Misfit– a person whose behavior or attitude sets them apart from others in an uncomfortably conspicuous way.
I can’t really think of a better way to describe myself.
Growing up I always felt a little bit different, a little off. Moving every couple of years didn’t help matters.
An already introverted child, I reeled at the idea of being the new kid again. I mostly retreated into a world of fantasy and history.
Books were often my only friends, if you move to a new place in the beginning of summer it’s gonna be 3 months until you meet anyone. And kids also tend to form their bonds based on eras. Grade school, middle school, high school. Good luck crackin into an already formed group of friends.
At the time I felt so alone. I loved Star Wars (like so many of my friends now did) because I could relate. Here was this group of unlikely heroes who had been outcasts from where they came yet in time of crisis they rose to the occasion.
Little did I know that there were millions of kids out there just like me. Maybe you were one.
Most people spent their whole lives in one place. Growing up with the same people. No secrets.
I was different, though. I never had to be anyone but who I wanted to be.
Every new city, town, or state was an opportunity to reinvent myself.
My brother gave a rousing speech at my wedding recanting some of the many personalities I embodied over the years.
I will still argue that I never wore an alarm clock around my neck a la Flavor Flav (though I might have owned a giant clock necklace, intent is important). I can’t deny, however, that I attempted to wear a high top fade with an Adidas symbol shaved in the back. If you ever saw me with hair (it was thin and fine) you can imagine how ridiculous that was. The amount of LA Looks to hold it up… ugh.
Being able to constantly reinvent myself was both a blessing and a curse.
I could leave my embarrassments behind. But I also left every friendship I ever had. I never wrote or called anyone.
That pattern would continue into adulthood. When all you know about relationships is that they are disposable it becomes difficult to open yourself up to anyone. Especially if your entire life has been a series of starring roles, a new one every few years.
I didn’t value honesty. It held little weight for me. What good did being honest with someone do if you knew that they could just use that to hurt you?
Instead, I became a master liar. I played the part that everyone wanted me to be. I became the jock, the theatre geek, the popular kid, the nerd. I was what was needed in that moment, by that person, in that place.
Part of my growth as a person has been my willingness to be honest. To allow people to know me.
I don’t have a ton of friends but I do have a handful of people that I keep in touch with no matter where in the world we are. Honesty and openness are now big parts of my life. I base a huge part of who I am today on these qualities. The truth really will set you free.
But in my youth, my ability to play the part was rewarded. My life would soon be reflected in my art.
I was always noticed for my talent on a stage. I started acting in elementary school. Drawn to a place where people adored me for how I made them feel, if just for a moment.
As my singing voice matured and I began to study opera I took on more challenging roles in musicals. In high school and college I went on to perform on some decent stages.
I also got a reputation for not being a team player. I would get to a show hours early, get into costume and makeup, and sit alone. Preparing. After curtain calls, while the rest of the cast mingled with the audience and received their praise I again stayed in the green room until everyone was gone. But it had nothing to do with anyone else.
I abhorred being told how well I did. I abhorred being lied to. I knew I was terrible. I knew I was a fraud. Someday I would be figured out. These were the thoughts that rang through my head.
I left Nashville in 1999 and left music with it, for a while. Something about that city killed the music for me. I just didn’t love it any more. It would be years before I started writing again.
But I did.
I ended up back on stage again. And hiding backstage before and after shows. I was still a fraud. I was still just waiting to be found out.
Looking back now, I can say with confidence that I was good. Really good. My cast and bandmates were really fucking good too. I wish I had been able to see it then.
It has taken me a long time to feel like I am not a fraud. Shit, I probably spent much of this week nervously waiting for someone to uncover me.
The growing pains are real. It is not an easy transformation. But nothing easy ever is.
Much of what I am working on now, both professionally and personally, has to do with this transformation. I spend a lot of time talking about the physical transformations that I help people to achieve. These are just manifestations of a change that comes from much deeper.
True, lasting change comes from all the parts of self. It is never ending. But it is a lot of fun. And looking good with your clothes off is a lot of fun too.
I will always be a misfit. A nonconformist, eccentric, maverick, individualist. That won’t change. I embrace it now.
If you are reading this, I’m willing to bet that you’re one too. Embrace it. Be a weirdo.Be you.
And know that you are never alone.
Eating Out (on) Instagram
Since dining has become less about spending time with loved ones and enjoying the simple act of sustenance and more about a budding career as an unpaid Instagram food stylist, I now know more than ever about public food choice. I applaud the ability of people to self-identify through hashtags instead of say music or the things you collectively hate (like the way normal people make friends). But I hate trendy brunch items.
I like to see breakfast photos from powerlifters who are about 400 fat grams away from a triple bypass. I want to see a pound of differing fried pork products over biscuits baked with a stick of butter and smothered with a pitcher of gravy topped with a few over easy eggs. I want to know that at any moment that dish might kill someone. I want honesty in advertising.
Instead, instagram assaults me with some new brunch-du-jour dish that is the reason some emaciated “influencer” is so “fit”.
There are plenty of people out there more qualified than I am to talk about the issues with body image and the ridiculous interpretations of what a fit woman looks like so I will not expound on it here further than to say that the standards most women hold themselves to are both unreasonable and unrealistic. I have worked with supermodels and celebrities and have seen them without makeup or photoshop. What you see on magazine covers is not reality.
It’s Not Breakfast, It’s Not Lunch. WTF.
With that out of the way, let me admit that I am a bit biased. Brunch is one of those things that just pisses me off (shocking, I know). I hate the idea of waiting 45 minutes to get into a restaurant I wouldn’t go to all week just to eat breakfast food that is marked up 300% because they happen to serve it after 11am with a shitty mimosa.
…I live in New York…
…where it is apparently a requirement to attend brunch at least once a month…
…Plus, my wife loves it so I compromise. If they have a burger (or feijoada) I will go. But I’m wearing my gym clothes.
