Recap of The 2012 Perform Better Functional Training Summit

Guess what time it is?  Perform Better Functional Training Summit review time!   I saw 15 awesome sessions this year, got to meet and mingle with some of the most passionate trainers in the industry, and had a generally amazing time.  This was my 3rd Summit, and I was able to take away even more this year than I have in the past.  Along with the session reviews, I’ll throw in an  awesome podcast episode, two great training sessions I had, and and some tips and strategies you can start using the minute you finish reading this.  Are you as excited as me? Yaaaayyyyyyyyy!

I opted to drive up on Thursday morning this year, and the 4:30am alarm clock absolutely sucked  had me getting dressed and rounding up my things; I was on the road, coffee in hand, by 5:30.  Along the way I jammed out to some tunes on Pandora, and listened to two awesome episodes of The FitCast.  It’s one of my favorite podcasts; and Kevin, Leigh, and Jon are Fassinating!  Kevin interviewed Lou Schuler and Alywn Cosgrove on their new book, The New Rules of Lifting for Life.  I also highly recommend you listen to Leigh and Kevin discuss vegetarian nutrition; I’ve already listened to it twice.

Once I was in Providence, it was up into the convention center for registration.  Adidas hooked us up with backpacks and long-sleeved ClimaCool shirts, and I sorted through my check-in contents to get  the meat of the conference; the book that contained all of the presentations!  Choosing a single presentation from the four offered during each time slot is as difficult as I imagine picking out a wedding dress to be.  My choices were slightly easier this year after having seen several presenters from last year and at the Learn-By-Doing Seminar, but it was still difficult.  You’ll see the master schedule below, and then I’ll get into each presentation:

::Deep Breath::  So it begins…

Thomas Plummer: Creating a Life in Fitness

This was my second chance to see Thomas Plummer, who runs the National Fitness Business Alliance, after seeing him as the “featured presentation” last year.  His lecture covered strategies and concepts to create a life in the fitness business, and it was an excellent way to begin the weekend.  (I’ll readily admit that I’m not a very business driven person, but I’ve tried to learn much more about the industry in the past year.  I’m not sure what took so long.)  Plummer pointed out that fitness professionals like helping people; that’s one of the biggest reasons why people get into the industry.  That desire to help people usually leads to making decisions that offer the least resistance; “Most lives and careers are created through a series of avoided decisions.”  Plummer noted that “There is no shortage of talent in this industry” but that there is a “shortage of people who risk their career to push ahead.”  This may involve moving from one facility to another, stepping up to specialize in a specific niche, and moving to a different area to begin your own business and jump start your career.  He noted that “You should never spend a minute of your life doing something that doesn’t make you happy.”

If you weren’t ready for it, some of what he said was pretty hard hitting; Are you willing to do what it takes to live your dream?   Thomas offered his top strategies for reaching the goals you’ve set for yourself. These included seeking situations that challenge you, not reinforce what you already know.  He discussed the importance of developing a specialization, that you should “pick something and kill it; what do you want to be the expert on?”  A fear of failure keeps most of us from making these decisions, but Thomas noted that it’s better to say “I’d rather fail at a higher level than you play.”  When it comes to making money, you need to provide higher quality programming and environment.  The most successful training facilities are offering functional training styles and small-group/ semi-private training.  Their clients see better results, and they make more money.  Machine-based training, and 1-on-1 training aren’t going to cut it in the industry anymore.  During his presentation, Thomas said, “How many of you knuckleheads are still warming people up on treadmills?”  To illustrate this, I’ll leave you with a promo video from Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove’s Results Fitness, which is one of the best gyms in the country:

Dan John; A Proactive Approach to Programming

In every article, interview, video, and podcast that Dan John is featured in, he has an inspiring ability to make very complex things sound very simple.  He began this lecture by telling us that “There’s one truth in the fitness industry: Everything works!”  Celebrity workouts, celebrity diets, treadmills, “Rocking to the Oldies”, and every fitness class and home workout you can think of:  They all work, for about 6 weeks.  Most people run into issues because they know where they are, but not where they’re going.  Working with elite athletes calls for pre-assessment, filling in the gaps, and a post-assessment to check for progress.  In the other 99%, we need to develop strategies for improving health through the life span, and providing for their goals.  Proper program design allows for the integration of what people want and what they need, if applied appropriately. Dan used a drinking glass analogy:

Absolute Strength is the class and “everything” else is the liquid.  Get the biggest class you can get and you can fill it with more “stuff”.  Almost universally, it is helpful…and that is pretty good.

