The Perception-Reality Gap

     Have you ever been in the gym and thought your body was in a certain position only to look in the mirror to discover that it wasn’t? Or maybe you were convinced that you were squatting to parallel when your workout buddy told you that you were only doing partial reps. I encounter both surprise and confusion when my clients experience this disconnect, when they think they are doing X and I tell them that they’re not. I call this the perception-reality gap and it happens more often than you might think.

      One of my clients, Jackie, routinely proves the existence of this phenomenon because she swears that she’s blazing through her set of lunges only to discover, when looking at the video I’ve taken of her, that she’s moving at a painfully slow pace. She’s incredulous when confronted with the evidence because it feels fast to her. The way that she perceives the movement has become her reality.

      Another example: a senior client has feet that love to turn out and knees that relish staying bent (there are physiological reasons for this that I won’t go into). This is his default standing position, which has become his reality, and now he has trouble perceiving what straight feels like. Same goes for his feet. When I ask him to stand with his feet parallel he says that they feel pigeon-toed. The perception-reality gap strikes again.


      Sometimes my verbal cues work: “Keep pigeon-toed while sideshuffling.” I’ve also had moderate success demonstrating to clients the difference between what they’re doing and what I want them to do. Likewise, I might intentionally put them into the “wrong” position and then guide them to the “right” position, alternating between the two until the difference becomes obvious.

     However, the best way that I’ve found to close the gap is to provide video feedback to my clients. Nothing beats the power of seeing oneself in action because the footage doesn’t lie. I love watching the aha moments, like when Jackie sees herself lunging and says, “God that’s slow, just like you were telling me. I don’t have a single fast-twitch fiber in my body!”

     Video feedback is employed in sports training programs for athletes all the time so why not for exercisers too (whose outcomes and safety depend on sound mechanics)?

     If you don’t have the benefit of a workout partner, coach, or trainer then set up your smartphone near your workout space and hit record. You’ll likely be amazed at what you see. The more feedback you can give yourself the bigger the improvements you’ll be able to make. And if you can’t exactly tell what’s wrong (even if you know something doesn’t look right) then ask a trainer to review the video and give you pointers. We love helping people who are genuinely interested in improving and we’re trained to analyze movement, so we see things that you are likely to miss.

     If you are interested in having me critique your form, please email one of your videos to [email protected] and I’d be happy to provide some technical feedback.

Keep on Movin’

My Fit Pregnancy-8 months

Here’s a recap since my last pregnancy post (which you can see HERE):

     Overall, I’ve been feeling really good with minimal changes to my lifestyle. My body overcame a month of sharp stabbing pains (sometimes debilitating) in my left hip during month 4-5 but I don’t have any problems there anymore.

     Truthfully, I wouldn’t know I was pregnant until I had to tie my shoes, squeeze into my winter jacket, or go to sleep (the little one is very active at night). I haven’t had any strong cravings, although I tend to want citrus more than I did before, and smells don’t seem to bother me as I’ve heard they can for many women.

     Having said all that my workouts haven’t been quite as stellar as I’d like. Between a vacation and two colds last month my workouts have definitely suffered a bit, but I haven’t stopped moving.

     As you’ll see in the video below I’m still able to move around pretty well but my endurance is certainly lacking–I was sucking air in between takes more than I’d like. But I guess having a human squeezing against my lungs and other organs might also have something to do with that. At 8 months and 20 pounds gained I suppose I should expect that.

   In today’s video I’ll be showing the following moves from my home workout:

  • A kettlebell complex: clean, squat, press, windmill
  • Bent-over row on one leg
  • Lateral lunges with kettlebell swing, alternating sides
  • Deep squat with sidekicks, alternating sides (tapping into some old martial arts training)
  • Crab reach, alternating sides

     I’m really trying to encourage that deep squat position to prepare my body for labor. I also incorporate some pelvic floor exercises during my rest breaks to get those in too.

     If you happen to be a pregnant woman watching this, DO NOT do this workout. I’ve prepared my body for these exercises long before I was pregnant–this isn’t the time to be experimenting with new, higher-intensity movements. Stick with what you’re used to and then amp it up once the baby makes it into the world.

I hope that, regardless of your physical condition or limitations, you work on the things that you still can do.

Keep on Movin’


Fit Pro Feature: Nerijus Bagdonas

This series is designed to bring you voices from the fitness industry so that you can learn from different approaches, in addition to my own.

Featured Fitness Professional: Nerijus Bagdonas, CSCS
Nerijus head shot

CA: Tell me a bit about your career as well as outside interests.

I am a strength and conditioning coach in NYC and I have created a training method called Train P3, which stands for Performance, Power, and Physique. I teach private, semi private and group training. Most of my clients are dancers, bodyweight athletes or anyone interested in moving better, becoming more functional and developing an athletic physique while focusing on multi-modal movement.

