Friday, October 31, 2014

By Request: What does it mean to brace into a belt?

I'm sure most people have heard at least one of the following:

"Keep your core tight."
"Brace your core around your spine."
"Suck your belly into your spine."
"Draw your core in toward your spine."

In my previous article on the who, what, why, and how of using belts I mentioned that you want to brace your abs OUT against the belt. And I had someone ask me what that meant, as it seems a little counterintuitive considering many other cues we usually give and hear.

When it comes to body weight movements, planks and push ups, the way we think to brace the core is right along the lines of the above cues. But when we start lifting heavy weights, we have to think about creating even more tension in the core, and we do this through increasing intra abdominal pressure.

The fancy term for this is the Valsalva Maneuver. From the online Merriam Webster Dictionary:

:  a forceful attempt at expiration when the airway is closed at some point; especially :  a conscious attempt made while holding the nostrils closed and keeping the mouth shut (as for the purpose of adjusting middle ear pressure) —called also Valsalva

So you've probably done the Valsalva maneuver in an airplane or while scuba diving. But in the gym, the cues we use are "Take a big breath and get tight around it." 

You would never be cured to do this during handstands or planks. But I hope you've heard this for deadlifts, squats, and Olympic lifts. The reason this is so effective is this chest full of air give our core muscles something to brace around. 

What the belt does is allow this process to be even more effective. 
I'll usually use the cue of "breath into the belt" or "breath against the belt." So you're bringing air deep into the lungs, the belt is "in the way" and through this tension between your Valsalva breathing and the belt you get extra core tightness. 

Just as with the belt, I don't use the Valsalva maneuver with newer athletes. I'm not going to be taking someone to rep maxes within their first couple of months in the gym, so I generally want them tight and breathing intuitively. When they start asking me about how they should be breathing during a lift, and they almost always do a few months in, that's when I explain most of this. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

When, Why, and How of Using a Belt for Lifting

I know I've talked about this before. A little over a year ago, I wrote about this, and you can read that  HERE.

Recently we were tasked with doing a three rep max in my class at San Francisco CrossFit. Jami Tikkanen, who does our strength programming, had us doing a gentle but consistent lifting program for the previous 6 weeks and now it was time to get a grasp of where we had progressed to.

At the beginning of the class, I pulled out my three belts and gave a quick spiel on when to start using a belt, why you should consider using a belt, which ones I like to use and which ones are popular with different people. Here is what I covered in a little more detail:


Won't I get stronger/ won't my core be stronger if I keep lifting without a belt?

Not necessarily.

What a belt actually does is allow your core to brace against something, thereby actually creating MORE core muscle engagement than without a belt. That means your core can get stronger using a belt than not using a belt.

Now that your core is bracing against something and is better engaged (ie: GET TIGHT!) your body can put more focus on the task at hand, be that pressing, pulling, or squatting. That's a big reason that weights feel "lighter" when you put the belt on, bracing happens more fully and attention can be paid elsewhere.


Not for the beginner athlete. It's important for those new to training to learn position and proprioception and not rely on a belt to create that sensation for them.

And not all the time either. Even if you usually lift with a belt, it's good to lift without one occasionally and see if your strength gains are universal. For me they certainly are, and it's nice to test/know.

I tell people that they should start using a belt when they feel like they want to. They've progressed far past the point of a beginner's easy gains, and they are starting to feel the taxing nature of a consistent strength program.

Even then, I suggest they don't put on the belt until they are around 80-90% of their working weight for that session. I suggest this so that they both get the unbelted experience, and it's a nice mental relief when the belt goes on and the weights are already heavy.


Tight. Not "cinch your body in half" tight, but you shouldn't have to distend you stomach at all to brace against the belt.

I suggest to first timers to hand tighten it around the smallest part of the torso, then push it down over the lower part of the stomach to make it a little tighter. Shove how ever much of a power belly you have over top of it.

If you're using a thicker belt, you might have to use a post to help get it undone simply because of how stiff they are. I never use a post with my thinner, more flexible belts.

