Archive for January 28, 2015

Put Your Mind into It

Mind on My Muscle

Single leg work on the shuttle at physical therapy. Definitely an exercise in mindful movement.

Have you ever had that experience of driving somewhere familiar, say on your way to work or on your way back home, where you suddenly realize you’ve been driving but can’t remember actually doing it?  There have been stretches of very familiar road on the commute to post (Army for ‘base’) where I’ve been physically present in my car, obviously in control of the vehicle as I’ve stayed on the road through it’s many curves and avoided other cars, and then realize I don’t have a clear recollection of actually driving my car through that stretch of road because I hadn’t actually been consciously present.  My body and brain worked together to do what was habitual while my conscious mind was checked out, thinking of other things.  Scary.  But not uncommon….

It has to do with mindfulness, or being mindful, and when you’re just going through the motions it means there’s a lack of mindfulness happening–you’re not really ‘present’ in your body in the now.  And it doesn’t just happen driving, it can happen at the gym, too.  It can be really easy to just ‘dial in’ a workout, to go through the motions, do the exercises or plod away on a cardio machine without really being present in your body.  How often have you mindlessly done a set of bicep curls, just swinging the arms away with a blank look on your face, or witnessed someone else do it?  It’s a ‘check the box’ effort, but not a wholehearted one, not a mindful one AND it’s not one that you will reap much reward from.

One of the simplest, best, most effective things that you can do to make every workout more effective and yield faster and better results is to be mindful.  I like to call it ‘putting your mind in your muscle.’  It’s a get-more-bang-for-your-workout-buck technique for sure.

It’s not necessarily about how much weight you’re moving or for how many reps, it’s about how intensely you’re using those muscles.  My own at-home ‘structural maintenance’ workout last week was virtually without any external weights added (no dumbbells, kettle bells, medicine balls or weight plates), but was wicked for my glutes because of my focus.  I put all of my attention on mentally reaching my glutes in my mind, focusing on the amount of contractio–every rep of every set, from start to finish.  In this way I was able to really work my glute muscles effectively and thoroughly even though I was using only my own body weight.  The same is true of my own therapy work in Physical Therapy for my SI joint/lumbar scoliosis issues:  to be really effective and get the most benefit from my prescribed exercises, appropriately termed ‘neuromuscular reeducation,’ I have to be completely present in my body, focused on which muscles I’m recruiting and what posture my pelvis is in throughout the movements.  I’m not going to lie–there’s a lot of brain sweat that happens, too!

And wow, have I been sore (or ‘gluteally aware,’ as I like to joke with my clients and class participants) the next day after these sessions of intense concentration, which tells me I used things thoroughly and effectively….So whether you’re working against your own bodyweight, working with a heavily loaded barbell, or a moderately weighted set of dumbbells, really make a connection to the muscles you’re using–put your mind into the feeling and function of that muscle/those muscles.  This practice alone can massively boost the quality and effectiveness of every strength training workout you do.

“Energy goes where your attention flows.”

This practice has also helped me become a more efficient, more comfortable runner who sustains fewer injuries.  I’ve learned to concentrate on each stride, on keeping my pelvis level (which requires using my obliques, or muscles in my waist), on feeling the difference between flinging my leg forward from the hip and using my glutes to propel myself forward.     But the same practice can also be applied in a spin class to core bracing and feeling the hamstrings work as you pull the pedal up through the back of the pedal stroke, rather than bouncing side to side, pumping your body weight down through the hip, or in a step class to keep your abs braced and your landings soft and springy rather than a heavy stomping that reverberates up your leg into your spine.  It can also mean making sure your hips don’t sag during a burpee, or that you land softly on the box during a box jump, or sink into your hips  when landing from a jump squat.

“Wherever you are, be all there.” 

