Saturday, August 13, 2016

So, Just How Are Your Muscles and Joints At This Particular Moment?

Before I begin a training session, I always ask the client, “So how are you today?” With newer clients, I sometimes have to clarify the question: “How are your muscles and joints today?” The usual answer from most clients is: “I feel fine.” My usual response is: “Well let’s see if I agree with you.”

Together we begin moving through some of our standard warm-up/assessment routines. We do some shoulder rotation. Together we notice that the right shoulder looks and feels a bit tight. We do some full body rotational movements. We notice that rotating both right and left looks and feels tight – not nearly the same range of motion that he typically has. We notice that rotating left looks and feels especially tight. The day is Thursday. We last trained the previous Monday. What happened since then?

Maybe he cleaned out the garage, doing an unusual amount of reaching, lifting and carrying in tight spaces, and with less than perfect body position. Maybe he drove four or five hours, under very tense driving conditions. Maybe he played tennis for the first time in many years, and didn’t take sufficient time to warm-up.

Or, maybe he did nothing special, other than waking up and going about his day. But going about one’s day can involve little bits of bad off-balance lifting, bad movement, bad posture, too much sitting, or too much mental or emotional stress, and possibly all of the above. And now he has walked into our training session with a different body than he had just a few days ago.

So, should we proceed with the workout that I prepared for today’s session?

Absolutely not!

Instead, let’s start undoing the damage. He and I have done this before. It will just require some slow, gentle, functional movement that will be as much about tapping into the brain and nervous system as it is about loosening up the muscles and joints. And then, maybe we can swing some heavy kettlebells.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What This Trainer Has Learned About Exercise and Parkinson's Disease

I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR A PHYSICAL THERAPIST, NOR AM I AN EXPERT ON P.D. I AM JUST A TRAINER WHO HAS HAD SOME SUCCESS WORKING WITH CLIENTS WHO HAVE PARKINSON’S DISEASE. YOU SHOULD TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE BEGINNING ANY EXERCISE PROGRAM.

In my experience, there are specific exercises that can benefit all exercisers, but especially those with Parkinson’s disease.

Addressing tremors in the hand and arm on the afflicted side can help the exerciser perform movements that temporarily override the tremors, allowing for free and easy arm movements. 

Besides building strength and mobility, this can be a huge stress reliever.

For those suffering from “foot shuffling” syndrome, certain exercises addressing the foot and ankle can dramatically improve gait and, when done regularly, may even eliminate the shuffle or dragging of the foot.

Great exercise strategies help deepen the connections between the brain and the joints and muscles. 

Great exercise addresses the entire nervous system.


More to come on this subject.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Exhibiting at the Health & Wellness Show in Waltham, Massachusetts. The Indian club in my hand is for amazing shoulder exercise, not for protection!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Brilliantly Sensible Strategy for Shoveling Snow at Any Age


If you’ve been told by a medical professional that you should not shovel snow because of a MEDICAL CONDITION that could harm or kill you, then you should read this blog post only if you have nothing better to do and need to kill a little time.

On the other hand, if you’ve been told by a friend or loved one that you should not shovel snow because you are TOO OLD, you should read this blog post and wonder why that certain someone would want to turn you into a wimp.

To begin with, I am not going to post obvious warnings, such as: Do Not Overdue It! If you are now in your seventies and are still capable of physical activity, you probably did not get there by making an absurd number of stupid and reckless decisions – just the normal number that we all have made and have managed to get away with.

So, grab your shovel – either physically or mentally – and let’s get to it.

BRUCE’S BRILLIANTLY SENSIBLE SNOW SHOVELING STRATEGY IN 10 STEPS:

Step #1: Approach snow shoveling as an exercise workout.

Focus on your muscles and posture, and not just on moving the snow.

Step #2: Warm-up your muscles before you begin.

Spend a few minutes loosening up your shoulders, hips and low back before going out into the cold and lifting snow.

Step #3: Decide roughly how much snow you’re going to shovel before you take a break.

As with doing a heavy workout, you are going to pause for rest and recovery. You will get more out of your muscles if you do.

Step #4: Work efficiently. Decide where you are going to place the snow you shovel.