Side view FYI
Most women like the soft belts. The style by Schiek, above, is particularly popular. Because women have much less room between their hip bone and their bottom rib, and these belts are contoured, they won't pinch and leave bruises. Also, since they are a little wider in front than on the side, it feels like you have something more to brace against without digging into your stomach.
For those new to the belt game, this is the one I most often suggest. You can find it at nearly any sporting goods place for about $25. I bought one my first year of competitive weightlifting from a Sports Basement and it lasted me four years. When buying one, know that for weightlifting it can only be 4 inches wide in the back. This one, with the narrow front and side, should also not pinch ribs on short torsos and the leather gives some people feeling like they can brace better.
These are the types of belts you'll most often see worn by powerlifters and strongmen competitors. They are usually 10mm thick, very stiff, and the same width all the way around. Yon can get them in a prong style like a normal belt, or you can get the lever style (on the left) which allows you to quickly tighten and loosen. This one always leaves bruises on my hip bones and lower ribs.

Go forth and get swole!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ballet to Barbells: Using a Mirror

As a dancer I grew up constantly using the mirror to check my form and movements.

Now I work at two very well coached CrossFit gyms and there are no mirrors.

Between these experiences were gym, studios and dojos with various mirror having capabilities. Obviously, no mirrors in a judo dojo, that could get dangerous quick. Mirrors lines every wall of the student REC center and every 24 Hour Fitness I encountered.

Arguments For Mirrors

First and foremost, it's nice to see that your form is right when you execute a movements. Corners with mirrors are nice because typically you can situate yourself in a way to see your profile while not having to crane your neck. And let's face it, a neutral neck is obviously ideal, but doing a few practice reps with a turned or lifted head while at light weight isn't going to be a problem.

Several times, I've had to take an on boarding client to see their reflection in the window of a neighboring building. Sometimes, even after video proof of a wonky position, they can't make the right adjustments. Seeing the cause and effect in real time through their reflection makes things click.

Also, who doesn't like how their muscles look after a hard workout? It can be a rush. And you might say "Oh, I look terrible, my hair is all messy and I'm sweating every where," but just under the surface you're thinking, "Fuck yeah. I worked my ass off and you can tell!"

Arguments Against Mirrors

The obvious argument in CrossFit is that we aren't body builders and exercise isn't performance art. (Yeah, tell that to all those Insta-famous peeps.) You should be focusing on function over physique and not wasting you time gazing at your reflection.
Not a CrossFitter. 

And having taught ballet classes in the past, I can tell you that it can be tough to get student attention when they are futzing with their hair or clothes in the mirror. And even in my dance studios, they would hang a curtain in front of the mirror in the month or two before a performance to make sure you weren't too reliant on it.

There is also the expense associated with putting them in and replacing then WHEN they get broken. Any gym that has bumper plates (meaning the bars WILL be dropped) and medicine balls that are intended to throw are going to be a danger zone for any surface covered in glass. Why put that much money down on something that should only be used during the learning phase.

My Favorite Mirror Use Experience

I used to have a few clients at DIAKADI. What they did, instead of attaching mirrors to the walls, they had a few full length mirrors on rolling stands. So if you needed to use a mirror with a client for form check and teaching something new, you could roll one over. Then turn it around the the non-mirror side when done. You could even angle a couple of them so that the client could see themselves in profile for movements like hinges and squats.

They were generally tucked in a nook out of the way, or flipped around with the mirror towards the wall when not in use. Kept them from being distracting. I'd love to see more gyms implement this use of mirrors. It would certainly make it easier for some of our "proprioceptively challenged" clients and members to get what we keep harping on them to do.
Stop standing like an asshole!
Your rounded T-spine makes you look like a goddamn desk jockey!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Difficulties in Motivation: It's a Human Condition

Have you ever read Hyperbole and a Half?

If so, do you have her book?

Okay, good.

But what I'm really here about right now is our struggles with motivation, and I'd like to start with a comic strip from the above blog (which is, again, really amazing on so many levels).

I was reading this both laughing to myself and totally aghast. How was this absolute stranger so perfectly describing my issues with procrastination. For instance, I see everyday I go to the car that my registration is about to expire. I see the DMV reminder letter on my desk by the computer. And I don't do anything about it. It's not even a smog test year, I can do this online. The deadline passes, and now I have to go to the DMV. Or, actually, I wait until I get a fix it ticket. True story.

Then it struck me. The author writes about her struggles with motivation as though this self-destruction is unique to her. But I see it in myself all the damn time. And I bet other people do to, which is why this comic-blog is so popular.

