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The Best Caribbean Beaches For 2019: The Ultimate List

One of my favorite destinations in the world is the Caribbean with its warm waters, sandy shores, and great cocktails. With so much destruction during Hurricane’s Irma and Maria over a year ago, I am thrilled to report most of the best beaches and waterfront hotels are back in action with quite a few of them better than before. The perfect retreat for millions of tourists worldwide, the Caribbean not only offers up an amazing escape from cold winter climates but also creates memories to last for a lifetime.

Some of my finest memories include floating in the bathtub-warm waters of Aruba, sailing in the British Virgin Islands, deep sea fishing in Nicaragua and countless others. I have included several destinations like Bermuda, Turks & Caicos and the Bahamas that are not in the Caribbean but are an important part of the area, and also feature stunning beaches.  I have become a bit of a beach aficionado having personally visited most of these beaches and am excited to present my favorites for 2019. 

Anguilla

This two-mile sandy beach with soft, powdery white sand also offers up several great bars, restaurants and some amazing resorts. Busier than other beaches in the area but on Anguilla nothing feels crowded. Runners-up include; Maundays Bay, Meads Bay, Rendezvous Bay, Merrywing Bay, and Savannah Bay.

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What’s great about Darkwood Beach is that there’s not a single building on it. It feels like an escape from reality. It’s undeveloped but still easily accessible. Runners-up include; Valley Church Beach, Dickenson Bay, Runaway Bay, Ffrye’s Bay, Crab Hill Bay, and Half Moon Bay.

I have visited this beach for over 15 years, and while it can often be crowded with a mix of East Coast beach lovers and Venezuelans, the sand and water keep me coming back for more. This is a special place that has become the ultimate getaway for so many people. Come as yourself and never be judged.

While not in the Caribbean I had to include this stunning island, owned by a fabulous couple David Hew and his husband Michael King and features one of the most spectacular beaches in the Bahamas. Completely secluded for privacy, this is one of the best retreats in the world with a barrier reef for snorkeling. Runners-up include; Stocking Island, Exumas with the swimming pigs, Old Bight Beach, Cat Island, Old Fort Bay, Nassau, Treasure Cay Beach, Abaco, Sand Dollar Beach, Great Harbour Cay, and Cabbage Beach, Paradise Island.

This is the most famous beach in Barbados and is surrounded by cliffs and lots of soft sand. Runners-up include Bathsheba Beach, Dover Beach, Mullins Beach, and St Peter.

Enjoy the feeling of seclusion on your own patch of perfect beach, while being close to all the happenings of the local village. Take a kayak out to see the sunset over Victoria’s Peak, one of the highest mountains in Belize.

Not in the Caribbean but a major destination for superyachts and wealthy Caribbean island hoppers, the calm water and hidden coves of this stunning beach can sometimes get crowded but you can venture further down the beach for a secluded experience.

I have visited this beach as a cruise ship passenger on multiple occasions, and there is nothing better than drinking from the Soggy Dollar Bar and relaxing with friends on this charming island paradise. Runners-up include Sandy Spit, Loblolly Bay, Devil’s Bay in Virgin Gorda, Prickly Pear, Cane Garden Bay, Smugglers Cove, and Apple Bay in Tortola

The beach measures only 5.5 miles, but its gorgeous clear waters and coral sands have made it one of the top picks by magazines every year.

Located four hours from the capital city, San Jose this is a great beach for more laid back travelers where sloths are a regular part of the scenery. The nearby town gets lively after dark.

This beach is about 2 miles of white sand with turquoise colored water. Guardalavaca is known for its sporting activities such as snorkeling, scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, tennis, windsurfing, volleyball, catamaran sailing, and kayaking.

With its clear turquoise water, waving palm trees and white sandy beach, Cas Abao is a true paradise. Located at the northwest coast of Curaçao, the beach is ideal for swimmers with great reefs for snorkeling. Runners-up include Playa Knip, Westpunt, Playa Porto Mari, Klein Curacao, and Groot Knip.

The reward at the end of this hike down a steep cliff to the beach below is a large waterfall crashing on the beach. One of the most memorable beach experiences ever. Runner-up is Batibou Beach.

This spectacular secluded beach is one of the most beautiful in the Dominican Republic and has won many travel awards. The white sand beach stretches about five miles and remains very secluded, far away from any resorts or hotels. Best way to arrive is by ATV to this paradise. Runners-up include Saona Island and Playa Bavaro.

Taking Care of Your Mental Health in the Fitness Space

I can’t recall a moment during my time working in the fitness industry where I didn’t hate myself.

It seems ironic when you think about it. Fitness is supposed to be about health and living your best life possible. Why then, do we find ourselves stressed and anxious rather than inspired?

When you’re living in a world that thrives on the concept of insufficiency it can be difficult to keep a healthy perspective on diet and exercise. It’s not hard to see how disordered eating and mental health struggles can be associated with the fitness industry because of this.

Most of the articles in the top-selling fitness magazines play up insecurities, encouraging us to jump on every latest trend to change all the things we dislike about ourselves. It’s all about how much we can take away from our body, and how tracking everything we eat and do is necessary for any kind of noticeable progress. Physical activity becomes another gateway to feed disordered eating habits.

We use words like “dirty,” “bad,” and “cheating” to describe certain foods or the consumption of them, thinking it’s an innocent way of reminding ourselves to eat better. In reality, this kind of language is quite harmful to our mental state.

Giving any kind of negative association to the food we eat implies there is something wrong with indulging in it. It’s like a form of self-manipulation, because we are making ourselves feel bad for things we have no reason to feel bad about. If you’ve ever experienced genuine guilt for ordering off the dessert menu, you know what I’m talking about.

We celebrate antisocial habits and withdrawal from friends and family due to restrictive eating in the name of “health,” leading to even higher irritability levels from a lack of involvement in the activities we would normally enjoy participating in.

The cycle seemingly never ends.

Suffering in Silence

Eating disorders are just one aspect of the mental health strains endured in a world dominated by images and numbers. For those of us who suffer from depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or any other kind of mental illness, the drive to adhere to these numbers and constraints we have created for ourselves is exhausting.

Unfortunately, mental illness tends to fly under the radar and to get pushed to the backburner when we are working hard to achieve our goals.

Think of it like a credit card statement that we’re embarrassed to talk about. While we don’t want to acknowledge its existence, we know it’s there. It builds and becomes more daunting, until it grows totally out of control. Yet we’re afraid to address it.

Those who suffer from anxiety or depression are more likely to develop an eating disorder as a result of their altered mental state. So if you already suffer from mental illness, you are at a risk of making things worse when you start to involve more calculated measures of control over what you eat and how you exercise [9,11].

That being said, there is still a great amount of stigma that surrounds mental illness, which can make it difficult for some people to be open about what they are going through in order to seek help. Suffering in silence usually means that we find a different way of coping. When that comes in the form of extreme diet swings and over-exercising, it can be very damaging to our long-term physical and psychological health.

So what can we do to protect our mental health?

Luckily there are measures we can take to ensure we maintain a positive and healthy mindset in the face of the unattainable “perfection” society pushes on us. If any of the scenarios below sound like things you’ve experienced, here are some steps you can take to improve your self-image and mental health. Avoiding these pitfalls can help ensure that we live our healthiest life possible, free from guilt, disordered eating, and poor body image.

