Friday, April 26, 2013

Choose to be "Present"

Michelle and I are chronic multi-taskers! No doubt about it. We've been career-bred to maximize this talent and take pride in it. And, if the national craze of texting-and-drinking-coffee-and-applying-makeup-and-driving is any indicator, we're in pretty good company. But there is a time and place for everything.

Why would you want to be anywhere else?
On our recent vacation, we stayed at a resort that had no television, no phones, no internet, and not even a clock in the room. The views were spectacular in every direction, and every member of the staff worked to make the smallest detail part of the experience. Yet, every night at dinner, we would see other couples with one or both checking in on their cell phones and tablets. It got us talking.

First of all, don't think I am missing the irony of discussing the importance of "unplugging" on a social media forum. But, again, there's a time and place for everything, and I'm certain you've set aside a special time in your day to enjoy our posts. But I digress...

As with most things in our life, our conversation turned to how what we were seeing related to training and a healthy lifestyle. As I said, we haven't exactly been conditioned to sit still. So where did it come from?

You can't "phone in" a deadlift

One of the great things about an intense training session is that your world gets very small. You are laser-focused on the next rep, the next set, what your body is telling you, and how you need to adjust. You are "there". And, afterward, that centered feeling remains. I am better able to focus on an individual task at work, without the need to keep my fingers in all the little tasks I could be working on.

And let me say this to my fellow gym patrons: If you can text during your leg press set or while on the stationary bike, you're not working hard enough.

It's not just being at the gym, but also the ritual of going. We make time for our training because it is important to us both and we stick to it. That time is ours; distractions are not invited. In fact, when the outside does creep in (my phone is also my music player), it completely ruins my focus and puts me out of sorts for the rest of the session.

Where are you going with this, Mike?

It comes down to this: make time and space in your life for things that are important to you and give those things your total attention when you're there. Whether it is family time, training time, or work time, you will get so much more out of those moments if you're not glancing at your blackberry, checking MyFace, or half-listening to the television.

The fact is, NOW is the only time that you can truly influence. But only if you're present to do it. Our vacation was - well - perfect. And it was all because we were both able to be fully in each moment as it came.

Finding your focus

Here are a few things you can try to build the habit of "presence."

  • Try an affirmation: it sounds corny, but my company launched a campaign a couple years back titled "be here now." I didn't exactly embrace it at the time, but, even so, I caught myself speaking the words when I was checking my blackberry in meetings or at lunch.

  • Schedule your time (realistically): blocking out time physically on a calendar like an appointment, communicating that you're unavailable, and sticking to it frees your mind up to focus on the task at hand. As for being realistic, make sure you've got time to achieve what you want in the time you've given yourself. Running over can really ruin your mojo.

  • Clear your plate: prior to that scheduled time, take care of as much as you can so that's not weighing on your mind.

  • De-clutter your environment: in order to be present, be deliberate about removing potential distractions from your surroundings. Turn off the TV, silence the cell phone, get a sitter - whatever you need.

  • Give yourself permission to be "selfish": for me, a lot of my desire to multitask comes from a need to please others in my life. I'm reluctant to turn my attention from them to apply myself to my own priorities. This is a trap. Nobody would ask you to do this to yourself. And if they would, educate them.

Reasons not to multitask

  • Injury: just like texting and driving is irrefutably tied to increased accidents, being unfocused in the gym can dramatically increase your risk of getting hurt.

  • Frustration: distractions can take away your ability to progress. You can miss out on an opportunity to celebrate a success, even a small one. For us, those opportunities are a huge motivator to go back to the gym.

Here's the deal: give your priorities the undivided attention they deserve and the rewards will come. And, just like any other skill, building it in one part of your life can translate to others. When it comes to that dream vacation (which you happen to look great for), you'll be glad you did.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What to do when you hit "Day 3"

Confession time: my wife and I love home improvement shows, especially those where the DIYer gets in over their head. I know it's a little schadenfreude, but, hey, everyone has their vice.

The thing about these shows is that they always have the same progression:

  • Day 1: A good (for them) breakfast and hopes are high as they eagerly get an early start into a new frontier of household bliss.

  • Day 2: It's a little harder to get up. Things didn't go as far on day 1 as they had hoped, but they're determined to make up for lost time.

  • Day 3: They're sore, tired, defeated. They realize that they didn't have the knowledge, tools, and expertise to accomplish what they wanted. The plan wasn't realistic. Tempers flare.

Sound familiar? The simple fact of the matter is, no matter how long you've been at it, we all hit "Day 3".

