My Coaching Mistakes (well, some of them…)

My Coaching Mistakes (well, some of them…)

Burning the evidence.
Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

As I am closing in on 10 years as a trainer/coach/whatever there are certain past practices that I now look back at with an awkward awe.

I’ve been thinking about some mistakes I’ve made along the way. I wouldn’t call them regrets, but signs of professional growth. And sometimes, ripples in my evolution as the person I am today.

With that out of the way, here are (some of) my coaching “ughs”.

Mistake 1: Strict movement screen for everyone

I used to feel superglue-like level of attachment to this one. Doing a mandatory screen was tied to my self-held identity as the “rehab-trainer”. Or the “movement guy”.

Most people new to exercise know that they suck at it. They don’t need reminders of it. So instead of focusing on what’s not working well, let’s find what they can do well and squeeze it for all it’s worth to make them feel good about themselves.

I still like the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) for it’s simplicity. I can get it done in about 10 minutes and it tells me a lot about what’s going on with the person in front of me.

FMS is handy if the individual has significant training background (quite rare with most of my new clients), returning to training after clinical rehab, or has a super-specific movement/strength related goal.

But I find myself modifying the screen heavily for those who just want to “feel and look better”. Especially if they’re a beginner to working out. For them it could be as simple as doing an initial workout, adjusting the exercises as necessary, and seeing where they’re at. Then building a training plan around it.

Mistake 2: It’s all about movement

A bit of back story. I went all-in with nutrition and lifestyle side of health earlier in my career. If you read my blog 2015 it mostly revolved around those two topics. Then once I got my book out in 2018, I shifted to “only movement matters.”

Again, this nicely fit into my self-held professional identity.

Now as I’ve learned more about stress, lifestyle and pain, I’ve circled back around realising that the lifestyle side is at least as important as movement.

We can ease a lot of our movement problems by improving our lifestyle with sleep, stress management, breathing and diet. These have to come first. Most of the time.

Mistake 3: Everyone needs the perfect ranges of motion and control in every single joint

In the past, if you came to me with a specific goal, regardless of what it was, I gave you correctives (sigh…). The goal was to make every joint work close to perfection. Let’s just say that the motivation for clients to follow these correctives at home wasn’t great.

I was giving clients stuff to do that I thought was important. Without listening to what was important for them.

Now I only focus on a specific joint if the person needs that to safely reach their goal. Even then it comes down to having the conversation whether they care about improving that specific are, or whatever.

Or can we get them where they want to go another way. Mainly by bypassing that “problem” area altogether. In these cases I will explain the reasons behind why we do what we do and how it carries over to to their goals.

97% of the time my clients’ goals are not gym specific, but what they want to do outside of the training sessions. Be it kayaking, gardening or getting in and out of the car without engaging in Mission Impossible-level of planning.

Once we’ve had that conversation we can decide whether spending time on specific joint mobility is in their interest. Or do we lateralize* exercises as necessary to get the training effect.

Lateralizing could mean something as simple as elevating heels to squat instead of spending time on ankle mobility. Or landmine pressing instead of spending time on shoulder mobility.

Mistake 4: Being a dic(k)tator with lifestyle habits

This ties with me not listening enough. I was trying to create the perfect algorithm to teach habits. Putting them in a strict order and expecting everyone to follow through.

I’d like to think I am now better at meeting the person where they’re at. Instead of going “this is what you need to do”, it’s more “ok, what do you think would be helpful to work on?”. Then we go from there to whatever direction.

It’s about moving away from dictating and leaning into guiding. Most of the time, the client has better answers than I do in improving their lifestyle. They just need help to get the ideas out and forming them into actionable steps.

Mistake 5: It’s all about strength

I used to be relentless about the need to get stronger and stronger. This is what I valued in my own training. So the answer for everyone, regardless of their goal, was to keep getting stronger.

I still think strength, to a point, is worth cultivating. But it’s only a one part of a system and equally important as cardiovascular fitness, movement, lifestyle, and diet.

Let’s be honest, most people couldn’t give a high flying poop about how heavy they lift in the gym. With some clients we talk about the colours of kettlebells (or plates) instead of how heavy they are. They just don’t care. And I have to respect this.

If the client only cares about ticking off the “I trained today” box, then we focus on making her workouts enjoyable, rewarding, and relatively challenging. It’s only a piece of their active lifestyle puzzle, not something that their life revolves around.

And as I’ve seen over years with these clients, weights do gradually get heavier as the person gets stronger. And with most it’s often them who suggest a move to a heavier weight, not me.

Live, make mistakes, and learn so you don’t repeat the same mistakes.

And one thing’s for sure. If I write another post like this in 10 years’ time I will probably question some things I am doing today. It’s a sign of getting better.

*As per Charlie Weingroff’s Training = Rehab approach.

Book Notes: Breathe by James Nestor

Book Notes: Breathe by James Nestor

Book notes reflect a specific time in the reader’s life. If you enjoy my notes and highlights, I highly recommend you buy the original book as it’s likely that there’ll be parts for you to discover that I didn’t find important.

Read my notes below. Or buy Breathe on Amazon.

The greatest indicator of life span wasn’t genetics, diet, or the amount of daily exercise, but lung capacity.

James Nestor in Breathe

Breathe is a fascinating book. I don’t say this lightly, but I think everyone should read it. The message and the empowering insights in Breathe could change your life. If only to convince you that email apnea is a thing. And you too probably suffer from it.

So much of our modern ailments can be linked back to poor breathing habits. And how all this affects the quality of our life and our longevity. Be it asthma, anxiety, depression, various chronic diseases, or how present we are in our day-to-day lives.

But Breathe is also about hope. The author James Nestor did 10 years of research for the book, and his fascination with the topic fills the pages with techniques that all of us can do to improve the way we breathe.

It doesn’t hurt that Nestor is a brilliant writer. He brings the science, education and entertainment together in the book, sharing his insights with a captivating narrative.

Here are my notes from Breathe

“[Breathing] is as important as what we eat or how much we exercise.”

