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How to Train Your Teen — March 20th, 2015

A little while back I was at the gym on a weekday afternoon when I noticed a tall, trim and extremely cut teenager leaping back and forth over stacks of high steps (basically steps you can stack to make them as high as you like).  Not only was he leaping over what looked like a stack at least five or six feet high, but when he jumped in a certain direction he landed squarely on a Bosu ball (a stability ball/balance trainer), only to steady himself, step off and head right back into the high jumps.  I asked him what he was training for and he said he was a college Tennis player at The University of Virginia, simply working on his power and balance during the off season.  I remember walking away and shaking my head at the ease with which he did these ridiculously difficult exercises and imagined him jumping seven feet in the air to slam a tennis ball in his poor opponent’s face.

The thing is, though, that while the kid I saw that day was no doubt an elite athlete competing at the highest college level, he was not only making his workout look easy but he moved in a way that looked effortless, like he was completely in sync with the capabilities of his body and he had such incredible confidence that he was able to pull off some really difficult moves.  Unfortunately I see a lot of teenagers in the gym, athletes and not, who have no business doing these certain types of exercises.  They really have no idea what they need to do to meet their goals, either to get in shape or do sport specific training.  In this era of specialization, where teenagers play the same sports year round, injuries and burnout are more prevalent then ever.  By the time I start to train some of these teenagers, I see bad habits, poor posture, and awkward body movements and it becomes necessary for me to halt the bad habits and rebuild better ones from the ground up.  That said, if you have a teenager playing a competitive sport or one that you think might have a future in college competition, here are a few tips and things you should look out for:

  • Body weight, then weights, not the other way around.  Can your teenager do a pushup without collapsing to the ground?  Can they do a sit up just using their core?  When they do a body weight squat do their knees and/or ankles shake and wobble?  These are just a few things to look for, but I’m always stunned by how many high level athletes I come across that can’t perform simple body weight exercises without some part of their body literally caving down to the ground.  I use very few weights when I train my teenaged clients, not only because they don’t know how to use them but also because they have no idea how to use their own body.  The problem here is when I get to these kids they are already 15, 16, 17 years old, not too late to help them by any means, but it certainly makes it more difficult to make changes.  Which is why all athletes, regardless of age or ability, needs to be put through some sort of …
  • Movement test.  Find a trainer, or coach, or physical therapist, someone that can put your teen through a series of movement tests.  I’m a fan of the Functional Movement Screen but the most important things to look for are imbalances, deficiencies, asymmetries and muscle weaknesses.  Last year I trained a high level varsity Soccer player who couldn’t touch his toes.  When I put him through a series of movement tests he could barely raise his leg halfway off of the ground without some form of pain, more evidence that doing the same thing over and over again for years and years can lead to major problems.  He was essentially one bad movement away from tearing something in his leg, but because of the movement test I was able to provide him with a series of exercises and stretches that allowed him to move better and function more properly on the field and he ended up having a successful season.
  • Have them cross train in some way, shape or form.  Most teens that I meet play the same sport year round, and have been doing so since they were little kids.  This means that they are performing the same movement patterns over and over again, over-emphasizing certain muscle groups and under-utilizing others, which can lead to imbalance and injury.  The athletes that I meet that play more than one sport are not only more balanced physically but they also seem more rested mentally because they don’t have to do the same thing every day.  This is important not only in the short term but for teens that might have a future athletic career in college as well, because once you get there it’s 24/7, all sports, all the time.
  • Food matters, even for teenagers.  I asked one of my current teen clients what her diet was like and she responded, “Well, I eat like a teenager.”  Fair enough, but that most probably means a diet rich in sugar, carbs, and soda and lacking in protein, vitamins, minerals and nutrients.  For an athlete, this doesn’t work, no matter how easily you can burn off the crap and eat whatever you want from meal to meal.  This is a tough sell because no teenager wants to bust out a protein bar and celery sticks when his or her friends are chowing down on pizza, but if your teen is serious about performance and making it at the next level, everyone, from coaches to parents, maybe even a nutritionist, need to be involved to make it work.
  • Rest!  Impossible, right?  Teens have school, homework, tests, papers, exams, college applications, prom dates, SAT prep AND practice and games?  One of my former teen clients was a hockey player and she would sometimes practice at crazy hours (9:00, 10:00, 11:00 at night), leaving almost no time for sleep or homework at any point during the day.  I suppose the debate about overworked teens can live for another day but like I tell my personal training clients all the time, “Rest as much as you need, then you can get back to work.”  If this means shutting your teen down for a few days in between seasons or pulling them from a commitment, maybe that’s what needs to be done.  As I’ve read many times on many different blogs, “Rest is where the magic happens.”

If you are the parent of an aspiring high school or college athlete, hopefully some of the tips above will help further their endeavors, lessen the chances of injury, and, perhaps most importantly, deter that burnout from ever happening.

All Sorts of Stressed — February 27th, 2015

I think it almost goes without saying that February is the most depressing month of the year.  It’s still winter, and this year feels like a winter that might never end.  It’s cold.  It’s damp.  It’s dark most of the time.  It’s dreary.  Football is over.  The ground is covered in snow and ice; so much so that this morning I wondered if I should be wearing a pair of ice skates instead of sneakers to walk my dog.  There are cracks on the sidewalks and never ending potholes on the roads, which makes walking or driving feel like navigating an obstacle course.  And football is still over.  Utterly depressing.  No doubt a select few were able to escape to a warm climate for a few days, but for the rest of us, we are stuck in an endless cycle of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or an informal case of the “blahs”.  I hate winter with a passion, so I’m totally there.