Fitness and Breakfast: A Love/Hate Story
Breakfast has long been the subject of passion with health minded folk. I remember my parents, who were avid endurance athletes, subscribing to the grapefruit diet in the 80s. I don’t remember exactly what it entailed but I am pretty sure it was just to eat a grapefruit for breakfast. Some diet.
I have never liked eating in the morning. Growing up, however, I was always taught that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you didn’t eat a large breakfast you were sure to die poor and alone.
Imagine my excitement when I discovered intermittent fasting. Here came a nutritional plan that if I just skipped breakfast and laid off that midnight pint of ice cream I would be jacked and tan by week’s end.
Intermittent fasting authors ascribed the mechanisms of fasting to the changes in body composition. In all likelihood, eating for an 8 hour window instead of 14 probably causes a reduction in calories in most adherents. There probably isn’t anything magical about skipping breakfast.
So, what does all this have to do with brunch pics on instagram? I am trying to illustrate that it is easy to buy into a narrative about diet and health when it plays to what you want to believe.
Exhibit A: Avocado Toast
I remember when avocado was just one of three ingredients in guacamole. Now it has somehow been elevated to a status somewhere between Jesus and boobs. Apparently if you put it on a piece of fucking toast it also becomes a health food. The egg on top classifies it as brunch.
Let’s take a minute to break this down. Say you have ½ an avocado on your toast you are looking at 2 grams of protein, 15 grams of fat and 8 grams of carbs. Lots of fiber and B and C vitamins so that is great. Your egg is going to have around 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat. I’m assuming the bread is going to be of the dense, delicious type so we can add 15 grams of carbs.
That avocado toast has 8 grams of protein, 20 grams of fat and 23 grams of carbs. Low protein, high fat, high carb. I don’t know anyone who would recommend that for any kind of physique or performance goals. Plus, according to some rich douchenozzle, if you eat avocado toast you will never own a home.
How would I fix this? If you love to have avocado toast once a week it’s not a big deal. I would drop the fried egg and have an egg white omelette with peppers and spinach or a protein shake as a substitute. That way you can get a decent amount of protein sans added fat to turn this into a more well rounded meal.
Exhibit B: Green Juice
I blame the land of anal bleaching and vagina egg workouts for this one. La La land has supplied the world with a lot of bullshit fads that I am sure at some point had merit. I like the fact that I can get a week’s worth of vegetables in an 8oz cup without the accompanying fibre content that would make it double as a colonic. I don’t like the fact that it has been peddled as both a meal replacement and the cure for cancer.
If the juice was just a blend of green lettuces, root vegetables, and ginger it would be a great multivitamin alternative. Unfortunately, the only way to make this concoction remotely palatable to the average consumer is to add in 3 pineapples and a cherry. Yes, in my mind the only way a green juice sounds good is it is served with an umbrella.
What you end up with is drink loaded with vitamins and minerals but also loaded with sugars. Even if you drink it with no added fruit juice you are still missing the requisite macronutrient profile to make this into anything resembling a meal.
I have two fixes for this. First would be to take the plain green drink with no added fruit and have it with a well rounded breakfast of protein, a little fat, and some carbs. Then you get the benefits of the nutrient profile in the juice while also providing enough sustenance to move through your day. The other way would be to trade your juice for a fruit smoothie. Have them add spinach and a scoop of protein powder. If you have this in your post workout window you have a perfect post-workout meal. Fast acting carbs, protein, and a healthy dose of vitamins from the spinach.
Exhibit C: Bulletproof Coffee w/Butter
Get out. Seriously, get the fuck out of my website. Now.
I will say that if you are at least considering the nutritional value of what you are putting into your body you are miles ahead of the pack. The next step in getting the most out of your fitness goals is to dial in your nutritional choices. If you can go from “healthy” choices to optimal choices, your outcome will go from good to great.
The Motivation Myth
Have you ever had someone ask you that question? The one that makes you question your capabilities?
Something that you don’t immediately know the answer to (but should)?
I had a message the other day from a member of my transformation challenge. She asked if anyone else in the group was having trouble being positive about change and finding inspiration to get working.
“Damn”, I thought. “What am I missing?”
“How do I motivate and inspire a client through a computer screen?”
“How can I push someone to be their best through words alone?”
“Can I? Really, can anyone?”
As I sat and pondered this, I started to realize that I was trying to answer a rhetorical question. I was trying to motivate and inspire her when what she really was searching for was validation that it was okay to feel unsure.
In this age of Instagram coaches and cheerleader trainers it is easy to forget that we should be playing a role in our client’s lives, not playing a role online. They are hiring a coach, not an actor.
While energy and positivity are excellent traits to have, they don’t make for a better fitness professional. And honestly, most people whose idea of inspiration is a generic quote printed over a serene landscape either haven’t been exposed to much in life or are just completely full of shit.
Motivation and inspiration are internal aspirations, they occur out of a general desire and a deliberate passion. It is amazing what one can and will do when blindly following passion. Sometimes for the better, sometimes worse.
Yet, we consistently attempt to create motivation and inspiration through external stimulus. We think that cheering or posting stories of people overcoming unfathomable odds will motivate someone to make a change.
Motivation comes from inside you. Somewhere deep inside. It may be bred of anger, the rejection of one’s youth. It may be born of a fear of failure or even of death. It may also be stoked by a love of someone or something. The point is, no one can motivate you, except for you.
What is my motivation? My inspiration?
When writing a response I felt that I needed to put myself in her shoes and think about her situation instead of trying to solve it. I looked through my old training journals, thought about my own life and what managed to motivate me.
The beauty of keeping detailed journals is that I can get a macro view of much of my life. How my sleep was, how work and stress were affecting me, and how my body was reacting. I realized, looking back, that I had a solid year plus of absolute shit training.
I was deep in the throes of trying to get out of a job I hated (but financially supported me) while also trying to build a successful career in fitness. I suffered all of the normal struggles that come with living in NYC and was working from 6am until 10pm 6 days a week. Sundays I was usually taking side jobs for a little extra cash.
