I Like You, But You’re Crazy.

I needed to make room in my garage for a snow-blower so after many years of faithful service, I listed my big ol’ training tire (which I fondly knew as “Exhibit A”) on craigslist this morning as a “free, but YOU need to haul it away” deal. Several people responded within the first 90 mins.

Tonight, the first-to-call (a guy in his early 20s, if I had to guess) came over to pick it up with a li’l 2-door Toyota hatchback thinking it’d fit in the back if he simply flipped the seats down. Once he realized that wouldn’t happen, he suggested putting it on the roof of the car. I did my best to talk him out of it and recommended he find a friend with a pickup truck – but he insisted that he’d be comfortable driving 2 miles to his home on side streets with a giant tire on the roof. Being the kind of guy who lifts heavy things for fun, I was more than happy to help him maneuver the tire atop his sports car.

I then asked him if he had any tie-down straps so he could secure the load. He pulled a bunji cord from under the front seat and attempted to ‘secure’ the tire to his car (it might as well have been dental floss). I grabbed a ratcheting tie-down strap from the garage so, at the very least, the tire would look secure if he gets pulled over.

Throughout this whole ordeal, I kept imagining this as an interesting remake of the scene from Old School where Frank (Will Ferrell) accidentally shoots himself in the jugular vein with “the most powerful tranq-gun on the market”.

Peppers (Seann Williams Scott) tells Frank, “You got a f’kin dart in your neck, man.

Frank looks at him and replies, “You’re… you’re crazy, man. I like you, but you’re crazy.”

Craigslist guy, you got a f’kin tire ON THE ROOF OF YOUR CAR.. and you ARE crazy, but I like you.

Now I can only hope you enjoy training with Exhibit A as much as I did.

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CARdio: A Simple Analogy

One of the questions I’m asked most often has to do with “cardio” (which I always have to put in finger quotes when speaking, even on the phone.)

It seems people use the term “cardio” to refer to one of two things:

1) ones’ cardiovascular system (heart, lungs and blood vessels)
2) the specific energy system(s) (metabolic pathways) one intends to target through training

If you’re alive and reading this, I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume your heart, lungs and blood vessels are doing their job at least somewhat effectively, so this analogy will focus on #2.

Imagine 3 cars, all the same make/model…

Car A (ATP/PCr) can only drive in 1st gear.
Car B (Glycolytic pathway) can only drive in 3rd gear.
Car C (Oxidative Phosphorylation) can only drive in 5th gear.

ALL THREE are “cardio”. If they all begin at the same starting line, which one will win a race?

Short answer: it depends on the length of the race.

In short-distances, Car A will smoke the other 2 out of the gate. Quick acceleration is this car’s specialty.

Car B really comes into its own in mid-distance races. It takes a li’l bit longer to get rolling, but once the gears mesh, it’ll zip right past Car A right around the time it’s starting to burn out.

Car C takes more time to take from a relative standstill to highway speed, but once it’s up and running, it’ll go like it’s got the cruise-control set at 55mph on a Kansas highway with a full tank of gas. Cars A & B are still running, but the longer the race, the more dominant Car C becomes. (In a sprint, even though Car A will obviously win, Car C is still chugging along trying to get the engine and transmission to make the full power-transfer connection.)

Your rest intervals determine how much fuel each ‘car’ gets before starting the next lap (but I’ll save my ATP analogy for another day.)

With this in mind, cross-training is not as simple as ‘weights one day, treadmill the next’ – especially if the relative intensity of the weight training is low and done as a high-volume circuit with minimal rest. That’s really no different than driving Car 3 with your right foot on the gas one day, your left foot on the gas the next. 

Cross-training done right incorporates aspects of ALL THREE cars in the race, so duration, intensity and rest intervals are all important variables to consider (possibly even more than the actual exercise(s) being used), especially for general fitness/weight loss purposes.

Is your “cardio” system a 1971 Ford Pinto – or a Bugatti Veryon Supersport?

Building The Ultimate Home Gym

If you were in my ‘inner-circle’ way back when, you may remember my original, 14-page Home Gym Guide, circa 2006. It was a short-list of essential training equipment I’d recommend to my in-home personal training clients.

I wrote it for two simple reasons (in no particular order):

1) They’d need equipment to work out on days I didn’t meet with them, so it made sense for ’em to start building their own arsenal of fitness gear, anyway.

2) I got tired of dragging awkward, heavy equipment through people’s dining rooms, hallways, etc. without being allowed to smash any of it into furniture, walls and hyperactive pets.

