Three Questions for The New Year

At this time of year, there are droves of people heading to gyms with a firm resolution to get in better shape and lose weight, get strong or finally run that race. New Year, new you – and this year you’re going to make it stick. I want you to be successful.

Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of fitness professionals and facilities who prey on these people and are trying to land them as new clients by any means necessary. They will promise free classes, free months, free back massages just to get you into the door of their place and try to sell you into a program or membership or package.

Most people equate fitness as something that has to be difficult in order to make progress. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. So when you’re about to start that new fitness program or change your habits, ask yourself these three things and you’ll be much more likely to stick to them long term and achieve the goals you set out:

Have I Done my Research?

When finding a new facility or possibly hiring a professional, everyone is offering bargains and deals. In fact, just a couple of days ago I received an unsolicited message from a spammer asking ME if I wanted to join his group classes for free for a month.

Your workout space should fit not only your personality (if you’re new to fitness, going to the local Iron Gym might not be a good idea), but also your ability to go as frequently as possible (ie close to home, work or in between somewhere) and your budget. Also, acknowledge to yourself if you prefer working out by yourself (so strength training or spinning at home might be for you) or as a group (HIIT training, Crossfit or yoga).

If you’re hiring someone, everyone is giving consultations for free. First thing I suggest is to trust a referral from someone who HAS GOTTEN RESULTS that are similar to your goals. Next you have to see if their philosophy and personality are things you will get along with. Last is budget – if a trainer asks you to sign up for a year of sessions on the spot, walk away.

Finding a good fit for you means you are likely to go more often because you enjoy it, not because you feel like you have to. If you don’t want to be there, you’ll find an excuse to stop going and that is what you want to avoid.


Is what I’m Doing Appropriate for Me?

Joining a new group exercise class that promises high intensity training and quick results is typically the first stop for many. Unfortunately, group classes are rarely scaled or supervised properly unless they are small groups (ie about a 4 participant to 1 instructor ratio).

You also might be put into a room with people who have been doing intense exercise for years and asked to do the same thing as they are doing. This can involve things like heavy dynamic movements, tons of repetitions using bodyweight, or complicated sequences that will exhaust you quickly, making you think it is good for you. You’ll sweat, feel exhausted and get caught up in the moment where you’re encouraged to probably do way too much, way too hard, way too SOON.  And then get discouraged and quit, or get injured and quit.

There is a period that your body goes through when it is introduced to new stimuli (like a new movement or environment) called neural adaptation. I call this subconscious competence, almost like riding a bicycle. At first, it is difficult and you fall or feel unstable. Then your brain and nervous system learn to adapt to the movements and you acquire more balance. This is also a fundamental principle of strength training. Think of it as gradual learning for your muscles, which are controlled by your brain.

As the difficulty of a movement goes up, the harder your nervous system has to work to recruit things, giving you less possibility to control any individual component. Again, this is where proper coaching comes into the picture and learning something that sounds simple like a squat, can be very important.

For experienced exercisers, this window is smaller. For new exercisers, it can be quite large. Far more than a quick explanation or watching other people doing it and trying to emulate it. In new classes, make sure you’re doing things that you can manage, and if that means every other rep then so be it. Go at a pace that you can manage and NEVER go to muscular failure.

Another quick mention for those of you who were “in shape” years ago. You’re not now. Therefore your body needs time to re-adapt to movements you haven’t done in a long time. You will adapt faster, but not instantly.

A 400 pound hip thrust is great for this guy – not you.

Am I Listening to my Body?

As I’ve said before, pain is your body’s way of saying STOP IT. Especially acute pain, which is generally a signal that you should stop immediately, like putting your hand on a hot stove.

Even after a workout, if you feel shaky or lightheaded and have trouble walking to your car or more importantly, driving it – you may have done too much during that session.

Feedback to either yourself or whomever you’re working with is essential for this. My clients report to me the day after every session, even if they are fine. Recording what you did, how long and how much is also vital to make sure you can go back and adjust if need be.

This can also be a question you need to ask when it comes to your diet. If you’re considering making changes, start recording what you’re eating, but include a section where you write down how the food you eat makes you feel and when you’re eating it. Most people can progress quite well just by reducing or eliminating the big three (alcohol, sugar and starchy carbs).

Some need a more involved protocol or elimination diet. If a food makes you feel crappy – why are you eating it? If you’re eating because of the HALT method (habit, angry, lonely or tired) then reconsider why you’re doing it.


If you ask yourself these three questions when you start back in this New Year, you’ll be set up much better for success. The last thing you want is another year of gym fees disappearing because you gave up in February. And as a professional, I want you to be as healthy and fit as you can possibly be. Just make sure you’re asking the right questions, doing the right things, and listening to your body along the way.

