Stuff I Learned in 2022

And the Top 12 Movies of the Year.

This year went by in a hurry.

And only one blog article per quarter to lead up to my summation of 2023? That’s not good, but I should have more time next year.

A lot went on in 2022. It was the first year here in Canada where virtually everything was “back to normal” regarding COVID restrictions and mandates. Minus the fact that my new couch is still about 12 weeks behind on backorder due to understaffing, it’s been refreshing to see normalcy, and be able to get out and do things again.

That includes gym life too. Capacity restrictions, mask protocols and more, routinely frustrated the ability for fitness businesses to do anything more than hold on for dear life to keep heads above water and make ends meet. Luckily, I was able to make it through the madness, and had a couple of good moments along the way. Some highlights:

  • I spoke in Florida at the Raise the Bar conference – one of the best run events I’ve personally taken part in.
  • I spoke in Colorado Springs for the NSCA annual Personal Trainers Conference. There I was also able to make some key new connections within the industry.
  • Among many other podcasts for 2022, I was privileged to get the invite to be a guest on the podcast of two major influences in my early career: Mike Robertson’s Physical Prep Podcast (check out that episode here), and Joe DeFranco’s Industrial Strength Show (and that episode here). These are people whose information really shaped the way I built my training expertise, and these interviews were real full-circle moments for me, after 15 years in the game.
  • I was able to get an 8-page feature article in Men’s Health magazine, which is my largest contribution to that magazine to date. It was the first contribution to the magazine for my coauthor for the article, Melody Schoenfeld, making for breakthroughs all round.
  • I had my articles published in 6 print magazines for the year, including one new entry into Muscle Memory Magazine.
  • Last, but most important: I wrote a book with Melody. This is easily the biggest accomplishment I can speak for, which is why I waited to put it down. The Science of Lifting and Levers was a 2-year passion project that one of the most legitimate publication companies in exercise science was adamant to get behind. 14 chapters and 288 pages of greatness in this one, that literally contains something to help ALL lifters of any body type or skill level, improve their game in an individualized way. It’s available everywhere at this point (I even got word that it’s a part of the catalogue in the Library of Congress!). And here’s my plug for you to get your copy.

 

But enough about me. It’s time to talk about the take-home points of the year, and things worth reflecting on as things wrap up. There sure are a lot of them.

 

The Fitness Landscape will be Different for a While

Straight up. With COVID still being a real concern for a contingent of people, there will always be a group who are more comfortable working out at home, and an even larger group who are relegated to doing their jobs at home due to the restructuring of their companies. Let’s face it – many businesses probably learned how much more efficient and even cost-effective it is to keep the work-from-home protocols in place, which means it’s on the fitness industry to adapt.

That means more online coaching.

That means more program design.

And that means more in-home trainers who are ready and mobile.

Moreover, the amount of cutbacks and job losses this period has produced does mean the PT industry is probably being seen as a bit more of a luxury than in recent times – at least where I live. Though it’s not a great idea to lower rates, it may be worth considering a diverse approach to services provided, if that’s not something currently available.  Definitely a prudent move in an industry that simply lacks stability even at the best of times.

 

Writing a Book is No Simple Task

Writing Lifting and Levers was a labour of love, and a real process.  There’s a huge difference between writing a single 1600 word article for a magazine, and a 14 chapter book at 7000 words per chapter. There’s another level of fact-checking and citation needed, and there needs to be a consistent voice across 300 pages, which is easier said than done. Melody and I worked with a copy editor who looked at our first draft manuscript, then a developmental editor who then picks apart the edited first draft (meaning another round of edits and fact checks). After that came the photography. After coordinating the appropriate photos to take with each relevant concept (and connecting them to the right chapter and section), I flew out to LA to take part in the photoshoot – yes, both Mel and I are models along with others we hand-selected – and it made for two intensive full days of shooting.

After reviewing the photography, and taking the appropriate headshots for the bio and cover images, it was time to put things into the hands of the graphics team and marketing director to deal with the artwork, and to create some hype! That’s where testimonials, good relationships, and contacts came in handy. We were able to land former Los Angeles Laker Robert Sacre to write our foreword, and got some pretty heavyweight names in fitness and pop culture like Joe DeFranco, Kal Penn, Robbie Amell, and Steve Mesler to write testimony among others.

Long story short, writing a book is a different animal. It goes beyond simply thinking of 150,000 words to put into print. There are many moving parts, and we had no shortage of curveballs thrown at us that we had to roll with. But it was a challenge I personally welcomed taking on, and the rewards of that challenge were dividends enough.

