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My Trainer is a Superhero

Posted on February 15, 2015 at 10:55 AM Comments comments (0)

My Trainer is a Superhero -- Age


            You've probably figured out by now that superheroes are a small obsession of mine. Really, what else would you expect from someone who named his gym Super Fit? I told you in my last blog that I unfortunately lack traditional superpowers, like super speed or super strength or the ability to fly out of my window to the gym every morning. But I do have (to quote Liam Neeson) a very particular set of skills, skills honed from years of physical training, and I'd like to use one of them here: insight into what goes on at the gym. Over the last six years as a personal trainer I've heard some amazing quotes, some ridiculous and some inspirational. You know the saying there are no stupid questions? I'd say that a lot of the things I've heard at the gym weren't stupid so much as they were uninformed. And that's where I can fly in with my particular set of superhero skills to save the day. I'm going to use this blog to talk about things I've heard at the gym that perplex me, and hopefully I can expand upon them and dispel an urban myth about weightlifting with each new post. Just give me a second to put my cape on, and then we'll get to work.

            How many of you have wanted to lose weight, tone up, or build muscle?  If you’re reading this, it's probably safe to assume you've had a version of at least one of those goals.  Interestingly enough, though, most people don’t know how to go about achieving these goals. Goals like losing weight and gaining muscle sound simple enough, and it'd be understandable to assume that it'd be just as simple to accomplish them.  Yet, for some reason, many people today still struggle with their weight. 

            I tend to hear a very common reply when I talk to people about losing weight, or getting to an ideal weight. “Well, you’re still young; one day you’ll be old like me.”  Age is often used as an excuse as to why we aren’t as fit as we once were.  It’s an easy scapegoat, one that can quickly be cast as the villain for any weightlifting superhero. Old age is easy to blame because it's an inescapable reality. We're all going to get older, every day, and we can't control it--at least, not until we track down the Lazarus pits, control time with an infinity stone, or slow down our aging by becoming Superman. But you can't justifiably use age as the reason you're not in the shape you want to be. While we can't control aging, we still have the superpower of choice. We can control our work in the weight room, the fuel we provide ourselves in the kitchen, and the education we provide our minds when it comes to fitness.

            Time for some hard truth: We all know that age does, in fact, make things more difficult for us. We can't make our bodies look the same as they did in our twenties without some serious effort. But age isn't the sole factor determining physical fitness; if it were, no young person would ever be overweight. If fitness depended only on age, how could anyone over the age of thirty accomplish amazing feats?

            Here is one example of someone who proved that age was just a number. His name was Jack LaLanne, and he was one of America's original fitness icons. If you’re not familiar with him, I highly recommend fixing that with a quick Google search.  Here’s a little highlight reel, just to show you that age is only as big a crutch as we let it be:  LaLanne, at age forty-five, did 1,000 jumping jacks and 1,000 chin-ups in one hour and twenty-two minutes.  He performed six distance swims after turning sixty, the last being at age seventy, when he swam one mile from the Queen’s Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to an ocean liner called the Queen Mary. Oh, and he did this while handcuffed, shackled, and fighting strong winds and currents. And did I mention he was towing seventy rowboats during this swim, one of which had several guests in it?

            Now, that being said, I’m not suggesting that you go try to swim a mile in open waters, dragging boats behind you to prove your youthfulness.  I’m simply trying to prove that our age doesn’t stop us from great things. Our mind does.  Belief that you're able to do things is a huge part of your ability to continue to see results and new gains as you get older.  Combine that belief with hard work day in and day out, and your ability to see growth is boundless.

            In my last blog, I mentioned that I’m thirty-one.  What I didn’t mention is that over the last six months I’ve pushed myself into some of the best shape I’ve been in since college.  In college I played Division 1 baseball along with being on a collegiate strength and conditioning program for four years, and if I were to test my fitness today against myself from college, I wouldn’t be far off the pace of who I was then. My squat is close to the same; my deadlift is stronger; I can probably clean (as in the Olympic lift) more than I did then; I’m also bigger and more lean.  I’m probably not as fast, and I know I don’t recover as quickly as I used to, but I have a major asset that I didn’t have back then: increased knowledge.