“Inhaling air through the mouth decreases pressure, which causes the soft tissues in the back of the mouth to become loose and flex inward, creating less space and making breathing more difficult.”

“Mouth breathing was both a cause of and a contributor to snoring and sleep apnea.”
– Placing a stamp-sized piece of tape over mouth when sleeping can reduce mouth breathing.

Inhaling from the nose makes the airways wider. Nasal turbinates (a long, narrow, curled shelf of bones that protrudes into the breathing passage) heat, clean, slow and pressurise air so that the lungs can extract more oxygen.

“Nasal cavity responds to whatever input it receives”

“The density of your nasal hairs helps determine whether you’ll suffer from asthma.”

“The left nostril is more deeply connected to the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest-and-relax side that lowers blood pressure, cools the body, and reduces anxiety.”
– Could you close your right nostril whenever you’re feeling stressed or anxious and focus on deep breaths through the left nostril only?

Nasal breathing can boost nitric oxide (a molecule that plays an essential role in increasing circulation and delivering oxygen into cells) sixfold. The amount of nitric oxide in the body can heavily influence immune function, weight, circulation, mood and sexual function.

Research spanning 70 years focusing on heart concluded that “the greatest indicator of life span wasn’t genetics, diet, or the amount of daily exercise”, but lung capacity. “The smaller and less efficient lungs became”, regardless of the reason, “the quicker subjects got sick and died.”

“Any regular practice that stretches the lungs and keeps them flexible can retain and increase lung capacity.”

Katharina Schroth trained herself, and later on, her patients out of a severe scoliosis with “orthopaedic breathing”. People who were bedridden could walk again.

“A typical adult engages as little as 10 percent of the range of the diaphragm when breathing, which overburdens the heart, elevates blood pressure, and causes a rash of circulatory problems.”

“Shallow breathing will limit the range of our diaphragms and lung capacity and can lead to the high-shouldered, chest-out, neck-extended posture common in those with emphysema, asthma, and other respiratory problems.”

You can strengthen the diaphragm with long exhales. Keep pushing the air out as if it’s toxic, get it all out through pursed lips.

“The lungs are the weight-regulating system of the body.”

“Average person today takes 12-20 breaths a minute.”

“The optimum breathing rate is about 5.5 breaths per minute. That’s 5.5-second inhales and 5.5-second exhales. This is the perfect breath.”
This allows the heart, circulation and nervous system to enter a state of coherence. “Practice fewer inhales and exhales in smaller volume.”

“By taking longer breaths, we allow our lungs to soak up more [oxygen] in fewer breaths.”

The benefits of decreasing the volume or air in the lungs and increasing carbon dioxide in the body. “Blood with the most carbon dioxide in it (more acidic) loosened oxygen from hemoglobin.”

Overbreathing = too much oxygen and not enough carbon dioxide to offload it from the haemoglobin and into the cell where it is needed.
That’s why long exhale followed by a breath hold can reduce, or stop, a panic attack. Carbon dioxide will build up and release more oxygen.
It’s also why breathing into a paper bag helps as you’re breathing in more carbon dioxide.

“Our bodies determine how fast and often we breathe, not by the amount of oxygen, but by the level of carbon dioxide.”

“When we breathe too much, we expel too much carbon dioxide, and our blood pH rises to become more alkaline; when we breathe slower and hold in more carbon dioxide, pH lowers and blood becomes more acidic. Almost all cellular functions in the body take place at a blood pH of 7.4, our sweet spot between alkaline and acid.”

“Techniques they used varied, but all circled around the same premise: to extend the length of time between inhalations and exhalations.” Get all the air out before taking a new one.

A lot of our breathing problems is caused by mouths that are too small due to the soft modern diet. “Our ancient ancestors chewed for hours a day, every day. And because they chewed so much, their mouths, teeth, throats, and faces grew to be wide and strong and pronounced.”

The good news is that “the human face don’t stop growing in our 20s, unlike other bones in the body. They can expand and remodel into our 70s, and likely beyond.”

“The more we gnaw, the more stem cells release, the more bone density and growth we’ll trigger, the younger we’ll look and the better we’ll breathe.”
Finally, a convincing reason for me to keep my lifelong chewing gum habit. I am taking it up a notch with mastic gum. Maybe chewing it will help with my ongoing sinus issues. It’s also biodegradable, so there’s that too.

“The more time infants spent chewing and sucking, the more developed their faces and airways would become, and the better they’d breathe later in life.”
What’s the role of dummy in here? Most research says it’s not good for speech development and teeth?

“Many of the nerves connecting to the parasympathetic system are located in the lower lobes, which is one reason long and slow breaths are so relaxing.”

“What they often suffer from are communication problems along the vagal and autonomic network, brought on by chronic stress. To some researchers, it’s no coincidence that eight of the top ten most common cancers affect organs cut off from normal blood flow during extended states of stress.”

“Sympathetic stress takes just a second to activate, turning it off and returning to a state of relaxation and restoration can take an hour or more.”
Left nostril breathing?

Relaxed nasal breathing will help take us from sympathetic (stressed / fight or flight) to parasympathetic (calm / rest and digest). But sometimes the body “needs a violent shove” to get there. Enter Tummo breathing.

“[Tummo breathing is] also especially useful for middle-aged people who suffer from lower-grade stress, aches and pains, and slowing metabolisms.”

“Breathing really fast and heavy on purpose flips the vagal response the other way, shoving us into a stressed state. It teaches us to consciously access the autonomic nervous system and control it, to turn on heavy stress specifically so that we can turn it off and spend the rest of our days and nights relaxing and restoring, feeding and breeding.”

“Stress the body on purpose, snapping it out of its funk so that it can properly function during the other 23½ hours a day.”

Wim Hof Method for Tummo. Fair bit of convincing research to support this.

“Nobody knows how eliciting such extreme stress might affect the immune and nervous systems in the long term.”

“Fear is the core of all anxieties”

“Fears weren’t just a mental problem, and they couldn’t be treated by simply getting patients to think differently. Fears and anxiety had a physical manifestation, too. They could be generated from outside the amygdalae, from within a more ancient part of the reptilian brain.”