And rumor has it, we’re not finished.

There’s almost No Problem Exercise Makes Worse

I’ll spare the boring details here and say this: Through 2022, my body wasn’t always 100%.

When things were at their worst, the last thing I wanted to do was work out in some of those cases. In fact, in some of those cases, it was recommended I didn’t do so.

But time and time again, my body proved to me that exercise usually only acts to help with ailments, symptoms, and other physical issues you may be experiencing. The only thing you have to worry about is doing so smartly. Training can improve circulation, release endorphins, affect your sympathetic nervous system, aid digestion, and more.

All of this to say: it’s unlikely it’ll ever add to your problems, if you’ve got one. Doesn’t mean you have to lift the world and train in beast mode. Simply, getting up and moving – just doing something – beats doing nothing.  Get the heart rate up, clear the mind, get a good sweat, and maybe a little pump too. You’ll probably feel better as you get on the road to recovery.

It’s time to enter “nobody cares” mode for my fitness. Really.

I’m 36 now, and the approach I have to fitness and training is markedly different from what it was when I was 22 or 25.

Seriously.

I’ve gotten strong enough over the years. I’ve built enough muscle over the years. And I’ve gotten good enough at all the basics and foundation.

I don’t care about much else these days than being capable, pain free, and in pursuit of a trim waistline.

That’s it.

This doesn’t mean I won’t train for hypertrophy or strength ever again. Or that I’ll ever be “bigger” at certain points in time. Of course I will. Heavy lifting and carrying mass can be fun.

But I’m also more intuitive and realize that I’ve surpassed the point where my body requires a certain focus on any more of these things to be healthy.  I’ve talked about chasing elite “performance” to be more of a hobby than a necessity in the fitness space, and more people need to get on board with that as they get older. The notion of “progressive overload” is vital and essential, only until it isn’t.

If you’re a seasoned lifter, every exercise doesn’t need to seek progressive overload.

Somewhere, someone said strength is king, and everyone in the “serious training” community started viewing each exercise as only useful if you can pursue progression – usually in the form of adding weight to the lift in question. The news flash here: Successfully training can involve pursuing goals that aren’t simply building muscle or adding strength by the numbers.  Sometimes it’s about feeling great, getting a pump, practicing patterning, and other things of that nature.

Most importantly, the actual “requirements” to be perfectly functional in regular life are unspecified. A man with a 300 pound deadlift will likely be much more useful, injury free, functional, and generally fitter than a man who can barely deadlift the empty bar. But that doesn’t mean a man with a 600 pound deadlift is exponentially “better off” day to day than the guy lifting 300.

Coming to terms with realities surrounding these concepts can be very liberating, especially if you’ve spent a whole lot of time under the iron, making gains and pushing numbers. I’ll just leave that there.

The Research will Continue to Surprise us, but the Classics Won’t Let us Down.

Having your nose buried in the books is great. Being studious is a quality many lack. But if you show me 3 ‘ground breaking’ studies that promote a methodology of training, I guarantee I can find 6 more that negate it.

I say this because the internet can be a place that confuses many people who are just aiming to train well and right.

Have you ever actually spoken to a beginner who’s been looking for training advice online, using platforms like Instagram or YouTube?  This year, I got a new client who fit this category.  It’s really astonishing just how much contradictory information, research, and more circulates. The thing is, fitness is a largely unregulated industry, but the internet is also a largely unregulated entity. That means everyone is exposed to everything at all times. Social media algorithms often don’t help with this either.

It’s easy to get sucked down rabbit holes of how to build muscle or burn fat, the best exercises to target the medial glutes, rear deltoids or adductors, or the smartest loading strategies to get strong. But what most don’t want to admit is the fact that many trends end up circling back to the simplistic basic movements that have been tried, tested, and true for decades.  Drugs notwithstanding, there’s a reason some of the most legendary physiques of all time, date back to the 1970’s – before all this “cutting edge” research was even a thing.

Consistency in the gym matters more than anything. And if you do the basics regularly enough – even if that is something as rudimentary as doing your workout, keeping your mobility up, getting your cardio in, and eating good meals of whole foods – you will see the results you’re looking for. Whatever they are.

Being Good at “Networking” Starts with Being a Decent Person.

As I write this, the audience on my Instagram is around 41,000 people.

Say what you will. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of people. It fills a baseball stadium.

