Category Archives: Life Health

Cardio for the Heart-io

There are endless opportunities to engage in cardio (aerobic) exercise in our everyday lives. You could get your heart rate up by using the stairs instead of the elevators, taking a bike ride, coming to UF and using the ellipticals, rowers, etc. By participating in regular aerobic exercise, we are encouraging our hearts to work smarter and not harder. What I mean by this is that when we perform aerobic exercise, our heart is working overtime to pump blood throughout the whole body to the places we need it the most. By conditioning the heart to pump blood more efficiently while exercising, this makes it easier for the heart to pump blood more efficiently while at rest, and as a result your blood pressure will decrease. With exercise and consistent training, the heart will be performing its essential functions while being under a lot less stress in the long run. I also want to highlight a few of the other benefits that come along with aerobic training and exercise in general:


  • Lowers the “bad” cholesterol levels – exercise works to eliminate the “bad” cholesterol also known as LDL by increasing the “good” cholesterol in the bloodstream otherwise known as HDL.


  • Decreases the risk for type 2 diabetes – exercise can increase insulin sensitivity which means that the body will require less insulin to control its blood sugar levels. The muscles also extract glucose from the blood during exercise. This helps to prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high.


  • Triggers the release of “feel good” chemicals in the brain – This includes serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins, and dopamine. These are some factors contributing toward what helps us to be in a good mood and feel mentally healthy in general.


  • Reduces inflammation – exercise causes muscle cells to release a protein called IL-6 which has anti-inflammatory effects


  • Decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke


There are so many other benefits to aerobic training, but I just wanted to highlight a few today to get you thinking about how important and beneficial it is to incorporate this into our daily lives.



Lay The Smackdown on Seasonal Affective Disorder

My friends, welcome to Pittsburgh’s cold and dreary gray season. With this change of season, decrease in sunshine and drop in social interaction, many people feel the effects of SAD. What is SAD you ask? SAD is Seasonal Affective Disorder and is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you are like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, zapping your energy and making you feel moody. These symptoms often resolve during the spring and summer months. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer and resolves during the fall or winter months.



Here are some signs and symptoms of the dreaded SAD.


  • Feeling listless, sad or down most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy and feeling sluggish
  • Having problems with sleeping too much
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty


Here are 4 signs and symptoms related to Fall & Winter SAD.


  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness or low energy


These 4 signs and symptoms are specific to summer onset seasonal affective disorder.


  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite & Weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety
  • Increased irritability


Some main factors that come into play that may cause seasonal depression are disruption of your internal clock (circadian rhythm), drop in serotonin levels and decreased melatonin production due to the decrease in sunshine.



Have no fear, there are some ways to battle these seasonal blues.

One way is exercise, which can help decrease depression by increasing endorphins, serotonin, and can clear your mind. Exercise can also improve your sleep and energy levels. Your body gets the movement it craves, which can help it relax. Movement is medicine and moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone. Some other helpful tools to combat SAD are Light Boxes, Behavior Therapy, a well balanced diet, stepping outside to get some fresh air and sunshine or scheduling social get togethers with friends.



Don’t let the lack of sunshine get you down, come drop in to Union Fitness and let us assist you in combating Seasonal Affective Disorder. We can get you moving and grooving.



Stay bright my friends,



Physical Therapy at Union Fitness

Union Fitness is a unique facility as we offer so many different options. If you want to drop a few pounds we can help you with that. If you want to get stronger, we know a few people that can help. Maybe your goal is to become a world class lifter, we have been known to dabble in that too. On top of all of that fun stuff we also have some fun in our cardiolab classes, and we have a few hundred athletes that are here everyday to get better.  Now we are adding in new component to help you succeed in life.


Welcome Precision PT to UF.


