You Asked Me for the Time, Not How to Build a Watch

   I’m preparing to soon leave for my annual vacation with my son & wife. This time always brings mixed feelings. I just got over the feeling that it’s OK for me to take some time off and that I’ll be a better trainer and studio owner after I return refreshed from my trip. As a business owner, I battle with the emotions that if I’m ever not working, I’m slacking off. I know this is typical behavior of a work-a-holic, which I admit to lean towards, at times. It’s also typical behavior for entrepreneurs. I’m both, so I guess I’m doomed. A few years ago, I realized I struggle with taking time off. I decided to always book my vacations 1 year out and paying for them in full 2 months before the trip. This approach has forced me to take the time off. If I waited 3-4 months out to book the trip like many people, I would never take them. This is like suggesting to one of my studio members, who wants to lose weight, to eat a healthy meal before they go to the 4th of July barbeque. It’s all about creating a strategy for success. 

     My vacation will include lots of beach time with my family, reading, and reflection time. When you’re out of the day to day struggles of business, you can take a step back. This allows you to think clearer. I look forward to these times. It was last year that I came to understand one of the things that I do pretty well,  which is taking complicated fitness ideas and training principals and delivering them to the general public. The names “Pavel Tsatsouline”, “Juan Carlos Santana”, and “Dan John” may not mean anything to you, but in the world of strength and conditioning these men are living legends. In 2001, Rolling Stone Magazine named Pavel our country’s “Hot trainer” and pictured him with a kettlebell in his hand. He has been credited for popularizing the kettlebell in the US. Juan Carlos, or “JC” as he’s known in fitness circles, is considered the father of functional training. He has been a huge influence in how I train people and I have adopted many of his training strategies. Dan John is a top writer on strength and conditioning. His blog is legendary for its impact on the fitness world, but he’s probably most famous for creating the Gobblet squat and popularizing the benefits of loaded carries in exercises programs. These are 3 men I follow, that many of you have never heard of before, and unless you are pursuing a career in fitness or strength and conditioning you shouldn’t have to. 

     I feel that it’s my job to read and decipher the information and then present what may be relevant or beneficial for my members. Each one of these gentlemen do a great job of presenting information, but it’s more for the seasoned veteran. Not one of these guys is famous for their compassion for people looking to lose weight or handling the rookie in the gym. It’s similar to Ted Williams, the famous baseball player of the Red Sox, when he became a manager. Many considered his stint as a manager a failure. Known as “the greatest hitter that ever lived”, he would tell his players to just go and hit the ball! Not a lot of compassion and listening to his players. His approach to coaching players was the opposite of Hall of Fame Yankee’s manager, Joe Torre, who was recognized for handling the many personalities in his locker room. Joe was known for getting the most out of each player. He would quickly identify how to deal with each player and give them what they needed. I feel that I do that with each of my members. Most of my members could care less how to hang clean a sandbag or use the TRX suspension system. After I explain how these tools utilize many of the larger muscles of the body, are easy to learn, and will play a role in burning body-fat, they are all in. I have yet to have a person that comes in ask me, do you have sleds I can push? They don’t want to know how to build the watch, they just want to know the time. Dropping body fat and looking leaner is what they want. Next week, I’ll read more about how the body works and peruse new and innovative exercise programs, so I can continue to give my people the correct time at the studio. 

See you at the studio.

Obliques Are the New Glutes

         What does Thomas Ford, Ray Kroc, and Steve Jobs have in common? Amongst many things, they are visionaries. The new buzz term is “disruptors”. CNBC defines them as people who create innovations that change the world. Another way to put it is people who don’t accept the current status quo. They know there is a better way. Ford knew there was a better way to travel. Kroc knew there was a better way to get a meal quickly. Jobs knew there was a better way to get information and music. I don’t think many would argue with me that these three deserve to be on the Mt. Rushmore of iconic visionaries. Creating something that didn’t exist before is very challenging. In my world, the fitness world, new concepts aren’t created every year. What happens, like in many industries, old concepts are recycled frequently. This is why, when a new training modality surfaces, it sends shock waves throughout the industry. 

     Suspension training was revolutionary. Randy Hetrick created the TRX suspension system and fitness hasn’t been the same. The same can be said about what Josh Henkin is currently doing with the Ultimate sandbag using his dynamic variable resistance training system (DVRT). Movement training is the rave now and, as an industry, we’re all learning that we aren’t built like Frankenstein. We can’t train individual muscle groups. Our bodies move in patterns within multiple planes of motion (sagittal, coronal or frontal, and transverse), and we should train on multiple planes. 