“Conditioning the central chemoreceptors and the rest of the brain to become more flexible to carbon dioxide levels. By teaching anxious people the art of holding their breath.”

“People with anorexia or panic or obsessive-compulsive disorders consistently have low carbon dioxide levels and a much greater fear of holding their breath.”

“people with anxiety likely suffer from connection problems between these areas [chemoreceptors and amygdala] and could unwittingly be holding their breath throughout the day. Only when the body becomes overwhelmed by carbon dioxide would their chemoreceptors kick in and trigger an emergency signal to the brain to immediately get another breath. The patients would reflexively start fighting to breathe. They’d panic. Eventually their bodies adapt to avoid such unexpected attacks by staying in a state of alert, by constantly overbreathing in an effort to keep their carbon dioxide as low as possible.”

Yoga used to be all about breathing. Unsuprisingly, we’ve bastardised it to its current form.

“Breathing techniques are best suited to serve as preventative maintenance, a way to retain balance in the body so that milder problems don’t blossom into more serious health issues.”
They are not the cure-all we all hope to find.

“Our body is much more nearly perfect than the endless list of ailments suggests. Its shortcomings are due less to its inborn imperfections than to our abusing it.” -Nobel laureate Albert Szent-Györgyi

If reading these sparked your curiosity about breathing and how to improve it, I recommend you invest in a copy of Breathe. One of the best books of 2020.

Buy Breathe on Amazon.

Too Busy Means It’s Not a Priority

Too Busy Means It’s Not a Priority

“Now, where did I leave my mask?”
Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

Being busy means there is no time to stop. Like we’re living in this limbo of errands and poor time management. There’s a deeply negative undertow to it.

I am not busy. I never want to be busy.

As a dad with a toddler and a three week old newborn* in the mix, there’s a fair bit of life admin that screams (often literally) for my attention.

Our laundry baskets (yep, we have multiple) are always 80% full. I am convinced there’s, at least, one other family living in our house that I haven’t been told about yet.

But there are tasks that should be done and tasks that need to be done. If a task is not important, it’ll get pushed over to the curb enough times until everyone involved forgets it.** Because it wasn’t a priority.

And this incredibly scientific formula sort of explains it.

Should be done = not a priority
Needs to be done = a priority

Too busy to cook. Too busy to train. Too busy to meditate. Too busy to jazz. Too busy, not because there is no time, but because it’s not a priority.

We should need to stop saying “I’m too busy”. It makes us overwhelmed. Like we’re not enough. Like we don’t have enough time. Like we can’t manage.

What if we would move away from too busy and adopt not a priority.

What if instead of I didn’t eat well in the last two days. I was busy with work and didn’t have time to cook”, you’d go “I didn’t eat well in the last two days, I was focusing on work and cooking wasn’t a priority.”

By rephrasing the statement, we acknowledge the realities of the current situation. We own our decision to focus on work instead of cooking and eating well.

Now, I could list ways to make healthy eating a possibility even when focusing on work… Followed by another list on why cooking should be a long-term priority. But I resist. Instead…

List your priorities.

The order of your priorities changes over time. And as life changes, some old priorities will be taken up by new ones.

But if you’re like me, you have a set of foundational priorities in life forming the arch of your being.

*And that’s why you haven’t heard from me for a while.
**Things with accompanying literal screams usually do get done.

Being Physically Resilient Makes Life Better

Being Physically Resilient Makes Life Better

Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash

Now here’s a word I love in every possible way. And probably more than any sensible person should love a specific set of alphabets aligned in a meaningful way. Despite the risk of sounding like a hardcore weirdo, here goes.

I love the way it looks on a piece of paper (or on the screen), the way it resonates in my ears, the way it feels in my mouth when I say it out loud. Or even better, when I whisper it on to a microphone while looking at myself in the mirror. 

Ah, the way people look at me when I say it. The way I look at people when they look at me when I say it… Ok, it wasn’t that weird.

Resiliency. Say it with me. Resiliency. Now go stand in front of the mirror and say it again. “Resiliency…” Let it linger. I was right, right?

But most of all, I love what it means:

The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

I love it in both the mental and physical contexts. But for now, let’s stick with what it means to be physically resilient.

Resiliency to injuries

You’re running through the woods, taking deep breaths of fresh air, filling your nostril cavities, odorant receptors and lungs with the smell of the misty rain. A bird! As thoughts of admiration for those vibrant colours of the feathered creature form in your mind, you take a miss step into an old wombat burrow. Thumb! You face plant with force and twist your ankle in the process. 

“Scheissen!”, you scream out loud and expect to see a throbbing ankle stare back at you. Your mind plays through the near future misery. You’re convinced that these silent misty morning runs are going to be on hold for a while. At least an ankle strain, if not something worse.

But, alas. After five minutes, the ankle feels normal. You put a bit of weight on it. Feels fine. So you put a bit more weight on it.. Still fine. Marching in place, running in place, vigorous cossack cavalry dance in place. All of it feels fine. And indeed, your ankle is fine. 

You sweep up the broken pieces of your ego and return to the trail with a sense of having just dodged a proverbial bullet shot out of an old wombat burrow and aimed at your ankle.

Resiliency. That strength training you’ve done has paid off.

Strength training doesn’t mean that you’ll never get injured.

Because sometimes you might. But it’s likely that the strength training you’ve put in allows you to escape with less damage to the injured area. 

With a buffer of physical resiliency from training the body can absorb more of the impact. Bend more without breaking and protect the joint for further injury.

Resiliency to complete unplanned tasks in life

Now, this is not the greatest feat of strength anyone’s ever mastered. But it serves as a good example. And makes me look like a decent bloke. Which is really the reason for this website to exist in the first place. So here goes.

The other day I ducked out to the shops with our son.

After parking, I carried him on one arm as we made our way through the car park and towards the shops. Just before walking through the sliding doors I saw an old geezer with a cane. He had a trolly filled with cases of soft drinks and was he clearly struggling to push the damn thing forward.

There was no way he was able to push the trolley down the ramp and to his car. Let alone being able to lift the cases into his car. How he got the cases in the trolley still remains a mystery to me.

