Tag Archives: exercise

FINALLY!! A High Protein Diet study That Has Been Repeatedly Recommended

31 Aug

Doubling the Daily Allowance of Protein Intake With Diet and Exercise Protects Muscle Loss


I hope it means that the health community will actually believe it, instead of thinking that this is “bad for your kidneys.” I wish I could say more, but this tends to sum it up very well.


What is your Spark?

9 May

Twice a year, all of our staff get together to read and dissect a book; these are usually not directly related to fitness, but instead subjects that will get us thinking.  At the end of the day, though, we DO become better trainers and coaches because the topics help us improve our skills as: goal managers, psychologists, motivators, and health promotors.  Last month we discussed the book, “SPARK: the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” by Dr. John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman.


Generally speaking, Dr. Ratey discusses the connection between physical activity and cognition.  While very science forward, this is an approachable book that should be required reading for anyone who wants to think and reason clearly, and stave off the mental decay brought on by aging, mental disorders, and inactivity.


The biggest take-aways:

1 – All stress is not bad.  Proper stress – even at the cellular level – is actually beneficial.  It is what helps to stimulate the body.  Judicious and properly applied stressor will make us healthier and more able to handle dangerous and debilitating circumstances in our futures.  Miniscule amounts of toxins in the foods we eat actually make us more capable of fending off disease.


2 – Age is not a deterrent.  We can improve at the cellular level and increase brain size at any age.  Aging really at its most basic view is the body’s cessation of regeneration and growth.  By exercising, we are not only improving our muscular and cardiovascular systems, but increasing neural connections and positive hormonal and neurotransmitter levels in our brains.


3 – The same general principles apply to most of everything we do and how we can change, correct, or influence our circumstance and environment to improve our lives.  Whether it’s dementia, anxiety, depression, or addiction, exercise, both physical and mental, can help ameliorate and control these problems.


4 – Inactivity is the ultimate killer.  Lack of physical activity will rot not only our bodies, but also our brains and cognitive abilities.  Just like slowing aging, physical activity helps to (re)build pathways in our brains that make us more productive and improve focus and attention.


5 – Exercise is a great way to bolster our mental faculties, regardless of the task at hand.  The hormonal and neurotransmitter cascades that occur after exercise help to “grow” our brains and leave them in an environment more capable of learning and retaining information.


Now before you get intimidated by thinking that this means that you have to go out and train for a marathon or throw 1,000 pounds over your head, know this: a little is better than nothing, and every little bit more is beneficial.  Taking your current state, adding just 30 minutes of brisk walking daily is enough exercise to make improvements – in your physical health, but also in your thinking and mood.  Try a new sport, add an after-dinner walk with your spouse, or come in for an additional 30 minute session each week.  These will all help you on your path to improving your life and vitality.

The Power of Rest

1 May

Here at FIT, we are always encouraging clients to set goals to work towards.  In the busy world that we all live in, however, these goals are unfortunately often undermined by “life events” and other time constraints that derail us.  It’s amazing though, that sometimes these life events are just what we need to help push us over the edge in our performances and other goals.

Be it fat loss, a faster 10k time, or bigger numbers in the gym, it is important to set realistic and attainable goals.  All of us are familiar with the S.M.A.R.T method goal setting: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.  We systematically help our clients work towards these goals with what we do in the gym, as well as guidance for the other 120+ hours per week outside of the gym (and sometimes even with homework).  Recently though, we had a client who took a three week vacation and still managed an incredible feat when she returned to her workouts: a 15% increase in her deadlift!


This client had just gotten back from a 3 week vacation overseas, with nothing more than the occasional run as her mode of exercise; along with lots of eating, drinking, and touring through western Europe.  What wasn’t astonishing was her admission that she her body weight hadn’t changed at all while gone – this is actually pretty common – but rather her performance that day.  She warned me that, “this is my first workout back, so be gentle on me.”  If any of you know me, you’ll know that I’m always looking for the best possible performance out of our clients (the best of what they’ve got that day).  We started slowly with the deadlift, but gradually she started to put more weight on the bar, and get closer to her prior 1 repetition max (1RM).  When all was said and done, she had surpassed her old 1RM of 100kg (210lb) and topped out at 120kg (242lb)!!  That’s an incredible improvement any day, but after being gone for three weeks?  That’s amazing.


This performance really got me thinking, and my response was, “That’s the power of rest.”  While that got a good chuckle out of the rest of the Crossfit class, it was very true.  While exercise enthusiasts often use exercise to “destress” from the daily bombardment of emails, errands, kids, etc., we coaches are keenly aware that exercise is itself a stressor.  Now, it can definitely be a beneficial form of stress, but as far as the body is concerned, stress is stress.  What this normally hardworking client didn’t totally recognize, was that by taking those 3 weeks off to relax, recharge, and divert her attention to other endeavors, she was lowering her total stress load.  What that meant was that upon returning to the gym, she was totally re-invigorated to workout, and her body was ready (and able) to take on the stimulus of a hard workout and make extraordinary progress.  In physiological terms, this is what is called super-compensation: resting after a period of intense training results in improvements beyond the previous trajectory from the training stimulus.  Translation: allowing one’s body to rest after continued bouts of hard training may result in even better results than expected.

