The Geometry of Fitness

Probably somewhere in your deep, dark past, you sat in Geometry class in high school. You learned something called “Proofs,” and it was all about two things: “Givens” and “To Prove.”


Givens are things you might not even notice, but they have a huge impact on you. When you were told line A to B was parallel to line C to D, it was parallel, even if it didn’t look right to you. If you are a monotheist, somehow and sometime you are going to have to face the question of why do bad things happen to good people. If your given is “I drive on the right side of the road,” your first taxi ride in London is going to be a thrill ride.


Most people have givens when it comes to fitness and health. The problem is this: are your givens true? I spend my days working with people striving to attain serious fitness goals, but almost daily we run into their “givens.”


I worked with a former high school wrestler who knew he could easily get back to his old “wrestling weight” around 150 pounds when he merely weighed about 100 more. His given was this idea that he had, somewhere in storage, a massive amount of free will, self-discipline and gung ho.


When he weighed 150 or so, he had teammates wandering over to the wrestling room with him. Waiting for him was a coach in sweats with a towel around his neck worried that the 100 degree room was too cool. For three hours, he trashed around pushing, pulling and gasping for the thrill of the wind sprints at the end. Since it was winter, he also picked up a solid case of the flu that really got that bodyweight down.


Most people’s givens simply don’t reflect the reality of their life today. I knew a woman who had a “go to” diet whenever her weight popped up: Day One, seven eggs, Day Two, seven oranges, and Day Three, seven bananas. That’s all. Each day, just seven items and it worked, she always lost weight. Two days later, she would put it all back one plus a few extra pounds for the trouble.


It worked once and she was convinced that this was always the case. It became her given.


Think about it a little bit: what are your givens? When you decide to “get in shape,” do you go out the door for a jog even though you are trying to get in shape for an explosive sport like basketball? When you decide to drop a few pounds, what is your given?


My point is simple: most people’s givens don’t stand up to reality. As we age, we tighten up in the pectorals, biceps, hip flexors and hamstrings. Sadly, most guys bench and curl and literally age themselves (think of the caricature of an old man stumbling along with stooped shoulders and bent arms) during most workouts.


The glutes are literally the seat of power and few gym people train with deep squats, swings or the O lifts. Hill sprints work well here, too, by the way and give you that “burn” that Ron Burgundy preached to us. When I was young, the ads in the magazines told us that “shoulders make the man,” but rarely do we see overhead presses for “barn door wide shoulders” anymore.


For fat loss, let’s get back to basics. Eat your colorful vegetables just like mom told you to do. How did bagels become a breakfast given is a mystery to me. Drink sugar free and calorie free water when you are thirsty. If a carbohydrate comes in a bag or a box, push it aside for a while.


If you really want to get your bodyweight down, join the military. I understand the French Foreign Legion is looking for volunteers. Oddly, this is the given most people have for fitness…they need to literally have a gun pointed to their head.


Rethink your givens through the lens of where you are and what you have around you. In a typical gym, you have dozens of pieces of equipment that weren’t around in your youth and can get you to your goals quickly. Suspension equipment, Kettlebells, Atlas Stones, Farmer Bars and a wild world of training equipment might trump your experiences of two or three decades ago.


Explore the new world of fitness. Get yourself fit by doing new and challenging sports and games. Rock climbing, for example, is as exhausting as any wrestling class and the rush of excitement will do more for your hormone profile than any thing over the counter at the nutrition store. It will also clearly show you why a few pounds around the middle is a bad idea.


Challenge your givens. Explore movement and activity. Try something new in fitness and watch your body composition change.





Intentional Community from Now What?

I’m sure all of us have this issue some days: today, I had NO interest in training. My gym, which serves the dual purpose of being a two-car garage, was nine degrees. Alice Lopez always gives us the temperature in Celsius and when she says it is “minus whatever,” it doesn’t make me excited to train.


It had been a long night with travel and a cough that only found itself just as I nodded off. No, I didn’t want to get up. I didn’t want to train.