It’s easy to see what age takes away from you, but anyone who has survived for more than two or three decades has gained a few things too, like discipline, restraint, and maturity. I may have been able to maintain my fitness more easily at twenty, but at thirty-one I more fully realize the importance of staying fit. I may have had a faster metabolism back then, but now I have the good sense to carefully pick the foods I eat because I know I’ll feel better in the long run. I may have to work harder to get where I want to be, but now I have the maturity to persevere past my comfort zone. When understanding who I am today becomes my superpower, my age is no longer a crutch. Instead, it's an asset that allows me to develop new ways to work hard daily, while not allowing my growth to be impeded by the things I can’t control.

            Some of you may have heard me say this before, but I lift in order to age gracefully.  As I continue to get older, I don’t want my age to stop me from being able to do something.  I push myself daily, so when the time comes to take advantage of a fantastic opportunity, my age won’t be a hindrance.  The key to successfully making changes as we continue to age is applying the knowledge and wisdom that only comes with age.

            There’s no denying that things get harder when we get older.  Time becomes limited due to adult responsibilities; recovery takes longer; building muscle is harder; losing weight takes more effort. But with time comes wisdom as well, the wisdom to realize that fitness doesn’t stop being worthwhile when it stops being easy.  And just like any great superhero, wisdom, experience, and knowledge only make us more likely to save the day.  It’s time to decide what kind of hero you want to be.

My Trainer is a Superhero

Posted on January 27, 2015 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (1)


My Trainer is a Superhero-Time


There is a common misconception that because I’m a trainer I possess some special power or ability to work out harder, longer, and more often. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I battle the same struggles as every single person who enters a gym. I have days when I feel weak, days when I lack motivation and days when I give into my temptations (food, that is). Obviously, I’d love to think of myself as a superhero. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be smart and savvy like Iron Man, quick and agile like Spiderman, or a huge green rage monster like the Hulk? (Or maybe not so much that last one; I mean, the guy must go through shirts like crazy.) I’d love to tell you that I train so often because I built myself a massive metal workout suit, or that a genetically enhanced spider gave me more stamina, or that I can lift more ever since I got zapped with gamma rays. Truth be told, I have no superpowers. But fitness has been a priority of mine for a very long time.

I’m thirty-one, and I’ve been lifting weights for the last eighteen years. Four of those years were as part of a collegiate weightlifting program, which I consider to be a huge advantage to my development. For the last six years, I’ve been in the fitness industry as a personal trainer. Six years is a longer time than many of the people I train have lifted for, not to mention the eighteen years of practice doing the exercises I do. How many activities have you done for a consistent eighteen years?

Imagine how good you would be at something if you did it for an average of four days per week for the last eighteen years. Do you think there would be some level of efficiency to what you do? I would venture to believe that you would be able to make some things look very easy. For example, if you’re a mother, do you remember the first time you had to get your kids ready for school? “Where are your shoes? Why aren’t you dressed? Eat your breakfast! Don’t eat your lunch until lunch time!” Then, like a superhero gaining her powers, one day you become a calm, efficient machine. “Your shoes are by the door. I laid out your shirt on the bed.” And like magic, there’s a sense of routine for the morning.

The same thing applies to the weight room. The first time someone enters a gym, it’s a scary place with lots of things that can go wrong. Lots of uncertainty and questions. “Why does this thing weigh so much? It only says five pounds! What is that person doing running in place? Why is that person grunting so loud? How do I get to look like that person?” But then you start gaining your powers--not overnight, but eventually. You learn to find your way. Things become consistent and efficient.

The hard thing to swallow about the weight room is that even after things become easier and you feel more comfortable, it doesn't guarantee results. If anything, as you become more comfortable in the gym, you may see fewer results. Fitness results are a combination of change and constantly battling being uncomfortable. If you feel comfortable in the weight room, you’re probably not working hard enough.

That being said, it’s not necessary to murder yourself every workout. That’s not the answer either. Fitness results are extremely hard to explain on paper, and the most challenging part about results is that everyone responds differently to exercise. If I could possess one training superpower, I’d want the power to determine what each trainee needs to achieve the results they seek. Unfortunately, in my experience there is no one answer for that. There are some consistencies, but everyone has a unique response to various exercise.

