Deep(ish) Thoughts

Sitting in the San Diego airport enjoying a double short latte from Starbucks – yes I did give the name Elektra and no I don’t mind at all that they spelled it Electra – with a couple hours before my delayed flight. After a week of visiting down here a bunch of thoughts are running through my head.

1. My best ideas seem to come to me when I’m relaxed. I used to think it was driving that yielded the best ideas and so I looked forward to long road trips. But I came up with possibly the best business idea I have ever had while chilling at my brother’s house. At the time I was probably thinking about some combination of a) nothing, b) what my niece and I would play next, or c) whether it was beer o’clock. In other words: Not while “spending time brainstorming”. For me at least, forced brainstorming is much less effective for coming up with big ideas than relaxation time. Once the idea is there, I do take an hour or two to hash out details because I don’t want to lose it. In this case, I had the makings of this idea rattling around in my head for a few months but wasn’t able to make it all come together. Thank you San Diego vacation for delivering what I think will prove to be a breakout product for me in 2015.

2. I love the beach, but it turns out that others don’t love it as much as I do. Or at least they don’t seem to love photos I post of the beach in December. Huh. As I am at the airport now, it’s safe to say that this will be the last one for a while.

3. I never eat enough Mexican food when I visit San Diego. One of these trips I will learn to do better.

4. The only exercise I got this week was a couple of beach walks and my daily dose of playing with my nieces. The older is just over 40 pounds, which means I need to step up my overhead work in the gym if I want to be able to continue to pick her up and lift her overhead. Oh wait, some Doctor on the internet said that overhead lifting wasn’t functional. Hmmm.

5. In addition to not getting much exercise, I think I ate three servings of vegetables this week, and yesterday I had donuts for breakfast. Strangely, my body still works. While I remain confident that regular exercise and healthy eating are the fountain of youth; I think some of us can stand to relax about it a bit. I’m pretty confident that when I lift tomorrow, I will be similarly strong and fit as I was when I last lifted over a week ago. I also suspect when I hit the slopes this weekend, my legs will once again demonstrate that the work I do regularly in the gym will remain in effect. I promise to update if it turns out I am wrong.

6. While I think we can relax a little on healthy food and exercise, I think we need to be mindful that for some of us, returning to good habits can be tough. A bit of vigilance the weeks after a visit to rancho relaxo is a good idea. I’ll be starting up our 8 week Get Lean program in January and will be introducing what I think is a pretty cool Phase 2 program for those who have already done it, including me.

7. One cool thing about eating well most of the time is that after straying for a while, my body starts to crave vegetables. I injected vegetables into my lunch yesterday as I thought I was starting to feel the early stages of scurvy. Not that I actually know what scurvy feels like. But my body did direct my brain to Trader Joes to pick up a variety of vegetables.

8. I love skiing and therefore I love winter, but it turns out I also like San Diego’s version of winter. The last time I skied, my ski buddies and I were musing about the many different ski outfits we have for the many different ski day temperatures that we enjoy. Does this mean Canadians have more clothing than Californians?

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who thinks everything is better with guacamole.

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Awkward Gym Moments

Please tell me I’m not the only one who has a few of these stories in my collection? I remember this one fondly every time I teach people how to foam roll. Specifically when I teach how to foam roll the quads. If you’re not familiar with this move, it looks a bit like this:

Now imagine rolling around on the floor like this, while wearing this shirt below, while training in a gym where all of the other trainees are teenage boys.

EV trainer3

Needless to say, I never wore that shirt to that gym after that.

Then there was that time at the YMCA. It was shortly after I learned how to do power cleans. They were far from perfect, but they weren’t awful either. After a set a guy dressed in construction boots, jeans, and a wife beater; came over and explained to me that what I was doing wrong. I don’t remember what his correction was, but my response was something like,

Thanks, I’ll be sure to ask my trainer about it, so I’m good.

