Stuff I Learned in 2021

And my Top 12 Movies of the Year.

It’s hard to imagine that during a pandemic, things still found a way to fly by between January and today – especially since this year in review is only my 8th blog article of 2021. Time certainly escaped me. Amid work-from-home protocols, gym closures, and cancelled speaking events, the year was every bit as interesting as it was in 2020. I think most would agree that 2021 served as something of a sequel to its predecessor. The good news is, a greater percentage of us knew what to expect.

I know I did. And this year, I tried to make lemons out of lemonade and keep the grind going. It led to a few accomplishments worth speaking of:

  • I had articles published by major publications 40 times this year, including 7 print magazine issues. I’m especially happy to have broken into and developed great content for STRONG Fitness Magazine.
  • I spoke for the 2021 Can Fit Pro global conference this year, which was a virtual success. Looking forward to more with them in coming years.
  • I was named to the advisory board for both Men’s Health and STRONG magazines. You can find my name in the mastheads of both in every issue.
  • I did a lot of it. Maybe this may not count as a true “accomplishment” related to my career, but upping the volume on sprinting was something I wanted to achieve this summer, especially as a post-knee surgery dude.
  • As a whole, this was a better year for training consistency. There was less to disrupt a good average frequency of 5 to 6 training days per week, and that’s more than I can say for other years.
  • I was able to speak for the Smarter Team Training virtual conference (based in Virginia), for a great lecture on mobility training.
  • My Instagram audience has built itself past the 35,000 mark – which is a big deal in my books, based on the nature of the content I share. I’d like to think this viewership is fairly good quality and based an organic come-up. Here’s to 35 more.

The truth is, this list could be a bit longer, but I typically don’t broadcast anything until the task is complete and tangible.  With that said, there should be some interesting breakthroughs in 2022 for which the groundwork has been set today. Exciting times.

Amid the madness, I was able to train my clients, teach my students, and pick up a few lessons learned from the professional and personal world along the way – and they’re ones worth sharing yet again.  For the 10th anniversary of this instalment, here it is for the year’s end, folks.

You’ll Inevitably Have a Bad Client Encounter.

You can be doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing as a personal trainer. You could show up on time, coach and cue to perfection, and deliver the professionalism any gym manager would look highly upon.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll be the perfect fit for every client.

Moreover, the reality of this game is that inevitably, you’re going to end up bumping heads with a client or three along the way. This is unavoidable, and it’s better to prepare yourself as to how you’ll deal with it when it happens. When clients abuse the dynamic of the relationship between themselves and their trainers, things can get a bit murky. We’re service providers, so yes – we get paid to provide the service to the client. But when a client thinks we “work for them”, it can strain the relationship and make it awkward when we’re still supposed to be the ones who tell them what to do. When a client takes that a step further and starts discounting the importance of your work, devalues your time, or thinks refunds or missed sessions can be treated any way they please, it’s decision time for you as a trainer – and my advice would be to take the high road whenever and wherever possible. The last thing you’d want is for things to get ugly and for a client to have leverage over you from a professional standpoint. If something isn’t right, there’s nothing wrong with standing ground, but if the greater good is to respectfully part ways, it may be worth taking the hit in the long run.

Some clients just like control, and some clients just love starting problems. Both of those are bad news when put in combination with the fitness industry (especially if you’re a sole proprietor).  And chances are, you’re not the only service provider they’re like this with. Be wary, and try not to let it drag on for too long.

The Best type of Training is ALWAYS the Type You Aren’t Doing Enough of.

Y’all know me.  I train every kind of way.

Of course, my allegiance for the most part has been biased toward resistance training, but under that umbrella I try to really improve at more than just conventional barbell exercises. I also try to attack the conditioning, muscular endurance, and other aspects of health and skill related fitness as much as I hit the standard strength and hypertrophy stuff. I’ve found that it’s great for the fitness (lending to the title of this subheading), but more importantly, that I’ll always be involved in a tradeoff game worth playing. Taking time to focus on strength or hypertrophy will likely mean a relative decline in flexibility or mobility. Body comp or muscular endurance will likely mean reduced strength. I can go on.

