Tag Archives: training

You are not your scan

In my previous post, I alluded to a forum called SomaSimple where pain science is discussed and ideas on treatment models and modalities are challenged. Two folks who are not regularly contributing on the forums, but who are sharing good work on social media are Adam Meakins and Gregory Lehman.

The questions they ask and content they provide have helped shaped my thoughts on both personal training and massage therapy. We are not like a car that needs regular tune-ups and aligning, just like we are not like a computer with software or hardware hang-ups. Greg’s view of the human body is the one that I connect with very strongly: we are a robust ecosystem. I don’t like to think of the human body as fragile, and the ecosystem comparison alludes to the fact that the experience of our interaction with our environment is multifactorial. One thing that can show how multifactorial our experiences are have been shared by Adam and Greg and I’ve found them quite compelling.

When it comes to scans, such as MRIs, they can provide us with a sense of the environment of certain regions of our ecosystem. The regions I wanted to share in this post are the cervical spine, lumbar spine, and knee. Most of this information I found via Adam’s Twitter feed, which is linked above and in the caption of the graphs.

In the cervical spine, a study titled, “Abnormal findings on magnetic resonance images of the cervical spines in 1211 asymptomatic subjects” demonstrated that people without any symptoms (asymptomatic) of cervical spine problems, over 87% were likely to find a disc bulge.

Because of this study, Adam tweeted another two studies: one on the lumbar spine and one on the knee joint showing similar findings:

Systematic Literature Review of Imaging Features of Spinal Degeneration in Asymptomatic Populations

Prevalence of abnormalities in knees detected by MRI in adults without knee osteoarthritis: population based observational study (Framingham Osteoarthritis Study)

The number of subjects varied in these last two, and 29% of the subjects in the knee pain study had experienced pain in the month prior, but nonetheless, the findings are important. This goes to show how you are not your scan. Pain is much more about your ecosystem’s interaction with its environment.

As you age, and as you can tell by the studies above, it is very likely you’ll have an “abnormality” if you were to ever have imaging done. “Abnormalities” and pain do not coexist, because if they did, the people in these studies would be experiencing pain of some kind. This is where Greg offers a great resource: Pain Fundamentals: A Pain Science Education Workbook For Patients and Therapists.

When it comes to pain, there’s a few things I’ve come to learn and advice I wanted to offer: 1. Pain is normal and not to be feared, and tissue “abnormalities” do not mean you’ll end up in pain. 2. You should be as active as possible, as long as it doesn’t make the pain worse. 3. You should incorporate novel inputs that help reduce the pain experience (moving in ways that are new to your ecosystem); these inputs should be gradually progressed over time. 4. Manual therapy/massage therapy can help turn the volume down; if the pain returns within a few hours, it probably wasn’t the right approach.

This doesn’t mean that scans aren’t helpful and that you can always avoid big interventions, like surgery, but it does mean that if you utilize physical therapy, massage therapy, exercise, or other interventions to help with your pain, you can help keep your ecosystem running nice and robust. And for fun, here’s a study comparing knee meniscus surgery with a sham surgery. The results? “…the outcomes after arthroscopic partial meniscectomy were no better than those after a sham surgical procedure.” If you can teach the body to reduce a perceived threat, positive things happen.


A different lens

I wrote this on a forum called SomaSimple where ideas are challenged regularly and the discussions are regularly about the topic of pain. Since the BPS model includes psychological factors, the overlap seemed to fit well with some of my experience as a trainer. Here’s what I wrote:

“I don’t work in a clinic, I work in a gym. As a personal trainer, it isn’t uncommon for us to have clients who have some kind of ache or pain; if not at first, there’s likely a point where they’ll run into that experience during training. This was one of the main reason I enrolled into a massage program and eventually found DNM and this forum.

In my training career, my clientele has predominantly been female between the ages of 25 & 60. Most clients come to the gym for weight loss (specifically fat loss, but that’s a separate rant) and some of the measures that are taken to work toward better aesthetics are quite extreme (such as using a feeding tube “diet” to lose weight for a wedding).

The extreme measures that can be taken are usually drawn out of something quite emotional. I had one client cry after telling me she was sexually abused and used weight gain to make herself unattractive to her abuser. You can only imagine the road that kind of trauma will take people down when it comes to healthy lifestyle choices.

