Category Archives: Fitness

Three takeaways from the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I competed in both a powerlifting meet and my first full marathon. It’s a goal that had been rattling around in my head for a couple years, but one that felt both completely ridiculous and completely out of reach. As luck would have it, I found two events happening close to where I grew up, on the best possible weekend, that worked together perfectly. I wasn’t about to pass that up, so in August I started training like crazy (you can see some of those training logs in the Union Fitness blog archive). That prep time was whirlwind, but it all came together two weeks ago.


Ultimately, I finished the meet with a 280(lb) squat, a 175 bench, and a 325 deadlift, setting a significant bodyweight personal best. I finished my first marathon in 3:50:24, which was my reach goal. I sobbed at the finish line. It was the hardest athletic event I’d ever done. 


Here are some takeaways:


Training and Competition will always be different

Meet day wasn’t perfect. It never is. Equipment is different, the day is almost always long, you’re probably operating on too little sleep. These are things to expect and to plan for. 


I had two big hurdles at the meet. The first, I NEEDED to eat a lot that day so I’d be fueled for the run, but it was a struggle from the moment I woke up. My meet day jitters are intense, and I didn’t plan well enough for that.


My second hurdle was not considering the toll driving out to York (and the length of meet day) would take on my hips. By the time we started deadlifting, I was feeling shot. I’d pulled 350 in the gym and it moved pretty well, so when I asked Casey to put 345 as my second, I wasn’t worried. The bar we were using was a little thicker and stiffer then I’d gotten accustomed to, and that combined with my fatigue meant it was not budging from the floor. I did everything I could, including gritting my teeth through a nasty RPR reset, but the iron bested me that time.


How do you combat that? Get your head right. Expect the unexpected, as cliche as that is. I went to that meet to do the very best that I could on that day, and then turn around and do the very best I could at another event the next day. And I did. I brought out my intensity going up to that bar on my third attempt, but as soon as I missed it, I was grateful for the opportunity, conscious of the mistakes I made, and ready to move to the next step.


As for the marathon? I was PROUD of my prep. I worked up to a 21 mile long run and it felt fantastic. In an attempt to simulate what the full meet+marathon weekend would feel like, I was doing my long runs the day after taking heavy singles in all three lifts. I was proud. Too proud maybe. Because when I woke up at 4:30am on race day, my hips HURT. More than they ever had in training. 


My appetite was still low but I forced some carbs down, walked outside on a cold rainy morning in downtown Philadelphia, and got on the shuttle to the start line.


I made another critical mistake here. I arrived about 90 minutes before gun time to a cold, muddy, pitch-black start. Because of the meet, I didn’t attend packet pick-up the day before (Philly mails it to you, super cool), so I wasn’t really sure where things were. I figured out gear check, then realized I needed to use the bathroom before the race started. I had about an hour at that point, so I got in line. I’ll cut the drama and just say I was still in line an hour later when the gun went off and the elites started. I was in the third big corral with all the predicted 4 hour finishers, which meant I had about 10 minutes to get out there if I wanted to start with that group and the pacer. Missed it. Still in line. 


I got out just as the last corral was leaving. I didn’t warm-up much at all, my feet were frozen, I had a lot of slower runners to zig-zag though, and I was obviously a little freaked out since I’d almost missed the start! Rookie mistakes. Next time, I’ll arrive a whoooole lot earlier and spend more time figuring out the layout of the start. 


Pain is temporary

The combination of the skipped warm-up, my frozen feet, and my already fatigued hips meant that my pain point in this race came a lot earlier than it normally did on training runs. The first 10 miles were great, you run around the city, there are tons of people out cheering. Then you cross a bridge and run down Kelly Drive, along the river, all the way out to Manayunk. Runners then turn around and finish the same way they went out. I knew about this. I thought I’d prepared by always running looped courses here in training. 


My hip pain got more severe around mile 16. I knew I had 10 miles to go, and we were just getting to the out-and-back portion of the race. I passed mile 17 as the faster runners were coming back passing mile 23. My mind started reeling at this point, seeing the pain on their faces, knowing how much I had left, feeling my own pain getting worse with every stride. 


I am a stubborn person, I HATE quitting things, but those thoughts came up several times in the last 10 miles. I was maintaining my goal pace, but the pain kept coming. Soon my left knee started to throb. I could feel it swelling. My right hip flexor was locking up, so my gait was getting pretty funky. I was struggling with getting nutrition down as I moved, but luckily had no GI issues. 


