An Interview with Nick Tumminello

I am super pumped to have gotten to sit down and chat  the other day with one of my mentors, Coach Nick Tumminello. It is the first interview on Zen Barbell that is available in both audio as well as written so choose your format!!

Kara and Nick
This is when I first met Nick at an IDEA Fit Conference in 2011

In this interview we cover:

  • Starting Strength Training, What to Look for in a Trainer and Training Women vs Men
  • How to develop your BS detector  – with all the information available these days on nutrition, work outs, health, etc this is super important to learn to develop! 
  • Talking about Training Mindset and Making One Change at a Time
  • Does Nick meditate?
  • What Exciting Things Nick has Coming Up soon!!

Who would benefit from reading/listening to this interview?

  1. Trainers who want to be better
  2. People who are interested in wanting to get started with weight training or getting healthier
  3. Any one who has felt overwhelm by all the information that is out there on… really every thing.. and wants some help sorting it out
  4. People who want to get some tips about how to be more successful making changes
  5. All the cool people, people who love learning, really if you are on the internet (and you are because you are reading this right now!) you need to check out this interview.  😀

Here is the audio version of this interview: Audio Interview Nick and Kara
(Duration: 47 min)

(Note: Please excuse my voice for this interview. I had done a Crossfit workout earlier in the day and still had what I call the  “Fran Cough” from that. 😀 )

Kara: Hi, this is Kara Silva with Zen Barbell; I have with me today Nick Tumminello. Nick is the trainer of the trainers, as I like to call him. He’s been a mentor to me as well as a friend. He’s been published in Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Women’s Health, Oxygen, pretty much any magazine that you can name that is fitness oriented, muscle oriented, getting the most out of your workout; he’s been in it. He trains fighters, figure competitors, as well as the average person looking to do their best with their gym time that they have. Nick, thank you for being the first audio we’ve had on Zen Barbell. I really appreciate you joining me today.

Nick: It’s an honor, I’m really happy to do this for you and I really appreciate you having me on. We’re going to put on a good show.

Starting Strength Training, What to Look for in a Trainer and Training Women vs Men

Kara: Excellent. First question that I have for you is the other day I was reading an article about women and strength training. I think a lot of women understand that they should be, if they’re not already, strength training. A woman had commented on the article that she wants to strength train but had no idea where to start, so what’s your advice? I don’t know if we need to break it down by sex, like women versus men but people who know they should be putting some time in the gym, especially the weight room. To start strength training what do they need to look for? Do they look for the trainer or the gym or even know how to get started with that?

Nick: I just want to do something real quick…you had mentioned whether we should break it down by male or female and I definitely think we should. It really has to do with communication. The way we communicate versus the actual exercise application. What I mean by that is this…there really is no woman and man exercises, there is just exercises. I’ve said that before, so that way there is no difference. That’s what trainers are getting at when we like to say that we shouldn’t separate it.

However, the way we communicate is important. Basically, what creates buy in and what excites you. For instance, women whether you…no matter how much you know, don’t respond to terms, “Oh this is going to get you big and bad” and you know bought into all this things. And guys don’t respond to, “This is going to make you look sexy, more athletic and sexy”. Guys don’t respond to that kind of stuff. If you’re a trainer or if you’re looking for a trainer, it’s important that you find somebody. Or as a trainer, it’s important that you understand who you’re talking to and that exercise is medicine, but you have to make the medicine taste good so they’ll take it. Using terminologies that they are going to get excited about whether male or female is important, that’s what the magazines do a real good job of. That’s why you see the different terminologies for different sexes but the applications of exercises are the same.

So as long as it gets the same end result, getting people to train and be excited about it, it’s okay to mix up terminologies that you use. That’s where that stuff comes from. In regards of where to get started, if somebody, a female not really sure what to do…I would say well first off, start with whatever you’re comfortable with. So much of what we hear on the internet training athletes these days is everything is about what they want to do, what they think is cool. Some people its Olympic lifts, some people its free weights, some people its lifting heavy and so on and so forth. It’s not about…it’s important for the folks to understand, it’s not about the trainer, it’s about you the client, the potential client or someone who’s interested. At this point, if you’re only interested in doing machines, then that’s much better than doing nothing. The machines…there’s a tremendous value of research that’s shown that machines are quite safe. Not only are they quite safe, they’re quite effective at everything from changing your physique (i.e. building muscle) to increasing firm density, accelerating metabolism because you’re putting on muscle so on and so forth. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that machines can’t help you. If that’s what you’re comfortable with, just getting into the gym start there. While you’re doing that, that’s when you want seek out maybe the help of somebody at the gym who might you might befriend who seems like they have pretty good experience training and maybe they can show you and get you comfortable with some free weight exercises or possibly thinking about hiring a trainer or just starting to educate yourself by reading articles.

Start with where you’re comfortable, if you’re not comfortable at a gym I would say get yourself some heavy duty bands. My band of preference is JC Proto boys, they’re adjustable. You can attach them to your door that basically mimics a cable. So anything you can do with a cable, you can do with those bands. Buy yourself a set of adjustable dumb bells and you can do between those two pieces of equipment and a ball, a Swiss ball is great too…but between those two piece of equipment you can get an entire body workout in and use a multitude of exercises to keep your workouts varied and you can do that in your home.

Kara: So it might be worthwhile for someone who’s new to not start one way and then think, “Oh this isn’t for me so I just need to give up altogether.” To keep talking to people, they might have a trainer who’s really big on Olympic lifts or something and it just doesn’t jive with that person so it sounds like they need to not give up in that point in time because there are tons of different options out there. Some people may not know where they’re comfortable. They just know it needs to happen, but to try to connect with a friend or someone else there, to keep searching until they find something that really clicks with them.

Nick: Yeah, what you just hit on is the biggest problem is when people say, “My trainer is big on…or this trainer is big on…” They’re probably not the best trainer for you. I don’t care how many certifications, degrees or experience. The reason why I say that is because the problem there is you’re more likely…this is speaking as if you’re going to approach to hire a trainer…is if somebody is big on something, which means they have a favored method or a paying approach, it means you’re not going to get…or less likely to get a personal training. Meaning a method that best fits your goals, you’re more likely going to get private lessons from a trainer on what they prefer to do in training. To me, that’s not good customer service so training is about fitting the methods to your goals and your goals determine the principles of what’s being used. For instance, I’d like to give examples so people know that it’s not just philosophy and go what do you mean? So for instance, kettle bells…kettle bells are a wonderful tool, however because they have momentum and speed there’s minimal time under tension for any given muscle, they’re not very slow.

So if your goal is to gain muscle…let’s say to increase the shape of your shoulders, then Kettle bells based on principles are not the best option over doing things like dumbbells and machines. You know things like shoulder presses and lateral raises and all these things that are better designed for that. It’s not that machines are better than kettle bells; it’s what is the goal and what are the best methods to reach the goal. Now if your goal is to improve your hip power and move a little a faster on the tennis court, then kettle bells are a nice option for that. That’s what I mean by its dangerous to pick a trainer who’s big on some sort of method. You want to find somebody who’s going to choose the method that best fits your goals. If your goals are more like build muscle then looking at a trainer who is more into the physique and body building stuff, they’ll probably best help you there. If your goal is sports performance, then finding somebody with a strengthening condition background, maybe a former collegiate coach, athletic training types of things, sports performance training, that’s somebody that you would want to talk to.

Kara: So it might be worthwhile then for that person to also ask how a trainer trains other people. So if they are bringing up kettle bells…if they only use kettle bells with all their clients, more than likely they are training to one method and not training to each…unless they happen to have, unless all their clients have the exact same goals which I would question. It may be good then to ask if they train all their clients the same way or dig into questions to figure out a little bit if they’re adapting training to a system versus knowing what my goals are and wanting to train that way.

