I Gave Myself a Break From Exercise: Here’s What Happened

Since June, if I had days where I didn’t *feel* like working out, I would generally skip it…about 90% of the time.

I’d take a nap. Or take a shower. Maybe watch TV. Or, read a magazine. Go to the dog park.

Why?

Because I like my workouts. I like to enjoy them. I don’t want my exercise space to be something I dread.

Because you don’t have to train hard all the time. I trained a lot the first half of this year and last while getting ready for my SFG cert. I’m not training for anything now — I’d be training hard just to do that. Which is fine, but it hasn’t been the headspace I’ve been in.

Because maintenance is a training mode, too. Meaning, sometimes exercise isn’t about beating records and lifting more, it’s about staying healthy. My workouts these past 6 months have been to maintain my skills, my strength and to stay healthy. I’m not breaking records, I’m not really trying anything new.

Because I’ve had nagging foot pain.

kettlebell swing coach cat

And, sure, I know this sounds crazy coming from a fitness instructor, but I 100% believe it’s okay to give yourself breaks. I see a lot of trainers talking about the importance of squeezing in training here and there and while yes, sometimes that is good. Sometimes that is necessary. But if you’re already relatively healthy and not trying to break records, what is the actual point of going balls to the walls?

For me, this is what taking a break looked like:

Most weeks I exercised about 3 or 4 times.  Remember, I still *like* exercise. It’s still one of my hobbies.

When I did exercise, I just did what I wanted to do. I played. I can’t tell you how much I love playing with exercise. Doing what my body feels like doing, instead of what I *should* be doing, or what I am *supposed* to be doing. It just feels good, man, to do what I want.

And what were my results of this?

I weigh the same. My muscle definition is basically the same.

A few of my lifts have weakened — meaning, I can’t lift as much as I was doing in May, particularly my overhead press.

My feet feel better. My quad and hamstring that were giving me grief this summer, feel better.

And most importantly, mentally I feel…better. I am starting to get the urge to train hard again and I like that feeling. To me, these breaks give me context. It makes training hard a special time for me. It’s often said that to feel goodness and happiness, you need to know pain and what bad times feel like to truly appreciate the good. While nothing “bad” happened while I took a break, it does give me context which I find useful for myself and in my practice of coaching others.

An important thing to note here is that this kind of break requires quite a bit of self-trust. Earlier in my fitness journey, I likely would have been scared to do this. I would have worried about how much fitness I’d lose, how much weight I’d gain, how much definition I’d lose and that I’d lose my inertia. This is operating from a fear mentality.

I don’t have these kind of thoughts anymore because I trust myself. Exercise is a part of my life, no matter what. I know I will workout a few times a week regardless of what is going on, because I like to do it and it’s a self-care act above all else.  I also trust the science of fitness. That is, I know I won’t lose a lot by turning down the volume on my exercise and that I can get back any strength setbacks in a relatively short period of time. I know that I won’t gain weight if I pay attention to what I eat and eat less when I’m training less.

Why am I telling you all this? Because we all have times when we take breaks like this. Mine was somewhat a choice, somewhat my body screaming at me to chill out. But many times, these breaks are forced upon us by situations in our life we can’t control — a loved one passes, a divorce happens, babies are born and need us or maybe you’re laid off. And one of the things that breaks my heart the most as a trainer is seeing just how hard people are on themselves when life throws them a curveball.

pigeon pose coach cat

It’s okay and necessary to ratchet down the volume on your training every now and then. Our bodies have limits and that’s okay. It doesn’t make us weak, it doesn’t make us less than, it doesn’t make us lazy. It gives us the opportunity to rejuvenate ourselves to take on new challenges. And isn’t that truly why we train anyway? To prepare for those future challenges? Food for thought, kiddos, food for thought.

 

The Path to Badassery Starts Somewhere: Here.

Recently I was chatting with one of my new BootCamp clients and she joked about about how I must have been great at sports when I was a kid, etc. I giggled a little because no, I really was not! I was terrible! This was surprising for her and she said, “Well, it’s not like I could just decide one day to become a trainer!” Since, of course, one can’t shouldn’t just become a trainer overnight.

She’s right. It did take me time to get where I am. But my path wasn’t all that linear, clearcut or what you might think it would take to become someone that teaches fitness for a living.

I did participate in sports when I was a kid. A lot: basketball, softball, soccer, tennis, track and volleyball. But I never practiced outside of formal practices. I never got super invested in one sport. I just didn’t care enough in that way. I did care about showing up, though. I cared about being part of a team. I cared about having fun. And these are good lessons to learn as a kid, I think. It’s not always about being the best on the team. It’s about being a part of the team, right?

When I went off to college, I dabbled in a few things. I tried intramural rowing, which I loved and is probably the one sport I regret not taking further. My college boyfriend tried to take me on “runs”. Which…I thought were basically ways to punish me for being sassy. I went to the gym…a few times. I had my first experience with yoga via a quarter long class at the campus gym.

