As always, I was up early last Saturday morning. It was Christmas and I didn’t want to waste any time. Not because I had Christmas stuff to take care of, I had all of that done already. It had been raining for a week straight. Saturday was going to be the first clear day before another storm came through. I had bike riding on my mind. So there I was in the kitchen sipping on some Cajun coffee and eating oatmeal. As I got my bottles ready for the bike, I was almost giddy, like a kid waiting for Santa Claus. And yes, that pun was intended. I had the television on in the kitchen with some background noise. As always early on a Saturday, it was one infomercial after another. One infomercial told me I needed a different blender for my fruits and vegetables. It said the material would turn hot, and I would have instant soap. It then explained how healthy this would be for me. So I flipped to another channel. There was a guy explaining how I could get ripped abs without doing any sit ups. He claimed I would only have to do some dance moves. I actually said “Bullshit” out loud as I changed the channel. The next infomercial showed a well-muscled guy with what looked to be a dumbbell. At first I thought, finally, a real piece of fitness equipment. Then I noticed he only had one and had both hands around the center. He was moving it back and forth in a jerking off motion. Once again, I stopped and said “You gotta be kidding me.”
Saturday Night Live even poked fun at the Shake Weight commercial.
Even if this works, who would ever do this in public? Then I realized it couldn’t possibly work. I’ve been jerking off for years and look nothing like the guy in the ads. I told you that to tell you this. A lot of these products are based on little or no research whatsoever. Most of the research is thin at best. In a lot of cases, the money isn’t there to do a full double-blind study for the products seen on television. I don’t talk about this quite enough, but I know for a fact that some of the things that are chiseled in stone in the health and fitness industry are wrong. In some cases, these “truths” are based on one study that may be more than 50 years old. Even though the actual truth has come out in subsequent years, we as a society tend not to follow it or believe it. It’s much easier to perpetuate the lie. Before you buy a magic pill or try to Jazzercise the fat away or try to jerk off a dumbbell, spend a little time learning the truth. Remember: If it seems to good to be true, it is.
“It doesn’t matter what we eat between Christmas and New Year’s, it only matters what we eat between New Year’s and Christmas.” – Vinnie Tortorich
I’m writing this blog in southern Louisiana. I’ve been here for a couple of days. Tonight was the second night in a row that I had one of my favorite meals – southern fried catfish. The difference between last night’s and tonight’s meal was the people. Last night I had dinner with my friend Lisa. Generally, when I eat with a girl, I eat like a girl. I always eat slightly more than they do so they don’t feel like a pig. Tonight I had dinner with the guys. These were the guys I grew up with. Going around the table from my left, the guy next to me was a fellow Italian, a guy I love like a brother, J. D. Sciortino. I loved this guy growing up. He earns his living as an auto mechanic. But his true love is cooking. He can cook like nobody’s business. He brought me five pounds of homemade Italian sausage. He also had the best quote of the evening. When he started ordering fried foods as appetizers, I commented, “Will this come with a cardiologist?” He said, “Don’t worry, if you get your blood pressure high enough, it’ll blow the clogs out of your arteries.” Next to him was Todd. He’s a good old boy. He was wire thin in high school. He played football with more heart than size. He’s the kind of guy you can count on your whole life. Next to him was Moose. To be perfectly honest, Moose drives me nuts most of the time. Tonight was no different. I think he goes out of his way to piss me off. I have to give him credit…some real thought had to go into it tonight. Next to him was Todd’s younger brother Barry. I probably talked to Barry more than anyone in the group. The simple reason? We’re both on the road all the time. When one of us gets bored, we start dialing. What can I say? The guy makes me laugh. I have professional comedians as close friends who don’t make me laugh the way Barry can. Rounding out the lineup was my little brother Charles. Sometimes I think my only reason for existing is to make Charles shake his head. I told you that to tell you this. I had fried alligator tonight. It’s one of my favorites. I also had a fried frog leg. I ate fried shrimp, fried catfish and, to top it all off, I had a baked potato with all the fixings. When I thought I couldn’t eat anymore, I put a few more pieces of catfish in my mouth. I’m generally not so much of a glutton. But once a year I’ll have that meal. I know what you’re thinking…two reptiles in the same meal? This guy is nuts. But I know once I leave Cajun country, I won’t have that meal for another whole year. I’ll spend the next 364 days being healthy. Why do I do this? It goes back to an old quote my first weightlifting coach, Joe Bonadona, had, “You’ve got to put life into living.”
