18 Years, 18 Things

18 Years, 18 Things

The month of May marks 18 years that I’ve been coaching.  Luckily I’ve learned a few things along the way.  Here are a few things that I find important but in no particular order. 

  1. Relationships: I’ve come to realize that no matter what we do in life, it’s about the relationships. Early on I didn’t grasp this concept well, but I think I was lucky enough to have had good parents.  This allowed me to have many clients long term without even truly knowing that I was doing a couple things right. 
  2. Context:  It’s easy to just judge others without context.  Whether they are other coaches or members of a gym.  Everyone has a story so, while not easy, it’s best not to judge without getting more information and then forming a more educated opinion.
  3. Logistics: Context can often be driven by logistics.  There might be many things you want to do, but the reality is, based on the situation you’re in, some of those things may not be an option at all, or will have to be rearranged to some degree.  You have to be adaptable based on the current situation.  I’ve worked in a big corporate gym, training gyms under 1,000 square ft and another that was 20,000+ sq ft.  All of these have different benefits and drawbacks.  Nothing is perfect.  Be able to make adjustments based on logistics.. 
  4. Pragmatic vs. Dogmatic:  You’ve got to be open to both learning and to change or you’re in trouble.  Sometimes you won’t have a choice! (see above) Don’t get stuck in the “this is the only way” or “this is how we’ve always done it” mindset.
  5. Everything Is Important, Nothing Is Important:  I may have the best 12 week workout program, but it’s not that important.  Perhaps all you’ve got is 9 weeks.  Deadlifts might be important to me and they’re a valuable exercise, but other things work great well too.  I need to train, be able to demo exercises and know what things feel like but at the same time, my workouts aren’t so important. Everyone should probably train 3 days a week, but if someone misses a session, life gets in the way, it’ll be fine.  Don’t freak out. We don’t always know the burdens others may be carrying on any given day. Sometimes the workout gets done but in and of itself, it’s not the most important thing.  Communication comes into play here.  Do I want to empower people?  Absolutely.  But am I going to get mad at someone because they can’t remember which hand to hold the dumbbell in or which foot goes where on that stretch we always do?  No. Is it important?  Enough for me to make the correction, absolutely, but on the whole, it’s minor.  
  6. Communication: It’s a skill.  It’s not always easy but learn to read the room and ask the right questions.  Other times the best thing you can do is remain silent.  
  7. There Is Always Something You Can Do: Everyone is going to deal with aches and pains as well as injuries.  It may take some creativity or simply some critical thought  but there is always something you can do.  Always. Keep moving, never settle. 
  8. Thinking Long-Term:  When you’re young or new to working out and motivated this can be tough. It’s easy to get wrapped up in one workout, missing one day, dealing with a setback of some kind or even rushing to more advanced training.  The key is thinking about the larger picture or long term.  
  9. Progression – Regression: I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing what the next step is, what the proper step back is, or how to simply do something different but very similar cannot be understated. This is the equivalent of having a game plan and being able to smoothly make mid-game adjustments.  It takes time to accumulate the knowledge and skill for this but it’s critical.  
  10. Movements Not Muscles/Full Body Training: This seems so obvious now but years ago I didn’t always think this way and I’m fully aware that it’s still not the predominant way of training at your local health club/gym. Most people and/or athletes only train 2-3 days a week, schedules change and other variables come into play.  It’s to everyone’s advantage to train the whole body each time in the gym and think in terms of movement patterns rather than simply muscles.
  11. Less is more: If you do it right, you can get a lot done with much less than you think or others would have you believe. Stimulating adaptation doesn’t demand 5, 6 or 12 sets.  Whether it’s a little bit but often or less often but with higher intensity, progress can be made with less than you think. 
  12. Consistency: Pretty simple.  The ideal is to be in this for the long haul. Being consistent helps everything.  Inconsistency prevents many good things from happening. 
  13. Murphy’s Law: Cover all of your bases.  What seems obvious to you, the person that lives their life inside of the gym, may not be so obvious to the person that hardly knows what’s going on.  Much of this comes down to communication. 
  14. Recovery and/or Zone 2: For many years I thought recovery meant sleeping and being inactive.  Now I’ve learned that movement and actually getting the heart rate elevated drives recovery.  I personally engage in many more cardiovascular activities now, not only for my heart health but to stimulate recovery so that I can continue to train and feel even better than simply resting on the coach.  
  15. Posture: Extension Compression Stabilizing Strategy “ECSS”:  I wish I learned this concept about 15 years sooner.  It would have saved both me and some of my clients a fair amount of back pain. I still think most people only see “bad” posture in terms of slumped forward.  Come to find out it’s just as big an issue in the opposite direction. For close to 17 years I would arch my lower back to squat, deadlift, hang clean, single leg deadlift, kettlebell swing and almost anything else you can think of, in an effort to “protect” my lower back and prevent the dreaded rounding. As a result, I overcompensated and taught my lower back to crank on essentially at all times.  Turns out this doesn’t feel great over the long haul.  It’ll work to lift the weights for a while, years even, until it doesn’t.  
  16. Breathing: There can be an unbelievable amount to unpack here but in short, how you breathe both while training and not, is incredibly important to your  health, posture, strength, etc. Don’t neglect it.  
  17. Foot Tripod: This was one of the most mind blowing concepts for me over the years. Since I first entered a gym I’ve heard people encourage sitting back on the heels, or in some cases focusing on the mid foot.  Both get the job done per se but not to the extent of the tripod.  Yes, it’s a slightly advanced strategy but in the right situations it’s a game changer for people. I’ve seen so many movements clean right up when people execute a good tripod and focus on better weight distribution through the whole foot.  The other moving parts tend to fall right into place so well I still chuckle to myself every time it works.
  18. Degrees of Freedom: The importance of having the availability to move with a single limb or move the limbs individually in a movement only increases as we age.  TRX Rows, Cable Rows, Dumbbell Bench Presses, Reverse Lunges all can allow for some asymmetry.  Pull ups, barbell bench presses, barbell squats and the like are far less forgiving.  That hurts people’s feelings but it’s the truth.  Understanding this bit of leeway given allows people to lift in a more joint friendly manner.



