209 episodes

Tune into the audio version of my written articles found at tomnikkola.com, read by yours truly. I candidly cover nutrition, fitness, health, manhood, critical thinking, and bringing back traditional values.

After 20 years as a fitness professional, I've seen a lot of nonsense. In each article, I attempt to simplify confusing topics, bring truth to myths, and help you learn how to build strength and resilience in an environment and culture that glorifies weakness and victimhood.

Disclaimer on nutrition, supplement, and fitness content: The content is not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this website is at the choice and risk of the listener.

Tom Nikkola Strength & Conditioning Tom Nikkola | VIGOR Training

    • Health & Fitness
    • 4.9 • 37 Ratings

Tune into the audio version of my written articles found at tomnikkola.com, read by yours truly. I candidly cover nutrition, fitness, health, manhood, critical thinking, and bringing back traditional values.

After 20 years as a fitness professional, I've seen a lot of nonsense. In each article, I attempt to simplify confusing topics, bring truth to myths, and help you learn how to build strength and resilience in an environment and culture that glorifies weakness and victimhood.

Disclaimer on nutrition, supplement, and fitness content: The content is not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this website is at the choice and risk of the listener.

    I Broke My Neck Part 5: And Update Six Months Into Rehab and Recovery

    I Broke My Neck Part 5: And Update Six Months Into Rehab and Recovery

    It’s been six months since I fell off my bike, landed on top of my head, and broke my neck and damaged my spinal cord. From the morning after, when I got out of my hospital bed and stood up, we started talking about recovering in six months. 

    When I say “we,” I mean Vanessa and I. Not my doctors and us. They kept saying it would be a year before I’d be able to do the same activities I did before the accident. When I said I’d get at least one mountain bike ride in before the snow fell, and would be skiing by December, the look I was met with said, “that’s ridiculous.”

    As of January 30, it’s now been six months. Is life exactly as it was before? No. Am I doing everything I was before? Yes.

    How's your recovery going?

    I'm often asked this question, and every time, I pause and deliberate in my head about how to respond.

    On the one hand, recovery is spectacular, as I'm able to do all the things I once did. That's hundreds of times better than what things looked like when I first wrecked my neck. To say anything short of wonderful might suggest I'm not incredibly grateful to be where I'm at today. It's not an exaggeration to say that I could have died or at least become a quadriplegic. In fact, one of the doctors early on said I technically was a walking quadriplegic, as I experienced paralysis in all four limbs, with my upper body being more severe than the lower body. So, compared to where I was and where I could still be, my recovery has been spectacular.

    On the other hand, I'm not fully recovered, though no one would know if they watched me move around and do everyday tasks. Nor would anyone know if they saw me on the slopes, mountain bike trails, or in the gym unless they saw me doing bench presses or dips.

    That said, someone might read this with interest in what's possible after sustaining an injury as I did. So, setting aside my gratitude for being alive and able to do almost everything I did in the past, here's a more objective assessment of my recovery after six months.

    We did get a few mountain bike rides in before the snow fell and got our first day of skiing in on November 16, which was 3 1/2 months after the injury. It was a pretty special day of skiing.

    As of today, we've skied 21 times this winter. Last weekend, I was working on my carving, seeing how sharp I could cut my turns and lost my edges. I crashed hard, head first, right under the chairlift. I paused for a moment before getting up, just to make sure my head was still attached correctly. It was, and still is. I knew I'd eventually crash and was happy to find out I could crash and come out of it unscathed.

    We've had the 4th snowiest winter on record this year (it must be climate change...eyes roll), so I've done a ton of shoveling and snow blowing. Like mowing the lawn in the summer, it's a great way to get in some conditioning work to complement my strength training.

    As functional as I feel, and as active as I've been, there are still some ways I haven't fully recovered. It's possible I never will. None of this is life-altering, but it's worth mentioning so that anyone else who sustains a similar injury has a frame of reference during their recovery process.

    The following are the main ways I'm not yet back to 100%:

    Sensory nerve dysfunction: As it has all along, cold water, or even a cold breeze across my skin still feels painful instead of cold. The only way I can explain it is that it's like pressing on an area you bruised by walking into the corner of a table. When getting into a cold shower or swimming pool, you'd sense that it's cold. I sense that it hurts, which means it's cold. If it's hot, it feels hot. Also, my pointer and middle fingers often hurt on my left hand, especially when they are cold, and if I brush the sides of my middle finger, it causes a burning sensation. On more rare occasions, I get the same experience on my right hand, but much more often it's just my left.