Back in Biblical times (we’ll call it Biblical times because that’s when the best selling book was put out…the Bible…thus the term Biblical times. But I digress). In the old days, caravans would travel across deserts to other towns. For a lack of better terms, it was a gypsy caravan. They went around selling magic. They were selling snake oil potions and the like. There was one guy who was like the David Copperfield of his time. He was a young Jewish entrepreneur. His tricks have never been matched by the likes of David Blaine and other street illusionists. This guy would make blind people see, make crippled people walk and even feed thousands of people with a loaf of bread. His big finishing trick? You guessed it. He walked on water. This guy was a showman. He was so good that well over 2,000 years later, his book is still a best seller. His birthday is celebrated around the world. He is…the most interesting man in the world. If you haven’t figured out who I’m talking about yet, his name is Jesus. The reason we know he was Jewish? He thought his mother was a virgin, and his mother thought he was the savior of all mankind. (To all Catholics and Jews, before you get offended, I don’t hate any of you. It’s just satire, folks.) I told you that to tell you this. Trickery did not end in Biblical times. It is still alive and well today. I can mention tons of products on the market that couldn’t possibly do what they claim to do. But today I’m going to pick on one. It’s called the Power Balance Bracelet. I’m not going to go on and on about how dumb you would have to be to buy this. I’m a human too, and I’ve bought some stupid things. This wasn’t one of them. Rest assured, this product will not work as stated. Let’s cut to the chase here. It was a bad idea when you bought it. Do yourself a favor and take it off so you don’t look like an idiot.
I’ve actually touched on this first thought before. I was talking to a woman just the other day who wasn’t familiar with this blog. She’s very fit and still relatively young, I’m guessing early 30s. She’s a competitive tennis player. She mentioned she runs five days a week. She said her runs vary between three and five miles. Sometimes she’ll hit the track and do sprints. I thought it was a pretty intense program. I asked what she was getting ready for. She said she just wants to stay highly competitive in tennis. I totally understood. Here’s the part that made me realize she hadn’t read my earlier blog. She told me she was wearing shape-up shoes, like the ones I talked about in an earlier post. She asked if I thought there was any benefit. My answer was not anything that anyone would notice. She said the shoes must do some good. I then told her something that actually shocked her a bit. In her case, the shoes may actually hurt. Now I had her attention. I told you that to tell you this. I went on tell my friend that if she’s working hard on the tennis court and sprinting at the track and running three to five miles outdoors every day, her calf muscles and Achilles would eventually need a break. Wearing a shoe that causes those muscles to overstretch can possibly cause more damage than if she wore five inch heels. If I haven’t learned much in my life as an athlete, I’ve learned this. There is no free ride. Hard work pays off. Secondly, and most importantly, we have to be good to our bodies both nutritionally and physically. By training, we only disrupt homeostasis. In resting, we rebuild the body stronger.
A couple of weeks ago the roof caved in on the stadium in Minnesota. Now, I’m not an engineer or anything. As a matter of fact, I flunked the egg test in school. I don’t even know if they do it anymore. The teacher would have you build a contraption around an egg. Then the egg would be dropped from a certain height. Your egg was supposed to hit the hard floor without cracking. My egg didn’t crack. But I still flunked. Apparently my teacher didn’t have a sense of humor. I took a beach towel and wrapped the egg in it. The egg held up just fine. The teacher said I didn’t follow the parameters. I told her that I thought her test was silly and useless. I explained that I couldn’t think of a situation where I would want the egg in a shell. They taste better with the shell off. If I remember right, I was sent to the office for that one. But I digress. I’m not engineer, as I said earlier, but I gotta be honest with you…who came up with the idea to put an inflatable roof on a stadium? Last time I checked, snow and ice is made of water. And water can get heavy. You need a real structure to handle the stuff. But I’m glad the roof caved in. Now the Vikings are going to play outside in the ice and snow…the way football was meant to be played. I long for the days of ice-encrusted helmets, snow stuck to beards of men on the battle field. I miss the days of those Minnesota fans with their Viking helmets with the horns sticking out bare-chested in sub-zero weather. That’s entertainment. That’s sports. I told you that to tell you this. I miss the days when people just went out to exercise, ride a bike or go for a jog. Hell, I know I’m in the business. I’m not stupid. But it always seems like someone is “training” for something. We used to go out and ride bikes on the weekends. It didn’t matter if it was in the mountains or on a flat course. Now when I get together with the gang, they need to get some hills in. Everyone is going in a different direction. It’s like trying to herd lizards. Nobody takes a five-mile jog anymore. They have to run the 10K. They have to have their Garmin on their wrist, and their heart monitor. Then they have to rush home and plug those Garmins into their computers. What happened to training by heart? You just go out and do it. Even when I walk into the gym to do a little weight lifting, nobody just throws the iron around anymore. It’s very specific. They all seem to have some bottle or jug with a neon colored mix inside that they sip on between sets. Sure, fitness is alive and well in this country. Or is it? For every one of the health zealots, we have 100 times more people fatter than ever. What’s my point? I don’t have one. This is rhetoric. It’s food for thought.
