Monday, January 2, 2012

Ask The Dust* (New Year Future Paranoid Blues)

 "Sometimes, we have to do a thing in order to find out the reason for it. Sometimes our actions are questions, not answers."
                                                                                                    - John Le Carre

Sub-atomic tracer

You are dying, you are decaying, one day you will be gone, you will be dust.

The inevitable question: Why exercise? Why bother eating well? When the end is certain, a guaranteed result.

The sub-atomic uncertainty that forms you at the quantum level is dancing with energy. On the first day of the New Year, I see the streets full of people trying to run. Something, deep inside of their DNA is expressing itself, their genetic code is telling them to move.

Your body wants to move.

You were born to move.

Life is happening out on the hard edges. The soft middle is overflowing with people who abandoned themselves along time ago.

You know what to do, your gut instinct is telling you what to do. But do you have the guts to follow it, or will this year dissolve into all the others.

The particles that make you up have been here since the beginning of time, they will be here once you are gone. Regardless of what you do.

The blank piece of paper in front of you. An arbitrary year zero, you can start again whenever you want. The only limitation was the fixed mindset, fear of failure stopped you all those other times. The growth mind set, why not, what the hell have you got to lose this time?

The blank piece of paper. People will tell you to write your goals down, to give yourself a time limit, to make them specific. It doesn't work. You will fail, writing is not enough. Action is all that counts.

The information age will steal your soul, gigabytes of junk noise will drown you. You must go where it is quiet. Find the quiet centre. Find the person you were going to be. You already know the answers.

You already know what is important to you and what is not.


Its simpler than you think. Want to start running? Go out and walk, then run a bit, then walk a bit.

Pick heavy things up, and put them over your head, magical things will happen.

But you must want it, you must need it, the hunger will drive you. When others falter and try to drag you back, you must push on.

The things you carried your whole life. Let them go, no one else will.

Last Thoughts On Running - Why You Should Run Long At Least Once

In darkness you creak out of bed
Mirror reflects some stranger
Who are you
The cold air outside hits
You're running
Artificial sodium sun lights
Past traffic, diesel petrol fumes mix with the rain
And you're still running
Windscreen wipers, engine noise, traffic death march
You are apart, anonymous faces inside tin boxes
Maybe some of them understand
Lost lives commuting
And you're still running
For a moment you're not one of them

Grey Upon Grey
Iron Sky
Your soul seeps into the cracked concrete
Years Passing, Time Burning
And you're still running
Sometimes legs numb
Sometimes like lead wading through treacle
And sometimes, just sometimes
Skimming the surface
Rare moments
Searching for those moments
You keep running

The road unwinds
Another day
Past the shops to let, the closed hospitals, the broken down buildings
The road outlives them all
You're still running
Occasional eye catching of those trapped in traffic
Through wiper blades, they see
They understand
When they get home, they will abandon the day
They will be running too

Then the trails
The dust, the mud, the snow
Sometimes hard, sometimes soft
The trail unwinds
Your mind unwinds
And you're still running
All the years compress
The lyrics of a song from light years ago
You remember, every conversation you ever had
And it only lasts 10 minutes
Everything, you've ever said and you can only remember 10 minutes
You're still running
Waking dream visions
That girl you went to school with 20 years ago
You try to remember her surname
The guy you worked with a lifetime ago
Where  did they all go
Maybe they're running too

Replay all those situations
Replay all those moments
But here and now
You're still running
As all those memories stream
Its not morose & its not nostalgic
Because you're moving
And the trail knows
Right now there is no future, there is no past

Sun up
Sweat, heat, blood singing in your head
Seasons fall away
Any time of day
You're still running

The horizon calls
Run towards it
Never ending
Curvature of the earth
You've been running since birth

Forlorn half light
Come home
Take off the day like an overcoat
Your job is not you
And you're running
Could be pavement
Could be trail
Doesn't matter

Past the yellow lights
People trapped in humdrum lives
Behind windows
They stare at blue tubes
And black mirrors
They'll never know

Its pain, its real, its flow
Who are you
You know
You run
The dust kicks up
The dust knows
The dust is you
And you are the dust
And you're still running

Rocky quote to start the year with:

"Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow. Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!"

*Ask The Dust is a book by John Fante. It's not about running, fitness or the new year

Saw this picture on Neghar Fonoonis blog

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Is The Entire Fitness Industry BS? Part 2: A review of Les Mills CXWORX and what is a master trainer anyway?

In part 1 of this series I covered personal trainers. In this part I will review the CXWORX class I took part in at the same conference as well as trying to figure out what a master trainer is.

