Welcome to the Vibrant MD podcast, where we discuss weight loss, women's health, and food. I'm your host, Dr. Heather, a family doctor and certified weight loss coach. This podcast is informational but it's not meant as medical advice. Anything you want to change after listening should be discussed with your own doctor and personal medical team. I'm so glad that you're here with me today.
Hello, my vibrant friend. Thank you for joining me today on the podcast. I'm super excited to share with you today a coach, a gym owner Marcus Eckert. He and his wife own a CrossFit gym in Minnesota. Because it's January, everyone's thinking about workouts. CrossFit actually has some special benefits for people in midlife and beyond. That's why I wanted to ask Marcus to join us today. I heard him talk about functional fitness and getting stronger. I found it really intriguing and I thought you'd like to hear more about it too. So Marcus, welcome to the show.
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Anything else we should know about you before we get started?
I don’t think too much. My wife and I own a gym called Northbound Training in Little Canada, Minnesota, and we have two little kids. We are trying to find the balance of life, but we absolutely love what we do and are super thankful for the opportunity to get to do it.
I'll let listeners know, too, that at the end, we'll give you more specific information about Marcus' gym and the contact information will also be in the show notes if you're in Minnesota and want to know more. So, Marcus. You know, before we jump into why functional fitness is so important, CrossFit, a lot of us think about CrossFit as really muscly people, we see them on the internet, they do competitions but there's an element of functional fitness that's there that's really important, too, for everyone. Can you talk about that, please?
Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of times people visualize CrossFit as the same way we'd visualize something like the NFL. Most of our exposure is at the professional level. So when people are seeing CrossFit or they Google CrossFit, they often see the CrossFit games. They see professional athletes, people getting paid to do it. Sure, it's outstanding seeing the amount of muscle they have on their bodies and how physically fit they are. But this doesn’t always translate down to the everyday person in the everyday gym. We have a great number of people with some great muscle tone, some amazing bodies at our gym. Yet, on an average level, it's more like comparing Bob Warner than it is looking at the NFL. I think a lot of times people get a better representation actually going into a gym, rather than just browsing on the internet. CrossFit essentially involves constantly varying functional movement. It's about mixing it up as much as possible, but trying to make the movement pertinent to everyday life. When we look at the professional level, they're in competition. They're doing events, they're doing tests that are meant to put them into a ranking system. For the rest of us, it's just an everyday training methodology that we practice.
What's important about functional fitness when you're thinking about people at midlife and beyond?
Absolutely. When we talk about functional fitness, basically, we're talking about movements that translate to everyday life. You know, having big biceps was super important for me in college or performing at the highest level of my sport in high school however, when we're specifically talking about functional movement, we're talking about things that carry over into just everyday life. Now that I'm in my 30s or in my 40s, and working with people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, it's about our ability to perhaps get up off the floor, our ability to pick up our kids, or one of the most demanding things in our life is moving a car seat around. How do we work with moving loads? How do we control our body? So while aesthetics might be a certain part of it in terms of fitness or performance might be a certain part of it in terms of fitness, really what we're looking for in functional movement is just moving better through our everyday life or as we like to put it, doing the common uncommonly well.
That's wonderful. I remember some things you mentioned when I heard you speak about this, like, in some areas of Minnesota, you have to have a water softener because the water is so hard. So, you have to carry those bags. You talked about things like getting up, sitting down, and feeling strong doing that. Those are the kind of things I think about when you say that.
Yeah, and kind of working with an older population of people, I think those things become more prevalent because it starts to be in a realm of, like, can you do it or can you not do it? It starts to become a little bit of an ultimatum. Here in my thirties, or, you know, working with people as they're aging into their forties and fifties, the less we have to think about that stuff, the better off we are. So, unfortunately, with functional movement, it's not as simple as saying 'Six months ago I squatted this, and today I can squat this.' It, it can break down to just, 'can you pick up your bag of salt? Can you go outside and shovel. Can you take care of your yard? Can you pick up your kids or pick up your grandkids?' A lot of times, life creates more ultimatums than it does with progression. So the less that we have to think about those things as we age, the better off we are. We don't want those things to become daunting tasks, we want them to be just things that we can do in everyday life.
Nice, nice. You know, there was a big social media trend last year where people were talking about how you'll live longer if you can get up off the floor without using your hands or without placing a knee down. And there was a lot of debate about that. But then when I was watching that Netflix Blue Zones documentary where they were talking about the people that live the longest. And they had people in Japan who sit on the floor frequently and get up and down frequently. I thought, gosh, you know, now that my youngest is a teenager, do I get down on the floor all that often myself? I don't know. What do you think about that whole getting up and being able to get up off the floor issue?
