My wife and business partner just called me a dinosaur. I know I just turned 44, but really…a dinosaur? While fitness is my thing, marketing is her thing. Her thing is helpful and dreadful at the same time. She tells me what I don’t want to hear: I need to increase my social media presence. I need to toot my own horn. I am an expert, but what good does that do anyone who needs my expertise if she and I a handful of others are the only ones who know it? As much as I hate to admit it, she’s right.
Fitness is my life, which might make you wonder why in the world I’d have a hard time engaging people on the subject. Those of you who know me know that I’m pretty low-key; an introvert, in fact. I prefer to do the work and let the results speak for themselves while also having fun, and I encourage my clients to do the same. Realizing that it’s not good enough to simply be an expert anymore and that I need to go outside my comfort zone is a tough pill to swallow. I won’t even tell you how much time and convincing it took for me to agree to put up a Facebook business page, and even still, my wife is the administrator because I didn’t want my own personal page to administer my business page from. Leave it to her to point out that I expect my clients to go outside their comfort zone at each and every workout, and she expects no less from me. As I look beyond Facebook at other social media options, I notice that visual content is key. While I’m committed to turning over a new social media leaf, I can’t do it without expressing my concerns about our culture being so visually focused and how counterproductive this can be to reaching fitness and health goals.
I continue to be amazed by clients who are more concerned about how they look than how they feel. They’re obsessed with the scale, and they’re missing out on the true meaning and benefits of being healthy and fit. While it can be inspirational, social media also contributes to such obsessions. On the other hand, I’ve met people who have a very positive body image and remain self-confident even when they’re obese and endangering their lives. They say they’re happy the way they are, but the way they are is killing them slowly. That’s not a healthy body image either, but I digress! In my experience, people who are obsessed with how they look or weigh are the most difficult people to train and educate. Often times, they have unrealistic goals given things like their age, medical conditions, injuries, body type, and genetics—not to mention commitment, discipline, and the amount of time they’re willing to invest in their own health. Some of the smartest people I know try gimmicky diets and supplements, and I don’t understand it. A healthy diet, a functional and personalized fitness program, and a positive attitude are essential, in addition to living in reality and seeking balance. Sure, you can exercise just to allow yourself to eat more fattening foods and drink more empty alcohol calories, but don’t expect to make any progress toward real health or fitness that way, and don’t expect your trainer to erase all those calories in one session. You owned that night of indulgence on Facebook, now own it in the gym.
Now, let’s throw into the mix…a bunch of trainers who base their success and level of expertise on how many likes they get when they post 6-pack selfies. What do you get? You get clients with even more unrealistic expectations who think those trainers can magically give them the same abs. I am here to tell you that you are unique. I promise you that when you compare yourself to someone else, you will be disappointed. Every. Single. Time. In some way or another. This should not come as a surprise. Embrace it! Also, nice abs do not a good personal trainer make. You can bet a lot of that look comes from hard work, discipline, deprivation, and genetics. It’s like when we compare ourselves to celebrities and end up feeling inadequate. Their main job is to look good. They have large amounts of free time, nannies, personal assistants, personal chefs, personal trainers, estheticians, plastic surgeons, and on and on….luxuries regular people don’t have. Personal trainers do need to be fit, but if they’re focused mainly on appearance as many are, they go to extremes that regular people are not willing or able to go to (or even should go to, in the interest of safety) in order to achieve a certain look. Average Joes don’t realize the amount of discipline required for washboard abs, and if they did, they’d reject that notion and move on to something more substantive and attainable. I can honestly say that as a competitive swimmer, nice abs had absolutely ZERO impact on my performance. Having a strong core served me well, but not having a 6-pack, per se. What’s pleasing to the eye and inspirational is not necessarily realistic, functional, or even healthy.
