Stuff I Learned In 2015

Getting in the zone, the dark side of the internet, what makes a good coach, and the best movies of the year. It’s all about to go down.

LeeB2_139It’s not original at all to create a “year in review” article, but here I sit at my computer, preparing my fourth annual article on that very subject.

I look forward to writing these because they force me to look back on both the good and bad – something I’m not always inclined to do without a prompt.  It helps me gain perspective.

As usual, it’s not a complete year in review without considering the accomplishments – and this year there were a lot of them. Some standout highlights:

  • The year started off on a good note, as I was included in a couple of high-traffic and high-profile websites’ lists of strength and conditioning professionals to watch and follow in 2015. This may not be a big deal to most – these things are subjective – but the truth is, being recognized for efforts in any capacity never goes unnoticed in my books. Especially since no more than two years ago I found myself reading such posts and wondering what it took to make those lists myself. It means people’s respect, and it matters to me. Always will.
  • I wrote over 80 articles online, not including this website or blog guest posts.
  • I was able to connect with a couple of professional sports team strength coaches which led to great collaborations. To me, building new relationships is a key player and these should prove invaluable.
  • I cracked into the female training demographic in more specificity by breaking into Oxygen Magazine, with feature articles in the August and November 2015 issues.
  • On a related note, I set a new personal record of 12 print magazine appearances this year.
  • I increased my radio and podcast appearances, by being a featured guest on WGHN 1370, The PT Prophet Podcast, and The Strength Doc Podcast, among others.
  • Unrelated, but for the first time in my life, I witnessed playoff baseball live. This was a big deal here in Toronto, since it’s been over 20 years since the Jays got in. Pretty electric. I was able to nab seats for both the first and second round, too.
  • I had the privilege of speaking to a full 3rd year college Fitness and Health Promotion program as an industry expert to give my insights and talk training. Whether this begins a regular speaking component to my career, it was excellent to break the ice to 160 students by speaking for a straight 90 minutes.


  • Online, I was able to build a new relationship with the popular Muscle& website. It’s been a pleasure to reach out to such a large audience with my training content.
  • I got a little more recognition.  The website interviewed and featured me as their Notable Young Entrepreneur, as a guy under 30 making a splash in his industry. Check out the article here.
  • It finally looks like I’ve gotten my teeth back in the weight room. If you’ve been following me for some time, you may remember back injuries and back injury scares that plagued 2013 and 2014. Thanks to some training tweaks I’d resolved to make, plus clinical geniuses behind the scenes, I’ve been able to keep any scares at bay, and not shy away from a little “grind”. Here’s a new lifetime PR as proof.

But now it’s time to focus in.

Here are a few lessons learned over the course of the year.

Your Environment And Training Routine Matter. A Lot.

When reading this subheading, most people probably think of the typical contents of a paragraph that pertains to it – namely, training at a well-equipped gym with a good atmosphere, and making sure to lift regularly.  That’s not for an article like this.

What I mean takes things a step further. Since I had the advantage of being virtually injury-free this year, I was able to take a closer look at things that helped me perform at my best – and was able to realize just how much my psychology played into this. Without sounding too “zenny”, it’s worthwhile to recognize that creating an atmosphere of consistency for the body and mind is worth its weight in gold for those training sessions where you’re preparing to move mountains. It’s something a beginner won’t have to worry about quite as much as an intermediate or advanced trainee would, and for fair reason. I learned that I liked lifting my heaviest pulls and pushes using the same bar, stationed at the same rack, around the same time of day. That’s what worked for me, and there’s no real scientific reason for it. Barring stupid methods, I’d warm up the way that worked for me, and I recommend that others apply the same principles. It goes beyond what the textbooks say sometimes – simply for the fact that a textbook or online video can never fully specify you, the individual lifter. They’re giving tips for a general audience. Those tips can be very smart and prioritize safety, but it doesn’t mean that you’re to be imprisoned into following every last one of them to the T, and that doing so will make you feel better and more prepared. If part of your prep phase involves a good static stretch, then do the damn thing. Even if Caligula’s Guide to Strength Training says to avoid it like the plague.

People often forget that part of the goal of preparation is to make you feel prepared, and because of forgetting this, they end up going through the motions since “the program said so”.  It’s like the need for “indicator sets” I talked about in last year’s Year in Review article. Such methods aren’t needed or recommended, but they get you feeling right physically, and help you get in the zone psychologically.  Don’t give them up.

Mainstream Does Not Always Equal Trash

I Was Preparing To Make This Its Own Blog Article, But I Figured Now’s As Good A Time As Ever To Write On This.  It Couldn’t Wait Any Longer.

