Occasionally here there are workouts that are different from the rest of the things that show up on the board. We have “tests”, or as I like to think about them, performance opportunities. They usually consist of something that might resemble a “Crossfit” workout or some other “P90X muscle confusion” sequence on initial investigation.
This is not the case though.
These workouts are only done once. They are the workout. They have very specific goals, intentions, and very strict rules. If done correctly, they lead to self-investigation and ultimately answers to some of those questions. Not always “good” answers, but they are always honest answers. These answers lead to development, physically and mentally.
Tests are designed to force you out of your comfort zone, to challenge your perception of quality, quantity, and performance. The body is weak, frail, soft. The mind on the other hand is none of those things. It can easily quit if that is the choice you make during the application of the exam. If you ask it to keep going, it will always force the body to follow.
What separates great athletes from good athletes is their ability to think and make good decisions while under stress and exhaustion.
Two kettle bells or dumb bells. Their combined weight is that of half the athlete performing the test. A physio ball/foam roller/or medicine ball is needed for the planche pulls. Lastly, Guts.
Foreword: Lynda a long time friend and client referred Gregg to me. When I first met Gregg, I was in the initial stages of opening the CA and navigating those waters. We met for lunch at a diner around the corner from his office. Gregg’s general energy will floor pretty much anybody and everybody that has the pleasure of meeting him. He is high speed and invested in everything he does, and everybody he meets.
As we began to discuss his current state of being, he dropped a bomb on me of wanting to run the “Tough Mudder” in less than a year. Time was stacked against us and it was running out every second we sat at that table discussing the “plan” of action we were going to take to get from there at that diner booth. Eating grilled chicken salads; to the finish line of Tough Mudder on race day.
We had our work cut out for us. I was afraid 9 months was not enough time to get there. So I wrote a very aggressive program that weekend and away to work we went on the following Monday. I am always interested in a challenge both internally and externally. Gregg offered me exactly that. A lot of “good living”, an aggressive timeline and a race far from just a 5k “feel good” race was laid out ahead of us.
I asked Gregg to start writing about this whole process of reclaiming his life and becoming the person he is. This is part one. It’s been a great process so far and I think we both have learned much and are always learning more from each other. With race day around the corner I am excited to see how it is all going to pan out. No matter what I am proud of Gregg and all he has accomplished to this point of time. The road is long and always winding. It’s how we handle those challenges is what defines us.
(Gregg rocking a “wiper” workout, and me just being a good cheerleader!)
My personal journey to reclaim my healthy life: Part 1.
Mired under the pressures of daily family life and a demanding professional career I had covered myself in a suit of 296 pounds. My weight gain was equaled only by the weight of the psychological pressure to make everyone else happy around me.
On January 2, 2012, I made an impulsive decision and committed to a challenge I had failed to complete many previous times- I quit drinking regular soda “cold-turkey”. I am still unsure of why I chose to make this change but little did I know I had ignited a transformation in myself for good.
Sunday May 6th 2012 would become a pivotal day in my journey to greater health. I woke around 5:00am on this particularly cold, crisp early May Sunday morning to support my dear younger sister Kathy. She and a group of friends, “The Mudder Smokeshows” hailing from Winthrop, MA were registered to compete in the 2012 New England Tough Mudder @ Mount Snow, VT. So I jumped in my sports car, to drive a road I know all too well, which by the end of the day would be a road I hadn’t traveled in a long time.
I appointed myself the designated “Team” photographer for the Mudder Smokeshows. Kathy and her friends were psyched when I was already at the mountain waiting for the arrival at registration the 36 degree day. Nerves were high as they signed the release and death waivers, inked themselves with identifying registration numbers, foreheads, arms and legs.
What I began to realize was the adrenaline and energy around all the competitors. I felt something inside me I hadn’t felt in a long time too. The Smokeshows entered the starting area (climbing the 8 foot wall) my heart began to race and I was just a spectator. After a prayer and motivation slap of mud on each other- Kathy and the gang were off on their odyssey.
I would walk and move around the mountain to catch photos at as many of the 26 obstacles to be covered over the next 12 miles. I was psyched- my sister and her friends impressed me at each obstacle. Other competitors were on a dead-run, eating up the ground between challenges like I used to eat a bowl of Penne al vodka @ Pasta Pane. What became quite apparent to me was I wasn’t in any shape to be moving up and down the trails of Mount Snow. There was a time where I could ski all of this terrain without hesitation. This day I struggled just walk around.
I made it to Everest, the second to last obstacle, as the Smokeshows arrived. As a team the ascended the front side, supporting and pulling each to the top. As the climbed down the backside of the wood structure, I hustled down to the last challenge- the electrical field dash to capture my last images of their endeavor.
Tough Mudder completed, the Mudder Smokeshows team donned the reflective blankets, orange headbands, and began consuming their victory beers. I stood outside the finish line area- heart pounding and I realized my little sister Kathy was a ROCKSTAR. As they posed for their celebratory picture, I was gasping for air. When the posing broke-up they team came over to me to thank me for the encouragement, support and photography. That’s when my life would change forever, this version of Gregg would cease to exist. They as a group declared- I was no longer the Team Photographer, rather I was joining the TEAM and doing the Tough Mudder the next year. How could I say no, anyone who has a competitive or athletic bone in their body, would accept the challenge and I DID.
