Written on August 30, 2011 at 7:02 am, by Eric Cressey
As most of you are probably aware, Hurricane Irene worked its way up the East coast of the U.S. this past weekend and really threw people for a loop with flooding, power outages, fallen trees, and all sorts of damages. My wife and I got off pretty easily; we just had to go eight hours on Sunday without power – a far cry from what a lot of other folks encountered. And, our dog, Tank, was entertained all day as he played weatherdog and stared the window to watch the rain.
Oddly enough, those eight hours proved to be wildly productive for me. Thanks to a fully charged laptop battery, I was able to write a half dozen programs for clients, a blog, and the introduction of a new article for T-Nation. I read over 100 pages in a book, took a nap, and even went over to Cressey Performance to get a day ahead on my strength training program…in the dark and without music (for the record, this is one more reason free weights are better than machines: no electricity needed).
In short, it was an extremely productive day for me in comparison to typical Sundays in spite of the fact that the weather outside was miserable and it would have been very easy to get antsy from “cabin fever.” What made this day so much more productive than many others for me?
There were zero distractions.
No Facebook and no twitter. No emails or text messages. No television or phone calls. No absurdly painful “I feel like I’m shopping at Old Navy” techno playing on Tony’s iPod. It was absolute bliss.
Now, don’t get me wrong; human interaction is a huge part of my daily life as a coach, writer, consultant, and barrel-chested freedom fighter. I don’t just sit inside and think of ways to avoid human interaction so that I can be more productive. However, some peace and quiet sure is nice – and that’s why, in fact, that this blog is being written at 6:40AM. It’s an empty house with complete silence. In a few minutes, I’ll head over to the facility – an empty facility with complete silence. A good hour or so in there before anyone else arrives gives me the leg-up on the day that I need to be productive.
It’s taken me 360 words to get to my point, but the take home message is very simple:
If you want to be successful in your
strength and conditioning programs,
get rid of the distractions around you.
I talk to athletes about how everything they do takes them one step closer to their goals – or one step further away. Each decision they make should be a calculated choice that weighs pros and cons in the context of their goal.
For instance, a training partner can be a great addition to a strength and conditioning program – but it can be an unbelievable failure if that individual is always late for training, gets too chatty between sets, or is an inattentive spotter. That’s a distraction that you have complete control over keeping or removing from your life. A bad one can destroy you – but a great one can be a huge advantage.
However, most distractions aren’t so easy to eliminate. Family life, work, injuries, car troubles, inclement weather, busy gyms, and a host of other factors can all create stressful distractions that interfere with progress. The most successful clients I’ve encountered are the ones who understand how to balance all these competing demands and keep distraction out of the task at hand – whether it’s lifting or working on a big project.
Here are my top five suggestions on how to get rid of or manage some of the most common distractions and inconveniences that can sabotage your strength training program.
1. Leave your cell phone in the car – I can say without wavering that this is the single-biggest distraction I see nowadays, as mine rings off the hook on most days. However, back in March, I went nine days without mine while I was in Costa Rica and the world didn’t end. I’m happy to report that shutting yours off for 90 minutes won’t lead to any catastrophes – and you’ll get strong in the process. This sign over the gym entrance at CP says it all.
2. Always have a plan B – If you train in a busy commercial gym at peak hours, you know it can be pretty tough to get access to the exact equipment you need. Rather than stand around and wait 15-20 minutes for it, your best bet is to go into the session knowing what would be a suitable replacement for each strength exercise. The chest-supported row is taken? No worries; here’s a blog with a few good substitutes: No Chest-Supported Row? No Problem.
Here are a few other posts along these lines that might interest you:
The point is that no matter how busy your gym gets, there is always a plan B. In fact, post a comment with the most common “shortcoming” you have in terms of equipment access, and I’ll devote a future blog to the topic, outlining several potential substitutes for you. I like a good challenge.
3. When injured, there is always something you can do to get better – To be blunt, there is nothing that bothers me more in this world than people who constantly piss and moan about their circumstances. I’ve read that Walt Disney was once so broke that he ate dog food. Years back, Donald Trump went billions of dollars into combined business and personal debt – and he’s certainly turned out okay. Thomas Edison was yanked out of school at a young age because his teachers thought he was stupid – and he went on to teenage years in the workforce that consisted of being fired multiple times. Tiger Woods missed a big chunk of time – and an absurd amount of money – when he had his ACL reconstruction.
