This is a follow up to the piece written below, Why Not in the City, from 2006…
What Gym? Looking Back 20 Years and Realizing We Were Right All Along…
By Jeff Watters
I’ve been doing this a long time. I guess I’m quite a bit older than I feel, which is what makes this whole “doing this a long time” thing hard to wrap my hands around. I’m using this piece as a sort of follow up to an article I wrote back in 2005 that would serve to details my training philosophy to those that cared to hear it. Maybe even to those that didn’t care what it was but were curious as to why we were meeting to train each day at the odd locations, only to do some really weird shit.
It became clear to me over this past weekend that I wanted to get back into a more focused and creative space, mentally, in order to better facilitate what I’ve been trying to push on you guys all these years. When the call came from a friend of mine that was wishing to set up an interview for a men’s fitness magazine that you’ve heard of (he’s an editor there), it provided me that jolt that was needed. We’d not spoken in quite some time. He asked if I was still “open for business”, making reference to the fact that I never had a store front and that my “gym” was wherever I decided it was to be that day. He was sick of dealing with the same regurgitated bullshit coming from whatever Cross fit or some other “functional fitness” trainer or gym he had been dealing with. Problem with that stuff isn’t that it’s no good. At the core of it, there’s always some value. The problem is that most of the people using the terminology don’t actually know what it means. If your goal is to enter a competition for doing Olympic power lifting, then you need to work on those specific movements as well as other compensatory movements to support them. If not, they’re useless – in terms of every day application and fitness, as in improving your health. Other trainers and facilities may have you jump on some plyo boxes and call it functional training or something similar, and it sounds pretty cool, but that’s still not the point. My editor friend said that he LOVED the fact that I’d stuck true to my beliefs and my goals and never fell into allowing myself to become a commodity. I suddenly felt somewhat hypocritical and embarrassed when I told him that I DID in fact have a small space in Detroit that I was using for some of my sport specific work. Though I did start to think that, just like things become easy in day to day life, we can sometimes fall into the same thing with work. For instance, if I have a fighter that I need to do heavy strength work with on F am, it’s easier just to have my next one on one client meet me there rather than taking the time to design something on a day to day specific agenda that would necessitate us meeting elsewhere. Rather than designing my day around the planning, I was planning around my day. There’s a big difference.
What I’ve gotten myself back into this summer, which is exactly what I’m preaching in these words I’m hoping you read is to look at what I want to accomplish with you and figure out where best to do it in such a way that your body is actually moving through space. Actually applying the fitness that we’re installing and making your body use it to move. THIS is functional fitness. All it is, is making your training adaptable and being able to put it into practice in day to day application. Meaning the leg work we do will be applied to your running, etc. That’s my definition of it and that’s how I use it. Motor City Bootcamp was designed with that in mind. 5 days a week, at 530 am, we would meet at various parks and parking decks in the area. Depending on where the group was from, we may meet at Groves HS in the Birmingham area. The Lafayette street parking garage in Royal Oak. Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills or even Hart Plaza in Detroit. It didn’t matter because we had everything we needed. If I wanted speed work, we’d hit the track. Stairs, we’d work in a parking deck. We were doing this in ’93, before crossfit was even conceptualized or functional fitness was even a term. Guess what else? It worked. It still works. The type of training we do is varied and fucking hard. I’ll take an athlete with talent and build them into an athlete with world class conditioning, regardless of where they started. You’re not in shape unless you’re in “Bootcamp” Shape. My most dedicated have been with me through the winters, before we had someplace to train inside, and came out a different person and athlete in the spring. Make no mistake; the training program is your sport. If you can play that sport, you’re conditioned enough to play any sport. What about my facility in Detroit? I love it, though I believe it’s been overused. Roughly 25% of our training has taken place there over the last couple of years. I want that to change. Though there is a the need and benefit of free weight training, it’s not often enough for the day to day person to warrant trips to the gym. Many of my clients / pro athletes have programs in place that make it necessary to utilize it at some point but we will do so less often when possible. For everyone else, EVERYTHING you need can be found or produced in such a way that you need never train indoors again. That’s what I’m aiming to do and why you’re reading this. Not say you can never go inside to train but rather to show you another way of thinking. You don’t need to run around and throw weights with your shirts off or lay on the ground in a heap with your compression socks pulled up after all.
