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04 Dec

The Skinny Fat Lifter, Part 2

by Robert Santana, MS, RD, SSC | December 04, 2019

When I was 20 years old a friend of mine was concerned about “being fat” because his abs were not visible at a bodyweight of 5’10” 155 lb. My response to him was to gain “mass” (i.e. muscle mass) and he responded, “I have plenty of mass, I just need to lose the fat.” I’ve heard this quite often over the last two decades, and was guilty of saying it myself prior to learning a few things. 

“Skinny fat” novices often display signs and symptoms of body dysmorphia, and are hyper-aware of the presence of fat mass on their bodies. They often have a history of weight cycling, crash dieting, and over-exercising accompanied by extreme attention to nutrition, having tried virtually every weight loss diet in existence. They report “getting down so far and not showing abs” or actually achieving visible abs at a low bodyweight (e.g. ~5’10” 140 lb). They are reluctant to eat surplus calories and gain appreciable bodyweight in fear of “getting too fat.” They are undermuscled for different reasons than the undermuscled lean novice. 

The undermuscled lean novice is often underweight, or barely “normal weight,” shows visible abs, and struggles to gain bodyweight. This guy may gain 90 lb of bodyweight and squat 405 x 5 while maintaining a waistline under 40” by the end of it. In contrast, the skinny fat novice may have a normal BMI, or is barely “overweight,” and lacks any visible musculature, let alone abs. If this guy gains 90 lb he will likely have a waistline >40” and may only squat 200-300 x 5, which is a lower strength/lean mass ratio than the lean guy. The question becomes: What do we do with a guy who gains weight, does the program, and is still relatively weak? 

We cannot address the underlying psychology, so let’s assume this is sorted to a point where training and nutrition consultation is appropriate. The skinny fat male novice understands that fat mass must be lost to achieve visible abs and believes that a body fat percentage of ≤10% is necessary to achieve this. He learned this from a fitness magazine, an internet article, or an Instagram infographic. He has dieted down to 5’10” 140 lb to achieve visible abs, only to realize he doesn’t like weighing 140 lb and it isn’t sustainable.  At some point he realizes he needs to gain muscle, get stronger, and increase his macronutrient intake to accomplish the goal of “looking muscular.” 

Most experts agree that caloric excess and bodyweight increases are necessary to increase muscle mass. Bodyweight increases typically consist of both fat and muscle mass. Progressive overload is the greatest contributor to gains in muscle mass, with nutrition secondary. 

Before anyone starts lighting torches, remember that training is the stimulus and nutrient intake supports muscle growth in response to overload. A sedentary or lightly active guy who gains weight eating a perfect diet will not see measurable changes in muscle mass. Sure, some may be gained from supporting a heavier bodyweight, but not enough to warrant discussion. Attempting to out-eat a poor training program will result in a greater ratio of fat to muscle acquisition. Thus, everyone in this demographic should address their training first (see Part 1). 

The macronutrient breakdown for this client is similar to that of most healthy clients: high in complex carbohydrates and fruit, moderate in fats, and high in protein. Carbohydrates are needed to fuel training, protein rebuilds damaged muscles, and fats don’t require conscious manipulation in the early stages of training. These lifters still need to eat more and still need the same nutrients. They have similarities to both obese and lean undermuscled novices. Fat is gained fairly quickly and muscle is gained very slowly. Thus, the variables of concern for these clients are the rate of weight gain and training responses. 

A simple approach to minimizing excess fat gain is to match the nutritional intervention to the training demands. In the first 2-4 weeks of training, most novices complete all of their prescribed sets and repetitions due to light loads and neural adaptations. A high protein intake is typically the only recommendation needed at this time. As the lifts slow down and become increasingly difficult, carbohydrate and fat intake will also increase. Although carbohydrates facilitate improvements in performance, increasing them eventually becomes impractical (e.g. 450+ carbohydrate per day) and additional calories will be from fat. Weight gain is slow and steady and continues throughout the duration of the program. At the end of the Novice Linear Progression, our lifter will be heavier than he was at baseline and appear more muscular. He will not have visible abs but his traps, pecs, lats, and arms will be fuller, resulting in the appearance of a trained lifter. 

Eventually, the lifter may say “Well I’m bigger and stronger but I need to get rid of this belly.” His concern is valid now, and he may have ended his linear progression with a little more fat in the mid-section than desired (~35-40”). He may have pushed up to 195 lb with a 38-40” waistline. This is an acute event that is easily addressed with calorie restriction and programming manipulation. A “mini-cut” can be prescribed to bring the waist circumference back down a normal level where it no longer “looks like a belly.” Additional weight gain is not indicated since it will add more fat mass, which will need to be lost later. Instead, a ~10-15 lb weight loss takes a few inches off of the waistline, improves his body image perception, and adds a buffer for another weight gaining cycle. 

Transitioning to an intermediate training program will allow for recovery and ongoing progress since a caloric deficit is not compatible with the Novice Linear Progression.  It is important to understand that this lifter is not a true intermediate. Rather, he may be ending his linear progression prematurely because he gained too much body fat as a function of his tendency to gain fat at a faster rate than he can gain muscle. The intermediate training recommendation serves the purpose of matching the lifter’s training to his ability to recover. Once the period of caloric deficit has ended and calories are increased, our previously skinny fat lifter (who now looks more muscular at 185 lb than he did before) can run another linear progression and squeeze out some more PRs before becoming a true intermediate. 

The skinny fat novice is not a special population. Many untrained novices are undermuscled and some are lean, some are overweight or obese, and some are somewhere in between. Some gain muscle faster than others irrespective of baseline fat mass. The approach to novice training is identical in each of those situations. Maximizing upper body muscle acquisition is a function of taking care not to neglect your deadlifts, presses, bench presses, and chin-ups. Matching the lifter’s nutrition to the training demands is the key to skewing the weight gain away from fat mass and towards muscle mass and PRs. The product of this is a stronger lifter with visual evidence of training experience. 

