Thursday, February 21, 2013

Performing a Fitness SWOT Analysis

SWOT Analysis. Anyone who’s worked in the corporate world or taken an introductory business management class is probably familiar with this method of analyzing one’s strengths and weaknesses. Commonly used in business, the SWOT is a subjective look at the positive and negative internal factors of a company, as well as the positive and negative factors external to a company. The SWOT can help with goal setting, competitor analysis, marketing, and many other corporate planning strategies.

But the SWOT does not have to belong solely to the corporate domain! We can use the SWOT principles to analyze our own fitness landscape and provide a tool to help us reach our goals. Let’s take a look at each component of SWOT as it relates to fitness, health, and wellness. 
Fitness SWOT Analysis. K. McLaughlin (2013)

Strengths – A strength is a positive, internal factor – meaning something you control and inherent to you. These can be skills, talents, interests, or abilities. Some examples include: cooking, understanding basic nutritional concepts, playing tennis, muscular endurance, grip strength, time management skills. Questions to ask yourself include: 
      • What do you do well (in relation to health/wellness/fitness)?
      • What do others see as your strengths?
      • What behaviors/skills will contribute to your progress?

Weaknesses – A weakness is a negative, internal factor. This would be something that you need to improve upon or an area where you lack skill, knowledge, or ability. Some weaknesses could include: emotional eating, poor upper body strength, or poor stress management skills. Questions to ask yourself include:
      • What could you improve (in relation to health/wellness/fitness)?
      • Where do you have fewer resources (e.g. time, equipment, knowledge, experience)?
      • How can you overcome these?

Opportunities – An opportunity is a positive, external factor – meaning it’s outside of your control and exists in your environment. Opportunities could be people, events, or objects of motivation. Even an interest in something, such as group exercise classes or mixed martial arts, can be included. Some opportunities could include: a charity 5K you’d like to compete in, your best friend who consistently works out, your partner who supports your health initiatives, your personal trainer, a CrossFit gym you’re interested in trying out, a trusted health magazine that inspires/motivates/educates you. Questions to ask yourself include:
      • Who/what in your life motivates you & supports you to be healthier?
      • What interests you (types of exercise, cooking, nutrition)? What would you like to know more about?

Threats – A threat is a negative, external factor. “Threat” is a really harsh word, but in terms of our fitness analysis, let’s think of “threats” as deterrents to our fitness/health goals or something that thwarts our progress. It might even be something temporary in nature, such as bad weather or sickness that could prevent our normal workouts. Some threats could include: the office candy dish, the family member that “shows love” with their rich, buttery, sugar laden baking, 60-hr workweeks. Personally speaking, cupcakes are a huge threat for me! (Note that in our SWOT, the cupcake would not show up as a weakness, since it is not internal; it is an external object, making it a threat. Stress eating or eating out of boredom would be the behavioral weakness leading to the consumption of the cupcake threat.) Questions to ask yourself include:
     • What products, environments, or people could thwart your progress?
     • Can your strengths/opportunities overcome these?

How can you take all of this information and put it together to benefit you? 

1) Do you have a fitness, health, or wellness goal that you’d like to work toward? If so, complete a SWOT with that goal in mind. For example, let’s say you want to lose 10 pounds. What strengths and opportunities will help you reach that goal? Conversely, what weaknesses and threats do you need to be cognizant of so that they don’t sabotage your progress? Any health and fitness goal can benefit from a SWOT, whether it be performance based (e.g. running a half marathon), body-metric based (e.g. reduce fat mass, increase muscle mass, lose weight), or lifestyle based (e.g. eat 5 fruits/vegetables a day, improve stress management skills).

2) If you don’t have a fitness, health, or wellness goal in mind, you can complete a general health and fitness SWOT to determine your strengths and identify areas of improvement. This could then help you formulate a goal you want to work toward.

Whether you’re a novice exerciser or a competitive marathoner, everyone could benefit from thoughtful examination of fitness habits, strengths, and weaknesses. Have you performed a fitness SWOT? Please share your experience below!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Product Review: The Equalizer by Lebert Fitness

Equalizers in Pink
I had my own Black Friday fun last November, scouring fitness equipment websites for great deals on new and exciting "toys."  The two outcomes of that mission were my purchases of the Ultimate Sandbag and the Lebert Fitness Equalizer.