I could see his eyes were searching for a connection. To raise the attention of any helpful individual. As he was being ignored by the able, but bad mannered and ruined youth who just walked past him, I offered to help. 

So I took the geezer’s trolley to his car and loaded the cases in the boot for him. Despite him being adamant that shouldn’t or couldn’t do it while carrying a child. Which I guess tells something about how physically intimidating I am.

In the end, it made the old guy’s life just a bit easier. And despite my persistent and repeated decline of reward, he shoved a five dollar note in my son’s pocket as we turned to walk away. Which I guess tells something about the homeless look I have. 

Either way, he wanted me to buy candy for the kid. Which we didn’t do. I bought a beer for myself instead. Sacrifices us parents do to protect our kid’s teeth from cavities.

One has to wonder about that old geezer…

What if he would’ve been strength training his whole life? Maybe he wouldn’t need my help. Maybe he wouldn’t need a cane. After all, he wasn’t that old. Just in a sad state of physical health.

Or maybe… he had been strength training his whole life. Maybe he once was strong and resilient. And maybe everything changed in a car accident years ago. An accident that left him physically incapable. Who knows?

Regardless, I know I will do whatever it takes so I have the resiliency to carry my own groceries when I’m his age.

So yeah, being physically resilient makes life better.

It makes us more resilient to injuries. And when injuries do happen, the physical resiliency allows us to recover quicker.

It’s about helping the old geezer get high on soft drinks.

Giving your friend a helping hand to move the couch (and a fridge and “would you mind moving that piano and the full fish tank too”).

Or running to catch a bus and not feel like you’re sucking all the coronavirus oxygen out of the vehicle once you sit down.

Having physical resiliency makes life better.

Getting Stronger is Hard Work

Getting Stronger is Hard Work

“But I never see no postman down here on the farm”
Photo by Gozha Net on Unsplash

The late afternoon sun hugs the field. The two tired brothers have worked since the early hours of the morning. Now they’re getting the last of the day’s harvest done.

Bob, the younger of the brothers, is inherently lazy. Trying to get the harvest done with him is like dealing with a toddler insisting on using a hammer to eat a kiwifruit. A patience testing endeavour.

Ron, the older of the two, with his sleeves rolled up, is throwing bales of hay on to the rusty cart. And after each bale he’s muttering words of encouragement to his brother.

Unless Ron wants to do all the work himself he needs to spend most of the days directing and asking Bob to lift another bale of hay onto the truck. Otherwise Bob would spend his time lounging on the ground, getting a tan, and chewing a long piece of grass while half humming lazy renditions from the Grateful Dead catalogue.

But with Ron’s determination and gentle encouragement Bob does his part. As the sun starts to set the brothers climb onto their beat up John Deere and chug across the field to get home.

At home Ron pours a small Scotch.

He hands it to Bob and tells him to go have a bubble bath. Meanwhile Ron himself, organised to a fault that he is, heads to the kitchen to cook a hearty bean stew and potatoes. 

The brothers have a meal together and go over the state of the field. Ron maps out the plan for tomorrow’s work and promises to Bob that tomorrow’s work load won’t be any worse than today’s.

After the meal, with the weathered floorboards creaking, Bob makes his way to his bedroom to retire for the night. Ron stays up to pack the leftover stew, potatoes and thick peanut butter sandwiches ready for tomorrow’s lunch.

The next day on the field is more of the same. 

And the one after. And the one after that. At some point each day Bob will hit his limit and insist on returning to lounging on the ground and work on his tan. And unless Ron wants to finish up the day’s work all by himself, he has to encourage Bob to get up and pick another bale of hay. 

Each day, despite Ron’s promises of easier tomorrows, Bob does a bit more than what he did yesterday. 

Ron is the driving force of the brothers. If he wouldn’t force Bob out of the house and put on his underwear and ask him to do more work, Bob would spend his days sitting at the kitchen table playing solitaire, without his underwear. While trying to get a tan through the kitchen window.

We’re all Rons. Bob is our body. And toddlers should only use hammers in mattress lined houses.

Our body is inherently lazy

They want to exist in a world where they can rest on the bales, get a sick (but healthy) tan and hum the great songbook of the 70s. Like Bob, our bodies want an easygoing existence where it’s possible to get by only doing what’s absolutely necessary. 

The body yarns for a world of, and here’s a big word, equilibrium.

Just turning up to train isn’t enough. 

Lifting the same amount of hay as yesterday doesn’t lend itself to progress. If all we do is the same thing over and over in each training session, Bob never progresses. He has no reason to because his current existence is his definition of that aforementioned, and here’s that big word again, equilibrium.

We have to keep shoving Bob forward to improve.

And the only way to do this is training. Conditioning to improve our heart and lungs and all that anatomical stuff that connects those two to wherever they’re meant to connect. Cutting down calories to burn fat. Resistance training for strength. To take the next step, to get that extra rep, and to go that little heavier.

Well, hard manual labor on the farm works too. But let’s face it, neither you nor me are doing none of that. I, for one, don’t even know what a tractor looks like.

So we make this deal. 

We challenge him in the training. Then we make a promise and lie through our teeth. We promise that if Bob sits in a warm bubble bath, eats his potatoes and gets stronger during the rest between the workouts, the whole thing will feel easier next time.

So Bob sits in the bath and repairs himself with the false hope of renewed, ah big word, equilibrium. And the next time is indeed easier for him. 

Yet we, Rons, can’t help ourselves and take another step on the path of betrayal. We take off the nice person mask and reveal our true self to Bob by making the training even more challenging come next time.

Lucky for us Bob’s tangled in a groundhog day. 

Thanks to our body’s short emotional memory we can keep repeating our false promise day after the day. We act all nice, pour a Scotch, run a bubble bath and serve chilli. We even add a thick layer of peanut butter on those sandwiches to really elevate Bob’s Stockholm Syndrome.

The next morning Bob climbs on to the beat up John Deere whistling “Friend of the Devil”. Sure, he complains how he would rather play solitaire and get a tan. But with some non-abusive encouragement, and the hanging carrot of a future peanut butter sandwich, Bob eventually does a bit more. And it’s the same cycle all over again.