Why Do We Train?

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Why workout?  There’s various reasons why someone might begin and/or stick to a workout regimen.  Some people do it for heart health, some so they might be able to keep weight off as they get older, others do it to stay active and participate in Spartan Races or Highland Games and yet others simply because it makes them feel good.  Some people talk about being prepared for anything or a Zombie Apocalypse, which is fine. Most people are aware of the “runner’s high” and I do believe that the same type of feeling exists in other activities like weight training.  Much of what is listed above applies to my personal goals but there’s also a little something else. Continue reading “Why Do We Train?”

How Strong Do Fencers Need To Be?

There’s a lot I don’t know about fencing, but here are a few things I do know.  Like many sports, the youth level is highly competitive.  Jaden (seen on the left in the above video)  is only 15 yrs old but will be soon competing internationally.  These kids practice and compete A LOT. The sport is highly dominant to one side as you compete on a narrow strip.  Think about other sports in comparison, while you might shoot a puck or throw right handed, in those sports there are a lot more things going on as far as change of direction left and right, up and down, crossing over.  In fencing you’ve got only a couple of options as far as movement.  You’ll always have the same foot forward, and you’re either going forward or backward.  Fencing is explosive.  It is short bursts of power followed by recovery before the next point is contested.

Jaden has been training with me for about 2 years. How strong does a fencing athlete need to be?  Is a 400 lbs squat going to make him better?  Does bulking up into The Hulk really help? What does a fencer need to strength train for?  After I watched the above video a few times, which is from a recent tournament, I began to think.

  • Getting stronger can make you more durable.  Tournaments can make for long weekends and the season is long too.  Being strong enough to endure all of that work is important.  That strength practice can also help to decrease injury by putting the athlete in positions that are not the same as those seen in the sport.  Repetition in sport without some sort of balance to the other side, or towards something neutral-ish can possibly lead to overuse injury and/or a lack of durability.
  • Quality strength training isn’t just pumping up in the gym. There are many other qualities that should be addressed.  Training power and speed which are clearly used in the sport of fencing are important.  So is learning to produce force and also absorb or decelerate, like in the change of direction.
  • Strength training is about building a better overall athlete.  Fencing specific instruction is for the fencing coach/expert.  As I’ve established, I’m not that guy.  But, I do know that enriching generally athletic qualities makes for a better athlete.