My main interest in the Equalizer was that it was a simple, portable piece of equipment that could help me train my upper body strength through chin-ups and vertical body rows. I was hesitant to spend $100+ on a piece of equipment that would only be useful for 2 exercises. But upon reviewing the website, I saw how functional these 2 simple bars could be. Watch the main video on that page and you'll be inspired by all the exercises that can be done with them.

The Equalizer arrives with the U-shaped bars, tools/materials necessary for assembly, assembly instructions, an instructional DVD with 2 sample workouts, and an exercise poster.

Product Assembly: You do have to attach the crossbar (or feet) to each U-shaped bar. All equipment and tools are provided in the box it's shipped in and total assembly time is approximately 10 minutes. It's best to assemble these on a smooth, flat surface so that you can ensure stability when you tighten the nuts/bolts. Ease of Assembly:  A

Product Quality: The Equalizer bars are very stable if used on a flat, smooth surface. There is a slight "rockiness" or instability when used on carpet. Other reviews that I read commented on this too. As far as the ability to support body weight, they are sturdy and durable and I feel they definitely support my weight (and could support more) when I do dips and push-ups on them. I do find it helpful to wear lifting gloves when using them, to prevent callouses. I am a huge fan of the fact that they come in the color pink. Since I bought mine, they also have debuted a lime green color, in addition to the original bright yellow. Quality Grade: B+

Product Education: The Equalizers come with an exercise poster and instructional DVD, and there are some free materials on the Lebert Fitness website.  However, compared to some other fitness equipment, the educational material and exercise differentiation provided by Lebert Fitness for the Equalizer is limited. You can find additional exercises and workouts via YouTube and by doing a general internet search. However, for the price of this equipment, one would hope to have more training available to maximize the usage and creativity with the Equalizer.  A novice to fitness might be fine with the basic dips, push-ups, squats, lunges, and chin-ups that are included in the instructional materials, but an intermediate or advanced user would easily get bored with these. Granted, a more advanced user may have the knowledge to implement their own exercises, but in my opinion, an innovative piece of fitness equipment is only as good as the training and education provided by the manufacturing company.  Education Grade:  C

Product Usage & Effectiveness: As I mentioned before, my main reason for investing in this equipment was to be able to mimic the movement of a chin-up, with a piece of equipment that had a small footprint and wouldn't have to attach to any house fixtures. I have been pleased with the ability to do chin-ups and vertical body rows, and there is ample ability to increase the complexity and challenge of these exercises as I make improvement. I also enjoy using the bars to stretch, for tricep dips, incline push-ups, and for agility exercises.  However, one must be careful on some agility exercises, as the slight instability of the bars could lead to injury. For example, there is an "over/under" move, where you jump over the bar, then immediately crawl back under it.  I tried this several times and without correct hand placement, your body weight when jumping over can easily tip the bars. Grade for Effectiveness as a Fitness Tool:  A

Summary: The Equalizer's best qualities are that it's portable, easy to store, and creates a virtual playground in your home gym. For the mere fact that I can now add chin-ups to my exercise routine without leaving my house, it was a good investment. However, what makes that investment better are the other exercises that can be done with the Equalizer. It would be beneficial for consumers if the company would add some more training/educational components to their product. I wouldn't recommend the Equalizer as a stand alone piece of training equipment without other pieces to support it and round out one's workout routine, but it is an excellent complementary tool in a fitness toolbox in one's home gym.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Product Review: Ultimate Sandbag

My beautiful PINK Ultimate Sandbag
As mentioned in previous posts, I quit the gym and instead work out on my own at home. Dumbbells and body weight exercises are great and can help one make significant improvement in strength and endurance, but sometimes they can be a bit boring. I'm always on the lookout for new, quality "toys" (aka - fitness equipment) that will fit in my home gym and help me continue to advance my fitness. I found one a few months ago: the Ultimate Sandbag (USB).