Do not end up having to move piles of snow that you’ve already shoveled.

Step # 5: Do not lift with your knees. Lift with your hips.

Do not shovel while bending forward at the waist, with a rounded back. This places unnecessary strain on your low back and your knees. Instead, push your hips and butt back (a hip-hinge), and keep your back flat, not rounded.

Step #6: Come up to tall posture as you lift the snow.

This will help engage your core muscles and relieve the strain on your lower back.

Step #7: Do not throw the snow. Dump it.

Throwing the snow works against gravity and will needlessly fatigue your muscles. Instead, carry the snow to your pre-planned dump spot and simply let it drop from the shovel, working with the force of gravity, rather than against it.

Step #9: When walking with a shovel full of snow, maintain tall posture.

Do not walk bent forward at the waist, placing strain on your low back muscles.

Step #9: Avoid twisting your spine.

There is a natural inclination to rotate at the waist when picking up and dropping snow. It may save time, but presents another opportunity for low back strain. Instead, walk and drop.

Step #10: Do not work exclusively from one side of your body. In other words, make sure that you are shoveling as much with your left hand on the handle as with your right hand on the handle.

When shoveling or carrying snow, the hand that grips the shaft of the shovel bears most of the weight. You can feel the muscle engagement all the way up that arm. Your shoveling exercise will be more efficient by sharing that load equally between each arm.

A final piece of advice: Listen to your body! If you feel pain anywhere, you should stop immediately! If you find yourself out of breath, or your muscles overly fatigued, you should stop and rest.

But, as long as you are working in a brilliantly sensible groove, relax and enjoy your workout.

Bruce Coltin
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
YMCA Trainer
At Home Fitness Trainer for Older Bodies

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Advertisement for Myself - At Home Fitness Training

WHO AM I?

My name is Bruce Coltin.  I turn 66 years old in November.  Over the years, I have injured myself by practicing bad exercise, because I didn’t know any better. Now I do know better. I struggled with weight loss, until I figured out how to manage my overall fitness. 
I grew up in Newton, and I have lived in Watertown for the past 35 years.

As a personal trainer at the Newton YMCA, I work with many clients in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, who are struggling with issues of the low back, knees, shoulders, as well as other limitations resulting from injury, surgery, or years of being sedentary.

When I am not training clients at the Y, I do at-home training in Newton, Watertown, and Belmont.


WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU?

Are you able to walk strongly, without tiring after just a few minutes? Are you able to sit in and rise from a chair without struggling?  Do you need a program to help you rebuild years or decades of lost muscle?  Yes, you can rebuild that lost muscle!  You just need to be put on a sensible program where you begin by relearning and practicing perfect functional movements of everyday life.

Regaining strength and mobility is not easy, but it is a lot easier than most people think. You just need to make up your mind to do it.

My rates are very reasonable.
My style is patient and encouraging.
My schedule is flexible.

Bruce Coltin
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
YMCA Trainer

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Walk of Death

Hello Mr. Wilson and welcome to our gym – our ultra modern, totally state-of-the art, jaw-droppingly expensive exercise facility. Gosh, I love looking at it!

You appear really confused. I don’t blame you. So many shiny new machines that will bend you this way and that way! Which ones do you need? Well, it depends on how much time you have. I calculate that between the heart-pumping-lung-busting machines and the highly specialized muscle building machines, you can get it done in about three hours.  

Yes, I realize that three hours will take a big chunk out of your day, but we can divide it up so that you do upper body exercises on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and lower body exercises on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, bringing your time commitment down to a sleek ninety minutes a day.
How does that work for you?

Mr. Wilson, you look mildly depressed.

Okay, let’s take a step back and see if we can come up with a plan. I’ve gone over your answers to our questionnaire and I see that you’ve spent the better part of the past two decades getting fabulously out of shape. You say you need to drop some weight and get some muscle tone. Hopefully I will not sound insensitive when I say that your goals are perhaps too conservative.

You see I watched you come up our wonderfully steep stairway. What would you have done if there had been no railing? You did not really WALK up the stairs. You actually PULLED your way up with your hands and arms – sort of chimpanzee style.

