A new Foundation: Inside the move to Ashburn

Today marks the first day I will be training clients at Foundation Fitness, leaving the only location my training business called home since November 2014. 

I took a year off from journalism to start AJP Training. I didn't have any clients. No business plan. No capital. Zero loans. I hadn't even been certified by ACE yet.

Somehow, it all worked out. A big thanks to Goalie Academy owner Darren Hersh who, for some reason, let me take over vacated training space upstairs. 

This is how it looked after I moved in: 

And here's how it looked a couple weeks ago as I prepared for the move a few miles away:

Yes, plenty has changed. As my client count grew, I was able to outfit the gym exactly how I wanted. I thank all those clients who stuck with me as I transformed the space and, as you can see, even add more square footage and some new equipment 12 months ago. 

In recent months, it became clear that Darren's new ice facility, the Loudoun Ice Center, wouldn't have space for my training business despite his efforts. So, I'd have to find a new place to train this spring.

A confluence of events led me to Foundation Fitness. The Ashburn location is the chain's sixth in the D.C. region as management for the company had just taken over an existing gym. Lance and Kevin, who head up Foundation Fitness, share the same vision when it comes to training. 

So here I am. Most everything has been moved to my new training location. No, you won't see any AJP Training logos around, but since the it's a silhouette, all I'd have to do is pose if you want a reminder.  

That logo, created by friend and regular boot camp participant John Kosask, won't be fully retired. Nor is the name AJP Training. Instead, AJPT will be focused on sports performance group training for youth teams, and my online training app. This website, will also remain. My cell numbers and email will also be unchanged. 

Really, the only thing that will change is the address. (44927 George Washington Boulevard, Ashburn, VA 20147) I'll be there along with plenty of TRXs, bands, Bosu balls kettlebells. There will be fewer pucks flying around, however. 

AJP Training takes on the Half Mudder

Obstacle course races have grown in popularity. 

Pretty much non-existent a decade ago, about four million people will take part in some type of mud run by year's end. Still, it takes a certain kind of person to sign up for such a race with all the walls, running, wild obstacles and, of course, mud, involved. 

AJP Training took a nine-member team to the Half Mudder on June 12, most competing in their first obstacle race.  I left the five-mile course in Doswell, Va., very proud of each member. (It didn't hurt we had the best shirts on the course.) We stuck together, competed hard and finished as a group.

From left front: Hugo, Lori, Andy, Elizabeth. From left back: Sharon, A.J., Sherry, Eddie, Jessica

From left front: Hugo, Lori, Andy, Elizabeth. From left back: Sharon, A.J., Sherry, Eddie, Jessica

Lori has trained at AJPT either on her own or with her husband, Eddie, for about a year. (Eddie also was part of Team AJPT.) She's a black belt in Krav Maga, but admittedly not a runner. 

"I am so happy I decided to do the Half Mudder -- even though I'm still sore from it," Lori said. "I wanted to do it because it looked like a fun challenge. I had never done anything like this before, and it gave me motivation to train and get myself into better shape. My biggest fear going in was that I wasn't going to be able to run the whole thing or finish an obstacle."

Eddie and Lori

Eddie and Lori

This was my 11th Tough Mudder event overall, although this was the first time I've run as a team. I told everybody we would have to stick together and help one another, no matter what. Really, that mini-speech wasn't needed. Everybody worked as a group perfectly. 

"The obstacles are not only about doing them, but helping the person behind you," Loris said. "My favorite part was the team atmosphere that the event had. Everyone was really there to have fun and help each other out. It wasn't a race and it wasn't about finishing first, it was about finishing together, which we did. I'm going to keep training (once I stop being sore from this one), and try to do another event soon!"

Elizabeth

Elizabeth

At 16, Elizabeth was our youngest team member. She began training at AJPT last year and has since joined her high school crew team, but this was her first race of any kind outside of a 5K in elementary school. You kind of know what to expect in a typical 5k: You just run. It's a little different when there are 12 obstacles laid out ahead of you. 