    • 12 min
    Gyms and Gymnastics: The Ideal Physical Fitness Combination?

    Gyms and Gymnastics: The Ideal Physical Fitness Combination?

    I was working with our grandson, Asher, in our gym the other day. I had him doing box jumps onto and off of our plyo box, working on his coordination, technique, and balance. He's become a really good downhill skier in his first two seasons, and now that he's hitting jumps on the trails, I wanted to help him develop better jumping technique and body awareness. We have him workout in our gym as often as possible, doing a combination of bodyweight and some dumbbell and kettlebell exercises. At eight years old, I need to help him develop the right movement patterns while also maintaining his attention and focus on the exercise he's doing.

    As I was training him, I started thinking about other ways he could develop functional movement skills outside our gym. He's clearly developing them from skiing, but as I was considering this question, my mind wandered to gymnastics.

    I spent my junior year of high school at Northern Michigan University. They had an Olympic Training Center there, and I was chosen to attend as part of a small group of ski jumpers for the first year they offered the program. As part of our dryland training, we got to work out at NMU's gymnastics facility, doing tumbling exercises, working on the trampoline, and learning to do various flips into their foam pit.

    Not only were these training sessions a lot of fun, but they also improved my strength, power, and spatial awareness tremendously. It's one thing to learn to move your body while connected to the ground. It's quite another to learn to do so while flying through the air. That's a skill needed in ski jumping and enhanced through gymnastics.

    Gymnastics and Functional Skill Development

    Few activities develop physical strength, stamina, and power while improving spatial awareness and reflexes the way that gymnastics does. Surprisingly, it's a rare form of sports activity in the United States. And, if people are involved in gymnastics, it's usually for kids and far less common for adults to participate.

    Functional training has been a buzzword in the fitness world for at least the past 20 years. Functional training programs attempt to train people for the physical experience of everyday life. Bending, balancing, lifting, jumping, stretching and reacting to an unexpected environment.

    FMS (functional motor skills) include locomotor skills (e.g., run, gallop, hop, leap, horizontal jump and slide); object control skills (e.g. catch, kick, overhand throw and dribble) and body management skills (e.g., balance, climb and forward roll) and provide a base for more advanced motor skills
    Fundamental Movement Skills Development under the Influence of a Gymnastics Program and Everyday Physical Activity in Seven-Year-Old ChildrenCuljak Z PhD, Miletic D PhD, Kalinski SD PhD, Kezic A PhD, Zuvela F PhD. Fundamental Movement Skills Development under the Influence of a Gymnastics Program and Everyday Physical Activity in Seven-Year-Old Children. Iran J Pediatr. 2014;24(2):124-130.

    It's important for children to develop these skills early on, but as adults become more sedentary, it's easy for them to lose these skills and develop bodies that are pretty dysfunctional. Squatting, bending, getting up off the floor, or jumping onto or off a box become awkward, injury-risking activities. Because your nervous system controls and coordinates movement, and it only retains abilities to do things that it regularly does, you have to use functional motor skills throughout your life, or you lose the ability to do them.

    Although a fitness professional can help guide a client through movements that improve their movement skills, most people who hire a trainer or strength coach want to use their time to develop strength, power, and lean body mass. Taking 20 minutes out of a 50-60 minute workout session to work on balance and stability can affect the results of the overall program, not to mention that many of these balance and stability movements are pretty dull.

    • 13 min
    Treating Kids With Obesity Drugs and Bariatric Surgery

    Treating Kids With Obesity Drugs and Bariatric Surgery

    Last week, The American Academy on Pediatrics released its treatment guidelines for overweight and obese children. Rather than attacking the dietary guidelines, which prescribe a perfect diet for getting fat, addressing the absence of physical activity in schools, or the lack of sleep kids get nowadays, they came to the insane conclusion that doctors should consider prescribing weight loss drugs or bariatric surgery as part of a treatment plan.

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since conventional medicine has gone along with the idea that kids of the same age should be considered for puberty blockers or sex change surgery if they want it. 

