Stuff I Learned in 2020

And a different spin on the movie thing, since this year was a wash.

I could go into a lengthy disquisition about my professional experiences or achievements from this year, but I’d have a feeling that I was ignoring an elephant in the room.

There’s no secret: There’s something that has frustrated not only me, but the entire world – at least to some degree. It’s disrupted our normalcy and tampered with everyone’s ability to function, recreate, and work without some form of adjustment. And we all know what that is.

It didn’t feel right to start this annual article off the same way I normally tend to.

Disrupting the status quo the way COVID did this year brings attention to some of the changes the industry needs to see (and some that we’ve all been forced to make), and really put things into perspective over the last 365 days… at least for me.

This is a big hustle game.

Fitness, I mean.

There are coaches and experts out there at ALL levels and platforms who will try to convince you otherwise, but truth is truth.  As necessary a commodity fitness, personal training, and the like should be, it’s still going to take a neat backseat to other professions. I see that firsthand with lockdown restrictions and what’s deemed “essential” in my city.

The result: small fitness businesses everywhere have been forced to close, even more fitness centres –large or small – have struggled with client retention as they’ve frenetically tried to find last-minute patch jobs to keep their lights on – and their membership involved. That’s not easy when you live in a country with seasons.

This ain’t a diatribe against government regulations, or against sanitary, hygiene, or transmission concerns voiced by the authorities.  It’s only to say health and fitness doesn’t hold enough clout to be considered ‘essential’ by those authorities, but also – and more importantly – not by most of the masses, when compared to other things. And there’s not too much we can do about that right now. That’s been exposed to us in the event of crisis.

And many fitness professionals have been royally screwed because of it. It really reminds us of the volatility of this industry, and its overall lack of true, evergreen stability. For better or for worse, that’s very important for a fitness expert to always be aware of – and to keep it in the back of his mind.

That reminder was definitely the first thing I learned this year.  Here are the rest.

The fitness industry is making a pivot

On the heels of the above, most of us had to find ways to make ends meet.  For some, it wasn’t that hard to make a transition or to direct more attention to other sources of income under the umbrella of fitness. Very luckily, my ongoing online coaching, coupled with my writing and teaching have made the process of eliminating in-person client coaching for the majority of 2020 (and yes, into 2021) much more bearable. For others, it’s not quite the same.

As much as I feel for these ones, it should also be something to take note of. This is our chance to get on board with the imminent pivot the fitness industry has been coerced into making for the foreseeable future.

In one of dozens of interviews I did over the year, a question I was asked was simply what I see the next few years holding in store for personal trainers. My answer was simple: The virtual world – be it virtual training sessions, online program design, or even mere building traction through content creation on social platforms and websites – is going to have the strongest demand ever. Even when COVID-19 clears, it won’t mean 100% of people who used to belong to gyms will be perfectly fine returning to them.  Moreover, there’s going to be much more independence that people will find in wanting to do things themselves after having spent the last calendar year basically stocking their home gyms learning just that. Third, the amount of companies that have cut costs, stress, and commute times by applying work-from-home protocols probably won’t be as easily reversed as we might think. If you’re not already dialed in with your business online, now’s the time to be.

Likewise, when personal training does make its full force return, be open to the idea of going to clients in the comfort of their home gyms, rather than the clients coming to your facility or workplace. The reasons above really drive this idea home. People with COVID transmission concerns would likely be more comfortable having a trainer be the only person who shares the controlled space with them, rather than a gym with any number of visitors.  Plus, it puts all the equipment they invested in to good use.  If you can, now’s the time to save up for a beater and make yourself mobile – just in case your region calls for it.

To make fitness truly all-inclusive and accessible, more work needs to be done

As a whole, training and good nutrition comes at a high price point. Good training facilities, healthy food options for sale, and the like also tend to be designated to the more affluent or middle class areas of metropolises like mine. That outcasts many people who aren’t in said economic bracket and makes it harder for such ones to same the same access to the same healthy living.

