People who stay plugged into interactive fitness during the pandemic are going to be light-years ahead of everyone else, physically/emotionally/mentally. Most other people are already slipping.
Last week, I found that the virtual sessions were vital to ensure good programming and technique. One, people were missing form until I saw it. Two, they weren’t clear on HOW to become MORE fit and progress with what little is available. Go ahead and ask people right now, “how do you keep making an exercise more difficult without adding reps or weight?” If you reach failure with an at-home exercise at 10 reps, how do you make it harder such that you can only perform 5 reps? See. Clueless. Without this critical understanding of exercise science, at-home workouts are garbage. But good coaches can actually make the same exact 5-rep exercise so hard that you can barely do 1 rep WITH NO EQUIPMENT.
Activity is fine. Go for hikes and walks. Do 10,000 air squats and 100,000 arm circles. But you won’t get stronger or improve immunity. Also, your mind isn’t going to do so well. It already isn’t.
This week, I noticed something else. Right now, people are uninspired. In calls, I see that change. I see the spark. People who are down at the start of a FaceTime are fired up at the end. The rest of their weeks and lives is passive. Drudgery even. But in interactive fitness, there’s something palpably different, more than I imagined.
Never more than now was the contrast greater between people with coaches and people without them. Mental health is taking a big hit. And we know that physical activity changes that. We also know that uninspired physical activity seldom gets done. When it does get done, it’s mostly unproductive. When it is productive, it’s seldom efficient or highly effective.
Coaches: you are more valuable than you’ve ever been; the virtual sessions are more valuable than any in-person appointment you’ve ever done; don’t give up on people. Many have already given up. Many more are ready to. We have to lead. We must inspire. And that means each other as well.
In 2004 my first real boss said to me, “you’re always arguing with the trainers; why don’t you become one?” I have to thank him for that. The impact he had is profound, even to this day.
Right away that day, I obtained this cutting edge study material, CD-roms, which I sense some young IGers won’t recognize any more than a tape deck or rotary phone. I also unearthed some of my initial books yesterday for a client of mine who is embarking on the journey of becoming a certified personal trainer as next career/next chapter of life.
Before I handed them over, I perused these materials, and rediscovered how robust they were. At the time I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate the sections on behavioral change, making the clear distinction between process goals and product goals as one example. Over 15 years ago, I was so intent on the science, the mechanisms, the biology and physiology, that I missed some of the most pertinent pieces of coaching: mindset, emotional readiness, psychological resistance, victim narratives, and more.
As critical as I’ve been of NASM or Bally’s, I have to hand it to them on just how many things they did get right, just how many systems they thought through, just how much positive impact they made which can now be paid forward.
Most aches and pains are in part underlying imbalances. Look at this through whatever lens you like: chiropractic alignment; MAT activation; RPR sequencing; OPT cross syndromes; FMS analysis; the list goes on. The point is that modern life has a closed armpit, forward head carriage, protracted shoulder, flexed, adducted and internally rotated, and pronated hand position. On your phone, your tablet, your computer, your couch, at your workstation or desk, in your car, you name it. Thus, at some point, you should probably do the OPPOSITE. Well, here is the opposite: prone external rotation (video here: ).
It’s critical that you begin in a corrective/endurance loading and rep range (light weight at 15-25 reps). Maintaining retraction and the elbow oriented at shoulder (sagittal and frontal abduction), rotate into a “goalpost”. Common limitations are bicipital groove syndrome and compartment syndrome (wherein you would do isometrics in the unaffected angle) and insufficient pectoral extensibility, perhaps requiring SMR prior. Though I’m not a fan of direct pressures or classical “stretching,” I’d encourage people to be pragmatists when retraining healthy thoracic range (ie - extension). That is, do what it takes to gradually approximate full range of motion, without compromising tissue through pain or excessive strain.
The primary target, the supraspinatus, achieves its shortest position and loaded at the top of this movement. When you reference its origin on the supraspinous fossa of the scapula and its insertion on the superior aspect (but ALMOST posterior/medial) of the humerus, you can see how we constantly over-lengthen and detrain and strain it with everyday postures. Compensations through neck are expected. This movement gives you a fighting chance AND lends to better support for further athletic endeavors.
"I don't do that."