    The idea of starting kids on drug therapy or putting them through surgery for a condition that can be resolved through diet and exercise, to me, seems barbaric. Especially since the US Dietary Guidelines, school lunch programs, food subsidies, the absence of physical education in schools, and a lack of adequate sleep are what contribute to obesity in almost all cases. 

    Overcomplicating Childhood Obesity

    According to the most recent CDC data, 14.4 million children and adolescents are currently overweight or obese in America today. Based on epidemiological models, by 2050, 57% of today's children will be obese adults.

    We're well on our way to living the life depicted in Wall-E:


    As advanced and educated of a nation as we are, we way overcomplicate most of the problems we face as a nation. Maybe it's so more money can be made from such problems. Or, perhaps it's because we have to accept all possible, even ridiculous, and unsubstantiated ideas in the name of inclusivity.

    That's certainly the case when it comes to obesity and the AAP's new practice guidelines.

    This is evidenced by the first paragraph in the introduction to their practice guidelines:

    The current and long-term health of 14.4 million children and adolescents is affected by obesity, making it one of the most common pediatric chronic diseases. Long stigmatized as a reversible consequence of personal choices, obesity has complex genetic, physiologic, socioeconomic, and environmental contributors. As the environment has become increasingly obesogenic, access to evidence-based treatment has become even more crucial.
    Clinical Practice Guideline for the Evaluation and Treatment of Children and Adolescents With Obesity

    It would be easy to miss the significance of these three sentences. We should not do that. They shape the worldview of the association instructing doctors on how to treat children. 

    They’re saying:

    We shouldn't see obesity as reversible through one's personal choices - people need others to intervene for them

    Obesity is complex ... well beyond the effects of diet and lifestyle choices (in a very small percentage of cases this is true)

    Because the environment contributes so much to obesity, it's crucial to provide obesity treatment. According to the guidelines, that treatment doesn't begin in a gym with a physical education teacher or personal trainer, but instead with a medical doctor.

    Confucius famously said,

    Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

    The more complicated you make a problem, the less likely it is that you’ll solve it. Then again, the more you can convince people of the complexity, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to sell them new and expensive solutions. If you can get them to believe that only one professional has access to those new and expensive solutions, you’ll be able to charge a premium and eliminate competition from others. 

    If people believe that obesity requires the same level of medical care as cancer or a broken neck, they’ll become dependent upon the medical system to take care of them. 

    While the American medical system is a great place to go for trauma, it’s one of the last places you want to go for achieving or maintaining health.

    • 14 min
    Don't Drink Your Calories, Even if They're From "100% Juice"

    Don't Drink Your Calories, Even if They're From "100% Juice"

    Besides eating a high-protein diet, few nutrition changes make as big of a difference in people's health as eliminating calorie-containing beverages from their diets. This includes 100% fruit juice.

    Unfortunately, on any given day, about half of adults and two-thirds of children consume sugar-sweetened beverages.Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption among U.S. Youth, 2011-2014. https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/44039. Accessed 2 Jan. 2023. Fruit juice is the most common of such beverages.

    Contrary to public health recommendations, heavily influenced by the companies who sell the beverages, fruit juice, soda, and other sugary beverages have no place in a "healthy diet."

    The "Fruit Juice Is Healthy" Hoax

    One cup of apple juice contains 28 grams of carbohydrates, 24 grams of which come from sugar. An 8-ounce serving of Coca-Cola contains 24.6 grams of sugar. In both beverages, most of the sugar comes from fructose. 

    The reality is the two beverages aren't much different from one another. Sprinkle in a negligible amount of vitamins into the Coca-Cola, and they'd be virtually the same from a nutrition and metabolism standpoint.

    How could this be? How could the U.S. dietary guidelines explicitly state that fruit juice is an acceptable replacement for whole fruit if it's not much better than soda? How could the labels on fruit juice bottles lead you to believe they're good for you when they're not?

    A glimpse into the relationships between the government, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the food industry helps you understand. It isn't that different from the relationships between the government, the American Medical Association, and the pharmaceutical industry regarding vaccines. One hand feeds the other in an ongoing cycle that benefits these groups, often at the expense of the people using their products.

    The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), formerly known as the American Dietetics Association, licenses registered dietitians (RDs), the supposed "experts" on nutrition in the healthcare system. If you've dealt with a disease or a family member has, you've probably met with a dietitian.