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19 Nov

Artificially Weak Deadlifts, Part 2: The Arms

by Robert Santana, MS, RD, SSC and Mark Rippetoe
| October 23, 2019

In my previous article, I noted that perceived difficulty is the most common reason for an artificially weak deadlift. Another common reason is that lifters often repeat or reset loads due to an inability to maintain lumbar extension off of the floor. Meanwhile, the squat continues progressing while the lifter continues repeating and resetting the deadlift for several weeks in a row. This results in a squat that equals or exceeds the deadlift.

A weak low back is an obvious contributor to artificial deadlift weakness. The lack of kinesthetic awareness of the low back is a common reason for this that is easily addressed through a combination of verbal and tactile cueing. Inexperience with pulling a load from a completely stationary position off the floor often results in lumbar flexion upon initiation of the pull. Since the role of the low back has been beaten to death in various other articles, videos, and websites, I won’t spend much time on it here. Instead, a discussion of the arms and various power leaks that present between the shoulder and the fingers is something you may not have considered. Properly setting the arms, wrists, and hands into position will contribute to maintaining spinal extension during the initial pull off of the floor.

The Hands

It amazes me how often the hands are overlooked when assessing pulls from the floor. The hands are the direct point of contact between the lifter and the barbell. It is clear and obvious that a secure grip is essential to move the bar from the floor to the lockout position. A correct grip results in the bar being placed on the proximal phalanges somewhere between the middle and proximal interphalangeal creases.

This is just below the interphalangeal joints (i.e. the region at the finger-side of the palm of your hand where your calluses form). I have seen many lifters at all levels of advancement attempt to hold the bar in the center of the palm. This results in the bar sliding down the hands into the fingers upon the initiation of the pull. This is often accompanied by flexion of the phalanges, metacarpals, and wrists, all of which combine to produce a downward change in the position of the bar in the grip if the weight is heavy enough, resulting in a power leak.

secure deadlift grip from the side back and frontsecure deadlift grip from the side back and front

Slack in the hands leads to a loss of spinal extension during the initial pull off the floor. This probably occurs due to the back sensing the loss of tightness at the beginning of the kinetic chain. The kinetic chain begins with the hands, followed by the wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, shoulders, trapezius, and eventually the thoracic and lumbar erectors, in line before the hips and knees which actually generate the force of the pull. It is well known that the back will not pull what the hands cannot hold on to – this is probably a safety “feedback loop” that prevents injury.So if gravity pulls the bar down out of the grip, the thoracic and lumbar spine tends to follow the loss of power transfer. In essence, a “domino effect” down the kinetic chain starts with the barbell sliding down in the hands and ends with flexion of the spinal erectors.

The Wrists

The wrists are the next anatomical structure up the chain. Wrist extension often accompanies soft fingers. This is often an artifact of the lifter leaning on the bar, essentially resting in compression on the bar prior to the pull. This could stem from listening to coaching instructions during the first deadlift session, or from the lifter attempting to preserve contact with the palm and the barbell as in the squat, bench press, or press. Pulling from this position results in the wrists falling into a neutral position, the grip not starting the pull tight, the bar sliding down the hands, the spine losing extension, and possibly torn calluses. For the coach, a useful tactile cue is to pull up on the trainee’s arm and forearm until the wrists, hands and fingers are fully stretched. Be sure to instruct the lifter to maintain his grip on the bar while you do this, otherwise he will release the bar as soon as you apply pressure. The verbal cue would be “Pull the slack out of your wrists and arms.”

cueing a stretched out armcueing a stretched out arm

The Elbows

Bent elbows on a deadlift are fairly easy to identify and correct. It is common for many lifters to set up with bent elbows. This often occurs because the lifter is either resting on the bar, or attempting to retract the scapulas because he was told to do so in a social media post, not paying any attention to his elbows. Emphasizing Step 4 along with the tactile cue described above often corrects this issue quickly. Another reason this occurs is because the lifter “shoves the knees out” in Step 3 excessively, resulting in the knees unlocking the elbows. The correction for this is to instruct the lifter to straighten out the arms and to merely “touch the arms” with the knees. This is one of those examples of an obvious and easy fix through reminders and tactile cueing.

The Shoulders

The shoulders represent the proximal end of the arm-wrist-hand system and the most commonly addressed. Step 4 on the 5-step instruction addresses the shoulders when the lifter is instructed to “lift the chest.” This is not the same thing as “shrugging” or retracting the shoulder blades, which should not occur – the traps and rhomboids are used isometrically in a deadlift, not in concentric contraction. By lifting the chest, the shoulders are pulled up away from the floor, which results in an extended thoracic spine. This should also pull up on the arms, elbows, wrists, and hands if done properly. However, this is often done incorrectly and oftentimes the lifter raises the chest but fails to lock out the remaining structures of the arms. If this occurs, be sure to check your lifter’s hands, fingers, elbows and shoulders and make sure they are fully extended while keeping the chest up.

unset grip and back at the start of a deadliftunset grip and back at the start of a deadlift

And any pull that starts with slop in the fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders is a pull started from the chest artificially close to the bar, with the back angle too horizontal in an inefficient position that increases the ROM of the pull unnecessarily. A deadlift should use the shortest ROM possible, so more weight can be lifted, and this is why we pull with the closest grip outside the legs we can manage. Don’t undo this advantage by failing to pull with the “longest” arms you can manage.

