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What I Learned in 2021

I know these posts have already gotten to a point of being cliché if not overdone, but I wanted to take a moment to recap what’s been yet another year of growth, chaos, and unforeseen barriers that have all collectively shaped where I’m at today. I’ll share a mixed bag in this article, some coaching stuff, some life stuff, but let’s dive in.

(Disclaimer- Some vulgar language found in this article)

1.) Stay on Course.

On a personal level, 2021 was somewhat of a breakthrough for me. I checked several boxes I’ve had my eyes on for several years. The two marquee ones being presenting at Sorinex SummerStrong, and presenting at the NSCA TSAC conference, which were each an absolute privilege for me to be a part of. In addition, I’ve been very fortunate to step into a larger role as a contributor for SimpliFaster, and I also had the honor of doing an inhouse presentation for Mike Boyle (one of my first professional role models) and his staff a few months back. All in all, this was a momentous year for me on the professional side and has put me in a fortuitous position to take some even bigger steps next year.

On top of that, Rude Rock had a true breakthrough year, which eclipses all the personal shit for me by a long shot. I think something I realized this year is simply how much this company really means to me. And not in a financial or clout sense, but the sentiment of it all. It’s just really been humbling for me to see the reach we can have if we continue to just chip away and stay on course. Early on, I was obsessed with numbers. “How many followers do we have?” “How many views did this get?” and so on. But at some point this year, I just finally said fuck it, the numbers will do what they do, but is what we’re putting out what we truly believe in and feel passionate about?

This helped me break through a rut of feeling like another member of the industry echo chamber emphasizing what I thought I “should be doing” to just doing whatever the hell I wanted. If this applies to you, make the switch. Don’t feel constrained into producing certain content, and don’t just replicate what’s trendy just for the sake of some clicks. I promise this copycat/trickle down format we’re currently living in will see its final day. Don’t fear being authentic, and don’t fear transparency. Nothing will help you grow faster.

2.) Indecision is Ineffective

When I was young, my dad said something to me that never really made sense to me until somewhat recently. That was- “sometimes you’re better off being wrong than idle.” Like most father-to-son wisdom, profound insight such as this falls on deaf ears until we find ourselves in that “ah-ha” situation forcing us to recall the words of wisdom and snapping it into focus. With the present state of worldly chaos, disconnect, and dysfunction, I find myself recalling more and more of what my dad shared with me as a kid, and it’s wild seeing how damn near prophetic he’s been all these years.

I’m stubborn as all hell. And I know that’s something many middle-aged men claim of themselves, but no, really, I am very steadfast in what I believe, and extremely difficult to sway. That said, I don’t do well with instruction, guidelines, or mandates; especially if they don’t jive with my personal beliefs. But I have no intentions to live my life as the consequence of other people’s thinking or decision making. I would rather be dead wrong 10/10 times and suffer the consequences, than to cling to someone else in hope of them having the answers. I’ve challenged this multiple times and will continue to do so.

Chronic indecision is a mark of weakness. Now, I’m not saying throw all caution to the wind and to burn it all down for tomorrow is not promised. However, I am saying that indifference and passivity are a shitty way to live your life when it’s what you tend to lead with. Of course, there’s a time and a place to be measured, calculated, or genuinely indifferent to outcome. But our outcome is our responsibility, nobody else’s. So if you’re someone who is inclined to lean on other’s orders for guidance, or follow directions exclusively from others, I can assure you things won’t get better anytime soon for you. Start to model your life around autonomy, in which you have the least amount of external reliance you possibly can while remaining functional.

3.) Love Your Pets. Deeply, and daily.

I’m sure I’ve had this as a point in one of my other yearly reviews, but frankly this should be a point I reiterate every year, and especially this year. In March, we found out that Rocky had developed an extremely aggressive form of splenic and blood cancer, and less than 24 hours we were forced to say our goodbyes. Rocky was 13 years old, and although for most that would seem to be a complete life for a dog, we disagreed. I suppose no matter how much time you get with your pets, it will never seem like enough. It never seems fair to see pets die, because we don’t ever feel like it’s justified; how could something so beautifully innocent and unconditionally loving die? It’s just flat out unfair that we only have such a brief amount of time with our pets. And this all rings true for Rock.

Rocky was nothing short of an angel, he had such an uncanny way in bringing out the best in us, to include his younger brother Rudy. Rocky’s charm was infectious, even up to his final moments when he came jogging out of the back room with that lovingly goofy smile and enthusiasm, despite the cords and monitors draped all around him. I’ll never forget his vibrant smile, the glean in his eyes and the way his ears would perk up when we entered a room. And I know Nicole would kill me if I didn’t mention his snuggly side, despite him being a certified killer in my eyes. Rocky was such a profound companion to us, and he took tremendous pride in being our frontline security.

I can go on and on reminiscing on Rock. And although it always feels uniquely personal when you lose a pet, I know this is something almost everyone will or has encountered at some point. It’s an impossible pain to cope with. It just fucking hurts. And no matter how much time passes, or how life materializes after the fact, that vacancy will never be restored. I will continue to miss him deeply each and every day. I’d do anything to have just one more day with him. So please, please, love your pets- passionately. Take exceptional care of them or find someone who will. Never, ever pass up the opportunity for belly rubs or snuggles on the couch.

