Coaching a swim across the English Channel

Captain Matthew Web 1875

Captain Matthew Web 1875

In 1875, Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim across the English Channel from Dover, England to Calais, France. Since then, fewer than 1500 people have accomplished the same feat. With a success rate of 50%, equal to Mt Everest summit attempts, just over 100 people successfully swam from point to point last year. This September, my uncle, Tom Bell, hopes to become one of them. A 19 nautical mile swim at its narrowest point, approximately 36km, in an unpredictable, frigid tide, that changes every 6hrs, could take upwards of 12hrs to complete in good conditions. Official sanctioning bodies limit swimmers to don nothing more than a speedo, cap and googles, as they brave the elements timed during seasonable high water temperatures in the 50s. 800 boats cross the channel daily, the world's busiest shipping channel. . With the help of an officially sanctioned boat captain, myself, and a crew of 3, Tom will wade into the water on an early morning the week of September 13, putting his faith in his team and his training.

Hudson 10k 

Hudson 10k 

VO2 Max Testing

VO2 Max Testing

For the past two years I have coached Tom remotely, sometimes joining him in open water training swims, races, and channel pacing. At 44yrs, he swims 6 days per week for 2hrs hours or more, covering an average of 35km weekly. Outside of the pool hes improved his strength and power with twice weekly strength and conditioning workouts. He's assessed and improved his VO2 Max - a powerful indicator of aerobic performance, has worked on his anaerobic threshold - critical for racing rapidly changing tides, has refined his mechanics and efficiency with countless hours of swimming drills, tailored by the help of the Functional Movement Screen, and honed and refined a specific nutrition strategy essential for fueling an exhausting and time sensitive 12 hour swim. In preparation, he s competed in the Little Red Lighthouse Hudson 10k in New York City - a 2+ hr swim up the Hudson River under the George Washington Bridge, participated in the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim twice - a temperamental 24 mile race in the deceptively beautiful Tampa Bay, and his biggest accomplishment to date, the 22 mile swim across the Catalina Channel in California. His completion of the English Channel will bring him one swim away from completing the Triple Crown of open water swimming - The English Channel, Catalina Channel, and Manhattan Island. A feat fewer than 100 people in the world have accomplished!

Tampa Bay Marathon Swim

Tampa Bay Marathon Swim

Tom is dedicating, and raising money with this swim, for the I AM ABLE Foundation. An organization supporting disabled individuals through fundraising, fitness opportunities, and motivation. Consider supporting him and the organization through this link: I AM ABLE

Your Metabolism on Cardio

Finding my email exchanges with clients, family and friends to be great sources for postings. Below I share my thoughts on weight loss plateaus on a high volume steady state running program, and low caloric intake.
Has your weight loss stalled despite a disciplined low calorie eating, and frequent training?  When attempting to lose weight, it helps to have a goal in mind with a deadline. Just like training, fat loss nutrition should be planned and structured. Cutting calories systematically can be an effective fat loss tool to a point. Scheduling refeeds, cheat days, and a return to baseline intake is important for sustaining muscle mass, and preventing your metabolism from crashing.
If you are not taking a multivitamin and fish oil supplement, you should. Its the first thing I recommend anyone change with nutrition. Getting more nutrients from vitamins, and consuming fish oil, naturally elevates your metabolism, and improves the way you use carbs for fuel, instead of fat storage.
In terms of your training, running is not a great way to lose fat. If you run for the love of running, keep it up, but if you have chosen it as a way to fat loss, you could be training more efficiently. The best fat loss plans involve 3-4 days of progressively heavy strength training, combined with 2-3 days of high intensity interval sprint  cardio. Steady state aerobic training would only be used on a 6 or 7th day of recovery training. If you are passionate about running, I suggest less steady state long runs, and more speed work, with a focus on strength training. The stronger you are, the faster you ll run. Longer runs are only building tolerance and aerobic capacity for the distance you are trying to complete. You probably have a base for this already.
Remember, as you become more efficient at running your desired distance, you burn fewer calories to complete it. Running only burns calories while you are doing it , versus intervals and strength training which we are finding have a measurable after burn, and metabolism boosting effect for hours after. Below is a great video interview with John Berardi, Sports Nutritionists, from Precision Nutrition. John discusses the best methods for fat loss, and myths associated with age and metabolism. My favorite fact in the video is the need for runners to run an additional 100 miles every year to burn the same amount of calories they did the previous year of training. Its an unsustainable approach to fat loss. Check it out!

Reader Question - What should I do about posterior leg pain during/after running?

