Stuff I Learned in 2016

And my top movies of the year.

This is my 5th year writing a blog article like this, and despite the amount of cliché there is in doing it, I still find good reason to.  People who lambaste other coaches for doing this may not realize that it’s a good way to centralize key reminders, help inform the masses, and say a few thank you’s,  all at the same time.

Plus, this year was another good one. I like to take this time to look back, since, almost to a fault, I usually prefer not to pause to do so at any other point during the year. On a personal note, there were a few key highlights:

  • First, I was pleased to launch my new and improved website, with the mastermind behind the madness, Endlyss web design. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m fairly particular and like things done a certain way, and my designer didn’t disappoint – he perfected all of my requests to the very last detail. I have a genius in my corner.
  • In 2016, I got published in 22 print magazines. That’s my most for any year so far.
  • I continued my speaking engagements, and was able to reach out to student bodies in various cities to talk about some training truths. 4 more times, in fact.
  • This was the second year in a row where I got to see two of our sports teams go deep into the playoffs. Hard to describe the energy in a packed stadium during a series-clinching game. And it’s harder to choose what fan base is louder between Jays fans and Raptors fans.
  • Among over 100 articles I got published this year, there was a standout: I was able to write an article for the National Strength and Conditioning Association, for their Personal Training Quarterly journal. The NSCA is arguably the largest education body for this industry, so being published in their journal is quite the honor.
  • I returned to television after a couple of years, nabbing segments on a national morning show. More to come.
  • I collaborated for the first time with some great minds in the industry including John Rusin, Mike Mahler, Sincere Hogan, and Dan John.
But, enough about that. Here’s what I learned:


There’s no degree for Experience, or the unforeseen.

I’m 30 years old now.  Strangely I still feel quite “young” to this industry. I’m sure each and every year a subheading like this one exists, because the longer I spend doing this, the truer it rings.  In an industry that’s built around inference, suggestion and conjecture, the books will only take you so far. Usually, the people who seem to “get” that are the people who seem to reach a greater audience.  Achieving a multitude of credentials or constantly having your nose buried in the books can speak a lot for one’s desire to learn, but those pursuits must be, at the very least, countered by gaining first-hand experience through training clients, and more importantly training oneself. Doing so enables you to better understand program design and prepare for the unforeseen. The books won’t tell you what to do when a client’s knees start to hurt during his set of biceps curls, or when he feels a prone hamstring curl in his lats.

The Industry will Stay full of Bollocks, Unless we change our focus.

Listen, many of us do a whole lot to build education and credibility as professionals. Seminars, courses, certs, workshops and more are available in abundance and aren’t hard to find. But I don’t think that’s enough to make the industry move forward, and the reason why is simple. There’s surely a lot of fluff circulating around the industry, but that doesn’t discount the thousands of smart, knowledgeable trainers who exist within it to set the record straight. Continuing education methods are invaluable for the purpose they serve, namely, making a trainer improve his game. The thing is, there are more than enough places to look to find professionals educating each other, but very few places to find professionals educating the general public.  Until we can help the layman generate a very basic, entry-level knowledge about fitness, health, and training (and I mean really basic. Walk outside today and ask the next guy or girl you see to point to his lats. There’s a real problem out there.), they will continue to think that gimmicky, cash-grab fitness methods that move the industry backward are worth looking into.

People who’ve built their reputation by capitalizing on public ignorance will still have positions at the top of the commercial totem pole, and the largest platforms available will be occupied by what’s “trending”.  At the end of the day, I’m a believer that a coach shouldn’t stop learning.  But it’s worthwhile to remember that most of the general public don’t know 10% of what we know as professionals.

It’s worth asking questions before diving into a Program.

I’ve spent a significant part of this year preaching that no two bodies are built the same way. That in itself should warrant an investigative process where selecting or following a program is concerned.  Especially where conditioning programs come into play, I’ve found that many don’t take into consideration the size of the individual. A high-octane fat loss program that involves intervals, Tabata, Olympic lift reps, plyometrics, and sprint repeats all on low rest would have a different effect on someone who’s well conditioned, but 6’8” and 270 than it would on someone of equal conditioning who’s 5’7” and 160. Specifically, the smaller dude would probably have much less of a problem getting the job done.


Moreover, I suspect many training protocols asking people to train similar to the above directives, or lift using a certain intensity of their rep max on low rest were created by people who are both not too big, and not too strong.  A guy with a 500 pound squat won’t be able to do sets of 20 breathing squats using his 10 rep max, because the implement is just too heavy.  There are plenty of calculations to find out what someone “should” be lifting based on his body weight. All of this doesn’t discount the fact that as that number increases, it takes more work to push that weight. It’s food for thought.