(Gregg and his awesome daughter Gianna, earning it together)
On Monday August 13th, 2012 I committed to another level of personal health- this was the day I began my training with “Bender”. I had managed to shed the addiction to soda and was slowly changing my dietary intact- I was eating less at every meal. So having lost the “Healthy Gregg” along the way the rediscovery was on and I met Bender at 6:00 am on Skidmore’s turf field for my initial evaluation.
Well, to say my first workout was an event is a classic understatement. As only in true Bender style (the Zen-ninja trainer) he wanted to know my reasons for not working out. After a feeble attempt at the “I am too busy excuse” Bender and I had a coming to Jesus meeting that indeed I did have the time to give myself one hour, three or four times a week to reclaim a healthy life.
So it was on – Bender handed my first piece of equipment to train with- the dreaded band. Not red, black, blue or green, rather the yellow band, around my ankles and off I went 5 yards out, 5 yards back … The sun was slowly rising, warming the field, what better way to start the next step in my transformation. The what I now consider a reasonable and doable 17 minute warm-up routine didn’t quite go so well.
Picture the esteemed Bender/Ninja Master huddled in his hoodie, shorts, flips flops, drinking his usual hot mug of coffee. I am using all my memories of myself as an athlete around 20 years old to complete each exercise in the warm-up series. I am trying to breathe and catch my breath while moving as nimble as possible, think rhinoceros in sneakers moving on turf.
All was going well as I gulped for more air and realizing, gosh I feel pretty light-headed. Dave asks, “How are you doing Gregg?” As only those who train know- the answers sometimes come out fast, intense and inaccurate as I respond, “Fine-doing great Dave!”
(Gregg Surviving a “Drag and Carry” in January)
As I realize this couldn’t be further from the truth- Dave moves me off the turf to a trackside aluminum bench to gather myself and recover here at just the halfway point of my warm-up. I know admit to Bender I am a bit light headed and dizzy. He asks if I want to sit on the ground instead of the bench- so I lower myself on the ground- as I sit there I mentally ask- why am I on the ground – still dizzy, I stand-up and sit back down on the bench. Next thing I recall is feeling much better and relaxed. I am thinking boy I feel pretty good, my eyes are closed and I feel somewhat rested … I open my I eyes to see Dave standing next to me with his cell phone out and I am laying down- hummm that’s funny why am I laying down.
The not so relaxed expression on Dave’s face and these words, “Gregg, you were three seconds from me hitting the send button for a 911 call.” Surprise, surprise- “go big or go home” as we like to say- I managed to pass out cold- great way to start the day and week with my new trainer- medical emergency!
We will skip the many of the details, but upon reflection perhaps the lack of sleep from a weekend of partying in Boston with my Little Sister Kathy and Brother-in-law Charlie, Dehydration, mal-nourishment, and sleep deprivation partially contributed to the loss of consciousness.
I good baby-ninja fashion- we assessed the medical situation, checked my heart-rate, modified the intensity of the remaining training session and back in the saddle- Bender guided me through my first session …
Well, Ninja initially started as a bit of a joke. It has since grown into a catch phrase and goal for those that train at Contemporary Athlete. In the beginning I kept looking for a phrase or catch word to aspire to or strive for. Warrior although wicked is a bit over used and a little to mainstream. Champion, badass, killer, soldier, competitor, fighter, rock star, hit man, crusader, workhorse, are all good but slightly to aggressive and one dimensional.
A Ninja on the other hand is well… Freakin’ Awesome! They are a symbol of a faceless counter culture. They are agile and flexible; they train hard, risk much, live and operate outside of societies box. They blend. They are humble warriors/mercenaries by many standards. Their greatness is measured not by loud acts but by unnoticed actions. Silent assassins. Ones with a code of honor and rules of conduct, they operated not only as a legion but also as splinter cells.
Ninjas are the standard here at Contemporary Athlete. If you acquired gear it is no more than a simple symbol of that which has already been earned through risk, sweat, and dedication to living by a different code.
I recently was having a conversation with a friend and client about how they explain what happens here at Contemporary Athlete. I realized that I have a long list of things that aren’t done.
don’t have treadmills
don’t have spin bikes
don’t do memberships (what we do is training programs, there is a difference)
don’t wear knee high socks
don’t do fitness. (It’s a fleeting goal, what we do is a lifestyle!)
don’t go shirtless (keeps the sweat off my pretty floor, excuse the marketing photos I already took it up with the boss won’t happen again. Sorry for the visual abuse!)
don’t play lame music (well sometimes it happens mostly because I have awful taste in music)
don’t own any cable – based equipment
don’t have anyplace comfortable to sit down
don’t have any magazines
don’t have any TV’s
don’t own any mirrors
don’t tell you we are a “Judgment Free Zone”… it just is.
don’t count for you. Crazy right?
don’t have costume days; although the more I think about it we might start…
don’t have a smoothie/shake/snack bar
don’t believe tossing your cookies is desirable or a “good” thing. Actually it’s a bad thing.
don’t have showers, or locker rooms. (Yeah we know we should, we’re working on it. Training space took priority; everybody loves a winner, even if they are smelly.)