"Don't ask me to undermine my code."
When you have staked out a position for how you will live your life, a lot of other people take that as a personal challenge that they must destroy your morality. When you commit to losing weight, people will say, “can’t you have just one cupcake?” When you have committed to early morning workouts, they will say, “can’t you sleep in just ONE day?” Whatever parameters you decide to place on yourself others will take as a silent judgment on their unmanaged lives and seek to undermine your moral code. Even when it is abundantly evident you couldn’t care less how they want to live their lives, they aren’t satisfied by letting you be your best self. Crabs in a bucket.
A lot of clients, peers, and friends have voiced this concern to me over the years. It makes them fearful of parties, get-togethers, and holidays. I try to remind them that you cannot be a follower when you are changing how you live. You must don the mantle of leadership. And you must expect that people will desire tearing you down, rather than supporting you. I've encountered it in every facet of life, from parenting to business, and everything in between. When people see discipline, vision, joy, and clarity, they are oddly drawn to challenge it before they are inspired to emulate it.
And I think it’s productive to place it in a hard moral context. The first line of defense when others seek to tear you down can be a simple “I don’t do that.” Avoid saying “can’t.” Keep it simple: I don’t. This is phrase one. Practice it. Memorize it. It will take care of about 90% of people.
On occasion, this will inspire people (the other 10%) with no moral compass to double down, because your resolve is unnerving to them. Rather than just respect your boundaries, people want to bulldoze through. It’s at this point you need to put the moral aspect out there. You are developing or have developed a code of conduct for yourself. For a variety of reasons, they disrespect that and seek to undermine it.
Unfortunately, when they’ve hit this dead end, they will flip into gaslighting, arguing that your sensibilities are adversely affecting THEM. I think of it like a gang member asking you to keep a lookout while he and others rape, rob, or kill. They were unsuccessful at inspiring you to rape, rob, or kill. You DON’T do that. You WON’T do that. So the inquiry will turn into something like “if you were a real friend, you would support me in what I HAVE to do”. Umm. No. No one needs to accept enabling and complicity in any acts, let alone ones which an individual deems immoral for herself. My self-discipline doesn't say anything about you; but your attempt to upset it does make you a bad person.
There’s a chasm of difference between a favor that is reasonable but difficult and a “favor” which undermines your moral code.
When they've hit the gaslighting stage, you've got one more phrase: "don’t ask me to undermine my code.” That’s all. It's simple. This stops anyone with a shred of humanity left. Practice the line. Memorize it. And to be fair, don’t ask others to undermine their codes. We can all get along and be good to one another while maintaining our codes and respecting boundaries. When people commit to a path, whether it be a journey of growth or a fitness effort, the best thing we can do is to show support, rather than ask them to give up their compass. Over time, you'll find that some of the people most ready to undermine your code will come back seeking your advice on building their own resolve.
Memorize these two sentences. Don't rephrase them into softer versions. Practice them. Say them aloud. Use them.
Stay the course.
"Can I talk to you after class?"
Fall of 2000 my professor for Anatomy and Physiology asked me this question just before wrapping up in the lecture hall one day. A few hundred students looked at me like, “that guy is going to get it.” In lectures we scribbled wildly in a hall of hundreds of students, trying to keep up, while testing required replete human anatomy identification. In exams a typical question would just be a blank diagram of the hand and wrist; we would need to freehand write down all 27 bones, all extrinsic and intrinsic muscles, identify arteries and nerve branches. In lab, we did a lot of microscopy. The course was no joke.
I’d forgotten this event until the other day when I received a copy of my undergrad transcripts (I had to order copies for some of my specialty certifications). I stayed until everyone exited.
The prof walked up to me and said, “do you know you have the highest grade in this class?”
I said, “no.”
He said, “I looked at your stated majors, Computer Science and Business Finance - you’re the only non-Biology-major to get an A on every exam.”
“And?”, I said.
He asked, “why aren’t you pre-med?”
I said, “because I want to do something that’s so hard for me that I won’t have the highest grade in the class.”