I’d never experienced this level of pain in an athletic event. Someone was holding a sign that said something like “You paid a lot of money to feel like this” and that really hit home. I knew I wasn’t going to stop unless I collapsed, and I was able to hold it together to the finish. I even picked up it as we passed mile 26.


So what does that say? I was in so much pain for 10 miles that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go on, but then in that last 0.2 I found more speed. It’s all mental. I made a choice over and over with each step to continue, to not give up on this ridiculous dream I had to finish a marathon, to not let myself down. And it came together in that final stretch. The pain was temporary. The intense discomfort was temporary. And we are capable of withstanding a lot more than we think we can when we ask that of ourselves.


Pushing to your limits yields personal growth

I feel very different after completing these events. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but I feel like my ability to accept what IS has gotten better. I’ve always struggled to let things go. I’m a perfectionist and deal with a lot of unwanted anxiety, so I’d get caught up in an idea of how things should be and could never let that go in the face of reality.


For whatever reason, it seems a lot easier now. If I were to guess, I’d say it’s because I got some quality practice in with these events. I missed my third squat, not because I wasn’t strong enough, but because I didn’t dial in my technique. I missed my last two deadlifts even though I knew it was a weight I could handle, causing me to miss my “A” goal of an 800lb total. I experienced the sadness and disappointment that comes with not meeting a goal, and then I moved on. I can think of tons of things I’ll do better next time, but I’m not still dwelling on those missed lifts. 


And the race. Doing something that long and that hard teaches you, again, that pain is temporary. That you can withstand that pain, that discomfort, for as long as you need to to get where you want to go. I can’t turn that off now. The discomfort of every day stress is real – having difficult conversations, enduring people or situations that make you uncomfortable, the non-stop grind of work or school or family or all of it. But it’s endurable. And you truly learn that when you push to your physical limits. See what you’re capable of. It applies everywhere.


I’m still working through the emotional changes I’ve felt since finishing that race, but suffice it to say, it was all worth it. And I’ll be doing it again (but not for at least a year).


Bonus: These aren’t individual sports

I want to thank everyone who followed me during training, who sent words of encouragement and cheers via the RaceJoy app (I heard them all!). I want to thank all of the people at the Philly marathon who helped me get on the course on time, who showed me where things were, that were excited for me to do my first full. I didn’t know a single person there but felt cared for the entire time. I am so grateful that I got to see my parents at the finish, desperately trying to get photos, unsure of why I was crying so much. 


I especially want to thank the amazing people who drove all the way out to York to watch me compete. To say I was floored would be an understatement. It meant the world to me to have you all there. Diane, Alex, Sara, Mariah, Ang, Cayt, you made my weekend. I love you all.


And finally, my best friend, driver, handler, force-feeder, shoulder to cry on. I thought I could do this all on my own, and maybe I could have, but I’m glad I didn’t have to. Thank you.


The people I’ve met through these sports are some of the best I’ve ever known. Nothing compares to our community. If you’re reading this thinking about attempting some athletic feat, be it a 5k, and strongman competition, or an Ironman – do it. You’ll meet your family, you’ll test yourself, you’re learn and grow. All the pain and struggle is worth it.


Guest Blog Post, Tim Cortazzo

Today we have a guest post from our friend and owner of FSQ sports, Tim Cortazzo. Tim trains athletes and non-athletes in Trafford, PA. I have been friends with Tim for many years and I have always respected the work he does with everyone he trains. So here is the post from our friend Tim.

“5 Things you can do RIGHT NOW to get on track to a healthier lifestyle”

What does the term “Healthy Lifestyle” mean to you? For some, it’s a strict, clean diet and 7 days a week at the gym. For others, it’s simply doing enough during the week to enjoy pizza and beer on the weekend. Either way is fine! However living a sedentary lifestyle where you don’t take care of yourself is not. Let’s be realistic, we all know the steps to follow to get on track to a healthier lifestyle. Its pretty simple, eat better and move more. I also feel like the majority of the population WANT to be healthier. But why don’t we all actually follow these simple steps. There is more information available today to help people get healthy than there has ever been. However, there are still over 90 million people in the US who struggle with obesity. 

These numbers are even more staggering (according to HHS.GOV):

  • Less than 5% of Adults in America participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
  • Only 33% of Adults in America get the recommended amount of physical activity each week.
  • Over 80% of Adults in America do NOT meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle strengthening activities and more than 80% of adolescents do not do enough aerobic physical activity to meet the guidelines for youth.
  • Reducing the sodium intake in America by 1,200mg per day can save up to $20 BILLION a year in medical costs. 
  • Reports project that by Year 2030, half of all adults in the US will be obese. 115 MILLION PEOPLE PROJECTED TO BE OBESE!!!

