Category Archives: Trainer’s Corner

The Curious Case of a Girl and Her Coke – A Lesson in Problem Solving

case of coke

No, I’m not talking about cocaine, although that would make for a very interesting story indeed. Drug use is out of my scope of practice. But Coca-Cola is what I’m referencing today, and I have a story to tell that might help you with your fitness progress too.

One of my clients has spent the last two years intermittently trying to stop drinking Coke. She loves the stuff. But she had a vague idea that it was probably time to make a change. After all, everyone says drinking pop is bad. And diet pop? Well, that has practically become the new meth in the eyes of popular media.

A little soda is no big deal to me – enjoy the treats that you like. But this habit had turned into a 32 ounce soda 3 times per day. Ouch. 

Her well-meaning friends offered oodles of suggestions and advice. WARNING: I call soda “pop”. I’m in the Midwest, it’s our thing.

“Pop is terrible for you. Isn’t pop, like, the new cigarettes?”
“You should drink more water”.
“You should drink seltzer water instead.”
“You shouldn’t keep it in the house.”

These statements came out of a loving place, but a funny thing happens when someone tells you that you should do something. I call it “shoulding” on people. Huh huh huh.

shoulda

When we hear from people that we should do something, we often subconsciously dig in our heels. After all, nobody else completely gets us. Think of the bad boy in high school who a girl wants to date. Her parents forbid him from seeing him. And she runs right into his arms.

In my friend’s case, she ran right back into the arms of her beloved Coke, after trying each helpful suggestion for a brief period of time.

She DID want to make a change: but she knew that going cold turkey would never work, so she inched her way down to a smaller amount each day. That’s really great progress in my eyes.

Still, when this lovely young woman began working with me, I had a hunch that the 24 ounces of Coke she drank each day was going to give her some issues with meeting her nutritional goals. But instead of telling her not to drink it, I went a different route: I said nothing. I only asked her what she could do to squeeze in more protein and still stay in her calorie range.

The first few weeks were tough. My client began to realize that her large consumption of the delicious, bubbly drink was making it nearly impossible to support her fat loss goal. But some kind of fire was burning inside of her, and she tried cutting back instead of eliminating it entirely. She lost a little fat, and that stoked those fires even more.

She started sharing her own observations:

I had the worst craving for Coke when I was really, really hungry. But I had some seltzer water, and it passed.

I realized that my 2nd coke of the day is going to make it really tough to hit my daily calories.

Maybe I’ll get an 8 ounce can and think of that as a treat instead of a daily part of my life.

And then today I received this email: 

Random musings: I drank SO much water and I didn’t even die. So there’s that. Towards the end of the night I realized I had hit my protein goals and still had the calories for a Coke.  Since I wasn’t hungry, I thought,”okay, I’ll have one.”  I only drank 1/2.  It hit the spot and I didn’t feel the need to drink the rest.  I feel so good about that. There are a lot of moving parts to overall health/wellness/fitness.  I’m feeling good about this.  I feel like it’s changing everything — the way I cook, the way I think about food, even pop.

She’s already come a long way in her ability to understand her own body, her challenges, and her priorities. She’s becoming a student of her own health. And that will take her far.

This isn’t surprising if you take into consideration something called “self determination theory”.  It’s a framework that suggests that people have innate needs that motivate them to change and grow 1

According to this theory, people need 3 things in order to change and grow:

1. Competence – gaining skills necessary to grow. These come with time and practice.

2. Connections – people need to feel a sense of belonging to other people – to feel supported and understood.

3. Autonomy – we need to feel in control of our goals and behaviors.

Extrinsic motivators, like a reward for completing a task, can be motivating too. But for the long haul, finding that motivation inside of us is priceless. It requires continued “feeding” to work, but healthy environments that allow these things to continue to flourish make a positive impact on continued personal growth.

My client had support. She gained skills. And ultimately, she came up with her own solutions. And because they’re her own, I’ll let you in on a secret: she’s going to be 100% more likely to stick with them. Because they take into consideration that last piece of the puzzle: autonomy. Her choices grew from her own wisdom, experience, and choice.

So let me ask you: are you making a choice because someone said you should? Or because you feel like you should? The “shoulds” seem to rarely be the things we actually want. So what do you want – really want?

Give yourself some props for being intelligent. Dig in there a little bit and find the thing that you really want to change for yourself and you’ll be able to come up with some spectacular solutions.