Nick: Absolutely and sure you can find reason to use to apply tools…kettlebell is a tool, so is a barbell, dumbbell, machines and so on. There’s different ways to apply it. For instance, just because your goal is to build muscle, it doesn’t mean you never do a kettlebell swing, it means maybe you do them as part of your warm up or maybe as a complex at the end as a finisher. Predominantly though, your workout should be more or less, physique related things. The machines, free weights, pushes and pulls, the basic exercises that you see and you just use a thing like a kettle bell to make sure you don’t lose any athleticism in the process. If everybody is doing the same amount of kettlebell work, the same exercises in the same sequences with the same volume and whatnot, that’s when you want to start to look somewhere else because you’re not getting a program that’s individualized for your individual goal. You’re just getting private lessons or semi-private lessons in that trainers pet methods.

How to develop your BS detector

Kara: Yeah, that makes sense. That makes sense. The one thing I really like about your style and what you do Nick is you talk a lot about being skeptical and kind of questioning training dogma and institutions. For someone, for me…I love learning. I’m not necessarily a naturally curious person because I tend to find people whom I perceive as experts and kind of rely on what they’re telling me. I like how you examine standard stuff, even like the squat or the bench things that people been doing for years. You’re like, “We normally do this but we’ve tweaked it and done this and here’s why we do this and here’s what works for us.” Do you…I guess for my question is if you’re not inanely curious but instead of obvious things that everyone is accepting that everyone comes through…is there a certain set of questions or if you encounter something new and if you’re trying to figure out if it’s true, makes sense, how do you approach that with?

Nick: Are you asking me what’s like my B.S. detector?

Kara: I love that. Yeah, what’s your B.S. detector?

Nick: How do I know what is good information or not? And that’s a big question that everybody has and I will eventually do more writing about this because I think it’s important. There’s so many experts out there, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert but there’s so many approaches, conflicting information and everything sounds plausible and lots of people are making great arguments in favor of what they do and even sometimes against the other methods that are different and what not. It’s hard for anyone on the outside to go, “Wow, what I make of this? This is all very different and confusing.” I deal with it all the time. I deal with conflicting information as well. Here is what I would recommend or at least what I’d go through. Why I go, “How will I put this on the level closer to B.S., closer to truth or somewhere in the middle?”

The first thing I look to is science, and when I say science…scientific evidence. Trainers have a very poor understanding of science and most people have a poor understanding of science. I did for the longest time. People think science means scientists in a laboratory with petri dishes and all these things. When I say science all I mean is controlled trials comparing a method in question, not just to placebo but to the other current tests of available methods of achieving their results. For instance if someone says, “I have the new way to train the core to prevent low back pain” or something like that…The first thing you need to ask is, “Okay, prove it. Show me some evidence.”

We can all be very convincing by describing, using jargon, talking about anatomy and insertions, and making connections and things like that. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we can be entertaining and create plausibility and that doesn’t mean it’s true. This was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, and lots of research in psychology. If you want to see firsthand, look up the Dr. Fox effect. Psychologists…and I think it was in the late 60’s, early 70’s…hired a character actor who was in a lot of movies, but not a famous face that people would recognize. They called him Dr. Something Fox. They had him speak to all PHD’s at a conference on gain theory. This guy knew nothing about game theory and they worked on a 30 minute speech…I think it was 20 or 30 minutes…that had no substance whatsoever. It was full of jargon and cool anecdotes and jokes. It was basically designed to be entertaining and sound plausible but have no real substance to it that people could go back and put to any sorts of use.

Now remember, these are PHD’s. The man was scared to death that they were going to boo him off stage, but he got some of the best feedback out of all the speakers in the conference who actually were genuine scientists. He took questions for 15 minutes at the end.

Kara: Wow.

Nick: So this is proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that entertainment value when it comes to, especially when you hear someone speaking at a conference is way more important than information. It’s been shown across the board that politicians…politicians who tend to win are the ones who tend to use anecdotes and memorable sayings over the ones who use charts and graphs.

Kara: Wow.

Nick: So the fact is, that the whole point to all this is that just because someone is entertaining and they seem cool and their message seems plausible, has zero baring on whether it is a worthwhile message or not. That’s proof. You can watch the speech actually; it’s on YouTube Dr Fox Effect. Just watch it and you’ll see it sounds like the guy really knows what the heck he’s talking about. What science does it eliminates the psychological issues that all of us have that cause our brains to be fooled. That’s the whole idea of controlling and blinding and whatnot. Now, you can’t blind exercise, but what you do is you compare it. You say, “Okay well this source is better.” Well how are we going to measure this and let’s compare. That’s all you do. That’s what I mean by science. It’s basically just a controlled test. If something is good, then it should stand out in a testing environment, plain and simple. If the results are so subtle…”The results are too subtle…the results go beyond that.” If the results are too subtle to test then it’s also too subtle to detect you as a client or you as a trainer, so then it’s useless anyway, so that argument is out the window.

Kara: Right.

Nick: If it’s too subtle to detect then you can’t quantify it anyway without trial. Science is number one. Now you can’t always have scientific evidence for everything. What I mean by scientific evidence is you can’t have…of course I won’t go too much into this because it could be a six hour lecture here. But, when I say science, we can’t look for everything to be tested. So we can’t just say, “I can’t do this exact exercise until this exact exercise or technique has been tested.” That’s not what I mean. The next step…and we have to look at it does it line up with this technique in question, this concept or this method in question? Does it line up with what we already have an understanding about with how the world works?  So let me just throw out an imaginary scenario here. Let’s say based…when I say based on how the world works…based on previous scientific evidence.

Remember scientific evidence doesn’t prove anything; it just lends evidence in one direction or the other. It lends support for or against something. So let’s say lots of evidence, lots of research has been done on isometric contractions showing that isometric contractions show that they build strength in the range that the isometric contraction has been done, which is pretty likely it does based on the set principle. Let’s say it’s been tested on the quad, let’s say it’s been tested on the bicep where you bend your knee at 90 degrees and you do a nice symmetric quad contraction for ten seconds and you do a nice symmetric bicep contraction at your elbow at 90 degrees and then shoulder.

Let’s say it’s been done at three or four other joints and that it’s been shown to build strength in that range of motion that you’ve did the isometric in. So if somebody comes along and says, “Well my method has you doing isometric contractions at the hip to strengthen your glute at the hip in neutral or in 90 or whatever.” Well, based on how we know the world works, it’s likely that that isometric will build strength in the range that the isometric is done based on previous knowledge. Now, I’m just making this all up, imaginary to give a hard example of what I mean. Now if the person said, “Hey, even though we’re going to go into hip extension and do a nice symmetric, this technique will give you strength through your entire range of motion. That’s all you need to do.” Well now that doesn’t line up with our current body of knowledge for any part of the body. It doesn’t line up with the way we know the world works based on evidence, so it’s more like likely that they are B.S.-ing us or B.S.-ing themselves. Which most people who say these things, do truly believe it. It’s not like they’re trying to pull one over on us.

Kara: Right.

Nick: So that brings me to my next point. How do smart people…this is part of the reason, this science and also goes back to this whole B.S. detection thing…What are the reasons why the person who is telling us this, why do they believe it and why do we believe anything? If you read books Why People Believe Weird Things, How We Know It Isn’t so…thinking of other books here…Bad Science, You Are Not So Smart…All those are book titles.

You’ll learn all of the psychological misfiring that we can all have. It happens to smart people just as much, if not more than folks who are of lower education. So for instance, if I say, “Well, I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen it work or it’s worked for a lot of my clients.” You know, testimonials and anecdotes. That’s the whole reason my statistics were invented. If you look at psychological research, social psychology that is, it’s been proven without a shadow of a doubt, we’re horrible at detecting real patterns from false patterns. We have a real difficult time with negative evidence, so as soon as we think something works we seek out evidence to confirm it. We tend to ignore evidence and we hear this confirmation bias and selective hearing. We’ve heard these things before, but these things are genuinely real and they happen to us more than we think. Last point I’ll say is that if anybody listening to this says, “Oh I’m too smart for that.” Then you’re exactly the person who’s falling for it. Another psychological phenomenon is called illusionary superiority where you think everybody else falls for stuff but you’re too smart to fall for that. We all think that. Again, it’s been proven.