I’m not using this article and platform to spew out stats about how unhealthy we are. I’m also not using this as a way to revolutionize a movement against fast food chains and pizza shops. I simply want to figure out a way to help as many people as I can by getting them started on the right track to feeling better and taking control of their health.


I don’t necessarily agree with this quote. It seems that gyms are crowded with New Years Resolutioners each and every January. I think getting started is pretty easy. SUSTAINING is the hardest part. It’s the reason people fall off the wagon so quickly. Maybe the available health information is just overly crowded. It seems like a new diet, Netflix show, or workout fad hits the market each week. With this type of overload, I’m not sure people actually know where to start with their diets and training. Hopefully this article can help jumpstart your journey to a healthier life!



“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Yes goal setting is an important part of this. But if you don’t have the road map, it will be a lot tougher to get to your destination. Take your time planning out your journey and refer back to it often! Set realistic short-term goals and write down the necessary actions you must take to reach these goals. Also set a timeline. If you don’t have a timeline, then your plan will be a free-for-all. Celebrate (but not too much) every time you hit a milestone! Use these short-term goals as a path to your larger, long-term, ultimate goal. Another important part of achieving your goals is developing the habits and skills necessary to reach the goal. For example, if you want to lose 10lbs, you must acquire the skills necessary to lose 10lbs. These skills may include “Meal Prepping,” “3 Days a week at the gym,” etc… To acquire these skills, you must develop the habits necessary to get better at that skill. “Waking up on time,” “Consistently getting to the grocery store,” etc… I find a flow chart to be the best way to accomplish the tasks at hand. This basically gives you a step-by-step guide to navigate. Here’s an example of a flow chart you can follow to start crushing your goals: 


We are all limited to 24 hours in a day. If you add it all up, we have 168 hours each week. How we choose to spend that time varies. If you can spend just 1 hour each day working on improving your health, you will more than likely be setting yourself up for success. 7 HOURS A WEEK!!! Make these 7 hours a priority. Let’s check out an average time breakdown for a working adult and see where we can fit these 7 hours. Feel free to plug in your own schedule.

-56 hours of sleep (average 8 hours each night)

-50 hours of work (commute included)

-14 hours of eating (assuming 2 hours each day spent eating)

– 5 hours of personal hygiene (hopefully at least that…)

– 7 hours of working on your health!

1 hour of planning

2 hours meal prepping

4 hours of physical activity

That’s a grand total of 132 hours each week doing the absolute necessities. That leaves you 36 extra hours to be spent doing whatever else you’d like to do. It should not be difficult to carve out 60 minutes each day to invest in your health. Here are some more tips on how to do this:

  • DELETE YOUR APPS. There’s an app for everything nowadays. More apps = more time spent on your phone. Delete your pointless apps that are eating away at your “you time.” Social media isn’t the devil. In fact social media can be a great tool to stay connected to our friends and the world around us. However, aimlessly scrolling on social media will destroy your productivity. Try to limit your time spent on pointless scrolling and use that time to do something productive for your health. 
  • Set up “out of office hours” for yourself. I understand that people get busy with work. And depending on what you do for work, you may need to be attached to your phone all day. However answering emails and calls all day long will make you feel busier than you actually are. Prioritize the urgent messages and calls and shut it down! It’s ok to set the phone down for a few hours and limit how often you respond. Set up your “out of office” message and enjoy some time disconnected from the world. Just for the record: Absolutely no phone is allowed during your time working out.
  • Workout early in the morning. Lay out your workout gear right before you lay down for the night. Get to sleep an hour earlier than you normally do the night before. Sleep the same amount of time. Wake-up an hour earlier in the morning. Working out in the morning will be a great jumpstart to your day. Training early can boost your metabolism, improve your mood, increase your focus, and improve your energy for the day ahead. You will also feel accomplished after completing your first big task of the day.   