And as you stand there right now, you are slouching in one direction and then in another direction and then back to the first one. Are you practicing the art of slouching or are you having a problem standing straight? And, what is it with your head hanging forward, with your chin practically on your chest? Your poor, overstretched back muscles must think they are supporting a bowling ball attached by a Slinky.

Well let me just get to the heart of the matter. Too many of your muscles are MISSING IN ACTION! They quit. They lost respect for you. They sleep day and night. They lounge by the pool so that you can’t even stand up straight for ten damn minutes or walk up a flight of stairs without looking like a chimp.

You, my friend, need to have a serious and long overdue talk with them. But first, you will have to get their attention. You will have to raise them from their slumber, and I am about to help you with that. I am going to blast them to their feet with an ear-shattering megaphone. Your job is to stand there while I wind up like a windmill and plant my fist wrist-deep into your stomach.

NO TIME TO PREPARE. HERE IT COMES! BAAHM!!!

Excellent! You bought it completely. You thought my fist was going so deep into your gut that it would knock the stuffing out of you, but my knuckles stopped cold at the buttons on your shirt. I have become SO good at that. But the important thing is that those muscles did exactly what they are supposed to do. They jumped off the bar stool and stood ready to fend off the attack. After all these years those lazy louts never forgot how to do their job.

Congratulations on passing the Brace the Core Test! You now know how to recruit that marvelous girdle of muscles that will tighten your middle, save your back, and allow you to lift, carry, and swing weights so heavy that just the sight of them would scare the daylights out of your inner Pillsbury Doughboy.

Next, you need to close your eyes and smell the chili. You must imagine that you are standing in front of a stove, stirring a pot of chili. You taste it. You add more chili powder. You taste it again. You add more hot sauce. You stir again. You taste it. Your tongue is on fire. Perfect. You ladle out bowl-full and devour it. You know a second bowl would be excessive, but it is so, so good. You almost have no choice but to indulge.

Now fast forward. It is early the next day. You enter an express elevator on the twenty-fifth floor headed for the lobby. Before the door closes, an attractive woman gets in. You are alone with her. You recognize her immediately as the cute, popular girl in high school who didn’t know you existed. She smiles at you. You smile back. You are about to speak her name.

But then, your stomach rumbles. It is not a passing rumble. It is a pre-quake tremor. The Big One is coming – a magnitude 9.0 on the Chili Richter Scale. You instinctively squeeze your cheeks for dear life. Your eyes are glued to the descending floor numbers. This is the endurance contest of your life.

Now, open your eyes and squeeze those cheeks for dear life, just like you did in that elevator. Jab your finger tips into the cheek muscles. What do they feel like? Sacks of squishy cottage cheese, I bet. Keep squeezing and keep jabbing. Those muscles are sleeping pythons. Make them angry! WAKE THEM UP! Walk around in a circle and keep squeezing. You’ve got it.

Well done, Mr. Wilson!

Congratulations on passing the Squeeze the Glutes Test! You now know how to recruit the biggest, strongest muscles in your body – the muscles you will soon rely on to GENERATE POWER.

I hope you are excited about your newly discovered strength. You are on your way to becoming a new man, but there is still work to do, which will begin after the final test. Are you ready for COLTIN’S WALK OF DEATH? Of course you are.

Here’s the way it works: You are going to turn around and walk down that stairway, your hands and arms by your side. You will brace your core to maintain balance. You will exit the building and keep walking. This is not going to be a short walk around the block.'

You will walk for hours.

You and your muscles will be engaged in that serious and long overdue conversation. No, I will not be going with you. The WALK OF DEATH is not meant to be a three-way conversation. You will eventually get tired – very tired. Your conversation will then turn into an argument – one that you must win.

Would you like some helpful hints on how to survive COLTIN’S WALK OF DEATH?

1)      Walk long and strong. Repeat this command frequently.
2)      Walk slowly and deliberately. The walk is not about speed or distance.
3)      Fight to maintain good posture. Gravity will be working to tear it down.
4)      Keep your head up, and your chin away from your chest.
5)      Swing your arms. They will help balance you.
6)      Seek out hills or steps. Squeeze your glutes to balance and propel you on the way up and tense your core to balance and steady you on the way down.