We do all these devious acts for the benefit of our body 

If we want to keep getting stronger, fitter and more resilient we have to make training uncomfortable. Not a pseudo-military spew town. But we have to keep challenging what we’ve previously done in a reasonable and sustainable fashion.

Yes, there is wisdom in sticking with the same until it feels a bit easier. But we can’t get stronger by doing the same months on end. There comes a time on the farm when progress requires picking up that heavier bay of hay.

Of course, if we’ve reached a point of strength where we feel content, things change. It’s ok to turn up to repeat what we’ve always done for the sake of maintaining what we’ve got. 

That’s fine too. Because sometimes Bob needs a tan. And Ron needs to calm the… down and sit himself in the bath.

Using The COVID-19 Restrictions to Overcome Fat Loss Plateau [A Client Case Study]

Using The COVID-19 Restrictions to Overcome Fat Loss Plateau [A Client Case Study]

Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

This is about how my client Niss was able to turn the negative COVID restrictions into a learning opportunity and break through her weight loss plateau. And as the weight came down, so did her back pain.

When the shroud of COVID restrictions came down in the late March, they bulldozed Niss’ training routine overnight. Her goals to build strength for running, keep back pain at bay, and drop 10kg got an unwelcome flavor of difficulty. 

Pour in a cup of working from home, a pinch of moving to online training and a few spoonfuls of social distancing. She had all the ingredients for an adventurous few months ahead of her navigating fitness goals in the times of social distancing.

Mo’ sitting mo’ back pain

Pre-COVID, I referred Niss to an osteopath for an assessment and further guidance on how to best manage and reduce her back pain. The three of us worked together and had success in improving her back. 

But this was Pre-COVID. Working from home now meant marathon sits at the computer. Something that most backs, painful or not, are not too fond of.

A few weeks into the restrictions, Niss’ pain started to creep in and increase in intensity. She was forced to pull back with training. Instead, she set a schedule to go for a walk every single morning. 

In the times of challenge you do what you can to keep moving in the direction of your goals.

Mo’ awareness mo’ fat loss

Slow is the name of the game for sustainable weight loss, and Niss made good initial progress. But in the month leading up to the restrictions, her weight wasn’t coming down with consistency we’d both hoped to see. Regardless of all the changes she implemented with eating, and all the hard work she put in the gym, her weight loss plateaued.

On a typical weekend in her pre-COVID life (remember that?) she would have a one long, drawn out lunch or dinner with friends. Then, in March, all the hardcore introverts in Australia rejoiced as their day dreams became a reality. 

Being social was banned by the forces that be. With the restaurants, pubs, cafes, even friends’ front doors slammed and masked shut, Niss’ social meals came to a halt. 

But there was a silver lining. 

This created some room to build awareness about her social eating habits. 

And it helped Niss to find the culprit for her weight loss plateau. She was already cooking most of her own meals. Now she replaced the social gatherings with more of the same. It became easier to keep a track of what and how much she was eating. And the digital needle on the scale started to move down again.

This has made her back feel better too.

With the combination of increased walking, weight coming off, a more ergonomic work space and return to training in the park, her back improved. We got creative with the few pieces of equipment she had (and was willing to haul to her local park) and created a plan for her.

Niss’ weight is down 2.5kg since the start of COVID restrictions.

Yes, the weekly meals with friends will probably come back post-COVID

As they should! Progress is not about forcing an eternal ban of eating out. That’s not where it’s at. Most of us don’t want to march through life eating and behaving like a robot that runs on steamed broccoli. 

Regardless, I am 100% that the awareness and results that Niss has gained from these forced changes will positively carry over into her post-COVID life. 

She was able to make a good out of a negative by using a forced socialess time to increase her awareness on what was holding back her results. She took something that was out of her control and molded it to her benefit. 

And it will help her immensely in the future in maintaining her goal weight.

It’s not sexy, but little changes compound over time

Walk daily. Cook most of your meals at home. Pay close attention to your eating habits when out and about. And if you’re a high roller who hates cooking with the intensity of hundred high-wired lawnmowers, hire someone to do the cooking for you.

Stick with those habits 90% of the time, add in some strength training two to three times a week and that might just cover most of your fat loss needs.

Definitely not the sexiest fat loss advice out there. In fact it’s probably as exciting as watching two turtles compete in a marathon. In the dark.

Small changes require dedication and a certain level of hard headedness as the change won’t happen overnight, or in a month. But just like compounding investing, it’ll add up in the long run. You’re more likely to keep all that you reap.

And since you’ll end up carrying less weight, the back and joints will feel better too.

Why And How to Maintain Cardio Fitness During Rehab

Why And How to Maintain Cardio Fitness During Rehab

“All you do is slow me down and I’m tryin’ to get on the other side of town”
Photo by Kyle Lin on Unsplash

The best predictor of an injury is a previous injury. This validates a thorough rehab before getting the green light to return to your sport. Yet this green light is often one-dimensional and rarely covers the assessment of our cardio fitness. 

Returning to sport with low levels of cardio fitness elevates the risk of re-injury.

Are the heart and lungs and everything that comes with it ready for the return? Low cardio fitness means you’ll get tired quicker. And the more tired you’ll get, the harder it becomes to move well. Hence the reason for frequent re-injuries.

One way to improve the odds of staying healthy is to spend time re-building cardio fitness between rehab and the return to sport. The downside is that thus further prolongs the time away from doing the sport you enjoy. But there is a better option.

Maintaining fitness during rehab allows a quicker return to outdoor sports.

A more efficient way is to do whatever possible to maintain cardio fitness during rehab. This could mean not having to go through a long and tedious re-conditioning phase before returning to running, hiking, climbing, wrestling with polar bears and whatever else you decide to do. 

And here’s how you can get it done safely.

Test cardio fitness at the start of the rehab

This test establishes a clear goal to aim for at the end of the rehab. It’s a cardio fitness green light for returning to your sport. 

During the early stages of rehab you probably can’t test your fitness by doing what you normally do for conditioning. Those who adapt win. 

