About Kristian

Kristian Solem is a lifelong climber and mountain sports athlete. In 2004 Kristian discovered the strength, movement and therapeutic benefits of Pilates exercise. In 2006 Kristian decided to enter the field as a professional, earning his Pilates teacher certification at Core Conditioning in Los Angeles.

It’s time to re-boot…

Well the last two weeks were a lot of fun punctuated by moments of stress and one calamity. Oh, and did I mention no real training or serious exercise.

I have a brother who lives in France with his family. Our parents, who are octogenarians, live in a retirement community in Pasadena, not far from here. The brother, named Crane (after the author of “The Red Badge of Courage; Stephen Crane) and his teenage son came over and stayed here for a while. Of course it was a very big event for our parents as it is any time they get to see their far flung son and grandson. We made the most of it.

We had a few good outings, spending an afternoon touring the WWII battleship USS Iowa which is berthed as a museum ship in Los Angeles harbor. Our dad was a navy man in the 1950s, and seeing him standing proudly on the armored bridge of the great battleship looking out to forward as if we were underway was quite stirring.


We also went to Palm Springs and rode the tram, which takes you up a steep beautiful canyon, whisking you from 2,500 ft. elevation up to 8,500 in a few minutes. Up at the top it is a beautiful alpine environment. This is where calamity struck as our mother tripped and fell on a trail. I saw her go down and it looked bad, but after a few minutes it was clear that other than damaged glasses and scrape she was okay. It was a scary moment, and I feel some responsibility as I had not considered the effects of taking a couple of elderly flatlanders on a fast ride to elevation. Our final outing was to take brother Crane and nephew Thomas to a local outdoor shooting range, something they don’t get a chance to do in France. Friend, and expert shooter Dimitri came along with some bolt action .22s and a very fine scoped .308. I brought with a couple handguns, an old Russian SKS rifle and a German 8mm Mauser. Thom excelled with the .22s and the .308. Actually shooting that Mauser was the closest thing to exercise I got during the whole visit. Then of course there was the food…

These French are unbelievable, everything revolves around food and wine. Crane, my brother, took over my kitchen. He is a wonderful cook. He would serve up breakfast, and while eating “petit dejeuner” the conversation would turn to the menu for lunch! And any time left after cooking and eating had to be spent shopping for more food. And wine. And shopping is like doing a big wall. First the menu and ingredients are decided upon, but when we get to the market the planned ingredients look less than perfect. Now begins an endless process of inspection, re-planning the menu, and improvising. And then there is shopping for wine. Food is food, but the wine is serious business. We have a local chain called BevMo, which stocks thousands of wines including many French. I think in the last two weeks we paid their rent.

It was wonderful and I have no regrets, but I feel fat and wasted. It was epic. Now I’m back on a diet and fitness is job one. Got crushed in Yoga class last night. Pilates tomorrow with Roger, better get 12 hours sleep tonight.

The subject of diet and nutrition is the “third rail” of personal training…

This is an area many trainers do not like to get involved in. It can get personal, and people can be very dogmatic about their foods. So what I am going to do here is talk about the foods I eat and some of the experiences which led me to the diet which I thrive on today. I fully expect to learn more as time passes and so this blog topic will grow as I do.

I am not going to try to make the argument that there is one perfect diet for the entire Human Race. Each of us has to find our own way given our options, tastes, goals, genetics and ethics.

I began making decisions about my diet in my early twenties. I was a music student living in New York, and I decided to quit eating red meat and poultry (which was served in abundance in the home where I was raised.) A complexion problem which had bothered me during high school cleared up right away, and I felt I was on a good track. I did a lot of carb loading before climbs, runs or bike rides. My athletic performance was excellent. I stuck with this pattern of grains and pastas, veggies and fruit, eggs, fish, and dairy and fish for a long time.

