This was one of those moments when you realize why you do what you do, and why you love it. A big reason I became a coach was to help people find their inner strength and how it would help them in so many other facets of life. I think, and really hope, the TSC was one of those events for people.
Way too often, we allow our doubts and fears to rule our lives. We never try the things we should or test our strength because of doubt and fear of the unknown. The gym is one place that we allow this to happen a lot. It is good to listen to your body and know when too much is too much, but if we never try, how do we know what we can do?
Recently, I read a quote about a goal that stuck with me. “Goals are like planning for a vacation. If you don't know where you're going how do you pack for it? If you don't know what your goal is, how do you plan for it?” Many people, including myself, have had fluffy, non specific goals set. “I want to be leaner/stronger/insert random non-specific thing here.” However, the when and how is never fully defined. The TSC is a great goal to set in place, create a plan for, and complete.
I love food. I love it to celebrate with, to mourn with, to ease sadness with, to plan trips and days around; I just love food. For a good chunk of my life, I also hated food and, frankly, feared it. It was a cause of angst as a teenager and most of my 20’s. I had a love hate relationship with food and with dieting. I was on WeightWatchers on and off since I was 16, I have done south beach, I have restricted calories, I have tracked food, but I have never succeeded with any of these for longer than a few weeks. For the last 2 years, I have not been on any specific “diet”. I follow some basic nutrition rules that work for me and been the most successful.
So what changed 2 years ago?
By the time you read this, I will have hacked away at the utter bullshit I will end up writing about my day to day life and only give the stuff that matters. It will give you what I eat, and why I eat it, and how I came to making these choices through a rational, honest and committed structure. You will also notice that many of my feelings around food mirror those of Joey Tribbiani and that lad Bruce from Matilda.
#1. Get out of your comfort zone. Do what makes you happy.
This lesson is two in one. Do what makes you happy and step out of you comfort zone. It is two in one because for most of us, to pursue what makes us happy may mean we have to get uncomfortable at first.
As most know, my career path took a big turn only a year and a half ago. At that time, I decided to leave my steady, awesome benefits package, travel to faraway places, job of 8 years at MIT and take a leap of faith on a career change into the personal training world. It was scary, but I was unhappy at MIT and training made me extremely happy. I gave my notice and decided to pursue something I had always wanted to do, but had had a lot of self-doubt around. I thought I wasn’t good enough be a trainer and that it was too late in my career to jump. Looking back, I wish I had believed in myself earlier and taken the leap.
After I left MIT I felt relieved, but I also had a lot of other changes come. I started sleeping, I lost weight and I felt a lot better physically. I did not realize the toll of being unhappy for the majority of my day took on my physically. It was easy to know the mental, but the physical was something I was unaware of.
The lesson here for me is to take the leap to something you know you want to do. Get uncomfortable. Don’t let your brain talk your heart out of something, don’t let self-doubt be the thing that stops you. It took me a few years to accept I could be good at being a personal trainer. I was good at what I did at MIT and I was comfortable. But comfortable doesn’t get you anywhere; whether it is with your training or with your life. You should do things that challenge you both in the gym and out of the gym. If you don’t, how will you ever know your potential? This lesson came back around while training for the Iron Maiden at SFG. I knew there was a big chance I would miss the weighted chin up, but I had trained for 6 months and put in all the work I could and wanted it. I went back and forth as to whether it would be more embarrassing (uncomfortable) to fail in front of 100 people, or more frustrating to not even try. I decided to be uncomfortable and attempt it. I failed. However, I only failed the strength test. I passed my own test to push myself out of my comfort zone and try something.
Try to do something or things that challenges you and pushes you out of your comfort zone. I promise you will surprise yourself with your potential.
#2. Thinking everyone and every body are the same.
Most of my friends are athletic and work out all the time; that is how we met. We all have our workout that we love- for me, kettlebells, for others, running (we obviously didn’t meet doing that) and for some, classes around the city. We all look very different and for a long time, that was an issue for me. In my head, I thought I should look like the runner or the yogi, because we all put in the same number of hours at our respective gyms and I ate better and drank less than they all did. I was constantly comparing myself to them. Looking back, I wish I had stopped doing that a lot earlier and understood that everyone is different and every body is different. Though I can’t run a marathon, I can move a lot heavier weight than most of my friends. But that should not matter. What matters is we are all healthy and happy with what we do. We find happiness in our respective workouts, we find balance with our nutrition, and do what works best for us.
I always tell my clients, if you are happy and healthy, that is what matters. However, your happiness should not be based on what you look like compared to your friends; it should be what your body can do for you, and you only.