Hard to say without doing an assessment. Could be a muscle strain or a nerve impingement. If pain or discomfort persists at rest for more than a week or two, Id suggest going to see a PT or Orthopedic Specialist. Better to address it immediately, than have it persist for weeks into your training schedule.
Your Sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body, running from the lower vertebrae to the feet,  and prone to compression at several spots. Signs and symptoms vary, ranging from sharp to dull pain in the lower back to burning, numbness, or tingling down the legs and into the foot.  If the compression originates in your lumbar vertebrae, you ll just have to wait for the irritation to cool off. Treatment involves rest, followed by glute, hamstring, and core strengthening exercises. I suggest trying some glute bridges, front and side planks if pain free. Begin with 3 sets of 15 for the bridges, and 3 sets of :20-:60 for the planks, until symptom free and then progress back into your lower body strength training exercises.
Sometimes, the Piriformis, a little muscle underneath the glute, becomes tight and or overactive, and can compress the nerve. Foam rolling your lower body, and adding these stretches may also help alleviate symptoms.  Running in the absence of strength training, can create instability and weakness  in the core, hips, and legs. Its a repetitive, quad dominant activity that can lead to muscular imbalances, if not balanced out with strength training, especially the posterior chain, and soft tissue work with a foam roller, and stretching. Give it a rest and then try the following foam rolling and strength training exercises several times per week, especially before runs, and the stretches several days a week, especially after runs.
 Foam Roll each area for :30-:60 seconds, focusing on tender spots. Follow immediately with glute and core activation work. Stop if symptoms persist.


Glute Activation - 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions

Glute Bridge Finish
Lateral Band Walk - Glute Med

Core Activation - Hold for 3 sets of :20-:60 seconds

Side Plank

Pirifomis stretch - Lying supine on the floor, grab your right knee with left hand, and gently pull across your midline and towards your opposite shoulder, until a mild stretch is outer hip/glute. Breathe and hold for :30-:60 seconds, 2-4 sets on both sides. Stop if symptoms are present.

Glute/external rotator stretch - Bend your left knee and place your left foot on the floor, cross your right foot over your left knee. Reach through and grab the back on your left thigh, and gently pull your leg into your chest until you feel a light stretch. Relax your head and shoulders while you take a few deep breaths for a count of :30-:60 seconds, 2-4 sets on both sides. Stop if symptoms are present.


For more information please see my pages on foam rolling, glute and core activation

Is sleep getting in the way of your body composition goals??


This past week the east coast was hit by one of the worst storms in over a century, Hurricane Sandy. New York City, the city that never sleeps, suddenly came to a standstill. While the region began its recovery Tuesday morning, many of us were unable to work this week. This lull in work gave me an opportunity to recover from a full work and training schedule, catch up on some sleep, and brainstorm on some blogging, which I have not kept up with in months.

Many of you know Im a big fan of Dr. John Berardi, and Precision Nutrition. This week as I was catching up on sleep, going from an average of 7 hours per week to 8, John posed several questions and research articles on sleep and how it affects the way we metabolize food, and its consequences on body composition and performance.

Many of us are very good at maintaining a consistent training schedule, yet sleep and sleep quality, our tools for recovering from a workout, and metabolizing food, take a back seat. According to Precision Nutrition's "All about Sleep," the average adults gets 7 hours of sleep per night. 33% of adults get 6.5 hours or less. A century ago, adults averaged 9 hours a night. This is attributed to many of the modern day distractions we have, and what sleep researchers are calling voluntary sleep curtailment.

Consequently, research is finding a correlation between sleep, insulin resistance, and subsequent obesity. While I do not work with a largely obese clientele, I do work with many people who have body composition goals. The challenge is motivating my athletes to place a greater focus on the recovery process of fitness, and less so on the stimulus. At the end of the body composition continuum, managing several smaller areas of your recovery can add up to big results. Inadequate sleep, and diets high in refined carbohydrates and artificial sweeteners, chronically elevate insulin levels. This begins to dull the bodies sensitivity to insulin, inhibiting not only the transport of sugars into muscle for growth, but the ability to burn fat as well. Excess blood sugar is then stored as body fat, while the rest continues to circulate throughout the body, wreaking havoc on other systems.

In addition to insulin shutting down our fat burning capacity, many anabolic hormones are inhibited, compounding an already retarded muscle building process. Studies in young healthy men have shown that in just 2 days of 4 hours of sleep per night, our hormone balance is disrupted. After just 2 days of low rest, the participants had the insulin sensitivity of a pre diabetic 70 year old man! Failure to get several full cycles of sleep each night resulted in lowered growth hormone secretion which not only inhibits muscles development but can also tapers exercise performance, though the exerciser may feel like their working hard.

Decreased Human Growth Hormone (HGH) = decreased muscle building and recovery Decreased Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) = decreased metabolism Increased Cortisol = decreased insulin sensitivity, increased stress levels

We know that consistent strength training boosts both insulin sensitivity, and anabolic hormone activity. Perhaps you have been following a consistent strength program, but are negating it with poor macronutrient choices and timing, and poor sleep. If your routine has not been yielding the results you see others getting, maybe its times to improve on some these other areas of heath and fitness.