This client definitely benefited from super-compensation, but there are other “feel good” reasons for her improvements: she was more enthusiastic to hit the ground running upon returning to the gym, and her body wasn’t stiff, sore, or tired from recent workouts.  It’s a common thread that I try to repeat to clients: you can’t just keep beating the body up and hoping for improvements.  Rest, recovery, relaxation; these are all important aspects to making gains (whether increases in weight lifted or decreases in pant size).  Our stress levels have a chance to return to normal, all our bodies’ aches and pains subside, and our enthusiasm to challenge ourselves increases.


So…next time you are sitting down with your coach to discuss your goals or upcoming plans, keep the power of rest in mind.  Good luck with your next challenge!

Optimize Your Health – An Intro To Wellness FX

9 Oct

At FIT, we are constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to optimize and strengthen the health of our FIT family. Today we are excited to announce that we are partnering with WellnessFX to bring you the opportunity to receive measurable data about your health along with tangible insights into how to optimize your well being through a set of comprehensive blood draws and nutrition consults.

WellnessFX is a web-based platform that gives you deep insights into the state of your health by combining advanced lab diagnostics and tracking along with phone consultations with certified health professionals. WellnessFX aggregates the underlying biomarkers of the primary detractors of wellness, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hormonal imbalances and nutritional deficiencies.


After being tested, a telephone consultation is booked on your schedule with a practitioner who will provide you with recommendations to make measurable improvements in your health. No office visit required. With your secure online WellnessFX dashboard, you will track your progress towards reaching your health goals.

On Friday October 12th and Tuesday October 16th, we will be hosting a blood draw at FIT.  The staff at FIT will be getting tested on Friday and there are a few spots still open.  To check availability, please use the links below.  If you can’t make it to our blood draw, there are several convenient locations to get tested near FIT.

Step 1:  Click on the links below to sign up to get tested (you will be invoiced via FIT)

Step 2:  Get tested!  After signing up, you can choose a time online for Friday (10-12), Tuesday (10-16) or choose another location/day that is convenient for you.  Please be sure to fast 12 hours prior to getting tested

Step 3:  You will receive your tests and can then schedule your online consult with a practitioner and share your results with your trainer
For more information, you can read the summary overview , a more detailed description of the various packages or watch the video below on the baseline testing.


Please talk to your trainer if you have any questions or for more information on the benefits of getting tested.

We look forward to working with WellnessFX and continuing to help you on your journey towards consistently optimizing your health.

My experience as a Crossfit “athlete”

16 Sep

2 weeks ago, Jimmy, Danielle, Jenny Lewis, and myself competed in the 2012 edition of Moxie Madness, hosted by Crossfit Moxie in San Jose.  This was a 2-day even consisting of multiple timed workouts each day, similar to the format of the Crossfit Games, with each workout being scored separately.  The team with the fewest points across all of the workouts would be the winner.  The format was for 2 published workouts and a “floater” workout to be performed on Saturday, with an additional workout Sunday morning.  The top 10 teams from each division (Novice, Masters, Advanced) would compete in a final workout on Sunday to determine the winner…unfortunately Crossfit Los Altos didn’t get a chance to try this fifth workout.  But we DID get to try our hands at the following:


For time (20 minute time cap)

12 Burpees 12 Front Squats (135lb/95lb)

12 Kettlebell Swings (32kg/24kg)

12 Box Jumps (30”/24”)

Suicide Sprints (~15/30/45′ each)

Team Crossfit Los Altos

Jenny and Danielle


For Time:

25 yard prowler push for girl #1 @ 110lbs, guys run with them while holding 45lb plate

25 yards prowler push for girl #2, @ 110lbs, guy continue to run with them while holding 45lb plate

At the turn the guys will each put their 45lb plates on the prowler and take over.

25 yard prowler push for guy #1, @ 200lbs

25 yard prowler push for guy #2, @ 200lbs


300 double unders…. 2 guys, one guy working, switch as often as you want

75 Power Snatches @ 65lb ….2 girls, one girl working, switch as often as you want.

Cannot switch to next exercise until others are done! When guys have finished double unders and girls have finished power snatches they will switch exercises.

300 double unders…. 2 girls, one girl working, switch as often as you want

75 Power Snatches @ 95lb… 2 guys, one guy working, switch as often as you want


25 yard prowler push for guy #1 @ 200lbs

25 yards prowler push for guy #2, @ 200lbs

At the turn the guys will each remove their 45lb plates on the prowler and the girls will take over.

25 yard prowler push for girl #1, @ 110lbs, guy run with them while holding 45lb plate

25 yard prowler push for girl #2, @ 110lbs, guy run with them while holding 45lb plate

Danielle starting the prowler push


3000m team row

4 x 750m row, with a 5 yard sprint from the starting line to the rower.


