…one of my clients, the lovely Eva Mendes
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” There is a chasm between a thought and the manifestation of the thought. Bridge that gap with words. Speak your dreams into existence.
By definition a mantra is a repeated sound, syllable, word or group of words that is considered capable of “creating transformation.” Although it can be as simple as a sound, a vibration that resonates within, it can also be an affirmation used as a catalyst for positive change. Mantras have been practiced all around the world for thousands of years, ever since mankind realized the power of thought and spoken word. The use of affirmations have been known to produce high levels of clarity and focus, and a call to action.
I believe my calling in life is to be a vessel of inspiration. I’ve always felt somewhat limitless, that whatever I wanted to do in life I could do, as long as I put in the work, and I decided this past year that my life’s purpose is to empower people, ultimately on a large scale, to that same limitless feeling I’ve always had. The thought of trying to figure out how to get from here to there is usually pretty overwhelming, but I had a moment a few weeks ago that lifted the weight of my worries. I opened my facebook page to a message from my older sister that read, “Erik, I love your blog posts, I just caught up on reading some of them, you inspire me!” It was then that I realized that I was fulfilling the purpose that I had been longing to. Although it may not be on the scale that I intend it to one day be, the thought of a mantra a close friend shared with me, brought a wave of faithful assurance, that as long as I continue along the path before me, I will eventually be where I’ve seen myself in my dreams. In fact, that in many ways I’m already there, waiting for reality to close the gap. “What I am to become, I already am.”
Here are a couple of sites I’ve found that can help you form a mantra for yourself:
“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” -Unknown
Today is February 29th, leap day, an extra day ADDed to our calendar every 4 years, and I can’t think of a better way to spend an extra day than using it to do something you’ve never done before. Admittedly, I was inspired to this thought by an episode of “30 Rock,” but all comedy aside, the act of doing something you’ve never done before can open up a whole new world of possibilities.
Studies suggest that learning new things is like exercise for the brain, keeping you sharp, even staving off Alzheimer’s and other age related neurological changes. Overcome fears, expand your knowledge and increase your vitality and zeal for life by doing new things. Volunteer, learn a new language, take a dance class, try a new kind of food or do whatever it is that strikes your interest. A mentor of mine, Dan Harvey who has been the full-time trainer to Robert De Niro for decades, told me that one of the things about De Niro that impresses him most is his insatiable appetite to try new things. He told me, “Bob wants to try everything!” He wants to experience all there is to experience, good and bad, and use it to make him better at what he does. There’s a great maxim that says, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must do something you’ve never done.” I know this is all kind of last minute advice, so if you can’t do something new today, make a plan and a commitment to yourself to do something new soon.
Our bodies consist of groups of muscles which oppose each other and either create balance or imbalance depending upon postural fitness. Most of us have a predisposition to hunch, or favor, or tilt and twist one way or another. Whether your posture is slightly askew or completely out of whack, there are some corrective measures that can yield a number of positive results.
Having good posture not only makes you instantly taller, but makes you appear thinner as well. Standing tall and straight also enables you to breathe properly, increasing the volume of air you can take in with each breath, in turn improving concentration and thinking ability, as your brain requires oxygen to function properly. Other added benefits include decreased incidence of spinal issues such as slipped, bulging, and/or compressed disks, decreased joint stress which can eventually lead to various types of soft tissue damage throughout the body, decreased fatigue, and improved circulation and flexibility. Not to mention, there are improvements in both image and self image that come from having better posture. Increased self-confidence as well as the appearance of being smarter and more attractive are usually attributes of good posture.
There are strength exercises and stretches that can help you bring balance to your posture by strengthening muscles that are too weak and stretching ones that are too tight. Some of the exercises that work best to improve your posture are rows and high rows (focus on driving the elbows back and pulling your shoulder blades down and together), planks and various modifications of supermans. Some muscles to focus on during stretching to improve posture are the pectorals (chest), hamstrings, glutes (butt), hip flexors and abdominals, although stretching overall will be helpful. And yes, once again, yoga is a great way to ADD strength, flexibility and balance to your posture. In fact, a close friend of mine who practices and teaches yoga was diagnosed with scoliosis (lateral curvature of the spine) at the age of 15; since she starting practicing a few years ago that degree of curvature has decreased from 35° to 22°.
