Mindset: Shifting the Strength Paradigm

What I love most about the OPTI group performance program isn’t the kettlebell swings and snatches, heavy dead lifts or double front squats. It’s not the sweaty faces, chalked up hands, and smiling faces. It’s not even the feedback I get from students about about fat loss, strength gains and confidence building. Although those elements are all highly satisfying to me as an instructor, what really pleases me is this:

The ability to guide clients into a strength and conditioning paradigm shift.

My role as instructor and coach is not to simply train, but teach. I aim to educate clients as to why and how we train as we do, and give them the tools they need to alter their mindset. When clients can identify incorrect movement or give cues to other clients, it means I’ve really done my job. When the paradigm of a client changes from the disorganized cluster that is the mainstream fitness world, to the focused, systematic and purposeful mindset of true strength and conditioning-it is a beautiful thing.

I know I have asked a lot of all of you. I have effectively asked you to put your faith in me and do whatever I say. I have required that you come on board with the program completely or don’t come on board at all; strength training outside of class is strictly taboo unless it’s cleared by me and you have all processed and accepted this requirement. While I welcome and encourage questions, curiosity, and inquisitive dissent, ultimately I am the expert guide and my advice and recommendations should be followed. And all of you have gotten on board with that!!! It may seem harsh and strict, but the tight ship is essential for progression, injury prevention and ultimately, results. The fact that you, as students, have immersed yourself in the program and basically drank the OPTI kool-aid, well, it makes me beam with pride.

The paradigm has shifted from long, slow cardio on the elliptical machine to short, powerful bursts of swings, agility and airdyne sprints. The paradigm has shifted from isolating body parts in a body builder style of strength training to total body, functional movements designed to train the body as a unit. We’ve shifted from training with fixed machines to kettlebells, from spending hours in the gym to 30-60 minutes, from quantity to quality, and from crunches and “ab work” (which actually hinder back health and contribute to low back pain) to planks and other stability exercises for improving core strength. Most importantly we have shifted our paradigm from “working out” to “training”. Every time we pick up the bells we do so with intention, integrity and purpose. Every time we swing a bell we are “practicing the swing” as opposed to just swinging. Every time we perform a TGU we are practicing movement, stability, control, mobility, as opposed to just doing it for the heck of it. It is this type of purposeful training that creates strong, solid bodies and produces individuals with the body awareness and focus necessary to perform with physical integrity-both in sport and in the game of life.

The mindset of most gym goers is to simply get exercise out of the way, going through the motions and checking exercise off the to-do list. This is not you. If it ever was, it is not anymore. You are not an average gym goer. You are not a slave to the nautilus machines or the long walks on the treadmill. You do not cut workouts out of Men’s Health or Shape magazines and mindlessly wander through useless exercise after useless exercise. You are an OPTI Group Performance Member. You train with purpose. You train with intensity. You train with the intention of moving your body in the most efficient and effective manner, building strength, power, mobility and stamina. You dedicate the time necessary to foam roll, stretch and do mobility work so that your body can move more freely and effectively build the armor necessary to reduce the risk of injury and chronic pain.

Mindset is one of the pillars of the OPTI methodology. A well grooved mindset is integral in the quest for supreme fitness. It is mindset that guides your actions and fuels your efforts. It is essential in order to successfully train, eat and live to support your body, and without dialing in our mindset we are fighting a losing battle-simply surviving until the next obstacle sets us back. With the proper mindset, the proper paradigm, you can achieve anything.

You are amazing. Simply amazing. Each and every one of you. Your mindset and dedication make you unique and will serve to make you stronger from the inside out. You are elite, and I am proud to call you my students. I implore you to continue to adjust and refine your mindset in terms of health and fitness. Every time you consider doing something that is detrimental to your health (skipping class, a junk food binge, smoking, drinking excessive alcohol, not listening to your body, etc) ask yourself if this fits in with your new paradigm. Does this action support my goals? Does this action define the mindset I have worked so hard to achieve? With purpose and intention we can build better bodies and stronger minds, and through it all I am honored and humbled to be your coach.

Power to you!

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Are You Tough Enough for Tough Mudder?

OPTI’s March Client of the Month, Jay Groomes, recently completed the Tough Mudder obstacle course. I asked Jay to journal his experience to share it with all of you and hopefully motivate you to realize your great potential and capabilities. Here is Jay’s Tough Mudder Experience in his own words. 

Are You Tough Enough for Tough Mudder?

By Jay Groomes

On April 10th, 2011 I participated in my second Tough Mudder event. For those that are not familiar with Tough Mudder, it is a 10-12 miles obstacle course that is designed by British Special Forces. This obstacle course, however, is not your average challenge; it is not a walk in the park, nor is it just an average road race. This course is designed to test your strength, endurance, camaraderie, and mental attitude, which is also built around you finishing the course and not worrying about your personal time.

