Rocky's Approach to Fitness


When I first started going to the gym with my high school buddy, he helped me put together my workout. The problem was, if all you know is all you know, then you’re limited and you have limitations placed upon you. It’s what you don’t know that opens up doors.

I say this because for the first few years of being a personal trainer I was giving people exercise programs based only on what I knew. All that I knew at the time was bodybuilding, an isolated kind of approach which might be good for looking great in a bathing suit, but in terms of how your body actually functions and moves, it is actually quite detrimental. I later realized through educating myself, and having an awakening that I’ll talk about shortly, that I was hurting the people I was trying to help. I was not doing them any service. I was doing them a disservice based upon the programs I was creating for them.

What Sets us Apart

Over 20 years ago we were all into selectorized equipment – isolating machines – based on a body building mentality. It’s what a lot of health clubs are still filled with these days. There’s a lot of equipment still based on the isolating, aesthetically pleasing goal of body building. That’s what I did back when – the preacher curl, triceps extension, leg extension and leg curl. Now we have found, although that’s great for strengthening some aspects of the body, it’s just feeding into more dysfunction. Later on down the road, there’s going to be trouble.

We really always have to do one thing. Every time we give an exercise we have to ask why. Why are we doing this at our fitness center? If we have a valid reason for an exercise, great. If we keep asking why, my faith is that we will keep finding better and better ways of doing it, what we’re trying to seek of the goal and what we’re trying to attain. If we’re continually asking ourselves why we’ll constantly true our compass.

An intrinsic quality of people that innovate is an open mind. What sets us apart is that we know there is still a lot that we don’t know – both good and bad; what’s going to hurt us now and what’s going to benefit us. We’re on a constant road of discovery where many will just stick to the fundamentals they know such as “no pain, no gain.”

I intentionally bring in a variety of trainers and have clientele from young to old, recreational athletes to professional, overweight and out of shape to peak performance. It provides a great fitness petri dish for continually learning and evolving.

Fitness Innovation

We stand on the shoulders of giants and we leapfrog from their experience on to something else. It’s just like any other science. One concept is gained, and then something goes tangentially off from there. More information is gained from that, and it can come back to the original idea and create a more advanced version of the theory. Then somebody takes that and goes off and does something and returns and adds to it.

So it’s this complete leapfrog effect that’s occurring in exercise science that’s building not only from experience but from different avenues. We have personal trainers working with the general population, but we also have personal trainers working with special populations. We’ve got strength coaches working with recreational and professional athletes. We’re all coming back into one room and sharing our experience – what’s worked and what hasn’t worked and why. That’s basically it – we’re pigging backing off some brilliant minds in the industry.

The growth in exercise science has exponentially expanded in terms of the knowledge base. We’re still in a very medieval period, though. We’re very young. The science is young. If we go back to Kellogg and Post, and the health sanitariums in the late 1800’s to now, we’re still only talking about 120 years. Compared to the refinement of the martial arts of the Eastern world of yoga, tai chi, and qigong – of any of these eastern philosophies of exercise or martial approaches, we’re very young. They have had thousands of years – 10 to 30 times the amount of time to grow and refine and learn. They’re to the point almost of perfection, where we’re in our infancy.

We’re in a medieval phase. What I think we’ll find out in 10 or 20 years down the road is that we’re pushing people way too hard, way too fast and expecting too much to change. It’s probably going to have a tremendously detrimental effect on the American population. Some fitness programs out there it’s all heavy, heavy, heavy – lift, lift, lift, and get it done any way you can. I’ve seen some horrific videos on YouTube with people trying to lift as much as possible in any way possible. Their spine is about ready to break in half.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Approaching personal training by understanding the concepts behind movement may make me different from new trainers and personal trainers that do not pursue knowledge over the course of time, but I'm not alone.  There will be hundreds of people at the conference tomorrow and some will catch on sooner rather than later and some will have had the knowledge already.  My approach to fitness may set me apart, especially being in a fairly small town such as Santa Cruz, but the things we've been doing the last few years are starting to show up in other studios.  Maybe we're a little bit ahead of the Jones's, but really, time, experience, and knowledge is really what it comes down to.

Having said that, there are aspects of our fitness center that by design, keep us ahead of the curve.  Working with the other trainers in the studio is part of it.  Teaching other personal trainers is a big part of it because the teacher becomes the student.  As I'm instructing new trainers that have been recently certified, or trainers coming from different fields about concepts, movements, anatomy of movement and biomechanics, that raises questions in my own head.  I have to answer those questions or ask my authorities.  "Here's something I have a dilemma about - can you solve this issue for me or help me understand it better?"

This is also the advantage of working with the physical therapists.  Their traditional background is in depth into anatomy, biomechanics, and manipulating the body in finite points and movements.  So I can also go to them and say, "ok here's what I'm coming up against, can you help me out?  Can you make sense of this for me because I know this to be true but I just don't know why."  Physical therapists really broaden my understanding of the concepts I'm trying to grasp.

