A Fresh Start

A while ago I came to the sad realization that there are more personal trainers and health clubs in the world than ever before. And yet there are more people who are overweight, obese, sedentary, and suffer from diseases brought on by lifestyle choices than ever before. The approach we are taking as a nation to combat the effects of a technologically advanced way of life needs to change. It is not working. The majority of Americans do not go to gyms. The majority struggle to find reasons to move. It is been going on for several decades and has gotten to the point that the incoming generations are starting life from a worse position than their parents and grandparents before them.

Many people do not know how to exercise. Many are intimidated. Many know they need to do something but do not know where to begin. Many are just simply embarrassed because of how media has told them they should look.

All the more reason to have a gentle approach to encourage a dynamic lifestyle; one with purpose and self-preservation. That is why we developed the Fresh Start Program. It is not a workout or an exercise plan. It is a way of encouraging good things to happen. We gather people together who are experiencing similar issues in their life, and together they support and encourage change.

Over the course of six weeks we guide the group through small bit-sized amounts of movement. Not too much to be overwhelming. Not too much to be intimidating. Just enough to try and repeat a couple of times through the week. Each week a little more is added. People can stay with what works for them or what they are comfortable with. There is no judgement. Only encouragement.

So if you happen to fall into this category or have a loved one who does, please let us know. There is hope and support. Being born and dying are the only two things we do alone. What happens in between those two events we do together.

A True California Biathlon

On May 7th, I got to check one more thing off of my bucket list. For many years I have wanted to snowboard and surf all in one day. This winter has been one for the record books. The Central Coast received the most rainfall in decades and the reservoirs that were alarmingly low last year are now filled to the top. The total seasonal snowfall amount in the Sierras was in the neighborhood of 750 inches! That is over 60 feet of snow. A telephone pole is about 30 feet high. So just imagine snow on the ground two times that height. It is just staggering to consider. What is even more amazing is the fact that just the day before we achieved our goal, the Sierras experienced another snow storm that left six to twelve more inches of snow in the mountains…in May!

Very early Sunday morning, May 7th, I left Santa Cruz with three others for Dodge Ridge Ski Resort. It is the closest resort to Santa Cruz; a 3 ½ hour drive. When we arrived we found fresh, untouched snow waiting for us. The temperatures would be in the forties and rising. No heavy winter gear required. This was the last day of operations for the season and what a way to end it. Very small lift lines and plenty of places to go through powder. We snowboarded until lunch time. Part one was complete. Now it was time to get back in the car and make it home for a surf session.

As luck would have it a south swell had appeared the night before and surf was up. We got back to Santa Cruz well before sunset. Exchanged snowboards for surfboards and slid into our wetsuits. The wind had picked up a bit so the waves were a bit bumpy but that did not dampen our spirits. We surfed for a bit and finished the day with wide smiles all around.

Here is a short clip of our day. BUCKET LIST. Go ahead and find something to check off of your bucket list. I’m sure you got one or two in mind.

More is not Always Better

I am often reminded of a poster that was on the wall of my grade school classroom. It was an illustration of two hippopotamuses sitting in a small boat with a third hippo falling out of the sky about to land in the boat. The caption below was “More is not always better.” 

A young, female, long distance runner came in to see me because she was complaining about lower leg and lower back pain. The pain had progressed over the course of her competitive season. She was receiving a mixed bag of advice. Her coach was strongly encouraging her to run through the pain in the hopes of it working itself out. Her parents were encouraging her to go easy or take a break from running in the hopes of alleviating the pain. She was feeling pressure from her teammates and coach to keep her weekly mileage up as if pain was just part of the process of being a high level runner.

Although I have received my certification as a USA Track & Field Coach, it has been many years since I coached at the track. These days I mostly attempt to be a pattern disrupter. We all have patterns in our life. The way we walk or talk or go about our normal day all have patterns. These patterns can be quite positive but what if they are not? What if you are a long distance runner and the way you run is causing areas of the body to overwork to compensate other areas not working hard enough? What if that compensatory motion is performed for thousands of repetitions every time you practice? Will running more take care of the problem? Will it help create a positive outcome of pain-free competition?