We all have these absurdly easy things we feel we should do with our time. There are the things we have to do and just don't until the consequences are in our face. And how many of us totally beat ourselves up over these perceived screw ups? Each time we do that, beat ourselves up, it only going to prompt us to dive our heads into the sand the next time a similar "choice opportunity" presents itself.

I hear this negative self talk a lot:

"I totally screwed up over the weekend and ate all these pastries."
"I was terrible and didn't go to the gym like I said I would."
"I get so upset with myself each time I do____"

So give yourself a break. We're all in this together. So if you work with me as your coach or trainer, talk to me about it, let's have a good laugh at our human foibles, and then get back on track. Until next time.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Trying New Things: I Hired a Nutrition Coach

Joy Victoria
Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach

Even coaches need coaches. 

And I hired a nutrition coach. 

As a fitness professional, I can help the "average person" with their nutrition. I've tried a lot of fad diets and I can speak from experience about them. I've had disordered eating in the past, I've tried ketogenic, Paleo, carb back loading, etc. I understand that for the vast majority of people, it's going to be about calories and portion control. And how one goes about reining in their calories is about individual variations in psychology around food. 

So if I get that calories in and calories out is the biggest piece, and macro nutrient ratios is the next biggest piece, why did I hire a coach to help me with it?

Like I said: psychology. 

I used to do my own strength programming. And for the 1+ year after shoulder surgery, that was fine. I would make progress until I didn't, change it up a bit, then continue making progress. No problem. But when the gains started coming slower, I started getting frustrated and that would cloud my judgement in making alterations to my program. That's when I started following the Cal Strength club program. 

I'm at the same point with my eating. I'm older now, and these things matter more. Nutrition and recovery are so intertwined, that I knew if I let my emotions cloud my food choices, I'd only be hobbling myself. 

So I get my initial plan...

Let's start this by saying, intellectually, I know that getting sufficient carbs is important for performance and recovery. But I'm surrounding in this world of Paleo, keto, carb-cycling where so many Instagram hashtags are all #waroncarbs and #carbsarefortheweak. So when I decided I was going to make myself get 160 grams of carbs a day, and started eating two donuts after training, it felt revolutionary and was treated revolutionarily by others. 

Then Joy sends me my macro breakdown:

I'm supposed to eat calories in carbs what many women think they're supposed eat in calories all day.

So I went home that day and spent 1.5 hours on MyFitnessPal trying various portions of the food I already cooked along with easy to add carbs. I wanted to try to hit these numbers right away but in the easiest way possible. I can "complicate" it more later. 

Other guidelines for hitting these macros

Since I admitted to sleeping poorly (I only get 7.5 hours of sleep most nights, and that sleep I do get is pretty bad), she asked that I stop drinking coffee after 12pm, nix the glass of wine before bed for a while, and have me eat the bulk of my carbs with dinner. 

This isn't comfortable to do, but I've been sleeping like a fucking champion this week. 

The "no coffee after 12pm" is tough because I JUST LOVE COFFEE. I drink coffee flavored protein! I love coffee flavored ice cream! I want coffee smelling candles! However, it's had the unintended consequence of me drinking a lot more water. Logic: if I fill my stomach with water, all the awful sloshy feelings will make me less attracted to wanting more liquid. So far, that's working. 

The "bulk of carbs at night" thing is tough, too. Since I've already made a bunch of food, enchiladas, quiche, and meatballs, that only have so much carb in them, I'm left eating a medium bowl of white rice followed by two cups of frosted mini wheats to hit the numbers. To almost hit the numbers, anyway. 

After that I'm laying on the couch, groaning and whining to my boyfriend for about 10 minutes and then I pass out. My boyfriend, the saint that he is, doesn't leave me there to sleep, but relentlessly works to make me go up to bed. I'm a big girl, so carrying me there isn't an option. 

Four days in...

So far I feel great. I really expected to feel bloated eating so many carbs right before bed, but my body doesn't seem to be responding that way at all. The macros right now are supposed to be at maintenance level, and that is whats happening so far. I weighed in today at 182.3 lbs, which is right at normal, so no water retention happening here. 

Coupled with feeling pretty recovered from picking back up normal lifting work again, and sleeping pretty deeply at night, I guess there is something to this eating all the carbs. :) 

I'll be posting updates as things go along and we make changes. Take-away, carbs really are our friends. (Protein, too, but you already knew that.) 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Notes from MOTIVATE: A health and behavior change summit (part two)

Welcome to part two of Notes from MOTIVATE.