Everybody thinks their above average and that’s why you hear parents or other people going “Oh well that message shouldn’t…other people might get the wrong impression but not me because I’m too smart.” So that’s the proof right there. That’s my little B.S. detection. First off, does it make good science? Second, does it match up to the way the world works? Third, what are the reasons we’re given for it? Are they mostly anecdotal, testimonial things like that. Those are things you need to be very highly skeptical of. The last I would say, is most claims…most claims are false. Especially when it comes to healing the human body and things like that. Most claims are false which is why all these crazy things don’t seem to be backed by the scientific community.

If the things were as good as normally advertised, then the person who invented it will already be a gazillionaire and have won the Nobel Prize. So it’s a simple fact that they are speaking at a small time conference and with their website and have their little following and maybe have a book that’s not being used by every medical doctor and whatever is normally the sign that their stuff is nowhere as good as the argument that they’re coming up with which brings us back to the Dr. Fox effect.

Kara: Wow. Yeah , I can’t wait to watch that video. I’ll also put a link to put this video, this interview up so people have that and I’ll pull up some of those book titles for people that are interested. It’s really fascinating to read about how the human mind works. All the biases we have when looking at data. You did a great job pulling those out. I think those are easy questions for people to kind of run through without having to have…this should be fine, they both are easy searches and not have to have a degree in exercise or nutrition or whatever. Helps to kind of answer those and see if they have a gut feel for where this lies on that whole Truth versus B.S. Spectrum.

Nick: Yeah, another thing I’ll say about this…I know I laid the whole thing out but it takes a lot. I’ve been doing more workshops on these very things because it really have think…it’s the most important thing. That’s the confusion doesn’t lie in different conflicting information is how to sort thru it all. That’s what a lot of folks lack and I lacked from a long time but that’s where knowledge comes from. Also, I’d say that thinking, starting off using a mindset that begins with the null-hypothesis, which is what science begins with. So a know-hypothesis basically says we don’t believe you right off the bat, prove me otherwise. So the pertinent proof is on you, the claimer, not on me. Well, a lot of people say that, “Well, here’s my argument now prove that I’m wrong.” No, no, no. You can’t prove a negative. That’s like me saying, “Prove to me that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.” You can’t. You cannot do that and then you can use evidence, you know, Christmas trees and pictures.

Kara: Right.

Nick: That’s not evidence. So when somebody makes a claim, you have to think, “Well it’s more dangerous for me to just believe you than not believe you and have you prove me otherwise.” Because once we believe something then it’s easy for us to accumulate evidence in favor for it, it’s what our brains are really good at. However, it’s one thing to do that but it’s another to disconfirm it. What other things could be explaining this and also what’s another way to look at it? Does the person who’s giving you the claim, do they also give you counter arguments? Do they also show you anything against it? That’s a good question.

What are the other explanations for this? What else could it possibly be? What do you other experts say? That’s another question.

Kara: Yeah, I think this is a big deal with so much information out there. I know myself, I know a little bit. I’m certainly not an expert at anything but I do love learning and I read a ton about nutrition, a ton about training different ways but I get so overwhelmed with all the information out there. Again, that’s why I dig your stuff because you’re really good at the questioning and I can really learn from you and it’s helping me learn that. We’re not taught to think at schools for the most part. You’re trained to just remember and regurgitate and it’s such a skillset with all that information out there, it’s no wonder that people are confused about how to eat, how to train, what works best for me versus you versus…you know, I’m really excited about that, it’s really cool. It helped me out tremendously.

Talking about Mindset and One Change at a Time

Kara: Switching subjects to the next question, on Zen Barbell the tagline is Stronger Body, Present Mind, and Better Life. So I love talking about mindset. I would love to hear from you either from yourself or clients that you’ve had, what mindset…if there’s a general vision that makes them most successful? Or, even the opposite of that like what clients have you seen that maybe have not been successful that maybe have certain mindsets and do you think that is changeable, learnable or you’re kind of a negative Nancy or a positive person from the get go and you just have to work with that?

Nick: Well there’s definitely something to be said about who you are naturally as a person because if you’re naturally one way or the other, it’s going to be easier to emphasize what you’re already naturally inclined to, it’s going to be more difficult to change what you’re not naturally inclined to or for it to become something that you’re naturally inclined to. That’s just the way of the world.

That being said, what we’re really talking about here is behavior with success of training or sticking to a diet or being consistent with a workout program and whatnot. That is the least talked about, yet most important aspect of improving one’s health. It’s extremely, extremely difficult. Just ask yourself. Look how difficult it is for you to change certain habits that you may have or certain things you may like to do or not like to do or whatever and then understand how difficult that might be for somebody else.

There’s been two…the proof of this is, there’s been two monster studies that have been done. One of them was done on men and then women. They used several thousand people. One of them was seven years and every month they were doing food logs…it was all about health…comparing a controlled group to a group who has most improved their health, who had followed a better diet. They were doing weigh-ins, they were doing meeting groups and they were filling out forms. This was a very tedious thing. Both groups were doing it, but the one controlled group was just to do whatever you want and at the end, in both of them it was very depressing results. Like really no difference between the overall health of the group who was emphasizing changing their dietary habits versus the group who really wasn’t. It’s not show….it doesn’t mean eating healthy food doesn’t work, we know that’s not true. All it means is that it’s more psychological. It’s very difficult to change your habits, even in the light of all this.

The fact that…so here’s the positive, the people on the other side in the controlled group, they were going through all these things too…weigh-ins, writing logs and whatnot. Because they were made more aware that they know their being tested, guess what they started to do? Change their diet a little bit.

So the fact, what it really comes down to is that…if you’re looking to take away anything from this, sometimes doing things like a regular weigh-in, sometimes writing things just keeping it more in your head or more in your clients head (speaking from a trainers perspective) and letting them come around. Letting them come around versus just smashing them in the face with you don’t eat breakfast. Now you have to eat breakfast, first problem. That’s the first thing that will fail out within the first few weeks because if you haven’t eaten breakfast in five years, what makes you think they’re going to start eating breakfast now all of a sudden? You’re going to wear them down and then they’re not going to do it and they’re going to fail and they’re going to feel like a failure. “Well, I can’t do this and I can’t train.” That’s just a downward spiral so change one habit at a time and give it time. Sometimes you’re going to ride the rollercoaster a while before you really rack it in. We all do that. It’s a very gradual, very slow process and that’s evidence supported, but its more about behaviors is what I’m getting at.

Kara: Yeah.

Nick: So monitor your behavior. Try to improve on one behavior at a time and then go from there. Even if it has to do with drinking Diet Coke instead of Coke, that’s a big thing for somebody who is drinking soda three days a week. You’re never going to get up and drink water or never drink any cans of soda, that’s a big thing right there. That’s a small stride. That’s something that a trainer can realistically do or someone can do on their own. Stick with…do that for four or five weeks and that becomes a habit, then you move on.

Kara: Do you think that approach is a common one amongst trainers or no, when you’re talking to people? I get that. I love that. I love one habit at a time. I think that is much better than trying to go cold turkey or redesign your life overnight.

Nick: The research backs that in regards to this stuff has been monitored, goes back to willpower and whatnot. I think if you have experience, if you’ve had enough experience then you’ve probably seen this happen. You might not have the cool psychology terms to explain it, which I don’t really bother with getting into because I’m not a psychologist, but we see it every day and sometimes we just blame the person. Sometimes we just blame them. “Oh they’re not committed.” Or whatever. That’s just simply false. I think that’s the light of some of these research studies which basically tell us reality, we just have to be willing to see the reality. If you’re realistic then that’s what you do. It’s more about short-term…creating short term gratification, that’s how you get long term gains. Short term gratification, small things all add up to big things. Everybody else just tries to make you structure your life so in twelve weeks…you see these commercials, “I did this in 12 weeks, I’m shredded and ripped.”

