Training with Fifth Ape – Day One

One of the cool things about getting involved in the Paleo community is that it drives you to seek out new opportunities to enhance your Paleo experience. That’s how I found Colin Pistell and his fitness training company, Fifth Ape. I literally searched the word “Paleo” on the website and found his meet-up group, as well as his actual business. (By the way, if you haven’t tried that yet, its a great way to meet like-minded Paleo folk in your area, so you’re not sitting on the computer all day chatting with your ‘friends’ on Paleo-hacks.)

Colin: The Man, The Myth, The.... never mind

If you remember, I wrote a post about a conversation I had with Colin when I first met him about the sheep-like quality of many people who follow ‘movements’, and since then I’ve enjoyed getting to pick Colin’s brain and allow him to keep me on my toes when I start getting complacent and begin baa-ing too much, if you know what I mean. He’s very skeptical of the Paleo movement in a good way. He generally follows it himself, but he’s always questioning things and does his best not to let himself get carried away with group-think and inappropriate idolization.

Fifth Ape = No Sheep Zone

After going to a few free meet-up sessions that Colin led, including a less-than-successful Parkour attempt and a very informative barefoot running tutorial, I decided that I wanted to have Colin help me out with my individual fitness goals. So he agreed to meet with me a few times, discuss my goals and limitations when it comes to fitness, and design a program for me to follow that will maximize my progress. Sa-weet.

Now, as I mentioned to Colin before we started, I’m a bit “fitness-retarded” in the sense that I don’t really know how to design my own workouts for maximum efficiency. Lately my modus operandi has been to just go into the gym, do a 10-15 minute warm up, throw whatever-the-frack weight around that I felt like at that given moment with no regard to muscle groups, and then do a cool down. Not the worst thing I could be doing, but certainly not the best protocol for someone looking to improve their athleticism. Hence why I’ve employed Colin – I trust him to be able to determine my needs and improve on various weaknesses or limitations I may have developed over the years of improper exercise technique.

As part of the initial session, we discussed my goals. He reminded me that my programming has to take the context of my life into account. For me right now (full-time student, working, dealing with stress, lingering effects of disease, etc.) a Crossfit style high-intensity protocol is “probably counterproductive” according to Colin, and I agree. I can’t tolerate the added stress of a 20-minute AMRAP workout every day, so Colin is going to make sure my routine maximizes fitness gains without causing excessive stress on my already-stressed-to-the-max self.

I know this is really hypocritical in the context of my Paleo Women Are Phat post, but one of my goals is to improve my body composition. I’ve definitely put on somewhat of a cortisol belly this semester, which is not healthy or attractive, and I’d like to work on reducing that (though no six pack or <20% body fat goals, of course).

And I just generally want to be more athletic and mobile. I went to a beautiful ballet performance last night, and I was so impressed to see such athletic looking and not emaciated ballerinas. They looked like gymnasts, and were so graceful and powerful. I know I’m not going to get to that level of fitness per se, but it was inspiring to see women with such powerful control over their body movements. So improving my overall fitness as well as my mobility and athleticism is an ultimate (though ethereal) goal.

I want to start over and become a dancer.

First, Colin checked out my air squatting ability, and had me work on some mobility exercises to help improve my range of motion. I have a history of volleyball playing that seems to have altered my ability to do a normal, balanced squat and I definitely have right leg tightness. Also, I admittedly sit way too much, so my overall mobility is sub-par. He showed me a few different dynamic hip and ankle mobility variations to help improve my squat over time. I’m really hoping to get my squat improved, since its such an important movement as far as functional fitness goes.

We also did a really funky core-stability exercise where Colin had me in a half-kneeling position and using my “deep core” to stabilize my midline instead of relying on my hip flexors. It involved me putting all my weight into my back leg, which was on the floor, and holding my arms straight out in a chop position. Colin then tested my balance and core stability by pushing on my arms in varying directions and degrees of force. I kept giggling because I was reflexively trying to avoid him pushing on my hands, since it was causing me to nearly topple over, so I was inadvertently dodging him at times. I felt like I was filming another sequel to the Karate Kid.

Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off.

Then came crawling, which was probably the most socially awkward part of the experience. But definitely worthwhile, since it was the most challenging activity of the afternoon. This movement engaged more core motor control, rotary stability, as well as shoulder stability and motor control. We worked not just on the contra-lateral movement coordination, but also on keeping my hips and lumbar spine from swiveling during the crawl. Also, Colin had me attempt the “classic” Fifth Ape coordination challenge: backwards crawling. Let’s just say the whole ‘gracefulness’ goal is one that I really need to get cracking on.

This is exactly what I looked like during this drill. I swear. What, you don

Finally, Colin reviewed high bar and low bar positions for the back squat and talked about hip drive. He had me attempt a few low-bar squats, which was a completely new move for me. I think I actually like the low bar more than the high bar back squat, but as Colin explained, neither is optimal, but both are necessary to practice. I noticed a lot of the guys in the barbell area were watching our workout. Not sure if they were interested in my technique or if they were just distracted by the notion of a female doing back squats. Maybe a little bit of both.

The low-bar squat. Clothes optional.

So that concluded the first workout with Colin. I had a really fun time and I’m looking forward to the next one. I’m hoping that with some time, effort, and a great individual program designed for my needs and aspirations, that I’ll start making strides towards achieving the level of fitness and athleticism that I’d like to have.

No ballet shoes required.

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  1. I love the 5th Ape folks! I went to a few meet-ups in November & early December and really enjoyed myself (I live just a few miles west of Duke’s campus). I haven’t been able to go since due to work travel and the general run-around of supporting a wife and 3 kids (the third arrived just a month ago). Hopefully I can kick myself into gear enough to start coming again sooner rather than later.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post. I am new to your site. I actually was led to it when I checked in with and read a rant inspired by your Paleo Women Are Phat (I think I have that right). Love the Paleo Women… piece as well.
    I hear ya about seeing strong dancers as opposed to stick people in chiffon and toule. I am a dance teacher (ballet, comteporary and lyrical) and its very important to me to stress the value of being strong to do “things” and breath life into movement, rather than become a slave to unrealistic ideals of the “Mirror gods”. I derailed my own dance career earlier in life by picking the latter.
    Enough rambling! I am also a licensed Zumba instructor. If you’ve never done a class before…give it a try, at least once in your life. Once you get past the whole follow along with steps that may be new to you, its a fun way to just let go. But perhaps more importantly, it can be a great agility builder. No dance experience needed to start. I have participants from all walks; triatheletes, women who do MMA and BJJ training and everything in between.
    I know you have a lot on your plate, but when you can come up for air, and you still want to dabble with some dance, know that it is possible (beginning adult ballet is one of my favorite class to teach).
    I’m currently working on a website to help people incorporate some useful foundations of dance into their lives.
    I look forward to your future posts!

    1. Erin – I definitely would love to do some recreational dancing at some point. I’m still a little weirded out by the Zumba thing, but I should probably give it a go sometime. I know a lot of people that love it. Though adult ballet would be fun too!

  3. Laura, you can squat. You just need to be shown how to do it. I’m not knocking Colin’s ability on how he couldn’t get you to squat so that junk is touching the grass. But in all honesty, it has nothing to do with mobility as what he is suggesting. Unless you have some sort of dorsiflexion thing going on with the ankle, then trust me you can squat. Every woman can squat. The squat has nothing to do with mobility, strength or core stability. It is pure biomechanics and learning how to move that centre of mass backwards before downwards. Low bar back-squats is all about articulation of the shoulder joints. Unless that serratus anterior can stabilise the rotation of that shoulder joint, I’d start the bar a little higher – not on the C-spine. But not any lower than necessary. Love the blog. Loved that Phat blog. How true that women need an element of body-fat. It’s just when it gets counter-productive that it becomes an issue!