For more info on ways to improve your fat burning capacity with both sleep, nutrition and training see these link below. Alywn Cosgrove's Hierarchy of Fat Loss

Post Workout Nutrition

Unless the first thing you do in the morning is workout, breakfast is NOT the most important meal of the day, your post workout meal is. Insulin and many other hormones responsible for recovery and optimal results are most sensitive within 30-120 minutes post workout. Its within this critical window, that you fuel all the hard work you just put in at the gym. Choosing a quick digesting protein and carbohydrate will shuttle nutrients into your muscles fast, maximizing lean tissue development and minimizing fat storage. Quick digesting proteins, like a whey protein supplement, eggs, or very lean meats, will help repair the muscle tissue that was broken down during training. Post workout is also the ideal time to consume starchy carbohydrates, as your body will most readily use these long chains of sugars to build lean tissue, and replenish glycogen stores for your next workout. Avoid fats within this post workout window as they slow down absorption, which would be a good thing at all of times of the day, allowing a steady stream of nutrients into the body, but would delay nutrients to your tissues post exercise. A 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein is a good balance during this time. Guys should shoot for 2 fist portions of protein, 2 cups,or 30-50g; women 1 serving, fist size, or cup. Above is a Super Shake version I often enjoy after training. Its nutrient dense and appropriately balanced. At approximately 500 calories, its a good appetizer to an additional whole foods meal I ll have within 2 hours of training.

2 Scoops Optimum Nutrition All Natural Vanilla Whey
1 Pint Blueberries
1 Banana
2 Cups Spinach
2 Tbsp Cinnamon
20oz Water
Calories 550, Protein 50g, Carbohydrates 80g - Sugars 50g, Fiber 15g, Fats 3

Lean Habits - Eating to Lose


Heres an adapted version of Precision Nutritions 5 Lean Habits that I share with my nutrition clients. This isn't a diet plan, its a lifestyle. Many of us are too sedentary, and consume far too many processed, high sugar, high sodium, calorie dense foods. The key to weight maintenance is daily activity, and a diet consisting of whole, natural, unprocessed proteins, fruits and vegetables. If its comes in a box, package, or bottle, its probably devoid of any nutrient value and loaded with empty calories. Best selling nutrition and culture author, Michael Pollan, summed it up best "eat often, not too much, mostly plants." For more information on my diet and exercise prescriptions, feel free to contact me here.

5 Lean Habits

 1. Frequent Small Meals. Eat every 2-4 hours - eating boosts your metabolism via the thermic effect of feeding (TEF), and promotes stable blood sugar levels, combating cravings and binging. It also affects several hormones, which set the body up for either fat storage or fat burning.

 2. Protein First. Protein comes from the Greek word Proteios, meaning first or most important. Amino acids are the building block of every cell in your body. Choose a lean protein (poultry, fish, lean beef, pork, eggs, 2% dairy, whey protein supplements, soy) every time you put any food in your mouth - Make protein the focus of each meal. Protein boosts the metabolism, as its harder to digest than other foods. It also promotes muscle development which is more metabolically active than fat. Your body can store sugars and fats, but cannot store proteins, so its important to fuel this need regularly, or your body will tap into muscle to get the proteins it needs to function, thereby decreasing your metabolism, promoting fat storage.

 3. Lots of Veggies. 1-2 servings (1 cup raw, 1/2 cup cooked or 1 piece) of veggies and or fruits (4:1 ratio) every time you eat something. Veggies and fruits are nutrient dense and low in calories. They provide good carbohydrates and displace bad calorie dense carbs (breads, pastas, sugars, grains)

 4. Time Your Carbs. Starchy complex carbs (whole grains, pastas, breads, rice, cereals, snacks, sugars) only 1-2 hours following exercise. Otherwise, these carbs are converted to sugars and stored as body fat. Starchy carbs are simply long chains of sugars molecules. Feed your muscles with starches post workout when insulin sensitivity is greatest. Avoid these carbs on rest, and cardio days.

 5. Eat fat to burn fat. Eat more healthy fats throughout the day (nuts, nut butters, avocados, olives, olive oil, fish oil supplements, marine foods, chia seeds, flax) Fats are calorically dense, and provide satiety, keeping you full between meals.  Many of the tissues in the body are lipid(fat) based. Eating more fat, will enhance weight-loss, mood, hormone production, fat soluble vitamin absorption, and immunity.

Low Trap Pulls for Increased Stability and Strength

Often when we look at shoulder stability, we focus on the scapulae retractors, the postural muscles that pull and squeeze the shoulder blades together, for greater stability during pushing and pulling movements. However, an often neglected aspect of scapulothoracic and glenohumeral rhythm involves the scapulae depressors as well. Not only is it important to squeeze and retract the shoulder blades together, but in order to create more space at the glenohumeral joint, thus decreasing impingement pathologies, the shoulder blades must rotate down and depress as well. Often these muscles are weak and or long, due to over active upper traps, and or overly kyphotic thoracic spines (poor posture). To improve both the length/tension relationship of your lower traps, and their strength, try a few of the following soft tissue, activation and strengthening exercises. You ll notice both increased strength in movements such as pull ups and the bench press, and you ll decrease your risk of achy or injured shoulders.

