Interviewing 1980s style not Pc but effective !!

 I opened the palatial doors  of the CJ Coles Executive Recreation  on Little Bourke Street in Melbourne and was greeted by a distinguished looking bloke, about 6 feet in height , gray hair in his mid-50’s who seemed in reasonable shape albeit with a slight beer drinkers paunch common to Aussie men of his age. I immediately sensed by his confident manner and slightly limping gait that he was probably an ex Aussie Rules footballer.

 Mike James? he asked extending his hand. “Yes Mr. Leehane, pleased to meet you” I replied 

“The names Tom, not Mister you think I look like that bloody TV horse Mr.Ed”, I might smell like a horse but the names Tom from now on Ok?” he replied

Somehow he said all of this with a slight smile in his voice that got his point across in a half aggressive, half joking manner.  It was a trait I had seen in many irascible Aussie blokes of his age so I was not taken aback at all. With his approach I also sensed he was like me, from Melbourne’s rough and ready Western Suburbs.

Tom then proceeded to show me around the facility which was quite lavish for its time with a table tennis area, well equipped gym, mini golf driving and putting area, executive lounge and Male changing room. 

“No women’s change room Tom?  I asked.

“No Coles doesn’t have any women executives, so that probably decreases your interest by about 100 per cent’ Tom replied. 

“Not at all Tom, I’m such a professional I never let business mix with my social life” I quipped sarcastically.

 “Oh please tell me another one” he replied with a mock groan of disbelief. “I was a young bloke once too ya know “

With the tour over we then sat down in the lounge area for the formal interview.  Leehane didn’t waste any time

“You’re a fit looking bugger no doubt about that, but what’s with the beard and longhair are you a surfie or a hippie? I can’t work out what the bloody hell you are?”

 I could sense he was trying to see if I had a sense of humor so I decided to reply in kind. “I’m actually hoping to start a career in pornographic movies” I replied.

 That must have struck a chord because Tom immediately burst out laughing but within 5 seconds adopted a stern poker face


“ You ought to be ashamed of yourself you realize you a talking to a God fearing catholic who has a wife and seven kids don’t you !”

 Rather than apologize I decided to take the game up to him’

 Well I’m a Catholic too Tom,  but my mum married a Mason and after 4 kids, me being the last and a birth weight of 10 lbs., she said enough was enough and shut up shop ! 

“Your dad’s a Mason? Tom replied with mock indignation

 “Was, he died about 15 years ago” I replied.

Within an instant Tom changed his tone ‘Oh sorry to hear that Mike, how is your Mum keeping now, financially I mean is she ok?” he asked.

“Yeah she’s comfortable. Fortunately Dad was a war veteran and she is pretty well set up for a pension and medical benefits. She’s not wealthy by any means but ok financially.”I explained 

 That’s good so your still at home he asked 

“Yep I am actually Tom” I replied

“Yes your mum shouldn’t be left on her own.  As long as you don’t try to bring any of your porno starlets home you shouldn’t annoy her too much I imagine.” he said.

           While I was busy laughing and trying to think of a smart arse reply he changed tack again “So if you’re a Catholic where did you go to school? he asked.

“St Bernard’s college West Essendon Tom” I replied

“Typical I should have known, another smart-arse Essendon bastard… you follow them in the footy I hope” he asked.

I later found out that Leehane had played for Essendon in the early 1950’s, so my next comment was bound to get a reaction

“No I follow Collingwood Tom” I replied waiting for the inevitable barrage of abuse we Collingwood supporters  have become accustomed to over many years

“Bloody hell a porn star who barracks for Collingwood I don’t know which is worse. Then again better than half the other derelicts and pick pockets they have following them” he said while shifting uncomfortably in his seat and wincing at the mere mention of Collingwood, Essendon’s mortal enemy for over 50 years

  Sensing a no win situation I tried for a quick change of topic

“Where did you go to school Tom?

  “In bloody East Brunswick if it’s any of your business you nosey bastard!” he replied

           Oh Coburg, you mean that big sandstone building on Bell Street? Pentridge Prison?   Luckily for me he laughed at that too.

  “That’s where you’ll end up one day for murder ya cheeky bastard. Your jokes are killing me for starters” he replied

  “Speaking of pains in the arse like yourself, I’ve been having this hamstring problem Mike, will stretching help that you reckon?”  Tom asked grabbing the back of his leg with a grimace.


 I then launched into a mini lecture on the importance of flexibility, static and ballistic stretching techniques etc. all of which he listened to intently, asking questions along the way about duration and intensity. Relevant questions that made me realize this bloke more than he lets on.


“You certainly seem to know your stuff Mike”, Tom replied.  “Now along with your studies in Phys Ed I understand your also working part time at other places right?  Yes correct Tom, 2 fitness clubs and a local Company 10 minutes’ walk away from here that has a small gym “I replied.

“Ok, so with all of your studies and experience what’s the most important thing you have learned?   He asked.  “Well I think it’s all about communication Tom, you can have all the book knowledge in the world but if you can’t talk to people at all levels and don’t like people what use is it? 

Tom listened intently and then rather abruptly stood up and said “Well look we are looking for new staff at a gym we are building for our staff  just across the road in the Leviathan building in about 8 weeks’ time are you interested or what?”


“Well yes if you will have me.” I replied

Well you’re the first Phys Ed studying bastard who isn’t up himself and you have at least some semblance of humor so I’ll call you back in 6 weeks,” he replied


“Sounds good to me Tom, any chance you could go missing for a half hour so I can see what’s worth knocking off here.” I said with a sly look over my shoulders that would have made my Irish convict forebears smile with pride and my Christian brother’s teachers wince with embarrassment.

 “Yeah I’ll have to bloody start counting the golf balls now. See you in 6 weeks Mike.” Tom said while shaking my hand goodbye

 I was very happy.  I had never experienced a job interview like this before. In our 30 minute meeting Tom Leehane had found out about my family background, where I was from, interests, sense of humor, fitness expertise and communication style all in an informal setting.  I sensed that this bloke named Tom Leehane would become one of the most influential people in my life.

For the first time I actually began to discern an answer to my eternal question.

What the f#$% was I going to do with my life? 

Now suddenly on this beautiful Melbourne Summers day in 1980 I was certain Tom Leehane, GJ Coles and Corporate Fitness were all going to be a big part of the answer.






Mind Mapping for planning, goal setting and creativity !

Featured TBLI 
–  Michael James aka Aussie Mike

A nice piece on my association with the late great Tony Buzan , creator of the mind mapping process and my role as an accredited Buzan mind mapping instructor. Send me a message if you would like to learn more about how to use Mind Mapping techniques for business planning, goal setting and as a creativity tool.


Facebook – Mike James

Twitter – @aussiemikejames

Instagram – Aussie Mike

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About Me

My first experience with mind mapping was at a workshop I attended at the Disney Institute in Orlando Florida in 2008.  Mind Mapping was mentioned as one of the best methods to invoke creative thinking. I was immediately attracted to a number of the key elements of mind mapping including the use of different colours, images, flowing curvilinear connections emanating from a central idea and branches for related ideas. 

All of this seemed to me to be a far more effective use of creativity compared to other methods like brainstorming.  So after further investigation and reading some of Tony Buzan’s books I immediately started using mind mapping for both my work and professional life.  Indeed mind mapping became an integral part of my daily life not only for creative tasks but also for meetings, personal goal setting and even the routine tasks of management like yearly staff evaluations, marketing plans etc.

Suffice to say mind mapping was definitely the best tool I had at my disposal and contributed significantly to my successful career as General Manager of the World Bank Fitness Centres and as a freelance speaker and writer.

For me the effectiveness of mind mapping was clearly demonstrated in 2 ways.

1)  Audience Feedback from my presentations at National Fitness Industry conferences always mentioned mind mapping as the key learning takeaway for future use.

2) I was recently informed that nearly 18 months after my retirement at the World Bank my use of mind mapping was mentioned multiple times as the most effective marketing and meeting tool by staff I had previously managed.

There is no doubt that mind mapping will continue to be a major part of my daily activities during my semi-retirement and future consulting , speaking and writing goals.

My connection to Tony

I first met Tony Buzan albeit very briefly after he spoke at a one day workshop in New York City in 2009.

Our next meeting was of a more personal nature in September 2014 when I attended the TLI accreditation in New York.  After introducing myself to the group and mentioning that I was very big boxing fan and had taught the skills for fitness programs for many years Tony made a point of seeking me out. To my surprise he too was a big Boxing fan.

In our discussion we discussed how Muhammad Ali was ahead of his time in using visualisation as a key part of his success. Tony also mentioned in passing that Great Britain had a very promising young Heavyweight named Anthony Joshua who he predicted would soon become heavyweight Champion of the World. 

Sure enough a little over 2 years later Tony’s wisdom shone through as Anthony Joshua duly became World heavyweight Champion of the World.

As analogous as it may seem, boxing perhaps the most deleterious of sports for brain health was a bonding agent in my relationship with the great Tony Buzan.

My plans for the next 12 months

Since my retirement from Full time employment in December of 2017 I have been working extensively with Parkinson’s patients at Virginian Outpatient therapy  teaching boxing classes.  My goal is to introduce mind mapping as a creative tool to aid in their rehabilitation and mind therapy program.

I also plan to commence writing a book I have planned on my experiences Managing Corporate Fitness Centres in Australia and the USA.

Send me a message if you would like to learn more about how to use Mind Mapping techniques for business planning, goal setting and as a creativity tool.

Can you be fat but fit? The case of Andy Ruiz Jr.,the new World Heavyweight Boxing Champion

By Mike James


The recent boxing match where World Heavyweight Champion Anthony Joshua, the archetype muscular mesomorph with broad shoulders, bulging biceps, slim 6 pack adorned waist and clearly defined  musculature was knocked out by portly Any Ruiz Jr. has left many people scratching their heads in disbelief. Ruiz has a physique the polar opposite of Joshua, with an ample waistline more indicative of consuming six packs rather than training for them and a bulky torso not normally associated with athletic endeavors especially competing for the World Heavyweight Championship.

How does the epitome of Fighting Fitness, Anthony Joshua, get comprehensively beaten by a portly pugilist like Any Ruiz Jr. who is 4 inches shorter and 20 lbs. heavier?

How is this possible? Doesn't a slim body guarantee superior fitness levels? Isn't a large waistline and a lack of muscular definition indicative of a slothful lifestyle and poor fitness level?

And this doesn’t just happen for athletes. Maybe you can relate to the following scenarios

You are pounding away the miles on a treadmill at the local gym. The sweat is glistening on your muscular torso; you are breathing hard and feeling good. You look at the person on the machine next to you. He is far from svelte, downright chubby in fact, but to your surprise they are running much faster than you.

Fifteen minutes later after you finish your run, cool down, stretch and shower, you find he is still running and is not half as breathless as you were.

Or maybe you've trained for months for a local fun run. You've watched your diet and body-fat levels and decked yourself out in the latest trendy sports gear, only to find you are beaten over the line by a pudgy bloke in a baggy sweat-shirt and shorts that barely cover his ample buttocks.

How can this be? Doesn't appearance count for something? How can Anthony Joshua with his Greek God like physique be knocked out by a pudgy, pugilist like Andy Ruiz Jr.

Again, doesn’t a slim body guarantee a superior fitness level? Aren’t a large waistline and a lack of muscular definition indicative of a slothful lifestyle and poor fitness level?

Not according to recent research from respected fitness industry experts Dr. Glenn Gaesser, professor of exercise physiology at the University of Virginia, and Dr.Stephen Blair, director of research at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas. Doctor Gaesser says we have been conditioned to view health and fitness in strictly black and white terms. "We think a fat body cannot possibly be fit and healthy -which implies that "lean" is inherently good and "fat" is inherently bad. This is an overly simplistic view that does not stand up against a substantial amount of medical and scientific evidence."

