I recently interviewed Jonathan Ross who was named Personal Trainer of the Year by ACE and IDEA, is a Discovery Health expert, and author of Abs Revealed. A former astronomer, Jonathan is a VERY smart guy who is also very passionate about helping others improve their health. From the photo above, would you believe he had 800lb of parents? Yep, it’s true. To learn more about John and read a bunch of great tips, check out the Q&A below.
1) When I was listening to your presentation at the ACE Symposium, I was shocked to hear you had 800 pounds of parents, especially considering how fit you are. What was it like having obese parents and how did it affect you?
It made being embarrassed to be out in public with your parents far worse than it is for most kids! More seriously, I didn’t think too much about it until my later teen years. When I was a kid, I was very different from my parents because I was always naturally a skinny kid and drawn to activity, loved recess, and had snowball fights, played tag, played football, etc. with my friends at school and in my neighborhood. We’d get laughs and stares sometimes when going out, but the full impact of having obese parents didn’t really hit home in a significant way until I was a teenager.
Later in my late teen years, especially after high school when I began to pursue fitness on my own outside of sport play, I really began to notice the differences in the way my parents lived. The funny thing is that they never discouraged me from being active and in fact, when I was little, my father would throw me the football as I ran countless pass patterns practicing to one day be a star wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys!
But somehow they never moved very much themselves. And it began to take a toll. When I was 10 my father quit smoking and in my teen years his weight really began ballooning. I started to notice that the car would sit noticeably dropped to his side when he drove, that he would often come home from work and plop in the chair and watch TV and barely stir until he went to bed. As a teenager, I was also faced with the delightful experience of his having me help him scrub his back in the shower since he couldn’t reach it! These are all the little ways that obesity makes life miserable for anyone with it and anyone who has a loved one with it.
His world got smaller as he grew more uncomfortable. He did less, was angry a lot, and seemed to pull back farther and farther from engagement with life. My mom was tasked with all the home stuff like cooking, cleaning, and laundry, even though she worked full-time like my dad did so she at least had that activity going for her!
His death in 1995 at 424 pounds led directly to my fitness career and also penetrated my mom’s denial enough that she started listening to me and taking my advice on nutrition, and eventually exercise. Seven years later, she had lost 170 pounds and is still doing well today.
2) I know you are one of the foremost experts on functional training using equipment like the TRX, kettlebells, and free weights. What is “functional training” and what are the major benefits?
Thanks for the compliments, but keep in mind that I’ve learned a vast amount of information from other fantastic and intelligent individuals and that is the only reason I’ve been able to be as good as I am at what I do. I don’t have any magic.
“Functional Training” is sometimes a funny term to me since, truthfully, we shouldn’t really need it. If you had a time machine and went back 1,000 years and tried to explain what functional training was, you’d probably get a lot of strange looks. Up until the last 100 years or so…surviving and living gave humans plenty of “functional training” since we had to hunt, kill, cook, and clean with a lot of effort!
Essentially, “functional training” is movement or exercise that prepares a body for all that their life consists of – yardwork, housework, recreational activities or sports, etc. It may or may not overlap with a body-shaping or body composition goal. But the signature characteristic of functional training is that it delivers a more fluid, more enjoyable movement experience.
3) Can you list a few examples of functional training exercises?
“Almost” any exercise can be functional based on the specific environment it is performed in and how it is performed, but here’s a nice starting point:
• Squat (lower-body exercise in a symmetrical stance)
• Lunge (lower-body exercise in a non-symmetrical stance)
• Rotation or Twist
4) Can people who are not in great shape do functional training? If so, how would you suggest they learn?
Yes they can, and it’s arguably more important for less well-conditioned people to do it. A principal feature of functional training is that it seeks to find the most appropriate successful entry point on the spectrum of fitness for any individual. Fitness exists on a spectrum between being dead and being Superman! And we’re all somewhere between those two extremes.
Getting a functional training program will consist of using the foundation of the exercises listed above and that as much as possible, they are done while upright under the influence of gravity. At the same, it is worthwhile to step back from those “big” movements. If there are any dysfunctions in these movement patterns (as they can be quite complex), there should be some effort to focus in the individual joints, muscles or parts of the body that exhibit dysfunction (from either injury, illness, chronic postural positions, etc.) This means that a focus on functional training must begin with a look at static posture, then potentially movement screens, then corrective exercises, then the “big” movements listed above.
Anyone needing this full spectrum of training approaches is encouraged to find a trainer skilled in postural screens and movement screens. The ACE Functional Training Workshop is a great source of information for fitness professionals that want to learn. I’d also recommend the educational materials produced by Justin Price.
5) When I saw you at the conference, I was impressed because you have a very well balanced, lean physique. Many of the guys I see at the gym have major muscle imbalances. Can you elaborate on your own exercise routine, such as the type of workouts, duration, and frequency?
My current routine has developed more out of necessity than anything else! In the last several years, I’ve begun traveling to speak, written the book Abs Revealed, done media work for Discovery Health, teach workshops for the American Council on Exercise and TRX, as well as manage a staff of trainers and maintain my own personal training clients. All of this is to say that I don’t have the luxury of longer, higher volume workouts.
My workouts usually consists of mostly full-body movements that use everything between the “hips and the armpits” since that’s where most of our muscle lies. I typically use a mix of barbells, dumbbells, stability balls, cables, kettlebells, TRX, ViPR…it could be anything week to week. I’m not a big fan of any one piece of equipment to the exclusion of others (I always chuckle at people who say, “I’m a kettlebell guy,” for example.) Me, I’m a “results” guy. And whatever tools get the job done are the ones I use. Workouts usually last around 60-70 minutes and I almost always superset or Giant Set my workouts to keep moving. And I try to keep my workouts to 4-5 days during the week on mostly weekdays since I’m either traveling on weekends, or simply need the break!
