Is Doing More, Better? The Success Trap.

As you might know I recently started grad school for clinical psychology. I made the decision last Fall and started dialing down my business duties with BCSF slowly until by the time December rolled around, I was finished with my biz duties and just teaching classes, which was the goal.

Basically, I’d pared down my schedule and the semester didn’t start until January 25th. Which in the end, meant I had several work weeks where after training between 10 and 18 hours of clients, I was left with a wee bit of spare time on my hands.

This is not a state of being that I have much experience with as an adult. The last time I had this much freedom in my day was when I moved to San Francisco 12 years ago and was looking for jobs. At the time of my departure, I’d been running BCSF for nearly 10 years. To say this was a new reality is undoubtedly an understatement.

I’m not someone that gets bored easily. My house is filled with books and magazines. I have plenty of ways to watch movies. I like to workout and have a home gym in my garage! I have a dog that loves to hit the dog park. I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen!

books

And I knew that I should value this time, this precious break between running an entire company and starting grad school. This punctuation in time that I’d probably look back on fondly and with jealousy once the midterms and papers were in full swing.

Yet, when I went to take a nap one day, I felt guilty. Like I should be doing something. I questioned whether I was being a productive member of society. I wondered whether a truly successful adult can justify taking a nap every day.

Wait, whaaaat? I immediately had a little chat with myself, because as someone that promotes self-care like no one’s business, I was a little frustrated that I was feeling this way. It made me confront the topic:  Is doing more better? Is busier better? Is having a fully stacked schedule, better?

I know in my heart of hearts that the answer is, no.

Why do we feel this way, though? Well, it’s my opinion (and research has shown this, too) that we equate success with being busy.

yosemiiiiiiittteee

But here’s why it’s bad for us to perpetuate this myth on a practical level:

Cortisol Levels

You’ve likely heard that cortisol is the “stress” hormone. Which it is. It’s attached to our fight or flight response and would be the first thing to rise up should a lion come bounding your way. It’s super useful for that kind of fight, but in our modern times we our stressors are different. It’s the to-do list, the crazy boss, ensuring our kids are getting the best. So many of us have elevated cortisol levels which is bad because it also eats away at some of our feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine. Translation? If you’re highly stressed all the time, the chances that you are happy also, are not so good.

Focus:  Multitasking is bad for our brains. 

Doing too many things at once is something that many of us pride ourselves on. I know I’ve been there! Ohhh, I can do this and that and that other thing. But we’re not going to do them as well, typically, and it trains our brains to work in a way that is well, a bit mindless.

flowers

Here’s the thing:  life is meant for enjoying and not scraping by. We can’t escape our lives. We can’t eschew our responsibilities — I mean, is your boss going to really care about your cortisol levels when they ask you to cover for your colleague’s vacation? Probably not. But here are a few things you can do, even when you’re busier than you think you can handle:

  1. Practice Mindfulness. This is the one thing that researchers (even one of my new professors talked about this already in my neuro class!) The thing is, is that you can do this almost anytime, anywhere, because in reality it’s simply a way to slow down. To appreciate what is going on around you, to appreciate the sensations of what you’re doing in the moment — such as taking time to feel the bristles against your teeth when you are brushing, thinking about each swipe as you wash dishes, etc.
  2. Turn Down The Noise. When I’m feeling especially antsy and I am driving somewhere, I turn off the radio. Seriously. It helps! And when I’m reading, I try to turn off everything around me because I find I absorb things more — and as a grad student, I’m guessing I’ll be doing this more often.
  3. Laugh! If I’m feeling stressed and want to chill out, I put on Netflix and immediately head to Parks & Recreation. If I can’t do that, I head to Instagram and scroll through my favorite funny meme accounts. It’s simple, but helps.
  4. Mediate. It goes without saying, but just to say it anyway:  mediation is a kind of mindfulness.
  5. Exercise. ‘Nuff said? Okay, just in case you needed more evidence:  “…enriched environments and exercise have been shown to lead to increased density of synpatic connections, and especially to an increased number of neurons and actual volume of the hippocampus a region important for learning and memory.” Translation:  exercise leads to new pathways being built in your brain. This is good for you. And while intense exercise does lead to cortisol being released — because exercise is an inherent “stress” on the body, in the longterm exercise will help regulate cortisol in your body. There is something to be said in this regard, though, for not having all your exercise sessions be 100% balls to the walls, to take rest days and to consider adding some cardio and yoga to your routine if you are struggling with stress.

The moral of this story is that taking care of yourself is important. And sometimes taking care of yourself means saying no to doing more. It means taking some time every day to be you.

