The Best Of!

I hope all of you had a great Christmas this last Sunday.  I know mine was filled with relaxation, laughter and nutritional debauchery.  I hope yours was nothing less!

With 2011 coming to a close (and an actual full year of blogging under my belt) I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of the more popular posts over the past 12 months.  In my opinion, something worth reading once is definitely worth reading again..things like 1984, Siddhartha, Calvin and Hobbes, you know…classics.

Without trying to sound to braggadocious, I’ve often gleaned new insights while reading my own post over again.  And while I certainly don’t think I’m on the level of Orwell, Hesse, or Watterson my thought is that re-reading some of these might do the same for you.

So without further ado, here are the most popular posts from the last year:

Interview with Tony Gentilcore: Part 1 and Part 2

I’ve been fortunate enough to interview several leaders in the industry this year, and it had been a blast to get to do so.  They’ve all been gracious enough to take the time to answer my (sometimes ridiculous) questions and drop some knowledge.  However, this two part interview with Tony Gentilcore was by far the most popular.

Exercises You Should Be Doing: Spiderman Plank

People love to train their abs.  I mean they LOVE to train their abs.  So much so that anytime I’m having a client perform an exercise another gym member hasn’t seen before, they almost always ask “does that work your abs?” in hopes that they’ve discovered a new way to chisel away at their belly fat.  The Spiderman Plank takes the win for the “exercise blog” category.  They are a fantastic exercise that train both anti-extension as well as lumbopelvic stabilization (a fancy term for “good stuff”).

My Thoughts On The FDA’s “My Plate”

I try to write posts that discuss nutrition pretty regularly, especially since a lot of you have mentioned that nutrition is one of your favorite topics.  When the FDA released its upgrade from its “My Pyramid”, they caused quite a controversy.  People reacted strongly to some of the suggestions and changes that were made.  I weighed in with my thoughts on their changes, both pros and cons. 

Why Do All Old People Look The Same?

This post takes the win for the “nerdy” category.  While I don’t get too geeky on this blog much (mostly because it involves writing polysyllabic words) every once in a while I dive into some of the science behind what happens within our bodies.  I thought this post was a great one and it has some critical information for keeping your body healthy as you age.  I would argue that the information in this post is one piece of the “fountain of youth” puzzle.

5 Reasons The Biggest Loser Is Bad For The Fitness Industry

I have strong feeling about most things within the fitness industry.  Mostly because I’m a part of it and, good or bad, they reflect on me.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people say that they’re hesitant to train with me because of the experience the had with a trainer 8 years ago.  Yeah, bad experiences can carry a lot of weight.  In this post I discuss 5 reasons that I believe that the Biggest Loser is hurting more than it’s helping.

Recipe For Yam “Fries”-They’re So Good You Could Eat ‘Em!

This has been by far the most popular recipe I’ve put up on the blog.  Probably because they’re REALLY good!  We had them recently and they just never get old.

Fantastic Before And Afters

If you’ve been around the blog long, you know that I like to showcase my clients and their body transformations.  While all of the before and afters that I’ve put up have made amazing transformation, this one has been the most popular.  I think the fact that this client is a 41 year old with 4 kids inspired a lot of people.

What I Like About Crossfit

This wasn’t technically written in 2011, but it remains one of my most read posts.  Love him or hate him, I think Crossfit founder Greg Glassman’s polarizing personality drives people to read more and more about this strength and conditioning program. 

I’ve been somewhat vocal on my opinions on Crossfit, and maintain that there are both things I like and things I strongly disagree with about the program.  And while, since I wrote this post, there are things I’ve come to like more and things I’ve come to like less, this list holds true.  There are some things Crossfit does VERY well that every gym/trainer would be well served to try and duplicate.

Well, that’s it!  The most popular posts from 2011.  I hope you take some time to either re-read these of read them for the first time.

I will be absent from the blog over the next week and a half, so this will give you plenty to keep busy with!

I sincerely hope you all have a great (and safe) New Years.  See you all in 2012!


Life Is Like A…Delivered Pizza?