All of these forms of fitness will help you improve your posture, however, the most important way is to be aware of your posture on a daily basis and as often as possible. Assess and address your posture constantly and you’ll create the habit of having good posture all the time. One useful tip is to try keep your ears, shoulders and hips in alignment. Whether you’re sitting or standing, imagine that that there is a vertical line that connects these three parts of your body, and keep it straight. Keep your posture in check and MOVE. Sedentary lifestyles have become more common that not, and with more and more of our work taking place settled into chairs and slumped over desks for hours on end, it’s important to move. Movement promotes muscle balance and good posture. It’s really a simple fix for what could become a crippling issue.
“Sometimes I think I was born to have an assistant.” I said that to a client at the end of one of our sessions, and it elicited a pretty substantial laugh, because he knew I could use someone to help me stay on task, and because I had taken to hijacking his New York assistant from time to time to help me keep track of our scheduled sessions. Truth be told, there’s a good lesson to be learned from this recognition of sorts. For all of the emphasis I place on change in writing these posts, sometimes change is not the answer. I was relieved when I realized that I don’t have to try to be perfect, only willing to ADD SUPPORT to the areas of life where it’s needed. It’s important to know yourself. It’s important to know your strengths, but it’s also very important to know your weaknesses.
When I first discovered my love for basketball, I would watch Michael Jordan’s, “Come Fly with Me,” on VHS over and over, mimicking his arial acrobatics on the closest court I could find. But for all the ways this video impressed me, something his father said in an interview ended up being the the most memorable part of that repeated 30 minutes. He said, “Occasionally you’ll meet people that you look at and you just know they were born to do one thing, and God looked at Michael and knew this kid would starve if he had to work… I better make an athlete out of him.” The point is, some of us may excel in certain areas in life, while in others areas we fail miserably. Some may be able to inspire the world with feats of greatness, but would struggle to hold a day job if it came down to it. There’s nothing wrong with employing assistance in the times and places where we need help, in fact it’s genius. Place your energy into the tasks in which you can be most effective, and let someone who’s good at doing the things you’re not so good at, do them for you.
Now if I could just find a way to pay for my own assistant, I wouldn’t have to “borrow” someone else’s.
One of the reasons I connect with dance is because every movement is realized with intent and purpose. When a dancer moves, it’s usually with the intent to express a feeling or idea; a great dancer can make you feel something profound when he or she performs. I like to apply this example to the movement of exercise. Too often, exercise is performed mindlessly, as a monotonous chore, but I’m convinced that ADDing intent and recognizing purpose when you exercise will not only make your workouts more efficient, but more enjoyable and inspired as well.
First, understand your goals, know your purpose. When you exercise with a goal in mind, what you are doing means something to you, and you’ll push yourself more than if you just show up and go through the motions. Visualize your goals when you workout (read ADD VISUALIZATION), and exercise according to them, with a program that’s specific to those goals. See every stride, every class, every repetition, every squat, push-up, pull-up, or crunch as one step closer to reaching your desired destination.
Second, understand the purpose of the exercise, which muscles are to be focused on, and with intent use those muscles to move through the proper range of motion. For example, when my clients perform a bicep curl, one of the cues I give them is to engage and contract the bicep muscle to initiate the movement, that the lower arm and weight are lifted as a result of that contraction, not that the movement is working the bicep muscle. This accentuates the intent of the exercise and brings focus to the targeted muscle or muscles.
Last but not least, like a dancer, practice impeccable form. Perform each movement with beauty, with posture and control. Using correct form will greatly reduce the risk of injury as well as ensure that the intended muscles are stressed. Researchers have found that doing an exercise correctly engages more muscle fibers and builds stronger muscles, another ADDed benefit of moving with purpose.
Think of how disappointing it would be to go to a ballet and see the dancers go through the motions, sloppy, uninspired and with no determination or enthusiasm. The experience would not be what it was meant to be. Make your movement count, make every drop of sweat that falls from your brow have consequence, make it all mean something more than some calories burned.
One of the most disappointing trends I see these days is an absence of mentor relationships. There’s something very significant and special about learning, one on one, from someone who’s gone before you, and cares to impart what their experience has taught them. It’s much different and more affective than some form of preaching to the masses (not to say there’s anything wrong with preaching to the masses, it’s just different). I’ve found that when you share personal relationships with people, the gifts you give each other mean more and are more valuable. Since the beginning of man’s existence, progress has come by way of the passing on of what’s been learned from one generation to the next, allowing and expecting the next in line to build and expand upon it.
