Push Yourself Mentally, Listen to Yourself Physically

Photo Courtesy of: Microsoft Images

No Pain, All Gain
Photo Courtesy of: Microsoft Images

Take Action & Respond: What steps do you take to push yourself mentally to make sure you do your best during a workout?

While the post’s title seems like a dichotomy, striking the right balance between these two feelings ensures your ability to stay consistently active. Pushing yourself mentally usually revolves around two scenarios: getting the workout started and doing your best during the workout. Listening to yourself physically also has two main points: knowing when to pump the brakes during a workout and knowing when to skip a workout entirely (for health and wellness purposes). At the end of the post, I’ll share a story about a time when I managed to push myself mentally, and then not listen to myself physically to reveal how a balance of both sides are needed for long-term fitness and health.

Push Yourself Mentally

When everything is going well or our schedule is light, staying active can be relatively easy. However, most of life does not lend itself to the “best case scenario.” Getting out of bed when the alarm goes off at 5 or 6 AM for your morning jog or lugging yourself to the gym after a long day of work at 7 PM can be some of the most challenging circumstances we face when being active. The interesting thing about these situations is it’s primarily a test of mental strength (assuming you’re getting adequate sleep). Standing up out of bed or walking to the gym is not a physically harrowing task, yet it seems to make our legs feel like cinder blocks. Until we actually decide to start moving. Next time you’re not in the mood for your workout, commit to jogging for just 5 minutes. Or go to the gym and do just the warm-up. If you go, do this and still feel like you want to stop, then do so. You’ve fulfilled your commitment to yourself and should be proud that you took action, no matter how big or small. But once you start moving, you may also end up staying a little longer than expected.

And now that you’re moving, you may as well get the most out of every minute that you train. We’re busy people, so why spend 90 or more minutes in the gym (you know those people, the ones who do one set and then talk for 5 minutes with their buddies), when you can get just as good of a workout in 45 to 60 minutes and move on with your day? Keep moving, stay focused and only take your planned rest periods (or if you’re feeling very winded). If a friend wants to talk, exchange a quick word or two, but if they want to catch up on the last couple of weeks, tell them you’ll get in contact after the workout.

During our workouts we sometimes stop a few reps short or a few minutes early from what we can truly accomplish because of our thoughts. Maybe you don’t have a training/exercise plan so you’re not sure what to do next…so you don’t do anything at all. Or you get involved in a conversation with someone and by the time you’re done it’s been 20 minutes and you’ve started to cool down. Or your mind just starts to wander and you lose interest in the middle of the workout. Staying centered and focused is crucial to getting the most out of your workouts so you can get the results you want.

First, keep your eye on the prize. Remember why you are doing these workouts to begin with. For a sport? For your posture? To get into a dress or pants size? Next, create a positive, supportive environment to make sure you get going and then do all you can during exercise to “pump” yourself up. Listen to inspiring music, actually tell yourself that you can do that extra set, close your eyes and visualize that last sprint right before you do it. These are tactics elite athletes use to get the most out of themselves and their physical activity, so why not do the same for yourself? Maximize the benefit of your physical activity since you’re already doing it!

Listen to Your Body Physically

This is the counterpoint to pushing yourself mentally. When we psych ourselves up to “go the extra mile,” we need to make sure we do so safely. When working out, we tend to disregard small “twinges” and “tweaks” of discomfort (not to be confused with muscular burn during a set or sprint). Unfortunately, the adrenaline running through our body can decrease our feeling of pain and thereby suppress a more serious issue. “Pushing through it” often leads to even further problems. It’s better to stop a little short on one workout because of an unusual “twinge” than to be forced to stop for weeks because of an injury that happened because you did not listen to your body.

If the twinge is localized to one part of the body, you can always adjust your workout and focus on another area. For example, if you tweaked your leg during a squat, you can always do some rows or pushups. The rule is: if it hurts, don’t do it.

Finally, if you’re feeling under the weather, reconsider whether a workout will help or hurt. Workouts typically stress your immune system, in a good way. They break your body down a bit to teach it to get stronger. So if you’re just a little sluggish, then the workout may give your immune system a needed boost (do a lighter workout, though, just in case). But if you’re really starting to feel lousy, a workout may push your immune system over the cliff into a full-blown cold or sickness. Each person has a unique “line” that once they cross, they should avoid working out until they are feeling better. For me, it’s a bad sore throat with some body aches (which is the prelude to many other cold-symptoms).

