s true that there are some concepts like periodization or concurrent-training that can be complicated. But in the grand scheme of things its not rocket science. We are picking up things and putting them back down. Large amounts of the over-complication and neurotic emphasis on details is due to marketing and the rest I think is our own damn fault. We’re always looking for that shortcut, or that quick fix, or that one thing that will just change it all and completely transform our performance or physique. It’s natural, and it’s a part of every domain. I mean how many times have you picked up a self-help or productivity book to try and fix yourself but really all you needed to do was sit down and do the work. Sometimes you really are way off course and need correction, you may be misled, misinformed, or just plain ignorant. If that’s the case, then you may actually need some quick fixes! But more often than not you just need time. Time is the panacea for progress and improvement. Experts in strength and conditioning like Greg Nuckols Image

or Jim Wendler measure training in years not months. In the Complete Strength Training Guide Greg Nuckols states, the difference between a beginner and advanced trainee can be anywhere from 6-10 years (and that’s if you are training well and not sabotaging your progress with poor diet or training adherence) Link . It takes a month to build enough muscle to notice a difference in yourself, let alone the months it takes others to see it. You should remember this for the next time you see a 90 day transformation. Remember, they probably didn’t build much muscle during that, they just lost a ton of fat and it revealed what was hiding underneath. Likewise for Hollywood actors and their “killer-transformations”, its fat-loss and probably a nice supply of HGH. So please remember, keep to the course, if there’s any indication that things are working then don’t change a thing. It all just takes time.

You shouldn't be winded

Many people, including myself, have fallen victim to a pedal-to-the-metal mindset when it comes to cardiovascular training. We believe training intensity determines training efficacy and that every workout not pushed to the limit is a missed opportunity. We watch Rocky movies and see killer montages to greatness, we see Instagram posts or YouTube videos showing the most intense training and the author’s supposed results. We award and celebrate those athletes that push through injuries to achieve greatness. We celebrate overcoming adversity but this can be taken too far. This is the fallacy of the intuitive training method.

What is this intuitive method?

Let me tell you a story about how my brother trains for his club Frisbee team in the summer and we'll discuss how almost everyone I know, me included, has fallen for this trap, why it's sub-optimal, and what the alternative is.

Ultimate Frisbee is essentially soccer but with a Frisbee instead of a ball. It consists of nearly constant intense running up and down a large field. Therefore, to train for this my brother decides, like most well intentioned athletes, to train like he plays. His workouts consists almost purely of interval sprints because Frisbee has a lot of transitions from slow jogs to fast sprints. And when he's not training sprints, he's running for as fast and as far as he can that day, hopefully further and faster than last workout. His mentality for his workouts is "to not be a baby" and to be better than last time. This is the classic Rocky montage, or pedal to the medal mentality I mentioned before. It's highly motivated, but poorly informed. It is better than nothing, and will probably improve his running a bit, but not as efficiently, healthily, or fully if he adopted an alternative.

Train Slow to go Fast

Or why the intuitive method isn't the best method.

It's intuitive for many, myself included, to think that if you work harder then you will benefit that much more. But I am sorry to say that this just isn't the case. Yes, exercise requires work and dedication, but this cannot be misplaced into trying to become Usain Bolt overnight. You must implement work with a proper plan and dedicate yourself to following that plan if you want to be successful and avoid plateaus and stagnation.

The intuitive method isn't optimal because if you train at too high of an intensity, even just enough to feel a burn, you may be missing out on some important training adaptations. For example, training at low intensity, a pace you can sustain conversation at, allows your heart to stretch maximally. This stretching of the heart strengthens it and makes it more efficient, resulting in a higher stroke volume (how much blood pumped is pumped in a single heart beat) and a lower heart rate. This is where you should spend the vast majority of your endurance training, and I mean like 80-90% of it. What happens if you start running too fast or too intensely is your heart begins to beat too fast. If your heart beats too fast, it will not stretch maximally, but rather it will twitch and you will not be strengthening it as much. Furthermore, training at a lower intensity allows you to train longer and more frequently which helps speed up training adaptations. Constantly training at a high intensity is just unsustainable. My brother was only ever able to keep up his routine for a week or two max and then he would burn out. And when I trained too intensely, I would get shin-splints and be out for the rest of the season.



Wouldn't it be nice if any article ever named like this made true on it's promise? The thing is, I'm sure no one is truly too naive to think that there is this special hack that will solve all their problems and be the difference between mediocrity and the big leagues. At least not in their heart of hearts. I mean, in the more vain and neurotic days that characterized most of my youth, I would fall victim to these headlines all too often. I just never wanted to settle for the truth that was staring me in the face. The truth that there are no shortcuts, quick-fixes, or hacks that change everything and transform you or your body overnight. The only reason I'd failed to make a significant change was because I refused to actually take it upon myself to do the things I knew I needed to do. For me, that wasn't training. I trained enough, I was in the gym more days than not. It was what I failed to do outside of the gym that really shorted my progress. Nevertheless, I refused to accept that the lack of biceps, the lack of significant strength increases, the increase in waist line, or just the static image staring me in the mirror day in and day out was due to it. Training, for me, is the easy part. It's all the stuff I needed to do outside the gym that was hard. I didn't want pack on the protein, I didn't want to avoid sweets, I didn't want to track my intake, I didn't want to make a goal or a plan. I just wanted to work hard for that hour or two every other day and then resume my regular lifestyle. I basically wanted a vacation from normalcy, but didn't really want to depart it. Of course I knew most of these bodybuilding articles, or state-of-the-art training programs were lies. But spending most of my time researching the latest training techniques, or what the pros were doing, or the newest supplements, was a small price to pay when the alternative was boring and repetitive.

There's no getting around it.

There's no getting around it, if you want to make a significant behavior change so you can lose weight, or gain strength, or run a marathon, or anything else you've set your mind to, you have to accept it. You have to accept that half the time you're not going to want to do it. Starting a new routine is exciting, it's exhilarating, the promise of success, your vision for the future materializing, these are all things to keep close to your heart. But the feeling will fade, you will have days, weeks, and months where it just seems like its all in vain. You will have days, and it will same like you only have these days, where the couch and Netflix are the only thing you want. You will rationalize having a cheat day or skipping a scheduled workout "to boost recovery." This is why you need a plan and you need to STICK TO IT. Sure, life happens and there will be emergencies or late days at work that seem to derail things, and these are fine you can adjust for that. But when everything is going peachy, and you just want to indulge a little, this is not okay, this is when you have to sit down and reflect. This is why I have my goals written down. I have a small essay written for each goal I want to accomplish so that future me can discuss with the motivated past me and redouble his efforts. When you write your goals (hopefully SMART goals), make sure you write at least a few sentences about WHY you want to do it in the first place. Because trust me, you will forget, or you may even stop caring about it if you don't.

Or maybe you're like one of my trainees who seems to have an endless supply of motivation and is just a well-spring of joy. If that describes you, consider yourself excused :) from these demands.

Until next time.