An Ageing Questionnaire

It’s always really interesting how I end up with multiple clients going through a similar journey at a similar time. It’s probably fair to say that because many of my clients are in the second half of their life, they would have reasonably similar experiences. I’ve never believed that giving the exact same advice to two different people is a good idea. But sometimes a nugget of information can apply to two different people. Sometimes, not all the time.

I’m going to paste a little questionnaire that I’ve posed to a couple of clients lately. Maybe there’s a moment that you the reader can reflect on the questions and have an experience with your answers.

Please keep in mind that I likely don’t know you whatsoever. So these questions are not directly for you. But, if something positive comes out of it then that is just wonderful.

What does getting old mean to you?
What does aging mean to you?
What do you want your health look like in one year?
What do you want your health look like in 10 years?
What currently worries you the most about your health and wellness?
What is your greatest strength in your health and wellness?

Content Requests

To add to my wonderful spring enthusiasm based on sunny days and spring showers giving life to this oft-barren Alberta, I’ve received more new blog followers than normal. Thank you so much to you all. It’s a great, uplifting feeling to have people reading and (hopefully) appreciating my content.

My brain is a flurry of thoughts, opinions, links between science and concepts. While there are endless articles for me to present to readers, it’s also important that you see more than just what I think is important. I’m urging anyone who is inquisitive to reach out, comment, email, scream from the mountain tops and let me know what topics interest you.

If a client is in front of me, their needs and curiosities are quite apparent. Granted, that comes through years of experience working with people. But I definitely cannot just assume what my readers would like to know about. I will change that and say that I can assume, but I feel as though the reader will get more out of this content if their queries are discussed.

Don’t hold back!

Talk to me!

My Exercise Mantra

Posture, technique, feel. These are the pillars of how I teach exercises.

As with most professionals in any given field, I have taken part in countless professional development courses over the years. Admittedly, my attention is hardly ever captivated in any sort of classroom setting. In my childhood development years, the only situations that would get me into trouble at school related to a lack of concentration and disturbing the other students. That’s a nice way to say that I was probably a bit of a class clown. If the studies aren’t being presented in an interesting manner, the student already understands the subject matter, or if the child has a touch of ADHD, who can blame them?

The same issues have plagued me throughout years of professional development. My mind always seems to go “yeah, I get that, show me something that’s going to wow me!” Here and there, something does wow me. Maybe two or three times in my career I’ve been rocked by the information presented, and realistically it’s often the presenter and how they share the information. One such period of learning was post-University and pre-becoming a Trainer. I spent two or three years attending courses such as FMS (Functional Movement Systems, https://www.functionalmovement.com/) and TPI (Titleist Performance Institute, https://www.mytpi.com/) which both have to do with teaching and correcting movement patterns to better a person’s body before getting them into strenuous activity. FMS is a generic system of assessments designed to specify areas of movement that the client needs to address. TPI is specific to golfers, but can be linked to any athletes (I would argue any person) – specifically rotational athletes (think Baseball throwing and batting). Both of those courses changed the way I worked for many years. Until…

At some point in the 2010s, I took a course called RTS, Resistance Training Specialist (https://www.resistancetrainingspecialist.com/) which gave me permission to work with people differently. No longer was my job to sort through specific exercises that are “right” for someone, or weed out those horrible “bad” exercises for that person. Now I could take an exercise that someone might WANT to do and adapt it for them. A squat isn’t a universal truth, it is a motion made up of flexion and extension of various joints. It’s something that varies for the individual! A bench press doesn’t even HAVE to touch a person’s chest! There is nuance. There is coaching. Through that (and even years later) I came up with my mantra: “Posture, Technique, Feel.”

Posture – of course. Technique – well, yeah. Feel – OK, maybe you’re losing me a bit… What does all of this mean? And why has this become my exercise mantra? Join me my friend. Pop into my brain and take a journey.

Posture is the first step, and no, it is not simply a word used to mean sitting up straight at the piano or desk. Posture is whichever position I (the coach) want your body in for an exercise or activity. Maybe I want more or less hip flexion when coaching a lunge to stretch the gluteus maximus. And then I start asking for the spine to angle forward more, but not to hunch at the upper back. Now I insist on more weight being on the front foot. All of these are postural cues in order to set up a good position to generate effort in the glute and maybe some in the quads. This is done for any exercise, depending on which muscles I (the Coach, Trainer, Kinesiologist – pick your preferred term) am trying to target on your body. Posture also includes the range of motion that has been decided on.