The Breath

The timing of breathing is a “non-arm” power leak. We all know that we need to hold our breath during all lifts. However, it has been my experience that nearly all novices hate holding their breath on deadlifts. The breath is often taken as an involuntary cue to start pulling the bar off of the floor (i.e. “grip-and-rip”). Painful as it may be, the setup of the deadlift should take place with a held breath. One way to do this is to breathe before bending over to take the grip. A more common and easier method is to avoid setting up until the inhalation is completed. For those with belly fat, it may help to roll the bar away to stretch the torso out in the bent-over position, thus allowing for a deeper inhalation, followed by rolling the bar back in to the mid-foot position for the start of the deadlift. This is commonly performed in strongman competitions, but is not recommended for novice lifters since it usually results in the bar being pulled with hips too low and the bar forward of the mid-foot.

Once the breath is held, lift the chest, fully extend the arms, wrists, and hands, hold this for 1 second, then begin pulling. That 1-second hold will likely be perceived as 5 seconds, and is the most important step in the setup, because it gives you time to make sure the low back is in extension before your pull. In other words, you must perform an isometric pull against the bar in the correct pulling position before the actual deadlift. The perception of an eternal static hold is normal, and you may get dizzy the first few times you do this. Eventually it becomes normal and you won’t pull any other way.

The deadlift is technically the simplest lift we perform, but also one of the easiest to make mistakes on. As a result, many lifters get stuck constantly repeating and resetting loads due to an inability to maintain an extended lumbar spine. The most common errors related to initial low-back flexion are often the result of power leaks in the arms and improper breathing. By fully extending the fingers, hands, wrists, and arms, the spine will more easily maintain an extended lumbar position. Holding the breath and performing an isometric pull prior to the dynamic will complete the setup process. The result is more weight on the bar and thus a stronger back and improved aesthetic appearance of the upper body. So next time you deadlift, hold your breath, stretch your arms, and “pull before you pull.”

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18 Sep

I set him on his bed as once again a nurse came rushing in. Just as a reader said the other day she waited, not moving a muscle.

The panic in my eyes to see this nurse, one who hadn’t been with us yet and didn’t know he’d done this before stand there must have been obvious. As she stood she quietly was counting and telling me slowly, “we need to give him a chance to come back on his own.”

Oh my gosh our nurse was a nut job! I wanted her gone! How could she stand and watch him lifeless?!
His color deepened into an ash gray and she hit #9 and quickly began working on him.

How in the world I felt panic and peace at the same time is beyond me but I stepped back a little and just watched. A little bugged that crazy pants was my new nurse, wasting our time and risking my son’s life. And in the same breath feeling totally helpless and aware that I wasn’t feeling anything other than my own fear, that peace was trying to creep through.

Then, beep, beep, beep.

A deep breath, a shaky exhale.

I’d been told just hours before that it could happen more but I honestly hadn’t believed it would.

Just days before I’d been at Cade’s work trick-or-treating with the girls and sure we were at the end of our worries and now here I was, standing with the realization of life slapping me in the face. I had no control over anything and we could lose the one we’d fought to have. Just because I felt it was done didn’t mean I’d get the ending I wanted.

“Often a baby will come back, and in fact he needs to, and has to try to do so on his own. We can’t always do it for him or he will never do it on his own.”

I listened to the nurse and felt her words sink deep in my soul. Another lesson for the NICU and motherhood. Sometimes we want to pick their teachers, friends, save them and protect them from everything, but eventually they have to learn to breath on their own. You can’t steal that from them. They are here to do it themselves.

“Now tell me, when you get home from the NICU what will life be? Do you work? Have any Christmas plans?”

She was changing my attention and letting me snuggle him.

“Well, actually we are currently writing a cookbook.”

A photo of our cookbook sitting on a wooden stand.A photo of our cookbook sitting on a wooden stand.


My thoughts last Christmas still ring true:

It was so dark in NICU.

I remember this day perfectly. The decision was made to give our little preemie a feeding tube as a precautionary step to make sure his weight continued to increase. NICU life consisted of pumping, nursing and pumping again, finally going to sleep for 20-60 minutes only to wake up and start the whole process over.

All day. All night.

Plus all the moments of holding and worrying over him. It was an unexpected delivery and the feeding tube wasn’t in my plan, neither were the set backs, one after another. But this day I had a strong impression right after this photo that the tube was holding him back and needed to go.


A photo of our new little baby boy curled up on my chest.

A photo of our new little baby boy curled up on my chest.A photo of our new little baby boy curled up on my chest.


He was starting to not nurse as well and I felt a voice from within me tell me it had to go. I voiced this to the head nurse who greatly disagreed but I knew and waited for the pediatrician.

He came in hours later and I repeated my concern. He looked at me thoughtfully and then said, the nurses won’t be happy, but I feel you’re right, so let’s pull it and monitor for the next 24 hours.

Sure enough, he had just wanted his momma and immediately began his journey to come home.

I never knew that a baby could change my life so much. We’d already had two, but this little boy, so tender and fragile, coming home right before Christmas changed the entire season for me. Holding a baby boy, thinking of THE baby boy.

Long ago the world would welcome another baby boy, also an unexpected delivery plan. Not the time or place the going mother probably imagined at first. But I know her heart felt sweet whisperings about him as mine did.

Only Mary knows all of those sacred thoughts and feelings, but that Christmas I felt closer to her and Him than I ever had before. All a mother wants is to lead and protect and love that sweet baby, but her’s was born to die before His time, to die an unnecessary and completely necessary death, to die to save.

Because of Him I can hold my babies close tonight and tell them that no matter what, our family will be together forever. Death may sting, but it will not conquer because of Him.



You’re going to want to click that sound on for this one and love the heck out of this sweet nurse.

I’ve never in my life witnessed anything like this.