Pitfall 1: Obsessively Counting Calories and Macros

Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between disordered eating and the overuse of calorie and macro tracking apps [1,7]. Try as we may to separate the two, when tracking your calories becomes an obsession it is difficult to see food in a positive light. Food isn’t just food anymore – it’s now observed as digits and nutritive breakdowns.

Sometimes, too much knowledge in one area isn’t necessarily a positive thing when you’re using that knowledge for something destructive.

Solution: Eat Intuitively

If you cannot remember the last time you picked up an apple and ate it without automatically calculating the approximate number of carbs and sugars inside of it, it may be time to put down that tracking app [8].

We were born knowing how to eat, and we gradually lost that ability over time through outside influence. So let’s take it back to the basics — next time you have a meal, think of some basic guidelines for how to make it nutritious, pick an item from each food group (protein, fat, carbohydrates), and be sure to include fruits and vegetables. Eat slowly, eat mindfully, and choose foods you actually enjoy eating.

The emotional and social aspect of eating is an integral part of our livelihood. Food should satisfy you, energize you, and bring you happiness. Try not to overthink it.

Pitfall 2: Exercising to Burn Calories Rather Than to Promote a Healthy Lifestyle

While exercise can help relieve some depressive symptoms and decrease anxiety, more is not always better; exercising can have detrimental effects on your physical and mental state when done to excess [2,4,10].

I can’t tell you the amount of times I used to go for a run just because I had a bite of cake when I didn’t “earn” it, or when it wasn’t a part of my meal plan. If I didn’t find a way to burn away my transgressions, my anxiety would soar and I would panic. Exercise became nothing more than a way for me to assume control when other parts of my life felt like they were in a downward spiral.

Solution: Exercise to Get Stronger, Move Better, and Feel Better

Set your focus on building strength and stamina. Think of exercising to improve your overall health rather than simply using it as a tool to create a bigger dietary deficit. Exercise for longevity — it should never be a form of punishment or something you feel obligated to partake in out of shame.

Find something you love to do, whether that is weightlifting, snowboarding, tennis, hiking, running, swimming, team sports, martial arts, or anything else you can think of! Exercise should be enjoyable, and an integral part of your self-care.

Pitfall 3: Following Too Many Fitness or Fashion Model Accounts on Social Media

Now, don’t get me wrong: just like anyone, I certainly love to admire a beautiful model from time to time. However, now that we have higher access to these images at a moment’s notice, it can cause us to create extremely unrealistic standards for ourselves.

We tend to compare ourselves more to those we see in photos than those we observe through other media, such as television, due to the fact that photos can be retouched and filtered to perfection [3,5,6].  This unhealthy comparison can lead to unhappiness in our lives as well as the lives of those around us, because it affects our interactions with them and ultimately our quality of life. We don’t realize how many of those images are doctored up, and that the person behind them is just another human with their own doubts and insecurities.

Solution: Be Mindful of the Images You Surround Yourself With

Next time you are about to hit the “follow” button on Instagram, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Does this person offer something of value to my life?
  2. Does this person make me feel good about myself?
  3. Does this person have a good message?
  4. Does this person promote a healthy image and lifestyle?
  5. Does this person promote unrealistic standards?

If you are following people simply for the sake of scrolling through their feed and admiring their seemingly perfect body, face, and life, just do yourself a favor: don’t.

If the person you are following makes you feel insecure, jealous, or bad about yourself, do not continue following them. There is nothing wrong with looking up to someone who inspires you, but make sure they inspire you for the right reasons.

Pitfall 4: Using Negative Self-Talk

Every time we say something negative about ourselves, it becomes more of a reality in our minds.

Words are powerful, and while we could be using them to lift ourselves up, sadly so many of us use them to put ourselves down.

It’s not always so obvious, but you’d be surprised how much of an effect it can have on your self-esteem and physical progress long term to continue talking down on yourself, even if you’re doing so in a humorous, self-deprecating way.

Solution: Refer to Yourself Lovingly

It’s time to drop the self-deprecation — your life isn’t a “Roast Yourself Challenge.”

Next time you refer to yourself, take a moment to consider the words you intend to use. If what you are about to say is negative, find a different word to use to describe yourself — even if it sounds silly when you say it, and even if it’s exactly opposite of how you feel. I call it, “The Antonym Game” — for every bad word I would use to describe myself, I replace it with a more positive, contrasting expression.

It’s not necessarily about positive affirmations. Sometimes it’s just about challenging yourself to transform your negative talk into something positive or neutral. The better you get at doing this, the more it inherently sticks in your mind.

Pitfall 5: Believing Your Mental Health Is Secondary to Your Physical Health

When we think of taking care of ourselves, we usually refer to caring for our physical bodies and appearance, putting our mental health to the side. However, the two are not mutually exclusive.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, and it is difficult to have one without the other. Eventually, something has got to give. We invest so much in caring for what our body looks like on the outside, while on the inside we wither away.

Solution: Take Care of Your Mental Health

Mental health is the backbone of our entire well-being. Without this kind of self-care, everything else falls to the wayside.

Take time to relax every day, and practice mindfulness. When you are feeling overwhelmed, step back and breathe. Take time to acknowledge when you are not feeling well, and do whatever is necessary to centre yourself and help yourself feel better.

If needed, seek professional help for your mental health. There is never shame in having someone to talk to who can help us make healthier choices and find new balance in our life. These problems can be tough to tackle on our own.

When we take care of our mental health, we take care of our body the best way that we know how. One cannot thrive without the other.

Above all else, remember that numbers do not define you. The moment we relinquish the need for absolute control is the moment we allow ourselves to open up and heal. The path to recovering from mental illness begins with your mindset. Some of us may battle with it for a lifetime, but all of us can take steps every day towards leading the best and healthiest life we possibly can.

Recognize when there is a problem, and do whatever is necessary to achieve balance. Only then can we begin to end the cycle of harmful thought.

24 of the world’s most amazing bridges

(CNN) — The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco took four years to build, costing $35 million and finally opened in 1937. It has remained one of the engineering world’s most famous poster boys since. But it’s not the only bridge that merits celebration. Here are 23 others (plus San Fran’s Golden Gate) that are worth a look.

1. Golden Gate Bridge: San Francisco, United States

A-list celebrity in the bridge world.Now over 75 years old, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is arguably the most recognizable bridge in the world. While some may not be inspired by the industrial age suspension bridge design, it is undeniable that the San Francisco we know today would not be the same without its skyline being graced by this beauty.

2. Sydney Harbour Bridge: Sydney, Australia

Good to look at, better to climb.Cameron Spencer/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty ImagesNicknamed “The Coat Hanger” by Sydney locals because of its arch-based design, the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932 and is a focal point of Aussie pride and celebrations.For aspiring bridge climbers, BridgeClimb offers people just that. Every year for New Year’s Eve the bridge itself is used to complement fireworks displays creating various effects like smiley faces and a disco ball.

3. Ponte Vecchio: Florence, Italy

A slice of ancient Italy in modern-day Italy.GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/AFP/Getty ImagesA Medieval bridge over the Arno River, the Ponte Vecchio is mainly known for its shops of jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers and for being Europe’s oldest stone, closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge.Regardless, the Ponte Vecchio Brige is gorgeous and has a rich history dating back to the time of the Romans. During World War II the bridge was not destroyed by the Nazis — unlike many other bridges in Europe — under an express order from Adolf Hitler.

4. Brooklyn Bridge: New York City, United States

Bagels, bars and Brooklyn Bridge: a New York trifecta.STAN HONDA/AFP/AFP/Getty ImagesCompleted in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. A National Historic Landmark, the Brooklyn Bridge is an iconic feature of New York.