The weather, sickness, and other unenviable obstacles of our daily lives on these cold, shortened days, absolutely add a layer of stress that might not otherwise be there when it’s warmer.  I know that I’m much happier when I can just throw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and go about my day (ah, the life of a trainer), but the stress of winter, and stress in general, is something that can totally throw us off-kilter and make us feel pretty awful.  But I haven’t given up on getting healthy for the change of seasons, and, thankfully, there are many ways to alleviate the stress and doldrums even when the dead of winter seems like it may never end.  If you are crazy stressed, bored, or even depressed, here’s what you you can do to survive until spring rolls around:

  • Get a Massage:  In addition to being helpful for anxiety, headaches, digestive disorders, insomnia and fibromyalgia, a massage just feels really freaking good.  Are you hunched over a computer screen all day, shoulders up in your neck and arms scrunched into your chest after hours of typing?  Are you someone who works on your feet for hours at a time?  A massage is a luxury, yes, I get that, but if your body is stressed out you are going to be stressed out too.  And if you are looking for a low cost option, have your three-year-old walk on your back for fun.  He’ll love it and as long as he’s not doing plyometrics on your spine, your back will love it as well.
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  • Set aside 15-20 minutes every day for yourself:  How you spend these 15-20 minutes can vary, but I think that a little solitude, even for you Type A or super social creatures out there, is truly important.  Maybe you want to read the book that is stuffed in your backpack (now I’m talking directly to myself), meditate, take a long shower, listen to music, stare at the ceiling or whatever, but try committing fifteen minutes a day to yourself every day for a week and see what happens.  This woman wrote a novel in just fifteen minutes a day, so anything is possible.
  • Eat or drink something you shouldn’t.  Occasionally:  Probably not the most prudent advice coming from a personal trainer/health freak, right?  Maybe not, but the problem I see from a lot of my clients is that they are either 100% all in or 100% all out with their exercise and health and wellness routines, and neither side of that coin is entirely healthy.  The hardest part is to try to find the balance in the middle. Although this isn’t easy for everyone, restricting yourself from something you want or crave ALL the time, such as a cheeseburger or a mojito, for instance, can be stressful in and of itself, and that stress can contribute to the yo-yo weight gains that I often see.  So is it ok if every once in a while you indulge in that cheeseburger or mojito, or whatever suits your fancy?  I say absolutely, because the stress of never indulging ever again simply isn’t worth it.
  • Fully focused kid time.  Or dog, or spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend, whatever:  I would say a fair of the time when I am with my kids, I am multi-tasking or doing something other than paying full attention to them.  Or when I am with them, I am cleaning up a mess they made or simply telling them to do or not do something, and all of this combined can be super stressful.  My way of dealing with this is to plan as far ahead as possible, so if I have time to lay out their clothes and prep for their meals in advance, I try to do it, but sometimes there just isn’t enough time.  Even if it’s just the fifteen minutes I referenced above, setting aside just a bit of fully focused time on your kids, family members or significant others, no phone, TV, other tasks, etc., can be quite calming, and then I am better prepared for the stressful stuff that will inevitably follow.  Besides, multi-tasking doesn’t work anyway.
  • Yoga Therapy:  Focusing more so on the mental aspects of Yoga rather than the physical, Yoga Therapy is new-age and a bit eccentric, but for you fans of meditation and other breathing and/or relaxation techniques, this might be for you.  I did it a few months back with a local friend of mine and I left our session as relaxed as I’ve ever been.  Yoga Therapy uses a bunch of different tools from typical Yoga and applies those tools to the specific health condition of a client, whether it is stress, anxiety, diabetes, autism, depression, etc.  You have to be open minded to give it a shot, but it is becoming increasingly popular.
  • Take a walk:  I know you are probably thinking that it’s still -25 outdoors and this dude is asking you to bundle up, take a stroll and shiver, but I suppose that’s exactly what I’m saying.  Most of us have been cooped up indoors for a majority of the winter, germs swirling through the air and heat blasting through the vents, but taking a leisurely walk, even if it is short, can lower your cortisol levels, a major stress hormone that can be a precursor to weight gain.  Walking is also great for thinking, gathering thoughts and simply enjoying the outdoors, which, even in -25 degree weather, is literally a breath of fresh air.

Somehow, someway, Spring will surely come, but in the meantime I am going to do the best I can to get through the rest of the winter without any more runny noses, sore throats, or infections. If stress contributes to these things, any opportunity I have take to lower that stress in my life, I’m definitely gonna take it.


Question Exercise: Try This, Not That — January 22nd, 2015

So for the second year in a row I’m beginning to think that the whole new year’s resolution thing is overrated.  I’m seeing less and less people posting, tweeting, writing, sharing and promoting their stated goals for the new year, and I think that we’ve reached a point where a new year is simply that:  a new year, just like any other.  The calendar turns from December to January, but the weather outside is still pretty frightful and in the gym, it’s a bit of a crapshoot as to whether or not the “resolutioners” are going to come in from the cold and hop on the elliptical for the first time.  In a way this might be somewhat depressing, but on the other hand I have seen a sign that is entirely positive and encouraging, just without the fanfare of the actual resolutions:  the intrigue and willingness to try something new.

Exercise, like many things in life, is simply a fixture of habits and routine.  If you are someone who has gotten up every morning for the last twenty years and headed to the gym on a consistent basis, that’s a pretty well ingrained custom of your day, part of your natural routine and one that probably won’t change anytime soon.  Being a creature of habit means that we don’t like change (I’m a prime example) but in the context of that routine, our willingness to do something new can be a good thing.  To that end, here are a few basic exercise concepts that might feel a little bit outdated (but are worth a try!) and some new ideas that might give you the jolt you need to make even the smallest change a reality:

  • PICK UP THE PACE — One of my clients asked me what I do for “cardio”, and my answer was quite simple.  I told him, “I lift weights faster.”  Love to say that this was my own personal and unique response because I could trademark it and make a lot of money, but in truth, this is from one of my new favorite trainers named Jen Sinkler. She coined the term and made it into an exercise program of the same name.  If you are someone who spends hours on a cardio machine, or thinks you have to split time between a treadmill and free weights, my question is … why?  What if you could combine both, get a better workout, with better results AND save time in the process?  I love to exercise but I love my free time even more, and by simply moving faster and more efficiently in the gym I get the best of both worlds.
  • ASK YOURSELF:  DOES THIS EXERCISE MAKE SENSE?  Just today I was training someone and while doing backwards lunges, she told me that something was bothering her knee.  After making a few adjustments and giving her some advice, the knee was still bothering her, so you know what we did?  We stopped the exercise, plain and simple.  Common thinking is that if you have your “routine” of what you have planned for your session at the gym, that you have to complete the routine as outlined or you didn’t do what you needed to do.  But if an exercise hurts, or doesn’t feel right or is simply too difficult on that day, why do it?  Find a variation, or just move on for another day.  You aren’t quitting, you’re simply listening to your body, and that’s a good thing.
  • VARIETY IS GOOD, CONSISTENCY IS BETTER — I’ve always been a huge believer in experimenting with different classes, variations, exercises and breaking people out of their comfort zones.  I encourage my clients to try something new, whether they are a power lifter who has never tried Yoga or a Zumba lover who has never picked up a free weight.  But that doesn’t mean that I want my clients to stop doing what they like to do and doing what they are successfully doing.  If you are good at Yoga, for instance, and you enjoy it, it makes you happy and de-stresses you at the same time, by all means, go ahead and do that Yoga, and do it well.  Same goes with running, bicycling, Zumba, power lifting, etc.  Break out of that comfort zone every once in a while but if you are doing what makes you happy, that happiness and consistency should translate into other areas as well.
  • DON’T BE AFRAID TO REST — Rest based training is one of those new catch-phrases out there, one that I learned from the brilliant Dr. Jade Teta of Metabolic Effect, and one that I preach to my clients on an everyday basis.  If you are in a cross fit or Power Yoga or Tae Bo class and can’t keep up with the rest, you are out of breath, exhausted and starting to lose your form on some exercises, take a step back, catch your breath and REST.  Many of the workouts I do involve weights, circuits and timers, and I tell my clients all the time, “Do as much as you can and then rest as much as you need to.  Then start again.”  Some of my clients hate this because they think they are failing, still adhering to the notion that you have to work as hard as you can as long as you can.  But what sense does it make to push your body so hard that you can’t push anymore, lose your form and focus and everything starts to collapse?  There are no grades here. You simply have to do the best you can, give it your best shot and that’s all anyone can ask.  And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

So the next time you head to the gym ask yourself a couple of simple questions:  Does it make sense for me to do the routine I planned on doing today?  How does it feel when I do this exercise?  Should I try something different that will make me feel a bit better?  Remember, routine is good, change is great, but consistency and listening to your body are best.  Nothing is set in stone, so why not give a small change a chance?  Ask yourself these questions and you are well on your way to making a change, whether you “resolved” it, or not.

What I learned in 2014 — December 18th, 2014

Usually around this time of year I try to reflect on the last 12 months and see what I’ve accomplished, what I did, how I did it, what worked, what didn’t, and what changes I might need to make in the upcoming year.  I’m certainly not unique in this regard as many, many people tend to take stock of their lives when the year comes to an end and a new one begins, but since resolutions have never really been my thing, I decided to sit down and compile a list of what I learned in 2014.  A best of list, if you will.  Many of these are exercise related while some are not, and some involve the people, ideas, concepts and simple everyday tips that I have stumbled upon that have most affected me this past year:

  • When in doubt, test everything.  One of the newest exercise concepts I am learning about is called Gym Movement Protocol, created by Dave Dellanave at his gym in Minneapolis.  Amongst other things, Gym Movement Protocol means using Biofeedback to literally test every exercise you do before you do it, listening to what your body is telling you and working within your limits.  It’s remarkable in it’s simplicity, but for you exercise crazies who are looking for the next big trend, this could very well be it.
  • In praise of Twitter.  I’ve written about the medium a few times before and those of you that follow me there, or know me personally, know that I am a huge fan.  Each time I get on my page to scroll my feed I am never disappointed with the wealth of information and knowledge that is presented in a matter of seconds.  Just last week I stumbled upon an article detailing the foods we need to be on the lookout for in 2015.  Many of them I had never heard of before but when people come asking me about them (and they will) I’m ready to chat.
  • If it takes two minutes or less, get it done.  Now.  Many of the blogs I’m reading on working more efficiently seem to come back to this theme, but I think I’ve been doing this as long as I can remember and it really does work.  Have you ever made a list of things to do and it was two pages long and didn’t know where to start?  I always start with the small items and work my way to the big ones, such as today when I knew I needed to work on this blog but also had two phone calls to make and two e-mails that needed a response.  Check, check, check, check.  Now here I am.
  • Let your toddler pick out his clothes for the next day the night before.  For real.  My wife stumbled upon this concept months ago but I was late to the party. When she was out of town a few weeks ago while my son and I stayed home, I paid the price with a 6:30 a.m. temper tantrum that almost tore the roof off of our house.  The words “those clothes are dirty”, “they need to be washed” and “we don’t wear the same thing two days in a row” have no meaning to a three-year-old who has an unhealthy obsession with Superman t-shirts and Lightening McQueen underwear.  Needless to say, I won’t make this mistake ever again.
  • In a “diet”, there is no such thing as one size fits all.  More and more I am beginning to see and believe this in the exercise and nutrition world.  For instance, I’ve always been a huge fan of eating breakfast, believing that it was the best way to boost your metabolism after sleep, start the day off with a positive source of energy and make it less likely that you will binge on junk food later in the day.  But I have a bunch of clients who tell me that they are simply not hungry in the morning or if they eat before they exercise they get sick.  My conclusion?  Do what works for you, not what someone (even me!) tells you what they think is best.
  • Same goes with exercise.  I’m a huge believer in short, sweet, efficient, sweaty workouts using your body or using some really heavy weights with good form.  Boot camps, marathon workouts and the “no pain no gain” motto gets lost on me because I don’t think it’s the best way to go, but again, I always tell my clients to experiment with different forms of exercise because they need to figure out what works for them.  All of us have different schedules, stress levels, muscle imbalances and tolerances for certain work, so each of us is the best judge as to where we want to go.  It’s simply a matter of taking the time to figure out the best way to get you there.
  • Don’t go to the supermarket hungry.  Ever.  I break this rule virtually every week, but I’m lucky enough to have developed a fair amount of will power over the years to resist the temptation of the dozen different Oreo varieties that were presented to me last Monday morning in Aisle 12 at Giant.  There they are, staring at you in the face, all those different colors and flavors and fatty goodness, every last one of them on sale for the holidays.  Madness.  If Oreo every comes out with a Triple Stuff my fingers might never be skinny enough to type one of these blogs out ever again.
  • Wanna learn something new and good every week and have it delivered to your e-mail inbox?  Follow Eric Bakadesuo.  His updates and research never get old, and they are quick, easy reads backed by research and quotes from expert sources.  Wanna be successful in what you do?  Just read this.
  • Every once in a while, get up ridiculously early and see how much you get done in a day.  I was forced to get up in the middle of the night a handful of times in August and September for work, and while I wouldn’t wish a 4:00 a.m. wakeup call on anyone, ever, on a regular basis, by 10:00 a.m. on those same days I couldn’t believe how much time I had left for myself and how much more time I had to accomplish anything I wanted to get done.  Head to the gym, go to work, go for a jog, watch a movie, whatever, but having a few hours free during the day isn’t a bad way to go.

