New Year’s Resolution Part V: Putting Rubber On the Road

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The prior post discussed planning for your new year’s resolution and the need for objectives, or specific measurable steps, that will result in your successful achievement of your goal. I also introduced the idea that in planning for your resolution, your plan needs to be couched in the reality of your life.

I can’t say it enough: You need to be honest with yourself and set objectives that are realistic and manageable for you.  You can definitely achieve your goal but it must be broken down into manageable steps. I’ve said it before in this series and I’ll continue to hammer on the point that you must be patient and persistent. It’s imperative that you focus on the process—the process, the process, the process!—of getting to your goal. Focus on what you can do right now, today and don’t get obsessive about the end goal.

I’m not going to give you specific objectives. Rather, I’m going to give you some questions and details to consider when forming your objectives. First, look at the motivation scale. Keep it in mind as you consider your course of action. If, on a particular action your motivation is 8 or higher, then get to it! If your motivation is below an 8 then don’t consider the action. For example if I ask you how motivated you are to join a gym and start working out X number of times per week and your answer is 9, then you’re ready to get going. If I ask you how motivated you are to start cooking X number of meals a week and your answer is 4, then you’re not ready and you should perhaps revisit the idea at a later time. Be honest with yourself or there’s no point in doing any of this.

motivation-scale

What are you ready to do?

Start an exercise program? Change your eating? Go to bed earlier? All of the above? Not everyone is ready to address all the details that go into a fit, strong, healthy body. Maybe you’re ready to start lifting weights but you’re not ready to make dietary changes. Maybe you’re open to starting a walking program but not ready to join a gym.

If you’re new to fitness and exercise, or if you’ve struggled with resolutions in the past, then I suggest you start with one thing. Find some success early where it’s easy, then address other needs when you’re ready. If you try to do too much too soon then you may become overwhelmed and give up. Can you start with one or two days a week of exercise? Can you start cooking one meal per day? Can you pick one or two days per week to either go to bed early or sleep in?

(Have you found time to do the homework in these other posts? If not, then you may not be ready to move on.)

What activities do you enjoy?

If you can build your exercise routine around an activity you like to do then it’s likely you’ll do it. If on the other hand you hate to run then building your weight loss resolution around running (or anything you can’t stand to do) is a bad idea. What physical activity or activities are you ready and willing to undertake?

What type of exercise?

We typically discuss “strength training” and “cardio.” The truth is, physical activity exists along a sliding scale. Lifting heavy things for short durations has its benefits as does prolonged, lower-intensity work. Do you know what type of work your resolution requires? Do you have any experience lifting? Going back to the question above, is there a type of activity which you enjoy the most? Beyond that, do you know how much you should lift for how many reps and sets for your goal? Do you know how often, for how long, and at what intensity you should engage in cardio-focused activity for your particular goal?

What time of day to exercise?

Figure out what time of day is best for you to work out. If you’re not a morning person then going to the gym before work may not be a great idea. Working out after work or at lunch are options to consider. Your work schedule, family obligations, and what time of day you prefer all pertinent factors. What time of day works best for you?

How many days per week to exercise?

Optimally, you’re going to engage in some sort of physical activity of varying intensity on most days of the week; but if you’re not currently exercising at all, then aiming for five, six, or seven days per week might be unrealistic. Can you start with one? Two? How many days per week will you realistically do something called “exercise?” Further, most fitness plans should have hard days and easy days. Exercising hard every day isn’t a good idea. Hard work must be balanced with rest and recovery.

Where’s the best place for you to exercise?

Ideally you’ll exercise in a place where you feel comfortable, confident, and welcomed. A gym? Outdoors? A class? Yoga or Pilates studio? Strenuous yard work and manual labor count as exercise too.

Gyms and studios are much like restaurants. They cater to different clientele with different tastes. All gyms and studios aren’t the same. If you don’t like the feel of one then visit another.

(One observation: Most people need to leave the home to get a worthwhile workout. Virtually no one develops a successful exercise habit at home. Home exercise equipment typically turns into an expensive laundry rack. The home has a million other diversions and strangely, with the option to work out anytime, you’ll never actually work out.)

Injuries

Aches and pains are serious roadblocks to fitness goal. If you hurt while lifting weights, running, hiking, swimming, etc., then you may need to see a physical therapist, chiropractor, or some other type of injury rehab professional. The sooner you get help with injuries, the sooner you can get at your goal.

Have you considered sleep?

There is strong evidence that lack of sleep contributes to obesity. Sleep is also important for athletic performance. If your resolution has anything to do with weight loss or athletic achievement then sleep is crucial to your goal. Many Americans don’t sleep enough. Most of us need 8+ hours of sleep per night. More coffee isn’t the solution, nor is “just getting used to it.” Won’t work!