A couple of nights ago, Kat and I decided to order pizza.  We hadn’t ordered pizza for a loooong time, and for some reason I was kind of excited.  I think there is something to be said for people bringing hot delicious meals to your door.

When the pizza arrived, I cracked open the box, let the smell of hot, melty, cheesy goodness fill my nostrils and got ready to dive in.  As I was putting the pizza on my plate (I had already got Kat’s pizza for her…cuz that’s the kind of stand up guy I am) I couldn’t help but notice that the pieces were nowhere near the same size as each other.  In fact, there was one piece that was HUGE, and directly across from it was a little tiny piece.

Of course, it makes sense.  If you’re going to cut one piece bigger, you have to make another smaller.

Life is like delivered pizza. 

If we’re honest with ourselves there is probably always something we feel like we should be giving more time or attention to.  I know for myself, when I have busy seasons at work, I don’t feel like I’m getting the quality time I want with my family.  If I’m focusing on dropping my body fat, most likely I’m not adding a bunch of weight to the bar at the same time.  Life is full of examples like this.  It’s a simple equation really, if you give to one thing, you have to take from another.  Whether it’s time, resources, money, efforts, creative energy, whatever, this rings true.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret.  It’s OK.  Trying to keep everything in perfect balance usually results in not accomplishing much, and not completing anything.

When my daughter, Lila, was born my training suffered.  I certainly didn’t stop training and I still got some good quality work done in the gym, but I wasn’t setting any PR’s or doing anything earth shattering.

When I was prepping for my fat loss seminar this last fall, Kat was very understanding about the fact that I was going to be holed up more than usual in an effort to provide quality content to those attending.

Slices, not juggling balls.

There’s an analogy that compares life to juggling.  If you focus only on one ball, you’re going to let the other ones drop.  I’m not talking about juggling and I’m not talking about letting go of anything only to let it crash to the floor.  I’m talking about pizza and (when it’s appropriate) not being afraid to let some slices be bigger than others.

The difference is this, when you let all of the balls fall while juggling, you’re no longer juggling.  When you cut some slices of pizza bigger than others, it all still gets eaten.

An Exercise You Should Try: Inverted Row

Last week I mentioned the importance of upper back health, and how, for a multitude of reasons, having a strong back is important.  I also gave a demonstration of Band Face Pulls, an exercise to help your back get and stay strong.

Today, I’ve got another great exercise to help build a strong back, the Inverted Row. 

I like the inverted row for a variety of reasons.  First, you can stick with just body weight for quite a while and I like challenging body weight exercises.  Second, to be performed properly, it requires quite a bit of abdominal stability.  Another thing I’m a big fan of.

Here’s what it looks like:

Here’s how to do it:

-Place a bar across the safety bars in a squat rack.  (You can use blast straps or rings as well instead of the bar and a squat rack.)  Keep in mind , the lower the bar is the more challenging the exercise will be.

-Place yourself under the bar with your hands grabbing the bar just outside shoulder width.

-Get your body tight, thinking of making a straight line from your shoulder to your ankle.

-Pull up to the bar, making sure to pull the bottom of your chest to the bar.

-At the top of the movement, pull your shoulder blades together as tightly as you can. 

-Return to the starting position.

It’s important to note that you need to keep your body tight by bracing your abs.  At no point should your hips drop or arch up.  Stay tight and keep your hips stable.

Remember, the higher the bar, the easier the movement will be.  Another way to change the difficulty of the movement is to either bring your feet closer to underneath the bar or further away from the bar.  The closer your feet are to the bar, the easier the exercise will be.

I like to have clients perform between 6-12 reps for 3-4 sets. 

Give them a try and let me know what you think!


Taco Soup Recipe…Eat Some!

Several months ago I had a poll going here on the blog.  It was basically a way for me to get feedback from you (the reader) on what kid of things you liked about the blog and what you would like to see change.  One of the things that most people requested was more nutritional/dietary based content. 

Admittedly, since that poll, I haven’t written about nutrition as often as I had intended, but am trying to make a concerted effort to change that.

Beans are an often underused food that have a ton of nutritional benefits. For example:

-Beans provide a decent amount of protein

-Beans provide a TON of fiber to your diet.  Something that is woefully lacking in the typical American diet.  A cup of beans will give you somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 grams of fiber. 