Begin with some soft tissue work at the thoracic spine. Lie on a foam roller. With your hands clasped behind your head or hugging opposing shoulders, gentle roll the upper 2/3 of your back. This exercise is great for loosening up the fascia around the thoracic spine (mid back), thus allowing for better mobility at the shoulder blade which should sit flush on your back, but is often protracted and rounded out, due to poor, kyphotic posture.

From there, foam roll your lats. Immediately after your SMR work, perform several reps of your favorite thoracic mobility drill, followed by an activation exercise like the one performed with a band in the video or the wall angels in the next video.


Wall Angels can be done against a wall or lying on the floor. Pulling your shoulder blades down and together, slowly flex your arms straight overhead, maintaining contact with the wall or floor throughout the movement. Focus on pulling the shoulder blades down and together as you lower your arms.


After your done a few minutes of soft tissue and activation work. Perform a low trap exercise like the one below. If you aren't strong enough to do them from a pull up bar, begin with a lat pull down machine, progressing the load to body weight. Make sure you are able to get a good symmetrical squeeze as you pull your shoulders down and away from your ears. Notice in this example as my client begins to fatigue, an asymmetry on his right side is more pronounced and uneven.










"Doing Work" with Coach Dos - Metabolic Conditioning

Two weekends ago I attended a great seminar on Cardio Strength Training with renowned strength and conditioning coach, Robert Dos Remedios. The concept of cardio strength training is not new for many fitness professionals, but Dos was nice enough to share his own spin on things, which has proven to be an excellent way to boost work capacity and cut fat. If you still think traditional cardio is the most effective tool for boosting VO2 capacity, and maintaining or cutting weight, you are ignoring the research and science. Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption(EPOC) is elevated for several hours, if not days, after a high intensity interval or conditioning circuit. As your body works to return back to resting oxygen levels, you metabolism is on fire, burning pounds of stored energy (fat cells). Below is one of many circuits I like to use as a litmus test for my clients endurance. Try 1 round of this at the end of your strength training session to finish off any lingering glycogen stores, or use this circuit for several rounds in between strength training days as a conditioning workout. Enjoy!

15R kettlebell swings

15R unilateral kettlebell snatch

15R kettlbell goblet squat

15R kettlbell renegade rows


Dynamic Mobility 2.0

By now many of you have incorporated soft tissue and dynamic stretching work (see foam rolling and dynamic stretching) into your warm up routines.  You know that static stretching is an ineffective and outdated mode of warm up, because it decreases strength and performance, develops little if any range of motion (ROM) prior to getting warm, and has been disproven in preventing injury. You also know that 5 min or so in the cardio section prior to training does not prepare your joints and soft tissues for the rigors and full ROM of a resistance workout. So per you highly qualified fitness coach, and or the eloquent well-researched fitness blog you follow, you’ve established a thorough dynamic warm up routine prior to your training.  So thorough in fact, that it may be cutting into your limited training time. 5-10 minutes foam rolling, 5-10 minutes dynamic stretching, and 5-10 minutes activation work leaves little time for training. While you may be covering all your bases, perhaps you could be spending more time on certain deficiencies and less on others. And maybe the order and sequencing of these exercises could elicit greater short-term mobility for your workout, and long-term gains in tissue quality day to day. Below are a few suggestions for developing even greater specificity in your warm up.

Order ABCs – Sequencing your warm up routine is no different that choosing the appropriate order of exercises for your workout. You wouldn’t do (I hope) a single joint movement before a compound movement.  So don’t start your warm up stretching muscles with adhesions (knots). You’re essentially pulling those knots tighter, and limiting the length and quality of the muscle. Following the order and sequencing below, with enough frequency, may help counteract the adaptive stresses and postural changes of day-to-day work and activity. (see The Sitting Disease)

A - Release – choose 1 soft tissue exercise for the targeted muscle of the day to improve the quality of that tissue, improving movement and strength – SMR, ART, ETC

B - Mobilize – follow an active release exercise with a specific dynamic stretch or mobility movement to improve the length and range of motion of that muscle

C - Activation – Once you’ve released and mobilized the selected muscle, hammer it home with an activation exercise of that muscle’s antagonist (opposing muscle group). By law of reciprocal inhibition, activating (contracting) an opposing muscle group, will allow for a greater stretch (release) and length in the targeted muscle.


Ankle Mobility


Hip Mobility - Flexors


Hip Mobility - Adductors


Hip Mobility - Gluteals


Pec Mobility


Thoracic Mobility




Are You a Well-Oiled Machine?