Or at least that’s what I thought I said. Based on his reaction, it seems that what I actually said was,

Oh really, thanks for that. Please stick around and tell me more. Maybe even move me aside from the power rack so you can demonstrate several times. And then if I happens to mention that I’m doing power cleans instead of full cleans because I’m training for sports performance, please brush me aside again so that you can demonstrate some shuffles. Nothing says ‘this guy knows all’ like an annoying stranger demonstrating shuffles in construction boots.”

After that I rarely worked out at the Y without wearing headphones. In fact, one time I remembered to pack my headphones but not my mp3 player. I still put my headphones on and plugged them in to my pocket.

Anyone else have fun gym recollections to share?

The problem with blaming obesity on low-fat guidelines

There was a post going around the internet recently called, 12 Graphs That Show Why People Get Fat. It’s definitely interesting, and I think raises many great points. But it also includes one point that is misguided.

#4. “The Obesity Epidemic Started When The Low-Fat Guidelines Were Published“. It’s got a nice graph that shows clearly the introduction of low-fat guidelines in the mid 1970s and the beginning of a rise in obesity also starting in the mid 1970s. And in fairness, they do point out that “correlation doesn’t equal causation”.

Here’s the problem with including low-fat guidelines as a suspected cause for rising obesity rates: The guidelines didn’t result in people eating less fat. Here’s a table of data extracted from the Statistics Canada Publication, Food Statistics 2005 that shows the breakdown of calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrates eaten in 1975 and in 2005:

macro consumption trends canada

In the 30 year period from 1976 to 2005, people increased their fat intake by 18%. They also increased their overall food intake and their carbohydrates, but only by 11% each. In other words, since the low-fat food guidelines came out, people didn’t decrease the portion of their diet that is fat: they increased it. Can we really blame a low-fat diet for our rising obesity rates when we haven’t been on a low-fat diet?

Much of the current research about weight management suggests that there isn’t much difference in the long-term success of any diet options, but rather success reflects the ability to follow the guidelines. Which is pretty much what the data above shows for the past 30 years: not following a recommended low-fat diet leads to an increase in obesity. Although I will flag that with “correlation doesn’t equal causation.”

(details about the basis for the data in that table, including a note about data quality can be found in the post, Is it really the carbohydrates?

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa is a fan of facts.

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What motivates you to workout?

I don’t love working out. There, I said it. Weird right? I mean, I love being a trainer. But I don’t think “yay, leg day” when I get to the start of my workout. What I do think is “this is going to give me a shot at being like this guy“:

96 and still skiing. So awesome! I want to do that. And for those who think you’re too old to start something, did you notice that George Jedenoff said he didn’t start skiing until he was 43?

Then there’s the centenarian skier:

It’s a fact: I would like to still be skiing at 100. And I’m pretty sure that getting there will require some body maintenance. That’s why I work out. The fringe benefit is that working out also let’s me have the stamina to perform the sports I love without having to stop early and without that pesky next day soreness. As awesome as playing is, sport can take a toll on your body. Or at least they can if left unchecked. Each sport has its repetitive movements, and depending on how your body adapts to those movements, can start wearing down your joints. Yes working out helps with performance, but in my mind, this is the true gift of working out. Playing a sport often results in specific muscles getting stronger and in some cases also getting tighter. Over time, this can lead to joints getting out of their natural alignment. I can’t think of any sport that is truly balanced in terms of the movements you do during the sport. Working out can help with this. A good sport-specific training plan will not only address the movements and energy systems needed for your sport, but also the movements your body needs so that it can balance out the impact of your sport. If being able to play for another 50 years is one of your goals, then this has to be a consideration.

For those not into skiing, the next inspirational interlude features Ruth Frith, who continued to set world record at 103 years old.