You, on the other hand, are going to turn into Johnny Raincloud because you have tennis elbow and can’t do your curls for a week? Cry me a river…somewhere else, please.
Put on a happy face and magical things happen. Figure out what you can do – and then do it.
Quit your complaining; whining is just your way of distracting yourself.
4. Have home training options – There are going to be times when life simply gets in the way of what you had planned. Maybe it’s a sick kid at home or inclement weather that prevents you from getting to the gym. At these times, it’s incredibly advantageous to have some equipment (or body weight training templates in mind) that you can use to ensure that your strength and conditioning program doesn’t miss a beat. Some kettlebells can be great, and I’m a big fan of the TRX. In fact, I liked it so much that I brought mine to Costa Rica, and when combined with sprinting on the beach, we had great training sessions all week.
5. Communicate with those around you – I think that one of the reason that some folks have issues with distractions with respect to exercise is that they don’t clearly relate to those around them that it’s important to them. Most people find time for training instead of making time for it. If it’s important to you, block it off in your schedule and let those around you know that this is the case; they’ll be more respectful of your “important time” and let you do your thing unless an emergency comes up.
These five tips are, of course, just a few of the many ways that you can eliminate distractions from your strength and conditioning programs. What strategies have you found to be useful when it comes to keeping your focus?
Written on August 29, 2011 at 6:11 am, by Eric Cressey
Here’s a week of this week’s recommended strength and conditioning reads:
The Keys to Success for Females in the Fitness Industry – This is a free webinar Rachel Cosgrove is putting on tomorrow (Tuesday) night. Rachel’s one of the most in-demand trainers, speakers, consultants, and writers in the world of female strength and conditioning, and she’s sure to provide some excellent information that can help any of the up-and-coming female fitness professionals reading this blog.
Getting Into Your Toes – Charlie Weingroff makes some excellent points about toe positioning in our strength and conditioning programs. A subtle modification could have some really positive effects on our strength training programs and stretching protocols.
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Written on August 24, 2011 at 4:53 am, by Eric Cressey
Kelly Baggett has done some outstanding guest posts here in the past, and I figured it was time for another one, so I reached out to him and got this insightful piece back a day later.
As I’ve stated many times in the past, based on my experience and observations, real world displays of athleticism and quickness are often more similar to dancing than they are something like measurable speed and power. Unfortunately, most training methods target tension application, but they don’t really target the release of tension.
Watch high level athletes performing high level moves at extreme speed and you’ll usually find the moves are trademarked by total and complete phases of relaxation. Dwayne Wade is an excellent example – he literally looks like he’s gliding along the court, toying and dancing with his opponent.
The ability to RELAX physically in the face of stress is often the key variable that separates the men from the boys. In fact, the best sprinters in the world are more physiologically identifiable not by how much force they can produce with a sprint stride, but how quickly and completely they can relax their muscles between strides!
This is even more obvious if you pay attention to a sport like boxing. As powerful and fast as a guy like Mike Tyson was in his prime, the key variable that allowed him to dominate was his ability to completely relax and outmaneuver his opponent and setup his mind-boggling punching power. Think of a cat: powerful, explosive, extremely quick, and RELAXED between bursts of attack to the point of almost apathy. Check out The Truth About Quickness highlight video below and pay attention huge relaxation component to the split-squat landing at the 8-10s mark; in order to stabilize those eccentric forces at the snap of a finger, you have to be relaxed, as it’s just not possible to stick that landing with the lower-body all locked up:
You’ll notice similar relaxation in the paused drop into sprint (12s mark), and around the 36s mark when Alex performs lateral hops onto the bench with pauses at the top and bottom.
If you want to be quick and are not naturally rhythmic, you must work on being relaxed. A relaxed and open mind is ultra-important. Think of what Bruce Lee said: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” And, “notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”
One mark of athletic quickness is the ability to move like water. Apply this to your sport: whatever sport you play, whatever moves you want to perfect, whatever it is you want to focus on – whether it’s basketball, tennis, infielding, football – work on your moves in the mirror and/or video and watch yourself. Imagine your body a cat and grade yourself similar to how you’d grade a dance: not by speed of movement but by efficiency of movement.