    For the record, I am in agreement with this thought process, and follow this protocol at my training studio. I prefer not to try and create something new but to follow forward thinking people who challenge the status quo like the famous names I mentioned in my opening sentence. One of those forward thinking people is Dr. Stuart McGill, or Yoda, as I like to refer to him. This man is, hands down, one of the most informed people on lower back mechanics and he has a heavy influence on the fitness industry. His lab has produced much of the research on lower back disorders and the core. He’s written multiple articles on how to train the core and how the muscles of the core respond to exercise & stress. Many cite him as the reason why the plank has replaced the crunch as the most productive way to train the core. What some lose in the translation of his articles is that it’s not the standard prone plank that he highly recommends, but the side plank as one of the most effective exercises you can perform for your core. 

     What I’ve observed at my studio working with clients is how people are very competent when working in the saggittal plane of motion, but once you either change or add an additional plane of motion, such as the frontal or transverse planes, things have a tendency to go sideways rather quickly. A common problem is that people will tend to fatigue a lot quicker in these two latter planes of motion. It was Henkin who joked, “obliques, which are used extensively in the frontal plane, are the new glutes”. 

     It was around 5 years ago that we all learned we needed to work our gluteus maximus or glutes more. Terms like “glute amnesia” become the buzz in conversations at the local Starbucks. I knew it was getting trendy when Tiger Woods stated his inability to fire his glutes as an explanation for his poor play at a major. More deadlifts, Tiger. To get back to training obliques, what I think we need to concentrate on is, not only training the obliques, but our ability to efficiently use them as our overall body starts to fatigue. A drill I like to coach at the studio is to have someone maintain a side plank as they use a battling rope. I observe to see if they can maintain stiffness in their side plank as they breathe hard and start to fatigue from the ropes. To see a demonstration of this exercise, watch this video.

Give that a try and let me know if you think obliques are the new glutes. 

See you at the studio.

The Hardest Workout at the Studio

   It’s the first week of May and summer is right around the corner. My son completing the 4th grade and going on summer break is also 5 weeks away. As far as he’s concerned, it can’t come sooner. Then the trick will be keeping him occupied for the summer. My wife does an amazing job with this. It’s not just about keeping him occupied, it’s more about keeping him challenged. Overcoming daily challenges is so important for us to help with progress. Summer is a great time for him to kick back & recharge, but we don’t want him to completely shut off his ability to handle challenges. The level of the challenges will vary from small to moderate, but nonetheless they need to exist. Overcoming challenges has become a part of training for CEOs. Workshops created by retired decorated military officers & navy seals have grown in popularity. Jocko Willinik, popularized from the Tim Ferriss podcast, has been thrust into the national spotlight for his week long boot-camps for CEOs. His boot-camp is famous for drills in leadership and daily disciplines. 

     Coaching people to do things that they don’t want to do is one of my strengths. I have been fascinated with helping people to overcome obstacles and maximize their potential. I read a lot about tenacity and the benefits of persistence. There is a classic study that gave some children a math problem that couldn’t be solved. They timed the children to see how long they would keep at it before they quit. They have been able to correlate these kid’s successes in school to their ability to persist. The longer the child worked on the problem, the better they performed in school. Angela Duckworth has a famous Ted Talk called Grit: Passion and Perseverance. If you have 6 minutes, you can view the talk below.

Angela Duckworth Ted Talk

Listening about how people overcome challenges was my inspiration for the Torch Challenge we had in the studio last week. In the Challenge you have 15 minutes to complete:

  • As many gobblet squats holding a kettlebell in 2 minutes (28kg kettelbell for men/ 16kg for women)
  • As many overhead presses with an Ultimate Sandbag in 2 minutes (55lbs. bag for men/ 35lbs. bag for women)
  • As many inverted bodyweight rows using the TRX suspension system for 1 minute
  • Push a weighted sled as far as possible in 2 minutes (305lbs for men/ 205lbs for women)

     This event was a huge success. The level of intensity was high and many members performed personal records. There was no charge to participate. It’s open only to members of the studio. We schedule every member for the challenge so that they will have one of my coaches to count their repetitions. The quality of each rep is strictly enforced and every rep is earned. Afterwards, we award a male & female winner. The last 2 female winners admitted training all year with the end-goal of winning the trophy. One of the consistent outcomes by the members is their own amazement at what they can do. A famous strength coach, Dan John, has lectured that you should have some type of assessment to prove that your training program is working. Prior to the Challenge, I trained people without showing them solid proof that what I was doing was making them stronger. People frequently commented that they felt stronger. We saw changes in dress sizes, on the scale, and in the mirror. I wanted more. I wanted to blow their minds on what they could do strength wise after following our training protocol.