Fast forward almost twenty years. My diet remained unchanged except for the addition of occasional chicken or turkey. I knew nothing about organic foods, rarely cooked for myself and ate in restaurants frequently. I was climbing hard and a lot, and was beginning to have joint pain in my shoulders, fingers and feet. Someone gave me a copy of “Eating Right for Your Type,” by Dr. D’Adamo. Following his advice for my type O system, I cut back substantially on wheat and grains, especially pastas. I was amazed that the pain I had been having went away entirely. So I was living on veggies and fruit, dairy, eggs, fish and chicken (and since I was eating out a lot I had no idea what kinds of oils, sugars and so forth I was consuming.)

Then came an injury, a badly shattered wrist. Surgery went well, but two months into the healing process it was apparent that I had stalled out. My doctor asked me about my diet, and suggested strongly that I eat some meat. I didn’t want to go there, and did not really pay attention. But then I was walking past the meat counter at the market and something bizarre happened. The meat really looked good. I was standing there staring at the steaks, and it was like they were talking to me… “Eat me… eat me…” I explained my situation to the butcher, asking for his recommendation for a person who has not eaten meat in a very long time. I took home a few thin slices of “all natural” London Broil. It was great! I cannot prove the connection, but as I ate more meat my wrist healed well.

Gradually I became more interested in quality ingredients and cooked more for myself. In 2004 I moved in with my companion (and soon to be wife) Barbara, and took up the cooking duties in our home. We are both very motivated to be fit and healthy and so food is a constant topic. Barbara bought Mark Sisson’s book The Primal Blueprint and I have been following this diet closely for several years now. Pushing the carbs down to <100 grams / day took about a week for me to adapt to. Then, suddenly my energy came back without the ups and downs I tended to have before. My energy used to fluctuate a lot, and if I felt even slight hunger I would have to eat right then or bonk. Now, after a few years of eating Primal I’m much more stable. So going along with the basic diet outlined in the graphic below, we have a few rules about our food in this house. No processed foods. No refined sugars. Beef is pasture raised organic (no corn fed hormone and antibiotic feed lot meat.) All other meats are organic. Chicken is free range organic.  Fish is wild. I eat a lot of can salmon, sardines and stuff like that, Barbara not so much. As much as possible all the fruits and veggies are organic.

I like cooking batches of food, enough for the two of us for a few days. The slow cooker is great for this, so are meatloaves and that sort of thing. I’ll start blogging some recipes here that are not labor intensive, are nutritious and taste good (to me at least.)

Click the image below to take a closer look at the Primal Diet food triangle:


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Movement Naturale: MovNat

Two weeks ago I attended a “power and agility” workshop presented by an organization called MovNat. The event was hosted by the Monrovia Team Crossfit Academy. When I first heard about MovNat (the name is short for “Movement Naturale,”) I went online and looked at their information, and I saw a lot of principles and ideas which resonated with me. I signed up for the weekend program; two days learning and practicing the basics.

When I arrived I found myself to be in a group of 18, most on a track to become certified as level one or two MovNat trainers. For them this was not an introductory workshop, it was professional. They were there for four days, and were going to be tested and certified. I was surprised to find out that the attendees had travelled from all across the country for this event. As I chatted with other members of the group I found out that most were already working trainers in Crossfit or other disciplines. I was the only Pilates teacher in the room, and I was guessing that I was twice the median age as well. To be honest, at first I felt like I had just jumped into a shark tank and was about to be torn to pieces. However as the day unfolded I quickly realized that being in this intense group was entirely to my benefit. All I had to do was relax, open my mind and do my best, and I would be fine.

The session began with our two MovNat Trainers, Kellen Milad and Jeff Kuhland, giving a verbal and whiteboard presentation explaining the fundamentals and the progressions we would be working through. I could see that I was about to be challenged by activities like jumping, which I am not very good at. But I was pleased by our instructor’s repeated emphasis that quality of movement would be our primary goal. They put a lot of emphasis on moving efficiently and naturally, even instinctively. What I would learn would be practical. A final comment about Kellen and Jeff; these guys are fit! They are fine examples of what MovNat stands for.