I was talking to my nephew recently. He told me he was at Wendy’s getting a bite to eat. So I said to him, “What, all this talk about getting healthy and you’re at Wendy’s?” He promptly told me he was getting salad. I don’t know much about Wendy’s, but I get the feeling the salad ain’t so fresh. But I could be way off. Then I admitted something. I did something for the first time this year. It usually happens once a year or every other year. I don’t keep track. I found myself at the drive through at McDonalds. It wasn’t like I had a hankering for a Big Mac. I was out Christmas shopping with Serena. She asked me to pull through. She ordered something called “Chicken Selects,” which I’m guessing is their version of a high end chicken dish. The picture on the screen looked as though it was breaded and fried. I love fried food, I grew up in Cajun country. I like to have it from time to time as a treat. I didn’t want Serena to eat alone, so I ordered one. Unlike Serena, I told them to hold the fries. I wanted to be a just a social eater in this theater if you will. I noticed something on the first bite. It didn’t taste fresh. There was a hint of a chemical taste. Not wanting to waste food, I ate all three pieces. Something funny by the time I got to the third piece. I no longer noticed the chemical taste. I was also wishing there was a fourth piece. Within a half an hour, I swear I felt like someone slipped me a mickey. I felt high. My stomach was off the rest of the day. I generally have a cast iron stomach. As I said earlier, I grew up in Cajun country. We’ll eat anything, and somehow it all tastes good. I told you that to tell you this. My nephew said, “You know, I understand why poor people get fat. Cheap fast food is all they have.” Are you kidding me? Here’s a healthy meal that’s better: Beans. You can find beans for 65 cents. Put some rice in there and you’re eating for under a dollar. You have protein and carbohydrates. It’s a low fat and no chemical meal. I can make an argument for milk. It has fat, protein, carbs – and every milk I’ve seen in my life – vitamin D. If you’re so poor that all you can afford is a Happy Meal, you can certainly afford milk. It may be nature’s perfect meal. Most grocery stores have cheaper cuts of meat. Add it to that inexpensive rice and feed a whole family. That can be bought for the price of a Popeyes fried chicken bucket. I didn’t mean to get off on a rant. I don’t want to steal the words of Dennis Miller by saying that. But I’m sick and tired of people telling me there’s nothing good to eat. Anyone heard of an apple? There was a time before the Industrial Revolution when apples were a seasonal fruit. Mass refrigeration allows us to get a nice, crispy apple any time of the year. Happy holidays, everybody.
I like this time of year. Not just because it’s the holiday season. If I was being balls-on honest, the truth is I’m not crazy about the commercialism of the holidays. The one saving grace about living in L.A. is they don’t play Christmas songs back to back on the radio. Growing up in Louisiana, you would start hearing sappy songs a week or two before Thanksgiving. By the time Christmas came, it would be at a feverish pitch. Sometimes I had the shotgun barrel in my mouth, but before I knew it, Christmas was over with and the songs were gone. I can’t confirm this, but I’m thinking that’s why the suicide rate goes up during the holidays. The reason L.A. is so different? It’s a melting pot of different people and cultures, from every nook and cranny on the planet. It brings every religious type you could imagine. I think that’s a good thing. The best part about it is the radio doesn’t blare wall-to-wall Christmas tunes. The only problem is we in L.A. have to listen to that idiotic Adam Sandler Hannukah song. But I digress. The only reason I like this time of year is because it gives me and friends of mine (who I don’t see daily) reason to call or visit. I’ve done that a lot lately. Today I got to see one of my favorite clients of all time. Let’s call him Kevin because, well, that’s his name. I’ve known Kevin from the time he was a 5-year-old kid. At the time, his mom was a client of mine. Sheila kept herself in impeccable shape in those days. I might add that at 52 she’s still a knock out. Kevin was a different story. By the time he hit 12, he was growing horizontally, even though he hadn’t reached his peak height. He was tipping the scales at 240. That’s when his mom asked me if there was anything I could do to help him. Kevin hasn’t been my biggest success story. I’ve had people lose a lot more than the 105 pounds or so we took off of him. But I can tell you he’s my favorite success story. On our first workout, I asked him why he wanted to lose weight. He said he was tired. “Tired of what?” I asked. “Tired of being teased at school…and tired of being tired all the time,” he answered. I thought it was pretty insightful coming from a 12 year old. I won’t get into his whole story. If I get enough inquiries, I’ll tell it. One year later, Kevin and I rode our bikes about 120 miles, from L.A. down to San Diego to the fat camp his parents had sent him to before we started working together. Kevin delivered a speech telling the other kids that they can do it too. I told you that to tell you this. Kevin kept the weight off through high school and college. By the time he was 21, he was married. At 25, he’s still married. He moved away to Ohio, where he works for his stepfather’s company. He was home today for the holidays.