This person being coached into an effective and VERY hard lunge, is now being coached into bicep curls. Did you know that bicep curls are not an enemy? Crazy, hey? So this client grabs a weight in each hand and just starts bending their elbows, right? Hilarious. I have never been able to make things that simple. If I did, why would someone hire me? You can bend your elbows without me, thanks. Of course I can’t tell you exactly how these curls would be done because I am just making up a client in my head. Even bending the elbow with extra load (what I think of when someone grabs a weight) is different for each individual. First off, I almost never have people completely straighten their arm in this motion – that generally takes all of the extra load off of the muscle. So we’ve already specified part of the range of motion and thus the posture (remember, their body position, not just standing straight). And it will go from there. How much do I want their elbow to bend? Are they standing or sitting? Laying back at an angle? Are we using a dumbbell or a cable? Which angle is the resistance coming from? A dumbbell always falls with gravity, so I have to change their posture to account for that. A cable or elastic band can alter where the resistance comes from which means I can play with posture again. But that’s just the beginning because I don’t often change their posture mid-exercise or mid-repetition of that exercise (not never though… that can be fun).

It’s not enough to just set the person up, count 3, 2, 1 go and be satisfied. Now there is the Technique portion of this mantra. Often I hear and see other professionals in my field discuss technique, but it’s relating to how an exercise is done – the whole of the exercise. I would argue that technique is something that crosses to most – if not all exercises. Their definition of technique is closer to my definition of posture. My definition of technique has to do with the speed of the motion, the bracing that I’ll ask for certain muscles to take part in, the intention and purposeful use of a certain muscle or group of muscles, and even how strong I want their grip (if grip is needed).

We’ll revisit those biceps curls to hammer this point home. I don’t usually like a tight grip on a dumbbell. In my experience it emphasizes forearm muscles and takes some effort away from the biceps – in the case of curls. Yes, gripping harder often allows someone to lift more load, but I believe that the client benefits more from concentrated effort in the muscle(s) that I/we have targeted rather than overall load being used. A targeted bicep curl with a weaker grip at 15lbs can feel just as hard as a willy-nilly bicep curl with a death grip at 35lbs. Note that I am also working with a client’s mentality, not just the science of load applied to muscular tissue. This means that their perceived exertion means as much or more to me as their overall muscular adaptation.

Past something like gripping a weight, I also have to decide how fast their technique should be. Slower is harder. Faster is an option, but not one that I take for most purposes. As I said that a weaker grip allows the person to focus their attention on the targeted muscle, I find that slower motions allows them to also feel what we are trying to accomplish. Speed goes along with purposeful tightening of the muscle. I don’t think that a bicep curl should be performed without first tightening the bicep. And that squeeze shouldn’t deteriorate throughout the prescribed repetitions. Bringing a client’s attention and focus to that muscle is absolutely key to achieving specifically the outcome that is desired.

If you are reading carefully, you’ll already be waiting for this paragraph because I mentioned the word “feel” a few sentences ago. Take a second, go back and find it. Take your time because this “feel” thing is the culmination of this excessively long blog. You’ve stayed on to this point, why not go back and get the whole experience?

Alas, I wasted that paragraph making myself laugh. This one will be better because I’ll take the client’s posture, along with their amazing new technique, and mix them together in the shaker cup of exercise creating the delicious protein shake of Feel. Would you eat a Snickers bar if it didn’t taste sweet and delicious? How about smelling a rose if it wasn’t so lovely in your olfactory bulbs? To me a gross Snickers or a rank rose would be like this client doing a lunge without feeling it in the specified lower body muscles that I have aimed for. It happens. I’m not infallible. And if that’s the case, a reassessment of the client might be necessary, with likely another look at their posture and technique.

Welcome to Exercise Mathematics 2022. My name is Mr. McWhirter, but you can call me Jordan because this is an informal setting. My aim is to keep you entertained and engaged so that if you have ADHD or think you have already mastered the course content, you don’t drift into another mental universe. To get an A+ (BOOM! got your attention there) please memorize the following formula and apply it constantly through every exercise you ever do from now on out:

POSTURE + TECHNIQUE = FEEL

Class dismissed.