Fish oil is a dietary oil extracted from fish rich in beneficial omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. These essential fatty acids cannot be produced by the body, and therefore must be consumed. Foods rich in omega 3s include fish and other algae eating animals. While nuts and seeds also contain omega 3s, they are composed primarily of ALA fatty acids, which research has yet to prove whether or not they also contain the same beneficial properties of DHA and EPA found in fish. Unfortunately, to meet your daily requirement of DHA and EPA, you would need to consume several pounds of fish per day. Not only would this be a daunting dining expectation, you would also be increasing your exposure to mercury, which would negate many of the healthy brain and cognitive benefits of consuming fish oil. Alas, there are several fish oil supplements available on the market in both pill and liquid form, both flavored and natural. Look for supplements containing 300mg or more of EPA/DHA per serving.

Health benefits of consuming several grams of fish oil daily include:

- increased brain and cogitive function - decreased risk of Alzheimer's, dementia, and other cognitive degenerative disorders - increased cardiovascular function - decreased risk of heart disease - decreased inflammation, and chronic disease associated with inflammation - increased joint health - increased metabolism

A diet rich in omega 3s is associated with increased insulin sensitivity (decreased sensitivity being associated with diabetes), promotes greater nutrient absorption at the cellular level, and an increased metabolism due to the increased enzymatic activity, thereby burning more fat cells. Consider adding a fish oil supplement to your diet for increased healthy and well being. Consult with your physician before beginning any new diet or exercise program.

What's a dumbbell??

Whats a dumbbell and why do we call it that? Theories vary slightly, but historians agree dumbbells evolved from the practice of Change Ringing. Bell ringing in the 16th century was a common church practice requiring a fair amount of strength and fitness. Its believed that these practitioners developed a silent, or dumb, bell to practice technique without sound, and develop strength for Change Ringing. Bells specifically without hammers (dumbbells) were used by strongmen to demonstrate feats of strength for fitness and entertainment purposes. The term dumbbell originated in Tudor, England, and was kept, when what we know as a dumbbell today, was manufactured strictly for fitness. 1920s slang, devolved the name to a reference for a stupid person. Several years from now, a search result may point to a former 7-time Mr. Olympia, turned movie star, turned governor of california, turned disgraced adulterous procreator. Until then, we can continue to get strong, and eliminate asymmetries, with bi-lateral dumbbell training. Just in case you ever wondered...."Now you're on the trolley."

Body Fat Comparison

In the book "SLICED" by Bill Reynolds & Negrita Jayde, the states of muscularity are objectified as follows: "House" >= 20% - No visible muscle definition, and only a hint of separation between major muscle groups, if those groups are very large. Basically a person in this state could be confused for a football lineman. If you're higher than this bodyfat percentage, you'd be considered overweight/obese.

"Hard" >= 15% - Some muscle separation appears between delts and upper arm. Abs are still not visible


"Cut" - >= 12% - More muscle separation appears particularly in the chest and back, outline of the abs begins to appear slightly.



"Defined" >= 10% - Muscle separations get deeper in the arms, chest, legs and back, and abs appear when flexed.

"Ripped" >= 7-9% - Abs are clearly visible all the time, vascularity in arms is prominent, chest and back separation is obvious, and face is starting to appear more angular. Condition can be held indefinitely.

"Shredded" >=5-7% - Striations appear in large muscle groups when flexed. Vascularity appears in lower abdomen and in the legs. Condition can be held for several days with careful dieting. Competitive bodybuilders often aim for this state for competition day.

"Sliced" <= 3% - Muscles and tendons begin to appear in the face. Muscle striations and vascularity highly visible. Subcutaneous water levels are near 0. Condition can only be held for a few hours at a time. Not a healthy condition to stay in due to lower water level. Note - The male body requires 3% body fat for normal bodily function, women require 12%.

Body Recomposition or Body Decomposition?

All too often, clients obsess over body weight, weighing themselves daily on overpriced, deceptively marketed, home scales. While weight loss may be a good measure of assessment for obese individuals, goals change as one reaches a healthy weight. Body composition, a comparison of ones lean to fat mass, is a better reflection of health. While an obese individual's goal is to lose as much mass as possible, this loss of mass is also at the expense of lean tissues, such as muscle and bone. Once a desired weight, or Body Mass Index, is achieved, its important to reevaluate goals, programming, and diet, shifting the focus to building lean mass, and continuing to burn unwanted body fat. What may have worked to drop a significant amount of pounds, is not going to work for cutting fat and building muscle. Muscle is developed through appropriate doses of resistance training, followed by a proper balance of macronutrients and sleep. Muscle is metabolically active tissue. It requires a lot of calories to develop and a lot to sustain. This increased energy demand to sustain your newly developed muscle mass, taps into fat stores, and devotes consumed calories toward the creation and sustenance of your metabolically active tissues, thereby stripping you of excess body fat. This is a delicate balance, however. Too many calories, and your body will store the excess as fat; to few calories, and your body will shed muscle, conserving calories for vital organ function, thereby decreasing your metabolism. (see Resting Metabolic Rate) To determine your resting metabolic rate, use this formula, or consult with a local dietician to help establish an eating plan that maximizes lean mass development, increases your metabolism, and burns fat! Seek out a fitness professional in your area, and have your body fat measured. Read these steps The Hierarchy of Fatloss, outlined by famed fat loss guru Alwyn Cosgrove, on the most effective activities for developing muscle and burning fat. Hint: Its not cardio!!!!!!!!!!