12min AMRAP for max reps

Hang Clean to Overhead anyway

x7 each RX @ 135lbs/85lbs

x5 each RX @ 165lbs/115lbs

MAX RX Alternating @ 205lbs/135lbs

To say that this was a lot of work to cover in 24 hours might be a bit of an understatement; even after the floater WOD – which we completed first – our legs and backs were a little tired and stiff.  Jimmy even felt a little twinge during the row, but powered through successfully for the rest of the weekend. The row did, though, act as a nice warm up for the other two workouts we would need to complete that day.  We were out on the field at Spartan Stadium – San Jose State’s football field – so it was incredibly hot and bright.  It’s quite a different experience working out in the middle of a turf field in the sun instead of indoors, with climate control, firm flooring, and no sun blaring down on you.  The nice thing about it was the crowd.  Having a couple hundred people cheering you on, music blaring, and a few dozen others competing all at the same time really gets the adrenaline going.  The weights seemed “heavy” during the warm ups, but once I heard “3-2-1 Go!” it was just time to start moving and race against the clock. We didn’t have the best scores, but that really wasn’t the point – we all worked hard and got out there to compete!  While Danielle is still actively competing in weightlifting, Jimmy plays basketball, and Jenny is an avid triathlete, this was my first time getting the competitive juices flowing in about 2 years (haven’t been able to get back into playing soccer).  It was great to feel the excitement and “in the zone” feeling of fighting for a win.  I don’t know about the rest of them, but it really instilled a desire to get back into competing – whether back at soccer, more Crossfit throwdowns, or possibly enter a weightlifting meet (as Rob keeps encouraging). We all workout for different reasons – lose body fat, increase muscle mass, stay “healthy”, relieve stress, and even to fulfill a sense of competition.  Whatever the reasons, it is a great feeling, as well as a wonderful exercise in motivation, to step out of one’s comfort zone and try something different (and maybe more difficult than you thought you were capable of).  What will your next physical challenge be?

Mel Siff’s Take on Pilates

11 Sep

Greetings, Bloggers and Readers of the Like.

The following is an excerpt from 2002 that Mel Siff commented on concerning Pilates. At this time, Pilates was gaining momentum in this country and Pilates classes were popping up all over. This is one of the most comprehensive opinions I’ve come across concerning Pilates. Mel’s comments are indicated using “***”:

Here is one of several similar letters which I [Mel] received privately after my
article entitled “Pilates Naked” appeared in the http://www.dolfzine.com magazine:

“Dr Siff — I enjoyed your discussion of the Pilates method. You are the
first person I found on the Internet who seemed willing to look at their
claims logically.” [from Dr R M G]

No sooner had this letter arrived than I came across a magazine article which
proclaimed that it had been written to help the fitness professional to
really understand what Pilates is and what its benefits are. For a brief
moment, I thought that some genuine validation of their often exaggerated
claims would be forthcoming, but I discovered before reading to the end of
the first column that this was not to be.


What Is Pilates? — Understanding and teaching this popular movement method

By Colleen Glenn & Roberta Morgan

[Personal Fitness Professional Feb 2002: 12]

[Colleen Glenn is a managing partner at Goodbody’s Wellness Center, director
of the GoodBodys Pilates Education Series and vice president of The Pilates
Method Alliance. Roberta Morgan is PR Director with Center Studio in Los
Angeles and is a board member of the PMA.]

Invented in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, Pilates was created by
combining Eastern modes of exercise such as Yoga and Tai Chi with Western
practices such as aerobics and weight training. Even with the boom in Pilates
that has taken place throughout the world over the last 10 years, there are
still many people, even in the world of fitness and/or rehabilitation, who
are not clear on how this method works and why a new trainer must study long
and carefully in order to teach it. >

*** It is amazing that so many folk make it seem as if their fitness or
wellness methods almost require the intelligence and training of a “rocket
scientist”. Even old Joe Pilates himself didn’t have a very good grasp of
movement science, even for those times. Moreover, the glaring lack of
scientific research into the alleged uniqueness of Pilates training means
that there is a great shortage of intellectual matter that has to be studied.
Even the “scientific” or anatomical material that has to be studied
produces such gems that Pilates “produces thinner, less tight muscles” than
weight training — what more needs to be said about education that seems to
be so impoverished?

This means then that the extensive time necessary to even teach one exercise
on the “Reformer” or the “Cadillac” has to be spent on simply practising a
human movement that certainly does not require any skill which even vaguely
compares with a single axel on the ice, an Olympic snatch, a baseball strike
or a back salto in gymnastics or diving. Anyhow, many groups try to create
an aura of mystique or complexity about their special training method because
this makes it more marketable and attractive to the easily-bored fitness

Although the authors state that “there are still many people, even in the
world of fitness and/or rehabilitation, who are not clear on how this method
works”, a quick reading of this article shows that even the experts do not
seem to be very clear about “how” this method works and what science really
exists to validate their claims for uniqueness.

The article continues:

<The Pilates Elders, the original remaining students of Joseph and Clara
Pilates, have stated that, “Pilates is a movement technique as well as a
lifelong learning process of training your body with an expectation toward
health and wellness. ” Joseph Pilates believed that since the mind built the
body, training the physical in this way sharpens mental acumen as well.