Mike Allen is a Physical Therapist with years of experience including training athletes as well as normal people like myself. Mike has been looking to expand and so we found a partnership. Mike will be using our facility as his home base in the city. He already runs two successful PT clinics north of the city. He will run all of his services in our gym. Mike will be taking appointments through his PT company and he will use our massage room for assesments and use the entire gym for his rehab.


Now if you are in need of PT you have more options. Also, don’t forget we still have massage available.


Todd Hamer

The Smallest Changes Make the Biggest Difference

My powerlifting journey started about 3 months ago (something I never thought I’d be saying). I’ve pretty much trained like a body builder ever since I seriously got into weightlifting about 4 years ago. It wasn’t until this year, 4 months ago, that I wasn’t finding joy in my workouts, and I decided something had to change. I decided to start training full body and focus a little more heavily on gaining strength through my main lifts: squat, bench, deadlift (but mainly bench and deadlift because I hate squatting lol). 


As I was writing up a new program for myself, I asked Curtis for his input. As we all know he’s full of knowledge when it comes to powerlifting, technique, and so much more. From there, I asked if he could watch and critique my bench because at the time, I felt like I was having trouble making progress. During this session, he told me to correct one thing and IT LITERALLY CHANGED EVERYTHING. This is what he said, “as you press the bar off your chest, push backward into the bench and act like you’re trying to push your toes out of your socks.” At first I was a little bit confused and as I tried to replicate that in the next couple reps it was a little weird. Then it clicked for me. 


The next couple weeks of training were mind blowing! I remember the week after I was benching and hit 100lbs for 8 reps (something I’ve never come close to). I ran into the office and said, “CURTIS THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!” It’s crazy that all I had to do was use my legs to drive myself back into the bench in the concentric portion of my bench. Like why didn’t I think of that??


For the next month, I focused on that leg drive, worked on pin presses, and really pushed myself to add more weight on the bar during my workouts. I tested my 1 rep max last week and successfully benched 125lbs!! After, I really started to think about how far I’ve come over the past year. A year ago, my one rep max was 75lbs, I never would’ve thought I’d be pressing 50 more pounds a year later. 


Another big win I had last week when testing my maxes was my deadlift. For the most part, I’ve always enjoyed deadlifting, but I also felt like I hit a wall with making progress on them a couple months ago. When I started my new training program, I shortly realized I couldn’t keep doing what I used to if I wanted to add numbers to my deadlift. When I made the switch from body building doing 10,12,15 reps of exercises to powerlifting doing 3,4,5 reps of an exercise it was a lot harder for me to wrap my head around. I saw it as “oh well now I’m not putting in as much work as I was before because I’m doing less reps” and I would completely forget that fact that I was now lifting way heavier and therefore still putting in a substantial amount of effort and work. As soon as I was able to eliminate that voice telling me I wasn’t working hard enough is when I started working harder and pushed myself to lift heavier. I successfully deadlifted 235lbs last week when a year ago my max was probably around 170/180lbs.


Moral of the story is the littlest things can really change your life, and the sooner you can quiet those discouraging voices in your head is when you can push yourself to do things you never thought possible. Apply this to your life or to your training and just watch how far you can get.



Discipline Over Motivation

Today, I want to take a moment to discuss the difference between discipline and motivation when it comes to our training routine and lifestyle. Which one will be the most beneficial for your long term goals. This seems to be an area that is sometimes misunderstood. By definition, the term motivation means “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.” On the other hand, the definition of discipline is “train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.”


If you’ve been training for any decent amount of time, then you have certainly experienced your share of motivation. On the other hand, you have also most likely experienced a lack of motivation. When you were new to training, motivation was something that was much easier to come by. You had this vision in your head of what you wanted to accomplish, and woke up every day just waiting to be able to walk into the gym. Over time, you realized that this is a very challenging journey filled with many ups, downs, and crossroads along the way. At that point, the motivation may have disappeared. Maybe you missed a couple of workouts, or maybe you fell out of your nutrition routine. When the motivation disappears (because it will), discipline MUST be established in order to continue towards your goals. 


