Interview with Fitness Specialist Fred Fornicola

Fred Fornicola is a fitness specialist. He has been involved in the field of strength and fitness since 1976 and has authored hundreds of articles in numerous publications.

Fred Fornicola is a Fitness Specialist and the owner of Fit by Fred in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Fred has been involved in the field of strength and fitness since 1976 and has authored hundreds of articles in numerous publications, including Coach and Athletic Director, Hard Gainer, and Master Trainer. Fred co-authored the book Dumbbell Training for Strength and Fitnesswith Matt Brzycki. Fred was also the editor-in-chief for Strength and Fitness for a Lifetime: How We Train Now.

Tom: Fred, you’re a club owner, author, former bodybuilder, and active sport participant. You’ve trained athletes and non-athletes from age eight to eighty. You’ve run the gamut of practical applications of exercise modes, prescriptions, and training schedules. What do you see as the three most prominent flaws of the average trainee?

Fred: The three prominent flaws that come to my mind immediately are:

1) People tend to trust what they are told

2) They don’t always think for themselves

3) The get caught up into trends

Too many people take what they read or are told as gospel truth and follow it verbatim. Following along aimlessly is a recipe for disaster. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read or do what others are suggesting, quite the contrary. I think you should, but get as much information as you can. Read, analyze, experiment, evaluate, and individualize as much as you can, keeping in mind that it needs to fit your specific needs as a trainee. This is why trends, organizations, magazines, self-anointed fitness experts, and the like can cause more harm than good for today’s trainee. More people should take the time to read Eric Hoffer’s True Believer and they will gain a greater insight as to those responsible for and those who buy into mass movements. It’s applicable to today’s health and fitness as well as everyday life.

Tom: Training modes, optimal intensity, volume of work, schedule, exercises to match a person’s goal, and other factors. They must be considered for positive results. Is one more important than another?

Fred: All of the above are factors to be considered when developing a fitness program, but the one you didn’t mention is safety. Safety isn’t necessarily in reference to only exercise selection, but also performance of an exercise, utilization of the correct amount of intensity and frequency, and the proper amount of rest and sufficient nutrition to promote healing. This goes back to the fact that most trainees blindly follow along, especially if they are participating in a group class or have read about some training ideas. They have little or no regard for the possibility that they can be injured by choosing an exercise, protocol, training frequency, or some other variable they need to address on an individual level. And you don’t necessarily get hurt in the gym, as a buildup of repetitive incorrect training can lead to injury or illness outside the gym walls.

Tom: You have a concern about youth fitness and obesity rates. You actually wrote an excellent book about getting kids off their butts and moving. What drove you to address these issues?

Fred: My co-author, Matt Brzycki, and I each have a child and when we initiated the book, our kids were approaching their teens. As parents and fitness folks, we felt a personal and professional obligation to bring more attention to improving kids’ health and fitness. We recognized that the ever-growing issues of child obesity, diabetes, and depression were starting to run rampant with today’s youth and we felt compelled to write our book.

We also recognized that parents, coaches, trainers, and schools are all involved in helping get kids on the right path, so we directed a lot of our information towards both the kids and those guiding them. In our research we found matters worse than we had expected, showing kids with disease markers at a very young age. School systems are cutting physical education and today there is an overwhelming need to be connected to the electronic world, which has contributed greatly to ever-increasing sedentary lifestyles.

It’s interesting that more schools have cut back on physical education classes, failing to realize that not only are they contributing negatively to a child’s level of fitness, but they are hindering the improvement of learning skills. Dr. John Ratey wrote an interesting book entitled: Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain showing how exercise (specifically regarding aerobic activity) helped improve cognitive functions and learning.

Matt and I also created a certification program, primarily for teachers, coaches, and trainers. Interestingly enough, we had a school in Canada that used our certification program as a standardized test for their physical education and health classes with great success.

Tom: We have corresponded often over the past twelve years, and to be honest, Fred, often I go away from those encounters impressed, but scratching my head. Either I am an idiot or you are thinking beyond my capacity.

Fred: Geez, Tom, yes, you are an idiot at times, but I will admit I do think on a different plain quite often. I do try to have an open mind about everything. Coming from a philosophical and analytical thought process, I try to evaluate things and people from many angles. When I encounter something, whether I’m familiar with it or not, I try to look at it objectively. I look for its value and how I might implement it in my practice if it warrants it. I have strong feelings about my training philosophy, but I don’t shut down because someone is doing something I may not agree with or don’t understand. They could be doing something 180 degrees of what I do or recommend, but there still is something there I can learn from or appreciate. If anything, I can find camaraderie in someone who embraces what they believe in. My goal is to pick things apart for greater understanding, to shed some light on a situation to find a deeper reasoning, if there is one, and then share that with others.

Tom: One thing that stands out about your programming is tailoring training parameters to the goals of the individual. I know that sounds obvious, but you're ultra-inquisitive about the right fit. For example, you have stated "just being active" is good for some. Could you provide more insight into that seemingly simple recommendation?

Fred: Many people have argued for years over what is termed “exercise” versus "working out” versus “recreational activity” and a bunch of other technicalities. When it gets right down to it, people need to be active, period! The body does not know where a stimuli comes from, so if you are in the gym lifting weights or busting your ass moving rocks in your yard or running on a soccer field with your kids or riding your bike fast to get up a hill, your body is working. When people get caught up in a one-dimensional plane of exercise they lose sight of what’s going on and how the body and mind benefit. Those people tend to sit around and wait for their next scheduled workout and spend their time on discussion boards arguing over the superiority of their program and how everyone else is wrong for doing something different. That’s wasted time and narrow-minded thinking.

I have a saying that I share with all my clients when it comes to exercise: “A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.” Essentially, don’t get caught up in the minutia of training. A workout consisting of push ups, sit ups, and a two mile run can be the perfect prescription for someone on a given day, but let’s take some of these gimmicky infomercial workouts that require you to commit an hour a day, five days a week. I have spoken to people who made good progress on these programs. No surprise since previously they were using their bodies as a speed bump and never moved around, but now they have activity in their lives and have improved their health and fitness. But I pose this question to them, “If you don’t have an hour to do your program to day, what do you do?” The answer every single time is, “Nothing.” So it’s either an hour or nothing – that’s ridiculous in my opinion. We think we need to do a “workout” based on a specific time parameter, a certain amount of sets, or some other criteria, but that is following what others tell you is required versus you figuring it out for yourself.

Tom: In closing, what few suggestions can you offer to further assist these people with their training endeavors?

Fred: I can’t emphasize enough to figure it out for yourself. Yes, it’s great to get information, but the key is to apply it, observe it, and evaluate it. Don’t just do it because you are told to or because you need to belong to a group or organization. Be smart about your health – not just your training.

For more thoughts on the world of fitness from Fred, click here.

Photo 1 courtesy of Fred Fornicola.

Photos 2 & 3 courtesy ofShutterstock.