Faster is Better

Faster is better.

That’s one thing I’ve learned over the years. When physical prowess is the goal, moving faster is better than anything slower, provided you can maintain perfect technique. Now, an old person might be wise, but it’s likely he doesn’t move fast. Indeed, one of the tell-tale signs of aging is slowness.

Think about it. Boxers who lose their speed are relegated to a record with more losses and knockouts, as evident by Roy Jones Jr. When a basketball player is reaching the end of his career, it’s often said that he’s “losing his first step.” This is just another way of saying that he lost his speed. You can think of speed as being reactive ability, explosiveness, and the like.

One of the most important elements to building, and keeping, a youthful body is to move quickly. There’s plenty of research that supports the benefit of lifting fast, whether it’s for getting leaner, bigger, or stronger. And for strength and power development, research (Behm & Sale, 1993) shows that even the intent to move fast will make you a faster athlete.

In the gym, one of the simplest ways to get bigger, faster, or stronger is by accelerating your lifts as I explain in this video.

Speaking of what I’ve learned, this week the fitness world lost one of its pioneers, Jack LaLanne. I can’t say that I wholeheartedly agree with all of his mantras, but the guy maintained a youthful physique well into his 80s. You can’t argue with that. So out of respect for the man, here are three of my favorite pieces of wisdom from Mr. LaLanne.

“If man makes it, don’t eat it.”

“Scales lie! You lose thirty pounds of muscle and gain thirty pounds of fat, and you weigh the same, right? Take that tape measure out. That won’t lie. Your waistline is your lifeline. It should be the same as it was when you were a young person.”

“Go on, have a glass of wine with dinner. What is wine, anyway? Pure grapes. A glass of wine is much better for you than a Coke.”

Stay focused,

3 Ways to Immediately Boost Your Strength

Imagine this scenario. You’re sitting in the audience at a strength and conditioning conference, there to learn a thing or two about building bigger, stronger muscles, and the speaker calls you up to the podium.

The speaker has a barbell onstage with a stack of plates next to it. He tells you that you’re going to test your maximum strength for the deadlift in front of the audience.

You’re a little nervous, but you get yourself onstage and go through a typical warm-up that consists of a handful of sets with progressively heavier weights. You’re not a powerlifter, just a regular gym rat, so you know the pull isn’t going to impress anyone in the powerlifting game. But you don’t care. You’re in front of a couple hundred people and this is your time to shine.

After a few minutes you’ve got the weight dialed in. With all the effort you can muster you manage to pull 350 pounds. This load, clearly evident to yourself and anyone watching, is your true one repetition maximum. Five more pounds and you would’ve failed.

“Not bad,” says the speaker. “And guess what? Today is your lucky day. Let’s see if you can pull more weight with motivation from some dead Presidents.”

The speaker reaches behind the podium and pulls out a briefcase, opens it, and shows you a million bucks – cash. This isn’t that snooze-fest television, Deal or No Deal – this is the real deal and you know it.

“All you have to do is pull 20 more pounds and the cash is yours,” the speaker says. He throws another 10-pound plate on each side of the 350-pound barbell, now making it 370 pounds, and smiles.

Think you could pull that extra 20 pounds for a million bucks? Of course you could!

With most things in life, though, reward doesn’t come without risk. This contest is no exception. You just took a million from the speaker and he wants to up the ante in order to get it back. I mean, really up the ante.

So he reaches behind the podium and pulls out a chainsaw. Like a scene straight out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he fires up the gas-filled tree killer, hoists it in the air, and swings it around while belting out a hellacious howl. You’re not sure what’s on the line, but you’re damn sure whatever it is ain’t good.

You were right.

The speaker looks you dead in the eyes, and with a tone that makes Johnny Cash sound like Alvin the Chipmunk, he passes on this little gem.

“You must add another 20 pounds to your deadlift or I’m going to cut off both of your legs.”

You and your legs don’t doubt his dedication to the chainsaw swinging craft, so you decide it’s best to proceed. After all, that half-inch you added to your calves didn’t come easy, and your vastus medialis muscles have been looking pretty impressive in those board shorts your girlfriend bought you at Patagonia.

The speaker adds 20 more pounds to the bar, making it 40 pounds heavier than when you started, and then gives you a nod while gripping the chainsaw with the most ominous look you’ve ever seen.