 

Notes:

  1. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

What People Really Mean When They Want To Detox

detoxing

It’s almost New Year’s Day, and in the fitness business, marketing is everywhere, catering to the desire for a fresh start (hey, you can’t blame us, you’re looking for us right now and we’d be silly to ignore you.)

And on that note, I’ve been seeing two things for the last few days in my feed:

1. Totally bullshit offers for products that will cleanse/detox your body to shed fat/pounds/toxins/bad juju.

2. Fit pros screaming about how we don’t need detoxes because we have a liver and kidneys for that.

On this matter, the fit pros are correct, by the way. Detoxes are bogus. In fact, I have growled about this a number of times, including in this article.

But I was thinking about how often that I have been guilty of what I call the “hand slapping” mode of communication with friends, family, and readers who don’t spend all day knee deep in fitness literature.

To be fair, I think fitness professionals do this because we get so tired of debunking myths that can actually be harmful to those whom we care about.

But I am beginning to think that we are going about it all wrong.

We talk all the time about meeting clients where they’re at in terms of workouts or habit formation. But what about common terms and ideas that are often misunderstood?

Take these examples. I have been guilty of using the “hand slap” rebuttal for all of them at some point, so don’t think I’m all high and mighty here:

Client: I just want to tone up.
Fit Pro: OMG toning isn’t even a thing. You want muscle and less body fat, stop saying toned, for the love of Christ.

Client: I don’t want to get bulky.
Fit Pro: OMG lifting won’t make you bulky, too many cupcakes make you bulky. Do you even science?

Client: I feel fat.
Fit Pro: We can’t talk about being fat. Stop shaming yourself right now.

Client: I need to quit sugar.
Fit Pro: Why? Let me quote all of this stuff debunking sugar being toxic and tell you how stupid this is.  (The over simplification of sugar’s impact on the body drives me especially nuts, I can’t lie. But still. I need to keep it together a bit better.)

As fit pros, we’re often technically correct. We have valuable experience and wisdom to impart. But when we respond with smack downs to debunk misunderstanding, we first of all come off like assholes; we also fail to even attempt to comprehend  the place from which people are coming.

For all of these ideas, perhaps we have to actually meet people where they are at in terms of their current framework for understanding. Then we can peek at what they’re really trying to say.

Yes, detox products are worthless, unnecessary, and sometimes dangerous. People who sell them are usually either misguided or shady. I’m looking at you, Dr. Oz.

We can communicate this. But in a kinder, more productive way. And instead of just blasting that message off hand, maybe it would be more useful to try to figure out why this concept is so popular in the first place.

I don’t know for sure, of course. This is just wild speculation. But all the New Year’s chatter made me wonder if perhaps the overarching theme of renewal correlates to the ever popular idea of detoxing.

cookiecat

When we’ve been eating like an alcoholic on a bender over the holidays, sometimes it feels good to rein it in and feel a modicum of control. Is a radical diet a wise answer? No, no it is not. But I get that urge to want to stuff some spinach in my mouth after days of eating lots of sweets. I actually crave it. Have you ever experienced that?

The idea of a detox appeals to many, I wager, because it plays into a powerful desire to renew our relationship with our nutrition and our health.

I think the more interesting question would be to ask people why their relationship with food is an all or nothing proposition: are we completely on the wagon or off it? Is that something that we could avoid in the future?

Do we maintain a relationship with food and exercise that causes us to not be able to sustain what we’re doing, thus bingeing and then feeling like we have to take drastic measures?

Or maybe we just ate all the cookies on Christmas and want to feel like we have a fresh start.

Instead of a lecture, let’s start with a few questions first. I think in the end, that will get everyone down a positive path.

So no. I promise you don’t need a product to detox your body. You do indeed possess organs in your body that do that. But if by “detox” you mean commit to putting more things into your body that sustain good health and taking actions that help you feel like you’re gaining some momentum, then go for it. Let’s just look a little deeper for ideas that could help you gain some ground – ideas that are safe, effective, yet don’t come in an overpriced bottle.

Here are a few ideas for a fresh start that my online coaching clients have enjoyed:

  • Eat a new vegetable every day for a week to feel more excitement and curiosity and see how it impacts your overall well being each day.
  • Try a consistency challenge, committing to just one small new behavior for a period of time.
  • Drink more water every day for a week.
  • Move every day for 20 minutes.

Peeking behind the curtain of bullshit  reveals pretty outstanding insights into what people are actually seeking. If we listen, we’ll learn.

