Recently I took a course in NeuroKinetic Therapy, which was a great weekend of learning. Not only did I get to experience a great new modality to help my clients but I found out some things about myself.
As practitioners we often overlook little flaws in what we do because we think we know everything. My strength levels are good, my mobility is excellent and I have a great amount of power and endurance. A funny thing happened though.
When I got my deep abdominal layer tested it was a MASSIVE fail in one area. Having the humility to analyze that made me realize that I had to go back to the drawing board and rebuild what I had been working on for my own workouts. And this meant going right back to some very basic exercises that I had been overlooking for years.
One of my roles as a coach is to remind people of basic fundamentals, and I spend a lot of my time during sessions doing just that. Reminding people to slow down, focus on form, even adjusting loads constantly to create the ability to control muscles and joints. More often than not my athletes have overlooked that if they can’t do A properly, then they have no business doing B.
So here’s the question I ask people – are you good enough at the simple fundamentals before you jump into more advanced things when it comes to your training?
I’ll give an example of my runners. So many runners are notorious for simply strapping on their shoes and going out for runs without having strong lower limbs or backs and then wonder why they are constantly getting hurt. My runners get trained like powerlifters in the gym because their bodies HAVE to be able to take a large amount of load constantly. This means they need to be able to have strong backs and hips which means great form during heavy lifting. Then, they need to be able to run short distance consistently day after day with good form and recovery principles in place before expanding their distance and speed. This takes months for many of them, not days or weeks.
If your goal is to deadlift heavy weight, can you even get into lifting position (ie a fairly deep squat) without compromising your spine first? Have you worked on basic position fundamentals enough to then be able to load the bar and try some controlled repetitions?Practice this first and make sure you have it down.
If your goal is to play a sport, can you do the basics like push hard anaerobically for 45 seconds without getting completely winded repeatedly and losing form during your movement? No? Maybe you need to focus on just doing hard repeats before getting back on the ice or track.
Or, if your goal is simply to get into a good exercise habit, can you perform some basic bodyweight movements – at home – for 10 minutes every other day and establish a habit before you even think about joining a gym? This can also take weeks for some people. And before you say an excuse, remember that it’s only 10 minutes. Drop one episode of Netflix or don’t hit the snooze button.
If you have tried to change things in the past and keep going back, sometimes it takes a complete step back to the very start and beginning there again before you move forward. for many this requires some humility, but if it will get you to your long term goal faster and without hurting yourself then it is worth the investment. Nothing in life comes without some hard work over time, and this is usually months, not days or weeks.
So my lesson today is to take a look at your program and maybe take a step back if you’re not seeing progress or you have gotten out of a good habit. Break down what you’re really trying to accomplish and begin with the simplest parts. Once you have mastered that, then you have the right to move onto more difficult parts.
I’m already applying this to my own exercise practice and seeing improvement even after two weeks. You can easily do the same.
By the way, this doesn’t have to apply to exercise only. Whether it be work goals, life goals or even family goals starting with simple fundamentals is always the best course of action.
If you need help figuring out where to get started, I’m happy to help. Reach our at email@example.com, on Facebook or on Twitter or Instagram @strengthottawa. I look forward to the opportunity to help you move forward.
I know this might be a bit early, but in three weeks it is 2016 and a whole new set of people will be undertaking new fitness goals. The first thing I need to mention is that in the fitness world there tends to be a lot of elitism, and I’ve already seen the “resolutionist” memes going around Facebook. The fact we even have a nickname for new exercisers says it all.
With society the way it is and a massive obesity epidemic, we should all play our own part in not only helping these people get into fitness, but keeping them around as long as possible. See – you’ve already swallowed the pill of fitness, but you are in the vast minority. Over half the population doesn’t exercise at all, and only about 10% regularly (meaning 3x a week and sustained for over six months) because it just isn’t on their radar and never has been. But something is going to drive them into a gym (besides marketing hype) very soon. And for some reason many of them stop after a few weeks.
I want to keep them there. I want to have thousands of people NOT stop working out after six weeks and get healthier. Then hopefully some of those people can inspire others to get started, and snowball effect takes place and boom, no more obesity. Pipe dream? Maybe. But we can all do our part to help keep as many around as possible.