Now, here’s my question: Do you think you could pull those extra 20 pounds if your God-given wheels were on the line?

I’d be willing to bet both my legs, my arms, and my autographed Miley Cyrus poster that you could.

Why? Read on. Continue reading

A Different Way to Run

It’s that time of year when people are looking to get back in shape, and most of them start by running. It’s simple, it requires no equipment, and you can do it almost anywhere (unless you’ve been living in the upper Northeast). Running appears to be a logical way to burn fat and calories, and since anyone can do it, the assumed risk is very low. So you start by running or jogging a few miles every other day.

However, let’s say you asked a personal trainer to design a program to restore your fitness. What if that trainer wrote out a workout and told you to do 3500 reps of each exercise? Yes, that’s 3500 reps. You’d consider him a fitness masochist, right? Such a workout would surely destroy your joints.

Well, that’s exactly what running for 2 miles is: thousands of continuous reps of the same movement. It’s definitely not the best way to develop a body that’s in balance. This is similar to what Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove have been saying for years, and I agree.

If you’re a personal trainer who’s working with an avid runner, put him on a foam roller. Have him roll the inside, outside, and top of his thighs along with the outer hips. You’ll quickly see a look of excruciating pain on his face. Indeed, the repetitive nature of running throws the length-tension relationship of the legs and hips completely out of whack and this causes severe tension. The rectus femoris, IT band, TFL, adductors, psoas, and glute medius will be tighter than guitar strings. Plus, when you test the strength of the leg and hip muscles (especially the hip abductors) you’ll notice more imbalances than a Hollywood shrink sees in a month.

One of the reasons why our hips are so imbalanced is because we spend so little time moving laterally or backwards. When you throw a long-distance, straight-ahead exercise like running on top of it, the situation only gets worse.

That’s why, instead of traditional running, I have my clients perform an exercise I call the X drill. The beauty of the X drill is that it forces you to change directions so you never overload one repetitive hip movement. You’ll constantly alternate between moving forward, backward, side-to-side, and up and down. And when you perform it barefoot in the sand, it’s great for strengthening the ankles and calves, too.

How to do the X drill
Make a square on the ground with four marker points all placed equally far apart (15 feet, for example). Start between the two back points, facing the two front points. Run forward until you’re between the two front points, then slide to the right front corner and squat down and touch the ground. Then slide to the back left corner (squat and touch), then slide to the right back corner (squat and touch), slide to the left front corner (squat and touch), then slide to the halfway point between the two front corners and run backwards to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Here’s a demonstration of the X drill:

There are many ways to modify the X drill to suit anyone at any level of fitness. First, you don’t have to perform it in the sand without shoes. Second, the distance between the four corner points can be as short or as long as your space and client allow.

Each time you return to the starting position is one rep. I like to have my clients do anywhere from 5-10 reps between sets of strength exercises, or combined with another conditioning drill. The X drill is also great to do with a weighted vest, or you can have them do a more complex movement at each corner. For example, instead of squatting down to touch the ground at each corner they could do a burpee or squat thrust with a jump. The options are endless.

Speaking of metabolic training, Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove just released the third installment of their outstanding fitness series, The New Rules of Lifting for Abs. It contains a ton of excellent training and nutrition information to help you build a leaner, stronger body. Particularly, I like the options they outline for novel cardio exercises when space and equipment are limited.

You can check out the book at this link:
The New Rules of Lifting for Abs: A Myth-Busting Fitness Plan for Men and Women Who Want a Strong Core and a Pain-Free Back

Stay focused,

3 Things Every Personal Trainer Should Know

Of all the questions I get asked, many are from personal trainers. They want to know how to build their business, get more clients, and charge more money. Indeed, when I give seminars the audience is usually packed with personal trainers that are new to the business. This is a smart move because the quickest way to success is to follow the path that other successful people have paved. Every mistake that you could ever make has already been made by someone else (myself included).

So, in this installment I’m going to cover what I feel are the three most important aspects for becoming a top trainer that clients are looking to build a long-term relationship with.

1. Your personality comes first – The most successful trainers are rarely the ones that know the most about the Krebs Cycle, neuroscience, or any other piece of physiology. I’ll jump straight to the point and tell you that the personal trainers who are always busy are the ones with the best people skills.