 In this situation disrupting her pattern was something to explore. She had already tried to run through the pain and that did not work. What she was doing and the amount she was running needed to be disrupted. We discovered some areas that were not participating, areas of restriction. We gave them an experience or opportunity to join the party, and things instantly felt better. These movements became her homework. I also asked her to go play for a week and a half. Go do anything she wanted to do except run. Go for a bike ride, surf, swim, anything but run. 

This athlete was at the end of her season and she had a big track meet coming up in a few weeks. The coach had her running the same volume as any other time during the season; but this was the post-season. This is the time when all of your hard work through the season gets you to the championships (regional, state, national, etc.). Having her maintain a high volume of running this close to the post-season is like having NFL players, about to play in the Super Bowl, practice like they were in the first week of summer camp. It is not a wise thing to do. Ask any NFL strength coach and they will tell you they back off of intensity when they hit the playoffs.

Unfortunately the running coach holds on to an archaic thought process. It was probably what he was taught and he has carried the torch on to today. Most coaches only know what they know and when it comes to strength & conditioning they default to how they were coached. The real good coaches are those who break away from how they were coached and become inquisitive. They go outside of their experience to learn more. Just food for thought.

Sunday Surf Series

I have been surfing for four decades and have been bodysurfing most of my life without many physical issues. And when those issues do arise I have the tools to fix them. What’s in your toolbox? 

For several months I have been posting helpful hints to surfers every Sunday. They are short and sweet. I focus on various aspects of performance as it relates to surfers. What do you need to do to be better at paddling, or popping up on your board? What types of strength moves will improve turning to be more powerful? How do you reduce neck and low back from hours of paddling for waves? These are just some of the issues in the tissues that are addressed. If you surf or have a surfer in your life you may want to spend a few minutes checking the videos out.

Forging a Maverick

In the early 2000’s I trained a young surfer by the name of Jay Moriarity. Jay was respected by the shortboard and longboard crowd alike. In many ways he was often the glue that kept both types of surfers from biting the heads off of one another. He surfed all types of boards including the big wave “guns.” He and his mentor, Rick “Frosty” Hesson trained on the water in all sorts of conditions. They trained Jay’s mental fortitude and breath holding ability for surfing the gigantic waves at the big wave spot just north of Santa Cruz in Half Moon Bay known as Mavericks. Typical winter swell will create waves in the 20-40ft range. However, some waves have been measured up to 100 feet high! Regardless of the size, Jay was in his element. 

He came to see me for some gym time and we focused on getting him in the proper condition to tackle the next big wave season. Sadly, Jay died in a free diving accident in the Maldives just a day before his 23rd birthday. The surf community was devastated with his loss. His memory still lives on with a long distance paddle race every June in Santa Cruz. There was a full feature film titled “Chasing Mavericks” that was produced a few years back. A book titled, “Making Mavericks” was written by Frosty and went a bit deeper in understanding who Jay was and the impact he had on the world of surfing and Santa Cruz in general. Many people have been affected by Jay, his joie de vie, and the impact he had on local surfers.

One surfer in particular, my son Jack, seems to have been heavily influenced by Jay and what he represented. Jack is 15 years old and was born after Jay passing. Nonetheless, he has been intrigued by Jay and his life’s path, regardless of how short it was. I do not know how many times has watched the movie or read the book or gone to YouTube and watched big wave surfing.

Jack got into surfing at the age of 9. I would take him to gentle surf spots until he was ready for bigger and more advanced conditions. Here we are six years later and Jack has followed in Jay’s footsteps by prone peddling 28.5 miles across Monterey Bay when he was 14. He surfs boards of all shapes and sizes of boards and competes in surf competitions up and down the California coast. He is respected by his peers (short boarders & long boarders). He has taken apnea clinics where he learns proper breath holding and how to break the panic cycle that comes in when air gets too low. He has spent the past couple of years charging the biggest waves in Santa Cruz whenever the chance comes.

