This year’s been busier than most others, and I’m more surprised than ever at how quickly it went by. After writing 7 of these in the past, I always think that I’ll run out of content for each year-end roundup, and I’m always sorely mistaken.  I’ll take it as a good sign, as it tells me that there’s still a semblance of development that’s coming from embracing this craft.

Embracing the craft has led to plenty of privileges, opportunities and experiences that were unique to 2019, and given it’s the only opportunity I tend to take to toot my own horn each year, here were some highlights:

  • I appeared in print magazines 13 times, to go along with dozens of online articles for various publications. This sounds good, but in actuality these numbers are notably lower than prior years. I’m pleased with how busy things have become that I’ve been able to stay consistent with being published.
  • I made 2 more TV appearances to talk training and fitness on morning show news.
  • I got 8 speaking engagements for the year, 5 of which had the hosts fly me out to their venue. To me, that’s a big deal and honor that my work and insights are in any demand whatsoever. 10 years ago, I’d have never thought I’d be travelling around North America to give talks that help coaches get better at their jobs. In that department, things are looking promising for 2020 already. As a college prof, I especially cherish this, since each of these roles nicely serves the other.
  • I got the wonderful opportunity to visit T-Nation headquarters in Colorado, to conduct a full, live-streamed coaching session with Dani Shugart. T-Nation will always have special value to me, as it was the first publication to ever feature my work. Check out some of that coaching session here.
  • I made it into a fitness documentary by Temple University, about the dangers of the online fitness world, and “fitspiration”. This was a unique and cool opportunity, and apparently the doc got entered into their film fest.
  • After 24 seasons, my home team finally won the NBA championship. I couldn’t pass that up. I got out to game 1 of the Finals for one memorable experience.
  • I’m proud to note that after reconstructing my knees two years ago from a freak injury, my lifting strength levels are very comparable to what they were before injury. This came to fruition with a year’s best 505 barbell deadlift, a 515×3 trap bar deadlift, and a 405 back squat, all with good form. Can’t complain about that.

 

That’s more than enough for me for 2019. Now to talk about the things I took away from the year through conversations, my training, or my work in general.

Your Warm Up Matters, Big time.

Sure, I’ve spoken about this before, but it’s become even more important since I got injured, and also since at 33 with around 13 years in the lifting game, I’m no spring chicken. Bodies are like cars. You can take care of them, but there’s no disputing the fact that as time passes, you’re putting mileage on their bodies.  It’ll take more timely upkeep to ensure it’s functioning properly, especially if you’re expecting to push it on a given day. There were times I could push myself to the PR’s I listed above, and times where lifting that would feel like I was trying to move a mountain. Regardless, the one thing that has been an absolute constant is the quality of my warm ups to prepare the knees, lubricate joints, and get muscles primed. I’d never lift without warming up first. You probably shouldn’t either.

Making the Time to Train Also means Compromise.

This covers more than one dimension. Of course, it means compromising other commitments and areas of your schedule to accommodate your workouts. But I’m actually more focused on what goes on in the workout itself.  It’s all fine and dandy that you’ve made the time to train in the name of consistency. But chances are, half the time you’ve done so, you’re overcoming a busy schedule, hectic period with work, or other responsibilities that may elevate your stress levels or reduce your hours of sleep or quality of recovery. The last thing you want is for training to become another stressor. If you’re “making the time” through thick and thin, just know that your workouts should correspond to that. Training 6 days a week means nothing if you’re constantly pushing it to the limit without regarding your recovery. No need to be a hero.  I learned this firsthand when performing my experiment of training every day for a year, and since I’ve gotten even busier, this really hit home for me.

It’s one thing to have ROM. How we Access it is what really matters.

Time to be a bit of a nerd for a second.

