All posts by Amy

What Fit is the Best Fit for Beginners? Here’s the Truth.

confusion_11

What workout should you do to get into shape? What’s the BEST way to burn fat/get strong/become a ninja? Have you asked yourself this? Chances are, if you did, you dug around a little bit. You read some magazine articles. You saw blurbs on Facebook. You asked your friend, who might have raved about her own workout.

It’s likely that when we ask this question that the answers will be all over the place. The answers usually don’t have the most important piece of the equation: you.

Here’s the thing: yes, there are more optimal ways and less optimal ways to go about burning fat if you’re talking about the very most efficient way to go about that task. The same goes for getting stronger or faster. But we get so bound up in the variables of fitness that sometimes we never start. That can also lead us to take on someone else’s vision of what a workout program looks like instead of allowing ourselves to find our own fit.

After I had my third son I was really out of shape. The task of moving again felt monumental. When I finally decided to do something about it and get into the weight room, I wasted weeks because I read way too many articles. Every resource I read had a different take on the best course of action. I had information paralysis, so I sat on my ass for even longer.

As a trainer, I now spend a lot of time in Facebook groups devoted to fitness and reading fitness-related articles. Fit pros often debate among ourselves the very best way to go about achieving an outcome, but we sometimes lose sight of something critical, particularly for beginners:

There are many ways to achieve an outcome. For someone new or returning to exercise, the truth is that any choice is a good choice, as long as you can do it safely. Beginners are lucky because they’re probably going to see some results just by doing something. It doesn’t really freaking matter what it is at first.

Find something, anything, that you enjoy. Or even something that you don’t completely hate. Go for a walk. Try a new class. Dance in your kitchen (I recommend Taylor Swift. You know you secretly love Shake it Off). Start with something smaller than you think you can handle. Seriously.

You know you want to shake it off. Just give in already.

Building the habit is the most important step at first. All those details will shake themselves out later, whether you want to get leaner, stronger,  faster or have more energy and zestiness. If that goal is to become a ninja , you might be on your own there. It’s past my pay grade.  🙂 Once you become a regular exerciser, then you can find the activities that might best suit your goals. But at first, any activity that you can commit to doing regularly is the best activity.

How did you start moving again? If you haven’t, what’s holding you back? Share below and let’s have a conversation!

 

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.

Lemon Protein Cake: Cake For Breakfast? Hell yes.

lemon protein cake

Usually I don’t like “healthified” desserts. I’d rather have a really glorious, calorie-filled treat once in awhile than a steady stream of fake-out desserts. I’m looking at you, Paleo brownies. (I won’t even go into the issues I have with the Paleo movement but I’m pretty sure cavemen weren’t eating brownies. Also, thankfully, we’re not cavemen.)

On a side note, let me take a moment to rant about “guilt free” treats. Are we really that hung up on food that we can’t enjoy some yummy things even if they aren’t stuffed with kale, quinoa, and (insert the current nutrient darling of the month). Nutrient dense foods are great. Eating foods for pleasure is also great. Depending on what our goals are, we eat more or less of certain foods. Lose the guilt!

As for me, I’m trying to get more protein into my diet. Protein helps retain the muscle I’ve worked so hard to build and helps me build some more. It’s also a macronutrient that is pretty important in my body’s overall function. For my own goals, I need to eat a good bit of it and I’ve been burning out on my typical go-to breakfasts and snacks.

I can only eat so many eggs, chicken breasts, and cartons of Greek yogurt before I get a little antsy for something new. Right now I’m cutting some body fat and I don’t have a ton of calories to spare each day. I’m stingy with my carbs, fats, and proteins, and mostly spend them on things that fuel me. If I eat a snack, I want it to fit into my goals and also be super tasty. I saw a recipe for a lemon protein mug cake and the picture looked alluring. Still, I was skeptical. My friend Emily reminded me of the empty promises delivered by a cake batter protein shake. Oh, protein shakes, you cannot trick us so easily. Tasty yes; cake substitute, no.

So anyway, the cake. I immediately tossed out the microwave option. Those are usually a rubbery mess. Blech. But what about a cake that was made up mostly of the things that I usually already eat? AND THEN MAGIC CAKE? COULD IT BE?

Verdict: It was pretty damn good. Dude, it tastes like cake. Lemon cake. I had it for breakfast. Sometimes you need cake for breakfast. Enjoy!

Lemon Protein Mug Cake
Adapted from Rx for Healthy Living

Serves 1

Directions:
Coat a mug with cooking spray. Add the dry ingredients first and mix. Then add the rest of the ingredients and mix. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 F. Boom.  You can eat it right in the mug or put it on a plate and sprinkle with a bit of powdered sugar like I did. It’ll make you feel fancy.