When we consider movement patterns, Dan breaks it down into: push, pull, hinge, squat, loaded carry, and the “all inclusive” Turkish Get Up .  Most people’s goals are fat loss; they need to do whatever they’re inefficient at.  If they’re not doing any of these, that’s what they should work on.  Capable trainers will blend a clients needs and wants to provide for a training experience that gives the client the results they want, and empower them to be more proactive about their health.  In Dan’s words “The Goal is to keep the Goal the Goal!”

Eric Beard; Fascial Flexibility for Fitness Professionals

Eric Beard spoke about the importance role that fascia plays in health and quality of movement.  Fascia is the connective tissue that holds your body together; it covers almost everything inside of your body, and reduces friction between moving surfaces so that you can move more freely.  Fascia has nine times more nerve endings than muscle, and gives your brain and incredible amount of proprioceptive feedback.  When fascia isn’t functionally as much as it should be, it can lead to trigger points, or tight bundles of taught fibers that can lead to pain and movement dysfunction. Manipulating these trigger points can be done with the hands or with a variety of massage tools:  Foam rollers, massaging sticks, lacrosse balls, etc.  There are a variety of techniques you can use, but without the care of a licensed massage therapist, self massage may be your best option.  If you feel that your movement doesn’t feel as good as it should, I’d suggest grabbing a foam roller or lacrosse ball and massaging away.  You can see a video of Eric explaining the necessity of these techniques below:

John Berardi; Intermittent Fasting; Science or Fiction?

This was my second time seeing Precision Nutrition founder/CEO and college professor John Berardi speak.  John does a fantastic job of connecting clinical nutrition research to human behavior and emotion, and provides strategies for becoming more aware of why we behave certain ways nutritionally.  In this lecture, Berardi discussed the growing popularity of intermittent fasting, and it seems that the Perform Better attendees have taken notice; the house was packed.  JB noted that for a while, we’ve been discussing the importance of small, frequent meals, packed with protein, healthy fats, and vegetables, spaced out every 2-4 hours.  This definitely works for some people, but as it turns out, recent research is showing that prolonged periods “between feeding – up to 16-20 hours in some cases – stimulates some interesting physiological reactions, including:

  • Faster fat loss
  • Easier to maintain low body fat levels
  • Better muscle gain, through a rebound effect
  • Improved appetite and blood sugar control
  • Reduced blood lipids, blood pressure, improved markers of inflammation, cardiovascular function, and oxidative stress
  • Much less time spent prepping food.

Sounds pretty damn good, right?  Berardi discussed several of the current strategies that are being used in the fitness industry today, as well as his own personal experimentation with Intermittent Fasting.  If you’re wondering about the results, here are Dr. Berardi’s before and after pictures from his 6 month experiment:

I really appreciate Dr. Berardi’s explanation of Intermittent Fasting:  “Sometimes you eat, sometimes you don’t.”  As the body of research grows, he’s already taking a behaviors-based approach, and espousing that you should apply a strategy that works the best for your personality and your lifestyle, and that you can adapt with changes in stress in your life.

A quick summation of the strategy that JB is currently using, is simple.  Fasts until training (green tea for breakfast) and then two large meals after training:  More carbs on days that include strength training, and less carbs on days that are conditioning based.  It’s that simple.  If you’re interesting in learning more about Intermittent Fasting, he’s published a free 80 page e-book with Nate Green and Krista Scott Dixon, that you can find HERE.

Chad Waterbury; How to Build the Ultimate Power Athlete

Chad Waterbury is a neurophysiologist who discussed the importance of developing power in athletes based on motor unit recruitment.  It’s not typical gym banter, is it?  “Yo bro, how you doing with Henneman?”  (I’m nerdy, and have actually talked about that in the gym.)  Chad began his presentation with a fantastic explanation of motor unit recruitment.  I’ll let him take over from here with a video from his YouTube channel:

After reviewing the principles of motor unit recruitment, Chad noted that to maximally recruit motor units, we need to lift heavy, lift fast, or use high tension exercises, as well as address range of motion and technique.  Applying these principles to exercise selection and set/rep ranges, Chad noted that we should limit our sets to 10 seconds, when the largest motor units begin to fatigue and drop out.  Once this happens, we’re no longer training power.