I attended college on a Track and Field scholarship, and since my freshman year in high school I was always a part of the 4 x 400m relay. This was usually the pinnacle and exclamation point of most meets, the most exciting race to watch, and the most exciting and exhausting race to be a part of. 400 meters was just long enough that you could nearly sprint the entire distance, and short enough that you couldn’t really pace yourself or leave anything in the tank for the finish, if you wanted to be competitive. In other words, it hurt like mother. You couldn’t help but share a strong bond with the others on your relay team, because you knew that they were giving everything they had to hand you the baton in the best possible position for you to win, and you were doing the same. We shared the pain, the victories and the defeats. I idealistically view civilization through the analogy of the 4 x 400m relay. That those who have gone before, hand off to us what they have to give, with the intention of leaving us in the best position to continue successfully.
I’m about half-way through reading the epic Steve Jobs biography, and although his documented eccentric ways, lack of hygiene and emotional tantrums have made quite the impression so far, two things have really stood out above all else as major contributors to his immense success. First, and most famous was his relentless pursuit of perfection when it came to the products Apple introduced to the world, but there was another, more subtle reoccurring theme that I picked up on. Steve Jobs used mentors like most people use paper towels. He repeatedly sought out and aligned himself with people who could teach him the things he wanted and needed to know, and I believe this to be just as important of a consideration as to his success as any other of his unique characteristics.
I have been fortunate to have had a number of people act as mentors in my life. From family members (father, uncles, cousins, brother in law, and even my bigger, little brother), to friends (in particular Cory Jackson, who has always seemed to be one step ahead of me in life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way), to teachers, preachers and coaches. Some of the most influential people in my life have been coaches and teachers, those who took an interest in me, believed in me, opened up new worlds of opportunity and facilitated my champion moments. In my career as a personal trainer I’ve always been happy to act as a sponge, willing to learn from magazines, managers, veteran trainers and rookies alike, even members working out on their own. Don’t ever do yourself the disservice of being too proud to learn because the source is unexpected. I worked for the legendary David Barton for a few years, and not unlike Steve Jobs, beneath his eccentric ways there’s a brilliant business minded trainer at heart. The revolutionary strategies in which he’s operated his gyms have made them some of the top personal training gyms in the country. I’ve learned invaluable lessons from my time at David Barton Gym and my relationship with the man himself. More recently, Dan Harvey, the guy who’s been Robert De Niro’s trainer since Raging Bull, and many others along the way, has accepted me into the ranks, and I am now learning from his decades of experience.
I’ve also spent some time on the other side of the mentor relationship. Before I started working as a trainer I held a job at the Youth Advocate Program. My job here was to work with troubled youth, to help facilitate their adjustment into various social environments. I spent most of my time with a young man named Roger, he was a sweet, kind hearted kid who had a rough life, to say the least. The most important resource I gave him was the opportunity to be at his best. I believed in him and held him to higher standards. To the best of my ability, I taught him how to be the person he aspired to be. In many ways I do the same as a personal trainer, providing people with the opportunity to be who they want to be. Personal training is a great example of the mentor relationship. A trainer’s job is to teach, coach, motivate and impart according to their education and experience, using the personal relationship and trust they’ve built over time. A good personal trainer is worth his or her price. If physical change is a serious goal for you, and especially if you’ve been unsuccessful doing it yourself, make an investment in the relationship that will get you there. Make the investment in yourself.
For a long time I’ve known the value of the mentor. Find and ADD a MENTOR for any of your goals in life. They’re around if you put the effort in to looking for them, and in my experience they are more than happy to play the part. I believe it’s in our DNA to pass on an inheritance. Get yours.
An isometric movement is an oxymoron in itself; it’s a movement that by definition means there is no moving taking place. As our body progresses through different planes and ranges of motion the muscles that wrap our bones flow in and out of three different kinds of contractions. The most commonly recognized is called the concentric phase; this is when the muscle is shortened, which typically happens when something is being lifted. However, the other two phases are also very important, yet widely under utilized. The eccentric phase is typically the phase in which we have the most strength and occurs when the muscle is being lengthened. Negative training, focusing on the eccentric contraction, has been a proven method of strength training for decades. When performing any exercise or lift it’s important to maintain control throughout the entire movement, using your muscles in the eccentric phase to lower or return the load back to it’s original position, rather than dropping and catching.
The term isometric comes from the Greek for “having equal measurement,” and in the isometric phase of a muscle contraction the muscle length and joint angle remain unchanged during the movement. Simply put, it’s when you hold still as the targeted muscle is engaged (i.e wall sit, plank). An isometric can be engaged at any point within the range of motion.