Can you start going to bed earlier? Or sleep in on certain days? Maybe you can sleep more just one or two days (preferably more) days per week? Can you turn off the electronic devices an hour before bedtime? It’s important!

Food preparation

If your resolution is physique-related (fat loss and/or muscle gain) then your food intake is of tremendous importance. You can’t out-exercise bad eating habits. There’s no way around it. Studies show that if you prepare your own food then odds are you’ll have a healthier diet than if you eat out or eat convenience foods. Do you prepare any of your own food? Do you grocery shop? Do you know how to cook? Do you own some pots and pans? Are you willing to start preparing more of you own food? If so, how many meals are you willing to prepare? If you currently prepare none of your own food, then starting with just one meal per day—or even one meal per week—is a starting place.

Two things to remember: “Prepare” doesn’t necessarily mean “cook,” and I’m not advocating a particular diet here. I’m asking if you’re ready to get involved with feeding yourself.

Your support system

Getting help helps! Tackling a big goal by yourself is tough. Evidence suggests that accountability and positive social support are important factors in successful weight loss. Do the people around you support your efforts? Are you willing to enlist an accountability partner? Can you find allies at home and/or in the work place who can facilitate your new year’s resolution? Enlisting a personal trainer is one powerful way to stay accountable. It’s even better if you can bring friends to your cause.

Examples

Here are some examples of measurable objectives that one might take as steps toward his or her fitness goal(s):

  • Meet with my trainer twice a week at the gym
  • Prepare breakfast five mornings a week
  • Turn off electronic devices an hour before bed every night
  • Walk for 20-30 minutes four days per week
  • Add in a yoga class to my current fitness routine
  • Schedule a visit with a physical therapist to get my knee/back/shoulder/whatever pain figured out.
  • Start eating a piece of fruit every day
  • Cut back on fast food from four to two days per week

This is a very short list of ideas and suggestions about objectives. Each individual will have his or her own specific needs.

Finally

A few things to remember:

  • Focus on the process more than the end result you want. What can you do right now, today that will help move you toward your goal?
  • The most significant fitness results (including your resolution) don’t come in a few weeks. It’s an ongoing process that takes patience and persistence. If you reach your goal, and if you want to keep those results, then the journey continues.
  • Don’t expect to be perfect. No one is, including those models, athletes, and those Internet fitness celebrities who give the appearance of perfection. You won’t make every single workout. Not every bite of food will be “healthy.” One slip-up doesn’t wreck all your work. Your motivation is huge here. Do you remember why it is you’re working toward your goal?
  • New, healthy habits are made over time. You won’t be highly motivated every day. We’re not always highly motivated to go to work either but we go. Some days we must simply punch the clock.

 

 

New Year’s Resolution Part IV: Objectives & What’s Realistic?

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In terms of your health & fitness, there’s a gap between where you are and where you want to be. Your new year’s resolution is your attempt to bridge that gap. That gap—or perhaps a yawning void—can be intimidating and confusing. But if you’ve figured out exactly why you want to embark on your resolution, you’re properly motivated, and your resolution has been put through the SMART process, then you’re ready to put together a plan.

Why do you need a plan? Isn’t just walking into a gym and starting on the latest diet enough? I don’t think so. Any significant achievement has a plan behind it. Planning for retirement, opening a business, building a house. None of these things happen without a solid plan. Making significant changes in your life that result in better health, more strength, a leaner body, and better movement is no different.

Objectives

Objectives are a series of measurable steps that lead to your goal. This is the work that must be done to see your resolution achieved. Objectives should be written down and you should have a solid grasp of what your objectives are from day to day. You probably don’t need many objectives. Just a few is fine. Better to have a few that you can achieve rather than too many which you fail to achieve. Also, by focusing on the objectives—by focusing on the process, not just the end point—your resolution will become a reality.

What’s realistic?

I emphasize this point to you. Be honest with yourself in terms of what you’re willing and able to do with regard to lifestyle changes: diet, exercise, rest… New year’s resolutions are notorious for being dramatic, grand, and severely too ambitious. I’ve seen it over and over again that someone ignores reality and picks an arbitrary goal for which he or she is totally totally unprepared.

As you plan I suggest you take a step back and look at your life as a whole. Look at your relationships, family commitments, your work schedule, and what you enjoy doing. As you plan, I’d like  you to have in mind this motivation scale:

motivation-scale

In the next post, I’ll discuss the following issues and how they should inform your objectives.

What are you ready to do? Start an exercise program? Change your eating? Both?

What do you like to do? What can’t you stand to do?

What time of day to exercise?

How many days per week to exercise?

Where’s the best place for you to exercise? A gym? Outdoors? A class? Yoga or Pilates studio?

Have you considered sleep?

Food preparation: Do you know how to cook?

Support system: Do the people around you support your efforts?

What else is going on in your life?

Please stay tuned!

