Douglas Robb runs a very successful blog called Health Habits, giving advice on health, diet and fitness. As well as being very informative, his writing style is relaxed and humorous which is why it is one of my favourite blogs and is on my Blogroll.
Health Habits is well subscribed to with many people contributing with comments and despite being less than a year old it has achieved a Google Page Rank of “5”, which I find incredible in that time frame. So I asked Douglas if he would consent to doing an interview for me, which he kindly consented to do. So without any further ado, here is the interview:
CW: Douglas, can you tell me a bit about your background and experience in the health and fitness field?
DR: Professionally, I have been a personal fitness trainer since 2000.
However, I have been designing training and nutrition programs for family, friends and friends of friends since 1988.
While at university, I designed training programs for the members of the wrestling, swimming, football and basketball teams.
After university, I continued helping others strictly as a hobby. During that time, I helped young athletes trying to earn university sports scholarships, amateur bodybuilders get ready for competitions and lots and lots of people trying to drop 20 pounds of excess weight.
As we approached the year 2000, I became more and more dissatisfied with the work I was doing and found myself spending more and more of my spare time helping others transform their bodies. I was also spending more time researching more effective ways to help people make those changes.
After a few months of soul searching, I retired from the 9 to 5 world, became a certified personal trainer and went to work in a gym.
Over the next few years, I moved from gym to gym, trying to find a place where personal trainers were encouraged to actually make a difference in their clients’ lives. This was not an easy task.
As an example, in my last position, clients were paying $140 per session to work with me. I was being paid $45 per session and the health club was keeping $95 per session. It was all about making money. In fact, personal training is by far the biggest money maker for health club industry.
The final straw came when the original gym owner decided to sell the business and bounce my last 2 pay checks. And the new owners had no intention to honour this debt. So, I left the gym to start my own personal training company…along with 9 of my favourite clients.
Fast forward to 2008…I am running a in-home personal training company with 4 of the best personal trainers that I have ever seen. My business is based purely on word of mouth and we are growing every day.
Earlier this year, I decided to give back to the universe (Sorry if that sounds a little too Oprah-like) by starting a health / fitness blog.
Health Habits is my attempt to teach others how to transform their bodies without spending thousands of dollars on books, videos, gym memberships and personal trainers.
Even though I still believe that a good personal trainer can be worth their weight in gold.
CW: I was interested that in your “About” page you not only deal with physical fitness and nutrition, but you also deal with mental and emotional health. Is mental and emotional health a very big part of your service, or just occasionally when required?
DR: The mental / emotional side of the equation is much more important than the physical / nutrition side. Everybody that comes to me “wants” to make some sort of change. Lose 20 pounds, get stronger, get faster, increase their energy or simply to increase their fitness. However, most of them want to do this without having to make any significant changes in their lives.
Getting them to commit to making significant life changes requires a little bit of mental manipulation. I need to find the button that needs pushing. But when I do, the client becomes extremely self motivated, my job becomes much easier and changes start to happen.
CW: What kind of emotional and mental health support/treatment do you provide (or recommend)?
DR: Keeping in mind, that I am not a psychiatrist/psychologist, I employ a variety of techniques. Most of these are based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
CW: One of the things that I have always enjoyed about your blog is that you use a lot of humour. Do you find that humour helps to motivate and inspire your clients?
DR: Most definitely.
Let’s face it, most of my clients don’t exercise because they want to, but because they need to. They are paying me to push their bodies much, much harder than they ever would. Most of them find exercise boring.
Humour is one of the tools I use to keep their minds off of the boredom, the sweat, the pain, etc…
CW: When it comes to nutrition, do you believe in taking supplements, or do you feel that a well balanced diet will suffice?
DR: If you are in decent physical fitness, get adequate exercise, sunlight, rest and eat a healthy diet, supplements are not necessary.
However, I don’t know anyone who does all of these things.
As a result, most people need to supplement their diet with a ‘good’ multivitamin / multimineral supplement. Some people need to go a little further than this. For these people, I have them get some blood tests done to look for deficiencies.