And as pampered, privileged and first-world as it sounds, the catch is, is that it actually helps you function better, keeps not only your body healthy, but your brain, too. And I’m gonna bet, you’ll actually do your jobs better when your feeling at the top of your game.

 

Where is My Mind?

When I moved to California in August 2004 one of the first weekends I was here, I was lucky enough to see The Pixies at The Greek Theatre in Berkeley. (Thank you Heidi!). And like most Pixies fans, I was pretty stoked to see “Where is my Mind?” live.

And this song is the first thing I thought of when I set out to right this post about mindset. I mean, with that title, it’s obvious, right? But also, it’s kind of 100% my point — where is my mind? Where is your mind at? What are you thinking about, what are you focusing on, what do you want, how do you talk to yourself?

I think, most importantly, that you are indeed the expert on your own life. Not me. I cannot tell you what is important to you, I cannot tell you the right choices to make.

But, let’s talk about what “mindset” even means. In general terms it is basically:  “the established set of attitudes held by someone”. Simple. It’s your attitude.

It’s how you think about the world around you. It’s how you interact with people. It’s how you perceive yourself. It defines the relationship you have with yourself.

And at the end of the day, these are the things that matter most. You can lose your job and be broke, but your attitude in these kinds of situations will absolutely make or break you. You can either see a way out, or you see the world crushing you as you are too crippled with fear to act. Yes?

Ultimately, mindset is everything. And part of my path to get here might be something you can find useful in your own life:

Fitness is indeed transformative. Knowing that you have the ability to push past that little voice of doubt in your mind and tackle a tough workout is important. And being able to meet a goal that you didn’t ever think was possible — like swinging a 55# kettlebell with ease, is powerful.

I believe that this is partially to do with modern life. We spend much of our day disconnected from our bodies, clicking, typing, and tweeting that I think once we realize we can do something like a full push-up for the first time ever that the power of that movement does indeed translate to feeling more powerful and confident in other areas of our life. Because ultimately our bodies are ours and ours alone and the power of knowing that with hard work YOU can make things happen is a huge boon to our mindset.

But, this doesn’t always just happen. To achieve fitness goals, we need to have some sort of consistency, right? We need to exercise on a regular basis to achieve these kinds of results that are powerful. And the same remains true of mindset shifts. It’s a practice that we have to nurture. It’s a practice that needs to be consistent.

A fitness practice without a mindset practice is ultimately setting yourself up for failure.

I know this, because this was me. I exercised in my 20s. I exercised quite a lot. But in general, I was direction-less. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career and mostly I was having fun living the dream in San Francisco. I have no regrets. But I exercised with only the purpose of checking it off my to-do list. To be thinner. To be prettier and more accepted.

livingdreaminsf

{The city I love and that distracted me for many years!}

And then I mostly stopped. I was working for BCSF and yet I had about a year where I gained 15 pounds, was depressed and the times I did exercise it felt like torture.

But when I re-committed to exercise, things had changed. I was devoted to working on the whole me.  And, knock on wood, I’m turning 34 next month and I haven’t fallen off the wagon again, yet. Save a little time off for injury rehab, that’s 6 years of successful consistent exercise and mindset practice. So it’s safe to say, I’ve learned a bit along the way.

Initially my mindset practice was simple and just involved changing some of my thought patterns and habits. The three mindset shifts that I did initially made were:

1. I wanted to be proud of my decisions. On days I struggled, I thought about how I would feel tomorrow and the next week, etc. I wanted to choose feeling proud, rather than shame.

2. I moved in ways that made me happy. I didn’t go back to the gym and ride the elliptical for 30 minutes. I did get a road bike and start cycling like a maniac which made me ridiculously happy. I did start running around San Francisco again with my pup — this never fails to put a smile on my face. I did start working on my strength training.

stellastoppingduringarun

{Stella always teaches me the important lessons, like stopping to roll in the grass mid-run.}

3. I didn’t want to give myself the easy way out. I had always been someone that was successful in the things I wanted to be successful at. Throughout college and my first job out, things had always fallen into place. It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco and I had struggled a bit that I was shaken in this capacity. At the end of the day, I knew I was better than how I was acting. I knew that I was capable of so much more than I was doing at the time. In short:  I wanted to live up to my potential.

If you are struggling with motivation, I hope you’ll consider starting a mindset practice. And if you’re not sure where to start, consider starting where I did with changing your thought patterns. Sometimes all it takes is literally just shifting the words you choose to say to yourself.

Just like with exercise, mindset practice is very simple when you look at it up close. But as with exercise that doesn’t make it easy, especially when the going gets tough.