So novel was my approach to building a cost-effective home gym, the original guide became the foundation of an article in Men’s Fitness magazine (Home Gym 101, Feb 2007)

Or maybe you’ve even read my updated guide from 2008-09ish which I sold as a PDF on my own website for a couple years. The 2nd Edition was over twice the size of the original. I added so much content because I started getting home-fitness questions from all over the place, most of ’em starting with, “How can I save money on….”

Now in 2013, I present to you the 3rd Edition of The ULTIMATE Home Gym Guide – available exclusively in Amazon’s Kindle format. The latest edition has grown by another 50% over the last and includes MORE money-saving strategies, MORE build-it-yourself tips, MORE personal anecdotes, analogies and information that only comes from years of experience helping clients, colleagues and of course, myself, save money on quality training equipment.

In a strange history-repeating-itself sort of way, late in 2012, I was interviewed by Men’s Fitness for another home gym essentials article which will appear in the Feb 2013 issue – due out any day now.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been living among the notoriously “frugal” Dutch community known as west Michigan for the last several years, but not only will I show you how to find the fitness gear you want for your home gym or personal training studio for ‘almost free’, I priced this thing so ridiculously low (under $7 – Amazon Prime members can even borrow it for free), I might have to change my last name to VanderKowski.

The ULTIMATE HOME GYM GUIDE is back with a vengeance!

The ULTIMATE HOME GYM GUIDE is back with a vengeance!

Self-Myofascial Release: A Simple Analogy

If you’ve seen people rolling around on hard foam cylinders or tennis balls grimacing in pain but have never tried it yourself, you’re missing out on the most amazing discomfort known as self-myofascial release (SMR). If you haven’t see (or tried) it, where have you been for the last 5-10 years?!?!?

I’m about to give you my quick interpretation of fascia lines/trigger points and why you absolutely MUST consider some form of myofascial release, so sit back and enjoy the ride on the oversimplified analogy express.

All aboard!

Where the Wild Wind Blows

Where the Wild Wind Blows

Have you ever seen a tree growing along a coastline or the top of a hill that resembles the one above? Because it’s almost constantly subjected to stresses of the prevailing winds, the tree has no choice but to adapt its form. Bend permanently or risk breaking. Nature at its finest.

Sitting in front of your computer all day and cementing your arse in front of the TV for hours on end, and any other lifestyle-non-activities are the human-lifestyle equivalent of prevailing winds. Even though you’re not moving, sitting down is still a stressor (damn you, gravity!) As our bodies are stressed, so will they adapt. Sadly, too many people have become sitting-specialists. Perfect if that’s the ONLY thing you’re ever going to do, but unless your name is Stephen Hawking, you’re probably gonna have to get up and take the trash out at least once a week.

Is being active the answer? Bench pressing, playing tennis, swimming or any other activity that puts frequent stresses on your body will ALSO cause an adaptation. Increasing loads/frequency reinforce these adaptations.

When it comes to sports performance, these specialized adaptations are just one part of what makes an athlete “elite”. Your fascia lines will orient themselves according to the demands put upon them most often. But that level of specialization is generally only applicable to that sport/activity. The longer you specialize, the deeper set the dominant patterns (and compensations) become.

What happens when the athlete is between games/practices? What about when he/she retires altogether? What happens when an incredible athlete stops playing basketball and switches to baseball (cough, cough… Michael Jordan… cough)? While ‘athletic ability’ or ‘potential’ may be there, the previous levels of specialization is hard to overturn and convert to another activity.

The wind-swept tree grows EXACTLY how it needs to because it’s not likely someone is going to dig it up, turn it around and expect it to be able to handle years of equally constant/strong winds from the opposite direction.

Over the course of a typical lifetime, most of our physical demands will involve walking. Our stationary demands (read: sitting) involve knee, hip and spine flexion (there’s gravity at work again), therefore most of our movement challenges are going to be sagittal plane dominant, so our fascia lines – or ‘Anatomy Trains‘ as Thomas Myers describes ’em – will tend to structure themselves in such a way to support the demands of what most of us would call “normal” or “natural” movement.

Ever see an infant squirm around trying to get a handle on ‘simple’ movement? Their network of fascia and muscle hasn’t had the exposure to the prevailing winds of gravity, so they move very freely, but in time, we ALL develop the same 12 main patterns as Myers describes in his book. Some patterns get exaggerated, but gravity gets all of us down eventually.