New Year’s Resolutions Part III: Setting Your Goal(s)

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In part I of this series I gave an overview of two key components of a successful resolution, motivation and planning. In part II I discussed different types of motivation, why proper motivation is crucial for a resolution, why you should focus on the process rather than the finish line, and I gave you a task to explore the reasons why you want to achieve your goal. (If you haven’t done the drill then I suggest you stop right now and either do it or give up. I’m speaking honestly with you.) Now I’m going to dig deeper into the planning process. We’re going to discuss goals. In order to get you from where you are to where you want to be you will need a detailed roadmap, a step-by-step process to move you forward.

SMART goal setting

At the end of Part II of this series, I asked you to write down your “whys” or why your resolution is important. I wanted you to develop emotional buy-in and motivation for working toward your goals. Now I want you to get specific with exactly what you want to achieve. Weight loss? Muscle mass? Strength? Mobility? More energy? Some combination thereof? You need to be very specific so that your time and hard work will deliver you directly toward your goal. Otherwise you may do the wrong kind of work and never approach your goal. As with figuring out your “whys,” this is a brain exercise. You need to think. You need to connect to your goal on several levels. You may be familiar with the SMART goal setting concept. It works very well for setting and planning for fitness goals.

Specific:

To make your plan specific to your needs and wants, you need to be very clear on how you define success. What does a successful resolution look like to you? This information will dictate such details as exercise selection, dietary modifications, exercise frequency, and rest habits.

  • You want to be “in-shape.” Define in-shape. What does that term mean to you? A different physique? What does that look like? More muscle? Less fat?
  • You want to “feel better.” What does that mean? How do you know you don’t feel well right now? Describe what feeling better will feel like.
  • You want to “be stronger.” How do you know you’re weak? What tells you that you’re not strong? What tasks are you unable to perform due to weakness?
  • You want “better balance.” What tells you you have poor balance? What tasks and activities would you like to perform as a result of having better balance?
  • You want to be “more flexible.” Why? How do you know you’re not flexible? Give a specific example of how your lack of flexibility limits you.
  • “I want to run a 10k this year.” That’s specific.

Measurable:

Once you’ve described your resolution in specific terms, we can determine how to measure progress. You need to keep track of certain metrics to make certain that what you’re doing is working and that you’re progressing toward your goals. Tracking progress will do a lot for your motivation. If you’re not seeing progress then your plan needs adjustment. If you’re not assessing then you’re guessing.

  • Lbs. lost or gained
  • inches lost or gained
  • body fat % up or down
  • amount of weight lifted
  • exercise proficiency (perform a good pushup, squat, or kettlebell swing for example)
  • exercise frequency
  • ability to perform a task (climb stairs, run a given distance, work in the yard, or pick up a child for instance)

Attainable:

Is your goal realistic to your skill level, experience, and ability? It’s important to shoot for a goal that’s appropriately challenging. People often aim too high and set an unrealistically difficult goal. Failure then kills motivation. It’s also possible to pick a goal that’s too conservative. It’s not a huge problem but it may not provide much motivation to you and if you reach your goal then you won’t get the sense of achievement that you want. A trainer or a coach can help you set a proper goal.

  • Overly aggressive goals:
    • Losing more than 2 lbs. per week.
    • Adding more than 1-2 lbs. of muscle per month
    • You’re never completed a triathlon but you want to race an Ironman.
    • You don’t hike or climb mountains and you want to scale Mt. Everest.
    • You currently don’t exercise and you’re not a morning person but as part of your weight-loss goal, you resolve to work out every morning before work.
    • You hate to run but you decide to lose weight through running many miles.
    • You decide to lose weight by eliminating your favorite foods. Now you’ve set yourself up for an arduous struggle that you will lose and then you’ll feel guilty. Better to reduce certain foods, not eliminate them.
    • Making the Olympic team in a sport you don’t play or just started to play.
    • Become a pro athlete at any sport. (If you have the potential to be a pro then you’re already competing at a very high level, you’re a microscopic fraction of the population, and you already have excellent coaching.)

Relevant

Is your resolution relevant to your values? Do you have a strong emotional connection to your resolution? Are you making this resolution of your own free-will or is someone pressuring you? Is now the right time in your life to pursue your resolution or are there significant obstacles to reaching your goal? A strong connection of your resolution to your values and emotions is immensely important in developing and maintaining your motivation. You must be honest with yourself here.

Time-bound

Your goal should be set within a timeframe. A ticking clock will help ensure that you actually do the work necessary to achieve your goal. Checking the measurable metrics of your goal in a timely fashion will ensure that you’re on track to reach your goal.

“I want to lose weight,” is not only non-specific but it’s also an open-ended in terms of time. Open-ended goals can be done anytime, which means they can be done later, which means they’ll never be achieved. In contrast, “I want to lose 20 lbs. in 15 weeks,” puts your goal in a definite, attainable timeframe. Now it’s far more likely that you’ll get to work.