Various studies have shown that thin people do not necessarily live longer, nor are they necessarily the healthiest. And no measure of body weight or body fat can be related to a particular degree of coronary blood vessel disease.

In 1996, researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics, and Cornell University, analyzed dozens of published reports on the impact of body weight on death rates of 350,000 men and 250,000 women. They found that during follow up periods lasting up to 30 years, "moderate obesity" -no more than about 22.5 kilograms in excess of so called ideal body weight -increased the risk of premature death only slightly in men and not at all in women.

Doctor Gaesser points out that height/weight charts do not account for heavily muscled individuals even when they categorize them into small, medium and large frames. Rather than height/weight tables, obesity is now measured in terms of a person's body mass index (BMI). But this is not infallible either. It is also possible for a healthy, muscular athlete with very low body fat to be classified obese using the BMI formula.

Your BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters. A "healthy weight" is considered to be between 20-25, up to 29.9 overweight, and one 30 or above obese.

Dr. Steven Blair agrees that the focus on weight loss is wrong. "Healthy bodies come in all shapes. We need to stop hounding people about their weight and encourage them to eat healthful diets and exercise. There is a misdirected everybody obsession with weight and weight loss. It is fitness that is the key."

So does this mean we should ignore all the warnings and just eat and drink to our hearts' content with no worry about future health consequences? No, well certainly not without regular exercise and healthy diet. "An overweight person who is fit can be just as healthy, and live as long as a lean, fit person," Blair says.

According to Gaesser, the Hollywood fueled obsession with obtaining a lean body and the desire for weight loss at any  cost, is one of the major reasons people discontinue their exercise program. "Stopping an exercise program due to perceived failure to reach a particular weight loss or body-fat goal, results in all the exercise and fitness benefits being lost as well. Yo-yo fitness is becoming as common as yo-yo dieting, where people's weight fluctuates markedly with potential dire consequences for their metabolism and overall health."

Not everybody agrees. Respected researchers like Dr. June Stevens, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, feel that "Just being slender is not enough and just being fit is not enough. In order to enjoy the best life expectancy you need to be both."

"The latest science is quite clear that excess weight can carry considerable health risks, including a higher risk for heart attack and stroke," says Dr. Jorge Plutzky, director of preventive cardiology at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. 

Researchers like Gaesser and Blair are attempting to shift the focus away from unattainable body shapes to overall fitness.  Your genetics plays a huge part in determining your physique and body shape.

Not every man has a Mr. Universe skeletal structure with broad muscular shoulders tapering down to a 30-inch waist, nor does every woman have the long slender legs and perfect curves of a supermodel. Improved Fitness should be the goal, whatever your shape or size.


There is a difference between being fat and being obese. Obesity is defined as having a body-mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. The health consequences of obesity range from a number of non-fatal complaints that affect quality of life -such as respiratory difficulties, musculoskeletal problems, skin problems and infertility complaints that may lead to premature death.

Obesity is known to increase a person's risk of diabetes, stroke, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and kidney and gallbladder disorders. It may increase the risk for some types of cancer and is also linked to the development of osteoarthritis and sleep apnea. New Dutch research found obesity in adulthood is associated with a decrease in life expectancy of about seven years -similar to that associated with smoking.

A word on Joshua v Ruiz

John Ruiz is not the only example of a heavyweight Champion possessing a less than svelte physique. George Foreman in his second incarnation (1987-1997) carried significantly more bulk and bodyfat and Larry Holmes champion from 1978-1983 while not as bulky as Ruiz or Foreman definitely did not have the type of  physique you would find in a Mr. Universe contest.

However what all of these 3 champions did possess was high level boxing skills. Foreman had devastating power and the ability to cut of the ring when opponents tried to stick and move, Larry Holmes had one of the fastest most accurate jabs in heavyweight history.  Andy Ruiz has very fast hands and a copybook punching technique honed over a decorated 110 (105 win-5 loss) amateur and 32 (31 w-1L) professional career.

Perhaps these superior skills counter the apparent lack of conditioning. Definitely with Ruiz, his opponents over confidence could play a part.  Ruiz is not the first person whose appearance belied their fitness, skills and determination. Or maybe once again we have become too enamored with stereotypes dictated by popular culture rather than performance and established research.

For us mere mortals and pretenders not contenders for championship status, a common sense approach is recommended. The success of Andy Ruiz should in no way justify paying no attention to our nutrition. While it is ok to strive for a more svelte physical appearance, improved fitness should be the goal rather than an unattainable body shape and unrealistic weight loss.


Learning How to Use the Speed Bag !!!

Ever wondered how legendary boxers like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao can hit a speed bag at what seems like a thousand beats per minute, but when you hit the speed bag your “Manny” efforts are more flawed than Floyd ?

Follow these simple instructions and Youtube videos from Aussie Mike, ably assisted by Mahdia Sbih, and you will be hitting the ball like a pro in no time… well okay, maybe not as fast as Floyd and Manny ,but enough to show off next time you are at the gym.

The Speed bag

The speed bag is an excellent way to improve hand-eye coordination and strength in the shoulders and arms. Boxers require shoulder strength to help hold their gloves up, throw punches and pull the hand back quickly for defense.

The speed bag can also have many other sporting applications and is used extensively in training by sprinters requiring faster arm action and by racquet sports players to improve reflexes, timing and hand-eye coordination.

In recent years the Speed bag has also proven to be a valuable tool for people with Parkinson’s disease.  Research studies have shown that boxing training, (including the speed bag) helps improve balance, gait, activities of daily living and quality of life.

There are many different ways of using the speed bag

For beginners it is important not to be mesmerized by the ball's erratic movements. Keep your eyes focused on the ball, hands held at shoulder height and start slowly. Try to hit through the ball. You will eventually get a rhythm. As you become more proficient you will be able to increase speed.

As the following video demonstrates start with open hands. Once you get a basic rhythm close your fists and hit with the side of your hand


Building up a rhythm  requires the use of nearly all of your senses, feeling , hearing and seeing   the rhythm of the speed bag as it hits the back board.

Patience is the key. Don’t be dismayed if your fell hopelessly uncoordinated. As the old saying goes Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were the Ali’s, Mayweathers or Pacquiao’s.

But lets be honest one of the main reasons we like to become proficient at the speed bag is because :

In the words of Manny Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach “you can walk into any gym in the world and people will think you actually know how to fight !!” (NB: In the words of that famous George Gershwin song “It ain’t necessarily so folks!!”)

 Enjoy the Speed bag, it is a great training tool for your fitness program.

Next Blog we will look at some more advanced techniques !!

Cheers,Keep Punching and don’t forget to hit the like button below!!

Aussie Mike


How to use Visualization and Imagery to teach boxing skills !!

"Wipe your nose with your sleeve"... "Punch a hole through my hand" .. "Catch a fly and eat it".. just some of the colorful imagery cues you can use to help beginners improve boxing technique ! Aussie Mike takes us through the 4 basic punches for beginners !!

In previous blogs I discussed, how champion boxers like Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali used visualization long before it became a widely recognized process for successful sports performance.

Marciano, undefeated World Heavyweight Champion from 1952-56 was known to spend time directly before his bout in a deep sleep where he would dream about his victory and how it would feel at the end of a contest.  Similarly Muhammad Ali, who dreamed from an early age of becoming “The Greatest”, always visualized himself defeating his opponent Ali and drew sketches where he saw himself with his hands raised in victory.

While ordinary mortals like us may not be able to reach the lofty status of these 2 world Heavyweight Champions we can definitely us Visualization to improve our boxing skills and technique whether it be for actual combat, or like for the majority of us, to improve on the physical benefits boxing training can bring to our fitness programs.

In the words of World Champions boxing trainer, Freddie Roach “whether you’re a Hollywood model, fitness enthusiast or competitive boxer you should always aim for perfect technique.”

Imagery to aid Visualization

As the following examples and our video shows, the use of colorful imagery cues can help visualization by adding a descriptive, easily relatable action to describe each punch i.e.  Hit through the target, hands in prayer position etc. etc.

So let’s look at the 4 basic boxing punches and how we can use visualization combined with imagery cues to help learn and improve on our punching technique. (NB: You will see most of these cues in our attached YouTube video)

Shape up….

                 The first task I ask clients to do “Show me how you would shape up and box.”

                Most people usually have only a vague idea about how to place their hands from what they have seen in Rocky movies. Very few, even the athletically gifted, have any notion on correct foot work.

Even if knowledge of boxing is only basic, this task prepares your client by creating a visual image of boxing in their minds and the various movements that will be required.


                To emphasize the importance of balance and correct footwork s we start with feet together.  I then ask to then do a Charlie Chaplin foot placement on their prominent side i.e. right foot for right handers, left for southpaws followed by a turn on the ball of that foot and a backward step .  While Charlie Chaplin may have less relevance for today’s millennials most people can still relate to the famous slay-footed comedian of yesteryear.  Further cues can be given to encourage feet to remain in that position so that the back foot is behind and to the side of the front and there is a clear line in between the legs. (Nb This will require regular feedback as it is a unique foot placement not seen in most sports or activities)


                Knees bent, upper body nice and relaxed and bobbing and swaying “like a cork in the ocean. “

                This visual image encourages free flowing movement rather than stiff robotic punches.


 Starting with “prayer position”, gives most people a common visual image, Additional instruction of eyes open at all times, chin down, elbows protecting the ribs are also included

The Punches

 After practicing the movement on its own, facing a mirror if possible, we use focus pads to add tactile sensation to the punches.

The Jab- “Catch a fly and eat it” is a unique cue that encourages quick movements and the importance of keeping your hands up throughout the movement.

Straight right hand- Using the pads “punch a hole through my hand” encourages clients to punch with gusto. Additional cues on generating power via the whole kinetic chain from feet up rather than just upper body add to the effectiveness. 

 The Hook-  Using the whole part whole method of skill teaching  we demonstrate the punch  then break the skill into parts with the following  cues: “wipe your nose with your sleeve”  this image emphasizes the correct position of the hands and hook motion , “ bounce off  your ribs “ emphasizes correct form to avoid telegraphing the punch  followed by “turn your hip” helps emphasize momentum and full use of the body.

Uppercut – in my experience the hardest punch to teach.  “Comb your hair” using the uppercut motion in slightly exaggerated fashion, while not perfect, at least gets members on the right track

Concluding the session by using all of these punches in a 1-Jab, 2 straight rights 3- left hook 4 Right uppercuts in a sequence ties all of the punches together and enables your client to get a feel for real boxing movement.

Defensive techniques can be enhanced with imagery like “turtle up”, and “duck and weave. “

These can be added as the client gets more comfortable with the punches and movement patterns required with special emphasis on correct foot work.


Some point to note

      In group settings you will encounter people with widely varying skill levels. Patience is required, not all of your clients will be as proficient as Kelly in the video.

        It is important to keep in mind that we are not teaching prospective pro boxers or world champions here. While correct technique is always the goal, the movement and benefit of exercise should be our primary focus rather than 100% picture-perfect technique.

          Instruction has to be clear and concise, with skills progressing from basic to more complex as the participants become more adept and confident.  I generally try not to teach more than a 3-4 punch combination to beginners with an emphasis on fun rather than information overload.  This is particularly important for folks with Parkinson’s disease as many have issues with neuromuscular coordination and muscle rigidity.

        Working within abilities and limits of an individual’s movement is essential. Actually physically moving the person’s arms through the movement pattern, whether it is a jab, cross, hook or uppercut can help some who are having a difficult time mastering the movement

            Visualization combined with colorful imagery can be a great aid to improved performance in all of the basic boxing skills.  Check out the video to see Kellye Grant from the Virginian Outpatient Therapy in Action and let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Keep Punching and most importantly Keep Visualizing!!