So that’s my list, but I’m curious to hear from you.  What did you learn in 2014?  Who inspired you and why?  Feel free to leave a comment below or e-mail me at

What’s the Deal With Cleanses? November 13th, 2014

Currently, I work at three different gyms and it’s impossible to go to any of them and not hear the word “cleanse” mentioned a few times per day (or more!).  In many businesses, but in fitness especially, some trends tend to come and go while others stick around for a while.  Right now the cleanse buzz seems to be making the rounds from casual gym goers to heavy lifters to even those who have no interest in exercising at all. It seems everyone knows someone who is either doing a cleanse right now, has done one in the past, or wants to try one in the future.  So what is cleansing?  And is it something all of us should be doing?

If you throw the word “cleanses” into a Google search you get all of 13 million results to browse to your heart’s content.  Major celebrities from Jillian Michaels to Dr. Oz have their own cleanse products and plans and all of the major supplement companies from GNC to Herbal Life to Arbonne have 7 or 9 or 28 or 30 day cleanse options they are promoting to their members and to the general public.  Over the past few months many clients and friends of mine have done one cleanse or another and have had some amazing results in terms of weight and inches lost, increased energy levels and enhanced overall health and wellness.  In a perfect world, obviously, all of us would have super healthy and well balanced diets and there wouldn’t be any need for cleanses at all, but using my Sunday night as an example, homemade macaroni and cheese followed by a super sized ice cream and candy sundae, that’s clearly not the case.  But cleanses are not for everyone and they may not be right for you, so here are a few things to consider before giving one a shot:

  • Think of a cleanse, or a detox, as a means to “reset” your digestive system, i.e., a way to give your digestive system a break.  When you think of everything we eat and drink over the course of a day, a week, a month, a year, our digestive systems are working extra hard if we aren’t giving it the proper vitamins, nutrients, water and fiber, so think of a detox cleanse as a way to clean out your digestive track.
  • I also have clients and friends that are interested in cleanses as a way to lose weight or “kick start” a better diet or better eating habits.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s important to plan for what happens when the cleanse is over, because you can’t cleanse yourself every day for the rest of your life.  It’s not realistic (or safe!), and it’s certainly not too much fun.
  • According to Dr. Brooke Larson, a Naturopathic Doctor in New York City, “Detoxification is something your body – namely your liver – is doing all the time (you’re doing it right now, actually). Our world is full of chemicals, allergens and other excessive gunk like hormones in our meat and dairy, parabens in our skin care and the list goes on.”  One way or another your body needs to get rid of these allergens and chemicals on a regular basis, but those of you that have stomach or digestive issues, or simply don’t have enough fiber or nutrients in your diet, might have issues ridding yourself of everything that your body doesn’t need anyway, and that’s where a cleanse may be a good solution.
  • That said, cleanses are not one size fits all and there are a number of cleanses that I don’t recommend, namely anything that involves only juices, just water or any extended fasting.  Any cleanse that deprives you of ALL of the vital nutrients we need, such as fat, carbs, or protein, is going to be inherently difficult and will simply ravage your metabolism, enhance your cravings and, once the cleanse is over, make it even harder for you to maintain any semblance of a healthy diet.  Chugging green juice for a week or subsisting on water for a few days might cause you to lose a few pounds or inches on your waistline, but they might not be necessary, and they could even be harmful.
  • As I stated above, in an ideal world none of us would need cleanses at all, but since many of us have digestive issues, the best advice I have seen on this topic is from Jillian Teta, who practices at The Naturopathic Health Clinic of North Carolina.  Dr. Teta’s best advice is for each of us is to find “a diet appropriate for you, the ability to break it down, a healthy bacterial population and an intact, healthy small intestine through which you can absorb your nutrition.”  This short article of hers is worth the read.
  • There are two cleanses that I have seen that I like.  One, from Diane Sanfilippo, is called The 21 Day Sugar Detox, and it focuses on removing processed and refined carbohydrates from your diet while teaching you how to eat quality protein, good fat and healthy carbs as an alternative.  Diane is a Holistic Nutritionist specializing in Paleo nutrition, blood sugar regulation, food allergies/intolerances and digestive health, and I’m a huge fan.
  • The second cleanse is from Isagenix, and it is a 30-day program which is making the rounds not only in my area but seemingly all around the country.  I’ve seen this program live and in action and it’s a rough 30-days because you really have to be smart and have the will power to see it through, but it does work.  Isagenix focuses on making sure you have the proper nutrients and vitamins for the whole 30-days while limiting anything processed at all, and their plan is written out and programmed so you simply just follow it down the line.

I have a relatively well balanced diet (my dinner last Sunday night notwithstanding) and I’ve never done a cleanse, but am curious to hear from those who have.  Which one was right for you and how did you decide?  Did you feel better when you were done?  What were the lasting effects, if any?  Feel free to e-mail me at, as I’d love to hear from you.