So here’s a list of ways as “fitness people” we can all help make sure that whomever you know who is getting started stays at it long term and gets to the state that you’re in: loving exercise and feeling a ton better.
STOP GIVING ADVICE AND GIVE SUPPORT INSTEAD
Your friend/co-worker/spouse knows you’re a fitness person. It’s probably obvious when you talk about what you did on the weekend or take off your jacket. Our instinct as soon as someone outside of our world wants to jump in is to tell them what worked for us, which simply may not be what would motivate or work for that person. Don’t tell them to start running five times a week for weight loss, or start deadlifting like you do. They are likely getting it from multiple sources and it can be not only confusing but overwhelming. People don’t change overnight.
The simplest thing is to say “awesome news!” and if they ask questions tell them what worked for you, but also let them know what you went through in order to arrive at that conclusion. Hopefully they will figure out something for themselves. If they went to the gym that morning, give them a high five and leave it at that. Let them know that it took you as a fitness person a long time to get to where you’re at and if they want to get support, you’re there but don’t overdo it.
And please don’t suddenly become a personal trainer and offer to work out with them and show them everything you do. Swallow your pride and tell them if they need it to hire a professional. You probably did too.
ASK WHAT THEIR ANNUAL GOAL IS
Typically the first few weeks as a new exerciser is confusing and tough. It is a new thing to fit into your schedule, you have no idea what you’re doing and are nervous every time you step into a facility. As a method of support, ask them where they want to be at the end of the YEAR. Not next month. Again, I’m trying to reinforce the long term aspect of this for sustainability.
Another way to motivate them might be “you know, I signed up for a Spartan Race in June – you should think about it” or “Hey, I’m thinking about doing the Army ½ marathon in September so I started training for the 10k in May”. Let them know how long it takes to achieve things. By next Christmas, where do they want to be? With any luck it will trigger the need to sustain what they are doing.
INTRODUCE THEM TO YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK
We all have one. Maybe you have a trainer you really like and have gotten great results from. Maybe you get amazing recipes from a web site you love. Maybe you subscribe to a message board you got a lot of support from. Maybe they could sub in on your winter ultimate team and see how much fun group sports can be. Introduce them to someone they see you talking to at the gym.
One of the hardest things any person can do is walk into a gym for the first time, and if they approach you and just need a friendly face, don’t get upset that they interrupted your third set of squats. Take a longer rest break and chat for a bit, even if you’re there to work hard. It won’t kill you or your gains.
SHOW THEM WHAT OPTIONS THERE ARE
Some people just aren’t gym people, and that’s fine. The world of health literally has unlimited options. I have a client whose husband is a World Champion in Skijoring, which is like sled dogging on a bicycle and sounds totally awesome (and I had never heard of it). Whether it’s pole dancing, skating, weightlifting or aquafit, the fact that people are moving at all is really great.
So maybe your person seems to feel like the gym isn’t for them. You probably have a friend who does something else cool that you can tell them about. Even as kids we all either played individual or team sports and that rarely changes as an adult. Ultimate Frisbee might not work, but then racquet sports might. Plus the challenge of learning something new is always fun.
PLAY NICE IN THE SANDBOX
This final one is for all of the people who complain about the “clutter” in the gym in January. Instead of thinking that “these people” are doing something wrong, change your attitude. Smile at them. Offer to let them work in on whatever you are using. If you see someone looking lost offer to help them. Be nice. Once, you were probably that person (I know I was).
Remember, these people are probably watching everything you are doing because you’re the fitness person and they want to get there. Being nice to newcomers can go a long way in getting them to stick around and feel like part of a community. CrossFit boxes are fantastic at this because they are usually totally inclusionary and that’s how they retain people. And those people make progress, at least far more than they would on the couch at home.
Sometimes a simple “hey, are you new here” and an offer to help can go a long way. Be nice.
If you liked this, please share it around and take it to heart. I’m not just writing this for fitness people, by the way. If you are thinking about stepping into a gym for the first time, please don’t be intimidated. There is a world of options out there and a lot of really good people and support for you.
My other advice is also don’t wait until January and just get started now, but that’s a whole other article.
Feel free to follow, share and like this and until next time make sure if you see someone in January you help them out!