Knowing that the greater good is being served with the decision you make to diversify your training should take your focus away from the “gains” you’re losing in one department, and should motivate you to continue training all departments instead. This is a lifelong game, and you’ll have plenty of time to pursue any goal you want.  If you actually want to get fitter and have a better life, it’s worth being honest and reconsidering your program phases.

In this World, Convenience Rules All. Period.

The harsh reality of this situation is that people want easy, and people want quick. We can talk about this from a ‘results’ perspective, but I actually wanted to examine it from a different angle. You (and other trainers) may see the value and benefit of traveling to a wicked gym that’s 20 or 30 minutes away, compared to the so-so gym that’s across the street – but most fitness professionals or serious lifters don’t have a mindset toward fitness that represents the grand majority of the general population’s.  Many people will be quick to sign up for the gym that’s across the street, or pay for the trainer who comes to their home, rather than one they have to drive out to meet.

With all its apps, gadgets and services, the whole world has set the stage for this standard of convenience to be expected.  Especially since we’re going through a pandemic, intermittent gym closures and work days spent at home, people are more prone to make their home or immediate vicinity the one-stop-shop for all of their needs. And we need to understand what that means for us if we’re in the fitness industry.

For one, it may possibly mean being mobile and available for clients who now want personal training in their fully stocked home gym. Also, it could mean being adaptable with programming for clients who are contently set in lesser-equipped spaces, again, for the convenience factor.  People want to get in and get out; make the gym a quick stop on the way, so it doesn’t inconvenience their routine. And many people don’t consider the gym much more than a “have-to-do” chore. The better you can get as a coach in working with the bare essentials (or maybe less than the bare essentials), the more success you’ll set yourself up for – especially in these particular times.

Social Media is a Massive Resource.

I mentioned my Instagram audience and its rate of growth in my “accomplishments” to start this article. That goes to show that I don’t take social media lightly as far as its power in reaching people and getting good information out there.

Many are quick to malign social media where fitness content is concerned as being absolutely nothing but fluffy, clickbait, thirst trap fitness accounts that do nothing to benefit the industry. As much as I can do without social media, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the above isn’t true, and it actually depends where you look.  Show me a trainer who says they haven’t learned anything new, useful, innovative, or informative from Instagram fitness posts, and I’ll show you a liar. I’ve built my entire account around providing just that for people, and I’m certainly not the only one.

Social media are free platforms that can serve as amazing resources for you to learn and apply in the field, and that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Like any high profile industry, you’ll have to filter past the fluff to uncover the goods – and even if they’re outnumbered, they’re there. Recently, I made a post on my Instagram of about 20 of my favorite IG pages to learn from.

Interlude: My Top 12 Movies of 2021

I’m pleased to report a reasonable return to form for movies this year, after what was basically a wash for 2020. Now that production companies have learned to adapt to other forms of release (and the fact that most theatres have returned to functionality), it’s meant plenty of new films to check out, and an especially strong close to 2021. Strong enough to amass a list of 12 that stood out to me for the year. As an aside, I’m really excited how much hype this section of my final blog articles has generated over the years.

As always, this is a list of my personal favorites, placed in order. If you have me on twitter, you’ll notice my short reviews on each movie I see, followed by a grade. Some films that I may have graded higher as a production may appear lower on my list – or vice versa. This can be simply because of personal preferences, or based on how that film sat with me over the remainder of the year.

Of course, this section wouldn’t be complete without first acknowledging a short list of my honorable mentions:

Free Guy – I had so much fun with this, that it was tough to exclude it from the final lineup.

Old – A great concept that was an entertaining exploration. Not perfect, but definitely a not-so-guilty pleasure.

The Power of the Dog – Well acted psychological warfare that really makes you deep dive into the characters and metaphors after the fact.

The Card Counter – Quietly (and brilliantly) led by Oscar Isaac, this is a dark but immersive experience.

Shang Chi – Breakthrough movie for Marvel, and some of the best fight choreography in their catalogue.

West Side Story – Pretty impressive what Spielberg was able to recreate here. This film was a good length runtime away from making my final list.

F9: The Fast Saga – Over the top and self aware. A great combination when you want to tune out and be entertained.