~ Jim Elliot

Besides the practice itself of directing your focus inward, into the muscles active in your own body (rather than talking to your friend, or paying attention to other people in the room–both so easy to get sucked into doing), what can help enable you to ‘put your mind in your muscle’ is learning a little bit about your own anatomy.  After my at-home structural maintenance workout last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Körperwelten (‘Body worlds’) exhibition in Nürnberg, Germany.  It was absolutely fascinating to be able to examine closely the muscles, tendons and ligaments that I’d been working with just an hour earlier.  Seeing where things attach helps to make how I’m moving and when and how I’m squeezing those muscles make more sense, and it makes visualizing them, and therefore connecting to them so much easier for me.  It might work for you, too!

Whatever activity you engage in, and whatever method you choose (‘see’ it, feel/squeeze it, or both), take a moment at the beginning of every set of your strength training sessions to make a your connection and put your mind into your muscle.  You might be shocked at the response from your body and power you develop from this practice.

“Those who are awake live in a constant state of amazement.” 
~ Jack Kornfield

Make Your Plan B

I think it was John Lennon that said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”  How many of us have had the experience of life going along smoothly, daily systems working well, feeling like we’re making progress and getting ahead, only to have our best efforts suddenly interrupted or derailed by some life circumstance?  So often it’s an illness (either your or your kid’s–my money is on the kids coming down with something!), a holiday or vacation, a business trip or special project or hard deadline, if you’re a military family then a TDY assignment, mission or deployment, or, and I really hope it’s not this, a family or health crisis.  I swear, every time I hit my stride, so to speak, and get into a really nice and consistent lifting and running pattern/schedule, one of my kids will get sick, there’ll be another week-long holiday (German school has intermittent breaks rather than a huge summer break), my husband will go TDY to a school or on a mission, or some special event will pop right up and mess with my system.  And I really like my systems to be regular–not an especially great attribute for someone married to the military….This used to really throw me for a loop, bringing on wailing and tantrum-throwing worthy of a sugar-crashing, sleep-deprived toddler.  Ugly.










Then I got tired of being mad, tired of feeling sorry for myself, tired of feeling like my goals were slipping away from me, and tired of missing out on the cathartic effects of exercise-induced endorphins and confidence!


So I got real with myself and started making ‘Plan B’ for such occasions.  And more and more often, I find myself writing ‘Plan B’s along with ‘Plan A’s for my clients, because, well, at some time in all of our lives, life gets messy.

‘Plan B’ is there to keep you ‘on track’–basically to keep your head in the game, rather then succumbing to circumstances and throwing in the towel when your best-laid workout plans don’t actually work out.  Instead of saying, ‘Forget it, I guess it’s not happening today!’ create some fall-back workouts (Plan B’s!) so that you can mentally keep yourself on track and get the satisfaction of having done a little something for yourself. These Plan B’s can come in the shape of an at-home circuit, going to the gym but paring down your strength training session to one or two sets of everything instead of three, or even keeping a strength session focused on two big movements (squats, deadlifts, lunges, push ups, pull ups) and giving those your all. Super-setting Hip Thrusts or Deadlifts plus Pull Ups can make a really nice but simple full-body workout, as can Squats and Push Ups.

A couple of at-home circuits, especially when you’re stuck at home with sick kids, could go like this:

Circuit Workouts:  To get the heart rate elevated and move a little quicker.  Perform each exercise carefully, but as quickly as you are able for 30 seconds.  Rest for 30 seconds, then perform next exercise on list for 30 seconds, and so on.  After you have completed all the exercises on the list once, you have completed one round.  Rest for 1-2 minutes, then repeat circuit.  You can complete 2-4 rounds of a circuit for a workout, depending on how you’re feeling that day.

Circuit 1:

A Alternating Reverse Lunges

B Tall Plank with Shoulder Taps

C High Knee Jogs

D Bent-over Band Rows (you’re in a deadlift position)

E Lateral Line Hops on 2 legs

Circuit 2:

A Single-Leg Squat

B Push Ups

C Air Squat OR Squat Jump

D Band Pull-Aparts

E Tall Plank with “Toe-away’s”

These are home-friendly because you don’t need much space or equipment, something I’ve found super helpful when at home or on the road 🙂


Plan B can be a short yoga session to work on some flexibility and stretching, it can also be a super focused ab session, a super focused foam rolling session on those extra special places we carry stress the most (upper back, calves, glutes or hamstrings), or getting in some of those maintenance exercises to help out your low back, shoulder, knee, ankle, etc.