Trust me, though. You got this. Because if I can do it, there is no way you can’t do it either!

We Are What We Speak.

In the winter of 2001 I had a lot of firsts:  my first love, my first experience with snow in Seattle, and my first time being truly enveloped in an academic pursuit. I was a sophomore at UW, taking second-year German, an expository English writing course and a literature class. My life revolved around words:  love, Leben and English.

Expository writing needs a topic, a theme. That particular quarter, my instructor chose medical language — the way we talk about illness, the way we write about it, the general zeitgeist of our speech choices. Initially I was bummed — this topic was most definitely not in my wheelhouse of expertise at the time. As the quarter passed, we looked back at how tuberculosis was romanticized in westerns, then we started to look at contemporary pieces about the “fight” against cancer and the military-esque metaphors we all regularly use to describe disease. And I was sort of, well, hooked.

When put plainly in front of you, it was pretty shocking. Why do we do this? These are our bodies that we are discussing, yet when it comes to disease we suddenly use words that imply we are raging against them. Our bodies that we know and love are suddenly part of the enemy. It’s not this simple though: the answers of why we speak like this are impossible to lay out simply and plainly in front of you.

And this was my biggest first of all that winter:  it was my entry into truly understanding and feeling how and why the words we choose, matters. From the very first email I sent for BCSF, I have always had this in the back of my mind and have been applying it to the language we use around fitness. Because, words mean things.

And yet, so often the words that are chosen to represent fitness are aggressive and negative. About our own bodies. About our own minds. On the one hand we say we are working out for our health, to live longer lives, to run around with our kids and grandkids — all positive and noble reasons to exercise. Yet, a quick search on Pinterest for the top fitness pins give us “9 Moves to Shrink your Muffin Top”, a “Saddlebag Sizzler”, “5 Arm Workouts to Teach you How To Look Good in a Tank Top”. We buy books that tell us how to get “Killer Abs with a Killer Body”.  We want workouts that “torch” calories, we want to burn, burn, burn. Calories are an enemy in the fitness game. I would file most of these words as negative. When you look at them, most inspire judgment, shame, self-loathing and condescension.

But, aren’t our bodies are precious? Isn’t it awesome that we have the power to do so much with them? Isn’t it awesome that we have bodies that allow us to deadlift, run, do push-ups, do pull-ups? Isn’t it awesome that even when we can’t do something that we really, really want to do, we can almost always do something rather than nothing?

Aren’t calories the means that allow us to do all the above? Because last I checked, calories are what give us the energy to chase after our kids, to walk with your significant other on the beach, to chase your dog, to run up that hill.

Why did we decide that these things our enemies?

Why do we allow people to cut us down with shameful sounding workouts right out of the gate?

We can do better this.

We can fix this.

encourage mint

And it all starts with how we speak about our workouts. It starts with owning your badassery out of the gate. It starts with being proud of what you did, not what you didn’t quite get right during your workout. Recognizing mistakes is not the same as tearing yourself down for making mistakes. It’s not about feeling guilty about having “excuses”. It’s about being realistic and remembering your “why”. Your “end game”.

My why:  life-long health and pursuing something I love with passion and all I’ve got.

My “end-game”:  to exercise until I’m 85 (or longer, hell, who knows what’ll happen) and to do so safely.

This starts with honoring the process. By having goals but not determining my self-worth by said goals. I.e. I have a goal of training for StrongFirst right now, but that doesn’t supercede my priority of training safely, to mitigate injury and to be able to do this all for years to come. The SFG cert is like a cherry on top of a cake that I have working on for years, building layer by layer.

So, try it. Try only using positive words to talk about your workouts and fitness goals. Try avoiding plans that use shame right out of the gate. And let’s just see what happens.

Mindful March: Your Challenge Begins Here.

It’s March! What does March mean to you? For me, it’s the start of spring. And while in California we have a very loose definition of seasons, I yearn for this time of year when the days start to get longer and I’m not teaching BCSF in the dark. Waking up to the sun, rather the dark is a powerful, positive omen for my days.

March can be a ho-hum month. Short of St. Patrick’s Day, there are no holidays. No 3-day weekends, perhaps if you’re in school your Spring Break falls this month. But otherwise, it’s an intermediary to get from winter to summer, right?

It’s also the time that most of us have fully given up and forgotten about our New Year’s resolutions, which to me makes it a great time to re-jigger things in our life. To take a little time to get a little more mindful.