As an aside before we get started...

Notice how this post is NOT one week after the last post like I said it would be? Remember me talking about habit hangovers? This is a note to myself to eventually write about how good habits can get easily derailed by small changes in one's weekly schedule.

I don't mean to make an excuse, I just want to point out how even those of us that have been characterized has "having grit",  "dedicated", and "driven" can just as easily fall off any wagon they try to put themselves on.

If you didn't guess already, writing this blog is also my way or organizing and digesting the thoughts and learnings of the weekend. 

So let's jump right in! 

Managing Expectations

This kind of goes hand in hand with "big changes versus slow progress" but with the focus towards getting clients to understand how what they want (THE MOON) isn't going to happen in 6 weeks or ten sessions.

There is a lot of myth dispelling that has to happen. After all, did you gain weight or lose mobility all in six weeks? No? Then you're probably not going to lose the weight or get that function back in only six weeks either. Once a client has laid out their goals, sometimes working backwards from the goal to where they are will get them to understand what kind of work is ahead of them.

A few suggestions involved getting the client to self evaluate beyond what they want and how they are going to get there. Asking "how do you see yourself getting there?" or "how do you see this working?" can go a long way in better understanding if the client understands what's going on. And as sessions progress, asking the client to asses progress can help them realize that small changes ARE big changes. "How did this session feel compared to the last? Was anything easier? Harder?"

So the action steps we came up with"
1) Hear the goal or goals.
2) Assess where they are. You want to do a tough mudder? How much running do you do now? Have you ever climbed a rope?
3) Ask client how they see the plan going from A to B working. Get the client engaged in the analysis process to help them be more aware of what a real plan of action looks like.
4) Keep client away of their role in the process. Show them the progress they make and checking in on what they're up to.

Using Technology to Teach
Online Coaching vs. In Person

This one was a little harder to wrap my head around how to implement it in my practice as everything I've done is about face time.

Some programs that are out there and used often are: MyFitnessPal, Google Docs, Excel, Evernote, Tumblr. Many clients like to use wearables like Nike+, FitBit, Misfit, heart rate monitors. Coaches can use Trainers Eyes and Coaches Eye to analyze movement and keep in contact with clients.

What could we use? The fitness industry is basically still stuck in the 90's using a combination of email, Excel, and pencil on paper to keep track of things and interact with clients.

Some of the barriers to coaching people online doesn't just have to do with the technology itself. When you're face to face with a person, only about 10% of the communication happening is done through actual words. The rest is energy, body language, chemistry, and the like. Going online flips all of that around.

You have to be able to write.

There isn't any face time, and once that piece go away, you need to excel at the written word to keep people coming back and fully showing up. Very few of us took extensive English classes. And those classes that I did take (technical writing, and AP English back in high school) didn't necessarily address how to connect with your average, pulled-in-all-directions human being.

The best way to get better at writing is to write. And maybe a journalism class.

Can Showing Vulnerability Help Clients?

Last session of the day and I was EXHAUSTED. So the notes were a bit sparse on this one.

The question is if and how do other coaches use their own struggles and vulnerabilities to help connect with and guide clients? Do some coaches think that sharing struggles can give clients "an out" on sticking to their own habits?

We decided that it's probably both with the difference in how one approaches it and how often.

When a client is in a particular motivation rut and starting in with the negative self talk, it can be helpful to use yourself as an example. Showing first hand how ups and downs will happen and as long as you stick to the general plan you can reach your goals.

Talking about it too often, and you might give the client the idea that you barely have to stick to a plan for everything to work out in the end. That will lead to confusion and frustration.

In the end...

After all was said and done, we were ALL so tired and so excited about all the information we exchanged. The conversations are continuing online, and new, awesome people are being brought into the fold every week.

If this sounds like something that is interesting to you, you can read more about habits and motivation on the Coach Stevo blog site. Then you can sign up at and follow along with the conversation at (scroll down to get to article and other sections).

The next Motivate Summits for 2015 will be in Feb at Mark Fisher Fitness in NYC, and again in June somewhere in Oakland. So stay tuned!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Strong(wo)man Nationals Recap

This meet didn't go as spectacularly as I had hoped. When I feel myself getting too down about my performance, I have to remind myself that ALL the events had something in it that was brand new to me (kegs? circus dumbbells? car deadlifts? What the hell??) and I had about four weekends to get that shit in my head and body.