5. Gateshead Millennium Bridge: Gateshead, England

Trying to make up for North England’s weather.ANDREW YATES/AFP/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Gateshead Millennium Bridge is the world’s first and currently only tilting bridge. But the most amazing thing about this pedestrian and biker crossing of the Tyne River is that it appears as if an eye is winking whenever it is raised and lowered.Its innovative and unique design has won loads of awards since Queen Elizabeth officially opened it in 2002. It was lowered into place by Europe’s largest floating crane — Asian Hercules II.

6. Tsing Ma Bridge: Hong Kong, China

Shortcut to a dim sum lunch.Courtesy Johnny Lai/Creative Commons/FlickrHong Kong’s Tsing Ma Bridge is the largest suspension bridge in the world to feature two decks and carry both road and rail traffic.Not only that, but it was subjected to some serious wind tunnel testing as Hong Kong is subject to powerful typhoons. After costing $920 million (HK$7.2 billion), the Tsing Ma Bridge opened in 1997. There are no walkways on the bridge and it features sheltered carriageways on the lower deck when very strong winds prove to be too much for vehicles to safely handle.Related content10 of the world’s longest bridges of various types

7. Akashi-Kaikyo or Pearl Bridge: Kobe-Naruto, Japan

Two kilometers of Japanese efficiencyGYRO PHOTOGRAPHY/amanaimages/CorbisThe Pearl Bridge currently holds the title of “World’s Longest Suspension Bridge” with a span of 1,991 meters. The second longest is China’s Xihoumen Bridge.A modern engineering feat, the Pearl Bridge has remained the world’s longest since 1998. The Pearl Bridge stood a true test of strength even before it opened when it survived the Kobe Earthquake on January 17, 1995.

8. Hangzhou Bay Bridge: Zhejiang, China

Thirty-five kilometers long, each one impressive.Courtesy Frank Tong/Creative Commons/FlickrConnecting the Chinese municipalities of Jiaxing and Ningbo in Zhejiang province, the 35-kilometer-long Hangzhou Bay Bridge is the longest trans-oceanic bridge in the world. More than 600 experts spent nine years designing the Hangzhou Bay Bridge.

9. Nanpu Bridge: Shanghai, China

Not “Bladerunner,” but still as memorable.Courtesy Brian Brake/Creative Commons/FlickrKnown for its funky and innovative spiral approach, Shanghai’s Nanpu Bridge designers came up with the novel idea to save space. When you can’t build out, build up.

10. Tower Bridge: London, England

London’s connection to the 19th century.Paul Gilham/Getty Images Europe/Getty ImagesA combined bascule and suspension bridge in London, England, spanning the River Thames, the Tower Bridge was opened on June 30, 1894 by The Prince of Wales. It is among the top iconic landmarks in a city filled with iconic landmarks.One of the final scenes of the Hollywood blockbuster “Sherlock Holmes” is played out on the bridge in the movie’s climax.

11. Pont du Gard Aqueduct: Gard, France

Showing why Rome wasn’t built in a day.Patrick Aventurier/Getty ImagesNo bridge list is complete without at least one aqueduct constructed by the Roman Empire. Pont du Gard is believed to have been built between 19 BC and 150 AD. It was constructed entirely without the use of mortar and the aqueduct’s stones — weighing up to six tons — were precisely cut to fit perfectly together eliminating the need for mortar.

12. Royal Gorge Bridge: Canon City, Colorado, United States

Indiana Jones’ favorite place to hang out.Courtesy Patrick O’DonnellThe Royal Gorge Bridge is the world’s highest suspension bridge at 359 meters above Arkansas River. Not surprisingly, it attracts a lot of jumpers. But they all pack parachutes.Related contentThe most spectacular footbridges around the world

13. Seri Wawasan Bridge: Putrajaya, Malaysia

Don’t be dazzled — watch the road.Courtesy Syed Abdul Khaliq/Creative Commons/FlickrAn absolutely gorgeous bridge design. This one gets in on beauty points alone.

14. Lupu Bridge: Shanghai, China

The world’s longest steel-arch bridge.LIU JIN/AFP/AFP/Getty ImagesLupu Bridge in Shanghai gets a spot on this list because at 3,900 meters it is the world’s longest steel-arch bridge, and it also provides an amazing vantage point overlooking the old 2010 Shanghai World Expo site.

15. Millau Viaduct: Tran Valley, France

Visually clinical, yet appealingREMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty ImagesThe world’s highest vehicular bridge, the Millau Viaduct traverses land not water, though when the fog rolls in, crossing the Millau can feel like crossing the sky. The bridge’s construction set three world records.

16. Vasco da Gama Bridge: Lisbon, Portugal

Difficult to take a bad photo here.PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Vasco da Gama spans the Tagus River near Lisbon, capital of Portugal and was built to ease traffic congestion and provide easier access to the 1998 World Fair along the banks of the Tagus. It isn’t the longest, it isn’t the tallest, but it sure is pretty.

17. Khaju Bridge: Isfahan, Iran

Walks don’t come more romantic than this.Courtesy Ninara/Creative Commons/FlickrRemarkable views, a useful design that regulates the flow of the river and it has lasted (built around 1650). The Khaju Bridge should be on any bridge fanatic’s must-see list.

18. The Wind and Rain Bridge: Sanjian County, China

Art as engineering.Courtesy Anja Disseldorp/Flickr/Creative CommonsThe Wind and Rain Bridge on the Linxi River of Sanjiang County is gorgeous. Built in 1916 to resemble a rainbow, the builders used no nails or rivets but instead dovetailed thousands of pieces of wood.Related content12 spectacular new bridges that break the mold

19. Sunniberg Bridge: Klosters, Switzerland

The Sunniberg Bridge was built in 1998 and won the Outstanding Structure Award in 2001 for its “aesthetically pleasing appearance and innovative design.”

20. Stari Most: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Proving big is not always best.Courtesy Petr Kadlec/Creative Commons/FlickrA 16th-century bridge in the city of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Sari crosses the river Neretva. The bridge stood for 427 years until it was destroyed in the Bosnian war in 1993. It was later rebuilt and reopened in 2004. It is traditional for the young men of the town to leap from the bridge into the Neretva.

21. Szechenyi Chain Bridge: Budapest, Hungary

Good to look at, great for stunts.ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Szechenyi Chain Bridge has loads of character. Opened in 1849, it truly put the “Buda” into the “Pest” as it connected the two sections of the city. In 2001, Hungarian stunt pilot Peter Besenyei flew upside down under the bridge.

22. New Brunswick Hartland Bridge: New Brunswick, Canada

About as cute as a bridge can get.Courtesy Dennis Jarvis/Creative Commons/FlickrThe world’s longest covered bridge might not look like much compared to some of the other mega structures featured here, but covered bridges have a unique charm.Some covered bridges are also only one lane, such as this Hartland Bridge in New Brunswick, Canada, so for those crossing there’s always a certain amount of excitement to be had.

23. The Confederation Bridge: Prince Edward Island, Canada

Not much to see, so no excuse for bad driving.courtesy Cadian TourismSpanning the Abegweit Passage of Northumberland Strait, and linking Prince Edward Island with mainland New Brunswick, Canada, the Confederation Bridge is the longest bridge over ice in the world.It is not dainty, it is strong, imposing, sturdy and muscular. Probably the bridge where we would least like to run out of gas. Since the bridge’s opening in 1997, potato production on Prince Edward Island has increased dramatically.