And every single day, I receive multiple generic direct messages from 22 year old marketing experts, who start with a vacuous compliment before pitching ways to ‘scale my business’. What’s worse, is I’ve recently learned many such accounts are robots looking for someone to bite.

This is not the way to get a person to trust you. And doing the right things to actually build trust won’t result in an overnight change. It takes time.

The same applies to getting a new client. It doesn’t take a high IQ person to see whether someone’s coming after them with an agenda, or from the actual desire to help them. I’m not saying a personal trainer needs to be the paragon of altruism, but I am saying a client won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. It’s a business setting – of course you’re going to try to take them on. But how are you massaging that into the equation?

Want to know the best way to get prospective clients? Remember that you’re in the people business.

Treat them like people.

Interlude: The Top 12 Movies of 2022

The cinema thing is doing what it can, but streaming services are definitely making their mark on the landscape. With that said, I still saw somewhere around 25 films on the big screen, which is something I think can’t be replaced (especially for blockbusters – it’s the way they should be seen!).

This was something of a weaker year, but there were a few small gems that made for a good theatre experience. I’m still at odds with the fact that directors are starting to conflate “good” with “long” where film is concerned, and I do not have the patience or attention span for 3 hour plus films.

Of the relevant films, I’m sad to say I missed 3 Fall/Winter movies that I suspect may have been influential to these rankings:  The Fabelmans, Empire of Light, and Tar. I’ll likely get to them in the next week.

With that said, it’s worth making note of some honourable mentions to start this off:

Barbarian

The Banshees of Inisherin

Wakanda Forever

Where the Crawdads Sing

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

All of these films, covering everything from straight horror to comedy, to drama, made for good experiences I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

And now, in order, the final cut. Here are my top 12 films for the year.

  1. Top Gun: Maverick – This gets the number 1 spot for 2022, as it lived up to every piece of Hollywood hype that was shared about it. Awesome cinematography and a crowd-pleaser of a story, with an added sense of awe when remembering the realness of the stunts and special effects. Soon, Tom Cruise should earn a lifetime achievement award for his real-life efforts and contributions to action films spanning decades.
  2. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – It’s rare that a sequel can surpass its original film in quality, but this achieved just that. I remember seeing this at the Toronto International Film Fest, amid an extremely lively audience. The big ensemble cast was full of big characters brought to life wonderfully, along with a plot that kept you guessing until the end.
  3. The Black Phone – This was a rare, good year for horror genre films as a whole, and this was the one that stuck with me the most, beyond all others. A number of great child performances that pulls no punches in its scare tactics. Ethan Hawke’s villain character was very chilling, and the rawness of this film was captured very effectively.
  4. The Batman – DC finally delivered something special here. This was easily one of the grittiest renditions of a superhero they ever brought to the big screen in this era. It also took the action down a couple of notches to focus more on the mystery and film-noir aspect of the film. This added a creepiness factor that was well worth it. Excited to see Robert Pattinson continue behind the mask.
  5. The Whale – Brendan Fraser is a lock for a Best Actor nomination here, and in my opinion, the win. This is a tight, play-based drama with a whole lot of heart and soul in its performances. It’s laced with several themes that explore pain, heroism, and dependency.
  6. The Menu – Another killer performance from Ralph Fiennes, this is easily the dark comedy of the year. It effortlessly blends comedy with tension and even horror, while delivering a great social commentary on class and popular culture. Anya Taylor-Joy was another standout here, as usual.
  7. Nope – Jordan Peele has definitely earned a pedigree as a director who’s more than competent at horror films. Here, he takes adds a mild twist by mixing in some sci-fi, for a unique ride that was a satisfying turn after his first two home runs. And boy, did the bigger budget pay off here as far as the cinematography was concerned – especially at night.
  8. Smile – What’s better than seeing one of your clients on the big screen? Seeing it happen as part of a wonderfully effective movie. I loved the simplicity of this premise, and the lead actress Sosie Bacon turned in one of my favourite performances of the year.
  9. Everything, Everywhere, All at Once – A perfect example of crazy, random, arbitrary chaos done right. This was unendingly entertaining. Michelle Yeoh was her usual great self, and some supporting work from Jamie Lee Curtis, among others, made this a film few who have seen it will ever forget. Everyone longing for “different”, won’t be disappointed.
  10. The Woman King – Another one I saw at the Film Fest, I appreciated the commitment the entire cast of actresses brought to the screen in a very physically demanding movie. The action scenes were adrenaline rushes, and the story was solid, and developed well. This would be a great one to own on DVD or Blu-Ray.
  11. Avatar: The Way of Water – Though this was 3:13 in length, this achievement in film earned its runtime and kept the story engaging. James Cameron makes one movie every decade and a half, and seeing the final product made it worth the wait. Hard to believe almost everything was made using the best CGI possible.
  12. Bullet Train – This film had to sneak into the list, as it was a fast, convoluted, fun, and gradually funnier and funnier movie. The stylized and constantly self-aware nature of the storytelling and the overall visuals made this an entertaining action ride, and one I actually look forward to watching again. I suspect a tepid at best trailer is what kept this from taking control of the box offices.