Last week he reached a landmark in his goal setting and achieving. He and a couple of friends went up to Half Moon Bay and paddled out at Mavericks. The waves were perfect for his first experience. He was exhilarated and humbled all at once. He gave respect to Mother Nature and she seemed to reciprocate in kind. I am so impressed by his ability to set a goal and see it through. This is by no means the end to his goal achieving but it sure did impress me. Check out his first wave CLICK HERE. You may be equally impressed. 

There is a saying in Santa Cruz. “Live like Jay!” I know one person who has made that a reality. Now my mantra is “Live like Jack!”

Pillars of Human Movement

For decades the majority of exercise routines have centered around a dozen or so large muscle groups or areas of the body (i.e. chest, back, arms, shoulders, legs, and abs). This comes primarily from the world of bodybuilding. Therefore, if your desire is to stand on stage in a bikini or speedo all lubed up with tanning lotion and oil while flexing your muscles for all the world to see, then chances are that type of program is what you seek.

If your goals are different from that, then perhaps you may want to focus on how well your body moves with the least amount of pain or restriction rather than just the aesthetics. To make it easy, let’s think in terms of basic human motion. Better yet, we will call them pillars of human movement because they are the foundation of every action we take.

Pillars of Human Movement

  1. Pressing
  2. Pulling
  3. Level Change
  4. Rotation
  5. Locomotion

Pressing is simply exerting force away from the body. Examples are push ups, dips, bench press, handstands, and the shoulder press.

Pulling is exerting force toward the body. Examples are rowing, pull ups, pulldowns, curls, and climbing.

Level Change refers to the motion of the head as it moves up and down. Exercises that require this action are squats, lunges, step ups, and deadlifts and all of their variations.

Rotation is really how the body moves. It is a key ingredient for overall success. You can perform exercises that encourage torso rotation, hip rotation, head rotation, or total body rotation. Examples of a rotational exercise are medicine ball throws, cable or resistance band rotation, hitting a punching, and lunges where the stepping leg crosses the midline of the body.

Locomotion is moving the body through space; from one location to another. Examples of locomotion are crawling, skipping, broad jumps, walking lunges, and sprinting.

By covering all of the pillars the body gets to experience integrative functional movement; something that is not focused upon with a bodybuilding routine. With over 600 muscles in the body it makes sense to try and condition as many as possible rather than a dozen or so. Here is just one sample list of exercises using the concept of pillars as the central idea.

Push up

Pull Up



Medicine Ball Side Toss

Sled push

Once you get the idea of the pillars, the workouts become easy and fun to create. Just try having at least one exercise from each of the pillars. You will find that one exercise may fall under more than one pillar. Get creative and have fun. 

How to Improve Your Pop Up

When surfers attempt getting to their feet to ride waves that maneuver is known as a “pop-up.” Many aging surfers struggle the most with this one particular move. Paddling and wave riding are almost second nature. However, without the ability to pop up on your board surfers are just riding expensive body boards.

Most of the time a person will think they need to do more push ups. This would make sense if they lacked the strength to lift their torso off the deck of the board but most surfers are able to do that. So if it’s not more push ups, what is it? Considering the fact that as we age most people become less active and find themselves sitting for prolonged periods of time. This combination will increase restrictions in the muscles surrounding the hips and thighs.

In order for a person to pop up on a surfboard, flexibility (or pliability) in hips and thighs are essential. Especially the front of the hips. Here is a short video I created that will guide you through one position that will almost guarantee your pop ups will be better the more you do it.

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rODyy5cZgkU&list=PLdE4aIideNz0CtDEivGTkPfmvrKBXDtYm&index=5&t=42s


The Importance of Disconnecting

This is a time of year I very much look forward to reaching. Next week my son is on Spring Break and for the past few years we spend the week in Baja Mexico with his friends and mine. We fly down to a small airport with just one runway, climb in to a friend’s van at a nearby storage yard, and drive across the peninsula until we reach the Pacific. 