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbsp flour (the original recipe calls for oat flour. I didn’t have it, so I used evil white flour.)
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla protein powder (I used NSN vanilla whey).
  • 1/2 Tsp baking powder
  • 2 Packets Stevia (or to taste)
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tsp Lemon Zest
  • 3 Tbsp Plain, Non Fat Greek Yogurt
  • 1 Egg White (or equivalent egg substitute)

Nutrient Info:
Calories: 242
Carbs: 31g
Fat: 3g
Protein: 21g

 

 

Making SMART Goals Work For You

SMARTrect

 

As promised, we’re going to move from taking our New Year’s resolutions from pie in the sky dreams to actual habit change. SMART goals are popular not only in the fitness world but in business too. The SMART goal system is a framework that allows us to work on our behavior change instead of focusing solely on the outcome.

I learned about SMART while studying wellness coaching through the YMCA, and I think it’s a valuable tool, as long as it’s coupled with some other work.

First of all, as described in the first post of my New Year’s Healthy Habits series, it’s important to spend some time thinking about why you want to make a change and if it’s something that you really feel motivated and passionate about tackling. If not, you’re likely going to scrap the whole thing when the going gets tough.

Also, crafting a useful SMART goal requires creating a habit change that is actually a single habit instead of a string of changes that have to be made. A goal of losing 10% body fat might necessitate the following habit changes:

  • tracking food intake
  • creating an exercise plan
  • actually getting to the gym a number of days per week
  • getting more sleep
  • changing the kinds of foods that you buy at the store
  • making a shopping list and menu plan each week to prep
  • learning how to strength train

Holy buckets, that list looks intimidating! No wonder so many people never even make it past the first week. However, each one of those habits is actually a great starting place for a SMART goal when attempting to pursue that larger goal of losing 10% body fat. That’s really the outcome, not the behavioral goal that gets us there. So let’s take one of those and use the SMART concept to make it work even better.

Getting more sleep
This is one that I need to do better at. It’s important to me because I know that a good night’s sleep lowers my stress, improves my performance in my workouts, and helps me eat better all day. Let’s apply SMART.

S- Specific
We don’t want to be vague here. I’m going to get at least 7 hours a night of sleep instead of “I’m going to get more sleep”.

M – Measurable. This is a bit redundant, but I’m setting my measurement at 7 hours per night. 8 would be a gold star for me.

A – Attainable. Is this a doable goal for me? 8 is pushing it, though 7.5 is my sweet spot. I know that 7 is doable if I make it a priority. If it’s not realistic, scale back here and rework the goal.

R – Relevant. Is this really important for my life? If it’s not something that’s actually important to me, I’m not likely to stick with it. For me, it is because it affects the way my body functions and for my life, it’s a biggie.

T – Time frame. Setting a behavior goal for indefinitely can feel like a huge proposition. If I say “I’m going to do this forever” in the back of my head I’m not very confident that that’s the case. But for the next 2 weeks, I can make a commitment to trying this new habit. If I succeed and feel better, I’m more likely to keep it going. If I fail, I can take a step back and reassess what worked and what needs changing.

Try applying these parameters to a habit that you want to implement into your life. You’ll be one step closer to success! Have a SMART goal that you want to share? Leave a comment below!

 

 

5 Secrets for Keeping a New Year’s Resolution

fist-pump-baby

Today’s the big day. January 1. Many of us have made the annual New Year’s Resolution. Why do so many New Year’s Resolutions fizzle? If you read my last post, you may have been mulling around some ideas for a change you’d like to make. Are you ready to get going on something new for the New Year? Sweet! Use these tips to make a change that sticks.

1. Focus on what you want to change, not what you should change. The word should comes with a lot of baggage. Often it’s attached to ideas that come from what we think others expect from us instead of what’s really important for our own lives. We can rattle off a big list of things that we feel like we should do, but only when we feel that  making a change is really worth it to us do we start moving toward doing something about it. The benefit of change has to be large enough that it’s motivating enough to make it happen.

2. Start small, grasshopper. Focusing on one small habit will lead to more success than vague goals that require changing many habits at once. Deciding to eat a piece of fruit each day is way less overwhelming than making a resolution to lose 50 pounds.

3. Avoid all or nothing thinking. Around this time of year we see lots of bullshit 30 day challenges and detoxes that involve a lot of restriction and high demands for perfection. What happens when we mess up for a day? For a lot of us, we feel failure and then scrap the whole thing. FYI you don’t need a detox. You have a liver for that. I haven’t met a whole lot of people who have had long term success from following highly restrictive diet and exercise plans. The ones who make it have learned to create habits that fit into their lives.

4. Make a plan. We’re going to break this down next week so stay tuned for that. But the plan is hugely important. Do you drive to Idaho without a road map? OK, it’s 2015 now, so GPS. But you know what I mean. Here’s where it goes sideways for most people. They have a goal that excites them but they haven’t spent much time figuring out what exactly they’ll do to get to their destination. Laying out the specifics will set you up for success.

5. Expect detours. We all have the clean slate today. It feels so good to start over. Once we miss the mark on our behavior goals a few times we can get discouraged and scrap the whole endeavor. But if we’re creating a new habit that will last a life time, isn’t it normal to have some bumps in the road? Get back in the seat and lose the judgment. Do you see all my driving and road metaphors? I’m on a roll today. In any case, be kind to yourself. Go back to why you wanted to make the change and regroup. This is for the long haul. Remember why you want to make choices and then decide on your choice the next time.

