How AJP Training is different than corporate gyms

My keychain is proof that I'm no stranger to big-box gyms. 

I still have old tags from Gold's, LA Fitness and Fitness First on there. I'm also a former member of 24 Hour Fitness, Anytime Fitness and -- for a short time during the NHL playoffs a few years back-- Boston Sports Club. Each gym served a purpose: They all allowed me to work out, often while traveling as I covered various sporting events for FOX Sports, USA Today and AOL Sports.

But all these gyms also shaped how I wanted to train people-- years before I embarked on this venture.

I won't name the gym, but I did one of those free assessments they give out to new members at those gyms. The trainer put me through a few "tests," including pull-ups. I hoisted myself up on the bar and completed 26 without stopping. 

"You know, you were really struggling on those last few," he quipped. 

I thought to myself, "Really? You do half that many." I just shook my head and all but laughed when he tried to sell me on one those expensive packages the gym offered. 

He failed to detect tightness in my hip flexors and weak serratus anterior muscles. (AJPT also offers such an assessment free of charge, although ours tend to be more thorough.) This trainer also made me feel like I was the most out-of-shape person he saw that day, which I was pretty sure wasn't the case. 

But what if it was? For those who are trying to better themselves, would this be the kind of trainer you would pay hundreds of dollars to train you? Is that how you want to start off your client-trainer relationship? 

Trainers get a bad rap, frankly, because there are some bad ones. I've seen plenty over the years in my travels just as I saw plenty of awful journalists in my time as a writer. Every industry has them.

Selecting your trainer is a very important, personal decision. (And it can also be a very expensive one if you get locked into a high-priced contract or even pay per session at a chain gym.) You've already made the first major step by setting foot into a gym, which can be a menacing place. Now, you're counting on a trainer to help you achieve your fitness goals. You're putting a lot of trust in whomever you hire with the hopes he or she won't relocate to another gym as often happens. 

A new client of mine said that my gym intimidated her after she viewed this website. I can totally see her point. I do post videos of myself doing some advanced things from time to time. AJP Training isn't flashy. We don't have a sauna, pool or showers. (We are working on the latter.) There are no machines in my gym space --- and that's by design. 

Here's my longtime client Steve taking the sled for a spin around the facility. 

Here's my longtime client Steve taking the sled for a spin around the facility. 

We use the TRX Suspension Trainer, slide board, free weights, sled, battle ropes and other instruments that are, in my opinion, much more effective. In fact, my gym resembles more of a CrossFit gym than a Planet Fitness. (Like Planet Fitness, we don't have lunks here either.) While we do Olympic lifting with some clients, it's the exception not the rule like in CrossFit. 

AJPT doesn't have to be fancy because we only offer one-on-one and small-group training. You'll have my full attention from your initial assessment through each hourlong session. My rates are affordable (likely much more affordable than what a corporate gym can offer) and you won't get locked into a long-term contract. 

I'm confident enough in my abilities as a trainer that you'll not only get results, but enjoy doing it. While this gym can seem spartan, there's plenty here to challenge you. (I'll make sure of that.) I also do my best to make it as inviting as possible -- even if you can't do 26 pull-ups (or even one) with perfect technique. 


AJP Training to take part in 2015 Superhero 5k on Sunday

There won't be a boot camp this Sunday, but we will still be sweating. 

AJP Training is fielding a team for the SuperHero 5k Run at Bolen Park in Leesburg. The race is at 8:30 a.m on Sunday (April 19). You are encouraged to dress up like a superhero and AJPT will provide capes with our logo on it to those who sign up. 

You can register at this link and make sure when you do that you select "AJP Training" as your team. (I know some of my clients hate running, so you have the option to walk.) While online registration closes on Friday, you can also sign up packet pickup on Saturday (11 am -2 pm) at Potomac River Running in Leesburg or before the race, if you get there an hour before the start. 

After the race, we will head over to Eggspectation in Leesburg for a team brunch. 

This is our first venture outside the confines of AJPT and I want to show the public the progress many of you have made --- and this is a fun way to do so. 


AJP Training hits the airwaves

I was honored to be a guest on News Channel 8's "Sportstalk" last week. 

Here's a look at my half-hour appearance with DC sports media legend Glenn Harris.  It was a great experience, even if I was nervous at first. We covered my approach to fitness, my transformation from the days when I tipped the scales at more than 230 pounds and my experience at the World's Toughest Mudder. 

What's inside that food supplement bottle? Possible danger, not a path toward getting fit

I admit to contributing to the multibillion dollar food supplement industry. 

A couple different kinds of proteins can be found on my counter now. My supplement habit in prior years was much worse as bottles and tubs littered my kitchen --- at least before I began my reporting on the supplement industry years ago.

It's why I became so choosy when it came to my supplement usage and why I recommend only organic protein to my clients. (I also tell them to use such a supplement only if they can't achieve dietary goals on diet alone.) The topic of fraudulent and potentially dangerous herbal supplements re-emerged this week when the New York State attorney general’s office accused GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart of selling products that didn't contain the ingredients listed on the labels. 

“This investigation makes one thing abundantly clear: the old adage ‘buyer beware’ may be especially true for consumers of herbal supplements,” New York Attorney General Schneiderman said in a statement. "Mislabeling, contamination, and false advertising are illegal. They also pose unacceptable risks to New York families—especially those with allergies to hidden ingredients."