Mindfulness to me is a slowing down. It’s taking time to become aware of things. And in becoming more mindful we allow ourselves to get to know ourselves a bit better. We connect more. We slow down and the path becomes clearer. We are more confident in who we are and the choices that we make everyday.  Being more mindful has allowed me to become clearer with my goals both professionally and personally. I’ve taken the approach to my own fitness and have gone further than I thought was possible — because I slowed down, I’ve lifted heavier things in ways than I didn’t think I could. It’s allowed me to post more authentic and truthful things on this blog.

 

Mindfulness is about small actions that lead to something greater. Throughout March I’m going to post one action each weekday on my Facebook and Instagram pages that you can do to become more mindful. Most of these will take less than 10 minutes and many are things you can do in the midst of your workday, commutes, etc. It’s designed to make you slow down and connect with what you are doing. We all go through the motions of everyday life. It happens and no one can be mindful but 100% of the time. But let’s slow down and see what will happen if you take small actions every day for a month. What could change in your life? The possibilities are limitless, truly.

I hope you’ll follow along and take part! #mindfulMarch begins today. Watch for the first #dailyaction this morning!

I’m Not Skinny: And That Is Okay

“You’re SO skinny these days!!”

“Of COURSE, YOU’RE not going to eat that…” followed by a sigh.

“What have you been doing?!” while looking me up and down.

“Of course you can wear those shorts, YOU don’t have any cellulite.”

“Oh, you can eat whatever you want because you workout all the time.”

These are things I’ve heard from people that I love. People that I respect. And, while I know they love me and intend to compliment me, well, they are odd things for me to hear. I’m 5’11. My weight usually hovers right around 165 pounds, lately it’s been closer to 169.

There is, honestly, no metric by which I would be considered a small person. Because, let’s be real:   I dwarf most women and many men. And I do have cellulite. And plenty of body fat, too. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m overweight, ugly or that I just don’t deserve to hear people say nice things to me.

Usually when people say these things, I’ve found that there are a few things going on:

  1. Often the person saying this is either providing a very direct comparison to themselves or an implied one. It’s pretty much always a negative one. And, to be honest it doesn’t make me feel good about myself when you cast yourself in a negative light. That does not prop me up. When you say these things, mostly I just want to tell you that you’re amazing just as you are.
  2. We are elevating the idea of skinny as being the ultimate goal. It’s not. It’s not my goal. And I don’t think it should be yours. While I might have training goals from time to time for events and certifications (I’m looking at you SFG), in general my goals are simple:  to be healthy, to be strong, to be fit enough to enjoy the process and do what I love. In that order. Fitness and training happen to be one of the things I love, so I am simply lucky in that regard. But I would honestly rather be 10 pounds overweight and healthy than starve myself to simply be skinny. I don’t think that trainers that have a mentality that elevates “skinny” as the end-goal are doing a service to their clients and they are most definitely doing a disservice to their own health and moreso, mindset.
  3. And let me be frank:  I’m not skinny. There, I said it. I have muscles. I have pretty big muscles, in fact. My frame is not slight in any way shape or form. Women my height that are models weigh 30 pounds LESS than I do. Think about that for a minute:  30 freaking pounds! I don’t want to be skinny. I want to be strong. Muscles make me strong. Let me say it again, I don’t want to be skinny.

kbracklookaway

But, I get it. People mean this as a compliment and skinny has just become a cultural norm in the way we speak. It’s shorthand for “Hey, you look good!”, or “I notice you’ve been working out!”. It’s similar to how we use, “like”:  we just say it without thinking. It is basically, semantics.

Skinny Defined

 

But take a gander at how Merriam Websters defines “skinny” above ^. I don’t know about you, but none of those are qualities I want to be or exhibit.

Because I want to have sufficient flesh and I don’t want to have a lack of desirable bulk. I want to be significant.

And I want those things for you too.

Some of the “compliments” I’ve been hearing from people probably have to do with the sheer fact that, yes, my body has changed and they have noticed. That is fair:  when I graduated from college, about 10,  um, 12 years ago I weighed just shy of 200 pounds. I lost most of that weight after moving to San Francisco. I then hovered in the 170s and perhaps 180s at times for most of my 20s. I was working out for most of this time, yet I rarely counted a calorie and I was inconsistent with my workouts…for large swaths of time I only ran and barely did any strength training. I was generally okay with where I was, but I didn’t have defined muscles and had higher body fat than I do now.

But, in 2010 I started taking weight lifting a little more seriously. And at some point I  started to lift heavy and get really into kettlebell work. And I decided that I did want to lose some body fat. So I did. For a brief period of time, I counted calories and weighed my food on a scale for the first time in my life. Which, for the record, I’m not sure I will ever do again, but am grateful for the learning experience.

