Look, up in the sky, its “Superfood”.

Potatoes are the latest food to get elevated by the media to “superfood” status. How awesome is that?  You can now eat potatoes unabashedly. The media, most likely spurred on by the potato growers association, has decided this past week that potatoes are great for you and deserve this new status.  Articles like this on from  Huffpo (6 Reasons we should be calling the potato a superfood) have been extolling the virtues of this newly designated “superfood”.

NPrinto more shameful glances as you have your baked potato slathered in butter and bacon bits. No more guilt for having that second helping of fries with your bacon burger.  Go ahead and eat your potatoes with gusto, they are now “superfood” and are good for your health.  Three cheers for potatoes; Huzzah, Huzzah, Huzzah.

I know what you’re thinking.  How did the lowly potato go from calorie dense starchy carb that you should eat in moderation to the latest superfood?  What the heck is a “superfood” anyway?  If there are “superfoods”, are there “arch nemesis foods” like in the comic books.  These are the things I think about when I can’t sleep at night, so others must have had the same questions.  Since I failed to come across any food group designated “super” during my nutrition studies, I decided to dig a little to find out what it was all about.  I used to think superfoods were some media driven idea that gave them a cool headline to print to get the attention of the unwashed masses.  It turns out, I was pretty much right.   The “superfood” designation is a marketing/media concept to try to bring attention to certain foods that someone has decided aren’t getting enough street cred and need media attention.  Generally, “superfoods” are particular food items that are nutrient dense and are unusually high in vitamins and minerals and are considered extra healthy (I’m not sure what they are comparing these foods to when determining the relative health effect).  They might have large quantities of antioxidants, phytochemicals, dietary fiber or healthy fats, which are all considered beneficial for overall health.  They are what our and grand parents generation would have called, food, but in today’s media driven society they have been elevated to make them suave and sexy.  They are usually plant based, but there have been some protein based “superfoods” such as salmon.  By being designated a “superfood”, a simple run of the mill food item can garner lots of media attention and become an acceptably healthy part of one’s diet.  Just look at the potato.  It’s gotten a bad rap lately, being blamed for making people flabby and unhealthy with all those extra calories and starch, but now it’s a superfood, ergo it’s healthy for all.

Don’t get me wrong here, there’s nothing wrong with adding potatoes to your dietary regimen, in moderation, and without all the additives or extra processing that tends to nullify it’s healthy benefits.  Sorry, that cup of sour cream with bacon bits that you add to your baked potato is still unhealthy for you.  Deep frying potatoes, or for that matter deep frying anything, is still incredibly bad for your overall health.  Just because the food you’re deep frying is a “superfood”, it still doesn’t make it good for you.  Slathering your potato skin with a cheeselike substance, ranch dressing and bacon bits, is still bad for you. So what’s the point of having “superfoods” if they aren’t going to offset the “arch nemesis foods”?  I agree, it kind of sucks.  The way it should work is that the “superfoods” cancel out the “arch nemesis” foods so you can eat all the good tasting “arch nemesis food” stuff you want and just cancel out the bad effects with the yucky healthy “superfood” stuff.  Unfortunately that’s just not how a healthy diet works.  Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

So whats the point of having “superfoods” if they can’t kick the ass of the bad guys?  Well, I guess the point is that in order to get healthy, you have to replace the bad stuff in your diet with “superfoods”, and by bringing attention to the healthy benefits of certain foods, maybe you’ll try them and add them to your diet.  At least that’s what I get out of the media hype surrounding superfoods.  Just bear in mind that a healthy diet consists of a variety of foods in the right quantities to meet your macro-nutrient needs.  There is no single food item that can swoop in and save your diet. Consuming too much of any one single food item can throw off the balance of your diet and be unhealthy.  So don’t get too caught up in all the media hype surrounding “superfoods”.  Not even the now “Superfood” potato can save the day if you have poor eating habits.  Only a consistent day to day effort of eating healthy will save your health.

Sometimes, we all just need a good ass kicking.

