Contingency Plans: ITTT

Let’s face it, our plans for the near future are out the window. In many states (and countries) people are finding themselves restricted to their homes and away from normal activities. This confinement or isolation, whether self-imposed or otherwise, can play havoc on our mental and physical wellbeing. We are now in new territory. How can we manage our behaviors and stay healthy?

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Start With Journaling.

In order to manage what we do, we need know what it is that we’re doing. Patterns are going to start to emerge and writing down what you do will help you decipher the good from the not so good. Set an alarm on your watch, your phone, Alexa, or other device to go off every hour. Stop what you’re doing and just note what you did in the last hour. i.e. 9-10am watched TV for 45 minutes, got up, made a cup of coffee and grabbed a danish, sat back down and continued watching TV. After a couple days of journaling, you will start to see the patterns, like grabbing that danish with your coffee each morning. Then, with it laid out in front of you, you can start to determine what needs to change. Make a list of those changes.

ITTT: If This, Then That

Take that list and come up with contingency plans. If this, then that (ITTT). Write down those plans.

Say that you know that danish is going to catch up to you and pack on a few pounds. ITTT, “If I get up for your coffee, then I will have a piece of fruit instead of the danish.

Maybe you realize that you’re sitting too much. ITTT, “If I sit for an hour, then I will go outside and walk around the house for 10 minutes before I sit down again.”

What if you find yourself feeling very anxious and fearful about what’s going on in the world. ITTT, “If I find myself thinking about COVI-19 and am fearful for myself and others, then I will take five minutes and meditate, focusing only on my breath. (Try the Headspace app)

You could also find yourself feeling very isolated these days. ITTT, “If I don’t talk to anybody outside of my household by the time I finish dinner, then I will call or face time one of my friends before I do anything else.” After all, social connection is very important to our mental health.

The use of ITTT is very much like stacking habits, but, hopefully you’re managing these behaviors before they actually become habits.

I hope this helps. It’s a new and stressful time for everyone and you’re not alone.

Stay safe. Stay healthy.

What if Starting a Fitness Program Was Easy?

Getting started always seems to be the hardest part. Once you’re going, it’s not as difficult to keep going. What if I told you that starting doesn’t have to be so hard? What if it was actually easy? The fact is, it can be.

What makes starting such a challenge? There are a number of things that can make it seem that way. Here are some of those:

  • You can’t find the time to exercise
  • You don’t have enough energy
  • You’re not motivated
  • Your body hurts and you don’t want it to hurt more
  • You’re not sure what to do
  • You’re where to do it
  • You can’t afford to do it

Untitled design (79)and here is the reality:

  • Time – You can literally start with just a few minutes
  • Energy – Starting with minimal time and effort doesn’t require much energy and, as you increase the time and effort, so will the amount of energy you have
  • Motivation – If you didn’t have at least a little motivation, you wouldn’t even be considering exercising and you only need a little if you are starting small.
  • Body discomfort – Moving more, even if it’s only a little more, decreases our sense of pain.
  • Unsure what to do – This is where consulting with a professional is important. Generic programs can be found online, but they will never be perfect for you.
  • Where – You can start right in your living room, your backyard, a park, or wherever you like, equipment is not necessary.
  • Affording it – The only real expense is hiring a professional to get you set up (and possibly to update your program periodically). This is an investment in your future and isn’t it worth getting it right rather than wasting your time and running the risk of hurting yourself with programs that aren’t going to get you where you want to go? BTW, this can also be more affordable than you may think.

So, knowing this, what’s holding you back from getting started?

Strength for a Lifetime… The Book

I’m starting to write my second book. My first was one for fitness professionals, The Business of Personal Training and teaching personal trainers about how to build their business is a passion of mine. However, this next book is for the individual that needs help getting started in a strength program, progressing with it, and continuing with it for a lifetime.

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The challenge for many people is that most books for the beginner explain how it all works and supplies the reader with exercises/workouts to do. It’s all very generic and not very individualized. What I hope to accomplish with my book is to explain the importance and basic concepts (as most books do) and then teach the reader how to structure, modify, progress, and grow their own workouts as they need. I want to empower the reader to take charge of physical capabilities, to live long, strong, active and independent lives.