Kevin still looks great. I happened to notice he put on a little gut. Not enough to be concerned with. I wasn’t going to bring it up. But Kevin did. “It’s tough when you have a job and sit in an office all day. Then I go home to my wife Iko and we want to do stuff together, so there’s no time for exercise.” He added that he tries to eat right as much as he can. “I put on a few pounds, and I don’t know what to do,” he concluded. What I then told Kevin will work for him, and anyone else. Don’t give up your time with your wife. And don’t let your job suffer. Instead of trying to control it with diet alone or exercise alone, you should go for a combo. Watch your diet a little more and try to find 15 or 20 minutes to exercise every day. That combo will do more for you than you think.
Growing up as a young athlete, I felt lucky and privileged to know one of the greatest motivators in sports. One could argue John Wooden, others would argue Lou Holtz. There’s no shortage of great motivators. The one that motivated me was a little less known. He was a man who grew up in Indiana, and was a standout basketball player at LSU. He became a regional rep for the then-small company Converse shoes. He was instrumental in making it what it is today. He signed the likes of Magic Johnson. He also became the athletic director at LSU. At the time, the program was in the red. He got it squarely in the black. The work he did has a lot to do with why LSU has risen to national prominence in sports, including football championships. The man I’m talking about is Joe Dean Sr. I have to put Sr. there because his son Joe Dean Jr. has also done well for himself in life. The elder Dean became a great mentor and motivator to me as both a young athlete, as well as being successful for the past 30 years in the fitness business. Joe Dean ran a small basketball camp in Summit, Mississippi. At the ripe old age of 12 I sold enough fruit and vegetables along Hwy. 308 in Donaldsonville, Louisiana to get the $150 it took to go to his camp. Little did I know at the time that the motivating words of Mr. Dean would carry over to me still today, some 36 years later. I found a way to make it to that camp every summer until I graduated high school. I got to know the Dean family so well, that my parents would eventually bring me to Baton Rouge, then I would hitch a ride with the family the rest of the way to the camp. I still talk to Joe from time to time, though it isn’t very often. The last time we spoke I was hooked to a chemo pump. My phone rang one day and it was Joe. How he found out, I’ll never know. In my eyes, he’s like God…and God knows everything, right? I told you that to tell you this. Mr. Dean had a famous saying. He would say, “Vinnie, did you take the garbage out?” My reply was always, “Yes sir, Mr. Dean, I took the garbage out.” Let me explain. Years earlier, he asked me if my family had a garbage can in our house. I said it was under the sink in the kitchen. He then asked if I had ever found it overflowing with garbage. “Have you ever tried to teeter a can on the heaping pile of garbage?” he asked. I began to laugh. He could sense my shame. He said, “Don’t worry, I’ve done it too.” He then asked why I didn’t take the garbage out when I saw the can was full. I replied, “My parents didn’t tell me to take it out.” I was playing right into the master’s hands. He said, “You know, the difference in an also-ran and a champion is the guy who takes initiative.” It’s the guy who takes the garbage out before he’s asked. He never needs to be told what needs to be done. I see this all the time with young kids in sports. Some kids will do exactly what the coach says and nothing more. Other kids will do everything the coach says and repeat it after practice. Those always become great ones. So think about it. The next time you want to do anything, like ride 100 miles on a bike, compete in a triathlon, etc., you may want to ask yourself after you brush your teeth and turn the lights off…”Did I take the garbage out?”