In my own life, I constantly try to experiment with various training styles (e.g., bodyweight training, gymnastics, dance, Olympic weightlifting, parkour etc.) to become a better athlete and express my creativity.

I am also a fitness model with Wilhelmina Models, I love elephants and my favorite color is purple.

CA: How long have you been in the industry?

I got certified as a personal trainer when I was 18 and I have been professionally teaching for almost 18 years. However, growing up in Lithuania, I started recruiting kids in my neighborhood to train with me when I was 9 years old. I made them do agility and sprint workouts, practice martial art kicks and punches and perform bodyweight conditioning, splits, and other types of flexibility training.

CA: Why did you get into the fitness industry?

There was never really a question that this was what I wanted to do with my life. My modalities have changed, my place in the fitness industry has evolved, but I have always had a passion for becoming stronger, faster, more flexible and being able to express myself through movement. Training, moving and learning new skills have been the most consistent things in my life. They have helped me stay balanced, establish core values and made me a better person. It’s only natural that I want to share this gift with others.

CA: What is your coaching philosophy/approach?

My philosophy has evolved many times during my training career, going from aesthetics to strength to movement based training– until I developed Train P3. While all of those are still main goals of Train P3, performance and quality of movement come first, strength and power second, with physique coming later as a reflection of our training–never the main focus.

Initially, we emphasize gaining back the movement we start to lose as a dysfunctional, sedentary society. We practice basic patterns like crawling, hanging, deep squatting, multi directional bending, rotating, lunging, throwing, jumping, and sprinting. We concentrate on building skills and becoming efficient at using our own bodies before using a lot of external load. We then keep increasing complexity until our athletes can perform intricate hybrid exercises that fully integrate their nervous systems and challenge all their energy systems. Once people can move better, training becomes a lot more explosive, skillful and fun!

CA: What are a few of your biggest coaching successes?

I had a client who lost 100 lbs and multiple clients who have significantly improved strength and transformed their physiques in as little as 6 weeks while doing my program. The ones that make me most proud, however, are the ones who have changed their lifestyle and stuck with training and nutrition changes years after we stopped training together.

CA: What are the main reasons your clients don’t achieve their goals?

Clients who don’t achieve their goals are always malnourished, sleep deprived or overstressed. Especially in NYC, people are very driven and easily get overextended in multiple areas of their lives. They underestimate the daily commitment it takes to stay healthy and fit in our society.

CA: How do you coach them through their “sticking points”?

If my clients aren’t achieving their goals I don’t believe beating them up or training them harder will necessarily get better results. Instead we re-evaluate their original goals, current lifestyle and commitment level. I educate them on the changes they need to make or we readjust their goals and expectations. Then we continue measuring their improvements and readjusting as necessary. I also believe it’s my job to inspire them and to lead by example.

CA: Do you have any advice for my readers about how they might be more successful with their own workouts?

Sure! Focus more on skill practice, movement quality, and intricacy than on how many reps or sets you can do. Each day, practice basic movement skills, such as side, back and forward bending, rotating, hanging, and locomoting on your hands (bear crawls, side ape or other animal traveling forms, or handstands). Carry heavy objects, rest in a primal squat and perform various single leg exercises, like lunges, single leg deadlifts or single leg squats. Find a way to have fun while training! Also, get enough sleep and eat the most natural, clean, and real (unprocessed and unrefined) food that you can find.

Nerijus Bagdonas, CSCS is a strength and conditioning coach, fitness model and the creator of the Train P3 Training Method. He teaches private, semi private and group training in Midtown Manhattan. He has 18 years of experience teaching fitness, numerous certifications and a degree in Kinesiology. Check out his training method at: (The photos alone are worth the click!)

Keep on Movin’

My Fit Pregnancy

     I wanted to bring you along with me on my pregnancy fitness journey. At 5 months and a weight gain of 12 pounds I haven’t had to make many changes to my workouts. Certainly, I do feel a bit heavier but if I didn’t have a belly I couldn’t really tell I was pregnant. I’ve had an easy time thus far–no morning sickness or fatigue–and I hope I can continue moving for as long as possible.

     In the video below you’ll see me doing different exercises at home with my kettlebells. I wanted to give you a taste of what my workouts look like and I will continue to document them over the next few months. However, I’m not recommending that other pregnant women do this workout, or any other, that they have not prepared their bodies for. I am building off of a platform of fitness that I’ve developed over the years.