What you will find as you work on this a bit is that your movement doesn’t just become more efficient, but it also becomes much quicker and faster – all the things you DO want. However, you don’t get there initially by trying to go faster; you get there by eliminating resistance, which is tension in your antagonistic muscles.
Here’s a simple little drill you can try that illustrates this perfectly. Take your index finger and simply tap it on the desk as quickly as you can. What you’ll probably find is that the faster you try to go, the more tense you get and the slower you actually go. The more you concentrate on relaxation, the faster you can go. Now, try to apply that same principle to anything else you do requiring quickness/speed throughout your entire body. It’s simple but effective and drives home an important concept that many people neglect completely!
Kelly Baggett is the co-creator (alongside Alex Maroko) of the “Reloaded” Truth About Quickness 2.0 System. Note from EC: I’m a big fan of Kelly’s work and have endorsed this resource previously; Kelly and Alex did a great job with it. I’d encourage you to check out The Truth About Quickness, if you haven’t already.
Written on August 23, 2011 at 8:08 am, by Eric Cressey
I just wanted to give you all a quick heads-up that Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove’s Counting Reps to Counting Revenue online education course for fitness professionals is now available.
Alwyn has been a great business mentor to me over the years and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his role in making Cressey Performance what it is today. Many of the valuable ideas Alwyn shared with me over the past five years are featured in this course, which not only includes multiple seminar videos, but also an opportunity to ask Alwyn and Rachel questions specific to your business.
If you run a fitness business or aspire to do so one day, I’d strongly encourage you to check it out.
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Written on August 22, 2011 at 6:39 am, by Eric Cressey
Over the weekend, I attended my third Postural Restoration Institute seminar, Impingement and Instability. I’ve written previously about how this school of thought has profoundly impacted the way that we handle many of our athletes – and this past weekend was certainly no exception. This weekend was also my first chance to meet and learn directly from Ron Hruska, the man initially responsible for bringing many of these great ideas to light.
While I am admittedly still processing all the awesome information from the weekend, I wanted to write today about one big “Ah-Ha” moment for me over the weekend. At some point on Day 2, Ron said something to the effect of (paraphrased):
“A superior acetabulum isn’t much different than an acromion on a scapula.”
My jaw practically hit the floor. I joked with the seminar organizer that I needed to go into the restroom to yell at myself for a few minutes for not thinking of this sooner. Let me explain…
Over the past few years, there has been a huge rise in hip injuries in athletes (I’d even written about it HERE in response to a New York Times article about number of hip injuries in baseball). Sports hernias, labral tears, and femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) are commonplace findings on the health histories that I see every day on first-time evaluations. In terms of FAI, you can have bony overgrowth of the femoral head (cam), acetabulum (pincer), or both (mixed), as the graphic from Lavigne et al. below demonstrates:
Many folks say that we’re getting better diagnostically and that’s why the prevalence has increased in recent years. Let’s be real, though, folks: if we’d had hip pain and dysfunction on this level for decades, don’t you think anecdotal evidence would have at least tipped us off? I find it hard that generations of athletes would have just rubbed some dirt on a painful hip, cowboyed up, and put up with it.
Consider those over the age of 60, though. Sher et al. reported that a whopping 54% of asymptomatic shoulders in this population have rotator cuff tears; that doesn’t even include those who actually have pain! Why does this happen? They impinge over and over again on the undersurfaced of the acromion process secondary to poor thoracic positioning, scapular stabilization, breathing patterns, and rotator cuff function. The end result is reactive changes on the acromion process that lay down more and more bone as the years go on. And, an anteriorly tilted scapula kicks that impingement up a notch. The “early” cuff irritation likely comes in those with Type 3 (beak-shaped) acromions, whereas the Type 1 (flat) and Type 2 (hook) acromions need time to lay down more and more bone for their anterior tilt to bring them to threshold.