Homework

Your first homework assignment was to flesh out and determine your reasons why you want to achieve your resolution. Now I want you to apply the SMART concept to your resolution. BTW, you should do these assignment away from distractions. Get away from the phone, the TV, and other people who need your time. Find some time and a location where you can think clearly. Bonus points go to you if you put pen to paper instead of pecking on a laptop.

If you’re confused by some of this then now is an excellent time to contact me or another certified fitness professional and we can sit down and figure this out together. Stuff like this is why I have a job! I’d love to help you get off on the right foot and see measurable success.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll continue to plan by discussing objectives. Objectives are a little different from goals. Objectives are measurable steps that lead to the goal. They’re a vital consideration for succeeding in your resolution.

 

New Year’s Resolutions Part II: Motivation

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In Part I of the New Year’s Resolution series, I said that motivation is crucial for success. Let me say it another way: If you aren’t sufficiently motivated then you will fail at your resolution. I’m not being pessimistic. I’m being realistic. Here’s a discussion on motivation.

Extrinsic motivation

If you say, “I want to look better,” then why? Do you want to be more attractive to others? That means you need validation and a sense of approval. (Dare we say you’re looking for love?) Or maybe your workplace is having some sort of 10-week new year’s weight-loss competition. The winner gets a prize and adulation! These scenarios are examples of extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation may work well in the beginning. It may keep you working out and eating better for a few weeks but it won’t sustain you for the long haul. What happens when it’s February and you don’t look like a cover model? What happens on week 11 of the 10-week weight-loss challenge?

Unfortunately, extrinsic motivation often involves guilt and shame. If someone feels pressure to live up to a certain physique standard, then he or she may feel shame for not living up to that standard. External motivation may make someone feel obligated and burdened to exercise and eat right. Those who are exercising due to extrinsic factors may feel forced to exercise. It’s very difficult to feel positive and optimistic in this situation. No one should live that way.  You must find and cultivate intrinsic and/or identified motivation if you want to win at this thing.

Intrinsic & identified motivation

Intrinsic motivation comes from inside you. With intrinsic motivation, there’s a strong emotional bond that connects you to your efforts. For example, many of us simply enjoy lifting weights, running, skiing, cycling, swimming, hiking, etc. It feels good and it’s fun. The activity is the reward. We like the way we feel when we eat right and get enough sleep. The energy and vigor we get from a healthy lifestyle keeps us coming back for more. If you can find a way to enjoy your efforts then you’ve found gold!

Identified motivation is similar to intrinsic motivation. I used this example in Part I of this article where I described a mother’s love and devotion to her child as a motivator to exercise and eat right. She doesn’t love exercise. She’s not motivated by the pure enjoyment of working out. She is absolutely certain though that exercise and healthy eating will not only give her health, energy, and longevity but will also set a good example for her child so he or she will grow strong and healthy too. The mother’s motivation is tied strongly to her values, so the hard work gets done even if the hard work isn’t fun. If your closely held values are linked to a healthy lifestyle, then you’ll  succeed at your resolution.

Motivation killers

  • The resolution is too aggressive. For example:
    • You don’t run but you decide the way to get in shape is to run a marathon. Running is a great way to get fit but perhaps aim for a 5k instead. (Most importantly, you should focus on the race training—the process—not just on the race. More on this later.)
    • You hate mornings and you don’t work out, but now you intend to wake up early every morning before work and go to the gym. How long will that last? Probably best to look to lunch or after work to visit the gym.
    • In order to lose weight you decide to completely eliminate  all your favorite foods (sugar, bread, pasta, booze for example). What happens when you transgress? The guilt monster will come for you! Might be a good idea to reduce some of these foods, not ban them all outright.
  • Unrealistic expectations: This is similar to a resolution being too aggressive. Fitness takes time, persistence, and patience. This is fact. If you expect quick miracles (dropping 20 lbs. in three weeks for example) then you will be disappointed. You will reach your goal and you will do yourself a massive favor if you focus on the process rather than the outcome. Put another way, you should focus on what you can do right now over what you don’t yet have. Trust me on this.
  • Trying to do too much: A wholesale overhaul of your lifestyle can be overwhelming, and that’s understandable. It’s absolutely fine to start with one thing. Maybe you’re ready to start exercising but not yet ready to change your diet, or vice versa. Maybe you’re ready to start walking but not yet ready to join a gym. You can and should take one step at a time.Taking on too much and failing will derail you. Succeeding at one small thing will keep you motivated.
  • No support system: If you’re surrounded with people who hate exercise, only want to go to happy hour, eat poison, and play video games then you’re going to have a tough time of it. Do you have friends, coworkers, and/or family members who are on board with your efforts? Enlist their help to hold you accountable and give you encouragement for your goals. Also, hiring a trainer (like me!) can be a valuable investment.
  • The wrong environment: As it relates to working out, if you don’t like the place then you won’t go. While gyms are simply buildings filled with workout equipment, they may be aimed at very different clientele. When looking at gyms, you should visit several. Get a feel for each place. Do you feel comfortable there? Does the staff seem friendly? Maybe you don’t need to be in a gym at all. Perhaps the outdoors, a pool, a dance studio, yoga studio or some other non-gym environment is best for you.
  • Comparing yourself to others: Someone will always be leaner, stronger, faster, wealthier, funnier—something-er than you. Looking for “fitspiration” from photoshopped Internet fitness celebrities is not a healthy endeavor. An article from the National Academy of Sports Medicine titled
    Social Media and Body Image: #Fitspiration at Its Worst says,