If you’re watching the videos, you’ll notice a theme: These people all work at it. And they don’t mind working at it, because the joy they get from their sport is more than worth it. Everyone reading this who has a sport they love knows that feeling. Or at least those of you who do are probably smiling right now. How cool would it be to extend that feeling into your 90s and 100s? So what are you doing about it? Working out is what I’m doing about it. Here’s another example, this time the world’s fastest centenarian:

Further to the note above about training the movements that you don’t use in your sport to ensure your body stays healthy, it is also important to listen to your body. It gives clues when there is a problem. I used to be that person who kept playing my sport even though it hurt so much that I followed each game with “vitamin I” and then hobbled around for a few days until the next opportunity to play. Then one day I thought “how will this impact my dream of skiing at 100?” I think it’s fair to say that “Negatively” is the answer. For this reason, I no longer play ultimate in the winter. It turns out that my hips don’t like the pounding that results from playing ultimate on turf. I could still do it, and as an athlete, having a sore joint after playing is not that hard to just suck up. But when I think about that sucking it up now could mean not skiing when I’m a senior, I quickly change my mind. In fact I would argue that playing your sport year round, especially if you have a nagging injury, will not only lessen your chances at awesomeness in your senior years, but it will likely reduce your performance in the short term. If your joint hurts with every step or every pivot, or every throw, are you really able to put your all into that play? If so, for how long? How many games did you miss last season because your body finally couldn’t hack it? Maybe it’s time to look at the off-season the way professional athletes do: As a time for recovery and a time for preparation.

Speaking of performance, here’s gymnast Johanna Quaas with a brief gymnastics display shortly before her 89th birthday:

So that’s why I workout: So that I can have the best shot at doing the things I love for the rest of my life. And I love my job as a trainer because it allows me to help my clients workout so that they too can enjoy the sports they love for the rest of their lives.

Why do you workout? And before you answer, here’s one more inspirational video, this time it’s 82 year old Madonna Buder crossing the finish line at the Ironman in Penticton in 2012, making her the oldest person to ever finish an ironman:

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer, skier and ultimate player in Ottawa.

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Can’t go left?

Nope, not a blog about Seinfeld, although I do wish I had a video clip of this:

“Every time he tries to make a move, something screws up. Like on their first date, they were on the couch, but she was sitting on his wrong side.”
“Wrong side?”
“Yes, she was on his right side. He can’t make a move with his left hand. Can’t go left.”
“He can’t go left?”
“No. I’m leftie, can’t go right. What about women? Do they go left or right?”
“No, we just play defense.”
- Jerry and Elaine, in “The Implant”

Taking this concept out of the dating realm and into the hills, one of the biggest problems I saw when teaching intermediate and advanced skiers was a greater difficulty to turn one direction over the other. We typically tried to fix this problem with skiing drills on the snow, to varying degrees of success. Here’s the problem with that approach: odds are the problem still remains when you take your skis off.

If only I had addressed that strength difference...
If only I had addressed that strength difference…

I say this with a degree of confidence based on the number of different people I have worked with as a personal trainer. When I first meet a new client, I have them perform a series of movements so I can see how well they move, whether there are areas that will need extra attention, and if there are movements where we’ll need to tread lightly for a while. I also can see if there are differences in any of the movements from side to side. As it turns out, most people are not symmetrical in their movement.

In fact 83% of the people I screened had at least one movement pattern where they was a noticeable difference between left and right. (Here’s the full result for anyone who is interested). This is while standing on flat ground, either barefoot or in shoes. What if the asymmetry in your turns is not related to how you ski, but to how your body moves? If that is the case then are you really going to have the most success addressing it on snow? Or will you see better results if you try to address it on land?

If you have a harder time turning to one side, try the exercises shown in the following series of short videos. The first is an introduction, and the next four each provide specific exercises that you can try at home. They address strength and stability in your hips and legs. Give these a try for a few weeks and then see if that one direction on snow feels easier. If it does, then consider adding these movements once or twice a week for maintenance.


Exercise #1: Standing hip rotation

Exercise #2: Band hip rotations

Exercise #3: Single leg squat

Exercise #4: Reverse lunge with rotation

Lastly, do you warm up before skiing with anything other than a cruiser run? If not, give this warmup a try. You can do it on snow, it only takes a few minutes, and it gives your body a nice bit of preparation for the fun you’re about to have.

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer and former ski instructor in Ottawa.