We stay outside of a poor, sleepy, fishing village where the waves are long and pristine. There is no cell service, no Internet, and no cable television. We are surrounded by ocean on one side and a Mexican desert on the other. Pure heaven. For one week life becomes very simple: surf, eat, sleep, repeat! 

It is almost like stepping into a time machine and going back before the days of technology. A truly invigorating experience. The ex-pats that have settled there since the seventies are friendly enough and the villagers are very hospitable. We get to sharpen our Spanish speaking skills but more importantly we get to slow down. 

I do not realize how fast paced my daily life is when I am deep in it. However, when I return from these adventures it hits me hard how much I have fallen into the speed required to pursue the American dream. Fortunately the slower, relaxed pace of Baja stays with me for a bit. In truth, it would probably be beneficial to head down south every 4-5 months so I do not fall back into the hectic pace. 

When was the last time you went without the internet, a smart phone, or cable TV and just slowed down? 

Simple Machines

It’s funny, I learned all about simple machines in 9th grade physics class. There are six machines: the lever, pulley, inclined plane, screw, wedge, and wheel and axle. When they are combined together they become known as compound machines. I never thought that I would be using these machines when it came to personal training or helping those with chronic pain. I was wrong. The joints of the body are classified as levers. The muscles and tendons wrap around joints and acts as pulleys to provide mechanical advantage when lifting our body or other heavy objects. We even use incline planes to stretch calf muscles. For the past ten years I have been using small foam wedges under the feet of clients to improve their bodies ability to move with more efficiency and connectivity. This is performed in the training and rehab environments. Such a simple device and yet so powerful. 

There are three primary purposes when it comes to these foam wedges. The first is simply to fill in space under the foot that should not be present. The foot is similar to a tripod. We have three primary points of contact at the base of the foot: the ball of the foot by the big toe (first metatarsal head), the ball of the foot by the little toe (the fifth metatarsal head), and the center of the heel (calcaneus). Provided we maintain proper contact at these three points then that will help create a stable platform and encourage an ideal chain reaction up through the entire body.

The second purpose is to encourage bone and joint motion. The wedge is an inclined plane or ramp. When the wedge is placed under an area of the foot, it can stimulate motion down the ramp; in essence speeding up movement in a certain direction. If the wedge were to be spun around in the opposite direction it would encourage that area to slow down. Therefore the wedge can alter the rate of speed and direction of joint motion which is sometimes needed to disrupt patterns of compensation.

The third purpose is to provide the brain and central nervous system with proprioceptive feedback. Proprioception is the body’s ability to know where it is in space and where it is going. Often times injuries, surgeries, shifts in posture and a host of other events can affect our bodies proprioceptive feedback to the brain. When this occurs the brain must begin to change how we move and support ourselves. This can also lead to compromised ways of moving which may lead to chronic pain issues.

There are other purposes of using the wedges. Yet, that is not something to explain at this time. It gets a bit more complicated and involves the relationships different areas of the body have with one another. I will just state that placing a wedge under the someone’s foot has proven to unlock a stiff neck, a frozen shoulder, remove back pain, and a host of other experiences. Suffice to say, simple machines are powerful tools and are items to have in your toolbox.

Are You A Swinger?

I love my Indian clubs. If you do not know what they are, and you have any shoulder or neck trouble, you really should get to know then. The clubs have been around for over 5,000 years. Originally used as weapons, now they are used for improving and maintaining healthy shoulders, elbows, wrists, and necks. 

Most movements practiced with the clubs are circular. The centrifugal force that is created by swinging helps to create space in joints for movement that is more clean and free. The weight of clubs vary. I recommend beginning with 1 or 1 ½ pound clubs. There are a variety of movements and can be an integral part of your workout routine. 

When I was training to paddle the 28.5 miles across Monterey Bay on my prone paddle board it was the club routine that kept my shoulders happy and healthy.

