Strength is Universal

Written by our very own Head Strength & Conditioning Coach, Anna Marie Oakes - Joudy

I used to be a “gym-rat” I would spend two hours a day in the gym, six days a week. More than half of that time would be spent sweating it out on the Stairmaster, while the rest of the time I was doing “low-weights and high reps”. I did that for 10 years. I thought I was strong. I thought I would get the body I saw on the cover of fitness magazines if I just did the workouts they recommended and counted my calories. But, even after dropping my calories to 1200/day and working out incessantly I still jiggled in places I didn’t want to and I didn’t feel comfortable in a bathing suit. Fast forward to my having twin girls in 2013 and DREADING the thought of walking back into the gym and continuing the run on the hamster wheel in hopes that “it will work this time”. I joined a CrossFit gym in Santa Cruz, CA. not knowing that my town held the distinction of being the “Birthplace of CrossFit” until I walked into the big open warehouse. There I began the journey that has led to where I am today.

Put aside the very polarizing topic that is CrossFit and look at this with me. In that big, hot, chalky building, I learned that I was STRONG. I affirmed for myself what my parents always told me and what I had yelled in the faces of the kids that called me names when I was young. I found my niche there and was inspired by some very strong women and men. One of my coaches, in particular, told me early on that “You should LIFT”. I was a little intimidated by the whole idea at first, but watched a woman I knew never do a single kipping pull-up and continue to slim down under the barbell week after week. I stopped wanting to have a thigh-gap, razor abs, and slim arms and started wanting what my body already offered me: big thighs, muscular arms, and Traps! (traps are the new abs, by the way). I cared less about what my weight was on the scale and more about the weight on the barbell.

I began my Starting Strength Novice Progression in January of 2014. At the time my back squat was 195 lbs., my Dead lift was 255 lbs., and my bench was somewhere in the 140 range (I was a CrossFitter and CrossFitters don’t do bench much). I was the woman who would do the heavy stuff in the partner WODS (Workout Of the Day) and LOVED it. I had noticed things in my everyday life were becoming easier as I got stronger, but I wanted to slim down as well and the Coach teaching the class was a woman I had watched melt away with nary a Thruster done. She taught us the “Low Bar Back Squat” (hereafter referred to as Squat), bench, dead lift, and standing overhead press. We lifted twice a week with the class and once a week on our own, always beginning with the Squat, moving to a pressing movement to give the lower body a break, then ending with the dead lift as it is the most taxing lift. After six weeks of adding 5 lbs to each lift every lifting day for 3 sets of 5 (3x5); my Squat was 235 lbs., Bench was 150lbs., and Dead lift was in the 280 lbs. range. I know, to most, those numbers don’t mean anything, but look at it this way. I could carry both my twin daughters’ car seats out of the car without my shoulders aching. I could carry ALL the bags of groceries from my car to the front door of my house (50 yards away) without having to stop and set them down. I could pick up all 4 of my kids at once. My knees and feet stopped HURTING all the time (I injured both knees playing soccer), I cared less about what I weighed and more about how much I could lift. I was hooked. I began reading the books Starting Strength and Practical Programming and applying my extensive hard science background to the literature that was presented. Another benefit of all that strength training, besides the obvious strength gains? With proper nutrition and macro compliance (knowing how much of the main nutrients I was taking in on a daily basis, Protein, Fat, Carbs, Fiber) I dropped 20 lbs all while adding weight to the barbell and drastically altering my body composition.

I began to think about all the ways that strength made our lives better or lack of strength made our lives more difficult. I had never heard anyone ever say “I fell over when I was going down the stairs because I was too strong” or “I’m strong enough”. I know that some of you are picturing those guys in the bodybuilding magazines with the preternaturally large arms and legs and strangely misshapen foreheads and thinking “THAT guy looks TOO strong”. Muslim-bodybuilding- champion-Fitness-fanatic- 32inch-thighs- daily-intake- 5-000- calories-wins- national-title.html

I’m not talking about muscle SIZE so much as I am about the ability to produce force against gravity and/or an object and the ground. Muscle SIZE does not denote STRENGTH (Though this guy is also very strong). Some of the strongest pound for pound people in this world walk around you on the street and you wouldn’t even know it. This is Jen Thompson, she has a 300+ lb. Bench Press and hold many records, she weighs 132 lbs. 