As good ol’ Chuck D (I’m talking about Charles Darwin, of course, NOT the rapper) is often quoted, “it’s not the strongest who survive, but the one that is most adaptable to change.” THIS is why I recommend daily SMR. It preserves your natural ability to adapt to new movement challenges. When you’re able to locate and roll out trigger points/adhesions, you’re basically rebooting your body’s fascia-clock. Not quite to the infant level, of course, but enough that you can move and feel better at whatever movements (or lack thereof) life throws your way.

A massage every week or two may feel good, but for it to effectively offset any ‘prevailing winds’, you need frequency. If you have the time/schedule, budget and interest to get a daily massage, that’s great. For the rest of us, there are plenty of effective do-it-yourself tools to choose from. In fact, earlier this year, I invented an alternative to the old “tennis balls and duct tape” option. You can learn all about ’em at www.BloobAllz.com.

NOT An Entry-Level SMR Tool

Be Warned: Bloob-Allz are NOT An Entry-Level SMR Tool

Is SMR uncomfortable? It sure can be – IF you have significant trigger points. But once you get ’em under control, healthy tissue shouldn’t hurt. You can use a foam roll, tennis ball, PVC pipe (yes, I’ve seen it done), Bloob-Allz or any of the other SMR tools available.

Can’t handle the pain? A physical therapist friend told me about a new myofasical release system developed in Sedona, AZ that doesn’t hurt at all. The tradeoff for brief, direct and potentially uncomfortable pressure (to put it mildly) of the SMR I’m talking about is a long duration manual therapy technique (and you’d have to go to Sedona, AZ to get it done.) Each trigger point can take 3+ minutes to ‘release’. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather just hit it hard for 20-30 uncomfortable seconds and move on to the next one. I can manage my own trigger points in roughly 10-15 minutes a day, thank you very much – plus that whole “vortex” thing in Sedona makes me wonder how legit the technique really is.


Hint: 3rd place finisher in the 1953 Mr. Universe competition

Here’s a hint: He finished 3rd in the 1953 Mr. Universe competition

The real shame is that this guy never did anything particularly memorable after his bodybuilding contest. ;-)

Rack ’em, Don’t Drop ’em

A quickie today inspired by THIS POST at my favorite (non-fitness-related) blog, List Of The Day, here’s a ‘warning sign’ I have in my home gym/office/Iron Maiden museum – because the dumping of one’s weights does little to amuse me.

no dumping weights

Better Than A Poke In The Eye With A Sharp Stick?

During my regular basketball game this week, I went up for a rebound and came down with a finger (not my own) in my eye. Feeling it was more than just a minor poke, I went home to ice it for awhile. A couple hours later (and after some quick one-eyed research on the interwebz), I decided I’d better take a quick trip to the emergency room only 4 blocks away “just in case”.

Long story short, it appears that I’m something of a candy-ass when a doctor graphically illustrates and describes “significant damage” to several areas of my cornea, because I ended up passing out, vomiting and moved to a dark room to rest with a bag of saline and anti-nausea meds flowing through a vein in my hand for a few hours.

The eyes are for sight. The mind is for visionDavid M. Frees

They tell me this kind of injury will ‘heal itself’ within a few days though a tetanus shot and antibiotic drops and a gel were also given to me to keep things under control while my eye goes through the healing process.

Doc also says I *could* go ahead with my usual workouts, though I’m gonna take things easy for the next couple days and refocus (no vision pun intended) my nutritional efforts. Eating enough veggies has always been a challenge for me. In the battle of bacon vs. asparagus, is there really any doubt???

Since I also won’t be driving for a couple days, I won’t be meeting with any of my home or gym-based appointments at least through the end of the week. Fortunately, I’ve been transitioning much of what I do to an online coaching/consulting format for quite awhile now, so through the powers of Skype, Facebook video chat and Google+ hangouts, mi casa gym es su casa gym (if you’re into that kind of thing) – and my work schedule should be able to continue fairly uninterrupted.

The time I’m saving by not driving anywhere (or doing my own workouts) frees up time for me to work on other things, both personal (ref. the aforementioned veggies – I have broccoli roasting in the oven as I type) and professional – I’m updating and reformatting my book (now in it’s 3rd edition), The Ultimate Home Gym Guide, to be Amazon-Kindle friendly by the end of the year.

So – if you have any home-gym related questions you’d like to discuss (should I buy A or B? Where can I find XYZ? etc…) feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch with me through other means. Eye‘ll be here. ;-)

Dip-Sh*ts At The Gym

Years back, I trained at a well known gym in Chicago that was a magnet for freak-shows of all sorts. I was a member, so that alone should speak volumes. Every story I could tell you about the ‘old days’ would seem even more ridiculous and unbelievable than the last (including the time I had a gun pulled on me while standing next to the Nebula leg press).