I did extensive research prior to purchasing a USB, because they aren't cheap. There are sandbag models available for half the price at the local sports store as well as through But the reviews of those consistently cited a problem with sand leakage and needing to duct tape the product after a handful of uses. The reviews of the USB NEVER mentioned leakage and after marinating on it a few days, I purchased the Ultimate Sandbag by Josh Henkin.  After using it for a month, I can say it is one of the best fitness investments I've made.

Product Quality: What is a USB? In simple terms, it's a very thick shell in the shape of a duffel bag, with a bunch of handles on all sides of the bag, with several "inner" shells that you fill with sand. (You provide your own sand - $3 for a 40 lb bag at the local home improvement store.) The inner shells have quality seams that are tightly stitched as well as a double velcro system. I've been throwing my bag around for a month now and not one grain of sand has leaked out. In case the inner shells do leak, the outer shell (the "duffel bag" part) has both a zipper and velcro closing, as well as very durable seams. You will not have any loose sand dripping from your USB! USB Quality Grade: A

Product Assembly: The USB arrives with the inner shells, outer shell, a training DVD with 6 workouts, a guide, and then an exercise poster. The instructions on filling and using your USB are easy to follow. Once you purchase your own sand, you carefully fill the inner bags, place them in the larger bag, zip it all up, and you're ready to work out in about 10 minutes. Ease of Assembly: A

Product Education: As mentioned above, you do get a DVD, instruction guide, and wall chart with the purchase of your USB.  Josh Henkin also has several other exercise DVDs and a book available for purchase on his site, which can help you learn USB exercises. But the BEST thing about the Ultimate Sandbag Training system is the FREE content Mr. Henkin provides on his website. Even if you don't purchase a USB, you still have access to blogs, articles, and videos to learn correct sandbag training form, sandbag training principles, and sandbag exercises/workouts. I personally subscribe to his email system and get approximately 3 emails a week with educational information on fitness and sandbags as well as video links to exercise demonstrations or sample workout routines. This is invaluable and in my opinion, what sets Mr. Henkin and the USB system apart from other sandbag products and even other fitness products! Education Grade: A+

Product Usage & Effectiveness: If you're interested in all the benefits of sandbag training, Mr. Henkin presents his case very well on his website. To sum it up, working with a dynamic resistance variable (i.e. the shifting, unpredictable weight of sand) calls on a host of muscles that we may not normally engage while working with a set, stable weight such as a dumbbell or barbell. This in turn enhances our stability and strength, especially in our core. The movements you can do with a sandbag are complex and involve multiple muscles and all body parts, enhancing muscular and cardiovascular endurance and increasing your heart rate while you exercise. Therefore, in one piece of equipment, you're able to train muscular strength and endurance, balance, and cardiovascular strength and endurance.

For example, here are my stats from a 40 minute sandbag workout using the Power Sandbag (with approximately 25 lbs of weight), which involved complexes of lunges, presses, planks, squats, rows, and deadlifts (all with various sandbag grips).
  • Total Calorie Burn:  436
  • Maximum Heart Rate: 171
  • Average Heart Rate: 133
  • Time in desired Training Zone (that day, I was shooting for 75%-85% HR): 24 minutes
Those numbers show that the the USB is not only a great tool for developing muscular strength, but that your heart will get a good workout too. Not to mention, it is fun! The varieties of exercises you can do with it are endless, as you can see from the website and the USB YouTube Channel. You won't get bored with your USB.

Grade for Effectiveness as a Fitness Tool: A+

Summary: The USB has been a valuable piece of equipment in spicing up my fitness routine and enhancing my workout progress. My core feels stronger and my strength & power have improved more than I expected in just one month. The USB could be a stand alone piece of equipment in your fitness routine, but I prefer to have it as one piece in my fitness toolbox. The USB is high quality and you'll get great support/education from the USB Team and Mr. Henkin. Depending on the size of sandbag you purchase, you will likely spend around $100 for this piece of equipment. But I do believe the durability and product support from the USB company is worth it. For more information and a look at the types of USBs available, be sure to check out .