“Running Makes You Fat”: The War on Cardio

Sometimes we are reminded of how insular our worlds can get. I was talking with someone this week. He’s a runner and plays soccer. Doesn’t have a gym membership and I am pretty sure he doesn’t read fitness blogs and I am guessing his Facebook feed looks different than mine 😉

As we were talking about the ideal body composition of competitive runners and how thin they were, I was curious and asked him if he’d heard the news that “running makes you fat”.

He laughed.

Which makes sense because the idea at face value is pretty absurd. Right?

absurd BOY shoot

I then explained to him that for the past few years there has been a movement in the fitness industry against running and sustained cardio in general. Again, he was baffled. If this is news to you too, the general premise from the war on cardio enthusiasts is usually two-fold.

Firstly, the human body loves to be in homeostasis. So it will adapt to any stimulus that you give it. For example, if you are someone that runs 3 miles, 6 days a week and have done this for several years, while you are most definitely experiencing the benefits of exercise on your cardiovascular system and this will contribute to your longevity as a human, the energy systems in your body will have adapted to your running habit, so you’ll be using less energy (calories, stored fat, etc.) to do this run every day. So, in all likelihood, you won’t be changing your body composition/aesthetics if you are this kind of runner.

It’s my *anecdotal* opinion that very few people actually run like this. That is, very few people are so consistent with their running distance, speed and other variability factors that they would end up in this camp. Most serious runners know that they need to adapt in all sorts of ways and will do speed work, hill work, vary their distance, etc. And the rest of us aren’t running enough to become that adapted.

And secondly, “Running eats away your muscle tissue”. This idea also has to do with the energy systems of the body and the belief that your body will tap into muscle tissue as an energy source. In my opinion, this is kind of a gross misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the fuel sources that your body likes to use. Your body doesn’t prefer to break down muscle tissue for energy. Why would it? This is the type of thing your body would like to do when it’s fully tapped out — when you are starving. It could certainly happen if you are dabbling in dangerous nutrition territory or if you have an exercise addiction.

So — the war on cardio folks and running aren’t quite wrong — there is something to their points. It’s just that in my view they are taking some rare cases and running with it to scare people out of exercise.

And I really hate it when people get scared out of exercise.

Because that is the last thing we need! We need to lovingly coax MORE people to making exercise a habit in their life. Right?

Yes, yes, we do! And if you love running, please, please don’t stop!

duathlon

There are multiple benefits to running and sustained cardiovascular exercise like cycling, rowing, hiking, the elliptical machine.

  1. Your cardiovascular system loves it. The benefits to your heart health are well-documented research. I mean, we don’t call it cardio for no reason!
  2. Having a well-balanced workout routine is better for overall health than specificity. That is, if you only lift, you will miss out on the benefits cardio will give your heart and cardiovascular system, of course,  but studies also show that it contributes to overall recovery. That is, if you are training for powerlifting, you could see improvements to your recovery if you engage in some cardio as a complement to your lifting routine.
  3. Mental Health. Regular cardio exercise will help your hormonal profile, in particular it helps release hormones that will help you feel good. So, if you are exercising for depression, anxiety or general stress-relief, cardio is your friend.
  4. It is accessible. The thing that I love about cardio is it’s often easy to get started. You can literally go out your door and run. And while I love my lifting and love a hotel gym with lots of weights, you can always count on nearly any gym in the world to have cardio equipment.

Again, when it comes to overall health — the more well-balanced your routine is between cardio and strength work, the better off you will be.

But mostly it’s important to find exercise you love. Because you are not going to do something you hate just because someone told you it will make you “skinny and toned”. And I really hope you don’t stop doing something you love because someone told you it would make you fat. Because, that is so absurd, I just can’t even.

I Wish I Could Do That!

“I’m not the kind of person that works out.”

This is a thought I had in college and my early 20s.

“I wish I could do that!”

This was said to me when I was doing a workout last year on Thanksgiving morning.

It *really* struck me. The person that said this to me was in reality no different than myself. She had time, access to fitness equipment, and no children. A lot like myself.