When asked what is the one thing to which I most attribute my success in transforming myself from an average overweight middle aged American male with metabolic syndrome, to a healthy fifty five year old American male who takes no drugs to control lifestyle diseases, it is this; I kick my ass on occasion.  What I mean is that, on occasion, I have to force myself to work out. when I really, really, don’t feel like it.  Today, I needed some ass kicking, so I took myself out to the woodshed for good a whuppin’.  I am not a drill sergeant kind of coach.  I don’t get in people’s faces yelling at them, spittle coming out of my mouth Jillian Michaels style.  I don’t like when someone gets in my face yelling, so I surely won’t do it to someone else.  However, there are days we all need a little boot in the butt, and the best one to be doing that kicking is you.   We all have those days that we’re feeling a little down, a little tired, no energy, you just feel like curling up on the couch and watching Friends re-runs.  Today was one of those days for me.  I was dragging my surly butt around,  I just didn’t have any oomph.  I almost bagged working out; almost.  I figured I would just do some foam rolling and stretching and see what happened.  It’s not thimagese first time I’ve had to force myself to get my butt into my workout room and do something.  The funny thing is, more often than not, once I get moving, I end up having a great workout.  Today was one of those days.  I started with a little myofascial release and stretching.  I hit the speed bag for a few minutes to get the juices flowing.  I danced around with my indian clubs, mobilizing my shoulders and upper body.  I still was feeling a little blah, so I thought I would do a few double unders with my jump rope.  After the first fifteen or twenty, something kicked in, and I was off to the races.  I did a hundred double unders and was breathing so hard that I forgot I felt like crap.  So I started to really workout.  I did a HIIT workout of 25 ball sit ups, 10 dips, 10 twisting kettlebell hi-pulls, and 25 double unders.  I figured I would do a few rounds and see how I felt.  By the third round I was feeling pretty bad, but this is typical for me.  My body needs few rounds before I get into my groove.  I thought I might get five rounds in, but after five rounds I felt pretty good, so I just kept going.  I finished seven rounds for 490 reps, and when coupled with my 100 double unders buy in, I did 590 reps today.  Not bad for a day I was feeling like curling up on the couch.  More importantly, my mood changed.  The endorphins kicked in and I don’t feel down anymore. I still feel like crap, but in a good way, kind of like Rocky did at the end of his first fight.  He got the crap kicked out of him, but he felt good about being done with the fight.  My point is that for long term health, you can’t let your down mood be an excuse to skip your workout and curl up on the couch.  Sometimes you just need kick your own ass, and hopefully, like me, you’ll be glad you did.

A day at the beach 

  • I am incredibly lucky to live a few blocks from the chesapeake Bay. My proximity allows me to workout on the beach regularly. I use my golf cart to help me lug my equipment so I can get a full body workout in the best gym in the world. Here’s one of my typical days at the beach. It consisted of  a HIIT style workout with five different movements: 30′ sandbag pull with chain, kettlebell snatch, slosh pipe run, tire strike, kettlebell swing. I did six rounds of these movements while trying to maintain my form. I don’t time my workouts anymore because I want to make sure I don’t sacrifice form for speed.  Since the sand on the beach makes for an inherently unstable environment, this type of workout on the beach is great for the core. 

Beach Bootcamp


Sylvan Beach Gym
My “Home Gym”

I work out at the beach on a regular basis.  It’s my happy place.  Over the years I’ve added quite a few toys to my arsenal of workout equipment.  I like to keep it a little rustic, so I’ve made a few of my own pieces of equipment just for the fun of it.  Plus, the sand and the salt water can take a toll on stuff, so I don’t like to spend a lot of money on equipment that’s going to get used hard and put to bed wet (sometimes literally).   I’m always experimenting with new ways to tax my system and have fun while doing it.  I’ve got my system down, so it only takes me a few minutes to load my gear onto my golf cart and get down to the beach.

Besides the wonderful view, there are a few advantages to working out at the beach.  First, beach sand is an unstable surface, so it is a fantastic venue for neuromuscular stability training.  Your body has to pay attention to form in everything you do to stay balanced, which is the best thing you can do to maintain a solid core.   It’s a relatively soft surface, so you won’t be jarring your joints too much when jumping or bounding or doing any other impact type work. You don’t have to worry about dropping equipment or getting anything dirty, and there’s no cleanup when you’re done.  Best of all, when it’s hot outside, you can just run in the water to cool off.