St. Patrick's Day - Drink This, Not That

Happy St. Patricks Day! Today everybody is Irish, and what better way to celebrate your Irish heritage than going out to your local pub to share a pint with friends and family. But before you toast your glass of green beer today, consider what you are drinking. A common misconception among beer drinkers is dark beer has more calories, and is more filling that lighter beer varieties. However, in most cases, this could not be further from the truth. A beer's color comes from the roasted barley used during brewing. Barley is roasted to varying extents depending on the type of beer desired, much like coffee beans (lighter roasts generally contain more caffeine, versus darker roasts). A darker roast produces a darker, full bodied brew, while a lighter roast produces a lighter beer and body. Interestingly, roasting cooks the desired sugars used to ferment beer and produce alcohol. Generally, the longer you roast a malt, the less sugar is leftover, producing less alcohol during brewing. So despite what you may believe, many darker beers, in fact, contain less alcohol, because the malt used to brew them, contained less sugar. Now, a gram of carbohydrate or protein contain 4 calories. While a gram of fat contains 9 calories. Alcohol falls in between at 7 calories per gram. Do not be fooled by the color or type of beverage, as its the alcohol content that contributes to the calories. So a 1.5oz shot of most pure liquor, 6oz of wine, or 12oz of beer are nearly equivalent due to their alcohol densities, liquor, wine, and beer, roughly 40, 13, and 5% alcohol per volume. So its the alcohol content and not the beverage that matters. A 16oz pint of Guinness, though very dark, contains only 4.2% alcohol and 170 calories, versus a 16oz pint of Budweiser at 5.0% alcohol and 193 calories. Now, you might say, "but I drink Bud Light"(or some other watered-down yellow beverage). A Bud Light is 4.2% alcohol, and like Guinness contains 170 calories per 16oz pint. So before you make a decision today for a food coloring additive, green, soul-less, glass of mass produced, fermented rice, that is Budweiser, consider the caloric equivalent in a smooth, full bodied, pint of Guinness, made with the time honored tradition of Arthur Guinness and Sons original recipe of dark roasted barley, European hops, and sweet Irish morning dew.



5 Exercises That Make Me Cringe

This time of year gyms across the country are full of eager people trying to get in shape for the summer. While they may have good intentions, poor exercise choices or technique do more than sculpt muscles; they wreak havoc on your joints. Here s a list of my current top 5 most useless exercises, and why they do more harm than good. #1 Lat Pull Downs - Behind the Neck - Pulling behind the neck forces you into poor posture. Its also stressful, and potentially dangerous for your cervical spine or neck. Additionally, your moving your arms against their natural scapular plane, placing the shoulder joint in a compromising end range of motion. While its great you are working some pulls into your push dominant routine, a better way to perform this movement, would be in front of your face, down to your collar bone. Keep your shoulders down, and your shoulder blades pulled together. You ll continue to reap the same muscle and strength building benefits, without the potential for injury.


#2 Sit-ups & Crunches - Again, your putting more stress on your neck and spine, than your abs. With the exception of getting out of bed once a day, this is a pointless exercise. Train those same six pack building muscles with these core stability exercises, and save your spine.




#3 Protracted Rows with lower back flexion- Everybody does this. It feels like you are getting more range of motion. Its also allows you to move more weight. Unfortunately, your putting undue stress on your shoulder joints, scapulas, and lower back. Sit up tall, keep your shoulders down and relaxed, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Spare your shoulders and spine and focus the attention on the muscle building effects of your upper back and biceps.



#4 Dumbbell Side Bends - So you want to burn those love handles? They're there because of a poor diet, not a lack of lateral flexion. A flexed and rotated spine is a great way to blow a disk in your lower back. Give your lumbar vertebrae a break and try some of the lateral stability exercises, I have here. I promise they re a lot more challenging for your obliques, and a lot better for your lower back.




#5 Bench Dips - Dips are a great upper body push for the chest, shoulders and triceps. They are also very challenging. Doing bench dips with your feet supported on the floor is not a regression. Again, you're placing a tremendous amount of anterior pressure on your shoulder joint, which can lead to soft tissue damage. If you struggle with a traditional dip, supplement with machine assisted dips or other elbow extension exercises, until you are strong enough to perform this movement correctly. Many of us could still get a lot out of the traditional pushing exercises before moving on to dips, but never bench dips.