As I map out the content, I’d love to hear about what frustrates you most about getting into shape and what the greatest physical challenges are for you. Please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

Helping Yourself Change With Motivational Interviewing

I’ve been doing a deep dive in the area of motivational interviewing (MI). While I was trained as a wellness coach over 15 years ago, the techniques of MI add another layer to my ability to help people change. In fact, I’ll be presenting the topic to other personal trainers at a conference in March on how they can use it to help their clients. I also believe that if you learn the concepts of MI, it can help you create your own change. Here are a few basics of MI to assist you in making changes in your life.

Ambivalence

Let me start by saying that MI is a tool in overcoming ambivalence, or the uncertainty when being pulled in two different directions. This is seen when there is a desire to change and a desire to not change. We’ve all experienced this. I would like to spend more time writing and I want to binge watch my latest Netflix series (which happens to be the 2nd season of the new Lost In Space). Both desires are there in me. I am ambivalent about changing. So, when we find ourselves ambivalent about changing, what can we do?

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Change Talk and Sustain Talk

In MI, the practitioner listens to his or her client talk about what they would like to do. The practitioner is listening for change talk (talk expressing why change is important) and sustain talk (talk that supports them not changing). The practitioner acknowledges the sustain talk to the client when it is heard and when he or she hears change talk, they will likely ask you to get into more in depth with it. In example, if you say, “I know I should be exercising (change talk), but I don’t have any time (sustain talk).” The practitioner might reply, “Time is tight. You don’t seem to be able to fit anything else in (acknowledging sustain talk) and (not but, they are are not mutually exclusive) you know you should be working out (acknowledging change talk). Tell me more about why working out is important to you.” (asking you to dig deeper into change talk) 

Dig Deeper Into Change Talk

Talking about your reasons to change in greater depth accomplishes a couple of things.

  1. It helps you discover or bring to light more reasons why the change is important to you. Say you wanted to lose weight and were asked to say a little more about why losing weight was important to you. Maybe your doctor said that your blood pressure was high and that losing weight could help lower it. Maybe you want to stay healthy so you can be an active father or mother for your kids.
  2. As you articulate more reasons why change is important, you strengthen your resolve to change.

You Can Accomplish Big Things When You Set Your Mind to It

Is changing too difficult? That thought pops into all of our minds at some point. “I can’t. It’s just too hard!” Of course, as the saying goes, “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” – Henry Ford. To help you have more confidence in your ability to change, explore past times that you have accomplished something challenging. As you find situations that you were able to overcome, it helps you recognize that the traits that you had for those challenges can help you with upcoming ones.

Nobody Knows You Better

There are experts in the world that know more than most about a particular subject. They will tell us that we should be doing this or that we shouldn’t be doing that. I have been a personal trainer for 40 years and have never stopped learning. So, my knowledge of exercise prescription is very good. However, no matter how well equipped I am to dictate what behaviors can create change for Joe or Jane Average, I am not an expert on you (nor is anyone else). Only you are. I don’t know your full history, or what really drives you, or your internal battles, or what ultimately is the best path for you. MI practitioners are facilitators, getting you to explore your own feelings, reasons for change, and strategies to make that change happen. If you find yourself without the answers, MI practitioners can help you fill in the gaps.

Action Plan

Knowing yourself as you do, decide what the next step should be. Create an action plan. Start with, “Tomorrow (or other set date), I will…” (Remember, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”- Yoda) That doesn’t mean you can’t fail. However, if a strategy doesn’t work, simply modify it and start again.