But I wasn’t consistent with anything. And I was about 25 pounds heavier than I am now.

I remember coming to San Francisco in 2004 and standing in front of my mirror in my Fell Street apartment and thinking to myself “I’m just not the kind of person that will ever be thin. I’m just this way. I’m not someone that can get into shape.”

Xmas party 016

{about 2 months before I started @ BCSF}

And then suddenly my brother needed admin help with his burgeoning little fitness company, BootCampSF. And once I said “okay” he mentioned that his one requirement was that I actually participate in classes. To say my first day of BCSF (February 13, 2006) was hard would be an understatement. The entire first 6-week session was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done physically. I have clear memories of just standing in my shower after class and holding myself up against the wall with my hands to keep from falling over on my Bambi-eque legs! I remember moms in my class beating me at sprints and doing far more push-ups than I personally thought was necessary.

The program worked, though. It helped me to see how much I was capable of. It made me see that a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other plod, is more important than fancy footwork.

Nine years later (to the week!) here I am.  Someone that seems like someone that has been up to these tricks for a long time. And, well, I guess at this point I have. It’s been nine years. But, I would be lying if I said that I felt like I am the cultural ideal of what a trainer is “supposed to be”. I would be lying if I said that every day is easy, every rep is easy and that every workout is easy.

kbrackphoto1

I’m fitter than I was that day in 2006. In fact, I am probably the fittest I have ever been. But there are days where I still feel like the girl that looked in her mirror at 22 and thought she’d be chubby forever. At the beginning of this journey, I was someone that went to BootCamp only as my workout. And then I was someone that ran on my own. For fun! And then I was someone that went to the gym alone.

And then for awhile in 2009 I relapsed into a depression where I did barely any exercise. And once again it seemed like an impossibility to ever, ever, ever get back into shape. And I will never quite know how to express the kind of shame I felt when doing my job for BootCamp — a job where I talked to people on the phone and over email about our awesome workouts when I could barely get myself to do 20 minutes on the elliptical at the gym. It was a terrible hole. But after a summer in Europe and some serious soul-searching, I worked my way out of that terrible place and became someone that ran again. Someone that did a half-marathon. Someone that road biked. Someone that did duathlons. Someone that lifted weights at the gym. Someone that taught BootCamp classes.

You see, fitness is never a linear path. Yes, progressions and workout programs want you to believe it is. They will tell you that this muscle will grow, you will lose body fat, if you just follow this plan to the “t” and don’t have a day where you just need a slice of pizza…then, the plan will work.

They aren’t wrong. Plans work. We’ve done tons of research on exercise. We know this.

But you? You are a complex human just like me. And just like me, it’s a struggle. And, no, just getting started isn’t always the hardest part. Showing up to BCSF that first day in 2006 wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The hardest part is to be in the middle of the road and to realize you have to keep going. The hard part is realizing that one workout doesn’t save you, but many workouts in a row will save your life. The hardest part is that each day starts over and you are presented with all the same choices:  to burpee or sit on the couch? to have a donut or to have a kale salad?

The thing is, is that you have to keep going. You have to realize that a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other plod, is more important than fancy footwork.

But yes, maybe you need to get started with your fitness. Or re-started.

And that is all, just fine. And I have for you, a workout that will help you do just that. It will help re-hone your Inner Badass. Because you are a badass and maybe you just needed a reminder. The workout below is a place to start. Maybe you are thinking that it’s simple and silly and why are you even bothering to let some trainer on the internet tell you to do such simple exercises? Like, hello, Captain Obvious. But you know what? You have to start somewhere. You have to start with one day, one workout. And then get up and do another workout the next day. And if you have many days in a row  of these kinds of days I promise you will look at yourself in the mirror one day and think:   “I am a badass”.

And if that thought doesn’t come to you naturally, I’m gonna need you to say it out loud and fake it until you make it.

Because trust me, you are indeed a badass.

10 to 20 Plank-Up Push-Ups

20 Glute Bridges

10 Single Leg Bridges (each side)

30-Second Plank

10 to 20 Squats

Run 1 lap (.25 miles, standard city block or one lap around a track)

Complete 2 to 4 rounds of this routine.

Moving Forward: Using Your Past as a Tool

Yesterday I was looking through some files and came across a swathe of my old workout plans. These were plans for classes I taught about 4 years ago. Looking through them it was fun to see how I’ve evolved as a trainer. I laughed because I have exercises that were used over and over again and I don’t even know what the exercise IS! A froggie? What is a froggie? What is an Anna sit-up? And other questions, like why haven’t I used an Indian run in my class for what feels like 2 years?!

workouts Continue reading “Moving Forward: Using Your Past as a Tool”

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”