One of the guests asked a great question: “If sets are limited to 10 seconds, does this mean we always need to train heavy with long rest periods?” Not necessarily; we can apply maximal acceleration, and pair exercises to allow for one area of the body to recover while another is doing work.

Tim Wilkins; Laugh Your Abs Off

Comedian Tim Wilkins held the ‘featured presentation’ spot this year, and he included a number of fitness-related jokes that were awesome.  As Tim poked fun of the crowd, it was as if we were listening to an outsider mocking us, and it was great.  The joke of the night was about the bands, straps, and…whips of corrective exercise; 50 Shades of Gray Cook.

After Tim wrapped things up, I spent a few minutes jotting down notes and reviewing the presentations for the day, then dragged my exhausted self to the same hotel I stayed in last year, the Hampton Inn in Downtown Providence . Once I was parked and checked in, I did what anyone who woke up at 4:30am would do; I trained.   The hotel had a small “well equipped fitness center”, and I was able to have a mildly successful upper body workout by getting creative with exercises and equipment.  After warming up, I hung my TRX from a door and paired sets of Fat Gripz Inverted Rows with handstand push-ups, then paired band-resisted elevated-feet push-ups with single arm inverted rows, and then two ‘finishers’ of inchworms, half-kneeling curl-to-presses, and side-plank resistance band rows, then push-ups, Swiss Ball elevated-feet stir-the-pots,and I’ll pretend I didn’t add Fat Grip Hammer Curls

After a 6:30 wake up on Saturday morning, I crushed some Western Omelets, turkey sausage for breakfast, and thought about Berardi’s IF lecture while I enjoyed my first bowl of Raisin Bran in years.  Hey, let me live a little.  It was pouring rain, so I drove over to the Convention Center and began my day  with…

Fraser Quelch; Changing the Game

This was my second opportunity to see Fraser, and I admire his ability to present his passion for the simple love of human movement.  During his talk, he calmly explained that the ‘solution’ to the nation’s health problem isn’t necessarily about more HIIT or that everyone in the country uses the TRX; it’s that we simply move more.  (Note: Fraser is the Director of Training and Development at TRX.)  He pointed out that 17% of the country has a fitness membership of some type, and that 10% of those people go on a regular basis; the training industry caters to 2% of the population!  How can we address the needs of the other 98%?

Current training spaces are shrines to body building: there are rows of exercise machines and treadmills, and we’re not meeting people where they are; we’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  As animals, we naturally like to flow and play;we like to move.  Most people fair far better when they’re engaged in activities that challenge them but are appropriate for their skills levels; activities that they can get lost in.  Fraser question, “How many of you like Zumba?” and was met with our elitist laughter, but he quickly pointed out that someone going to Zumba several times a week and enjoying themselves is far more effective than the ‘perfect’ program that can be written.

He espoused the need for open spaces in training centers; clear out the machines and elliptical crap, and give people the area to move around.  It’s important that people have the opportunity to exercise in environments that are engaging; there needs to be a blend of excitement and challenge that keeps them coming back for more.  During Fraser’s lecture I was able to identify many ideas that come up during discussion of physical education, and I’m eager to tie his ideas into my training as well as into future teaching.

Michol Dalcourt; “Shift” Training

Michol runs the Institute of Motion, and provided one of the most thought provoking seminars of the weekend.  He began with definitions of movement in training; most of our training involves ‘lifting‘, and we neglect training that involves shifting; moving loads through the gravitational field, considering vector variability, odd position shifting, and pre-position loading.  This may sound foreign to you, but the body does it naturally; our bodies evolved to absorb, mitigate, and produce force, and as Michol said, “Movement is all about creating space in your body and moving into that space.