Situational Leadership models describe this as the "frustrated learner" stage of employee development. It's a make-or-break point for people. Either you find a way to get them over the hump, or there's a good chance they're gone.

But how does this apply to our fitness and health transformation goals? You're the leader AND the employee. You're the frustrated homeowner looking at the hole in the side of your house where you had hoped those sliding glass doors would be. You have to push yourself over the hump.

The first step, of course, is to recognize that you're in a motivational hole. Understand, too, that it happens to everybody at one point or another. You're in good company. What separates the transformers (heh - I would SO be Optimus Prime!) from those that settle back into their old ways is the determination to push past this wall.

Evaluate, Educate, and Energize

Once you've recognized that you're facing "Day 3", stop and make some time to evaluate your goals and your plan to achieve them.

  • Are they realistic for the time you've given yourself?

  • Are they specific enough for you to have chosen a course of action?

  • Is your action plan truly oriented toward achieving the results? In weight loss, "exercise more, eat less" is particularly unhelpful.

  • Do you have the tools, knowledge, and expertise to realize the gains you want?

  • What have you already tried that didn't yield the results you were seeking?  If nothing changes, then nothing changes.

I'm going to suggest you actually write these questions down and answer them in essay form. Go ahead - I'll wait...

Done yet? Good. Moving on.

Get Educated
Why is it, when we see a puddle spreading across the floor from our utility room, we think immediately, "crap, better call the plumber"? We don't wander out into the street and take whatever advice gets thrown at us? We know we're in over our heads and we need an expert. But, when it comes to our bodies, we are more willing to either assume we know what needs to be done or listen to every single random tidbit we've ever heard in passing? You know the one's I'm talking about: lemon water and cinnamon to lose weight. Squeezing your glutes while you're watching TV or at the office. Silly, right? Yet, we're so ready for some magic cure, that we'll try just about anything.

Some of us are adventurous enough to pull up the schematics, grab a pipe wrench, and take on the jobs ourselves. Through research from quality sources, a phone call or two, and a pile of towels, we can achieve what we set out to do. It's messy and probably takes longer than a professional plumber would, but we did it. There's pride in that.

You need to get smart about your goals and the tools available. And that means opening yourself to new ideas and outside expertise. One of my favorite quotes, attributed frequently to Mark Twain, goes: "It's not what you don't know; it's what you know that ain't so that gets you." Nutrition and fitness are areas that are replete with mythology and misinformation. Odds are pretty good that you've absorbed some of that conventional wisdom into your own beliefs. We did too. Sometimes you have to unlearn a few things in order to gain new wisdom.

The key here is to seek information from those that produce the results you are looking for. If your goals are physique-based, then who better than those who manage their weight, strength, and diet for a living? The blogosphere and internet in general are littered with resources of varying quality. You can load up your toolkit pretty quickly if you develop a skeptical eye for a reputable source.

Reading will only get you 80% of the way there. There is no substitute for practical experience. Learn as much as you can for yourself, and then get a coach or a training partner with the kind of experience you need. This is that part in the DIY disaster show, where the homeowner finally breaks down and calls "Uncle Roy" the electrician to stop the smoking in the bathtub. And so should you.

Call Uncle Roy!

Get Energized
Okay, so you've taken stock of your plan and reevaluated it. You've taken the time to build your tools and resources. But you still need that spark. The situational leadership models tell us that the appropriate style for the frustrated learner is "selling." How do you sell yourself on something? Here's a few ideas:

  • Treat yourself with new gear, whether for the gym or for the kitchen. A great pair of shoes, a really great knife and cutting board: whatever gets your heart racing.

  • Get a partner (or a thousand). With today's technology, there are great opportunities for you to engage with people that have the same goals as you. We belong to Fitocracy and we are members and moderators of the Google + Fitness and Nutrition community. You can never have too many friends!

  • Start a journal. Heck, you're reading ours. It works wonders!

  • Give yourself some d@mned credit! You started this journey. You have everything you need. You have been successful in countless ways throughout your life. You will in this too. If you let yourself.

"Day 3" will come again

We all have ups and downs. We all have points where motivation fades or the world knocks us on our kiesters. Dealing with "day 3" isn't a one-time deal. Accept that and be ready for it the next time it rears its ugly head. Over time, with every victory, they will become more and more rare. Hang in there! You're worth it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why we Train: Possibilities!