The Food Cheat — October 16th, 2014

Every once in a while, amidst the chaos of balancing two full time jobs as independent contractors and two adorable yet migraine inducing kids under the age of 3, my wife and I manage to get out of the house and venture into the visible public, surrounded by other human beings our age where we are able to socialize freely and even put our forks down in between actual bites of food.  It’s a rare occurrence for sure, but a quarterly (if we’re lucky) stroll downtown for dinner and drinks is a necessary outlet for our harried and hectic lives.  Many times we will run into people we know and I’ll run into either former or current clients, and the inevitable nod and smile about what we are both eating and drinking is often silently or outwardly acknowledged by both parties.  Sometimes these clients are surprised to see me eating bread, or pasta, or key lime pie (love it), or imbibing a Gin and Tonic (love it even more), or perhaps a much larger than 12-ounce beer.  It can be a bit disarming to see clients in public because we’re totally out of context, but it’s also fun because they can see that, yes, even I, the “kale-loving, protein-shake endorsing, organic fruits and veggies and lean meat and chicken and fish promoting” personal trainer, does in fact take a few liberties with his diet from time to time.  In fact, I do this a lot of the time, and it’s so, so worth it.

There is no such thing as a perfect diet.  It’s impossible to have one and it’s impossible to create one.  In my mind, the perfect diet is one that is best suited for you and one that meshes well with your lifestyle, work, kids, responsibilities, goals, etc.  I strive for consistency throughout the week with my eating habits, but being “good” all the time isn’t possible, and allowing myself to eat freely is necessary to maintain my sanity (and my wife’s) and actually motivates me to create even better habits so I can enjoy the random meal or happy hour from time to time.  With that in mind, here is why the food cheat is good, why it’s necessary and how you can do it without going completely overboard:

  • Don’t obsess.  Enjoy.  I talk to a lot of clients on a Thursday or a Friday that have a busy social calendar planned for the weekend, and some of them are genuinely worried about breaking their diets and coming back to the gym the next week back at square one.  My advice:  Stop worrying and enjoy yourself.  Seriously.  Relieving stress is just as important as eating well, and if you want to have a good time, do it.  But there are ways to do it right, so let’s start there and make sure to …
  • Plan ahead.  Headed to a party or wedding and worried about eating way, way too much?  Eat something before you go!  I know, brilliant, right?  Well, until I started talking to clients I was surprised about how few people actually do this.  Just grab something beforehand with some protein, fiber and a little fat (nuts, seeds, veggies and hummus, almond butter on an apple, etc.) and you won’t be the guy whose stomach grumbles in the middle of wedding vows (I’m pretty sure this has happened to me a few times.)
  • One or the other.  But not both.  If you are at said party or wedding or outing and want to enjoy yourself but still remain consistent, try this:  red wine or beer is better then white wine and mixed drinks.  Why?  Less sugar = fewer calories, and fewer cravings.  This might not work for everyone but I do think it makes sense, and I do know that whenever I have a Gin and Tonic, I definitely want another!  Beer and red wine?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it’s worth a try.
  • Eat and enjoy.  See that tray of bacon wrapped scallops?  Of course you do.  I do too, and I’m gonna enjoy the heck out of it.  And when you can, try for protein and fat as opposed to protein, fat, and starch, why I like to recommend bacon and eggs verses pancakes and toast, for example.  Why so?  Same rule as above.  Less sugar = less cravings and less temptation to indulge in everything else.  Go ahead and go (a little) crazy on the chicken wings, but combining chicken wings and those loaded potato skins might get you into trouble.
  • Combining the two ideas above, balance is a good rule of thumb.  This also goes with the idea of planning ahead.  Maybe have drinks and not dessert, or bread and appetizers and not drinks, etc.  I’ve always been a big believer in balance at my meals.  If I know that I am going to have a bacon cheeseburger (yup, I will, probably soon), I am more than likely skip the french fries and ask for mixed greens on the side.  Again, maybe not all the time, but little things can make those meals go down a whole lot easier.
  • Rules are good, but variety is good too.  My personal rule of thumb used to be “no dessert or drinking during the week.”  That wasn’t so much fun or realistic once the kids came around, so I’ve evolved to the more manageable “as best as I possibly can during the day and balanced at night and on the weekend.”  That one is a bit more vague because I want to allow myself to be realistic.  Again, whatever works for you.
  • Strive for 80 – 90% and you are doing great.  Probably the best diet advice I can give my clients is that it’s impossible to be perfect 100% of the time.  You have to have a tremendous amount of willpower to stay on task and resist temptation, and it isn’t worth the mental stress.  You need to enjoy your life, and you can still have a healthy diet even if you aren’t perfect.  One of my new favorite quotes:  Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Balance.   Consistency.  Planning ahead.  Habits.  Routine.  These aren’t easy to achieve, nor should they be, but being healthy and enjoying yourself at the same time?  That’s a goal that any one of us can strive towards.


Are Supplements for You? — September 18th, 2014

When I was 15 years old I was obsessed with getting bigger and stronger.  I lifted weights almost every day, ate as much as I possibly could and compulsively checked and re-checked my weight for any slight gains, believing that if I could just put on a few extra pounds I would be able to compensate for my extremely limited athletic ability and simply muscle up anyone who I encountered on the basketball court or football field.  One day after school I stopped at the GNC at the local mall and picked up a super sized bottle of Creatine, what was then (the mid 90’s) the hot new item on the supplement market.  The second I brought the bottle home and put it on the kitchen counter my Dad took one look at it, said a few choice words in my general direction, and ordered me to get back in my car and take the bottle back to the store.  So, that was that, and I headed back to the gym with my head down in shame to try and do it the old fashioned way.