Conversely, consider femoroacetabular impingement of the hip. You can get bony overgrowth of the acetabulum, femoral head, or both. It’s widely debated whether those with FAI are born with it, or whether it becomes part of normal development in some kids. Well, I guess it would depend on whether you consider playing one sport to excess year-round “normal.”
You know what? I’d estimate that over 90% of the femoroacetabular impingement cases I’ve seen have come in hockey, soccer, and baseball players. What do these sports have in common? They all live in anterior pelvic tilt – with hockey being the absolute worst. Is it any surprise that the incidence of FAI and associated hip issues has increased dramatically since the AAU generation rolled in and kids played the same sport all 12 months of the year?
Conversely, I’ve never seen a case of FAI in a field hockey player. Additionally, when I just asked my wife (who rowed competitively in college) if she ever saw any hip issues in her teammates in years of rowing, she joked that there weren’t any until they added distance running to their training. Field hockey players and rowers live in flexion (probably one reason why they have far more disc issues). And, taking it a step further, I’ve never seen an athlete with FAI whose symptoms didn’t improve by getting into a bit more posterior pelvic tilt.
Finally, a 2009 study by Allen et al. demonstrated that in 78% of cases of cam impingement symptoms in one hip, the cam-type femoroacetabular impingement was bilateral (they also found pincer-type FAI on the opposite side in 42% of cases). If this was just some “chance” occurrence, I find it hard to believe that it would occur bilaterally in such a high percentage of cases. Excessive anterior pelvic tilt (sagittal plane) would be, in my eyes, what seems to bring it about the most quickly, and problems in the frontal and transverse planes are likely to blame for why one side presents with symptoms before the other.
People have tried to blame the increased incidence of hip injuries on resistance training. My personal opinion is that you can’t blame resistance training for the incidence, but rather the rate at which these issues reach threshold. Quality resistance training could certainly provide the variety necessary to prevent these reactive changes from occurring at a young age, or by creating a more ideal pelvic alignment to avoid a FAI hip from reaching threshold.
Conversely, a “clean-squat-bench” program is a recipe for living in anterior tilt – and squatting someone with a FAI is like overhead pressing someone with a full-thickness cuff tear; things get ugly quickly.
Honestly, this probably isn’t revolutionary for folks out there – particularly in the medical field – who have watched the prevalence of femoroacetabular impingement rise exponentially in recent years, but Ron made a great point to reaffirm a thought I’d been having for years and strengthened the argument. And, more important than the simple “Ah-Ha” that comes with this perspective is the realization that an entire generation of young athletes have been so mismanaged that we’ve actually created a new classification of developmental problems and pathologies: femoroacetabular impingement, labral tears, and sports hernias.
Written on August 18, 2011 at 9:30 pm, by Eric Cressey
Today’s post is a guest blog from current Cressey Performance intern, Tyler Simmons. I had a super busy week, so when Tyler brought up this topic at CP the other day, I jumped at the opportunity to get him to write about it. You won’t be disappointed.
Many people don’t know this, but before 1979, there were no public health guidelines for what foods our citizens should eat. So where would we be now without a food pyramid?
In the 1950s, a researcher named Ancel Keys developed a theory that certain dietary fats were a major cause of heart disease. Although the support for this theory was weak, it would eventually become the basis of nutritional recommendations for the entire country. This eventually morphed in to the theory that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat cause heart disease, and for the public it was easy to make the jump that these also cause weight gain and obesity.
So the US government decided to step in for the benefit of the uneducated masses and save us from imminent death and obesity.
The result? Since 1979, when the McGovern Committee made the first “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” we’ve been encouraged to eat less animal fat, less cholesterol, and more grains. And, we were pretty successful at it; Americans adopted our new food guidelines and embraced a low-fat way of eating for the last 30 years. Here’s a chart of how are diets have changed over the last 100 years:
Source: Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):950-62.
We did a pretty good job. We’ve eaten less fat, less beef, less pork, and less dairy (fear the butter!) At the same time, we’ve eaten more chicken, more shortening, and drastically more soy oil (healthy fat right?).
Let’s check out this next graph to see what incredible health benefits we’ve gained as a result of this magnificent advice and our stellar compliance:
Who can tell me when it the obesity rate really starts to rise? Oh wow, 1980…but that’s when we got all the good advice to eat less animal fat, more grains, and more vegetable oil.