Make your way back here, one strong step at a time. March up those stairs. Stand strong in front of me. Your feet will hurt. Muscles in your legs will be aching. Your hips will be stiffening. You will feel your fatigue. You will smile at your fatigue. You will have successfully completed COLTIN’S WALK OF DEATH – which you, my new friend, will deservedly rename: WILSON’S WALK OF DEATH – because YOU will own it.

Well, I guess we’re done here for now. Good luck on your walk. Oh, one more thing…when you return here -- victoriously, what do you think will have died on your Walk of Death?

I am sure you will know the answer to that question.


I will see it in your eyes.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Mystery of Mastery




George Leonard was a writer, editor, and teacher whose passion was the exploration of human potential. In the early 1990s, he published Mastery – The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.  It may help to point out that he was also a 5th degree black belt in Aikido, which like most ancient martial arts, sprung from a foundation of religion, spirituality, and mysticism.

Over the past 10 years, I have read this book at least four times, and it has definitely influenced the way I view life, success, business, and now, physical training.  But when it comes to defining what mastery is, I cannot quite get there.  I can tell you that it is more than any dictionary would lead you to believe. Leonard’s concept of mastery is much more than success, or excellence, or dominance, or skill, or expertise, though it certainly contains all of that.

Pick your sport or your passion. It can be a javelin or saxophone; a barbell or a sauce pan; a volleyball court or a theatrical stage; a kettlebell or a boardroom. I cannot tell you what mastery is, but I think I can show you what it looks like.

As far as the sport of golf is concerned, I am neither a player nor a fan, but I have to admit being intrigued and amazed by the early success of Tiger Woods, who not long after turning pro and winning the Masters was generally considered the best golfer on the planet and an odds-on favorite to become the winningest golfer in the history of the game.

So how do you explain it when a player who was often described as having the perfect swing, decides to dispense with that swing and build a new swing from scratch?  In fact, some experts say that by now, he has rebuilt his swing at least four times.  I think it is safe to say that most athletes, whether pros or duffers, believe that, when it comes to technique, tampering with success is a fast track to failure and frustration – especially when that technique is already winning tournament after tournament.

Many basketball fans consider the 1980s to be the golden era of professional basketball, and they credit Larry Bird and Magic Johnson as being the players most responsible for lifting the NBA out of the doldrums and exciting a new generation of fans with their unique abilities to lead their teams, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, to victory.

I was not a serious basketball fan during that era, but living in Celtics Land, it was impossible not to be aware of Larry Bird’s almost commonplace heroics which made him a 12-time all-star, earned him 3 MVP awards, and helped lead the Celtics to 3 world championship titles.  But my outstanding memory of Larry Bird was seeing his ritual of being alone on the court before a game, shooting jump shot after jump shot, before any other player on either team even made an appearance.

What was he going to accomplish with all of that practice?  Wasn’t that jump shot already so perfectly embedded in his muscle memory that it could never be lost even if for some strange reason he wanted to lose it?

And that brings me back to Tiger Woods and my outstanding memory of him. It was a Nike commercial, where he is repeatedly and flawlessly bouncing a golf ball off the head of a golf club, as though he was hitting a tennis ball off a tennis racket. He softly hits the ball up in the air in front of his body, then moves the club behind his back, and then through his legs. The ball never stops until he makes it land and rest, incredibly, on the head of the club – with seemingly unnatural control.

If you are involved in sports or fitness at any level, you have likely bumped into a coach or trainer who preached the gospel of the mind-body connection. But George Leonard operated on a different plane.  He preached the gospel of the mind-body-spirit connection.

We live in a culture that preaches measurable accomplishment.  Competitors train and hone their skills with their eyes on the award, the trophy, the championship, the MVP.  We, the more ordinary humans, seek our own individual milestones: losing 25 pounds, adding 50 pounds to our best deadlift, running 26 miles in under 4 hours, or seeing our first poem or short story published in a magazine. We set our sights on goals that keep us working and that keep us engaged in our training.

