Friday, 29 June 2012

Training hard vs training smart - a true story

By Sabina Skala

Couple of months ago I have decided to enter a fitness competition. It is a pretty straight forward event, 2 mins fitness routine showing strength, flexibility some gymnastics and dance elements. When I started the training I promised myself I would be very smart about my conditioning and think about getting better and better with every week. In my case it meant - reducing the volume of weights session to 3 x a week and be religious about recovery (those who have ever trained me know that getting enough recovery is my biggest issue). 

The rest of the days were dedicated to my gymnastics and dance training. 6 months went great and even though I reduced the total number of my gym conditioning sessions, not only didn't I lose any strength, quite the opposite. All was going very well until last Wednesday. 

Wednesdays are always my recovery / cardio days, as Tuesdays I do a couple of hours of gymnastics. I have no idea what tempted me to jump on the session with one of the fighters I train. It was a technical session on barbell snatch, going up the weight. To cut the story short - I have dislocated my shoulder snatching my previous 1 RM for the 3rd time and i ended up spending the evening in a hospital.  

I teach olympic lifting at seminars and I always emphasize that they can prove to be a great training tool providing your athletes are READY for them. As a trainer and teacher I would never allow my athlete to perform any snatches if their shoulders are not balanced and the mobility between right and left shoulder differs significantly (this was my case). I would never allow my athletes even attempt to lift their 1 RM for any of the oly lifts or derivatives if they are wiped out from a session a day before. So what happened there? Even at the last seminar I taught I didn't use anything heavier than PVC pipe, due to my shoulder injury and the lack of mobility.With the competition coming, it was too big risk for me to gamble on my health. 

           Big thanks to Dario, who drove me to the hospital and stayed there with me for 2 hrs
How come that despite having all the knowledge and experience I did something so stupid that had now put me out off training for at least 5 weeks. Not only I have jeopardized my health, I have also erased months of work with my gymnastics coach and I also gambled on my credibility as a coach in front of one of my athletes. Was it worth it? Absolutely NOT. Waiting for a nurse for 2 hours in Accidents and Emergency with no painkillers gave me a lot of time to think about how one silly decision can bury your sports/coaching career. Thanks God that my friend was with me, otherwise I would not be able to hold it on. When I had the x-rays done, I heard the doctor saying that he needs to see another angle as he thinks there is a fracture, I completely panicked. Fortunately no big damage has been done and I ended up with shot of morphine, setting the shoulder back into place by Patrick the nurse, a sling for 1 week and no training involving shoulders for 6 weeks. 

Do you know any trainers who can be great coaching other people but cannot coach themselves? Well if you know me - you know at least one, or maybe you are one of them? It is sometimes more difficult to be able to look at yourself from a coaches perspective. All my serious injuries happened when I trained on the day I should not have trained as I was not recovered from previous sessions. It is half of the problem if coaches injure themselves when training, the real problem happens when athletes are getting injured or end up with exhaustion and adrenal shut down. Sound familiar to anyone? If I have ever seriously injured any of athletes I train during a conditioning session I would never forgive myself. As a strength and conditioning coach I always make sure the session is not only based on what I have pre-planned, sometimes I have to tone the training down, sometimes I just send them home to rest or give them a massage if they are wiped out. Coaching is based on science, but it is also an art, you have to adjust to circumstances and do what is best for your athlete to improve them. Training hard is fun (for some) but sometimes it can be counterproductive if its only purpose is to make you dead tired. Training smart with a clear goal in your head is a way forward. If you are a strength and conditioning coach your role is to support the technical and sport specific training and make sure your athletes are getting better and remain injury free. As one of my good friends says - sometimes it takes more balls to take a day off training then to train. I obviously don't have any, hence ... I will have to train double as smart and double as hard to come back to where I was just yesterday morning before injuring myself.

Acting on impulse is great in life, in training - it can end up with a serious damage, always plan, assess and adjust.

Keep strong and smart


Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Men Who Made Us Fat Forgot Something...

By Coach Cj Swaby

The Men Who Made Us Fat ( a documentary on BBC1) has been an eye opener for many. It serves as a Tour De France of how the United States and the UK have ended up in the state we are in. Obesity and related diseases are at an all time high. Now we are not just talking about  the visually obese, but also what is called "skinny fat". This is where visually thin or "normal" people have organs that are drowning in visceral fat. The question the documentary seeks to answer is, how did this happen? and who is responsible?