“Social media messages aren’t typically backed by science. And self-taught fitness gurus are not health professionals. Unfortunately, seemingly innocent messages can do unintended damage including bad mood and body dissatisfaction (Brown & Tiggemann 2016). You’ll find militaristic posts (“You can have results or excuses, not both.”) that grab attention but also breed inadequacy. A more compassionate post might read: “You can totally improve your health and fitness and occasionally make excuses not to work out every single day. That’s fine and normal” (Van Hare 2016).”

Find and feed your motivation

We’d love to believe that one word, one phrase, one picture of George S. Patton standing on top of a Sherman tank would light off a magic nuclear motivation bomb inside us. That’s what happens in the movies doesn’t it? What do you think? Don’t believe everything you see in movies. Motivation doesn’t always drop out of the sky like an angel. A successful resolution won’t be built on one uplifting saying that fits on a t-shirt or Facebook meme. If you’re not already intrinsically motivated to live a healthy lifestyle then understand that you will need to put in a little bit of work before the motivation engine gets going. Here’s a way to start.

Take a moment and write down your “whys.” Here are some questions you should think on:

  1. Why do you want to be in shape? Why is it important?
  2. Why now? Why didn’t you start this journey three months ago?
  3. What event has sparked your fitness resolution? A health scare? You saw yourself in the mirror or saw your weight on a scale? A friend or family member decided to get in shape and inspired you?
  4. If your answer is, “I want to look better,” then WHY???? Just looking better by itself isn’t enough.The real question is what/how do you want to feel? You’re looking to change the way you perceive yourself. Get under the hood and explore those feelings.
  5. Fast forward several months or a year. You’ve achieved your resolution. What does that look like? How do you feel as a result? Describe yourself and your feelings in detail.

Why would I suggest this exercise? Because it’s of paramount importance! You need to know this stuff. You need to feel it. To achieve your fantastic goal you need significant emotional buy-in. The reason(s) behind your resolution need to be clearly defined and crystalized in your mind. This project is going to take a lot of work. It’s not going to be easy. Don’t take it lightly.

(A note to your conscience: If you can’t find the time to write down your “whys” then it’s a clear indication that you’re not ready for this resolution. Truth.)

Next, I’ll discuss planing.

Two Good Articles: Endurance Athletes & Income, Olympic Lifts Are Overrated

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Two recent articles are of interest to me. Maybe they’re of interest to you too. Here they are.

Wealth & endurance sports

It’s easy to detect a difference between the strength sport world and the endurance world. You’ll find a lot more tattoos and speed metal among the lifters. I’ve yet to hear a Slayer song at the finish line of a trail race or bike century. I’m not sure why that is! I love both ends of the exercise spectrum. Why doesn’t everyone?I’m not sure it has any direct correlation to this article from Outside Magazine titled Why Do Rich People Love Endurance Sports? but I’m guessing there might be some tie-in. The article is from Brad Stulberg is one of the authors of the great book, Peak Performance.

Stulberg delves into data about endurance athletes. Not surprisingly, the cost of endurance sports prohibits a lot of people from participating. Bikes, race fees, travel costs, all sorts of equipment costs all factor in to whom can pursue endurance activity. What I found most interesting is the discussion around the question, “What is it about the voluntary suffering of endurance sports that attracts them?”

“This is a question sociologists are just beginning to unpack. One hypothesis is that endurance sports offer something that most modern-day knowledge economy jobs do not: the chance to pursue a clear and measurable goal with a direct line back to the work they have put in. In his book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, philosopher Matthew Crawford writes that ‘despite the proliferation of contrived metrics,’ most knowledge economy jobs suffer from ‘a lack of objective standards.’”

“Ask a white-collar professional what it means to do a good job at the office, and odds are they’ll need at least a few minutes to explain their answer, accounting for politics, the opinion of their boss, the mood of their client, the role of their team, and a variety of other external factors. Ask someone what it means to do a good job at their next race, however, and the answer becomes much simpler.

“’The satisfaction of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence has been known to make a man quiet and easy,’ writes Crawford, who in 2001 quit his job in academia to become a mechanic. ‘It seems to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He simply points: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on.’”