So, how strong does a fencer have to be?  Probably not super strong at any one thing, but well rounded enough to jump, land, throw medicine balls, sprint fast, squat, deadlift, chin up and push up with some proficiency.

  • Mike Baltren

3 Tips For Getting Faster This Summer

1. Run Often

One of the keys to getting faster is you have to practice moving fast.  It’s just like anything else.  If you don’t move it you lose.  Or, if you didn’t necessarily have it in the first place you won’t magically get it without practicing speed.  The distance will be short and the intensity high so merely a few reps per session and 2-3 times a week should do the trick.

2. Run With Intent

The next step is dialing up that intensity level.  There’s running fast and then there’s attempting to run like you’ve never run before.  This intent to get to absolute maximal speed is the key.  Otherwise you might just be in cruise control.  Probably the best way to run with intent is to time it.  Time your sprints, even if of various distances, often.  Try to run as fast as you ever have before and get immediate feedback via your time.  Improvement will not be linear, i.e. some days won’t be your best, but the key is give it everything you’ve got and over time you will improve.

3. Get Stronger

Speed, and the short burst acceleration seen in most sports can largely be attributed to strength.  This is especially true in young athletes.  The stronger you are and more you can produce force into the ground, the faster you can accelerate.  With compound exercises like goblet squats, hang cleans, split squats and sled pushes the lower body will get stronger and better at pushing through the ground.


Fundamentals, like basketball free throws and perfectly run routes in football, are critical in sports. With the goal of winning championships on his mind did Jerry Rice, while training into his early 40’s ever stop running perfect routes in the off-season?  Did Ray Allen, one of the greatest free throw shooters of all time, just throw up a couple from the line at the end of his workouts?  I doubt it.  Deliberate practice is a concept covered in detail in the book “Talent Is Overrated”.  Speaking very generally, much focused effort with consistent feedback is required to be on the right track toward reaching your goals.

Continue reading “Fundamentals”

Training is Simple, But There Are a Lot of Variables

The road to strength and fitness is littered with questions of how to get to one’s destination.  How do I get rid of this, add that, improve my speed, tone up, get better at X?  Quite often the answer to those questions is, it depends.  Not exactly the answer people are looking for or expect when they seek out the advice of an expert but let me elaborate.  There are sooooo many variables that go into reaching your goals.  It all depends on addressing those variables.

Continue reading “Training is Simple, But There Are a Lot of Variables”

A Better Way to Swing and Deadlift

Several years ago I first heard coach and physical therapist Charlie Weingroff explain what he coined a “packed neck” position and it’s importance.  This is essentially a neutral spine position when you break it down.  However, with the kettlebell swing and in some cases the deadlift, that neutral spine position is often lost.  Meaning that the pictures above and below, although representing what is common, are not ideal.

Continue reading “A Better Way to Swing and Deadlift”

You Can’t Microwave an Athlete

Guest Post from Jim Kilebaso, President of the IYCA

I talk to parents and coaches all the time who want to take short-cuts and rush the development of athletes. The most common belief is that if you just practice your sports skills (dribbling, shooting, setting, hitting, fielding, etc.) enough, you’ll be a great athlete.

Unfortunately, that’s just not how great athletes are developed.

Continue reading “You Can’t Microwave an Athlete”

Building Athletic Capital

I recently finished reading “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport.  I heard Eric Cressey recommend it on a podcast and thought I’d check it out. The main premise is that skills trump passion when it comes to building a career that you love.  Newport’s first rule is that simply following your passion is bad advice.  There is a lot more to having a career that you love than simply being excited about it.  Rule two explains the concept of career capital in which gaining rare and valuable skills leads toward work that you love. There’s a hell of a lot more to it but just these rules got me thinking.  What does all of this have to do with training?  I’m thinking Athletic Capital.

Continue reading “Building Athletic Capital”