And I actually enjoy healthy foods like kale salads and chicken breasts that encourage leanness and muscle building.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my body a lot, but to me the aesthetic effects of my hard work are just that:  merely a very pleasant side effect. It is not my end-game. Because the lure of a six-pack truly does NOT motivate me to workout on days when I just don’t wanna. What gets me to do it is both the habit and reminding myself about my goals:  to stay healthy both mentally and physically, to have strength and to honor the commitment I’ve made to this path. The fact I know I’ll have fun once I start my workout, is the cherry on top.

And, yes, it’s nice to have your hard work acknowledged by the people you love. Of course it is. But I am sorry to break it to you, but I am not skinny. And that’s okay. Because, I’m healthy as a horse (knock on wood), I’m as strong as I’ve ever been and I’m enjoying the hell out of the process.

Is Exercise a Punishment?

This summer I went on a date with a very normal San Francisco guy. He worked in tech and really was hoping to make the leap to his own start-up — so yes, he really was that typical of SF. As we talked he bottom-lined me and asked: “So, tell me, could you actually date someone that doesn’t workout?”. I truthfully answered that I don’t need a partner to be as enthusiastic as I am about kettlebells and perfect squat form. If anything, it’s nice to have someone at home that wants to talk about something other than workouts since it’s pretty much what I think about 40+ hours a week. And I’ve dated men that were competitive with me when it came to fitness knowledge and application – to say that was frustrating would be a vast understatement.

 

The tech guy went on to tell me that he had a personal trainer a few years back and was in the best shape of his life due to the grueling workouts he went through. But he was no longer interested in working out, pretty much ever again. Not sure if he was joking or simply trying to get a rise out of me and always willing to give someone a chance, we texted throughout the following week to set up another date. At one point he sent me a message complaining about walking up Potrero Hill to his apartment at the top. I tried to make a joke to really suss out how serious he was about this and to nudge him with the idea that going uphill is something I enjoy a lot. But his heels were dug in: this was something he clearly felt was worthy of a complaint. At this point, I was certain that we wouldn’t be a good match.  To have the health and ability to be able to do this sort of thing is a true gift that not everyone has.

view potrero hill

Because to me, exercise is actually self-care. Movement is something we need to do to take care of our bodies to live healthfully and happy for the entirety of our lives. It is a gift we are endowed with to do things like hike up Potrero Hill or Macchu Pichu, but, it is also something akin to brushing our teeth, flossing, doing our laundry, going to the doctor for regular check-ups and so on and so forth. That is to say, it’s necessary, not optional. As with any commitment, sometimes we may enjoy it, sometimes we may not. But it is never something that should be a punishment. And if you don’t enjoy the way you are exercising, change it. If your needs change due to illness, injury or disability – change it, don’t give up, just know that sometimes in life you will have to adjust the way you workout. Women have babies, people get hurt, we get older. It happens and we simply need to adapt.
Continue reading “Is Exercise a Punishment?”

Is Your House on Fire?

A few weeks ago I was at my dog park and it was later at night, around 9pm. I’d had a long day and felt my pup deserved an off-leash romp, even if that meant going in the dark. I didn’t expect anyone to be there, but an older woman was there with her two rascals. We started talking and before long I learned that as a young adult she had been a nun. It made sense, actually, she definitely had the demeanor of someone that had listened a lot in her life. The kind of listening were the words don’t matter so much as the space between the words.

Before you know it, she was telling me a story of someone she knew that was getting a divorce. She said that it seemed clear that the marriage had been over many years before, but that her “house wasn’t on fire yet” but that recently it had gone down quickly, all the way to the ground.

This concept of a house needing to be on fire before someone is motivated to truly change really struck me.

In terms of health and wellness many people don’t change until their house is on fire. They wait until their cholesterol is so high that it requires medication. They wait until they can’t climb a flight of stairs without losing their breath. They wait until the 5 pounds of holiday season weight has become 20 the next July.

And this makes sense. Life is busy, complicated and sometimes just getting by feels like you are winning at life. Treading water is better than drowning. I heard that and I feel that, too.

But we all know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Is there an area of your life that feels like that? Are you barely keeping your head above? Let’s focus on that and let’s try to change before your ship is totally sunk. Let’s stop before your fire begins — it’s so much easier to re-decorate a house than it is to re-build it, right?

If your area is fitness and healthy eating and you are just keeping your head above water right now, let’s do these three things this week to ensure we catch you before your house is engulfed in flames:

1. Focus on ADDING in one healthy eating behavior. That could be eating one huge salad a day with a lean protein. That’s it. Don’t change anything else in your diet, just ADD this salad.