Let’s talk about the ways lack of strength effects our lives. There is a saying “In through the womb, out through the hip” This refers to how many people fall and break a hip after the age of 50 and how often that leads to death. It may not be the actual break that kills you, but what begins with the break of a hip sets a domino effect in motion. If you are already weaker because you don’t exercise often and are on any number of commonly prescribed medications, rehabilitation from an injury (such as a broken hip) becomes longer and more difficult. Many people develop other conditions due to lack of mobility during their rehab; Diabetes, Hypertension, and Pneumonia are very common ailments accrued over a longer rehab stint. (  

                  Now, what if there was a way to make falls less common and less devastating to the elderly population? There is. Barbell training. Either beginning barbell training while you are still relatively young and mobile or; taking an elderly trainee through the Starting Strength program (with modifications) to get them to the point where their bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles are stronger. Then the major falls, which have the potential to end their lives, become either minor falls or they don’t happen because the individual has trained a bilateral (two legged) movement progressively under load and has trained their balance while building strength.

                  Many times people equate barbell training with specific sports like: Powerlifting, Olympic Lifting, Strong Man, or CrossFit. Strength training is a large part of all of the sports listed. HOWEVER, Strength Training is not only for powerlifters, Olympic lifters, etc. Strength training is FOR EVERYONE. Let me say that again Strength Training IS for EVERYONE. There is not a single person on this planet who could not benefit from a progressive stressing of the body, with compound movements, on a regular training schedule, with gradually escalating weights. I say TRAINING and not Exercise because the point of exercise is to break a sweat and get your heart rate up. This also occurs in Training, but training is for a specific goal whether it be building strength for your sport, building strength for your life, or building strength so your golf game comes back. Exercise has its place in the day to day just like practicing your sport does, but only Strength Training can make both the aforementioned past-times better, more effective, and you more accurate.

                  Strength Training is infinitely scalable. If your trainee can’t get up from a chair without a railing, you don’t start them under the barbell, you start them with getting out of the chair with less and less help and work them up to doing a squat of their own body weight. All it takes is time. I know that time = $, but your health = QUALITY time, it all depends on what you’d rather spend your time/money on. Get strong and live a more productive, quality life. Strength is UNIVERSAL.


A Do-Over

Written by our Trainer & Fitness Instructor Dimitri Melnyk

It's not every day that you are given an opportunity to make a change. Just like many of us we need motivation to change. I had an amazing childhood growing up in Hawaii. I played outside, swam in the ocean, played sports (paintball, football, skin diving, surfing) I was active. Right? You think looking in the mirror not recognizing who you are and stepping on a scale and seeing a 4 as the first number might inspire you to do something, but it didn't. My inspiration came in three forms: divorce, the loss of my house and a business. All within a years’ time. And with no desire to be alone with my thoughts, I found myself using the gym membership that I had been paying for months and never used. 

I started spending 5 to 6 days a week there for hours at a time.  So of course I became a regular and who else works out that much? Power Lifters and Bodybuilders. So I learned and lifted and lost my initial 60-pounds! It felt amazing! I got stronger and was finally headed in the right direction, or so I thought. A few months down the line I started to plateau. I know now this is the commonly known novice effect. Drastic change with a fitness program from a sedentary lifestyle will induce change. But with no rhyme or reason at to what I was doing, I stopped seeing progress. I was still working just as hard but I wasn't getting anywhere. So I figured it was time that I got help from someone a little more knowledgeable than the guys I lived with 5 days a week. I got a trainer and then began the onslaught of a new world in fitness, strength and agility.

I had an amazing trainer, who is still a dear friend. We have been through a lot with each other. Mostly a lot of me yelling at her, calling her names and saying she was trying to kill me. But she also helped usher in a huge transition period for me. She taught me about nutrition and clean eating and even got me to run some races. Well after 15 races I still DO NOT like running but I got some really cool shirts.  If I had to take something from that experience it was training for a purpose kept me active, it wasn't just going to the gym. It was my lifestyle that needed to change for it to be successful. 