After Kellen and Jeff’s well organized presentation and a short Q&A, we began to practice the fundamental MovNat techniques (and variations) for efficient walking, running, jumping, balancing, crawling, climbing, lifting, carrying, throwing and catching. Some of the material was familiar to me, for example they teach a barefoot running style similar to “pose running” or “chi running.” They had some good cues which were new to me, and I think my running technique improved although I did manage to take a nasty tumble during a backwards running drill. Oops.

We did balance work on 4 foot lengths of 2x4s laid out flat on the floor. This is a great idea since it is safe, but can be quite challenging. If you think it sounds silly, try this: Make a line out of 2x4s and stand on one end facing forward one foot in front of the other. Now squat down in control, place your hands on the board in front of you and walk them out until you are in a crawling position with a neutral spine. Now sort out how to begin crawling along the board. Only your imagination can limit the number of fun and challenging games you can play on these boards; forward, backward, pivoting, jumping, moving under or stepping over hurdles, carrying heavy objects, and so on. I now have a set of ten 4 foot long 2x4s and work with them regularly.

There were a lot of areas where I needed help. Jumping was a big one. To jump well I would have to learn and practice a sequence of movements – momentum and balance from the arms, and properly timed explosive power from the legs. To quote the MovNat manual: “The more in sequence, the more efficient the movement.”

I made some progress with jumping that day, to the degree that I could produce the sequence of movements somewhat properly. We learned the technique in reverse, first how to stick a landing using the arms to control balance and momentum, secondly we learned to get airborne using the arms to initiate and create momentum and time the jump from the legs. I have been practicing this a lot since then, and today – after less than two weeks – jumping onto a 24” box from standing is easy for me. This is something I could not commit to even trying previously, being worried that I’d miss the jump and drag my shins down the edge of the box. Yeah, I know, a 24” box jump is pretty puny but it’s a step forward for me. There were a few people in the group who could make beautiful clean jumps onto boxes twice that high.

Another group of movements which got my attention were the various crawls and forward rolling. We learned five crawls, three prone and two on the back. Proper quadrapedal movement is done contra laterally, that is moving the opposite arm and leg together for stability. This gets tricky when you are tired or trying to go fast.

Next was the forward roll. Now as a rock climber, I am programmed to avoid falling head first, so this relatively simple movement was foreign and a little scary for me. Kellen saw that two of us were intimidated by this little tumbling move, so he took us aside and patiently broke down the sequence for us. Before I knew it I was doing a reasonable roll, and this, like the broad jump and vertical jump, is a movement I have been able to perform with confidence since then.

After we had worked our way through the basic movements, we began to design and move through “combos.” A MovNat combo is a set course, a bit like an obstacle course, we would move through for a certain number of repetitions or for a specified time. We divided our 18 members into 3 groups of 6. Each group developed and set a course and tested it, and then we rotated so each group tried a course which was set by another team. Each course setting effort would then be critiqued by the entire group. For course setting, I deferred to the members of my group who were there for certification. The decision was made to create a beginner’s course, suitable for someone’s first MovNat experience. This is actually tricky because on the one hand it has to be interesting and offer some challenges, but on the other you want to avoid any “show stopper” moves which will cause the group doing the course to bunch up. Our beginner combo looked like this:

1. Walk the length of a 2×4, then balancing on its end (one foot in front of the other) perform a broad jump landing on a 12” box about 3 feet away.

2. Low jump off the box onto another 2×4 and continue with a series of jumps on crosswise 2x4s at random distances and angles.

3. Walk or crawl another set of boards and at the end pass over or under a hurdle.

4. Vertical jump to a bar located laterally on the monkey bars. Traverse, hanging from two parallel bars across the bars the short way, reset on the lateral bar on the other side, dead hang a moment in control, drop and return to the start. Repeat as many laps as possible in the allotted time. The biggest problem with our course was people bunching up at the hurdle as they tried more and more difficult variations on each lap.

The combo my group had to actually do was set up on the other side of the gym which has a large area of artificial turf. It went like this:

1. Vertical jump to a bar, do three good kipping swings followed by a braking swing (knees to chest at the apex brakes your momentum.)

