THE key to fitness

Name a physical challenge or goal that you want to achieve. Does it involve speed, strength, skill, or body composition? Lower triglycerides? Shoot 90% from the free-throw line?

Whatever it is, there are many specialists in that particular field offering valuable and poor advice. There are sincere as well as snake-oil entrepreneurs offering worthwhile and asinine products and services.

As one of those people, please allow me to remind you of one thing that may be THE most critical element to achieving your goals. But before we get to that, it's worthwhile to discuss a few honorable and not-so-honorable mentions.

Training equipment is definitely over rated. A motivated person will find a way to get it done. They will either get to what they need or make the best of what's around.

Particular diets and supplements are over rated. I'm not saying that what we eat is unimportant. It's the particulars that are unimportant. Diets work because, in the end, they are restrictive. You are actually paying attention to what you eat, eating more unprocessed foods, and taking in less over all.

If you're trying to get lean, lose weight, or whatnot, find a structured diet plan that you can tolerate, fully commit to it, and muster the courage to stick with it for a while. Nobody said it was supposed to be fun. Then, if your activity level is sufficient, you can go back to a more fun and realistic dietary plan that I call The Not Eating Crap Diet. You know what foods are crap. Don't eat them 90% of the time and you should be okay.

I'm aware that this is an overly simplistic bit of dietary advice. But I do hear about and witness some extreme and even odd behaviors where I say to myself, "I bet that person would be fine if they just made a sincere effort at the basics."

And supplements - even the few supplements that are actually proven to live up to their claims do so by a thread. They add less than 5 percent at most. Read for yourself at Examine.com. I cannot speak highly enough of that site.

Training methods are even over rated to some extent. I do recommend that you find something safe in terms of exercise selection, execution, and rest/recovery. A good training method includes an assessment and establishes rhythm and structure that is compatible with your goals, rather than "mixing it up all the time," which rarely lets you know where you stand. Also, be careful of methods that guarantee that your body will adapt toward two incompatible goals at once. For example, it's not likely that a trained individual can increase their vertical jump 4" and shave a minute off his or her best 5K time.

No matter your particular goals and interests, you can almost always benefit from getting stronger. And that doesn't require fancy tools or complex strategies. And now for what's arguably THE most overlooked and undervalued element of you hitting your goals.


Consistency is finding a way to reach a steady rhythm of work and recovery, not too much and not too little. Consistency is committing and going at it with gusto but not so much that you burn out or get injured in six weeks. Consistency is showing up and keeping at it when you don't feel like it. Consistency is paying attention, learning from victories and failures, ensuring that in time you are working harder and smarter.

Sure, consistency has its limits. Some still think that drinking Slim fast and setting their sights on running a marathon are great ways to "get back in shape."

At Bonny Lane Club (my basement and yard), 20 Rep Squats are the one thing that best defines what we do. We find a way to get to them week in and week out. We strive to add just a few pounds to the bar each week. It becomes brutal. When we get tired, bored, lazy, or want to switch it up for variety, we'll maybe do a different core exercise. We'll do some dumbbell work outside rather than inside. We'll change the music that blasts while we're under the bar. But the squats stay!

Nobody can sell you consistency. Only you know your life's rhythm. Of course this applies to most aspects of life, so define what is important to you, be consistent, and find a way to enjoy the process. Temper your dietary and activity related goals by maintaining some perspective and gratitude on the plentiful life and times in which we live.

Work smart. Work hard. Consistently.


Biggest Doers

I imagined a script for a TV show called Biggest Doers. It's not that I think that Biggest Loser is terrible or has it all wrong. There's certainly a lot worse that can be found on prime time TV. But...

Instead of featuring extreme health and fitness makeovers of obese contestant with "outlier" lifestyle habits, body weight, and blood profiles, this show includes more average folk. Participants actually keep the majority of their daily routines and responsibilities while forging the time and effort that it takes to intelligently prepare and train their bodies to ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING awesome.

So many levels of wrong here...
Sure, there can be talk of body composition and appearance, because who doesn't want that? But I'm certain that if you can get your body to move better that usually leads to feeling better which leads to DOING further-faster-stronger-longer. By then, things like appearance, weight, and blood profiles almost always tend to take care of themselves.

