Monday, March 31, 2008

Walking Through Walls

If some of you haven't picked up on it by now, life doesn't always go according to plan. And yet, a lot of people still get taken back when things just don't flow their way. People are somehow surprised when every day doesn't seem to go the way they would want and often times, they become beaten down from the daily rigors life may offer. It appears that life has a strong will - usually stronger than its adversary - and the friction it causes usually results in one feeling sorry for themselves and paralyzing their efforts. But life doesn't have to be that way, not at all. A lot of life is in how you handle it. It's a matter of dealing with what comes your way in a productive manner.

In the words of Bernard Malamud, "There comes a time in our lives when to get where we have to go, if there are no doors or windows, we need to walk through a wall." The problem, however, often lies within the confines of one's own mind where "the wall" is an insurmountable obstacle. Most people aren't willing to push through that wall, to make the extra effort. But here's a question for you to reflect upon. When's the last time you attempted to break through the barriers and walk through a wall? - Fred Fornicola

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Energize Your Body

"Your body is the only thing you are guaranteed to keep for a lifetime. It forms the foundation of your earthly existence. Energizing your body enriches your life by enhancing every human capacity. If you lack vitality, nothing else really matters; if you have your health, anything is possible." - Dan Millman

Monday, March 24, 2008

Train With A Purpose

In big, bold letters across one of the walls of my facility, I have my motto that states simply and succinctly to "Train With A Purpose". It's a sentiment that I strongly believe in. It's a philosophy I try to instill in my clients. It's a statement that is defined by each individual whom I work with - and well it should.

But what is meant by "Train With A Purpose"? Your initial thought might revolve around a specific goal such as losing weight or doing a specific number of pushups, and if you are thinking along these lines, you would be incorrect. Training with a purpose is something that each individual needs to develop for themselves. Training with "purpose" describes a meaningful experience, not just a dutiful existence in the gym aimlessly and mechanically performing exercise. Going about exercise (and life) without a purpose defeats the intent - and therefore limits the experience.

It has been said that wisdom is derived from the "doing", but only higher levels can be obtained if the doing is done with 100% purpose. - Fred Fornicola

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Training Evolution (March '08)

Fred Fornicola and I talk often. Much of the conversation involves what we are doing now and what adjustments we have made to accommodate our training as things come up. Often it’s about HIT (High Intensity Training) and what we have learned as we go along in life. I have this conversation often with older trainees who are facing the fact that things are changing.

Some Background:
I was an original trainee with Arthur Jones. Most know that but I just needed to say it again. When I first got involved with training with him it was great! I had more time to do other things besides training. This was all new to me. I was used to being in the gym, day and night. BUT it was very hard training, very hard. At first we got every rep we could…………..NO MATTER the form, or the time it took to do it. You squeezed all you could into the set. I was young and could take it then. Later we became more strict with our form and didn’t heave and throw as much………..till we didn’t heave and throw at all. We used free weights (Yes, you Internet experts, we sure did) and a few machines at first. That’s how it was. No lab coats, no secret handshake, no passwords. Just training. Hard Training. Simple as that.

Now, I don’t train as hard. I still do failure training but not as much. I still use one set sometimes. If you do single set training, you better be pushing the set toward your limits or you will not be doing enough. On days when my intensity is not as high, I do more than one set. The extra work helps me feel like I have given a good effort. The extra sets also (during low intensity) help me burn a few more calories and also help build my “work capacity.” My philosophy is this: The higher the Intensity, the less sets I do and also overall less volume. The Lower the Intensity, I use more sets and more exercises. I think the reason some fail on HIT or whatever you want to call it, is that they don’t know how to put the effort into their training. They end up doing low volume AND low intensity.

As you age and get more mileage on your body it makes sense to monitor the intensity you use. This is why I now use more volume because I don’t “put out” like I used to. I’m also more concerned with overall “work capacity” and conditioning. I do other things for exercise too. Body weight conditioning is a big part of my training. I feel that it complements my weight work. When I use the weights (Machines and free weights) one day I’ll train heavy and use few reps. Other days I’ll train lighter and use at least 20 reps……….going as high as 50 sometimes. Sometimes single sets and using a good effort or multiple sets using less effort but more work. I just keep things simple. This is how I prefer it. I pay little attention to the latest “Fitness King or Queen,” Or the Latest Scientific Breakthrough. I got news for you. Most of it is pure marketing crap. What the heck does standing on a ball do for you other than get you ready for the circus? Core? Your whole body should be the “core” of your training. Head to toe, dam* straight.