These exercises could include:

  • glute bridging
  • tall or elbow planks
  • clamshells
  • side planks
  • prone (lying face down) T’s and W’s
  • bird dogs
  • 4-way band ankle exercises
  • wall slides
  • dead bugs

Take a few minutes, think about what YOUR goals and needs are at this time (do you need more core strength, more glute strength, more cardiovascular conditioning…) and write up a few viable Plan B workout options on notecards, in a notebook, or in the Notes app on your phone so that when the time comes for Plan B–and it WILL!–you’re ready to rock it.

Keep on Keepin’ On!  And yell when you could use my help 🙂



Trading in Fear and Angst for Gratitude and Appreciation.

Practicing daily gratitude.

Practicing daily gratitude.

Sounds more like a psychology/counseling blog than a fitness one, right?  I hear you.


But a few years ago, I started to really see how much one aspect of living affected the others.

I really believe in a Mind-Body-Spirit connection, I’ve dubbed it the ‘Human Trifecta,’ and that when one part is out of whack, the others suffer.  I also believe that bolstering one aspect of the Human Trifecta can bring the others up as well.



What does this all have to do with trading in fear and angst for gratitude and appreciation, and where does this fit into a fitness context?


Here’s my belief, based on my past and current experiences in fitness and living as a whole:  fear and angst will shut you down, gratitude and appreciation will open you up to the greatness and possibilities that are out there.


And in the context of fitness, I’m talking about the fear and angst of not being thin enough/lean enough/hard enough/good enough versus appreciating the body you have and all the amazing things it does already, as well as the amazing things you can become capable of doing.



Angst will ‘hang you up,’ make you feel like you’re carrying a ton of bricks. It will blind you to the good fortune and abundance of possibilities before you–you will only see what is ‘wrong’ and be preoccupied or even obsessed with what you fear.  



In a fitness/aesthetic context, this can take the form of always needing to lose those ‘last 10 pounds’ or fixating on your ‘muffin top,’ ‘saddle bags,’ ‘back fat,’ body fat percentage, observable 6-pack, etc, etc, etc.



How many of us can relate to those feelings, or have had that experience?



Let me ask you this, has any good ever come out of those feelings or preoccupations?


Did putting energy into that fear/angst get you closer to your ‘goals’ or give you any sense of relief?




“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
― Jack Canfield




Gratitude and appreciation allow you to acknowledge your gifts, blessings and physical abilities and attributes–just as you are/your body looks at this very minute.



Appreciating what you have will put a little more ‘pep’ in your step; it will allow you to move forward with purpose and hope.



Knowing these ideas to be true is different than putting them into practice–believe me, I know.



In the past I thought once I was a certain weight, a certain leanness, had a certain amount of muscular development, was a legit personal trainer and fitness instructor THEN I would be confident, satisfied–I would have made it.



Only…it never happened.  



–I’d reach one goal, then there would be another flaw or fixation to work on.


–I showcased my abs and got attention for those, then I felt a massive pressure to maintain them in a visible state (be super lean) or I would be looked at as a fraud.


–I started comparing myself to other trainers who had other physical/aesthetic assets I felt I didn’t, and I felt I paled in comparison–which led to some ugly, ego-driven, fear-driven thought processes.



“Comparison is the thief of joy,” someone once wrote.  Boy, is it ever.



Comparison is also the fueler of fear.



So instead of appreciating what I had, what I could do, what I brought to the table, I lived in the place of ‘not enough’ for longer than I care to admit.



And then I just got TIRED.


July 2012: the first time I publicly unveiled my abs
Photo Credits to Paige Kimball Photography



I can’t pinpoint exactly when I chose to change my mind, aside from knowing it was in the early part of 2014, but I do know it came from a sense of exhaustion–just being worn out by competing in the fitness instructor/personal trainer rat race of who ‘looked better’ or was ‘more shapely’ or more popular…I just could not do it any longer.