It’s a big ask, but seeing this change is imperative if we want to make fitness accessible to everyone. There’s a going rate for personal training in most cities, but there shouldn’t be an unreachable financial requirement to simply belong to a gym and pursue health and wellness. When the nearest commercial gym for a low-income citizen is 30 minute bus ride away, and costs 3 digits monthly to even walk in the doors, there’s a problem. Before this subheading becomes too political, I’ll stop here.

I’m Basically Done with Chasing Numbers

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you’ve probably read or seen referenced my groundbreaking injury that I had at 30. Since then (and honestly, even a little bit before it happened), I’d been adopting the habit of diversifying my training to a progressively larger degree as time went on. This isn’t necessarily a new “revelation” for me, but a reaffirmation that the endless chase for PR numbers and maximum strength is basically in my rear view mirror.

Before the injury, I got strong with impressive numbers in the gym. At the time of the injury, I couldn’t use my legs. In the next year and a half, I got back to being strong again, with basically the same impressive numbers, give or take a few pounds. And that’s enough. There should be a time for everyone where they realize that they’re strong enough to train to maintain their levels of ability rather than push for more.  It neglects other aspects of fitness, and starts moving you closer and closer to an injury thanks to too much of a good thing. That’s the law of diminishing returns screaming at you from point-blank range. Nobody wants that.

Arguing Training Methods is a rabbit hole for the fearful or unmotivated

In my second full year on Instagram, I’ve been exposed to such a high number of internet form police crusaders, armseat coaches, and professional refuters whose Instagram pages all have three things in common: No profile photo, a private account you have to request to follow, and no links to public places where their own training advice or footage can be found. Funny.

Ask yourself this question: Am I consuming content to look for ways to argue with it? Or to dig for gems of information within that content that I can apply?

When every exercise presents some form of “risk” to you, you’re tricking yourself out of the hard work that’s necessary to see any kind of legitimate gains.

…And when you do that, it gives you a whole lot more time to critique people’s workouts and advice on the internet.

Exercises have to work for you. Not just for Science.

When I was 20 years old, I trained well.

I followed set programming, stayed true to it, and always did my biggest, heaviest lifts first in the session. I had a solid warmup protocol that I never missed every single workout. I had strength and size training as my top priorities, and neglected bodyweight training and avoided cardio like the plague as I was certain it would counter my gains. These were the rules, and they meant more muscle and more power.

Then I hit my 30’s.

Today, my big, heavy lifts happen 2nd in a workout, 3rd in a workout, or whenever they happen – if they happen. I warm up for each session in a way that “takes”. Whatever works and feels good is what I’m spending the most time on. Bodyweight training occupies at least half of my training week – and my goals have changed to accommodate housing those kinds of workouts into my programming, if I follow set programming.  I include cardio into almost all of my workouts, and it either happens before or after I lift. Or both.  Now, I make the rules.

This came from learning my body and taking the time to make the necessary changes as I got older. If you go into the fitness and training game thinking that the way you train NOW should be the way you train in 15, 25, or 35 years – no matter how “sound” those rules are – you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Of course, there are general principles to direct your actions that are worth following, but there are COUNTLESS intangibles that will lend to your longevity of being healthy, athletic, strong, conditioned, lean, flexible and mobile, if you decide to give those intangibles your attention.

Figure out the whole point of your training in the big picture. It probably shouldn’t be to reach a certain number you can move on the bar. That kind of goal has a shelf life, and though it may make you happy, but probably won’t KEEP you happy. Just saying.

Interlude: My Top 20 Movies of the Last Decade (2010-2019)

Say what you will – 2020 was a complete wash for film. From the strictly digital releases, to pushbacks, to just plain disappointing productions, I made the decision that this year’s top films list should focus on the good things of the past ten years, rather than struggle with a challenging year of movies. With that said, rounding up and chronologizing the 20 best films of the most recent decade was in no way a simple task. This took much, much longer than I ever expected. What I enjoyed most about this task was the fact that the passing of time in some cases changed my opinion of the strength of certain films. Some films don’t mature as well as others, and the replay value begins to diminish. In other cases, repeat viewings bring attention to areas of the film worth plenty of appreciation. For that reason – and if you’ve been following along with my year end blogs from prior years – you’ll notice that certain films may earn higher or lower spots on this list than anticipated.