I would like to know about strength athletes such as powerlifters, Olympic lifters, bodybuilders, and strongmen. What do we see there as it pertains to education, income, and vocation? Certainly lifting very heavy things, seeing the weight go up (or not), observing the muscles grow provides similar objective feedback that endurance sports offer. Do rich people also lift heavy?

My feeling informed by my casual observation is that the strength sports have more blue-collar participants. If so, wouldn’t the cost of participation be the main difference? A gym membership is a lot more affordable than bikes, multiple pairs of expensive running shoes, race fees, travel fees, wheels, tires, high-tech gear, etc. I’d like to know more.

Olympic lifts are overrated

I think many coaches and trainers put certain tools or methods ahead of the needs of their clients. We become wedded to the idea that one tool or strategy is the be-all-end-all best way to make someone stronger, faster, etc. We become convinced (often due to very effective marketing by gurus) that something like the stability ball, the BOSU, the barbell, the kettlebell, or the Olympic lifts are the ultimate thing for everyone, when in fact they should simply be considered tools that may be right for some jobs and wrong for others. (I plead guilty to having sacrificed my objectivity to certain tools and methodologies. I’m trying to get better.)

Olympic lifting has gained in popularity in recent years. They can be a lot of fun. I feel they can help develop coordination and general athleticism. That said, Olympic lifts probably aren’t ideal for most athletes, so it’s good to see an experienced, well-regarded coach and Olympic lifter like Charles Staley give an objective analysis of Olympic lifting.

The Olympic Lifts are Overrated discusses three reasons they’re not the best way for all people to improve their bodies and their abilities. Briefly:

  1. The Olympic lifts are too technically demanding.
  2. The Olympic lifts are overrated for developing strength or size.
  3. The Olympic lifts are highly overrated for developing athletic power.

Read the article to learn more.

 

A New Year’s Resolution Part I: Why?

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Unless you first change your mind, don’t expect your health goals to materialize. As the saying goes, it’s not the horse that draws the cart, it’s the oats. It’s not the gym, Pilates class or diet that will change you – it’s your mind.

That brilliant statement comes from an article in U.S. News & World Report. The same article says, “By the second week of February, some 80 percent of those resolution-ers are back home with a new kind of remorse staring back at them in the mirror – the remorse of disappointment. ”

That has been and soon will be the fate of hordes of Americans as they embark on a myriad of ill-fated health & fitness voyages. I believe failure comes down to two vital issues: motivation and planning.

Motivation

This is your “why.” It’s emotional investment. With motivation you have a sense of purpose. Motivation is the be-all-end-all for success at anything. (Last year about this time I wrote about motivation, and I’ll expand on the concept in the next post.) Your goal must be important to you on an emotional level. A true sense of purpose comes with emotional investment. One example:

An intermediate runner wants to run his first marathon. He’s spent time running, enjoys it, and has progressed from a raw beginner to a more serious athlete. The marathon represents to him a major sense of achievement. He knows it will take a lot of hard work and if he finishes then he’ll feel a powerful sense of accomplishment. He’s motivated by that sense of accomplishment. Accomplishment gives him a deep sense of satisfaction. Accomplishment sustains him on an emotional and spiritual level. The marathon is not just an arbitrary goal to him. This is important too: the goal of running a marathon is both challenging and realistic.

Another example:

A new mom isn’t as fit as she used to be, and she knows it. She recognizes several things: First, she’s going to need a lot of energy to keep up with the new kiddo. She knows exercise, a healthy diet and good sleep habits will help. Second, she wants the child to be healthy so she decides to set a good example by living a healthy lifestyle. Next, she wants to live a long life so she can spend as much time as possible with this wonderful little person.

Her profound love for her child is her motive to live a healthy life. She’ll do anything for the kid! She can’t lose! Success is the only option. Even if she’s not a serious athlete and she may not be in love with exercise, the love she feels for this new baby has ignited a tremendous sense of purpose in her, so her motivation is sky-high.

Hard work is made feasible through motivation. Or as Matt Fitzgerald puts it in his book Diet Cults, “Motivation allows for the application of willpower.”

For good or ill, the truth is that if you aren’t sufficiently motivated, if you don’t have a strong emotional bond to your resolution—if you don’t have a purpose—then it won’t happen.

The plan

No significant accomplishment happens without a plan. Saving for retirement, building a house, writing a novel, attaining a degree, running a successful business all require a plan. Your resolution is no different. How many days will you exercise? Will you lift weights? (You should!) If so, which exercises will you select? Do you know how to lift properly? When will you add weight to the bar? What about cardio? What about rest days? You need those! Have you thought about nutrition? You can’t lose weight without it. What changes will you make to your diet? Should you go on “A Diet?” (Probably not. Everyone “used to be on a diet.” Most of them aren’t sustainable.) Have you thought about adequate sleep?