     Some people consider perseverance as courage. My goal of the challenge is to show people that under our guidance they have substantially improved. All things said, it was one of the hardest workouts administered in our studio, and everyone involved feels better for completing it. It’s funny how life works. 

See you at the studio.



Are We Talking About Practice?

     I recently had a work desk built for Tiffany, our operations manager, at the studio. It was a big deal as it marked a benchmark for the studio. As our operations manager, she handles all of the day-to-day issues outside of actually training such as scheduling of appointments for members, handling walk-ins, tracking inventory of our retail items etc. We’ve been open for 18 months and as we’ve grown the need for someone to handle these necessary tasks has become dire. As an entrepreneur you do your best to handle a lot of the odd & ends initially, but eventually you run out of time in the day. I personally came to a realization that my time was better spent training my coaches on strength and conditioning, working with members privately or in semi-private groups, and writing. It took us 18 months of a little chaos to know exactly how we needed the operations desk to be set up. We needed to have multiple consultations with prospective members. We needed to see where a good location for our retail should be. We had to have a set up that was functional for our needs. We had to go through this process to truly know what would work for us. The outcome is that Tiffany has a very efficient set up that works for both her & the members. After giving it some thought, isn’t that the way to approach almost anything? To initially go without and create a void, so when the opportunity arises you know what you need for certain.
     I look back on my personal training career and recognize that a large part of my job is to convince people to embrace the process of healthy eating and exercise. Squats, kettlebell swings, and TRX rows are the process to get them to where they want to be. Leaner thighs, defined mid-sections and bulging biceps are the outcome. The hours with me at the studio are the necessary process to get them to their outcome. If they aren’t willing to complete that process they will not get their desired outcome. This may sound like common sense, but many people never come to this understanding. I have never had a person come to me looking to be a master kettlebell instructor. I have had woman come to me looking to tone their glutes. I have a saying that the easy part is paying for the training. The hard part is what follows. 

     I had a client years ago who brought in a Men’s Health magazine showing me the cover photo of Gerard Butler after he filmed 300. Computer generated imagery (CGI as it’s commonly referred to) or not, Butler was in top shape for this movie. In the article, he discusses his complete obsession over exercise and eating that he had to do for 3 months in this role. He had to get into impeccable shape for the role and then maintain it during the filming. He trained 3 hours a day. He woke up in the middle of the night to drink protein shakes. They would film all day and train for 3 hours afterwards. He admits that he could only maintain a level of this ultra-intensity for a brief period. So back to my client, he shows me this and says “Let’s go for it”.  I try to explain to him that this is an extremely intense process, also one that is not healthy to maintain for the long term. Against my suggestions, we embark on this journey. 

     During our first workout he stops after a set to discuss his weekend. I tell him to hold that thought because I want to limit his rest time to 15 seconds. He tells me slow down, that we have time. I explain that to get his metabolism ramped up we need to watch his rest time intervals. He didn’t like that our normal chit-chat time got curtailed. 

     Next, I gave him a full-body circuit workout I wanted him to do 2 days a week outside of our 3 day a week workouts. Two weeks in I checked in to see how he was doing on these workouts. “Got busy with some other stuff, couldn’t get them both in.” The end to our experiment came when he took his wife out to breakfast and had a muffin loaded with butter with his meal. A food Nazi I’m not and I have adopted a balanced approach to nutrition that allows treats and rewards from time to time. In order to fulfill what he wanted though buttered muffins weren’t on the menu. I explained that we should keep to our prior program of getting stronger, leaner and improving his mobility at a more relaxed pace. He agreed and we throttled back some of the intensity. To get the extreme outcome he was looking for, he wasn’t willing to embrace the process it required. This was a big lesson to me. When goal setting with members and clients, I need to clearly draft a picture of what is required to get the end result they want. This picture usually includes 3 days a week of intense exercise for 45 minutes to an hour, including a diet rich in colorful vegetables and lean proteins.  I ask them to drink lots of water and together we come up with a strategy to deal with stress. 