Have a wonderful 2020, and as always, if you have any questions, my inbox is always open at!

How about Healthy First?

It’s a New Year and everyone is excited about 2020. Lots of perspective about where you were ten years ago. Ten years ago, I moved to my current city and had to start my practice back up from nothing – not knowing a soul in the city besides my girlfriend. Thankfully I met a ton of great people and today I’m thriving and well.

One thing I read about a lot in January is people wanting to get back into good habits, which 90% of the time means the gym. They resolve to lose weight, set goals and really kill it for this new decade ahead. Well, not to be a David Downer, but here’s the truth: 70 percent of them will fail by mid-February!

Here’s a couple of strategies I always tell my clients (and anyone who asks me) that over my two decades doing this job I have always found more effective than resolutions.

  1. Focus on health FIRST, weight loss or body changes after that. 

So many people want to get into shape, they decide to go on the latest fad diet or new book they read over the holidays. This usually leads to drastic changes that aren’t sustainable once you get back into your normal routines. Or, life gets in the way and then you have to take a break and get discouraged and quit.

Here’s my strategy to fix that – focus on HEALTH first. Getting healthier means eating better (cleaning up your nutrition), exercising moderately but not all out, and then focusing as well on things like sleep, overall stress reduction and creating positive habits that make you feel better, not worse.

The good thing is, that if you do these things that weight loss and better body composition will come along as a by-product. It’s guaranteed over time.


2. Make one change at a time.

If I was going to prioritize what you should change, it would go in this order:

Eat better. Sleep better. Cut down on stress. Exercise.

Yes, exercise is LAST on that list. Why? Because exercise means ADDING something, not REMOVING something. For example, eating better can mean simply eliminating sugar and alcohol. This will have a profound effect on most people. All you have to do is simply NOT EAT IT. Sleeping better means that you simply have to NOT watch that last episode of Netflix and go to bed earlier. Stress reduction means you have to NOT react poorly to when someone gets you upset or things don’t go your way.

Exercise is important, for sure – but if you simply eliminated starchy carbs, alcohol and most sugars from your diet you would lose ten pounds in a month. I’ve seen it dozens of times.

So change one thing – make it stick for at least 2-3 weeks – then change something else. And that brings me to my third point:

3. Focus on long term change and goals.

I tell my clients all of the time, we want to PREPARE you for what you are going to experience in 3-4 months. In the spring, you will be going outside more. In the summer, you may take up a new activity. For my athletes, they are typically in an off-season mode and focusing on re-establishing enhanced strength for upcoming seasons.

Think about where you want to be in six months. It is kind of like if your car starts to slide in the mounds of snow in my city. You look into the turn and focus on what’s ahead, not on what is going on around you. And inevitably you will come out of it straight and further ahead.  Don’t worry about January, except for establishing the proper habits (with SMALL CHANGES) that you can be consistent with over time.

I hope that you all have a fantastic first couple of weeks of 2020 and if you ever want any information or to ask questions, I’m always happy to help you! Reach out at, on Linkedin or find me at @strengthottawa on Twitter.

Train in the Gym, Perform in the World

Last week a long term client of mine came in and proudly announced that she biked for two hours last week.  And she was completely fine (maybe a bit tired) even after a recent tweak of her hip flexor.  She’s 59 years old and only started biking a year ago.  It was the first time she had ever biked for that duration of time.

I was listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast last week and he was interviewing a man who brought up a very good point and I wanted to share it with my readers because it was an ah-ha moment for me.  Without getting into massive detail he basically stated that for whatever you want to be able to do, you need to realize that the things you do in the gym are for training towards that purpose – the gym is not the main event.

The time working on skills and strength in the gym allows you to be able to perform outside of it.  It’s a chicken and egg thought that many people don’t apply properly.  They think that if they just show up at the gym that’s enough.

So, what is your main event?  Well, like my client it can be biking for hours.  It can be keeping up with your kid on the ice during hockey like another client of mine.  It can be jogging on the beach in February in Florida like another client of mine.  It can be a half marathon like many participated in yesterday at the Army Run.  It can be competing in a powerlifting event.  But the bottom line is this:


Many people, especially at this time of year think that they will go to the gym and magically everything will change without this chicken and egg theory in mind.  I’m always asking people what they want to be able to do with their new body and strength once they have it instead.  Setting that type of goal, no matter what it may be is important.

Sometimes you don’t even know what that goal is until it happens.  For example, a lot of my clients want to eliminate chronic pain.  Often after a few months, they will wake up one day and realize that they don’t have pain anymore.  That’s when we have a conversation about what they want to be able to do now with their pain free body.