Yeah, I would say it's just one factor of, like I was saying before, kind of these ultimatum issues, like, if you don't go down, can you get back up? Or can you still purposely go down to the floor? Our six month old, or I should say nine months now, is learning how to crawl. And so we see this progression of life where I have these young kids, and I'm also working with these older, what we would call athletes, and sometimes the degree of our need can vary, but really it's just something where we're learning that similar progression, it's just how able are you to actually do them. So yes, hopefully my nine month old will learn how to crawl quickly and continue to progress, but if we lose the ability to do that in our fifties or in our sixties or in our seventies, as we age into the later parts of our life, we need some of those skills to be able to continue to function independently or to be able to, as I said before, go through our daily tasks. So while our ability to get up off the floor would relate to our strength to body weight ratio, it doesn't necessarily measure our overall fitness, but it's definitely a huge part of it. So if someone has the ability, what that says to me is that they can control their body through space, they have the strength to move their own body weight. Most likely they're not struggling with preparing the food they need, or getting a drink when they need it, or going to the bathroom when they need it. And so, these kind of balls start to roll in one direction, where if I'm able to continuously do the things that I need to do, whether it's as simple as going to the bathroom, getting a drink, eating my food then it can translate to greater health in a greater amount of time. And if I start to, stop to lose my ability to do those things, well now the ball starts rolling the other way.
Yeah, and I even think about people in terms of 'are you fragile or not fragile?' Are you moving toward being more fragile or are you maintaining your strength? Yeah, when you talk about those things.
Yes. It's fascinating. I have two classes back to back that I run. One is training with basically 12-year-old high-level athletes. Then the next class is working with predominantly people that are in their later sixties, mid-seventies, and potentially even early eighties. And it's hilarious how the programming a lot of times will be very similar in movement. But it varies a lot in the degree by which we train it. So with my young kids, part of the goal is to build explosive power and to build strength and to build their base as they move into their teens and hopefully through the middle part of their life too. But with the older demographic, we're doing a lot of similar ranges of motion, just training the movements very differently. So while it's not for power or for high-end strength or for explosiveness, we're shifting more towards the balance aspect to it or the coordination aspect to it so they can continue to do those ranges of motion as they go through the rest of their life.
One of the things I think is cool about what you do as well is, there was a point where I noticed it was hard, I have a cast iron pan, and it was hard for me to lift it with food in it all of a sudden. And even though my arm was strong enough, all those little muscles in my wrist and forearm were like, everything couldn't work together enough to get it with one hand anymore.
Yeah. And that's really what we talk about when we're talking about functional movement is that type of stuff. So what is my ability to actually pick up certain weights? Unfortunately, we run into a lot of issues with specific joints. So there might be some movements where we need to really focus, or there might be some individuals where we need to focus around a specific joint for them, whether it be their wrists or their elbows or their knees. And that is a great realm to dive into kind of prehab and rehab type stuff. But it really does come down to how are we developing the musculature around the system because we all have imbalances. We all have weaknesses in our body. It's just our ability to actually identify first and then address those things so that hopefully something like working with a cast iron pan or something similar, we can not have to think about those things, not have a challenge when we're facing them.
Yeah. So I have to bring this up that women in their 50s were teenagers in the 1980s. And it was very cool to be fit then, but everyone was worried about bulking up and looking like a, you know, like only bodybuilders were supposed to bulk up, otherwise women, it was considered masculine to bulk up and I just want to bring that up, for now, for women who are in their 50s and 60s now, what do you think about that?