Kara: Well, yeah.

Nick: Maybe you did, but it also says in fine print “Results are not common”. So yeah, you may have one person out of 2000 who is just a freak of nature and just goes “I need to flip a switch”, then bang the switch is flipped and their on infomercials.

Kara: I’ve seen figure competitors hold it together for the length of the show but if versus…then afterwards rebound pretty heavily because it was either things they couldn’t maintain, habits they didn’t want to do. Go back to people who have made big transformations and people always end up getting back. If you kind of chip away at it, I guess the idea is…I would think, if you chip away at the new behaviors, the new patterns and gradually get yourself there. Whenever you get to that…which may still be at 8% body fat or 15% body fat for women or however you want to look, that you’re able to be there and maintain that because those habits feel much more just like a way of being versus holding it together for a certain point in time maybe.

Nick: Yeah, yeah. Pick one thing, pick one thing. Try to improve on that and do a little bit better than you did before and then move on. That’s probably the simplest outcome in practical terminologies that I can say. If you’re trying to eat healthier and you eat three meals a day and you’re eating McDonalds for breakfast and a cheesesteak for lunch and Boston Market (by the way I love Boston Market) for dinner, then maybe you just say, “Well for lunch I’m going to just get a salad instead of a cheesesteak”. Make one healthier choice and do that five days a week instead of now doing seven days a week and see if you can stick with that. See if you can change one small thing and when you master that, make sure it’s a habit, that it feels good. Master that and move on. If I had to make up a rule or example, that’s one example of what I mean.

Kara: Yeah. So my theory…well my thought, kind of to built around Zen Barbell Better Body, Present Mind, Better Life…I feel like if you have successes in the gym that always translates out. I guess in a way to other areas of your life. I don’t know One, have you’ve seen that? Two-kind of building off the changing of one habit, if you get that, I think it builds confidence that I can be different, that I can better, that I can make changes, so not only success in the gym or any body comp kind of things, getting healthier then you can do things stronger.

Nick: Yeah, I’ve seen this 100% and I definitely think that accomplishments in the gym or beating obstacles or improving weights or whatever it is, definitely is something that can be related into life. “Well if I can do that in the gym, then I can do that” or “If I can push myself this hard training, then this with my work stress is not a big deal or whatnot.” So I definitely think there is something to that. If I can go back to what I was saying earlier about yes, exercise is medicine but you have to make the medicine taste good. That’s what a trainer does. Well, that’s what an individual should do. Find something that you like, that’s what I’m really getting at. Who cares if expert trainers say they’re not into it or whatever. If you really like doing it, it’s better than nothing.

This goes back to women starting, if you’re not sure what to do. If you’re comfortable with the machines, start where you’re comfortable. So for instance, let’s do a scenario. Let’s say a client comes to me and one of the questions I’m going to ask them…which I don’t really meet too many trainers ask, I’ve always asked…”What kind of things do you like? What kind of exercise do you like to do? Do you like fast paced? Do you like slow paced? Is there anything in the gym that you like using or don’t like using?” Some people say, “I hate machines or I like machines.” Whatever, okay.

So let’s say this person comes to me and says they’re scared of free weights and only comfortable on machines and I have some machines in my gym or my studio or whatever. First day I met this person, so of course I know as a trainer use your free weights as a natural range of motion, and use your stabilizers and you sit all day at work now you’re going to be sitting on a machine and all the things a trainer talks about. Okay great. If I basically just ignore this person and go, “I don’t give a crap, let me tell you this. You don’t know what’s good and we’re going to use machines because that’s how we roll.” Well there’s already been enough for this person to come into me and put their body in my hands and pay me their hard earned money and do all this from a stranger, me. Now, I’m going to continue to put more stuff in them, in their head and they’re going to go, “I don’t like this. I’m already uncomfortable and now I don’t like what I’m doing and blah, blah, blah”. So versus if I had just said, “Okay cool, we’re going to start you with machines.” So we start there and they’re comfortable and now their guard is down a little bit. We get some trust building. If they start to now trust me because I’ve got their mind in a comfortable zone where we can start building a personal relationship, i.e. personal training, then this person is more likely in three weeks or two weeks when I’m like, “You know, you’re doing great with this, I’ll tell you what. Let’s try this one thing. Bring this dumbbell over here. I want you to just try this one thing. Well that’s not too bad.” Two weeks later, we’ve integrated in a free weight, a barbell exercise. That’s how things work. That’s how you overcome any fear. Right? Somebody’s fear of mice, you don’t put them in a room of a thousand mice, you put them next to a cage with one mouse. Eventually you have them touch it with their finger, eventually you have them pick it up and then that’s how that goes. Once we build that trust an comfort-ability then that person is going to be more willing to listen to me and try things, but now that we both are on that same page. Not me being a dictator, more likely to quit if I do it the other way.

Kara: Yeah, I love it. I think that would be an obvious thing but I think you’re right, that a lot of trainers aren’t that way. Good idea. In fact, like at the beginning we were talking about being tied to a certain…one certain tool or one certain methodology only. I often tell people tell me what you love and figure out…go from there. Of course I would love everyone listening to lift weights at the gym but that’s my preference. That doesn’t mean that you or anyone else digs that but I love that. I think that’s fantastic. So, I know you kind of grew up…I know you’ve told me before that your mom had a yoga studio or still has the yoga studio. That she did yoga while you were growing up, you were around that?

Nick: Oh, no. Currently she has a yoga studio. When I was growing up…her yoga studio is called Flow Yoga Studio, it’s in Port Richie, Florida which is just north of Tampa, Florida. When I was growing up, she was a body builder in the early 80s. Now back then, the girls looked a lot different than they do now. She looked more like a bikini figure girl, more of a bikini model. I literally grew up in a dirty, downstairs stinky body builder type…it was called The Weight Room. That’s what the gym was called. A lot of the WWF, now called WWE wrestlers, the Washington Redskins…because this was in Virginia used to work out there; a lot of pro-body builders, so yeah I saw it all, a lot of anabolics being taken. At five or six years old I saw all kinds of things and never really cared. I was too young to care, but that’s what I grew up with.

Kara: Well this has always been your …training has always kind of been your past, do you feel like? Did it feel like a natural thing for you to go into as a job? A career.

Nick: Well, my mom says I was raised on the smell of iron and sweat. That’s my mom’s saying. Yeah, it definitely had a big influence on me. I would definitely say that and being an athlete in school, wrestling, martial arts. Also, I think naturally having a talent. I can’t sing, I can’t draw, my talent is I have a gift of gab. I like helping people and I’m not afraid to talk to people stranger or no stranger. I think if you combine that’s also a less serious skill to be a trainer since it’s all about communication. With that natural gift, a talent or whatever you call it, it was a nice fit.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Kara: Yeah, that’s excellent. Well where we’re going with the question I guess, is I want to ask you about being in the present moment, maybe meditation. So kind of fitting with yoga and probably also fit in with martial arts, do you do any meditation? Do you think about being present in the moment? Is that important to you at all or that you play around with?

Nick: Yes, but probably not what you’re getting at. I have a little saying that, “You don’t have to be sitting still or in a cosmic yoga type setting, in a yoga room to have a spiritual experience.” Spiritual not in a God sense, but in the way you’re talking about it in a meditative sense. You can’t not be present when you’re doing squats, or deadlifts or even curls so my meditation is when you use it that way, is weight training. Do I want to sit still sometimes and relax? Yeah, that might just be reading or lying down quiet for ten minutes.

Kara: Hey, you’re right on the beach so you want to do that all the time, right?

Nick: Well, yeah but don’t actually sit in the lotus posture and put my palms on top of my knees, no. No, I don’t do that.

Kara: Okay, so it’s nothing that you’ve had practice of, but you can appreciate because you do have those moments of Zen so to speak.

Nick: Absolutely, every time I do a rep in the weight room.

 What Exciting Things Nick has Coming Up soon!!