The 2019 Parkinson's Foundation of the North Capital Area (PFNCA) Symposium" Aussie Mike's thoughts and observations

Over the course of a 32 year career Management career in the Fitness Industry and a secondary career as a freelance writer, I have attended many conferences, seminars, symposiums, retreats or whatever term is used to describe a meeting of the minds for people with similar professional interests.

Last Saturday March 23, 2019 I attended a vastly different gathering: “The 2019 Parkinson’s Foundation of the Northern Capital Area (PFNCA) Symposium,” an event designed for those facing Parkinson’s disease and their care partners.

Over the course of a day lectures, panel discussions and question and answer sessions were presented by movement disorder specialists, neurologists, neurosurgeons and health educators.

Why a conference on Parkinson’s disease (PD)?

My previous Blogs have provided details on a part time role I have pursued in post-retirement teaching boxing classes to Parkinson’s patients ( the Virginian Outpatient Therapy clinic in Fairfax Virginia. Boxing is one of the major exercise regimes that have shown to be beneficial in delaying the progress of the symptoms of PD.  

While I have many years’ experience teaching Boxing and an educational background in exercise science I am not a Doctor or physical therapist. Aside from basic first Aid and some long past certifications in Massage therapy and exercise for rehabilitation I have no real medical training.

 By attending this symposium I hoped to increase my knowledge on the origins of PD, its causes, treatments and hopefully potential future cures.  Most importantly I wanted to get to know my clients better and have a greater understanding of the challenges they face on a daily basis.  Hopefully all of this can only help me provide a better product for them.

As a keen boxing enthusiast and all aspects of exercise I have always been fascinated by the clinical manifestations of PD.  I was always puzzled how prominent sufferers of PD in the boxing fraternity like Muhammad Ali, until his final years, and today trainer Freddie Roach could still perform coordinated boxing movements like hitting the punching bag in Ali’s case and in Roaches’ case taking world champions like Manny Pacquiao through his paces on the focus pads, and yet still face significant   common PD symptoms like muscle stiffness and rigidity and bodily tremors in the arms and legs.

 Another powerful impetus for me to understand more about PD was the passing of my boxing coach, mate, and mentor 1960 Aussie Olympic representative Des Duguid in 2008n from PD.

First impressions

I knew from the outset that initially the biggest difference from my previous professional conferences would be visual.  Unlike Fitness Industry conferences, there was nary a bulging bicep, lululemon leotard water bottle and omnipresent protein bar in sight. And unlike writing conferences there were no hard bitten journalists with weary visages from overindulging  in coffee, tobacco, and other  stimulants to fulfill an impending deadline or starry eyed novelists intent on  learning how to write the next great American novel.

There was at least (by my count) 300 attendees and true to the demographics of the disease, the age range skewed to the over 60 years bracket and predominately male with varying degrees of movement restrictions. Some attendees ‘movement patterns were noticeably affected, some barely at all.

As one of my clients told me “for us PD sufferers everything is done slower and more methodically and that truly means everything.”  With this in mind I was also careful to refrain from the usual robust, take no prisoners straight ahead, chest out, stomach in, lats spread, walking style you see from Fitness Industry folks.  At Fitness industry conferences, particularly the trade shows, you almost spend more time apologizing for bumping fellow attendee’s shoulders than looking at equipment.”  Not a good idea at a PD symposium. (NB: Ok for me the stomach in part might be a stretch, but be nice dear reader, you get my general idea!!)

Naturally after a 32 year career in Management that involved a great deal of planning and event management my thoughts turned to logistics. How for instance would the event coordinators cater the meals without encountering long queues and myriad other issues especially if it was hot food? Fortunately the organizers were well ahead of my concerns and actually provided mobile catering direct to participants as they sat listening to lectures. All done very quickly and efficiently including delivery and clean up.

Ok now that my visual and Managerial curiosity was satisfied, what did I actually learn about PD?

8 Key learning takeaways

1.  Exercise the best medicine

   Nearly all lecturers mentioned that regular intense exercise was the best therapy for delaying the progress of common PD symptoms, like muscle rigidity, loss of strength, balance and motor coordination.

The effects of intense exercise on stimulating endorphin release to improve mood and alleviate depression was also a constant. However as an Exercise professional I do have one concern.   In my opinion there is a dis-connect between the medical and Fitness communities.   There appears to be a commonly quoted statistic regarding exercise intensity that advises people to exercise to” 85% of their maximum heart rate.”

Even the fittest individuals find exercising regularly at 85% quite difficult and physically taxing.   Also determining true maximum Heart rate can vary from individual to individual depending on age and previous activity levels. I would suggest more education on perceived Exertion scales as opposed to being too focused on achieving an estimated beats per minute statistic. 

 2. Medication Management

It is here where I learned the most. A drug called Levodopa is considered the number 1 drug for controlling the effects of Parkinson’s. The effectiveness of Levodopa and its side effects needs careful management. This Management is often a work in progress where the patient and medical provider have to work closely to determine the effective dosages and most importantly timing of the medication for maximizing its effectiveness.

 3. On/off Times

    On time is when symptoms are less apparent and daily activities can be pursued more easily. The body appears to have greater flexibility and general mobility.

    Off time is when the medication isn’t working and the symptoms are much more apparent with stiffness, shaking and less mobility.

   Managing the medication and daily activities around these on/off times becomes a major part of a person with PD’s daily life.

 As a teacher I really knew nothing of on/off periods  save for a basic gut instinct that  when one of my clients tells me they aren’t  feeling well enough to box I know they are making the correct decision. This is something an instructor has to be aware of.  Our PD clients aren’t high level athletes that you can goad or admonish with “push through the pain, no pain no gain” Rockyesque motivational cliches.   These are people seeking to improve their fitness around daily challenges that we non PD people can’t possibly fully understand.

 4. Psychological implications often overlooked

The largest impact PD has is on Depression. One presenter stated that depression is 2 times more likely to adversely affect the quality of PD patient’s life than motor impairments.

Depression is usually episodic and often coupled with anxiety and leads to functioning at a lower physical level.

Medications work well with P.D medication and when combined with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be every effective in combating Depression

 5) Some key terms in understanding Parkinson’s disease

Dyskinesia, - a form of involuntary movement that can range from inconvenient i.e. mild tremors to uncontrollable movements that make daily activities very difficult.

IADLS - “Instrumental activities of daily living," are activities related to independent living and include preparing meals, managing money, shopping for groceries or personal items, performing light or heavy housework, doing laundry, and using a telephone.

 Facial Masking, -This term refers to the loss of facial expressions giving the affected person a fixed, mask-like expression. In Parkinson's disease, masking can develop as the progressive loss of motor control extends to the facial muscles as it does to other parts of the body. Masked, expressionless faces can complicate an already difficult situation alienating acquaintances who may be put off or disturbed by the apparent lack of emotional response.

 Again this was something I was totally unaware of. I now joke with my clients that I understand why they don’t react to my attempts at humor. It has nothing to do with my jokes being NOT FUNNY!!

 6)  Newspaper reports on wonder drugs

Many PD neurologist and educators mentioned that Newspaper reports on new wonder drugs are often hyperbole and can give rise to unrealistic expectations that need to be curbed by a more realistic sober analysis from medical research professionals

 7)  Marijuana,

     Similarly Marijuana while a viable treatment modality also has contraindications and deleterious side effects for some individuals. It is not a panacea for all PD patients as often seems to be claimed in over simplified newspaper and media reports

 8)  The Power of Positivity. You have PD now go live your life

 The most meaningful sentiment I heard was from a PD person I spoke to at the conference. Let’s call him Ned.  He told me that after months of uncertainty he finally found a Medical specialist who told him.  “Ned you have Parkinson’s disease, there will be some challenges but now go live your life!!”

The positive outlook my clients have is a true inspiration that makes teaching them a very worthwhile experience

While these observations are  by no means definitive  I hope they can be a good starting point for other fitness professionals and people from all walks of life who  come to work  with PD clients.

Hopefully a cure is imminent.  My dear friend and boxing coach Des Duguid 1960 Olympian, Des Duguid eventually suffered from Parkinson’s before passing away in 2008.  But I take solace from knowing that Des is posthumously sitting up there in that “big boxing ring in the sky “ smiling like the proverbial Cheshire cat. No doubt he is regaling folks at the pearly gates, in typical colorful Aussie Vernacular, about how very proud he is that the skills he taught are being put to such good use helping people deal with Parkinson’s disease and to “go live their life’ with greater balance, enjoyment and the ability to Keep Punching out Parkinson’s.


Aussie Mike's Top 10 Boxing Books !!

 Boxing and the colorful characters involved both in and out of the ring have inspired some of the world’s best writers and journalist to share their craft.  While I can’t claim to have read every boxing book published I do have a very extensive collection including biographies of nearly every heavyweight champion from John L Sullivan to the present day.

So with this in mind let’s take a look at Aussie Mike’s 10 BOXING BOOKS   


10. Facing Ali by Stephen Brunt (2003)

    15 different fighters who fought Ali recall their experience facing the Greatest.  Much has been written about Ali’s battles with major foes like Frazier, Foreman and Norton  but we seldom hear from lesser known opponents wo while not as formidable as that trio, were still top ranked heavyweights in their day.  In separate chapters we hear from British Boxers Henry Cooper and Joe Bugner, Germany’s Karl Mildenberger,   Belgium’s Jean-Pierre Coopman and many others.  All of whom will forever be remembered because of their contests against Ali, hence the importance of their recollections.


9)   In this corner By Dave Anderson (1991)

     A selection of interviews with some of the world’s best boxing trainers including Angelo Dundee trainer of Muhammad Ali, Ray Arcel (Roberto Duran), Eddie Futch(Joe Frazier, Kevin Rooney (MikeTyson) Good Petronelli  (Marvelous Marvin Hagler) and a host of other trainers of champions including  George Foreman , Tommy Hitman Hearns and Ken Norton .  Training techniques, fight tactics, and behind the scenes tales of boxer’s individual quirks and idiosyncrasy’s make this book a must read for fans and students of the game.


8)  Home before Dark by Ruth Park and Rafe Champion (1995)

  The story of one of Australia’s, most revered sporting icons, Les Darcy Australia’s first world Boxing champion told through the eyes of people who boxed him, lived and grew up with him. A man who was very badly treated by the Australian sporting press during the bitterly divisive World War 1 conscription debate.  A tumultuous time that saw him seek to further his boxing career in the USA only to die prematurely under very suspicious circumstances.  Les Darcy a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame and true Aussie sporting icon is a life that should not be forgotten with the passing years.

   7)  Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson (2013)

     This is the unvarnished biography of Iron Mike Tyson, the Baddest Man on the Planet.  This book is not for the feint hearted. Just like his boxing Tyson pulls no punches in describing his youth, boxing career, rape conviction and rebirth as a standup performer and budding marijuana entrepreneur.


6) Muhammad Ali... His life and Times by Thomas Hauser, (1991)

   Published in 1991, this biography of Muhammad Ali is a collection quotation from prominent people in Ali’s life.  Close family and friends major opponents like Joe Frazier and George Foreman, promoters, trainers, all give their perspective on Ali at various points in his life.   I personally enjoy this style of biography because it allows for contemporaneous perspectives from many different parties rather than just the authors viewpoint.

Published in 1991 it does not cover the final 15 years of his life and battles with Parkinson’s disease.  For a more complete recounting of Muhammad Ali’s life I recommend the huge (50lb) pictorial biography “Greatest of All Time: A tribute to Muhammad Ali by Taschen publications 2013 (NB: the huge book also has a considerable price tag of $100 pus, but well worth it even just for the pictures)

5) Dempsey by Jack Dempsey and Barbara Piatelli Dempsey 1977 (out of print)

Written in collaboration with his step-daughter Barbara Piatelli “Dempsey” describes the life and times of the man known in pugilistic circles as the Manassa Mauler.