For someone who didn't get to live through the 70s and 80s, I don't exactly have a great picture of what the media was producing at that time. But first off, when people talk about bulking, I think it's more of a figment of their imagination than a reality. And the reason why I say that is because for people that truly bulk up, and what we're talking about there is putting on like sizable mass in terms of musculature and likely a little bit of fat as well, because it's going to be easier in terms of bulking up if the body's going in one direction so if we're working with a caloric surplus and training in a way that we're working very heavy lifts and likely increasing our protein amount to a fairly extreme degree. It takes a lot, a lot of work and dedication in order to do that. It's not just like, I lifted a dumbbell and now I'm going to bulk up. And I think sometimes people get the wrong idea when it comes to that, that if they just start lifting weights or if they join a gym, or if they start doing CrossFit, that they're potentially going to bulk and it, it takes a lot more factors than that. Many, many, many more factors. So I, I think it was probably something that was a little bit more kind of narrative driven at the time, that if women start lifting weights, they're going to bulk up quickly, when in reality there is likely very little worry about that happening. In fact, I would probably argue that at that time the pictures of women bulking up were probably not very natural causes at that time from what I know about the bodybuilding world of the 70s and 80s. And to be honest, if, if those people who are now in their 50s and 60s are still worried about those things. And are able to find a way that they're putting on a ton of muscle mass, I would love to talk to them because that would be a bit of a anomaly in the space. But really I think the definition comes down to why do we want muscle on our body? And, like I said before, muscle is the greatest factor in terms of controlling our strength to body weight ratio. And so if we can get rid of this stigma in our head of being lean or bulk, and we just talk about putting muscle on our body, what we're talking about is building strength. And strength, like we talked about before, allows us to get through our life in an easier fashion, but it also helps and is maybe one of the main catalysts in our ability to burn fat as well. So, when people are talking about being afraid of putting on muscle or bulking up, really what they might be doing is actually limiting themselves and their ability to, A, get through everyday life, and B, potentially burn fat that's on their body. So here, in my 30s one of the biggest factors for me is to try to continuously put on lean body mass, because I know that if I'm able to put on lean body mass now, it'll be much easier as I get into later stages of my life when it becomes much harder that I'll be able to manage my body weight as best as possible. Typically that correlation is very direct with people. But it's also trying to make sure the framework is right in our head of being strong to accomplish tasks of everyday life rather than thinking about being strong in terms of, potentially how we look or whether we're lean or whether we're bulky. Because ultimately there's a huge predisposition with that in terms of how we're actually going to put on muscle on our body. From a genetic standpoint, it's very hard to go one direction or the other. And then we're getting into kind of quick twitch, slow twitch, and how the muscle fibers actually rebuild themselves. And. That's a very hard thing to change from one direction or the other. So to kind of sum up, I think women, especially in their fifties and sixties should be very concerned with their ability to put on muscle. But not for the reasons that they might think. Rather, they should be super concerned at that age about having the strength to continuously move through everyday life. Because as that starts to deteriorate and as that starts to break down, like I said before, it's a very hard trend to reverse. Not that it can't be, but as we age, it makes it more and more difficult to try putting on more and more strength.
I appreciate you saying that because I want, you know, that fear is real. And I wanted to just bring that up because so many people have it. In fact, I was talking to my dad about lifting weights, told him I was lifting, you know, I just had been lifting some weights and talked to him and he was like, oh my gosh, you're not going to gain muscle weight? And I was like, wow, that was just such a thing and it's still like a thought in our brains. It's sitting there.
Yeah. It's amazing how it's just so prevalent in, you know, back to kind of the CrossFit at the professional level. If there's anything that CrossFit has done on a professional level, it’s to highlight, especially women and their ability to be strong and be fit and accomplish that. And it's not that the men aren't amazing either, it's just that, for the most part, that already existed in many other sports. You know, we have the NFL, we have the NBA, we have these amazing high-level competitions of billion-dollar industries. But the cool thing about CrossFit is that it puts those playing fields on equal levels on the men's and women's side of the equation. Which is really cool. And to be honest, there isn’t really any other sport that I follow where this is the case. Like when my wife and I watch the CrossFit games or watch the different levels of competition, it's just as fascinating to watch either side because the times are very similar, and the repetitions are very similar, the domains and the modalities are very, very similar between the men's and women's field, it's just that the scales might be slightly different. So the weights might be a little bit different, or the total repetitions might be a little bit different. So it is cool to see like an equal playing field. And even on the programming side of it when I'm programming for our gym in everyday life, a lot of times it's very equal in terms of scoring or time or repetition between men's and women's because the scale exists there. To put us on equal playing fields, which is really, really cool and allows me to compete alongside my wife occasionally when we get to do that or just work out next to her every day, which is super cool.
Again, reassurance to all of you listening, lifting weights is going to help you get stronger. It is highly unlikely to make you bulk up. Go ahead and acknowledge that that fear is in the back of your brain somewhere from your teenage years, and just let it pass.
You know, I've been reading how human bodies in general start to lose some muscle mass as early as late 30s and 40s. But also a lot of our listeners are perimenopause, menopause and beyond, and there's even more muscle wasting at that time. To me, that says that all women in midlife and beyond should be doing some strength training. What do you think about that?