For a moment I felt a slight sense of shame — was it bad that I was choosing to spend some time working out on the morning of a holiday instead of leaving early to spend more time with family? was it selfish? was it vain?

Given I’ve been working on my mindset practice for quite some time, I knew how to turn my shame triggering thoughts around. Because I exercise for so many reasons, I knew that I would not only physically feel better going into a huge Thanksgiving meal, but that I would calm any anxiety I had (family, traffic, cooking, etc.).

Here’s the thing: you get to decide what kind of person you are.

You get to decide to exercise. “I wish I could do that.” Is language that takes the power away from you. Linguistically, you are saying that you have no choice in the matter.

But the beauty of being an adult living in the free world? We choose our path.

There is not one kind of person that works out. There are people that run, people that lift, people that swing kettlebells, people that go to spin classes, people that go to yoga, people that do pilates, people that run 100 miles in the desert, there are people that ride bikes, people that hike mountains

Exercise is simply movement. The human body is, in fact, designed to move. For realsies. There is no one kind of person is allowed the privilege of being the “KIND OF PERSON THAT EXERCISES”.

You ARE that kind of person.

You ARE the kind of person that chooses to do something you love.

You ARE the kind of person that can decide to be joyful in your movement.

You CHOOSE to be that kind of person.

You choose to be this kind of person by the everyday small choices that you make. You choose to be this kind of person by developing habits. The difference between myself and the person who made the comments to me?

  • I wake up early and have a structured sleep schedule that I prioritize.
  • I don’t negotiate with myself about exercise, I simply do it.
  • I have found movement that invigorates my soul.

In life, we can be “victims” of circumstance or revel in the joy that is the wide open path of choice.

What do you choose for today? Remember, it’s the small choices that add up to something amazing.

The Scale is Not Your Enemy.

Trigger Warning:  If you have struggled with eating disorders this post may not be for you.

For all my teens and most of my 20s I thought bathroom scales were for other people.  I owned one in my early 20s when I first started exercising and used it to track my weight loss, loosely. And then I was depressed, lost my commitment to fitness and healthy eating and I started to gain weight again.

I didn’t use scales when I saw them and I looked away when I  was weighed at the doctor. I didn’t want to know how much I weighed. If I knew the truth, that meant something. It meant that I couldn’t hide, it meant that the truth was out there. It meant that I was a failure, it meant that I was “too big”. It was proof that I wasn’t normal, that I was different than my friends and that number on the scale was proof. I knew that I was different than most of my female friends already (when you’re nearly six feet tall, the jig is basically up), but the number on a scale was solid, factual evidence that I was different in a way that was bad.

I didn’t want to face all of those meanings. When you place that much negative importance on something, who would want to face it?

I remember talking to my best friend back in the thick of my war with the scale in my mid 20s and she mentioned that she weighed herself daily when she was trying to lose weight because it held her accountable. It motivated her to keep going. As she talked, I remember my stomach sinking a little bit at just the idea of it it:  it sounded terrifying. I was sure that if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else during a day if it started with the anxiety of weighing myself. Looking back at my medical chart from the period we had this conversation I weighed in the mid 170s. Not much more than I weigh now.

A few years back I’d had a bit of weight gain. I could tell by how my clothes fit. I was working out pretty vigorously on my own and teaching BCSF, so I felt incredibly frustrated by this. I tapped into a dietician that I’ve known for years. I went into her office for some tests. And now she knew my weight. And we talked about it. It was out in the open. My palms were sweaty, and I felt ashamed. I should know better…right? I’m a trainer — I should be able to have a handle on this. Right?!

She calculated a few things for me and I learned some useful things, like how my resting metabolic rate was substantially higher than it would be based on norms, because of my high amount of lean muscle mass (a win!). She calculated my caloric needs. She offered to check in with me at a few points over the next few months to see how I was doing.

She knew my truth.

And suddenly I found myself weighing myself every other day. I still ate things I wanted. And the weight came off.

That was 3 years ago or so. And these days I still weigh myself a few times each week. And it doesn’t ruin my day.

A lot of my colleagues out there are teaching the world that the scale doesn’t mean anything, don’t equate yourself to a number. That it doesn’t have anything to do with your self-worth and that you don’t even need to weight yourself. They are all 100% correct. These are the women that I resonate with the most.