Now this one can be tough! There are a lot of snake-oil salesmen out there right now in the training/nutrition industry. However, there are plenty of really good coaches both online and in gyms that can be a huge asset for your journey. Coaches, whether its for your diet or training, provide structure! They will hold you accountable for showing up on time, working hard, sticking to your plan, reaching your goals, and ultimately sustaining your goals. Here are a few tips for hiring a coach:

  • Ask your trusted friends for recommendations
  • Check online for trusted reviews
  • ASK QUESTIONS!!! How long have you been helping people? What are your professional qualifications? Where did you receive your education and what was your area of study? Do you have any progress pictures or testimonials from clients? What will this process be like? HOW CAN YOU HELP ME?
  • Make sure they are a good fit for you. The worst thing you can do is hire an educated, experienced professional with great reviews IF you don’t really like them as a person/coach.   
  • Check for certifications. This one can be tricky because not all certifications are the same. And with that being said, being certified doesn’t necessarily mean they are qualified. Holding a certificate doesn’t equate to being a good coach. But it does give that coach some credibility and can give you, the client, a piece of mind. Some of the more respected certifications include: 

National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)  

American Council on Exercise (ACE) 

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

Precision Nutrition (PN)


Lets face it, private coaches can be expensive and may not fit into your lifestyle or budget. That’s fine! There are plenty of other ways to get the most out of investing in your health. The big, general public gyms can be intimidating. There’s a lot going on. People everywhere, tons of different machines, no structure especially if you don’t know where to start or what to do. Private gyms and studios are a great option to avoid this! Joining a private gym or studio provides a great sense of community. A positive attitude community with motivational coaches can provide accountability and structure to keep you on task. The clients at these training facilities have similar goals and are on similar journeys! There are plenty of different private facilities out there with different types of fitness. Same rules apply as hiring a coach. Ask friends where they workout, check reviews, look for professional qualifications, etc… Most importantly, find what you enjoy! There are facilities that specialize in strength training, yoga, cycling, CrossFit, even pole dancing? (The pole dancing one isn’t for me but hey!!! Whatever gets the job done for you) Try a couple different places and find the best fit for you.


Don’t wait for Monday, don’t wait for next month, start immediately. Procrastination is your enemy. If you don’t start right now, you run the risk of never starting. The second you finish this article, use your newfound motivation, and go start planning. I promise you wont regret it!


Meal of the Week (burn your turkey edition)

This week for our Meal of the Week we are going to change things up just a bit. We are now 8 days out from Thanksgiving. We all know that this is the ultimate “cheat day.” Here at Union Fitness we truly believe in helping each and every one of our members in and out of the gym. You may spend 1-10 hours a week in Union Fitness and we hope to empower you during that time to be your best self and live your best life. Too often as strength and fitness professionals we all lose sight of the end game, a better life. So with this in mind we are preparing to stuff ourselves on Thanksgiving day with friends and family and invite you to do the same and feel no guilt about enjoying your day.

The other thing we want to do is take care of yourself and others. On Thursday November 28th we invite you (and friends, member or non-member) to come down to Union Fitness and join us in our biggest class. We have named this class the Turkey Burn. If you are using our discount and running the Turkey Trot with our friends at the YMCA we will let you slide on this one. If you are free come down and join in the superclass. All we ask of you is three things:

  1. Bring a canned good so that we may donate to those less fortunate than us. Don’t worry there will be coffee for after the workout.
  2. Bring your Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) and maybe some friends or family to raise their holiday spirits too.
  3. Sign up for the class online so we know how much coffee to bring. We have already added more spots to this class three times so let’s burn some turkeys.

The workout will consist of some cardio class, some lifting as well as a special Powerful with CJ workout. We will have the entire gym to ourselves so should be a great day of training. The workout will begin at 9 AM and wrap up at 10 AM, just in time to check your burnt turkey at home.

If you have any questions please ask any of our staff members. Now let’s empower each other for greatness.

Guest Training Log, Simone Morin

You will notice that we are going to start having some guests on the blog. One of the things we at Union Fitness want to bring to you is not just what we know, we also want you to learn from others that we learn from. This week Simone Morin is writing our guest post. Full disclosure, Simone was one of my assistant strength coaches when I was director of strength and conditioning at the George Washington University.

Simone has spent time at many schools training athletes, she worked at Kansas, GW, Springfield College as well as UConn and Quinnipiac. Enough from me here is Simone’s workout log.