I was in my chair, rocking away while he slept and the nurse said, “we are going to give him his first bath now, would you like to come?” 😱😱


I was tired. I was slipping in the easy faith that surely we’d head home super quick and life would be right back to normal. That just wasn’t happening. I will never be the same because of the NICU, but unfortunately sometimes I forget to see where I’ve come from.

Her gentle, warm hands gave mine a squeeze as she removed his diaper and wrapped him in blankets.
“Oh good, I thought, she’s a whackadoo. Just smile like this 😬 as you get another nurse to save him from looney tunes.”

One fold snuggly tucked under another and her tender voice said, we keep our babies feeling secure, close, warm and safe so they bathe in blankets.

Ahhhh, a genius not a crazy pants.

My heart suddenly leapt into my throat, maybe it was the hormones, but I couldn’t help but think on how gently, how completely wrapped around them in love I wanted to mother.

Why do I always want to explode through their fragile souls with my own demands?

And why can’t anyone bathe me like that? Cade should have tried it all those months he bathed me!! 😜😂😂😂 can you even imagine?! Me all wrapped up and Cade talking like her? Lol!!

Just take it in. Go sit somewhere alone and press play. Do you remember? Do you remember how you couldn’t imagine ever getting angry and how much you wanted to be a good mother? Do you remember how you wanted everyone to go away, to snuggle them up and just stare because it was just you and baby, just perfect magic surrounding you both. Can you see it in their eyes still? That sweet baby is still in there. They get feisty and demanding and flat out obnoxious oh but that spirit is in there…

Suddenly I relived our marriage. I can’t hardly explain it, but let me try…


Next: Part 27

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17 Sep

Fern Aefsky is the president of the Florida Association of Professors of Educational Leadership, and director of graduate studies in education at Saint Leo University. This essay is adapted from the 2019 book she edited, Can We Ensure Safe Schools? A Collaborative Guide on Focused Strategies for School Safety, published by Rowman & Littlefield. (Courtesyt)

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17 Sep

I was sitting towards the end of my hospital bed, all criss cross applesauce style eating a fruit, yogurt and granola parfait, those scratchy pretend-to-be-sheets tucked up over my legs because heaven forbid a hospital room ever not be a frozen tundra or sweaty hot desert. I absolutely never have my ringer on, it bugs me for some reason and so the phone began to buzz…

I pulled my little side table over the bed, careful not to jerk it too hard and spill my big ol’ hospital mug with its crinkle fry straw sticking out. It was Cade calling to tell me all was well. How could it not be?

In just an instant my mind can circle around a whole slew of thoughts. I felt in my mind and heart that we’d been through the mud and while we weren’t totally out things were going to be ok now. I’d continue in gratitude and patience because the end was in sight and I had my eyes locked on the light.


A photo of our new little baby in a diaper and little hat with monitors on his chest.A photo of our new little baby in a diaper and little hat with monitors on his chest.

I answered, “hey B! (Not sure why i call him that) Just got back to the room for a minute to eat. I’ve waited so long for yogurt and fresh fruit and yet I’m still sick to my stomach. I can’t believe it’s holding on this time!” I could hear Cade was only waiting, “everything good?”


Cade explained that everything was totally dead and would have to be replaced. And where the old ac had been was actually against code. The only place it could be installed would be way over on the opposite side, sitting exactly, perfectly on top of a hole where a tree had once stood. Literally.

What are the chances?

There’s no way we could have taken on tree removal at that time, but someone had inspired me to remove it in order to grant a little blessing later. What are the chances?

I hung up and walked back to the NICU, scanning my wrist and the click to let me push open the door. It was a miracle and I was busy praying that somehow we could figure this all out so we could bring a baby home.

Rounding the corner I just breathed him in.
I saw a tiny, perfect baby and tiny monitors.

Monitors that suddenly started to scream in alarm! My heart exploded as I saw the line go flat and two nurses rush in. All I could do was stand, fingers barely touching my lips.


A photo of my holding our tiny little premie.

A photo of my holding our tiny little premie.A photo of my holding our tiny little premie.


It’s true you know, time does come to a stop and you somehow take in everything and everyone and yet it’s all a fast as lightening blur, not catching anything that’s happening.

That shade of blue/gray is the worst color in the world. I had no idea that color would change so drastically and so quickly like that when someone wasn’t breathing nor was the heart beating. Was I even breathing anymore?

It wasn’t an immediate jump to CPS like you’d think. And there was no panic in the room. It was quiet and a frenzy of action but no screaming orders or chaos. That is a reminder to us all. First responders keep things quiet, calm, and exact in their life saving. First responders act. They don’t react.

I’m desperately trying to be a first responder in life, with my children and family, with friends and life.

Four hands lifting an airway and rubbing this baby like he was a potato being scrubbed in the sink and “beep, beep, beep” the monitors woke up again. I’d never be annoyed by the constant beeping of the nicu again. It was the beating hearts of fighting warriors.

A gentle hand pressed upon my shoulder, urging me into my rocking chair. As I sat my hands began to tremble a little as she handed me that fragile body housing an incredible spirit of a little boy.

It was hitting me what had happened, and I felt eyes urging mine to look up. She got down low and pierced me with exactness in her eyes, “that might happen again, sometimes preemies lose touch with us but we will always be watching and always come to the rescue.” I think that was my first inhale, my first real breath. The reminder was back, I never stand alone, Angels seen and unseen.


One of the very first nights in the NICU a nurse was weighing our little man so I could feed him. That’s how it went, you know.

The old corded phone at my bedside rang out in its shrill little ring, a sound kids today don’t know or understand as they didn’t grow up waiting for their big sister to get off of the phone so they could call a friend to come over to play, or hurry and call their best friend before school to see what she was wearing that day. When you’re sound asleep it’s the sound that rattles your bones and sends your heart racing, palpitating In A way that jolts you awake and sends you into a 3 millisecond panic until you remember where you are and what the sound is.