If you’re the smartest one in the room, you’re in the wrong room. Growth is where you struggle. That same day I changed my major to the hardest possible area of study for me personally, classics and linguistics, where I would need to develop proficiency/fluency in at least 3 foreign languages. The human body only has 632 pairs of articulating muscles. A basic proficiency in a foreign language requires 3,500 to 5,000 vocabulary (not mentioning the conjugations, declensions, grammar, etc.). Multiply by 3.
People think they want it easy. You don’t. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the most fulfilling things you’ll ever do are at the edge of your capabilities, where you are unsure it’s even possible. There's a reason why rich and famous people commit suicide, why elderly people become uninterested and uninteresting. Life has absolutely no meaning once you've "arrived." We are meant to embrace the difficult. It's not human to coast. In the words of Camus, "imagine Sisyphus happy."
My son and I were reading about Harriet Tubman two years ago when we stumbled on a simple truth. In the book, the author made very clear how Harriet risked her life and liberty every single trip back to free more people from slavery. At the end, it asked young readers to contemplate why she would risk her own safety so many times. My son said, "because no one should own another person; no one should be owned." Simple.
I wondered how she gathered the energy to soldier on when so much of the universe appeared to be against her. She had a devout belief in her purpose. But also, her incredible life's work of helping to free over 700 people from slavery was completed one trip at a time, one day at a time.
Most of us don't have a divine mission at the level of Tubman. But we have to summon the strength to face tough odds, injustice, and the mistakes of the world nonetheless. Like her, we can only do it one trip at a time, one step at a time.
And in this moment, all we need is the strength for today’s journey.
Transformation Alert: from skinny fat and zero muscle definition to skinnier fatter and less muscle definition (video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B5sfYa7jKq3/). That’s right. In only a year, this underweight woman with osteoporosis and sarcopenia so bad her eyes are sunken in was able to transform her amorphous blob of an indistinguishable back-shoulder-arm (no really, I can’t tell where one begins or ends) into a lighter less-toned person who throws away hours on steady state cardio. Slave for wiry skinniness and calorie burn.
👍🏾 solid message, Peloton.
PICK UP A DUMBBELL. The average American loses 1-2lbs of lean tissue per year and replaces it with fat tissue. Burning off more muscle and bone density with a single plane activity of repetitive cardio monotony isn’t the answer. And it sure as hell ain’t fitness.
In the case of this lady, she needs to gain about 20lbs of bone, tendon, ligament, connective and muscle tissue to be healthy, let alone fit. In a standard fitness battery, she (like most cardio queens) will get crushed.
Become athletic. Gain agility. Practice balance and speed. Have the capability to move sideways and rotationally. Become strong. Be dynamic. Train to safely and easily pick up heavy things and place them overhead. Do A push-up, A pull-up, A sit-up, A lunge, A single deadlift for crying out loud. I think they call that basic physical function.
Or... “transform your life” by the same. exact. repetitive. motion. over. and. over. and. over. and...
A client of mine was musing about an upcoming month with no events in it and how that lack of events will make compliance (regular workouts and diet adherence) easy. I cautioned her against thinking that way, because hitching your hopes to a challenge-less period of time is wishful thinking at best and a death wish at worst.
Today is the day. There's never going to be more time than you have right now; and what a gift it is.
I once heard a Navy SEAL say the number one secret to high performance is beginning the day with gratitude, being thankful for every good thing in ones life.
I include the challenges in my thanks. I include the urgency. I'm never going to have more time to do the things in life I want to do than I have today, right now.
I'm never going to have more time to spend with my kids than I have right now. I'm never going to have more time to reach for a goal.
Some people didn't get today. Some won't see its end. Not one of us is promised tomorrow. Each day passes; and there's 24 fewer hours in your life to git 'er dun. This is it. But it's more than enough, if you want it to be.
I had a mentor in college who frequently said, “a little bit of knowledge is dangerous.” The joke was about INCOMPLETE understanding of a subject. Beginners like to weigh in with opinions before they grasp the mechanisms of a system. This can be remedied with just a little more patience and learning.
I see it a lot in health and fitness. A once-heard meme about heart disease has a greater likelihood of influencing people’s beliefs than the known biology. An ad on TV dictates people’s opinion about food and exercise more than the actual science. Frequently, I find that a non-controversial chemistry fact I say to clients or friends is met with a response like, “but don’t THEY say that milk does a body good?” What? Who is they? How do we define good? What kind of milk? Wasn’t that a television marketing campaign in the 80s? I’m talking about chemical laws.