I also have clients who are less concerned about their weight and how they look. Their main concern is how far they can push their own physical and mental limits or how health issues have improved or resolved themselves altogether. They compete against themselves instead of against others (who are most likely blessed with better genetics anyway). These clients are happy with themselves right where they are in their journey, and they’re mentally tough no matter how they look. Their confidence comes from a different, deeper place; a place no one can touch. They have finally reached the point where being fit is more important than just looking fit. In my experience, the more mentally stronger the person, the less of that hard-body look they have. These are the clients who challenge themselves through events and races to beat their own personal bests. Their social media posts usually include their best times, how their last workout or event challenged them, who supported them, and how they can improve further. They don’t need selfies to validate their strength, and they know they’re works in progress trying to be the best versions of themselves they can be. My goal is to get every client to a place of unshakeable confidence brought on by real fitness. If they end up with the arms or abs they wanted in the beginning, that’s a bonus.
By now, you’ve probably figured out that I won’t be posting any selfies of random well-toned body parts on whatever social media platform(s) I branch out to. I prefer to save those for my wife and find better ways to challenge and inspire people. I hope to see you on my social media adventure! As I’m not an expert in that area, I have a lot to learn. I appreciate your interest and support as I try to find balance between being an introvert and a leader. As always, I’m happy to help you or someone you know reach personal fitness goals and I appreciate your feedback on what content interests you. Train wisely!
Trainers often ask me what fitness equipment I recommend they take to their clients’ homes. Many factors influence which pieces of equipment a trainer might choose to invest in for use in clients’ homes, so there really is no definite answer. Some things to consider are: economics, logistics, the trainer’s level of experience with various kinds of equipment, and each client’s fitness level, age, physical limitations, and goals. Today, I’ll explain each of these factors to reveal what might be the best equipment options in various situations, and I’ll share my thoughts about where to purchase equipment.
The cost of equipment can be a deal breaker for you if you’re considering buying equipment for use when training clients. Depending on your budget, you can spend anywhere from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars. For a relatively small investment, you can buy a jumping rope, some tubing, or a couple of free weights, and use those to train your clients. If you’re willing to invest more money to buy several pieces of equipment, you might buy items ranging from a jumping rope to various sizes of kettlebells (which can be very expensive). Also, consider the number of clients you’ll be training when determining the amount you want to invest in equipment. If you’re training only private clients (1-on-1 and doubles), then the cost is relatively low. If you’re training groups or teaching classes, then a larger investment is required. You can certainly conduct a session without any equipment, but you can also buy several pieces of equipment to use while training clients.
By logistics, I mean the storage and transportation of the equipment. Unless you have a pick-up truck, it’s very difficult to transport lots of equipment from place to place. Logistics should play a significant part in your decision to buy certain sizes, types and amounts of equipment. If you’re the person carrying the equipment to a client’s location, believe me—you should think twice about what you buy. If you live in a large city (where you often have to park a few blocks away and take the stairs to a client’s home), carrying more than a couple of pieces of light, non-bulky equipment will exhaust you by the end of the day (assuming you repeat this cycle multiple times each day). Then, you’ll be forced to learn to be creative and find other ways of training your clients, and you may just find yourself not using the equipment you invested in because it’s too cumbersome to transport. The amount of equipment you should buy (in terms of weight and size) is limited by how much you can carry in your vehicle and then to a client’s location. The other part of logistics to consider is where you’ll store the equipment. If you live in a small apartment or in a third floor walk-up, then the limitations are obvious. Sleeping, sitting, and eating on top of your equipment are not very desirable options. If you teach classes or do group training and want to incorporate your own equipment, one option you might consider is leaving some of the equipment at the location(s) where your classes are held, if applicable. This way, transferring lots of equipment isn’t required, making life easier. Be sure to lock your equipment when not in use, and always have it insured. If you do have to transfer lots of equipment for group use, then you’ll also need to have a fold-down cart in your vehicle to take the equipment from the car to the class location. Of course, this adds to your costs and decreases the amount of space in your vehicle even further.