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The Curse of the Engineer

Before becoming a personal trainer, I was an engineer. Now and then I rediscover the slight inaccuracy in that statement. While I now work as a personal trainer, I am still very much an engineer. Sometimes that truth is a positive, while other times, like the past couple of days, it is less so.

I decided to spend Thursday finally launching my new ebook, Training Around Injuries: Home Exercises for Femoro Acetabular Impingement. I was so keen that I had Jim cover my clients at Custom Strength so that I could dig in and keep at it until I was done.

It started very well. I made a few minor edits and the ebook itself was finished (yay!), then I finished my launch plan and wrote some of the sales copy I would need. There’s no question that part would need more work as I proceeded, but I had sat on this for too long. It was time for a “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach, knowing I can make changes later as I have so much to learn about the launch process that it would be impossible for it to be perfect before I start. If that was the standard I would never start!

Next step – I went to put the product on clickbank, which is an on-line service that many people use to provide the back-end support for a sale. One of the first steps was to provide the link for the Thank You page. Of course – how rude to not thank someone after a purchase. Creating the website was on my list, so this just meant I was moving it up the list.

Here’s where the curse of the engineer reared it’s ugly head. There are three truths about engineers:

  1. If it’s a technical challenge we know how to do it, more or less.
  2. Because we know how to do it (more or less) we will do it instead of hiring someone who actually knows how to do it.
  3. User guide? Instructional videos? Those are for people who don’t know what they’re doing, and as noted above, engineers always know what they’re doing with technical stuff (more or less).

The second truth is particularly hard to overcome when doing something like installing a wordpress site where they claim that it can be done in something like five minutes.

It turns out it is possible to set up a wordpress site in a matter of minutes. The problem is that it will look like crap. No problem. I’ll just go grab a simple but sexy template and start writing the copy. Ha! As I discovered over the coming hours, none of the templates were what I wanted. This was the time I started to think about hiring someone to do the website for me. But of course I didn’t. Because as noted above, I am an engineer. As I write this post on Saturday around noon, the website still isn’t finished. But I’m this close. I don’t think I’ll calculate the economics of me spending all of this time on a website versus how much it would have cost me to hire it done. As an engineer I do like math, so ordinarily that would be a fun equation. But as an engineer I don’t like proving that I’m wrong, which inevitably that equation would do.

Those of you who are engineers or who are close to engineers: Does this sound familiar?

39 Women who could speak at your fitness industry event

I’ve been on a mission lately. It’s a mission I took on reluctantly even though I believe strongly that it’s a very important mission: Help improve the presence of women speakers at fitness conferences. I first wrote about this problem a couple of years ago in a recap of the Perform Better Summit I had just attended. 30 presenters and 30 men. In 2012. Really?

Since then I started including openness to female speakers in my criteria for selecting what conferences I attend. My criteria is that they need to either have reasonable representation by women on the speaker panel, which I define as at least as high a proportion as the US Congress (about 20 percent), or they must have some sort of accessible process such as a call for presenters.

Recently I was interviewed for the strengthcoach podcast to talk about a couple of training topics, as well as my perspective on women speakers at seminars (You can listen to it here). On that podcast, I mentioned that I’m not looking for forced gender equity via quotas, but rather a simple request for an accessible selection process. It’s a simple solution, in my opinion. Yes, it might yield extra emails, but the upside is that it might actually introduce the seminar organizer to new and exciting presenters that they haven’t heard of (men and women). If you let anyone apply, it also makes it hard for the likes of me to suggest you’re running an old boys club.

In addition to the suggestion above, I have also been compiling a list of women in the fitness industry who are writers, speakers, and influencers. Currently there are 39 56 women on this list, which I have included below along with links to their bios. In some cases they are already speakers at events, while in others they aren’t but should be, in my opinion. Hopefully this list will help to connect these great women with some seminar organizers.

