New Year’s Resolution Part VI: You’ve Achieved Your Goal! Now What?

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The end is nigh for this dissection of the always popular yet often daunting new year’s resolution. The real key to a successful resolution isn’t a particular workout or diet, it’s getting your mind right. The target isn’t your butt or you gut, it’s your brain. To recap, I suggest you consider the following:

From where you are, to where you want to be

  • Ask yourself why exactly you want to achieve your resolution. You must connect to your goal on an emotional level. It must be meaningful to you.
  • Motivation is crucial to your success. Motivation is the only thing that will keep you moving forward. Intrinsic motivation (motivation from within you, not without) is optimal.
  • Have a plan and set SMART goals. This will allow your motivation to drive you in the right direction.
  • Set objectives. Objectives are the steps that take you to your goal. If you focus on the objectives then you focus on the process. The process will take you to your goal.
  • Get specific about details. If this resolution is important then it’s worth taking some time to think about when you’ll exercise, where you’ll exercise, what you will and won’t eat, how much sleep you’ll get, plus several other vital questions.

Now the journey continues.

If you’re one of the diligent few who actually perseveres and reaches your new year’s resolution, then congratulations! I hope you’ll pat yourself on the back and revel in your significant achievement. Your motivation, your planning, and your hard work have all payed off. My bet is you want to maintain those impressive results. If so, please recognize that the resolution must continue!

My sincere hope for you is that you’ve not just gritted through an arduous, monotonous process, but that you’ve taken on a healthy lifestyle comprised of enjoyable, sustainable habits. Recognize that fitness is an ongoing project that’s never finished. It’s worth reflecting on the emotions that motivate you. It’s a good idea to revisit your fitness plan and revise it so you can achieve another exciting goal.

As part of this wrap-up, I want to re-emphasize the power of being process-oriented in the pursuit of your resolution. This concept is discussed in Big Goals Can Backfire. Olympians Show Us What to Focus on Instead. It’s an excellent article. Here’s part of it:

“A process mind-set creates daily opportunities for little victories, which help sustain the motivation required to accomplish long-term goals. A handful of studies, including one in the prestigious journal Nature, provide insight into why this is the case. Researchers have found that when mice accomplish micro objectives on the path to distant goals (e.g., making a correct turn in a maze), their bodies release dopamine, the neurochemical associated with motivation and drive. Without hits of dopamine, the mice become apathetic and give up. Although these studies cannot be safely replicated in humans, scientists speculate we operate the same way. Process promotes progress, and progress, on a neurochemical level, primes us to persist.”

Finally, please let me know if you’d like to discuss your fitness goals. I would love to help you get moving in the right direction. I’m available for a free consultation. You can contact me at DenverFitnessJournal@Gmail.com.

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.”

Pain vs. Discomfort

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Everyone and anyone who’s been in a gym has heard the phrase “No pain, no gain.” What does that phrase really mean? Do we want our clients exercising in pain? What should effective exercise feel like?

In my experience, clients often interpret “No pain, no gain,” as “Pain is inevitable and it should be ignored.” I believe that for the good of our clients’ health, trainers should examine this misunderstood statement with their clients. This is a vital conversation, especially with clients who are new to training.

Pain & discomfort defined

I don’t recall if it was in a seminar or an article, but someone smarter than I once discussed pain vs discomfort. I’ve stolen the idea and used it ever since. (If you made this description and you’re reading this then thank you! It’s been highly valuable to me and my clients.)

My clients should understand that in order for exercise to do the things we want it to do — if we want to create favorable adaptations to exercise — then a client must exercise to the point of exertion and fatigue. The client must work hard. He or she might sweat, grunt, groan, and work to the point of fatigue and discomfort. A description of the D-word:

Discomfort:

  • Often a burning in a working muscle or muscles.
  • Comes with a feeling of fatigue.
  • Doesn’t alter the way you move (compared to a limp, for instance)
  • Is usually symmetrical if for instance you’re squatting, swinging a kettlebell, doing pushups, running or cycling.

Discomfort is a sign that we’re working near your accustomed limits. That’s a good thing, and that’s how you get in better shape.

I also tell my clients about pain. We don’t want pain. (Some minor, intermittent pain may be OK. More on that in a moment.) Some characteristics of the P-word

Pain:

  • Often felt in a joint, not a muscle
  • Sharp or electric
  • May not accompany fatigue
  • Severe pain alters your movement: Knee pain causing a limp or low-back pain altering how you bend down and pick up something
  • It’s often asymmetrical: Knee pain in one knee when squatting, shoulder pain in one shoulder during pushups or bench press, low-back pain on one side of the low back

If a client feels pain then we stop and we evaluate. Persistent, serious pain should not be a part of our day-in-day-out experience at the gym. Pain is not something to be ignored or masked with pain pills. Pain is a signal from the brain that something isn’t operating as well as it should be.