Trainer’s Level of Experience:
This is the most important factor, in my opinion. With so many equipment options, trainers are tempted to try to pass themselves off as experts at using each. This is very tricky, because not all pieces of equipment are made equal—and not all trainers are made equal. I frequently observe trainers using equipment they have no idea how to properly use, introduce, or teach clients how to use. One example is the kettlebell. With the popularity of kettlebells on the rise, many trainers are using them without having much kettlebell experience and are, as a result, injuring their clients. This scenario applies to many other pieces of equipment. Certifications on how to properly use and teach a specific piece of equipment exist for this reason. If you’re not familiar with a specific type of training or piece of equipment, I strongly urge you to take advantage of these certifications. I’m not suggesting that once you’re certified on a principle that you’re automatically an expert in that area, but rather that a certification gives you a deeper understanding of how to properly use and manipulate equipment (like a kettlebell) and instruct proper form to your clients. Also, when working in a home environment, not all equipment is appropriate. For example, you can’t take a 50-foot battling rope into a tiny apartment. Some clients will cringe when they think about a kettlebell damaging their hardwood floors, so your job is to respect their homes and educate them about using the kettlebell so as not to cause damage. Using common sense will help you make the right purchasing decisions.
Client’s Fitness Level, Age, Physical Limitations, and Goals:
These factors will dictate what type of equipment (if any) and training methods you need to use for each individual client to reach his or her fitness goals effectively and safely. After performing an assessment, you’ll have a better idea about the type of program you need to design so the client can reach his or her goals. Not everyone can and/or will use kettlebells, battling ropes, sandbags, and sledge hummers, and it’s your responsibility as a trainer to decide if equipment like this is necessary. For a senior or someone with a physical limitation, a smaller, simpler, more user-friendly piece of equipment (like a medicine ball, tubing, or small free weights) might be more appropriate. Athletes need a variety of challenging pieces of equipment at their disposal, depending on their sport and physical abilities. This is where your assessment skills, programming ability, and professional judgment come into play.
Where to Buy Equipment:
After many years of having my own in-home personal training business and purchasing equipment for a wide variety of uses, I think the best places to buy equipment at fair prices are: Target, Wal-Mart, Perform Better, Dick’s Sports Authority, Craigslist, gyms that are going out of business, second-hand equipment retailers, clients who don’t need their equipment anymore, and sometimes even thrift stores (Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc.).
I hope I’ve given you some insight into how to make good purchasing decisions when it comes to fitness equipment. Keep in mind that you don’t have to purchase all the equipment you’d like to have at one time. After considering the above factors, set a budget (monthly, quarterly, annually—whatever) and make a list of the equipment you’d like to add to your inventory, prioritizing items you’ll need sooner rather than later. Shop around and find the best prices (always consider shipping costs when buying online), and work your way down the list. If the direction of your business changes (for example, going from 1-on-1 to groups or adding seniors as a specialty), your equipment needs will change too. Always keep a current inventory list. Take care of your equipment to extend its life, but be prepared financially to replace items when necessary (especially things like jumping ropes and tubes) so your clients can continue to train safely and effectively.
As I write this post on out-of-the-box workouts, I hope Mother Nature takes pity on us with more cool weather in Chicago soon so we can enjoy ditching the gym and taking our workouts outside. I know what you're thinking: Wait a second. Now that I committed to a gym, you’re telling me NOT to go? YES (weather permitting), and here’s why . . .
The best workouts take place outside the traditional gym environment. I'm about to give you about a million reasons why. Ok . . . not a million, but enough to make my point.
Guess what? You don’t need all that fancy equipment! Unless you're a professional athlete, your body weight and some creativity is really all you need. Machines do a great deal of the work for you anyway, so they're not the most direct route to fitness. Waiting for machines is a complete waste of time, and who has extra time these days?
Outside, there are fewer distractions (magazines, TV, people-watching and conversations). And when you're outside doing your own thing, so is everyone else. No one cares what you’re wearing, how you look, or what fitness level you’re at.