Cannonball Ab Series

In todays addition of my Cannonball Abs series, I have included video and commentary on my favorite core stability progressions. Try these out for an added challenge to your current ab routine, and reap the benefits of a stronger, more stable core. Click here for more exercise demonstration on core stability.

Soft Body Pilates

Pilates is great for creating mind/body awareness, skilled movement, and physical introspection that we do not always spend time with on the gym floor. It is sometime defined as controlled movements through a strong core. Id like to think all training could be described this way. The "long, lean look" they preach is more of a selling point. Long lean muscles are created in the kitchen with your diet, and your genetics. Though I know what everyone means, when they say they want to get "toned," its actually a reflection of the tension or strength your muscles can create. Strength and tension is created using resistances of progressive intensity. Being defined, is a reflection of your body composition, which is 80% diet, some training, and genetics. Using "smaller muscles" is not entirely true either. Muscles used for movement can be categorized as agonists, antagonists, stabilizers, and neutralizers. They are all involved in any body movement, from getting out of a chair, to walking, movements on a Pilates reformer, or bench pressing in the gym. Agonists and antagonists are your main movers, the pushers and pullers, flexors and extensors. They re the muscles you see and become developed, hence their focus in exercise. You also have muscles that aid these movements called stabilizers and neutralizers. Theses muscles stabilize joints throughout your agonist movements and neutralize any unwanted movement elsewhere in the body when performing an exercise. These muscles are often under your superficial muscles, making them harder to visualize. They are also not as voluntary, making it harder for you to recruit and engage, sometimes even involuntary, and do not need to be engaged, i.e. the transverse abdominus. This lack of awareness or ability to engage or recruit has made Pilates and mind/body training popular. However, in Pilates, like any other mode of exercise, all four types of muscle actions are taking place, and no single mode of exercise truly isolates any of these. So to say Pilates works small muscles is not entirely true. In fact, I would argue that the resistance generated during a barbell squat or dead lift recruits more of your smaller stabilizing/neutralizing muscles, than a resistance created on the reformer with resistant springs attached, much like a bench press or pull up, trains the smaller muscles more than pulls on the cadillac, or equivalent pushing movement in Pilates. It does have application for corrective exercise and injury prevention/rehabilitation in addition to traditional resistance training. However, it lacks progressions, scientific periodization, and objective measures of its training protocols. If you continued to use the same resistance for a given exercise, you would plateau and eventually regress, as that stimulus would no longer elicit a response. There s a diminishing return for the same intensity, which is why strength and conditioning applies systematic progressions.

Often yogis, dancers, and individuals that are already genetically lean, long, and flexible, are drawn to Pilates, which allowed for a subcultural attractive look to develop. You don't see overweight Pilates clients, because they are doing something more efficient for fat loss, and an overweight Pilates instructor can not stay in business long. It would be fair to say that many personal trainers are former athletes or fitness enthusiasts that always had good genetics and results too, but there are many trainers with life transforming stories. Because Pilates is fairly new and does not have mass appeal yet, there is little science or research to support any of its benefits. The entire philosophy of Pilates was developed by one German man looking for an alternative way to be healthy through physical activity. It is now passed on from instructor to instructor and has evolved over time. Many fitness professionals, on the other hand, have degrees in exercise science and internationally recognized certifications. Their training and expertise is routed in science, supported by facts and centuries of historical application. I recently had a conversation with a Pilates instructor who mentioned their instruction specifically avoids anatomical terminology, in terms of their branding and imaging. And while some instructors are educated in anatomy and physiology, the focus of Pilates is more about feeling and less about applying real theory. In some ways it made me think of a placebo....

Jack LaLanne the "Father of Fitness"

On Sunday, the fitness community and world at large, mourned the loss of the "father of fitness", Jack LaLanne. 96 years young, Jack, succumbed to complications of pneumonia, leaving behind his legacy as the pioneer of what we know as fitness today. He was truly ahead of his time with his philosophies for moderate resistance training and no sugar dieting, practicing what he preached up to his final days. Jacks philosophy on moderate eating and activity are a true example of how a healthy living can keep one active and vibrant through the lifecycle.

According to a recent article in the New York Times - "Aging: Paying the Physical Price for Longer Life",  "a 20-year-old man today can expect to live about a year longer than a 20-year-old in 1998, but will spend 1.2 years more with a disease, and 2 more years unable to function normally." They analysized recent governement data, and found that life expextancy is going up, not because people are healthier, but because medicine is keeping people with chronic disease and disability, alive longer.  In another article in the New York Times - "Full-Service Gyms Feel a Bit Flabby", data shows only 15% of Americans belong to a gym. Despite knowing exercise has nothing but tremendous health benefits, Americans are still too sedentary. In fact 60% of us are overweight, and 40% of us are obese. I for one, plan to enjoy activity for many years to come. The year is young, make it a healthy one. Let us learn from Jacks legacy that an active lifestyle, will lead to a healthy and disease free one, for many decades to come.