Today's post is just a short one.  It's a post about the art of the possible.  Nine months ago, Michelle and I were completely out of shape and feeling our age.  Today, we took a trapeze class at Twin Cities Trapeze after seeing it featured on the local morning news.  It was, in a word, amazing!  We were swinging around like two eight year olds on the playground.

The crazy thing is, when you feel strong and healthy, you get up to things.  And every new thing you try is a step to something else new.  You don't have to jump out of an airplane or spend thousands of dollars.  There is adventure all around you.  You only have to go out there and get it.

So, enjoy the video and let us know what it inspires in you.  The sky's the limit.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Finding Your Fire - Motivation, Passion, and Commitment

Inertia is a property of matter which resists change.  While it may not be physics, we each have our own sources of inertia.  Taking the first step to changing any course in our lives is often the most difficult.  And our health and fitness journeys seem to be especially prickly.

I tend to break a problem down into pieces when I'm trying to really understand it.  On this subject, I see motivation, passion, and commitment as the three distinct but related pieces that hold the key. We asked a number of our friends to share their perspectives on how each played a role in their own health journey.


Our informal poll showed that, for most, motivation comes earliest and easiest. To me, motivation are those things that come from external sources. In many cases for us 40-somethings, the motivation comes from being diagnosed with an illness or health conditions that are out of control, but certainly there are more positive sources as well.  Many people cite wanting to be there for their children and grandchildren, for example.

Many people focus on the aesthetic side of being healthy first. Being seen as attractive by friends, coworkers, and loved ones (and therefore seeing yourself as attractive) is a powerful motivator. For us, our external motivation comes from all the things we have yet to accomplish in our lives: travel, adventure, new possibilities. Michelle has always wanted to ride a camel around the Pyramids. We both want to climb the walls of Dubrovnik. This weekend, we are taking a trapeze class. We know we need to be strong and healthy to make those things happen, so we train.

The downside of motivation (as we are defining it here) is that, to sustain it, we require validation from those external sources.  If we don't get it when we expect it (even if we haven't told others that we do), motivation fades.  In many cases, it can even turn to resentment, sabotaging your original intent.


Passion seems to develop more over time. In contrast to external motivation, passion is an internal drive.  You own the feelings and the desire to accomplish your goals.   The interesting thing about passion is that everybody exhibits it in some form in their lives, but we often have a difficult time translating those behaviors into new paths.

We read a post from another trainer who had two clients: one in great shape but who was flat broke, and another who was hugely successful financially, but couldn't get a handle on her fitness goals.  Success in both disciplines required exactly the same behaviors and attitudes, but each found it difficult to see the commonalities between success (and failure).

Passion, when properly channeled and supported with the right information and support, will open almost any door. As career military, we were never passionate about our weight or physical training; we did it because we had to or be barred from promotion and other opportunities. Now that I feel strong and capable, I never want to lose that feeling. You'd have to drag me physically - kicking and screaming - away from my training and nutrition plan.


No matter where your fire comes from, when it comes down to brass tacks, you have to execute your plan.  In our insanely busy modern life, this seems like an almost insurmountable task.  Who has time to add another commitment to our plates?

Here's how I see it:  Commitment occurs when you put your priorities in front of your obligations.  Most of the things that strain our daily schedules to the breaking point are obligations - things that we feel like we should be doing, either because of social pressure (keeping up with the Jones'), or because we have put an expectation on ourselves to be "all things to all people".

The ugly word here is "should". If you catch yourself using the word, stop and ask yourself, "Am I saying that because it is a priority for me, or is it something I feel obligated to do?" If it is a priority, then maybe "should" isn't good enough. If it's an obligation you're facing, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate that aspect of your life.

A renowned writer for corporate success, ..., once said, "if you have more than three priorities, you don't have any." Now there's a show-stopper for ya. How many of us in our smart-phone-enabled, social-media-overridden world could offer such a short list?

Making it work for you

Find what things motivate you and write them down. Keep them in a place you can refer to often. If you're after aesthetics, take a "before" picture. Think about how those items can be validated. Can you do it yourself through measurement? Do you need support and recognition from someone else? If so, make a plan to explain what your goals are and how they can help.

Understand that passion takes time. Seek to master every aspect of your training and nutrition. Read voraciously, seek advice, learn the core principles that will lead to success. I mean, isn't that what you did in other aspects of your life?

Once you own the knowledge, you will feel more in control of your own destiny, and passion will have the opportunity to take root. As long as you passively allow others to dictate what you should and shouldn't do, passion will be harder to come by.