2. Drop off the bar onto the turf into a forward roll followed by crawling about 40 feet to a pylon.

3. Round the pylon and run / jog back to the start and repeat as many times as possible in eight minutes never doing the same crawl twice in a row. There were three lanes set, so each of our six could move continuously.

Everyone enjoyed this combo, which was strenuous. The critique was that it could have had more elements.

The third combo was the best; there was a fellow who took the lead in this group who obviously had lots of experience as a trainer and in gym management. They set up three stations, one for balance on 2x4s stepping over a hurdle while carrying weights, one for climbing on monkey bars, and the third for jumping – two broad jumps to a box jump to a low jump followed by two more broad jumps. The jumping station had three lanes with different height boxes to choose between. The group doing this combo would divide, two per station, rotating every two minutes.

On the second day, after more drills in the gym, we went outside. Our destination was Monrovia Canyon Park which features a beautiful trail that wanders up a creek / canyon in the local San Gabriel Mountains, ending at a waterfall after about two miles. There were lots of opportunities to improvise using terrain features and trees. Logs were vaulted, stones were lifted and carried, gaps were jumped, trees and rocks were climbed. There is one fallen tree by the trail which rests at just below chest height. Several of the guys were able to do beautiful running vaults over this object. I’ve re-visited it now a couple of times since then and I am still working out the sequence. Vaulting this log is pretty committing, and missing the vault could have consequences. One of these days…

Last but not least, this is an approach to moving which anyone of any age can use keeping in mind the fundamental goals of quality and efficiency of movement. When we were up in the canyon park vaulting the fallen tree passersby would stand and watch. Several young kids had a go at it. Of course it was a very high obstacle for them, but they could run up to it, mount it, stand and jump off. Then everyone cheered them on. Then we noticed an older couple out for a hike who were watching intently. I think it was Kellen who realized that the woman was considering trying it, and he encouraged her to give it a shot. She did not take the risk of attempting a flying leap, but she made a nice agile crossing of the obstacle and we were all impressed, as was her hiking partner.

I have to say that this MovNat experience was a real wake up call for me. Don’t worry; I still love my Pilates and rock climbing, but the kind of practical movement, power and agility, which MovNat teaches is great stuff. I have already added a lot of what I learned at the workshop into my own training and I’ll be sharing many of these ideas with friends and clients as well.




Four Days in Joshua Tree…

Since my last post I finally got in some time actually doing the sport I train for, rock climbing. Last Saturday I drove out to Joshua Tree National Park and camped with several friends and American Alpine Club members. Sunday we went to a climbing area there called the “Hall Of Horrors” and did about a half dozen good climbs. The first lead, our warm up route, was mine. The climb was an easy classic, “Lazy Days,” 5.7. Since I have not climbed any rock for several weeks due to travelling and other demands, I felt a bit wooden at first. By the time I was halfway up the climb I felt great. It was a stellar day with many more good climbs.

Monday and Wednesday I went climbing with a legend of the sport, Phil Bircheff. Among Phil’s numerous first ascents was his 1976 climb, along with Dave Bircheff and Jim Pettigrew, of the classic “Lurking Fear” on Yosemite’s grandest monolith, El Capitan. This climb is done in 18 pitches, ascending more than 2000 feet of vertical granite. Phil is 64 now, sports a lean and sinewy figure, and regularly out-performs climbers who could be his grand kids.

Tuesday Phil and I were joined by Cole Gibson, a local climber and talented video producer. Wed. I went out again with Phil, and he showed me the “Wailing Sax” wall, a cliff in Joshua Tree I have never climbed (there aren’t very many of those). It was great! Here’s a couple shots of Phil leading a runout 5.10 climb called Maiden Voyage.



Phil is also an outstanding artist. Here he is at Tuttle Creek Campground with statues he carved from black marble he quarried himself of Legendary mountaineer Hermann Buhl, and John Muir.