Of course, this is my own list, containing my own opinions. I’m basing this list on the following criteria:  

  • The film’s production value (things like camera work, cinematography, sound design and musical scores/soundtrack),
  • The cast’s acting quality
  • The film’s storyline (was it cohesive? Engaging? Believable? If based on a true story, were liberties taken? Were there plot holes?)
  • The film’s intent (did the movie achieve the effect/viewing experience it was going for as a whole?)
  • The film’s themes/messages (what was the movie trying to “say”, if anything?)

I’ve got my personal preferences for film genre, but I’ve tried my best to put those preferences aside to be as inclusive as possible for the fairest choices for the craft. And holding to the above criteria made many films I held in high regard, rank differently than expected. Many movies from the past decade that I thought were excellent and I reviewed very strongly – but don’t quite make the cut for me for a top 20 of the decade list, based on checking all the boxes for the criteria above.

15 Late Cuts

Before I get into my final choices, here are a list of excellent late cuts that came close, but didn’t quite make my roundup:

The Town (2010)
The Ides of March (2011)
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Whiplash (2014)
Bridesmaids (2011)
The Big Short (2015)
Django Unchained (2012)
Logan (2017)
The Avengers (2012)
Life of Pi (2012)
Foxcatcher (2014)
Gone Girl (2014)
Spotlight (2015)
Drive (2011)
Creed (2015)