When I could find time to train I hated every minute of it. I didn’t trust my training programs. I was weaker, fatter, and slower than I had been in the past 5 years. I felt like every lift had the potential to injure me. I trained when I could with what I had available but constant barbell movements were leaving me crushed.
Where did the days go when I would daydream about getting to the gym to smash deadlifts? What happened to actually looking forward to hobbling down the steps after a brutal leg workout? Why was I so miserable? More so, why am I still training like I do if I hated it so much for so long?
It’s easy to be motivated when life is good.
In those early days of consistent PRs, daily body comp changes, and becoming a part of the brotherhood of iron I had all of the inspiration I needed in the gym. I saw my friends, gained a community, and learned from their collective knowledge. I had an image to emulate, a template to follow. I now knew what strong was, and I was learning how to get there.
I could see the fruits of my labor taking shape. The weight added to the bar and the scale. The technique development that made my lifts look better as they improved. The athletic achievements on the competitive level. I was becoming my own inspiration.
Things evolved, times changed. My training partner and mentor moved to LA. Our gym home closed and we were displaced. I retreated to Brooklyn and began work on my career as a personal trainer. I studied and attended seminars. I honed my skills teaching group classes and fitness beginners. I trained in my off time instead of pining for the time to come to train.
I went from sweating in a hall of monsters to training alone. When I was coaching, I was the strongest person in the gym. I was still in contact with friends that I lifted with and traded some training stories. I saw my social media friends continuing to push the boundaries of what the human body is capable of, but it wasn’t the same.
As my career evolved, my time for training grew less. I had to make time. Since I didn’t want to be that guy that doesn’t look like a trainer I made it a priority. My motivation was to just not suck. Training became habit and that meant it was just something I did.
I have had years of uninspired training. But I kept showing up and putting in the work. At one point i had to change my training environment and that gave me a renewed excitement. I went to train at a great bodybuilding gym in my neighborhood. I realized how much I love training for training’s sake. I was inspired again.
Then, that gym closed. I ended up in flux, finally settling in at the local YMCA. For having such a tough reputation, New York City is increasingly becoming devoid of great old school training facilities. I again started to go through the motions but training nonetheless.
About this time is when my drinking really began to overwhelm me. I somehow set two all time PRs (in my front squat and bench press) while spending most days wasted and wasting away. I lost passion for much of anything and ended up with a nice forced deload week. (If you haven’t already you can read about it here)
Today, being free from alcohol, I have a renewed sense of motivation. I am more excited than ever to see what I can do. To see what I can achieve. Proper nutrition and consistent training in the absence of a substance that was fighting against them. I am my own inspiration once again.
What is motivation? Inspiration?I don’t know. I guess it has to do a lot with our perceived success. And failure.
One of my favorite resources is fellow Brooklynite and coach Jonathan Pietrunti. He is a Sports Psych Coach in addition to strength coach, nutrition coach, blogger, and ugly training shoe aficionado. Basically, he is in his scope of practice to speak about the psychology of motivation whereas I can only speak to my personal experience and my observation of clients’ experiences.
His website is called That Grey Area. He explores the pieces of training and nutrition that tend to be not so black and white. The world that most of us live in, that area in between. Which is what struck me about motivation and inspiration. They wax and wane. Motivation might stoke inspiration and vice versa. Yet they are never quite black or white.
He recently wrote a great piece on failure and how it is both inevitable and necessary for growth. In order to see any measurable success in any aspect of our lives we must be willing to take risks. Financial, emotional, mental, or physical. Risk equates failure as often (probably moreso) as success. And that’s okay.
What is not okay is developing a failure mindset. Jonny refers to “failure avoidance” and the tendency to create winning situations (soft goals, weak competitions) instead of challenging oneself. (to read more about his exact vernacular and not my bastardized paraphrasing look here). I have been guilty of this myself. More than once.
“There is no losing in jiu jitsu. You either win or you learn.” Grand Master Carlos Gracie Sr.
I love this quote, especially when tied to jiu jitsu because it is an art form that requires absence of ego. No matter how strong you are, how athletic you are, how rich or good looking you are. The mat is a great equalizer. You will get your ass kicked when you start jiu jitsu. A lot. You can be motivated to win but you cannot let winning define you.
Don’t define yourself by your victories but instead what was learned or gained on the journey. If you can only be motivated to train by setting a goal to compete in 8 weeks, than by all means send in that application. If, however, you can only validate your training cycle by winning said competition there may be other things to address.
Likewise, if you are only inspired by the achievements of others, you may be in for a hard reality if your success doesn’t match up to their version. Try looking inward. Look at that person in the mirror. Is it the victories and successes of that person that inspire you?Or is it the times that they got knocked down, shit upon, stabbed in the back and still soldiered on?
We all have had our share of struggle. We have all fallen down. And we are all still here. Still fighting the daily battles that are life. I think that is inspiration enough.
When I shared the story of my fight, my time at the bottom, I received a lot of messages of encouragement and love. But, more importantly, a lot of people shared with me their own struggles. The struggles that they aren’t quite ready to share with the world. They weren’t trying to motivate me, they were just letting me know that I am not alone. And I find inspiration in that every day.
Jeb, just answer the fucking question.
So, how do we get inspired? How do we get motivated?
Just show up. When I had shitty training cycles, shitty training years, I just kept showing up. I wasn’t hitting PRs, I wasn’t gaining muscle and I definitely wasn’t sporting a 6-pack.
I learned what I liked doing and what my body responds best to.
I learned that training for strength might be past me.
I learned that I really like training for hypertrophy and using dumbbells and machines, things I eschewed for years.
I learned that I might have to give up on a 500lb squat and 600lb deadlift. I was on my way and kept getting injured.
I learned that those numbers don’t quench desire anyways. They feel good for a minute and then just get replaced with a new, higher number.