For low body injuries you might be able to test your fitness with a rower, or a bike. But a skierg (or more likely a DIY banded alternative) or battle ropes are probably the safer alternatives. Especially if done seated or kneeling.

For upper body injuries, a bike might work the best.

Checking conditioning before and after rehab

  1. At the start of the rehab do a fitness test that mimics, as closely as possible, the conditioning demands of what you do in your outdoor sport. Be it long distance or intervals. Use equipment that allows you to do this without exploding.
  2. At the end of the rehab repeat this same test to see how much, if any, conditioning you need before returning to your sport. What’s the difference between the first test and the second test?

If your second test spits out lower results compared to the first one you need to spend some time re-conditioning. But hopefully the gap is small, or even non-existent. Because of the hard work you put in to maintain your cardio fitness during the rehab.

Maintaining fitness with low body injuries

Most people associate conditioning with lower body work. Whether it’s running, hill sprints, hiking, biking, kettlebell swings or doing a lightweight low body strength medley. And all of that makes sense. Using the big muscles of the low body is a sure way to drive up the heart rate. 

So it’s no wonder why we so often decide to do nothing because we can’t do the things we are so used to. But unless we want to dive into the dark abyss of poor conditioning, we need to find a way to keep elevating the heart rate. 

Eliminate the injured area

Doing hill sprints with an injured ankle doesn’t fly. Unless the goal is to do single leg hill hops. Which in itself only makes sense until you are about to fall and need to catch yourself with the injured leg. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great for us others watching the replay of it on YouTube. Not so much for your rehab efforts.

Instead, let’s look for upper body options for conditioning where we can rest the injured area. Depending on the injury, it’s possible to do these by kneeling on the ground or sitting on the ground or on an elevated surface. You know, a box, chair, guitar amp…

These might even work in standing as long as they don’t aggravate the injury. But let’s acknowledge that this can be difficult to do in the heat of the moment.

Med ball throw variations against a wall 

Think presses, overhead throws, side throws and so on. If you have a ball that doesn’t bounce a whole lot you might get away with slams as well.

Rope work

Waves, both alternating or synchronized, and slams work quite well in both kneeling and standing.

Skierg machine

If you are lucky to have access to one of these, you can really crank the heart rate. A DIY alternative is to attach one or two resistance bands to a chin up bar and use them to do the same thing. Err on the side of lighter bands.

Spin bike

This next one might sound unfeasible, but can actually work. As long as you are able to rest the injured leg safely on the frame. Or perhaps on a box or a stool next to the bike. Just use the healthy leg to do all the work. Again, go lighter on the resistance. You have to cycle the wheel 360 degrees with one leg. Six to twelve o’clock is tough on the quads.

Maintaining fitness with upper body injuries

As with low body injuries, it should go without saying to eliminate the injured area. You might actually still get away with your typical conditioning options, but I would reduce impact on low body activities. Even if you think that you can run, the bouncing and impact are probably not the best things for a joint that’s trying to heal.

Single arm work

Kettlebell swings, low body conditioning circuit (kettlebell rack squat, lunge variations etc), rope work. I am hesitant to include kettlebell cleans unless you’re a master at them. There is a chance that an occasional catch is not a soft one. Just adds an unnecessary risk of impact.

Weight vest

Can work for a low body conditioning circuit and an uphill walk.


You can try using the prowler if it is possible to grip it with a one hand and push without going around in circles. Otherwise you might get dizzy, that’s all.

Spin bike

Out of all the typical conditioning options, this is the safest to do with upper body injuries. Idiot proof, really. More the reason I’ve used it for myself in the past.

Single arm rowing

You might get away with this as well. If so, you win in the convenience department.

Tying it together

Getting a green light from an allied health professional is one thing. But as movement quality deteriorates when tired, we still need high levels of cardio fitness to return to sports as safely as possible. 

Test your fitness at the start of the rehab and again at the end. Make up the difference before returning to your sport at your usual intensity.

Finding alternative ways to maintain, or even improve fitness during rehab helps you to bounce back quicker to your usual wickedly awesome self. From a purely conditioning point it means that you might be able to skip the re-conditioning phase after rehab and go straight into doing what you enjoy.

Maintaining conditioning during rehab often requires you to find alternative ways to crank up the heart rate. And those ways might not be what you would normally choose or enjoy doing.

But they’re well worth the effort.

And by the way, all of this applies to strength training during rehab as well.

Setting Up a Home Gym

Setting Up a Home Gym

“And in this corner weighing in at 850 pounds…”
Photo by Mark Williams on Unsplash

You don’t need much for the home gym to cover your training needs. When we acknowledge and agree on the reasons for training at home in the first place, convenience and results, most of the home equipment requirements dwindle down to few essentials.

As long as we treat training as work, a practice of getting better for life, and not a source of excitement in itself, we can make the convenience and results collide efficiently.

The non-negotiables for a functional home gym

Two by two metres of space. Theoretically enough to swing a full grown, slightly overweight male cat* around without hitting him on the walls, windows, ceiling fixtures or furniture.

If a separate room or garage is not an option (reality for most) and you live with other people, it’s best to use a corner of a room. Less chance of someone walking into your sacred training space in the heat of the moment.

For those living in houses without corners. Well, you just have to deal with the geometric shapes you’re in bed with the best you can.

Forgiving flooring. A carpeted floor is fine for most. But two meter by two meter square of thin exercise foam adds a layer of comfort. It’s soft for the knees, but still sturdy enough to train on without feeling like you’re lifting weights on a mattress. It also keep the sweat of the carpet, which is a kind of nice.

I find that the more traditional rectangular yoga mats slide all over the place and never cover enough of the ground. Interlocking pieces forming a square just work better. If you’re placing these on hard floors get some form of non-slippery, grippy thing to hold them in place. People at Bunnings are generally nice.

These squares are not the most environmentally friendly item out there. But at least you can also pack them into a neat pile when not in use.

Interlocking foam flooring such as this work well.

Minimalist approach to equipment

The basics: Few kettlebells or dumbbells

Fever the better, I say. Most women will do fine with 12kg and 16kg in the beginning. For most men 12kg or a 16kg and a 20kg will get you going and progressing for a while.