So what can we take away from this? A couple of things:
1. Eating more soy oil was a bad idea.
2. “Healthy whole grains” may not be so healthy after all.
3. Maybe the animal fat and red meat wasn’t actually the problem after all.
Numbers two and three here could span several articles in their own right. But for now, let’s just look at one, the soy oil.
You’ve probably heard about the “heart-healthy” fats called polyunsaturated fatty acids a.k.a. PUFAs. These include soy oil, canola oil, corn oil, and peanut oil. The high intake of omega-6 PUFAs is one of the most dramatic shifts in the American diet since 1909 with an especially large jump after 1970.
I think that the evidence shows that eating soy oil is about as smart as playing in traffic.
The graphs above suggest that PUFA’s aren’t particularly good for us and that we’ve been tricked in to becoming obese. What we’re looking at is epidemiological data, which can only show associations. We can see that eating at the same time we started eating way more PUFAs, we saw a striking increase in obesity. This is just association; it doesn’t show cause and effect.
So let’s look at a couple pieces of more direct evidence for why we should avoid PUFAs in our diet if we want to get jacked, stay lean, and rock a six-pack into old age.
Studies on rodent and humans demonstrate that the more omega-6 PUFA you eat, the more fat you gain.
Inarodentstudy, three groups of rats ate diets with identical amounts of fat, protein, and carbohydrate, differing only in the type of fat they were eating. One group had beef tallow (low omega-6), the second had olive oil (moderate omega-6), and the third had safflower oil (tons of omega-6). Compared to the beef tallow group, the olive oil rats gained 7.5% in total body weight, and the safflower oil grouped gained 12.3% total body weight. The more omega-6, the fatter they got.
Inanotherstudy, 782 men were split in to two groups that ate isocaloric diets (they ate the same amount of calories) for 5 years. The only difference between the two groups was that one ate animal fats and the other ate vegetable oils (very high in omega-6). Compared to the animal fat group, the vegetable oil group had consistent increases in body fat and body weight. By the end of the study the vegetable oil group weighed 5% more on average.
I have found that when working with athletes and people who just want to look better, modifying omega-6 intake is a critical factor in fat loss.
Keep in mind that fat gain is mult-faceted in its causes. I’m not suggesting that omega-6 is the sole reason for fat gain, just that it is a significant factor. There are a variety of reasons to eat less omega-6 fats beyond the fat gaining characteristics, so limit the vegetable/seed oils and don’t be scared of animal fats.
And be skeptical of any advice you get from the government.
Written on August 17, 2011 at 5:06 am, by Eric Cressey
Here’s a list of recommended strength and conditioning reads (and views) for the week:
The Death of Personal Training – This is a great webinar by Alwyn Cosgrove that won’t air until 8/22, but you can sign up now to get access. Alwyn was a great mentor to me on the business side of things when I was starting out, so it promises to be a very insightful event. Plus, he’s always hilarious when he presents!
Simple Posture Correction – Jim “Smitty” Smith introduces an excellent drill you can use to work on excessive scapular anterior tilt and poor thoracic mobility.
Evidence-Based Coaching – Sam Leahey clearly put a ton of work into compiling this post; the trainers and coaches out there will really benefit from reading this, even if it is a bit lengthy.
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Written on August 15, 2011 at 7:08 am, by Eric Cressey
Last May, my buddy Dave Jack put me in touch with a local chiropractic neurologist, Dr. Peter Percuoco. I was still somewhat new to Hudson, MA – and “Dr. P” was a resource that Dave thought would be a great addition to our corner. In his exact words, “Wait until you start to drill down inside this guy’s brain…be prepared to go there, EC!”
Dr. P and I met up the following week, and sure he enough, he more than lived up to Dave’s flattering description – and he’s become an excellent clinical resource for us to this day.
What I didn’t expect to learn, that day, is that he was ready to piss some excellence by becoming a client at Cressey Performance.
Though an accomplished high school and college football quarterback back in the day, Dr. P had – like many folks in the health and human performance industry do – put everyone else’s needs ahead of his own, and it had taken a toll on his body. He was ready to change that, though – and that’s exactly what he did.