Talkin Bout My Inspiration
Inspired training has really only hit me a few times in my life. And to be honest, it wasn’t the training that was inspiring. It was the life it was giving me. It was the community. It was the ball busting and talking training and pushing my training partners to be their best like they pushed me.
I don’t need to be motivated to train. I schedule it into my day like I schedule my clients and my writing time (another thing I used to wait to be inspired to do). It is just something I always do.
If you are having trouble feeling motivated, change things up a bit. Make time every day to train. Even if it is just a 30 minute walk or a 15 minute HIIT session. Just make time. Make it habit. Then, make time to plan your meals. Cook some chicken and ground beef and rice in bulk. Make it a habit.
I promise, the motivation will come. It won’t be in the form of a cat in a tree with “Hang In There” printed over it. It might be disguised as routine, masked as discipline. Soon enough though, those little victories will add up and you will find yourself affecting real change. Who knows? Maybe you will inspire someone. Maybe that someone will be you.
The Paleo Diet.
Simply uttering these three words in my presence a couple of years ago would have pushed my blood pressure into dangerous heights.
Much of my ire came from the marketing and that it is factually inaccurate that paleolithic man ate this way (that is a whole other article in itself).
I also could never support a nutritional plan that excluded rice. Rice is probably one of the most important components in the modernizing of the developing world. It is an inexpensive, readily available nutritional source and to malign it is bordering on irresponsible.
Plus, I love rice.
Did I mention that I love rice?
With that out of the way, I have begun to soften on my stance regarding the Paleo Diet (which I will refer to as Paleo from here out).
For those of you unfamiliar with paleo, go find your nearest Crossfitter. Within 3 minutes you will know more about Paleo than you ever cared to.
Since you might not have immediate access to a member of the CF community, allow me to take the reigns.
Paleo Uncool Bro
What They Get Right
Look, most people find nutrition and diet to be the most confusing and intimidating part of living a fit lifestyle. And with good reason. There are constant studies contradicting themselves and an industry that makes billions by keeping consumers confused.
Where Paleo has done a service is that it has told people what they should be eating. I find most of my female clients could do with more animal protein. My male clients could all stand to eat more vegetables. If a diet can accomplish these two goals simultaneously it is steps ahead of a lot of other programs.
A familiar Paleo saying is to shop around the outside of the grocery store, where fresh ingredients are kept. A lot of people have no idea what the nutrition labels on a box mean. How are they supposed to make wise decisions when the labels are set up to confuse? If people buy fresh, whole food ingredients they are going to make reasonably sound choices.
What They Get Okay
There are parts of Paleo that I am on both sides of the coin. Part of me wants to rail against it because it is stupid due to semantics but the other part of me realizes that most people don’t care. They just want to be healthier.
Elimination of certain foods. Ignoring the fact that Paleo may be responsible for the uptick in rich white people who have been convinced of gluten intolerance and forced it upon the restaurants of the world, food intolerances are real.
A good portion of the population will show some sort of intolerance to dairy. I might, I just refuse to admit it and give up ice cream.
Legumes may bother some people and not others. I know that I can eat them there will just be consequences for me and anyone who happens to be sharing communal space with me that day.
Then there’s the whole processed foods thing. What does this mean? Everything is processed in some manner. The word processing is used to describe everything from butchering a cow to bleaching hair.
In context it is almost meaningless.
But, for the average consumer it means something in a box or bag. While that is probably an oversimplified approach to nutrition it probably wouldn’t hurt for most Americans to eat less shit from the freezer and cereal sections.
Refined sugar. It’s not bad for you per se but it is an easy way to add in a lot of extra calories with little to no satiety. So most would be best to avoid it.
Where Paleo fucks the pooch is that they recommend agave, honey, and fruit juice as sweeteners. Do you know what your body recognizes these as? The same thing!!!
So every time someone tells me that they are so afraid of falling back into a sugar addiction if they stop eating Paleo I get to rain on their parade with that factual nugget.
Sometimes I love being the killjoy.
Grains. This one tears me up. On one hand I eat bread and rice and pasta at all stages of dieting and have never had issue. On the other hand, I have watched many, many clients remove only grains and sugar from their diet and see weight loss where they had plateaued for months.
I will rarely prescribe a low carb, high fat diet for my clients. That said, my clients have personalized nutrition coaching. Most people cannot afford that nor would they have access to it.
Where They Go Wrong
Grass-fed, organic, local, non-GMO. This is bullshit. Not just because there is no nutritional benefit to the aforementioned but it’s classist. Most people cannot afford to buy grass-fed, local beef for a family of 4.
I don’t buy organic because it’s too expensive for me and I am in a 2 income household with no children. (My wife buys her organic chicken because mine grosses her out. I also eat about 5lbs more chicken per week than her.)
A focus on higher fat, lower carb. This is tough for a lot of reasons. Number one is that a lot of people came to do Paleo through Crossfit. High intensity exercise and low glycogen stores are not a great fit. Performance will suffer and energy will be low.
Another reason is that high fat, low carb diets just don’t seem to be anymore effective at weight loss than a diet low in fat and higher in carb. Combine that with the issue of adherence long term and it just doesn’t add up to an effective nutrition plan.
The final problem with the higher fat model is overall caloric intake. Especially in the form of nuts and seeds. Many clients of mine, particularly women, vastly underestimate the amount of calories consumed in a day due to fat content.
Women’s mags are partially to blame for the promotion of “healthy fats”. The vitamin and mineral count in nuts and avocados is great but if you are consuming a couple hundred calories over maintenance because you accidentally ate a handful too many almonds or couple ounces of avocado you will gain weight.
I often say “fat doesn’t make you fat, until it does”. The description above illustrates how that might occur.
I have had my beef with paleo (pun intended) and it’s proponents in the past. Part of it is the zealotry that many of it’s adherents approached it with. Many of those same people have taken on a new religion with the popularization of the Renaissance Diet, a program I agree 98% with.