On the Internet people want you to “Spell it out” give you all the reps, sets, exercises. Then they look at it and move on to the next thread, or they argue………………..and argue…………and argue. Time would be better spent in the gym, doing PRODUCTIVE work.
It seems to me many would rather talk about training than actually training. – Jim Bryan

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

High Intensity Training and the Older Trainee (June '03)

At the time of this article I’m 57 years old. I have been training with weights for over 40 years. I have been involved in the competition and sporting aspect of the strength world, as well as other sports, mostly “contact” in nature. Over the course of my activity I have picked up a few injuries here and there. Some have to be taken in consideration as I go through a workout now. It wasn’t always so. I did in the past push myself without a thought about holding anything back. I still use “to Failure” training. Just not on every exercise. For instance squats. I still think squats are the best single exercise you can do. IF YOU CAN DO THEM.

I had gotten to a point where I could no longer do free weight squats, because of my low back. Most of the squatting machines were worse. I changed things around and started using leg presses instead of squats. It’s just not worth the possible problems. I also Leg press before I squat most of the time. Leg Press is worked to failure. Most of my other exercises are to failure also. Unless I’m working around a sore joint, then I take it to the point I still think I’m safe.
I get an average of 2-3 workouts in a week. I never train without a day in between to rest from the weights. Read “weights.” I might Bike, walk, swim, or hang up the heavy bag on those days. I’m not quite ready for the rocker full time yet. My overall volume is on the low side. I might use 10 exercises on a full body day. Sometimes I do two hard sets. At that time, usually less than 10 exercises are used. If I have a real tough workout it may take me two days to feel like working the weights again. That varies. It doesn’t bother me at all to take time off from training now. It used to make me crazy to miss! I still use mostly compound movements and I mix in some single joint stuff. I know it’s been said that High Intensity Training should be so hard that it’s not something to enjoy doing. I don’t agree. If I didn’t like it I wouldn’t do it. Most people are that way, I think?

I do thrive on pushing myself but have learned to do it in a more thoughtful way. If I’m hurt because of my training, it just doesn’t make sense. So I back off now and then. Does that make the training no longer High Intensity? I don’t think so. I’m still aware of my last performance in the gym and I don’t let many workouts go by without increasing that performance. I still keep daily records. How can you know where your at if you don’t? I change the exercises on a regular basis to hold off boredom. After 40 years it is needed.

To sum things up: I still think the Older Trainee can use a High Intensity framework for his or her training. It may take more thought to plan workouts than it used to but safety should never be overlooked. Train to failure on the things that you can. Even if it is only on one or two exercises or none on some days. Use the pre- exhaust technique. Don’t be afraid to rest a little longer if needed. You may be using a lower volume of exercises that you did in the past. That’s probably a smart thing. When it’s all said and done, look forward to working out again. Training can become a good friend. - Jim Bryan

Monday, March 17, 2008

This Whole "Core Thing"

The "core", as defined in today's modern world of exercise, usually encompasses the muscles of the midsection (abdominals) and lower back areas and some individuals may include the hips as well. In fact, Ken Mannie, the legendary strength coach from Michigan State University refers to the core as the abdominals (rectus abdominus , internal and external obliques, transverse abdominus and the serratus anterior), the lower back, hips, thighs and the upper half of the hamstring area. It's easy to picture the area if you view a sphere around the body right below the pectorals to the mid thigh area.

There is no doubt that it is important to have a strong midsection/lower back along with the hips, but personally, I can't see how these muscle groups would take on any higher level than having a strong shoulder girdle (an "old-fashion term right there), back, arms and the rest of the musculature of the body. In fact, an over-emphasis on today's "core" muscles would, or at least certainly could, lead to over training them and in fact, cause a weakness or an imbalance in a quest for "balance" in all its modern day forms. I certainly emphasize the "core muscles", but not just the core muscles, and this is where I think the confusion comes in for those looking to get stronger and healthier. I've worked with some elderly people and could not work their core area in any direct fashion due to fragility and inflexibility and they stood taller and had less lower back and neck problems - and that was from working their shoulder girdle (delts, upper back, trap area). So boys and girls, my definition of core is from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet. Now let the wobble people stand on their heads and take that for a spin. - Fred Fornicola

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Old Faithful

When it comes to exercise, I feel it is advantageous to vary many different training protocols, modalities and exercises. I think it’s good for the body and mind to “change things up” and experiment now and again to keep things interesting and productive. Let’s face it, the “same old, same old” can be a real thrill killer when it comes to exercise and most people don’t need yet another reason for not sticking with their exercise regimen.