Let me be straight though. This is a hell of a lot easier said than done. I have that moment of doubt now and then, but then I remind myself that we are all different. Lessons are not something you learn once and never have to learn again; especially the ones we have discussed here. We must be reminded now and again of these lessons.
#3. Train Smart, not just for the sweat effect.
I love a good spin class just like everyone else does. My heart is pumping, my clothes are soaked through and I am exhausted. I used to do this 5-6 times a week and when I was not seeing changes in my body, I thought it was not because of my workout, but because of something else. Once I started weight training, my entire body changed. I lost weight, my clothes became too big and I looked much thinner. What took me a lot of time to understand was even though I was not walking out of the gym feeling like I had almost died, covered in sweat, I was still getting in a workout.
These days, I train for an hour to an hour and half. I train hard and I leave feeling tired, not wrecked. I am able to train the next day and can get in 6 sessions a week. If there is a day where I feel absolutely exhausted, I let myself rest. I never did this years ago. I trained 6 days a week and if I missed a session, I was stressed and upset. Now, if I miss a day, it is ok because I am listening to what my body is telling me to do.
The lesson here is not all workouts are going to leave you in a puddle on the ground. That does not mean you didn’t get a good training session in. Being in a puddle on the ground doesn’t mean that either. Train smart, train well and listen to your body. Lastly, love your body.
Over the past few years, mistakes have become something I've come to enjoy rather than take negatively, because learning from my mistakes has not only made me a more solid coach, but a better human as well. In my career a few things stick out in my head that I wish I had known earlier in my journey as a strength coach.
#1 - Emphasis on Consistent Programming
The human body is constantly adapting and adjusting, and the stresses we place on the body through exercise are what trigger adaptation. When I first started weight training in high school, I was lifting weights 4-5 days per week and eating literally anything I could get my hands on (thanks, Panera for the gains). Soon enough, I learned that I could not just randomly come into the gym and do a few push ups, then some seated pull downs with the cable machine. There had to be some sort of consistency, some sort of "game plan."
This went on for a year or so until I began my transition to becoming a coach. I researched everything from bodybuilding routines to max deadlift programs and then tried them out on myself. That was when I started to get results; from the consistency of following a specific, smart, and well thought-out program with an end goal in sight. Think of someone who is "fit" or "jacked" in your eyes - have you ever asked them how long it took to get there? It took me 12 years of consistent weight training and eating lots of proteins and veggies. Consistency always reigns king. Do your research into a program or hire a coach, but most importantly stick with something long enough to yield results.
#2 - Keep it Simple
I really like to make things more complicated than necessary. This is something that I am always striving to work on. Ill admit it, when I was a novice coach I made my clients perform squats on a Bosu ball( happy that I got that off my chest). I realize now that there was no benefit to having them do that. When I think about my own training at that time, I wasn't doing any of those things. I was squatting heavy, deadlifting heavy, and pressing heavy shit over my head and seeing results. Yet, for some reason, I subjected my clients to over-complicated, unnecessary, and fancy exercises for the sake of variety. When in reality, the basics were enough.
You can apply this to anything in life, whether it's your training, nutrition or even your mindset. Stick to the basics, be consistent with them, perfect them, and then perfect them some more.
"An old trick well done is far better than a new trick with no effect" - Harry Houdini
Mistakes are my middle name but two stand out as the biggest blocks in my progress in my years as a coach:
- Not getting a mentor/coach sooner.
- Believing there was a one-size-fits all _(diet/exercise method/etc.)_.
Mistake #1: Not getting a mentor/coach sooner cost me years of growth in my own lifting and subjected my clients to years of bad coaching.
Because of life circumstances I was out on my own soon after I started coaching. I got results, but was terrified of asking for help as a coach because it would expose me as someone who had no idea what she was doing (um... true). Instead I read books and articles, gaining knowledge and "cues" without building the art and skill of coaching.
When I finally got over myself, I learned more in one year of working and training 1:1 with Steve DiLello at Total Performance Sports than I ever learned from reading countless strength training books, coaching CrossFit or bootcamp classes, and privately training clients over the previous four years combined.
Lesson: That thing you're resisting/avoiding is where your biggest opportunity for growth lies. Get curious about it and see what happens!
Mistake #2: I believed there was a one-size-fits-all diet or exercise method to happiness, health, and wellness.
The reason I am here today is because I began a quest for the healthiest way to live over 10 years ago to lose 20+ pounds of fat and effortlessly keep it off. But there-in lies a flaw… there’s no “healthiest”… only healthful-right-now…
… in your current circumstances
… in your current schedule
… and is easy to follow-through on
As I learned there’s no single right way to move or eat, I became a much more pleasant person to be around. I was able to relax into a healthy lifestyle for myself and help others build the habits that really create change instead of an all-or-none mentality.