-Due to their high fiber content, beans help you feel, and stay feeling full.

-Beans have a low glycemic load, which means they help control your blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, both important things for staying lean.

-Beans help keep your leptin levels high.  Leptin is an important hormone that keeps your metabolism running at a higher rate.

-Beans are CHEAP!

The only drawback to beans is that often people ask, “but how do I make them?”  Because, let’s be honest, beans on their own are kind of boring.  Below is a recipe for taco soup that Kat and I got from my sister-in-law.  I use the word “soup” loosely because it’s more like a chili.  But regardless of what you call it, it’s freaking delicious and super healthy.

This isn't a picture of the actual recipe, but it is taco close enough.

2 cans diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
2 cans kidney beans (rinsed)
1 can garbonzo beans (rinsed)
1 can black beans (rinsed)
2 cans chili beans DO NOT rinse
1 can corn (drained)
1 pckg taco seasoning (we use garlic salt, pepper and chili powder instead)
1 lb ground beef (browned)
Basil, oregano, parsley to taste

Throw it all in a Crock Pot.
On low: cook all day
On high: 4-5 hrs

It’s worth mentioning again-unless you’re wanting to absolutely guarantee that your significant other will have no interest in getting frisky, RINSE THE BEANS!

This recipe makes a ton.  We have a smaller Crock Pot and have to half the recipe, so only do the full recipe if you have a large one or plan on cooking two batches. This can be frozen for later use, but if you’re like us, it’ll be your lunch for the next week because it’s so good.

Like I said, beans are crazy cheap.  This recipe can be made for around $15 and easily makes as many servings.  So you’re looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 for a meal packed full of fiber, protein and yummy goodness.  Who says you can’t eat healthy for cheap?

Try it out and let me know what you think!

Be sure to share this deliciousness on Facebook.  Your friends will thank you for it!



An Exercise You Should Try: Band Face Pull

I’ve written several times about the importance of upper back work, so I wont go into too much detail today as to why it’s so important.  In short, most of us spend a great deal of time every day hunched over at computers, driving, sitting at the dinner table and watching TV.  Then when we go to the gym, we spend most of our time working on the muscles we can see (chest, biceps and shoulders) which pulls us further into a hunched position.

To put it simply, we need A LOT of upper back work to combat this imbalance.  In fact, I believe it’s so important that I’ve started incorporating some kind of upper back work into nearly every single session for all of my clients.  Even if it’s some lighter, higher rep work placed between something like heavy sets of squats or used as an active recovery between sled pushes, they do something for the back almost every time the meet with me.

Having a strong upper back not only carries over to bigger benches, deadlifts and squats, but it also has a tremendous impact on your posture as well as keeping your back injury free.

One of my favorite exercises that I’ve been incorporating lately is the Band Face Pull.  This exercise does a fantastic job of firing up the middle traps as well as get some external shoulder rotation which is great for keeping your rotator cuff healthy.

Here’s what the Band Face Pull looks like:

Here’s how to do them:

-Wrap a band around a pole, squat rack, etc.

-Grab the band with your palms facing in and your knuckles facing up.  Get your feet in a split stance position (one foot forward, one back).

-Pull the band towards your face, making sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together as tightly as you can.

-Keep your hands up.  Don’t let them drop so that your knuckles are pointing forward.  I tell clients to make a goalpost with their forearms.

-Avoid shrugging your shoulders.

-Avoid arching your back to try and get a greater range of motion.  If you have to lean way back to get your hands by your head, you are using too much tension.

I like to use these for 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps.  Give them a shot and let me know what you think!

(Remember to share on Facebook and Twitter.  Thanks for your support!)

Can Strength Training Save Your Life?

I know I’ve been M.I.A. this week.  My schedule has been nothing close to normal and then to top it off, yesterday the cold I had been fighting started kicking my butt, and I lost my voice. I went to work and had my first session with three awesome girls, then sat down at my desk and was completely spent.  I decided that I needed to cancel the days sessions, come home and rest.  So the remainder of my day was spent sleeping, drinking hot tea and Airborn from my Funshine Bear coffee mug I’ve had since I was six and, in general, being a big baby.