Much of what training is about is behavior change. Then Jason Silvernail recently posted this great comment on his FB by Bronnie Lennox Thompson. If you can’t read it due to privacy settings, this part of the comment particularly stood out to me:

“…, then I get on with helping them do behavioural experiments anyway, because behaviour change WORKS, while cognition/information doesn’t always do the trick.”

I wanted to share what I thought might be some behavioral comparisons or overlap in what the therapist might see in clinic (PT) vs. what I see in the gym with clients (GC):

PT: “I don’t want to bend forward because I’m afraid I’ll do more (perceived) damage.”
GC: We can get a similar statement above, but I commonly hear, “I don’t want to lift weights because I am afraid I’ll get big and bulky.”

PT: Client might cease movement for fear of pain or further (perceived) damage.
GC: Client will cease food intake for fear of weight gain.

PT: Client may try extreme therapy protocols to help relieve the pain.
GC: Client may try extreme dieting or training protocols to help lose weight.

PT: Client may over-analyze diagnoses and split hairs on the little things, like “I hurt because I was sitting too long with bad posture.”
GC: Client will split hairs and over-analyze the little things, like “I didn’t lose weight this week because of that one candy bar I had on Tuesday.”

PT: Client may jump from therapist to therapist or modality to modality.
GC: Client may jump from trainer to trainer or protocol to protocol.

PT: Client may have issues with body awareness (smudging).
GC: Client may have body image issues (perceive themselves as bigger than they are).

This wasn't a part of the original SS post, but we all have those clients who are strong and beautiful, with unrealistic expectations. Image source Tumblr.

This wasn’t a part of the original SS post, but thought it fit well with the emotions behind diet and fitness behaviors I’ve experienced. Image source Tumblr.

If you think I am going a little too far out on a limb, let me know, these were just some random thoughts that were rushing through my head the other day and I wanted to get them out. Also, I’m not picking on women, I know men who have similar body image issues, I just have more experience training women. My thought process is that with the neuromatrix model, the emotions that people experience can be another form of pain that people bring the table, and emotions are a big driver in health and fitness choices and behaviors, making this information just as important for trainers, as well.

Thanks for reading.”


Quick post: Musings on pain and activity

Pain fascinates me because you can experience pain without having any tissue damage. I’ve been coming across information lately that has me thinking about pain and physical activity.

There are nearly 45 miles (72 km) of nerves running through the body, yet the nervous system only accounts for about 2% of the body. The nervous system is accompanied with a blood supply because of its requirements for about 20% of the available glucose and O2.

I came across and appreciate this picture that I saw via social media and I thought it was really interesting to see the veinous system (both arteries and veins) mixed into the bundles of nerve fibers.


I found the original source of the picture here.

To add to that, there’s a capillary every 5 cell widths. No wonder sitting is considered the new smoking.

With this in the back of my mind, I see how physical activity can be really helpful in managing pain conditions (especially chronic pain).

“Motion is lotion.”

The more I read about pain, the more I realize it’s not something to fear. Pain is a normal part of living. It’s a signal that’s trying to tell you, “something is wrong, or something might go wrong, so something needs to change.” It’s your body’s alarm system.

Physical activity can help “turn the volume down”, or speed up the recovery process for tissue that is actually injured, so it’s important to move. Move everyday. If you move with intensity, give yourself a break from that kind of activity, but don’t stop moving. Give yourself challenges. Move differently all the time. Play. Just try to utilize the ranges-of-motion that your body feels safe with (that don’t “sound the alarm”), while trying to address movement discomfort with a knowledgable healthcare provider. You’ll feed the nerves, you’ll keep the blood flowing, and you’ll keep your brain happy.

Your body will thank you in the long run.


Adjusting a Session On The Fly

This is a guest post by Brad Gatens. I’ve been exchanging emails with him about programming and he offered me up this post to use as a guest post as he thought my readers would find value in this information. Also, it’s a way for me to have a place to reference the information. This reminds me of a recent post by Patrick Ward – Click Here. Nothing is linear.

“I couldn’t sleep last night.”
“I feel like I may be getting sick.”
“I had one too many at happy hour yesterday.”

As trainers we need to modify and adapt our client’s workout on the spot.  All that time spent on a well-planned workout program for your client that day is shot.   Gotta switch it up.  We set out with good intentions trying to make an organized plan for the workout, but problems and issues always seem to come up. Planning out weight, sets, reps, exercise selection and order can make our jobs easier when there are no issues with our client.  But more often than not, something is going to come up which throws our plans out the window.