Note that this list is far from exhaustive. That became apparent in September of this year when I had the privilege of speaking at the first Women’s Fitness Summit. The quality of women who both spoke and attended this event was incredible, and it makes me excited for next year’s event. Bottom line: there are a lot of smart women in the fitness industry who are great speakers. If you are running an event with only male speakers, please consider the following comment from social entrepreneur Scott Gilmore, from Maclean’s Magazine:

“There is no topic that cannot be discussed by women. There is no circumstance that would prevent one from inviting women. There is simply no rational excuse for excluding women.

Here is my list of women in the fitness industry that would be great additions to any speakers panel:
Abby Clark
Ali Gilbert
Analisa Naldi
Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt
Ann Wendel
Ariana Rabinovitch
Artemis Scantalides
Barb Hoogenboom
Dr. Brooke Kalanik
Brooke Thomas
Dr. Cassandra Forsythe
Dana Santas
Diane Lee
Diane Vives
Elsbeth Vaino
Erin Brown
Dr. Emily splichal
Holly Herman
Ingrid Marcum
Jamie Guined
Jen Comas Keck
Jen sinkler
Jennifer Pilotti
Jessie Mundell
Jill Coleman
Joy Victoria
Dr. Joan Vernikos
Judy Seto
Julia Ladewski
Julie Wiebe
Karen McDowell Smith
Karen Goeller
Dr. Kathy Dooley
Katy Bowman
Kellie Hart Davis
Kelly Coffey
Lauren Perreault
Leigh Peele
Lucy hendricks
Maria Mountain
Marjorie Brook
Marni Sumbal
Melody schoenfeld
Michelle Fraser
Molly Galbraith
Mychelle Lyons
Nancy Sokol Green
Natasha Weddle
Neghar Fonooni
Rachel Cosgrove
Rachel Guy
Dr. Shirley Sahrmann
Stephanie Case
Sue Falsone
Dr. Susan Kleiner
Taylor Dunham
1. Some of these women may be surprised to find themselves on this list. I am thinking of Jamie Guined who may be less known but she’s an exercise scientist at NASA. How cool is that??? It is possible that some of these people would not actually want to speak at an event. If you are on this list and wish to not be, please contact me and I’ll edit.
2. My intention was to include a note about what I thought each person would be most likely to talk about, but then I realized I may be pigeon-holing people based on what I’ve seen or heard from them. Instead, I am in the process of compiling this information directly from them. If you are on the list, it would be great if you could send me up to 3 topics you are most likely to present about as well as an idea of how much presenting you have done. If you are a seminar organizer and would like help narrowing down the list by topic, please contact me and I’ll do what I can to help.
3. This list is not exhaustive, but rather represents my first effort. If you know of someone you think should be on this list, or if you think you should be on the list, please contact me with details.
4. Yes I did include myself in the list. Some might view that as arrogant, but I think my self-inclusion is important. Let’s face it ladies, we tend to shy away from saying “pick me, pick me!”. But if we want to attend seminars with more than zero female presenters, we have to step up and say “you should pick me for this event”.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa Canada who has an opinion or two.

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Why do you have FAI?

FAI, or femoro acetabular impingement, is a hip “abnormality” in the shape of either or both of the femoral head and acetabulum. If you have it, or suspect you have it, you’re probably relatively young (seemingly too young for hip problems), and you’ve probably been dealing with hip and/or groin pain for a while without knowing what was going on, until someone finally came up with FAI.

I was diagnosed with it in 2007 after almost two decades of on-again, off-again hip pain and dysfunction. Since then, I’ve read a lot, chatted with many people who have it, and have trained many clients with it. I recently wrote briefly about my own experience with FAI, and have also written an at-home exercise ebook for FAI (Coming in November!).

As more is known about FAI, more research is being published. I’ve pulled out five particularly interesting facts (or so I think) from the research, and have included my interpretation of them and their potential relevance. Enjoy, and please ask questions in the comments and I’ll get to them as soon as I can. One note: use of the term “young” in this post refers to people under the age of fifty. Funny how our concept of “young” changes as we age! With respect to hips and FAI, studies tend to focus on people under fifty.