People often stop and asking me what I’m training for, and my usual reply is “Life”.  The type of workouts I do, especially my beach workouts, are geared to keep me in shape to perform the everyday tasks of life.  I still go to the weight room and push some iron a few days a week, but two or three days a week I perform a high intensity interval training workout, focusing on functional body movements.  I try to create exercises that mimic the five primary movement patterns of the activities of daily life.  Those movement patterns are:

  1. Pulling movements
  2. Pushing movements
  3. Bend and Lift movements
  4. Single leg movements
  5. Rotational movements

Every workout I create for myself includes exercises that work all five movement patterns so that I can ensure my body is trained to keep all movement patterns at their peak.  I also make sure that the exercises I create are symmetrical so as not to create an imbalance on one side or the other.

The biggest thing I have learned over the years of doing these types of workouts is to not trade form for speed.  As fatigue sets in our body’s want to start compensating to make the movements easier.  If we don’t stay focused our bodies will start to compensate in our movement patterns as we get tired, which is unfortunately exactly what you don’t want to do.  Those compensations are what create create problems in the long term.  If we don’t stay focused during a hard, high volume, high intensity workout we may cause more harm than good in the long run.  I am probably over the top about this, but I emphasize form over speed with my clients while working out and during my boot camps.  It’s what is best for you in the long run.

The reason I’m talking about my home beach gym and the type of workouts I do there is that after many requests from people to work out with me on the beach, I have finally started a weekly Saturday morning boot camp on the beach.  I mix it up every week to keep it interesting.  I conduct an hour workout, which includes warmup period, a few minutes to practice some of the movements you may not be familiar with, a 20-30 minute high intensity interval workout, and a warm down period.  All in it’s about an hour workout, and it’s a great way to start your Saturday morning.  If you’re looking to have a fun beach workout, come out and join me the next time you have a free Saturday morning.

You’ve got the moves

First move well, then move often. This is the mantra of Gray Cook , the highly touted strength coach  and physical therapist,  and the basis of his Functional Movement Systems (FMS) training.  I wish I had been introduced to his FMS methodology a long time ago, it would havitruvian bodyve saved me much pain and rehab time. I think most of us take for granted the ability to be able to move relatively pain free, until we can’t.  As we get older we accept a bit of creaking and muscle stiffness as part of the process of aging (after all the alternative to aging is…death, and that’s no fun).  The problem is that as we age, our movement faults that we easily compensated for in our youth can become a real pain in the ass, literally in my case.

I work out pretty frequently, and at a fairly high intensity.  It’s been a long journey to get to my current level of fitness and it has taken countless hours of work.  The problem is that I progressed to moving often, with loads, and explosively, before I learned how to move well.  I didn’t create proper joint mobility before I created joint stability.  This caused some seriously flawed movement patterns for which my body instinctively learned to compensate. In time, as the intensity and loads increased, these faulty movement patterns and compensations could no longer handle the stress and broke down, creating joint impingements in the hips and shoulder, and scapular dyskinesis.

We all have movement pattern faults.  When moving, our body’s tend to take the path of least resistance.  Fortunately, these movement patterns are not permanent, and when assessed properly, there are mobility and exercise interventions that can help our joints regain their proper mobility, and strengthen our weaker areas so that we move well without compensating. Growing up playing sports, I learned that pain is temporary (and chick’s dig scars!), and that you always push through the pain and discomfort to complete the task.  Never give up, that’s my personal mantra. Not a bad mantra, but sometimes your body is talking to you with the pain, and you need to listen.  I thought I was taking action by going to Google University to learn about joint mobility and myofascial release, and I helped myself enough to lengthen the time in which it took to seek professional help.  But eventually, the joint impingements forced me to seek professional help, and it has been a long and educational road to recovery.  I’m not 100% yet, but I’m getting there.  I have climbed to the top of the mountain and seen the light, and now, with the help of Stephen from Direct Performance PT I am learning how to move well.  I am also working on my FMS certification.