Fast forward to the health and wellness world in 2014, where it is almost impossible to go anywhere without hearing about some sort of 30-day cleanse, meal replacement, protein shake, fat burner, energy drink or multi-vitamin and their supposed health benefits.  As a personal trainer I am surrounded by this stuff day in and day out, and I am constantly asked by clients and gym-goers if they should be taking supplements, how much, when, and what are the best ones.  My answer?  It depends.  Worst answer ever, right?  Well, it’s the truth, because each of us has different goals, lifestyles, habits, routines, and maybe most importantly, budgets.  So if you are one of the many thinking about trying a supplement in the near future, here are a few questions to ask yourself and a few things to consider:

  • Do you forget to eat, or do you have a job and/or lifestyle that makes eating regular meals a challenge?  I’m a food lover, I enjoy eating and I will always enjoy eating, so forgetting to eat is a completely foreign notion to me, but I have many clients who simply forget to eat during the course of the day or are too overwhelmed to allow themselves the time for a proper meal.  If you are a mom, bartender, construction worker, mechanic, salesperson, pilot, or server of some sort, to name a few professions I have worked with in the past, right now you might be nodding your head saying, yeah, that sounds like me.  Having a protein shake or bar on hand during the working hours might be a good idea.
  • Do you lack the proper nutrients in your diet as it is and take an inordinate amount of vitamins to compensate?  As I wrote in my previous blog post, I take a fair amount of vitamins but only the ones my body is lacking.  The good thing about certain meal replacements is that they are just that, full meals with all of the major nutrients you might be missing in your normal diet.  Given the deluge of information on what you should and shouldn’t be consuming on a daily basis, a meal replacement shake or bar, for example, might take away the stress of having to remember to take a big old stack of vitamins with every meal.
  • Are you a heavy exerciser who doesn’t eat post-workout?  One of the biggest issues I have with my clients is their lack of eating pre and post workout.  When it comes to eating pre-workout, some of my clients tell me that they don’t want to eat because it upsets their stomach and they then have trouble exercising. That’s perfectly ok, but if you know you are headed to the gym for some strenuous activity you need to get the proper nutrients back in you post-workout.  Scarfing down a plate of grilled chicken and spinach after your workout might not be realistic, but filling up a blender bottle with water and protein powder is pretty simple.
  • Are you struggling to lose weight on your own?  When it comes to diet and nutrition, my goal first and foremost, is to help my clients eat healthier and, in turn, eat “real” food, as opposed to supplements and the like.  But sometimes a proper diet just isn’t enough.  It’s not fair and no fun, but I’ve had many of those same clients struggle with food, because they think that they are eating properly but can’t seem to shed the extra pounds or change their body the way they want to.  Real food is always my first option, but sometimes combining food and supplements, or even using supplements on their own can have positive effects.
  • How much money do you spend on coffee runs to Dunkin Donuts, trips to Wawa or CVS for a snack, or a quick fast food option on the way home from work?  No doubt, supplement products are expensive, and that is usually the first hesitation when people are presented with options.  But if you take a minute to add up all the little food purchases you make during a day or a week, you might be surprised at the final numbers, not to mention the time and energy spent making coffee runs or grabbing a late night snack.  Money is always an issue, for sure, but as I like to tell my clients, sometimes you have to take that money and make an investment in yourself.

So are supplements for you?  Well, as I said above, the answer is … maybe.  But if you are stuck in a rut with your diet and not sure where to go next, they might be the next best bet.

If you are interested in learning about some of the products that I use, how they might benefit you or if you have questions about supplement products in general, feel free to e-mail me at  As always, happy to help.  

My Quest for Health — August 21st, 2014

This past winter was the most miserable winter I can remember.  Not only was it Polar Vortex cold, with dozens of inches of snow, ice, sleet, rain and slush piled on top of one another, but from mid-October until late April, I could have counted on one hand the number of days when I actually felt 100% healthy.  Thankfully I was never bed ridden with the flu or stomach bug or anything along those lines, but I spent most of the winter with a runny nose, achy head, dry eyes, drippy throat and virtually no energy, and no matter how many antihistamine’s, Mucinex’s or Advil’s I took, nothing seemed to help.  Making matters worse it wasn’t until early spring I finally went to see an Allergist to see if they could find the cause.  After two hour long sessions of pricking and injecting me with every allergen known to man, they found a grand total of … nothing.  I was totally fine, allergic to nothing that they could see with the 30 plus needle mark’s on my now sore and half-deformed right shoulder.  I was almost begging the Allergist to find something, anything wrong that they could treat with a nasal spray or some sort of medication or injection, but beyond a possible acid-reflux issue (which, notably, has improved in recent months with a little help from Prilosec) I was back to square one.  So with no visible answers to my woes, I decided to embark on a personal wellness journey, one that will hopefully make me feel better without any more doctors or extra pills.  Ever since that Allergist appointment, I have been on what I call my Quest for Health.

I think this quest actually began informally last summer, in 2013, after a series of stomach issues that became so problematic that I knew I had to make a serious change in my diet.  The quest has included multiple consultations with nutritionists, numerous grocery store runs for items and herbal medicines that I had never heard of, countless hours of blog reading and Twitter scrolling on the latest trends and topics in food and nutrition, giving up some of my most favorite foods and meals, some of them for good, and causing my household grocery bill to skyrocket to mortgage-like proportions.  And do I feel amazing?  Fantastic?  Alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic, every day?  Well, no, not really.  But do I feel better?  Absolutely, and here are a few things that I did:

  • I figured out my Vitamins — If you go into a Whole Foods store, CVS, or even a grocery store, there are entire rows of shelves devoted to Vitamins and Minerals, all touted as being able to boost your immunity, restore your health, provide energy, etc.  But how many vitamin supplements do you really need?  Based on my chats with nutritionists and reading online, not many, so I pared my Vitamin list down to three:  Omega 3’s, Probiotics, and Vitamin D  Why?  Simply because I wasn’t getting enough of them with my regular diet.  And that’s the key.  Vitamins shouldn’t be your diet they should be a part of your diet.  If you have a diet that is well rounded you might not need to take vitamins at all, only where you are deficient.
  • I figured out my dosage and timing of vitamins as well — When I first started taking Omega 3’s and Probiotics, I discovered that I wasn’t taking enough.  According to research, you need over 1,000 EPA + DHA per day of Omega 3’s, and at least 10 billion cultures with your probiotic.  All of this information can get confusing and frustrating (especially for my wife who does most of the searching) while rummaging around in the Vitamin aisle, but you might as well get the most bang for your buck.  I also learned that Omega 3’s need to be taken while eating other fats so they can be more readily absorbed, and Probiotics should be taken in the morning and/or at bedtime, when (theoretically) there isn’t too much going on in your stomach.  Little tips, but very helpful and useful.
  • I got allergy and blood Testing — I actually went to my primary care doctor for blood testing on my Thyroid because I have a history of low Thyroid in my family, but it turned out that while my Thyroid was fine, I was deficient in Vitamin D.  This was surprising given the amount of time I spend outdoors, but not uncommon.  As I stated above, my allergy tests revealed next to nothing except a bit of reflux, which was very frustrating, but also lead me to do all of this research on my own.  If you have any sort of doubt that you aren’t getting enough of a certain vitamin or you think you might be allergic to something, it’s worth it to get checked out.
  • I gave up Peanut Butter, Cashews, Cereal, and Milk — I think between the ages of 20 – 32 there wasn’t a day that went by that my diet didn’t include most or all of the items above.  They were my staples, go-to meals and snacks, but after a series of stomach issues which didn’t respond to small changes, I decided to go cold turkey on those foods, and I did.  While all of those items can be super beneficial for some people (good fat, protein, nutrients, etc.) they can also be very inflammatory, which in turn can lead to stomach distress and sickness.  Exactly what I wanted to avoid, so I did what I had to do.  Not fun, and a bit depressing, but worth it.
  • I started stretching.  A lot — My blog last month detailed how I am learning more about functional mobility and movement, and why asymmetries, imbalances and weakness can be so debilitating over time.  I decided to apply these lessons to myself, so now my own training sessions are devoted mainly towards correcting myself in as many ways as I can.  It’s an ongoing process, but the aches and pains from years past are slowly, slowly, starting to go away, and I don’t plan on stopping until they do.

I guess my Quest for Health is a sort of mid-year new year’s resolution, but I’m not the most patient person so I figured the best way for me to do it was to dive in and go all out.  And I have, and it’s been well worth the effort so far.


Functional Mobility and Movement — July 24th, 2014

A few weeks ago I participated in my first ever Functional Movement Screen.  My guess is that most of you have no idea what that is, and neither did I until a few weeks ago.  However, The Screen and it’s tests of movement have forced me to think twice about my approach to personal training and how I design my clients’ individual workouts.  Without being overly detailed, The Screen is a tool that is used to identify limitations or asymmetries in movement patterns, designed to identify weaknesses and imbalances throughout the body.  It is a simple test that only takes about 10 minutes to perform and when you are done you receive a score on each of the movements, plus a total score for your whole body.  The higher your individual scores (graded on a scale of 0 to 3, with 0 meaning that there is pain associated with that particular movement, up to 3 where you are deemed to have performed the movement without limitation) the less imbalance and asymmetry you have, but the lower your score, obviously, the more imbalance and asymmetry you have.  Needless to say, my individual and total scores left room for improvement.  Some of the issues I have, such as tight hamstrings, hips and calves, I’ve known about for quite some time.  But I also discovered that both of my shoulders, especially my right one, have very limited range of motion and were inhibiting me from doing certain exercises properly.  After reviewing my scores my eyes are now wide open and my personal goal for the rest of the summer is to focus on decreasing these imbalances with very specific stretches, movements, and exercises that I have learned by becoming certified in the Screening process.

As I stated above, this experience has me thinking about how to change what I am doing with my clients, how to better teach them proper form and technique with their exercises, and how to convince them that little things, such as muscle tightness, immobility in certain joints and limbs, and most of all, pain in certain areas, can be harmful in the long run and can prevent them from exercising properly.  When working out, most of us want to do the big stuff (squats, lunges, push ups, sit ups, etc.) without putting in the time and effort to do them properly or focus on the areas that can inhibit and/or help us do those exercises the right way.  Well, I’m here to try to help you understand that with a small amount of time and effort, your workouts will be even more effective.  So, here are a few things to watch out for when you are exercising on your own and a few tips to work out the kinks:

  • Got stiffness?  Yes?  Do something about it.  I’ve always been a huge proponent of stretching before and after working out, but I rarely see people do it unless they are forced to, either by me or because of a particular injury.  But stretching, and stretching properly, can have huge benefits, and really, it just feels good.
  • Warm Up.  Cool down.  What’s the first thing you do when you get to the gym?  Do you head straight to the weight rack?  Hop on the treadmill?  Head right to class?  Either way, you need to get your body properly warmed up and ready to roll.  Ever watch pre-game warmups for the pros, whether in basketball, baseball, football, tennis, etc.?  They get WARM.  REALLY warm.  Sweating-like-crazy warm.  Heart-rate-up warm.  Do you?
  • Are you in any pain?  Anywhere?  The whole “no pain no gain” thing was all Rocky and Mick, but it doesn’t hold true in the gym.  If you have any pain when you are exercising, especially if something has been nagging you for a while, please do something about it.  If you aren’t working with a trainer go see your primary care doctor, Chiropractor, Orthopedist, etc., and have a professional determine if you’re in good health.  I ask my clients to do this for me so that when they come back to me after seeing the doctor I am armed with more information and I become a smarter trainer, especially for them, because of it.
  • Get in front of a mirror and do a body weight squat.  What do you see and/or feel?  Shaky knees?  Stiff hips?  Feet turning out or in?  Heels coming off the ground?  Back arching forward like crazy?  Any or all of these can be signs of imbalances and deficiencies, meaning that, like me, you have small areas that you need to work on before you start to do the big stuff.  A fellow trainer of mine won’t work with anyone until she deems them able to “move” properly.  She’s a smart woman.
  • You see that long hard tube laying next to the wall that no one is using?  It’s called a Foam Roller.  Get on it and go crazy.  This thing changed my life a few years ago. Dramatic statement, I know, but I was having major issues with my legs, they would feel almost like dead weight, and I couldn’t run or jog or anything without them feeling dead tired.  I started using a foam roller and almost immediately my legs were fresher, looser and more limber, and today they still feel great, tight hamstrings still notwithstanding.
  • Balance, balance, balance.  Most of the people I see doing balance exercises in the gym are older and I applaud them for that!  But my true feeling is that everyone, no matter your age or background, should be doing balance exercises regularly.  Not only will this improve your balance, obviously, but you’ll be stronger, more able to tackle the daily grind and maybe even catch yourself during a slip and fall in the winter.  A small thing that can keep you healthy!