Pilates promotes good posture through breathing, proper muscle use and
coordination building core strength and flexibility and the use of
resistance-based equipment developed by Joseph Pilates. The Pilates body is
not one of bulk and restricted movement or of the runner’s sometimes anorexic
appearance. This is a dancer’s body at its agile best – long, lean, toned and
trim. Many people claim Pilates actually adds an inch or more to their
height. Other benefits include:

– Relaxation and stress reduction, encouraging overall health

– Mental and physical control of the body, leading to actual re-training of
neural pathways and physical grace of movement

– Gentle, safe, yet challenging non-impact exercises that build abdominal and
back muscles, which stabilize the spine, protect the lower back and tighten
and strengthen the buttocks

– Improved posture and stability, better coordination and balance
Strengthened bones and improved circulation

– Prevention of body pains and limitations associated with aging. Increased
mental and physical stamina and energy

– Fewer repetitions that are indefinitely (sic) more effective in changing
the body

*** As usual, no references or web resources are cited which support any of
these claims (of course, we will be told that in such magazine articles,
these would be out of place). Instead, we read nonsense on “retraining”
neural pathways (whatever that is supposed to mean in the healthy person),
implications that non-impact exercise is safer and more effective than
impulsive exercise, claims that Pilates PREVENTS body pains, and implications
that the fewer repetitions of Pilates are more effective than higher
repetition training, irrespective of training goals. All other claims are
not unique to Pilates — many other forms of exercise can claim the same
benefits and even more.

The article again:

<Pilates re-educates and promotes a process that truly enhances the mind/body
connection. Joseph Pilates promised that in 10 sessions of Pilates, you will
feel the difference. In 20, you will see the difference, and in 30, you’ll
have a whole new body. Given patience and persistence, you can improve
breathing capacities, align, stretch and strengthen the spine, improve
posture and tone the entire musculature. It has proven benefits for
conditions such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Everyone from
post-rehabilitation patients to athletes see results.>

*** If ANY form of fitness training with or without weights did not produce
similar changes within those periods, something must be gravely amiss. For
the average gym user, 30 sessions is more than 3 months of training and, if
serious weight training were used for that time, I have little doubt that
most free weight trained subjects would visibly and in terms of physical
performance be superior to most Pilates-trained subjects. Muscle hypertrophy
(without those Pilates-condemned “bulges”), fat loss, strength, power and
even flexibility (if full range loaded exercise is used) invariably would be

The article once more:

<While some Pilates exercises can be performed on a mat with teacher
guidance, the equipment certainly enhances the experience and results. Most
of the equipment designs utilize spring mechanisms that the client employs
while moving the body, carefully noting its positioning. The spring system
assists and enables the body to achieve greater flexibility and range of
motion in the different planes of movement, thereby enhancing proprioception,
restoring joint mobility and providing an ultimate physical and mental

*** Springs offer resistance which do not load the joints and muscles in
optimal patterns of action, especially since spring resistance increases with
extension, whereas joint torque capabilities decrease after reaching a peak
well before any full movement is completed. Springs do not specially
“enhance proprioception” — I wonder if the authors would clarify what they
mean by proprioception and how one can alter it. I doubt if the Pilates folk
even know how one can combine elastics (or springs) with free weights to
enhance strength and power training, thereby extending the capabilities of
springs on their own. All that they seem to believe is that weights will
make you bulky, short-muscled, stiff and clumsy — now where have we heard
that before?

Do they really believe that spring training provides the “ultimate physical
and mental challenge”? If so, I am astounded, because even combined weights
and band training can be very wearisome if used very extensively in all
training. Maybe Pilates folk are just very easy to please! However, I would
rather not spend money on playing with spring laden machines, when I can do
many hundreds of exercises on a single free weights bar alone for nothing.

The article again (read my article on Pilates on the dolfzine.com site for
more information on these toys):

<The most well-known piece of equipment is the Universal Reformer. Other
visually simple but deceptively effective Pilates equipment includes such
items as Low Chair, Electric Chair, Trapeze Table (which Joseph Pilates
called The Cadillac, seeing it as the ultimate in his designs), Ped70-Pul and
Spine Corrector.

The Low Chair, sometimes called the Wunda Chair, was developed when Joseph
observed Chinese acrobats maneuver on a box. Since he had strong beliefs
about how people should stand, walk, sleep and sit to stay healthy, he wanted
the Low Chair to be in every hotel and home; he believed that modem chairs
compromised internal functioning and posture.

From its origins as a massage and therapeutic table, the Trapeze Table, or
Trap Table got its name from the circus trapeze. Pilates developed the table
to resemble a single four-poster bed with springs, wooden bars and hanging
trapeze-type equipment to challenge even the most physically fit individuals.
Concentration is very important to work the arms, legs, trunk and entire body
against the various spring tensions and positions this equipment affords.