Dempsey recounts his humble beginnings as a Colorado coal miner whose only way out of poverty was to capitalize on his greatest talent: the ability to punch with devastating power. None of these recollections are colored by introspective self-analysis. Barbara Piatelli Dempsey’s writing allows Jack's words to speak for themselves.

Intertwined within Dempsey's life is a colorful montage of characters and events (both in and out of ring). The Willard fight, the infamous long count, his trial for refusing to enter the army, his days as a movie star and restaurateur, are all told with disarming honesty.

More than a mere blow by blow description of a boxing career, Dempsey tells of the struggles of a simple honest man in difficult times. Through world wars, economic depressions and personal turmoil Jack Dempsey emerges as the archetypical American hero.

What makes the story even more appealing is its warts and all approach. Dempsey's foibles are exposed; his life is no sugar-coated fairy tale. For any sports historian or fanatic, "Dempsey" is essential reading. It is a timeless work which will ensure that the famous catch cry "I can beat any man in the house" will continue to be shouted by those seeking to emulate the fistic feats of the eternal symbol of American male machismo, the one and the only Jack Dempsey 

4) The Harder They Fall by Bud Schulberg (1947)

 Described by USA Today as "The quintessential novel of boxing and corruption” this. Is a fictionalized d account of the career of Primo Carnera a mob controlled Heavyweight Champion in the 1930’s.  Subsequently made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart both book and film provide an accurate description of the nefarious characters boxing attracts and the corruption involved.


3) The Fight by Norman Mailer (1975)

One of Americas most talented writers  Norman Mailer (1923-2007)  reports on the 1974 Foreman v Ali fight aka “The Rumble in the Jungle’ in Kinshasa Zaire.  The definitive account of one of the best heavyweight fights t of the 20th century.

Mailer also appears in the documentary “Once were Kings”   the award winning documentary of the Ali Foreman fight.


2) Unforgiveable Blackness by Geoffrey C ward. (2004)

A brilliant recounting of the life and times of Jack Johnston the first black World Heavyweight champion.  More than a book about boxing it is also a book about Jim Crowe America and the racism present at all levels of society. Johnston rails against this and travels to the other side of the world, Sydney Australia to win the world championship from Canadian Tommy Burns. The Johnston era of the championship, the search for the Great white hope and his ultimate loss to Jess Willard are recounted together with his brushes with the law and peripatetic life after boxing. 

Papa Jack, Jack Johnston and the era of the White Hopes by Randy Roberts (1983) is another book I would highly recommend.  Robert’s recounting of Johnston’s life differs markedly from the popular narrative of Johnston as an early day Muhammad Ali. He depicts Johnston as a substantial historical figure but in essence an ego driven opportunist rather than racial martyr.


1) The Sweet Science by A J Liebling, 1951

  In this true masterpiece of modern journalism Liebling presents 18 separate essays which describe boxing in the 1940’s and 1950’S. Through humor and colorful descriptive prose he recaptures an era in sports that will never be duplicated whether at the fights themselves, the sweaty gyms and raucous taverns where most of the followers convened before and after the event. A great read even for the non-boxing fan.


Honorable mentions to “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay , “Shadow Box “by George Plimpton and  “Boxing Day the Fight that changed the World” by Jeff Wells.


So there you have it folks, let me know what you think, hey reading but most importantly

Keep punching!!!

ali liston classic.jpg

10 ways to Attract and retain talented staff !!

Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients." – Sir Richard Branson. " Founder“The Virgin  Group”.

So how do you make your employees 100% proud of the job they are doing as per Sir Richard’s advice.

Attracting potential employees to an employer with one of the most powerful brand names i.e. World Bank certainly helps, but that doesn’t mean you attract the right people.

In the attached photos taken over the span of 12 years you see nearly all the same smiling faces.

Here are some of the most important factors that helped us retain such great talented staff in a low paying industry like the Fitness business.

1. Establish that you are a Hospitality Business and employ accordingly.

During my 32 years in Management I have always been a big believer in ex IHRSA President John McCarthy’s view that “The fitness business is a hospitality business—bottom line.  Until people understand that, they really haven't entered the high road of the business”. (John McCarthy IHRSA President, CBI magazine, Oct 7, 2014)

By creating a community within a Corporation and doing all the things a good hospitality business does, like remembering names and providing a great service and product you will go a long way to creating value.

Of course you have to choose the right staff to work in a hospitality business. How you determine that is a key factor in attracting the right staff. While I am a big believer in higher education, I also looked at an applicant’s resume to see if they had worked in service industries or as a volunteer for a non-profit organization.

I would also schedule the face to face interview during our busiest time and have the potential employee tour the facility with me or my very popular Front desk person Dosseh. By doing this we could see how the applicant reacted to customer interaction and friendly banter. Did they seem shy or introverted, maybe even disinterested? or did they engage and seem enthusiastic with the interactions?  This was a good way to observe body language and gauge if a person really is a true “people person.”

2. Create strong “Brand loyalty” for members and staff

Many books and articles have been written on Brand Loyalty.  Creating Band loyalty starts with simply knowing people’s names, greeting them as they arrive and leave your center.  A smile, and genuine warm hello and goodbye, makes a people feel like they are appreciated.  This builds lasting relationships that at least make people think twice before joining another club.

People like to be recognized. The big mistake many Fitness Centers make is that once members’ sign on they become just another number. Most fitness centers are hopeless at this. Swipe your membership card and that is virtually the last human contact you have. 

The same applies for people working at your fitness center.  If the person who works at your center is treated as a professional is 100% proud of the job they're doing, if you give them the tools to do a good job, they're proud of the brand, if they were looked after, if they're treated well, then will be happy and do their best to make sure members get the best product possible and a nice experience. . If employees are just viewed as another source of Personal Training revenue they will not be fully committed and only provide an “I just do my job and go home “ service.

3. Support training and lifelong education

Creating a culture of lifelong learning and support of educational initiatives will ensure the staff stay current and provide members with the best facilities and services possible. This creates a culture where employees are appreciated, valued and made to feel part of something worthwhile.

At the World Bank Fitness Center we encouraged education, not just in Fitness. We also provided training in hospitality with professional organizations like Ritz Carlton and in personal development with sessions on Public Speaking, Voice Projection. Role plays on customer service and conflict resolution were another very effective educational tool.

4. Create a Mission statement and Service standards with strong staff buy in

 For our team at the World Banks Fitness Center our key values were encapsulated in our CRAP Communication system and our Service goals and Action Plan  for the Best Corporate Fitness Center in the Whole Wide World described in my previous Blogs.

While most businesses go through the requisite exercise of defining key values or composing mission statements, they often become just nicely framed murals hanging on the Managers wall. It is very important to understand the importance of regular and repetitive presentation of these core aspects of the business. This leads to another important aspect of attracting and retaining staff

5. Communicate, Clearly concisely and regularly

In my experience, the single biggest problem staff has with Management is lack of Communication.  As General Manager of the 3 Centers,I would send out an email to all staff we called Mike’s Daily CRAP very early in the day (pre 6 a.m.). This  was a concise email  welcoming staff  to the day and detailing any relevant, operational issues, promotions etc. and tying this in with our CRAP acronym and our Vision to be “the best corporate Fitness Center in the Whole Wide World.(BCFC in the WWW)

6. Fortnightly Fitness Staff Meetings and Annual retreats

 Rather than rely solely on words on a page, our fortnightly team meeting for all Fitness Staff was an opportunity to reinforce our core values and vision in real time. The meeting Agenda would often include “Story Time” where we focused on examples that reinforced our Service Goals and gathered staff’s input on any pending activities.

 7. Always Drink Upstream from the herd     

Will Rogers an American humorist and social commentator penned this quote back in the 1920’s. It applies the old farmer’s wisdom of smart animals and leaders stay apart from the crowd and don’t give in easily to Group Think.

   Drinking upstream where the water is clear and clean is much better than downstream where it may be polluted.

   The fitness industry is rife with misinformation and new trends and fads that are passed off as irrefutable fact.  Likewise in Management there are those all too willing to pass of their views as being the only correct solutions.

Our goal was to have meetings that not only reinforced our Mission but were enjoyable and not boring.  We also tried our best to keep away from the cringe worthy team building activities and enforced frivolity often seen in corporate settings. Our goal was to treat fitness staff as professionals by imparting some new knowledge in an innovative fashion .

8. An Open Door Policy

As an employee and member of fitness centers I always thought there was nothing worse than seeing a Manager’s office door closed and blinds drawn.  An open door policy encourages openness and transparency between Management, members and employees. Being available for staff and open and honest in your discussion will foster an environment of trust and respect

9. Rule 11 … A strict no Dickhead or Diva Policy.

    To some this may seem a trifle crude and vulgar. We kept it that way to make it as impactfull as possible. In a dynamic, Fitness Center there is no room for staff who are selfish, lazy and demanding. The service goals which were formulated with heavy staff input give clear guidelines on what constitutes Rule 11 behavior.

 10. Most important Try not to be a Rule 11 yourself by Managing from the heart

Numerous studies show that Employees don’t quite their job they quit their Managers. So try not to be a Rule 11 yourself

Respect is the universal language.  If the actions and decisions you make are from the heart, rather than “I am right mentality”, they may not always be popular but they will be respected.

So there you have it folks , 10 ways to attract and retain staff. Let me know what you think.

world Bank Fitness Staff at Aussie mike’s 50 th in 2017

world Bank Fitness Staff at Aussie mike’s 50 th in 2017



Fitness staff at aussie MIKE’S LAST DAY jULY 2017

Fitness staff at aussie MIKE’S LAST DAY jULY 2017

Aussie Mike's Top 10 most authentic Boxing Movies!!!

Ok folks, here are my top 10 boxing films based on the authenticity of the boxing scenes.

Sure the acting, story, writing important but my ranking is based on how realistic the boxing scenes are compared to the usual hackneyed, glorified Hollywood depictions where the hero wins and escapes the ring with nary a black eye or broken nose to be seen.

 10. Gentleman Jim (1942)

   A rollicking fictionalized tale based on the life of Gentleman Jim Corbett and his victory over John L Sullivan for the heavyweight Championship in 1892. The fighting scenes accurately depict the predominant boxing styles that were evolving from the traditional bare knuckle era. Much is made of Corbett’s footwork.  Footwork that the star portraying Gentleman Jim, Errol Flynn, alas could not master. All the scenes of Corbett’s fancy feet are shown from the waist down, using the the nimble footwork of the then current Light heavyweight Champion Billy Conn.

9. Rocky1

  Sorry Rocky Fans, big props to Sly Stallone for reigniting the” Fight Film” genre and boxing in general, but the lead with your face boxing style and exaggerated effects of the punches are  a bit hard to reconcile for true fight fans.  There are some great pre-fight training scenes that added a lot to the general perception of how hard boxers train, but even then, hitting huge slabs of meat in a fridge ???… mmm yep well it is Hollywood!

 8.   Rocky Balboa 2006

 A fitting finale to the Rocky series.  Some nice boxing scenes if again a little unrealistic. Nevertheless I was struck by the session where Rocky’s trainer explains that he (Rocky)  has lost his speed and reflexes but still has power and “that is all we are going to train for….Bone crushing, jaw breaking power “.  Some moving motivational scenes between Rocky and his son and Rocky and his new love interest are a nice addition.

 7. The Fighter 2010

      Based on the story of Micky Ward the fight scenes are good portrayal of Ward’s scrappy, all or thing fighting style. Yes Mark Whalberg as Micky Ward leads with his face, but that is largely how Ward fought.

6.  Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)

     A dark realistic portrayal of a retired punch drunk fighter trying to make his way in life after a particularly bad beating in his final bout. The boxing scenes show the brutality both in and outside the ring.

 5. The Harder they fall (1956)

    Based on Budd Schulberg’s 1947 novel, this is a thinly veiled account of the career of Primo Carnera a mob controlled Heavyweight Champion in the 1930’s.  There are some interesting cameo appearances from ex-heavyweight Champions Jersey Joe Walcott as a trainer and an ageing Max Baer as the hero’s nemesis.   Also notable is the very anti boxing message at the film’s conclusion.