Jon Goodman recently laid out a solid piece regarding this situation (this article wasn’t linked, but I assumed this was the one he was speaking of).  A planning template was presented in his article to provide trainers with a long-term guideline for their clients based off of their goals and needs.  Making use of this type of outline will keep you and your client focused on previously established goals. Creating a long-term periodization plan is necessary, but planning specific individual sessions probably isn’t.


It’s up to you and your client to modify a workout when necessary.  What I would like to lay out is strategies to use when a client isn’t feeling well mentally or physically.  Coming down with a cold, feeling tired, under a lot of stress…. Modifying workouts based on injuries and soft-tissue complaints is a whole other topic that might need to be addressed.  Here’s how we can provide a quality training session and still get a training effect even when their having an off day.

  1. Continue as is.  They might surprise themselves and still have a great workout without any modifications.  Remember Michael Jordan playing with the flu against the Jazz?  Sure that’s an extreme example.  But he’s human just like us.  And if he can do something as absurd as that, we can muster up the strength for a couple higher intensity sets.
  2. Adjust the volume or adjust the intensity.   This is going to depend on the individual.  When some feel like crap, some will thrive on high intensity. They may not have the endurance and energy to maintain a normal pace and rest intervals, but they can maintain their strength.  Use this to your advantage as a trainer and program a couple of high intensity sets with long rest periods.  On the other hand, some simply cannot maintain their strength but can keep their work capacity.  As a professional, it’s important to explain this concept to our clients.  Dropping the intensity down does not mean we aren’t,
  3. Beach muscle day.  Arms, abs, some rows, traps for the guys, extra glute work for the women.  Think of this as an accessory day.  Many popular strength programs throw in an odds and ends day.  Single joint movements would work pretty well.  Anything seated would be a plus as well. This workout will provide a nice change of pace and will provide some catch up time on any neglected body-parts.

How do you know which approach will suit your client the best? Based on your history with this person, you should have an idea what the best strategy to take is.  Discuss this with your client.  Let them know that just because the method for the day has been adjusted, it is not going to take away from the workout.  Often times they may feel like they’re not going to get anything out of a “different” workout, but it’s our job as coaches to explain to them why this isn’t entirely true.

All we are doing here is providing a form of self(client)-regulation to our clients.  The best lifters in the world follow some type of self-regulation.  Programs shouldn’t be written in stone for anyone.  Especially when you have a trained professional available in real-time to guide you.  Working with a trainer provides two sets of eyes to monitor and adjust performance.  Use this to your advantage.



Brad has a CSCS certification and BA in exercise physiology.  Brad teaches physical education and works with guys looking to build strength and muscle.  Brad has gone from a body weight of 130 to 185, and has recently deadlifted over 3x his bodyweight.

Take Supplements? You Should Own This.

If you pay attention to the social networks of popular fitness and nutrition outlets, you have probably already seen Examine‘s new supplement reference guide. It’s a fabulous resource and it’s filled with literally THOUSANDS of references.

The guys have done their research. And they’ve complied this research into one fantastic eBook (PDF) that they’re selling. All of your supplement needs are at your fingertips with this one. I was lucky enough to be offered an affiliate link, which means if you click on this link and purchase the reference guide, I will be given a small percentage for helping to market their product.

And I’m helping to market their product because I know it’s legit. Some of the best in the industry wouldn’t support it if it weren’t.
Elliott Hulse
Dean Somerset
Tony Gentilcore
Eric Cressey
Keith Norris
Skyler Tanner
Chris Highcock
Julia Ladewski
Paul Jaminet
Jonathan Goodman
Elsbeth Vaino

And the list could go on and on. I think the best part is the guys over at Examine recently wrote for website of the icon himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. They’re the real deal, and so is their product, so be sure to check it out.


5/3/1 and my own assessment

For those of you who’ve followed my stuff for a long time, you know that I struggle with being consistent. I’ve tried various programs with little luck of sticking to it long enough to see progress. My biggest problem is structure. If it isn’t written by someone else, I have a hard time knowing how many sets I should do and how much weight I should put on the bar. Should I do 5 sets or 4 sets? More? Less? Where do warm-ups fit in? Should I do 70% or 80%? 85 or 90%? Should I take it under 70% and go for reps? What should I do for accessory work? Etc., etc., etc.