I remember thinking “What if…”  What’s the worst that could happen if I stopped being so scared and anxious and fearful of paling in comparison?



What would happen if I said (and accepted) that I was okay ‘as is’–not complacent or defeatist like ‘this is the best I’ll ever be’–but just that I was at peace with where I was at in that moment.


  • Would I gain 20 pounds?
  • Would I stop working so hard?
  • Stop caring about my physical appearance?
  • Would it mean I was less invested, less passionate than my peers?
  • What would happen if I stopped looking at and loathing my ‘flaws?’


Maybe it was turning 40 last year, maybe it was enduring another deployment (having my husband in Afghanistan, always being a little ready for that phone call or knock on my door), maybe it was the realization that the fitness center I worked at no longer served me or my needs–and in fact took far more from me than they ever gave me in terms of support and positive energy….



I think it was the sum and total of it all, and all happening at the same time.  



Whatever the impetus was, I realized it just wasn’t worth living with that gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach or with the negative/’less than’ self-concept ruling my daily existence.



So I let myself off the hook and began to try a new approach.







I decided it didn’t matter how I ‘stacked up’ against my peers, it mattered how well I felt in my own skin.



I stopped allowing myself to wonder what other people thought because it didn’t matter anymore.



How I felt others viewed me wasn’t going to be a motivator any longer.



I started actively taking note of my strengths and abilities, and to focus more on growing those, on learning more and becoming more skilled as an athlete and a trainer.



I also acknowledged both the strength and aesthetic aspects of myself that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with and on which I would continue to work.  I acknowledged them, and then made a plan of action and moved on.



And I realized fully how much I love moving, the liberty of being able to move more, lift more, DO more.



The results of my appreciation/gratitude paradigm shift?



NO weight gain, better muscular development–because I do what I love to do, not what I think I need to do to look a certain way–and a feeling of having lost 1,000 pounds off my shoulders, of living with a feeling of peace in my gut rather than a hard lump of fear.



I can’t even explain adequately the personal liberty and peace this change of mindset and thought processes (now a daily practice) have given me.



What I can say is that THIS way of thinking, this way of life, is where it is at.

This is 40.

This is 40. After my mindset paradigm shift.


smiling ghd 1

And this is 42, about 3 years after my paradigm shift.



Recently, a dear friend sent me a copy of The Five-Minute Journal, and it’s helped me to structure my practice of acknowledging the good in my life, and showing gratitude, into daily morning and evening events.



Making this a daily, regular practice helps keep me ‘in the zone,’ because little fears still try to creep in and it’s this practice that keeps in me an open heart, appreciating what I have, what I offer as a person and a trainer, rather than dwelling on what I am not.




Stronger and better at 42.


It’s not necessarily easy, and it takes a bit of mental training/practice, but WOW is it worth it.


So maybe you’ll consider starting your day or your week with appreciation practice, especially if you’re someone who’s been focused on your ‘flaws’ or living with anxiety and fear.  


Try this:  Name/list 3 to 5 things you like or appreciate or feel grateful for about your body (or your life in general).

It could be a certain body part, a certain feature, or an ability or talent.

And if it’s hard for you to find nice things to say about your body, it could be as simple as the fact that you’re still breathing, that your heart is still beating, that you’re still mobile/able to move freely under your own power.


Whatever it is, write it down.


“Cultivate Gratitude: Gratitude is the opposite of depression and anxiety. It’s the conscious experience of appreciation of the gifts in our lives and the results are tangible.”

~ The Five Minute Journal


Starting each day or each week with gratitude and a positive self-concept will free you from your fears and angst; it frees you to move closer to your goals and to a more ideal or harmonious way of living.


Get gratitude and get busy really LIVING.  You’ll never want to go back.







Give It a Rest.

Give It A Rest.