But, it didn’t matter. Why? One of my greatest training tricks and tips is this: I have an Intentional Community. Sure, all of us know about training partners and the great ones in history from Arnold and Franco have always nodded to their training partner as a “secret to success.”

ICs are a bit bigger and deeper than training partners. First, it involves a lot more people. Each of us brings something and, honestly, the most important gift is “showing up.” Second, an Intentional Community is always welcoming more people to join in the fun.


Frankly, it is the new people who provide some much of the direction. Most of us in our current group have been training over a decade. Now, that is great, congratulations and cigars to all of you.


The downside of training so long is that one can easily forget the path. When a new person joins our group, we ask them simply: “what do you want to work on?” The answer can transform the next few weeks of training. Many people really want to learn and master the squat, but years of office work or poor training has made the basic movement either unwatchable or dangerous.


So, we all step in with our gifts. Sam Halpern is a physical therapist and might note that the person needs some of this corrective or stretch. Marc, her husband and nutritionist, might add several points about the basics of good habits that extend well beyond today’s workout. Mike Brown might then take the person aside and find the right regression for the squat from rocking on the floor to holding on to the pole and squatting that clears things up. And, this is just a typical day.


All of this can be done between sets of our lifting and general training. Very often, most of us will be doing the correctives and regressions that the newbie is doing because, simply, it is really a good idea.


Intentional Community training also has another boon: I have a lot of experience in the weightroom, but sometimes I am grouchy and tired. What I need to the youth and energy from my group to get my engine started. I like to offer them in return some positive feedback, some corrections and a general sense of “this all is okay.”


Originally, my first group started when I moved to California. Dan Martin, an East Bay firefighter, asked if we could get together some time and train. While the movers were unpacking boxes, I drove down to Coyote Point and we started a group. Between piles of goose poop, we stretched, strained and trained. We only met once a week, but all of us looked forward to that session.


When I returned to Utah, a group of young guys from the university asked if they could train with me twice a week. Soon, it was three. Now, it is five.


When I visit my doctor, he asked me if I trained. I said: “at least an hour plus a day.” He remarked: “I have to admire your discipline.” I was honest with him: I only get out of bed because there will be people showing up at my door waiting to train.


Intentional Communities also offer an additional advantage to those of us living (and often suffering) through the Information age: you get a chance to hear summaries of blogs, books, articles and movies throughout the training session. A typical day:


“Did you read that article on training adductors on website x? What a waste.” Mental note: don’t read it.


“This new book on habits and training is well worth a read.” Borrow it.


“I can’t believe how good this movie X is…I was stunned.” Might be worth a view.


Since we are all internet savvy and interested in the best and brightest tools for fitness, health, longevity and performance, we can share ideas across the whole swath of media, then get back to the squat rack.


I have been lifting since 1965 and, yes, you read that right. That’s a lot of six-week programs and crazy ideas and bad decisions. Of all the things I have done, NOTHING compares to the quality of having an IC.


Are there problems? Sure, a common one is this: we have some people training, for example, for a Kettlebell cert while these guys here are doing Mass Made Simple. I might simply be doing a 21-day challenge of this kind or that. So, we have to insure the equipment gets used in some kind of order. The upside is that most of us have squirreled away a few extra straps, bands, bells or wheels in our homes so we fix it by tossing more stuff in the pot.


My friend, Dan Martin, calls this concept “Virtual Stone Soup.” I realize now that most people don’t know this fine story, so here is a bland example:


“Some travelers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travelers. The travelers fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire in the village square. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travelers answer that they are making “stone soup”, which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with just a little bit of carrot to help them out, so it gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travelers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.”


Our communal training sessions are of this variety. We all bring tools from equipment to life experiences to sandwiches. We gather and train, work on issues and improve a little. We fall in love again with movement and muscle. We reignite our passion for “all of this.”


I have been training groups for so long that sometimes I ignore basic principles that I learned the hard way years ago. One of the keys to working in a group, especially in something physical, is to understand that you, and perhaps this is even literally true, become part of an organism. A group becomes a living being. You may have found yourself running “gassers” in a sport and realized that there is no way you would ever put yourself through this crap.