Fact #1: FAI is much more prevalent among men than women, with studies suggesting anywhere from 14% to 24% occurrence in young men with asymptomatic hips , but only 6% in young women with asymptomatic hips.[1]
Interpretation: FAI is a real thing, even among people with no symptoms. The question is, what does it mean? If someone has FAI but has no symptoms, should we do anything about it? Take my hips for instance. I had twenty years of hip pain in my left hip, and zero years of pain in my right hip, but I have FAI in both. My sense as a trainer is that it’s important to recognize that not all hips are built “to spec” and that the two biggest areas where we should keep FAI in mind are in relation to stretching and squats. With hip stretches, I keep tabs on whether it causes pain or discomfort. If it does, I’m going to tend to assume we’re pushing into a bony end range (maybe FAI; maybe another hip structural anomaly), and I’m going to back off that stretch. I’ll talk about squats down a few facts.

Fact #2: FAI is twice as common among men with limited hip internal rotation as those with normal hip rotation range of motion.[2]
Interpretation: I think an important question to ask about this finding is whether FAI is more common in the presence of reduced internal hip rotation, or whether reduced internal hip rotation is an early sign of FAI. Either way, I think the take home is similar to the take home for fact#1: If someone has limited hip internal rotation, there might be a structural contribution, so be careful with your efforts to increase internal rotation range of motion. In fact this might be a situation where seeking input from a good physical therapist, athletic therapist, or chiropractor would be in order.

Fact #3: “We performed a database review of pelvic and hip radiographs obtained from 157 young (mean age 32 years; range, 18-50 years) patients presenting with hip-related complaints to primary care and orthopaedic clinics…At least one finding of FAI was found in 135 of the 155 patients (87%)”[3]
Interpretation: Yikes! 87% of young, symptomatic hips had FAI? I think the take home here is obvious: Don’t ignore comments of hip pain. Perhaps this is a good reminder that the body is pretty good at telling us when something is wrong, if we’re willing to listen. I always hate to suggest this, but feel I would be remiss if I didn’t: If your hip hurts after you play your chosen sport, maybe you should question whether playing that sport is appropriate for you? That’s not to say that if something hurts a bit, you should stop playing. Definitely not! But if your hip constantly hurts during or after a specific activity, despite having spent months (or years in my case) with a manual therapist and a good training program, maybe your body isn’t built to do that activity. For me, this brings a flashback to the 2007 Canadian Ultimate Championships, and me sitting in the stands between games with a big bag of ice on my left hip while snacking on vitamin I (Advil). Note I did this “in between games”; not after stopping playing because my body was clearly telling me that I was damaging my hip. So yes, this is me suggesting you aim to be smarter than I was.

Fact #4: People with FAI have less range of motion in body weight squats than do people without FAI.[4]
Interpretation: People who have FAI probably shouldn’t squat. How can you tell? Is it painful? Does your pelvis shift to one side during the squat? Do you start to round your back at the bottom? These are signs that you lack the range of motion or stability required to squat so your body is finding alternative ways. If you see this, try to fix it, and if you can, great. But if you can’t fix it, then you are probably someone who shouldn’t squat. Thankfully it is possible to be awesome without squats in your workout.

Fact #5: Hockey players have a higher prevalence of FAI than do skiers and soccer players, and the rate increases as they move up, with particularly high levels noted at the midget level.[5]
Interpretation: FAI might be something people develop in response to biomechanical forces? And it would appear that there is something in the way hockey players skate that produces higher rates of adaptation. It would be interesting to see if similar numbers are seen in figure skaters, to see if it is a skating thing, or if it is a skating with the torso in a flexed position thing? In terms of what I suggest, I need to disclose that I have a conflict of interest: I am Canadian. And that means I can’t suggest that someone consider not playing hockey, because I don’t want to have my passport revoked. But you may want to re-read fact #3.