24. The Helix Bridge: Marina Bay, Singapore

Clever, beautiful and inspiring.Courtesy Urban Redevelopment AuthoritySingapore’s double helix bridge is 280 meters long, made of a special stainless steel, lovingly assembled over two years with great precision. Despite being just two years old is already being touted as an architectural marvel and engineering feat.

How to Choose a Barbell vintage gym barbell

“How on earth can you break a barbell?”

That was the question I was asking myself standing in my driveway with, well, a broken barbell…

Years ago, when I purchased my first barbell I didn’t put much thought into type or quality. They are just barbells…right? That thinking (or lack thereof) led to my first barbell breaking within 24 hours of purchase.

Well, with broken barbell in hand I decided it was time to uncover some of the basics as to what makes a good, durable barbell. What I found was that they can range from $200 to $2,000, and they are a little more complicated than your average sporting goods store would have you believe. A barbell serves as the foundation of true strength training. You can get by without a lot of things, but you cannot get by without a barbell.

Buying the right bar will help you to avoid big issues — they can warp, bend, rust, and break. The most common bar mishaps are bending from missed lifts, and sleeves popping off from, more or less, cheap manufacturing. Today, I want to make you an informed consumer of the barbell.

Before you can truly make an informed decision you need to know exactly what a barbell consists of — its “anatomy.”

A commonly used barbell has a 28-29 mm diameter shaft for men and 25 mm for women. Barbells come in all shapes and sizes, but the standard length is 7.2 ft for men and ~6.5 ft for women. They weigh ~44 pounds for men (20 kg) and ~33 pounds for women (15kg).

First, you have the bar itself, or shaft. It’s put through a machining process to get it to the right length and diameter. On the shaft, you have what is called knurling. Knurling is simply the rough, cross-hatched pattern you see on a barbell. Knurl is very important and is mainly for grip. It is machine-pressed and can be extremely rough, or smooth, depending on the manufacturer. It is important to feel the bar to get an idea of what you like (unless you buy online — in that case, look at reviews), but most top-end bar manufacturers have a good knurl. Where knurling can differ, even on top-end bars, is where the knurl does and does not exist. Some bars have knurling that extends all the way to the sleeves, and some bars have a gap of no knurling where the bar meets the sleeves. Sometimes bars will have center knurling and sometimes they won’t. You have to decide what you want and what you are most comfortable with.

If, say, you like Olympic lifting and you prefer a wide snatch grip, I suggest getting a bar with knurling that extends to the sleeves (if that sentence made no sense, then don’t worry about knurling going to the sleeves).

If you are often shirtless or do high-rep front squats and presses (CrossFit anyone?), you may want to go with no center knurling. If you regularly squat heavy weights and need the bar to grip the back, get the center knurling.

Furthermore, the markings on the knurl indicate which type of bar you are using. I recommend a dual marked bar for general purpose use. However, the outermost marking indicates an Olympic lifting bar and the inner marking indicates a powerlifting bar, and we’ll talk more about those in a minute.

It comes down to how it meets your needs and style of fitness.

Next, we have the sleeves.

The sleeves are simply where you put the weights. They are created from drawn-overmandrel (DOM) tubing, a machine process that makes the sleeves straight and strong. The biggest thing you are looking for in the sleeves is the rotation, or how the sleeves spin on the shaft. Unless you are extremely picky, or a professional lifter, the difference in bearings or bushings aren’t that important. Bushings are a low friction material placed between the shaft and the sleeve — they are more affordable, and they are what you will find on most bars. Needle bearings spin more smoothly, and are actual bearings between the shaft and the sleeve. Generally, bearings are on the high end bars. Bushings will save you a lot of money, and work perfectly fine, without having to go high-end. But, if you want the premium, then go bearings. Bearings are better — you aren’t paying more without reason — but the difference would only be noticed at the professional and elite levels.

Sleeves are also connected by bolts or snap rings. I will make this one very easy for you. Snap rings only! Stay away from bolts on a bar! Bolts = broken in 24 hours.

Also, know barbells come in many finishes — chrome, zinc, black oxide, unfinished, and even stainless steel — but also know that the finish is primarily an aesthetic preference. Stainless steel does provide an advantage because it is rust and corrosion free, forever.

Barbell Strength

At this point, you already know more than your average gym-goer, but let’s make you a true barbell connoisseur.

The strength of a barbell is very important. You need to know the terms I am about to go over because when you shop for a barbell, this is the information manufacturers will give you. If you have no idea what the numbers are referring to, how do you know what to buy?

Bar strength is reported in three areas: tensile strength, yield strength, and test.

Tensile strength is the maximum load your bar can support without fracturing or breaking. So high tensile strength = good bar. This will be your primary determining factor.

Yield strength is basically how much weight the bar can handle before it will become deformed — that is, it won’t return to perfect straightness. Breaking and deformation are very different. Unfortunately, you will be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer that provides yield strength information.

There is also test, which means the bar has been loaded and tested with weights at which there was no bending or breaking, so the higher, the better. It’s best if you can find a manufacturer that will give you a tensile strength rating, which is reported in pounds per square inch (PSI).

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Now you know the terminology, but what is a “good” rating? Here is a starting point for the most important factor — tensile strength ratings:

  • <150,000 PSI = Ehh
  • 150,000-175,000 PSI = Good
  • 175,000-200,000 PSI = Better
  • >200,000 PSI = Best

A bar in the good range is perfectly acceptable and will last a very long time. Considering cost and quality, most people do not need more than the “good” level bar.

If you are getting into sport weightlifting, there are differences in Olympic lifting bars and powerlifting bars:

  • Olympic weightlifting bars have more of a whip, or spring, to accommodate the sport.
  • Powerlifting bars are very stiff, as powerlifters prefer no surprises or major fluctuations during a big lift.

Barbell Plates

Next, you have to think about plates. Unless you plan on competing at the professional level, plate quality is not as vital as the quality of your barbell.

Price can vary greatly with plates. You can get 300 lb. of iron at a garage sale for $30 or you can spend $3,000+ on a couple hundred pounds of certified competition bumper plates.

The most frequently asked question is whether to purchase bumper plates or iron (metal) plates, and that depends on the type of lifting you plan to do. If you like powerlifting (squat, bench press, and deadlift), then you will be just fine with iron plates. If you are dropping the bar frequently during CrossFit workouts or practicing the snatch and clean and jerk in Olympic weightlifting, you’ll need bumpers.

Personally, I prefer a blend of iron and bumper plates in my arsenal, and I’ll explain why and some considerations in just a minute. First, let’s talk bumper plates.

When it comes to bumper plates, what you are paying for is the thickness of the plate and how much they bounce when dropped.

Here is a quick breakdown of their categories:

  • Black bumpers ($): Thick with a big bounce
  • Colored bumpers ($$): Thick with less bounce
  • Olympic training bumpers ($$$): Thin and dead bounce
  • Competition bumpers ($$$$$$$): Thin and dead bounce + certified weight to the gram

They all should be 450mm disks with a 50mm opening. Economy black bumper plates are going to be good enough for 95% of people; 4.9% will want/need colored bumpers or Olympic training bumpers, and .1% will need certified Olympic competition bumpers. Colored plates generally follow a color coding, and some companies do follow the color code of the International Weightlifting Federation, but not all do. The official color coding can be found at the IWF website.