Guess what? Those people still drive me crazy. I guess I just have a problem with people becoming dogmatic about nutrition.
When you take away the dogma and bad science behind the creation of Paleo, it is probably a good start for most people. It is easy to get hung up on athletic performance and ideal body composition but for most people it is about taking small steps to leading a healthier life.
If the Paleo Diet is the catalyst for someone making a change in their lives and the lives of their loved ones than I am 100% for it.
Honesty: My History of Addiction
If any of you have noticed my absence, either physically or emotionally these last few weeks I apologize. I have been in a daze. I have spent a long time punishing myself and as a result I spent the last week in New Jersey at a center for alcohol detox.
Honesty has been a word that has been weighing heavy on me these last few months. My life has been going so well. Business is growing faster than I could have imagined, Sarah and I have spent some amazing weekends together, I am watching my clients thrive in training and in life, and I keep meeting more amazing people each day.
I write a lot about accountability and honesty and how to be the best version of yourself. Yet I am a liar. I have been lying to myself for as long as I can remember.
You see, as much as I have been preaching to eat right and train hard and live well I have been hiding a secret. I have been hiding from the overwhelming aspects of life; the money issues, relationship difficulties, feelings of loneliness and fear of failure. I talk to others about standing up and facing these issues head on yet I dealt with them the only way I knew how. In a bottle.
Alcohol and I have a long and complicated relationship.
I grew up in a tense household where heavy drinking was a daily occurrence. We moved every couple of years so I never got to have long term friends or to have a “home”. I learned to find friends in books and stories and to live inside my own head. Being the new kid meant being different. And being different wasn’t cool in the 80s.
I soon learned that it was easier to not have friends than it was to risk rejection. Nothing hurt more than someone not wanting me. It was like they were rejecting my entire being. This feeling soon spilled over into my school work. I would rather not do it than risk imperfection. My entire life became all or nothing.
So I did poorly in school. Luckily, or unluckily, I excelled on any test I took so I was always given a pass. I was never held accountable. This would come back to haunt me.
As I got older this fear translated into girls. I loved them all yet was so afraid to even talk to them. What if they laughed at me? What if they ignored me? Fear of rejection grew in me like a cancer. It spread to every nerve and emotion.
Then, in 8th grade I sang at a talent show. All of a sudden I didn’t have to talk to girls, they started talking to me. I learned to express myself through the words of others. Through song. Through poetry and short stories.
Many of my poems were very dark. I loved horror stories and fantasy books. Looking back, if I wrote any of that stuff today I probably would’ve been profiled as a school shooter. But times were different then.
My homelife was a scary place, but we didn’t talk about feelings in my house. I soon found, though, that I could express the chaos I lived through characters in a story rather than give away the secrets that home held. I was doing what all writers are taught early on. Write about what you know.
I was also a decent athlete. Not great but I didn’t have to try hard to start in sports. I just showed up. After being humiliated by a Coach for tackling like a pansy I asked to be moved to outside linebacker. I was always afraid to hurt someone so I never hit them hard. I forced myself to stop caring about hurting people. Instead I learned to hit. I fell in love with football. I fell in love with the idea of not caring who I hurt.
Football gave me an outlet for aggression. Gave me a place where it was not only acceptable, but encouraged to try to knock the snot out of someone’s face. Taught me camaraderie. Taught me what discipline meant. And taught me that I will always hate cardio.
After games in high school meant field parties. And beer. That’s where I found my true calling. I stopped caring about football. Or at least the work part. I was in it for the reward.
I still was involved in theater and music because they were my true loves. If I could have lived my life on stage I would never have needed a drink or a drug. On stage I was accepted, sometimes adored. Once I left stage that feeling was gone. I felt awkward and weird again. I needed to find that feeling of belonging somewhere else. Booze was always there. It never rejected me. It always made me feel like I belonged.
My 20s were a blur of bartending, partying, and womanizing. You see, sober I could barely look a pretty woman in the eye. But drunk, drunk I was fearless. Alcohol worked for me. It gave me all the things I wanted growing up. I felt like a rock star. Until it turned on me.
By 25, I was a fall down drunk. I never missed work but I was usually snookered behind the bar often using “supplements” to get me through the night. I would party from Thursday night straight through to Monday. I fought at the drop of a hat. Wound up in Baltimore City Jail more than once. My best friend, the thing that made me who I had always wanted to be, was now trying to kill me. Yet we were inseparable.
My friends were concerned. My family was afraid. Shit, even my coke dealer told me I was out of control. My best friend and roommate finally called my mom and they took me to a detox center. I got sober and stayed that way for quite a while.
Over the years the cycle would continue. Things would be good, I would be able to drink socially, life was grand and then the bottom would fall out.
The more it happened, the more ashamed of it I became. I started hiding it, drinking in secret. Telling the world I had everything under control while I was falling apart. Depression and anxiety were the mistresses that fueled the fire.
I tried to hold everything together. I took on everyone else’s problems. Tried to save the world. Tried to provide. Yet I couldn’t take care of myself.
Lately, as my life continued to get better, the pressure continued to mount. I could feel it bear down upon me like the image of Atlas carrying the Earth. I had built a new life, a new career, and a new persona based around being strong. So I had to hide this, my big weakness. I could never let anyone know. They would finally see me for what I felt like. A fraud.
I tried to quit on my own. I was done. But after about a day I would start to shake and sweat and get lightheaded. My blood pressure would skyrocket and my pulse would race. I was suffering withdrawal.
For those of you who don’t know anything about alcohol withdrawal it will kill you. Benzodiazepines are the only other drug that can kill you from quitting. As much as a heroin addict goes through in their withdrawal, they will always come out alive. Alcoholics aren’t so lucky.
So there I would find myself, standing outside the liquor store that opened at 9am waiting to get a bottle. I would buy only half pints because then I was controlling my master, even if only for that moment. I would place my $5 bill on the counter so the cashier couldn’t see the trembling in my hands. I couldn’t look her in the eye for fear that she would see the real me.