I grabbed the phone and tried to sound halfway awake. Why did I even care? It was past 1am and perfectly ok for me to be sound asleep, dead exhausted after leaving his room less than an hour ago, hurrying to pump and fall asleep. But for some reason that’s me, trying to clear my sleep voice, “eeehhheeeem, hello?”

“Carrian, he’s stirring so you’d probably better pump and come in to feed him as he will probably be up again soon.”


A photo of our son in his little NICU bed with a nurse touching his feet.

A photo of our son in his little NICU bed with a nurse touching his feet.A photo of our son in his little NICU bed with a nurse touching his feet.

I pulled my @plumprettysugar robe around my shoulders, the one I’d live in at the NICU because no one has time for getting ready, let alone clothes in there.

I began the routine.

The sound of the pump always making me feel like a momma cow in line at @tillamook though ice cream wouldn’t be the result. Too bad too.

🥴 or not. That’s weird. 😂 please don’t tell me one of you has tried it. Oh my gosh, my very bones can sense that one of you has tried your own milk. 😂😂😂

I walked in the NICU and the nurse was just picking him up. I had my room routine-the pumping, snacking and sleeping, and there was a NICU routine too.

Baby is woken up the rest of the way, sweetly talked to and cooed at as I changed his teensy little diaper, a newborn size that was drowning him. That warm little body is lifted onto a scale, weighed, and then we nestled back into the rocking chair to feed him. The process would be repeated after feeding him, even the diapers being weighed before thrown away.

I knew it was coming. I saw the little line slowing…

Next: Part 26

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13 Sep

For the full story, please read all our previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22,  Part 23


4 pounds never looked tiny to me. Our girls were 5 pound babies so it wasn’t too different, but when I was finally able to head to the NICU and found Cade snuggling our little guy my heart began racing.

So tiny and perfect.


A photo of Cade snuggling our new little guy.A photo of Cade snuggling our new little guy.


Machines beeping and specialists telling us how he was doing, which was amazing. No oxygen was needed, but we’d have a NICU stay ahead of us.

I didn’t know what To expect but as we were taken into a closed section all of the lights were dimmed, almost completely off and we were shown to a little curtained off area with a tiny bed under the lights for baby and a rocking chair for momma.

And so our NICU life began. The first rule anyone in a NICU learns is two steps forward three steps back. A constant roller coaster of health and emotions.

For a nursing mom it means you get started pumping immediately. I’d pump, be called into feed him, then go back to my room to immediately pump again and start building up a supply ASAP. Most often that meant that by the time I was done pumping and nursing I’d been doing so for almost three hours, would sleep for maybe an hour before it was time to wake and start it all over again.

I was ok at first, boarding at the hospital to be near him and constantly learning what he would need to survive.
By the end of the first day I would quickly realize that this was not going to be a regular hospital visit.

Twin babies beside us, another set of twins across the room and a baby to our left were all fighting battles. One set of twins had been in there two months already and mom and dad could only come and go once a day. My heart ached for them. I would give anything for hospital rules to have allowed helpers to hold those babies. Did they know where they were? Did they feel the sweetness of the moment when mom came to hold them each day?

I held our little man and I rocked, back and forth, back and forth and in my mind repeated, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”

Up he looked, eyes locking with mine. Silently watching and waiting. What would he say if he could? Did he know my battle to have him?


We had to part ways for a bit. He had some more testing to go through and they needed to get him settled into his bed so I went back to my room to try to sleep a little. Except I couldn’t, a conversation with a doctor on call kept running through my mind…

“I would assume your placenta had started to detach and with him already not growing much and you getting sick again delivering him early probably saved his life and your own. If you hadn’t delivered early he wouldn’t be doing well. He needed to be born in order to make it.”

That darn tree. I had taken it easy but I can’t help but wonder if removing that tree caused the issue. Heavy lifting, pulling etc is known to do that. My mind was racing, putting things together and wondering if once again an inconvenience was yet another miracle.

My little wristband let me I to the nicu. I’d never been in a NICU before. It was dark and quiet, and I could see how alone each baby was. Something I’d learn was far from true but the people couldn’t be seen. His little feet were a poked up mess but I was grateful for the thorough checks on his health. The monitors all glowing and beeping their little rhythms would become the song of our stay, constantly reminding us that he wasn’t out of the woods yet but that there was as much safety as we could ask for.


A photo of our little preemie with bandaged up feet.

A photo of our little preemie with bandaged up feet.A photo of our little preemie with bandaged up feet.


And then a new sound erupted making me jolt up out of the trance I was in holding those little toes.
It was mom, she’d gotten to the house with the girls but something was wrong, it was November and the house was sitting at 50 degrees. Cade rushed home thinking she had accidentally turned the heat off, only to discover everything was falling apart; the ac, the water heater, and both furnaces were all dead and we had no choice but to replace them all immediately. What are the chances?

NICU baby and no safe place to go home to, with a grandma and two little girls freezing and worrying about their parents and new baby brother. People sometimes forget that the kids feel things too. They know. They experience the hardships as much as we do. In fact, I remember why she was crying now…


A photo of our youngest daught sitting on the floor in tears.

A photo of our youngest daught sitting on the floor in tears.A photo of our youngest daught sitting on the floor in tears.


I couldn’t find her and I was getting more and more sick trying to calm out to her. Finally I had no choice but to try to get up to look for our little girl, worrying a little that she might need something. But the more I drug my body around and used all of that energy I didn’t have the more and more sick I got and the more frustrated and angry I was getting too. I could feel that tightness in my chest and my blood was starting to boil. I was sick darnit, just answer! Why do i have to crawl all over?!