Todd Hamer

Quick little background – I was introduced to strength training as a college softball player. Through my collegiate career I had never back squatted or benched with a normal barbell. Post-college I started teaching myself new movements I had not experienced in college (with the exception of back squat). About a year ago I finally decided it was time to learn and train back squat and regular bench press. Over this past summer Hamer brought me to the dark side and introduced me to conjugateU so here is a look into a dynamic effort upper body focused day designed to work on my weaknesses.
Dynamic Effort Upper Day
Goals: Work on control and owning the bottom range of motion on bench, while moving the bar as fast as possible on the concentric portion of the movement.
A1. Speed Bench Triphasic Clusters (2 eccentric reps, 10s rest, 2 isometric reps, 10s rest, 2 normal concentric reps). Every rep the concentric portion should be at a speed of about 7m/s. 3 total sets at 95lbs
B1. 1 and 1/4 rep bench (own the bottom range of motion)
5×3 (95, 105, 110, 115, 120lbs)
C1. SA Lat Pulldown with Isometric Band Hold 4x8e
C2. SA DB Row 4x10e
D1. Surf the rack biceps
D2. Surf the rack OH Tricep Extension
D3. Manual Forearm rotations


Ham’s Training Log

Some background before you begin reading this training log.

I began working as a strength coach in 1999 at University of Pittsburgh, at the time Buddy Morris was the strength coach at Pitt and he introduced me to Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell style of training. Recently people have begun referring to this style of training as conjugate model of training. I can debate what it should be called yet I don’t want to bore anyone with these details. What I will do is break down how it is generally programmed.

Training in this style means that one day you train your big movement explosively (dynamic effort day), one day you train your big moment heavy (maximal effort day). All you do from here is rotate upper and lower dominate days. An example would look like this.


Explosive Press, followed by accessories.


Heavy Lower, followed by accessories.


Heavy Press, followed by accessories.


Explosive Lower, followed by accessories.

Tues and Thur are recovery days. Drag a sled, throw a med ball or anything with little to no eccentric load.

This type of programming has led to many great lifts and I have followed similar patterns during most of my lifting career. So here is a sample day for me. This is Tuesdays lift which is my Max Effort Lower day.

Warm up 100 jump rope without messing up.

Blackburns 2×10

Band Rows 100 reps

1a Box Jumps 3×3 1b Med Ball Slams 3×8

Sumo Deadlifts 135 2×5, 225×3, 275×1,315×1,365×1,405×1, 405×1 +1chain,405×1+2chains, 405×1 +3chains, 405×1 +4 chains, 425 x1 +4chains.

RDL 3×5 315

Pit Shark Squats 5×10 a bunch of plates

100 reps 45 degree hyper

Finished with some abs.

This was just a small example of a heavier deadlift day. I have recently returned to sumo deadlifts and am now just getting some weight in my hands. With my Max Effort days my goal is to strain without missing any reps. So it is a tough balance I do not want to be soft yet I do not want technique to go out the window and I do not want to miss. So this is where I ended my pulls. At times I may add some singles or doubles at 80% of my best rep for that day.





Energy Systems the Basics

If you want to get stronger, leaner or just generally in better shape you should begin with knowing the body. I do not think it is necessary to have a Phd in order to train, yet you should understand the basics of what you are doing. With that said I am going to touch on the basics of the three energy systems and give you a short example of each.

Before I delve into these understand that this is a very surface view of the three systems As with anything dealing with the human body these systems are not black and white and there is always some movement between them.

The first energy systems is referred to ATP/PC system. This system lasts for about 7 seconds of hard work. The easiest way to think about this system is if we were to do a 100 meter dash after about 6-7 seconds your body would begin to decelerate. If you look at the best 100 meter sprints of all time they all begin to decelerate around 60-70 meters. This is when the body must move from ATP/PC into the second energy system.

How does this apply to us? Anything we do for low reps would tend to fall into this system. plyometrics, explosive lifts or even a heavy single. This energy system is great for getting strong and explosive yet the total energy output isn’t great enough to create a huge caloric deficit so generally we will train this system on the first big lifts before we move into the other energy systems.

The second energy system is glycolysis. Without getting too scientific this is the system in which the body must take muscle glycogen and turn it into usable energy. The great part about this systems is it can be a huge tool for burning immense amounts of fat. Muscle glycogen is always sitting and waiting to be used. Once the glycogen is used up the body replenishes this with liver glycogen. I hope you are starting to see that this system has more processes and burns more calories.

Ironically, while glycolysis burns more total calories it also burns less fat and this is actually a good thing. This is the energy system that puts us in a calorie deficit and continues to burn more calories after the training session.