I would walk out the door, around the corner, and chug it down. 4 swallows without the bottle leaving my lips. I knew exactly how many it took because this was my ritual. I had it down to a science. Then I would have to inhale through my nose because the alcohol burned my esophagus so badly I couldn’t breathe through my mouth.
I knew I was good for a couple hours. I was safe for a bit. Maybe today I could make it just a little bit longer, drink a little bit less, get better on my own. But I never did. I just drank more. And more. Until all I was doing was drinking and sleeping. I got some work done here and there but the last 3 days were disgusting.
The irony was unreal. This thing that was killing me was the only thing that could keep me alive. My best friend had become my assassin. Both my poison and my medicine. I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t do this alone. I needed medical intervention.
I went out to Jersey to a place called Serenity. I half expected to be roomed with Lloyd Braun but no such luck. They medically helped me safely recover from the withdrawal symptoms but it was still a pretty hellish experience. If you have ever seen Trainspotting, well, it wasn’t that bad. But, not far off. Sleepless nights with my body convulsing involuntarily. The plastic sheets creaking with every jerk. The sheets had to be plastic, because the night sweats were so bad it would ruin the mattresses. My days were spent in a medicated fog, either passing out or shuffling between snack times when everyone else would go out to smoke. I was never really asleep yet never really awake.
Eventually they would taper my meds down and I was somewhat functional.
The hardest part has been how weak the experience has left me. I had trouble getting out of a chair the other day without using my arms to help. I had just front squatted 335 2 weeks ago. Part of it is my body recovering, part is the medication. But I will never take my strength for granted again.
I’m home now. Surrounded by great supportive friends and taking steps to make sure I become the husband, son, brother, friend, and coach that you all deserve. I will get better, it just won’t happen overnight.
Oh, and I’m not writing this for you. This isn’t one of those “if I can help one person” letters. If it does help, cool. But I am writing this for me. I am being selfish and taking care of myself.
I write. That’s what I do. That’s what I have always done. And in order to make this all real I needed to write it down. I am sharing it because I need all of you to know the truth about who I really am. That is the only way I can think of to help me get better. No more pretending to be something I am not.
I hope this doesn’t make you uncomfortable. That is not my intent. Don’t be afraid to talk to me about it. If you have questions, ask. I’m no longer ashamed and I refuse to hide who I really am.
As I think about myself I wonder “what do I want to be known for?”
As I think about my business, what value is most important?
As I think about my relationships, what ideal shapes them most?
Brutal. Fucking. Honesty.
For me, at this point in my life, it all starts there.
This might cost me business. Might cost me friends. I don’t care. I’m tired of hiding and I am tired of compromising. I want to be 100% there for those of you who are there for me. And I can’t do that without being true to who/ what I am.
This is who you get. Take it or leave it.
For those of you who made it this far, thank you for reading this. And thank you for caring. I love you all. Here is to better days ahead.
3 Simple Diet Rules For An Evening Out
First of all…
What the everliving fuck is happening with this weather?
It was in the high sixties one day and snowing two days later!!!
The good thing about the return of nice weather is getting out and about…
…the bad thing is that it tends to come along with a few extra calories…
Do you have trouble deciding what to eat when you are out?
What is a better or worse choice for you?
As I contemplated how to make better choices for myself while eating out, I figured I would share them with you.
Drink More Water
The ultimate #firstworldproblem is that most of us have never truly experienced hunger.
I might claim that the world is going to end because I haven’t eaten a sandwich in two hours, but that isn’t hunger.
Actual hunger is a physical sensation that doesn’t occur for 12-24 hours after consumption of food.
When the stomach contracts it creates a hunger “pang” which can last up to an hour and which will generally subside for a short time.
Even when presented with these types of hunger pangs (which I have encountered when intermittent fasting) a simple fix for me was to drink a glass of water.
It puts something in my stomach and also helps me to stay hydrated.
The other advantage to drinking a glass of water immediately upon arriving at a restaurant or bar is that if you are going to be drinking alcohol you will (hopefully) drink less.
The social aspect of drinking is no different if it is water or tequila, sweet sweet tequila. Plus, you are more likely to stay fully clothed in public if you are drinking water.
But What About Booze?
Before I begin this section let me start by saying that any alcohol at all is going to be detrimental to physique goals.
Alcohol has a lot of caloric content in a small serving.
It offers no satiety and may increase appetite.
It also has a detrimental effect on protein synthesis.
And we all know how decision making is affected.
So the best practice is to avoid alcohol altogether. But we know that probably isn’t going to happen so….
If you are going to drink, stay away from mixed drinks. I know that the world is obsessed with cocktail culture but aside from the prevalence of egg whites, cocktails are not great for one’s physique.
Part of the reason cocktails taste good is because of sugar, honey, agave or other sweeteners that add calories right off the bat.
Add that to the high caloric value of pure alcohol and you can easily have one drink in the 3-400 calorie range.
A better choice is a glass of wine or even a beer, or a mixed drink made with club soda.
Many people have suggested in the past vodka or tequila on the rocks but I think it becomes way too easy to over consume and lead to further poor choices.
Choose “Dry” ItemsThis is one of the best methods for me when eating at an unfamiliar restaurant.
By dry, I don’t mean flavorless, I just mean the method in which something is cooked. Sauces, dressings, and condiments can hide a lot of calories.
Whether they contain a lot of sugars or fats (or both) they are sure to greatly increase the caloric content of a meal.
Grilled lean meats, plain starches, and steamed veggies are my go to choices.
I can choose to add butter or some olive oil after the fact but I am in control of the portion.
If I order some chicken kabobs and a side of rice I can be sure that there is probably some fat used to cook the kabobs. If I want to add any extra fat to the meal I can better estimate where I am.
Or better, I save all those extra fat and carb calories and go get some ice cream!