Earlier this afternoon I stopped in to Ralph’s grocery store. Anyone who doesn’t live in southern California should know that Ralph’s is to California what Piggly Wiggly is to the South. Does that chain even exist? Isn’t it all Wal-Mart now? But I digress. I was in the 15 items or less checkout aisle. The woman in front of me had a basket full of food, but nobody said anything. I’m sure everyone can tell that story. The fun started as I was leaving Ralph’s. In order to explain what happened to the rest of the world that reads this blog (by the way, I’m glad you’re reading it, I enjoy writing it), we have something that goes on in the Los Angeles area that doesn’t happen anywhere else except here. We have opportunities to see movies for free. A lot of times when you leave a bank, grocery store or anywhere that has a ton of traffic, there’s usually someone with a clipboard offering a free movie. It’s only free monetarily. You pay for it in other ways. Here’s how it works…guy asks if you’d like to see a free movie first. Most people who live here brush him off at this point. For the stooge who says sure, the sign up process begins. You get to see what you think will be a free movie. It’s anything but. If it’s put out by the big studios, it’s generally not a finished product. They’re using you to judge what they should go back and change. There’s usually a big questionnaire to answer at the end. If it’s done by a small movie house (“indie” film) you can bet your ass you’re going to watch crap. As I exited the store, the guy asked me if I wanted to take my kids to the movies. As I was getting ready to brush him off, I thought better of it. I turned and I put one hand on each of his shoulders and said, “Kids? I have kids? I didn’t know. I know there was that spring break in 1982 but they wouldn’t be kids. Then there was that chick on Melrose, but I used a condom. Where are they? Sir, you made me the happiest man on the planet. I thought I was going to die single and alone.” At this point the guys eyes were as wide as they could possibly get. He started to back away so my hands would leave his shoulders. He was confused. I removed my hands, then turned and walked away. I told you that to tell you this. About three hours after that, I arrived home. I was whipping up some dinner and turned on the little television on the corner of my kitchen counter. There I saw Larry King. He’s been doing some final interviews. It looks like he’s finally going off the air. To be honest, I thought he had died 20 years ago. For the first time ever, I watched a Larry King interview. Not because it may be one of the last times we ever see the great Larry King, but more so because he was interviewing the great Al Pacino. He was asking all the usual questions about Scent of a Woman, Sea of Love and, of course the all-time best movie ever, The Godfather. I’ve been an Al Pacino fan pretty much my entire life. He’s to me what Marlon Brando was to the generation before me. When you think of the body of work this guy has, like Scarface, The Godfathers (If you think there are three Godfathers, you’re not a fan. I don’t know what that third thing was). I guess your big question is: What does this have to do with fitness? I have to be honest with you. It has nothing to do with fitness. It’s holiday time, and tonight, I didn’t feel like writing about fitness. So I did what every other idiotic blogger in the world does and just wrote about my day. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m having a glass of an Italian apple-flavored liquor that’s almost impossible to find in this country. I brought a couple of bottles back with me from Capri and I savor every drop. It’s called Melanu. Happy holidays.
I’m often referred to by friends as the “Trainer to the Stars.” I’m not quite sure what that means. I’m not sure how it started, but I’m guessing it started from what we call here in L.A. “Star Fuckers.” They’re people who hang on to celebrities. The general feeling I get is, if you say you’re a “Trainer to the Stars” enough, people might believe it. There’s a story going around L.A. about a guy who wanted to get laid. He figured out that when he mentioned to women he was a waiter, they would flee as fast as they could. So to get himself some, he started calling himself a “producer.” He called himself a producer so much, he ended up becoming a producer. I guess you can take that story for what it’s worth. I don’t know the truth. This is a crazy town, and anything is possible. But I digress. I bring this up because the fact of the matter is I do work with celebrities. Oddly enough, the ones who are not celebrities are also in the business. They’re mainly producers, directors and writers. This morning I was training a client who has one of the biggest television editing companies in L.A. Beside being a good client of mine, he and his wife are also my best friends. To put it simply, when I found out I had cancer, they knew about it before my parents knew. This morning while training Bill, he was bragging about this show that his company edits. He said it’s become a big hit on NBC. It’s called “The Sing Off.” I said it must be new since I hadn’t heard of it. Bill told me it’s been on for two seasons, and it’s the hottest show in its time slot for many years. Bill played a bit of the show. It looked like an episode of Glee, minus Jane Lynch. It was rolled into an American Idol type format. I told you that to tell you this. When I was a kid, I could tell you everything on television, on what night and what time. Like most American kids in the 70s and 80s, nighttime television was the end all and be all. Some of my favorites were “All in the Family,” “Happy Days,” “Dallas” and even the NFL showcase game “Monday Night Football.” I told you that to tell you this. The only time my television comes on nowadays is when I’m sitting on my spinner putting in a couple hours. Sometimes it doesn’t even happen then. If I can download a book on to my iPod, that becomes my spinning entertainment. The question becomes, “What are we doing instead?” Well, from what I can tell just from talking to people, we’re doing something less healthy…spending time on the computer. If you’re reading this, you’re guilty. But please, by all means, don’t stop reading. The fact is we’ve taken one bad habit and changed it to one that’s worse. Why? At least with television, we generally watch with other people. Using the computer is a solo sport. We now have less communication.