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Featured Blogger: Tom Mathis of Cakehole Management

Featured Blogger: Tom Mathis of Cakehole Management

Sunday, April 19, 2015 - 12:41pm
Photo provided by Tom Mathis.

Tom Mathis is a local fitness enthusiast and maintains the blog, Cakehole Management. Tom was kind enough to answer a few questions for us as part of our Featured Blogger series.

1. Tell us about your blog. What is the target audience?

My blog, Cakehole Management, was inspired by a neighbor who dropped over 100-lbs (and counting) this year after I gave her some basic guidance on nutrition and how to exercise properly.  Her success attracted quite a bit of unwanted attention from folks interested in replicating her accomplishments. I’m not a fitness professional (just a fitness enthusiast) and don’t have the time to take on clients – so I created the blog as my way to help folks who want to help themselves.  

My targeted audience is primarily folks with a busy schedule looking for an effective and efficient home-based health and fitness program.  I also cater to folks interested in CrossFit (and/or high intensity interval training), particularly beginners and more mature folks (i.e., older). In some respect, my blog is very much a distilled version of CrossFit that is more accessible to all. Like CrossFit, there are no gimmicks or glam to my approach. However, unlike many fitness programs, I emphasize proper DIET, i.e., Cakehole Management, as 80% of the fight to be healthy. I promote physical fitness a means to have a long-term quality of life and maintaining physical independence to the grave. Physical fitness also really helps your mental game to stay focused on proper diet and cope with life’s stress. Overall, I don’t want folks to think that by exercising they are going to decisively impact any body composition goals. Exercising complements weight loss, but isn’t the most effective way to achieve weight loss.

2. What is your fitness background?

Fitness has always been a core facet of most of my life. As a kid, one of the many jobs my Mom had was an Aerobics’ Instructor, back in the Reebok dominated 80s – granted, the only thing I found interesting about aerobics was Jamie Lee Curtis in “Perfect”. My Mom is 74 and is still going strong teaching fitness classes at her local community center.

The majority of my formal fitness training was through the United States Military Academy (USMA), West Point and the Army. West Point’s mission is all about graduating future Army Officers and a notable facet about being an Army Officer is developing and running organizational fitness programs. Thus we had no lack of exposure over the four years concerning physical fitness training and education. For males, boxing is mandatory, whereas swimming, gymnastics, and an introductory combative course is required by all. If you weren’t part of an intercollegiate sports team or club, playing intramural sports was mandatory. Fortunately, I made the club squad fighting roster of the Army Karate Team (later re-named Martial Arts Club), which allowed for a one semester exception from mandatory intramurals a year. We were also required to pass the Army Master Fitness Trainer Program before graduation. As part of my mandatory fitness electives, I took an advanced combative course and aerobics’ fitness (running, road biking, and mountain biking). The aerobic fitness course was intense – I was the only male who couldn’t run a sub-12 minute 2-mile in my class (and many of the females were also that fast). The course had very technical exams, however, the curriculum was heavily influenced by graded physical fitness practical exercises, i.e., races! Fortunately, I was a seasoned Mountain Biker and taking second in one of the “races” saved my academic bacon. I graduated in 1993 and was commissioned as an Infantry Officer.

One of many sayings in the Infantry is “fatigue makes cowards of us all,” thus physical fitness was, uh, emphasized in my 6-year Army career.  I attended Airborne, and more notably, Ranger School.  Ranger School is a phenomenal mental and physical fitness challenge with a very low first-time graduation rate.  I started Ranger School at 198-lbs and graduated a 166lbs bag-of-bones.  As previously mentioned, developing and implementing physical fitness training programs is just part of what you do as an Army leader and that is what I did. My units consistently had very high Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) averages.

After the Army I really got into Mountain Biking (MTB): advocacy, leading rides, and ultimately developing and teaching beginners via a MTB Boot Camp I ran for the Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiast (MORE) sponsored by Anne and Todd Mader, owners of The Bike Lane.  This was my first real coaching experience with civilians (and women). I also continued martial arts for several years, but it was a lackluster journey until I started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) under Leo Dalla.

I discovered CrossFit at 39 – I knew I needed a regimented efficient fitness venue. I never liked weight lifting, but a couple of classmates were into CrossFit and encouraged me to try it. I wasn’t really interested – my “traditional” view of exercising led me to think the CrossFit workouts were crazy. However, I was a bit desperate and the prospect of joining a Globo Gym got me to try it. So I tried it and loved it.  I have the typical CrossFit devotee story, it changed my life. After the Army I struggled with body weight, I was very active and exercised constantly, but hard drinking, grilling, and good living destroyed the benefits of working out. I eventually started to have cholesterol problems and was prescribed medication. This pissed me off, but after two years of following Doctor’s advice and traditional fitness regimes, I got nowhere. Once I started CrossFit, everything changed for the better. I got into the best shape of my life, lost 35 permanent lbs., kicked cholesterol medication, etc. I got my CF-L1 my first year and soon after found myself coaching my Spousal Unit and two of her friends 3 times a week. I now have a robust home gym and have been coaching a group of very dedicated moms for two years.  I have to give credit to Jeff and Maggie Tincher (they are like CrossFit royalty in the DC Metro area) who own CrossFit Fairfax and Reston. Jeff taught me sound CrossFit mechanics and progressions and Maggie taught me how to eat. I also have to give credit to Jeremy Wolfe who owns CrossFit Annandale for really introducing me to the fun depths (and drama) of the CrossFit Culture. I currently train at home and with Erin Sanzero and Sarah Ellis at NOVA Strength and Condition / CrossFit Nova – who have really cleaned up my Olympic-Lifting.