Last year I was approached by a good friend to join their team for a Tough Mudder event that took place in November 2010. Initially, I took this course as a joke. I figured it would be a social type of thing where people are just getting together, hanging out, and doing a few goofy things around a big course. Lo and behold, that was far from the truth. This course took place in Englishtown, NJ in the middle of November. The weather was 38 degrees and our wave started at 9am. Keep in mind, there was water involved, which meant the water temperature was around 20 degrees. Before the gun went off, I got a shocking thought, “This is not a joke”!

I instantly found myself engulfed in the seriousness of the moment. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of teams having a good time, but the difference was they had done the before-and we were brand new to the challenge. About three miles in I started doubting myself, but my team pushed me along which gave me a much needed second wind. As we approached the third obstacle, “Walk the Plank”, I hit the water and everything changed. I felt disoriented due to the coldness of the water and could not recover for about a mile.

After running the “Mud Mile”, which was about 6 miles into the course, I started to experience cramps in both calves, bringing me to my knees in pain. I tried to fight through it, but that is when the mental element set in and I decided it was best for me to pull out of the course. Needless to say, Tough Mudder beat me and proved that I was not truly prepared for such an event. From that point, I promised myself that it would not beat me again.

In January 2011 the same friend approached me and said, “Are you ready to complete Tough Mudder?” I instantly said, YES! From that point, I was determined to try and put my best effort into training and mentally preparing myself for the event. For the past three months, I trained with Kettlebells two times a week to build strength and power and I also trained Metabolic Conditioning one time a week to build endurance, speed, and agility. As for the mental aspect, I surrounded myself around positive friends and family that would motivate and push me to see this event through.

This time around, the event took place in Allentown, PA at Bear Creek Ski Resort. When we arrived at the site, the intimidation factor set into mind. But, I was completely focused on completing the course and pushing myself to the finish line. Our wave time was set for 9am, so we were the first group of the day to attempt the course. Before the gun goes off everyone is so amped up.  You can literally feel the energy and anticipation throughout all 500 people who are set and ready to take off at the sound of the gun. Next thing you know, BOOM! Everyone is screaming and charging off to the hills. Within my first three miles I felt great! I had never felt this way running before, maybe I was feeding off of the energy of everyone around me or maybe it was pure adrenaline. In the meantime, while we were going up the steepest hill, we had to endure mud, ice and being blasted with snow.

After the sixth mile marker, I set my own personal record of passing my previous marker in November. A sense of accomplishment came over me, but all I could think about is forging ahead to the true finish line. During the last five miles we endured more hills, carrying logs up steep hills, spider webs, barbed wire, wall climbs, fire, and long runs in which we had to avoid logs and rocks. At some point around mile eight, I started to doubt myself and began to feel minor cramps in my left calf and right quad-but I kept pushing on. I had to stop thinking, take a break to stretch out my legs, see what was in front of me, and conquer all barriers. Also, thankfully, I had my team pushing me along to finish. Once we got to the top of the last hill, all I could see was the finish line, but there was one more obstacle…Electroshock Therapy, in which we had to sprint through a total of 10,000 volts of dangling wires. After crossing the finish line, which totaled 11 miles, there was so much joy, pain, and other various emotions that I could not explain. It was such a sense of accomplishment that I have never felt before, and yet…I want to feel that again. Maybe next time, I’ll complete the course carrying a Kettlebell!

What did I take out of this experience? I came to the conclusion that Tough Mudder is 80% mental and 20% physical. Without mental fortitude and a belief in oneself, you simply won’t succeed and reach your goals. The obstacles are just something that serve to stand in your way, such as speed bumps in life, career, and personal issues that get in the way of seeing the big picture.

I would like to take a moment and thank my trainer, Neghar Fonooni, for giving me the tools and motivation, and showing me what great things can be accomplished when you train hard and stay focused. At one point during the event, I think I heard Neghar’s voice in my head yelling at me, which oddly enough was motivation. I would also like to thank my teammates, Sara and Orion, for helping me push along and fight to the end. I hope that I pushed them along as well.

So… Does this sound like fun? Are you tough enough for Tough Mudder? Who is up for joining us next time?

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Updates and Client of the Month

Happy Tuesday Everyone!