The material exposed is not readily available in mainstream society, but for those on the cutting edge, the information has been doing the rounds for numerous years now.  One such front runner is Mike Mahler.  He has aggressively promoted the health benefits of hormone optimisation on a physical, and psychological level for some time now. He knows the dangers of  Frankenstein-foods  wreaking havoc with your hormones and health. Despite what some experts will tell you, the connection has been established.

But there is another aspect  of  hormone optimisation that isn't readily explored. While Mike was over in London earlier in June, we managed to have an in depth conversation about the  potential role of unresolved emotional trauma  swiftly  killing dead any chance we have for optimal health.  Now you can  read below the result of that thought provoking  conversation.

CS: Mike, thanks for joining me. It was great to have you and Brooks Kubik over for Dinosaur Training and Beyond Workshop in London this June. It truly was a Landmark event. There was something that you talked about in your hormone lecture that really got me thinking.

Bruce Liptons book, Biology of Belief was a breakthrough in explaining how our thoughts actually can alter our DNA and genetic expression. In your lecture you touched up the importance of unresolved emotional trauma in hormone optimisation. Can you explain where you were coming from with that?

MM: Thanks a lot CJ and a real pleasure working with you in London. Regarding the unresolved emotional trauma and how it affects hormone optimization it is something I have been thinking about for a long time. 

I was molested when I was five years old repeatedly and at that age you don't have the coping mechanisms to handle such abuse so it is common to suppress the memories to deal with at another time. I suppressed the memories until I was thirty years old and then had total recall. It was quite difficult to deal with and caused a lot of stress in my personal life. 

Just because the memories are suppressed does not mean they're not affecting you. The unconscious mind sends way more message to the conscious mind than the other way around so I think our repressed memories have a similar effect. The worst part is the unresolved emotional trauma is influencing your behavior without you being aware. It is like having a parasite in your mind that is guiding all of your behaviors and you're completely oblivious that it is there. 

Having an optimal hormone environment essentially means you're in a thriving state. This is why people with optimal hormone profiles have high sex drives as the drive to procreate is a sign of health. If you have no sex drive at all, it is a sign that you're unhealthy and will make the gene pool worse by contributing to it. Another common sign of hormone optimization, is zeal for life. Walking up every morning ready to conquer and take charge of your life. I have had mild to moderate depression my entire life and only conquered it fully when I addressed my unresolved emotional trauma and learned how to optimize my hormones. 

There is no way you're going to be in a thriving state with unresolved emotional trauma. When something is unresolved it is stressful. When we know we have a problem and we do something about it, it is empowering. When we have a problem and we fail to take any proactive actions it is stressful. Unresolved emotional trauma is often a problem we're not even aware we have and that is very stressful. When you're under a lot of stress you're pumping out the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine constantly and nothing will ruin your overall hormonal profile more than constantly high stress levels. Stress literally kills and has been linked directly to dementia and alzheimer's disease. 

CS: I know that you have personal experience in that domain, does the available research support that as well?

MM: Honestly, I am not sure if there is any research out there that supports my theories on the matter as most of the research I have come across is on how training, sleep, and supplements affect hormone levels. The closest I have seen is in Kelly Lambert's excellent book "lifting depression" in which she talks about the importance of optimizing the ultimate stress management hormone DHEA in order to conquer depression. When DHEA is optimal cortisol is in check and testosterone is protected in men and progesterone in women. Testosterone is the ultimate anti-depressant for men and progesterone is the ultimate anti-depressant for women. When men are under a lot of stress, testosterone plummets and same for women with regards to progesterone. 

I have always had low normal levels of DHEA and I think a lot of that had to do with my unresolved emotional trauma. When i came to terms with it, it felt like a big burden was lifted from my shoulders. My mood is great consistently and I wake up ready to take charge and conquer every morning! There is really no better feeling. I got over the abuse by embracing compassion fully. Not just in regards to helping people but helping animals as well. I found talk therapy to be a waste of time as it was just a process of constantly repeating the trauma and that just puts on in a negative state. Talking about thing is important but eventually it has to lead to proactive actions. Otherwise, you're just spinning your wheels. 

CS:  How can unresolved  emotional trauma manifest itself on a physical level?