Kara: Very cool. I think I used this…I think I connected with that the other day. I’ve kind of always just known it and I think that’s why I dig weight training the way I do. Especially recently with the Olympic weights, I was just introduced to them. Finding that you have to be completely focused and completely present, I just finally after 40+ years I just really connected. I think that’s why I like weight training because you have to be right there and then and I love it. Well what else do you have coming up that we can look out for you? I know you’re doing a ton of traveling and conference and things. Do you have any articles coming out or any new products coming up?

Nick: In regards to articles, like magazine articles:

  • I started doing some work with Fitness RX Women magazine. I’ve already done three articles for them and one is out on the shelves currently as we do this interview.
  • In Fitness RX for men, I’ve already done two articles for them so it looks like I’ll be doing more articles for them.
  • In regards to magazine stuff I do a lot of work with Robert K. Publishing, Oxygen, Muscle Mag so I do a lot of things with Muscle Reps Magazine, also published under RKP.

In regards to products,

  •  I’m going to start working this year to put some of my preconference workshops…you know, the five or six hour workshops and record those so other trainers who are unable to attend the workshops can benefit from the information that’s there.
  • I have one on core training that I want to do on myth busts core training this. Talks about low back pain, core strength myths and then talks about obviously an approach…a performance full approach to strengthening core and different things. So very fast six hours, very comprehensive and that will be the first DVD that will come out. I can’t give you an exact date, but hopefully in the next few months.
  • I also have a program coming out that will be a 12 or 16 week program, 16 weeks for beginners, 12 weeks for intermediate or advanced. I’m sorry 8 weeks for intermediate or advanced and 12 weeks for beginners, excuse me, on how you can build muscle without using any iron, just using bands and body weight stuff.

Kara: Wow.

Nick: Just to show people, not to say you shouldn’t be using iron. You absolutely should be. Iron meaning dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells, stuff like that. Just to show people that body weight training, bands training is not just for beginners training at home; that if you’re physique training athlete or if you’re on the go or you just want to do a drop in workout that’s intense that unloads your spine. You’re not pulling all the heavy weights but you still want to get a tremendous training effect and want to create the stimulus for muscle growth, the protocols and workout programs in this program, well the end product are definitely what the doctor ordered for that.

Kara: Wow that sounds really cool. I can’t wait to see that. Well for those of you listening, you can find Nick. His site is and he is also available on Facebook. I highly recommend checking out, subscribing to the blog especially if you’re a trainer because it’s a ton of good information, but really anyone who is really just interested in getting better in the world, to find out. Nick, thank you so much for your time today. I could probably for me, keep you on for a couple of hours just picking your brain on things but it’s been fantastic. Again, I really appreciate you, especially being my first audio interview for this and really being supportive of Zen Barbell and giving us your time today. It’s fantastic.

Nick: I really appreciate it. I’m honored that you chose me as your first interview so I will definitely make sure I tell everybody that.

Kara: Thank you very much and I will talk to you soon.

Nick: Alright, thank you.



If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

Stop Thinking about Losing and Start Thinking about Being Amazing

How many years have you spend focusing on a calorie deficit?

How many times have you wished for that number on the scale to be just a little (or maybe A LOT) different?

It gets depressing, tiring and old to focus on loss, smaller, less food, deprivation and really there is no “there” to get to. There is no end to that cycle.

Be more than that for yourself. Focus on being amazing.

How are you amazing?

Focusing on being AMAZING means setting goals like:

  • A body weight back squat
  • Getting a first pull up
  • Full-body-on-your-toes push ups
  • Running your first race/Tough Mudder/Adventure race
  • Learning new skills like the Olympic lifts, hand stand push ups or ring dips

You want goals that have you chasing after things that scare you a bit, get you out of your comfort zone and things that you know that when you get there you will raise your hand, fist pump and yell THAT WAS AMAZING!!

All of these take a plan, focus, daily consistent steps to be successful.  And when you get that goal? BAM! You just added more amazing in your life.  You have a new skill, you are stronger.  Doesn’t THAT feel so much better than worrying about a deficit or the scale?

Keep the food stuff simple: real, whole foods – “JERF: Just Eat Real Food”  and then you don’t have to worry about it.  Fuel to meet your performance goals and your amazingness.

Amazing people also getting plenty of sleep and have good to great stress management tools. Don’t forget about those two BIG pieces!

Crazy stuff will happen when you focus on amazing rather than weight loss.

WARNING! Side effects may include:

  • Feeling more pride in yourself
  • Increased confidence that you can set a goal and accomplish it
  • A body that feels satisfied and stronger (warning: additional leanness MAY occur!)
  • An inner monologue that shifts from negative criticism to positive high fives
  • Positive changes in other parts of your life above and beyond the health and fitness area

Each Tuesday on the ZenBarbell facebook page, We celebrate amazingness. I want people to share how they are being amazing in their lives.  Please come over and shout it out!!

If you want help getting started with your own being amazing plan, let me know! I would love to help!




If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

The Crossfit Open 213

I love the CrossFit Open.

I love hearing about people coming together and cheering each other on.

I love anticipation of waiting for each week’s work out being released.

I love being scared about the work out.

I love the strategizing around it.

The Open is like a rally cry.  Its energizing. People get focused, pumped and excited. Not many of us have hopes of the regionals but exciting to be part of the greater CrossFit community, some thing that ties us to CrossFitters around the world.  Its a chance to really test what we have been doing in ways it feels like a daily WOD doesn’t.

I love (yep! another list of love!):

  • the refocus on the standards.
  • practice judging and being judged by the other athletes.
  • the facebook reports of people getting PRs – mulitple times of surprising themselves by what they got done.
  • every one surviving the suck of burpees and snatches together!

and this is just week 1! WHOOP!!

I love the Crossfit Open.

Me Snatching at 12.2
Me Snatching at 12.2
Me at 13.1
Me Snatching at 13.1

All You Wanted to Know about CrossFit – Part 2

In part 1 of this series,  I took a stab at answering the common questions I often get asked around CrossFit as well as providing basic information around what it is and expectations. This week, I will be providing my perspective on some of the issues with CrossFit as I see them.

I love CrossFit. I coach it. However, I am not so blind to see that it is not a perfect system.   First, nothing is perfect and second, it doesn’t do any one any good to blindly cling to dogma about any one system or subject matter.  Keeping an open mind and seeing the pros and cons of something while being able to discuss those things in a reasonable manner is how I try and approach most things..even those things that I hold dear in life.

1. CrossFit CAN be unsafe.

  • The reputation is out there and just like stereotypes it comes about often for good reason. The bar is low to open an affiliate  – $1200 for the Level 1 class plus the $3000 or so to pay for the affliate name to be able to call yourself a CrossFit gym.  Some one with little to no experience training people, programming or little regard for the safety of their athletes can open a gym. It happens. Inexperience with training people and programming and lack of or inadequate concern about safety added to the intensity of CrossFit can be trouble.   Of course, keep in mind that people get injured in regular gyms, sports teams and just being active in life all the time so there can always be risk with physical activity.
  • A frequent criticism is the use of the Olympic lifts for high reps especially at heavier loads as being unsafe and a poor practice.  I don’t come from an Olympic lifting back ground so I don’t feel qualified to comment on if this is the right way to train or not. It was CrossFit that actually introduced me to these lifts. I love them and am fascinated by them.  It was however doing a workout where I did power cleans at 95 lbs where I hurt my back some where around the 45th rep.  Might I have gotten hurt doing something else? Maybe. Will I do high rep, heavy weighted Oly Lifts again?  Probably not.