I’ve said the following line in at least TEN separate articles: The largest platforms available to spread fitness knowledge are often occupied by the fluffiest, most commercialized voices. I still believe this. But I have a problem: as I scroll through my newsfeed on Facebook or Twitter, I often come across posts made by other strength coaches, featuring an article or video from some well known and popular publication, television show, or other online channel. The coach then proceeds to start a thread basically intended to denigrate the coach and the information he’s spreading in said article or video, likely because it’s not all-inclusive, using a questionable vernacular, or just too watered down.

Listen. If a coach’s information is garbage, it’s garbage – and he’s alone to face the music in the form of public backlash. There’s no excuse for not being good at your job if you’re looking to go public to broadcast your smarts (or lack thereof).  Bad quality stuff like this is gives many of these popular shows and publications the bad rap they often get among strength and conditioning professionals. But more than just sometimes, many of us professionals can turn a blind eye to the fact that though information may be watered down, it can still be accurate.

I am a strength coach and fitness writer who has an appreciable measure of mainstream reach in addition to the more “serious”, technical and scientific S&C-oriented places I contribute to. I also have a number of friends in the industry who fall under the same category of having a strong presence in both respects. They will all undoubtedly agree with me when I say that language, sentence structure, space, and application all matter that much more when writing or presenting for a “simpler” publication or media outlet. It’s just the way it goes.  Talking about hip flexor tightness as it relates to alleviating back pain isn’t the be-all and end-all answer. There could be posterior chain dysfunction, pelvic obliquity, and a myriad of tests to put a client through in order to determine the source of the problem on a case-by-case basis. But it doesn’t mean the hip flexor discussion is wrong, or shouldn’t be had. It can still serve as a quick pointer for someone who knows absolutely nothing on the topic.

The mainstream is a different animal. It’s ethically wrong for a coach to spread false information just because it sounds good to the listener’s ear. But giving abridged, general guidelines that can give a person a start is understandable, and it’s a talent that can be honed very specifically and applied very usefully as you build more knowledge, and learn your audience. Mainstream publications and shows aren’t the place for detailed breakdowns of the deep science, and they likely never will be. Accept that, and instead, express your wrath for the coaches on such platforms who really shouldn’t be there; the ones who spread straight up lies.

We Are Protecting Insecurities Too Much, And Not Exposing Them Enough.

You can say what you want, but I think this applies to the Western world in general – not just the 6 or 7 people who are reading this blog. The further you dive into the chasms of social media, the more things move away from “virtual” and towards “reality”. It’s a trap of misperception that people can often fall into. The disconnect that I’ve noticed people develop when distinguishing the real from the unreal has brought our culture into a place where expressing your views or opinions can get you in real trouble if it’s not consistent with the popular thinking – even if what you said is politically correct, and stated as your own personal opinion.

There are the people who decide to dabble into topics that will immediately get them electronically castrated for even putting finger to keyboard, These folks lay down their personal hammers on politics, sexuality, religion, and other sensitive topics. We all know that posting about these things are fuel to debate. I’m not referring to this group.


I’m referring to groups that are quick to search for comfort and a viable argument by using numbers instead of much of anything else. Since I’m a fitness writer, I’ll keep that as my focus for this section. Last year, I wrote an article that addressed the flipside of fat shaming, and earlier this year, I broke my silence on the then trending “dad bod”.  The seriousness of making something unhealthy “okay” simply because someone said it is, can be applied physically but also psychologically. There are many reasons someone can take a “selfie” or a naked bathroom photo and label it a “progress picture”, but depending on that person’s actual state of self-identification, there could end up being very few outcomes of such an act. I won’t assume I know people’s back stories – I don’t.  But I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the fact that there’s an entire generation in existence who know nothing other than virtual reality as their primary form of communication (or at the very least, an extremelyclose second). Understanding the value of building good real-life relationships, and giving a child self-esteem about his or her looks and abilities that’s more tangible than “likes”, “favourites”, or positive reinforcement from strangers is something that I – an unmarried, childless man – can only speculate should begin at home. With the electronic devices turned off.

Brief Interlude – My Favourite Movies Of 2015

So, since this is my third consecutive year of doing this, I guess you can say that movie watching is indeed a full-fledged hobby. What’s funny is that on my twitter feed, I’ve gained some traction strictly for the brief reviews I always tweet after I’ve watched a film.

I’ll start this year’s list with a disclaimer: There are 3 key players that I haven’t yet seen at the time I’ve written this: Those are Star Wars (I had to get through the originals first!), The Revenant (My personal most anticipated movie of 2015… is being released in 2016. Go figure.), and The Hateful Eight (Still in limited release). I’m sure that once these are down, they’d likely bump a couple movies off the top ten list.  All things equal, however, these lists are getting harder to make, let alone chronologize. Here they are, in order. I think I have a side-career lined up.