Satisfying My Inner Rebel

Green Day, Slipknot, even Marilyn Manson back in the day (admittedly not so nowadays with details of his abusive relationships coming to light) – those have been some of my musical tastes since I was a child. They’re not just rebellious bands, they’re not just fast and aggressive. As a young man, they were an outlet for my mind and emotions – an escape from a world that was hard to make sense of. My Dad taught me one of the most important lessons of my life. He has always said “just do the right thing.” There have been countless instances throughout my almost 36 years where hat advice has rung true. And yet, from early childhood I can remember getting so frustrated – irate even – wondering why the world as a whole can’t seem to follow that same advice. I’ve never claimed to be perfect, but I do live in a constant journey of continuing to improve myself. As my articles are generally, this is now going to change into a discussion about health and wellness. I still maintain my frustration with the world as a whole. Maybe I’ll forever want more and better, or maybe one day I’ll find satisfaction in what is, is. But until that happens, I will continue to push myself and everyone around me (including you, the reader) to improve. My clients are looking to improve physically. At least that is what they set as a goal on our first meeting. But to improve physically, lifestyle changes generally need to be made. As the phrase goes: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.”One of the most common goals set by any clients I have ever worked with is to lose weight. This requires any mix of the following:-eating better food-getting more activity-doing some appropriate exercises to adapt the body to do more – and better – activity over time-changing sleep habits-social factors such support from loved ones-environmental factors such as the amount of time spent sitting for work (including commuting). Losing weight is not simply improving yourself by eating less and exercising more (which likely should be thought of as having more activity, but more on that in a different article). It requires improving yourself as a whole. It might require improving those around you also. It’s a journey in having a healthier body, mind, social circle, and more. Maybe this is why life took me toward a career in health. I get to help people with their journeys of self improvement, thus satisfying that young man listening to angry music. He gets to help people be better.What is better? Right now I’m thinking that self improvement requires an element of selflessness. It has so much to do with having a positive impact on the world around you, resulting in a better you.Let’s take nutrition as our example for this point. I desire to eat good food because the nutrients I intake through my mouth then become the cells that replenish my tissues. I’m just reading that Colon cells die off after about four days. For me, I’d like those cells to be replenished with really good nutrients. That’s how I think about the process anyway. Is my Colon made up of nutrients from candy or from Chickpeas? Admittedly I’ll have some treats and “bad stuff” in my diet over a week. I’m working on getting crackers and peanut butter out of my routine, intaking less alcohol, etc. That’s the self improvement part. But I am also very interested in farming practices and gardening. How does that tie in? If the food that I eat is treated with unnecessary chemicals, are those practices also harming my gut microbiome or decreasing the vitamins and minerals that I could be ingesting? If I do my own gardening, what if I practiced the no-till method to enhance the health of my soil by not tilling out microbes? What if I add clover into my lawn, attracting pollinating species and decreasing the amount of water I use? Those pollinators could benefit my vegetable crop. That water can go to more productive means. These factors help to make me healthier, without ever being a decision between “good” for or “bad” food. By looking after the earth around me, I’m doing something selfless, but also improving my own health at the same time. It also isn’t doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. That young idealist wanting a better world, but only knowing how to deal with it by listening to rebellious music would be happy with his future self.

Joy From A Soccer Ball To The Kisser: Children Mimic Our Habits and Behaviours

My daughter (who just turned three) is well aware that getting hit in the face with a ball isn’t equivalent to a good time. So why was she so excited by a ball bouncing down the stairs and smacking her straight in the kisser? Why did she then get frustrated when she couldn’t replicate that exact bounce and bonk?

A ball in the face is generally a scenario that would lead to this series of events:

-Wide eyes, almost welling up with tears

-Curling up into a ball, looking away trying to pretend it didn’t hurt

-Bawling on my shoulder because once she realises that it DID indeed hurt, Dad is a safe place to cry

-Changing activities or altering the current one to not get smacked with another bouncy sphere

The simple answer is that we had been watching Champions League soccer and the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper saved a shot with his face. Of course I was excited having been a goalkeeper in the past and felt that I had to replay the save multiple times. My excitement was palpable because that just doesn’t happen all the time and the goalkeeper bounced right back up, no ill will, no lasting injury. I didn’t think much of it. So my kid must have thought it was neat. She wanted to play just like the “green guy on TV,” which is how she recognizes goalkeepers because of their often green jerseys.

Kids mimic us. They watch more closely than parents ever seem to count on. How many times has a parent (maybe you reading this) said inward out aloud “where did they pick that up?” Wanting to have her own ball hit her in the face again was directly reflective of my excitement at it happening on TV… While my beloved team lost… The actual negative in this story.