2.  The programming might not be right for you depending on your goals.


  • The thought behind CrossFit programming is to be random: crossing the spectrum of time domains and a range of activities, preparing you for the “unknown and unknowable”. The idea behind this is to help you get generally better at every thing – referred to as General Physical Preparedness (GPP). It is the opposite of specialization.  The programming may not help every single athlete meet their individualized goal. Not every one will simultaneously get as strong as they want to be or as lean as they want to be on one program. I will say, in general,  though you will get stronger and more than likely leaner (although there are many factors at play for that).  Know what your goals are.  You might need supplemental work to get better in the areas that you want to get better at. (Please don’t think I am recommending CrossFitting 6 days a week and then adding extra cardio or weight lifting! MORE is not better, better is better!)
  • A common complaint from the fitness industry about CrossFit programming is that there is no periodization.  I have found for many, but not all, CrossFit gyms this is true.  In athletic training, there is the training season, the offseason and a prep/improve time.  You don’t need to run at 100% capacity all year around.  Our bodies just aren’t meant for that. Some CrossFit gyms do program in deload weeks to help their athletes recover but it is not a consistent practice. You will need to be smart and monitor yourself around this.
  • It is not sports specific training. If you want to be an Olympic lifter, soccer player, baseball player, etc you will need to spend most of your time doing that. CrossFit can certainly help with the conditioning and mobility but you will need to get better at the skills you need to play your sport.

3. The Clock and The Board. Kick AssAt each CrossFit gym there is a board where scores/times/reps are written down.  Each workout is timed. There are positives to this for sure.  People rise to the occasion in the competitive environment and do more than they thought they could.  Also, there is truth in ‘what gets measured gets improved’. Consistent measuring of workouts helps you to see where you are improving.  All good things. However, the clock some times gets in the way of getting work done. People get overly concerned with what is written on the board and how they did in respect to others in the class or for the day and it can take away from how you feel you did on any given work out.  I feel like some times work outs should be run with out a clock especially with beginners and let them build confidence in their skills and what they can accomplish.  Who cares what the clock is? How much ass did you kick today?! 🙂

4. Drama I think because I fell so in love with CrossFit that I took the drama that I heard about to heart.  De-affliating some really respected fitness industry people, outing and shutting down people who criticize CrossFit HQ and crazy twitter battles really made me question if I wanted to be involved in any way with CrossFit. I had to take a breath and remember that none of that has ANYTHING to do with the athletes at my gym or my gym owner and the type of environment he works to create. I love my CrossFit gym. I love the CrossFit community in Richmond and at each one of the events that I have attended and other boxes I have visited.  I have no idea what the drama and politics are at other corporate headquarters of places I enjoy frequently –  Apple, Facebook, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods –  nor do I care. I have since tuned out the drama and just focused on what I love about this way of working out and the awesome people involved it.

Again, no system, company, anything is perfect and CrossFit is no exception to that.

Despite some of the drawbacks I think it is one of the best things out there for challenging people and help them grow to be better in life. I do love it for that reason especially.  I am going to keep coaching it and supporting the amazing community that is CrossFit.

Would love to hear your thoughts on what I presented as the positives and negatives to the phenomenon that is CrossFit.


If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

All you wanted to know about CrossFit Part 1

One question I get asked all the time is “What is CrossFit?”

I typically answer with “How much time do you have?” 🙂

The official description is “Constantly varied functional movement performed at high intensity.”

Um. Ok. What the hell does that mean?

Crossfit. Better than Yesterday

Constantly varied means the types of exercises, the duration and the intensity will change with every work out.  With CrossFit, you can expect to encounter body weight exercises (squats, pull ups, push ups, lunges, situps), Olympic lifts (clean, jerk, snatch), barbell lifts (bench, deadlifts, back squats), Kettlebells, running, rowing, biking, jump roping and gymnastic type movements (handstands, rings, etc).  Just to name a few things. Keeps your body guessing and keeps you from getting bored.

Functional movement opens up a whole can of worms in the trainer/exercise world but I will keep it simple by saying this means using moves that involve most of your body to get the work done and moves that translate to things you do every day (push, pull, squat, press, carry).  You won’t find too many single body movements here – biceps curls, leg extensions, etc. This helps increase fitness level and should keep us motoring longer in life.

High Intensity is the piece that seems to scare people most. It is also the most personal component. People see the CrossFit games and assume that the expectation is that every one at a CrossFit gym MUST be like that.  Not at all. The intensity is set by you. That is dictated by your current conditioning, how consistently you are moving with good technique, your personal goals and what you bring to the gym on any given day.  It can mean that while one person in the class is sprinting 400 meters, another athlete is walking to the 100 meter mark and back as that is intense enough for them to do.  It is all good and you will get cheered and supported with what ever intensity you bring.

Answers to other questions you may be asking:

  • You don’t need to be in shape to start. That is the point of going to get stronger, fitter.
  • You also don’t need special skills in order to start. Just show up and be willing to learn.
  • Yes, there are people of all ages, shapes, sizes and genders that go.  (Moms, Dads, single people, married people, skinny people, fat people, people who have never worked out before, former high school/collegiate athletes, fit people, gym rats, teens and kids, brothers, sisters, people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, stay at home people, people who work part time, people who work full time,  etc)  ALL ARE WELCOME.
  • No, Its not all like it is on TV. CrossFit can be a work out or it can be a sport. Most people do not perform at the level of the world class athletes you see on ESPN2.  CrossFit gyms are mostly filled with your average (fabulous!) person who wants to come in an be better: healthier, stronger, fitter, etc.
  • No matter what I say to you before hand you will be scared before your first CrossFit workout.  It is ok. Fear is just an emotion. You will be ok. 🙂
  • Cost. CrossFit will cost you more than your average gym. You are essentially paying for group personal training.  Each gym has their own cost structure but it normally ranges from $120-170/month depending on how many times you go each week and other things that may or may not be included. Typically this works out to about $10-15 per class.

You know if you are at a good CrossFit gym when:

  • There is an on boarding program where you learn correct technique and to move safely
  • The coaches know your name, stress safety and technique and are encouraging (and hopefully friendly!)
  • There should be no pressure to lift heavy before you move well.
  • The community should feel welcoming, not judging
  • Eventually you are moving better and hopefully more pain free

My personal experience:

Kara being zen with the barbell
That’s ME!!

What I love about CrossFit:

  1. The Growth – Facing something that scares you and getting through it makes you grow plus I have learned so much about working out and human movement since I started CrossFit. I am better for it.
  2. The Community – I love knowing the people at my gym, having them know my name and encouraging and supporting each other through some really mentally and physically tough work outs.
  3. The Olympic lifts – I had never had any exposure to these before CrossFit. Now I am obsessed.
  4. The Strength – I am stronger and have more muscle than I did before I started. It is the intensity and work I had been looking for my whole life but never knew I was missing. 🙂  Plus focusing on being stronger makes me so much happier than focusing on being skinnier.

I hope this addresses some your questions about what CrossFit is. If it doesn’t feel free to post them down below.  As Jen Grabham said in her interview on ZenBarbell “Take a leap of faith and just try it.”  You will be so glad you did.

Current CrossFitters, I would love to hear if I missed anything or if you would like to share your story about how you started with CrossFit that would be great too!

Stay tuned for next week when I give my thoughts on the dark side of CrossFit. 😮


If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

Interview with CrossFit Coach Jen Grabham

This month on ZenBarbell, I interview Jen Grabham, one of the owners of West End Crossfit. I met Jen for the first time in the Short Pump Lululemon Store when we were both ambassadors for that store at the same time. While not its not the CrossFit gym where I coach, I often stop by West End CrossFit for a workout or just to chat about coaching/CrossFit stuff. Jen and Tim have always made me feel completely welcome at their gym.  I love that they are so open to sharing, growing the greater CrossFit community and helping everyone get better.

Jen prepping for a lift
Jen prepping for a lift

I wanted to interview Jen as she exemplifies many of the values that Zen Barbell is all about. She is one hell of a coach (caring, thoughtful, creative, motivating and I consistently learn when I am around her) and she is a bad ass. This woman lifts heavy weights very well. (Can’t you tell by how big and bulky she is?! ha!)

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself Jen.

Hahaha, not too much to tell.  I’m a wife, mother of 2, and an individual who is passionate about helping other people realize their potential.