Being outdoors also creates a better mind-body connection. Numerous studies have shown that a closer connection to nature is good for our minds and bodies. In this world of 12-hour workdays and in-your-face electronics, we could all benefit from a little extra sunshine and fresh air.
When you get your fit on outdoors, you have more options (both manmade and natural surfaces of varying textures and inclines, etc.), creating a greater challenge for your body and yielding quicker results.
Here's one to think about: you didn’t need a gym membership when you were a kid, did you? I didn't think so. I bet you were outside walking, running, biking, and playing all kinds of sports. Fitness should be just as fun for grown-ups as it is for kids! Watch a kid hopping or skipping rope and let that inspire you.
Unlike during your childhood, you probably work hard and take vacations to keep your sanity. You can’t take your gym with you, but you can make any destination your own personal gym. I know I’d rather run down a new beach at sunrise or hike a new trail than watch hamsters running on treadmills or look at myself in the mirror at a gym.
Finally, if you're not working (as is unfortunately the case for many people these days), you may not be able to afford a gym membership. Maybe you're cutting back where you can to prepare for future uncertainty. Whatever the case may be, know that you can be fit and healthy sans gym.
Did you know there are 580 parks in Chicago? What follows is a list of my top 5 Chicago parks for workouts and the features I like about each. Even if you don’t live near one of these parks, you can still get a good workout in any park using simple bodyweight exercises and a little creativity.
#1 Lakeshore East Park
- 1/3 mile paved (one lap)
- 3 stairways
- 2 incline ramps
- Large grassy area for drills
- Playground nearby in Millennium Park
#2 Loyola Park
- 3/4 mile beach
- Complete outdoor gym with body weight exercise stations
#3 Lakeshore Park
- ¼ mile track
- Large grassy area for drills
- Body weight exercise stations
#4 North Avenue Beach
- 1 mile beach between North and Fullerton Avenues
#5 Montrose Beach
- ½ mile beach
- Large grassy area for drills
- 1 large hill
Since Chicago weather is unpredictable at best, I’d like to share some tips for getting the best workout in your home during inclement weather. There’s an influx of new members at gyms (and their colds and flu viruses) during winter, so skip it! Bonus: no messy boots in the bottom of your locker. You only need a small amount of space—just a bit larger than the frame of your body at the most. Use your own bodyweight initially; this is enough of a challenge for most people. Run stairs in your or a friend’s building. If you enjoy biking or are training for an event during the winter, use an indoor bike trainer. For variety, more of a challenge, or if you travel, invest in a few pieces of portable equipment. You can buy simple yet effective equipment for a much smaller investment than a gym membership. I recommend things like resistance bands, jump ropes, TRX, sandbags, kettlebells, and medicine balls to take you to the next level.
I hope I have inspired you to reconsider that gym membership, or at the very least to spend more time outdoors. If the above ideas sound interesting but you still need help making them happen, I’m happy to help. Now close your browser and get outside!
Clients and friends frequently ask me how to train for various events and activities. Spring is upon us, which means motorcycle enthusiasts and scooter riders (expecially in the city) are hitting the road, making fitness for riders a hot topic. Riding a motorcycle or scooter is a fun and challenging activity. It’s a great way to get where you’re going, escape from the everyday doldrums, spend time alone in the outdoors, and learn a lot about yourself while exploring new places. But, like any other outdoor activity, riding is best enjoyed when the body is conditioned for it. A strong lower and upper back, good hip flexors, strong shoulders, a firm grip, and conditioning of the abdominal muscles are all important, particularly for long rides. Proper conditioning will help you stay alert, improve your reaction time, and avoid fatigue and muscle aches while your body is in riding position for long periods of time.