Color-coded pain

In another case of I-forgot-where-I-read-it disease, I read about a physical therapist’s color-coded, traffic-light guide to pain. I’ve adopted it and it helps guide me as to when to when or if I need to alter an exercise for a client due to pain. It goes like this:

GREEN: Everything feels fine; no discomfort anywhere. Client is ready to rock ‘n’ roll!

YELLOW: Minor, sporadic, or short-lived pain during the exercise but it’s not bad enough to stop or alter the movement pattern. We keep going as long as it doesn’t get worse.

RED: It hurts. We stop.

If pain becomes more intense, and/or more frequent, and/or lasts for more than a week then it’s probably time to seek medical care of some sort. Trainers should have a physical therapist, chiropractor, or some other licensed medical professional to whom he or she can refer clients.

I like this code system in that it’s rare that everyone is going to feel 100% perfect all the time. It’s not uncommon for us to feel something that is less than optimal but not so bad that we need to stop entirely. With the yellow reading, we can keep going through some minor pain, and we can avoid catastrophising around pain. If a client can experience a little bit of pain yet continue working then I think we can build resiliency in the client and protect against what’s known as fear-avoidance of certain movements. If we get to red then we can always stop and change things.

The fear-avoidance model. You don't want to be caught up in it.

Fear-Avoidance Model. Avoid it.

 

Unfamiliarity: Is it pain or discomfort?

Exercise newcomers may have no idea what it feels like to work hard. Their experience with muscular discomfort may be sporadic and in the distant past. Unfortunately, many people experience all uncomfortable feelings the same whether it’s joint pain or the normal sensation of hard work. They are different and our clients should learn the difference.

A classic example is low-back pain/discomfort. The epidemic of low-back pain is a unique pain in our culture. It is widespread and debilitating for many thousands of people. For those who suffer low-back pain there can be tremendous fear of recurrence. At the same time, exercise is an effective antidote for many forms of pain in older people, and for chronic (but not acute) back pain.

Numerous muscles attach in and around the low back. The glutes, erector spinae, lats, obliques, and other spinal muscles live and work all around the low-back area. Just like any other muscle, if you work these muscles hard then you’ll feel it. Exercises such as squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and bent over rowing can cause serious — and totally normal — discomfort in the low back. Yet for many clients, any sense of low-back discomfort can be bad and scary. Thus it’s very helpful and reassuring to a client if a trainer can discuss the issue of pain vs. discomfort.

The spirit of “No pain, no gain”

The knowledge behind that phrase is well-informed and comes with good intentions. Plus, it rhymes! It sounds good. But clearly it can be misunderstood. (If I ruled the world, I’d change the phrase to “No discomfort, no pain.”) The truth is, no one will increase his or her physical capacity by sitting comfortably. Anyone who wants to get in better shape must work hard. At the same time, pain, as I described above, isn’t a normal part of working out. Pay attention to it. Get help if it doesn’t go away.

Running Injuries and Running Performance: A Podcast and an Article

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Injury and performance exist on a sliding scale. At one end we are completely broken down, hurt, and unable run/bike/swim/lift/fight/hike/etc. At the other end we’re performing at our peak. Probably every active person has been injured and I’m willing to bet that every active person would like to perform their very best. This post is for runners in either or both camps.

Runners are often injured. According to a review of literature in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, rates of lower-leg injury ranged from 19.4% to 79.3% among study subjects. The magic questions are 1)Why do we get injured? and 2) How do we overcome injuries?

I think it stands to reason that if we hurt while running then very likely it’s the way we run that’s the problem. Running requires complex coordination among many parts and systems. It is mind boggling to try and dissect running form, find the problems and then either teach or learn new, helpful techniques.

Meanwhile, if we’re not injured and we’re able to run, then we probably want to know how to run faster and more efficiently. How do we we achieve these goals? These questions aren’t easily answered. With all that in mind, I found two resources that may offer some very valuable information on these issues.

The first is the Physio Edge Podcast 049, Running From Injury with Dr. Rich Willy. At about the 20:30 mark Dr. Willy gives some good external cues to help promote running form that may help with IT band pain. The cues involve the knees and the hips:

  1. If the knees cave in too much while running: He puts brightly colored tape on the outside He has the patient run on a treadmill facing a mirror. He tells the patient to push the tape out toward the walls.
  2. If the hips are adducting too much: The runner runs on a treadmill facing a mirror with the waistband of their shorts clearly visible. He instructs the runner to keep the pelvis level by keeping their waistband level.

Listen to the podcast to get all the details.

Next is an article from the always informative Alex Hutchinson at the Sweat Science column at Runner’s WorldWhat Makes a Running Stride Efficient? Hutchinson discusses a study from Loughborough University in England that looked at biomechanical factors

“For running economy, three variables stood out: vertical oscillation (measured by the up-and-down motion of the pelvis; less is better); how bent your knee is when your foot hits the ground (more bent is better); and braking (also measured by looking at the motion of your pelvis; less slowdown as your foot hits the ground is better).

“Overall, these three variables explained 39.4 percent of the individual differences in running economy—and the vast majority of that (27.7 percent) came from vertical oscillation.

