Fred, I first came across you due to your book on dumbbell training and then seeing you as a regular commenter on the Body by Science blog, but can you give my readers a short introduction to yourself? Who are you and what is your background in exercise?
Well Chris, my name is Fred Fornicola and I’ve been involved in training and fitness since I was about 15. I own and operate Premiere Personal Fitness in Asbury Park, New Jersey (Chris - there is a video of the gym here) . I’m a fitness professional, personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, fitness consultant, lifestyle fitness coach, as well as a published author. I’ve been involved in the field of strength and fitness for over 34 years. I was one of the contributing authors of the book Get Fit New Jersey! and co-authored the best-selling book “Dumbbell Training for Strength and Fitness”. My latest book is entitled “Youth Fitness: An Action Plan for Shaping America’s Kids” which I also co-authored with Matt Brzycki.
What led you to write the book on Dumbbell Training? (An excellent book by the way that I would recommend to anyone)
Matt Brzycki and I have been friends for years and we spoke often about collaborating on a book project that was different from most of the other books out on store shelves. We did some homework and found that at that time, (fall of 2005) there were very few books on dumbbell training and if there were any, they didn’t go into any great detail. We felt this was a great opportunity to produce a book that was concise and informative and we decided to narrow our focus and rolled the dice.
Are you happy with how the book turned out?
Yes, we’re very pleased with the book and its sales performance (to date we have sold over 15,000 copies). We put a lot of time not only into the information that’s found in the book but in the layout and marketing of it. I came up with its format by stealing the idea of how cookbooks are normally structured.
Cookbooks generally offer cooking information and insights with descriptions and photos and then supply recipes to compliment what was written. We did something similar by providing what we feel is safe, efficient and effective material along with text and visual instruction. The “recipes”, if you will, are the 40 plus workouts which were obtained by strength coaches and trainers from across the country. Some of our more familiar contributors are Dr. Ken Leistner, Coach Ken Mannie of MSU and NFL strength coach, Jeff Friday. The book is also small in size (5” x 8”) so it can easily be put in a gym bag or carried to use when working out if a person needs a new workout or wants to double check how an exercise is performed.
In the photos in the book to illustrate the exercises, you have featured “normal” people with achievable physiques. Was this a conscious decision? I get annoyed at books illustrated with bodybuilders who obviously use drugs and would look good however they trained.
Let’s face it Chris, most of the people in the book are average looking individuals and for a good reason, because most people don’t look like the super lean, genetically gifted individuals that are pranced around on most magazines and book covers. So yes, it was a conscious decision but in truth, these were just clients and friends that work hard at training and allow nature to take care of the rest.
I particularly enjoyed the second chapter of the book – Get Strong and Fit – where you focus on some really important basic principles such as safety and also destroy some popular myths. How did your thinking in this chapter develop? What influenced you?
The “Get Strong and Fit” chapter is just an ongoing philosophy of what Matt and I preach. We believe that safety is priority number one and so the chapter was merely an extension of what we teach. In fact, it was a simple chapter to write.
One of the issues you raise is “explosiveness”. You address the common dogma that you need to train explosively to become explosive. The error in this approach is something that I’ve raise before on this blog. Why do you think this doctrine is so popular?
Explosiveness is confused by many coaches and athletes in my opinion. To become explosive, you need to be strong, you need to be well conditioned for your sport/activity. Lifting fast or explosively creates momentum. If you use momentum, you aren’t forcing the muscles to do much of the work. Take for example the classic bench press. Most people accelerate in the beginning of the movement (usually with some additional “body English” or bounce) and as the weight reaches the peak of its movement the joints snap into place to stop that momentum at which time the resistance is quickly dropped and good old gravity kicks in and again, no muscle stimulation. What you are doing, however, is creating an environment which enhances injury due to the excessive forces on the joints and soft tissue while minimizing muscle involvement.
A classic example of displaying strength instead of a focus on building strength. Ask an explosive lifter if he’d prefer to be handed a 25 pound dumbbell or would he rather it thrown at him. I can almost guarantee his answer will be “handed” due to his lack of desire to get injured by the thrown dumbbell. Then why throw weights around when you’re lifting?
An additional aspect that is vital to being explosive that is often overlooked is you need to be a student of your sport/activity. Take for comparison two individuals who play football. Each of these guys can do 10 reps with 250 pounds on the bench press, complete 12 chinups and squat 315 pounds for 20 repetitions. Both men exude a good level of strength and, if these weights and repetitions are reflective of a set performed to muscular failure and done in good form, these two guys would have quite a good level of conditioning as performing such tasks are very demanding on the cardiovascular system.