Happy New Year!

Amy

P.S. Did you dig my article? If so, make sure you sign up for my newsletter. You’ll get my free e-book, Fat Loss on a Budget, delivered to your inbox right away. 

Excuse Me: How Missed Workouts, Diet Fails, and Fitness Rationalizations Can Lead Our Clients to Change

no excuses

The excuse. It’s a bad, bad, thing. Or is it? Most of the messaging that we hear regarding fitness is still deeply entrenched in the view that excuses mean that we’re either weak-minded or that we just don’t want to be fit badly enough. If you look at enough fitspo, you might conclude that if we simply dig deep, commit, and suck it up, we’ll finally nail our goals. It’s a smug and ultimately ignorant view of how people change their behaviors.

A perfect illustration of this sometimes well-intentioned but futile view on behavior change arrived on Facebook recently.  A personal trainer posted in an industry group, voicing his frustration with a client. “I’ve never met someone with so many excuses,” he lamented. He rattled off a list of concerns: missed sessions due to sick kids, refusals to plan meals, and so on. He wanted to help her, but believed that if she wasn’t willing to put in the work he was wasting his time. A few other fit pros supported him, echoing his sentiments.

“Don’t waste your time”.

“Sack her”. 

“Our business is about results. Don’t be afraid to fire her”. 

A few, however, were on the right track.

“Your client is the best source of her solutions.” 

“You might need to scale back.”

Yes. This. The problem with looking at clients as ‘non-compliant’ or ‘combative’ is that we miss the reasons that they’re resisting change.  As fitness professionals, we need to do better. We must meet our clients where they are at and work as partners to troubleshoot the barriers they encounter. And most importantly, we need to accept that our clients really do have all the answers inside of them. We facilitate that change and handle the details.

So let’s back up a step. Do you recall a situation where someone told you what you needed to do but it wasn’t something you were really motivated to do already? How did you respond? Most likely, you dug in your heels a bit and resisted changing.

not going to change

Think about a doctor telling her overweight patient that he needs to start exercising. If the idea of exercise isn’t already a priority, or feels too overwhelming, that new routine is unlikely to stick.

Psychology professor James O. Prochaska developed a model in 1977 for the stages of change that we go through for specific behaviors. The first two, pre-contemplation and contemplation, are where many people sit for years with certain behaviors such as exercise.

These stages have no moral value: it’s not wrong to be in pre-contemplation, the stage where one sees the most excuses being made. To be in pre-contemplation means that a behavior really isn’t even a priority to a person. A person in pre-contemplation doesn’t believe that they need to change what they’re already doing.

By contrast, the stage of contemplation demonstrates a person’s acknowledgement that they need or want to change. However, this is where many people get stuck for a long while. They may be ambivalent or they may lack the tools or support to actually move forward.

The most interesting part about this model is the non-linear design. In other words,we don’t move in a neat continuum from total denial to maintaining a new behavior. Life is far messier. We often move back and forth. Understanding this reality can color the way we strategize for the long term. Fit pros need to develop unique approaches for where their clients are in the present moment.

As trainers, we begin by partnering instead of commanding. We need to listen and ask instead of telling people what to do. 

Excuses are opportunities. They are open doors that allow us to explore and grow. People  who find themselves making excuses might want to consider the following:

  • How confident do I feel about what I’m doing to change? Do I need more guidance?
  • How important is this change in my life?
  • Why did I make a change in the first place? Do the things that I make excuses for actually fit well into my life? (Do I have enough time to train for the triathlon I vowed to complete? Do I actually enjoy running?)
  • If what I’m doing isn’t currently working, what is one small step that I feel confident about taking?
  • Why do I put up the roadblock? Is there a deeper reason that I am not succeeding in my plan?

Resistance does not make someone a failure. Instead, it is a gift– it’s a giant clue that indicates the need to scale back a plan or to re-assess how well it actually fits into someone’s life. If a personal trainer, a dietitian, or other health pro encounters excuses, what they likely need to do is accept that what they are asking is either too much, too soon, or not the best fit.

References:
Prochaska, JO.; DiClemente, CC. The transtheoretical approach. In: Norcross, JC; Goldfried, MR. (eds.) Handbook of psychotherapy integration. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press; 2005. p. 147–171. ISBN 0-19-516579-9.