The way we train this energy system is anything that takes 30-60 seconds. So if you ever do repetition work and it burns that is the byproduct of this energy system. 12 pull ups would fall into this energy system as would 45 seconds of rows or anything for time. For a good variation use time for your accessory work instead of reps. One of my favorites is pick an exercise do it for 60 seconds then rest 60, then do 45 second and rest for 45, then 30/30 and 15 seconds to finish. Two things will happen with this method. First you will feel huge. Second, your body will burn a ton of calories.

The final energy system is aerobic. This is the energy system that burns almost all calories from fat. The downside to this energy system is that while we burn most calories from fat we also don’t create many processes that will burn calories post exercise. This energy system is generally used when we do a slow controlled activity over a long time. Think long slow bike ride or walk/jog. This is actually the energy system that we use as we sleep and sit at our desks.

How do we use this system? This system is best used for recovery as it is a lower stressor on the body. Use this system on an off day to move blood into the tissue without damaging the tissue. If you are a distance athlete I would spend more time in training this system yet if you goals are more diverse then I would use this system more for recovery then for training. The stress is not great enough to create major change.

All three systems are very different and each serves it’s own purpose in the body. When in doubt just work from the top down. Train the first system hard (ATP/PC) move to the second (glycolysis) and finish with some aerobic work. If that is all you do for one hour total work three times a week you would still be in better shape and stronger than most people.


Lindsey’s October Training Log

I’m 6 weeks away from the meet/marathon weekend, so training is getting more intense in the weight room and longer on the road. I won’t lie, while I am enjoying the hell out of training this way, I am tired and hungry pretty much all the time. As I type this, I’m fighting off sleep and downing a coffee cake and an oat milk fall spice latte (can’t help myself) for both the caffeine and the calories.


I’m extra fatigued today because a bit ago I finished a long workout that consisted of moderately heavy squat and bench singles, followed by a deadlift at 85% and my deadlift assistance. In essence, I’m mimicking a full meet on the day before my long run, as practice for the real thing. This is week three of this change, and so far it’s been valuable. I get some specialized practice in (using lift-specific bars, practicing commands, etc) and go into my run with a realistic amount of fatigue from lifting the day before.


This week:


Competition Bench14551
Competition Deadlift30512
Romanian Deadlift18538
Single Leg RDL35310 per
Slow Eccentric Step Down38 per
Ab Wheel310
FB Side Bend35310 per


Back Down Run12 miles  


Running mileage builds up and backs down week to week. This is a back down week, where I focused on short and fast workouts on the weekdays and will just do an easy 12 on Saturday.


Next week, mile repeats on Tuesday around a 7:30 pace, a long tempo run at (or just faster than) race pace, then an 18 miler Saturday. Peaking will continue in my lifts. Just need to keep eating and do everything I can to get more sleep.

Frequently Asked PT Questions with Jared Caroff, DPT

As a physical therapist, I get asked a lot of questions about pain and what to do about it (both in and out of my office) and I love being able to use my background and knowledge base to help guide people in the right direction.  I figured that this would be a good way to go over some of the most common questions I’m asked and hopefully help guide you if these are questions or issues you have dealt with.  To preface all of this, I want to say that if you are dealing with an injury it might be a good idea to be assessed by a medical professional in person first.  Nothing beats a hands-on assessment with someone’s undivided attention to see what the underlying issue may be.  With that being said, let’s dive into some of the common questions I’m asked!

“How can I get rid of my low back pain?”

Low back pain can be very complex based on your injury history, how long you’ve had it, what the symptoms are, etc.  Again, I recommend that you get assessed by a physical therapist or a physician.  That being said, here are some of my recommendations to start helping you help yourself.  First, you need to get enough sleep and make sure you’re hydrated.  Pain levels can increase with a lack of both of those two things.  Do those two things first, then you can keep reading…  You need to keep moving!  Although you’re having pain, find ways to exercise or just move that are relatively pain-free or that don’t provoke the symptoms as much.  For example, if a barbell back squat causes low back pain, try doing a high box squat, goblet squat or safety bar squat.  Change it up, but don’t give up squatting (or whatever the movement was) altogether if you can work around it.  If you stop moving altogether to “rest”, there is a lower chance your pain is going to go away. This might sound simple but find out if there are any positions that feel good and positions that don’t (like sitting or standing, bending forward or backward, etc.).  Try to avoid staying in positions that aggravate your pain and go into positions that don’t hurt.  For example, if bending forward and sitting increases your pain, try changing positions in your chair at work every 10-20 minutes, get up and walk, and use a lumbar roll against your back while you sit.  You could also try laying on your stomach or propped on elbows when you get home to extend your spine and stay away from the nagging position.  In summary: sleep plenty, stay hydrated, don’t stop moving and/or exercising, work around your pain (not into it), and try to stay away from positions that make it mad and go into positions that don’t.  Be patient, and over time you should start to notice improvements.