4. Ali, An American Hero (2001)

   Will Smith’s portrayal of Muhammad Ali’s is very faithful to his boxing style, but doesn’t quite capture Ali’s spontaneity and quickness of movement both in and outside the ring. Very accurate depictions of Ali’s major fights with Liston, Frazier and Foreman.

3 .Cinderella Man (2005)

     Russel Crowe’s portrays James Braddock and his climb out of the depression to become a very unlikely Heavyweight champion.   The fights scenes accurately depict the rock em sock em  boxing style of the 1930’s pre Joe Louis championship era. The Close ups of the punches landing and the blood, spit and grit really show the true nature of a boxing contest in its purest, most gruelling, form.

 2.  The Boxer (1997)

    An often overlooked boxing movie where Daniel Day Lewis’ penchant for method acting is clearly displayed.  In terms of pure boxing movement, particularly the infighting sequences where body punching, feinting, blocking and rolling with the punches are displayed you can’t get more realistic.  Apparently in true method acting fashion Daniel Day Lewis trained in boxing for 3 years prior to filming but most telling of all ex used ex World featherweight Champion Barry McGuigan as chief boxing adviser in the filming. It shows.  And by the way the story of an ex IRA member coming back to his community in Belfast after serving 14 years in Jail is pretty compelling as well.

1. Raging Bull (1980)

   A classic of American film making, you can’t go far past Raging Bull as the ultimate boxing movie. The story of Jake LaMotta a former middleweight boxing champion and his struggles both in and out of the ring have been immortalized by the performance of Robert De Niro in the key role.  Jake La Motta himself was very impressed with De Niro’s boxing skills and depiction of his major fights against the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson. 

 There you have it folks for me Its De Niro’s Raging Bull #1 winning by a very close split decision over Daniel Day Lewis, ‘The Boxer” a very close #2.

Let me know what you think!!


Aussie Mike's top 8 books on Management and leadership !

Over the course of my 32 year Management career I have often been asked to recommend books for people both starting out in leadership positions and for current managers needing some motivation or impetus to further their careers.

 Here are my top 8 Management/leadership books.

But first some background

My Management career began in February 1985 when I was appointed Manager of GJ Coles Corporate Fitness Program in Gepps Cross Adelaide, South Australia.  The program revolved around an approximately 2500 sq. ft. facility, with a fully equipped fitness center and a separate Group Exercise/aerobics studio.

 Considered very lavish for its’ time, the center was built in the GJ Coles offices and Distribution Center and catered for approximately  500 office and distribution staff.

Bevan Bradbury, CEO of G.J.Coles pty ltd  was a true visionary in the field of Corporate Fitness. Inspired by programs he had seen in Japan Mr. Bradbury implemented fitness programs in every GJ Coles state headquarters throughout Australia. 

Professionally managed Corporate Fitness programs were very much in their infancy in the mid 80’s. Hence my employment was very unique both in Australia and throughout the world.  

A few weeks into my new position my best mate Gerard Dillon, a very successful and respected financial adviser and Business Management Consultant, visited me from Melbourne. 

After viewing the program in operation for a week, what he said one day in my office still sticks in my mind some 34 years later.

“Mike, this is a very unique job you have here. I think the biggest challenge you will find is loneliness” he said. 

I was taken aback.  As a very garrulous, and yes very naïve, headstrong 28 year young Aussie bloke, the thought of loneliness didn’t enter my mind.

“I don’t mean in terms of your ability to get on with people and get them involved,” he added. “That and your Fitness expertise are the major reasons they hired you.  But what you will find is that this program is so unique and in such a different setting that you are not going to have many people to advise you or bounce ideas off. There might be some good Mangers in Coles, but they have very little idea about Managing fitness programs and the day to day issues you will encounter. This is a whole different type of dynamic to what they see in their retail stores or office environments”

Looking back now after a 32 year career in Management that has taken me around the world, this is the most salient piece of Management advice I ever received. This rang true whether I was G.J.Coles/Coles Myer or at the World Bank in Washington DC.   Over the course of my career very few Corporate Managers understood the different people skills and human interactions involved in a Fitness Center environment.

While I didn’t fully understand Gerard’s advice at the time, I respected him enough to ask “Well how will I go about solving that?” “Well you can establish contacts outside this environment. With similar programs in Community Centers and even other hospitality industries Hotels etc. which have similar service scenarios.,“he explained

He then added the kicker. “You should also read and seek out further education opportunities, not only on Exercise and Fitness but in Management. There are going to be more and more studies and publications about Management as business in Australia and throughout the world becomes more complex and sophisticated. “

 In hindsight, I realize now that Bevan Bradbury wasn’t the only visionary I was fortunate to be associated with.  I was blessed to have a visionary as one of my best mates.

True to Gerard Dillon’s advice the whole Management/Leadership book publishing genre exploded by the late 80’s right up until today. 

                So here are the top 8 books I recommend on Management and leadership with a few notes added for each.


1.       The 7 Habits of Highly successful People by Steven Covey

  As relevant now as when it was first published almost 30 years ago.

   Reading Covey’s 7 Habits was particularly helpful when I first arrived in Washington DC in 1993 and was coming to terms with changing from the layback, somewhat ribald, Australian Culture to a very conservative multi-cultural organization at the World Bank.  I found all 7 habits useful but the most cogent for me was Habit 2 Begin with the end in mind, which is similar to visualization and Habit 3 Put first things first. The 4 Quadrant Eisenhower Matrix has been and still is, the cornerstone of my day to day planning


2.       Good to Great by Jim Collins


I found this compelling reading mid way through my career at the World Bank Fitness Center.  The sections on Level 5 leadership which espouses humble leaders as opposed to short lived Charismatic leadership and the Hedgehog concept using the analogy of the Hedgehog and fox were particularly useful.


 3.    The Alchemist by Paul Cehlo

        A novel with a richness of language and story telling that sets itself apart from traditional Management tomes.  The underlying message of following your heart and passion despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles is encapsulated underlying messages like the following

‘Every search begins with beginners luck. And every search ends with the victors being severely tested.

When struggling to achieve your goals “The darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn”


4. The Tipping Point, how little things can make a big difference by Malcolm Gladwell

  This book is essential reading for anyone in the fitness Industry seeking to market a program, concept or idea to the masses or a select group.   In my subsequent talks to various groups I always referenced the importance of recognizing the people Gladwell refers to as the connectors within a group.

 5.  David and Goliath, Underdogs and misfits and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

     I found reading this book very helpful during the stressful time when the World Bank was exploring the possibility of outsourcing the Fitness Center to an external vendor.  The title speaks for itself and illustrates the battle I was having convincing the Corporate Flinty eyed  bean counters who didn’t give a tinkers cuss for the wellness benefits a Corporate Fitness Program nor what they consider as the warm and fuzzy notions of teamwork esprit de corps, and customer service.   Using this book as a reference, coupled with valuable connectors we had established within the organization we thwarted the outsourcing process which very rarely happens.

6.  Drive the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

   Daniel Pink’s reasoned and MIT researched analysis is a welcome addition to the whole concept of Motivation which I feel has become overly simplistic and based on false notions that we can all become hedonistic Millionaires simply by wishing our lives away. Specifically Pink’s emphasis on purpose and the desire to do something that has meaning and is important exemplified the classic concept of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.


maslows hierarchy of needs.png



7. The 12 Bad Habits that hold Good People Back by James Waldrop and Timothy Butler

    Written by 2 Harvard professors in the MBA program this books gives very practical examples of where people can err in the workplaces and most importantly solutions to help diminish and stop these habits.

    The chapters describing behaviors such as “Emotionally Tone-Deaf” and" Lacking a Sense of Boundaries "were particularly helpful.  Rather than just describe the bad behavior the authors give background as to why this may be occurring and practical solutions to stop habits like these destroying the workplace.


8 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

      Yes I know this classic of American literature is not designed to be a Management or leadership book. However the compelling story told through the eyes of a child is damned good writing and that should be enough recommendation in itself.  Combine the writing with vivid descriptions of the strong yet understated leadership of Scout’s father Atticus Finch in treating people of all cultures and walks of life with respects is a good example for any potential Manager or leader.  Chapter 11 where Atticus is called upon to use his marksman skills is particularly noteworthy and has a strong message I will always remember.

      Honorable mentions to “Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman “, “Kiss Bow and Shake Hands” by Terri Morrison and Wayne A.Conaway and “The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Farris

So there you have it folks, my top 8 books on Leadership and Management that I have referred to throughout my Management career. I found these all very helpful not only in my career but also in my life. Let me know what you think.

Oh and by the way, books can’t teach you everything. Having a mentor and mate like Gerard Dillon in your life is is even more helpful !

Haka Inspires Parkinson's Warriors at the Virginian !!

In previous Blogs I have written about the innovative exercise programs being used to combat the effects of Parkinson’s disease (PD) for patients at the Virginian Outpatient Rehabilitation in Fairfax Virginia

Programs like “LSVT Move Big ( And Aussie Mike’s Boxing (   Aim to improve the quality of movement, strength and endurance for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

A new addition to the rehab program at the Virginian was a project utilizing the traditional Maori Haka.  The Haka is an ancient war dance used by the Maori’s the Native people of New Zealand.  The Haka is used on the battlefields and also when groups come together to show pride and respect.  The Haka is a fierce display of tribe’s pride, strength and unity.  The movements used include violent foot stamping, facial expressions, tongue protrusions and rhythmic body slapping accompanied by loud chanting. 

The driving force behind this project at the Virginian, Matt McKeon, speech Therapist and Parkinson care team lead for the rehabilitation department, says that “the Haka is being used to symbolize the patients and staff at the Virginian’s mutual respect for each other and unwavering commitment to combat the effects of Parkinson’s disease.”  

I sat down recently with Matt McKeon, to find out how this traditional New Zealand Maori ceremonial war dance is being used to fight Parkinson’s disease

Matt, first things first, why the Haka?

“When I saw the Native Maori Haka being performed I couldn’t help but be inspired by the spirit and energy shown as well as the respect for each other and their tribal elders.  The various large movements the foot stamping, facial expressions and loud, proud use of their voice is the epitome of what we want our Parkinson’s patients to do. More than just doing exercise though the Haka expresses emotions and I thought it would be really inspirational if these people with Parkinson’s could do this well to show the global community this is what Parkinson’s can be . That people with PD can move well, they can show expression and emotion and are more than the sometimes stereotypical image you see of people with PD.  This can only help others with PD to do more.”

Can you give us some more specifics about the Movements used in the Haka ?

“For this project we sought to learn the “Ka Mate Haka” by Te-Rauparaha, chief of the Ngati Tao Rangatira of New Zealand. This Haka in particular embodied a message that permeates the lives of many people, especially those living with progressive neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. "Ka Mate" (Tis death or Will I die?) and "Ka Ora" ( Tis life or Will I live?) is recited in the first 2 lines. It allowed our clients with Parkinson's disease to embrace the battle that rages within and supported their desire to combat the disease with an intensity that many have never experienced all while supporting the function of muscle groups needed for movement, expression, and verbal communication.  

How did your patients with PD view the project and react to learning the Haka which is not easy ?

“They initially struggled to learn the movements but they come back every week with their sheets, ready to practice. But they persisted and knew that the underlying message was to show the mutual respect they have for their fellow patients and the therapists who have chosen to help them in their fight against PD. For those with Parkinson's, the expression to "live" was performed with such purpose that they described the experience as "transformative."

 Matt in the video you refer to Parkinson’s as a Bully.  Can you explain more about that please?