But, are we missing something that would bring us greater success and greater happiness? To me, George Leonard’s view of mastery is still somewhat of a mystery, but it is a mystery worth solving, so I am going to examine some clues, taken right from master’s lips:

Clue #1: Fundamentals, Practice, Small Incremental Steps

“Almost without exception, those we know as masters are dedicated to the fundamentals of their calling. They are zealots of practice, connoisseurs of the small incremental step.”

Tiger Woods and Larry Bird stand-out as zealots of practice, but what exactly does practice accomplish when conducted by individuals who are already at the very pinnacle of their sport? I think the answer lies in the phrase: “small incremental step.”
How many incremental steps are there to shooting a jump shot? If you or I might break it down to 5 steps or 7 steps, is it likely that Larry Bird broke his down to 10 or 12 steps, examining and perfecting micro-movements that are invisible to most observers?
And what about Tiger junking his seemingly perfect swing? Could it be that he saw microscopic components that did not mesh as perfectly as he wished they did and as perfectly as spectators and critics believed they did?

Clue #2: The Journey and The Plateau

“To take the master’s journey, you have to practice diligently, striving to hone your skills, to attain new levels of competence. But while doing so – and this is the inexorable fact of the journey – you will have to be willing to spend most of your time on a plateau, to keep practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere.”

Your goal is to throw a 95 mile per hour fastball – literally or metaphorically. You started with an 88 mph fastball.  Your version of this goal could apply to any other sport, or fitness challenge, or life mission.

You practice religiously. You get good coaching. You adjust your mechanics. You practice your new and improved motion, and It begins to payoff. You are consistently throwing at 90 miles per hour, and you continue to practice, and practice, and practice, but your progress comes to a stop. You feel that you are getting nowhere.

You have reached the dreaded plateau.

So, what do you do? It is here, on the plateau that many give up. But if you decide that you are on the road to mastery, you will have no reason to give up. You understand that you must embrace the journey. You realize that true progress comes in small incremental steps, and that those steps may be so small that you cannot see them.

Clue #3: Loving The Plateau

“Loving the plateau is to love the eternal now, to enjoy the inevitable spurts of progress and the fruits of accomplishment, then serenely to accept the new plateau that waits just beyond them. To love the plateau that awaits just beyond them. To love the plateau is to love what is most essential and enduring in your life.”

When your fastball went from 88 to 90, it seemed to happen all at once, in a great spurt of progress. But, in reality your skill improved before you saw the measurable result. Now, on the plateau, while you are focused on every micro-component of your arm motion, you are continuing to improve, even though you have not seen the measurable proof of that improvement.

So, when that next spurt does happen and the radar gun tells you that you are now throwing at 93 mph, you of course enjoy those fruits, but your road to mastery demands that you continue to practice and hone your skill, while you look forward to your next plateau.

Clue #4: The Journey is Endless

“Ultimately, the master and the master’s journey are one. And if the traveler is fortunate – that is, if the path is complex and profound enough – the destination is two miles farther away for every mile he or she travels.”

Are we now getting closer to solving the mystery, or are we coming to terms with the truth that the mystery of mastery is not quite solvable?

The destination never stands still.  If we are fortunate enough to find our 95 mile per hour fastball, we will either set our sights on 96 or we will find the components that need to be fixed or replaced to have the most efficient and consistent 95 that we can possibly attain. 

For Tiger Woods, the perfect golf swing is one that he has not yet discovered. For Larry Bird, the perfect jump shot was farther down the path. For you, the perfect deadlift, tennis serve, kettlebell swing, 10K road race, chess match, or whatever may be your own personal fastball just might be a lot more than what you see in the mirror, on the radar gun, or on the stat sheet. It might lie deep in your soul. It might begin with the simple joy that comes with your deep connection to the golf club, or the basketball, the barbell – your fingers on the seams of the baseball, or on the strings of the guitar, or in the garden soil.

Our culture drums into our brains that we must have goals. Trainers and coaches tell us that those goals must be measurable, and George Leonard agrees, but he also tells us:

“Keep your eyes on the path. And when you reach the top of the mountain, as the Zen saying goes, keep on climbing.”

A true master never stops being a learner.

And a real detective never stops searching until the mystery has been solved.