My Story…and Lesson Learned

A couple years ago I was at a nutrition conference in San Diego and I had just completed a long day of going to talks, networking and mostly sitting from about 7 AM to 6 PM. Amazing how sitting and listening can be so draining! I had plans for dinner at 8 PM, so I only had a little while to get ready. So when I got back to my hotel room, it was very tempting to just kick back and relax for a couple hours. But I knew that there was a YMCA next door (only $5 to use) and I hadn’t been able to get to the gym the previous couple of days because of scheduling and travel. So I made a deal with myself: go and do a light warm-up, core and cardio workout (30 minutes) and call it a day. Hey, something is better than nothing!

So I went to the gym and got started. And of course by the end of my warm-up I was ready to do a lot more than a light workout. Turns out I did a bit too much! I remember pushing myself to do Farmer’s Walks (pretty much carrying two heavy weights around for a while) with two 75 pound dumbbells later in a workout that previously had me performing power hang cleans (a big powerful movement that worked similar muscles to the farmer’s walk). I felt a slight twinge in my upper shoulder but decided to finish off the last ten feet of the Farmer’s Walk anyway. By the time I woke up the next morning I could barely turn my neck and by the middle of the day my shoulder and back were in significant spasm. It was the last day of the conference and when I got in the taxi to take me to the airport later in the afternoon, my neck went into spasm every time the taxi driver sped up because the simple acceleration of the car made my neck fire in a similar way to the exercise that caused me to get hurt. Needless to say I stabilized my neck and shoulders as best as I could and took about a week off from working out. Thankfully I was back to normal within about a week and a half, but it goes to show that a “small twinge” can have larger issues associated with it. Lesson Learned: Ten less feet, or one week off?

Stuck? An Activity to Overcome a Chronic Dieting or Defeated Mentality

Overcoming Chronic Dieting

Overcoming Chronic Dieting: How About Half a Burger and a Big Salad?
Image Courtesy of Microsoft Images

I frequently work with clients who have “tried every diet” and feel stuck, frustrated, and sometimes even defeated by their excess weight or declining health.  They keep trying the latest fad diets – eating like a caveman, avoiding all gluten, drinking endless juices – gain a little traction and then lose it, sometimes slipping back further than when they started.  Lose 20 pounds, regain 30.  Wash, rinse, repeat. They come asking, “Why can’t I stick to any of these diets?  What’s wrong with me?”  And those questions are actually the key to the answer.

You see, most diet plans breed a destructive all-or-nothing mentality where if you don’t follow their program perfectly, you’re labeled a failure.  Do this enough times, and you may even start to believe it…which is the furthest thing from the truth.  It’s actually all of the diet plans and cleanses that are flawed because they leave out the most important part of the equation: YOU!  Do you really want to go the rest of your life without a cookie, a glass of wine or a slice of pizza?  Or would you rather determine a set of sustainable eating and physical activity habits that get you the results you want, while allowing you to live your life, too?

How Your Health and Fitness is Like a Car

A metaphor I often use in my coaching classes is that you’re driving a car, which represents your life, health and fitness.  At some point you may realize that you’re driving down a road you don’t want to go down, but you can’t see any other alternate route out yourself.  So you try handing your steering wheel (and money) to someone else who promises to lead you away: a powder, a pill or the latest NY Times best-selling “diet” book.

Unfortunately, their foggy path isn’t what you really wanted, but they promise to get you off your current road, so you go along for the ride.  You labor on this new route for a while, not really understanding what you’re doing and just hoping it gets you somewhere you want to be.  During this process, you may start to feel helpless, out of control or overwhelmed – which makes sense since someone else is driving your car (parts of your life) for you!

Eventually, the road gets too bumpy and out of frustration, you reclaim the wheel and u-turn back to your original path.  Or you end up on a worse path, broken down in a ditch (injured) or just stuck in the mud.  But you don’t have to be. From this point forward you can choose to make repairs, take back the steering wheel for good, and ensure any future plan or fitness/nutrition coach becomes a motivating, guiding passenger rather than a dictatorial driver.

An Activity to Reclaim the Steering Wheel

A great first step for taking back the steering wheel, whether you’ve dealt with chronic dieting for decades, or you just feel “stuck” in your current habits is the activity below, excerpted from Death of the Diet:

“Divide a piece of paper into five separate columns. At the tops of the columns, write down the last five diets you were on. Then for each diet column, write down the following information:

  • How long you were on the diet (specific dates work best, in chronological order).
  • What the diet involved doing/restricting/changing.
  • The results of the diet.
  • How you felt during the diet.
  • What caused the diet to end?
  • What happened to your weight or physique over the six to twelve months following the end of the diet (assuming you didn’t start a new diet)?
  • What about the diet worked for you? Think about things you could see yourself doing again…for the long-term.
  • What did not work for you in the diet, and potentially led to you ending the diet?