Implement It

Now, let’s discuss how you can implement this for yourself. A large part of MI is that the act of hearing yourself, your words, talking about why change is important, that you have the traits that can help you overcome challenges, and your action plan for that change, creates a greater willingness and confidence in sticking to that plan and reaching your goal. Since you won’t be with a MI practitioner, how can you “hear” yourself? Find a recording medium of your choice, video, audio, record it by typing it into a document, or write it by hand in a journal. Then go through the process of:

  • Talk about what you want to change or accomplish
  • Note your sustain talk and your change talk
  • Dig deeper into the change talk. Ask yourself more about what reaching your goal might mean, how your life might be different
  • Talk about times you’ve overcome obstacles and what traits allowed you to do that
  • List some strategies that you could implement that would help you on your way
  • Give a specific time when you will begin
  • Reassess weekly. Repeat any steps needed and record what went well, what did not, what alterations to the plan are needed, and reaffirm what changing will mean to you

Give It a Shot

and let me know how it goes. Best wishes, Mark

 

Disclaimer to MI Practitioners:

In being a very brief, static, one-sided blog post to a general population of which I know no specifics, I have broken many of the rules of MI. Please allow me a little leeway. I am writing about this in an attempt to empower the reader to make their own path for change.

Time to Make New Year Resolutions?

Are you thinking about making resolutions for 2020? According to History.com, the practice of making new year resolutions has been around for thousands of years and what we now call resolutions used to be promises made to the gods to behave better in the upcoming year. Resolutions are now made to ourselves in an effort to better ourselves and/or our lives. While 45 percent of Americans make resolutions, only 8 percent are actually successful. If we’re so bad at keeping them, why do we keep on making them?

Untitled design (66)Well, there’s something very attractive about new beginnings. So, a new year, a new month, a new day seems like an ideal time start something new. I personally believe that so many people fail because they’re making this resolution for the year, “this year I will…”, and have given themselves a year to accomplish it and therefore make the goal a big one. That, in itself, is not the problem. A year is actually a good amount of time to make some real changes, but, people don’t create a gradual plan for the year. They create a crash course that they intend on keeping until they reach their goal. “I will run 5 miles every day.” “I’ll only eat salads.” “I will meditate for an hour every day.” Starting from square one, each of these are too severe to expect to be able to maintain them. They end up falling off the wagon and, feeling defeated, give up never having reached their goal. The best way to reach your goal is to start with a small behavior to change, one small step forward. Then, as your body and your mind are ready for it, you can progress to something more challenging. Running 5 miles might begin as walking a half mile every other day. See how it feels after the first week and maybe add a day or progress to a half mile walk/run.

If you want to achieve your resolution, create a progression. Rather than trying to take one giant leap, start with a small step. The idea of committing to smaller steps is easier on us physically, mentally, and takes less time to chisel out of our schedule. Once the first small step is taken, a second one can happen, then a third. Sustainable change is the accumulation of small progressive steps.

As the saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu

The Secret Nobody is Telling You

There’s something out there that nobody is telling you. It’s the secret to living a healthier, more active, more productive life. It can completely change your body, it can give you more energy, make you disease resistant, help your brain to function better, turn back the clock and keep you younger longer. Sounds great, right? Well, I’m going to share that secret with you and it won’t cost you a thing.

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Move more and eat a balanced diet!

I know you’re saying, “Wait? What? That’s not a secret.” Darn right, and there is no secret. Don’t you think that if there really was a secret formula, workout, miracle food, or cream, we would all know about it by now. It just does’t exist. Sure you can probably workout more effectively and eat healthier, but there is no miraculous product or potion being kept from you. 

Why is it that people keep looking for that magic pill or shortcut then? Well, we live in a world where we can get so much instantly (so, it becomes an expectation) and there are so many salespeople out there promising us that they have the secret formula that we think they can’t all be lying (without calling them liars, they are, at least, misleaders). Finally, people want desperately to believe there is a quicker, easier way and (sorry to say) there just isn’t.

Don’t be sucked into the hype of mystery and the dream of a shortcut. If you want to reach your goal sooner, start and commit to the journey sooner. This requires an attitude adjustment. 

You need to give yourself permission to:

  • not reach your goal overnight.
  • take baby steps so that you won’t be overwhelmed.
  • fail and fail again. Just recognize what went wrong, adjust and keep coming back.
  • stay the course and not get pulled away by “the grass is always greener” of new product or diet.

Don’t wait around for the next big thing. Get started now using the tried and true. It may not be exciting but, ultimately reaching your goal will be.

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” – Beverly Sills

Can I Work Out at Home?