This mindset flies in the face of what is typically taught in kinesiology and biomechanics courses, which simplify the body into a stack of levers and hinges.  Michol explains it here:

To help facilitate better human movement, Michol developed the rubber ViPR trainer, which is a tool that allows you to combine your ‘shift’ training and your ‘lift’ training.  Many of the patterns involve human movement far beyond what we typically see in the gym.  We tend to live with bicep curls and pec flies, thinking that those are exerises that provide good results for your body.  We’re living in the bodybuilding mentality (See Thomas’ and Fraser’s presentations above) and neglect our body’s ability to coordinate quite complex movement.  You can find an interesting article on ViPR training right there, and below is a video of the ViPR in action at Equinox.  Doesn’t that look fun as hell?

Todd Wright; Functional Density & Intensity

I made a point of seeing new presenters and topics this year, but knew that Todd Wright would provide a completely kick-ass seminar.  This was my third year seeing Todd, and he delivered awesome content yet again.  His presentation covered how to increase ‘functional density’ in a training session, which is increasing the number of ‘bang for your buck’ exercises, using the body the way it’s designed to move, and improving on movement quality and biomechanics.  Todd discussed the importance of providing the best results in a simple time frame; most trainers or strength coaches have between 1-3 hours a week to provide effective training.  At Todd’s gym, Train 4 the Game, and in his work as a strength coach at the University of Texas, he focuses on using the body as an integrated unit by moving through all three planes of motion, addressing movement skills, and providing a high energy training environment.

Todd and his team use a workout structure that follows that of many coaches; a warm-up, several groupings of exercises, and then a ‘finisher’ or energy systems work.  At Train 4 the Game, the warm-up is called the Fuze, because it ignites the rest of the workout.  During this time, clients foam roll, complete a tri-planar warm-up, complete locomotion drills, as well as a variety of power activities.  You can get a better idea of what this entails from Train 4 the Game’s locomotion education video below:

Once these athletes complete their ‘Fuze’, they begin to move into their ‘Bridges’; each bridge is a group of 3 exercises that allow them to cycle between each movement.  Each Bridge is 10 minutes long, and they use an interval timer to provide a frame of reference during the workout.  To better illustrate the use of the ‘bridges’, here’s a training example for basketball:

Todd’s lecture was awesome as always, and he provided a ton of information that can be used inside a training facility for warm-ups and locomotion drills, but as well as for sports coaches who are looking to improve the functional quality of the workouts that they’re using with their athletes.

Mark Verstegen; Our Future Perspective: Proactive Health Through Performance

Verstegen is the founder and chairman of Athletes Performance, one of the most elite training systems for athletes in the world.  He has build a brand around well structured, scientifically proven programming, and has the staff, facilities, and results to show for it:

The success of Athletes performance has led to Core Performance, an evolving system that can be used in a variety of general population settings.  Both systems work from the same “operating system for human performance”: Mindset (Behavioral), Nutrition, Movement, Recovery.  Verstegen shared a great deal of information regarding how the data collection and science used at AP/CP drives human interaction, behavior, and ultimately success.  Core Performance is using their evaluation and integration systems to create Core Performance Centers that can be integrated as corporate wellness centers to provide outstanding services to employees.  Before I continue, check out the Core Performance Centers promo video:

Seriously, how cool is that?!  If I was running a company I’d want a Core Performance Center in a heartbeat!  Verstegen pointed out that it wasn’t the use of technology for technology’s sake; instead, it was using technology to integrate knowledge and upgrade behavior.  Outside of the Core Performance brand, this is something that everybody can do, from completing more detailed assessments, to wearing heart rate monitors during training, to tracking nutrition and sleep.  Modern technology, such as the smartphone, allows people to carry almost all of the tools they need right at their fingertips.  There are exercise and nutrition log apps that you can easily download and use (which you should), there are heart rate monitor apps that you should download and use (which you should), and there are even sleep monitors to download!

I just downloaded an app called “Sleep as Android”, which features software that monitors the movement of your phone.  When you place the phone on your bed at night, it tracks your sleep and wakes you up at a period of light sleep, which enables you to wake up with greater ease and mental clarity.  I’ve been using the app for the past week, and with the exception of knocking my phone off the bed once, it’s been working great!  I’ve found a video review of the app, and I’d recommend using it if you have a droid, or finding a similar version for your iPhone or Blackberry.