Assuming you’re a trainer in any reputable gym, a potential client already assumes that you know what you’re doing. I have three college degrees and in 16 years of training a client has never asked me for proof. Therefore, the next, and most important, step is to show the client that you’re someone he/she wants to spend time around. Whenever new trainers ask me what book they should read to get more clients, my answer always surprises them.

What’s the book I always recommend first? “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. This book is, without a doubt, the paramount text for building your people skills.

I recently attended a Dragon Door kettlebell training seminar in San Diego to show my support for Pavel Tsatsouline, John DuCane, and the excellent staff they have. When I arrived, one of their instructors literally ran up to me and thanked me for recommending Dale Carnegie’s book to him years ago. He said it was the best investment he ever made, and it was essential for taking him to the next level.

Read this book. It doesn’t matter how much you know about force vectors, neural coordination, or lipid lipolysis. If you have the personality of an ass, clients won’t stick with you.

You can find the book at this link:
How To Win Friends and Influence People

2. Stay up on the latest research – I must make it clear that simply reading Carnegie’s book is not enough if you want to be considered an elite trainer. You must know how the body works. Any client who’s willing to pay top dollar for a trainer expects results. And you’ll never transform a client quickly unless you know what works. Research is a great place to start if you’re new to training.

The problem, however, is that there are hundreds of scientific journals that release new pieces of research every month. There’s no way you could read all of them – and you don’t need to. So how do you short-circuit the process and learn which studies are most relevant to your clients?

Let someone else do the work.

If you primarily work with males, pick up a copy of Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness every month. If females make up the majority of your clientele, read Women’s Health and Shape. All of these magazines have a staff member whose sole job is to sift through the latest research and summarize the studies that are pertinent to what most people want: less fat, more muscle, more strength, or better overall health. When you see a study referenced in say, Men’s Health, seek out that study on the internet. Read it and write a short summary of what that study demonstrated.

(Importantly, studies don’t prove anything – they only demonstrate what happens in a certain population under certain conditions. But that’s another topic altogether. The key point here is to be privy to the latest research. This will impress your clients and build their confidence in you.)

So when a client asks why you make them supplement with Vitamin D, you can respond by saying, “Most people are deficient in Vitamin D. A study from the University of Minnesota shows that it’s harder to lose weight when you have a Vitamin D deficiency.”

Once you can give a pithy response to common questions you’re well on your way to establishing a long-term relationship with your client.

With regard to certifications, stick with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). If you have a bachelor’s degree and want to work with athletes, go for the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification. If you don’t have a degree and just want to work with the mainstream population their Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) course is great.

3. Be on-time and flexible with your schedule – No one likes to work with a trainer who’s late. Even the most novice trainers charge a respectable amount of money per hour so you must not make clients wait. Everyone, regardless of their wealth, hates to waste money. Waiting = wasting money. A sure-fire way to piss off people is to make them feel like they’re wasting money. Plus, a huge part of building your business hinges on recommendations to outside clients from your current clients. No one wants to recommend someone they think is going to show up late. The saying “if you’re not five minutes early you’re five minutes late” is excellent business advice.

Not only must you be punctual, but you must also be flexible. Being flexible is absolutely key when you start working with high-profile clients. Pro athletes and celebrities have a plethora of flights, interviews, and obligations that make their schedule change on a minute-to-minute basis. If you can’t accommodate their need for a trainer with a flexible schedule they’ll find a trainer who can.

The good news is high-profile clients will pay for this flexibility, assuming you’ve mastered the first two points. Want even more good news? Pro athletes and celebrities spend most of their time around other pro athletes and celebrities. Therefore, if you’re a likable person, if you demonstrate that you know the latest research, and if you can accommodate their mercurial schedules, they’ll recommend you to other high-profile clients.

Trust me when I say that trainers who have plenty of A-list clients got 80% of those clients from recommendations from their first few high-profile clients.

Remember these three essential points and you’ll quickly build a lucrative business, no matter what your profession is.

Stay focused,

Clean and Push Press for a Stronger, Leaner Body

Lifting a weight from the floor to overhead is one of the best measures of full body strength. Everything from your legs to your core to your shoulder girdle are challenged and strengthened. The snatch and clean and jerk are the two Olympic lifts because if you’re weak anywhere, you’ll never get an impressive weight locked out overhead.