Now here is the one differential – one of these guys plays football and understands the sport quite well while the other has zero or little knowledge/experience of the game. Now who is going to be more explosive? It’s simple, the person who understands his sport will be more explosive because he knows what to expect and experience has taught him how and when to respond so he will be quicker, more responsive and therefore, more explosive.
Similarly you address the problems with so called “functional” training and the related errors of thinking around sport specific training. (I interviewed Luke Carlson about this topic too). Again, why do you think that it is so hard for people to accept the ideas that you present?
I don’t have a problem with sport specific training…just not in the weight room. I remember as a kid wearing a weight vest as a means of improving my ability to jump higher for basketball. I wore that vest for two straight weeks and played basketball as I normally did. At first my timing was off in my shooting but I adjusted after a couple of days. After two weeks I took it off and started playing ball again…the results? My jump shot was off as was my timing for jumping and getting rebounds. My body had gotten used to the additional weight and developed new skills – throwing my natural game off.
I think working on strength and fitness safely and efficiently allows one to become functional. Functional, as I define it, is the ability to go out in life and…..drum roll please….be functional. Functioning in life means being able to do activities without becoming fatigued or injured so if that means riding a bike, gardening, swimming, taking out the trash, going for a hike, etc. you can “function” with a reduced risk of injury and not have to terminate a task because you are too weak or tired to perform it.
I suppose your approach and philosophy lies firmly in the “High Intensity Training” (HIT) camp, although your book doesn’t really explicitly identify itself with that school. Was it a conscious decision not to label it an HIT book?
My core belief and philosophy revolves around safety, efficiency and effectiveness, if that is one that falls into a high intensity training category, then that’s fine. I don’t refer to myself as a high intensity guy or any other category as I follow no dogma. I use whatever means I need to with those I work with so as to suit their physical, mental and emotional needs. Therefore, I am very open minded about how I train, using of course, my core beliefs. This too was the premise for writing the book.
Whenever I feature any thing HIT on this blog I notice a lot of negativity – there is a lot of ill feeling and cynicism about this approach to training. Why do you think that is?
Human nature, Chris. Try challenging someone about what they are doing and they will always defend themselves. Tell a republican about democratic views or a Christian about Muslim religion and they turn on a dime. The funny thing is, most people don’t realize we have more commonality than differences and that everyone can learn from each other. An open mind allows for much more information to be absorbed than one that is closed.
I read, watch and listen to as much information as I can; I then evaluate, experiment and then decide from there if and how I will apply the information. But to directly answer your question, most people feel that high intensity training is a crock because they don’t understand the essence of training.
I’ve been following HIT type ideas for years as I mentioned in my interview with John Little – his interview with Mentzer in a UK magazine in the mid 1980s still stands out in my memory. I’ve read lots of stuff over the years – Darden’s books (with their accompanying photos of steroid users), Slow Burn, John Little’s books, Body by Science.
At its root this style of training is quite straightforward, but I often see in those of us that are interested in this approach something of a search for novelty – the new technique that will solve all our problems and finally make us grow. So we jump each new technique - max contraction, static holds, done in one, Superslow etc. Do you think there is a value in all these techniques or is there a danger that they are just distractions from a dedication to a basic routine mixed with patience and realistic expectations?
Do I see value in these applications? Absolutely, they all have merit, but I don’t see these applications as anything other than another, as they say, “tool in the toolbox”. I feel these approaches have their place in one’s training and can be used in an infinite amount of ways – as long as they suit their needs.
Training is personal and so the most straightforward advice I can tell a trainee is this; find the exercises and protocols that are safe, efficient and effective for you and use them. Some people like structure, some don’t, so who’s to say if changing and using different approaches is a distraction or an incentive for someone. I personally see no sense in having to follow some kind of dogma if you don’t enjoy yourself. If, for instance, SuperSlow was the very best way to train but I hated doing it, I wouldn’t use it. I think the real danger lies in not discovering things for yourself.
Don’t worry if you’re following anyone else’s rules, it’s your body, it’s your workout – do whatever the hell you want. If you do multiple sets or don’t train to failure, you won’t get kicked out of the high intensity club. I’ve been told in the past I wasn’t allowed to do a particular exercise or protocol or some none high intensity approach because it wasn’t allowed….as if I need permission or some kind of sanction to train the way I want.