"I'm not a very big 'wait for the unknown' type of person. So running a course that you don't even know what's waiting for you just around the corner was nerve racking for me," Elizabeth said. "After building my confidence in the first few obstacles with my team, I felt I could accomplish anything."

You could see the trepidation turn to pure confidence as we progressed through the course. 

"Eventually, during the run, I realized that sometimes not knowing is only half fun," Elizabeth said. "Every obstacle that my team and I came across was nothing short of exhilarating. To sum it up, completing my first Tough Mudder was a huge accomplishment for me."

It took some convincing for Hugo, another longtime AJPT client, to warm up to the idea of running the Half Mudder. 

"I definitely overcame a non-rational fear of running," Hugo said. " I loved the obstacles, any excuse to act like a monkey and I'm happy." 

Hugo

Hugo

But it wasn't the obstacles like Everest 2.0 (where we had to run up a quarter-pipe) or the Berlin Walls (8-foot walls we scaled) that sticks out most in Hugo's mind. It was a conversation with his husband (and AJPT client) Joel afterward. 

"The moment I remember most is when Joel told me he was proud of me," Hugo said.

 

How much fat could you gain on Thanksgiving Day?

Thanksgiving is upon us again, and the traditional turkey, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie will be consumed by millions of Americans on Thursday. Oh, and, probably some alcohol to cope with that right- and/or left-wing uncle of yours. Drink responsibly, especially if you're drinking Jager. 

Now, I’m not saying to gorge away, but also don’t panic if you have eat an entire turkey leg -- even if that turkey leg is fried and covered in mashed potatoes -- and 13 cans of PBR Gluten Free. 

The accepted -- if not flawed --  number of excess calories needed to gain a pound of fat is 3,500.  That means you’d have to consume that number above your daily caloric needs, which varies by your weight, height, activity level and metabolism.

Yes, you could easily exceed an extra 3,500 calories, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll gain a full pound of body fat. The “3,500” number possibly isn’t even accurate, mainly since it’s derived from studies that show you can lose a pound per week if you consume 500 fewer calories per day. (7X500=3,500). The research on if that number applies is seriously lacking. 

Plus it doesn’t take into account an individual’s metabolism and there’s also a limit to the amount of food your stomach enzymes can process before your body, basically, gives up and passes what you digested to you bowels before it’s absorbed.

Now, your scale could show a pound -- or more --  when you step on it the next day. Don’t freak out. It can take your body more than a couple days to pass all the food you eat, including transient water weight.

One way to put those concerns at ease (if you don’t want to practice some self restraint) is to work out before your meal. And AJP Training just happens to have a boot camp at 10 a.m. Thanksgiving morning where you can burn roughly 800 calories ahead of your feast. 

World's Toughest Mudder: I'm back for more

LAS VEGAS -- My parents weren’t too thrilled about my entry into the World’s Toughest Mudder last year.

Yes, they drove all the way out to Las Vegas from my hometown of Gilroy, Calif., to help support their son for the 24-hour obstacle race. (My dad even helped set up my tent and served as my lone pit crew member.) But, as you might expect, they weren’t thrilled with the shape their son was in after traversing 50-plus miles and a couple hundred obstacles.

After a stop at In-N-Out for my post-race meal last November, my mother stared at her pale son who was in considerable pain on the hotel couch with a look of disapproval. I hadn’t seen her that pissed since I told her I was going to pursue a journalism career.  

“You aren’t going to do this race again, are you?” she asked.

Even if my body -- which needed a wheelchair to get through Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport the next day –-  was basically immobile, my mind had already been made up.

“I think I can do 10 more miles next year,” I replied. 

As I wrote last year for OZY.com, I handled the challenge of my first endurance obstacle race with decent results. (I finished 227th out of more than 1,100 competitors.) Even though the below-freezing sandstorm knocked out two-thirds of the field and I was left with frostbitten fingers, I was back at work right away and working out again a few days later thanks to the help of master masseuse Hugh Bradin.