If you have FAI, are you a hockey player? How’s your hip internal rotation? How does your squat look? Do squats cause hip pain? Do you keep doing them anyway? It’s interesting to think that our bones change in response to our activities. That may seem revolutionary, but in fact it’s a long-known truth. In fact it’s even got a name: Wolff’s Law. I’ll talk more about Wolff’s Law in the next FAI post, sometime in the next few weeks. And I’m very excited to be launching my new ebook: Training Around Injuries: At Home Exercises for FAI in November. Did I mention it’s a video-embedded ebook?

If you want to be notified when more of my FAI blog posts come out as well as when the FAI ebook comes out, sign up for the Training Around Injuries mailing list. As with all my stuff – I’ll keep it spam-free.

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[1] KA Jung, et al, “The prevalence of cam-type femoroacetabular deformity in asymptomatic adults”, The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 2011.
[2] Michael Leunig, “Basic and Clinical Science Advances in Understanding FAI
[3] Leah M. Ochoa et al. “Radiographic Prevalence of Femoroacetabular Impingement in a Young Population with Hip Complaints Is High”, Clin Orthop Relat Res. Oct 2010,
[4] Mario Lamontagne, et al, “The Effect of Cam FAI on Hip and Pelvic Motion during Maximum Squat”. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 March.
[5] Marc J Philipon Et al. “Prevalence of Increased Alpha Angles as a Measure of Cam-Type Femoroacetabular Impingement in Youth Ice Hockey Players”. Am J Sports Med 2013 Apr.

The oil light just came on in your car?

I was driving home from a great camping trip at Sandbanks this past weekend and as the road curved slightly, my oil light went on along with the melodic “beep….beep…beep…”. My response was obviously to put my finger to my lips and gently say “shhhhh”, and it eventually went off, only to come on again at the next curve. I think it’s only turns to the right. It’s been like that for a month or so. Usually when this happens, I wait until it comes on more frequently and then just add some oil, and the problem stops. And yes, by problem I mean, the oil light coming on.

My friend who was in the car with me asked that he not be named, so I’ve changed his name here. My friend Terry, Terry McTillivray, laughed slightly nervously at my response to the oil indicator. When I mentioned that I would just add more oil when I got home, I took great pleasure watching his reaction out of the corner of my eye. He tried to be calm but it was like I had fried his brain with such a sickening statement. He opened his mouth and raised his hand as though to talk, but no words came.

Eventually he said, “you’re going to check the oil level first right? You know that too much oil is as bad as too little, right?

“Oh it’ll be fine. I do it all the time. I won’t put a full bottle in.” I replied, enjoying the conversation and especially his reaction immensely.

I debated continuing with my hateful talk, but I decided it was time to come clean and share my perspective.

I realize that guys find it almost physically painful to hear about someone treating their car as poorly as I do, and it actually amuses me greatly. Because here’s the thing: You find it offensive that I don’t take my car in to get fixed when it’s giving me a  clear signal that there’s something wrong; but meanwhile you hurt your foot a month ago, are still bothered by it, but you haven’t done anything about it. I will only have my car for another year or two, but you’re stuck with that body forever.

So yes, I admit it. I treat my car like crap. To all of you who think the “one owner” description in the used car ad is a good thing, remember that owner might have been me. But I maintain my body pretty well. Definitely better than I maintain my car. Yes, I have set that comparative bar pretty low.

What about you? Do you treat your car better than you treat your body? Did a feeling of anger overcome you as you read about my car-abuse, yet you don’t afford your body the same reverence? Are you willing to consider that maybe not maintaining your body is a bigger sin than shushing the oil indicator light?


Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, loves driving her Volkswagen but is much less fond of maintaining it.

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Ten Commandments of Coaching

I was just editing the Custom Strength Coaching Manual, and as I got to the how to coach section, I decided to share it publicly. I feel lucky to have spent a decade teaching skiing prior to becoming a trainer. The CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance) does a phenomenal job of teaching their teachers how to teach. It’s really impressive, and in fact it’s something I am trying to emulate with the trainers who work with me. They provided daily opportunities for the instructors to take “session” with senior instructors to work on their own skiing ability as well as their teaching ability. My guess is that every ski instructor in Canada (maybe the world?) knows the term Pedagogy. I wonder what percentage of trainers do?