Dave Tiberio; Motor Control Concepts: Strategies for Designing & Progressing Training Programs

Dave Tiberio is a physical therapist, professor, and dean of the Gray Institute.  His presentation focused on the idea that movement is three dimension, and that training the human body should focus on natural human movement which integrates the entire human body.  During his presentation, he frequently noted that Todd Wright and Logan Schwartz from Train 4 the Game are doing a fantastic job of applying the concepts of human movement to functional training.  After seeing Todd’s presentation, and with the benefit of seeing him for the 3rd time, Dr. Tiberio’s lecture seemed slightly redundant from an application standpoint, but he shared a weatlh of information on the research that supports ‘tweakology’, or the modification of movements to create changes in three planes of movement.  You can find a video of Gary Gray explaining the Logic of the 3D Matrix Performance Series by clicking that link, and you can watch the matrix in action right here:

The final ‘session’ of the day was an hour long question and answer session with all of the presenters.  Attendees packed into one of the lecture halls and were able to ask the presenters a variety of questions.  Many of the questions were about ailments related to physical inactivity and poor diet, and several presenters cited the necessity for increased physical activity time and higher quality physical education classes.  Colin Aina and Bill Parisi discussed the future likelihood of ‘privatized’ physical education, and I was delighted to hear a diverse group of training professionals talking about the necessity for movement training and exercise integration from a young age upwards.

Once the Q&A wrapped up, I searched the interwebz (aka Google Maps) for a gym in the area; it was time to train.  After finding a Boston Sports Club that was about 15 minutes away, I ventured across town and filled out an ‘interest’ card, and nervously asked if they had any squat racks.  I was told to head around a corner, and walked past banks of 50 ellipticals, 50 treadmills, an assortment of bikes and steppers, to their ‘functional training area’, which included two Smith machines a single squat rack, some plyo boxes, kettlebells, and medicine balls   I was in business; here’s my workout from the day:

  • Closer stance squat to low box, triples up to 385lbs.
  • Sumo deadlift, 5 singles between 365lbs – 405lbs.
  • Kettlebell Reverse lunges, 4″ deficit (KB’s in the racked position.)
  • High Box kettlebell step up (single kettlebell) paired with an anti-lateral flexion Paloff Press.
  • Finisher: Kettlebell swings x 10 (32kg ‘bell), suitcase carries (one ‘lap’ per hand), goblet walk (2 ‘laps), 6 rounds in 15 minutes

I was drained after that finisher, spent some time stretching out and moving around, and then wandered into a natural food store in the same shopping center to search for cheat-day snacks.  I ended up grabbing a Naked Green Machine drink, and an Orgain organic protein shake.  It may be have been the healthiest cheat day ever.  I was stuffed, showered, and in bed by 11pm.  On to Sunday morning…

Kelly Starrett; Maximizing Force, Speed, and Stability in the Kinetic Chain

Kelly Starrett is the man behind MobilityWOD, and the owner of San Francisco CrossFit.  He’s been churning out awesome content regarding soft tissue health, joint mobility, and movement quality, and the Perform Better attendees took note; this was the most packed 8am session I have ever seen.  Kelly talked about the biomechanic importance of torque, and how rotation is very important aspect of how we move.  He referred to the human body as a “fence post with rotary engines”, explaining that external rotation at the hip and shoulder are extremely powerful movements, but that we need a stable and neutral spine to create these forces.  “The disengaged trunk is probably one of the biggest force dumps we see…when you lose integration, you lose power.”  He noted that the shoulder and the hip are essentially the same joint, which reminds me of comments I’ve heard Charlie Weingroff note in interviews and his DVD.

Flexion and external rotation go hand-in-hand, and we should be more cognizant of this relationship when cueing exercises and evaluating human movement.  Kelly noted that a loss of rotation can lead to movement compensations to accommodate for poor range of motion, and this leads to a series of faulty movements down the line.  It was a fascinating presentation, and I’d highly recommend staying up to date on what Kelly has to say.  Below you’ll see an episode of the Mobility Project, where he talks about preparing for one of my favorite exercises, the deadlift:

Greg Rose; The Science of Functional Exercise Progressions

Greg Rose is one of the driving forces behind the Titleist Performance Institute, which has elevated the game for golf performance research.  The findings of TPI can be applied to other activities and every day movement, and Dr. Rose’s presentation centered on the importance of developing a knowledge of motor learning to best train our clients, athletes, and patients.  He discussed some basics of motor learning, and the difference between blocked and randomized practice.  He moved on to discussing the neuro-developmental perspective, and the joys of my motor learning classes came rushing back to me.  The neuro-developmental  perspective explains that we how to move through a progression of basic patterns, and that functional exercises should be prescribed in an order that mimics this natural development of movement.  The ‘treatment’ for a movement dysfunction is akin to rebooting the software on a computer, and Greg outlined a 4×4 matrix that can be used to prescribe corrective exercises.