A couple years ago, I was introduced to Wendler’s 5/3/1 program. It’s boasted as a simple, but effective strength gaining protocol and the people who were using it were seeing great improvements. I ended up with a PDF of the book and tucked it into a file on my computer for two years. One day about 6 weeks ago (maybe 2 months now), I bought an iPad and loaded my PDF books onto it so I could read them when I had downtime. I was thoroughly impressed with the simplicity of 5/3/1 and decided to use it as a template for a client of mine. One comment she’s made is that she feels like she was slacking this whole time and now she feels like she’s actually pushing herself. It creates less demand and fatigue on the nervous system which leaves her feeling refreshed after her lift. Something everyone should consider about their own programming – do you finish and feel good while making progress, or are you finishing with a desire to nap, leaving your energy zapped? One of the two will lead to quitting or injury, so pay attention to your body’s cues.

A week or so after I wrote her modified program, I decided I wanted to try the non-modified version on myself. When I was talking with some gym buddies about this program a couple years ago, they sent me an excel spreadsheet laying out a year’s worth of 4-week cycles. Each new cycle adds 5 or 10 pounds, depending on the lift, for steady and consistent progress. The only problem I encountered is this program is all about working at a percentage of your 1-rep max or your calculated 1-rep max using submaximal weight and rep ranges. With school coupled with work, my training took the backseat. Food and sleep (besides homework) became the priority of my free time. I work from ~6-11am or 12 pm Monday-Friday, 8-11am on Saturday, help with online training, had clinic once a week (this quarter is twice a week), school is from 6-9 or 10pm Monday-Thursday (this quarter is Monday-Wednesday), plus seminars I attend over various weekends (I actually have one this Sunday, coincidentally). My lack of training since October meant that I didn’t really have an accurate idea of what my 1-rep max or my calculated 1-rep max would be for any of my lifts. So I guessed.

The weeks are laid out as 5-5-5+ the first week, 3-3-3+ the second week, 5-3-1+ the third week, and a deload week. The + indicates that you should be going for as many reps as possible beyond the prescribed rep range. The nice thing about having all of the percentages laid out in an excel spreadsheet is that my weight, sets, and reps are laid out for me in black in white and all I have to do is warm-up and load the bar. I often use my deload week weight as my warm-up weight, too. Accessory exercises are whatever you want them to be based on your goals. Personally, I prefer mostly pulling movements and hamstring-specific movements. And on days that I don’t have enough time, I just do my main lift and be done until I have more time for accessory work. That could mean later that day, the next day, or a day later in the week, but I don’t stress about it and I am finally being consistent. There’s nothing to think about, really, it’s all done for me. I can utilize my accessory work to keep me from being bored and use whatever set and rep schemes I like. I’ve finished my 5-3-1+ for my deadlift and bench thus far this week and I’ve been feeling good. And strong. Well, not that strong, but stronger than I’ve felt in the last 8 months since school started.

The reason I bought my iPad was to utilize the filming feature to help clients with form. And for pictures to brag about their accomplishments when I remember to take them. I decided to film myself doing my 1+ set for deadlift. I was able to get 5 reps, so I probably guessed pretty accurately (I think I was able to get 6 on bench). I wanted to know what it looked like and wanted the opinion of my eFriend Brad Gatens. He said my hips looked high which brought my shoulders a bit forward in front of the bar which would make it harder to pull back. Dave Tate wants your hips to drop straight down as if you’re trying to set your nuts onto the bar (his words, not mine).


I am going to work on keeping my hips lower so my shoulder are back more during my deload week so I can see how they feel and see if I can maintain that for my next cycle. I also need to work on getting tighter before I pull (I was trying to focus on my breathing and bracing). Here’s the video.

I take a sumo stance because I am 6’3″ and it shortens the range-of-motion a bit. It’s also been helpful in maintaining a neutral spine. I actually feel much better with a conventional stance after using the sumo stance for a while. Filming and critiquing is the way things are done with the online coaching program my boss offers, so it’s nice to be able to utilize this tool for myself.

Just a fun FYI, my client on the modified program did 195# for 13 reps on her 1+ for deadlift. Beastmode. I’ll keep you up-to-date on how things are progressing and I’ll try to remember to film more movements for my own self-critique. We all need a coaches eye, even if it’s just to make sure you’re still moving well.


SMRT Reads – The Video Edition

Class was cancelled tonight, so I decided to throw up a quick post of videos I’ve come across over the last few months. And in exciting news, I got engaged over the weekend. Let’s hope she doesn’t get her eyes checked anytime soon.


For your viewing pleasure.


P.s. “I’m feeling suppler and leoparder already.”