I also recommend that people try to eat more organic/free range produce and protein.
My athletes get a little more involved in the supplement side of the equation. All of them supplement with creatine.
CW: Your blog gives a lot of advice on losing weight. Obviously there are a number of factors involved, but what do you believe is the most important factor of all?
DR: The type of food that they eat.
Obviously, the amount of food is important, but my experience tells me that calorie counting becomes irrelevant when the right food choices are made.
CW: When creating a nutritional plan for a client, how different would it be for somebody who is aiming to be very fit compared with somebody simply aiming to lose weight?
DR: Not much different. I recommend the highest quality fuel for all of my clients.
On this diet, an overweight & unfit client will lose fat, build muscle and improve the functioning of their internal environment.
A fit client will not see the same drastic outward changes as they are already closer to their genetic potential.
CW: What different generic types of exercises do you prescribe to support weight loss as opposed to maximum fitness?
DR: I prefer to have my clients focus on movements rather than bodyparts. This goes for my Average Joe clients and my Athlete clients.
Their are certain movements that we all perform in our day to day activities. These movements require different muscles to work together as a team. When we break our bodies into separate parts in our exercise programs, we are re-training our bodies to move. This can be good or bad.
If I am helping someone re-hab an injury or am trying to correct an existing muscle imbalance, I will use specific exercises. However, once I have those issues addressed, I prefer to improve the functioning of my clients’ bodies by improving their ability to perform the movements that they need to do every day.
CW: Many people as they get old mature, get problems with their joints. Having Creaky Knee Syndrome myself, what do you recommend (either exercise or supplements) for people with this problem?
DR: Look for muscular / structural imbalances in your body. Get someone to take some polaroids of you standing still – from the front, rear and both sides (sorry, but the less clothing, the better). Then look at how you stand. Is one shoulder higher than the other? Are your toes turned out? What about your arms? From the side, look at your lower back and pelvis. Look at the curves in your back.
Imbalances result in pain. Pain causes your body to adapt. It adapts by shifting the load and creating new imbalances. It’s quite a vicious circle.
CW: I find when I have been off training for a long time, my knee swells up when I restart. However, with persistence and not pushing too hard, it normally gets better after a while as the knee get used to it again. Do you think it is a good idea to “work through” these weaknesses or is it likely to cause long term damage?
DR: Look for the imbalance. Why is the pain there?
A lot of runners have issues with swelling on the lateral / outside of their knees. If this is the case, you may want to look at some soft tissue therapy on your IT band. I would need to have you do a few tests to be sure, but it is a pretty typical problem.
If you can fix it, fix it. If not, you have to decide if it’s worth it to push through the pain. Are you going to make things worse?
I have bad knees. Both have been completely re-built.
I used to love to run. But, if I go running today, I can guarantee that my knees will be swollen for the next 2 days. However, I can exercise my heart by skiing, cycling, rollerblading, etc…without killing my knees.
So, as much as I love to run, I have made the decision to hang up my runners and hop on the bike.
CW: How would you advise people with serious illnesses like cancer or heart disease, who still want to be very active in exercising? And do you find that they need more emotional support than most other people?
DR: Unless your health is going to suffer from an exercise, people NEED to get out an move. Our bodies were not built to sit and stare at a computer monitor. We are physical.
They will need to design their fitness program in a way that helps them reduce the symptoms of their specific condition if possible.
When it comes to emotional support, my experience tells me that people struggling with an illness need to know that they can do it. I know it sounds like a Nike ad, but hopelessness in the face of illness is a very real thing. If they believe that they are doomed, they are. If they believe that they can turn things around, they just may be able to.
CW: So you think that people with serious illnesses should exercise (assuming that they are capable). What kinds of benefits do you think they will get from it?
DR: Yes…They can expect to receive physical benefits like improved cardio-vascular fitness, reduced body-fat, improved strength and co-ordination. But more importantly, they can improve their mental outlook. As their body strengthens or resists the assault of their disease, they should feel better about themselves and their chances of beating their illness.
CW: Douglas, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview and for your insightful answers.