Exercises should progress through a series of positions: non-weight bearing (1), to quadruped (2), to kneeling (3), to standing (4).  The resistance that’s applied should be no resistance with pattern assistance (1), no resistance (2), resistance with pattern assistance (3), and resistance (4). Exercises progress from 1×1 to 1×4, then 2×1 to 2×4, all the way to 4×4.  When this 4×4 matrix is considered, it’s possible to upgrade human movement in an appropriate way.  Rose finished by explaining that one of the benefits of the Turkish Get Up was that it progresses from 1×4, 2×4, 3×4, 4×4.

Brett Jones; Restorative Exercise and Indian Clubs

Wrapping up the weekend with Brett Jones was a great idea; his discussion of restorative exercise and the need to not always go full-speed was a welcome balance to the intensity discussed in other presentations.  He included an anthropological introduction, discussing the integration of ancient concepts or recovery, and how they’ve lost importance in our MetCon based, train-until-you-puke, more-is-better world.  We typically hear about training hard all of the time, without the appropriate balance of restorative measures:  sleep, proper breathing, mobility, stretching, nutrition, fundamental movement patterns; and Indian clubs.

Brett explained that the use of Indian clubs provide proper alignment of the “cage over the bowl”; aligning the rib cage over the pelvis to provide better movement.  With a balanced position, we can better move at the shoulder.  It’s important to develop movement capabilities, as well as provide for exercise that brings the body back to ‘center’.  I’ve been using some bastardized Indian club techniques in my own warm-up for a while now, but I need to spend more time learning about the use of Indian clubs in warm-ups, active recovery work, and individual practice.  Below you’ll see a clip from Club Swinging Essentials with Gray Cook, Brett Jones, and Ed Thomas:

Once Brett completed his talk, I made some notes on his presentation and the Summit as a whole, filled out my review for the Perform Better team, and thanked Chris Poirier for another great experience.  I broke fast on the way home via Chipotle in Connecticut, and was eager to have a barbacoa salad with guac.  I was shell shocked from the awesome amounts of info I picked up over the course of the weekend, and just listened to some tunes while reviewing some of the ideas and turning them over in my head.

When I think about major take-aways from the weekend, I’d have to focus on what everyone should do more of.  It’s not necessarily about pulling heavier deadlifts, or running a faster sprint, or increasing your ability to recover from training; it’s about moving more, and looking at the body more as an animals and less as a machine.  We’re too quick to slice and dice up our body for the sake of simplicity, but that actually makes things more complicated in the long run.  The simple act of moving is what we need, and our bodies will respond accordingly.  We need to more time walking, dancing, climbing, jumping, pushing, pulling, and most importantly, smiling.  I’m a big believer that movement is medicine, that a healthy body is a healthy mind.

Many of the presenters in Rhode Island reinforced the idea that wellness comes down to more than how much you’re lifting, or your body fat percentage.  As I continue to learn more about the human body and movement, I’m seeing that more people take their health and wellness in mind, and we should focus more on how we feel when we move rather than what we’re moving and how large it is.   As much as I love me some deadlifts and chin-ups, movement for the sake of movement is a better starting place for most people than calculating body weight ratios for their pulls.  Improving your health is as simple as paying better attention to when, what, and how you eat, moving more frequently and with more freedom, and being more mindful of what your body is telling you.

If you’re interested, you can read my write-ups from the 2010 Perform Better Summit and the 2011 Perform Better Summit, and I’m very thankful that you’ve read this far in the first place.  If you’ve found this review beneficial, do me a favor and share anything you’ve learned with family and friends, and let me know what you personally can apply to improving your own health and fitness.

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