I’d also like to do one thing I haven’t before, and mention two noteworthy actress performances that were nomination-worthy, despite being a part of movies that I didn’t enjoy as much:  Lady Gaga (House of Gucci) and Kristen Stewart (Spencer) turned in the best work of each of their careers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stewart come away with an Oscar based on acclaim.

And Now, the Final List

  1. King Richard – It’s not often that my favourite performance of the year is a part of my favourite movie of the year. Will Smith is definitely a front runner for Best Actor with his portrayal of Richard Williams, and this was a crowd pleaser of a film with themes so positive that it would be a crime not to place it in the number 1 spot.
  2. Blue Bayou – Talk about heavy, this film channeled memorable experiences in past years like The Place Beyond the Pines, Waves, and You were Never Really Here. Sobering truths about the immigration system, and a great turn for Just Chon in the leading role. Extra kudos go to him for also writing and directing this film. I’m very disappointed that most people didn’t hear about this film.
  3. Dune – Denis Villeneuve, my favorite director, was successful in creating a science fiction world that was as immersive as they come. Some of the best sci-fi visuals of recent years, and a story that’s quite cool even for a non-enthusiast of the franchise.
  4. The Last Duel – You’d think a medieval film using the Rashomon effect (the same situation shown from various vantage points) would get stale, but it does quite the opposite. Despite some intense subject matter, this film built up to a great culmination and earned every minute of its lengthy runtime. Another film that flew under the radar for many audience members.
  5. Nightmare Alley – Since seeing this, I haven’t stopped thinking about the plot and how it progressed over its runtime. This film really sneaks up on you and reveals itself to be something quite different than what it starts as. I always love a film that can nail its ending.
  6. A Quiet Place Part 2 – A fitting sequel to an already strong first instalment. This film smartly uses both the past and the future to flesh out the landscape even more thoroughly to answer questions a viewer may have.
  7. No Time to Die – As a casual Bond fan, I found this to be a fun ride and a fitting conclusion to the Daniel Craig Bond era. The supporting cast involved a villain character I had no issue with, and an always electric, Ana De Armas.
  8. Belfast – If King Richard contained the most sincere lead performance, this film contained the most sincere ensemble performance. This Irish-set film balanced child perspectives with adult perspectives, and mashed despair, happiness, chaos, and discovery into a nice, warm stew. Caitriona Balfe turns in my favorite actress performance of the year. I anticipate this being the Best Picture winner at the Oscars.
  9. Don’t Look Up – Adam McKay understands the comedy/drama balance better than most directors in the game. I found the majority of this film, especially due to its editing, to be hysterical while addressing a metaphor for climate change. Another great ensemble performance here, that finds the perfect balance.
  10. The French Dispatch – Corky, quick, and imaginative. This ode to journalism gives three experiences told in three chapters that allows the viewer to choose his favorite. Add that to great cinematography and the trademark Wes Anderson fisheye camera lens, and we have a great time.
  11. The Tragedy of Macbeth – Another killer performance for Denzel Washington. This was basically told line for line out of the Shakespeare Old English writings, & the set/production design was made to mimic a film created in the 1920’s, but set in the 1200’s. And it nailed it. A real treat for Shakespeare fans.
  12. Licorice Pizza – This reminded me of a Richard Linklater film, in its meandering plotline with plenty to independently unpack on its lead characters. An endearing watch that features both leads representing what the other doesn’t have, for an interesting, darkly funny psychological ride.

That’s all folks. Be sure to check these out on whatever streaming platform you find them on.

Now, Back to the stuff I learned.

 

A Proper Attitude toward Fitness means Earning your Excuses

I’ll keep this one short:

If you’re claiming mental health as a reason you’re not motivated to train – it better actually be mental health.  If you’re a person who’s constantly “planning” to get serious about fitness and nutrition and are waiting for the next momentous date to “begin” – like your birthday, or new year’s day, or the turn of a season, it’s time to be honest and take a look within.  If this exposes the fact that you may be using the above as nothing but crutches to perpetuate your procrastination, here’s the reality check and “sign” you’ve been waiting for to stop.

Moreover, taking two weeks off the gym or good food choices isn’t much of a break or ‘reward’ per se, when there was no time you ever spent two consistent weeks “on” in those departments. When you’re doing the right things and progressing toward gains of any sort, it makes the times you depart from those habits feel and taste that much better.  Get your mind right. If you needed to hear this, take the next steps.