Examine your priorities and obligations. Where does being healthy fall on that list? What could you do to move it higher? To me, in the long term, no matter what else you want to accomplish, you'll have to be healthy to do it. If those commitments are keeping you from investing in your body and your health, then maybe some need to change. If you're not ready to commit - be honest with yourself. There is no point in setting yourself up for failure with expectations that lack commitment. Throughout my thirties, I would try at times to re-ignite a commitment to fitness. But, I didn't realize how much control I had to make room in my life. I spent all my energy trying to be the perfect dad, perfect boss, and greatest friend to others. But the truth is, I was giving only a fraction of my energy to all of those endeavors and, since I wasn't caring for myself, even that was dissipated.

If this sounds like a page out of your story, resolve to work to remove some of those commitments from your list over the course of the next year (be specific about what you will do and how long it will take). That will allow you to really invest in yourself.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to have "The Talk"

Even if it is with yourself.

Not everyone at 40+ HQ is embracing a healthy lifestyle.
We were part of a round-table discussion recently with health and fitness colleagues in the Google Plus Fitness and Nutrition Community. Personal trainer +Stephen Hoyles  observed: if you had a friend that was sick, you'd offer up all kinds of advice, from home remedies to seeking medical treatment. How come we don't approach weight the same way?

The answer is simple: it's complicated. First of all, the current mindset is such that the base assumption about someone with a weight issue is they are either lazy, habitually overeats, or both. The idea that someone might be metabolically sick doesn't normally come to mind. Second, body image and food habits are deeply personal territory. They are wrapped up in a lifetime of programming and coping mechanisms. It's complicated.

The fact of the matter is, sometimes, we just have to get out of our own way.

Fixing your assumptions

If you're going to reach out to somebody important to you about their weight and health, you owe it to yourself (and them) to get your facts straight. This will help you come from a place that is helpful and supportive, rather than condemning poor choices.

Most weight issues are not rooted in gross overeating. The majority of the current obesity issue in America and other western nations is due to the poor quality of food consumed. Highly processed "convenience" food products are designed based on cost and longevity. They rely heavily on highly refined ingredients that will last on a shelf and not spoil. These ingredients are of minimal nutritional value and many are actually designed to build cravings rather than satisfy.

Obesity is often an outcome of internal health problems, rather than the root cause. Our metabolism, the energy regulation machine, is managed by hormone secretions. Some, like adrenaline and testosterone, signal our body to release energy. Others, principally insulin, signal the body to conserve energy and store it as fat. Chronically elevated insulin levels, even at moderate caloric intake, will lead to weight gain.

The conditions which lead to obesity worsen as we get heavier. This is a vicious cycle, and weight gain is only an early link in the chain. As these conditions continue, we are at major risk for diabetes, heart disease, gout, Alzheimer's, arthritis, and possibly even more likely to get certain cancers. Fixing the problems that led to the weight gain (and therefore losing weight too) is the ONLY way to break the cycle.

Breaking the ice

Choosing the right moment to step into a conversation about weight loss is tough. At the end of the day, there probably isn't a right time. Which should be a relief, since that means there isn't really a wrong time either. Start by expressing how much you care about the person and how much you want to see them happy and healthy. With that, jump in. There's no point in beating around the bush. You're more likely to offend someone if you make them play guessing games.

Appeal to their needs and desires

If there was ever an opportunity to have 'the talk', it is at the moment when your loved one is expressing desire (or frustration) about something they want. We had family that missed our wedding because they simply aren't healthy enough to travel. If you're not so fortunate to have such an easy opening, bring it up yourself. If you know they have a "bucket list", use it to point out how the experience would be better (or possible at all) if they were healthier and stronger. If you don't have such an experience handy, ask! Think about something like this:

"So tell me, what would you do if you had your perfect body? Climb a mountain? Wear a fashion you never thought you could pull off?" We ALL have body image issues and things we feel like we are just too weak, old, or self-conscious to try.

If at first you don't suceed...

I said it was complicated, didn't I? The odds are pretty good that you're not going to hit a home run on your first at bat. You're going to have to (gently) let them know that you're not going away. Because you love them. Because they are worth it. Because they deserve to be healthy. Kill them with kindness.

You're on the hook - don't forget it!

If you're successful in motivating your loved one to make a change, you have become an official wing man in their journey. Do not take that responsibility lightly. Here's a checklist (I like checklists) of things you can do to support their transformation:

  • Lead by example. Don't be "that friend" that brings cake and cookies to the lunch table while they are eating healthy. Find recipes and share them. Cook healthy meals when they visit; bring healthy dishes when you visit.