Aside from the fitness conferences, YouTube has become a phenomenal point of interest in terms of education and increasing fitness knowledge, as long as you know which sources to go to  There's a lot of crap out there, but the people that are the speakers at fitness conferences are leaders in the field and although they may make mistakes along the way and are the first to admit it,  they also evolve with their knowledge base, understanding, training, and conditioning experience.  I follow a lot of their videos online.  Some have websites that are great for new information.

Fitness is like Technology

Where we are now is that the information gained in the fitness industry is like technology.  We had big leaps over time with computers becoming PCs, Moore’s Law of doubling processing power every 18-24 months, and the internet. It seems like new devices are appearing all the time.  So whether you’re in the technology field or the fitness world, if you’re not staying up to date almost minute by minute, you’re going to be a dinosaur in just a matter of days, months or definitely in a year.

However, as is also the case in technology, sometimes the more things change, the more they’re the same too.  Often times things are repackaged into something “new” for commercial reasons, playing to peoples’ desire to have the latest and greatest.  Sun Microsystems used the phrase “The Network is the Computer” in the early 80’s, and now 30 years later, it’s Cloud Computing and Smartphones and Tablets doing amazing things connected to the massive computing power distributed over the internet.  Fundamentally, the concepts are the same. It’s the manifestation that has changed, enabled by advances in the technology and innovations in the execution.

What we discovered is that we were first going to conferences to find out the latest and greatest exercises, but over time what we learned is those exercises are already floating out there in our own head.  The key is gaining the information to create the concepts behind the movements, behind the exercise.  Once you understand the concepts, then the exercise is a moot point because you can create any sort of movement you want but you need a reason behind it.

So it was the concepts of movement we gained by going to these conferences, and sure, there’s still going to be year after year of the latest and greatest being peddled.  Now it’s ropes and chains and heavy cylinders that we’re hoisting all over the place, but it doesn’t matter what tool you use, it’s the concept you apply to it.  We could take a drumstick – as simple as that – and give you a full body routine just using a simple drumstick.  And whether it’s a chicken drumstick or something you hit a percussion instrument with, it doesn’t really matter.  As long as you have the concept down, that’s the important part.

We’re heading to another fitness conference tomorrow, and there are going to be talks on different ways to do group exercise and fitness training.  There may be concepts of how you form the exercise groups and the ways in which you pair people up and the variations.  That’s a concept, and that’s great, but in terms of the actual exercises, that’s not why we go to fitness conferences.  It’s not out of arrogance, but more out of the experience, because we feel like we’ll be wasting time if someone is going to be showing us 1001 ways to use a dumbbell.  I would rather see the concepts behind the movement and then we’ll show you 1001 ways to do it.

The First Awakening

There was a fitness conference I attended back in 1994 in New Orleans, just about the time OJ Simpson was driving his white Bronco down the 405.  I still remember watching it on TV saying “Hey, look what’s happening back on the West Coast”. There was a fellow there named Geoff Gluckman, who later turned out to be my mentor, who spoke about muscular balance — balancing the tension in your body, in your muscles.  He developed an approach called Muscle Balance and Function Development, which at the time went right over my head.  I thought that this just didn’t have any application in what I was doing.  However, the more he spoke, the more I began to understand that it was exactly what I needed to know.  Our muscles control our structure; they control joint placement and joint function.  They control not only our posture placement but internal organ structure.

Muscular balance helps with all systems of the body.  When we decrease in our postural support and structural integrity, all the systems of our body become degraded and do not function at their optimal level. By bringing back balance, re-educating the central nervous system, bringing balance back into the muscular system, we pull our bodies back into better alignment, allowing the bodies to function better, not only in terms of movement, but in terms of all systems.

I saw this as being a truer health approach to strength training and conditioning than the old fashioned bodybuilding approach.  By learning that and by having this awakening and realization, it changed everything I did, and every way I thought.  Every way I look at a person has changed completely since then.

I look at movement rather than muscles — that’s as simply as I can put it. I watch how people move.  They fall into different categories at times, but everyone is quite unique, and there’s always a blend between different types.  Watching how people move tells me a lot about what they really need.

People come in here mainly looking to lose weight because they’re not active, and their lifestyle has perhaps been something that has created the body that they find themselves in. So by changing their lifestyle, that’s how we get the weight loss to occur.  However, it’s not just simply “eat less and exercise more”. It’s more than that.  Let’s move purposefully; let’s get the body back to where it wants to be because it’s happy.  It actually has happiness when you’re in a better place.

A simple way of explaining that is to stand and just slouch your shoulders forward and let your head hang low. Try and convince yourself that you’re happy in that posture.  Just say out loud “I’m really happy.”  Then, stand tall with your shoulders back and head tall, standing just as proud as you can be, and say “I feel really sad”.  You have to laugh at that because it’s a silly yet very powerful example of how posture dictates our mood.

So as we bring peoples’ posture back into play, we empower them to live better lives — to live truer, happier lives. And by living that type of path, they will make better choices in their lives, and those lifestyle choices will have a much more beneficial effect in the long run.