“Well when you see conditions like Parkinson’s it is like a bully.  It comes, doesn’t ask your permission, shoves you on the ground and takes your freedom to move and your voice away. And like a typical bully unless you stand up and fight back it’s not going away.  So by performing the Haka with respect to the Maori traditions in a loud voice, and aggressive stance we hopefully instill a quiet confidence into our patients that whatever life throws at them we can fight against it.”

Did you, the rehab staff and patients gain new insight into the Maori Culture and the Haka?

“Most definitely.  Our goal is to also to be respectful to the native Maori culture. We are putting ourselves out there not to be them or compare ourselves with them but with utmost respect and admiration for the ancient Maori chiefs in their spirit to fight against sometimes seemingly insurmountable odds.

So after weeks of practice under the expert guidance of a native Maori descendant of the Kawati tribe the rehab staff and Parkinson’s patients at the Virginian came together in true warrior spirit to produce the following video to symbolize their fight against Parkinson’s disease.

Kudos to Matt Mckeon and the staff and patients at the Virginian Outpatient Rehabilitation in Fairfax Virginia for their innovative approach in the battle to beat Parkinson’s disease !!


Challenging Times Ahead for Corporate Fitness Centers !

With the advent of low cost operators, 24 hour fitness centers, Boutique clubs and the plethora of online fitness options can your work-site Fitness Center survive?

2 C words and an often used F word could be the answer!

Mike James a 40 year Veteran of the Corporate Fitness Industry reports

Corporate Fitness Centers, just like their customers, come in many shapes and sizes. From a small room with a treadmill, maybe a few scattered dumbbells, with showers for joggers and bike riders to the medium sized facility with a wider range of equipment and exercise options, right up to very large operations like at the World Bank with 3 fully equipped Fitness Centers and a 70 class per week Group Exercise Program, Corporate Fitness Centers have become an integral part of the work place.

The 2 key selling points for companies to spend $$ on Corporate Fitness Programs usually focus on producing healthier, fitter employees, leading to 1) increased productivity and 2) decreased absenteeism.    

However today with fiscal tightening these altruistic benefits are quickly forgotten by the omnipresent band of flinty eyed accountants looking to justify each and every square foot of corporate overhead.

Today  with justifying the dollars spent as the main focus the raison’detre for Corporations spending money on in house fitness facilities shifts to 2 C words; cost and convenience.

By providing convenient in house facilities you are saving the member and the company the time and effort it takes to exercise at another facility at a considerably lower monthly membership than at a commercial Fitness Center.

For many years this was true. At the World Bank Fitness Centers from 1993 -2001, over 4800 members had access to state of the art exercise equipment and a 60 class per week Group Exercise Program for the princely sum of $10 per month.  At that time monthly membership dues at similarly equipped Commercial facilities ranged anywhere from $30-$90.00 per month

However times have changed especially in the fitness industry.  Let’s look at how not only Fiscal tightening but also vastly different market conditions have affected Corporate Fitness Centers.


The monthly subscription for Corporate Fitness Centers has steadily risen since the early 2000’s.  Today Corporate Fitness Centers at places like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Fitness Centers in Washington DC the cost is now $35.00 per month.   This is still great value for money at both facilities.  But with the advent of low cost operators like Planet Fitness at $10.00 per month and round the clock 24 operators like Xsport Fitness and 24 hour fitness offering huge facilities and Group exercise programs at approximately $40-45 per month the cost factor becomes less relevant. Similarly many community centers, and YMCA facilities now have equipment and services that rival commercial operations at low individual and family membership rates


It is definitely convenient to have a fully equipped fitness center where you work.  It is even more convenient to have a fitness center where you live. Today’s new condo developments often include Fitness Centers with exercise facilities. Condo Fitness Centers may vary in size and what they offer but most are a far cry from years past when a typical Condo Fitness center was a token effort with maybe a treadmill and stepper in a poorly ventilated room tucked downstairs somewhere near the community wash room. Today many condos, especially in new developments offer regular Group exercise classes, meditation rooms and commercial quality cardio and strength training equipment.

Another huge change in the Fitness Industry has been the growth of boutique Brand clubs, like” 9 round Boxing”,” Club Pilates”, “Barre”, “Soul Cycle” and “Orange Theory”.  No longer does a member have to wait for their once or twice per week boxing, Pilates or Spin class.  With a boutique club they can take the class of their choice almost any day and time of the week.  While the cost of these clubs is not cheap at approximately $70.00 per month, there now appears to be less market resistance to paying dollars for fitness Classes. Many members are now prepared to pay extra $ for this convenience.

There has also been a significant increase in home based exercise options with programs like “Peloton” and “Beachbody” that offer live streaming classes.

All of these factors have diluted the convenience and cost factor that encourage employees to join their onsite fitness Centers. At the World Bank Fitness Centers the total membership is still a very respectable 3300 but a far cry from the days of 4800 members when the cost was $10.00 per month.

So unfortunately this enables Poindexter and his band of flinty eyed bean counters to sharpen their pencils and be even more vigilant in their cost cutting efforts.  And perhaps the Poindexter’s and his crew have a valid point.

 Why should a company spend money on an in-house exercise space if only a handful of employees actually use it?  At the end of the day it’s about” backsides on seats”,” use it or lose it” or any other cliché that is apt in preventing your onsite Corporate Fitness Center from going out of existence.

2 C words and an F bomb can save the day

“The big thing I learned that I kept with me for my entire career is the fitness business is a hospitality business—bottom line. Unless and until people understand that, they really haven't entered the high road of the business. (John McCarthy IHRSA President, CBI magazine, Oct 7, 2014)

By acknowledging that Fitness is a hospitality business Corporate Fitness Centers can enhance the first of the C words.


By creating a community within a Corporation and doing all the things a good hospitality business does, like remembering names and providing great service and product you will go a long way to creating value in the Corporation which simply is not found in most commercial Fitness operations.

This ties into our second C word

Continuing education

For employees at Corporate Fitness Centers creating a culture of lifelong learning and support of educational initiatives will ensure the staffs stay current and provide members with the best facilities and services possible. This creates a culture where employees are appreciated, valued and made to feel part of something worthwhile. As Sir Richard Branson, founder of the “Virgin group says “If you look after your staff well, they will look after your customers.”

Which leads us to perhaps the most important reason for joining a fitness center it involves an oft used F WORD?

The F word!

And that word is Fun!

How do you create a fun atmosphere?  It starts from the moment a member enters the doors.

By providing a friendly stress free experience members will view the Fitness center as an oasis far removed from the pressures of their work day.

The Future -Be gone Poindexter !!

Yes it is a challenging time for Corporate Fitness Centers.  Today there are definitely cheaper and even more convenient exercise options but by providing a community feel with great camaraderie and a fun experience by continually educating staff to provide topnotch service the Corporate Fitness Center model can still survive and thrive even with Poindexter and his band of flinty eyed bean counters lurking in the shadows!!




Leading Teams with Ritz Carlton Gold Star Communication (Or what I learned from the Ritz Carlton Leadership Center and how we applied it at the World Bank Fitness Centers)


Right from the very start of my career in the Fitness Industry some 40 years ago (Yikes!), I have always been a big believer in former IHRSA President John McCarthy’s view that "The fitness Business is first and foremost a hospitality Business."

 “The big thing I learned that I kept with me for my entire career is the fitness business is a hospitality business—bottom line. Unless and until people understand that, they really haven't entered the high road of the business. (John McCarthy IHRSA President, CBI magazine, Oct 7, 2014)

 Over the course of my professional journey I have had the good fortune to attend Management training at respected companies and Institutions like Disney Corporation, The Ritz Carlton, George Washington and Johns Hopkins Universities and last but certainly not least, the IHRSA Club Industry Management Institute.

All of these training programs passed on valuable information, but it was the Ritz Carlton training that obviously provided me with the greatest learning in terms of the Hospitality-Fitness Industry connection. (The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC is an American company that operates the luxury hotel chain known as The Ritz-Carlton. The company has 91 luxury hotels and resorts in 30 countries and territories. The Ritz Carlton leadership center provides leadership and customer service training to organizations throughout the world.)

 "While most businesses go through the requisite exercise of defining key values or composing mission statements, few leaders understand the importance of regular and repetitive presentation of these core aspects of their business. (The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company" by Joseph Michelli.)

 For our team at the World Banks Fitness Center ours key values were encapsulated in our CRAP Communication system and our Service goals and Action Plan  for the Best Corporate Fitness Center in the Whole Wide World described in my previous Blogs.

 There are 2 main ways the Ritz Carlton goes about reinforcing and keeping the Core values in the forefront of their employee’s minds. 

1.    Credo Cards.

The Credo Card is a pocket card that bears the title “Gold Standards” and lists the details and core values of their mission. The card is a mandatory part of Ritz Carlton uniform and is referred to on a daily basis.

At the WBFC we tackled this with enthusiasm and came up with a small pocket card that described the key aspects of CRAP acronym and a list of our 11 Service Goals. Unfortunately we found that this was not practical for us.

In a dynamic Corporate Fitness Center where Fitness Staff teach classes conduct training sessions, and Occupational health programs at 3 facilities the constant changing in and out of clothes resulted in cards constantly being lost or misplaced.

2.    The  Lineup

This refers to a mandatory meeting that takes place at the beginning of a shift where staffs from all levels of the organization attend. At this 10 minute meeting a staff member speaks on everyday examples where the Gold Standards have been applied. Through the use of positive storytelling, the core values of the company are shared and hopefully serve as motivation for the day ahead.

Again with 3 locations and conflicting work shifts a daily lineup for all staff was a difficult process to implement at the WBFC. However we did come up with a digital version of the daily lineup that proved very effective in reinforcing our Core Values and in keeping all staff informed on what was happening at our 3 centers.

 Mike’s Daily CRAP

As General Manager of the 3 Centers very early in the day (pre 6 a.m.) I would send out an email to all staff we called Mike’s Daily CRAP. This  was a concise email  welcoming staff  to the day and detailing any relevant, operational issues, promotions etc. and tying this in with our CRAP acronym and concluding with our Vision to be “the best corporate Fitness Center in the Whole Wide World.(BCFC in the WWW)

In my experience, the single biggest problem staff has with Management is lack of Communication.  Mike’s daily CRAP email went a long way to solving this. However it wasn’t perfect. In our digital age with staff receiving emails all day long how do you ensure they read this email?

This is where Management has to be very forthright and assertive. As Manager I emphasized that Communication is a 2 way street and reading this email was a mandatory part of the staff’s daily duties. I was very clear that I did not appreciate staff asking me questions that I had already addressed in my morning CRAP. 

Why didn’t you read the morning CRAP? was my direct reply to these types of questions.

Staff have to be made accountable.  Again, effective Communication is a 2 way street. It is never enough to simply write an email and expect Communication issues to be resolved.

World Bank Fitness Center Volunteers Instructors

The World Bank Fitness Center is a very unique environment. The most unique aspect of the program is our Volunteer Group exercise program where staff from within the WB employees teach classes. (NB: Described in my previous article)

With over 30 Volunteers teaching 1 or 2 Group exercise classes per week, they are very important part of the WBFC team.  As Volunteer instructors have full time careers within the World Bank Group we found that there was no need for a daily email to add to their already overflowing email inbox and stressful workloads.

 An update every 2 weeks titled “Here’s what’s happening at the Best Corporate Fitness Center in the Whole Wide World “provided details on operational issues, and reinforced core values and our vision. This served as a great way to foster team spirit and involvement.

It is worth noting here that given their Volunteer status I would be far more accommodating when they asked questions which had already been covered in the update. The Management relationship and expectations with Volunteers who all have full time jobs, has to be different than for full time fitness staff. 

Keeping Volunteers informed and feeling part of the Fitness Center team was the major goal of this fortnightly update. Bottom line the Volunteers need to be thanked and appreciated for providing their time and expertise.