A movement technique requires learning fundamentals to build upon, time to
physically acquire skills and mentally understand them. It is about
repetition, refining and a depth of understanding, something that requires
many hours of practice and apprenticeship. Professionals attending
introductory seminars and short programs do gain invaluable concepts and
preparatory exercises to incorporate in private and/or group settings, but it
is just a start. Teaching the Pilates’ concepts is quite different from
teaching exercises. The latter is surface; the former is unique and profound.>

***On many occasions I have openly requested just some scientific information
to validate the oft-repeated Pilates claims, especially regarding its alleged
uniquenesses, but none has yet been forthcoming, other than complaints about
“Dr Siff always picking on us – why, oh why?” (the usual sidetracking
techniques which try to disguise the likelihood that there is no information
available). If the science is not there to quote, what complexity and depth
can there be that one has to study?

Proclaiming that “teaching the Pilates’ concepts is quite different from
teaching exercises” is yet another gross exaggeration, unless they mean that
it is even simpler to teach Pilates exercises. Further, it is massively
misleading to add that teaching exercises is “surface”. Have they really
tried to teach the physical and mental skills necessary to master any complex
skills in any coordinated sport or even the more demanding weights exercises
such as the snatch?

The article continues:

<Pilates could not come of age in a better time. In 10 years, over 76 million
people in the US will be middle-aged or elderly. Older populations require
low-impact programs laced with variety that also address physical
limitations. Emphasis needs to be placed on health, function, quality as well
as prevention. Pilates addresses the needs of the current aging exercise
populations. As a result, Pilates is one of the fastest growing forms of
exercise today. As a professional, the question is not if you need to learn
Pilates but rather when and how.>

*** Once again, they proliferate the belief that low-impact exercises
necessarily are superior and safer (for people of all ages), even though
research shows that moderate levels of impact or more heavily resisted
exercise seem to play a very important role in increasing the degree of bone
mineralisation and halting the progress of skeletal deterioration. Bone
scans, for example, show that lifters who have used weights for several years
have significantly greater bone density than members of the general public –
I would be interested to see a comparison of the bone scans of lifters and
Pilates practitioners of comparable experience.

Although many older folk who have spent rather sedentary lives may be quite
frail, it is incorrect to assume that ALL older folk should avoid more
demanding forms of exercise. As a professional, it is more of a question if
you know enough about strength and fitness training in general, than if you
know a great deal about how to teach only a single limited form of training.

Sure, there can be a very useful role for Pilates, but it is not universally
superior to all other forms of exercise. To suggest that it can serve as a
total replacement for other systems of training or that it is definitely
superior in most ways to weights and other forms of overall training is
irresponsible and misleading, unless, of course, your aim is to attract more
business the way of Pilates!

The article went on:

<Formed last year, the Pilates, Method Alliance (PMA) is as international
non-profit organization of teachers, teacher trainers, studios, manufacturers
and facilities dedicated to preserving the legacy of Joseph and Clara
Pilates. The PMA states that, “The Pilates Method is an exercise process that
creates an internal physical transformation and integration of mind and body.
In order to be a teacher, one must experience it (the transformation) first,
understanding that it’s never complete but & constant evolution of learning.”>

*** Once again, we are exposed to this so-called “New Age” mind-body
integration mantra, as if this is unique to Pilates. Even though some sports
will not specifically pay attention to making deliberate efforts to integrate
the use of the mind into their physical training, this integration usually
happens quite naturally without effort by simply taking part in the sport
seriously. It is inconceivable to lift heavy weights, run long distances,
swim for hours, sprint a 100m in less than 11 seconds, sink a golf put from
15 metres, do a somersault on a skateboard……without mind-body
integration, so that claim is redundant. In fact, it is virtually impossible
to take part in any physical activity (and yes, that includes sex!) WITHOUT
mind-body interaction.

The article once more:

<The PMA recommends that anyone who would like to teach the Pilates method of
exercise attend a comprehensive training program and maintain a commitment to
education. Here are some questions to help you find a training program that
is right for you.

1. Are there any requirements for entry into the program? Most comprehensive
Pilates programs require prior Pilates exercise experience, knowledge of
anatomy and/or an entrance exam for a prerequisite.

2. Does the training program offer instruction on a pieces or just a specific
piece of equipment with a limited repertoire of exercises?

3. Does the program meet weekly or monthly? How long does it take to complete?

4. Are lecture, observation, apprenticeship and practice hours involved?

Pilates is a time-proven and enormously effective movement technique that
greatly enhances the mind, body and spirit.>

*** Now we note that Pilates also integrates the SPIRIT into the whole human
equation! — maybe if they returned to a soapbox at that famous street
intersection in San Francisco, Haight-Ashbury, or on the grass at Woodstock,
a few more people might buy that line, but, even in the hugely gullible
fitness and health world, that really is stretching one’s luck a bit far.

Do they really believe and KNOW that indulging in physical games on Pilates
devices is magically going to enhance what happens in the spiritual realms?
Maybe this little-known Pilates prayer has something to do with it:

Our integrated father-mother which art in Pilates heaven,
Hallowed be thy games
Thy playground come,
Thy exercises will be done on the mat as it is in the Cadillac heaven
Give us this day our daily flat muscles
And forgive us our trespasses for using free weights
As we forgive them that trespass on our machines
And lead us not into temptation to use heavy weights or ballistic bounces
For thine is the Pilates kingdom
The commercial power and the physical glory
For ever and ever


Mel Siff


My First Strongman Competition

28 Aug

I’ll admit it. When I was staring at this huge tractor tire weighing 650 pounds, I was intimidated.