As the competition started to draw close, everyone at my gyms were telling me how I'd kick everyone's ass and how I'm too strong not to do well. "You don't understand," I wanted to say, "everyone at this competition is the strongest girl at their respective gyms. Possibly the strongest PERSON there."

So off to Reno I go, butterflies, protein powder, straps, wraps, and all.

You can see the cars, the yokes, and the crowd.
Day One
Overhead Medley

125lbs keg once, 145lbs axle once, and an 80lbs circus dumbbell for reps. Like I said, kegs and circus dumbbells are brand new movements for me. I had no idea how unstable my wrists/ thumb grip was until I first picked up a mock circus dumbbell about a month ago.
Split jerk, it's what I do.
On game day, it took me two tries to get the keg over my head, the axle was a breeze, and I was only credited with one circus dumbbell rep out of the three overhead moments I had. I split jerk the dumbbell, (I split jerk life) and every time I went to gather my feet together the handle rolled towards my thumb and down it went.

This put me in the upper middle of the pack.

Yoke Walk

500 lbs. Every time I have done this at weight in training, usually at the end of the day, I would have to put it down at some point. Since we were only allowed one drop, I was cautiously smooth with it. Took me way to long to get across that finish line. Damn shame, I should have gone all out and then pulled back if I dropped it.

I told myself I wouldn't make that mistake again.

Carry Medley

150lbs keg for 60ft, 200lbs handles for 40ft, 225lbs duck walk for 20ft. The worst part about this one was the waiting. Since light weight women always went first, and I was in the middle of the middle weight women pack, and because they had to reset the implements each time, it was about three hours from when we got to warm up on the equipment to the time I actually went. I took a nap in my room.

When I started this one, I thought "I'm not taking this smooth and easy again" and tried to sprint with that keg. Lost my footing and dropped the keg. Fuck. Too much gusto. Lost time in chasing it down to pick up again. No dropping with the handles (yay!) and I did the bunny hop style of the duck walk for most of the distance.

Still middle of the pack.

Car Deadlift

Toyota Yaris. Was supposed to be a SMART car, so it was a little heavier than many people anticipated. After watching one girl after another strap in and not lift a single rep, I too started doubting myself. But my training had definitely prepared me for this. Jon's Deep Water approach means with something like this I can basically black out and rep out. In the end, I had 15 reps on the car, in an event where half the middle weight women didn't get one.
Reno lights, car deadlifts, normal Saturday.
This swept me up to fourth place. This swept me up to excited. Top four in the 180's get an Arnold Invite. Now I just have to stay here....

Day Two

Heres one I never got a chance to touch before competition day. Luckily, the wheel barrow has two wheels on the front, so you don't have to worry about side to side balance as much. Just avoid the swivel that tends to happen when you go too fast for control.

If you dropped the wheelbarrow and it slid at all, you get a 2 second penalty. Jon and I decided that since I have a tendency to be binary with moving events (way too cautious, or way too out of control) we'll err on the side of no control and eat the penalty which would be less time added than if I did slow and steady. I did drop it twice in the course, and once over the line, but our strategy worked as it kept me in 4th place for the 180's.
Yelling across the finish line, Coach Jon intimidating the crap out of the wheelbarrow.

Keg Over Bar

Things got squirrelly here. Seeing as I only had two training session with my borrowed keg, I only really had one way that I was comfortable picking it up. At the contest, they didn't have access to the kegs we were supposed to use (125lbs, 150lbs, 175lbs) so we used lighter ones (100lbs, 125lbs, 150lbs) and they raised the bar another few inches.

I got the first two kegs over the bar no problem, after all, I had access to a 125lbs one for training. But then while trying to get the 150lbs one over the bar, I get to close and smashed my finger between the bar and the keg. Keg went down. From there I tried again and just couldn't get the height needed to clear the bar. I tried to pick up the keg in the way I was seeing other people do it, more like a stone, but unlike a stone the keg kept sliding down my legs.

The timer whistle blew and I didn't get the final keg over. I walked away from the scene and tried not to cry too much. I just knew that this performance had knocked me down too far to make get an Arnold invite. I gathered my stuff, gathered my bored boyfriend, and and started home.