Whether you buy dumbbells or kettlebells will only matter if planning to do swings and other kettlebell specific exercises. Sure, you can swing with a dumbbell (or that cat), but it’s not as ergonomically enjoyable (for the cat) and, I would argue, safe as with a kettlebell.

Side note Bob (in the middle of the text)
Other than swings and other kettlebell specific ballistic movements, dumbbells and kettlebells are more or less interchangeable.

For kettlebells get a solid iron piece without any plastic. There are also adjustable versions, but I’ve never tried one so can’t recommend them without reservations. Not sure how sturdy they are or how the weight is distributed. Both things to consider.

For dumbbells an adjustable pair will cost a bit more upfront, but it’ll be a long while before you need to buy more weights. Honestly, it might be all you’ll ever need. And it’ll save heaps of space too once you need to go heavier to keep progressing.

Few of the adjustable options look somewhat ethereal. Like they could’ve been used by Captain Kirk in Star Trek. Might add an element of spaciness into your existing decor.

Powerblock adjustable dumbbells
Bowflex adjustable dumbbells
Solid iron kettlebells similar to this.
Bowflex adjustable kettlebells

Also check Ebay and your local stores to compare best value and shipping options.

That could be all the equipment most of us ever need.

As long as we are still clear on the purpose of training: progress to be better at the things we enjoy doing outside of training. With a little bit of creativity and a shied for boredom this gets us going.

But if we really want we could add few more things…

To add an element of variety: TRX and/or chin up bar and some resistance bands

I use TRX as an example of a suspension trainer because that’s what I have had for close to a decade. It lasts and it does what it’s meant to do. Just know that there are other cheaper options available too.

The TRX is marketed as the ultimate full-body workout solution, but that’s a bit far-fetched. It’s absolutely brilliant for row variations and a decent helper for rear foot elevated split squats. And using it for just those two exercises makes it worth having. Most of the other exercises you can do with it are just fluffed up marketing hype.

TRX can be used on a door frame, tree, telephone pole, or Hodor so no need to get the hammer drill out just yet.

The chin up bar’s usefulness is along the same lines.

It’s brilliant for… chin ups. Sure there are other things you can do with it. But I don’t think you really need it if chin ups are not your jam.

If you have the strength and desire for chin ups, then adding a removable bar to a door frame is worth the little money it costs. It gives you the option to do vertical pulling which without a bar is pretty much impossible.

Side note Bob (in the middle of the text)
Chin ups are one of my favourite exercise so I bolted a bar onto our garage brick wall when we moved in. Yes, just that one exercise makes it worth drilling large holes into the wall.

If you currently can’t phantom doing a chin up (be it because of strength, pain or carrying too much weight) skip this piece for now and get a TRX instead.

Resistance bands on the other hand are surprisingly versatile.

Considering that they cost about the price of a movie ticket. They can be used for a variety of pulling and pushing exercises and even for some low body strength work.

Resistance bands are also good to have for so called prehab exercises. Archer rows, rotator cuff work (yes, it’s still a thing), glute work…

The light and medium bands are enough for most. Perhaps the one up from medium (more than medium?) as well. But the heavier bands don’t do much for home training. Unless you’re planning on pulling Volkswagen Golf up and down the driveway.

Side note Bob (in the middle of the text)
Avoid the urge to go super cheap. Don’t buy some half baked resistance bands made by a one-eyed pirate using strawberry bubble gum and parrot feathers. Those might last a workout. And end up costing you an eye at the start of the second.

A cheaper suspension trainer alternative
Door frame chin up bar (there are about ten different options so check your door frame fitting first)
Wall-mounted chin up bar for the true chin up enthusiast
Resistance bands

Again, it might be worth rummaging through Amazon, Ebay and your local stores for best bargains and shipping.

If you have the space and funds: a landmine…

If you do have the space, a barbell with a landmine attachment and some weights would be awesome. Great for shoulder friendly pressing (most people can’t deal with strict overhead pressing with kettlebells and dumbbells) and single leg work.

Landmine makes training more versatile, even fun. I am a fan. But it is a decent investment in both money and space so it’s not for everyone.

Landmine attachment – double check the barbell fits
Weights – double check they match the bar width

Postage might be an issue. Check local stores first to save on shipping. If you do ship it though see if there is an option to have the post(wo)man deliver it on a motorbike. Pay extra if necessary. Then go camp outside and wait.

The rest of the equipment options fall into the category of “nice to haves”

Stability ball, slides, ab wheel can all add variety to your home-based core, glute and hamstring training. But are by no means essential for progress.

I have all three but rarely use any of them for obvious reasons. Stability ball is flat because it takes too much storage space. I left the ab wheel at work. And slides don’t work well on garage concrete floor.

The upside on all these is that they are cheap. So if you have the space (and suitable floors for sliding), why not?

Stability ball – can also be used when birthing a baby. Two birds, one stone*.
Slides – woolly socks on a slippery surface works well too
Ab wheel – although slides might do the same thing

Less is better

Unnecessary pieces of equipment just add to the clutter and draw our attention away from training. It’s like using a guitar amp with too many knobs. Too much time spent finding the right sound and less time on what really matters: playing Paranoid.

Keep it simple. Focus on the work.

As we already covered, training at home (or anywhere, really) is not a way to inject excitement in to our lives. It’s just training to get better at whatever we do for excitement outside of training. Get it done and move on.

Yours, in ethereal training space,
Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Starship Enterprise**

*With swinging cats and stoned birds this post reeks mistreatment of animals. I condemn all that. We have to two cats. Neither have ever been swung.

**It’s all a lie. I had to Google that. I’ve never watched a single episode of Star Trek. I just don’t get it. There you go. Now you know.

How To Warm Up And Be Less Like Britney

How To Warm Up And Be Less Like Britney

Yes, warming up can seem like an annoyance at times. Especially when you’re in a hurry and just want to get into it.

But skipping the warm up, or worse, doing it like a sloth means leaving some of the potential results hanging uncollected on the hooks of missed opportunities.