Beyond a certain Point, Strength Training is a Hobby, and your 1 Rep Max Means Nothing.

To add to my point above, it’s also worth considering the extremism that exists within our community. I’m a strength guy, so, naturally, it’ll be the majority of what I talk about here. The same goes for pretty much every other strength guy in the industry. What no one appreciates is the fact that there’s a point where chasing more strength won’t necessarily have the same positive effects on your long-term health that they used to.  The world needs strength training. Most people need to start from ground zero and develop a solid foundation. But when the conversation is shifted towards people who have already been properly training, it’s a wise man’s move to acknowledge that continuing to push PR’s and not simply maintain existing levels of strength is a hobby and recreational pursuit more than it is an essential physical need. I believe a 550 pound deadlift won’t be any more useful in “life” than a 400 pound deadlift would. I also think the lifespan of a respectable but more attainable strength plateau will be more serviceable and longer lasting than that of an elite number. So, for health and fitness, would you rather be able to deadlift 700 pounds for 5 years, or deadlift 400 pounds for 40 years? If you’re a non-competitor, chances are your answer can tell you a lot about the way you train today.

Let’s take this a step further. The 1 rep max is a great gauge for a beginning or intermediate lifter to track progress, monitor absolute strength, and calculate other lift intensities.  But setting a goal of squatting 505 or deadlifting 630 for a labored single doesn’t do much for anything outside of the ability to perform those exact tasks. Especially since most labor-intensive activities (for some reason, I always think about helping someone move furniture or other cumbersome objects) rely just as much on muscular endurance as they do absolute strength.

Annual Interlude: My Favorite Films of 2016


If you’ve been keeping up with me on Twitter (or have seen previous years’ installments of this article), you may be aware that movies are a pretty big hobby of mine.  I do my best to see and review as many as I can each year, and this year didn’t start out too promisingly, but finished strong – strong enough to make choosing and ordering my top 10 quite the task.  So this year, I went for 12 instead. And here they are.

Arrival – The best cerebral science fiction movie I’ve seen in a long, long time. This movie continues Denis Villeneuve’s perfect record as a director, and my favourite working today.

10 Cloverfield Lane – I can’t believe a March release movie is in my top 3 for the year, but this movie stuck with me since I saw it in theatres. It’s a contained, claustrophobic, suspenseful thriller that creates tension for nearly the entire runtime. John Goodman is one of the best character actors in the game, and he knocks it out of the park here.

Manchester by the Sea – Well-written situational drama with great acting and a surprisingly good infusion of comedy. This gives the viewer a great window into different methods of grievance and coping, and Casey Affleck gives a performance for the ages.

Lion – Gripping true story with probably the best child performance I’ve seen since the Sixth Sense.  Bring tissue.

La La Land – I’m surprised a musical is making any “top movies” list I create. I can’t deny this movie’s greatness on a technical level, and I’m calling that it wins best picture at the Oscars. Definitely worth the watch.

Fences – A dialogue-heavy play-based drama that is a true actors’ showcase. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis give performances that dabble in the career-best category. It’s rare that a movie based in one setting and driven by talk can keep a viewer engaged for over 2 hours. This works.

Nocturnal Animals – A ‘good’ movie that really sticks its ending can be very redeeming, and make you think. This did those things. Tom Ford has proven himself a competent director and here, he told a story that could easily have become convoluted, and he did so in a very comprehensive way.

Hacksaw Ridge – This is the best war movie I’ve seen since Saving Private Ryan, with an incredible Oscar nomination-worthy lead performance by Andrew Garfield. The movie’s depiction of the war is grim and tough as nails.

Captain America: Civil War – Surprisingly, this was the only A+ grade I gave this year. If you’re remotely interested in superhero/comic book movies, this will be one of the best things you see, and it contains what’s been argued to be the best superhero battle scene of all time.  What’s more is the root issue to drive the plot along is actually effective in making the viewer take sides.  Well worth checking out.

Moonlight – This is what I think will likely be a runner-up for best picture to La La Land. It was a low-key, well acted, gorgeously shot movie that was smartly constructed into 3 separate “chapters” by the director. The movie deserves the technical respect it’s received.

Don’t Breathe – If we’re talking about visceral enjoyment, this movie created one of my favorite experiences in the theatre for the year. It was a unique idea that could have gone terribly wrong, but did itself justice in its execution. One of the best thrill rides of the year.

Sully – I don’t think Tom Hanks can do any wrong. Clint Eastwood directed this movie well and made a good decision by way of a short runtime. A 3 minute event turned into a 90 minute movie and never once got boring.   That deserves my respect.