And there she was. Crying on the floor of her room. I asked why she hadn’t answered me and she threw a fit that she couldn’t find shoes to wear to church.

Are you kidding me?

I’ve now thrown my guts up looking for you and you have three different shoes that work!!

She sobbed harder.

And I snapped.

As I heard the words slice through the air I felt it, felt that gross feeling of, you’re not acting you’re reacting. You’re not loving her, you’re hurting her.

I felt shame. And sometimes shame makes us act worse because we don’t want to humbly calm down and admit we are wrong, especially when their wrong actions started it.
But this one time I did. I crumbled. I apologized and just held her. And then she told me the truth.

Why are so sick? Are you dying? Why are you going back to the hospital?


I hate that they saw me so broken. I hate that they worried and hurt for me. I hate that I couldn’t even a little bit be a mother. I hate that our 8 and 5 year old were making their own breakfasts and lunches and taking care of each other while I laid on the couch.

But I’m grateful. Grateful they saw me survive. Grateful they learned how to pull together in crises instead of just letting others take care of them. Families, especially ones with kids need a chance to work together in the fire and not just depend on others to carry them through. There’s strength, blessings and talents that couldn’t come about in any other way.

But the fear was real. And it was real again whole we were at the hospital. So we knew what to do, get them to the hospital and be one, one as a family even in the hard stuff.

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12 Sep

For the full story, please read all our previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22

I can’t remember if this was right before or right after the tree.

I woke up. I’d been dreaming that I was pulling weed after weed in the backyard when I’d come upon a tree nestled in a corner under our deck. It was almost like I was looking through a lens that zoomed in on the tree and I walked over to it. With a shovel I carefully dig around the tree and with my bare hands pulled it clean out of the dirt, roots and all.

Now most of us would wake up, roll over and recount the story to our husbands who wouldn’t really care or be surprised at the random dream but I woke up feeling it. I just could not get that tree out of my head! I told Cade, “it’s gotta go”


A photo of our family.A photo of our family.

Cade and I worked together to dig around the tree, I was trying so hard to take it easy as I was feeling that green, sick to my stomach, body aching and utter exhaustion of pregnancy, but I was diligent. Cade kept saying, you’re sure you want this out?



You don’t like it, he’d ask.

It’s not that, I just can’t get it out of my head to pull it out.

So we did.

And it was actually really quite hard even though it was a tiny Japanese maple.

I felt nothing.
No pain.
No worse nausea.
No feelings that something was wrong.
But two things were broken and we wouldn’t know it until November 4th, 2015.

When we got to the hospital we told them what had happened. I was worried the baby wasn’t ok. He wasn’t moving and I’d felt everything detach and all of that blood, my goodness it was worse than any childbirth for sure. This was no bloody show or beginnings of labor. It was like there had never been a baby, just a belly full of blood. (TMI? Trust me, I’m sparing you everything else. 😘😘)

Dr Cloward was on call and though Haskett had always been our doctor, she was amazing, Calming, kind and attentive. We were reassured that while I was contracting everything seemed to be ok and there was a possibility I could hold out for a few more weeks. They’d keep me on a few hours to monitor. I didn’t think they understood what we’d seen. But we waited, and Cade fell asleep 🙄


Cade is one of those people you want with you for something like childbirth. He’s calm, incredibly supportive and helpful and oh so encouraging. Nothing makes him woozy or uncomfortable and he makes you feel like you can do anything.


He wasn’t supposed to come early.


I’m a planner and an organizer. I get things done and I’m always ready so nothing shakes me.

But there I laid. Cade had called our friend Adam who was sleeping at our house while we were at the hospital. My mom would drive to Utah from Idaho the next day if anything happened.


But it wouldn’t, right?!


I couldn’t sleep. The contractions were slowing but my mind was racing.

Was I lacking faith and hope? Why couldn’t I believe that everything would stop and I wouldn’t have him yet.

Or was I feeling the reassurance that I would have him and all would be well? How can you tell the difference, especially in a moment of fear or crisis?


I decided to do what I’d done earlier in a previous pregnancy. Have I told you about the blessing to be healed never being given? I’ll tell it tomorrow.


For now I prayed to still my heart. To be still, to feel still, to listen.

If this was to be, grant me peace to embrace it.

Over and over I offered that prayer and two hours in the contractions hit hard and sure enough, there was no waiting, only delivering. Only a short hour or so later he arrived.


4 pounds 17 inches and the most alert baby I’d ever seen.


He knew. He was present and aware of exactly where he had chosen to come. And pardon the tears you can’t see, but maybe he even chose us, chose me to be his mother.


A photo of our little baby curled up on my chest.

A photo of our little baby curled up on my chest.A photo of our little baby curled up on my chest.


This was the first baby I got to have placed on my chest after delivery and while this isn’t the picture it is how he preferred to be our entire stay in the NICU, all snuggled up and he wanted skin contact. He knew his momma. Isn’t that incredible? That moment when they first placed him on me was unreal. The peace, the burning in my chest, the love, my goodness, it was unreal . And totally unexpected.

I had no idea that when having a baby a month early would mean that my room would be packed to the brim. Extra nurses, the doctor, Cade, a pediatrician, respiratory specialists all watching me deliver with the anticipation that this baby could have problems, this baby could be fighting to survive when he arrived. It was surreal.



But did you watch the video? He let out a perfect little cry and then immediately quieted, completely still and locked his eyes on mine as they handed him to me. We just stared at each other and I know the facts, newborns can’t see perfectly like we can, so how it happened I don’t know but everyone in the room fell silent and then slowly started to comment on what they were watching and what we all were feeling.