When I was younger I took things like walking for granted.  I mean, how much is there to it, you put one foot in front of the other.  What’s there to learn?  It’s amazing howfunny0349 much youth can make up for ignorance.  Now that I am of a certain age I have learned to appreciate the simple things, like getting out of a chair or taking a walk pain free. I have a hip impingement because I never learned proper movement patterns, hell, I didn’t even know there were improper movement patterns until about a year ago when my pain started.  In early 2015 when I had been spending the winter in my quest to deadlift as much weight as I could.  I was doing a lot of heavy deadlifts and squats, paying attention to what I thought was proper form.  I started to do lots of weighted crunches and leg lifts in order to not create a muscular imbalance from the work I was doing on the back.  During that time I also kept up my 2-4 high intensity workouts per week, usually pushing, pulling or jumping while loaded with weight.  I maxed out my deadlift at 425, but this heavy back lifting with the high volume ab work set up a perfect storm for hip problems.  When the pain in my hip started I tapered off the heavier stuff, lowered the volume of my ab work, and did what any red blooded American male would do, I ignored the pain and pushed on.  It was getting to spring so I shifted from the weight room to outside workouts, doing more high intensity, high volume anaerobic, high impact structural, and metabolic work, which of course was the wrong answer since the impingements had been cause by my improper movement patterns.  Loading my improper movement patterns this way just exacerbated the problem.  I adjusted the workouts to try to stay away from movements that caused “excessive” pain, but everything caused some pain.  I just accepted the pain as the cost of doing business.  After several months of accepting the pain and getting used to walking with a limp, I finally went to see a chiropractor.  He helped increase my range of motion, and the pain subsided a bit, but it wasn’t until October that I went to see an orthopod to get an x-ray.  The x-ray confirmed I had calcification in the hip joint and some arthritis, but I did not need a new hip.  It was unclear what was causing the pain.  I received a cortisone shot in the hip, and the pain immediately went away, for a short period of time.  It was strange walking without a limp, I had to learn to walk upright again.  Unfortunately at the same time I was working through a shoulder impingement with physical therapist, so I figured I should concentrate on one screwed up joint at a time.  I have been seeing a physical therapist for my hip since March, and I am experiencing major improvement in my ability to move pain free.  More importantly, I am learning how to move properly so as to not create compensations.

So what’s the point of this sad tale.  The point is that I had always thought I moved rather well, and I always paid close attention to form when working out.  I thought I had proper movement patterns, what I didn’t know at the time was that I had no idea what proper movement patterns actually meant.  I am starting to get a clue.  PTs who are also strength and conditioning coaches, such as Gray Cook and Kelly Starrett, have opened my eyes to the wonders of learning proper movement patterns and what functional movement actually is.  I now spend a lot of time getting educated about and practicing movement patterns, and I am am a fanatic for teaching clients to move well before all else.

When starting an exercise program most folks don’t want to spend time learning how to move well, and most trainers either don’t know, or don’t want to take the time to assess and teach proper movement patterns.  I don’t blame the trainers, because generally, clients are so excited to “get in shape” that they just want to dive in and get exercising, and trainers don’t want to curb that enthusiasm by pulling them back and teaching them how to move well.  Unfortunately, its the wrong approach, especially for older clients, or clients who have been relatively sedentary for a long time. If the clients don’t have solid movement patterns they will eventually get hurt.  Usually it’s not serious, a muscle pull, and ankle twist, a sore shoulder or back, or for clients of a certain age, tendinitis or lingering soft tissue soreness at a joint.  Generally none of these injuries will cause permanent damage, but they usually take weeks if not months to fully heal, and they will derail the best of “getting back in shape” intentions.  It’s always hard to get started again after a program has been interrupted.  No one likes to have to start over, again, and again, and again.  This leads to feelings that “I can never get in shape”, or “exercise just doesn’t work for me” and can create a strong psychological barrier to adopting an active lifestyle. When it comes to exercise these people bounce back and forth between injury and recovery and can never seem to get off that ride.  It’s the roller coaster of the fitness industry, and I  am not a big fan of roller coasters.  There is a better and more sustainable way.  Obviously injuries aren’t the only things that derail a clients fitness program, but they are an extremely common one.