Continue reading our interview with Tom

Photo provided by Tom Mathis.

Tom Mathis is a local fitness enthusiast and maintains the blog, Cakehole Management. Tom was kind enough to answer a few questions for us as part of our Featured Blogger series.

3. Tell us how your military experience has influenced your approach to fitness.

My military or rather Martial training has been a huge influencing factor.  First and foremost - the definition of fitness.  In the Army, I was trained that there wasn’t a really good definition for fitness, however, it was emphasized as a relative term to one’s life’s demands, for example, being physically fit allowed a soldier to successfully get through their professional workday, personal time in the evening (which was just more work in the evening), and sleep well and refreshed the next morning (for more work).  Even though I love CrossFit and their definition of fitness - I stick to my Army influence - fitness is being able to successfully get through a work day, be actively engaged with your loved ones after work, and get a good nights sleep.  So it remains relative to the person.  If you are a stay at home Mom you have different requirements than a Fire Fighter, however, like CrossFit - you can get to your fitness goals w/ a similar approach.  

Another major Army influence to my approach to fitness is mental preparation.  In the Army fitness is a means to build mental toughness, discipline, and teach hard lessons in a controlled environment.  To get the best performance out of an athlete you have to develop them mentally.  For example, if I work with a person whose never done sports - well, I recognize they may not have that work ethic of an ex-HS or College Athlete.  You can’t kick their butt and expect them to come back for more.  You have to build up this type of person’s self-confidence to embrace and enjoy physical challenges.  

Finally, the Army standard for training is that the trainee just has to show up, stay awake, and they will be trained to standard. The Army is really good about teaching you how to develop a fitness program, brief tasks, conditions, standards, run large classes, develop a training environment, etc.  The Army is about teaching foundational skills and building upon them without folks realizing they are being trained. In the fitness world this is called teaching progressions. Thus, I like to introduce elements that build upon each other over time – so when I get to that hard complex move, we can focus the athlete on the move. Also, people tend to think military training is all about external motivation, i.e., yelling and spit-ball, cursing - elite military training revolves around highly, self-motivated individuals.  That’s my approach - I'm only a guide, I’m not there to carry your baggage.

4. What drew you to CrossFit? As a certified instructor, can you offer some words of wisdom for those currently training CrossFit?

As mentioned earlier - CrossFit was a last resort.  I knew I needed more systematic fitness training, because “sport” is not necessarily the best way to stay fit-enough as you age. CrossFit is not boring, it is very social, and it works!  For me CrossFit was like finding the Rosetta Stone to organize and refine my lifetime of fitness learning and experience.  CF positively changed my life and has given me real tools to stay on azimuth.  

If you are new or a seasoned CrossFitter - the most important thing is Mechanics, Consistency, and LASTLY Intensity.  There are three things anyone who is participating in CrossFit (or any strength training program) must check and be proficient in before doing high-repetition exercise elements with heavy loads:

  • You must have a mature, upright torso squat, with good depth, knees and feet alignment, with weight centered at the bottom of your feet or towards your heels. If someone has all of the above and can maintain a mature squat for 2-mins, time to build on that. A 10-min squat test is often held up as the standard.
  • You can extend your arms straight overhead, palms facing forward, arms close to your ears with your wrist, elbows, shoulder joint, spine, hips, knees and heels are aligned in a straight line from wrists to heels. If you can’t do this, a person is likely to hyperextend their back when lifting weight overhead and/or putting unhealthy loads on their shoulders, which may lend back injury, shoulder impingement and/or rotator cuff injury.
  • Finally, while laying on the ground, flat on your back, with your palms resting flat on your thighs and no part of your arms touching the ground, you can get up to your feel without your hands, palms, elbow, arms touching the floor absolutely. If you can’t do this, you likely have really poor core strength and a core integrated with your hips. Another test, but more advanced, is the ability to successfully do an Over Head Squat w/a PVC pipe. Failure to do this near perfectly indicates a lack of integrated core and/or hip/shoulder mobility problems.

If you can’t do any of the above to about 90% proficiency – than you need to work your mobility and flexibility first. I believe most CrossFit injuries are rooted in an athlete failing one of these issues and doing high-repetition, loaded exercises that expose any of the above deficiencies in basic movement mechanics. This doesn’t mean you can’t do complex elements, but they should be scaled (lighter weights, modified exercise movement patterns) or replaced by a totally different exercise. If you join a CrossFit Box and your Coach never evaluates your mobility in a similar fashion as above and/or stops you in an exercise pattern and identifies an issue related to above (if you have an issue) and offers you a way ahead to fix the dysfunction – well you need to be careful, you are likely on a path to get injured.

About Tom Mathis: United States Military Academy (USMA) Graduate; Army Veteran - Infantry Officer with Airborne and Ranger training; and Army Master Fitness Trainer Certification (1993); Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Enthusiast; Mountain Bike Boot Camp Instructor (2000-2006), and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer (2012); but most importantly husband, father, and working stiff.