My goal is not to disparage personal trainers. Because it’s not their fault. Unfortunately the infrastructure surrounding personal training, including the certification process, is weak in comparison with other industries. This unfortunately leads to many personal trainers being in a situation where they are ill-equipped to be a great trainer. In my opinion, lack of focus on pedagogy is a big part of that. And so without further ado, here are ten pedagogy tips from the Custom Strength Coaching Manual:

  1. When teaching a new movement, should you say it or show it
    • The answer is both
    • Sometimes you will also need to put them in the position so that they can feel it
      • Tell them before you do this. “I’m going to put my hands on your hips” or “do you mind if I put my finger on your butt” (if you want them to feel their glute).
      • I do not recommend butt-touching when coaching teenagers.
  2. Are you talking enough? Too much?
    • Auditory learners need to hear it versus just seeing it, but resist the urge to ramble. I still have Frank’s (Ski School Director) voice in my head on this topic as a lesson during ski instructor training: “Shut up and ski”.
  3. How many things can a person focus on and how many corrections can you make?
    • There’s no single answer, but it’s probably 2 or 3. Aim for as few things to focus on as possible.
  4. When is in-gym performance “good enough”; when must it be corrected or changed?
    • This will depend on the client.
    • We strive for excellence, but not everyone has the movement capacity for excellence (yet).
    • If their current movement is horrendous, then we work to a standard of acceptable.
    • If it’s good, now we aim for excellent.
    • There are a lot of steps between first year on skates and Wayne Gretzky, and each step in between is an accomplishment.
  5. If you asked a client to focus on keeping their back straight and pushing through the heels, and they do that, but you see them also moving their hand incorrectly, do you correct their hand?
    • Unless it is dangerous, the answer is NO! They did exactly what you asked of them – congratulate them for it. Fix the hand at the next session.
    • Even at the next set – let them focus on the same few points as the last set – let’s make that correction really stick.
  6. How much encouragement does your client need?
    • Everyone is different. Aim to figure out what works best for your client and offer that.
    • Or figure out what is your way and stick with that. Just make sure everyone gets at least some encouragement each session.
  7. Are your cues and instructions working?
    • If you find all of your clients are doing a certain exercise wrong, the problem is probably you. Maybe it’s your demo, or maybe it’s how you’re saying it. Either way – give thought to whether you could be teaching it better.
    • If you see or hear someone else using a coaching cue that really works, don’t be shy about copying it. There’s no shame in learning from others. I have some coaching cues that come from clients. Sometimes they just put it in a way that really makes sense. If that happens, thank them and tell them you’d like to use that. They won’t judge you for your lack of perfection; they will be flattered and honoured to have contributed.
  8. Most of the time your instructions should be movement-based instead of muscle-based
    • Your clients are unlikely to know their anatomy like you do, and even less likely to have a finite enough sensation to be able to discriminate what muscle they are engaging.
    • There are of course exceptions, but this will largely be when breaking an exercise down; the default should be to describe the movement you want to see, not the muscles they will use to get it.
  9. Bring out the video camera
    • Sometimes we try to correct a client’s movement, but in their mind, they are already doing what you’re asking. Show them! Video them doing the movement and then show it to them. Talk about what you see. Tell them “this is where your back is rounding a bit. If you bend your knees more here, you’ll be able to stay straight.”
  10. Are they listening? If not, why not? Is it you? Is it the program? Is it them?
    • Do your clients trust and respect you?
    • Is the exercise level appropriate? Too easy? Too hard?
    • Are they engage-able?
    • Anyone can coach a motivated athlete with great movement, but are you a good enough coach to get results from that difficult client who doesn’t work hard, or has poor movement, or poor comprehension? They will tax you, but they will also make you better.

Here’s a great blog article about pedagogy that I highly recommend for anyone who works with people.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc. CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada

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Exercise and nutrition for healthy living and sports performance