2. Add in a high-intensity-interval training session to your workout week. Don’t change anything else you’re doing workout-wise. Just ADD this in. This can be some sprint repeats, hill sprint repeats and anything Tabata-style, like intervals on a spin bike. Shoot for a 20-minute session. Yes, that’s it!

3.  Spend one hour a week doing a relaxing self-care focused thing for yourself. This could be a leisure walk, a yoga class or podcast, or meditation — you can break it up into 10 minutes 6 – 7 days a week, too. 

Commit to this House on Fire Challenge for one week and tell me how it goes! If you need ideas on some high-intensity workouts to try, just ask!

kettlbell

Dear Jillian Michaels : The Size of My Jeans Doesn’t Matter to Me.

For the last year or so I’ve listened to Jillian Michael’s weekly podcast. She is by many accounts a derisive figure in the fitness community. I would say that most coaches that I generally associate myself with would be inclined to dislike her and most kettlebell coaches really dislike her or maybe just strongly disagree with her techniques. Even though I was skeptical too, for some reason I decided to listen to one of her podcasts awhile back and I actually kind of appreciated the mindset conversations she does on them, so I continued to tune in many weeks. So, I’m saying this all to be clear from the start:  I went into this podcast very much liking Jillian Michaels.

But something really caught me off-guard in her podcast from July 14, 2014, titled “Fat Shaming”, when Michaels was talking about the fat acceptance movement. To be fair, I believe this is an incredibly complicated topic/movement that I am not sure I would ever be able or want to tackle, frankly.

As Michael’s went on to talk about this movement, she was saying that you need to love yourself at all body weights (agree), but that being able to have healthy biometrics (cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.) should always be your baseline measure of health. Great, I’m down with that — it is undoubtedly a challenge to have healthy biometrics when you’re obese, so I see where she is going with that and then…she went on to say that “I’ve seen many healthy girls in…size 8s, maaaaybe size 10s. I don’t generally see it in 12s. 14s. Don’t see that. Have yet to see that.” And my jaw was on the ground!

Because, here I am. A fitness trainer. Someone that helps literally hundreds of people get their workout in every day (about 25 of my own students daily, the rest throughout my company). And I’m, no joke, wearing a size 10 jean as I’m listening to her. Which means that I may or may not be healthy according to Jillian Michael’s standards?!

Let’s be clear:  I’m not overweight. My blood pressure is typically in the “athlete” range. I have healthy cholesterol numbers. My body composition is also in the athletic/fit range. I recently had an annual exam and my doctor commented on how “lean” I was (which for this exam, unfortunately made her job more difficult, #irony). I can both squat and deadlift more than my bodyweight and then some. I teach 9 bootcamp classes a week. I recently have been working on Turkish Get-Ups and get a kick out of using a 16KG (35-ish pounds) kettlebell for these. I say none of this to brag — and, frankly, I am still striving to improve on many of my lifts and areas of fitness. But what these are, are facts and effects of a lifestyle that I choose a long time ago. One that I love, I might add and one that is about WAY more than what size of jeans I fit into on a given day.

And yet, Jillian Michaels thinks that I should at least be a size 8 to prove that I’m healthy. I mean, is this real life? Are these things fitness “experts” should be using as a metric for being healthy?

belfie me

(Embarrassingly, yes, I recently took a #belfie. But at least now you all know what my butt looks like. And that is a butt that will likely never fit in a size 8 pair of jeans.)

Let’s start with the obvious flaw in this metric:  clothing companies have wildly different sizing standards. You don’t need to try hard to figure this out:  every time I order clothing online, a sizing guide inevitably pops up. Because they all have different sizing standards. And clothing brands know and get this. So is Jillian suggesting that I let Gap and JCrew decide if I’m healthy? Because that is what we are doing if we’re using clothing size as a healthy metric.  The bottom line is that even if you don’t like the rest of what I have to say, I think we can all agree that a clothing size is a very arbitrary measure to use for health.

I’m quite confident that your average American woman has a range of sizes in her closet even if her weight has stayed constant in the past 5 years, since most of us buy different brands and even brands are known to change their own sizing standards. I know in my case that besides those size 10 jeans I was wearing the other day, I also have some 12 jeans in my closet right now. I also have small tops, medium tops, size 8 pants, medium-sized pants — I even have a pair of size 14 shorts. THE HORROR! How could I possibly think I was healthy while wearing a pair of shorts with a number 14 on the tag?!