Fortnightly Fitness Staff Meetings

 Rather than rely solely on words on a page, our fortnightly team meeting for all Fitness Staff was an opportunity to reinforce our core values and vision in real time. The meeting Agenda would often include “Story Time” where we focused on examples that reinforced our Service Goals.

 Another method we used was to have staff dip their hands into a bucket which had post it notes numbered 1 through 11. Once the staff member had their number we used a Pecha Kucha* format to present the rule.  In the space of 2 minutes staff  had to explain the importance of the specific rule and give a practical example of a team member who had recently been a great role model of this rule in action.

 Fitness is a hospitality Business

Ritz Carlton Leadership training was great for the WBFC and clearly established the Fitness / hospitality business connection. While we did not apply Ritz Carlton methods verbatim, the emphasis on team building and reinforcing Core Values, Mission and Vison was invaluable.

The daily CRAP, Staff meetings and annual retreats fostered team work and enhanced Communication. The major point I took away is that to have an effective Vison and Mission is more than words on a poster that gets posted on a wall somewhere never to be noticed again.  It takes leadership, consistent work and effective messaging via regular communication to ensure all staff are engaged and feel that they are a valuable team member.


In my next Blog I will discuss how this helps enhance our member’s experience.


Please comment and let me know what you think!!


Battle of the Breadsticks


It all started innocently enough on a beautiful summer morning. I strolled along the neighboring shopping center adjacent to the G train on one of my all too infrequent visits back to my hometown of Melbourne after moving to Washington, D.C., in 1993.  

Amid the usual stream of shoppers, diners and coffeeholics there emerged a rather scruffy, forlorn looking fellow carrying the many bags of different sizes one usually associates with folks down on their luck and of no fixed abode.

Besides his muttering of unintelligible phrases, two other things made this bloke stand out even more amid this tranquil cafe society setting. Visible in his many bags of many colors was an assortment of at least a dozen foot-long breadsticks.  

I can only assume that he availed himself to these after they had been left outside the doors of local diners and coffee shops by bakers making their early morning deliveries. This is a common site in early morning Melbourne. The honor system usually prevails with the bakers’ goods remaining undisturbed on their doorsteps until the shop owner opens for business. Well apparently not this time. Allegedly of course!

Adding to this odd sight, our bedraggled breadstick bloke was also attempting, with very little success, to roll a cigarette one-handed. This left a trail of cigarette papers and tobacco that he duly spat along the footpath. He was Melbourne’s version of Hansel and Gretel minus the bread crumbs replaced with cigarette papers and spittle adorned tobacco.  

Like most of my fellow Melbournians, rather than confront him for his transgressions I gave a wry smile and bemused shake of the head. After all, what harm was he doing other than allegedly stealing the breadsticks, denying honest shopkeepers of their livelihood and profusely littering the streets with his tobacco-laced, potentially tuberculous-ridden spittle!  

My Aussie/Irish convict forebears would have been proud at my still intact convict sense of justice and bonhomie for a fellow motley straggler in this thing we called life.

However not all shared my “live and let live” sentiments. One civic-minded citizen made the bold move of confronting our bastion of breadsticks.  

“What do ya think you’re doing ya silly old bugger,” he bellowed.

“You’re making a mess of the streets. Go and give that bread back ya thieving bastard.”

But this old bloke wasn’t going to accept such civic-minded impertinence.  

“What!” he yelled, ordering him to mind his own business.  

Our irate breadstick bloke then attempted an aggressive fighting stance. Unfortunately this attempt at pugilism seemed to be affected by foreign substances as his body swayed from side to side and he stumbled into the gutter.

Seizing upon this weakness, his opponent threatened, “I’ll bloody call the cops if ya keep that up!” He then decided that discretion was the better part of valor and departed the scene.

But breadstick bloke wasn’t going to be denied his retribution. As his protagonist walked to his car, the old bugger showed his true athletic prowess by hurling the breadsticks at him, javelin and circus knife-thrower style. The streets of East Melbourne were now awash with foot-long breadsticks, coffee scrolls, jam buns and even the occasional Dame Edna Everage Lamingtons not previously visible in his many bags of tricks.

His opponent cowered in fear and attempted to deflect the fuselage of bread bombs from the crusty curmudgeon. Meanwhile the crowd of amazed onlookers either doubled over in laughter or yelled abuse, which further enraged our aggrieved homeless warrior.

Once his ammunition of purloined pastries was spent, he grabbed his bags and went on his way with nary a policemen in sight. Another fugitive of justice on the streets of Melbourne! Our civic-minded hero appeared to emerge unscathed but nevertheless this random act of carbohydrate carnage left me wondering.

What could I and my fellow citizens have done to prevent this? If only we had been carrying our own legally purchased breadsticks we could have stopped the crusty old bugger in his tracks.

As the old saying goes, “The only thing stopping a bad guy with a foot-long breadstick is a good guy with his own foot-long breadstick!”

After witnessing this scene I vowed to take a proactive stance. From now on I will be carrying my own concealed foot long strapped to my thigh, or perhaps a smaller hot dog bun will do the trick.

Of course this event made me come to another very important realization.

Maybe I have lived in U.S.A. way too long?!

A man resembling our protagonist crossing the street at Powlett Street and Wellington Parade, East Melbourne.  Credit Courtesy of David Cate

A man resembling our protagonist crossing the street at Powlett Street and Wellington Parade, East Melbourne. Credit Courtesy of David Cate

Knocking out Parkinson's at the Virginian!!!

Our Rockys in Action!!!

The benefits of boxing for people with PD are more than just physical – see the Virginian’s “Knock Out Parkinson’s” boxing class in action here!
As our instructor Aussie Mike James says: “Like in boxing, when the going gets tough, the tough get going!”
To learn more about our therapy and wellness programs here at the Virginian call 703 277—6611

Sticking to an exercise program, Arben or no Arben! The Psychology of stick-to-itiveness


         Rain, hail, sleet or snow, every Tuesday and Thursday morning Arben Gjino teaches a Spin class at the International Finance Corporation Fitness Center.  A fitness specialist with the World Bank Fitness Centers, Arben’s teaching skills and very affable personality help  motivate his many clients  to get out of bed and start their day with an hour of sweat, strain and Spin, Spin, Spin. Some of these members have attended his class regularly for the past 15 years.

         Julie Perng, a member of the World Bank’s behavioral Sciences team, has been a regular devotee of these classes for the past 12 months. Julie recently made a number of observations on why Arben is so effective in her Blog

Using behavioral sciences to teach fitness: A (sometimes unwilling) student’s perspective

        “What helps Arben – and his students – is the utilization of concepts from psychology. In particular, he uses concepts such as being non-discriminatory, salient nudges, making the classes fun and personal, and role-modeling. As a member of the World Bank’s behavioral sciences team, which applies psychology to international development projects, I especially appreciate the use of these techniques being used on – and for – me.”

         However, as the old saying goes “Arben Gjino’s don’t just grow on trees.” In an attempt to explore the use of Psychological concepts for the average person who may not have an Arben to motivate them Julie Perng asked me the following 2 part question

       How can people use psychological concepts or behavioral tools on themselves if they don’t have a fitness class or person like Arben pushing them to?

1)    Start an exercise program
2)    Have the best workout they can once they have  started and continue on with their fitness journey

1) Starting an Exercise Program

       With or without a strong leader like Arben one of the best tools to enhance exercise adherence is "visualization"

       By taking the time to picture in your mind what you want to achieve i.e. greater health, increased Fitness, losing weight etc., you can increase your chances of adopting the habits and actions that will achieve your vision.

        You can take this technique to another level, by physically drawing or sketching what you want to achieve and even exploring your feelings of joy and satisfaction when your vision is completed.  Visualization techniques have been used successfully by athletes and sportsmen for many years.  

        Sports people explored this technique long before psychologists gave it the term “visualization”.   In boxing, Rock Marciano undefeated World Heavyweight Champion from 1952-56 was known to spend time directly before his bout in a deep sleep where he would dream about his victory and how it would feel at the end of a contest.  Similarly Muhammad Ali, who dreamed from an early age of becoming the Greatest, often sketched moments where he visualized himself defeating his opponent. 

      Obviously we are not all as athletically gifted as Ali or as tough and relentless as Rocky Marciano. Our vision has to be realistic. However many studies have shown that people who regularly write down and visualize their goals are far more like to achieve success. So, for the beginning exerciser if you keep your vision firmly implanted in your mind and revisit it often, chances are you will achieve your goals.

       This is not just a vague passing pipe dream that we all experience from time to time.   Lots of hurdles incurred in daily life can disrupt your vision, so it takes some determination and stick-to-itiveness.

        By devoting the time to this technique and exploring all of its steps you are committing your conscious and subconscious mind to a specific course of action.

2)     How can people have the best workout they can once they’ve started and continue their fitness journey?

        In the absence of an Arben this can be a very tough task.  Not everyone has the focus or drive to push themselves when the instinct for self-preservation, aka the little person inside your head, tells you to "take it easy."  

        After a 40 year career in the fitness Industry, it has been my experience that the most successful clients have been the ones who combine a focus on self-improvement goals with a driving force or goal, outside of themselves.

         Finding a more altruistic purpose or something outside of yourself can be a very effective technique.   Making declarative statements like, "I am doing this so I can enjoy more time with my family" or “I owe it to significant other and children to be at my best fitness so that I can be an active contributing presence in their lives" helps establish regular exercise as an essential part of your life.

         Self-education is another very important contributor to quality work outs. However, there is a caveat.  Not all so called education is beneficial.

       Today with the overbearing, and many times over reaching effect of social media, there is a plethora of "fake news" in terms of exercise and fitness.  Seeking out reliable, informed opinion and not succumbing to the latest internet fads is an important factor in long term success. 

          Mentoring from knowledgeable professionals like Arben Gjino at the World Bank Fitness Centers and  researching reliable sources like ACE (American Council on Exercise) or the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine)  and of course  will help you attain the best workout and a continuation of your fitness journey.



When thinking Fitness - Think Big !!!

     I believe it was noted Fitness Industry consultant Thomas Plummer who said words to the effect of “Fitness Professionals of the baby boom generation were great at training people to run faster, jump higher and lift heavier weights and maybe add a six pack waistline here and there. This type of training regime made you faster, slimmer, more athletic and stronger, all while not being able to scratch your back or tie yours shoe laces without calling for assistance. 

     Admittedly this is a very broad description that some of our regular Yoga enthusiasts would totally refute. Plummer’s main point was that today’s personal trainers are being taught to incorporate more functional movements in their training  that makes for a much more balanced approach to Physical Fitness.

    These thoughts ran through my mind as I recently observed my colleague Maria Malca take 20 members of the "LSVT Move Big" class at The Virginian residences in Fairfax, Virginia.  As described in my previous Blogs I have been working closely with Maria by providing Boxing based exercise classes to people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) many of whom have been Maria’s regular clients in her Move big Classes

    Based on the LSVT BIG therapy program, Move BIG is a Parkinson- Specific class to improve quality of movement, walking, strength and endurance. The format also includes postural and stretching exercises. It is based on the principle that the brain can learn and change (neuroplasticity). It has been formulated from an existing program to help with speech for people with PD called the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT).

The Big Class

    Held in a large assembly room with nary a dumbbell, barbell, dynaband or fitness prop in sight Maria began the session by leading the group through some Basic walking that used different gait patterns, forward and backward steps, and figure 8 patterns between chairs. Vocal inhibition and memory can also be affected by PD, so Maria engaged the participant’s brain and voices by having them yell out the names of Airports in the United States while they walked in a circle. 