2. How did you come across CrossFit? What did you connect with about it enough that you wanted to have your own box? Did you grow up being athletic? 
I first learned about CrossFit roughly 5 years ago through a friend who was a Navy EOD specialist.  I was a personal trainer at the time at a local YMCA.  The day I decided to visit to find out what our friend was so excited about, the WOD was 30 muscle ups for time.  I immediately dismissed CrossFit based solely off of this one workout.  I had no idea there were scaling and modification options.  Tim finally convinced me to try a benchmark wod about a month later.  “Cindy” was my first go at CrossFit.  I was a gym rat.  I spent no less than an hour and a half in the gym on any given day.  I just knew there was no way this 20 minute WOD would challenge me.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Seven minutes in I was ready to cry Uncle!  I was immediately hooked. Initially,  I really connected with the competitiveness of CrossFit.  I was a Division I athlete and CrossFit was the closest I had come to that “rush” since graduating college.  As far as finally coming to a decision to open up our own box?  My ultimate goal in life has always been to help other people.  I never knew in what capacity until I became a personal trainer.  CrossFit just seemed like a natural fit.  It produced tangible, measurable results and was concerned with a TOTAL approach towards a healthy lifestyle.  I did grow up being athletic.  Volleyball became my passion once I got to high school.

3. How often do you encounter the argument that women shouldn’t lift heavy? Why do you think this is so prevalent? Do you think it is starting to change?  
I, along with our other coaches, encounter this argument with nearly every woman who walks through our doors who is a newcomer to CrossFit.  I do believe media plays a huge role in women not wanting to lift heavy for fear of “bulking up.”  We are flooded with images of women in magazines and in TV commercials who are thin with little to no muscle tone.  The “cute” clothes are made for those with no ass, no thighs, no shoulders and no lats.  Ask any woman who lifts how much of a nightmare it is to shop for a great fitting pair of jeans.  🙂  Traditionally, the skinny body type is praised and desired and the muscular body type is criticized.  I do think this is slowly starting to change and I think CrossFit has played a monumental role in this change!  Quite honestly, all body types deserve to be praised.  All bodies are not created equally!  The healthy, beautiful, strong body has MANY different shapes and sizes and deserves to be celebrated never criticized.

4. What are the big differences, if any, do you notice in training women vs training men?

Honestly, it’s a pretty level playing field. We have women who are JUST as competitive and driven to lift more weight and better themselves as their male counterparts. I think it’s more individualized differences among members not male/female differences.

5. How important is mind set in training? In life in general? What has helped you most in your life in learning about mindset (books, people, movies, etc)?

I think this is where a lot of people miss the mark. Mindset in training is CRUCIAL. We’ve all had the experience of looking at a WOD and low and behold ALL of our goats are listed. The success of that WOD is dependent on how an individual mentally approaches it. They can defeat themselves from the beginning with “I can’t” or “I suck” or look at it as opportunity to challenge themselves and step outside that comfort zone. Experience has taught me most about mindset in life and of course CrossFit. I’ve been both. I’ve been negative and positive. The positive is much more difficult but elicits the MOST return! Negativity also sucks the life out of those around you. Who wants to be a life suck?? I highly recommend Words by Lisbeth. She has a knack for telling it like it is and I think her blog resonates with people through all walks of life.

6. What advice would you give to some one who might be interested in trying CrossFit but is too nervous or feels like they need to get into better shape first? Take a leap of faith and just try it. Scout your local boxes. All have their own unique vibe. Find what fits your personality and needs. Those with concerns about having to “get into shape” first? The intro sessionshould leave these individuals feeling like they could have done a little more. Everyone knows CrossFit can kick your ass. There’s plenty of time for that! But how many amazing success stories might you miss out on if you design an intro session that leaves the previously sedentary individual defeated before they’ve even begun? Find a box where the coach is willing to put in the time and effort to scale and modify wod’s to accommodate your current fitness level. This is imperative to success!

Jen coaching athlete
Jen coaching one of her athletes in competition

Any other parting words or thoughts?

I feel very fortunate to be a part of so many different journeys and to have a staff who values every single member’s progress.



Jen coaches at and co-owns West End CrossFit which is located at 3641 Cox Road SUITE Henrico, VA 23233.  You can also find WECF on Facebook!



If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

The Only Numbers That Really Matter in Life

I have heard it from so many of my friends, my personal training clients, the athletes that I Crossfit with and even random overheard conversations:

“Ugh! The scale is not moving!”  

“I know I shouldn’t but I weigh myself several times a day!”

“The number on the scale can really make or break my day”

Sound familiar?  🙂

The scale makes people crazy and neurotic (is that redundant?).  Unless you are in a sport that requires weight classes, you don’t need to do daily checks on the scale. You are letting the wrong numbers rule your life and set the tone for your day.

My thoughts? FUCK the scale. I don’t even care about the size of your jeans.

Those aren’t the numbers that matter in your life.

You know what numbers count WAY more than what you see on the scale?

  • How many true friends do you have?
  • How many times were you kind to some one today (a complete stranger or a friend)?
  • How many times did you laugh today?
  • How often do you offer yourself some love and compassion ?
  • How much weight did you lift today?
  • How many new things did you learn today?
  • How many times did you do something the scared you?
  • How many conversations did you have that were meaningful and increased connection to passion, to life or to others?
  • How many things did you engage in today that ignited your true passion in life?
  • How many hugs did you give to your kids, spouse, friends?
  • How many things can you be grateful for right now in this moment?
  • How often were you completely present in the moment?

What else could be included in this list?  What numbers matter to you?

You can make your life richer and more meaningful simply by shifting focus to the things that really matter.  It is that simple but not always easy.  Yes, healthy weight and body fat levels are important for physical health. However, when you let a number on a scale determine how you feel about yourself and how your day will be, you are missing out on so much amazing-ness right in front of you.

Have a great day and go find those numbers that matter!!


If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

A Moment of Competition

This past weekend I participated in the Superfit Crossfit competition in Charlottesville, VA.
Going in to the competition, I was not worried about the work outs as it was all weights I could handle and skills that I comfortably have but I was surprised by how I was left gasping on the floor after each one.  While comfortable with the movement, the workouts where short and intense and harder than I though they would be.
For most of the moments I was able to stay where I wanted to be – in the moment. Before my first workout, I stepped on the floor, as the timer counted down my judge happened to say “Don’t forget to have fun!”  I was grateful.  It immediately reminded me to breathe and smile.

As I picked up the barbell again and againbreathe, power, gratitude, smile

As I felt my lungs burningbreathe, gratitude, smile

As I felt my heart poundingbreathe, gratitude, smile

As I negotiated one more rep from myselfbreathe, power, gratitude, smile

I know I showed up and gave what I had. It doesn’t really matter to me that I placed near the bottom. I had my friends there, which was so fabulous, providing all kinds of encouragement and support. I love what my body did for me over the weekend and how I just enjoyed the process of it all.

Feeling nervous at all about an upcoming event? Try these tips:

1. Go in with Gratitude for what ever your body is about to help you do.

2. Breathe.  It helps put you in the here and now so that you can be present and caught up in the stories running through your head

3. Smile.  It reminds you to have fun and enjoy the process. It also releases mental tension so that your energy can go where it belongs – into your body to fuel your heart, lungs and muscles. Plus it makes your fellow competitors suspicious.  🙂


If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

Sharing the Spark. An Interview with Julie Stubblefield from SparkFit.

Each month for 2013,  I am planning to have an interview on Zen Barbell with some one who I feel really embodies both the Zen (mindfulness and self acceptance and awareness) and the Barbell (in some way loves to move and challenge their body regularly) in their lifes and actions.

I could not be more excited that my friend Julie Stubblefield, owner of SparkFit agreed to be my first interview for this site and for 2013!!  Julie has completely transformed her life in so many dimensions – as you will read below.  I often refer to her as my friend ON FIRE because her passion and energy for life and for helping others is breath taking. Get ready to be inspired!!

Tell us a little about you, Julie.