Lesson: Eating is a tool. Exercise is a tool. The method doesn’t matter, but the stimulus to take you closer to or further from your goals does. Find what works best for you, right now, today, and make it a default habit to fall back on when life hits the fan.
For the next few weeks, each Ethos coach will share a few mistakes they made in the past and a few things they wish they had started doing earlier. First up, Coach Crush.
#1 – Worrying about the 1%
When I started to become seriously interested in training and coaching, like many others in the industry, I became obsessed with what I call the 1%. Tons of my energy and effort was put towards figuring out what supplements were the best, which specialized exercises were needed to hit which body parts, and which set and rep scheme was ideal.
When in reality I should have been focusing on the 99% (the stuff that actually makes the difference); which include consistently: training well, eating real food, and sleeping as much as possible. It’s amazing what happens when you battle the bullshit and focus on the simple things that really matter.
#2 – Not Getting a Coach Sooner
Since the age of 13, training has always been something that’s come pretty naturally and also made sense to me. However, when trying to coach and train myself, it was really hard. It was difficult to objectively look at myself and make smart decisions– everyone tends to think they’re a unique snowflake that needs a special training program, and I was no different.
But in reality, 90% of the time you just need to do the very basic shit and do it well – over and over and over. This is where having a coach is brilliant; having someone to take an objective look at you, reaffirm that you’re not a unique snowflake, make you do the basic shit, do it well, and do it over and over and over.
*Bonus Content - it’s also okay to accept that there are smarter people in this world and you can trust them to help you.*
#3 – Lacking Patience
I’ve heard many older and wiser people point out that in today’s society everyone wants everything and they want it now. Training and dieting are no different. Throughout high school & college I’d train and diet one way for two weeks and expect to see some noticeable results – and if I didn’t I’d completely change my approach.
I did this over and over and over until I started hearing smart people echo the same idea: if something is good for you it probably won’t give you immediate benefits. Consistency over the long term will always trump intensity in the short term; be patient and learn to the love the process.
The kettlebell arm bar is the single best shoulder mobility and stability drill you can practice. It gives the best bang for your buck with the most functional application to both specific training movements and daily life. Not only that, but it is simple to perform if the movement is safely understood and applied.
Let’s discuss why we need the arm bar, and when and how to employ it.
“The key to happiness in life is putting heavy weight overhead.”—Jon Engum, Master SFG
Why Is the Arm Bar Needed?
Given the daily anatomical position held by most of the athletes who walk through the doors of our facility, we see more excessive internal rotation, stiff tissue, and poorly moving joints than is preferable. This can stop in their tracks athletes who previously may have thought they were ready to start “finding the key to happiness.”
Yes, the kettlebell, when held overhead, inherently encourages improved range of motion and stability at the shoulder. With the elbow locked out, the shape and structure of the kettlebell moves the humerus into a packed position within the glenoid cavity of the shoulder joint. The lats then stabilize this position and—voila! Boulder shoulders, right? Not quite. Your athlete might be thinking along these lines, too, but there is a little more to the situation than that—mobility and stability to start.
Think of the muscular system as a patchwork quilt: a series of structures and seams that are interconnected. If you were to pull a thread from a seam at one end of the quilt, then the patches attached farther down the chain would move, too, as would any corresponding sections. So, like the quilt, our entire system can be effected by one area of issue or “pulled thread.” Tight shoulders then, aren’t just tight shoulders.
Let’s go back to our athlete who has spent all day sitting. As the anterior tissues of the upper torso are “crushed short” by the arms reaching forward for the computer, the opposite is true of the posterior muscles and fascia that are left “locked long” over the upper back. These two compounding directions of load eventually leave the spine—the thoracic spine, in particular—in rough shape.
When one section of the spine is stiff, the body finds other structures to move in order to make an action happen. When our thoracic spine is stiff, the body typically resorts to using the lumbar spine. Ask an athlete with poor shoulder mobility to place his or her hand overhead and the athlete will likely demonstrate a considerable lumbar extension curvature in doing so.
Encouraging or even allowing that athlete to then load an overhead position is going to cause some sacrifice of a safe spine position while compounding poor joint and breathing mechanics in the process.
As Gray Cook noted in Movement, “adding load to dysfunction leads to stronger dysfunction.”
Enter the Arm Bar
The shoulder is a joint with a great capacity for movement but one that is often found stiff because of how long it spends in one position throughout the day. The tissues that surround the shoulder—such as the pecs, deltoids, and biceps anteriorly and the lats, traps, and rotator cuff posteriorly—are susceptible to the daily stiffening that causes poor joint mechanics.