In keeping with this experimental nature and having an open mind, I find I learn a lot of different approaches that work, and others that don’t for one reason or another. I personally use and evaluate any and all tools and protocols to understand the nuances that are associated with them so that I can benefit from them and teach them properly. In doing this, I discover many productive and unproductive aspects of fitness and apply what I think is valuable so my training can be very rewarding; physically, mentally and emotionally. Let's face it, there are many ways to acchieve strength and fitness and being married to one approach is not only narrow-minded, it's unproductive over the long haul.
Back to my point. This experimental phase is usually beneficial for myself as well as my clients. It gives another dimention to the arsenal I use at Premiere Personal Fitness, however, these applications are usually temporary for me personally because I feel my most comfortable when I go back to my roots, doing what comes natural to me. Let me give an example of what I mean.

An important aspect of my training is my solitude and I find no greater pleasure than the rustic setting of my cold garage during the winter month's. In my garage I have a chin up bar, dumbbells, short ropes, rings, stones, sand bags, the TRX Suspension Trainer and some other “odds and ends” that enable me to round out my training.
Here is a workout that I performed recently that enabled me to train every major muscle group in my body, as well as challenged my cardiovascular system. Each set was worked with controlled movement and worked so no further reps could be achieved in good form. Basically, I worked hard on every set, performing each exercise for one, hard set of as many controlled reps that I could muster. I also took very short breaks - no more than 30-60 seconds - between exercises.

Note: the repetitions varied dramatically – ranging anywhere from 12 – 50 depending on the exercise. Here is what I did:

TRX Suspension Row with feet elevated
Ring Pushup (Rings set 2” from the floor)
Hammer Curl with Rope
Hand Stand Pushup held for time
Step Up
Close Grip Pushup on Sandbag
Stone Lift
Crunch on Stability Ball

Training time was approximately 20 minutes.
A very compact and effective workout that used a variety of inexpensive equipment in a short amount of time.
Feel free to experiment with various applications of your fitness. There is no "one-way" to do anything so go with what feels most natural to you so you'll stay with your fitness program and when in doubt, always go back to "old faithful" to keep you grounded.

Fred Fornicola

Monday, March 10, 2008

Meet the MET's

No, I am not referring to the New York baseball team; but rather that obscure, "nobody knows what it means" display on most cardiovascular equipment. So, the questions to be asked is what is a MET and how can it help me. A MET or “metabolic equivalent” is a unit for measuring oxygen uptake. During exercise, as the intensity rises and the need for oxygen becomes apparent, the body needs to adjust and find a way to meet this demand, so an increased respiration rate occurs (heavy breathing). So, it can be said that the more challenging the exercise the greater the metabolic demand will be. MET's also have a direct relationship to caloric expenditure (energy output) and heart rate. As the breathing rate increases so does the demand for blood to the working muscles, so there is a linear increase in heart rate; along with the need for more energy (calories) since the body is working harder to sustain the current effort level. This information is nothing ground breaking or revolutionary since anyone could have guessed that jogging at 6 MPH would be more strenuous than walking at 3 MPH and therefore requires more oxygen, will impose a higher heart rate and use more energy. This is partly the reason why the MET display on most pieces of equipment is forgone in favor of more eye catching displays like Pace, Distance, or Calories; however, the MET display can be very valuable to the “intellectual” exerciser.

To demonstrate, I will use a tried and true fitness center stable, the treadmill. How many times have you read about the importance of gradually increasing the intensity in order to cause an overload, thus leading to improved fitness? In terms of using a treadmill that means increasing the speed, distance covered, elevation, or time on the machine. All of which are very productive ways to make the exercise more demanding. But what about the exerciser who can’t run as fast or as far as they used to, but still wants to utilize the treadmill to become more fit. What option do they have? Well if you can remember from previous posts on this blog spot, the most important factor in improving fitness is working hard and causing the body to elevate past its current capabilities, not necessarily increasing the workload. Running happens to be a very enjoyable activity for many people; however, it can also be very strenuous on the joints due to the pounding on the legs and lower back. The faster the pace the more stressful the activity becomes. This is where MET's come into play. For example, a person running at 6.1 MPH at 0 % grade (which is just under a 10 minute mile) uses approximately 10.34 MET's. If this pace was continued for 20 minutes they would complete just over 2 miles. Now let’s say the same person decided to run at 5 MPH but increased the elevation to 5 % (this is about a 12 minute mile), this would also approximate the MET's at 10.34. If this pace was continued for 20 minutes just over 1.5 miles would be completed.