I’m 5’11 and weigh 165 pounds, give or take.

selfie outfit

 (size 12 crop pants, medium top)

I’m not overweight. And yet, I have a pair of size 14 shorts. Yup, there, I said it! The world knows my awful dirty, little secret. Should I be ashamed, Jillian? Should I crash diet so that I can fit into a “healthier” size 8 short?

My best friend is also 5’11, but she is a long-distance runner and is less muscular than myself. Even at 150 pounds, squeezing her hips into a size 8 pair of jeans would prove challenging and you’d likely consider this woman a beanpole.

 lindseywedding(she’s on the far right)

 

Another close friend is 6’2 and was a competitive Division I rower in college. The girl is gorgeous and athletic.  If you met her, I doubt you would consider her unhealthy or overweight…you might actually think she’s a badass and possibly wonder if she plays for the WNBA. It is laughable to think wearing a size 8 jean is a metric she should have to worry about.

rachelle

A trainer with a large online following, Molly Galbraith is gorgeous and basically my body twin at 5’10 and in the same weight range as me, 165 pounds-ish per her recent posts.

mollygalbraith

Do you think Molly is unhealthy? Do you think Molly wears a size 8 jeans? Um, no and no.

I decided to Google a few known tall celebrities and Venus Williams sprung to mind. She’s both athletic and tall and at 6’1 is reported to be between 159 and 165 pounds. I highly doubt she wears anything less than a size 10 jean.

venus williams

But….look at her. Do you think she cares about fitting into a particular size of jeans while she is winning matches? I doubt it. Do you think she frets that her butt is too big? Maybe. I mean, all women have their body image battles, right? But do I think that Venus Williams loses sleep over the state of her cardiovascular health? I would guess, a resounding:  no.

I would actually bet that Venus has her jeans tailored for her, since she spent years building her legs on the tennis court and those of us with legit leg muscles have a really tough time squeezing our glutes and quads into smaller jeans, even if our waists are smaller. Sidebar:  this is actually a known problem among lifters, which has caused some people looking to profit from this niche market, such as Barbell Denim that raised $735,000 for start-up costs on Kickstarter this spring.

You might be asking yourself:  why does this matter? Of course, we don’t need a trainer to tell us what size jeans to wear, Cat, DUH! Well, here’s why it matters:  as I was growing up, I didn’t really have many people to “measure” myself against to know if I was normal or not. I was taller than both my mom and sisters by a 3 – 6 inch margin. I didn’t know that wearing size 10 jeans was okay — especially for someone of my height. I remember being at the DMV for the first time and feeling so weird for having to say that my weight was in the 160s. As far as I knew, “women” were supposed to weigh in the 130s or so. I can only imagine if I had heard something like what Jillian Michaels said in her podcast when I was 16.

What if when I was 16, I had had CONFIRMATION from a celebrity expert that a size 10 was unhealthy? I likely would have been devastated and ashamed, even though I was actually normal and healthy. This is why what we say matters. And especially why someone that is a public figure, like Jillian Michaels, should be especially mindful of what metrics she is throwing around. Because young women are looking to us to understand their place in the world. They are looking up to us and they need to understand that yes, they are okay and that yes, we don’t value them simply for the size of jeans they wear.

How did I come around to realizing that I was indeed healthy just as I was and decide to not place value on the tag inside my jeans?

 

1. I talked to other women. I asked them about these things. I realized that these women (some of the above) were healthy and gorgeous. If THEY wore size 10 pants, it was probably okay that I did too.
2. I found exercise that I loved. That I couldn’t do without. And in turn learned to love my body more for what it could do, rather than what other people thought of it.
3. I worked on my posture. Being a tall girl that was unsure of herself growing up, my posture was the pits. I still catch myself rolling in the shoulders from time to time, but the key is that I catch myself now and correct it. Hearing this TED talk about power poses has really solidified to me how important this is. It’s okay to take up space in the world — and you’ll probably like yourself more when you do!
4. I make an effort to buy clothes that FIT me well and flatter my figure. DESPITE the size on the tag. We all have our disadvantages and advantages when it comes to fashion. Own ’em and move on.

5. I’d be remiss to not address that working in the fitness industry has made me so keenly aware of the messages we send each other about body image. I believe it has caused me to delve into these issues far more deeply than I ever would have, had I not been a part of it. It made me consider if encouraging people to get shredded for bikini season was something I wanted to be a part of — spoiler alert, it’s not. It made me realize that words matter and that ultimately, if I didn’t walk to the walk, I would never be able to help the clients I work with in the ways that matter to me most:  to get and/or keep them healthy, to make sure they know how amazing they are, to help them be stronger, faster and ready to take on the physical and emotional challenges of everyday life.