And so we see it in magical thinking, superstition, or more recently with denial and conspiracy theories. People who’ve never even thought about the nature of viruses believe whole-heartedly that Covid isn’t dangerous AND/OR that it’s a lab-concocted Rothschild assault on our liberties. If they would take the time to learn anything about infectious disease or virology, they’d discover there is absolutely nothing surprising about the present pandemic.
People in the field have been writing about this exact possibility in the 70s:
Coronavirus making the jump to humans in the 80s:
The inevitable likelihood of viral pandemic in the 90s:
How people with underlying health conditions will get crushed with a respiratory flu in the 90s:
Hundreds of papers on the SARS Coronavirus in 2003.
And essentially predicting our current situation in 2007 (reference photo) and the emerging zoonotic threats in 2008:
What we're all observing in the world is just how viral mutation has always worked and must work. If you imagine an x-axis to plot infectiousness and a y-axis to plot deadliness, any mutation must shift one or both. But one tends to upend the other, which is why we see an Avian flu high and to the left and Measles low and to the right. If it’s deadly, it tends to kill off before developing high infection rates, and vice versa.
We could also imagine a z-axis representing other traits (animal-to-human viability, pandemic preparedness, etc.). Viral mutation dictates that these must happen, and have. We lucked out for 102 years; and, frankly, even Covid isn’t high and to the right (which will also happen one day). It has a middle mix of both, with a depth in the z-axis.
We cannot control the x and y axes. We can only limit part of the z-axis depth. That was always the case. Covid and all viruses will mutate again. Some of these mutations will move them higher, some lower, some rightward, some leftward, some deeper, some shallower. This is a natural consequence of replication. It requires no conspirators. Maybe we won't get a virus that is high and to the right for another 102 years; but we WILL get one eventually. And hopefully, by then, we will have emergency measures in place that limit its depth.
You don’t need to invoke magic, superstition, panic, denial, or conspiracy if you remain patient and learn. It’s not to say that conspiracies aren’t ever real. In health and fitness, there are well-documented cases of conspiratorial suppression of science around cholesterol and pharmaceuticals. But we don’t have to default to these fear coping mechanisms when we face something new to us. We can remain calm. Stay patient. And withhold far-flung opinions until we gain a little more understanding.
“One day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight.”
Whether we reference these words from Isaiah or Dr. King, it appears they are truly prophetic words: Entropy - The degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity - https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/entropy. In the same way that the turbulent forces which create ripples in the pond above will eventually cease to administer their influence, all other forces which aim to create inequality will placidly smooth like an untouched pond.
It doesn’t take long to find that research on heart health and longevity indicates anger/bitterness in shortening lifespan and forgiveness in lengthening it. That is, how you live in your spirit probably impacts health more than diet and exercise combined: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it. And, although grudges toward individuals will torment and kill you, what we often don’t think about is broad grudges and grand hatred. To be clear, bigotry, racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, etc., are broad grudges against a whole group. They’re intense and massive grudges toward ideologies, political world views, or even greater abstract ideas of others.
I’d also caution against thinking you’re immune to this just because of the “rightness” or “righteousness” of your side. The mere effort to exalt “our guys” with the diminution of “their guys” IS a constant grudge, an ongoing anger and rejection of a whole group. That anger is inside you, not burning a hole in your opposition. It’s burning a hole inside of you.
But that feeble attempt to raise up your side and subjugate the other side will end. It is a physical law that an absolute equality come about. We know it. We sense it. And we can palpably feel the consequences to our internal state when we defy it. No matter what wrongs we do in life, no matter the greatest attempts at bigotry and inequity, the universe will all come to a state of total uniformity.
Our futile efforts at bolstering “our side” will one day be totally wiped out. And I can’t help but believe that rebellion against equality will come at overt and immediate costs to our health in that very moment: https://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/janfeb-2013/is-inequality-shortening-your-life-span/. Hatred in our souls conflicts with the very nature of Nature; and that conflict robs us of peace. It is inevitable, whether we believe in divine providence or disbelieve in divine providence. It is the natural procession of ultimate time. Inequality is at odds with the laws of physics.