  1. Sicario – I watched this in theatres three times. Denis Villeneuve has a knack for making tremendous movies out of disturbing subject matter, and Roger Deakins is simply a cinematography Genius. Since they teamed up in my favourite movie of this decade (Prisoners), they haven’t missed. This movie also contains my choice for the best acting job of the year in any category (Benicio del Toro – supporting)
  2. The Gift – This caught me off guard as an early August release. The use of sound, light and subtle acting nuances made it a hidden gem that I couldn’t shake. Many may rank this a bit lower on their lists, but the direction this movie went had me on the edge of my seat, literally until the final second (literally!). In truth, this would be tied for the number 1 spot based on my visceral reaction.
  3. Spotlight – You can’t ask for a better constructed movie. Low budget, with a great cast completely immersed in their roles. This was a real actors’ movie that resembled a play in many spots. At the Oscars, this would be my first choice for Best Picture, based on what will be nominated.
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road – Brilliant movie that defines “action” in every sense. It contained every element you want to see from an action movie, all while travelling at 150 miles per hour. The real life pyrotechnics were a pleasure to watch.
  5. Creed – Another movie that came out of nowhere. It was a fitting follow-up to the Rocky franchise that still worked as a stand-alone movie that wasn’t tethered to the legend. Highly recommended.
  6. Straight Outta Compton – I was worried this wouldn’t do well despite the amount of money going into it, and the cast of B-List actors. I was pleasantly surprised. It also shed light on some serious hip hop history.
  7. The MartianCast Away meets Gravity.  There’s no denying the great lead by Matt Damon, nor the excellent directing and cinematography from Ridley Scott here.  It’s difficult not to be engaged to this plot and care about the lead character. Movies that display a wide array of emotions deserve respect, and this movie did just that.
  8. Room – If there’s anything I believe should or would beat Spotlight for best picture this year, it’s this. It’s a smaller film with a wonderful lead performance by Brie Larson and a pretty gripping story. This movie’s subject matter isn’t really my type, but was it ever good.
  9. The Big Short – This was funny, innovative, and made an extremely boring topic interesting by using some smart tactics to do it. The cast for this was stacked, and they all delivered. Looking forward to watching this one again.
  10. Trumbo – My choice for best actor in a leading role goes to Bryan Cranston. He tore this one up. Well made movie as well. Definitely worth the watch.

Honorable mentions have to go out to Dope, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve Jobs, Concussion, and Spectre. These were solid films, but in most cases they lacked minor elements that kept them off of the top ten.

And with that, you’ve got your homework for 2016. Don’t wait too long.

Your Reputation Matters More Than You Think

We need to remember that making programs for people, getting clients results, not getting clients results, and even our own training all have one thing in common: They all reflect on our own abilities as coaches, whether we want to agree with that or not. Sure, a client could be misusing our programming and therefore misrepresenting our abilities. You could also be completely out of shape but have a wealth of knowledge and a history of being in great shape. The sad truth is, it’s the outside perception that really builds most of our reputation. If our clients and onlookers are impressed by what we do, we’ll get a good review. If they’re not, we won’t.  Even if the grading system is unfair, that’s the way things go.  With this said, it does us all well to give ourselves a bit more credit. I’ve made it clear in past articles that I believe it’s okay to hold back on giving programming when the situation calls for it. I also think turning business away if you have reason to believe a client won’t be able to stay dedicated can be a smart move. Holding clients to a higher standard could be just what both of you need.

This all can be taken a step further in remembering to endorse training protocols that you personally identify with as a coach and as a trainee. In my opinion, your respect will be earned and maintained if you remember to stick with what you know and stay in your lane. It’s a nobler act to say you have no knowledge on a certain subject than to fake it and embarrass yourself, and possibly those who are closely associated with you.

Changing Your Program Keeps You Healthy

As you probably guessed, I learned this the hard way.

My back injury spell was a product of doing too many of the same lifts, too often. There’s nothing wrong with keeping the staple lifts as hub of your program – I’m a proponent of that. But if you have a preexisting issue or dormant contributor that’s only being further muted as your lift gets stronger, something’s going to give, and it’s likely you’ll get hurt.  The world won’t end if you opt for even a short phase of training that’s focused around your mobility, or your bodyweight strength, or a bit more unilateral and core work. Furthermore, strength should indeed be a priority year round, but given you’ve got a solid foundation, there’s no harm in once again regarding your conditioning to maintain a healthy body in other respects. Many people use “strength training” as an excuse to get fat in the name of having a heavier squat and deadlift, all year long. Taking the time to vary rep ranges, movement patterns and even planes of force can be invaluable to keeping your body healthy and exposing weak links that contribute to training plateaus.

TRX Single Leg Burpees. More demanding than you think. Impossible if you’re an immobile waste.

Wrap – Up

These year –end reviews get longer and longer, but I guess that means I’m learning more and more.  The people who collectively inspired this post throughout 2015 will know who they are as soon as they read this.

Believe me when I say it: there’s plenty in store for 2016, the first glimpses of which you’ll all see real soon…

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