After parting ways with my trainer I maintained my own workout regimen and life found a way, as it does, to interfere with my new lifestyle. I slowly slipped back into my old ways and habits. I had started gaining weight and stopped working out completely because of work. Well after I let work and other obstacles sink their dirty claws into me, they dragged me to the hospital with two swollen legs, difficulty breathing and a blood pressure of 260 over 150. The doctors looked at me and told me, "we're keeping you for 3 days for observation... we are concerned about congestive heart failure." I lost it and came completely unglued in the emergency room. Just could not believe after everything that I've gone through, the suffering and turmoil. I had still ended up at the bottom of the barrel. I was at an all-time low. My cardiologists recommended a career change and complimented me on my weight loss and new lifestyle. He laid out the facts for me and stated that if I had not done the exercise and weight loss that I had, I would have suffered a heart attack or a stroke from the blood pressure caused by stress. I will always remember the short Japanese man that gave me a high-five and said, "keep up the good work and share your story with everyone... you might save a life”.

LIFE.... that word suddenly took on a whole new meaning for me, my career had taken me on a downward spiral that ultimately could have cost me everything.

So taking in the advice of my cardiologist I took a vacation, the first in four years. Visiting family and friends I tried to screw on my head straight and figure out what I would do next. My decision was that I needed to change everything about me. I needed to give up everything that defined me as a person and take a chance at a new life. So a garage sale ensued. I sold or donated 80% of my possessions, bought a one-way ticket to Washington and was gone.  That one-way ticket made it real. I was leaving my home, everything I knew and everyone that I knew, all of it. I was leaving it behind to make a new life.  It was time for me to be selfish for a change and so I took that step Across the threshold onto the Alaska Airlines flight bound for an unknown world.  After landing in Seattle Tacoma International Airport, I collected my baggage, took a step outside and was stunned. A sudden realization that the temperature was 32 degrees outside! When departing from Honolulu the temperature was 84 degrees. Totally not ok, not one bit.

The only way to complete my transition into the active lifestyle that I solely desired, I would have to work in that environment.  Immerse myself in a place where I have to train, learn and grow in order to gain experience. I had thought about this constantly during my weight-loss. That I would one day want to become a trainer so that I could help people do the same thing I did. Help motivate them to find out what they are really capable of. What they can actually achieve when you believe not only in yourself, but in your dreams.

So I went looking for my first “foot in the door” opportunity to start. My first Fitness job was at the YMCA. I shared my story and offered my willingness to learn, my motivation to help other people meet their fitness goals. It was my fresh start it was finally happening. After everything I went through, working for the YMCA was a great new beginning. I met and worked with some amazing people. I started gaining certifications and experience doing things that I did not know I was capable of doing. First example was teaching group exercise.

Now if you told me that I would be a successful group exercise instructor five years ago, I would have laughed in your face and told you April Fools. But now if you step into one of my classes, you can expect to have a great time and get in a good workout. Apparently my years in project management gave me skills that are quite useful in a group setting.

Now when I set my mind to something I don't just want to wing it, I want to make sure it's done correctly. I will research, study and learn as much as I can to put out a great product. One of the valuable life lessons that my father taught me as a young man was that anything I do should be done with quality. I can still hear him telling me as a kid, "if you're going to do something do it right the first time."

So I would design workouts with a purpose and classes with progression so that people who attended would get something out of it, not just some random class. With that mindset I completely shocked people who attended my classes and left such an impression that my name started to float around the locker rooms. Suddenly I was identified as a "great instructor, if you want a great workout, you go to his class."

Then fast forward to present time. I have now been in the fitness industry as a paid job for approximately three years. I have successfully aided in the transformation of numerous individuals. I have worked with people ranging from the ages of 14 all the way up to a 101 years old. I hold 10 different certifications and I pride myself on the ever-evolving method to my madness.

3 years ago this fall will be the anniversary of my gift. My second chance to do something with my life. The chance not only to make my life better but ultimately help others through similar Journeys that are much like my own. I could look you directly in the face and honestly tell you without a shadow of a doubt that......

I love my job.

When did we start having fear around food?

Written by our Yoga & Barre Instructor, J Muenz

When did we decide that food was our enemy?  How did this happen?  It definitely didn't happen overnight.  It happens at a young age, a mid life crisis, an article written for teenage girls, a diet we're put on from a doctor or a quick fix to drop 5 before a vacation.

I'm heading on a trip soon and I wanted to share how my pre trip days used to go:

  • Work out as much as possible (2 power vinyasa yoga classes + a 3-6 mile speed walk daily).

  • Eat barely anything - usually lots of lettuce, tons of water, veggie patty, salmon + half a protein bar.

  • See if I could weigh below 130 and if I did, congratulate myself + validate my worth.