Motivation is great for short term progress. Listening to motivational podcasts, seeing great progress within your body and your mind, pre workout and energy drinks, and simply the excitement of a new stimulus will all have short term benefit that will wear off at some point over time. What will continue to propel yourself along the road when all of the motivation fades away will be discipline. The same discipline that wakes us up each morning, brushes our teeth and makes our bed, and takes us to our job so we can support ourselves and live the life that we want. That same mindset MUST be applied to our training if we truly want to accomplish everything that we tell ourselves that we do.


Often times, it’s simply about showing up. Not every day will be a spectacular training session. Not every week will be a new personal record with our lifts. And not every month will we see the change in our body that we want. However, if we keep showing up and putting one foot in front of the other, especially on those days that we just want to give up, then I promise you great things will happen. Discipline yourself to do the hard things. Make them become second nature, just like that bed, those teeth, and that career. Ride the wave of motivation when it’s present, but when times get tough and you aren’t sure what to do, the discipline to succeed will always guide you down the road to your goals.


Curtis Miller

How Your Environment Can Affect Your Training and Your Mental Health

In the last 6 years I have moved 10 times. So, when talking about changing your environment, I have gone through it for sure. All of these changes have taught me one thing, that my environment is the biggest factor on not just my training, but my mental health as well. When we are not happy in our environment, you can start to feel yourself losing discipline. As your training starts to fall apart, so can your overall health.


Before my most recent move to Pittsburgh, I was training at a gym that I considered home. I would drive 30 minutes to train at Unrivaled Strength and 30 minutes back every day. A lot of people asked me why I wouldn’t just go to the L.A. Fitness down the block from my apartment and my response was that I needed to train in an environment that matched my goals for myself. I was happy, my lifts and my mental health were thriving. Amid your busiest work or school day, I hope you can look forward to training hard at whatever gym it is you feel your best at.


When I moved to Pittsburgh, I knew I had to find a gym like the one I was going to prior to the move, and the owner of that gym, Justin Oliver, recommended Union Fitness. So, not only did I begin training at this gym, but working here as a strength coach and trainer as well. I found myself back in an environment where I am surrounded by individuals with similar goals and a similar mindset to mine. I have mentors who I can train with and learn from every day. This is a gym that allows individuals to be authentic, learn from one another, and most importantly be strong every day.


Your gym should always feel like home, so when people ask me how I stay motivated or how I stay disciplined my answer is always the same: find the best environment for yourself. It isn’t always the same for everybody, and it may take months or years to find. But when you find it, everything will start to fall into place.


After all, a fish can only grow as large as the tank they live in.



Recovery Methods.

I was at a national conference a few years back and had the opportunity to sit down with Chris Duffin. If you do not know who Chris is, he is to say the least, interesting. A good friend of mine Dave Terry (at the time strength coach at Georgetown), saw Chris and said, “Hamer, do you know Chris.” I said we had met a handful of times. He said we need to go talk to him. So we strolled over to his booth. Chris was welcoming,  friendly, and full of good information. One thing that he said that will stick with me is, and I paraphrase, there are two things you can do for recovery. First you can do something to yourself, second is you can have something done to you. This sat in my mind for years and I have added one thought to this, I’d like to share with you my opinion today.


I agree with Chris that you can do something, or have something done to you, I also know that the one other thing you can to for recovery is sleep. Today, I will break each of these down for you and hopefully this will help you recover better, and be healthier and stronger.


Do something to yourself.


If you wish to aid in your recovery, you will find at times that you must move. A good rule of thumb on recovery is to do a movement with little or no eccentric load. A few examples of this are dragging the sled, throwing a med ball, cycling, or running up stairs. Remember that most muscle damage occurs on the eccentric portion of a lift, so the more we can decrease our eccentric load the better off we will be. Also, a little extra conditioning never hurt anyone. Here are a few examples of things I have done.