Why? Because it was 250 pounds heavier than any tire I had ever moved. And I had to somehow flip this thing end-over-end to a finish line 80 feet away while a judge stood right next to me with a stopwatch in his hand. I could hear my wife and friends cheering from the sideline and feel the stares of the other competitors.

“Huh,” I thought to myself, “so this is what a strongman competition is like.“

Strongman is a sport with a very simple purpose. Get people together and see who is the strongest by making them lift heavy objects off the ground, put things overhead, and carry them across some distance as fast as possible.

And that was my task last Saturday in Reno for the Northern Nevada’s Strongest Man competition. I competed in five events. Each simple in their task. And each remarkably demanding both mentally and physically. I flipped a 650 pound tire, deadlifted 565 pounds, pulled a Ford F-550 weighing 8,000 pounds, pressed a log (yes, a log) overhead, and threw a 180 pound atlas stone over a four foot high bar more times than I remember.

As amazing as it was to compete, it was a thrill to also witness men and women of all shapes and sizes, college grads to forty-something year-old moms, lay it out there in each event. All of us competitors were spurned onward by the small, but very supportive crowd.

It was a grueling day in the late summer sun, but I somehow found myself in first place in my division at the end of the competition. For my efforts, I was handsomely rewarded with a full-size sword. Yes, a sword. No medal. No plaque. Just a sword.

I had such a great time, I’m hoping to compete again in October. This time, maybe I’ll have a chance to win a giant ax.

Joel Black Conquers “Death Ride”

2 Aug

You may have seen him in the corner, pedaling furiously on the Watt Bike for what seemed like an eternity. And if you asked Joel what on earth he was doing, he would humbly respond, “Training.”

This year was Joel’s year. Despite difficulties in the past, this year Joel was going to complete the infamous California Death Ride.

I got a chance to ask Joel a few questions about his experience. Here’s what he had to say.

What was your motivation for taking on this challenge?

In broad terms, cycling is a hobby for me, and I’m a sucker for ridiculous dares: when I saw that there was a challenging cycling event called the “Death Ride”, I couldn’t resist. I mean, what’s a better name for a ridiculous dare than “Death Ride?” Who wouldn’t sign up for THAT? 😉

More specifically: I tried this ride in 2009, and didn’t complete it. The Death Ride consists of five mountain-pass climbs over 129 miles, and the first time I tried it, I only completed the first 3 passes. I wasn’t happy about that, and I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I rode all five passes. However, I’m something of a workaholic, and in 2010 and 2011, I was too absorbed in my job to train sufficiently. This year, I decided I had to go for it–I didn’t like it hanging over my head–so I made it my number one personal goal for the year.

How would you describe how grueling the ride was?

Well, I should start by saying that I’m not a particularly strong hill-climber, and the Death Ride is a climbing event. So it’s an especially tough ride for me by definition–which adds to the silliness of the dare.

Anyway, the way the course is laid out means that, for the first four passes, riders spend their time either climbing or descending. There’s very little flat, and it’s not a matter of many little hills, it’s all about climbing at perhaps 7-8% grade for 10 miles at a time (see the course here: http://www.deathride.com/elemap.html). I suppose an indication of the difficulty is that the riders tend to be quiet. In contrast to an event like the AMBBR 100-miler (incredibly fun ride in Tahoe each June), where people are chatting as they ride along, in the Death Ride, much of the time everyone is just heads-down, silently pushing their gears. It’s a little eerie, especially in the early morning.

For most riders, the first four passes take up the morning. In early afternoon you drop down into the river basin and ride about 20 miles of rollies before you start the last climb, which is also the longest in terms of distance. Because it’s afternoon, it’s hot, and since you’re not on mountain roads, there’s not much shade, and it’s typically a bit windy, and of course you’ve been riding for awhile, so you’re tired. All of that makes the last pass pretty tough. I saw a few riders still looking fresh and strong by that point, but most of us were just slogging our way to the finish.

In retrospect, I came to think of the first four passes as a fun and difficult challenge. Like a very strong opponent in a sporting contest–the first four passes made you earn every point, played hard, but played fair. And then the last pass came along, and the ride became a surly opponent who is going to try to take the fun out of your victory. That last 50 mile stretch is just a suffer-fest. 😉

Any fun aspects to the ride?

#1 The descents are incredible. Unlike the local climbs which involve a lot of tight blind turns that can make descending treacherous, these descents are on wide closed roads, and they last 10 miles of steep! 50 mph is easy to achieve, and not hard to control. The descents are almost worth the climbs!

#2 The first climb is from Markleeville up to Monitor Pass. From there, in the morning sun, you can look down to the east to highway 395 and Nevada. That view from the top, combined with the feeling that you climbed there under your own power, is tremendous.
How did you change your training to learn from your previous experiences?