Just a few updates and bits of information:

  • Happy Hour was a GREAT success! Thanks so much to everyone who came out and I hope to see even more of you at the next one. Where we host it will be dependent upon when the new facility opens so stay posted.
  • Next week I will have the privilege of assisting at the Level One RKC certification in St Paul. I will be gone for 4 days, which means there will be no classes on Thursday or Friday (14/15) so please plan your training week accordingly.
  • We have three new students joining us this week: Annie (6 am) and Lupe and Valerie (Beginner Class). Please say hello, introduce yourself and make them feel welcome. Also, Cherie and Dana have transitioned out of beginner class and are attending the 630 All Levels class-please make them feel at home!
  • Jay is the client of the month for March on my blog. I posted it on my blog but I will post it here as well.
  • As usual, please continue to check the blog! I plan to post more regularly as things are falling into place and I have more time to write. I’ve had requests for two blog posts, but please keep the ideas coming! If you have a special event, competition or anything you want highlighted, I would be more than happy to post it.


Jay Groomes

Last month I spotlighted a very special client, Jamie Murphy, who has accomplished amazing things with her strength and conditioning and has served to be an inspiration to the rest of my clients. It gave me such great joy and an immense amount of pride to detail her journey and her accomplishments, that I plan to do this every month with a different client who stands out or does something noteworthy. In March, I am going to spotlight one of my group clients who is incredibly easy to coach and just a pleasure to work with-Jay Groomes.

Jay joined my group performance program last summer when I had just begun to hold group kettlebell classes. He was part of my very first group of 7, and has been ever evolving and improving since. He now attends Kettlebell Class twice a week and Metabolic Conditioning once a week. His positive attitude and willingness to help and motivate others is inspiring and contagious, effectively making my job as a coach that much easier. It’s rare to hear a complaint from Jay’s lips, or a negative murmur. He integrates so smoothly into any group and adds a warm and humorous tone to our wonderful group of clients. I cannot say enough about his coach-ability. Those of us who deal with clients on a regular basis know first hand how integral a coachable attitude is to an effective program and the client’s success. Jay brings his coachable, positive demeanor to each and every session and I am honored to be a part of his journey.
Jay never needs to be told to increase or decrease in load or reps. When it’s time to progress, he progresses on his own no matter what. When it’s time to regress, he does so as well in order to keep his training safe and effective. In groups which I am coaching ten people at once, this is a quality that I appreciate greatly. I can always trust him to do what needs to be done, and not hold himself back from his high potential. I am continuously impressed by his willingness to pick up a heavier kettlebell without being prompted, or throw more load on his back for pushups.
This is just a small list of the impressive things he has done during his tenure with the group program. I must stress that all of the things on this list he does with relative ease and fantastic form and attention to detail:
  • Unassisted body weight pullups
  • 24kg Turkish get ups
  • 28kg over head presses
  • Double 24kg presses
  • double and 20 kg complexes
  • 45-55 pound weighted pushups
  • Double 44kg dead lifts
  • 36-44 kg swings
  • 24kg contra lateral single leg dead lifts
His movement quality improves with every session; he shows up early to foam roll and always trains with intensity and purpose. Every coach would feel proud and lucky to have a client like Jay, whose willingness to learn and perform inspires other students, lends a vibe of incredible positivity to the group, and makes my job as a coach gratifying and continuously rewarding.
In April, Jay will be participating with friends in his second Tough Mudder event. This is exactly the kind of event that I would expect Jay to compete in as it requires a blend of discipline, perseverance and jocularity. He’s asked me to supply OPTI stickers for them to wear on their team shirts and that truly made me proud, as it lends to the wonderful community we have created and the amazing individuals who are part of it. I’m honored to have Jay in my group and I know that all of my clients would agree that his presence is continually enjoyable and his performance inspiring.
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Happy Hour

It’s on! Happy Hour this coming friday, 25 March at Union Jack’s in Columbia. We will start the fun around 530 to give everyone time to get home from work. Please feel free to bring your friends and family, but DO shoot me an email (negf03@yahoo.com) to let me know that you’re coming. I would like to get a loose estimate of how many people are attending. I really think this is a great opportunity to get to know each other better, but also to meet other clients/students that you may not know yet. Once we move to Red Branch Road we will have a lot more interaction with Joe’s clients etc, and it would be great to get you all acquainted now. Below is the link to Union Jack’s so you can get an idea of the location and the menu. I REALLY hope to see everyone there. This is something that I plan to arrange every few months, so don’t miss the inaugural OPTI happy hour!


Union Jack’s Columbia

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New Studies on EPOC-The “Afterburn Effect”

Alwyn Cosgrove, Fat Loss Expert and owner of Results Fitness, has compiled this short list of studies on the afterburn effect. EPOC (excess post oxygen consumption) is an increase in metabolism and caloric expenditure following strenuous exercise. The increased EPOC with interval based training is one of the main reasons why we use this as our mode of metabolic conditioning. From swings and kettlebell complexes, to agility work and bike sprints-our goal is to get you working hard (anaerobic) and let you subsequently rest, in order to initiate fat loss via metabolic boost and afterburn!

Take a few moments to read through the study excerpts.