“What can I do to make my knee pain go away?”

Again, not to beat a dead horse, go get assessed… Now, some of the things I notice in people with knee pain are weak and/or immobile hips and ankles and a weak core.  The knee primarily acts as a hinge joint and is meant to be stable.  Because of this, if there are mobility restrictions or weaknesses in the joints above and below, excess forces can be placed through the knees and begin to cause irritation.  If you’re unsure what is weak or immobile, try performing some of these: half-kneeling soleus stretch, hip 90/90 stretch, banded hip abductor walks, sidelying clamshells, Copenhagen adductor exercise.  See what seems to be difficult and keep working at it. If the knee pain is more of a tendinitis issue, I do recommend using isometric (static holds) and/or eccentric (the “down” part of a movement) exercises for the quadriceps and hamstrings.  This can be with a squat or deadlift, RDL, quad extension, hamstring curl, etc.  Just don’t let the exercise increase your pain levels more than 2-3/10 from where they started.  Again, these are only some of the recommendations.  In summary: get your ankles and hips both strong and mobile and don’t be afraid to load the knee but do it safely and without increasing your pain too much.  There are a million reasons you can have knee pain, however, just working through some of these movements may help.



I hope that this little “FAQ” was beneficial.  If you ever have any questions feel free to find me around the gym (either working front desk in the early morning or attempting to pick up objects and place them back where I found them) or just shoot me an email (  Stay strong friends!

Mariah’s First Meet – A Recap for New Competitors

If you’re someone who has casually lifted for a couple of years and might want to try a powerlifting meet – take a gander. First off, find a coach you trust and have full transparency in goals and expectations. They will be your guide to success and right-hand man/woman through your journey. I wouldn’t have done it without Ryan McCumber as mine, and the support of everyone at UF. I had decided last min (11 weeks out to be exact) to sign up for the Iron City Open, which would be my first ever meet!


Going through, I thought I could handle it: I’ve squatted, benched, and deadlifted before, what could be so different from what I usually do? But in reality, the training was more intense than I’d thought it would be. I had to prioritize even more on eating, more recovery, and still keep up with my full-time job (which at that time it had become overwhelming). Before, if you missed a scheduled gym day it was not a huge deal, but when competing, every session is necessary. I understand the pressure of juggling your life with training. But let me tell you, it’s POSSIBLE!


  1. Meal prep ahead of time or weekends whenever you’re free: it will save time and keep your energy high! And check out our food blogs for yummy suggestions or our new partnership with Fit Fresh Kitchen Co.! I love Jodie’s meals.
  2. Make sure if you have questions on your program or how to recover stay connected with your coach. I’m still learning and I’m sure everyone else is too. Nothing is too insignificant to ask.
  3. Watch videos to educate yourself as well. I love watching meets and researching other techniques or even vlogs to hear others speak about their struggles or successes training for a meet.
  4. Don’t be so hard on yourself – it’s your first meet! I told myself not to put so much pressure on myself and that I would have fun with this one. Guess what? You’re human, you’re going to have bad days and good ones.


One of the things I would have done differently is given myself more weeks to train With just 11 weeks, it felt rushed and overwhelming. Additionally, at that time I was training outside of UF, so I didn’t have a lot of face to face time with my coach. That would have been extra helpful for the days I wanted to check my form or needed help with a certain exercise. That’s why recording yourself and taking videos are so so important! So, if you are in my situation in a gym apart from your coach (or are out of your normal gym for travel or any other reason) you can refer back to video and review with him/her.


So, the day finally comes! I was nervous but excited and a little confused about what to do. I sat in the training area with all the lifters and friends. My coach was there for any questions and to guide me throughout the day. I went in with a mindset of potential PRs but wanted to make sure that didn’t affect the fun aspect of the day. We all are aiming for goals, but I think the best thing about the day was that everyone is there to support everyone, even if you don’t know them. I’ve never been in such a great community. I would recommend to any new lifters or first-time competitors, just do it! We are all here for you!


Stay focused and Stay hungry my friends!



Squat: 148.8lbs

Bench: 93.7lbs


Getting the Most Out of Your Training Program: Part II

by Lindsey Pogson

Part 2: Trust the Process


Welcome to part two in this series on getting as much out of your custom training program as you possibly can. If you didn’t read part one (on providing detailed feedback), head on over that way now. Done? Great.