     College basketball Hall of Fame Coach, Mike Krzyzewski, frequently discusses that one of his rules to building a championship team is getting them to embrace practice as part of the process. When someone comes to me looking to drop 20-25 pounds over a 3 month period, pushing sleds across turf, swinging ropes and kettlebells become part of the process. My recommendation is to try and enjoy the process. Make that one of your goals and the outcome you desire is sure to happen as a by-product.  I’ll see you at the studio.

Who Coaches your Coaches?

     As the paradigm shift in the fitness industry continues, with more movement based training clubs and less machine based facilities, the need for quality coaches will continue. Swinging a kettlebell requires more instruction than sitting and putting a pin in the weight stack. My prediction that all gyms will transform to functional training, as opposed to selectorized and isolated based machines isn’t such a reach. This change started three to five years ago. The dilemma faced by many club owners is that after bringing a new trainer on board, education is either classified as an elective or provided on a very limited basis.
     Training of gym staff and coaches administered by ownership has been around for years, but poorly executed. Shadowing a seasoned coach has been an industry accepted protocol. This is where the fitness world can take some inspiration from the business world. Companies have seen the importance of staff training programs and used them as an opportunity to set themselves apart from their competitors. Many institute their own training centers and universities. Ray Kroc has been considered a pioneer in the business world with his success in the branding and creation of McDonalds. It’s been well documented how his creation of Hamburger University in 1961 help drive the growth of his fast food empire. Franchisees were trained there on the proper methods for running a successful McDonald’s restaurant. Hamburger U utilized a research and development laboratory in nearby Addison, Illinois to develop new cooking, freezing, storing and serving methods. Today, more than 80,000 people have graduated from the program. In the entertainment world, Disney University created by Walt Disney. Staff members, referred to as cast members by the Disney organization, are taught a range of information which include Disney heritage and traditions, personal and professional development, and on the job training. Although Disney University is not an accredited institution, courses are primarily designed, developed and delivered by experienced learning professionals. The success and growth in both of these organizations hopefully demonstrates how important staff development is.
     Client assessment, program design, and implementation of a strength and conditioning program requires more than a few hours of watching a fellow instructor and needs to be better valued from ownership. The successfully run operations have adopted solid training curriculum and have put staff in place that carry the responsibility of teaching fellow staff and team members. As the landscape of small training (2,000- 10,000 sq. ft) gyms expands, this concept needs to become more of a standard, not an exception. One of my core beliefs is that my studio will be a leader in the Las Vegas market due to the quality of instruction that a trainer receives once on board. 
     In my 4th year of being a trainer (1994), I worked as an independent contractor, renting floor space at a Gold’s gym on the east coast. In the early nineties, this was the norm. Gyms didn’t want the extra liability or payroll of a staff. They allowed anyone with a fanny pack and who considered themselves a viable coach, to pay the gym by the client and have full usage of their gym. It was at this time I met a fellow trainer, Mike Ryan. One of the benefits of Facebook, outside of posting what you had for lunch, is connecting with people via their “People you may know” algorithm. After connecting with Mike on Facebook I was able to see that Mike is currently an educational director for the fitness chain, Equinox. After opening my club and understanding the value of educating your staff, I was very curious on what he did and how a health club giant such as Equinox, valued education. Equinox, originated in New York City, has always branded their trainers as industry leaders. What I soon found out was that Mike was part of a team of teachers whose sole responsibility was educating the training staff. Apparently Equinox views it as a 2-part win. First, to guarantee that their staff maintains a lead in highly competitive markets such as NYC, they couldn’t risk relying on their staff to educate themselves on training. They had to make how much you know, part of how you get compensated. The more certifications and education you receive under their guidance, the more you can see in your paycheck. They have incentivized a coach’s income, not on how much you train, but on how you train. Secondly, in hot markets where trainers jump from gym to gym, they wanted to create an added value of why someone would stay with their team. This is a strategy that I have completely adopted. Help them to be better at their job and inspire them to want to stay with you. Make education an added job benefit. 
     As a small business owner, I have learned early on, that it’s not always being first to do something. Sometimes, it’s about taking an idea and executing it better than your competitors. I’m sticking to my plan of coaching my coaches to be the best. By doing this, I feel confident we can build a great staff and guarantee the quality of training at the studio. I’m not the 1st, but I’m pushing to be the best. 

See you at the studio.

J & D Fitness
4180 South Fort Apache Rd,
Las Vegas, NV 89147