Just another day at my “gym”
I start the movement/exercise part of my program with movement assessments.  I learn what the clients movement patterns are, and if they have any movement faults that need to be corrected or strengthened before we start the real work of getting in shape.  Learning to move well is not what most people want to do when starting to work with a fitness professional, but it is what they need to do before they can progress to moving often, and eventually moving loaded and moving explosively.  This progression applies to everyone, age or gender doesn’t matter. In order to incorporate activity into your life over the long term, whether you are an aspiring athlete, a weekend warrior, or just an average Joe trying to stay in shape, you must have the ability to move well.  Once you can move well, the sky is the limit.

Spice up your life

I was recently asked if I’m still “eating healthy”, and when I answered yes, the questioner replied “I couldn’t stand to eat bland food like that all the time”.  I didn’t know how to answer.  Why does the perception still exist that healthy=bland.  Many years ago, when we knew much less about nutrition than we know today, the idea existed that healthy food was spice free, boiled and bland.  We also thought that there were honest politicians.  We now know neither of those things is true.


Anyone who has eaten my cooking knows my food is anything but bland.  I have a rather extensive spice rack, and I am always looking for new spices to try.  I also enjoy experimenting with different spice mixes.  Using spices is a great way to make healthy eating exciting, without adding unnecessary calories or preservatives. Spices can make cooked vegetables palatable for those who usually turn their noses up to vegetables. Last night I marinated skirt steak with my own Chorizo mix (recipe below) and some olive oil for a few hours before grilling and it came out incredible.  I added some sliced eggplant breaded with almond meal and spices, ( I’d give a recipe, but I usually just go with the flow and add spices wily nily)  and then pan fried in coconut oil, finished with a big salad and my wife, daughter and I had a great tasting and healthy meal.  This healthy meal was the polar opposite of bland, and didn’t take a long time to make.

The spice mix possibilities are endless.  I scour the internet for ideas.  Some of my favorites are Moroccan ras el hanout, Tunisian harissa, Indian masala mixes, or African berbere.  These can all be made at home fairly easily, or purchased premixed. Either way, they will add a different dimension to your diet.  They will help you replace quantityimg_2345 with quality.  I usually start out making small batches from someone else’s recipe, and as I feel recipe’s are just guidelines, I will adjust the ingredients to my tastes. I’ve used “Practical Paleo” by Diane Sanfilippo to get ideas for some of my mixes.  I keep a handful bagged and ready at all times.

Once you have some mixes you like, making a quick tasty meal is pretty easy.  Some nights I will just take a container of chicken wings, pat them dry, mix them in a bowl of my “kitchen sink” spice mix (I just add lots of a variety of spices to a bowl and mix.  I don’t measure, so don’t ask) , then bake for forty five minutes at 400 degrees (turning after 22 minutes).  You can do the same with chicken thighs using the above procedure.  Sometimes I’ll just pan fry a bunch of vegetables and then add a few pinches of one of my mixes to get a very tasty side dish.  I like my mixes on the just above medium hot side, so you should adjust the hot spices accordingly.

So now you don’t have to cringe when your doctor (or your spouse) tells you that you have to start eating healthier.  Healthy eating doesn’t need to be boring or bland.  Don’t be afraid experiment with spice mixes to help you make your healthy cooking exiting and different.

Chorizo Spice Mix

2 TBS chipotle powder

1 TBS hot hungarian Paprika (or your favorite paprika)

1 TBS onion powder

1 TBS garlic powder

1/2 TBS sea salt

1/2 TBS coriander

1/2 TBS cumin

1 TSP black pepper

Don’t Mace me man. 

No, I’m not talking about the chemical spray used for self defense. I’m talking about an old fashioned warriors mace like I am holding.  Not only can it be used for self defense, but you can get a great workout with one, and in a pinch it would be a great child motivator (who needs time outs) No, I haven’t gone off the deep end. It’s actually a really great tool to help you get a full body workout in a minimum amount of time and space.  The video I made below gives a good introduction to the many wonders of the mace.