  • Be supportive, but not an enabler. If they are discouraged or having a difficult time with the changes they're making, be a listening ear and be patient with them. But DON'T let them off the hook for giving up on their nutrition or training.

  • Recognize and validate small victories. Make a point of noticing progress - any progress - in their journey. Go to the point of complimenting the food they have prepared.

  • Continue the conversation. Be proactive and ask how things are going.

  • And, heaven forbid, become a training partner.

So - yes - it's complicated. And you're involved from the moment you speak up. But the person on the receiving end of this message (especially if it is yourself) is worth it. You're worth it. In the end, the consequences of being "politely silent" are something you will both regret later on.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How to Spot a Weight Loss Scam

As a moderator of the +Fitness and Nutrition community on Google+, I happily promote sharing ideas and discovering new information from around the world. But every day I see at least a few really kooky ideas put out there (which are promptly banned). The diet and fitness industry makes billions of dollars a year, and an awful lot of it is pure junk. You sink good money and faith into a program and, six weeks later, you're discouraged and frustrated. Whether it is a diet plan, a weight loss supplement, or the latest fitness craze, learn to spot the pretenders and steer clear.

Buzz words

Buzz words are particularly rampant in the female-oriented fitness industry, but can be found anywhere. Be especially wary if you see claims like:
You think Barishnykov started with this?

  • Toned

  • Long and lean muscles

  • Sculpted

  • Firmed

In these cases, run - don't walk - in the other direction. These terms are in themselves mythological. And the results will be too.

Targeted fat loss

I especially like the "life-like" spokesmodels

Anything that promises to "burn belly fat" or any other region for that matter is selling you a bill of goods. Your body will release fat reserves from wherever it pleases and nothing you can do will influence that one bit.

This includes so-called "flat belly foods" that will melt your stubborn fat away. Now we love food, and in our Mastering your Macronutrients series, we outline how to determine which choices are better than others. But if a blueberry, avocado, or some green tea really made a difference, don't you think everybody would be skinny as a rail?

"Sweat-based" or "thermic" devices

The tummy-slimming sweat belt - it's a girdle, people.

I'm almost reluctant to bring this up, because I don't want to insult any readers by implying they wouldn't already know better. There are these neoprene girdles and battery-powered devices that promise to "melt" belly fat through sweating. I lived in South Texas for a decade and I can report that I NEVER witnessed any of those bellies melting away in 105 degree heat. Sweat does not relate to fat loss whatsoever.

They promise you results

Honestly - what are you training for with this?
Any program that isn't custom designed for the individual (which means revised significantly over time) can't keep the promise of results. Everybody is different and cookie-cutter programs will work differently for everyone. Besides, most of those "promises" are artfully couched with small-print disclaimers or "as part of a healthy exercise and diet regimen". If you already have a healthy exercise and diet regimen, what exactly is their product doing?

They DON'T promise you results

This may sound counter-intuitive, given my last statement, but hear me out. A good program should be able to make specific claims, without the buzzwords and without the cure-all claims. By that I mean that it should be able to tell you what parts of your body it will impact and how.

You can't tell how it works

Skechers - 'nuff sed.
Body recomposition is about creating adaptation in your systems. If you can't understand exactly what adaptation the program will be creating, whether by being intentionally vague or simply over-promising, it probably will be of questionable benefit when it comes to calculating the results.

You have to subscribe to their product line

This one is a twofer! Team Beach Body and useless workouts.

Every single thing you need to be healthy and strong is on your grocery store shelves and in your local gym. Any product that requires continued and sustained purchase of their proprietary product lines is trying to get an exclusive line to your wallet, which is the only place you'll lose weight. This includes, but is not limited to, the host of multi-level marketers out there, a-la Shakeology and Herbalife.


As if it weren't bad enough that someone would require you to buy a membership to care for your own body, many vendors and product lines aren't satisfied with your initial purchase. They want you to get into "boosters" and "turbo-chargers" and other such rocketry to "jump start your fat loss." This is simply the height of predatory business practices.

Anything that doesn't include a nutrition and training component

The bottom line is that there is no substitute, shortcut or magic bullet. The keys to building your best healthy body aren't hard, but they are hard work. There's no way around it. Any discipline you want to master requires dedication and commitment, be it a career, musical ability, or any other skill. Your body is no different.  If you make your health a priority and get on a reputable, proven plan that matches your goals, you will succeed.