But, I’m here to offer another perspective. Burying your head in the sand, like I did, is also not a way to deal with this. Because isn’t that just another way to give the scale more power? To completely avoid something because you’re afraid of it? I just don’t think that’s the answer for many of us.

thescale

{my scale. see, it’s not scary! it’s pretty darn silly, if you think about it!}

I can weigh myself now, often, because I have done exactly as my colleagues have suggested — I’ve detached emotion from the scale. Now, when the number has gone up, I think about what I’ve done. Have I been eating more than usual? Have I been eating a ton of sodium? Did I have too much alcohol?

The scale is a tool. It’s one way to measure progress. It’s one method to keep on top of your health.  I think a few things contributed to my ability to change how I feel about the truth.

1. I Talked About It. Someone knew my truth. The number was out there and it was discussed. It was freeing, I realized.

2. Exposure. The more I started weighing myself, the less scary it became. It was one of my many things I did to take care of myself, like brushing my teeth.

3. Performance Gains. I was motivated by my increase in performance that I got from losing excess body fat.

4. Zero Deprivation. I was not depriving myself when I was losing weight. I didn’t see the scale as a symbol of unhappiness as I’d done in the past because it wasn’t a source of frustration.

5. It’s a Tool. Accepting the scale as a tool, as an indicator of how I’m doing on a purely scientific-type way is the ultimate freeing force in this for me. I’m not a terrible person if I eat Pho one night and then see a 2-pound weight “gain” the next day. I simply realize that Pho has an insane amount of sodium in it and that likely I am just seeing water weight. I’ve actually gotten to the point where this kind of thing amuses me.

6. Self-Worth & Confidence. My teens and 20s were a struggle, so it’s not a surprise to me that something so simple as knowing my weight had the power to deflate me. Feel confident in my life overall, in myself in knowing I have a path that I am happy to be on, removes the power of 5 pounds, 10 pounds. Happiness is more important than a number on a scale and now I realize that.

flexpower

Does the scale scare you? Tell me your struggles. The truth is powerful when it’s spoken out loud. We are only scared of things if we let ourselves be scared. We do not need to let inanimate objects tell us our self-worth. We don’t need them to conflate success with a number. They are what they are. They are numbers. Your weight is no different than your blood pressure, your cholesterol, your glucose level. They shouldn’t be equated with self-worth, but they do matter to your overall health.

If the scale scares you because you’re afraid it means something about who you are. Stop. Breathe. It’s about your health. Not about who you are a human being. Please don’t believe for a moment that the scale measures your humanness. The scale is a measure that isn’t meaningless, but it also isn’t meaningful about who you are.

 

When Did Bananas Become a…Controversy?

There I was minding my own barbell when right next to me the other gentleman in my class was sitting down to catch his breath. He was struggling, but putting in some amazing work and effort. The trainer for the class was checking in with him about his nutrition. One of the first things he asked this gentleman (he was clearly struggling with a lot of extra weight) if he was still eating bananas for breakfast. When he admitted that, yes he was, the trainer shook his head and started going into detail about all the bad qualities of a banana and why this was a bad choice.

 

I looked around. Was I the only one hearing this? Are bananas really the biggest battle this gentleman is facing?

Let me be clear: bananas are not his enemy. And they aren’t yours either.

Bananas are starchy and contain natural sugars. They are also delicious, satiating, widely available and highly convenient. They offer quick energy. They are not made in factories.

Fun fact:   apples have nearly as much sugar as bananas – the make-up of types of sugar is slightly different, but have you ever heard someone discourage someone from eating an apple? I think not, since an apple a day keeps the doctor away
right?

Perhaps if you’re lucky, you haven’t been privy to the villianizing of bananas. But the example with the gentleman above is not the only time I’ve experienced this phenomenon. Bananas are not Paleo, they’re not Whole30 approved and they show up on “Do Not Ever Eat” lists of many other eating plans.

Why is this? In my opinion it’s nitpicking. It’s someone deciding that micro milligrams worth of natural sugar are your enemy.

Unless you are diabetic, are allergic to them, or have another health condition, trust me when I say that bananas are not your enemy.