It might take you 5 minutes, 10 minutes, whatever, but make a little time to test yourself on some of the items above to see where you could improve.  In the end you are only helping yourself, and that’s why you work out in the first place, right?  Definitely worth the effort.  And if you want to get a quick screen, feel free to let me know and I’ll check you out.

Why I Love Twitter — June 26th, 2014

Those of you that read these posts (my faithful dozen(s), as I like to call you) know my affinity and love for Twitter.  I joined the medium about 3 years ago as a way to grow and promote my business to the eager masses (sarcasm fully intended), but what I really discovered was two things:  I’m an incredibly popular Twitter follow for random Scandinavian teenage hackers and anyone and everyone in the world with a computer and an internet connection can write ridiculous garble in 140 characters or less.  However, what I also discovered was that once you wade through the nonsense, Twitter, if used properly, is truly an amazing tool for learning and growth.  It took me the better part of two years to figure this out, but once I did I’ve been able to make Twitter my ally.  Although the means of using Twitter to promote myself and my business is still sort of a mystery, I really do learn something new every day.  Being a trainer can sometimes be quite isolating, with long gaps between appointments, out-of-the-blue cancellations, and no-shows just part of everyday life.  I like to say to people that the iPhone in general and Twitter more specifically, were created and invented specifically for me.  Or, really, for people with jobs like mine.

Right now I follow 209 people on Twitter.  Some of those are friends and family, others sports columnists and beat writers from my hometown of Cleveland, but the vast majority are trainers, coaches, health experts, wellness bloggers, fitness consultants, and physicians whose knowledge in the field far surpasses my own.  I try to scroll through my feed at least every few days and read as much as I can. To show off how powerful it is for me I wanted to share what I just learned in the last ten minutes while scrolling on my iPhone.  That’s right.  Everything below was gleaned in the last 10 minutes; most of it information that I didn’t know or haven’t heard before.  A sampling:

  • According to research by University of California professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, the happiest people in the world all have the following in common (amongst other things):  They devote a great amount of time to family and friends; they express gratitude for what they have; they are optimistic about their futures; they make exercise a habit; they savor life’s pleasures; and they try to live in the moment (all this via my favorite blogger, Erik Barker.)
  • Barilla Gluten-free Spaghetti has more carbs, less fiber and less protein than Barilla whole grain Spaghetti.
  • Vitamin Water is 72% fructose, which is processed by the liver and then converted to fat which increases the risk for diabetes, cardiovascular liver disease and obesity (
  • A shift in temperature exposure could be a factor to the rise in obesity.  People with more brown fat, which burns energy to generate heat, tend to be leaner and have lower blood sugar levels, meaning that keeping cool might help to keep you thin (Via Science Daily).
  • 18 U.S. markets set World Cup TV ratings records for viewership for the USA – Portugal match from Sunday, June 22nd (Via ESPN Research).
  • Corin and Brian Mullins, a husband and wife team from Gibsons, British Columbia, right outside of Vancouver, have a company called Holy Crap (yep) that makes homemade, gluten free, organic, non GMO breakfast cereals from scratch, using ingredients such as hemp hearts, chia seeds and buckwheat.  Some of their recipe’s look downright amazing.
  • A bit of controversy erupted recently when the coach of the Bosnia-Herzegovinia national Soccer team told his players that they were not allowed to have sex during the World Cup because he feared that it might impact their performance.  However, according to research, it is inconclusive as to whether or not having sex before a match has any influence at all as to how the players actually perform (Via Time Magazine).
  • Half a head of Iceburg lettuce, not traditionally a popular food item with nutritionists and others because of it’s perceived lack of nutrients, actually has significantly more alpha-carotene (a disease fighting antioxidant) than either romaine lettuce or spinach (Via Men’s Health).
  • A Dutch study found that consuming a gram of red pepper flakes 30 minutes prior to a meal reduced calorie intake by 16 percent.  The research also suggested that its main ingredient, capsaicin, might help kill cancer cells (Via Men’s Health).
  • Michael Boschmann and his collegues from Berlin’s Franz-Volhard Clinical Research Center estimate that if a person increases his or her water consumption by 51 ounces a day, he would burn an extra 17,400 calories per year, around 5 pounds of body weight.  And Dr. Brenda Davy, an associate professor at Virginia Tech, found that people who drank water before a meal consumed an average of 75 fewer calories at that meal (Via Men’s Fitness).
  • A human being was spotted recently at a Phoenixville area Dunkin’ Donuts ordering a bagel with raspberry jelly, cutting the bagel into squares with his own personal pair of scissors from home, eating the bagel with a plastic fork and knife while dipping the bagel into his coffee (ordered specifically with extra sugar and just a “tad” of cream).  Ok, this was not learned on Twitter, but I did actually see this happen right before my own eyes while writing this blog post at a local Dunkin’ Donuts.  Seriously.

So in just 10 minutes, with minimal effort and even just a quick read through of various posts and articles, I learned information that can not only help me with my job and be passed on to my clients, but also a few fun facts that I found interesting (even the bit about my elderly friend at Dunkin’ Donuts.  No doubt that I will pass that along as a future Twitter post).  My best advice if you have a Twitter account:  Clean it up as much as you can to find and follow those that interest you and use it to your advantage – whether it is in business or for fun.