Over the past 10.5 months, Peter has completely changed his body. In fact, the transformation has been so impressive that we have gotten quite a few of his patients and friends at CP simply because they’ve seen what it’s done to not just his body, but his energy levels, athleticism, and overall quality of life. I’d argue that Dr. P was already pissing some serious excellence when he first started at CP – but we unleashed a firehose of excellence pissing. Literally every time I see him, I regret not taking “before” pictures when he first started up.
Transformation aside, Peter confided in me about ten weeks ago that it had been a lifelong goal to bench 315. He’d tried for years to do it while playing football, and only cracked 300 once – and that was at the age of 30 after years of consistent weight training. Now 47, he wanted to know if I thought it was a legitimate goal – and if I could help him to get it.
Now, anybody who reads EricCressey.com regularly knows that I love a project – and so we embarked on a bench press specialization after testing his one-repetition maximum at 285 back in early June. This was Saturday (roughly eight weeks later):
A 30-pound increase in a bench press with no change in body weight in under eight weeks is a serious accomplishment – but doing it at the age of 47 makes you a freakin’ rockstar in my book.
What can you learn from Dr. P’s success? A lot! Here are the primary things that come to mind for me when I think about why he finally hit his goal:
1. He made time instead of finding time – We know that Dr. P is going to be at Cressey Performance at 12pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. He blocks it off in his schedule at work months in advance. For a guy who has a wife and two kids, a thriving business, it would be very easy to just find time to get to the gym. It was important to him, so he made time for it.
2. He recognized that there was always something he could do to get better – From hands-on treatment of patients, strength training, and yard work, Dr. P has somewhat of a chronic golfer’s elbow condition that we’ve worked around on and off during his training at CP. Many folks would simply skip the gym entirely until something like that resolved – and with a chronic condition like this, it could be months or even years to get symptomatic relief (if you do at all). Instead, Dr. P and I collaborated on strength training programs and specific strength exercises that would allow him to maintain a training effect without exacerbating his symptoms. There was no pity party.
3. He didn’t try to ride multiple horses with one saddle – Here’s a shocker: when it came time to make a run at this bench press goal, we wrote up a bench press specialization program geared toward not only increased upper body volume, but a specific attention to his weaknesses. It constantly amazes me how people will state their specific goal, but not change their training program to focus on it. Specific results come from specific actions, not doing everything under the sun and keeping your fingers crossed.
4. He found what worked best for him – A big mistake I see in up-and-coming lifters is that they try to conform strictly to one training or learning system. As you can tell from the video editing above, Dr. P’s very technologically inclined – and he used that to his advantage by using video with his iPhone during training to tinker with his strength training technique. Others might not like video, but they may prefer a specific hand-off person on the bench, a certain kind of music, a specific warm-up protocol, or particular strength exercises to bring up weaknesses. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so you have to put in the time to find the strategies that help you the most.
5. He got in a great environment – During the winter, Dr. P’s training time coincides with our professional baseball guys, and at this time of year, he’s surrounded by a lot stud college athletes. There’s no choice but to push yourself when you’re surrounded by guys who won’t let each other slack.
6. He told others about his goals – Our entire staff and many of our regular clients knew about Dr. P’s 315 bench press goal. There’s something to be said for making yourself accountable to a goal by telling those around you about it. You increase the likelihood that they’ll bring it up, constantly refocusing you on the task at hand – and you also have a built-in support network that will encourage you every step of the way. A 30-pound bench press increase seems less daunting when you’ve got 30 people pulling for you. Plus, the immediately post-lift celebration (which unfortunately wasn’t caught on camera) becomes all the more epic.
These are just a few examples specific to Dr. P’s case, but there are surely many more success secrets my readers have used to accomplish lifelong goals. Please share some more ideas in the comments section!
Written on August 12, 2011 at 8:06 am, by Eric Cressey
With today being the last day of the early-bird $100 off discount on The Fitness Business Blueprint, I wanted to take a quick second to direct you to a few reads that might be of interest along these lines:
EC on The Fitcast – I went on the Fitcast with Kevin Larrabee the other day to discuss the new product as well as the overall concept of running a fitness business. If you’d rather listen than read, here’s the one for you!
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