I swear this is not a snarky nor snide remark. I promise.  
In light of the holiday season, extra stressors, ridiculous redeployment timelines, and the fact that I’m yet again experiencing those tell-tale signs that my proverbial goose is nearly cooked (feeling lethargic, cranky sinuses and ears), today’s topic is the importance of giving your body a rest, too.

Rest tends to be one of those factors that aren’t programmed into weekly workout schedules or fitness programs. Too often, these mentalities prevail (you’ll probably recognize some of these!): You need to kill it as much as possible or you’re not working up to your potential, rest is for sissies, resting is lazy, you’re going to lose out on calorie-burning opportunities (and therefore, of course, blow up like a balloon) if you cut yourself any slack. The truth is, rest is a HUGE factor in how well you can perform, how effective your weight loss endeavors are, how you feel (mentally and physically), and how well you stave off injury. If you’ve ever been injured, you know how much THAT can hamper your goals!

Some thoughts on the topic of rest as it pertains to fitness:

1. Rest days need to be programmed into your weekly workout schedule. How much rest depends on the intensity of your training, the type of training you’re engaging in, how old you are (sorry, this one’s an ugly fact–I know!), and how much life stress you’re experiencing. For some people, two solid, non-sequential days are enough. For some, two sequential days work best. For some (young-uns, lol) one day a week might suffice. It’s kind of individual, but needs to be a conscious consideration if you want to see progress, avoid getting sick, and feel halfways decent. I prefer two solid non-sequential days off, ideally, because it works for my body’s needs and my schedule.

2. You will have to get adequate sleep to get any kind of positive results in the long-run. Especially as you age, ahem. Again, it’s a bit individual, but generally 7.5 hours of actual sleep feels good for the body (due to the REM cycles, waking after 7.5 hours typically leaves one rested and alert). Here’s a fun read on the importance of sleep to athletes:

3. More is not better. Better is better. Repeat this for me. Post it on your bathroom mirror. Use it as a mantra at the gym. Choose quality over quantity in your workouts, so if fewer reps than programmed feel better, do that. If you need a longer rest period between intervals or sets to fully recover, do that. It’s good to test your limits periodically, but regular grind and pound will leave you feeling like ground meat. Not good. Sometimes we feel amazing, and need less. Sometimes we feel less than amazing and need more (rest). It’s okay–you’re not being a wimp. Check out a read on Rest Based Training. Personally, I love it for clients and myself.

4. Psychological stress reads like physiological stress to the body. For the body, stress is stress. It doesn’t really differentiate between being chased by a bear and tense/worried to the nines about a project, relationship, or PCS move. It’s all exhausting to the body. So when you go through these periods of heightened stress, it’s often the physiological equivalent of running a marathon and then trying to lift more weights, go faster, feel better the day afterwards. I’ve seen it as a trainer with my clients who are in the weeks before and immediately following the beginning of a deployment or during a PCS move. I’ve experienced it firsthand. When you’re in these periods of time, give yourself the win and back off–you ARE ‘giving it all she’s got,’ to steal a phrase from Star Trek (tell me you hear Scotty’s voice with this one…). You cannot get blood from a turnip. So spare yourself some misery and don’t try.

Here’s a little science on this one:

5. You need to be more considerate of your rest programming and overall fitness programming as you age, because ‘mature’ tissues have different needs than young ones–brutal truth. What’s even more brutal is that ‘mature’ is often classified as over 35…I seriously thought I got at least 10 years past that to be considered a ‘mature’ athlete. Guess not. Here’s the deal: older tissues just don’t recover as quickly as they used to. They need more time. They need more flexibility/mobility/soft tissue work. It’s not fair, but it just is. I’ve had to amend my programs to honor my body’s needs–trading in three hard lifting sessions for two during heavy run season, because both endeavors suffered and I NEVER felt good. If I lift two super hard (full-body) programs a week while running hard three days a week, that works better for me than three hard lifts and three hard runs. If I run less, I can lift more. But I have to be considerate of the tissues. Curious how to program for your ‘mature’ body’s needs? Here’s a great read from Eric Cressey with quantifiable recommendations for the ‘mature’ athlete:

With that, I’m off to bed–this currently stressed spirit needs her recovery sleep! What’s more, if my lift doesn’t feel right tomorrow, I’ll scale back. Because better is better, and my performance will improve IF I listen to my body. Happy Resting!