When you decide it’s time to start a fitness program, one of the first decisions is where you’re going to work out. Should you go to a gym/health club or should you simply work out at home? There are some great reasons for working out at home that include:

  • Privacy – nobody watching or bothering you.
  • No travel time – less time added to the workout means it fits more easily into your schedule.
  • Cleaner and less germs – Some gyms are not on top of their cleaning which may gross you out or at least turn you off. In fact, it’s one of the biggest reasons women quit clubs. At your own home it’s as clean as you want it to be and if there are germs around, at least they are your own.
  • Always open – You can workout when you like 24/7/365
  • No gym membership expense – sometimes the price of health clubs can be difficult to swing.
  • You can wear whatever you want (or nothing at all). It’s nobody’s business but your own.

Home gym equipment

Having listed some of the potential benefits of working out in your own home, there are some downsides too. Many people that have the good intention of working out at home, run into some stumbling blocks. Here are a few of them and some suggestions as to how to work around them:

  • Home gym equipment is often made poorly, may not work well, and can break easily (especially machines).  This can leave you unmotivated to continue. *Either spend the money and get better quality equipment or use very simple equipment (tubing and dumbbells can work great).
  • Since your gym is always there, you think you’ll get around to it but rarely do. *Create a schedule that you will stick to.
  • You can be easily interrupted. I know I said no distractions, but maybe you have kids, pets, or a phone that keeps ringing. *Once you set a schedule, make sure everyone knows that’s your time. Close the door and turn the phone off.
  • It can be tough to motivate yourself on your own. *Once you set a schedule for yourself, track of the days that you work out. Then, set up little goals and rewards for yourself. i.e. if you get your workouts in for two weeks, you get to have a massage.
  • Even if you have equipment, most people don’t really know what they should be doing for a workout. Sure, you can do an exercise video or stream a workout, but it’s not really tailored to your individual needs. *Hire a certified personal trainer to create a workout that meets your specific needs. Then, bring them back every few weeks for progressions and variety in your program (as well as double checking your form).

Going to a gym or health club works for a lot of people, but if that’s not where you feel comfortable, no worries. Working out at home may be a great option for you. In the end, it doesn’t matter where you work out as long as you do work out.

 

There Are Good Reasons for NOT Changing

Most people understand that they should exercise. They know that they would be healthier if they did. They also know that if they could make healthier food choices and manage their stress. So, why don’t they?

Well there are plenty of reasons for not working out, changing your diet, or trying to combat stress. The explanations typically start with, “I know I should ________, but…” These “buts” are actually “ands”. You may think that they are mutually exclusive, but, they’re not. “I know I need to start exercising and I am too busy to go to the gym.” Both can be true.

Untitled design (49)Let’s look at some real reasons for not changing:

  • Making time to workout will be hard.
  • My body aches and I don’t feel like working out.
  • I’m tired all of the time and I don’t feel like working out.
  • When I get stressed or depressed, eating comforts me.
  • Eating is one of my pleasures in life and I don’t want to give that up.
  • I don’t like the taste of “healthy” food.
  • Meditation is too weird for me.
  • It’s easier to just keep doing what I’m doing.

All of these things could be true and they cannot just be ignored for “the better good”. These are also strong anchors keeping us moving forward with change. To get beyond these and begin the change process, address your reasons for not changing. In example, say your body aches and you don’t feel like working out. Start by asking yourself how you could make your body hurt less. Maybe it’s by warming your body up through a short series of mobility or stretching movements. Try it. Don’t worry about working out yet. Simply try to lessen the hold that the aching has on you. Another example might be not liking the taste of “healthy” food. Start by looking at what you do eat and like. Surely something there is healthy. You can eat more of the healthy food that you are already eating. Then take a look at where you might be able to make small tweaks in other foods that you are eating. Maybe a little less sugar in your coffee or a smaller portion of that pizza.

The key to overcoming obstacles to change is to acknowledge them, tweak them to lessen their hold, and then, when you know they are no longer holding you back, add a small amount of the behavioral change you want. Add a little more activity. Throw in a small amount of healthier food on your plate. Take a few minutes to just breathe and relax at your most stressful point of the day.

Give it a try. If you have any questions, please ask away in the comments below.