I like to have around 300 lb. of cheap iron plates along with another couple hundred pounds of black bumpers. I use the bumpers for when I am going to be dropping the weight, and I use a combination of iron and bumpers if I am doing a heavy back squat.

You’ll be hard pressed to find bumper plates at a garage sale, so you will need to order them online, but iron plates are a completely different story.

For iron, here’s where you use the power of Craigslist to find a lot of weight for pennies on the dollar. People are constantly moving, giving up on at-home fitness, and letting plates sit in their garage and rust. That’s a win for us! The easiest way to shop for plates is to put it on autopilot using a combination of Craigslist and IFTTT; you can read about how that works here. Basically, you set up a program that will notify you when plates come up for sale in your price range.

Conclusion

Most people are looking for a general, high-quality bar, and there are plenty out there that are suitable for all training and that will last for a long time. So, unless you are planning on becoming an Olympian, I would stay away from the “Cadillac” bars. You can get a good barbell that will meet all of your needs for around $250, and the near-perfect bar for around $500.

That can seem like a lot of money for a barbell, but it is the heart of your training, and you will be using it day-in and day-out. Don’t get a bar that will bend or fail while you are using it.

Get a bar that will last a lifetime. It is an investment in your fitness and your health!

And that, gentlemen is all you need know about plates, weights, and barbells.

Now, let’s start your story differently than mine.

“How on earth can this barbell withstand this abuse?”

That will be the question you are asking yourself while standing in your driveway with, well, an amazing barbell.

Ahead of Super Bowl, Trump Raises Doubts on Tackle Football for His Son

ATLANTA — Hours before the sport’s biggest game, President Trump joined the growing ranks of parents anxious over tackle football, saying in an interview he “would have a hard time” letting his 12-year-old son play.

“I mean, it’s a dangerous sport and I think it’s, I, it’s really tough” if his son wanted to take up the game, Mr. Trump said in an interview with CBS ahead of its Sunday evening broadcast of the Super Bowl.

The president’s concerns are at odds with his previous criticism that the N.F.L. has been making the game too soft to avoid concussions and other injuries, and suggest that he is struggling with many of the same questions that parents across the country are asking about the safety of youth tackle football.

Mr. Trump said he would ultimately let his youngest son, Barron, who plays soccer, decide if he wanted to play tackle football and would not steer him away from the sport.

But the president said he had seen reports about the dangers of playing tackle football, and heard that some N.F.L. players were not letting their sons play tackle football.

His comments added another wrinkle to his ambivalent relationship with the game he often celebrates, but also laments. His doubts about the safety of the game come five years after President Barack Obama said that if he had a son, he would not let him play professional football.You have 4 free articles remaining.Subscribe to The Times

Some studies have suggested that playing tackle football before age 12 puts athletes at a higher risk of developing cognitive problems later in life, but the issue has not been widely studied. In general, there has been growing awareness of C.T.E., a degenerative brain disease many former players have developed from repeated hits to the head.

As a result of such concerns, participation in flag football has exploded.

Yet while Mr. Obama held a forum at the White House on the dangers of concussions, Mr. Trump has repeatedly said the N.F.L. is being overprotective.

In September 2017, for instance, Mr. Trump complained that the N.F.L. was ruining the game because the referees were trying to control unnecessarily rough tackles.

“Today if you hit too hard — 15 yards! Throw him out of the game!” he said, adding: “They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game.”

At a campaign rally in 2016, Mr. Trump referred to a woman in the audience who fainted, but returned to the crowd.

“The woman was out cold and now she’s coming back,” he said. “See? We don’t go by these new, and very much softer, N.F.L. rules. Concussion. Oh, oh! Got a little ding on the head. No, no, you can’t play for the rest of the season. Our people are tough.”

Trump also called the N.F.L. “soft” for penalizing helmet-to-helmet hits.

In the CBS interview, however, he sounded more cautionary notes.

“I hate to say it, because I love to watch football,” Mr. Trump said. “I think the N.F.L. is a great product, but I really think that as far as my son — well, I’ve heard N.F.L. players saying they wouldn’t let their sons play football. So, it’s not totally unique, but I, I would have a hard time with it.”

Robots will control everything you eat

It starts with a seed. That seed — maybe it’s a tomato seed — gets planted into the ground. Then it grows. And grows. Slowly, the plant pierces through the soil, emerging into the light. Weeks to months later, this seed becomes a plant, waist-high, bearing dozens of ripe tomatoes. Someone picks the fruit and packs it into a box. Someone else ships those boxes to warehouses where a restaurant or grocery buys the tomatoes. Later, a cook will take one, cut it up and put it in a salad.

Today, this process is still pretty low tech. Sure, there are cars and trucks involved, but robotics? Not as much. People are still key players at every step. But that may change, and soon.

“There are major technologies coming in the next 10 years to make each part of farming more efficient, more productive and hopefully healthier and less expensive,” says Dan Steere. He heads up a company called Abundant Robotics in Menlo Park, Calif.

In other words, robots increasingly are going to play roles in growing and preparing our food.

By time the time kids in middle school become adults, the entire food cycle may be robotic. Even now, robots help farmers. Some plant fruits, vegetables and grains in a more efficient way. Soon, they’ll help harvest that food more quickly. Some food warehouses already have self-driving trucks. Robots will even help get that food onto our plates. In fact, a robot named Sally is already doing just that. The goal is to make the way food is produced and prepared faster, easier and more efficient.

Getting seeds in the ground

Every field has some areas that are naturally less fertile than others. Farmland may not be level, either. It can have areas that rise or are lower than their surroundings. There may even be ditches. Plowing evens out the ground somewhat, but never completely. If a creek runs through a field, there’s always going to be land near that creek where it’s difficult — or impossible — to plant. Soil quality also varies throughout a field.

All of these things can impact how much food the land can produce and how good that food will taste. And the amount of food produced affects how much money a farmer makes.

Math helps farmers calculate how many seeds to plant and where. But land also changes over time, so these calculations must be done over and over again every year.

A quadcopter drone moves over a farm, taking pictures from the air. This can map the quality of the soil, any crops and even pests.ackab1/Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Theo Pistorius is head of a company called DroneClouds. It’s in Cape Town, South Africa. His is one of many companies using drones to help farmers know where to plant. Drone is slang for unmanned aerial aircraft a flying robot. The craft that DroneClouds uses has five cameras. Pistorius says each camera “is essentially [like] a camera on an iPhone.” But not a normal iPhone. He says think of each as “a very specialized, aerial iPhone, with a very specialized, calibrated camera.”

As the drone’s cameras fly overhead, they take pictures of the land. These show field size and the different lays of the land. They also reveal soil variation and any irrigation problems. They even show where insects and fungus might cause problems.

Next, DroneClouds processes those images to create a map of the field and what’s growing in it. “We then do analyses to interpret it for the farmer,” explains Pistorius. If the images come from an apple orchard, for instance, they might look at how the trees are growing. They’ll note where tall weeds might cause a brand new tree to struggle.

A farmer in Zimbabwe holds a drone used for aerial crop mapping. This is just one of the ways in which robots are becoming involved in food production.International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center/Flickr (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

To pinpoint problems, analysts compare these pictures to others of the same crop. This is called comparative analysis. Pistorius says it’s like running a race, then comparing your time today to what it was earlier in the season. That lets you measure how much you’ve improved. But runners also compare their time against other runners. So farmers compare pictures of their field to those of other farmers. This is known as a signature-based analysis.

“The ideal pictures come from labs all across the world,” Pistorius says. “Every four years, scientists from the Agricultural Research Commission

meet with labs [in the United States], and take a bunch of signatures.” This way farmers in both countries can help each other.