     Following this was a series of seated exercise working through different body planes. As Maria's clients moved, forward, upward, sideways from seated to standing etc. they were encouraged to follow her cues in a series vocal exercises with forced exhalation.  Maria encouraged each participant to speak loudly, and confidently.  Facial stretches were also included to help engage the facial muscles which can suffer from palsy with the onset of PD. Basic stretches and relaxation concluded the 50 minute session

Boxing for PD

     As I watched Marie and her clients, my thoughts turned to my boxing class and how I could incorporate the same principles in my teaching. Boxing training, minus the lumps and bumps of contact, is becoming a very popular activity for our PD population.  If taught properly the many punch combinations, Jab, cross, hook and uppercuts when combined with total body movement like ducking weaving and slipping punches can be used very effectively to seek the same type of total body movement. 

     In the following video one of boxing’s premier trainers Freddie Roach who himself has PD mentions that the hand eye coordination he developed through pad work has been instrumental in his delaying the progression of his PD symptoms.

     While currently my class is based primarily on pad work and all its many variations. I look forward to working on a newly installed speedbag with the folks in the coming weeks. It is definitely a skill that can be taught to beginners as the following video shows


Some Final Thoughts

After viewing the LSVT Big Session at the Virginian I came away with 3 main impressions.

1.    A skilled leader like Maria Malca is essential.  It should be noted that while Maria has been taught the LSVT Big format she also has over 30 years of experience as a Group exercise instructor at the World Bank Fitness Centers. So not only is Maria knowledgeable, she also knows how to engage and lead groups of people  with the right combination of assertiveness while still making it fun for her clients.

2.    The exercises are very effective in working all aspects of fitness like  strength, muscle endurance, aerobic and flexibility while also including specific drills that encourage use of the voice, balance, gait and memory to address specific concerns for this population

3.    Finally over the years I have seen Degrees in my chosen field of Physical education adopt all types of pseudo-scientific nomenclature.  

       Back in 1983 when I received my degree,it was given the grandiose title of Bachelor of Applied Science (Phys Ed) Since then I have seen other names given to basically the same degree ranging from  Bachelors of Kinesiology, Exercise Sciences, Health and Physical Education, Sports and Exercise Science, Biomechanics , Exercise Physiology etc. etc.  

      However, I also remember that the very first degree available in my hometown of Melbourne Australia was at the Melbourne University in 1937.  It was call a Diploma in “Human Movement Studies”

     Human Movement is the oldest and the definitely the best title.  At its essence exercise is not just about running faster, lifting more and showing off a 6 pack. Exercise is about Human Movement in all its variations, for all sectors of the population.

      Like Maria Malca and her wonderful clients at the Virginian, when we think about our Fitness regimes, we should think BIG and incorporate all types of Human Movement into our program!

Boxing Training for Parkinson's... my thoughts and impressions!

      Over my 40 year career in the Fitness industry I have seen boxing training evolve from the stereotypical bastions of hyper aggressive masculinity practiced in sweaty, acrid, back yard gyms full of blokes with black eyes, busted lips and bad intentions, to today where there is usually some form of boxing activity in most corporate and commercial fitness centers throughout the world.  In my native Australia I was fortunate to be involved at the very start of this evolution, with my coach and great friend, former Aussie Olympic boxing representative Des Duguid, who pioneered the concept in the late 1980’s.

      Since 1990, I have taught the boxing skills I learned under Des Duguid, to people from all walks of life, from sedentary office workers, weekend warriors, and skilled sportsmen, to talented pugilists at the Australian Boxing Academy.  But it is only recently that I have become involved in teaching boxing to folks with Parkinson’s disease at the Virginian residences in Fairfax, Virginia

      So far I have taught one 4 week Pilot program and we are now at the halfway mark of our first 8 week Boxing program. 

      Here are my thought and impressions.

First Impressions

      It has definitely been a great learning experience. I continue to learn more about courage, perseverance and the power of a positive attitude in the face of adversity from these folks than any other group I have taught. Rather than sit back and feel sorry for themselves these people are taking positive steps to address the various physical issues they face.

Teaching the skills

           With limited space and equipment, much of the work involves using Focus mitts which enable participants to punch into pads worn on my hands. Depending on the progression of an individual’s symptoms some of the skills may take a little longer to teach and perhaps never be quite mastered.

            Fortunately Des Duguid’s was a great teacher of human movement.  He taught me patience and the ability to break down complex skills simply and effectively

           Like with most groups I teach it is important to keep in mind that we are not teaching prospective pro boxers or world champions here. While correct technique is always the goal, the movement and benefit of exercise should be our primary focus rather than 100% picture-perfect technique.

          Instruction has to be clear and concise, with skills progressing from basic to more complex as the participants become more adept and confident.  I generally try not to teach more than a 3 punch combination to beginners.  This is particularly important for folks with Parkinson’s, as many have issues with neuromuscular coordination and muscle rigidity.

        Many experience difficulties discerning between left and right hand. That is quite normal for all populations learning boxing skills, so positive reinforcement should be used to encourage and correct where necessary. The person shouldn’t be admonished and made to feel like a Klutz.

       We all have learning curves. I experience these same difficulties when I try to dance, so I certainly can relate!!! (NB: In my defense my wife says that I am a great dancer.. for a bloke with 2 left feet!!)

        Working within abilities and limits of an individual’s movement is essential. Actually physically moving the person’s arms through the movement pattern, whether it is a jab, cross, hook or uppercut, can help some who are having a difficult time mastering the movements.

Breathe in Breathe out

        Breath holding is another common issue you find in all populations. People tend to hold their breath and exhibit tension when they exert against a resistance or when punching. Breathing freely and indeed forcefully exhaling when punching, should be encouraged to avoid complications like the Valsalva maneuver. This is especially important for Parkinson where breathing and shortness of breath can be one of the side effects.


 Vast improvements in Hand eye coordination and Punch Power

            Hand eye skills come quickly for some and not so quickly for others. However it is the one area I have seen to be the most visible improvement for nearly all participants.  By incorporating challenging group activities like random reflex test with the pads and foam noodles, reaction time and hand eye coordination can be greatly enhanced.

              The strength and power of the punches also improves markedly. I always emphasize drawing the power of punches using the whole body chain,  from feet to hand not just flailing from the arms. The power individuals develop is enough to make me sure I am cautious when using the focus mitts. I don’t want to cop a punch and become like one of the black eyes and busted lips brigade!


Footwork, ducking and weaving

          Footwork takes a longer time to master as freezing of the gait is a common symptom of Parkinson.  I have found that given our space restrictions limited forward and backward movement is the best method right now. My general impression is that the gross motor movement patterns involved in punching, are easier to achieve than the fine movement patterns required in regular boxing footwork, which can be quite complex.

           However movement skills like ducking and weaving can easily be taught.  With all populations I encourage participants to keep their eyes up and feel the movement. Again this ability will vary between individuals but opening their minds into thinking about these movements leads to increases in the neuromuscular firing required.

             Even soft blocking and parrying of punches can be taught at low intensity to add some realism into the sessions.  With all groups I emphasize that while these classes doesn't necessarily teach you to be a boxer, we should also realize  that in real boxing people actually hit you back. So it doesn’t hurt to learn some defensive skills.

It’s got to be Fun

              I have been a longtime proponent of former International Health Racquetball and Squash Association (IHRSA) president John McCarthy’s view that the Fitness Business is primarily a Hospitality business. Providing a great service with a people focus by remembering names and building relationships is definitely the most important skill you can have for success in the Fitness profession, especially when teaching group exercise classes.

              Most importantly it has to be Fun!!  Injecting humor along the way goes a long way to build teamwork and esprit de corps.

           Finally the irony isn’t lost on me that some of boxing greatest champions including Muhammad Ali suffered from Parkinson’s.  Today the skills that Ali perfected are now being used to combat the effects of Parkinson’s

           Did the effects of boxing cause Ali and other boxers Parkinson’s? While there is no definitive proof, there appears to be increasing agreement in the medical community  that repeated punches to the head is likely a big factor that can cause Parkinson’s. 

            Sadly my coach and Ali’s fellow 1960 Olympian, Des Duguid eventually suffered from Parkinson’s before passing away in 2008.  But I take solace from knowing that my mate, coach and mentor Des is posthumously sitting up there smiling like the proverbial Cheshire cat. No doubt he is regaling folks at the pearly gates, in typical colorful Aussie Vernacular, about how very proud he is that the skills he taught are being put to such good use helping people deal with Parkinson’s disease. 

          The mental image I have of Dessies beaming smile mirrored by my happy class members is the biggest reward I can possibly ask for.

Visualization the essential link to achieve your goals !

Ali vis.jpg

 ‘Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something deep inside them- a desire, a vison. They have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill”  Muhammad Ali.

              Before the advent of the “Sports Psychologist” and the eponymous Mind –Body connection programs promoted in to today’s fitness and wellness programs, former World Heavyweight Champions Rock Marciano and Muhammad Ali were using visualization techniques to achieve their ultimate goals.   While most of us don’t aspire to climb into the ring to emulate the fistic deeds of these 2 revered pugilists, we still have goals we would like to accomplish for our own personal fitness program, career or family life.  Visualization techniques can help us achieve these goals

              By taking the time to draw a picture in your mind of what you want to achieve i.e. greater health, increased Fitness losing weight etc., you can help increase your chances of adopting the habits and actions that will achieve your vision.  This is not just a vague passing day dream, like winning the lottery, which we all experience from time to time.  By devoting the time to this technique and exploring all of its steps you are committing your conscious and subconscious mind to a course of action

What is involved?

          Having a clear picture in your mind of what you want to achieve is the starting point.  Start by making a specific goal, whether it is increasing your fitness, giving a killer work presentation etc., Imagine how you will feel when you accomplish your goal, all the plaudits and positive feelings, thought and emotions you will experience.  Twenty minutes before every fight  Rocky Marciano undefeated world Heavyweight champion (1952– 55)   would take the time to enter into a deep sleep and dream of how his upcoming fight would unfold and  and end with his hand raised in victory.  His 49-0 record is testament to the success of his methods.


            You can take this technique to another level, by drawing or sketching what you want to achieve including your feelings of joy satisfaction when your vision is completed.  .I have attached a drawing Muhammad Ali used to inspire his road to becoming" the Greatest". He made this sketch as a 15 year old. 

           Obviously we are not all as athletically gifted as Ali or Rocky Marciano so a vision has to be realistic but if you keep your vision firmly implanted in your mind and revisit it chances are you will achieve your goal.Again this is not just a vague passing pipe dream.  Lots of hurdles incurred in daily life can disrupt your vision, so it takes some determination and stick-to-itiveness’. Revisiting your vision your sketches as Ali did helps   affirm ad recommit your conscious and subconscious mind to a course of action.

           By devoting the time to  Visualization  and exploring all of its steps you are committing your conscious and subconscious mind to a  specific course of action this will help lead you on the path to fulfilling your  goals and aspirations.

          So  folks, as always keep punching but start by visualizing where your punches need to land !!






What avoidable mistakes do club operators sometimes make when remodelling a Fitness Center?

November 2017 edition of Club Business International Magazine

When remodeling, club owners and managers get so excited about filling any empty space with new equipment they forget two major requirements:

  • Storage space -- Storage rooms should be situated adjacent to the center's studio and equipment areas. These should be large enough to accommodate spare parts and equipment that needs to be repaired or taken off the floor. Storage space should also be allocated for restroom, shower and cleaning supplies.
  • Clearance and access -- An overemphasis on equipment can result in a lack of clearance space, which may create safety issues during high-usage periods. This can interfere with traffic flow through the facility and inadvertently eliminate some of the clear-access pathways required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Avoiding these mishaps requires planning, planning and more planning.

Regular team meetings should be held, from the outset, with architects, engineers and other stakeholders to address these matters to avoid the need for "fixes" or possible problems later on. Accurate estimates of peak traffic flow throughout the club and compliance with all ADA standards are essential.

One final note: Prior to opening day for your remodeled facility, make sure that there are towel hooks and soap for every shower, and toilet paper for every stall. You can have the most perfectly designed facility in the world, but a lack of these items will be the first thing members notice! 

November 2017 edition of Club Business International Magazine