Far too many smart, well-intentioned souls enter a gym with no plan and no knowledge of how to exercise properly. Stumbling through the dark and stabbing blindly at your goal is inefficient at best and a sure ticket to failure at worse. Bad planning or no planning can kill your motivation. Do you have a plan? If not, then get one.

*****Please note: A generic, cookie-cutter plan made for someone else’s needs isn’t your best option. It’s best to have a plan custom-made to your needs, skills, and preferences. That’s why I have a job!

I hope I’ve convinced you that in order to attain your worthwhile New Year’s Resolution you must think hard about it. It won’t happen through luck or chance. I’ll expand on motivation and planning in subsequent posts.

 

 

Getting Serious About the 5k

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A 5k? You can do that in your sleep can’t you?”

A client said that to me when I recently told her I’m training up for a March 5k, the Cherry Creek Sneak in Denver. She knew I’d run several big, difficult trail races and two marathons. She figured a 5k would be easy for me, and in terms of distance, yes, running 3.1 miles isn’t a big deal. But to run it fast…? That’s the challenge.

(In case you didn’t know, the 5k is an Olympic event. Look at an Olympic 5k runner at the finish line and and ask him or her if the race was easy.)

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It seems like most grown-ups think about running longer and farther. Many of us look at the marathon, or in trail running circles, ultra-marathons, as the ultimate running thing to do. Similarly many of us look at 5ks and 10ks as fairly easy runs done just for fun. Most runners progress from the shorter runs to longer runs, leaving behind those short runs doing them mainly for training purposes around their long-race goals.

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In contrast, grown-ups rarely look to run faster. (In comparison, ever watch kids run? They only sprint!) I want to run faster. As I’ve said before, I love the training process. I want to experience the process of speed development. I’ll be doing track workouts and tempo runs, which are very different from trail running. I like the idea of doing work all along the energy system continuum, with short, powerful efforts at one end, and much longer efforts at the other. It seems to me a well-conditioned, athlete should make stops all along the way.

 

Strength Training Fights Cancer

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“The study shows exercise that promotes muscular strength may be just as important for health as aerobic activities like jogging or cycling,” said Associate Professor Stamatakis.

“And assuming our findings reflect cause and effect relationships, it may be even more vital when it comes to reducing risk of death from cancer.”

That statement comes from Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis of the School of Public Health and the Charles Perkins Center at the University of Sydney. He’s the lead researcher in a study titled Does strength promoting exercise confer unique health benefits? A pooled analysis of eleven population cohorts with all-cause, cancer, and cardiovascular mortality endpoints. The study appears in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

I’m surprised and delighted by this finding. Most of us have known for a quite a while that exercise of some variety or another helps reduce cancer risk. Most of the research has looked at exercise with a cardiovascular emphasis such as walking, cycling, and swimming. This study is novel in that it looks at strength training.

This is great news to those of us who like to lift heavy stuff! However…

Strength training has a negative connotation for some people. Some people say, “I don’t wan to get too big,” “I don’t want to get hurt.” Other people associate strength training with the bizarre bodybuilding steroid stereotype. None of this needs to be true! Lifting heavy stuff can be very safe, it can be done by normal people in an enjoyable way — and now we know it’s the smart, healthy thing to do. If you’re not lifting, then you should be and I’ll be glad to help you do it right.

 

Try Harder? No. Relax.

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“If you want to get a little zen about it, you could say that the non-doing is just as important as the doing.”

-Todd Hargrove

I appreciate and enjoy professional instruction. Coach Mary-Katherine Flemming has been a huge help to me as a runner. She’s helped me bring up my weaknesses and train smarter. I also try and take at least one ski lesson every year. Mountain biking is much safer and a lot more fun since I’ve gone through several skills clinics with Lee Likes Bikes.

I recently started working with my fellow personal trainer and boxing coach Zane Beck. He’s teaching me how to throw punches the right way. I’ve met with him twice and I’ve had a amazingly challenging workouts in just 30 minutes. We’ve broken down the mechanics of punching and it’s been fascinating.

During our last session, I could feel myself tensing up on some punches, particularly the right hook and right upper cut. Those are awkward punches so I tried harder to throw them. Trying harder was a mistake. I was too tense. Zane could see it and feel it. So I slowed down and stopped rushing. I worked to throw good punches one at a time and I worked to relax. The effort to relax led to a brief conversation similar to conversations I’ve had with my clients.

“I worked to relax…” That’s an odd concept, no? Relaxing should be easy, right? If my arms are overhead then I relax them and they drop to my side. Simple. By sitting down my legs relax. Also simple. Seems like relaxation shouldn’t even require any thought. Sometimes though, relaxation is remarkably hard to come by though, especially in athletic endeavors.