BalanceI find that adding these habits into my routine helps me achieve a better balance in life.
I am still able to go out and enjoy a night with friends and family but I can also adhere a little bit better to my diet.
It’s not perfect but remember, I never asked for perfect.
Give it a try next time you are hitting the town and see if they help you. Most of all, keep balance in your life.
Fitness and nutrition are for the betterment of our lives. So keep living yours.
Don’t be a slave to it.
Back Is The New Chest
A couple of weeks back I attended some seminars about kickin ass and takin names in this world of fitness. On Sunday I finally met one of my biggest influences, Jim “Smitty” Smith. His recommendation of high rep band pull aparts is why I started putting our #backisthenewchest on the Grams a couple of years back.
Since then, I have always loved training back. For one, I am pretty strong on my backside. Front side? Not so much (chicken legs and ridiculously long arms, thanks mom & dad). Plus, there is so much benefit from training those posterior (back) muscles when we spend most of our time hunched over at computers, phones, tablets.
Lately, I have been training back at a higher frequency. I find that there are so many angles, areas, and techniques when training back that it can handle higher volume. If I want to focus on upper back pulling one day and lower back extension another and maybe switch up horizontal and vertical pulls I have a lot of variables.
There is a lot of crossover so you still have to be careful when choosing exercises as not to overly stress anything, particularly the biceps. A good way to mitigate any bicep tendonitis is to limit this high frequency back phase to 4 weeks or less, with at least 4 weeks in between.
A great way to incorporate this into your own training would be to utilize in a 4-day upper/lower split. So we will split this up into 2 heavy days and 2 lighter/ higher rep days. On your heavy lower day we will focus on the front squat and romanian deadlift as our main movements. On our heavy upper day we will focus on barbell bench press and bent over row.
So a sample program might look like this:
Day 1/ Heavy Upper
1) BB Bench Press 3×5
2) BB Bent Over Row 3×5
3) Overhead BB Press 3×8
4) Weighted Pullups 3xAMAP
Day 2/ Heavy Lower
1) GHR or Hamstring Curl 3×10
2) Front Squat 3×6
3) RDL 3×6
4) Front Rack KB Walking Lunge 3×10/leg
Day 3/ Rep Upper
1) A) Incline DB Press 3×12
B) Bruno Rows 3×5
2) A) Plate Raise 3×10
B) Pullover 3×10
3) A) Pronated Incline DB Flyes 3×15
B) Prone DB Rear Delt Flyes 3×30
Day 4/ Strongman
1) Sled or car Push 3×50’
2) Sandbag Carry and Load 3×50’ to 48”
3) Sledgehammer Strikes 3×50
4) 0ptional: Gun Show
For week 2 I want you to keep all of the weights the same and increase from 3 to 4 sets per exercise. This will add in extra volume without an increase in weight. Week 3 the weights will go up but you will drop back down to 3 sets per exercise. Week 4 will be the same weights as week 3 but 4 sets per exercise.
The Strongman Day is technically a lower body day but will torch your entire back so I want you to keep that at 3 sets per exercise for the entire month. It would also be great if you can get a couple days rest after. A good program might be M/Tu/Th/Fr or M/W/F/Sa.
If you have a sled great. If not, have your training partner put your car in neutral and steer while you push. For the sandbag carry and load grab a heavy sandbag (or keg) and carry it 50’. At that point either put it on top of something 48” high or set a barbell in a rack and put the sandbag over it. Sledgehammer strikes to a tire are good for conditioning at the end of this day without beating you up.
This will be a pretty brutal month but will help increase both your back strength and size. I would definitely dial back the volume after this month is up to give your the posterior a good break. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes. As always, I post a lot of my training tip videos straight to instagram and my Facebook Page.
Recreational BJJ and Strength: What’s Missing?
5 minutes that seems like eternity. Silence is all you hear in a room full of warriors, fighting for position. The feeling of a wet blanket stifling your breath while taunting your lack of oxygen. Being bent, broken, dragged and thrown. Just to have it happen all over again. Round after round. Day after day.
Now, for most of us this sounds like hell. Yet, for an ever growing number of Americans this is the idea of a fun Friday night. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has taken over the Martial Arts world in America due to it’s overwhelming effectiveness and it’s reward of technique over strength and size.
I have many friends who train regularly in BJJ and other grappling arts. I myself train on and off (though admittedly it’s been more off as my business has been a priority this past year). One thing that I notice among both recreational and competitive combat athletes is an inconsistent view of strength training and it’s role in the total development of a fighter.
A little history
In the old days of boxing, weight training was shunned for fear that it would create a body that was slow and lumbering. As combat sports advanced, the need for a dedicated strength portion of training would become more evident. When the UFC “resurfaced” with rules and weight classes strength took on a new form. A huge influx of elite wrestlers started to excel. Fighters who had been cutting weight for matches since their teen years were now maximizing their advantage by being significantly bigger come fight time than many of their opponents. Being technically proficient was still the most important aspect of a fighter’s game but now strength became another skill to employ.
Strength training for BJJ athletes (I will use BJJ to cover all grappling since many competitions don’t specify) is a bit more difficult than for my more genpop clients. For one, the majority of their free time should be spent in sport specific prep, ie training BJJ. If this client has a stressful job, family, and any external obligations this definitely starts to cut into any accessible time for extra training.
The other problem is recovery. BJJ is a very demanding sport both in contact (throws, and takedowns) and muscular fatigue (try flexing your bicep for 3 minutes straight and you will see what I mean). Which both diminish your recovery. Recovery is often referred to as a cup. It starts off full. Job, family, training, each take a little sip out of the cup. If you are training BJJ 5x/ week, lifting 5x/ week, working 50-60 hours/ week, and dealing with relationships, kids and things get pretty tough. Once that cup gets empty you just have to wait for it to fill itself back up.