That’s why group training has such a big impact on your long-term success: you do things you might NOT do, even with the best intentions. And, we humans have this odd ability to handle more suffering if we do it in a group. Moreover, it also seems more fun. I have had people vomit on my shoes and tell me “thank you” for the opportunity to do the work.


For the record, today was one of the best workouts of my life.

Time Management for….Everyone

“Finally, I got to the gym.”


I have this odd belief that we have very little actual free will or self-discipline. Oh, we certainly have some, but once you hit a certain age, life conspires against you. It seems that a lot of things begin to pile up on you after a certain age.


Maybe in high school, you and your friends would play basketball for hours, chase around for a bit, go to practice and have mom hand you a “Sunny D.” Then, life happened. Rolling out of bed and making yourself one of those egg white omelets with six herbs and five vegetables that your fitness trainer recommended might happen a few times. I never have the spices that go with the recipe and I end up eating the yolks because I can’t crack an egg right to save my life. After that, off to work and maybe even a few hours on top of that because of a glitch, error or meltdown.


Finally, you got to the gym. Frankly, I applaud you for walking into the door. I often recommend home gyms, calisthenics workouts, or local parks for busy guys, but recently I have begun to realize that many of us don’t have exercise issues, we have time issues.


A few years ago, I began compiling this little “list” of things to do that save me time, energy and effort. Obviously, the list, these Ten Commandments of Time Management, have little to do with exercise, but let me give you one or two ideas about training when under the time crunch, too. Feel free to ignore any and all of these suggestions, but do so at your own peril.


  1. Fill up your gas tank whenever it comes to half-full. When you have half a tank of gas, there is always a gas station. There is no line at the gas station, too, and moreover you are just cruising around doing a few items. When the “Gas Empty” warning light comes on, you will be in a desert with a woman giving birth. So, be proactive and always fill up before you need to fill up.
  2. I visit the local lube and oil shop every three months. I always have someone go with me then we go to lunch. I drop off the car, listen to all those annoying things that need to be replaced (always replace wipers and filters when prompted), I go each lunch and the car is always waiting when finished. It keeps the car running longer and safer and you will never notice the time strain.
  3. One last car issue: replace your tires and battery long before you need to replace them. Perhaps it is because I drive on snowy roads and deal with cold mornings, but NOTHING kills a day or two or three like a flat tire or dead battery.
  4. Start compiling a house list. For your furnace filter, write down the exact measurements. I have two, so when I buy (and buy them in bulk, too) filters, I have my little card that says “20 x 20 x 5” and “16 x 20 x 1.” No other size will fit, by the way. Any time you replace an item, check to see if you have a replacement
  5. Have a Master House (or Apartment) List. If you have weekly chores, right down the day you do them. Tuesday night is garbage night as the garbage man comes on Wednesday. You only want to forget that once. If you have annual items, right them down. In April and May, you might have chores to prep the cooling system, write them down. In October, you may have winterizing chores…write them down. Clearing this list clears your brain.
  6. And while you are at lists, make a shopping list that relates to you and your needs. There are going to obvious ones most of us will buy: “Eggs, Butter, Veggies, Fruit” but I would also include items that you should always check off when you go to the store. Toilet paper, paper towels, Ziploc bags and garbage bags are easy to forget and really, really hard to substitute for one another. Most experts in time management usually say to shop once a week and never go back to the store after that. Josh Hillis, fat loss expert, argues that the hardest workout of the week should be shopping for food and food preparation. The harder you prep your food, the leaner your waistline.
  7. This leads to a key time management tool: learn to “touch” everything just once. When you open your mail, try to just have three options. My first option is always the garbage can. Next, if a response is need, respond immediately. If you don’t have time now, don’t open the mail yet! When you open the mail, keep paper, envelopes checkbook and stamps nearby to deal with anything that comes up. Finally, if it is something to read or look at later, keep a large manila envelope to pop in the magazines or letters or catalogs. Empty that on the first of every month.
  8. The same applies to e-mail. E-mail was once considered the cure to inefficiency in the work place. This was before kitty videos, fantasy football and sexting. The same rules apply to e-mails: delete it, respond to it, or file it. Try to respond in five or less sentences, too.
  9. Where is you workout gear? I live an interesting life where I can basically roll out and train any time I want. I suggest that most people keep two packed training bags. If you commute or drive you car a lot, always keep one in there, packed and ready to go. If you go from work to home before you go to the gym, there is a really good chance you won’t go to the gym.
  10. Finally, it is okay to rethink the way you train if life is getting cluttered. I applaud the Weekend Warrior mentality where you train hard and heavy on both Saturday and Sunday. Kick in a moderate or even easy workout on Wednesday and you have a pretty good training template. Use some of the weekend for shopping, food prep and training and it will leave your weekdays more open for the realities of life.