Picking fruit

Consistently monitored, the little plants grow. Day after day, the sun rises and falls. Sometimes it shines, other times there’s rain. Finally, harvest time arrives. And with it comes new, cutting-edge work in farm robotics.

For two years, Abundant Robotics has been developing a robot that picks apples. Two years? Isn’t picking apples easy?

Not if you’re a robot.

To understand why apple picking is hard for a machine, let’s break down the process. When you see an apple hanging on a tree, your eyes send a signal to your brain. The brain processes the data in this signal — such as the apple’s color and where it is on the tree. Instinctively, you’ll know when the apple’s ready to pick. Your brain then tells your arm to reach out and your hand to pull the fruit away from its branch. You hold the apple like you would a bird — gently enough not to bruise it, but firmly enough that it doesn’t fall away.

For people, picking an apple is so easy, even a kid can do it. But for robots, this simple activity used to be impossible.bubutu-/iStockphoto

When you pick an apple, you make all these decisions quickly. But if you needed to pick an entire field’s worth of apples, it would take a very, very long time. After you picked one apple, you’d have to put it in a basket. The next apple would go in there, too, and the next, until your basket was full. Then down the ladder you’d go, where you’d have to empty your basket before climbing back up to start again.

Doing this for hundreds of trees would be incredibly time consuming. That’s why people are seeking help from robots. When Abundant Robotics is done, farmers will be able to plant more trees. And they won’t be worried about part of their crop rotting in the field because people weren’t able to pick it all in time.

The first problem Abundant Robotics had to solve was acquiring the right signals. “If you don’t have a good pair of eyes, it’s hard to do a lot of tasks in the real world,” Steere says. So the company had to give their robot what Steere calls “a better pair of eyes.” This system — and how it connects to a robot’s brain — is known as computer vision. Computer vision helps the robot see “every surface of an apple,” says Steere, in addition to judging its size, color and weight. It can even scout for any defects in the fruit. Such systems are rapidly improving what robots can do.

Yet even with super eyes, the apple robot still had to learn how to physically pick the fruit without hurting it. In robotics, movement is called animation. Steere says, “Heavy animation damages the fruit.” If it bruises the apple or cuts through the skin, the fruit may look bad and likely won’t sell. Rough handling also can damage trees.

So the robot must coordinate its vision and motor skills. Think back to the apple-picking process: You have to know which apple to pick. You have to pick it quickly and gently. But what else? You can’t disturb apples on the tree that still need time to grow. “The vision has to … recognize fruit,” Steere says, and “recognize whether it’s ripe or not.” And it has to do all that in a fraction of a second.

“People have wanted to automate this type of agriculture for decades. It’s just never been possible,” he says. Even after two years, his team’s work still is not done! Abundant’s robot won’t go on sale until later this year. Developing great tech is like farming — it takes patience.

Sorting the harvest

Coffee berries come in many colors. A new robot can quickly sort the good ones from the bad.Bonga1965/iStockphoto

Once the crop been picked, good fruit must be sorted from the bad. That’s what a company called bext360 does. Instead of apples, its robot works with cocoa, nuts, cardamom (a spice) and coffee cherries (the fruit that holds coffee beans). Daniel Jones heads the company, based in Denver, Colo.

Take those coffee cherries. “The farmers would harvest their coffee and place it in our machine,” Jones explains. “Then the machine drops [the fruit] through a visioning system.” Picture a waterfall of cherries falling. That’s what the machine stares at, all the while taking pictures of the passing fruit. The robot then uses those pictures to sort good coffee cherries from bad.

Machine vision and computer vision are essentially the same thing. Abundant and best360’s robots do different tasks. Still, the same core technology helps both of them do it.

Before building a robot, engineers draw a design of what it will look like. This is the design for bext360’s coffee robot.Garrett Ziegler

Both robots also need more than computer vision to succeed. Vision can tell bext360’s robot how to sort, but then the robot actually has to do it. Farmers harvest coffee cherries — up to 30 kilograms (66 pounds) — from one section of their field at a time. Then they load cherries holding some 18,000 beans into a chute on top of the robot.

Within about 3 minutes, the robot will have individually sorted every cherry. To do that, the robot has to take a picture of each one. Then it analyzes them all in a mere 22 milliseconds or so. “We’ll know everything about them in that split second that they fall through [the chute],” says Jones. Puffs of air then push the cherries into different bins — one for good fruit, another for rejects.

After the coffee cherry falls, the robot shares its analysis with the farmer. “The main things [the robot measures] are size and color and density,” says Jones. It also checks the inside and outside of the cherry for signs of rot or disease. This is why farmers only put cherries from one part of their field in at a time. This information helps them know if something they tried in one part of a field worked better than something they tried elsewhere.

The robot from bext360 is still new: Sales only started about six months ago.

Onto the plate

Picked, analyzed and sorted, a harvest now goes to a warehouse. One day, it might get there in a self-driving semi-truck. And a self-driving forklift might move the pallets off the truck and onto another that is destined for a restaurant or store. Amazon already has a grocery store just for employees that doesn’t have any human stockers or check-out clerks: They’re all robots.

This forklift doesn’t need a driver. It can drive itself.StraSSenBahn/Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Finally, the food might end up with our last robot: Sally. Sally makes salads. From the outside, she looks like a box. There’s a touchscreen and a hole where a bowl can be placed. Inside, though, this robot’s more complicated. “Sally is a box with the robotic components on the inside,” notes Deepak Sekar. He heads up Chowbotics, in Redwood City, Calif. It’s the company that makes Sally.

“There are cylinders inside the robot that are filled with prepped ingredients,” Sekar explains. People activate Sally by pressing the touchscreen. Diners can customize their salads by calorie count and ingredients.

At $30,000 per robot, Sally isn’t designed to be used at home. Chowbotics sells the robot to schools and offices, which use Sally in cafeterias and breakrooms. Observes Sekar: “We hear all the time that students in schools don’t like eating from salad bars.” Why? Sekar claims they’re gross. “Because all the ingredients are inside Sally, you don’t have to wonder if someone sneezed on the tomatoes an hour ago — ew!,” he says. “Your salad is always fresh and healthy.”  

Robots aren’t in every part of the field-to-plate process yet. But soon they will be. This will make the food process cooler for us. Even more importantly, robots could one day even out the world’s food supply. Think about it: Today, DroneClouds helps farmers know how to plant more. bext360 helps them know how to plant more efficiently. Abundant Robotics helps growers harvest more quickly — which means farmers can plant more. Then Chowbotics stores that produce in a healthier way.

Says Steere, “If there was ever a time [for] a young person going into farming — this has gotta be one of the most amazing times in history. The kind of things that automation can do is going to continue to change and to evolve quickly.” 

Stop Sitting There and Start Boating: Daylight is Burning

I’m sure a lot of you Bay Area folk remember when the BART workers threatened a strike in August 2013. The walkout was avoided, but for an entire day the state of public rail transit across San Francisco was shaky at best.

In that dark hour it was Uber who came to the rescue…well, halfway to the rescue. They actually partnered with a local San Francisco startup called Boatbound to send people off to work on boats across the bay.

Uber never would have been able to orchestrate this singlehandedly: Boatbound was the crucial element that made it all work. Here we are now, almost two years later, and Boatbound is both still kicking and thriving.

In short, Boatbound is the Airbnb for boats. It’s an idea that founder Aaron Hall cooked up thanks to a life spent boating with family and friends.