MM: Yes unresolved emotional trauma most certainly manifests physical symptoms. GI tract issues such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and Crohn's disease are common with people that have been through unresolved abuse. The GI tract is often referred to as the second brain and for good reason. The neurotransmitter serotonin is in abundance in the GI tract and you need optimal levels of serotonin in the gut for optimal functioning. Optimal serotonin is critical to experience life fully. When your serotonin levels are very low, you feel numb and can't enjoy life. Most of our immune system is in the GI tract as well so people with unhealthy GI tracts will definitely get sick more often. Emotional stress in the brain will always affect the gut so if people with GI tract issues have to resolve trauma issues to get back to being healthy. Supplements such as probiotics, glutamine, digestive enzymes, and betaine HCI all help but do not take the place of underlying issues for the problems in the first place. 

CS: How can someone who has had emotional trauma resolve that on a psychological and physical level?

MM: I think you have to accept what happened to you and as I said previously but not let it define your life. We're far more than the things that happen to us. We can take whatever negative we have been through and find a way to use it to be better people and provoke positive actions. I am not a professional counselor or life coach, but my personal opinion is that the only way is to embrace compassion fully. 

Strive to be someone that makes other people better for just knowing you and being around you. Instead of dwelling on what happened to you and asking why, use it to help improve the lives of others. This can come in many forms but obvious ones are finding high quality charities to donate time and money to. I really like Lifequest transitions which is a fantastic organization that helps soldiers with PTSD and the Nevada SPCA here where I live which is a no kill shelter that helps abandoned animals. In addition to supporting great causes you will meet some fantastic people. Who we are has a lot to do with who we meet in life so make a point of meeting as many great people as possible and strive to be a great person personally. Not someone that is ego dominant and acts for accolades but someone that strives to achieve excellence in actions without worrying about the results. Something my favorite spiritual text "The Bhagavad Gita" emphasizes! 

CS: So I guess once that emotional trauma has been resolved, then that clears a path for hormone optimisation and greater health?

MM: definitely and I can say personally that when you resolve the trauma you will feel like a new person ready to live fully and take charge of everyday. 

CS: Why do you think that unresolved emotional trauma is so under played in current health issues? Is is lack of knowledge, or an inability to come to terms with the reality of the situation?

MM: I think we look for complicated solutions to relatively simple problems and as a result we overlook the obvious. When someone has a poor hormonal profile, especially a young person, the obvious question should be what is the root cause. Often, people just jump on hormone replacement and try to improve numbers on a piece of paper instead of taking the time to explore the main reasons for the cause in the first place such as poor diet, lack of sleep, personal life stress, financial stress, job dissatisfaction, and unresolved emotional trauma. Of all of these factors I think unresolved emotional trauma is the most powerful component as it will affect all the other areas more than the other way around. Meaning, you may have unhealthy eating habits, engage in unhealthy relationships, and other self-destructive behavior from unresolved emotional issues. 

CS:  I know from a personal experience throughout the death of my brother in particular that my health suffered. I lost weight. I was highly stressed, and emotionally erratic.  It wasn't until I got a handle on managing that stress,coming to terms with my brothers death and got back into physical training that my health improved, and my peace of mind returned.

Would you say that tackling emotional trauma is a multi-pronged attack? or is there one specific thing that will make the main difference above all others?

MM: I can't the imagine what you went through when you lost your brother. My brother and I are super tight and I would have a very hard time moving on if I lost him. I do believe tackling emotional trauma requires a multi-pronged approach. It starts with self-inventory and understanding why you do the things you do. How well calibrated are you? Meaning how close is your perception of yourself to reality? All important things to know. Then how much of your time is occupied with positive actions? Working out, healthy eating, time with friends and family, vacations, helping others in needs, and on and one. Occupy yourself with positive activities and avoid being self-absorbed and you will do great. 

CS: Mike, I've been to your lectures and listened to them online. How can people get access to this great information?

MM:Thanks a lot for the support, and your readers are more than welcome to visit my website at I have tons of free info there and also have a comprehensive hormone lecture that they can download at:

CS: Thank you for your time Mike.

MM: My pleasure Cj.

You can download The Men Who Made Us Fat at BBC I Player  HERE

If you want a comprehensive overview of hormone optimisation you can check out Mike Malhers website at

Monday, 25 June 2012

Wild Physique Unleashed: Journey Into Strength 2012

By Coach Cj Swaby

So training is now in full swing for my first strongman event at the end of July, Bigger Faster, Stronger.   Its been a huge learning curve for me and I'm enjoying the process.

As you may know I've entered the individual and the team event. It almost came to a grinding halt this week when we were a man down. Matt Whitmore of Fitter London was unable to compete as part of the team.  We had less than 6 weeks, plus we are raising money for the worthwhile charity The African Village School and they were depending on us.