Moving Some Kilos in Budapest!

Boldog uj evet kivanok! I decided to start my new year off on the right foot (and the left) with a workout, on my vacation to Budapest. Once or twice a year I visit Hungary to spend time with my fiancee's family. Year's past this has been a "deloading" period for me, aka deconditioning period. While the city provides lots of physical activity, walking, stair climbing, etc, holiday eating offsets any ancillary calorie burning. Disappointed with my conditioning when I return from these visits, I decided to make training arrangements before leaving, and take the same advice I give all my clients.

Formal fitness in Hungary is growing, but is not as popular as it is in the states. In addition to the hotels, which cater to international clientele, Budapest also has a few chain gyms, like Gold's Gym, among others. However, many people participate in traditional sporting activities, like soccer, handball, and aquatics, to stay fit. In addition to some pickup soccer and water polo games, I also lined up access for training in a small gym in the bowels of a post-soviet era apartment building gym, about 300 square feet,  pictured above. While this gym is far removed from the luxury of new york city fitness chic, it is more than adequate. It reminds me some of the equipment that sparked my interest in weight training and fitness as a teenager, and forced me to be creative balancing out a full body training program.

Accompanied by my future brother in law, and a national pentathlete, we ventured down into the basement for a full body resistance workout for about an hour. While balancing our pushing and pulling, I tailored the exercises towards his Pentathlete events, introducing him to some sport-specific movements that may give him an edge in his sport. The Pentathlon is a five event sport consisting of running, swimming, fencing, horse back riding, and shooting, a challenging blend of both skill and physically intensive events, requiring many hours of conditioning and skill development.

After a dynamic warm up, we began two, three exercise circuits, three sets of 15 repetitions, consisting of: barbell bench press, pull ups, stability roll outs - Rear foot elevated split squats, bent over rows, and straight arm pull downs. Short and sweet after an evening of mild indulgence and less than adequate sleep. Perfect start to a healthy new year. This holiday season, don't let your travel plans get in the way of your fitness. Whether you start your training today or Monday, make it a priority this year. Cheers!

Catholic School Posture - Thoracic Mobility

Posture, while important aesthetically, also plays a vital role in the function and health of almost all the joints in the body. My latest blog, will help you assess your posture with a simple movement screening, and evaluate the results to tailor your training.

Whether by threat of a ruler toting catholic school nun, or the gentle reminder from a loving parent, many of us have been encouraged at one point or another to sit up straight with our shoulders aligned. What you may not have known then was the impact you may have been having on the soft developing tissues of your posterior and how that would effect the way you move as you age. Fortunately, because these tissues are soft, with the proper exercise prescription, many of us can offset a life of slouching at the desk, computer, car, and couch.

A straight and neutral spine is important every time you sit into or out of a chair, pick something up, or work out in the gym. Lack of stability in the lumbar spine and or rounding or kyphosis in your thoracic or mid back increases compressive and shear forces in lower back. While some may argue that we should not sit at all, (see The Sitting Disease), its apart of our daily life, and therefore, proper spine strength and alignment is important to avoid lower back injury when performing tasks of daily living and while under loads in the gym.

An unloaded overhead squat, is a great movement screening for thoracic spine mobility, popularized by Gray Cook's Functional Movement Screening (FMS). Not only is it indicative of core strength, but is also a sign of shoulder rhythm. If you dont have someone to watch or video you, use a mirror.

1. Assume a square, shoulder width stance with your feet.

2. If available, grasp a stick or dowel, and place it on top of your head, bending your elbows at 90 degrees.

3. Extend your arms directly overhead with straight elbows.

4. Proceed to squat down as deep as you can while maintaining straight extended arms

5. Repeat step 4 a few more times

Keep an eye on the mirror or watch a recording of yourself:

Do your head and shoulders collapse down to the floor?

Is your back curved and rounded?

Did you have to bend your elbows or move your arms forward to squat to 90 degrees or more?

If your squat looked like this:

You may have a kyphotic immobile thoracic spine. This is going to limit your range of motion and load bearing capacity while performing simple movements like sitting up and out of a chair, or picking up small loads, not to mention limit your training in the gym. Additionally, the rounding in your mid back, disrupts the natural rhythm of your scapulas and their relationship with your shoulder. This may lead to shoulder issues doing things requiring overhead lifting, or pushing movements in the gym.

To look like this:

Add some of the thoracic mobility drills I have on my demo page to your corrective movements, dynamic warm up, or active rest for several weeks and begin to reap the benefits of a better aligned spine, stronger core and shoulder mobility.