Still, when it comes to seeing results, there is one truth that doesn’t change: No matter who you are, no matter your specific needs, exercise is a necessity! One, two, even three days a week of activity isn’t enough. If you work out three days a week, that leaves four days that you’re not working out. You still have more days of non-activity than you do of physical activity. Let’s think about it in terms of steps forward and backward: each day you exercise is a step forward, and each day you don’t is a step back. How fast will you see the results you want if each week you’re taking one more step back than you take forward?

I personally have five days during which I’m doing some kind of weight-room-based workout. The exercises vary, and the length of my workouts are different as well. Some days it’s an hour, some days it’s fifteen to twenty minutes. On the two other days, I spend at least twenty to thirty minutes working on mobility and recovery. I also have two days a week, usually my mobility days, on which I play volleyball for a different kind of energy expenditure. Now, I’m sure everyone who just read that said the same thing in unison: “I don’t have time for all of that.” Or: “Well, you’re a trainer. I can’t get to the gym that much.”

Let’s take the getting to the gym part out of this equation for just a second. Instead, let’s take a minute and break down what I’m actually asking of myself each week from an exercise standpoint. Let’s say every workout for the five days I worked out this week was an hour (that’s not always the case, but let’s keep the numbers simple so I don’t screw this up). So let’s say I use five hours of exercise, and then let’s add in mobility exercises: two days a week for thirty minutes a day comes to one hour. I’m now up to six hours of activity over the course of the week. I’ll leave volleyball out of this equation, because not everyone plays recreational sports.

Just using my gym time as the baseline, I’m asking for six hours out of the 168 hours in a week. That’s a whopping 3.5% of the time every one of us has available. It doesn’t look like much, right? That being said, I know people are busy, lives are crazy, and getting to the gym isn’t easy. However, it isn’t impossible. Let’s do more math, because who doesn’t love math, right?

Let’s assume that everyone reading this sleeps eight hours per night (because everyone sleeps well in America, and nobody has kids waking them up in the middle of the night, and nobody accidentally stays up until 3 AM because Netflix released all 238 episodes of “Friends” at the same time). If you do get eight hours of sleep each night (good for you, don’t brag), that’s fifty-six hours per week you’re sleeping. Let’s assume as well that everyone reading this works ten-hour days five days per week. There’s another fifty hours. Okay, now let’s continue down the assumption highway and say that everyone sits down for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (because you’ve never run out the front door with your car keys in one hand and a Pop Tart in the other on your way to the Starbucks drive-thru). One hour for each comes to another twenty-one hours over the course of the week.

If you’re good at math, you know we’ve now used up 127 of the week’s hours. If you have kids, you have to make time for their activities, so let’s not stop yet. Let’s say you’re right in the middle of your kids’ sports season, so they’re doing something six days a week for two hours a day—and this, by the way, is a great time for your personal workout if you’re not helping to coach them0. Now we’ve added twelve hours to our total, for a grand total of 139 occupied hours. This leaves us with twenty-nine free hours. You need to be active for six.

Now, I know it looks ridiculously easy on paper. I know it’s not nearly that easy in real life. There are traffic jams; there are bad days; there are lazy days. But the difference between a person like me and the average gym goer is that I make excuses to get to the gym, while the majority of gym users make excuses not to go. That doesn’t make me better than them. It also doesn’t make me a superhero, and it doesn’t mean I have an exercise superpower. It’s just that I’ve had more practice building exercise into my routine, rather than avoiding it.

I decided to write about time today because it’s the most common reason people don’t exercise. I know everyone’s circumstances are different, and no two people have the same issues, but what are you really saying when you say you don’t have time? It’s not that you have less time than anyone else; we all get exactly the same 168 hours a week. And while you may have plenty of obligations filling those hours, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve lost the ability to choose how your time is spent. You’re not really saying, “I don’t have time.” You’re saying, “I’ve chosen to fill my time with more important things, and I don’t have enough left over.” There’s a big difference. And that difference is your superpower.

You heard me. You have the very same superpower I do: the power to choose how to spend your time. All sorts of choices are made for all sorts of reasons, and I won’t tell you how to make yours. But if fitness is really, truly important to you, if seeing results and taking pride in a stronger, healthier body is a genuine priority, I guarantee you there are more than enough hours in the week to get to the gym and become more physically active. You just have to decide how much you want fitness, how far it ranks over the countless other things competing for your time. You have to want it more than something else. Make it happen.