And if Jillian Michaels can use a show to market her barking around and crappy personal training programs, then I sure as hell am going to use this to showcase the profession of physical therapy and what an individualized, structured, and progressive training plan looks like.

Instead of the Weekly Weigh-In, imagine the teenager who has to get up in front of tens of thousands of viewers and 20 Rep Squat some miserably high weight that's 5% more than he did last week. With that televised event bearing down upon him and cameras looming as he goes about his week, do you think he will get enough rest, wake up in time for a healthy breakfast, and work hard and smart on his other training days? Do you think he will still be complaining about not being able to put on muscle?

Or what about the soccer mom who thought she needed to lose twenty pounds? She was caught in a cycle of "not being able to lose weight because I can't exercise because it stirs up this plantar fasciitis that kills..." On Weigh In Awesome Day after week one she's able to walk in the morning with a reasonably symmetrical gait pattern. By week 4 she can do a chin-up and stop her knees from buckling inward when she pulls weight off the ground. By week 6 she's back to jogging. There are a few set-back for drama, and because there usually are setbacks. At her week 12 Awesome Day she runs a 5K in under 25 minutes.

The Grandma who wants to hike the Appalachian Trail with her grandchildren? The collegiate pitcher with nagging elbow pain who wants to hit 90 mph with his fast ball? The 37 year old father of five who wants to run a 4.6 second 40-yard dash? Where do they currently stand and what are their barriers? What unique physical, employment, and family limitations do they face? How much time do they really need to commit to training? [Anser - really not too much.] How much do they need to tailor their life choices toward achieving their goals [Anwer - a lot!]

As opposed to seeing people standing there being weighed in their undies, wouldn't it be far more entertaining and inspiring to watch an average Jane or Joe perform some self selected, (relatively!) superhuman feat of strength or endurance that he or she has trained toward? Wouldn't it be interesting to witness the Hollwood quick-edited version of the steps they take along the way? Maybe when all is said and done, some of the younger ones do break out of average Joe/Jane mediocrity and end up going big college or even pro at baseball or biking or Crossfit or what have you.

But make no mistake, the primary target and competition for each contestant is themselves, achieving some physical feat of awesomeness they previously could not do.


Why Do Plyometrics

A friend presented a question to me last week. And there it was, she said it right to my face.

 "So why do all the plyometric jumping and stuff? What's that good for...?"

Why do plyos? Why. Do. Plyos.

I was startled, frozen for a moment. I've never considered that as an option; that someone who is physically able to do plyos would not do them.

Uh. Let's see. Plyos are fun. And awesome. Enough said? [Walks away.] Well no, not really. So here are a few good reasons why athletes should do plyos.

1. Power

Power = Force X Distance / Time

In everyday life and especially in sports, the name of the game is power. Successful performance almost always depends on the ability to move your body, body segments, competitors, and sports implements quickly, with accuracy, and with good mechanics so as to remain efficient and healthy. Plyos teach your brain how to coordinate multiple body segments in order to generate force quickly.

Going for a jog or doing a bazillion reps (Ala P90 X or Insanity) simply doesn't do this unless you're very untrained. Heavy resistance training is the best way to increase your capacity to generate force and increase the size of your engine. But a proper progression of basic plyometric drills are what allow the brain to transform that force into real life, butt kicking power.

(You can legitimately argue that Olympic Lifts are good and necessary for power development, but see here for why I generally don't use of advise them.)

2. React

Plyos have also been shown to improve something called rate of force development, which is basically how quickly your muscles respond when the brain signals to move. And suddenly you're dunking, spiking, and breaking opponents ankles!

3. Fast Twitch Fiber Training

        - - - - - - - - - - -

[chart from Wikipedia] Type I fibers (red) Type II a fibers (red) Type II x fibers Type II b fibers (white)
Contraction time Slow Moderately Fast Fast Very fast
Size of motor neuron Small Medium Large Very large
Resistance to fatigue High Fairly high Intermediate Low
Activity Used for Aerobic Long-term anaerobic Short-term anaerobic Short-term anaerobic

Power produced Low Medium High Very high
Mitochondrial density Very High High Medium Low

- - - - - - - - - -

No matter the chosen sport or activity, you want to get all that you can out of your body. Even endurance athletes benefit from having trained all of the muscle fibers they are given. Now, the body won't even call the strong, fast twitch fibers into play unless it has to move something very heavy or move very quickly. Plyometrics preferentially target fast twitch fibers; the ones that just don't get used when going for a jog or with 30 minutes on an elliptical trainer.