Knab et al.
A 45-Minute Vigorous Exercise Bout Increases Metabolic Rate for 14 Hours.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Feb 8.

These researchers had subjects undergo a bout of cycling at approx 73% of VO2 max (approximately 84% of max heart rate) for 45 mins.

The subjects burned on average 520 calories in the 45 min training session. The following day their resting energy expenditure was increased an average of 190 cals compared to normal. Basically – the subjects burned an additional 37% MORE calories than the workout itself in the 14 hour post workout period — meaning that a single high-intensity session, when including the post-workout metabolic boost could burn up to 710 cals in total.

A second study

Heden et al.
One-set resistance training elevates energy expenditure for 72 h similar to three sets.
European Journal of Applied Physiology. Volume 111, Number 3, 477-484, Mar 2011

The subjects were put on a very simple resistance training routine – full body training, either 1 or 3 sets per exercise of ten exercises.

The researchers then examined the subjects resting energy expenditure at 24, 48 and 72 hours post workout.  Both groups showed an elevated metabolism (afterburn effect) of around 100 cals per day.

But there was no difference between groups. It seems that it’s intensity that determines how many calories are burned post-workout, not volume (obviously a higher volume program would burn more calories during the session than a lower volume program.

A third study confirmed this:

Scott et al.
Energy expenditure characteristics of weight lifting: 2 sets to fatigue.
Appl Physiol Nutr Metab.
2011 Feb;36(1):115-20.

The researchers looked at the caloric expenditure of bench pressing using three different loads and concluded “As more work is completed (i.e., lower weight, more repetitions), aerobic and anaerobic exercise energy expenditures appear to increase accordingly, yet absolute EPOC remains essentially unchanged”. In other words – the post workout caloric burn (in this case measured aerobically)

One more:

Astorino et al.
Effect of acute caffeine ingestion on EPOC after intense resistance training.
J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2011 Mar;51(1):11-7.

This study showed a 15% increase in post-workout calories burned after the ingestion of caffeine as a pre-workout supplement. The total extra calories burned as a result of this only added up to around 27 cals in the hour after the workout. Not a lot but still something to consider. Plus I like iced coffee 🙂

As usual my questions/ideas for real world application are:

What if we trained every 48 hours? Would we see a compounding effect of the additional calories burned post-workout?
What if we did full body training using free weights (kettlebells!) and multiple planes of movement instead of machines?
What if we paired exercises (studies have shown enhanced calorie burning during training with supersets)? Would that change things?
What about full body ground based exercises such as a squat or deadlift (the last study used a bench press)? Does that change anything?
What about exercises where not only the prime movers are being worked, but also the entire core? (all the time!)


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Movements, Not Muscles!

This is Nick Winkleman, Director of Education at Athlete’s Performance Institute in Arizona. I had the pleasure of learning from him first hand at the mentorship I attended at API in November 2009. Here, he briefly discusses what is an integral part of the OPTI methodology-training MOVEMENTS-not muscles!

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Snatch Technique

Check out this great video I found breaking down the snatch technique. Hopefully, this will help those of you snatching to see it broken down this simply and slowly!

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Tough Girls do Heavy Deadlifts!

The 6 am crew is tough. A lot of students weave in and out of waking up this early to train, but these three ladies are regulars at 6 am; consistent, dedicated, focused. And it shows. Here are Peggy, Denise and Mina all deadlifting 60kg (about 132 pounds) with beautiful form and solid control. The most amazing part isn’t even that they make it look as if they are deadlifting half that load-it’s their wonderful attitudes and determined enthusiasm. Proof once again that heavy lifting will not make you “big” or “bulky”, but rather builds a strong physique and a strong self esteem.

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Class Videos

The group of you continue to impress me and humble me. You make me so proud to be your instructor, and I have so much fun coaching you! Here are two videos from last Monday night’s class that I posted on YouTube. I have already gotten a lot of positive feedback about your technique and form as well as the collective energy of the group. Keep up the good work!



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Fat Loss Workshop with Master RKC, Geoff Neupert

My friend and colleague, Kate Lavanga, RKC is hosting a MUST ATTEND workshop next month with Master RKC, Geoff Neupert. I have had the pleasure and the amazing opportunity to work with Geoff on a number of occasions. I was lucky enough to be on his team at my level 2 RKC certification, and let me just say, he is not just a wealth of knowledge but a wonderful person as well. You will love his down to earth personality, approachability and teaching style, as well as gain a lot of valuable information from this workshop. Attendance will drastically improve your efficiency in my kettlebell classes, and I HIGHLY recommend you attend. It is not often that such an incredible event is held locally, so PLEASE DON’T MISS THIS!!!

Visit Alexandria Kettlebell and Functional Fitness to sign up.

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