“We were always out boating, and when we traveled it was something we’d do on vacation too. It was always an integral part of my growing up,” says Hall.

On one of those vacations, in 2012, they tried to rent a boat for the weekend. They walked into an old, clunky marina in North Dallas that was so desolate it didn’t even have a website.

The drive was to get there was long and arduous, and when they finally arrived the last available boat had already been rented out. However, Hall saw hundreds of owned boats just floating in the marina, not being used and not available for rent.

Surely there was a service out there that let people rent these owned boats. Well, long story short, there wasn’t, so Hall built Boatbound.

They initially launched in 2013 and only serviced San Francisco, which highlights the strategic prowess Boatbound showed by teaming up with Uber in 2013. That, paired with the hard work of a dedicated team took Boatbound to South Florida, and ultimately across the rest of the US in 2014.

Hall would say they’ve “exploded”, and I have to agree. I pressed him about what contributed to this massive spike in growth:

“Think about it: nobody goes out on a boat themselves unless they’re a lonely fisherman,” Hall explains. “When one person books on our platform a lot of other people find out about Boatbound while on the actual, rented boat. The opportunity for it to spread like wildfire is unprecedented.”

Currently, Hall and his crew are spending a lot of time with boating events and dry land fun to keep the hype fueled. It’s fascinating: they still haven’t turned on the marketing magic, so to speak, but have over 10,000 boats registered for rental on the platform.

Not only that, the list of people waiting to sign up seems to get bigger every day. There was even one man who rented his boat out eight times in the first week it was listed on Boatbound.

“We can’t activate boats quickly enough. It does take some time to get the boats ready, which is why we’re still picky on markets we launch in,” Hall says. “Though, it’s mainly because there are boats there already waiting for us to activate them before we even arrive.”

Consider what this means for boat owners. Effectively you can offset a sizeable portion of monthly expenses by renting your boat just a few times in a given month.

That’s huge, considering that about 80 percent of boats just float unused over one calendar year. Hall tells me that people who rent their boats on the platform can finally view their crafts as tangible assets and not sinkholes to throw money in.

For all of us who don’t own boats, it’s a steal to get out on the water for about $30 a day. What are you waiting for? Daylight is burning, my friends, and summer is already halfway over. Go have some fun already!

10 Places in Thailand That Backpackers Rarely Visit

Thailand is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations on the planet receiving an estinated 15.9 million tourists in 2010. Perfect marketed images of tuk-tuks, long-tail boats, glimmering temples and glamorous Thai dancers are what the mind conjures up when someone says Thailand.

Living here for two years, I have had the immense pleasure of seeing many different sides of this fascinating country, the hugely celebrated and the unassuming, the popular and the forgotten.

Each place has its unique surprises and my experience makes me cringe when I hear some stuck up backpackers say that Thailand has nothing for them in way of adventure anymore. As someone once said, “only boring people get bored.” Especially in Thailand.

10 Unique Places in Thailand

1. MaeKlong Market, Samut Songkram

MaeKlong Market in the province of Samut Songkram is an unbelievable example of Thailand’s ability to thrive in regardless of circumstances. The market is situated on the train tracks of MaeKlong Railway and eight times a day, seven days a week, the train passes in and out happily.

The train literally goes directly through the middle of the market stalls and over the goods on sale. Rather than relocate a market which had been running for decades in this area, locals adapted superbly so that daily life was not interrupted.

The vendors simply pull back any awning that sticks out too far within centimeters of where the train will pass and usher shoppers to step back. Locals know the exact time each day the train arrives and once it has passed through, the awnings are recoiled and they are back on the tracks laying out their fruit, meat and seafood as if nothing happened.

2. The Forensic Museum, Bangkok

Have you always wanted to see a scrotum with elephantiasis? Er… no, us neither! Bangkok’s forensic museum holds a bizarre collection of everything that is weird, outrageous and just downright freaky about Thailand.

For anyone looking to investigate a very different side of Thailand, look no further… though be warned this place is not for the squeamish or faint of heart!

With macabre interest in death and illness, the museum displays a collection of gruesome photographs of decapitations, deformed feotus’s in glass jars, an exhibition of skulls with bullet wounds through the head and the star attraction, the embalmed body of 1950’s Chinese cannibal, Si Quey. Next to the cabinet read the handwritten words “because he loves to eat human’s organ not because of starving”.

3. Phuket Town

Most people head to Phuket strictly for beaches and all night parties, however, what most people fail to appreciate is Phuket town itself. Dating back to the 16th century, colonial powers had an interest in Phuket’s natural resources, namely its booming tin mining industry.

As a result, the architecture of the town is a mix of Sino-Portuguese shop-house and Sino-Colonial mansion style. Despite it being home to the cheapest digs in town (the famous On-On Hotel was featured on the opening scene’s of the movie, The Beach!) there is a surprising lack of backpackers roaming the town.

Artsy tea-shops and atmospheric jazz bars have now taken residence in the old shop-houses and there are some great (and cheap) Chinese-influenced eating houses. Visitors heading there in October are in for a treat as the Vegetarian Festival takes place with incredible feats of self-flagellation and body piercing.

4. Mae Sot or “Little Burma”

Nicknamed “Little Burma,” due to the presence of over 200,000 Burmese refugees living in the area, the border town of Mae Sot doesn’t really feel like Thailand at all.

Walking around the local market you will see women with a yellow paste, ‘thananka’ bark smeared on their cheeks and men, wearing the traditional Burmese wrap-around skirt, the longyi.

The town is fascinating in the sense that it makes you realize just how complex the Burmese nationality is with ethnic minorities from Karen, Kachin, Mon, Arakanese; each with their own separate customs, cultures, dress and cuisine.

Eat chapatis and dal in the Muslim quarter in the morning for breakfast and then feast on Karen curries in the evening. For backpackers who are considering  visiting what is now called ‘Myanmar,’ Mae Sot is an intriguing taster.

Plus, the bridge over the River Moie has just opened for border runs so the town may well be seeing more backpackers here in the coming months. 

5. Nan Province

The remote province of Nan is a mountainous, forested area that for many years was an autonomous kingdom cut off from the rest of Thailand and the outside world.

The area remains somewat separated from the rest of Thailand in the fact that very few tourists venture here. Home to the largest national park in Thailand, the beautiful Doi Phu Kha National Park, the area has an abundance of impressive limestone caves, karats and waterfalls, not to mention the ancient salt mine village, or ‘Ban Bo Klua’ as it is known in Thai.

The best way to get to Nan province is by motorbike from Chiang Mai on roads which are superb for riding passing through spectacular mountain scenery. The town of Phayao, located on the picturesque Phayao Lake is the perfect stop off point to explore more stunning mountain scenery and nearby hill-tribe villages.

6. The Trang Islands

Just four hours by bus from the tourist hotspot, Krabi, lie the ‘secret’ islands of Trang, a group of 47 separate craggy isles each one blessed with raw, unspoilt beauty.

The area which consists of 120-mile coastline remain untouched by tourism and you will find no fast food restaurants, internet cafes or tacky souvenir shops here. During low season (June-September) the islands are completely deserted and you will have to persuade the local fisherman to take you out from the main port of Trang to the outer islands.

It is quite possible that you will be the only Westerner there as you explore the beautiful white sandy beaches, limestone caves and waterfalls that were recently designated a national parkland.