     I did 4-5 sets of double kettlebell front squats, jumping rope, reverse lunges into shoulder press, kettlebell swings, and bear crawls. The video doesn’t show me resting but, believe me, I did. I did 3 exercises in the first superset and repeated 4 times (with a rest of about 2-2.5 minutes) before moving on to the second superset. I also did bent over rows but I had a technical issue so they didn’t make the video.


     I hope that, regardless of your physical condition or limitations, that you work on the things that you still can do.

Keep on Movin’


The Fitness Mindset

     This week I had a recurring issue with 5 different clients and it’s a common one that I’ve dealt with throughout my career. I’ve trained each of them for an average of 8 years but they struggled to recall how to do certain stretches and exercises that I’ve gone over with them dozens (if not hundreds) of times before. OK, 4 of them are over 65 and may have a hint of forgetfulness creeping in. And another is an overworked father of 3. But shouldn’t they have gotten it by now?

     I’m of two, somewhat competing, mindsets. On the one hand, my primary job is to give people guidance and the tools they need to become stronger, fitter, and more physically competent movers. But for that to happen, I need their cooperation. That mindset says, “I can’t do my job effectively if you don’t pay more attention and get involved in your own fitness.” If I occupied this mental space too long I could get very frustrated.

Angry face     On the other hand, another function of my job is to be patient with people and to get them moving at any cost. “Any movement is better than no movement,” is an axiom that I’ve clung to since the beginning of my career. So, I figure that it’s better that these clients do something while I’m there rather than nothing if I were to abandon them.

      All of this boils down to the simple idea:

Being physically fit requires you to have a certain fitness mindset

     It’s not enough to show up at the gym and be in close physical proximity to calorie-burning machines and sweaty people in order to get fit. Nor is it enough to mimic what you see others doing or hop on a machine and push until you’re tired. I hate to say it but being physically fit requires an outlay of mental energy as well. You have to have a purpose, a plan, a desire to learn new skills, and a willingness to endure discomfort in order to reach your goal. These are all mental traits that the vast majority of exercisers don’t have and are the reasons why most never reach their goals.

     Let’s look at the fittest bunch in the population, athletes. Do you think they arrived at their given areas of fitness and expertise by just going through the motions of their workouts? I don’t think so. As a former collegiate athlete I can tell you that the reason I stuck out all of the gym and on-court workouts, in addition to technical lessons, is because I had the goal of being a professional tennis player. I had a defined purpose. My plan to achieve that goal was to learn as much as I could (from proper lunge form to specific tennis tactics) and be engaged in the learning process so that I could be independent when on the court. In order to soak up all of that information during grueling hours of practice, I had to be willing to endure a lot of discomfort.

Novak Djokovic, the world's #1 tennis player, shows us how willing he is to endure discomfort to achieve his goals.

Novak Djokovic, the world’s #1 tennis player, shows us how willing he is to endure discomfort to achieve his goals.

     Now, I’m not suggesting that you have to take your fitness to the level of professional athletics. However, if you want to make any serious progress towards your goals, you’ll have to do more than show up. If the fitness mindset doesn’t come naturally for you, that’s just fine. You can learn it.

1. Define your goal or purpose

     Why are you coming to the gym? What change would you like to have happen? This should be the first step in your fitness journey. Some examples are “Lose 10 pounds,” or “Get to the gym 3 times a week,” or “Learn how to use kettlebells.” The only right answer will be the one that motivates you to get to the gym on frosty mornings of rainy nights.

2. Create a plan

     This step depends on your goal but, generally speaking, you’ll need to learn the fundamentals of strength training, i.e. squats, lunges, deadlifts, rows, presses. These movements form the basis of training programs that run the gamut from high-performance athletics to senior fitness. You cannot go wrong mastering these highly-functional movements.

  • To view video tutorials of these movements, click HERE
  • To read an article detailing how to put together your own workouts, click HERE

 3. Learn to earn

     The better you get at learning the skills needed to become fit, the smoother and more efficiently you’ll travel on the path towards your goal. If you have to constantly stop and think about how to do every little stretch, because you weren’t really paying attention to the instructions you saw or read, then you lose momentum towards the larger goal and are more likely to abandon it.

4. Endure discomfort

     This is the part that may be the most difficult for you to embrace. And it makes perfect sense since human beings are designed to avoid physical discomfort. However, you have to be uncomfortable in order to push your current physical limits.

Indoor climbing definitely pushes my physical and mental limits.

     I often have to tell my clients, who don’t squat low enough (even though they can), to “go to the uncomfortable place.” The self-protection mechanism is potent and can undermine your efforts for improvement. But, unless you are in immediate physical danger, there is no reason why you can’t push past the place where you’d prefer to stop. Choose to be better.

     If I can help in any way to support you in developing your fitness mindset or journey, please email me at [email protected]. I’d love to help those of you who are serious and committed to getting better.

Keep on Movin,


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