The biggest issue I see with most BJJ strength programs is their insistence in making every strength session a conditioning session. Unless I am dealing with a very high level BJJ athlete (whose technique is so good that he/she doesn’t need to use athleticism in training) most of them are getting an inordinate amount of conditioning work just in their sport practice. If do think some additional conditioning is warranted but I would put it in the form of low intensity road work. Something that will in fact aid in recovery as opposed to taking away from it. Let the weight room time be focused on getting stronger.
A lot of BJJ athletes eschew a barbell in favor of kettlebells. While I embrace the barbell and it’s role in creating really strong people, I will concede that it is not a necessity in the instance of someone whose primary goal is sport performance and not absolute strength.
A missing component of many BJJ strength programs is strongman inspired movements. Strongman requires lifting extremely heavy odd objects with the athlete’s body in disadvantaged positions for leverage. Sound familiar?
Incorporating Strongman lifts into your BJJ strength program is threefold.
So a sample program for a BJJ athlete looking to increase their real world strength on the mats might look like this: (I think 2x/ week of strength training is ample for someone who is training BJJ 4-6x/ week. If you wish to increase training to 3x/ week I suggest rotating Days 1/2/1 M/W/F and the next week would be 2/1/2 M/W/F.)
Day 1: Cycle through each exercise in succession with ample rest between (:45-:60)
Heavy Sandbag Carry for max distance x3
Sled Push 3×100’
Day 2: Cycle through each exercise in succession with ample rest in between (:45-:60)
TGU 3×4 each side AHAP
Sandbag Squats x8 AHAP
Sandbag over shoulder Max reps in :60 x3
If you notice, I tried to keep this as low on required equipment as possible. Kettlebells take up little room, are very versatile, and portable. Sandbags are easy to make (although I suggest buying a quality one made for durability. I like the ones from Rogue and also Cerberus) and cheap. A sled is a great investment and there are ones that can easily fit in the trunk of your car. If you don’t have access to a sled, have a buddy steer his car in neutral and push it around a parking lot.
Give this a try and see how your grappling game improves.
Mise en Place
As some of you may know, I had the privilege to visit Paris last month. It was my first time there and I really didn’t know what to expect.
I never know who to trust about travel because I find that a lot of people tend to travel a little differently than I do. I never do tours, I don’t really take pictures of anything, and I rarely care that much about seeing the “sights” (unless historically significant). I travel to experience what life would be like if I resided in that place full time. Which means I go to eat.
Paris is a marvel.
It immediately rewarded my curiosity like few places before. I like to wander through a city and get slightly lost, only to butcher the native language in my attempt to get home. I love the feeling of struggle when ordering a coffee or navigating the winding alleyways of some forgotten neighborhood that has street signs older than my neighborhood.
I adore when the familiar feels strange. The howl of French police sirens or the constant murmur from the hundreds of Vespas and small motorcycles buzzing around like a cacophony of bees, racing past you to their hive. Sounds that in New York can feel menacing and claustrophobic instead feel like gentle announcements of their fleeting moment in your presence.
The labyrinth of tiny, constantly intersecting streets of La Marais (the neighborhood we stayed in) never failed to expose new treasures around each bend. The parade of tiny shops, bakeries, cafes, and art galleries was baffling.
Like New York, Paris can be a bit intimidating to eat in just for the sheer volume of restaurants. Luckily, Sarah works for a Parisian company so we had some great recommendations as well as from friends and clients of mine and had many memorable meals (and lots of bread).
One thing that struck me about Paris is the pride taken in every bit of work that someone engaged in. From the baker that pumps out hundreds of perfect baguettes and beautiful pastries daily to the street cleaners who walked the alleys with pressure washers to scrub the streets and sidewalks, everyone paid great attention to detail.
The French are better known for their approach to leisure but even that is done impeccably. Sitting at a brasserie or cafe and watching strangers is done with such fervor one might forget that it is recreation and not their actual occupation.
Which brings me to the title of this post: Mise en Place.
Mise en place is a term I first heard working in restaurants. Simply translated it just means “everything in it’s place”. In cooking the idea is that if you have all of your ingredients prepared and in their proper place you can move more efficiently.
What a great concept to apply to life, and fitness.
Maybe the keys to success lie in preparation. Maybe if we are all a little more prepared to succeed we wouldn’t be flustered when those chances arise.
Nutrition is the simplest and most straightforward example of this.
Want to lose weight? You need to be in a caloric deficit. Whats the best way to ensure that? Weigh, measure, and cook your own food to know exactly what you are eating. Even better, prepare it ahead of time to ensure that you aren’t caught off guard by interruptions. While this can seem restrictive from the outset, by taking away the stress of making proper last minute decisions you are actually freeing yourself instead.
In training, having a plan in place is paramount to success. Whether your goals are increased strength or muscle, losing fat, or improving technical prowess you must have a roadmap. Continued, measurable progress is what is most important and you can’t have that without structure.
Hiring an experienced Coach can take away the worry of programming and allow you the freedom to do what you want to do, which is train.
I have found that increasing my preparedness in as many aspects of life as I can has dramatically decreased my anxiety over daily tasks. I try to write out weekly to do lists and if I have a particularly busy day ahead, a daily one.
As I check off boxes I feel a sense of accomplishment and often realize that my momentous tasks aren’t actually that grand. I’ve been amazed that taking ten minutes the night before can reduce so much stress from my daily life.
Interestingly enough, the Johnston Family Motto is “Nunquam Non Paratus” or never not prepared. Which means someone in my family figured this out in the late 13th century and it took me a trip to Paris at 38 years old.
So here is my challenge to you: Start small. This week I want you to put 3 items down each night that you need to achieve the next day. Could be prepping meals, or a new PR, or having coffee with a colleague. Then come back and let me know how you felt. I’m willing to bet that at least part of your days get a little easier.
If one of your goals is improving your fitness and nutrition but you don’t know where to begin, follow me on social media for tips and tricks.
For the best results contact me about my 1:1 online coaching.