  1. Grab a med ball and keep it moving for 20 minutes. Just throw it, let it hit the ground and throw it again.
  2. Drag a light sled for 20 minutes non stop.
  3. Walk or push a turned off treadmill. I began doing this one over a decade ago and haven’t used a turned on treadmill since then.
  4. Get outside and take a hike. Do not underestimate the importance of a mindset to recovery. Stress is relative to how one perceives it. So sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) will be more active when we are creating stress and we want to avoid this in recovery work. Create a more parasympathetic response by relaxing and taking hike.


Having something done to you.


This is something that is much harder to do for recovery. The first issue is that you must have someone willing to help you, or pay a professional. The upside to this type of recovery is that you can just sit back and enjoy the moment. Here are a few things you can have done to you for recovery.


  1. Stretch. There is no need to pay for this service, just have a friend, partner, or training partner stretch you.
  2. Soft tissue work. This can be done with a lacrosse ball, steel tube, or even someones hands.
  3. Get a massage. Call Malik or Sarah for this.




Sleep is currently the bees knees in the fitness industry. I remember a story about Arnold and sleep. Someone asked Arnold how he could accomplish so much, his response was, you only have 18 hours a day so don’t waste time. The person said 18 hours? Arnold said yes sleep for 6. The person responded, don’t we need more sleep. Arnold said, sleep faster.


As we all know sleeping faster is not possible. But, getting better quality sleep is possible. So let me review some basic things we should all do to get better sleep. Yet, none of these should be set in stone as we are all unique and none should be followed 100% of the time.


  1. Turn your phone off. I won’t go into the whole blue light stuff. Just put away the most powerful computer you own.
  2. Cut back on caffeine.
  3. Don’t abuse alcohol.
  4. Breathe and meditate.
  5. Do active things during the day, so that you are tired at night.



There it is, Hamer’s take on recovery.


UF Blitz Class

Hello everyone!


If you are new to the community or even if you are a veteran UF member, I wanted to let you know (or remind you) about our free class that we offer here three days a week at lunchtime.


On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 12-12:30pm, we offer a class called “Blitz.” Blitz is a quick 30-minute class that you can hop in during your lunch hour or if you have a free 30-minutes during your afternoon. The class is taught by myself, our GM, Todd, and one of our awesome trainers, April. Todd created this class about 2 years ago, and it is open to anyone and everyone. This means that you don’t have to be a UF member to be able to join in on the fun. Although this class may inspire you to join us. 🙂


On Mondays, the class focuses mainly on squats and lower body movements.

On Wednesdays, the focus is mainly upper body pressing and other accessories.

And on Fridays we have a total body circuit training party.

It’s a great way to get up and moving and learn some basic lifting movements in the middle of your day!


Come join the fun, bring a friend, and head on over to Blitz class.


P.S If you are unable to make it here on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday afternoon and are looking for a longer cardio based class, be sure to check out our Cardio Lab classes offered at 12pm on Tuesday/Thursday’s as well.


See you there!


Don’t Be Average

The average American gains 8 lbs from November through January. Think about this for a minute. That is almost 1 pound per week. 3,500 calories equals one lbs, so that is an excess of 28,000 calories. Consider that most Americans gain weight in their early adulthood (about 18 lbs). Common sense says that if we as a society gains 8 lbs during the holidays yet only 18 during adulthood then we clearly lose some weight during spring and summer months. What this leads me to conclude is that we must control ourselves over the next few months in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle over the long term.


Today I am going to give you a tip for each major eating festival of the upcoming season and how to reduce our weight gain over the next few months.


Halloween the beginning of the end.


Today is Halloween and as you all know this one of the most glutinous days of the year. My son will come home with at least 10 lbs of pure sugar. The tip I have for halloween is be a human, don’t turn down offers of free food. Take all that free candy home and take a few treats out for yourself and then donate the rest of the candy. Do not keep the candy around your house as it will only lead to more and more eating of junk food.