I often see clients try hard and harder to perform certain exercises, especially new exercises. For example, kettlebell swings and cleans are often performed with overly tense hands, straining arms, tight necks, and an overall rigid body. Clients try to muscle the kettlebell into the air rather than using the stretch reflex of the muscles to do most of the work. Similarly, I have a client who often defaults to rigid high tension on medicine ball throws. He braces his whole body like it’s about to be hit by a truck. The result in all these cases is poor performance, poor exercise technique, and excessive fatigue. The same teeth-gritting, wasteful strategy might be employed by someone swinging a golf club, swimming laps, or sprinting.

Thus, I work with my clients to bring awareness to their unproductive tension and help them turn it down. Relaxation can take a surprising amount of work. Bearing down harder is the exact wrong way to get better. While many if not most exercises should be performed explosively, one shouldn’t rush too much.Impatience is rarely a virtue in any circumstance. Athletic movements require the right amount of tension, not necessarily more tension.

Steve Magness is a big-time running coach, writer, lecturer, and running expert. (His recent book, Peak Performance is superb. If you want to perform better in life, not just in athletics, then you should definitely get a copy.) He captures the importance of relaxation in this recent Facebook post:

Another excellent discussion of relaxation comes from movement expert and author Todd Hargrove. He wrote The Skill of Relaxation in 2008. It includes these important points:

“Most people trying to improve their movement ability for sports will therefore spend time lifting weights to train their ability to quickly and forcefully contract their muscles.

“That is a fine idea, but it sometimes ignores the equally important flip side of the coordination coin. If coordination means all the right muscles firing at the right time, this also means that any muscles not involved in the movement must relax in the right places at the right speed at the right time. Therefore, any act of coordination requires the skill of relaxing the muscles that aren’t essential to the movement. If the non-essential muscles aren’t relaxed, they will cause extraneous movement or tension that interferes in the desired movement and wastes energy.”

Read These: I Became Obsessed & the 7 Pillars of Running

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Two recent articles are worth reading. If you have time then definitely have a glance.

Has extreme fitness gone too far?

‘It’s intoxicating – I became obsessed': has fitness gone too far? comes from the Guardian. It discusses some negative consequences for novice trainees caught up in extreme fitness fads. These hopeful gym-goers are lured into inappropriately brutal workout routines by attractive online fitness celebrities who may have no idea what they’re doing. In this world, boring concepts like patients, persistence, and gradual progress is replaced by more-is-better high-intensity punishment. Bad idea. I like this statement:

It is a sentiment echoed by one health and beauty magazine editor, who asks to remain anonymous because her views don’t tally with that of her employer. “These days, a strong Instagram following, good gene pool and even better spray tan can make you a fitness star, regardless of what qualifications you have. Not only do many of these ‘fitness stars’ know little about what constitutes safe exercise (the truth is that no amount of likes come in handy when you need to solve a gym-induced injury), they also create a false sense of what fit and healthy looks like – and it doesn’t always look 21 and great in a bikini. Add to that the fact that these social media stars get paid to shift fitness gadgets, gimmicks and protein shakes, and you’ve a whole load of dangerously misguided followers.”

So many of of these and similar workouts cater to the desperate hopes of people who want to be in cover-model shape right now!  Unfortunately, that isn’t the best mindset for gaining true health and fitness. The enduring fitness facts are there is no magic, there are no miracles, there is nothing new under the sun. The only path to long-term fitness and health is through persistent hard work, patience and (this is highly undervalued) self-acceptance. Read the entire article to gain all the insights.

Running wisdom from a wise man

In contrast to fitness extremism, we have the sober, reasonable, and frequently skeptical voice of Alex Hutchinson who writes the Sweat Science column for Runner’s World. His latest, and sadly, his final piece is titled The Seven Pillars of Running Wisdom.

I always appreciate his writing in that he discusses the science behind many of the latest running and fitness trends, strategies, and equipment. We are often told with certainty that some latest-and-greatest tech will revolutionize our running or that some extreme type of diet will cure all of our ills. Hutchinson discusses the actual science behind many of these claims The truth is typically far less exciting than the sales pitches we hear from the snake oil sales force. Big surprise here: most of the magic silver bullets are some familiar ideals: persistent hard work (sometimes very hard work), generally healthy diet, lots of patience. These are the best routes take for peak performance and lifelong health. The seven pillars are:

  1. Running is good for you “in moderation,” which is defined as “a lot more than you’re doing.”
  2. If it comes in a bottle, it’s probably not going to make you faster or healthier.
  3. The best technology for tracking and guiding your runs is the device between your ears.
  4. You probably got injured from doing too much, too soon.
  5. The magic workout, shoe, or superfood is whichever one you’ve been ignoring lately or have never tried.
  6. You can probably run better; start by running more.
  7. You’re capable of more than you think, but it will take time to get there.

Read the whole shebangabang to learn much and more!