The arm bar mobilizes the shoulder, and as the arm bar begins to stretch and move these tight tissues, these very same muscles need to react to stabilize the bell. In a “packed” position, the arm bar allows the scapula to retract, so the shoulder blade moves over the rib cage toward the spine, reversing the motion of a seated posture and internal rotation of the shoulder.
The arm bar encourages the shoulder to move freely without any major force application. As the mobility of the joint increases, the demands on the muscles surrounding the shoulder are increased also. Consequently, the athlete’s ability to control and move the kettlebell steadily to an effective position will be improved. This is stability. Stability and stiffness are not to be confused. A stiff joint is a joint that is intended to move, but doesn’t.
Performing the Arm Bar
The kettlebell arm bar is featured at length in the SFG Level I Certification and Manual. If you are interested in becoming a better coach, athlete, and all-around human, I strongly advise attending a Certification.
Use these pictures, video, and instructions to help you build the arm bar into your training.
- Lay on your back. Set-up with a light bell in your left hand. Press the left arm to lock out for the entirety of the movement. The starting position should look like that of a get-up.
- Bring the stance narrow and the right hand vertically overhead, palm up.
- Using your left leg, drive the torso into a roll, using the right leg and right arm as the axis.
- Place your left knee on the ground at right angle from your hip. Head rests on right bicep.
- Stacking the shoulders and the hips, begin to rotate the torso, leaving the kettlebell at “proprioceptive vertical.” Proprioceptive vertical describes the center of mass over the base of support. If the bell is big enough, the center of mass may be over the shoulder joint and the arm appear tilted. This is only usually the case with larger bells.
- Flex your left shoulder. Use your lat to pull the shoulder blade down, packing the joint into a stable position while still relaxing your neck and resting your head on your right bicep.
- Begin to straighten out both legs. Your knees should lock and your toes should point.
- In this position, you can now start a breathing rhythm that coincides with a glute contraction. Contract your left glute and exhale simultaneously. The left side of the chest will follow this rhythm also slowly getting closer to the ground with each rep.
- Allow the shoulder blades to pull together but never up. Do not shrug. Pack the lats down and allow for the scapula to slide over the rib cage smoothly.
- After five or so breath/contractions, slowly reverse the movement. Return to a supine lying position before haloing the bell safely and repeating on the opposite side.
Start by performing three reps on each side, holding for five breaths/contractions. Use a light bell to begin with. The purpose of this drill is not excessive range of motion or load. The integrity of the joints, muscles, and the movement should be respected at all times. I would advise females to use 10-12kg and males to use 16-20kg to begin with, but choose what you feel is appropriate for your level and needs.
Where and When to Use the Arm Bar
Used as a stability exercise, the arm bar fires the myriad of primary and secondary muscles that are required for strong and healthy shoulders in a multitude of pressing and pulling exercises. As a mobility drill, the unique placement of load, along with the position of the surrounding tissues and joint structures during the exercise, makes the arm bar the ideal preparatory drill for those on a quest for overhead strength and pain-free posture.
It is no coincidence that the arm bar mirrors the movement patterns of both the get-up and portions of the windmill. These drills tax the fascial slings of the body to position themselves adequately for force production, movement capacity, and strength application. The crossover from such drills into daily movement and sport is profound. Segments of the get-up are found in acts ranging from getting out of bed to striking a tennis ball. And the windmill teaches us to position our spine safely while performing posterior hip tilt—something we often do incorrectly when bending to pick something from the floor or tie our laces.
The arm bar is for everybody—athletes and general population members alike. There are very few people who couldn’t benefit from more thoracic mobility and an improved, efficient posture. Now, get to work—and watch your shoulder range of motion bloom, your posture open, and your proclivity for pressing heavy things get heavier.
Following on from our previous article, this piece looks at the correct way to roll to elbow in the turkish get-up. Learning this foundational movement will help you own the exercise and progress safely with weight. Understanding how to pack the shoulder and contract the abdominals has many daily uses and benefits, from bending to pickup a bag to swinging a baseball bat.
Check out the short tutorial video below to learn more!
TGU: Drills to improve the roll to elbow. Try these simple and effective drills from Ethos Coach Gerilyn to build strength through the abs and obliques, helping to improve the essential and often tricky "roll to elbow" in the turkish get-up. Check out the video below to see how!
This post is dedicated to a simple and effective power, strength and conditioning movement that is essential to every humans movement. Jumping is in our DNA, yet we practice it rarely. Check the video below for a breakdown of the jump squat and how you can generate more power, strength, control and overall athleticism whilst practicing a fundamental movement pattern that will make many other facets of your training, sports and play more effective. Let's jump to it people!