Friends, I’m telling you that room had the most incredible buzz and warmth that was not of this world but could perfectly be felt. He knew exactly where he was and who had him. Suddenly the muttering began, “my goodness, I’ve never seen a baby, let alone a preemie look at someone like that, it’s like he really sees you and knows you. It’s like he wishes he could but open his mouth because he has a message to share.”

And we felt it.

Children do not merely come to earth. Children come from a heaven where they have lived and loved with heavenly parents. They come with a purpose, a mission, a ministry to fulfill. Looking at him looking at me I felt a power I could not deny, each of us has purpose. Each of us is known and loved. I don’t know why life sucks. I don’t know why people hurt and die and why life falls apart and is hard but I know that there is someone who knows our name and stands with us, urging us to turn back to Him.

And then he was gone, whisked off for testing.

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10 Sep

Artificially Weak Deadlifts, Part 1: Perception vs Reality

by Robert Santana, MS, RD, SSC | September 10, 2019

The importance of the deadlift cannot be overstated. The deadlift is the most functional barbell exercise we perform because no activity is more common than bending over and picking things up. Doing it incorrectly is one of the most common ways people hurt themselves too. Avoidable back injuries occur as a result of spinal rotation, not actively maintaining spinal position, and not actively engaging the hips while picking up an object. Picking up a box, a desk, a PA speaker, or any large item you find yourself lifting in an awkward position results in a mechanically inefficient movement. In contrast, a barbell is quite ergonomic since it can be picked up off of the floor over the middle of the foot. Overloading a much safer and more mechanically efficient movement, such as the deadlift, minimizes the risk of injury from mechanically inefficient movements performed in our daily lives and reduces the recovery time from those injuries. 

Most of us have received the memo, but some missed it. Regardless, I find many lifters who have finished the Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression with a decent squat and a deadlift that is either close to the squat or in some instances lighter. Some of us have small hands, short arms, or a steep motor learning curve (which can be attenuated with coaching). There are certainly outliers, and that is not who we are discussing.

Ending the Starting Strength novice linear progression with an artificially weak deadlift could be because it was started too light, maybe at the same load as the squat. This may be due to the perception of the difficulty of the lift. Specifically, the novice lifter will almost always perceive the deadlift to be much heavier than it actually is. I recently began filming my coaching sessions so that I can immediately show my clients that what they thought was a 15-second deadlift was in fact a 1-second deadlift. It’s not uncommon for first-time clients to add ~20-50 lb to their 5RM deadlift in a single session.

The reason for the false perception of difficulty is because, unlike the squat, bench press, and the press, the deadlift does not begin with an eccentric muscle action, and must be broken off of the floor from a dead stop. This means that the lifter must first generate isometric force in the back, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, the arms, and hands prior to lifting the weight. When deadlifting a very light weight this can easily be neglected, and the bar can be immediately pulled off the floor without any effort to set up. However, as the load gets heavier – not necessarily even that close to “1RM heavy” – the initial break off the floor takes slightly longer in real time, but may be perceived to take twice to three times as long.

An analogy is playing tug-of-war: each person grabs one end of the rope and pulls. At a certain point neither person is moving in either direction and much of the applied force is isometric. You would not try to bend and jerk the rope quickly because it’s obvious that you would lose control of the rope to your opponent. You would continue pulling steadily until you pull the other person away from the starting position. Once appreciable movement occurs it typically gets easier to pull the other side closer. The same can be said of pushing a car: once it’s moving it’s easy to keep pushing versus the initial break from a dead stop.

This same concept applies to the deadlift. Your job is to tug on the bar until it eventually leaves the floor, and then speed up the pull. The squat, in contrast, requires you to descend while the hamstrings stay tight and the glutes, adductors, and quads stretch eccentrically, causing a stretch reflex that leads to a forceful contraction out of the hole. Similarly, the stretching of the pecs, delts, and triceps is followed by a rebound when the bar leaves the chest on a bench press. The quads, abs, delts, and triceps do the same on the press. The deadlift requires you to pull against something that appears not to be moving until it moves, at which point you focus on getting it from point A to point B as fast as possible (which may in fact be slow when the load is actually heavy). This feeling begins at submaximal loads, the first signs of it appearing at loads that can realistically be pulled for 8-10 repetitions. It is a normal part of the lift, and you as the lifter need to become comfortable with it as early as possible.

Some other reasons for an artificially low deadlift are an artifact of what is described above. Since the perception of the lift is that is extremely heavy, the lifter may take timid jumps, repeat loads, and/or reduce the deadlift frequency prematurely.  The squat and the deadlift contribute to the majority of muscle acquired from the Starting Strength Linear Progression. Therefore, deadlifts should be progressed three times per week for as long as the lifter can tolerate it. Large (~15-20 lb) load increases should be made in the first week of training, followed by ~10 lb increases for as long as the lifter can tolerate those. The net result is typically a deadlift that is ~50-100 lb ahead of squat 5RM at the end of the novice progression.

This is important, because if the deadlift is artificially light due to an improper progression then what typically happens next is that the squat will eventually get legitimately heavy, taxing the weak low back and resulting in missed deadlifts that would have otherwise been completed.  The opposite is not often the case because when the deadlift gets too heavy to recover from it typically will not break off of the floor, even while the squat will continue to progress. Squatting does not require isometric loading to initiate the movement and is more likely to continue making progress in the presence of heavy pulls.

The importance of a big deadlift cannot be overstated. The deadlift is an important contributor to functional strength and muscular bodyweight, and the most important contributor to better aesthetics of all the lifts in the program. The errors described above are important factors to consider as you are going through your own deadlift progression. Go out there and win that game of tug-of-war, a little bit of weight at a time.

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10 Sep


Today is a great day. I am very happy to announce that EventMB has been acquired by Skift.