I have created several short instructional videos for the beginner on my YouTube channel, Rocky Snyder, CSCS. Check out the entire playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdE4aIideNz0w-q4H8Zp6lFhzEXtFmk9I

I also recorded an hour long Indian Club workshop I gave a couple of years ago. Check it out HERE 

The benefits of play and boredom

I was recently asked to help my daughter with a school project. She needed to interview someone about their childhood and organized sports. So that is what I’m writing about today. I grew up on the playground, on the Boston & Maine rail line, and not a bit in organized sports. The only organizing of sports were what my friends and I decided to play after school. I was more or less a decathlete when it came to sports and activities. I was good at whatever we decided to do but rarely ever the best. I just liked to play. Being a single sport athlete was something unheard of in my childhood. We played pick up games; pure and simple. In the fall it was football or frisbee or basketball. In the winter it was pond hockey or street hockey when it wasn’t cold enough for the pond to freeze. In the spring as the snow was melting and the mud was building we walked and balanced on the railroad tracks and threw rocks at empty bottles under the bridge rather than in a pitching cage. 

We shoveled snowy driveways in the winter and raked countless bags of leaves in the fall. We were active kids and never experienced injuries that required orthopedic surgeons. Tommy John was a young pitcher, not a surgical procedure. 

Today is a much different story for our youth. Too many kids are encouraged by coaches and families to participate in one sport throughout the entire year. There a few things worse you could offer your kids. Their bodies and developing brains need novelty, not highly repetitive actions. If you want to ensure burnout at an early age then keep taking your kids to soccer practice year round. Instead, be sure to allow them to simply play in an unorganized fashion. Let them be bored. Do not overload their schedule. Kids need to be kids, not young Tommy Johns. That is my rant for the day. Now go forth and do something novel.

Magic? No, Science!

I had an online session with a new client recently. She was an equestrian and competed in dressage recreationally. She had a few complaints such as chronic pain in the balls of her feet, mid back compression pain from being hit in the back by a bale of hay, and left shoulder pain that kept her from sleeping on her side. She had also gone through foot surgery on both big toes decades ago and had bore three children via c-sections. 

After creating a timeline of this client’s life in regards to her surgeries, injuries, and accidents, we went through a postural assessment. Like everyone else, she had shifted here and there in a subconscious attempt to find the best resting place for a body that has experienced a unique life. She tended to bear more weight on her right and when observing her walk she landed quickly and heavily on her right; perhaps to get off the left foot that had been troubling her more.

Next we broke down her gait into chunks. We assessed how she moved her pelvis, her ribs, and her shoulders. She struggled to rotate her pelvis right and her ribs left. It was about this time that she remembered an incident involving a frisbee many years ago. Movement has a wonderful way of triggering memories. Trauma can be often suppressed. It happens almost every time I assess someone. Something is remembered. In her case, she was hit by the flying disc near her left eye. It had caused permanent damage. Her vision on her left had been affected by the hit and still lingered these many years later.

As we assessed shoulder motion she turned her head to the right almost imperceptibly every time regardless of which shoulder was moving. Could she be subconsciously turning away from her left due to her old injury? A curious hypothesis for sure. I asked her to take her eyes to the left and try her shoulder assessment again. Immediate improvement and no head turning! Had she been avoiding taking her eyes to the left and reconfigured her posture and movements to accommodate too?

I asked her to bring her left leg forward in a split stance. This would encourage her hips to turn right and her upper body left. As we moved in and out of this position she felt tremendous relief in areas that were troubling her. Muscles that were short began to lengthen, muscles that were stretched out began to relax to a shorter resting length. The pain in the balls of her feet were alleviated.

We continued down this logical path and came up with two movements that would encourage her to safely explore her left side and look left. Her mid back suddenly got an adjustment. Her left shoulder began to relax and feel softer and more at ease. Her hips began to also soften and relax so that when she walked she was no longer crashing down on her right.

The underlying cause and resultant effect of chronic pain is astounding and an observer might call the work we do magic. Magic is a word used when we do not understand what is happening. However, once you get a full knowledge of the body, how it is meant to move and stand, and how the brain negotiates with previous experiences, it is not magic at all; it’s science!

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