Here’s some examples of goals I’ve experienced in my career:

  • I want to step on stage in front of hundreds of people in a bikini and feel good.
  • I want to complete an endurance event (ie running, triathlon or cycling).
  • I want to climb a monument, mountain, hike or simple stairs without getting winded.
  • I want to play my sport again at a competitive level or take up a new one.
  • I want to carry, play with or keep up with my kids for long periods of time.

I want you to notice something:  not one of these goals involves being inside of a gym.  The gym is there to provide the tools you need in order to achieve these goals, not the other way around.


So your first priority in 2019 and forward should be to set that target.  My recommendation is always to have a short term and a long term goal.

Again as an example, one of my clients is starting back up again this week with the short term goal of consistency and getting his strength back to where it was after a three month layoff, with a long term nine month goal of being able to run pain free in the spring.  It is completely achievable with the right consistency, progression and guidance.

So again, I’ll reiterate the question:  WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE ABLE TO DO?

And let’s begin there this year and moving forward.  If you need any guidance, I’m always happy to provide it.  Just remember that the time in the gym is training.  The real world is out there just waiting for you to use the body you’ve created.

Are You Doing The First 80%

Recently a client texted me to ask if she should start taking BCAAs for improved results.  This is a typical type of question that I get from clients quite a bit once they start back into the gym after a layoff or even starting out for the first time.   Since every person they run into is going to offer some type of tidbit on how to increase results, often I have to be blunt with people, as is my nature.

So I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject and share basically what I told her and would tell anyone in the same type of situation, and here it is in plain English:

If you aren’t doing the first 80% of what you need to do, don’t worry about the final 20%.


So then you ask: “What’s the first 80%?” of course.  And here they are:

Exercising regularly – that means 3-5 times a week depending on schedule for at least 6-12 months without more than a week break due to holiday, illness or injury.  Do you have your fitness time prioritized so that regular life doesn’t get in the way?  No?  Work on that.

Establish a system that works for you and you can remain consistent with.  It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 minutes at home doing bodyweight or 45 minutes at the gym. Just get regular. 

Exercising properly – are you getting hurt or sore all the time?  Do you know what you’re doing?  Are you focusing on the right things ie strength training instead of hours of cardio?  Do you track your workouts consistently?  No?  Consult an expert and work on that.  Get a game plan and follow it.

Today there are literally millions of online resources that are free and can guide you, or spend the money and hire a (competent) trainer.  It is worth the investment to do things right the first time.

Eating properly – that means within the caloric guidelines for either gaining/losing weight and/or body fat consistently every day.  No?  Work on that.

Don’t even know what that is?  Google it.  Your body has an energy requirement and this is where everyone should begin to focus on before any type of details.

Eating for health – meaning real food, not relying on supplements like shakes and powders.  Whatever eating profile you decide to go with, just make sure it is healthy – for you.  No?  Work on that.

My big three are sugar, processed carbs and alcohol.  If you can cut out those three things and also increase your fiber intake, it will dramatically change your body and mood in no time.

Recovering properly – that means are you sleeping, taking rest days and trying to lower outside stress levels so that your body can repair itself.  No?  Work on that.

Stretching, mobility, meditation are all a part of this process.  Also, if your sleep hygiene sucks and you’re barely getting six hours a night, you’re going to have a problem.  Easy hacks are available so that you can enhance your recovery and feel better every day.

Enjoying the process – Life isn’t about suffering unless you’re a Buddhist.  If you are forcing yourself to do things it likely isn’t a good choice for you.  An example is people who are in a gym when they would much rather be outside or doing an active sport or other activity.  Have you found what you enjoy?  No?  Go find it.

So, here’s the thing.  I get questions often where the answer is simply – it doesn’t matter unless you’re already doing the above.  Do I need BCAAs?  Should I do Wendler 5/3/1 or Starting Strength?  What about Intermittent Fasting?  Or keto?  How many reps and sets?  How long should I do cardio for?  What should my heart rate be?

Too many people focus on the details that aren’t important until the above is in place and consistently followed for a period of time.  And as much as other people will moan and say it’s important and other trainers’ heads will explode, let’s be honest and say that the difference is generally negligible.  If you’re not doing the things above consistently then you are much better off starting there.


There are a ton of people in the industry that will tell you that you should be focusing on things that in the larger picture really don’t matter nearly as much as consistency, strength work, regular recovery and a good diet.  Usually, these people are trying to sell you something.  Don’t worry about the small details until you have mastered the first amount for a period of time.