Intuitive Training: How to Work with Your Body instead of Against It

The messages we hear in the fitness world often seem to tell us to ignore pain, fatigue, and discomfort. Certainly, a certain amount of mental fortitude is necessary to make fitness gains. The old adage “if it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you” still rings true to me. Yet, in our current fitness culture that seems to glorify extreme workouts, puddles of sweat, and exhaustion, we’re missing the mark. The goal is not to make ourselves tired: it’s to make ourselves better.

If we want to improve our fitness, we would do well to look at how athletes train: not to copy their routines, which are very specific to their needs. Rather, taking a look at what keeps athletes performing well while keeping injuries at bay will give us insights that can make fitness training more productive and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of recreational activities and fitness goals.

The thing that strikes me about sport training is that an athlete’s strength coach wants to create the least amount of stress necessary on the body while still producing the greatest performance impact. Injury prevention is paramount. Every workout has a purpose: to make the athlete better. Another related concept in athletics is something called auto-regulation.

Coaches employ techniques with their athletes that help them tune in to what their bodies are telling them. Athletes are much more likely to train intuitively than the average fitness enthusiast. When a recreational Crossfitter (ok, not fair to pick on Crossfitters. Simmer down, it’s just an example) might have a night of lousy sleep and feel awful during a workout the next day, they’re much more likely to hammer through it than ease back and let their bodies tell them what they can handle. Meanwhile, using tools like HRV units, Tendo units, and biofeedback techniques, an athlete will sometimes purposefully work with a lighter effort during a training session.

University of Minnesota strength coach Cal Dietz, author of Triphasic Training, employs what he terms “biometrics”, an auto-regulatory protocol derived from  cybernetic periodization. It is a system that harkens back to the Soviets. 1

If you read the giant opus Supertraining, you can learn more about cybernetic periodization. If you’re like most of us and are not up for that, just know that in essence, on days when you feel really good you train harder. On days when you feel not so good, you don’t train as hard.

These ideas appeal to me, especially as I grow older and my body is less forgiving of the days where I push too hard.. I stink at listening to my body and instead of my war chest being filled with trophies, it’s filled with stories of hip surgery, shoulder pain, and way too much physical therapy to boot. I’m not a pro athlete, but I am passionate about strength training and I want to get better. When I learned about the intuitive training going on at The Movement Minneapolis, a Twin Cities gym highlighted for its innovation recently, my interest piqued. Auto-regulatory principles work well for athletes, though sometimes complicated and expensive devices are employed. Hearing about a gym that makes intuitive training widely accessible piqued my interest. Of course I had to check it out myself.

David Dellanave founded the gym and has been a driving force in exposing more people to biofeedback principles in athletic training. I’d been following the writing of Dellanave and his wife, trainer Jen Sinkler. Fellow trainer and friend Annie Brees was also curious and excited to go learn and so we ventured northward to Minneapolis to work with Sinkler and Movement strength coach Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake. What we learned really enlightened my philosophy about much of what I do for my own training as well as for my clients.

Biofeedback?
When I first heard about biofeedback, I’ll admit it sounded a little like mysterious, crazy juju to me. I’m a skeptic at heart. I wondered how a toe-touch test could possibly guide my training. It’s a lot more complicated than that… except it’s not. Biofeedback is surprisingly simple to implement into training. It can be done with lifting weights at the gym or even for a runner outside.

Much of the practice utilized in biofeedback protocols that Sinkler and Blake use come from Frankie Faires. Faires and Dellanave have both written extensively on the theory and practice of auto-regulatory training and how biofeedback fits into that paradigm. You can find more links at the end of this article if you want to dive in and learn how to specifically implement it into your own training plan.

What is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is really about paying attention to the responses that your body gives you. According to Faires, “Better is not a stimulus. Better is a response”. 2 Every person responds differently to stimuli. By paying attention to how your body responds to a particular movement, you can more effectively guide your training.

Annie and I began with a short warmup and decided to work on deadlifts. We then performed a toe touch to establish a baseline of our range of motion (ROM). We reached toward our toes only until we began to feel tension. That tension is an indication of the Golgi Tendon Organ response. That’s a natural process of inhibition within our nervous system that tells our musculatory system to basically turn on the brakes. Why? Because if we didn’t have brakes, at some point we’d break ourselves. Our bodies are pretty good at self-preservation.