In Search of Client ‘Success’: The Shaping of My Coaching

I used to think if I gave my clients the right tools and education–showed them what to do–they would just naturally be successful in their weight loss/fat loss/fitness goals.  They would just ‘find their way,’ and it would work…not so much.

Then I thought I thought if I just gave them more support and encouragement, they would meet their goals and keep on the successful path…not so much.

Then I thought that if I just gave them more tough love, because obviously they didn’t have enough structure or accountability to keep them on track (sarcasm), that would do it…and, again, not so much.

Then I thought if I created the absolute best, most perfect program for each unique client, that would be the golden ticket to their assured success (and therefore MINE)…and this helped, it worked a bit better, but still wasn’t enough.

Then I sat with the dilemma.  There was obviously something I was missing, something that was lacking in MY thinking, training and coaching, not that of my clients.  I read more from a variety of trainers, coaches, and behavior specialists.  I reflected on my successful trainer-client relationships and experiences, and reflected even more on my UNsuccessful trainer-client relationships and experiences.  The answer was that empathy was missing.  True, complete empathy–which is basically defined as “the ability to perceive a situation from the other person’s perspective.  To see, hear and feel the unique world of the other.” (Arn Ivey, Paul Pederson and Mary Ivey)

It turns out, I had gotten REALLY good at knowing what was best for a client and trying to give them that, even if it wasn’t what they really wanted and needed.  I had TONS of training tools at my disposal, reliable and knowledgeable mentors and physical therapists with whom I could consult, a huge amount of enthusiasm for training and willingness to do endless research, and an analytic brain that loves problem-solving–so I could figure out what it was they physically needed to do to get closer to their objectives…and it wasn’t what they really needed.

“Any fool can know.  The point is to understand.” ~Albert Einstein

What my clients really needed was for me to be able to really HEAR them, to really SEE them, to be able to see the world from their eyes and walk in their shoes.  What they didn’t need was for me to ‘fix’ them or judge them into compliance.  I allowed myself to get caught up in the competitive personal trainer rat-race of who could get the most results from their clients, and in doing so my training often (not always) became more about ME than it was about THEM.

What people need most, what they respond to the most is empathy–being seen and understood, and getting the fitness/nutrition/lifestyle programming and coaching that matches the needs and wants of their unique life and lifestyle, AND, moreover, people want and need choice, they need ownership of their fitness.  ‘Perfect’ programs are only ‘perfect’ if they work for the person they are designed for; ‘perfect’ programs are only ‘perfect’ if they can not just be followed, but integrated into one’s life in a manageable and sustainable way.

If a program, plan or approach doesn’t ‘gel’ with a person, they won’t continue with it.  THAT’S not so perfect.

But we’re not after perfect anyway:  the real goal is IDEAL.  And ideal is making a plan or program that is harmonious with one’s real life.

“In between goals there is a thing called life, that has to be lived and enjoyed.”

~Sid Caesar 

When I started applying the concept of making each person’s fitness and nutrition more ‘harmonious’ with their real lives, I started seeing more compliance with the plan, more weight loss and fat loss and mobility success, more feelings of success and more JOY.  That is potent stuff.

 I learned to work with my clients in true partnership, and that WORKS.


These ladies.  They are the real deal :)

These ladies. They are the real deal :)

My education, knowledge, and experience as a trainer, my own life experience with 40+years of complications and challenges make it so I can empathize, program, and problem-solve in a way that is more effective, more sustainable for each client.

Those are the themes of my training and coaching:  practical, sustainable, and right for you–as you are now, living the very real life you have.  Ideal for you is what I’m after, and ideal for you is what I’m determined to deliver.