One of the most valuable benefits of isometric exercise is the opportunity to explore and test your thresholds when it comes to enduring the discomfort of muscle fatigue (feeling the burn). This is the time when you can learn to push yourself a little more and hold on a little longer. Another benefit is the chance to apply focus more specifically. Since there is no movement and the tension is very specific to the muscle or muscles engaged, the connection between the mind and muscle is more easily recognized. Building an awareness of muscles at work is an important part of exercise that will make your workouts more effective and efficient. For centuries the practice of yoga has been has been using isometric muscle contractions as postures are assumed and maintained for varying lengths of time, while awareness is brought to form and the muscles at work. Isometric training is especially helpful in rehabilitation scenarios, and studies indicate that isometric contractions have the ability to produce a greater level of muscle activation than concentric contractions, as they are also thought to increase strength without adding bulk or causing the hypertrophy of the muscle. It’s important to note however, that isometric exercises are known to elevate blood pressure as they are performed, which should be taken into account if blood pressure is an existing issue.
I ADD ISOMETRICS as a supplement to my programs and workouts. In addition to a well rounded, goal oriented routine they can be quite complimentary and their distinct benefits will enhance your results and performance. Try ADDing a 30-60 second plank immediately after a set of crunches. For example, do 30 seconds of continuous bicycle crunches followed by a 30-60 second plank. While in the plank position bring attention to the abdominal muscles of the core, which should already be fatigued from the crunches. Actively engage and draw in those muscles for the duration of the plank, keeping constant tension in your abs. Focus on breathing out and drawing in until the time is up. Or, ADD an isometric for an interval of time within a set of one of your regularly performed exercises. Somewhere within the repetition range of a set of push-ups or a set of squats hold the position at the bottom of your range of motion for 10 seconds, then continue on with the set. ADD one timed isometric contraction or a few, but while holding the position bring attention and focus to the muscles targeted. In the push-up, focus on the chest, the points of origin of the pectoral muscles along the sternum, in the center of the chest, attempting to move your focus away from the insertion points near the shoulder. In the squat, focus on the muscles on the back of your legs, the hamstrings and glutes. Try to bring attention to their engagement as opposed to the quadriceps on the front of the leg and the pressure that’s placed in the knee joint. Push your heels and the balls of your feet into the floor.
The more we learn about and explore our bodies and the way they work, the more adept we become at training them to achieve our goals. I’ve found isometric training to be an inroad to a deeper understanding of the body and physical limits I would to exceed.
I’m strong to the finish, ‘cause I eats me Spinach, I’m Popeye the sailor man! You know, he wasn’t far off. Spinach is one of the most nutrient rich leafy vegetables you can eat. It’s low in calories yet very high in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (naturally occurring nutritional compounds that are found in fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes). The list of vitamins and minerals found in spinach includes:
- Vitamin A- vision and skin health
- Vitamin B2- required for a wide variety of cellular processes including energy metabolism
- Vitamin B6- a cofactor in many metabolic reactions and has been linked to reduced risk in many disease including cardiovascular diseases and Parkinson’s disease
- Vitamin C- protection against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and even skin wrinkling.
- Vitamin E- antioxidant effects
- Vitamin K- supports bone health and cardiovascular health
- Calcium- an essential mineral for many cellular processes and supports structure of bones and teeth
- Copper- anti-inflammatory that promotes proper growth and brain stimulation
- Folate- supports production of red blood cells and proper brain function, reduces risk of heart disease and prevents depression
- Iron- helps carry oxygen in the blood, increases energy and proper muscle function
- Magnesium- regulates high blood pressure, treats diabetes, migraines, insomnia and depression, may reverse osteoporosis
- Manganese- involved in bone formation and other connective tissues, thyroid function, sex hormone function, calcium absorption, blood sugar regulation, immune function and in fat and carbohydrate metabolism
- Phosphorus- strengthens bones and teeth
- Potassium- electrolyte balance, helps regulate blood pressure and muscle contractions
- Niacin- antioxidant effects, helps control blood sugar and cholesterol
- Selenium- antioxidant effects
- Zinc- can improve the immune system, male fertility, help heal wounds and increase brain activity
So in a sense, it’s nature’s multi-vitamin. Although there has been no findings to link spinach to the formation of ginormous forearms, all of these nutrients are more easily absorbed by the body through natural foods such as spinach than in supplement form. It’s also a great source of dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and even protein. ADD this affordable, accessible and versatile super food too your diet today (it maintains most of it’s nutritional content raw or steamed).