Did you make a New Year’s Resolution? Mine is to finally start printing and organizing my family pictures. They’re a mess. My first step is to find an online service to consolidate them all and then make a habit of immediately sharing them when I take new photos. Wish me luck on this very unsexy but necessary goal! Share your resolution in a comment below so we can cheer you on. Happy 2015!

 

Finding Your Why to Get Your What

whyIt’s a week before Christmas and everyone is busy with last-minute errands, baking, and other preparations for the holidays. Probably sometime soon after we’ve all enjoyed a good number of yummy treats to celebrate, we’ll start thinking about the year ahead. With  1 or 10 glasses of wine of course. For many of us, that leads to the annual New Year’s resolutions.

I don’t much like resolutions, mostly because they’re so hard to keep. I do love the idea of a clean slate. The new year feels like an empty notebook on the first day of school, pure and shiny and full of potential. However, after a few days or weeks our enthusiasm usually wanes. Before long the resolutions are forgotten, put away on the shelf until the next year. Rinse and repeat, right?

What I’ve found to be much more successful for creating change in our lives is to focus on our habits rather than the outcome we desire. If we work on our behaviors, we’ll find those end goals a lot easier to attain.

This is the first in my “Healthy Habits” series of how-to articles for the new year that will help you create a road map for those healthy outcomes that can sometimes feel overwhelming to achieve.

Today’s task is simple.
I’ll bet most of us have figured out what we would like to do differently in the new year. Have it in your head now? Great! Now, let’s take a step back. Why is it important to you? Write that “what” down if you want, and then beneath it write why you want to make the change. Hate writing stuff down? That’s cool. Just start rolling around those ideas in your head. There’s no pressure to do anything.

If you came up with a big list of reasons, that’s great! Or maybe there’s one really important “why” on your list that is compelling enough to you to make that a change that you’re ready to work on next year.

Maybe you’re falling short of reasons. If that task was really difficult, ask yourself if that goal was really so important to you after all. Ask yourself how important it is to change. If it’s not that important to you, it might be a sign that the goal isn’t something you’re really ready to work on right now. That’s okay too! Sometimes we tell ourselves that we need to change because we feel like we’re supposed to.  Ain’t nobody got time for that! We’re a lot less likely to make a long term change in our habits if we don’t internally feel like they’re really important to us.

So that’s it for today. Work on your why. It’ll make a big difference in what lies ahead for what you choose to change and how you get  there. Want to share your own what and why? Leave a comment below! Congrats on making the first step in discovering how to make a sustainable change that will last far beyond January.

 

Keeping it Real

gymselfie

I’ve made a lot of progress lately in the gym. After a summer on the bike, I hunkered down into my own strength training plan and have been reveling in being inside the gym. My strength gains have been consistently improving, and most days I feel energized and strong. I’ve seen some really dramatic changes in my body, which I’ve come to love as little reminders that my muscles are working and growing. After a few years of being sidelined here and there by injury, I feel like I’ve found my groove. I even took a selfie – in the fitness world, that’s de rigeur, right? But for me, it was huge. For years I avoided taking pictures of myself.

Seeing my photos always provoked a huge amount of anxiety and self loathing. It didn’t matter if I was overweight, which I was several times throughout my life, or really lean. I yo-yo’d back and forth, all the while looking at my body as something to be fixed. Something that wasn’t good enough.

In fact, when I started creating this site last summer, I had my good friend Yana take my photographs and could barely bring myself to use them.  She captures some of the most gorgeous images I’ve ever seen, and I could always see the beauty in every person whose photo she snapped. Except my own. Despite the beautiful quality of the pictures, I could only see the flaws. I wasn’t fit enough. What the hell does that even mean?

In a moment of panic, I asked her to have them photo-shopped. I moped. I buried my head in the sand. And then when they arrived, I moped some more, because they felt strange. They weren’t me. I looked slimmer, but those weren’t my arms. My arms are bulky. Because they house my biceps. Biceps that are getting pretty damn strong. I’d enjoy a little less body fat. I don’t even know why. But at some point I realized how silly it was to hide. The disordered thinking subsided and I scrapped the edited photo. Here they are, side by side.

retouched

Yana’s beautiful work made everything way more gorgeous of course. I’d keep the lighting. It’s so pretty! Here’s the original, without any editing.

untouched

What I want for this site is for it to be a place where we work on our fitness in a way that is positive. Fitness is a tremendous vehicle for transforming not only our bodies but also our thoughts. Strength training gave me a confidence and determination that carry over to every other area of my life. At the same time, I want to communicate a message that also affirms that we are fundamentally enough. All bodies are good bodies. As I learned from people like Nia Shanks, when we focus more on what our bodies can do and less on what they look like, we can get out of our own way and really make progress on feeling good.

So the challenge with fitness for me, and I suspect for many others, has been to find that peace. It’s a balance, or rather a healthy spot that allows us to utilize fitness in a way that enhances our lives. It requires discovering the habits that will really make us feel good inside and developing a path for practicing them.  The goals are great but the path that leads to them is greater. Let’s recognize the amazing in ourselves and let that lead the way. Good things are ahead.