The Final List

  1. Prisoners (2013) – Brilliantly acted, brilliantly shot, brilliantly directed, and a tense thriller that questions humanity and the moral compass, while exploring parenthood, grief and coping. This is the closest to a perfect score you’ll see from me for the past 10 years, and very deserving of my #1 spot.
  2. Birdman (2014) – From the electric pacing, to the cinematography edited to appear as one continuous 2 hour take, to the drum-only musical score, to the characters who were all playing versions of their real-life selves as actors, this was an A+ production that had a lot to say about sensationalist media, pop culture, film, theatre, celebrity and acting. The runtime flies by.
  3. Inception (2010) – Christopher Nolan is one of very few directors I believe could successfully pull off a completely original (not adapted) film about planting a singular idea in someone’s mind by way of manipulating dreams. This is an iconic mindbender sci-fi that pulls no punches in its intricacy, with a high budget to boot. There are a handful of memorable scenes that will go down in history.
  4. Joker (2019) – This was probably the most ambitious film on this list that blew me away when I saw it last year. One of the best lead performances by anyone, ever, and a storyline laced with ambiguity, that still boldly makes implications in its linkages to the Batman/DC universe. This was easily one of the best comic book-based origin stories (and movies) I’ve ever seen.
  5. Arrival (2016) – A cerebral science fiction that takes a very literal approach to how earth would respond to the landing of UFOs. With an awesome score behind it, this explores communication, time, and language in a brilliant way. Easily one of the best science fiction films of this generation.
  6. The Social Network (2010) – The impact this movie made back when it was released almost exactly 10 years ago probably didn’t predict for itself that it would be even more relevant and poignant today. For that reason it jumped several places on this list. Jesse Eisenberg was perfectly cast for his role as Mark Zuckerberg, and the film’s narration, camera work and overall pacing make this a riveting watch from start to finish.
  7. The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) – Told in 3 distinct acts, this movie was a massive surprise when I saw it years ago. It hinges on its strong storytelling, with powerful themes of fatherhood, ethics, and loyalty. By the time you get to the end, it’s amazing to remind yourself where this film began.
  8. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Easily the best purist action movie of the past decade – and maybe even beyond, this film used real-life pyrotechnics to reinforce a literal 2 hour hi-octane sprint that never ever takes its foot off the gas pedal. In addition to it being a visual feast, this is as raw a genre film as you can get, that left the capacity audience physically applauding at more than a few instances during its runtime. That’s rare.
  9. The Dark Knight Rises (2013) – A really satisfying conclusion to the best rendition of Batman to date. Here, Bruce Wayne is faced with his physical superior with a great plan of action for power, and the movie wraps things up in a way that brings a good character arc to everyone in the main cast. This was easily the most highly anticipated film of that year, and it delivered in a memorable way.
  10. American Hustle (2013) – There’s a reason this David O’Russell production landed Oscar nominations for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture. It’s that good. The naturalness of the writing, the seamlessness of the plot, and the witty situational humor make this a film that combines comedy and drama in the most perfect way. This was my choice of that year’s selected nominees to win the Oscar for Best Picture.
  11. Sicario (2015) – This is a gritty look at the cartel world in Juarez, that, in typical Denis Villeneuve fashion, takes a closer look at an ethical dilemma for the purpose of greater good. A show-stealing side plot ends up taking centre stage here, and a tremendous score and dry, heartless energy dictate the pacing and mood to capture the audience for an awesome action film.
  12. Get Out (2017) – Jordan Peele’s debut as a director left a real mark on both the horror genre, and also the sub-genre of examining race and culture in society. Very smart takes with homage to plenty of classic films and filmmakers made this a great experience from start to finish. This moved up much higher on this list compared to where I placed it back in its year of release, and I believe it’s a film that will continue to mature very well.
  13. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) – This film successfully, sarcastically, humorously, and seriously addressed several themes including racism, relationships, revenge, and civil rights – all as part of a dormant rape case that a grieving mother takes into her own hands. Partially for her own closure and sanity, and partially for justice. This movie had a wonderful ensemble performance, led by Frances McDormand, and 2 hours felt more like 40 minutes with how well this one flowed. An impactful experience that covers an array of emotions within it.
  14. Wind River (2017) – This movie contained explosive action scenes while respecting its dramatic and sobering subject matter, bringing more attention to Native American life and treatment in society, along with women’s rights. Jeremy Renner, Gil Birmingham and Elizabeth Olsen all bring their A-Game.
  15. Parasite (2019) – Darkly funny, a poor, struggling family in Korea, take advantage of their “dirty” skills to take advantage of a rich family’s money and naivety. Before long, they’ve set themselves up to be in a much better situation for themselves, but not without consequences. Simple plot, but constructed so well that it makes astute commentary on classism, politics, the American Dream, culture clashes, parenthood, legacy, and a whole lot more. This makes the plot almost come across as completely symbolic, along with each characters in it. This foreign film brought its A – game to compete with all the box office bruisers from the USA and ultimately win the Oscar for best picture.
  16. Moonlight (2016) – Told in three “chapters” and dripping with character development and a very talented cast, this film was one of the heavier, emotional productions, which I’ve learned is Barry Jenkins’ typical style. On a technical level, this film is very difficult to beat.
  17. The Revenant (2015) – There’s no other way to describe this journey that takes you back to early 19th century survivalism: Crazy. This film is absolutely crazy and about as raw as it gets. Show-stealing work from Tom Hardy, and Leonardo DiCaprio as his usual, great self bring the acting to the level of the insane cinematography and unfathomable shots.
  18. Incendies (2010) – The second foreign movie to land a spot on my list, this French film is better to watch with less of the plot divulged beforehand. Following a twin brother and sister’s journey of retracing their mother’s past life to uncover clues about their past, leaves the audience with a kick in the face delivered with incredible flashback-reliant storytelling.
  19. Nightcrawler (2014) – Another one of the best lead acting performances on this list, Jake Gyllenhaal completely transforms into an obsessive, hungry and sociopathic news scavenger who gets further and further in over his head as he tiptoes the lines of legality to be the best at his job. Great movie, great action, great acting.
  20. The Gift (2015) – This had to make the list for me, even if it’s to nab the final spot. I thought this movie was expertly crafted to slowly build tension while creating an incredibly effective suspense/thriller that highlights the principle that all actions lead to eventual consequences. This film was a masterful revenge plot, disguised as a light horror film, and technicalities like use of light, the score, and camera angles amplified it. Though generally well reviewed, I gave this film an A+ when it came out, and still give it the same score today.