Often times when it comes to flexibility and mobility, we get stuck thinking that the only way to improve it is to “loosen” tissue, by way of stretching or myofascial release of some sort. That’s perfectly fine to do, but in many cases, it won’t address the root of the problem: Weakness. Remember – muscles only pull. With that in mind, it’s a more productive use of our time if we focus on creating mobility and flexibility by making the muscles responsible stronger and better at contracting to pull a joint into more range of motion. The better our body can get at producing this tension on its own without needing something to help (like a wall to lean on, etc), the better quality and balance our body will likely be. I’ll put it this way: Stretch to FEEL better, but add strength in the right places to GET better. Doing both can indeed service your body uniquely.

We all need to Earn our Programming.

When a client contacts me looking to train twice a week, but the only times they work out at all are the times they work out with me, it doesn’t warrant a full fledged training program. Programs are for making gains. The best someone will do with such a low training frequency is likely remain the same, after a few very initial improvements in skill. In another vein, we can even look at this from the vantage point of someone who trains often. If our lifestyle outside the gym doesn’t support the idea of having a structured, regimented program to follow, then it’s worth asking if that program is serving us or hurting us. Especially when that program involves training heavy and hard.

Most Clients care about Staying Safe, Looking Better, and Feeling Stronger. Often in that order.

I said it. And it’s true.  We can all pretend that every last client is after top tier performance and PR’s, but as long as you’re someone who mostly works with the general population like me, the above is 100% accurate. It’s nice to get a client to a 400 pound deadlift or a 300 pound squat, but 9 times out of 10 it won’t light a candle to how happy that same client would be if they simply achieved a pain-free status while looking much better naked than they used to. Great big lifts are the icing on the cake, and if most members of the general population could achieve the body they want from 10 pound dumbbells and acro yoga as per their trainer’s recommendation, they’d probably do it. It puts into perspective the way we train our clients, and how married we stay to certain lifts, certain standards, and certain training or programming methodologies as a whole. Chances are, you care much more about that stuff than Bill from Finance does.

You’ll never become a big deal asking for money every chance you get.

When I was just getting started into the writing game, I did a bunch of free articles. It wasn’t even negotiated that they’d be pro bono – I never asked, and never expected a dime.

When I did my first speaking engagements, I did a bunch of talks for free. Exactly the same thing as mentioned above.

I’ve met many trainers in the industry who would die before they did any work for free, and I’ll be the first to say that it probably won’t get them as far as having the opposite approach would. Taking advantage of the opportunity to share on a larger platform, help people, and make some good contacts to build lasting relationships is the way to really get recognition and respect in this industry (and likely many other industries). If you’re really interested in improving the quality of the industry with your content and info, then the money shouldn’t be the first demand out of your mouth. Sure, we’ve all gotta make a living, so all of this should come with a grain of salt – but it’s important to remember that people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. And there are thousands of other trainers who would give their left leg to be on the same platforms for no money at all. Just some food for thought.

Interlude: The Best Movies of 2019

Movies are my number 1 hobby, and I attend the Toronto International Film Festival each year, and on top of that, I typically see upwards of 30 films in theatres per year. If you follow my posts on Twitter, you’ll know that I like to give brief reviews and grades to the films I see.  And what a year in film it was! 2019 marks a terrific bounceback from what was a notably weak year in 2018, definitely re-igniting hope for the craft of filmmaking. This year, it would be understandable and completely justifiable to hear someone say that any one of about 10 different movies was their favourite and best production of the year, which is one reason why arranging and ordering my top 12 films of 2019 was not a simple task.  My movie reviews have generated something of a cult following, so I’ll make this clear for those in the know: The ordering you’ll see is based on FAVOURITE – independent of the grades I gave these movies. That makes it possible to see a film I gave a B+ in my review, end up placing higher on this list than a film I gave an A- or an A.  After much deliberation, Here’s my final list, in order:

  1. Joker – If I told you how many times I saw this in the theatre, you’d probably close this window. From the lead performance by Joaquin Phoenix that is literally in the conversation as one of the best acting jobs I’ve seen by anyone, ever, to the powerfully haunting score, to the great, open-ended origin story, this was the film that I kept landing on as favourite of the year. For “comic book based movies”, this easily lands an all-time status among the best ones ever made.
  2. 1917 – This was the film that actually received my highest score of the year, by the numbers. This was a true technical achievement, with mind blowing cinematography that uses a specific camera technique that’s unheard of for a movie based on World War 1. Along with solid acting, this film was mesmerizing. It should take home Oscars for technical categories this year.
  3. Us – I saw this movie the second most times this year, behind Joker. Jordan Peele has a lot to say here, and I feel that although most audiences did enjoy this movie, they didn’t give it quite enough credit for its thoughtfulness. The layered commentaries, references, and messages threaded throughout the plot, small infusions of humor, and, in my opinion, easily the best lead actress performance of the year (Lupita Nyong’o), this had plenty of replay value for me. Add the soundtrack and score and this was a really fun one that could rival Peele’s last production, Get Out.
  4. Parasite – This Korean film was a real treat and a pleasant surprise. I had no idea what to expect walking into this, as I read nothing and saw no trailers before. However, its exciting unpredictable plot, and its commentary on classism, capitalism, the American Dream, and more, made this a real experience. Beautifully shot, darkly funny, and a shoo-in for Best Foreign Film and Best Director.
  5. Luce – I bet you haven’t head of this. Starring a young talent in Kelvin Harrison Jr. and supported wonderfully by Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, and Tim Roth, this was a tight and neat little suspense/psychological thriller that is the closest in tone that I’ve seen to The Gift, which I had very high praise for back in 2015. This film takes its time to ask very poignant questions about being categorized or sterotyped. Each character dealt with their own form of psychological battle, and this made for movie that really sneaks up on the viewer. It’s loaded, and I loved it enough to give it a spot in the top 5.
  6. Waves – Dripping with emotion, this is the heaviest drama of the year. I appreciated the way this film takes its time to flesh out each character, and examine how a crisis (or one event) can really have a lasting effect on those close – especially as far as how it can affect relationships between others. I consider this film the most “artsy” of the 12 on this list, and it sure is a film you won’t forget once you watch. Especially when the big “it” happens.
  7. Bombshell – I saw this the second most recently (on Christmas Eve), and was very surprised at just how locked in I was during the entire runtime. This is one of the top 3 best ensemble performances I saw for the year. Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, and John Lithgow all deliver some of the best work of their career. This was a GOOD movie that, based on the subject matter, has created some polarity, which in my opinion should be irrelevant compared to the actual issue being addressed in the film. I appreciated the direction in this film for many reasons, especially with how much respect they gave each character in the cast.
  8. Ford v. Ferrari – The feel-good movie of the year. This film delivers exactly what it advertises. Some veteran actors in front of the camera on their A-game, driving fast cars in a high octane racing classic set in the 60’s. Most people rave about Christian Bale here, but I was actually most impressed with Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby. I always appreciate a film like this, and for me, it’s a movie with plenty of replay value and worth a purchase when it becomes available.
  9. Marriage Story – A real actors’ film. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson match each other’s chops in a film about a divorce that gradually gets messier and messier to bring out the worst of everyone involved. This film plays very much like a theatre production, and contains some turns of seriously commendable acting from each character, in what are very demanding roles. I appreciated the supporting work from Laura Dern and Ray Liotta also, as they were their usual, solid selves.
  10. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Hype may place this film higher on other people’s lists. I loved the performances from DiCaprio and Pitt here and always have a soft spot for Quentin Tarantino’s unorthodox directing. This was an intriguing watch that takes a different spin on a tragic storyline, adding more than its fair share of kooky fiction. Definitely a fun time in the theatre. I also never thought I’d hear Leo sing.
  11. Hotel Mumbai – This was released in March of this year, which deserves props for having the legs to last another 9 months while holding a spot on this year-end list. This was a tense thriller based on the true events of the Mumbai attacks of 2008, and the white-knuckle tension works very well for the film’s contained setting. It’s a movie that just kept lingering in my memory through the summer and fall. Definitely worth a watch.
  12. Knives Out – I’ll be honest. I didn’t expect this one to make the final list, but the more I thought about the core enjoyment factor of the films in question, the more I thought it deserved the final spot. This was undeniably a fun time in the theatre, following a whodunnit that takes a few twists and turns. A massive cast of stars including Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon and Daniel Craig makes this a reliable experience for a big-budget film.