After a brief moment of panic, Bj  of Optimal Life Fitness came up with a sterling suggestion, "Why don't we ask Andy Marshall." Andy "The Goat" Marshall runs Mill Hill Combat Academy.  Andy's response? "Pumped to be on board. You know we have to win this thing, it's first or nothing. "  I smiled. Once again its on.

Bj and I decided to get some technical work in on the Log lift.  In the week we headed out to Reflexions gym. This is as far from a global gym as you can get. Chalk, heavy iron and all the strongman toys you could want. Not a whiff of Zumba or a lycra clad body insight. A breath of fresh air.

 They guys were really friendly and accommodating. They showed us where the kit was and left us to it. If we needed anything they were on hand. We got down to the nuts and bolts of our training.

Now that I am getting a better understanding to how my body responds to this type of training, and becoming more technically proficient,  I am allowing myself to enjoy the training more - even the bits that hurt!

With 5 weeks to go, it looks as if the final  team will be more than ready.

If you want to take part, or just come down and support us, you can find out more about the event, Bigger Faster Stronger by clicking HERE. 

To find out more about  the UK based charity The African Village School and the great work they do in Swaziland, click HERE.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Wild Physique Unleashed: Journey Into Strength 2012

By Coach Cj Swaby

With six weeks out until Bigger, Faster Stronger competition at Grinstead. I had booked in a one to one technical training session with the event organiser, Andy "Iron Mac" McKenzie.

If you do not know who Andy McKenzie is, you really should get to know. He is a renowned Strength and Conditioning Coach who walks the walk and dominated the UK Strength and Power Meet in 2010.

The reason for seeing Andy was pretty simple. If I wanted to put in a good performance at the competition I had to make sure my preparation was on point.

I had never experienced the Log lift and I wanted to get expert coaching to ensure that I was not just effective, but also efficient. Thats where Iron Mac came in.

I took the trip to Grinstead to visit the renowned  Training Lab.  As you pull up to the door of the gym you are greeted with a plaque that pretty much sums up Andy McKenzie's training philosophy. " Setting Standards Not Limits". I smiled, it was like coming home.

I entered the gym as was greeted with a tidy gym, that boasts all the toys and none of the gimmicks of commercial global gyms. Power racks, cages, Olympic platforms, ropes, rowers,  Kettlebells, dumbbells (even circus dumbbells), punch bags and most importantly - chalk. Andy gave me the tour, then we got down to business.

Andy is an outstanding coach. He breaks down the technique so that it is easy to get to grips with the fundamentals, and ensures that you can execute it. He does this with charisma and authority.  I picked his brain on various aspects and benefited greatly from his knowledge. The clip below is a great example.

Having had that session with Andy Mckenzie I am now far more confident in my ability and look forward to putting it to the test at Bigger Faster Stronger on 29th July.

You can find out more about Andy McKenzie at

Friday, 15 June 2012

Do Something That Scares The Sh*t Out Of You

By Coach Cj Swaby

Its easy to get caught up in your own hype. It seems there are limitless strength and conditioning experts lurking in the depths of chatrooms and Facebook posts touting the latest system, plugging their products. But how many of them put themselves on the line? How many of them step into the arena and leave themselves open to public scrutiny, praise or even ridicule and actively compete?

How many walk the walk? Few will put themselves on the line. I've never been one to shy away from a challenge and when Andy McKenzie of Training Lab said he was putting on a Strong Man contest at the end of July I was filled with excitement and doubt.

Doubt because I have never competed in anything like this before, nor have I had experience with Log Lifts, Truck Pulls, Car Deadlifts and the like. It was the fear of the unknown, whether or not I could actually do it.

Aware of the story I was running I shut that book real quick. I got excited. It would be a great challenge that would take me outside my comfort zone. In the process I would learn more about myself and add a new skills set to my tool box. Not only that I would have the opportunity to compete as part of a high calibre team that would force me to raise my game and improve my performance. Plus I was competing in the individual events too.

In the process we would raise money for a worthwhile charity, that can mean the difference between life and death, and a bright future for children in Swaziland. It would surely be worth it.

My first port of call was to create an action plan. I checked out the events and evaluated  my performance, to see what I would have to do in terms of preparation so that I could give the competition 100% holding nothing back.

I had no experience in the Log lift, and my Farmers walk needed work. So I took steps to rectify the situation, getting coaching from Andy McKenzie to improve my game.  Now that I know what I have to do for my physical preparation the event seems less daunting and more exciting. I know that my mental preparation will also be key.