Take a few small steps in organizing your life and proactively attempt to deal with life’s issues. Things will come up, but some preparation will do a lot to head off losing weeks instead of days. Time management in life opens up time to train in the gym.


Corrective Work: Still Focus on the Fundamental Human Movements!


In the past decade, corrective work has exploded in the health and fitness industry. As always, and this is true about most things in life, we went way too far in one direction and now we are seeing the pendulum swing back to the point that some are saying it is “all” a waste of time. If you don’t know, corrective work can be anything to “hands on” work like chiropractor adjustments and massage to rolling on a lacrosse ball. Of course, it can also simply be basic stretches as old as the yoga tradition or simple gliding mobility moves.


Let me be candid: I think that doing mobility work is important for everyone. Now, telling me that your special brand of mobility work is going to cure cancer or disease is a bit suspicious, if not downright idiotic. So, yes, I want to know how to better move my neck, but closing one eye and moving my wrist is not going to cure a necrotic hip, no matter how much you spent on that cert last weekend.



So, with corrective work, the best coaches and trainers are doing it. And, generally, they are doing it very well. The problem is with “enough is enough.”


Corrective work can go too far with bands, sticks, bells, wheels and whistles. If the fundamental human movements are key, then demanding them will start the process for many towards the goal of moving better and moving longer. The key to correction is to have a toolkit of regressive movements that allow one to deload and destress the person so that can move comfortably and pain free.


As a young football player, I was shown to use my helmet as a weapon. This “face tackle” was considered “better” as it would hurt the opponent. And, unreasonably, I could break my neck. The funny thing is this: it wasn’t a good way to tackle a runner as it was difficult to “wrap and roll” with your head in the way.


The old stand-by, the shoulder tackle, is not only safer but it is better. Safety is part of performance. Over time, putting a weight correctly back on the ground is going to do more for your back health than all of the correctives I can teach you after you haphazardly lower the load and hurt your lower back. Performance in the weight room should be like gymnastics: you should be striving for perfection the moment you begin until the moment you finish.


The first step to correcting problems is to avoid them. Proper coaching and proper techniques are much less expensive than surgeries.


It’s pretty simple, statistically:


  • Don’t smoke.
  • Wear your seat belt.
  • Learn to fall and recover.
  • Eat colorful veggies.
  • Exercise about half an hour a day.
  • Don’t let your weight get over 300 pounds.


And…that’s it. That’s all valuable and good and correct. Grandma knew/knows this.


When it comes to correctives and corrective work, we must first make sure we are dealing with the basics of risk. After that, we have to get a bit smarter. As I always tell people: “sure, YOU can do this and that and this and that, but what about the rest of us with these things called “lives?” So, before you spend two hours a day with your magic tape and magic wand, try the basics.


Strive for balance in terms of volume in your push and pull work. Learn to squat deep and master the movement. Be reasonable when you deadlift. Find softer paths for your running workouts when you can. If you bicycle, wear appropriate protective gear. If you decide to do water sports, learn to swim and wear gear that floats. And Grandma probably knows this, too. Let’s start the new year with a focus on less injuries and more success.