As tough as that list was to make, it’s not about to ignore some honorable mentions that narrowly missed the final cut. Here were the next 8 on the short list:

  • Avengers: Endgame
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Queen and Slim
  • Dolemite is my Name
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood
  • The Farewell
  • Pain and Glory
  • The Irishman

Grab hold of all these flicks, along with some popcorn with layered butter, and enjoy a great escape from reality.

Back to business.

If you’re doing a heavy corrective exercise, you’re not doing a corrective exercise.

I’ve never understood the idea of stacking the cable station on face pulls, or using 40 pound dumbbells for the empty can exercise. The strength and conditioning world gets so caught up with the idea of making ‘progress’ in one particular area – weight lifted – that it can detract from the greater good an exercise can provide in the veins of patterning, range of motion, mobility and the like. Some movements aren’t meant to be performed “heavy”, even if you’re strong enough to handle all of the weights. You can guarantee that a heavy load will allow other muscles outside of the target to contribute, leaving you at no advantage bigger picture. Next time you want to use 150 pound dumbbells for your front foot elevated split squats, think twice. There are several other ways to view “progression” to exercise. Add range of motion. Slow the tempo down. Reduce transfer of forces. Decrease rest interval. Enjoy all the benefits of making a light weight feel heavy by the way you manipulate it.

I have Run out of Patience for the Angry or Overly Sensitive On the Internet

In fact, I have so little patience left, that this is going to be one of the shortest subheadings of this article. If you’re predisposed to confrontation or useless debate over FREE articles or posts designed to help you improve your training, you’ll probably receive a response you dislike (if any), if you don’t send me your qualm via direct message. Being disrespectful or confrontational on a public thread tells me you have no real interest in learning or resolution. You just want to impress an audience. Interestingly, the amount of confrontational messages I do get via direct message, I can count on the fingers of one hand…

On a second note, consider this: on my social media and public profile, I don’t talk about life, discuss politics or religion, nor do I harp on lifestyle choices unless they prove directly harmful to good, sustainable training. I don’t curse in my speech in videos, nor in my writing for my articles or posts, and I don’t intentionally discriminate or downtalk any group or gender. I don’t pose naked for the camera, nor do I have people do so for my threads.  I don’t call individuals out on the internet to wage war, nor do I do so via subliminals. This doesn’t mean I’m “better” than anyone. It simply describes my personal online presence, and its obvious absence of typically divisive material. If you STILL find something to be offended by within my content based on the above rules of presentation I follow, we aren’t a good fit. And I’m sorry on many levels.

It’s important to use all your weight training to DO things.

This is easily the biggest mistake I made in my personal weight training journey, and a mistake many a meathead make. Getting big and strong doesn’t make you athletic. It just makes you big and skilled at moving heavy, symmetrical loads in very specific patterns. If you’ve made significant gains in the weight room, it would do you some good to put them to use by practicing something remotely athletic that departs from the gym. I truly believe doing so is a vehicle toward staying healthy and injury-free. When I injured my knees playing basketball, it had been nearly 8 months since I’d played. And my 550 deadlift and 440 squat PR’s didn’t save me. Multidirectional strength and power, connective tissue conditioning, and muscular endurance were all areas that took second place to improving strength in the big compound, sagittal plane movements. As healthy as these are to improve, they’re only half the battle when it comes to training for real life. There’s little purpose in being big or strong for no functional reason. Play a sport each week. Take up some martial arts. Go run or swim. Take dance classes. You earned it. Your body will thank you.