Training should get More Adaptive as we Age.

This isn’t a song I’ve never sung before.

At 35, the amount of attention I need to give certain things where my training is concerned is quite different than it used to be.

I don’t train longer, I don’t train more, I don’t train less intensely, and I don’t train harder. I just train differently.

It is possible to train hard without training heavy.  And it is possible to train heavy without training hard.

The amount of time I spend ramping to my max sets may be greater than the amount of time I spend in my max sets.

I may leave more in the tank during certain lifts, and replace that effort with a hard push in accessory movements.

I may take full days dedicated to tough calisthenics work, or straight up cardio training.

I may stop or drastically change workouts midway through based on how things are feeling.

I may program 2 or 3 days off back to back because they’re needed.

I may scratch an intended off day and train instead, because that’s needed.

My point is, I train intuitively, and that means being adaptive in the moment, and also in the big picture. It’s a reason why the no-fixed-programming thing kind of works well for me.

I’ll say all that with the following disclaimer: I’ve been at this a long time, I have my fair share of muscle, and a really good base of strength. I’m not the average person in these departments, and therefore I can afford to have less structure than the next guy might. With that said, a person in my age category who’s looking for good training may need carefully designed structure that suits their place in life. Finding the most intense program on the internet and going to town can spell danger if you’re not fit for it. Working with a coach who can customize things is worth the investment – and personally, it’s something I try to devote plenty of time and care toward so my clients can see the difference.

Experience is a Legit Credential. Actually.

It’s baffling for me to imagine that in this day and age, there are still trainers and employers who would rather work with someone with nothing but their school-based credentials and not a shred of in-the-trenches experience, compared to someone 20 years deep into the craft, who may have fewer certificates of formal education to their name. I’m not okay with this.

The truth of the matter in my case remains the same and only grows with each passing year: The things I learned by doing the job, along with the things I learned being the guinea pig – not only as a personal training client myself, but also as an everyday lifter, and back in the days as a collegiate level track athlete – can easily equal if not surpass the importance of things learned in any schooling I attended in my journey, be it kinesiology classes, certification courses, or things between. This isn’t to say that people should shirk any responsibility to learn formally; everyone can benefit from doing so. But this is a rare industry where getting immersed in the game as early as possible and learning through practical application can mean huge leaps and bounds for a trainer.

We service people. We interact with them. We have to have soft skills that books and lectures will never be able to teach. I’m often asked for my top piece of advice is for a young trainer looking to get better, and my answer has been the same for a number of years now: Make yourself a client by hiring a coach. The best one you can think of. It’s an investment that will be worth your while if you take it seriously.

Wanting Every Goal at the Same Time is Dangerous.

I’ll admit this: I’m guilty as charged.  At the same time, I think many of us are when being honest. Seeing your favorite action star in a new movie, or your favorite athlete kill it in a game can start making you go after all the goals under the sun, which can mean dissatisfaction with specific gains you should be proud of.

Personally, I’ve been known to want a large, imposing physique that doesn’t disappear under a hoodie. I’ve also wanted the athletic, powerful, muscular yet mobile capabilities of a sprinter or football running back. However, I know being all that “heavy” by scale weight isn’t serving me any real benefits, so cutting down and dropping body fat is another priority – all the while not losing the ability to move big weight in the gym.

It’s ridiculous and irrational.

Tuning out the noise we see in popular culture is half the battle to solving this problem. Social media can be pernicious in this department, and provide as much danger as it does ‘fitness motivation’, and it’s worth being careful when using it.  What matters most is that you (and I) keep the tunnel vision, focused around the progress of one or two goals at a time, and no more. Once the training phase is over, it’s time to pick new goals to zero in on.  Remember – this is a lifetime thing.

 

2022

Another year, another year in review. 2022 shows promise early on – and hopefully pandemic life will be seeing is exit. We’ll have to wait and see.  15 years in this game has always been a marker for me to begin having my eyes set on some new developments and other “chapters” under the fitness umbrella. I’ll be looking forward to pursuing them, and keeping you all in on the goods.

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