I often reminisce about the “glory days”. I had a pretty nice childhood; grew up in a safe and friendly town about 45 minutes outside of Boston. I had a great group of friends, many of whom I still connect with today. I suppose I was in the “jock” click back then, playing every sport you put in front of me. Soccer was my first passion…I believe I was kicking a ball as soon as I was walking. I think being active at such an early age has been a huge benefit to me in so many other aspects of my life. Some of the positive aspects I took from being active at a young age include:
- Proprioception and coordination
- Taught me about teamwork
- Taught me about sharing (being an only child, I still struggle with this one)
- Taught me about communication
- Taught me about trust
- Taught me about building relationships
- Gave me confidence
- Kept me out of trouble (for the most part)
As you can see, I attribute a lot to my early years of fitness and sports. And, if you look at all those bullets, many of those translate into important qualities of a successful personal trainer and strength coach. Instill these qualities into your training and coaching and you are on the right track – It’s about connecting and building a relationship.
Do you remember how we used to move? Here’s a clip of an 18-month old to refresh your memory:
I can remember in the summer months when I would get up early, have a huge breakfast, and then run out the door hearing my mom yelling to me in the background, “Make sure you are home before the street lights come on!” Does anyone else remember hearing those words?
Jumping skills at the family pool
I was being introduced to my first “interval timer”! Today, we use fancy stopwatches and gym boss tools – back then, my timer was the common streetlight. Get outside, play and interact with your friends, if you get hungry or hurt, come home, otherwise I’ll see you when the street lights come on for dinner.
After the door hit me in the ass on the way out I usually hopped on my bike and did one of a couple different things…
- Met friends for a pick up basketball or soccer game
- Met friends at the local quarries (think man-made pond for those who aren’t familiar) to jump off cliffs and swim
- Met friends to play “man-hunt” – which, now that I think about it, was just really “hide-and-go-seek” but the term man-hunt sounded much cooler
I recall playing all morning and into the afternoon. If we stayed in the neighborhood, I would usually bike home for a quick afternoon snack that typically included a peanut butter and fluff (do they still make this stuff?!) sandwich on white bread and probably an apple. I was back out the door in 15 minutes playing the next game. We continued to run, bike, swim, crawl, climb, etc. for hours. To this day, I can remember that unsettling feeling around 5pm when dusk would set in and I would start keeping an eye on the nearest street light. Back then, they would usually take a couple minutes to fully light up so as soon as I would see one start to kick on, I would stop participating in the game of the moment, hop on the bike, and peddle as fast as I could back to my front door. As long as I was within 2-3 miles of home, this was a foolproof method.
Ben & I getting ready for a big game
The Moral Of The Story?
All I wanted to do as a kid was play! I wanted to get outside and move. I wanted to interact with friends and with nature. Little did I know, but I was laying the groundwork for my active lifestyle to this day. Sadly, I’m in the minority here in the U.S. This passion for play also laid the groundwork for my desire to have a career in movement.
I recently moved to a new neighborhood in San Diego. It’s definitely a bit more “suburbia”; a nice area with lots of families, and plenty of schools, parks, and playgrounds nearby. Seeing moms with their kids on a daily basis now, it got me thinking back to those glory days. And, with my “exercise ADD” kicking in lately, I have been craving change and decided to take a week and just “play” for a couple training sessions. One day in particular, I decided to go old school. I picked a weekend day, cleared my schedule, and “reenacted” one of my childhood days.
Here is how my “STREET LIGHT PROTOCOL” experiment went down
Trying to keep things authentic to the glory days, I started the day off with a big breakfast. Back in the 80’s it would have been prepared by mom and included a mound of pancakes, plenty of bacon, and a pint of maple syrup (sadly, just a slight exaggeration). Being a bit more health-conscious these days, I put together an omelet with spinach, tomatoes, and avocado. I also had a side of blueberries, a capful of fish oils, and 32 oz. of water.
I filled up a backpack with some water, nuts, a book, a basketball, and sunscreen, and then walked outside without a game plan. Present day, I didn’t have my mother yelling as I shut the door, nor do I currently own a bicycle, so I had to make do. I walked.
Here’s a brief rundown of the day:
I started the day with a park workout that involved stair runs, climbing, running, crawling and jumping – something similar to this video clip:
After the workout, I took an hour walk to the beach where I did a little bodysurfing, threw some rocks (I’m apparently easy to entertain), ate a little bit, and then read my “Warrior Cardio” book by Martin Rooney for a 45 minutes. On the walk back home, I stopped by the local hoop courts and played a pick-up game with some younger guys that were there. I was rusty…it was not pretty. I lasted about 45 minutes and then walked back home.
The short shorts were in style back then!
I didn’t wear a heart rate monitor, pedometer, tummy toner, balance bracelet, etc.…so I can’t tell you how many calories I burned or how long I was in my “fat burning zone” but I can tell you that I left the house at 10:30 and returned at 5pm. That’s 6 ½ hours of being outside. Aside from my 45 minutes of reading at the beach, I was off my butt and moving the entire time. I don’t need any fitness gizmo to tell me I had a healthy day. I was tired but I felt great. And I did it all in one day…before the streetlights came on!
How do I apply this to present day? I don’t expect everyone to run out this weekend and play, crawl, and jump around at their local park (although, wouldn’t we be in a better place if we all did?). Wouldn’t it be great if you could incorporate some of this movement into your current weekly routine? I’ve mentioned it before in previous articles (magic pill link and playground link), you must make fitness a priority in your daily routine if you expect to attain any of your health and fitness goals. If you have a dog, run around with him for 20-30 minutes. If you have children that you take to the park, play with them and climb and crawl on the equipment that they play on (If it’s safe for adults to be on them of course). My point is to make moving as common as putting on your pants everyday. Find “sneaky” ways to incorporate it into your day.
My “Street light protocol” experiment was a success. It felt good to spend a day moving. Sure, it wasn’t exactly like I used to do it, however, the general concept was replicated. Now I’m not saying you should all walk out of your house with only a few items and not return until dusk. But I am saying that if we can all find a few moments each and every day to get up, be active and move, then we will all be much better off in all aspects of our lives.
This article is dedicated to my mom. Thanks for kicking me out the door all those years. You helped me find my path to a career in fitness, and for that, I’m forever grateful.
Doug Balzarini is currently the strength and conditioning coach for the Alliance MMA Fight Team in Chula Vista, CA. He is also the founder of DBStrength.com, which provides fitness-related articles and education. Previously, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 for 6 ½ years as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE). He was recently a coach on the “Ultimate Fighter” Live TV show.
A Massachusetts native, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management from Westfield State University. Since moving to San Diego he has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU, obtained an ACE Personal Trainer certification, the NSCA-CSCS certification, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, Spinning certification, FMS training, and received his CPR/AED instructor status. He has also appeared in dozens of fitness videos, written numerous fitness articles, completed a MMA Conditioning Coach certification program and has competed in multiple grappling tournaments.
Prior to working at Fitness Quest 10, Doug worked for the American Council on Exercise as the Continuing Education Coordinator where he was responsible for managing over 400 continuing education providers.
For more information please visit www.dbstrength.com.