4. Getting In Shape

Plyos are good for conditioning. Jumping, sprinting, cutting, skipping, striding, and various throws are all some the most metabolically demanding activities that you can dream up. Plyos are no stroll on the recumbent bike. Fifteen or twenty minutes provides a brutal training effect. I've witnessed endurance athletes with beastly cardiovascular systems become quickly gassed with a few circuits of intense plyos. It's a different training stimulus than what they are accustomed to.


Plyos are not nearly as boring and miserable as long drawn out cardio, especially if you have friends to show boat with. Plus - how you look and feel and what you can do after having trained your body with plyos...

Well there are many ways to do it, but we roll something like this:

 And a word of caution.

Plyos must be handled with care. They can be hard on your feet, knees, and lower back if you're inflexible or weak in the ankles, hips, and core. It's not just the middle aged men and their torn achilles tendons, because even young people will suffer if they do too much too quickly or even the right amounts with poor technique.

Just like anything else, use an intelligent progression to get the ball rolling and build up the intensity of impact as well as the total number of impacts. It's well worth it, unless you really don't care about being awesome ; )

Now go be strong, fast, and look the part. Defy some gravity, would ya!

- - - - - -


dead lifts are for everyone

What? You don't believe in doing dead lifts?

Have you ever had to pick something up off the ground? You leaned over in some fashion, grabbed an item, and managed to generate enough force off the ground such that the mass of that object and your body overcomes gravity?

You, my friend, have definitely done dead lifts. Because everybody dead lifts, sometimes. 

And hopefully you crushed that lift of the pencil or suitcase or toddler because your hips, abdominal, and back muscles were strong and tight, from the small fine-tuning muscles to the large movers. You had the flexibility in your hips to allow smooth decent while you maintained the spine in a neutral position. You reached down in a manner that protects the discs and vertebrae from torsional and shear forces while they are under compressive load.

Oh, but that's right. You don't believe in doing dead lifts to establish or strengthen this pattern.

So instead, when you're called upon to pick things up and put them down in everyday life, you probably collapse in at the knees, round your back, cave at the chest, and resemble a weeping willow. It's funny to me that medical and fitness professionals who think dead lift variations are unfit for any exercise program are apparently fine with this mechanical mess.

The Weepy: rounded thoracic and lumbar spine and knees collapsed toward each other. Makes me sad.

Don't get me wrong, there are alternatives for functional lifting, just no good ones.

One alternative is the "lift with your legs not with your back" Robot Lift. What does that mean, exactly? Keeping the torso strictly vertical? Go ahead and try lifting with your trunk perfectly upright. It's even worse when there's weakness or inadequate range of motion at the lumbar spine, hips, or ankles. The Robot is inefficient. You're simply not going call on The Robot to lift a stick off the ground or lift 300 boxes over an 8-hour work day. The Robot can also be extremely hard on the knees (menisci, anyone) sooner or later.

     The Robot: trunk vertical, hips super low, heels off the ground, crushing the knees.

Maybe you tried The Swan. That works well for light objects in open spaces. But the swan is a weak move that demands a lot of balance. Go ahead and try lifting a wriggly toddler with the Swam, or scooting a couch out of the tight fit in the living room.

                        The Swan: one arm forward and one leg back to counterbalance. 
              Spares the knees and lower back fairly well. Efficient, graceful, and weak.

Or, you could trust dead lifts. You could learn how to hinge the hips and knees while tilting the torso forward without slumping. You may never even touch a barbell for conventional dead lifts. Or maybe you will, working up to pulling over double your body weight off the ground with relative ease. Or maybe you'll get to more conventional dead lifts only after improving your strength and mobility with a handful of stretches and dead lift variations.

                                  Dead lift: Hip hinge, neutral spine, no collapse of knees. 

                                                  BAM! [yes - the big water bottle is full]

There's no one formula that fits everyone. But picking things up and putting them down is a part of life. Yes, you will dead lift. So you may as well do it well by incorporating dead lift variations and progressions into your training routine.

 - - - - -