The Body Becomes it’s Function..
Why’s that important and why does it apply to any of this? I’ll tell you. I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopothy when I was 37. I trained the way it was recommended for me to, I ate well, I slept well and took meds for a year with the hopes of getting to avoid a pace maker and defibrillator. My ejection fraction didn’t improve. It’s been several years now since that surgery. This past year has seen some major life changes that should have wreaked havoc on my health. They’ve caused me to sleep less, self medicate more and eat like shit much of the time. The one thing I did maintain religiously, and that was vastly different than what was considered “the right way to train” was how I chose to care for my fitness. I trained with intensity and I trained the same way I train my classes and clients. No dumb heart rate monitors because, believe it or not, you can listen to your body without one. No tools, just training and doing what felt good. Not good as in easy but good as in it was what I was supposed to be doing. Lots of boxing, lots of stairs, lots of jumping off bridges and swimming across the river, lots of hopping fences onto the bleachers, lots of carrying a partner on my back while doing lunges, lots of pushups in the fountain at that unnamed park in Birmingham. My goal was to make it through a 16 week training camp with the hope that my cardiologist would ok a fight in San Juan for me last November. She didn’t. What she did do is to tell me that my heart had improved to the point that, if the numbers I had now were the numbers they found when I was 37, she’d had never recommended surgery in the first place. This was a one year change when everything I was doing was counterintuitive to what would have been best to give me these results. Just think if I’d been sleeping and eating better. As it stands now, I am on pace to be one of the first patient / athletes to EVER have this device removed from my body. I believe 100% that it’s almost entirely due to the training I’ve taken on over the course of time between the testing. That’s good enough for me and that should be good enough for you. If my heart can double it’s ejection fraction, a number that’s not expected to move once surgery takes place (thus the need for it), your body can reap what it needs by you training the way you should be training. Because, the body becomes it’s function. Force your body to move and adapt and your body will make itself strong and fit enough to be able to move and adapt.
As I go over this, the memory comes to me of when we were making fun of the people screaming and moaning as they were “training” in the hallway – pushing their sled, loaded up with plates, down the hallway with their shits off and high fiving each other. The thought to me is funny because, for the money they spent on that sled, (which is designed to be used on grass. The grass causes friction on the skid plates which is what makes it harder to push. Skid plate on cement is the equivalent of pushing it on ice) they could have bought 100 tires. I actually get mine for free so they don’t have to pay a disposal fee at the tire place. The reason that’s funny is because I took my free tire and had my athlete push it down the hallway, past them and back, while they all looked at us like we were crazy and wondered if we were making fun of them. When I informed them that my free tire was twice as hard to push down the hall, because tires create traction on cement…. Duh, car tires on the street shouldn’t be easy to slide, than their expensive metal sled on ice, they just turned around and started to grunt some more. Because for some people it’s about the show and not the process. We are about the process. Being about the process will get you to the result. All you have to do is show up every day and let “that day” take care of itself. Show up to enough “today’s and tomorrow will happen. You don’t have to take your shirt off for it and you don’t have to pay a gym membership for it. Shit, you don’t even have to pay me for it if you decide to follow my blog routines. But then I’d hate you and want to kick your ass for ripping me off when you go to teach your own group, like so many others have done. What’s that saying again; Pioneers get copied while the copiers get rich? Maybe I’m at the wrong end after all?
Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on that story. Interested? Group sessions meet Tuesday through Friday at 5:30 am in Birmingham and Royal Oak, depending on the day. One on one training is scheduled based on specific programming needs. Once determined, an accessible location will be selected.
Why NOT in the City?
By Jeff Watters
Many lifetimes ago, I was a boxer. One of the things I loved most about being a boxer was going to training camp. Sometimes training camps were attended less regularly than others. I was never one who, back in those days, was known to have prepared quite as much as I should have for my fights. That being said, it wasn’t necessarily the “training” part of training camp that I looked forward to as much as it was being able to get out of the city. Most of the time fighters will take themselves out of their natural environment while preparing for the upcoming fight. It’s usually out someplace where nobody else will interfere. If you’re a well known fighter, you may wind up at the boxing center at Big Bear Mountain. If you’re like me, you usually were fortunate to get out to the cabins at Island Lake Recreation Area. The thing was, it didn’t even matter that I was only 30 minutes from home. It felt like 300. My state of mind, my energy, my enthusiasm… everything was much more intense and much clearer. I attributed that to the surroundings and lack of distractions.