One movie I didn’t get to see in time to make the list due to its limited release was Silence, directed by Martin Scorcese. It’s a film I’d known about since January and have been heavily anticipating. You can catch my brief review for it on Twitter in the first week of January.  I’d also be remiss without bringing up some late cuts and honorable mentions:

  • The Accountant
  • The Nice Guys
  • Doctor Strange
  • The Jungle Book
  • Deadpool
  • Denial

Check ‘em out on your dvd player or the pirated torrent site of your preference. You’re welcome.

It’s important to Train intuitively

This is short and sweet: Listen to your body. If you’ve got heavy triples on the incline bench press on the menu today, but your shoulders just plain feel like garbage, you’d be a fool to push through it. Using indicator sets to give you an idea of how you’re feeling for the day can be a habit that’s worth its weight in gold for you to take up. During a strength workout where the bench, squat and deadlift are concerned, my indicator set is usually 2-3 reps at 275lbs. It’s a comfortable weight that allows me to feel “strong” as I reach my actual working sets, while having more than enough in the tank to determine whether today’s going to be a good lift or a bad one. In the worst case scenario, I’ll probably feel a knee, back or shoulder in a given lift well before I hit 275lbs, but as I ramp my way up, I give myself a chance to solve the problems with other lifts, stretches, or drills between sets. If the problem isn’t reversed by the time I reach my indicator set, it’s time to change the focus for the day.

Internet Wars Aren’t Worth your time, Or Reputation

Like I said above, this is an industry of extremes.

The strength guy will wage war with the running guy, and the bodybuilding guy will wage war with the strongman, and the powerlifting guy will take up arms against the functional guy. It’s the way it goes. Despite training methods that diametrically oppose one another, it’s important to find common ground, and remember that there’s no “best method”.  Much of what we prescribe to our clients as coaches should depend on what the client displays a need for. In many cases, it may be a foundation of strength. In some, it may be an increase in mobility. Often the scale is very linked to the training maturity of the client.

My point is, we’ll accomplish nothing as an industry if we’re constantly mad at each other. And getting online to bash another coach with whom we don’t agree is probably the least efficient way of handling a situation, and won’t magically change things. At first I used to think that people who did this simply had a passion for seeing the industry thrive, but now I think in most cases it displays more of a passion for concession.  Based on the nature of most of the e-debates I’ve seen (or even participated in), they don’t tend to end well for your professionalism.


I remember one time earlier this year, a well known and generally respected trainer with a sizable audience decided that a good way to voice disagreement with something I wrote wasn’t to message me directly, nor even comment on it in the same thread. Rather, it was to direct-quote it, intentionally leave me tagged in it (so I could see the post) and accompany the quote with personal sentiments of how ridiculous and terrible it was. In my opinion, a professional reputation transcends how many people you can get to agree with your opinions, or the size of your “following” (I really, really hate using that word). It also includes the way in which you conduct yourself in person and online. Many people may choose a “raw” approach to reflect authenticity. But if being polite exits the picture in chasing that very authenticity, it may shine a light on who you want to be as a person. Given someone has good intentions in the industry, it shouldn’t create a level playing field for public attack. Until this mindset changes, people will be stepping on toes, and pretending none of it matters because “it’s the internet”.

And, for the record, I said and did nothing in response after noticing what that coach did.

Deadlifts Can and Should have their Own Programming

Really, I learned this one the hard way over the years. It surprises me that I only had this realization in 2016, and it took a great talk with an experienced coach to introduce the idea to me. Deadlifts seem to be a different animal than basically any other lift in the gym. It’s a vertical pull that takes one step to complete, and the most honest lift in the gym to boot. The difference between it and a lift like a squat or overhead press is the fact that different rep ranges take a much broader range of skill sets to be able to master. Pulling for 10’s is very different than pulling for 5’s, and pulling for 5’s is very different than pulling for 2’s or 3’s. And NONE of these rep ranges, in my opinion, are a reliable mathematical indicator of what your 1 rep max will be. Moreover, pulling deadstop is very different than pulling tap-and-go, but both are equally as beneficial to use for different reasons.


For all of the reasons above, it was a senseless move for me to be alternating between heavy triples one week and sets of 10 the next week for this lift since there’s less correlation between those rep ranges than if I followed the same structure with other lifts – even more so given I have a history of back injuries. Going forward I’d much rather take 2-3 months to focus on pulling 2’s with a deadstop, and then use the next 2-3 months to focus on pulling 5’s with a tap-and-go, and continue following suit and building one skill at a time.

Upward and Onward

If you’ve read this far, thanks. This was a long one.  2017 is days away, and should lead to bigger and better things.

But we all say that every year. The truth is, I actually just hope it leads to more of the same. I’m a believer that staying the path is a good way to master your craft and see good things happen as a result. It’s a good reminder to keep your head down and grind.

Plus, you’ll have a whole lot more to say you learned by the time the year’s over.

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