#1 During my training in 2009, I used one brand of electrolyte drink, but then changed to another just before the event. During the event, the new drink made me nauseous, so I didn’t drink, and unsurprisingly I suffered extreme cramps in my quads, and had to stop at the top of the third pass. I believe that was my biggest mistake. This time, I tried different drinks and foods early on, then settled on what felt right and didn’t change a thing.

#2 I rode more hills. 😉 I kept working on hills until I could ride 7-8% grades without continuously thinking about getting to the top. Instead of thinking of a hill as a short pain to conquer as quickly as possible, I tried to get to the point that hills were just like flats, except that for some bizarre reason you had to push harder than normal. And you just had to keep pedaling.

How did your training at FIT help you?

FIT training helped in at least two ways:
#1 Thom and Scott like to create workouts for me that I’d really rather not do. If I was working on my own, I wouldn’t work that hard. And then they keep me laughing at myself, and keep challenging me, which has helped with the “just keep going no matter what”.

#2 As you know, I started training in earnest for the Death Ride in March…and purely by coincidence in March I tore a biceps tendon and had to have a surgical repair. Problem with that was that my doctor wouldn’t allow me to ride my bike for the first 5 weeks after surgery. Given the timing, that threatened to be a disaster! Happily, Thom offered to let me use the WattBikes as much as I wanted, and loaned me some good workout DVDs to ride along with. So that’s how I spent April, my arm in a brace stuffed with towels to soak up the sweat, riding WattBikes at FIT. It’s not the same as real riding, but I think it saved my bacon. I’d thank Thom, but it might make him think I wanted to ride more workouts on the WattBikes, and I don’t like to give him any ideas…

What are your goals moving forward? 

Back in the Pleistocene era, I used to run 10ks and duathalons fairly often. Just an age-grouper, but I always enjoyed those events. I let that level of fitness get away from me because I worked too much, but I’ve been sort of hoping to start running again, and resume events like those. And as a stretch goal (it’s a stretch because I swim like a rock), I’ve started working on swimming…and maybe someday I’ll do some triathlons.

What would be your advice to anyone considering taking on an endurance challenge?

Shoot…I don’t know anything about training for endurance challenges, but if you want to train for ridiculous dares:
#1: Don’t just blindly “work out a lot,” rather make a plan that relates clearly to your goal. Think about how achieving your _training_ goals is preparing you to achieve that _event_ goal.
#2: Keep in mind how important psychology is, in addition to physiology. Keep track of your progress, and build your store of confidence by recognizing your achievements during training. You’ll need that confidence during the event.
#3: Remember that if you don’t succeed the first time, you’re just going to have to do it all again ’til you do succeed…so you might as well give it your best effort that first time!

Wise words, Joel. You’re an inspiration to us all.


Women In Healthcare: Behind the Scenes at FIT

31 Jul

From the outside, we may appear like a competitive bunch.  You will often see and hear bets on sporting events, workout challenges, food challenges and so on.  FIT is a male dominant workforce whose employees thrive off of competition (females included), but behind the scenes at FIT, we are anything but competitive.

I remember when I first started working at FIT (seven years ago), sitting in Thom & Tracey’s office and talking about their philosophy and mission as business owners.  They explained how their goal was to set each and every employee up for success and challenge us all to view ourselves as our own personal business owners.

As RockHealth, a health incubator in SF (where you can currently find me when not at FIT) kicks off XXinHealth to highlight the need for more women to be paving the path and leading healthcare (see movie here), I thought it was appropriate to explain what is going on “behind the scenes” and how FIT’s approach could be the ticket to encouraging others to climb the healthcare ladder.

You know I am a trainer and many of you know about FITBuddies, the special needs programs I run for adults and children with Down Syndrome and Autism.   A couple months ago, I added to the list, and took the leap to lead a healthcare startup focused on improving the collaboration and communication of overall care.  As I drove away from Page Mill after what felt like signing my life away, I immediately called my parents, “It’s official, I am really doing this.”

My Dad’s response, “Congratulations Founder, CEO, Board of Directors!!”

My Mom’s response, “You go girl (her usual) but does this mean you will not be training and working with your buddies anymore.  It is just so great what you do with them and I know you just love helping others.”

My Dad stated what most men would probably pick up on first: the titles.  But my mom reminded me immediately of why I took the leap in the first place.

It is my journey with my buddies and every single one of my experiences, in a variety of health related fields, that has led me to this new adventure.  It started as a doctor’s assistant at the age of fifteen (I hid my age behind scrubs and a mask).  In college, I was the student who felt job experience was more important than the titles after my name and squeezed all my classes into 2 days so I could work four jobs: behavioral therapist for autism, personal aide for a woman with muscular spinal atrophy, hospital aide and trainer.  In my ‘free’ time, I shadowed physical therapists and occupational therapists.  For the past fifteen years, I have submerged myself into the care and management of long-term care in a variety of settings:  hospitals, homes, clinics, schools, gyms, etc.