In terms of workout frequency your book tends to recommend working out 2 or three times a week. That is quite frequent for HIT. How do you arrive at an appropriate frequency for training when you work with a client?
When you work with individuals, you treat them like individuals and therefore you determine, from trial and error (along with many other factors) what works best for that individual. I have clients that train with me three times a week, twice a week and some only once per week. A lot depends on their abilities (mentally and physically) to help determine what works best for them.
I enjoy training yet I know that – particularly as I get older – I need more rest between workouts. How do you think we should mange the paradox of wanting to train….yet knowing that not training will actually be beneficial in terms of recovery and improvement?
Create a hierarchy or priority list of what your goals are. Understand what it is that will enable you to obtain your goal and before you do something, ask yourself if that what your about to do will contribute or detract you from achieving your goal. For instance, if your main focus is improving your leg press by 50 pounds, going out for a run a day or two before you train is not going to help you achieve your goal. Conversely, if you want to improve your 5k time, training your legs too frequently or intensely may prohibit you from getting you were you want to be.
Maybe you are supposed to train tomorrow but you need to clear your mind so you take a hard bike ride and you feel better, so what’s the big deal if you take the next day or two off and then go lift. Basically, it boils down how you balance things with your training and life to achieve your desired goals.
Do you make much use of bodyweight training with your clients?
I go through my phases of training and will accentuate a modality or approach of training, but yes, I do implement bodyweight activities. I think they have great value for those that can perform them safely and intensely.
Your book doesn’t say much about diet. Why is that?
Chris, our main focus was to make it purely a book that was about training with dumbbells because we didn’t want to dilute its content. On our second collaboration “Youth Fitness: An Action Plan for Shaping America’s Kids” we expanded our information to cover the many aspects of health and fitness.
Do you have a dietary approach that you support?
Since I’m not a cookie-cutter kind of person, I have to say that I don’t have any single approach towards anything but with regards to diet, I lean towards more of a Mediterranean style diet. Now, that type of diet is not for everyone and therefore I have educated myself on many other aspects of dietary needs for specific groups. I am very fortunate to have a good friend, Tom Mantos who is extremely knowledgeable about nutrition and applications for special cases so I refer to him quite often for assistance.
What does your own training look like at the moment? Have you implemented any new ideas recently?
Chris, I experiment a lot and am structurally unstructured. If I wake up and feel like going for a run down at the beach on the sand, I do it. If I feel like training, I do it. If I just want to do one set of killer leg presses using a static routine, I do it. Basically, I do whatever, whenever, however and wherever I want as long as I keep safety in mind and enjoy the process. Currently, I am really finding the benefits of static training and have played around with a number of approaches and implementations of the protocol quite successfully.
What is the most important lesson with respect to physical fitness that you have learned?
Without a doubt, not resting enough when I knew I needed to. I’m not referring to a structure rest period or specific amount of days, I mean just not backing off when I knew I needed to. Pushing for the sake of pushing isn’t the answer and something I preach often.
Apart from your own book, to where would you point people for them to get a good grounding in the principles our training?
That’s a tough one to answer, Chris, since I don’t really read too many books on training. I was, however, intrigued by Body by Science because John Little and Doug McGuff had an approach that challenged my intellect and therefore I found it worth my time to invest in reading it. In fact, it was probably the first book I bought on training in a number of years. I would suggest to your readership that they should read and explore as much as they can but emphasize learning more about what makes them tick. Learning about training is easy, understanding why you do what you do is not.
I am 42 and have been training and mildly obsessed with this stuff since I was 15. Looking back there are lots of things I would like to have been able to tell my 15 year old self about training and about life in general. What things about training do you wish you had known 25 years ago?
Let’s see, 25 years ago I would have been 24 and I would have told myself not to listen to everyone else’s suggestions and trusted myself. I was influenced by others and their training instead of following what was right for me. I always assumed everyone else knew more than I did and that they had to have the right answer when the correct answer was in me the whole time. This happened much longer than I’d care to admit, but hey, that’s how we evolve.Thanks for answering those questions Fred! There are some real good pieces of wisdom in those answers.
(By the way I came across Fred / Matt's book after reading what Drew Baye had written about 3x3 conditioning routines. A commenter mentioned that the idea had been written about by Matt Bryzcki, so I did a search to find anything he had written and came across the Dumbell book he had co-authored with Fred. The book features a few 3x3 routines if you are interested in that approach. Drew has also interviewed Fred)