Twist of Events 

I spent the the four hour drive home licking my wounds. Each stop, once for coffee and once for Korean BBQ tacos, consisted of eating my emotions.

Just before hitting the sack for the night at the old person bedtime of 9pm, I get a call from Jon. "So you actually came in 5th, even after the keg event. And Kristy Scott already declared that she'll be doing The Arnold as a heavy weight, so her invite is getting passed to you."

Holy Shit.

I wasn't sure how to react. Am I making this up because I was so freakin' tired? I basically laid in bed talking to my poor boyfriend (he's a freaking saint for putting up with me) and tossing and turning.

But sure enough, a couple other people who were helping out at the event let me know that, yes, I was in fact qualified for The Arnold!
My coach, Jon Anderson, and his family post competition. I just find this picture really sweet. 

Interested in Trying Strongman for Yourself?

Here are some resources to get started on your own Strongman Journey!

North American Strongman Association

Starting Strongman Website

Map of Strongman Gyms Around the World

Monday, October 6, 2014

In Fear of Shaming (A Rant)

Recently I saw this posted to my Facebook news feed:

The gimmick is that a “smart utensil” has been created that vibrates if you try to take bites of food any fewer than 10 seconds apart. The idea is if we can slow down the speed that people will eat, they will start to feel full before they’ve eaten as much as they normally would. Weight loss ensues. 

The complaint is that this is “food shaming”, and is therefore inherently bad. 

On the heels of the “Fed Up” trailer that I ranted about earlier, where we shouldn’t be held accountable at all for our expanding waistlines, I started to think more about shaming and accountability. 

The HAPIfork

The idea that shaming of any sort seems to be sprung from the problem of “victim shaming” when it comes to issues of abuse and rape. This is totally warranted because, by very definition of a crime being done TO someone, there is a victim. The person at fault here isn’t the person that was acted upon, it is the person who did the crime. It’s the abuser. The rapist. The thief. Whatever the case, when you have one person doing something legally or morally wrong to another person, you put blame on the doer, not the victim. 

Where this goes wrong is when we start saying anything that involves consequences of one's own actions is "shaming" them. In this situations, they aren't victim to anyone except their own choices. It's not shaming to point out a consequence and explain why it happened and how one can avoid it. 

In what should be an obvious case, Rob Schneider got booted from the State Farm ad campaign because of his very vocal stance against vaccines. He voiced these ideas and no one is obligated to support him for it, especially when that someone is in the business of promoting vaccines. This is not "belief shaming," this is just cause and effect. 

Now food shaming. How can someone make you feel bad about what you eat? Either you enjoy it or you don't. You either accept that you're going to put that cookie in your mouth, or you feel bad for making that choice already, and someone pointing out that it might be contradictory to your goals merely brings emotion out. 

I just had a Triple Dipper appetizer at a Chili's Too here at the Oakland Airport. Alone. It was, according to MyFitnessPal, about 1700 calories all said and done. Go on and try to shame me for that. I knew full well what I was getting myself into. 

Me, in response to buffalo wings.

Thing is, when it comes to "size shaming", "fat shaming", or "food shaming", calling someone names and trying to make them feel bad is just you being a bully and NOT going to help a situation. However, suggesting that someone should lose weight for health benefits and suggesting they change the way they eat isn't shaming. (Unless you go up to a stranger and say this. Then you're a bully here, too.) Pointing out facts of a case (you eat more than you need, you don't believe in science, you ran with scissors) isn't shaming. 

When you are bigger than you want to be, it's pretty much a matter of eating more than you need. Yes, certain macronutrients can make you feel full longer (thereby controlling calories), and other macros or flavor combos can make you crave more food shortly after eating (thereby increasing calories). And when it comes to specific goals, certain things need to be taken into account. But the 10,000 foot view is, eat what you need, less to be smaller and more to be bigger. 

Why is it shaming if we say that? There needs to be more personal accountability when it comes to advocating for healthy lifestyles. If you don't like where you are, reach out to friends, family or professionals to help you get there. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Notes from MOTIVATE: A health and behavior change summit (a saga in two parts)

This is going to be hard to write, as I'm still processing much of what it was said and trying to fit it into the relationships I have with current clients and the classes I teach. So bear with me if something doesn't make sense. And I won't feel bad if you get two sentences in and go somewhere else...

So what was the Motivate Summit? What the hell is an "un-conference"?