I suppose if I were able to surgically alter my hip bones to be slighter narrower and stopped exercising in the hope that my glutes could possibly atrophy (though realistically, muscles wouldn’t do this easily), I could fit into smaller jeans. Right? I mean, that sounds reasonable doesn’t it Jillian?

It couldn’t possibly be that if I went to such drastic measures that, in fact  it would be a sign of some serious self-loathing and disordered thinking would it Jillian?

Folks, please. We don’t need anyone, not Jillian Michaels, not your co-worker, not a sales clerk in a clothing store, not the folks at the Gap that work on sizing, our mother, our best friend or strangers on the internet telling us what size jeans we need to wear to be healthy. Spoiler alert:  your jeans size tell you nothing about your biometrics. So, please, please, please talk to your doctor about whether you’re healthy or not. Get blood work done if it’s been awhile. If you don’t like your doctor, find a new one.

And Jillian? Please find a better metric to help the public determine whether we’re healthy or not. Because frankly, I don’t give a damn what size my jeans are. And neither should you.

Coaching & Training: On Motivation and Critique

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a trainer or coach. In our current landscape it is an evolving role and there is so much to say about it all. And I’m not the only one that thinks so. I’ve read probably 8 or 10 write-ups in the last 3 months alone! It has given me enough ideas for at least four posts, but I’m starting here today.

A few months ago  I came across an article that caught my attention, gave me pause and I really wanted to write a response to it because I just had SO MUCH TO SAY. I think it only represents a small part of the fitness industry and I want to show you a broader spectrum. I want to show that there are a lot of ways to do this and a lot of ways to think about teaching group fitness that are, in my opinion, more beneficial to the people we serve.

The way my company teaches is different than group fitness in a gym, which is what I feel that this article is geared towards. Mostly I have the same people showing up day in and day out, only adding new people when a new session begins. And our groups are typically less than 12 participants. So yes, it’s a very different environment — one which I prefer! But that doesn’t mean that your standard gym classes aren’t good and can’t be better. They are and they can be!
Continue reading “Coaching & Training: On Motivation and Critique”

My Week in Workouts

Today, I’m sharing a weeks worth of my workouts for a few reasons:

1. Being a fitness “pro” I often get asked about how much I workout. Like, OMG, you must workout ALL the time. Not true by any means! I appreciate days off just as much as anyone — maybe even more so, since not thinking about exercise is frankly, super duper healthy for my brain at times. The idea of becoming a one-dimensional fitness person scares me…so not appealing!

2. This particular week of workouts might seem sort of random — and it is. I didn’t plan in advance to go biking — it was simply what I felt like doing. After all, I’m not training for an event…right now I’m simply training to live a healthy and happy life.  And let me tell you, this week of workouts made me really happy! This week is sort of a classic “me” week in terms of the randomness coupled with challenging myself. This is what makes it share-worthy in my opinion, because it’s exactly what I want to shoot for each week, but it doesn’t always happen:

fun + challenging + breathless + a balance of hitting all fitness areas + working on a skill + rest days = a perfect workout week. 

Sunday 3/30/14

workout:  15 mile bike-ride on the Bay Trail. Ride took just under 60-minutes.

Monday 3/31/14

workout: 60-minute session with my coach, TGU, KB swings, cleans, presses, front squats, oh my. In particular, we worked on my power clean + clean technique. It’s a toughie for me, but I left knowing I’m heading in the right direction.

self-care: 60-minute yoga with my favorite yoga teacher

Tuesday 4/1/14

self-care:  rest day. I took the dog on a long walk, got my 10K steps in for the day!

Wednesday 4/2/14

workout:  Today I ran with all 3 of my bootcamp classes. Do I “count” this as a workout? yes. because it clocked in at well over 5 miles. Was I focused on my own running and caring about my splits? Not at all. Was I loving every minute of the fact that I get to do this? Without a doubt. In total this meant I was “working out” for about…45 minutes?

Thursday 4/3/14

workout:  I did a “homework” workout from my coach. kettlebell swings, TGUs, other strength moves. This only took about 35-minutes.

Friday 4/4/14

workout:  did a strength session in my garage:  back squats, reverse burpees, weighted sit-ups, TGUs and maybe a few other things in there too. I played around in the garage for a good 45 minutes.

Saturday 4/5/14

self-care:  Long dog walk! And then, lots of foam rolling/mobility with some clients. I did tinker around on my spin bike for a little bit, but was mostly just doing so to play around with my cycling shoe fit.

All in all, that accounts to 5 days where I worked out, 2 where I rested and plenty of other self-care items. For me, that is a really, really good balanced week!