Having been in this training profession for almost fifteen years, I’ve dealt with hundreds of people and helped them get healthier, stronger and feeling better about themselves. I’ve helped people lose 100 pounds, complete Ironman triathlons, recover from what they thought were permanent physical conditions, and given people the chance to live longer. It’s a pretty awesome job.
I get the question all of the time – what’s the big answer? What’s the key to getting through my barriers, getting the body I want or achieving that big goal I have? My first answer is usually that goals should never really end. You achieve one thing and then you keep moving forward towards something else.
Lost the weight you wanted? Great! Now, work on using your new body towards something cool like climbing a mountain or taking up a sport.
Completed that race? Great! When’s the next one. Do you want to go longer, be faster or simply perform better overall?
Got through an injury? Great! Now, can you get better than you were before and make sure that injury never happens again?
But what is the big answer to all of these things? It’s actually one really simple word that when applied can actually guarantee that you will achieve what you want. I’m going to share this powerful word with you in the hopes that it will sink in and resonate and drive you today and tomorrow and from now on towards your goals. And it’s so simple.
Ready? You sure?
Here it is:
This one little concept is what has created most of the success in the world. Thomas Edison when he was inventing the lightbulb (okay, he didn’t invent it but he did develop the first commercially useful one) supposedly made 9,999 mistakes. And he kept going. Athletes at a high level train for YEARS – daily – in order to achieve a high level at anything. Business people who are at the top of the game didn’t get there overnight or by fluke. They have many, many years of 7 days weeks, no holidays and sacrificing to make sure they get to where they want to be.
Most of us simply aren’t willing to do this. We want the easy way, we want it fast and convenient like everything in society has programmed us to be. We want to microwave, not slow cook. We want to get liposuction, not eat right and exercise. We want that text message or email response right away.
One act at a time, one simple little thing at a time – done consistently – ensures that you are always moving forward and inevitably one day you will get to where you want to be. Every workout, every time you cook a healthy meal or don’t eat something you used to, every time you set the alarm early you’re moving forward. And if you stay consistent and just don’t stop then you’re definitely going to get there. It’s really that simple.
Success doesn’t come overnight. It never has and it never will unless you believe in winning the lottery. Those people who are where you want to be got there through hard work and consistency, every time. Nobody was born with a perfect body, nobody was born with a million dollar business. Athletes train since they are children and never take years off.
A pretty simple concept, right? The hard part is applying it. So if you’re working towards something you really, really want (and that has to be the case otherwise you simple aren’t going to get there) just stay consistent. Whatever that means to you. For some of my clients it is once a week, for some it is several times – but they are consistent about it.
So start with the one simple step. A daily act or one small step every day no matter how small as long as it is consistent is moving you forward. And just keep doing it.
I hope this helped you. Feel free to share, like and tweet me out if you enjoy what I share with you and as always, if you have any questions or comments just share away. I look forward to helping you!
This was inspired by a client of mine who wanted to restart yoga after a bad back injury.
What if, as a trainer I told you that we were going to do an exercise that did the following:
I want you to lengthen out your posterior chain as much as you can, throw both of your shoulders into extreme extension, put yourself into spinal flexion (even if you can’t properly tilt your pelvis) and stretch out your hamstrings and calves as far as they can go (thereby also yanking hard on your sciatic nerves) – oh, and do it while loaded with up to 70% of your body weight, and the load increases the further you get into the exercise. So for a 150 pound female that would mean their shoulders and knees are loaded in extension with up to 105 pounds on their spine and other joints.
Does that sound like a good idea for anyone, let alone people recovering from injury?
The funny thing is, people in yoga classes do this almost every day. It’s called a downward dog.
Now, before the yoga community absolutely freaks out and starts thinking I’m bashing the movement, I’m not. All I’m doing is providing a practical analysis of what people are required to perform to get into this position. I’ve had a client recently with severe back issues try to get back into yoga and the one movement she had immense trouble with (not surprisingly) was this one. I’ve also attended yoga courses where thankfully the instructors were aware of the limitations of this movement and realized that not everyone should perform a downward dog – in fact several of my most respected colleagues actively discourage it since they have realized what it does.
On the flipside I’ve also been to yoga classes where the instructors did absolutely NOTHING except for sun salutations over and over again. You can guess which class I didn’t go back to.