The purpose of a warm up

Get more out of the workout

Cold muscles don’t contract as well as warm ones do. By warming up you increase the blood flow into the muscles making them, and I risk sounding like a car mechanic working on an adult movie set, lubricated and ready to contract.

More oxygen in the muscles allows them to contract and relax quicker. You’ll perform better and milk more benefits from your workout.

Possibly lower the risk of injuries

Although science isn’t conclusive on this, it would make sense that injuries are more likely to happen with cold muscles. Purely based on the slowness of contraction and relaxation when compared with warm muscles.

Let’s focus on the fact that training injuries happen when the force applied exceeds the tissue tolerance. It would make sense then that as warm muscles contract better, they are more likely to counteract the force demands.

Excite the nervous system

Warming up the muscles and joints is one thing. “Warming up” the nervous system is another. Again leading to a better muscle contraction.

Get in the right headspace

This is the brain content of a typical adult on any given day:

“I am soooooooo over Simon sitting next to me at work. What’s his deal anyway?!? Does he really need that much cologne? Smells like he got it from the discount bucket in Target.”
“Did little Timmy remember to take his lunch box to school? Gosh, I hope he eats his peeled apple slices.”
“We really need to find a solution to get our company through this merger. Maybe I should call Melinda…”
“What should I make for dinner?”
“How good are these pants!”
“I wonder if my wife wants more woolly socks for her birthday?”
“Ok, what was I doing again…?”

Ideally a thorough warm up will allow you to bring your focus to this:

“Fuck Simon. Time to train.”

How to warm up

The purpose is to start easy and gradually ramp up so you’re ready to get after it when it counts. I like to think of the warm up as a gradual progress of reducing ground contact. Start on the ground, progress to standing and finish with locomotion before adding power and speed.

It could be as simple as this:

  1. 9090 breathing
  2. Kneeling heel rock
  3. Snoop Dog steps into rotation
  4. Squat to stand
  5. Lateral squat
  6. Single leg hip swing
  7. Carry variation

This could also be much longer. A warm up for someone in their 60s might take 25 minutes and include a variety of movement work. For someone deconditioned returning to fitness the whole workout might look like a warm up.

Then comes the power and core work.

I really see this part of the program still part of the ramping up. We are now taking movements and making them more explosive. One for the upper body, one for the lower body, plus a core exercise thrown in the mix.

8. Kettlebell swing
9. Wall power push up
10. Side plank to rotation

Again, adjust these to what’s right for you and your setting. Med ball slams and throws are brilliant choices when training in a gym. Not so much when training on the third floor of an apartment block at 4am.

Technically your first one or two sets of each exercise in the strength training session are still part of the warm up.

You’re practising the movements of the training. Start with a lighter weight and build up to a one or two work sets where you really push it.

You can’t really tell where the warm up finished and the training started

The whole warm up should feel like you seamlessly transition from warm up to training. In terms of gradually ramping up from awful to awesome, think transitioning from Britney to Batman.

“Always Do This. Never Do That.”

“Always Do This. Never Do That.”

“Why let one bad apple spoil the whole damn bunch?”
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

The internet has made all of us experts on everything. Be it coronavirus, gluten (“bread makers are puppets of the big pharma!”) or the geopolitical situation of the South China Sea.

I know how how to manage my own money. I’ve even read a book or two on personal finance. I know how to spell Warren Buffett. But that doesn’t make me a financial adviser.

Just because we have the access to information layered with our own personal experiences doesn’t make us experts.

I recently read through a long and frustrating thread in a Facebook group for hikers. Someone was asking for advice on what to do with relentless back pain that’s stopping him from hiking.

The typical answers recommended yoga for flexibility or adding specific exercises to improve core strength. There were also a few that recommended getting a massage and at least one who was adamant about not seeing a chiropractor. As in, you might as well drink cyanide. Apparently his back had been forever messed up by a chiro in the past.

These are well meaning people trying to help a fellow hiker. I get it. But reading these black and white replies is a warning exercise for anyone to not rely on advice from people who lack the expertise to give it.

Whenever the answer to something complicated like back pain is an absolute “do this, not that”, without any context whatsoever, it’s clear that the answer is based on purely personal experience.

Something worked, or didn’t work for the advice giver, or someone they know. It reminds me of how Peter Griffin was against getting a second hand car because his friend once bought one and, “Bam! 10 years later, herpes.”

Yes, some chiropractors might make your back (and wallet) worse

There are chiropractors who will sell you into seeing them twice a week for months because your “spine needs adjusting”. Whatever that means. But this doesn’t validate a blanket statement that all the chiropractors will ruin your back.

This goes for any other profession.* There are bad trainers, doctors, physiotherapists, osteopaths, dietitians, car mechanics, lawyers, fridge repairers… you name it.

Yet, just because we bite into a one bad apple doesn’t mean that the whole bunch is rotten. We just happened to choose a bad apple.

And yes, yoga might work.

But it might also make it worse. For someone whose back pain is caused by hypermobility through the trunk and hips yoga might not be the best solution.

This doesn’t mean that all the variations of yoga are bad. But certain types of yoga might not be the right for them, at this moment.

It’s tempting to believe in a straightforward solution.

We’re drawn to find simple answers. It’s comforting. Be it right or not. And we’re drawn to give simple answers because, whether we do it consciously or not, it makes us feel like we know what we’re talking about.

But the real world is more complicated. Especially with back pain where the real answer is often “well, it depends…”

Ironically, the (internet) answer to this man’s back pain problem was black on white

Towards the end of the threat, as I was just about to give up hope on humanity’s common sense and smash a hammer through my laptop screen before booking a ticket to Tibet to become a monk, there was a sign of hope. A signal leading to a relieving sigh. Words of wisdom from someone who was willing to admit they didn’t know.

“You should probably go get a professional opinion.”

Now, if we could only delete all the other well-meaning, but misleading comments.

*We make an exemption for homeopathy here. This profession has no science backing them up. Zero validity. Save your money. Buy ice cream instead. It’ll probably make you feel better.

Although, ice cream might not be good for some…