    Funny enough, when I was in the hospital after I broke my neck, I asked for extra chicken on one of my entrees. They told me it wasn't allowed without a consultation with a dietitian. I laughed at the absurdity. That said, not all dietitians are bad. I've worked with many amazing dietitians over the years. They were the ones who took it upon themselves to understand nutrition science rather than take the word of the professors they learned from in school.

    A paper published in Public Health and Nutrition titled The corporate capture of the nutrition profession in the USA: the case of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides a unique view into how the organization is influenced. 

    A non-profit organization called US Right to Know got access to some of the AND's internal communications through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. The communications revealed:

    In 2015, when AND’s partnership with Kraft was disclosed and criticised by the public, the AND/ANDF BOD dropped the deal. However, the documents gathered through FOI show they privately continued to engage with corporations by: (i) investing AND funds in shares of Nestlé, PepsiCo and several pharmaceutical company stocks; (ii) accepting corporate contributions without disclosing their size, (iii) allowing BOD (board of directors) members to work for or consult for companies with interests that conflict with the mission of the AND, (iv) discussing internal policies within the BOD to fit industry needs, ignoring the work of the SATF, (v) allowing corporations to support AND’s members research and (vi) releasing public positions favouring corporations.
    Carriedo A, et al. The corporate capture of the nutrition profession in the USA: the case of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

    In essence, the AND:

    • 14 min
    Effects of Lavender and Bergamot Essential Oils on Menopausal Symptoms

    Effects of Lavender and Bergamot Essential Oils on Menopausal Symptoms

    More than one-third of the U.S. population of women is peri or post-menopause. Driven by a significant change in hormones, many women in this stage of life experience decreased libido, changes in sexual function, difficulty with sleep, and memory decline.

    A recent study looked at the effects of aromatherapy or a mindfulness intervention, or the combination of the two, and their impact on sexual function. Not surprisingly, aromatherapy was shown to be helpful.

    Study Design

    One hundred thirty-two postmenopausal women were divided among four groups:

    Aromatherapy + Routine Care (standard medical care)

    Mind-Body Intervention + Aromatherapy Placebo

    Aromatherapy + Mind-Body Intervention

    Routine Care + Aromatherapy Placebo

    The women were 50-60 years old, hadn’t used hormone therapy in at least the previous six months, had moderate anxiety with some sexual dysfunction, and were otherwise healthy.

    The aromatherapy groups inhaled two to three drops of a lavender-bergamot essential oil blend three times per day for eight weeks. The blend was made with essential oils and a 60% ethanol solution. It contained a 0.04% concentration of bergamot and a 5% concentration of lavender, so it was pretty diluted compared to two to three drops of pure essential oils. Even with such a dilution, the essential oil blend led to significant positive outcomes for the women.

    Study Results

    At the end of the study, the Mindfulness-Based Intervention and the Aromatherapy groups experienced improvements in sexual function and depression. Interestingly, eight weeks after the study, only the aromatherapy group showed continued improvements.

    Studies show that aromatherapy stimulates the release of endorphins, which contribute to reductions in pain, stress, and anxiety while increasing relaxation. Hickey M, Bryant C, Judd F. Evaluation and management of depressive and anxiety symptoms in midlife. Climacteric. 2012;15(1):3-9. doi:10.3109/13697137.2011.620188

    According to the study’s authors:

    The mechanism of action of these essential oils is two main ways: The first is through the olfactory pathway, which stimulates the receptors located in the olfactory bulb and transmits the olfactory message to the limbic system. This system is the brain's emotional center and is effective on pulse rate, blood pressure, respiratory system, and stress response. The second way is through skin absorption. Molecules of essential oils are absorbed through the skin over 20-40 min.
    Mojtehedi M, et al.

    Other studies reinforce the findings in this one. Rose, fennel, geranium, and bitter orange have been shown to improve menopause-related symptoms as well, as has Ginko biloba.

    Read also: Lavender Essential Oil for Anxiety and Depression

    My Thoughts

    The results of this study aren’t surprising, as so many other previous studies have found similar effects, not only for women during and post-menopause but also for libido, anxiety, and other mental health effects in both men and women of most age groups.