“BKS Iyengar, one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world asserts that this asana stretches the shoulders, legs, spine and whole body; builds |strength throughout the body, particularly the arms, legs, and feet; relieves |fatigue and rejuvenates the body; improves the immune system, digestion and blood flow to the sinuses, and calms the mind and lifts the spirits.” (ripped from Wikipedia) – and it does all of these things.
But what people need to realize as a whole is that some movements that you perform in a typical yoga class are very hard forceful strength movements. Simply because it is packaged as something healthy and therapeutic doesn’t mean that it is. Just like any other type of exercise, it needs to be tailored to the person participating in it. A 200 pound deconditioned person has absolutely no business getting into this position and here’s why:
Here’s what people need to be able to do into order to successfully perform this movement:
Put your arms overhead fully or even behind the torso while internally rotated. This requires a healthy rotator cuff complex, the rib cage to be able to move and the shoulder blade to be able to move with proper rhythm. One loaded movement I often have clients do to test this area is a loaded shoulder extension (think a front raise but over the head with a cable) at various angles in order to engage the entire shoulder complex.
Hinge the hips with proper pelvic movement so that the lower spine isn’t flexed forward putting strain on the lower spine with load – while it’s flexed. Think loaded Romanian deadlifts, and even things like good mornings (I have a bias against these because of where the load is placed but whatever). Just because your hands and feet are on the floor doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of pressure going through the lower spine in this position.
Fully extend the knees and dorsiflex the ankles as much as possible – general limits here are thought to be 30 degrees but most people have much, much less than that. Generally here in a squatting position I look for the ability of the knee to travel forward properly and therefore dorsiflex the ankle. Can you squat low? Or does your person have longer legs relative to their torso? Are they recovering from a knee issue that might be contraindicated to full knee extension (like a meniscus injury?).
There can be many restrictions in this area and it also has the highest risk of issue due to the excessive load people will put on their knees in order to force themselves into a straight legged position. The restriction might also come from hamstrings, calves or somewhere else, not even the ankle.
So here’s my question: Can or should you do all of these things and hold them for time? No? Maybe this movement isn’t for you.
What people need to realize is that even though it is relaxation based and supposedly “stretching”, yoga is still force on joints. Sometimes a lot of it. Another common flaw of the downward dog is that people will generally run away from weakness. This means that if they are weaker in the shoulders and have trouble there they will dump more load into their lower body in this position. If they are weaker in the lower half they may dump more load into their upper body. I have seen this often in classes. And it can cause a serious problem if suddenly the load shifts by 20-30% into the wrong area suddenly due to a weakness somewhere else. However, due to the nature of the position there isn’t any way to get out of it. Except for compromising by say, lifting your heels or bending the knees or even elbows to put load elsewhere.
So what are some good modifications? Well, like in any other loaded position if you can take the load off a bit, then the person can attempt the range of motion without the excessive joint force. For example, a person with good shoulder mobility but poor posterior chain range and pelvic movement might want to perform a simple hip hinge with their shoulders extended and brace their upper body against something. Prenatal classes often recommend this.
Another option might be to intentionally elevate the heels and bend the knees as I expressed earlier. You can also bend only one knee or alternate sides. For less force on the arms and shoulders, lower the body and rest the forearms on the ground. These are all modifications that can easily be suggested in a class but often aren’t. During a busy class most instructors just don’t have the chance to go around and suggest individual modifications to people.
Or here’s a thought – don’t do it. There are ways to work up to this movement, just like any other yoga movements but so many people make the mistake of jumping in and following along, and then wonder why they are sore the next day and never want to go back.
The good news is that with my modifications to her positions and telling her to skip downward dogs my client successfully navigated two yoga classes and has been able to get back in touch with something she previously enjoyed but couldn’t do.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of yoga. I’m a fan of anything that keeps people moving, enjoying loaded positions to develop strength and will over time develop additional range of motion. I’m also a big fan of the relaxation side of the practice and allowing people to be in a parasympathetic state, even if it is only for five minutes at the end of class in savasana. It’s something most people should do a lot more of. The reason I’m writing this is to make sure that if you are about to jump back into yoga because you think it is a good way to ease into exercise again – it might not be depending on the class.
As always, if you have comments feel free to comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck with your future practices!