CXWORX is a core program put together by Les Mills somewhere in deepest darkest New Zealand. In case you don't know Les Mills are the same people who brought you the body training systems programs: bodybalance (basically yoga to music), bodyjam (like Zumba but for people who have co-ordination and rhythm), bodycombat (punching & kicking into the air and making a travesty of the martial arts), bodystep (like step but with the word 'body' in front), bodyattack (jumping jacks & spotty dogs to music) and bodypump (actually makes women start weight training and using free weights, so generally this is a good thing, I have a few problems with it like the awful overhead press technique they recommend and doing bicep curls for 3 minutes with a population that is mainly interested in weightloss, and always doing very high reps but otherwise at least they are lifting weights).

CXWORX is a 30 minute core workout which according to their website is 'based on scientific cutting-edge research' (more on this later). See the promotional video below.

The Good, The Bad & The Stupid

Firstly the class was taught by a 'master trainer' who was hot and had some of the best delts I have ever seen, and if she doesn't compete in figure competitions she needs to! Unfortunately, I can't remember her name, so sorry lads, no photos or links.

We started by doing some supine leg lowers, where we were instructed to brace our cores. Excellent, I thought, the concept of bracing has entered the main stream, no longer are we 'pulling in' or hollowing.

However, we then started doing some crunches, and sit ups and then oblique crunches. Great, flexion and rotation, I could feel my lumbar discs starting to de-laminate (I have a confession here, oh hot master trainer, I actually cheated and did McGill back saver curl ups and dead bugs at this point).

Now, at this point, remember the CXWORX website says the program is based on cutting edge scientific research, although on the very same page is a picture of a bloke doing a twisting oblique crunch. No, no, no! Maybe, they've got access to some cutting edge scientific research that I haven't seen, maybe they read McGill(2002) and McGill(2004) and thought, no, all the research on repeated spinal flexion being bad for your back must be wrong.

Or maybe they read Contreras & Schoenfeld in the NSCA journal and thought, yep, these guys are right. (Of course, they're not, listen to this audio interview from McGill for some insights, knowledge bombs and McGill being diplomatic)

Or maybe, they thought, you know, even though the evidence is overwhelming that crunches are a stupid idea, people want to do them,if you have no history of back pain you can get away with them, so we have to put them otherwise people wont come to our class.

However, if 4 out of 5 people experience back pain at some point in there life there is a good chance that someone in the class has a back issue. And seeing that an overwhelming number of people have a head forward, shoulders rounded, Janda upper crossed posture; there is a 100% chance that there is someone in the class who doesn't need to groove in this bad posture with crunches.

Anyway, that was the bad part of the class.

The good part. The instructor said the core is not just the abs but the posterior chain & glutes as well. So we did, some band work for the glutes, x-band type walks, monster type walks, as well as some band resisted bird dogs. All good.

The instructor even mentioned the 'back slings' of the body, again excellent, I don't know if she was consciously referencing the myofascial anatomy trains & slings or it was something that was in the script she had been given, but it was a nice touch.

We also did some exercises with a weight plate, similar to a snatch balance and sotts press, see these videos here & here to see what these exercises are. Again, it was good to see the instructor emphasising the whole body training approach to hit the core. I think I might even use these weight plate versions with some clients!

There were some planks & hand walk outs, again all good. Though I'm not sure if the average class attendee is going to be doing these. Plus, one of the down sides of all the Les Mills programs is the instructors don't have time to go out and correct anyone's technique, they have to keep with the music.

We did some other resistance band, side lunge stuff, which was a bit too Gary Gray, Paul Chek functional folly for my liking.

There were some side bridges, at which point we were instructed to pull our abs in. Which made me think, maybe the instructor just said 'brace' earlier because it was in the script and really didn't understand why we were bracing in the first place. Side bridges, went into some side oblique crunches, again pointless, especially for a class population who generally don't want their waist to be wider. Do some asymmetrical carries instead.

There were a few more crunches to finish, to really work on our 'six pack'. Of course, the six pack is really a matter of genetics & diet, and don't forget the main action action of the rectus abs is to resist rotation, not forward flexion (MCGill, 2002, 2004 etc). Again, their cutting edge scientific research must be different to mine.

They Almost Get It

The instructor did some good things, but also some stupid things. Its like they haven't quite connected the dots. Which makes me wonder, do the really get it, do they really understand bracing, and flexion or are they regurgitating  a script and haven't read any of the research, or have been highly selective in their interpretation.