Stacking Habits

Having the right habits in place is important to our businesses and our lives. When it comes to breaking old habits or creating new ones, one thing that can help is to use existing habits as cornerstones to change. The idea of stacking habits is when you add a new habit directly after something you already do habitually. “When I do “X”, I will then do “Y”.

To use this you first have to acknowledge those things that you do automatically throughout your day. Say your alarm goes off in the morning, what do you do first? Second? Third? In example, I know I 1) get up, 2) go to the bathroom, 3) make myself a cup of coffee, 4) sit down and read emails, then 5) go through social media, yada, yada… Once you have created a list of your habits, you can start to tack on an additional task in the appropriate place.

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Say, you want to start writing a blog. Your evening routine is to eat dinner, clean up the dinner dishes, watch tv until 11pm, brush your teeth, and go to bed. You could stack writing into that schedule. “When I finish cleaning up the dinner dishes, I will sit down and write for 30 minutes before I turn the tv on…” You’ll have to keep reminding yourself for awhile, but this will soon become habit.

That’s to add a new behavior. You can also stack habits to help break or change bad habits. Maybe you come home from work and, before you even change out of your work clothes, immediately snack on chips or some other junk food. You could insert a behavior to help break that one. “As soon as I get home, I will go to the kitchen, take 5 minutes and eat an apple, then change my clothes, and then, if I still want chips, I can have them. The fact is that once you’ve cut your hunger by having an apple, and stalled the routine further by changing your clothes, you will find yourself in more control and be less likely to want the junk food.

By linking a new behavior to something you are already doing (stacking habits), you create an anchor for the new behavior and are much more likely to stick with it then if you just tell yourself to do the new behavior at some random point.

Try it out. I’d love to hear how this works for you.

 

There’s a Tabata for Everyone

A couple years ago I briefly mentioned the Tabata protocol and I thought it was time to bring it back. This time I’ll go in more depth and discuss how anyone can do some variation of it.

Dr. Izumi Tabata (University of Ritsumeikan, Japan) was studying the effects of an all-out, high intensity interval training program (on a stationary bicycle) that consisted of 8 rounds of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, totaling a mere 4 minutes. The results were surprising in that the training improved participants’ VO2 Max (the efficiency of the body’s use of oxygen, typically achieved through longer cardio programs), their anaerobic or sprint endurance, increased their resting metabolism, and it also may aid in fat loss and in retention (even building) of muscle. Pretty darn good for only four minutes. This is why I actually use it with many of my clients, more bang for your time buck.

Now, the catch to this is that purists will say that for maximum results it has to be an all out effort and most people aren’t ready for that. This is true… for maximal results…, but maximal results doesn’t need to be the focus. How about good results, or even any results? Most people can wrap their minds around going a little harder than usual if it’s for only 4 minutes. Taking the Tabata protocol (20 sec work:10 sec rest x 8 rounds) and working even a little harder than usual will give better results and start you on the road of being able to handle higher level workloads. Bit by bit you can build that intensity to get even more out of your Tabata. You could also start with half a Tabata protocol (4 rounds/2 minutes) and build to 8 rounds.

Here’s a guideline to get started, start with 4 rounds of an exercise that you can last for 20 seconds with, say air or chair squats. At a nice even pace, not intense, do them for four rounds of 20 seconds. Then build to 5 rounds, then 6, then …. When you get to all 8 rounds, start counting repetitions each round. Next, try to add a rep or two to each round. Continue to increase the repetitions per round until you truly are pushing as hard as you can. This takes time to build up and you cut yourself some slack and let it be a very gradual progression. You will eventually get there and in the meantime you are increasing the results from each Tabata that you do.

As for the activity or exercises, almost anything that can be done at very high intensities and involves the large muscles of the body will work. Again, Tabata did it on a stationary bike. To keep it interesting, I will often pick 4 exercises and do 2 rounds of them (8 rounds total). i.e Build-a-burpee: Speed Squats, Squat Thrusts, Squat Thrust Jump, Squat Thrust Push Up Jump.

So, Tabatas are not just for the ultra fit. Anyone can start working their way to being able to work at higher intensities by giving yourself permission to start slower and build gradually.

BTW: there are all kinds of Tabata apps that you can use to keep the timing simple. I happen to use Tabata Timer