Exactly. The body's going through extremes, right? So as we age like I said before, it becomes just a bit of a challenge. Although I don't know that there's anything we can do other than the same things that I'm doing now in my early thirties. Let's just say maintaining my fitness. There's nothing that I would change now as I get to 40 or 50 or 60, other than having to kind of double down on a lot of those factors and, you know, thankfully I never get to experience menopause, but having walked alongside several who have or are in it right now, during that time, I would say that double down should be more of a triple down. Your sleep becomes a greater factor, your nutrition becomes a greater factor, your ability to work out and, and try to dial in your fitness becomes an even greater factor. Because ultimately it comes down to what's in your control, and what's not in your control. And yes, going through menopause, there's a lot that's not in your control. But there are factors within your control that can hopefully ease us through the process a bit better. Having gone through a few pregnancies now, having had our second kid and getting to live through those pregnancies with my wife and watching what has happened to her body before and during and after, that same factor would be true. Her body is going through extremes to support another human life form within. And so there is a lot that we need to change on the fitness aspect of it, but at the same time we want to try to maintain as much fitness through the process as possible. A lot of times it comes down to listening to your body and what it's feeling given a certain stimulus that it's put under because like with pregnancies, there's no path that's exactly the same. And even in my wife's case, no pregnancy that was exactly the same. Having both of our kids, the first one, she felt a certain way in certain movements, the second one, she felt a certain way in certain movements, and it wasn't as cut and dry as just saying 'Oh, we're doing the same thing over again, we need to make the same adjustment.' In fact, her squatting versus her hinging pattern made a huge difference. So, when we dial in those factors of life, our sleep, our nutrition, our fitness and then our relationships with that, it helps us be more in tune with kind of what's going on with our body too. And hopefully we can listen to those factors a little bit better so that. You know, when I'm feeling down one day, I can look back and say, 'Oh, I've been sleeping poorly the past couple of days, or I've been eating poorly the past couple of days.' And hopefully that's a wake-up call to adjust some of those things. So like I said before, thankfully I don't get to live through menopause, but there are controllable factors that can hopefully help us manage through the process as best as possible and fitness is just as important as working on those other areas of life. Because it's going to put us in just a better realm from a hormonal standpoint, from a routine standpoint, and hopefully improve our sleep and improve our nutrition and improve our hydration alongside that. So it's kind of this idea back to the rising tide raises all ships. That's just one area that we want to look in and make sure that we're trying to balance as much of those life factors as we can because the body's going through some extremes during that time, and as much as we can manage it the better off we'll be.
Great, great. Thank you. So CrossFit is theoretically for everyone, but all gyms are not the same, right? I have a friend who was a college gymnast. She looks like the Olympic gymnast and she says, you know, they walk handstands across the floor and they don't scale anything at her gym. They're different ones. So how do we find out what's a good fit gym for us if we want to, if we're curious about trying CrossFit?
For sure. The point of being a CrossFit gym is that you are tying into being affiliated with CrossFit. So that's both from a methodology standpoint, but also from an affiliation standpoint. CrossFit gyms are all supported by the top level, which is CrossFit HQ. So there should be a lot of similarities in what we're all preaching in terms of the methodology and hopefully the level of coaching, but ultimately, it's hard to say what your experience is going to be until you actually step foot in the gym. When I think about what's going to make a gym experience the best it really does come down to the community and the coaching aspect. On the community aspect, are you alongside people that are going to be engaged with you, that are going to help you along the way? There are communities that have more of a competition vibe, there are communities that have more of just an everyday general fitness vibe, and ideally, there's a balance somewhere in both. Neither one is a negative thing, but it's really about what more of the focus for the gym or for the business is. On the coaching side, hopefully you're finding someone who really does care about all of those factors of life that we were talking about before because if they care about what's going on at home and how you're sleeping and how you're eating, they're sure going to care about what's going on with your body inside the gym as well. From a coaching standpoint, we're trying to optimize movement within the gym as best as possible so that you can optimize movement outside of the gym as well. And it really comes down to getting to know individual athletes. What their backgrounds are. Whether they've been a gymnast or whether they've been a football player or whether this is their first time ever doing a fitness regimen, because while the workouts are going to change and scaling, they're not going to necessarily change drastically in what we're doing. The more we get to know our athletes, the better we can customize for them to decide how they're going to get the most out of this workout. And for working with super high-level athletes, that might be a greater degree of challenge, whether it's the weight or the repetitions of the movement. And in working with people who are just trying to maintain their fitness for everyday life. That might just be getting them in the door and getting them sweating and moving around a little bit. So hopefully the versatility in the gyms comes down to your ability to actually adapt to whatever athlete comes in your door. But it's hard to say what gym is going to offer what until you actually get within those doors and meet the coaches and meet the community. But you should be able to tell pretty quick too.