We then performed the movement pattern of a conventional deadlift, then retested our ROM. We paid attention to how the movement looked and felt and compared our ROM to our baseline. We then repeated the process for a sumo deadlift and a Jefferson deadlift. Based on the feedback from our nervous system we were able to choose the movement that would, according to the theory behind biofeedback, produce the most productive training for us at that moment. That’s a key idea: on any given day, a particular movement may feel better or worse for our bodies.

It turned out that for me, a sumo deadlift pattern gave me the best response. A positive response is a better range of motion than the baseline. A negative response is essentially a red light. If every movement tested negative, that would be a strong indication that it might even be best to not train the movement that day. We both we had positive responses to multiple movements and yet each of us had a very clear first choice. Annie’s was the Jefferson deadlift. The Jefferson was a completely new variation for Annie. I hadn’t trained a sumo deadlift in over a year. With a bit of tweaking of my form from Blake, I performed a set. I retested my ROM. I was continuing to see a positive response. So I kept going. My sets felt solid and so I used that as my internal cue to keep adding weight.

Effortlessness
Biofeedback is a form of auto-regulation, which I discussed above. The auto-regulatory component of our session is what felt so different to us. We’re accustomed to periodized training plans with prescribed sets and reps. Utilizing biofeedback protocols, you periodize yourself on a daily basis. It’s more flexible than even a traditional, non-linear periodization structure because you let your body decide how many reps you do: at The Movement, they use physiological responses such as breaking the rhythm by slowing down. Blake noted that trainees aim for “effortlessness” instead. David Dellanave corrected my original interpretation of “effortfulness”, explaining that the goal is to have the movement feel like it is without effort – the feeling of effort is your internal cue to stop. 

Blake and Sinkler acknowledged that those training for events like powerlifting competitions do implement more structured periodization. In group training classes, instructors may indicate that there are days when participants are told to aim heavier or lighter. In the class I observed I noticed that the women were primarily using their own responses to guide their choice of reps and weight.

Back on the Range
It has been a few months since our trip and I’ve implemented some intuitive techniques already. For my own training sessions, I found more confidence in approaching a set. The mental aspect of intuitive training seems to be heavily entwined with the physiological: having a choice in exercise selection brought me confidence and a more positive attitude toward my training. There may be something to the importance of choice in the mental component of training that contributes to the efficacy of biofeedback protocols. In a 2010 study of beginners in a weight training class, 3 participants followed either a non-linear periodized training program or a flexible non-linear periodized training program. The difference between the two programs was that the flexible group was allowed to choose which day they completed either a 10, 15, or 20 repetition workout. The group that was given greater freedom of choice in their training had improved outcomes on the leg press, though both groups had similar outcomes on the chest press and standing long jump. The idea of choice merits further investigation.

Most importantly, the intuitive training methods reminded me to respect my own body. I had a few days where my movements just felt awful this month. I probably would have powered through before and made the issue worse, but now I give myself permission to make more adjustments.

In my small group training sessions, I have shifted from always prescribing reps and sets to instructing clients to tune in to their own bodies for that sense of effortfulness. I ask them to pay attention to cues like their rhythm, the integrity of the movement, and how they feel. We still do conditioning finishers that use timed work-to-rest intervals. This shift has been really positive for a few reasons. First, even new exercisers feel successful. Class members who need a bit more nudging can get it, but I’ve found that most will squeeze in a few more reps if they feel good instead of just punching the clock and doing the rep count assigned. They’re paying more attention to their own body’s responses.

Learn More
Want to try intuitive training for yourself or learn more about the ideas behind it?
There are excellent resources to get going. Check them out below:

Are You The Movement: Online home of The Movement Minneapolis.
Using Biofeedback for Better
How to Test Range of Motion Using Biofeedback
Intuitive Training for Fitness
The Biofeedback Solution Faires’ guide

I still have much to learn about Biofeedback but I’m looking forward to more research emerging and further exploration into how we can employ intuitive practices. Many thanks to our gracious hosts, Jen Sinkler and Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake, thanks to David Dellanave for pointing me in the right direction to learn more about Biofeedback, and to Annie Brees, who is always up for fitness adventures.

Notes:

  1. Dietz, Cal. “An Interview with University of Minnesota Strength Coach Cal Dietz”. Interview by Jeff Angus. Angus Certified. N.p., 27 Feb. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.
  2. Faires, Frankie. “The Biofeedback Solution.” 2014. PDF file.
  3. McNamara, John M; Stearne, David J, “Flexible Nonlinear Periodization in a Beginner Strength Training Class”, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research Vol. 24 (2010): pp 2012-2017.