Some of the best exercises for this (or any) kind of conditioning utilize very simple equipment that can be found in a gym or used at home. This equipment includes a kettlebell, a medicine ball, a jump rope and a pull-up bar (I like Iron Gym: www.getirongym.com). For kettlebell training, I recommend starting with a 26 to 35 lb. bell for men, and a 17 to 26 lb. bell for women. For medicine ball exercises, I recommend a 14 or 20 lb. ball (one with handles; SPRI makes good ones: www.spri.com). Any jump rope will do. You can also find all of these items at Perform Better: www.performbetter.com.
The kettlebell is probably the single best tool available for strengthening the core. There are many kettlebell exercises, but a couple of them are particularly useful for developing the necessary conditioning for riding. The swing is the one movement which incorporates the hip flexors, abdominal muscles, the hamstrings and glutes, lower and upper back, the shoulders, and the grip. The swing develops the overall strength and conditioning of the upper and lower body with just one movement. Swing the kettlebell between the legs, and then all the way up to the chest level, for many repetitions. Enter the Kettlebell! by Pavel, available at www.dragondoor.com, provides excellent information on the swing and other kettlebell exercises.
Another great kettlebell exercise for riding conditioning is the Turkish get up. This is great movement for developing the core muscles, the back and shoulders, as well as the thighs and glutes. Start from a lying position on your back, then pick up the kettlebell using both hands and press it with one hand. Slowly stand up while your working arm is in a straight vertical position. Then push into the ground with the opposite arm and try to get up. Once you are up, reverse the movement all the way until the kettlebell is back on the ground.
The medicine ball is a great tool for balance and strength. Some of the exercises you can do are: front wood chops, squat or lunge with extension, squat or lunge with rotation, squat or lunge and overhead press, push-ups with one or both hands on the ball, and sit-ups with the ball on the chest (press overhead when you reach the sitting position).
Some of the routines I recommend involve a combination of exercises using the kettlebells, medicine ball, jump rope and some pull-ups. Normally 3-5 sets of 8-15 repetitions would be enough to challenge the muscles. The jump rope can be used for an active recovery either between sets or exercises for 30-60 seconds. It’s best to alternate one exercise for upper body and one for lower body during each workout. The pull-ups are great for upper body strength and they can be mixed with any of the above movements as well as with push-ups. For abdominals, mix crunches, sit-ups or planks.
All these exercises are very simple. If done correctly, then 2-3 days a week of the sets and reps listed above would be enough to get back any conditioning and stamina lost over the winter so you can feel just as good when you arrive at your destination as you did when you started your trip. Now get going on those workouts, and don’t forget your helmet when you’re ready to ride!
With both my Undergraduate and Masters' degrees in fitness and over 20 years experience as a Personal Trainer, I'm excited about the opportunity to share my knowledge via this blog. Never before have so many people had such access to information as they do today via the internet, and yet people continue to struggle with weight loss, fitness, and living a healthy lifestyle. As a group, Americans have never been more unhealthy despite having all this information at their disposal. I'm here to help dispell some myths and help as many people as I can to get on the right track. No matter your age or physical condition, it's never too late to make a positive impact on your health and enrich every area of your life!
I have trained a diverse group of clients. For some clients, fitness enhances health and everyday life. For others, it’s a matter of life and death. Whether training athletes or seniors, stay-at-home moms or busy executives, or government and military personnel or police officers, my beliefs are the same. Whatever clients' fitness levels or goals may be, my job is to help them achieve and maintain better, healthier lifestyles so they can be successful in all aspects of life.
As an educator, my job is to teach people how to utilize their surrounding environment to their benefit and get a great workout wherever they are. Lack of traditional weights or a full-scale gym (or a Personal Trainer, for that matter) is not an excuse to avoid working out. I don’t believe in excuses. None of us (including me) can change things for the better without first being honest and acknowledging where we are so we'll know what is required to get to where we want to be. Life is not forgiving, particularly to those trying to justify inaction. Life is multi-dimensional, and that is how we need to approach it. This is the core of my philosophy. Do something new, something good for yourself, and you will be rewarded on many levels.
Thank you for reading my inaugural blog! I look forward to sharing my ideas, answering questions you may have, and hearing your feedback.