However, there’s one problem with the snatch or clean and jerk: they’re very technical exercises that require high levels of coordination, mobility, strength, and acceleration. Many people, especially those who are new to training, don’t have the fitness capabilities to perform either lift with perfect form. That’s a recipe for injury. Indeed, there are simpler ways to reap of the benefits of full-body lifts.

The clean and push press has been part of my training programs for over a decade – and for good reason. It’s an exercise that doesn’t require a huge amount of skill, so it can benefit anyone. I like to start clients with the single-arm version since it’s relatively simple to get the technique right. And since a single-arm exercise takes twice as long to finish as the two-arm version, it’s awesome for boosting your metabolism.

Check out this short video of my client, Ralek Gracie, performing the single-arm clean and push press.

There are three primary ways I use this exercise in my client’s programs.

1. Warm-up – the clean and push press works virtually every muscle in your body, and it challenges your nervous system to simultaneously activate hundreds of muscle groups at once. Therefore, when you use a relatively light weight for a few reps it functions as an excellent warm-up.

Guidelines for warming up – Perform 3-4 sets of 3-4 reps with a moderate weight.

2. Full-body Strength Builder – a heavy clean and push press builds the kind of total body strength that benefits power athletes, weekend warriors, and everyone between.

Guidelines for strength – Perform 3 sets of 3 reps with the heaviest weight you can handle to build maximal strength. For muscle growth with strength, perform 8-10 sets of 3 reps as the cornerstone of your workout.

3. Metabolic Booster – since the clean and push press works hundreds of muscle groups at once, it’s an excellent exercise to boost the metabolic cost of your workouts. This is especially true when you do plenty of fast reps at the end your workout. Two of the four weekly workouts in Body of F.I.R.E. end with this type of metabolic booster to supercharge fat loss.

Guidelines to boost your metabolism – Perform a 2-3 sets of 20-25 reps with each arm at the end of your workout. Be sure to accelerate the lift and use plenty of leg drive to recruit additional muscle groups.

Even though the single-arm clean and push press isn’t tough to get right, there are a few important technique points to keep in mind. First, you should feel tension in your hips, glutes and abs before you pull the weight from the floor. Second, clean the kettlebell or dumbbell with your elbow tight to your side. Third, brace your abs tight before you press the weight overhead (ie, tighten your abs as your body drops a few inches before the push press). Fourth, press the weight straight up and tighten your abs when your arm is locked overhead.

If you’re looking to build full-body strength or boost the metabolic cost of a workout or if you simply want a way to prepare your body to train, give the single-arm clean and push press a try.

Stay focused,

Waterbury Challenge 2011

Note: Damon Valley is the winner of the Waterbury Challenge 2011. Details coming soon!

Each new year people set fitness goals, and by the end of January those good intentions often get buried beneath a pile of outside obligations. I think the reason why people fail by the end of the month is because their goal wasn’t realistic – they try to do too much too soon. That’s why I created the Waterbury Challenge.

As a fitness professional my job is to outline a program you’ll stick with. It’s also my duty to ensure that the workout gets progressively harder over time so your body continues to transform.

We’re five days into the new year. Your hangover is gone, the family is back where they should be, and all those Holiday sweets have gone stale.

In other words, it’s time to get focused. It’s time to set some goals.

When it comes to setting and achieving goals, most of us fall short when we’re given options. Sounds ironic, I know, but it’s true. For example, if I told you to choose from a list of body weight exercises and do one of them every other day for the rest of the year, I’ll bet you’d eventually lose track.

However, if I told you to do a specific workout every day, it’s likely that you’d stick with it, provided it doesn’t mandate a trip to the gym. Yep, it would become part of your daily routine, just like brushing your teeth (unless you’re Jessica Simpson). Also, when a long-term goal is set in motion I like to make it logical – mathematically speaking.

That’s why in 2011 I’ve created the Waterbury Challenge. It’s a very short full-body workout that you’ll do every day. And since I like to keep things in sync with the passing year, the workout gets slightly more challenging each day. In other words, the reps for each exercise match the number of days that have passed since January 1.

Here’s the workout for today, the fifth day into the new year.

Pull-up for 5 reps
Push-up for 5 reps
Lunge for 5 reps with each leg

Seems like nothing, right? After all, that workout literally takes you one minute to complete. Heck, you could do it right now.