So what’s the difference? In terms of energy expenditure, cardiac output, or respiration rate (which are the principle factors in improving cardiovascular fitness), not much. However, in the second example, by reducing the speed the individual would cover less distance, will reduce the pounding and compression of just under ½ mile; not to mention the torque on there hips and back from taking a longer more powerful stride. The end result is less wear and tear on the body. Now I am not saying to eliminate running or “faster runs” from you program, I still feel it is up to each individual to figure out what is best for them; but I also feel that it is very important to find ways to improve ones fitness without “stressing” the joints or connective tissue. So, how can MET's help you? Well they’re a tool and like all tools they have a function, if their function matches your needs than meet the MET and have a ball. - Douglas Scott

Friday, March 07, 2008


At my facility, I employ many strength and conditioning variations. We use many different modalities and use an array of protocols such as single-set training, multiple sets, circuits, combination strength/cardio training, intervals and much, much more. When I train my clients, I work with them one-on-one and watch every nuance of how they are performing their exercises – it’s just something I find to be important and effective. In doing so, this precludes me from keeping an accurate eye on the clock when we do intervals or “timed work”.

Recently, I stumbled upon a little gadget that made this particular situation a thing of the past. This little, inexpensive, yet well thought out interval timer is about the size of a small pager. It has a big, bold numeric display and allows for one or two different time intervals from 2 seconds to 60 minutes. It also has an auto mode which keeps repeating through intervals, a manual mode that acts as countdown timer and an alarm which can beep, vibrate or do both. It’s very lightweight and even comes with a belt clip. In addition, it’s very easy to set and make on-the-go changes.

What I like about the Gymboss the most is it takes away the need to monitor time and it allows me to coach my clients through their workout. There is no doubt that as a trainee, the Gymboss is a useful tool in enabling you to do what you’re supposed to be doing – focusing on your workout. – Fred Fornicola

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Bodyweight Squats

It's no secret that I am a huge advocate of the bodyweight squat - and for good reason. Bodyweight squats engage a lot of muscle - those being the muscles of the hips and legs along with the lower back and abdomen. Bodyweight squats, when done properly, (read as "with good form and control") can offer the same benefits of squatting with a barbell, dumbbell or any other piece of resistance. One of the main benefits however is that bodyweight squats offer very low compressive force on the soft tissue (tendons and ligaments) as well as the joints. Another bonus to bodyweight squats - especially when performed for high repetitions is that builds muscular endurance and elevates the heart rate significantly. Here's a little secret: The body does not know what is causing it to work, it just responds accordingly so if one were to do high repetition bodyweight squats versus say a stair climber, would the body know? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say no. Another perk to bodyweight squats is they can be done anywhere so there's no need for a gym membership or an excuse.

The photo above is what I would consider "picture perfect" form (no pun intended). - Fred Fornicola

Monday, March 03, 2008

Are We Meant To Be Programmed?

The idea of having a structured strength training program, specific exercises for specific repetitions in a specific order, is something I have a tough time grasping hold of. Although, I feel there is certain value to having a set “plan of action”, especially early on in ones training career when learning how to perform each exercise in a productive manner, is very important. But once those skills are acquired are the specific exercises the key to improving fitness?
From what I understand about exercise physiology, there are several occurrences that must take place in order for a muscle group to improve its strength. First, that muscle must be worked past its current capacity (overload); and a period of recovery must be allotted for to allow for an adaptation to occur. Furthermore, if total body strength is a goal than each muscle group must be worked directly or indirectly on a regular basis, generally speaking every few days.

Nowhere have I found that specific exercises are the cause for strength improvement but rather a means to establishing the proper training environment providing the effort is there. Since the muscles don’t have eyes or any other means of knowing where the stimuli is coming from the body is simply responding to the demands placed upon it.

What can be gathered from this information is that whatever exercise(s) one chooses to perform, if adequate effort is given a few times each week to all muscle structures than the body will become stronger and consequently more “fit”, maybe not on a workout chart but as a functional unit living life. – Douglas Scott