A story I broke at USA TODAY showed more than just missing ingredients and fillers that were not listed on the label. My report, citing a study that was released after my story ran, found "that 13 of the 52 supplements (25%) purchased at various U.S. retailers contained small amounts of steroids and six (11.5%) had banned stimulants."

Yes, steroids and stimulants. 

Not much has changed in policing the supplement industry, which spent more than $4 million last year lobbying lawmakers.

The Food and Drug Administration still doesn't have nearly the authority to police supplements as it does with over-the-counter and prescription drugs. You can blame the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) for neutering oversight of the supplement industry and why -- despite some recent efforts to target a few manufacturers and distributors -- consumers should remain wary. 

Thanks to legislation sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., supplement makers have been required to report any adverse events to the FDA since 2008. I did the first report a few months after it became law and detailed at least five deaths among those "adverse events."

"The dietary supplement industry claimed that they had no reports of health problems — zero — related to their products," Durbin said. 

One thing I couldn't report when I wrote that story back then was one very, uhh, very adverse event for a middle-aged man who purchased a supplement called Viapro. (USA TODAY is a family paper, after all.) This unfortunate soul bought the male-enhancement supplement at a truck stop. 

You know those disclaimers for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra about seeking medical help for erections lasting longer than four hours? This guy was aroused far longer than that and -- despite medical intervention -- he suffered from penile fibrosis and was left with permanent erectile dysfunction. 

The adverse-event report -- which came from a doctor at the hospital where this man was treated --- claimed that Viapro didn't list any ingredients that would have caused such a reaction similar to a side effect of prescription erectile dysfunction drugs.

Later tests by the FDA showed Viapro contained hio-methisosildenafil, a chemical that is similar to sildenafil (Viagra). 

The FDA took action as it usually does in these cases: It asked the manufacturer, EG Labs, to recall Viapro. The FDA has the authority to recall supplements and has done so in greater numbers in recent years, although as The New York Times pointed out last year (citing research in the Journal of the American Medical Association) it's an uphill battle. 

Since 2004, about half of all F.D.A. drug recalls have involved dietary supplements found to be contaminated with banned pharmaceutical ingredients. Supplement industry trade groups say that these products are usually manufactured and sold by a few bad actors who represent the fringe of the roughly $33 billion a year supplement industry.

I don't want to demonize the entire industry. There are a few good supplement companies out there. I think there are a handful of supplements that show promise, like MCT oil. But, in time, many of these supplements fail to withstand peer-reviewed studies when their claims are put to a test. 

Also keep in mind no supplement will make up for a bad diet and lackluster exercise program.

Keeping score: Why it's important to track your diet, workouts

Every hour, a local big box gym replays the same message touting their personal training services. 

"What gets measured gets improved."

This gym is referring to testing one's body fat, something that we do at AJP Training as well. But much more important to reaching your fitness goals than a periodic body fat measurement -- especially if losing weight is among those goals -- is tracking what you eat and your workouts. 

Here is a look at my diary on MyFitnessPal. 

Here is a look at my diary on MyFitnessPal. 

Technology has made the once-laborious task easy. Most of us have smartphones and there are some great apps. (I have several of my clients on the MyFitnessPal app, which has both iOS and Android versions.) It has a deep database of the foods (and restaurants), so it's easy to compile what you eat throughout the day so you know how close you are to your diet goals. (Calories remain the best measure, but it also tracks sodium, protein and fiber intake.) 

For some clients, it's been a eye-opener. ("Did I really consume 4,000 calories? Wow.") I ask each client to give it a week to at the very least get a sense of what they're doing right and wrong.

There's also strong evidence that keeping a diet journal plays a key role in weight loss. Take a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that followed 1,685 overweight or obese US adults aged 25 and older.

Here's a summary of the study by ABC News:

Those who used a food diary more than five days a week lost almost twice as much weight as those who didn't. And perhaps more impressively, they kept the weight off.

When keeping food diaries, dieters write down, for better or worse, every calorie that passes through their lips each day.

Frank Bitzer, a 64-year-old retired project manager and study subject, lost 26 pounds during the study, and his cholesterol dropped to healthy levels. Today, four years after the end of the study, he has kept off 20 pounds and continues to feel the positive health effects. Asked about his experiences with keeping a food diary, he described it as "enlightening." He attributed much of his success to the ability to gain immediate information and "see the error of your ways.

"The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost,” said Jack Hollis, a researcher at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research who was the lead author of the study. “It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories.” 

And tracking isn't just limited to your diet.

Apps like MyFitnessPal allow you to enter in your own workouts and many apps can sync to a wearable tracking device, like a Fitbit or Microsoft Band. Devices like the Microsoft Band, Fitbit HR and the forthcoming Apple Watch also can track your heart rate, which can let you know during your workouts exactly how much you're exerting yourself. 

As a trainer, it's easy to judge exactly where on the VT1 and VT2 threshold my clients are, but such devices are very effective when they're working out on their own.  

I also keep a log for every workout for my clients at AJP Training with the help of Google Sheets. (I keep a tally going during each workout with the Google Drive app.) A client can log in shortly after their workout and see what we did and how they're progressing. 

Here's a recent workout of mine below. 

None of these apps and wearables are perfect. It still requires effort to log everything you consume and there's no doubt you might forget to enter in that handful of M&Ms or shot of Jager. 

But when you track your diet and workouts, you're doing more than just entering info. You're also taking ownership of your fitness goals.