    The effects of the Mindfulness-Based Intervention are also interesting, though this isn’t a topic I write about. If it’s something of interest for you, I recommend finding a practitioner who specializes in it.

    Regarding aromatherapy, I want to point out some crucial points.

    First, the study participants used the oils multiple times per day, consistently. Your body metabolizes essential oils relatively quickly. This differs from many drugs designed to release into your system over many hours. You can’t expect them to work on symptoms like those related to menopause if you only use them once per day or if you use them inconsistently.

    Second, this study does not suggest that only lavender and bergamot are effective. Hundreds of essential oils are available, some of which you may find repulsive and others you’ll enjoy. Lavender and bergamot are well-studied, in part because they’re inexpensive and readily availabl

    • 6 min
    Acupressure: An Easy Way to Reduce Pain, Anxiety, and Stress

    Acupressure: An Easy Way to Reduce Pain, Anxiety, and Stress

    Have you ever seen one of those videos of somebody in India lying on a bed of nails, with an expression on their face like they’re lying on a Sleep Number bed?

    I’ve never doubted that they seem comfortable, but I also haven’t been interested in trying it out for myself. At least not until Vanessa ordered us a Pranamat.

    From a distance, the Pranamat looks like pillows you’d find in a yoga studio. But the first time you rest your bare skin upon them with some added pressure, you’ll be sure you’re experiencing a bed of nails.

    In a way, you are. But it isn't torture; it's therapeutic.

    I’ll explain the science behind Mechanical Needle Stimulation first, and then delve into the details on the actual Pranamat. 

    We liked it so much that we signed up for their ambassador program. If you'd like to support the content on this site and the Nikkola Newsletter and also want to try the Pranamat out for yourself, use the links here to place your order.

    As a thank-you, you'll get 15% off any of the sets you choose.

    Try the Pranamat for 30 Days, Risk Free

    Ready to try out the Pranamat ECO? You won't be disappointed! Order yours and take advantage of the 30-day money-back guarantee, plus 15% off any of the sets you choose.


    What is Mechanical Needle Stimulation?

    Mechanical needle stimulation is a form of acupressure. You might ask, what is acupressure? I’ll start there.

    Acupressure is a way of applying pressure to specific points throughout the body called meridians. You might have heard that term, but it isn’t used often in Western medicine. Chinese medicine suggests that meridians form a network of energy pathways throughout your body. If a pathway is blocked, it can lead to various symptoms, including pain.

    Acupuncture is the traditional and possibly most effective way of improving energy flow. It played a significant role in my spinal cord injury recovery. While acupuncture could be best, it isn’t always practical. You might not even have a Chinese medicine practitioner near you, even if you wanted to get acupuncture.

    Acupressure triggers the meridians, albeit to a lesser extent than acupuncture, without inserting needles into the skin.Lee, Eun Jin, and Susan K Frazier. “The efficacy of acupressure for symptom management: a systematic review.” Journal of pain and symptom management vol. 42,4 (2011): 589-603. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2011.01.007 The pressure is just applied to the skin. But to stimulate the meridians, you still need to apply pressure with a fine point of contact similar to a needle. Though lying on a bed of nails could do that, the risks for the average person wouldn't be worth it.

    This concept led a Russian by the name of Ivan Kuznetzov to develop a rudimentary acupressure device in the early 1980s. He created a rubber mat with 1500 stainless steel office pins sticking out of it, spaced about two inches apart. The Institute of Experimental Surgery tested it on patients with much success. Russian television eventually showed a documentary on the device, highlighting that people experienced pain relief from a variety of conditions as well as improved respiratory function. Sadly, the pain-relieving device wasn’t studied any further, and didn’t seem to gain attention outside of Russia.Olsson, Erik M G, and Bo von Schéele. “Relaxing on a bed of nails: an exploratory study of the effects on the autonomic, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems, and saliva cortisol.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 17,1 (2011): 5-12. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0135

    The Science

    Western medicine has yet to be able to explain why acupressure, acupuncture, or Chinese medicine in general, works so well. So, if your usual healthcare practitioner dismisses the benefits, that could be why.

    One paper proposed how it could work:Zilberter, Tanya. Reflexo-Therapy With Mechanical Cutaneous Stimulation: Pilot

    • 11 min

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