From the website:

"Personal trainers, strength coaches, physical therapists, doctors, RDs, nutritionists, yoga instructors, and coaches of all types are good at our jobs. But being the best in the world for an hour a week still leaves 167 hours that our clients can take our advice, or not. Continue to make progress, or not. Take 1 step forward and 167 steps back. So the question arises:

What about the other 167 hours?"

And the un-conference part of it? Rather than a regular conference, where speakers have already been given time slots and topics to present upon, the attendees come with questions or discussion ideas they want to bounce back and forth with other professionals. 

Here are some of the discussions I took part of:

Massive Action vs. Slow Change

People are inundated with promises of "6 min abs" and "90 day fat blasts" and this discussion was about, even though we know slow change through small but significant lifestyle changes is the way to long term success, if there a place for a promise of a 6 week, big results, bootcamp style promise to get people hooked? 

The thing with a lot of 6 week, and even 3 month, challenges ask their participants to put in so much effort to get the changes they want to see that, for a vast majority, those changes aren't sustainable after the end of the challenge. In the best scenarios I've seen, people will just go back to their previous habits. In the normal situations, people give themselves a "complete treat" or a "completion celebration" and go off the deep end. They only slowly swim their way out of the deep end, leaving them right where they were before they began. 

So sometimes it seems that either way clients can get discouraged. Either they aren't seeing the results they want to fast enough, or they see them but are so worn down after several weeks of EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT they give up and give in. 

Some of the ideas we bounced off:
1) Get the client to focus on function rather than weight. Many people will see increases in skill, mobility, and strength before they composition becomes noticeable. 
2) "If I got my medical degree in 90 days, would you trust me?" Reminding the client that anything worth working for takes time. And it's no different with changing your life. 
3) Try to change what "massive" means. Going from 0 to 1 is a huge deal. It's creating something from nothing. And that should be celebrated and put in the right context. 

Dealing with "Habit Hangovers": What to do when a client falls off the wagon. 

We've all been there. Where you're really gung-ho about getting on a new program, whether it's getting up early for training, a new diet regiment, adding a new dimension to your current training Your start out strong for about 4 weeks and, hey! this is going great! Then week 5 comes around and it hits you that you have nothing left to give and it all goes away. 

You've spent all your motivation and it gave you a case of the fuck-its. 

We see it happen a lot with ourselves and with our clients. Clients come to us because they finally have the motivation to start making changes. And even when given something really small to do, with out some failsafes in place, clients will go whole hog into it and exhaust themselves. 

Some ideas we bounced around:

1) Get client to rope in a buddy. Can they hook up with a spouse, coworker, or friend to exercise the habit with and hold each other accountable?
2) Make the habit scalable. So they are supposed to drink 16 ounces of water upon waking. If they forget but get to it at lunch, it's a sort of time-scale. If they wake up late and only chug 8 oz, it's not a failure. There are no failures, just ups and downs. 
3) Build in the "fuck-its. As Stevo quoted "The enemy always shoots back." As in, you plan for a counter attack because OF COURSE it's going to happen and in this case, it's your old habits fighting for dominance. For instance, every ~6 weeks of "clear eating" (eating with a purpose, I don't like the term "clean eating") I sit down with a bag of Milano cookies, the remote control, and go to town being a slob. 

Getting Clients to Be Self Aware

This could mean anything from proprioception so they can move correctly, to understanding how their habits and automatic decisions have guided us to where we need this intervention we're seeking. 

Precision Nutrition likes to use an exercise called "Notice and Name." Rather than just seeing "oh dear, I ate that muffin and suddenly the whole box of them were gone" you start stepping backwards to what made you eat the first muffin. Were you hungry because you pushed lunch back too far? Was your breakfast too small? Maybe even further, why did you or someone buy the muffins in the first place. 

You see where I'm going. 

Once you've you've Noticed an underlying trend and Named the cue that starts the ball rolling, the client can be more aware when it's about to all go down. And hopefully put failsafes in place to change what was once a reactionary habit to a more consciences one. 

Another suggestion was to keep a habit spreadsheet. When a client falls off a habit you two are working on, you can analyze what happened and formalize it in the spreadsheet or outline. 

These three discussions concluded the first half of the day. I took all my exercise and nutrition thoughts, and went to eat the BIGGEST BURRITO I HAVE EVER SEEN! 

Stay tuned for PART 2 next week.