Aside- The best way to get over your own hardships is to take away someone else’s. In honor of Rocky, we contributed a portion of our revenue this year to a wonderful organization called Fetch-a-Cure. If you’re in a position to do so, we encourage you to send them something this holiday season and help pets/families in need who are battling canine cancer.

4.) Tone & Body Language

This is something that likely won’t come as a surprise, especially to those who actually know me, but I tend to be a bit “reserved” with social interaction. In fact, small talk is unequivocally a top 3 pet peeve of mine. Moreover, I have a tendency to look intense during work hours, but in all honesty, I’m just focused, or I don’t know… maybe it’s just my face? Nevertheless, I’ve always made it a priority to inform the athletes and coaches I work with that I promise I’m not angry, it’s just how I am.

Well, this became challenged in a major way this year, where I was effectively put on notice by my other coaches. The breaking point came when an assistant coach of mine said she “feels like she’s on eggshells around me all the time.” And I’ll be honest, that hurt me. Because despite what I perceive as focus or stoicism, was not being rendered as such by my co-workers. And the absolute last thing I want to ever do is make others on our team feel that way.

I was really glad she checked me on this, because it was a conversation that I needed to have. Not just with her and the rest of the team, but from Alex as well. While this ended up being a non-issue in the grand scheme, it was important that I had this course correction. I wanted to reach out to a few people in our industry who I admire, namely for their charisma and ability to interact with others, and so I made a few calls. I ended up having some unbelievably helpful, and transparent conversations with a couple of coaches I had never actually met. One in particular, who is very well known in our field, gave me some humbling and refreshing input. He had so much to offer, but what really jumped out at me was him sharing the “three signs of a miserable job”. Those three things are anonymous, immeasurable, and irrelevant. He went on to give me a “homework” assignment to address how I can make sure none of our coaches at VHP were ever inclined to feel this way. And I cannot thank him enough for that phone call because the work atmosphere has been substantially better since. And it started with me.

5.) Standards vs. Expectations

A continuation of the point above, a part of our conversation led into standards vs. expectations. Expectation management is another area I’ve had a lot of trouble with over the years, both as it pertains to me but especially as it pertains to others. No matter how I try to argue or justify this, I’ve finally gotten to the point of accepting that everyone does not have the same level of commitment or passion towards their work… AND THAT’S OK. As defiant as I’ve been on this, it’s been another great learning point for me. But being the analytical person I am, I needed to structure this in a way that made sense to me. And here’s what I came up with.

Standards are ubiquitous, they apply equally to everyone on the team. There is little to no wiggle room on standards, as I seem the standard as the equivalency of minimal effective dose. Expectations on the other hand are individualized and are different for each member of the team. Where standards hardly or rarely change, expectations are dynamic and constantly fluctuating and evolving. It may seem ridiculous but putting this into frame for me was extremely helpful. I feel like I have a better gauge of how to interact and how to address my coaches.

6.) Sweat Equity

My final point for 2021, Sweat Equity, is a term that I’ve really latched onto and tried to live my life by. I know in today’s world this is effectively counterculture, but once again I don’t give a shit. I think we’ve gone way too far with the colloquialisms of “everyone works at their own pace” and to “not work themselves into burnout”; effectively, we’ve reached a point of oversaturating people with preserving feelings as opposed to developing durability and robustness. Sometimes, people just suck, and they suck at what they do, and they don’t have any inkling to do better. I will never have an ounce of empathy for people who let themselves suffer willingly.

You don’t need me (or anyone) to remind you to rest. Obviously, there is a time and a place to just shut down and recover. But I feel like so many people who fear monger about overworking themselves have never even scratched the surface of pushing themselves to true exhaustion. And working your ass off to the point of exhaustion is an absolutely necessary thing. Remember, you don’t know what you’re capable of if you can never create an accurate reference. You’ve got to touch the endpoints to understand the middle of the spectrum.

I have been a lifelong beneficiary of just working hard. I’m not very good at very many things. I don’t believe I was gifted genetically with much. If I didn’t work my ass off for as long as I have, I would have nothing to hang my hat on. I have personally seen too much value from the simple commitment to working hard to feel otherwise. If you’re someone who is pursuing excellence, you must work hard. You must push boundaries. And you must challenge social expectations and status quo. If you’re someone who is comfortable coasting and putting shit on autopilot, disregard this last bullet point.

Training Roundup

I’m closing in on my word count, so let me leave you with a shotgun list of some of the strength training adjustments I found most valuable this year:

-Less constrained, more open/organic movement.

-More emphasis on optimizing intent with submaximal loads, less emphasis on pursuing maximal loads.

-Restructuring my intake/assessment process to be less analytical/diagnostic and more so comprehensive and unfolding.

--> Isolated measurements and data are only as valuable as their influence on training structure and decisions. If you don’t use it, lose it.

-Remote programming is REALLY about what’s comprehensive and sustainable, not what’s flashy or even “best”.

-->Be thorough with notes, instructions, and video aids.

-More speed/plyo/MB/dynamic modalities, less static loading.

-Static stretching is now a very rare item for me to include. Stretching should be done predominantly with load, pulse, and variability in most cases.

I hope you all had a good, productive 2021. And whether you did or not, I hope you have a prosperous year of 2022 ahead of you. Remember you are in full control of the decisions you make, meaning you also hold the responsibility of the outcomes you have. If you aren’t happy with your situation, change it. And if you are happy with your situation, don’t become complacent to it.

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