Hi, Kara! Thank you for the opportunity to share information with your readers! After losing 70 pounds, I made it my mission to be an expert on fat loss and share that knowledge with as many people as possible. I’ve also been working with teens to help them learn how to fuel their bodies properly to not only perform better on the field and in the classroom but also to give them tools to avoid adult obesity.

Julie - Before she found her spark
Julie – Before she found her spark


Julie - Hot Mama.
Julie – Hot Mama.









As you know, Zen Barbell is about finding the right mind set and lifting heavy weights. So I want to ask you about both of those things.

Do you think women are encouraged not to lift heavy? if so, why? Do you lift heavy weights in your own work out? How do you coach your clients around this?

I think there is mixed information about women lifting heavy weights. The popular media tends to lean toward women lifting lighter weights and performing more repetitions. There is the notion that women can only lift lighter weights because of genetics or because lifting heavier weights will immediately land them on stage in a physique competition. With what I’ve experienced personally and what I’ve witnessed with my clients, it couldn’t be further from the truth! Women MUST lift heavy weights to get lean!

 I do lift heavy weights…every time I work out. I spend 3-4 days a week on big compound movements with heavy weights (dumbbells between 20 and 40lbs and barbells with more weight). Lifting heavy allows me to challenge my body in a way that builds a better muscle mass (which burns more calories when I’m resting) and also to keep fat away (by getting breathless frequently in my workout).

 My clients are sometimes intimidated when they see the heavier weights in my studio. We start off slowly and a little lighter to build confidence and correct any issues with form. Once they feel more comfortable, we increase weights regularly (but safely) to keep their bodies challenged and in fat-burning mode. One of my favorite quotes from a client is this. “I NEVER would have picked up heavy weights on my own. Thank you for putting them in my hands, for coaching me through, and for helping me get leaner, stronger, and more confident!” It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Can you share a bit on your thoughts on mindfulness in life and in training?

Mindfulness is what I consider being present, and it really has the opportunity to take anything to the next level, whether you are lifting weights, spending time with your family/friends, or cleaning house. When I’m lifting, I’m all there. I’m not thinking about what I need to do when I get home or who I need to call later in the day. I’m thinking about the muscles I’m using, the feeling of getting sweaty, the breeze from the fans on my neck, the sound of the music in my ears. When I’m spending time with my family, I do my best to be fully present. Admittedly, this one takes a little more practice with life’s many distractions. I do my best to fully focus on conversations with my kids and husband. I listen to what they say, feel their emotions of whatever they are sharing with me, and engage with them. Even when I’m folding laundry or doing dishes, I’m truly thinking about just that. I used to get aggravated or distressed by the sheer volume of dishes and laundry that a family of four (that includes 2 growing boys) can generate. The bottom line is that the dishes and laundry will always be there. I could either be frazzled every single time I had to take care of the chores, or I could do it with mindfulness, presence, gratitude. Sure, laundry and dishes are not my favorite things to do. But, I’m thankful to have a family to dirty them. Thinking of it that way makes it a lot easier to tackle them!

 If I want to lose weight and get healthier, why does it matter if I am motivating myself from a negative vs a positive place?

 I’m so glad you asked this because it’s near and dear to my heart! There are two approaches to change: punishment vs. self-love.

With the first approach, we tend to punish ourselves for not going to the gym or not following our meal plan, etc. Since we punish ourselves for not doing what we think we should do, we then feel the need to reward ourselves for when we do follow through. It’s a vicious cycle, and our brains are constantly in one mode or the other. I rode that roller coaster for YEARS! I completely let my mood be determined by how I felt about my performance in life. Should I feel like celebrating or should I feel bad about something? Even when I was celebrating, I assumed something was “right around the corner” to punish myself with yet again. It was a never-ending battle and it was hard on my psyche.

Now I take a different approach; it’s one of self-love, and, yes, it sounds a little “out there”. This is definitely not easy at first and takes practice. I’ve decided to make an effort every day to love where I am at that moment. So I overslept and didn’t get to the gym this morning. In the “old days”, I would have mentally punished myself and would have felt bad about myself a good portion of the day. Today, I decided I must have needed the sleep, so I’m doing the best I can with what I have today. I’ll make sure I go to bed a little earlier tonight so I can get up on time tomorrow. Last week, as I was trying to make dinner for everyone, it was a total flop. It tasted absolutely awful (even to me). Instead of being mad, ordering a pizza, and letting it ruin my evening, I turned it around. We had the good old standby of breakfast for dinner, and we had a good laugh about it. I was doing the best I could. There was nothing to punish myself for. I was mindful of the situation, appreciated that I did my best, laughed hysterically about how awful it was, and was able to fully let it go. Is this always easy to do? No. I still find myself in the midst of a frustrating situation and wanting to punish myself for not doing what I think I should. But the more I remind myself to operate out of place of self-love, the easier it gets.

Any tips for the really busy women out there who want to make a move to be healthier in life but feel overwhelmed by even starting?

This one is juicy! Believe it or not, don’t change everything at one time, because that’s just overwhelming! Take a look at your current lifestyle. What are things you would like to implement to get healthier? Some ideas are to walk each day, increase water intake, increase lean protein, increase veggies and fruits, decreased processed foods, lift heavy things repeatedly, make 15-30 minutes to fully unwind. Pick ONE thing and do it for a week. At the end of that week, if this change feels like it’s part of your daily routine, then select a new one to work on. Keep working down your list as each one gets easier and easier to do. You’ll find that it’s not nearly as difficult as you think if you break it down into smaller parts. It’s not a race to get healthy. You don’t have to do it all today. Make small incremental changes in a way that will allow you to continue with those changes forever! And if you have a day that you don’t hit all those lifestyle changes, love yourself anyway and do the best you can in that very moment. You know those days will come up anyway, so you might as well expect them!

Thank you so much for sharing, Julie! I know my readers will be just as inspired by you as I am!!

You can find Julie Stubblefield at and her SparkFit fan page is  If you have teens (ages 11-18) and would like a free plan that outlines nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle changes for field and classroom performance, check out her site at and the fan page at

If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

No. What can you REALLY do?

Do you ever read a blog post or a status update that breaks your heart? The other day I read a blog post from Nia Shanks that just socked me in the gut. It talked about a woman she was working out with and complaining that she wasn’t seeing results. As Nia patiently watched her, it was clear that she wasn’t lifting to her full potential. She didn’t know what intensity really was. Yet, she was in the gym loyally many days a week putting in the work like she knew she should.

I did that for years. I have loved lifting for a very long time. I spent hours a week in the gym, week after week, year after year. Never getting to what I thought I should. I learned most of my weight lifting from magazines like Shape, Oxygen and Muscle&Fitness Hers. They gave me the exercises and the sets and reps but could not convey what working hard REALLY felt like. I never had an in person coach or mentor to help me see what I was capable of. I know some people discover this all on their own but I tend to be Ms. Comfort Zone or Ms. Consistent Energy – carefully throttling my energy so I know I can make it comfortably all the way through my sets/reps/workout. That means I rarely pushed myself as I needed.

Until I found Crossfit. I was shown true intensity. I really for the first time was able to test what I could do.
I am stronger now than I ever have been before in my life and I love it.
Yes, I wish I would have had crossfit or a coach that would have keyed me into this YEARS ago but I didn’t. I have it now and I plan to make the most of it that I can for as long as I possibly can.

  • Weight training does too many good things for your body to be half-assing your way through workouts.
  • Are you doing what you are fully capable of in the gym?

    1) Get a mentor (a coach, a personal trainer who is worth a damn, a friend who can push you, a great lifting partner): some one who can watch and help push you further than you thought you could go. The feedback and insight is invaluable.

    2) Test yourself Yes, 10 reps of a back squat at 85lbs might feel like enough but put 10, 15, 20 more pounds on the bar and see if you can step up to the challenge. Safety first and always, of course!

    3) Growth comes from being uncomfortable. If you are comfy with your routine in the gym but you are wanting to continue to get better then change it up.