If you don’t have a history of chronic dieting but feel stuck in your current habits, despite wanting to make a change, think about and answer the following questions on a piece of paper:

  • Was there a time when you were happy with your health, fitness or weight? Describe that time, and the habits you had then.
  • How did you get into your current situation?
  • What has changed between then and now? How did those changes create your current habits?
  • Is there anything you used to do that you can start doing again?
  • If you’ve never been happy with your health, weight or fitness, consider what you think you may need to feel or experience to know that you are breaking out of your current habits and making positive changes.

Using this information, you can likely get a sneak peek into which actions and Easy Eight Habits will be easiest for you to start with. For example, if you know you like fruits and veggies, it might be easier to start adding in food to your diet rather than cutting things out. By adding those fruits and veggies to your meals and snacks, you will likely get fuller faster or be less famished at meals, so you will naturally eat less. And eating less results in fewer calories consumed, which typically means a slimmer waistline!”

If you feel more confident in changing your physical activity habits rather than eating, you may choose to focus on going to the gym or playing a sport a consistent number of days per week (or month), or increasing your daily step count.

Different eating and physical activity approaches work for different people, so learn from your past, consider your present, and confidently, gradually drive your car towards long-term results knowing what works for you.

FEEDBACK: What do you think of the car metaphor?  Can it be made better?  Considering your current road, what is one eating or physical activity habit you would like to improve to start down a fitter, happier route?

Revolutionizing the Resolution…Set Health and Fitness Goals that Stick!

A Veggie + Chicken Stir-Fry Resolution

Image: Stoonn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guest post by Dwayne Brown, CSCS

The date is January 1st. Today is the day when most people are trying to put into action the resolutions that they hastily made on New Year’s Eve. Gyms across the nation will be bursting at the seams with new members and I’m pretty sure Weight Watchers’ business is always at its best right after the New Year. For the next couple of weeks people will make a valiant effort to keep those resolutions. Then after the New Year buzz wears off (pun intended), people usually fall back into the same old patterns that led them to make their New Years’ resolutions in the first place.

So how can we avoid resolution hangover (the disappointing feeling of not accomplishing goals)? The first step is to take a serious look at your resolution once you’ve left the New Year’s Eve party, preferably once you have had time to let your head clear. Look at them with a critical eye and decide whether they can be realistically attained and/or if you really want to attain them. For example, you and your significant other’s decision to become vegan this year might not seem as enticing when you open your refrigerator and find the parts of four different animals staring back at you saying “eat me”. A better resolution would be “I’m only going to eat red meat once a week”. This way it’s not such a shock, and once it becomes easy, you can progress it further.

The next step to keeping your resolutions is to get them on paper. Studies show that writing things down makes them more likely to actually happen. Once you write your resolutions down, make copies and put them in places where you’re sure to see them. So if you have a weak spot for cookies and you resolve to lose weight then tape that resolution to the cookie jar. You’ll quickly begin to realize that these kinds of reminders will either deter from doing the wrong things or encourage you to do the right things.

The final tip for keeping resolutions is to keep them everyday. What I mean is whatever the resolution is…do it every day. If you resolve to be more physically active, aim to move a little bit more everyday rather than just blasting yourself with one extra workout on the weekend. This means if you have the option of taking the stairs or the elevator, then there is no option. You’re taking the stairs. When it’s feasible take the extra time to walk to the store instead of driving.

These are just a few suggestions for avoiding the “I didn’t keep my resolutions” blues. Remember:

  • Make sure your resolutions are realistic and attainable.
  • Write down your resolutions and place them in places that will motivate you to take action
  • Take steps towards achieving your resolutions every day…practice makes perfect!

Even though we only make New Years’ resolutions one day in the year, it takes 365 days (and more) to keep them.

Fall Flavors: Easy, Tasty, Healthy

Time to Enjoy Fall Flavors

Time to Enjoy Fall Flavors!
Credit: Microsoft Images

The temperature gets cooler, the trees prepare to burst into color and everything gets back into full swing: work, school and…vegetables? The fall season, especially in New York, is a peak time for produce – whether from a neighbor’s garden or the local farmer’s market.  If you’ve wanted to learn more about eating local, learning to cook, or just appreciating how healthy food can actually taste good, this is a great time.

My article on fall flavors at the HSS (Hospital for Special Surgery) On the Move blog describes three quick and easy ways to get the best flavors from the season.  Click here to read more.

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