I started EventMB in 2007 from a desk in my apartment in Southern Italy. I was very excited from day one, but I would be lying if I said that I always knew it was going to turn out so splendidly.

Yes, passion and energy are great – I had both in spades – but I’ve seen many passionate and energetic projects fail.

I guess I was lucky.


I was lucky to have an incredible family to support me.

I was lucky to have a fearless team that consistently gave no less than 100%.

I was lucky to work with brands that believed in independent content.

I was lucky to write for an industry brimming with amazing people. (That’s you, dear reader.)


I like to think we made history. We have researched burning issues in areas like event technology, experience design and career advancement like no other organization in the industry.


300,000 event professionals downloaded our reports over the years.

300,000 event professionals read us every month.


I’m proud to think that we achieved all that with a virtual team of seven and no funding.

So allow me to thank Carmen Boscolo, Beatrice Tagliaferri, Simone Bolognini, Lauren Toro, Dylan Monorchio and Wei Deng for an incredible contribution. EventMB is mostly them.


So what’s next?

We join Skift, the most influential platform in travel. The fact that Skift acquired EventMB makes me f*$5ing excited. They are a brand I respect – a brand I love.

Rafat Ali, Skift’s founder and CEO, has built a movement we want to be part of. We share his vision, and we think that, together, we will disrupt the event industry for years to come.

This is what Rafat had to say about EventMB joining Skift:

“We are very excited to have EventMB as part of the Skift family. I have watched Julius and Carmen build this for a few years now into an indispensable resource for professional meeting planners, with a great brand, community and a sense of irreverence around them. All in all, we will be working together to continue building the best content and services for the professional community.”

The same EventMB team you know and love will continue running as a separate business; we will grow our suite of products together with Skift. Exciting times ahead!


What’s in it for you?

To begin with, 35% off tickets to Skift Global Forum, the most anticipated event in travel, which is happening next week in New York. Use code EMB35 at the checkout here.

You can expect more amazing content, research and events coming your way. Skift will help us to be better at what we do and, in turn, help you run better events.

In conclusion, thank you, thank you, thank you for your trust over the past twelve years.

We are excited for what’s ahead, and we’re very happy to continue sharing our journey with you.


Julius Solaris – Editor in Chief,

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09 Sep

In April, we featured an article decoding Ginjo to get you started on your sake journey. One takeaway is that Ginjo sake can be seen as a “new” style because the technology needed to brew it, most notably the machines that can polish rice below 70%, were not widely adopted until about forty years ago. Today Ginjo and Daiginjo grade sake, while usually more expensive than other categories, is commonly produced and easy to find. This is to be celebrated: a lower polishing ratio means a more refined sake with fewer off-flavors.

You may be wondering if there is any reason to drink “lower” grades, or the “old” styles such as Honjozo and Junmai, other than to save a few bucks. This is the question that part two aims to answer. But first we must first consider a little history behind a sake-brewing ingredient called Jozo alcohol.

Jozo alcohol is a neutral spirit commonly made from sugarcane which is sometimes added to sake. While producers had been fortifying sake with shochu for centuries in order to prevent spoilage, the technique became especially prominent during World War II when a rice shortage led brewers to resort to copious Jozo additions as a method of stretching supply. Because most sake is proofed down before bottling, the result was a thinning of flavor and structure resulting in some wimpy brews.

Once the rice shortage ended there was no longer a need to stretch supply, but producers derived a useful technique from this era: they discovered that fruity aromatic compounds generated by Ginjo fermentation are more soluble in alcohol than in water. Therefore, if you add a small amount of Jozo, the aroma of Ginjo sake is emphasized. However, it is common for brewers to add a dash of Jozo to non-Ginjo styles to produce what is today called Honjozo sake. A sake brewed without Ginjo techniques and without Jozo is called Junmai.

Honjozo, which translates to “original production method,” is by legal definition brewed with no more than a 10% Jozo addition and the rice polished to at least to 70%. However, there are a handful of stylistic qualities common in Honjozo beyond these dry technicalities. For one, Honjozo is rarely fruity or potently aromatic. Honjozo has a subtle, rice-like aroma with touches of savoriness and sometimes a light nuttiness. On the palate it is simple, lightly structured, easy to drink, and takes well to warming. One example that is widely distributed in the States is Ozeki’s “Karatamba.” This inexpensive Honjozo is light bodied and mild in flavor, with touches of white rice, sugar cane, and raw cashew.

Junmai, which translates to “pure rice,” is a much different beast. Junmai is less likely to be as heavily charcoal-filtered as Honjozo, giving most Junmai a Chardonnay-like yellow hue and richer body. Also, because there is less dilution in Junmai, the sake tends to be more structured with stronger savoriness, sweetness, body, and acidity. Like Honjozo, Junmai takes well to warming and is a wonderful food partner for richer, fattier dishes that can overwhelm a subtle Ginjo. An excellent and widely- available example to try is Kurosawa’s “Kimoto Junmai.” Kimoto is a centuries-old way of creating the fermentation starter than results in a sake with more tangy acidity and sometimes a funky, yogurt-like aroma. Kurosawa’s Kimoto is rather clean, with all of the rice-like aroma of Ozeki’s Honjozo but with added touches of banana and honey. The palate is creamy and rich, contrasting Ozeki’s light and crisp style.

We will maintain that if you are new to sake the best place to start is with Ginjo. It is best consumed chilled and typically tastes fruity with few rough edges, much like a well-made white wine. But, once you are ready to try more robust styles that pair better with savory Italian dishes or red meat, a robust, warmed Junmai is an excellent choice. Likewise, if you want something subtle and unobtrusive to knock back with Japanese bar snacks, Honjozo is hard to beat.

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