“For running performance, four variables stood out: braking (as above); the angle of the shin when your foot hits the ground (closer to vertical is better); duty factor (basically a measure of how long your foot stays on the ground relative to your overall stride; quicker is better); and the forward lean of your trunk (more upright is better).

Overall, these four variables explained 30.5 percent of individual variation in race times, with shin angle (10 percent) and braking (9.9 percent) as the biggest contributors.”

Something I always appreciate about Hutchinson’s writing is that he lays out some of the errors in thinking that we might encounter when we assume that employing new running techniques will automatically equal better, faster, pain-free running. Are these characteristics of efficient runners chickens or eggs?

“For example, you could imagine a study that compared elite runners to ‘regular’ runners and found that the elite tend to have more highly defined calf muscles. It doesn’t necessarily follow that doing a whole bunch of hardcore calf exercises will make you faster. It’s more likely that a whole lot of training, combined with some genetics, has given elites more defined calves. Fixating on getting better calf muscles would be distraction that’s unlikely to help you, and takes away from things that really would make you faster, like running more.”

That said, (and he mentions this) it may well investigating new strategies based on these findings. From my experience in helping people with their running, aiming to achieve these biomechanical outcomes can help. (This post offers a few cues that I’ve found useful to use with runners.)

Ideally, you should be videoed while running.Trying to adjust your gait without knowing how you’re currently running might be near impossible. Video is a very powerful tool when it comes to making adjustments to sporting techniques and I highly recommend it.

Definitely read the article and listen to the podcast if you think you need help with your running or if you’re a coach who works with runners. And if doing it yourself isn’t getting you the results you want then I strongly suggest you employ some sort of running coach to help.

Sometimes It’s Simple

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I’ve taken lots of courses, read lots of books and articles, listened to podcasts, and attended seminars dedicated to helping my clients move better and get out of pain. I’ve spent time and money learning about so-called corrective exercises. I’ve learned that rarely is the site of pain the site of the problem. I recognize that the body is a highly interconnected system of systems and that what happens at one end can have powerful effects way out at the other end. I’ve tried to absorb and apply all sorts of complex information and sometimes, my brain gets in the way and I overlook simple solutions.

Patty is one of my senior clients. We’ve worked together for several years. She has intermittent knee pain on both, but mostly her left knee. It’s not terrible but it bothers her after tennis games and often while climbing and descending stairs.

It’s important to recognize that the knee is caught between the hip and the ankle. Rarely is it the fault of the knee that’s causing the knee pain. (An obvious exception would be an acute injury like a ligament sprain or some sort of impact to the knee.)

I’ve had her do all sorts of exercises and mobility drills for her hips. We’ve done glute drills in all three planes of motion. We’ve done all sorts of lunges in all sorts of directions. We’ve done a bunch of ankle and foot mobility work too. In the past, I spent way too much time giving her a bunch of instructions to squeeze the glutes when she walks and to try and make her leg do this or that as she moves. (These are examples of intrinsic cues. They’re usually not the best cues.)

Sometimes her knee(s) feel better but for the past several weeks she’s reported fairly consistent knee pain, particularly on stairs. This was frustrating to me in that last week we did a variety of drills and exercises such that she was able to take the stairs without pain. I was hopeful though. If we could eliminate her pain last week then we could do it again.

We went to the stairs. I planned to review a couple of things we did the prior week. My mind filled with cornucopia of lunges, stepping drills, and ankle mobility exercises. How would I tweak the exercises? How would I load them? There were many options. My brain started to overheat as I tried to contemplate them all.

Then I paused and thought, “What’s the simplest possible way to find success?”

Coach her to walk the stairs differently. No drills, no exercises, nothing special. I would give her a minimum of instructions on how to walk the stairs in a different way than when she arrived.

There were two tactics from last week I wanted to try. If those didn’t work then we could move to all the wacky, exotic stuff. The two main instructions were these:

  1. Ascending: Lean forward a little. By leaning forward I expected the glutes to work more than if she stood fully upright. It didn’t need to be a big lean forward, just somewhat of a lean. Don’t think about the glutes either. Jus lean forward.
  2. Descending: Let the heel of the rear foot stay flat longer. That way the ankle would dorsiflex more thus taking some of the load from the knee. Also, try and descend softly. Try not to slam and clunk down to the next step. My hope was that this would prompt a controlled descent as opposed to a sort of lurching slam into the step.

(I’ve seen this ankle/knee relationship several times in the past. A few of my clients have presented with knee pain and limited ankle dorsiflexion. The knee pain diminished or vanished once dorsiflexion was restored and then used during gait.)

Both strategies worked immediately! How cool! For the next 5-10 minutes I had her practice the new stair walking strategies. The only time the knee pain popped up was when she let the heel rise too early during the descent.

I didn’t tell her anything about her glutes or her knee or any other muscles or joints. Just, “lean forward,” and “keep your heel down longer.” I need to remember that sometimes giving simple cues can do world of good. I don’t always need to go through a rigamarole of creative exercises to help someone move and feel better.