Now that you and your coach are on the same page as far as how the weights are feeling and what work you’re actually doing, you’re ready for the next step. You need to decide to put your trust in that coach and actually follow along with the program as written.


When you started with your coach – whether it’s one of us at UF, another in-person coach, or an online coach – you almost certainly had a chat about what you wanted to achieve with the program. Those goals are the backbone of your program’s design. If you came into your goal-setting meeting with the objective of losing 10lbs over the next two months, your program will reflect that. If you went in with the goal of doing your first powerlifting meet, your program will be designed to prepare you to compete in that sport. If you wanted to run a sub-20 minute 5k, your program will be put together with the intent to get you there.


Seems obvious right? Your coach puts together a program to help you reach your specific goal. So with that in mind, it’s in your best interest to FOLLOW THE PROGRAM.


At the beginning of every program, this is easy. You’re excited, you’re learning some new things, you’re fresh, it feels good. A few weeks in, things start getting a little harder. Suddenly you’re doing a lot of single-leg accessory movements and you’re bad at them so you hate them with a passion. Your coach is programming 3 minutes of rest between sprints and you don’t feel like you really NEED it and think you’d be better off resting less. You asked for a 7 day per week 2-a-day program because you want to do MORE but your coach put you on 4 days per week and you think you’ll just throw in some extra classes here and there because you sleep plenty and recover just fine. Your coach programmed a heavy single at 205 but 225 isn’t THAT far off so that shouldn’t be a problem, right?


I get it. I’ve been there too. That attitude sucks and is not helping you actually reach your goals.

There are a few hard truths we all have to swallow when striving towards big things. The first and hardest is that we don’t know everything.

On some level we understand that, since we decided to go to a professional for help in the first place! But when things come up that we don’t like, we can sometimes start to question that professional.


“No one knows me like I know myself, and I KNOW that I can handle more work than this.”


And you may very well be right! But fortunately/unfortunately, reaching a goal isn’t an exercise in running yourself into the ground. There’s some strategy involved. And often that strategy involves doing things you don’t want to do – be that training more, training less, training movements you hate and are bad at, doing more cardio, doing NO cardio, etc.


You went to a pro, so trust that pro. But know that you can ALWAYS ask questions. And you should! If your coach can’t give you a thoughtful reason for what they programmed, they’re not doing their job.

Hard truth number two: to reach one goal, you need to put all the others on the backburner.

If you go into your goal-setting meeting and tell your coach that your primary objective is to lose 30lbs by the end of the year, expect your program to actually reflect that over everything else. That means strength gains are NOT the priority, and will NOT be the focus of that program. Your coach will likely want to maintain your strength but isn’t going to push you to test for new maxes.


Conversely, if you go in saying you want to hit a 1000lb total by the end of the year, you’d best expect to see verrrrrry little cardio on your programming sheet.


Changes like these can be uncomfortable. It sucks to not be able to “do it all.” But it’s really more accurate to say that you just can’t do it all RIGHT NOW. Take 4 months to prioritize weight loss, then take a break from your deficit and the hard supersets and spend 2 months really working on strength while eating to maintain. If you can do that instead of trying to half-ass everything, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Hard truth number three: you’ll be tempted to go off track. You get to choose what’s more important – instant gratification or actually achieving your long term goals.

I can guarantee one day you’ll be in the gym doing what you’re supposed to do and someone will suggest you throw it all by the wayside and max out that day. Sometimes that will be a training partner or someone else in class, but often it’s that little voice in the back of our head asking “Is this actually working? Am I actually stronger/faster, or am I just spinning my wheels?”


At that moment, you have a choice. You can go for instant gratification – test a new bench rep max, or finish your long slow run as fast as you possibly can. You’ll feel good in that moment, with proof that you CAN do that thing. But consider now that you just did something extremely taxing, that requires recovery. You did it at a point in your training cycle that didn’t ACTUALLY make much sense and may make the other things you need to do that day/week/month a little bit harder. You might have a competition coming up, an event where you really needed to be peaked and ready, but that max attempt threw your schedule off a little.


Were you really doing that for yourself and your goals? Or did your ego need a boost? That’s your call.


Ultimately, it’s your program. They’re your goals to achieve. Your coach is there to put together a guide to help you get there, using all of their knowledge and training. You can choose to trust that guide or continue doing what you’ve always done. Know that it’s a choice, and the choice is yours.