That was fun. And if there’s any time to get your rentals on and get caught up on some great productions… it’s now. Enjoy.

And with that, we return.

Your results don’t only depend on your efforts. They depend on your reality.

If you want the body and fitness level of Serena Williams, LeBron James, or Jennifer Lopez, but you’re a middle aged adult with a 60 hour desk job, average levels of income, a family, and a semblance of a social life, you’d probably be smart to adjust your expectations.

Too often, people frame their expectations around those with unlimited resources to structure their lives around their training.  That’s not realistic. And if it is now, it won’t be forever.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get results. It just means your results may happen at a slower, steadier rate. Be at peace with that, and try to stay off of social media.

Online Coaches need to Step their Game Up.

Earlier, I made it clear that this is certainly the era for the virtual world of coaching to acquire a bigger presence than it’s ever had. I stand by this. But this also places much more onus on the online coach to provide quality through that medium.

I’ve heard a few sad stories this year involving acquaintances of mine signing up for online coaching with various well-established coaches. The understanding would be that they’d be assessed, given feedback, delivered programming, and overseen as they went through the plan.  Unfortunately, it often cracked up to be much more cookie-cutter in nature. Check-ins were infrequent. Assessments weren’t in existence. In some cases, it wasn’t even clear as to whether the program was actually made for them, or if the coach they were working with was indeed the coach who they signed up for.

When online coaches get very busy, quality goes down. Plain and simple. The truth of the matter is, it takes a lot of work to stay engaged with every client on an online roster. And it doesn’t take too high a number of active trainees to know when you’ve reached your personal capacity.

A big-deal coach would do well to simply be honest. If a team of trainers work under your name, that’s fine – as long as the clients aren’t left in the dark about exactly whom they’re working with.  If your programs are fixed, generic plans that you give out to many people of a certain skill level, that’s fine too – as long as the clients are made aware that this is a set program, and not a custom made one.

Just don’t lie. The worst thing that can happen for an online coach’s reputation is a growing number of dissatisfied clients who’ve never even met you in person.

Earning respect is 50% knowledge and work ethic. The other 50% is your network.

This sounds like a salty “it’s who you know” claim – but it’s not. When you’re good at what you do, people will talk about it. That’s not just limited to paying clients. You’ll earn the respect of your peers, and become visible by a larger crowd. This can produce a domino reaction as long as you keep sticking to your guns and doing the right things professionally. It should feel easy if this is what you’re actually passionate about doing.

One major reason why I have one of these blogs to write every year-end is the simple fact that each year I still accomplish things I didn’t the year before. I’ve earned the right to be in certain professional circles, and respect goes both ways.  There aren’t handouts in this game – only rewards to affirm hard work and effort. Hard work pays off, and that shouldn’t be forgotten – even in an era of entitlement. When colleagues speak highly of you, and you’ve done your due diligence of being a referral source to other professionals, you’ve created the perfect storm for building a solid career foundation. The second you try to be an expert in everything under the sun, you’re forfeiting the opportunity to be a useful resource for many, many clients. When you can’t be relied on for that purpose (even if it initially loses you some direct business), you’ll starve for much longer.


I’m sure most people are glad to put an end to such a disruptive year, especially if they belong to the fitness industry. But it behooves us to remember the sobering reality that we’re not quite out of the woods yet where “adjustments” are concerned.  COVID-19 and all of the modifications we’ve needed to acclimate to will still be in style like a new pair of shoes for the foreseeable future. With the turn of a calendar year, I suppose it means we’ll be able to be somewhat more prepared for what awaits us.

If there’s one more thing I learned, it’s that planning ahead for things derailing is worth its weight in gold for a fitness expert – and if you don’t have a plan B and even a plan C and D in this game, it’s wise to start looking into finding them.

The good news is, from here, the only direction we can move is upward.


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