Anyway, I hate not posting earlier in the week than this, but sometimes it just ain’t happening.

We all know strength training has a host of benefits.  It helps athletes get stronger, quicker and more explosive.  It helps men pack on pounds of  muscle.  It helps women get shape and curves.  It is used to strip body fat off and to rehab people after an injury or surgery.  Basically, it’s pretty versatile…and pretty awesome.

But what about saving someones life, that’s probably a bit extreme right?

Have you ever heard of Metabolic Syndrome? 

How about Frailty Syndrome?

In case you haven’t, let me give you a brief synopsis of each.


Metabolic syndrome is a term used for a group of risk factors that occur together that greatly increase the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.  These risk factors include extra body fat around the midsection and upper body, insulin resistance, age, genetics, hormone changes and lack of exercise.

In short, the more of these factors you have, the more likely you are to develop coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes or have a stroke.


Frailty syndrome is a collection of symptoms or markers, related to the age related loss and dysfunction of skeletal muscle and bone that place older adults at an increased risk of negative events such as disability and death.

In short, the older you get, the more muscle mass and bone density you lose.

So, we have these two syndromes that literally kill people (because people die from things like coronary heart disease, strokes, diabetes, disability and death…yeah, people die from death.)

Any thoughts as to what might help combat the onset and advancement of both of these syndromes?

That’s right, strength training.  Getting off your butt and moving some weight.  Pumping iron.

When it comes to metabolic syndrome, while strength training can’t undo your age or your genetics, it has been shown to reduce body fat, increase insulin sensitivity, help control hormones and it takes care of the lack of exercise.  That’s 4 of the 6 risk factors (or 67%) that strength training alone can combat.

I don’t know about you, but if something as simple as getting to the gym regularly and moving some weight around could potentially reduce the chance of having a stroke or developing coronary heart disease or diabetes by nearly 70%, I’d definitely be doing it.

With frailty syndrome, there is no question that weight bearing exercise increases both bone density and muscle mass.  While there is no cure for getting older every year, strength training can literally keep your body much much younger.  When you see older people who have trouble getting out of their seats, or putting away the dishes from the sink, this is directly related to a decrease in both bone density and muscle mass.

My last living grandparent (Grandma Gray) is 99, and she still lives on her own.  I started doing some simple training with her about three months ago.  Twice a week, for a half an hour, I take a resistance band and an aerobics step and go through some basic movements with her.

Just this last week, she was telling me how much easier things were for her to do.  She just felt stronger.  Did I mention that she’s 99?!

We often look at the aesthetic benefits of strength training.  Yes, it can help us get a better body, and that is great.  However, there is so much more to it than simply looking good.  We have to remember that from the beginning of time, weight bearing exercise has been woven into the way our bodies are meant to move.  It is part of who we are supposed to be, and it just might save your life.

Does It Make Any Sense?

Some things just don’t make any sense.

Deep frying a Twinkie.

The English language.

Mixing scrambled or fried eggs with anything that has maple syrup on it.  (My brother does this and it honestly makes me gag a little.)

Jillian Michaels being on a show called “The Doctors”.


Yup, life is full of things that make you go “huh?”.

This is often true of people and their fitness goals.  If you ask someone what their goals are, and then what they are doing to meet those goals, often they don’t line up.

Guys wanting to put on muscle that are eating 1,800 calories a day.

Women wanting to get stronger that are lifting 5 pound dumbbells for 1,001 reps.

Or anyone who wants to lose weight but never sets foot in a gym or prepares a meal for themselves.

Again, things that make you go “huh?”.

Do me (and yourself) a favor.  Write down one or two of your main fitness goals.  Then, write down what actions you are taking to meet those goals.  Do they match up?  Does what you are eating reflect the body composition change you are wanting to make?  Do your efforts in the gym move you closer to your goals or further away?

This may seem like  silly thing to do, (because of course your actions match your goals) but you would be surprised at how often they don’t line up.

If your actions don’t move you towards your goals, then change your actions.

Revisit this list often.