A look at this year's course.

A look at this year's course.

Now, it’s time for another World’s Toughest Mudder. With some small tweaks, the race hasn’t changed too much. The Cliff, the 30-foot jump off a platform and into Lake Las Vegas, will be used at night, which may not be fun. (I went headfirst during one of my jumps last year and that felt below average.) My training has gone well, outside a nagging Achilles tendon issue. 

So, yeah, I have a shot at 60 miles. Will I be as fortunate to avoid injury as I have been at all my obstacle races? (This will be my 10th Tough Mudder event overall and I’ve done several other obstacle races.) Let’s hope so.

I look forward to hanging with Dan Shaivitz, who got me through my final lap last year, and others I've met over the months, if only virtually or through phone conversations for my OZY.com and USA TODAY Sports stories that delved into this race. 

If you want to follow along, here’s the link. (The iOS app can be found here.) The race begins at 2 pm PT on Saturday. I’ll be updating my Instagram and Twitter feeds as I go.

Cover photo courtesy of the COED YouTube channel. 
 

You need to get a grip: Developing grip strength is key

Nearly three years ago, I got a few rungs into monkey bars at my first Tough Mudder and slipped. 

I fell into the water underneath the Funky Monkey obstacle at the Nevada course, something that again happened moments later as I tried it again. On my third try, I made it all the way across. After a quick fist pump as I jogged off, I realized that I was foolish for not working more on my grip strength. 

Developing grip strength isn’t always the most enjoyable endeavor. (I see it in the eyes of my clients after eyes’ roll when utter the word “hangs” during a session.) Such exercises, however, is crucial --- and not just for hockey, tennis, baseball players and golfers. 

A major study published in the journal Lancet in July revealed grip strength can predict the risk of cardiovascular disease that leads to heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure. Researchers from the Prospective Urban-Rural Epidemiology (PURE) surveyed nearly 140,000 people in 17 countries, measuring the grip strength of each over the course of four years. A 5kg (11-pound) decrease in grip strength was linked to a 17% increase in cardiovascular death and 16% increase in overall mortality. 

“Our study suggests that measurement of grip strength is a simple, inexpensive risk-stratifying method to assess risk of death, particularly in individuals who develop a major illness, and that muscle strength is a risk marker for incident cardiovascular disease in a number of countries and populations,” PURE researchers wrote in the study. 

Now, that doesn’t mean if you can hang from a pull-up bar for five consecutive minutes or can do farmer carries forever will ensure you’ll have good health. (But if you can do either of those things, you’ll probably in pretty good shape.) Grip strength training, however, should be part of your workout routine. 

Our fingers don’t have muscles that have anything to do with grip strength. The fingers have tendons and ligaments that rely (mostly) on the muscles in the forearms to grip and hold. 

There are several exercises I make my clients do at my gym to work the forearms. Here are a few of my favorites: 

Hangs from the pull-up bar. Not everybody can do a pull-up, but most can hang for at least 10 seconds. No, it's not the most exciting of exercises.  Progressing to longer and longer hangs can lead to major gains in grip strength. From there, you can progress to pull-ups (even some with a weight vest on like I have pictured here). 

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Farmer carries. At my gym, we typically do these up and down stairs to get the legs involved. It’s a simple exercise: You hold dumbbell in each hand that are heavy enough to tax your forearms. Here's Jen doing some farmer carries during a recent AJPT boot camp.

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Adding some thickness. I like to pull out my 2.5-inch Iron Bull Alpha Grips and put them over my dumbbells, the Olympic bar or even the TRX. This makes it impossible to curl your fingers, making your forearms work even harder on curls, shrugs --- just about any exercise. 

Now, we also do ball, towel and piston pull-ups, but those are more advance workouts. But the three methods I mention above are staples here at AJPT.