This morning, one of my friends/colleagues from Delaware posted a pic on his gym’s FB page. Whenever a discussion of, “what the heck is (s)he DOING?” comes up, memories of my days training at Quads come flooding back like it was just yesterday…

What the heck is she DOING?

It was the mid-90s. None of us thought anything was wrong with our fanny-packs or Zubaz pants. I had a whole collection of ’em – skulls, stars & stripes, you name it. Among my favorites were the ones I called my “MC Hammers” – they had a Velcro flap-wing thing on each side of the waist for that truly personalized fit.

So it wasn’t really surprising to see a couple new guys walk into the gym wearing string tank tops and the striped, spandex shorts you’d see bodybuilders wear in the magazines. It’s what these guys would do once they got to the gym that takes us to where this story really gets interesting.

First, they’d head down to the locker room where they’d apply a heavy coat of posing oil on each other. Then they’d march upstairs to the gym, yelling ‘motivational slogans’ that would make Hans & Frans shake in their well-muscled baaaah-deeees. Even though these guys SHOULD’VE probably been using the 85s or so, they’d perform several sets of bench presses with the 150lb dumbbells (the spotter would do most of the lifting while they both continued yelling at each other), slam ’em on the floor as hard as they possibly could at the end of each set, and leave a slug-like trail of oil on everything they’d touch.

Next, they’d head over to the Nautilus multi-station machine – a contraption intended for pullups, standing calf-raises and dips – where they would CLIMB TO THE TOP OF THE MACHINE to do dips 7′ in the air (still yelling at the top of their lungs, of course.) We could never figure out if they were doing this because the air was thinner at that ‘altitude’ or because gravity was somehow more powerful up there.

Clearly, these guys were seeking attention from anyone who would care to notice (or not). Between sets, they’d even run out to the parking lot to hit curbside poses for the enjoyment/amusement of those ‘fortunate’ enough to be driving by at that time.

Sadly, this was in the days before we all carried cameras in our pockets, though that lack of technological convenience does have its benefits (ref. my aforementioned fanny pack/Zubaz pants), so I can only paint this picture with words. I don’t know what happened to ’em; they were only there for a few months and would only come in once a week. Looking back now, I suppose the greatest irony is that we’d only see these ‘cartoon characters’ on Saturday mornings.

In The Beginning…

I stumbled across an interview I did with Men’s Fitness magazine fitness editor Sean Hyson a couple years back and got to (re)thinking about my earliest experiences with exercise/fitness.

I rode my bike everywhere and was a generally active kid, I s’pose. Of course, my video game options were limited to a Pong “system” and a few cartridges I had for the Atari 2600, so I didn’t see ‘gaming’ as much of an option.

At school, I don’t think a recess went by in which I wasn’t playing a heated game of kickball or “smear the queer” (political correctness as it is, I can only imagine this game has since been renamed.)

Other than occasional wiffle-balls-on-the-parachute games or rolling over my fingers while racing my classmates across the gym floor on a wheeled platform, I really can’t remember any structured elementary/middle school gym class activities (well… there was the 8th grade Mousercise incident that still gets me riled up, but I’ll save that story for another time.)


I clearly recall training in the garage with concrete-filled plastic weights on a Weider bench as a pre-teen in the mid-80s which led me into football, powerlifting and strongman training. But even years before that – I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 – I remember rolling out from under my Star Wars sheets to do sit-ups and pushups on my bedroom floor after being disappointed with myself for my performance in the “pinch an inch challenge“.

And the rest (as the saying goes) was mystery…

What was the initial spark that got YOU interested in (or at least aware of) all-things-fitness?

What Are You… Chicken?

Why did the Monsanto-farmed chicken cross the road?

Because it missed a dose of antibiotics while it was stuck in a coop with 40,000 other chickens. While on his way to the vet he had a minor altercation with another chicken who wasn’t looking where it was going and MAYBE, JUST MAYBE THIS CHICKEN WAS HAVING A LITTLE ‘ROID RAGE, OKAY, BUT YOU WOULDN’T KNOW THIS CHICKEN WAS ON STEROIDS BECAUSE THERE’S NO REQUIREMENT TO HAVE A SIMPLE LABEL ON THE PACKAGE THAT SAYS SO. NOW GET OFF MY BACK!!!

What the hell are YOU lookin’ at?

What’s in YOUR food?