Many years later, when making a living boxing was 5 concussions ago, I started Motor City Bootcamp. My dream with MCB was to have an alternate to the typical gym exercisers by offering something outside, year round. I vowed to use no equipment other than the surroundings. My thought was to have MCB run at various parks in the area. Not your local park but places like Bald Mountain, Island Lake and anywhere else that offered a “location”. The problem was that I couldn’t get people to follow me out there on a regular basis. What I loved for lack of distractions became the distraction to others. I thought to myself, I may as well just do it downtown. It’s not like people are going to follow me out to the country anyway. Then it clicked, why NOT downtown?
I began doing some trial run – throughs on routines I’d come up with, still using the surrounding areas as the exercise stations. Parking deck ramps became hills. Stairs became climbing ladders and children’s playgrounds, or even scaffolding, became pull up bars. The REAL Motor City Bootcamp was born. Now, after having offered my 5:30 am workout since 1996, I can say that the best thing we ever did was take it Urban. There’s nothing in the world like being out there before the sun comes up. You see the peace in the city. Running down the riverfront near Hart Plaza, you can see what really is great about Detroit. Now, everything I see becomes some type of exercise addition. I’m not sure if that’s a gift or a curse. I do know that, just the other day, one of my athletes said to me “When we were in NY, all I could think of was – God, if Jeff were here, he’d have us running up and down all those stairs!”. The things that were once distractions to me became the attributes of my program that kept people coming. They were now the reason for being there.
There are so many people that look to escape from the city for the brief moment of solitude. Of getting to mountain bike through the woods or spending a few hours doing an adventure race. I’m a HUGE supporter of all those things. I’m also a huge supporter of realizing how many things that there are to do without having to leave at all. Sometimes the best wilderness there is, the best escape there is, isn’t really from your surroundings. It’s from your head. I realized that Island Lake wasn’t my escape. Training for my fight was my escape. I could have been training in someone’s basement. The fact that I was focused on doing something that wasn’t part of my normal routine was the real escape.
Do you need an escape? Check out one of the several outdoor exercise programs in the area. Detroit, Royal Oak, Birmingham, Ferndale… they’re everywhere. For you athletes that, like me, love adventure racing – check out an urban adventure race. It’s a great way to change up your race routine for seasoned racers. It’s also a great way to break into the sport with a little bit less focus on many of the more technical aspects of the sport. The problem is that, unless you know about them, you’re probably not going to look for them. Fortunately, I’ve done your homework for you. Here are a couple of Michigan races that are well run and great for both beginners and seasoned racers. Check out the Grand Rapids Urban Adventure Race, and, though it’s already been held this season, check out the SMART BLAST in 2012.
If you’re tired of feeling like you need a break from your routine, take it urban. You may even feel like you just got back from a weekend of exercise up north. That’s not enough for you? How about this, taken from the clue sheet given out at The Great Urban Race –
At the start of the Great Urban Race, teams are given an envelope containing twelve clues. The clue sheet contains a mixture of challenges and is designed to expose participants to local businesses within the community in a fresh new way. According to the Great Urban Race website, clue examples incorporate:
- Physical Challenges: Examples: Feed your teammate some tasty food, do something daring, or compete in a game. Mazes, Segways, Tae Kwon Do lessons, bicycle races, holding huge fish, canoeing and many other activities were used during the 2009 season.
- Puzzles and Brain Teasers: Examples: anagrams, word searches, cryptograms and crosswords.
- Interaction with the general public: Examples: Sing to a stranger, take photos with men with mustaches
Crazy huh? And just think, you didn’t even need to pack up the family and head up 75 just to deal with the Sunday traffic coming home. Just as the moniker of this publication preaches “ALL THE WORLD IS A GYM”
It’s free, Use it!
Jeff owns Motor City Bootcamp and Watters Performance LLC. He’s also a member of the Brooks ID and P.A.C.E Programs as well as the coach of Priority Health’s Endurance Racing Teams for Southeastern Michigan. Follow his blog at jeffwatters.wordpress.com or visit his website www.jeffwatters.com