I also do a lot of self-massage with a variety of tools and love the Trigger Point Therapy products and the Travel Roller. I also have a regular deep-tissue massage every 3 weeks.
When I can, I truly love to do stuff and play sports so my workouts just mostly focus on keeping me ready to play tennis, beach volleyball, flag football, go hiking, or any other activities I can enjoy when I have time at moment’s notice!
6) It seems to me there has been a trend away from the basic abs crunch, to planks and other core (abs/lower back) training exercises that demand more stabilization. Some even say the crunch is “dead”. As the author of an abs book, is the crunch dead? How should we train abs for both aesthetics and function?
No the crunch isn’t dead, and it doesn’t really need to be. I wrote an article for my Abs Revealed e-newsletter titled “The Attack of the Anti-Crunch Zealots.” In it, I explain how it’s unwise for fitness professionals to recommend that people stop crunches for the simple fact that it is not realistic to do so. I’ve read all the same studies that are out there, but above all else, I live in the real world. If you run around telling people to stop doing crunches because they are horrible for you, you’re going to be thought an extremist, and people mostly ignore you and carry on doing crunches. (One happy reader of Abs Revealed mentioned this in his review on Amazon as being one of the strengths of Abs Revealed versus other ab books.)
As I explain in Abs Revealed, I believe in doing better crunches. If you’re going to do them, do them smarter. Keep the torso more open rather than aggressively flexed forward. This spreads out the load across more of the total abdominal musculature. The result is a “torso crunch” rather than an “ab crunch.”
On the subject of planks, they are great exercises for teaching which muscles to switch on to maintain full-body stability, but they are a “gateway” exercise and should lead to more demanding exercises (not harder static planks) involving movement. Life = movement. This means that the best training involves movement. I’ve read silly articles where an NFL player boasts of doing 4-minute planks. That’s training time wasted that could be better spent moving. And recently I’ve started seeing the totally ridiculous planks with the feet on a BOSU, elbows on a stability ball and a weight plate on the person’s back. When the set-up for your exercises takes longer to do than the exercise itself, you’ve poorly chosen your exercise.
7) You have completed thousands of personal training sessions with hundreds of clients over the years. What insight can you share regarding motivation and how to help people get more motivated to exercise?
Find the feeling. Find what you care about, what truly motivates you to act, and then connect that to exercise. Because whatever it is that drives you, whether it is family, finances or anything else, it will get better with fitness. Stop having the goals you think you “should” have, and have the goals that really connect with what you care about.
8 ) Do you follow any type of nutrition philosophy, or diet, such as Paleo for optimal fat loss and body composition? Any general rules, or guidelines you follow?
Eat real food. If you can’t have at least a vague idea of where it came from (what type of plant or animal it came from), then it probably isn’t a helpful food. The majority of the time, eat protein, veggies, fruit, beans, nuts, healthy fat, and carbs only from whole grains (this is the probably the hardest part since non-whole grains surround us almost everywhere we go.) Quite honestly, healthy eating isn’t as hard to figure out as people say it is. It’s just hard to change habits. And I know it is hard to change habits since I’ve done it. I grew up eating fast food, sugary cereals, drank a lot of soda, etc., and I had to change those habits. But truthfully, what constitutes “healthy foods” have been relatively the same for a very long time. It’s only hard because we “want” foods with strong flavors that never existed in nature and have been manipulated to create very powerful cravings.
1. Never, ever skip breakfast (or fast in general, it’s just a silly thing to do)
2. Try to avoid starches, and grains at night since you don’t need high-powered fuel when winding down.
3. Include protein every time you eat something (it doesn’t have to be a massive amount of it, just stay away from meals that look like “continental breakfast.”)
9) Do you have a couple favorite snacks, or meals you have all the time?
Something I’ve been eating almost every day (definitely every weekday) for about 7-8 years now is a recipe I got from Teri Gentes when she was speaking at a fitness conference. I’ve modified it a bit to suit my own personal tastes, but it is a great source of good nutrition on the go.
It’s essentially a whole bunch of healthy stuff tossed into a food processor, then rolled into balls, which are then rolled into sesame seeds. Here’s a link to the recipe: http://www.aionfitness.com/
10) Anything else we did not touch upon that you think is important to help someone reach their physical potential?
Too often when we aren’t as fit as we’d like to be, we focus more on the obstacles than on the successes and this can make the process seem too long and hard. To reverse this mindset, imagine you woke up tomorrow morning and you magically were as fit as you want to be, what would you do when you woke up? What would you eat, how would you spend your day. Make it real, imagine the small things that would fill up your day…then pick a few things that seem possible to do right now to begin to do those things. It puts specific behaviors into action in your life rather than feeling overwhelmed with the “big” goal.
Jonathan Ross is the 2010 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and a fitness expert for Discovery Health, and was voted Exercise TV’s Top Trainer in 2008. His book, Abs Revealed, presents a modern approach to getting great abs. He is a regular expert source for the media on a wide range of fitness topics and his cutting edge insights bring an honest and fresh perspective on fitness. He is a Master Trainer for TRX and ACE (American Council on Exercise). He is the owner of Aion Fitness – a fitness training and consulting company. He is also the Personal Training Director at Sport Fit in Bowie, MD. He also was the recipient of the 2006 ACE Personal Trainer of the Year award.