Yep not cool…
This is what we do!
We do Awesome! (Thought it was funny so it’s what I’m starting with! Also its true.)
We do performance goals. (Sometimes a little crazy, life is short, live loud, smile often.)
We do quality movement over quantity. (Nobody wins the warm-up.)
We do better. (Anybody can make somebody tired)
We support each other! (If you can’t risk, fail, and try again you can’t grow. We all need help it’s given and taken freely and generally with a smile or a swift kick in the ass. Depends on what you need. Sometimes love hurts! [Thanks for the insight MOM, now let go of my ear!])
We do specialized. (Not everybody is training for the same thing. So one workout doesn’t work for everybody!)
We do good food choices. (Food is fuel; you don’t put regular gas in a Lamborghini.)
We do fast, and explosive! (If you weren’t before you will be soon!)
We do strong, both physically, philosophically, and mentally! <- (This is the most important).
We do fun! (G**damnit, and your going to like it!) ß That’s for you Molly!
Success is measured not by what lies behind you but what lies in front of you.
One of the biggest reasons I opened Contemporary Athlete was to give people a place to help them get to the next step. Both my rowing athletes and everybody else who is amazing that I get to work with. This is a story of that next step for one of CA’s very own leading athletes.
Mark Rotondi is poised and ready to take that step to the next level. Today, Mark and I are driving to Boston to a US Rowing, Jr. National Team identification camp. This is one of those opportunities to see how you stack up on the National level and see if you have what it takes to represent your country, hopefully on the international level.
When I first met Mark I had just been hired as the boys rowing coach at Niskayuna High School, prior to the thoughts of Contemporary Athlete beginning. It was a new adventure for me, and ultimately a big part of why I decided to open the facility. It’s something that I am excited about everyday both in the gym and on the water.
If you have ever met Mark he is a very enthusiastic young man. Always looking forward to whatever fun challenge is put before him. Whether that is a 5k-road race, a lifting session, Spartan Race, or pretty much anything, including push up contests outside of Chinese restaurants. His enthusiasm never ceases to amaze those he is around. This trait, that everything is fun also makes him a great team leader. For this very reason (fun) he found himself training frequently with the Saturday morning 9 am Contemporary Athlete group. His roles as both a pace setter and motivator for all that are around him, have lead to so much growth for all that are involved in it.
(Spartan Race 2012)
With FNR/Niskayuna Rowing being in its 25th year I thought it would be a great time to push us to the next level on the boys side. Mark is currently the one to lead that charge. Leaving the comfort of the Mohawk and going to Boston to row and compete with some of the regions best oarsmen to find out where he fits in the National development process.
This also is a proud and validating moment for me as a trainer and coach. On some personal level you doubt everything you do. Always unsure if you’re pushing too hard, not hard enough, or you have unrealistic goals for you and your clients/athletes. At least this is my struggle as a trainer and coach, always trying to improve my craft. In order be better for those around me, so they can become the best that they can, and to have fun while doing it.
(Lightweight Finals at indoor worlds)
Contemporary Athlete is one of those places where athletes of all levels and ability can come, and take personal risks for their own gains mentally, physically, and emotionally. That will be able to set them apart from their competitors. It’s a place where goals can be set and discussed openly.
Mark’s trip to Boston is going to be stressful, physically taxing, and an emotional roller coaster. He will weather the storm just fine and knowing him as I have gotten to do over the last 2 years (roughly) will come out excited about the next part of the journey and smiling about it the whole way. That is why he is the current CA athlete profile, if it’s not fun, even when awfully hard. Than why do it?
(Royal Canadian Henley)
Good Luck Mark! Not that you need it; as luck is for those that are not well prepared, and we definitely do prepared.
The definition of training is to do physical activity in preparation to compete or to work out in which keeping fit is the objective.
All of the games we play teach us to have great work ethics, become better leaders, team mates, goal setters, problem solvers, stress managers, and quick thinking high performers.
All of which give you an advantage at life. Training is done everyday for many different reasons. Whether it is to become a better athlete, employee, or civil servant. People train, they train for their personal goals, team objectives, job development and productivity, or most importantly life. In many cases the ability and intensity at which a person or group will train gives them an advantage whether in the competitive workplace, or partaking in an athletic endeavor. Your fitness level in many cases dictates your success on the field, in the classroom, or at work. It allows you to stay focused, composed, and task oriented.
Get yourself a trainer. A well-rounded, educated trainer can help. They provide guidance, support, knowledge, and philosophy. Not all trainers are certified but the majority of them are. In my opinion this is more of a union card than anything else. There are many certifications on the market and a few are the industries gold standard. This is not the end of the story though, just the beginning. You can read a ton of books but without practical knowledge but that will only take you so far.