  • go spray tanning, get my nails done, take a trip to the eyebrow waxer + make sure everything was "perfect" before taking off.

Just writing that exhausts me.

I was raised in a house where beauty was never the spotlight.  My Mom told me constantly how she preferred me sans makeup.  If I had eyeshadow on, my Dad would ask, "What's with all that stuff on your face?"

I didn't understand the value of that kind of message, but now I do and I feel really freakin' lucky.

4 years ago, when I dropped 20 pounds for good, it wasn't from a crash diet or an effort to lose weight for a trip or important event.  I was 26, had suffered from an eating disorder in private for WAY TOO LONG and was over trying to lose weight.  I was going the opposite route.  I was throwing my middle finger up to the sky with a F YOU attitude and was doing what I pleased.  That resulted in a sugar addiction and an even worse depression.  I lost control, because I didn't want to be in control anymore.  I didn't want food to circle my head anymore.  I didn't want to count calories and obsess over how fat I felt.  I LOVED my curves, but I wasn't comfortable in my body.

I realized that I needed help, so I hired a Health Coach to get me on track again.  I stressed to her the importance of wanting to be healthy and never wanting to be on a diet again.  She helped me identify my worth and weight ideals and how f'ed up that really was.  When did it start?  How else can you nourish your body?

When I'm speaking to clients now, I put myself in their shoes.  The fearful shoes.  The shoes that say, "If you lose weight, you will fail, so what is the point?"

If that's where you are at, I am you and you are me.  And you WILL make it out alive.  Don't think you have to do everything on your own.  We reach out for what we can't do (yet) and we get help.

Here's the help I have: business coach, virtual assistant, graphic designer, dentist, naturopath, detox specialist, health coach, doctor, trainer, etc.  

You can't do everything on your own + you are not supposed to!

Yes, it can be costly, but nothing and I repeat NOTHING is more important than your health.  If you are going to invest in anything, make it your health.  Trips and clothes are awesome, but you can go on any or dress up if you don't have the energy or the confidence and both of those come from having AMAZING HEALTH!

Not because we WANT to, but because we NEED to

Written by our General Manager & Personal Trainer, Alex Joudy

Written by our General Manager & Personal Trainer, Alex Joudy

I want a raise at work! I don’t want to put in the extra hours to earn that raise.

I want a new car! I don’t want to set up a budget so I can save up for a new car.

I want to lead a healthier life! I don’t want to make the necessary changes in my life to be healthier.

So many times in life we struggle with the idea of what we DON’T want to do versus what we NEED to do for the lifestyle we want to lead. It’s no different when it comes to our health. Here are a few examples:

Not wanting to keep a food diary because it’s too inconvenient vs. needing to track your food so you can achieve for your fitness goals.

Not wanting to get up at 5am to work out vs. needing to wake up at 5am because that is the only free time you have to work out before taking your kids to school, getting to work, and so on.

Not wanting to cut back on wine, beer, desert (vice of choice) vs. needing to cut back if your weight loss has plateaued.

Not wanting to do those extra reps, sets or minutes of cardio vs. needing to so you continue to progress and not plateau.

For most people this is what holds them back when it comes to their health. Usually the end result we seek seems so far from the starting point that it’s difficult to rationalize to ourselves that these changes we need to make will make much of an impact. That’s why it’s so important to take small steps first to incorporate these changes into your daily routine. Work your way backwards from your goal, step by step to create a path that will lead to where you are now. This will set you up to make better decisions on what needs to be done to take that next step forward. And each step forward will take you that much closer to your goal.

Your goal is to lose 20lbs of fat. Your trainer lays out a plan to begin training at least 3 times a week and change your diet. The only time you have to work out is 6am. That means you need to wake up at 5am. That means you need to go to sleep at 10pm instead of 11pm. That means you can’t watch a movie and grab a snack and glass of wine after 9pm. That means eating dinner around 6pm instead of 7pm. That means planning your meals out ahead of time so you aren’t starving come dinner time. That means tracking your food so you know how much you need to have to fuel your body for your day. That means downloading an app that will make it simple to track your food.

If you look at that goal and have no idea where to start or how to continue to succeed until you reach that goal, then of course you will constantly be fighting yourself on what you want to do and what you don’t want to do.

Sometimes, to get to where we want in life, we have to stop making excuses and make the right decisions. Not because we WANT to, but because we NEED to.