The accommodation is cheap and very basic but with a location so idyllic, the Trang islands are like Thailand 20 years ago. If it is true escapism you are after, the Trang Islands just may be your adventure playground.

7. The White Temple and the Black House, Chiang Rai

It is true that with such an abundance of noteworthy temples in South East Asia, at times during your trip you may feel guiltily ‘templed out.’ After coming from Thailand’s capital of culture, Chiang Mai with its 300+ temples, the last thing you want to do in Chiang Rai is see another!

Yet, the White Temple just may be different from anything you will have seen before with its eerie concrete hands and ghostly heads surrounding the entrance of the temple and its huge silver tusks reflecting the light as you walk up to the daunting doors.

The temple is like something out of a strange gothic fairy tale and was built by artist ‘Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat’ as a Buddhist offering. Less than 2km from the White Temple, you will find the mysterious ‘Baan Dam’ or the Black House, built interestingly by Kositpipat’s former student, artist Thawan Duchanee.

With an extensive collection of taxidermy, including the entire skeleton of an elephant, the Black House is a bizarre contrast to the pure White Temple. An antagonistic creation by the artist perhaps?

8. Khao Yai National Park and Bat Cave

Every night without fail as the sun begins to set in Eastern Thailand, a thick black cloud spouts from the mouth of an eerie cave on the edge of Khao Yao National Park.

They are thousands upon thousands of ‘wrinkled lipped’ bats who come out to hunt at twilight creating what seems like one giant living organism in a ribbon pattern across the sky.

Just four hours from Bangkok, the park is also home to 67 species of wild mammal including the Asiatic black bear, Asian elephant, gaur gibbon and even tigers! Visitors can walk the many hiking trails in the area to spectacular waterfalls, observation points and even a dinosaur footprint (a four day trek!).

9. Doi Inthanon National Park

It was this time last year when hoards of Thai people raced to the peak of the highest mountain in Thailand (2565 metres) to get their first experience of frost! Whilst English people find this incredulous, the park does have more to offer than its cold winter temperatures.

Riding a motorbike through the park is the best way to explore a landscape that changes with each turn; at times rugged, misty, cold and eerie and then almost mediterranean with lush rolling hills, rhododendron bushes and smiling farmers waving as they plough the fields in the sun.

On the way up the mountain (you can reach the summit by road) there is a Hmong hill-tribe settlement where visitors can stay overnight in a homestead and observe the organic farming practices here which are a Royal Project initiated by the current King of Thailand to stop the hill tribes from growing Opium.

Although the area of Doi Inthanon is well set up for tourists, it is rare to spot backpackers here.

10. Tarutao National Marine Park and the Deep South

Right on the border with Malaysia, Thailand’s deep south is very underdeveloped compared to Krabi and the Gulf islands. Today, it remains an area which tourists are wary of due to continued travel warnings because of the Muslim fighting in the area.

However, this area has more than one surprise up its sleeve, not least the stunning Tarutao National Marine Park, an archipelago of 51 exquisite islands which were the setting for Thailand’s version of the Survivor TV program.

One of the first national marine parks in Thailand, its sparkling beaches, coral reefs and virgin rainforest remain in pristine condition. It is hard to believe that the largest island, Koh Tarutao was once a huge prison with over 10,000 prisoners sent there.

One of the islands here, Koh Lipe has managed to evade park protection and is beginning to develop into a popular resort. Go now before pressure from developers to build more resorts becomes too much! The park is closed May-November.

Hiring the Nutrition-Fitness Hybrid Pro

What are consumers looking for when they come to your gym or studio? Sure, they want great workouts and access to the latest equipment in a welcoming, fun environment. But above all, they really want to attain their health and fitness goals.

At our gym—One on One Fitness in State College, Pennsylvania—we’ve learned that lasting, consistent client success depends on intelligent nutrition and habit-change strategies. Thus, we’ve pivoted from workouts to wellness to help clients succeed—and to differentiate our business. We focus on three areas: fitness, nutrition and lifestyle habits.

We’re making this happen with a new job title: the nutrition–fitness hybrid pro. We recruit registered dietitians who love fitness, and then we train them to be fitness professionals.

It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity for the right people. These RDs interact with clients in ways that they wouldn’t normally, as clinical dietitians. Moreover, they help clients in ways that a dietitian or personal trainer, individually, could not.

“I became an RD because I have a passion for helping others,” says Haley Golich, RDN, LDN, a recent addition to our team at One on One. “The nutrition–fitness hybrid position enables me to promote healthy living, help clients set and achieve health goals, and contribute to the prevention of chronic disease. It is the ongoing interaction with clients that intrigued me the most.”

Advantages to This Professional Model

We employ four RDs and are recruiting more. Here’s what we’ve observed since implementing this strategy:

Our Pool of Hiring Candidates Is Wider

Hiring/recruiting quality fitness professionals can be a significant challenge because it’s so hard to find that “gem” of a personal trainer who is competent, professional and (of course) looking for work. The nutrition–fitness hybrid position lets us recruit outside the pool of personal trainers and kinesiology students.

“When I went off to college, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to study kinesiology or nutrition,” says Bethany Paszkowski, RDN, LDN, another member of our team. “They both interested me, and both would allow me to achieve my longer-term goal of helping people. This position is perfect for me.”

RDs Have Advanced Skills

When hiring an RD, you’re getting someone who is dynamic, smart and organized. Five years of vigorous education forces a person to develop many of the professional skills required to succeed in this role. Although RDs don’t have a degree in kinesiology, they quickly develop an intellectual understanding of the science and prove that they can consistently apply it in a fitness setting. Bottom line: You’re not hiring a “project.”

RDs Enjoy Career Satisfaction

This position has a strong allure for the right kind of RD. After all, RDs rarely encounter so much diversity in their tasks and such a committed client base in clinical or community nutrition jobs. “I’ve worked as a registered dietitian in both the public health and clinical settings. These settings can be challenging to impact change,” says Golich. “By combining nutrition counseling along with fitness consulting, I am able to impact clients in a comprehensive way to elicit the most positive change.”

It’s Easier to Turn RDs Into Trainers Than Vice Versa

Teaching RDs about fitness is a time-consuming but straightforward process. Conversely, dietetics is a complicated, multifaceted subject that will soon require a master’s-level education. Thus, the model works only if you start by hiring RDs. Turning trainers into RDs is rarely achievable.

The Investment Will Pay Off

RDs are used to making a healthy salary, so you will have to pay them competitively. You will have difficulty competing against the pay of a clinical setting. However, we don’t try. Instead, we attract people strongly motivated to engage in our holistic wellness opportunity. We provide a 5-week training program whose value is clear to the people we hire. They recognize that our team will teach them a trade and that we’ve made an investment in them—knowing we won’t see a return until well after they start.

How the Nutrition–Fitness Model Improves Your Business

In a competitive marketplace, fitness businesses have to differentiate themselves and generate new sources of revenue. In our market, a lot of gyms and clubs are doing the same things: offering different spins/pricing on group training and selling supplements. Although many businesses succeed tremendously on this path, we think the competition will only get stiffer.

We believe that creating a one-stop shop focusing on fitness, nutrition and habit change is a win-win that helps our business while giving our clients the best opportunity to succeed. We hired our first full-time RD in 2015, and our nutrition program became profitable after about a year, mainly through individual counseling sessions.

Some of the most significant benefits are intangible. Having RDs on staff clearly differentiates us from our competitors and solidifies our position as leaders in our field. RDs also get nutrition clients interested in fitness, educate our community and contribute to our social media updates.