Its like someone gave them the house fully built, but if they really understood the blue prints they could build their own house, and have a deep understanding from the foundations up.

Its not like this stuff is even new anymore. Check out the year on the first McGill reference, 2002, this information has been in the public realm for a decade!

Should I get CXWORX?

Firstly, let me say I've never quite understood the BTS model, you have to buy the licence from them. And in most of the programs the exercises never change (bodyjam excepted because its a dance routine). So you are essentially buying a music playlist. Just in case you can't work out how to use the playlist function on your ipod, Les Mills have done all the hard work for you. And by the CXWORX instructors own admission, the music for this program is deliberately low and in the background.

Secondly. If you are  a fitness professional and you can't actually workout how to put together a 30 minute core routine you have either taken a blow to the head with a power club or you need to change jobs. If you really have no imagination Les Mills have done the thinking for you.

Lastly, I think I could design a better core routine right now. Get rid of those crunches and replace them with some dead bug variations would be a start.

What is a master trainer anyway?

In the last few weeks I've met quite a few 'master trainers'. Now in my mind, if you use the phrase 'master trainer' I expect the re-incarnation of Mel Siff to turn up, and if he's not available, at the very least I expect Pendlay, Pavel or Abadjiev to turn up; not someone who has bought one too many tight black technical t-shirts.

I'm not sure how you become a master trainer. Do you have to go to the Dagobah system and train with Yoda?

Yoda: Training master trainers for the past 500 years

It takes a certain amount of confidence to call yourself a 'master' if you are not an 80 year old Japanese martial arts expert.

Champions of the stupid*

(*stolen from Charlie Weingroff, as used in this audio interview here and in this blog post)

It doesn't make sense, that if you were a master trainer, you would still be doing crunches. But this is not the only example, I've come across recently.

I get a magazine called Fit Pro Network sent to me, as part of my job role I get it free. It's aimed at personal trainers and studio instructors. In the latest issue there was an explanation of how to do a swiss ball crunch. Firstly, the person who wrote it is apparently a 'Vipr master trainer', which is obviously an oxymoron. And secondly, a swiss ball crunch, are you kidding me! If you are reading a magazine aimed at fitness professionals I'm hoping you don't need anyone to tell you how to do a crunch on the swiss ball.

And, also you guessed it, why the hell are you doing a swiss crunch in the first place. Yes, rectus abdominis activation in increased, but compared to a normal crunch the spinal load doubles!(McGill 2004, again). I'm sure the master trainer knows this, otherwise he is just another champion of the stupid!

WTF: I will hunt you down. The kettlebell & battling rope will be my weapons of choice in the game of functional training top trumps
Last example. This time a technogym master trainer, who had a degree in biomechanics. Don't get me wrong, he was a nice guy. and up to a certain point he was making sense. But then like a lot of master trainers and functional gurus he took it too far. One minute, we're looking at the cardio wave machine. fair enough, lateral movement, gets you out of the sagittal plane. But then he jumps the shark - not only could we be on the cardio wave we could also be throwing medicine balls and swinging kettlebells on it, or as one of my staff said in a gently mocking way 'we could stand on top of it and then jump onto it'. Kettlebells are good enough already on the ground, you don't need to be doing CV at the same time.

Its the old, bullshit baffle brains concept. Maybe a newbie inexperienced trainer is falling for this and believing them, because they are master trainers, and all knowing and all seeing. If only they new the truth.

Without bagging on the same master trainer, he then went onto to say how the cardio wave could activate the VMO, and help people with knee problems. Hmm, lack of VMO is a symptom not a cause of knee pain in my opinion. See here again. And then like it was Flex magazine in 1993, went on to say how you could change the muscles you were working by changing foot position on the leg extension (yeh, or I could do some squats instead).

Also a note to all master trainers, please don't show me the Smith machine (and also a note to all equipment sales reps whether they be Life Fitness or Technogym, the Smith machine is not a transition between machines and free squats, its a completely different movement pattern, don't try and tell me this!)

Masters of nothing

I still don't know how you become a master trainer. But there is a good chance they know a lot less than you think. The same goes for celebrity trainers. I see Matt Roberts has a new book out on running (no link on purpose). Matt Roberts is the patron saint of master trainers, he may have even patented the haircut that most of them have. Do me a favour, if you are going to buy a book on running, get this one by Matt Fitzgerald 'The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel' or The Runners Body, or the book FIT by Kilgore, Hartman & Lascek and read the chapter on endurance exercise. In short, go to some people who have some in-depth knowledge and deep experience.

Question everything, especially self styled masters.