Having competed in full contact combat sports I'm no stranger to working user pressure, and will make sure that on the day mind body and spirit will be in alignment. I know that my team mates, Matt Whitmore of Fitter London, Bj Rule of Optimal Life Fitness and Nick Rouse of Thames Crossfit will be on point too.

To grow you must do something that challenges you, and stretches you beyond your comfort zone. Do something that scares the sh*t out of you. Why? Because its great fun.

With 7 weeks to go, I will be posting about my journey to Bigger, Faster Stronger Strongman event.

African Village School Fund is a UK based Charity that can mean the difference between life and death for the children of Swaziland, providing them with food, education and a brighter future.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Dinosaur Training And Beyond Workshop: London 2012

Dinosaur Training and Beyond

By Coach Cj Swaby

What can I say?  It was a lot of work and  well worth the effort to pull off one of the most exciting workshops of 2012 to date.  Take four Coaches with a similar training philosophy who utilise different training tools  and methods,  put them in a room with thirty other people for two days and see what happens. Pretty simple concept that had a fantastic outcome.

First I'd like talk about the calibre of the attendees. Now I just don't mean this from a professional stand point. We had well respected  Strength Coaches, Girevoy Sport Athletes, Crossfit Athletes, World Champion Martial artists, and even the odd Architect, and Mens Fitness Editor in attendance. That wasn't the impressive thing about the group. 

For me what made the attendees remarkable was the character of the group. Open minded, willing to learn and still actively contributed, competitive yet grounded. It was a pleasure to watch the group bond over the weekend and bring their A game to the table.

As you probably know I have Coached with Mike Mahler on previous workshops, and as ever his delivery was on point. He teased the group with his new explosive Kettlebell work and bodyweight exercises.  When it came to his lecture on hormone optimisation, Mikes knowledge base is impressive and second to none.  He manages to successfully integrate theory with his own practical application and is living proof that he walks the walk. 

Coach Sabina Skala  artfully dismantled  the Olympic lifts, focusing on the Snatch. She delved into the theory behind the application of the lifts and examined the remedial drills and auxiliary exercises that would successfully improve Olympic lifting. 

Then it was the Dino dude himself, Brooks Kubiks. The man who wrote Dinosaur Training back in 1996.   His  strength and wealth of knowledge is impressive and is second only to his phenomenal ability to recall stats of old time lifters and world champions from the 1920's through the 1950's to present day. Brooks covered his unique take on heavy dumbbell training. For Brooks he treats dumbbells as technical lifts. In careful detail he covered lifts such as the Snatch, Clean, Jerks (Power and Split) and Swings. 

I threw in some Kettlebell Odd Lifts and some vintage Hand to Hand Kettlebell drills, and explored the difference between a Coach and an Instructor and how that impacts clients, athletes and the outcomes that they achieve. 

I learned a huge amount from those in attendance, and even more so from soaking up from being in the presence of Brooks Kubik and Mike Mahler - both are exceptional people.  Once I've collected my thoughts I will write  more about the Dinosaur Training and Beyond Workshop.  Keep an eye open for "Conversations with Mike" and "Conversations with Brooks" coming later this week.

It was a great experience and I met some amazing people. I woke up this morning with a smile on my face and thought, "Its good to be me."

For information on Hormone Optimisation and Aggressive Strength Kettlebell Training go to

For information on Drug Free Strength Training for real results and longevity, for young and older lifters go to

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Dino Dude Is Coming

By Coach Cj Swaby

Its the night before one what could easily be described as the seminar of the year so far in 2012 and its a privilege to be a part of it.  Coach Sabina Skala and myself get to present along side internationally acclaimed (and genuinely nice guy) Mike Mahler, who will be delivering his coveted Hormone Optimisation lecture, plus breaking the mould with some funky new kettlebell exercises for freakish strength.

There is one other person I am particularly excited to Coach along side. Its his first time Coaching in the UK and the first time he is delivering this workshop. Period.  This man is in part responsible for my journey into strength and WPU (Wild Physique Unleashed). He is the author of the best selling Dinosaur Training. The man in question is Brooks Kubik. Drug free practical strength training of a past era is what Brooks Kubik is about.

I eagerly anticipate what tomorrow has in store, as all four  Coaches merge onto the OLF Centre in Hither Green for this two day epic workshop. We'll keep you posted!