Tomorrow you’ll do six reps of each exercise since it’s the sixth day of the year. Friday you’ll do seven reps of each exercise. On January 31, 31 days into the new year, you’ll do this:

Pull-up for 31 reps
Push-up for 31 reps
Lunge for 31 reps with each leg

I think you probably have a grasp on this system by now.

Now, you might be wondering if on December 31 you’ll have to do 365 reps of each exercise. That’s not necessary, although you must admit it’d be pretty cool. Plus, it would take a pretty big leap of faith on my part to assume that any of us could stay on track for 365 days straight.

However, what if you followed that progressive workout for half the year – 182 days? Well, my birthday is July 1 and it just so happens to be the halfway point in the year. So that, my friends, is how long the 2011 Waterbury Challenge will last – 182 days.

This challenge serves three important purposes. First, it makes fitness a part of your daily life. Second, it will build your mettle and willpower, and this will carry over into everything else you do. Third, it will help you get leaner and stronger over the next 6 months because this workout will serve as a complement to your training program. Think of it as a metabolic booster or GPP work.

Plus, if you’re ever in need of a conversation starter at a party or business meeting, just tell them you’re doing this challenge and you’re sure to entertain, or scare the hell out of, your friends.

Now, here’s my challenge to you. Join me on this journey (yep, I’m doing it, too) and video yourself doing 182 reps pull-up, push-up and lunge on July 1, 2011.

On that day I’ll put $500 into the Paypal account of the person who has the fastest time to completion.

Or forget about the competition and prize money and just do it to get leaner, stronger and healthier.

For those of you who want to participate but are interested in the challenge more than the prize, check out the answers to these questions that you’re probably thinking.

Question: Is this a stand alone program?
Answer: No, definitely not. This challenge should be performed in addition to your current training program. For example, if you’re doing the Body of F.I.R.E. program, add these daily workouts on top of it, at any point in the day (it only takes a few minutes at first).
Do this workout first thing in the morning or use it as your warm-up for your regular workout on days you lift weights. Any push-ups, pull-ups or lunges that are already in your regular program don’t count towards your daily requirement. This must be added on top of what you’re already doing.

Question: What if I can’t do a pull-up?
Answer: If you’re a female, or too weak to do a full pull-up, you can do any upper body pull in place of it: inverted row, dumbbell row, lat pulldown, assisted pull-up, etc. It doesn’t matter which upper body pulling exercise you use, just choose one you have access to every day.
However, to win the prize money you have to do pull-ups (any hand position is accepted).

Question: Can I slightly vary the exercises over time?
Answer: Yes, it’s wise to use different variations of the exercise every few days. For example, you can switch between a wide hand position push-up and a narrow one. Or you could do forward lunges instead of reverse lunges. For pull-ups, use different hand positions.

Question: This sounds like too much volume. How am I supposed to do that many pull-ups every day?
Answer: Well, it wouldn’t be a challenge if it were easy. However, I understand that some people won’t have the will to knock off such a high volume of pull-ups in the months to come. However, it’ll be months before you get to a high volume, and your body will be prepared for it.
You can use any upper body pulling movement in place of the pull-up. Just be certain it’s an exercise that you could easily do 10 times right from the start (even though you’ll only do 5 reps the first day). Then stick with that same weight throughout the months to come. At the very least, do the lunges and push-ups every day.

Question: Who qualifies for the prize money?
Answer: Anyone who’s on my newsletter list. If you haven’t signed up you can do so at the banner on the top of this page. Then, reply to this post and say “I’m in.” That’s all it takes.

Question: What if I can’t start today?
Answer: You must start by Friday, January 7, to reap the full benefits (you’ll start with 7 reps of each exercise on that day).

Question: I’m a female and I want to join this challenge. Is it fair to make me do pull-ups to win the cash?
Answer: Females can perform an inverted row (on a bar or TRX straps) instead of pull-ups. If she has the fastest time, she’ll win the money.

Question: Do I have to do all the reps in one set?
Definitely not. Once we get further into the year you’ll have to break up the total reps into a few sets to achieve the goal for that day. Do as many sets as it takes. Do the workout as a circuit or straight sets – it doesn’t matter. Just get the reps done every day.

Question: What if I miss a workout?
Answer: Don’t.

Stay focused,
P.S. Remember to reply to this post and say “I’m in” by January 7 to qualify for the cash.