The Second Awakening

During the time I was writing my books, I stopped going to fitness conferences. From 1992 to 2000, after close to 10 years of going to conference after conference about fitness and personal training, there wasn’t much at the time that was changing or knocking my socks off. So I thought if writing books were going to qualify as my credentials as a personal trainer than that’s what I chose.

Around 2003/2004, another personal trainer came into town and turned me on to a company called Perform Better. Together we attended their conferences on functional training, rehabilitation, and sports performance. After going to that 3-day summit with other personal trainers, coaches, and therapists and soaking up the information, I vowed to myself to never stop attending fitness conferences.  The information that I gathered which had been gained in the 3 years of not going to conferences was enormous. It made me go home and

  1. Feel very humbled
  2. Lose a lot of arrogance, thinking that I knew what I was doing with the information that I had from the past, because so much had already changed, and
  3. Realize that if I don’t change what I’m doing every three to six months, then that information is old and lost and I’m not being the best I can to the people that I train.

The Importance of Getting Outside

Man-made surfaces are very uniform. They’re very structured; they’re very parallel.  They’re not uneven; they’re not chaotic.  Our world is meant to be undulating and chaotic. Our body, our central nervous system, is intended to adapt to our environment.  Unfortunately, man-made environments are causing our bodies to adapt in ways that are causing muscular imbalances that cause poor posture, and chronic pain.  So by getting outside we get away from the stressed environments, we find ourselves in.  We’re able to breathe; we’re able to remember what it is we really are — that we’re part of the planet, part of the ecosystem, and we’re not being extracted out of that natural world.

Although the majority of our programs are inside our fitness center, we continue to incorporate this important principle. The workouts, the exercises have a focus on counteracting the symmetry our bodies experience throughout the day.  They’re asymmetric; they can be undulating and sometimes a bit chaotic to force the body to adapt to new movements that it doesn’t typically experience.  They bring the outside world our bodies were designed for inside the gym, and when we can, we also head outside and smell the ocean air while doing part of our workout.

Sedentary Lifestyle

When I opened my first gym, I had many programs that took advantage of the outside and the fact that it was less than a mile from the beach. I thought it was important to get outside because we get disconnected with nature; we get disconnected with the outside.

Most people today are living extremely sedentary lifestyles. They’re in four-walled environments where I doubt if many actually set their feet down on non-man made surfaces. We go outside and step on the stairs that somebody built, walk down the walkway that someone paved, cross the manicured lawn that somebody laid out. We get in our car or walk on a sidewalk or parking lot into a building that somebody built. Rarely do most people ever go back to nature and feel what it’s like to be out in the water or into a forest or on a beach. It is important for the body to experience that instead of always being cooped up on man-made surfaces

Lifestyle Choices and Fitness

In terms of health, if we can consider it being on a spectrum.  On one end is optimal health where you’re truly at the best you can be, at your peak.  At the other side of the spectrum, you have pathologically diseased bodies.  Somewhere in the middle, there’s dysfunction.  So when people come in here, hopefully, they’ll fall more on the side of dysfunction to optimal health rather than on the side of dysfunction to pathology.

Age plays a factor, but I don’t believe it’s as big of a factor as many people want to believe that it is.  If that were the case, then the former mayor of Santa Cruz who just turned 84 years old – Katherine Beiers – would not have just run the Boston marathon in one of the best times she’s ever run it, nor will she continue to run it next year.  So the question becomes if age is a limiting factor, which to a degree it is, why do we have so many people who are septuagenarians, octogenarians or beyond who are still leading very functional lives in healthy bodies?

If we look at their lifestyle, we would most likely find that they do not succumb to the conditions of the American lifestyle.  They’ve fought it.  What I’m trying to say is that they do not ride around in time saving, labor saving devices very often.  They’re either out walking, biking, running.  They’re moving their bodies to transport themselves rather than sitting in a chair and pushing a pedal down and turning a wheel a little bit.  I think what it really comes down to is that the American lifestyle is continually degrading, creating dysfunction, and eventually pathology.  Add into that our decisions towards poorer nutrition, poor eating habits and a poor lifestyle we now have diabetes as the number two poor-lifestyle-choice disease in America, the first being lung cancer and emphysema brought on by cigarette smoking.

These are lifestyle choices people are making in our society.  If we were working in a more hunting/gathering lifestyle in a third world nation where we don’t have luxury items and time-saving devices, I would bet that our bodes would not be so dysfunctional.  You don’t see the Maasai tribe having a lot of chiropractors in their village.  You don’t see a lot of the Brazilian rain forest natives having to go and get a lot of arthroscopic surgery because they’re continually using their bodies in a way they were designed to be used.  So if we can live more toward that type of lifestyle, all the better.

If you’re coming to us with these lifestyle effects, there are things we can do to offset it.  There are exercises we can do to stimulate proper movement and function within the muscles and joints of the body.  If we can reinforce that on a daily basis and combine that with healthier lifestyle choices through the day of more movement and less sitting, then I think you can retard the onset of pathology and actually reverse a lot of that process.  If there is any pain, we can help eliminate it or substantially reduce it – mitigate it at least to some degree.

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