As we talk about women in healthcare, or the lack thereof, I do not believe it is as much of an issue of men plowing us over
but more so that we aren’t setting women up to take the leap.  In November, I attended StartUp weekend and pitched my idea
to a room of 150 strangers.  I immediately formed a team with 3 other females (I scared a lot of the men off because they said I had a “real” idea).  While I did not move forward immediately after the weekend, this weekend was my “test” leap.

In April, I attended another weekend event, this time focused on health IT solutions and made the decision – it was time to leap.  For most people I think this would usually mean either quiting your job or working on the project behind your employers back out of fear that they would not support a side venture.

In May, I was chosen to attend RockHealth’s XXRetreat highlighting women leaders in healthcare.  The entire day was full of inspirational stories and words of encouragement.  One particular comment struck a chord.  As we began the day, we were told to look around the room full of VC’s, angel investors, CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and inspiring leaders in healthcare .  We were challenged to erase the competitive landscape so often seen in the startup or typical business world and look at each other as support; because in healthcare, competition will not achieve success nor solve any of our problems.

I remember introducing Tracey to some friends shortly after starting at FIT.  I, of course, introduced her as my boss and she quickly corrected me and said, “we’re co-workers.”  From day one,  Thom and Tracey have set up a non-competitive landscape that encourages every employee to move up the ladder and grow as professionals.  They do not look at their employees as ‘potential competition’ but instead spend their time educating and investing in our future as a team and as individuals.  They understand the need for well-educated health professionals is critical.  Not only do they encourage but they support us through these ventures.

I did not quit my job nor did I have to hide a project behind my employers back.  When I approached Tracey in May, she encouraged and supported me in taking the next steps, helping me set up a schedule so I can juggle multiple positions as I move forward.  I thanked her for her support she simply said, “we believe in you.”

In healthcare, women make up a significant part of the workforce but tend to be concentrated in lower level positions.  After fifteen years as a provider, I believe experience in the healthcare field is something you can’t get in a MBA, PHD or MD program.  It is critical that women with experience on the front line are encouraged to take on leadership roles as they truly understand the healthcare landscape.  I am fairly confident if more health focused businesses set up a non-competitive landscape the way FIT has, educating and encouraging their employees to climb the ladder, we would see more women emerge from these lower level positions.

For fifteen years I have watched families struggle as they try to manage long term care.  As a provider on the outside (outside of the doctors office and hospitals), I understand what goes on on an everyday basis and I have to at least try to do something about it.  Thom and Tracey gave me the final big push; they gave me the support needed to scale back from the front line of care (not an easy decision) and the confidence to take the leap from the front line into a leadership role.

I told Tracey I feel like FIT is its own health incubator.  I am not sure whether it is the laid back atmosphere of being in gym shorts and a t-shirt but FIT is a non-competitive atmosphere where many of silicon valley’s VC’s, CEO’s and entrepreneurs frequent and have been more than willing to share information, advice and support.  I am just in the beginning stages (and have a lot of obstacle to overcome – age, gender, etc)  but I can only hope that I am able to support and encourage others the way I have been supported at FIT.

“We are leading healthcare and you should watch and see what we do”

Email Tracey@Focusedtrainers.com for more information about FIT@Work, FIT’s Corporate Wellness Programs.  Follow VidaPost on Facebook and Twitter  and help Jen tackle the communication and collaboration of care.

USPLA North American Championship Meet Update

17 Jul

Before I (Greg L) walked on to the platform, I chalked my sweaty hands at the bowl. Normally, you don’t need to chalk your hands before a back squat. But this wasn’t just another rep. This was going to be the heaviest weight I’d ever been under.

467.5 pounds.

My adrenaline was racing. The music blaring. Spectators and fellow competitors alike watched closely as I stepped under the bar.

In some of the more surreal moments of my life, time seems to slow down. Everything goes silent. And for a brief moment, my vision funnels down to a singular point of focus.

This was one of those moments. I couldn’t hear my wife or coaches yelling. I didn’t see the spectators or even the head judge sitting only a few feet in front of me making sure my movement met his standards. I could only see the grey and black banner hanging from the ceiling across the room.

I squeezed every single muscle in my body. I fought hard against the enormous weight on my back that was trying to bring me down. And after what seemed like an eternity, I eeked my way through the sticking point to reach the top.

This is the nature of powerlifting. These are the kinds of moments you expect in a meet. And these are the kinds of experiences you have to embrace.

My meet last Saturday was a memorable one. I set a new PR in my squat. I set a new competition PR in the bench press at 308 pounds. Finally, at the end of what was an incredibly physically and emotionally draining day, I hit a new competition PR in the deadlift at 561 pounds.

I also set a PR for my total weight lifted in competition with 1336 pounds–the combination of my highest squat, bench press, and deadlifts.

But what I will relish in most is the sensation of overcoming the “weighty” adversity that day which came in the form of a barbell sitting on my back.

This is why I compete. It helps remind me that I’m strong, that I’m confident. But it also reminds me that I’m human. And being human, I have my limitations.

And there are times when you willingly rush up against those limitations, that you feel the most alive.