And that’s all she wrote for film. Get your hands on some of these, and you won’t be disappointed.  Now, back to business.

The Human Component of Personal Training Matters more than Anything

Similar to the last subheading, I’ve learned just how much relationships matter with a personal training client. Once enough time has passed in a trainer/client relationship, a rest period likely won’t be “silent”. And you two probably won’t only talk about training during sessions. You may even piss each other off once in a while.

This is to be expected. And it shouldn’t be viewed as an abhorrent occurrence if a personal training session involves some actual conversation.

Many clients end up seeing their trainers more often than several members of their family. That will naturally involve a layer of trust, camaraderie and respect. Often times, the decision to continue training with a trainer long term transcends “good fitness advice”.

The onus is on both trainer and client to acknowledge these realities, and find the “fit” that allows that relationship to thrive. The more walls are kept up, the harder it will be for things to really gel.

There is a way to do this while still remaining professional and in control at the same time. If you know, you know.

We Gotta stop Fighting, Competing, and Being Obnoxious in the Name of “Helping People”

Where fitness is concerned, there are a lot of big personalities on the internet.

And where there’s a big personality, there’s usually a very big audience. The public eats that stuff up.

The problem with being a character on social media is, you usually have to go to greater and greater lengths to protect your brand down the road. There will inevitably be people who disagree with your points of view or challenge the information presented. And it’s a regularly seen occurrence to witness keyboard wars as a result.  Some of those can turn nasty in a hurry. I try to keep interactions with combaitve trolls at arms’ length.

It’s probably tough for beginners out there who are looking for advice, to see two people they really respect, hurling professional-turned-personal attacks at one another rather than finding common ground and encouraging other trains of thought.  It becomes worse when the natural character being displayed online is one that may look down the nose at others who don’t share the same views. This may not only deter people who are trying to get into better shape, but it may also deter professionals who are interested in sharing their own info or philosophies to help others.

Take points of contention to DM’s, or get on the phone and chat about it.

Being Good at a Lift Doesn’t Always Mean the Lift is Good for You

This one is simple. There’s a discrepancy between the skill required to complete an exercise, and the benefits it provides.  Let’s go back to that 300 pound deadlift from an earlier subheading. At this point, it may still be a very functional and applicable pattern that translates well to active tasks, while also giving the posterior chain some needed upkeep. Compared to the 600 pound deadlift, which may have involved a couple of back injuries in the name of chasing that number, or even the neglect of other important fitness goals so more volume could be applied in that sole focus. Sure, you may be able to pull 600, but at what expense?

Let’s take this a step further.

I’m a 6’4” lifter with long legs and a short torso. I’ve got good mobility for my size. And I love the conventional barbell deadlift.

And it’s the deadlift variation that’s caused me the most back flare-ups out of any lift out there.

For my proportions and height, I should be going trap bar or medium sumo stance as my primary deadlift variation. I even recommend it in my book. But I’m also an advanced lifter who’s become skilled at conventional deadlifting. But there will always be an element of risk that surpasses that incurred from trap bar or medium sumo deadlifting.

Suffice to say, being “good” at the deadlift (I can pull over 500 pounds) doesn’t mean I’m not narrowly escaping injury with every heavy set. And it behooves me to make the smarter choices for my body and body type.

2023

That’s all she wrote, folks. Another year is officially in the books, and I’m looking forward to getting back to writing more articles, giving more talks, teaching more students, and working with more clients, while I work hard to help Lifting and Levers make a splash.

The year 2023 will start off with a bang, as I have talks lined up in Toronto to start, followed by Dallas, Texas in late February for my return to the Raise the Bar conference.  Much more planned ahead – so keep abreast with me on social media and here on my website for the latest. Onward and upward!

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