And I would even say it's worth making a phone call and saying, 'I'm a 49-year-old woman and I want to get back into working out and haven't done anything for 15 years, 20 years' if that, if that's your situation. You'll be able to tell from that phone call if it's a place to come in and visit or if they're like, 'Oh, well, I'm not sure.'
And that's to say, gyms can do both very well. They can work on the competitive side with athletes and they can work with everyday people. Just hopefully you can tell when you go in those doors that there is the versatility element there. Versus just a focus on one direction or the other.
Yeah, nice. Because you do, you do it very well because you obviously, you know, work with pre-teens and work with some people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who are trying to get some more functional fitness, along with competitions and everyday fitness people and people who just want to get stronger. So your gym does quite a lot of diverse things.
Yeah, absolutely. And like I said before, I, I think it comes down to having a balance so that you understand that, you know, we've had it tends to be kind of a trend of, we have ladies that have kids kind of all in bunches and, and we have some moms that are just a few months postpartum that are coming back, or we have some moms that are in the middle of their pregnancies too. And then we have people kind of later in life in their forties and in their fifties, who are maybe competing or maybe working out for the first time. So when you have those varying degrees of, you know, 12 year olds and 80 year olds, you see the whole spectrum of life. And it really does float my boat. Like it really does create a passion. You know, what's the challenge of working with someone who's top 200 fittest athletes in North America versus kids that are just learning how to move their bodies, but have great control of it already versus trying to extend our independence as long as possible. That's what gets me up in the morning. And it's cool. Like I said before, it would be surprising to people how much of those movements are very similar. Just the varying degrees of intensity.
So tell us more about your gym in particular. We've talked a lot about the philosophy and, and what you guys do there, but tell us where you are, how people can find you. And like I said, we'll make sure this is all in the show notes, so that people can click in and find you with phone numbers and addresses and everything.
Right. So Northbound Training, we opened up November 1st of 2020. So kind of right in the midst of the pandemic. We shut down for a little bit and then we were able to open back up full time basically starting 2021. And it's really been a passion project for my wife and I to grow our community, to get to know people on a very personal level, and then also to get to walk alongside life with them for potentially the past three years or beyond for those that we've worked with a bit longer. We love fitness, we love that we get to lead others through it, and I don't think I would really want to do anything else because it's just way too much fun to find something else. We're located in Little Canada, which is just on the northeast side of St. Paul kind of directly north out of St. Paul, located off a couple of different highways, so pretty easy to get to. We train anybody from young kids all the way up to 80 or beyond. And really it's about finding the right program for you, so some of those outliers are a bit smaller group sessions, so I do some more group training besides just our standard classes and really that's about it. Having those programs being a bit more tailored to those specific athletes whether it's a little bit of an older crew or whether it's a little bit of a younger crew or middle of the road, there's definitely a program that's available for anybody that wants to come in the door. We try to create as versatile a gym as we can so anything from the barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, to the turf, runners, rowers, sandbags, and everything in between. And again, it's really just because we love fitness and we love to try new things and do new things and push our bodies to the degree that they can so that we continue to be fitter, continue to be healthier but also keep a balance of life because, like I said before, we're walking alongside others along the way. For more information, you're welcome to check out our website, northboundtraining.com, or follow us on Instagram at northboundtraining. We try to stay up to date as much as we can on those things, but that's a great way to get in contact with us too, either through our website or through our social media.
And if people are brand new to gym life, you guys do an onboarding program, right? So people can assess their fitness and aren't just thrown into a class.
Yes, if people's goal is to get into regular membership and get into everyday classes, which we offer five a day, then we take them through an onboarding process of working one on one, of going through the whole range of movement and the focuses that you would see in class. And it's also a good time for us to get to know people a bit better and their history and any injuries they might deal with or things from their past that might flare up. So it really is a great way to start just working one on one with somebody, but even before that, If people just want to do a free intro and see the space, get a tour, get to know myself or my wife, or one of our other coaches, then free intros are a great way to just get started too. Great!
Well, thank you so much for sharing all this. I think this functional fitness idea and also the muscle training is so important at Midlife and Beyond. I appreciate you sharing your expertise with our listeners today, Marcus.
Absolutely happy to.