Thanksgiving 2 the gluttony continues.


Thanksgiving is a great day to eat and be around friends and family. In my world there are few things more important than breaking bread with other people. Put your phones away, enjoy the meal and do not feel any guilt for having extra helpings. Now for the best tip all year, come to our turkey burn workout and burn your turkey with us on Thanksgiving morning. Also, bring some friends as this class is free to all. Then after dinner take a nice family walk.


Christmas Season and the multitude of other holidays around Dec/Jan.


December into January is a hard one to navigate as there are too many celebrations. Whether it be the holiday work party, the friends get together, the family get together, or a New Years celebration it can all be a chance to fall off the rails. As anyone who knows me is aware of, I believe be a human, have fun and have a drink. I also know that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. My tip for the weeks of celebrating the end of the year is to simply drink more water. This is a great time to make sure we are getting our gallon of water. Not only will this help you feel full and hopefully make the 4 pieces of pie reduce to maybe 3, it will also help the body functioning to burn some body fat.


January enters the picture.


If you made it through the holiday season without any huge weight gain then it is now time to stay the course. The battle is not yet won. Let’s set some goals as we get through the long winter. It is still too easy to allow the lack of sunlight to affect us through the winter. Find the winter activities that you can do and stay active. The gym will be more crowded as well, so use this as motivation that others are with you.


Happy Halloween and use these tips to stay ready, because as a wise man once said, “If you stay ready you don’t have to get ready.”



How I Approach Different Client Types: Pt. 2

Hello readers! I am following up on a previous blog post where I spoke on my methods for working with athletic and non-athletic individuals. This time, I’ll be discussing how I approach injured clientele. Here, when I talk about ‘injured’, I mean a site that has experienced severe to serious trauma, from a muscle tear/broken bone to chronic soft tissue dysfunction, inhibiting strength and mobility. 


Massage is contraindicated for acute injuries. Ask your doctor what bodywork and therapies are advisable for your injury.  


My utmost concern when I do massage, especially with an injured individual, is the client’s safety. Similar to how health care practitioners take the Hippocratic Oath, I also vowed to do no harm. So, I have vast and growing knowledge of conditions and states of conditions where I cannot do work on a client. 


Though there are times where massage is contraindicated, or unwarranted due to safety, I can direct people to a professional that is better suited for them. Sometimes that professional is a physical therapist, an orthopedist, or even a nutritionist. But usually I direct them to their personal care provider, as they have more referral resources available to them than I when it comes to an injury. 


Additionally, unlike a massage therapist, PCPs can prescribe X-Rays and MRIs. They are expensive, yet I strongly suggest them as they can pinpoint the injury and discern its condition. Once all the proper scans are taken and the client’s doctor has stated that massage is safe, I can then perform bodywork. 


The first step is to assess the tissue at and around the injured site with some range of motion testing. This process I also conduct with non-injured persons. Active and passive range of motion show me how your tissue and joints move given the trauma of the injury. Soft tissue is resilient and often clients are surprised at how well they can move during this assessment. Though it is necessary to mobilize the site for it to heal, we will stop any bodywork that is painful so as not to exacerbate the injury. 


From there, I determine which muscle groups are in need of manual therapies and get to work. These therapies can include cupping, electrical stimulation, applications of heat or cold, or other modalities. It will take more than one or two sessions to get tissue to optimal, but clients generally feel better afterwards compared to when they walked in. It is important to note that your recovery is integral after manual therapies are applied; stress management, diet, and sleep determine how well you take to the massage, injured or otherwise. The body is astoundingly proficient at healing, given the proper conditions. Work with the professionals and practitioners available to you to find which conditions are best for you. 


Thanks for reading! I hope you learned something! Be sure to read my preceding blog “How I Approach Different Client Types” to see how I approach athletes and non-athletic persons. Take it easy!