Any coach can make you tired. Great coaches make you better.

Having just created an Instagram account basically since my last year-end post, I’ve definitely acclimated myself to the goings on of the “popular culture” of fitness. As such, I’ve noticed how much traction eye-candy posts that involve extremely challenging-for-no-reason exercises tend to get from the general public. Though I tend not to post those things myself, I do notice that the more out of the ordinary an exercise I do post, the more likes and shares it gets also.  Many people out there are looking for the latest, trendy and sexy movement that makes for a beautiful glossy social media post that may showcase how athletic they are, with very little carryover to the public, nor much application to actual legitimate training. Whether you’re an exercise enthusiast or a trainer yourself, beware of the hot-button fitness trends you find online. Posts like those aren’t the basis of training, and 9 times out of 10, the poster prepared that one challenging set of banded bottoms-up kettlebell single arm weighted pull ups-to-burpees just for the sake of putting it on their wall, only to return to their vanilla workout comprising of the plain old basics that got them the in-shape body they flaunt.

There’s a reason I don’t know many folks who are over 70 and obese.

That reason is because most of them don’t make it to 70.  I said it.

Truth be told, that sounds harsh, but it’s true. The body can only handle so much, and as much as we may want to find reasons to defend the fluid definition of “healthy”, having a high BMI or body fat percentage can come in to haunt us down the road if we’re not careful. It doesn’t completely discount the notion that “healthy” indeed comes in many forms. But it does show that our body composition does matter. In my case, it’s confirmed to me that I don’t want to be walking around at 250 by the time I reach my 40’s, no matter what the composition is. It’s just easier on the body to run a lighter machine, period. This doesn’t mean to embrace the imminent muscle atrophy if you’re a beefcake, either. But it may mean taking a few phases to change up the goals for a bit, in the name of good health and longevity. If you’re not 23 anymore, it may be the smart thing to do.  And if you’re big and heavy in a “different” kind of way, just know that the journey you’re on toward better health and improved body composition takes time. Staying the course will pay you immense dividends.

The Strength Training World wears Rose Tinted Glasses. 

We all talk about strength training and its benefits, without considering any potential disadvantages that it may present. That’s our fault as professionals. The strength and conditioning world has seemingly forgotten or minimized the “conditioning” part of its very title.  As I mentioned above, it’s easy to get transfixed on simply progressing every exercise possible in the gym by way of adding more and more load for new PR’s. That’s a great way to get strong, and a pretty good way to increase your chances of an acute injury or some form of chronic pain. Seriously.

Let’s look at this from an extreme perspective: If you talk to the strongest squatter, deadlifter, or bench presser in the world, you can bet your bottom dollar that they didn’t get to those insane numbers without dealing with injuries related to their lift, or without the presence of chronic pain that they receive treatment for. My point is, getting strong has countless benefits, but beyond a certain point, it presents a tradeoff to other areas of your fitness or health (think of cardiorespiratory capacity, mobility, flexibility, or even body composition). We conveniently ignore the dark side of strength training that presents itself to lifters of intermediate or advanced skill level; the ones who have gotten strong and are still looking to get stronger. This is where the law of diminishing returns begins to rear its head. If you’re not a competition lifter, it’s important not to fall into this trap and avoid other aspects of your fitness. Getting strong is just one of them. Don’t forget to get and stay in shape, too.

2020

That ends a decade. Pretty wild. Putting these nuggets of wisdom to good use into the next decade should make for more wins, which I’m excited for.  There’s quite a bit in store as I have a few things in the pipeline to help lifters get more effective workouts, and to help trainers give more effective workouts. Keep in touch with me on social media so you don’t miss out.

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