So how does that anecdote end up on a Health and Wellness website? As I said, kids mimic adults. They learn habits and behaviours from their parents. Good or bad, healthy or not. There is a line in a song that I grew up listening to which I will not quote because it uses language that I choose not to spread at this point in my life. But the gist of the entire song is that trauma gets passed down through generations and it can be a very hard cycle to put an end to.

In my experience discussing children’s nutrition or activity levels with my clients, recognizing that the parent has a set of habits and behaviours that developed from their own childhood influences is step one. This is the generational trauma that the song was speaking of. It’s not just you influencing your kids. But it has to be you to end that influence – step two.

Do not at all think that your child is the one that needs to change. They are mimicking you. If I had reacted in horror to a face-save, I highly doubt my daughter would have had so much fun in the aforementioned scenario. If my wife and I didn’t drink water multiple times a day, I would imagine I would never hear the little voices in our house say “can I have some water, please?” And on the less healthy side, if Grandpa didn’t love buying Timbits for the grandkids so much, they would likely not state that as the main reason for us going to the golf course. But hey, if a couple of timbits gets them walking the course with me, there are probably worse things in life.

The Intensity Conundrum

Step one to step 10? Or step one to step two? Could this be the difference between setting lofty goals versus living a consistent, healthy life? Trust me, we live in a world that fetishizes quick, big gains. But – I’ve seen it time and time again – betting big on a high-flying stock can plummet your portfolio. Being comfortable with slow, modest returns is often the way to achieve that long-standing success. It’s not sexy, but living a longer and happier life isn’t (just) about sexy.

This morning I finished up with my first client and had half an hour to do what I wished. Stop and grab a coffee, do a quick grocery shop, scroll through Instagram (the clear winner in my head this morning) or go use the excessively tall set of stairs near my next client’s house.

Instagram is just not a productive use of time. Plus, it eats up my data like crazy. I already had a coffee this morning, so if I felt like another one later, that’s fine. But I don’t need that much buzzing through my head early in the morning. I forgot to take a picture of our whiteboard grocery list, so the grocery store was out. Being that this is an article that eventually is going to talk about health and healthy lifestyles, you can guess that doing the stairs one out as the sun was rising today.

Note: this article probably came up because it’s actually quite a pleasant morning here in the early spring in Calgary. Thus I was able to comfortably be outside for more than a few minutes.

Recently, a gentleman procured a new stationary bike. I am assuming this was a new piece of machinery to use as a tool to increase his health and fitness. Obviously, I am a big fan of that idea. Being that this has been my career for quite some time. Every year, that quite some time just keeps getting longer. Funny how time works. We will do a comparison of two different methodologies and mindsets, with an eventual mathematical problem and solution. His biking versus my stair climbing.

The first I had heard about this bike was a comment about having to take a day off because the days of biking before that, led to muscles so sore that he couldn’t get on the bike that day. For arguments sake let’s say this is a 5-day period. Day one through three involved reasonably high intensity bike sessions. Day four was completely off, and day five was back on to an intensity strong enough that they were quite warm and wore shorts in a situation that I have never seen them wear shorts before.

My stair climbing would be usually seen as lacklustre in comparison. I walked, not ran. My breathing and heart rate were elevated, but not gasping or thumping. Let’s say that I could keep my hands in my pockets (it’s still not THAT nice in the mornings in early spring here) and have no fear of tripping going up or down the stairs. So that’s not as good of a workout as the aforementioned biking. Right?

I did the stairs yesterday. Two times down and back to the top. Today was three times down and back to the top. Extrapolating to five days to compare to the biking – I could do those stairs easily for three more days – even adding another one or two sets.

Welcome to my anecdote. A gentleman was explaining that he watched someone max out on pull ups. Let’s say 10. Then the next set was maybe 8. Then 5. Then 2. Total? 25. He took a more conservative approach. Yes he could max out at 10. However he stuck to sets of 5. 10 sets of 5 to be exact. Total? 50. Twice as many, but with more modest effort throughout.

Exercise science shows us that there are differences between maxed out efforts and modest efforts. However the behavioural knowledge that I’ve gleaned over my career shows that people often max out their efforts in the short term and do not keep it up. I encourage health and wellness from birth to death. In the short term I focus on taking people from step 1 to step 2. Rather than thinking about step 10. But step 10 will come as long as this person stays consistent. Consider walking the stairs daily – with some increase over time – instead of maxing out your effort and having to take days off. Maybe you’ll end up with 50 pull ups versus a meagre 25.

Final note: I am not proposing this as the right way to approach health and fitness. But I am giving you permission to do less more often.