Let me give you a few reasons why:

  1. Food is never neither evil or perfect. That is because your choices shouldn’t be placed in a moral discussion. Food simply
is. When we put labels on whether our food is good or bad, we are essentially placing that label on ourselves and then we end either feeling that we are “good” or “bad” for eating a particular thing. I.e. “I was so BAD this weekend!” Why? “I ate pizzaaaa!!” Zomg! You are not bad because you ate a food. You are bad if you cut someone off on the freeway 😉
  2. Bananas have in the realm of 90 to 130 calories. In the scope of your nutritional day, this is small. If you’re eating 2,000 calories a day, this is 10% of your eating day. It is literally small potatoes. Fretting over this small thing is quite literally not seeing the forest for the trees.
  3. When it comes to losing fat, the bigger picture always wins. There is room for all kinds of things in your diet when you are creating a caloric deficit. Even bananas!
  4. Sugar from fruit is not your enemy. There, I said it. Unless you are mowing down 10 bananas a day, you are not going to exceed your daily recommended amount of sugar, trust me.
  5. Unless you’re a super athlete or have another need to pay attention to the micro-breakdown of the different kinds of sugars in a banana, it doesn’t matter for you. And to be frank, I am not even sure an athlete would care that much. When you’re working at elite levels, the amount of food one needs to sustain themselves can be mind-boggling.

I am not saying that everyone needs to eat bananas, by any means. In fact, I can think of a few reasons to not eat bananas (ecological footprint, etc.). But, they are okay to eat if you like them. There is no reason, ever, to ban a food that is so simple.

Labeling foods as “good” or “bad” is a slippery slope to moralizing food, which in turn becomes a judgment on yourself and others. And when we place these limits on food, it becomes a source of guilt or shame when we do eat them. It can also open to gate to binging because we “failed” at not eating all the “good” foods that we were supposed to.

Does that last paragraph make sense? If not, please go back and read it again.

It’s my opinion, that you should always eat what you like. Just like this famous guy said: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” –Michael Pollan

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!

Happiness is Choosing Yourself Above All Else: Or, Why I’m Having Jaw Surgery

“It’s a cosmetic surgery.” She said, before going into another plank at my command. I was telling one of my classes about my upcoming jaw surgery. And I replied to the group that yes, while aesthetic results were a definite outcome, my surgery was a medical neccessity.

My client wasn’t wrong, though. This is an expensive surgery that most Americans will never be able to pay out of pocket for and therefore need to get medical clearance for insurance purposes — but looking better is a major reason a lot of people will fight tooth and nail to get this surgery. And I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited to see what my results will look like.

But there’s more to it than that for me. For me this surgery is a testament to my independence. It’s a about making a choice for me. Only me and no one else.

And isn’t that the best kind of choice we can ever make?

I’ve known I needed this surgery since I was 15. I had crooked teeth and had wanted braces but my family wasn’t exactly rich and braces seemed like a luxury that I wasn’t pushing for. But one day out of the blue, my dad took me to see an orthodontist. The first thing the ortho said to us was that I would require surgery to completely fix my bite. Without hesitating my dad said no. And I rolled with it. I got the braces and had them for a mere 18 months. My teeth were straighter and I didn’t think too much about it for the rest of my teen years.

As I got a little older and ostensibly my imbalances became more pronounced (the growth plate in your jaw is one of the last to close, so it can grow well into your mid 20s), I started to think about it more. I started to avoid having my picture taken. I practiced which angle of photos looked better.

Every time I saw a dentist in my 20s (I switched at least 3 times) the first thing they mentioned to me was my “crooked” jaw. And it bothered me. I remember once telling a dentist “Well, when I can’t get a date, maybe then we can talk about this.” All they were suggesting was for me to get a consult with a surgeon. It was a defensive response.

On the surface I thought to myself “I’m confident! I don’t need a perfect jaw to feel good about myself. I’m not that shallow!” And that is all true and fair points: we are more than what we look like. But…because of my defensiveness, I never stopped to listen to the medical benefits to fixing my jaw. I assumed the only reason they were suggesting I look into was to look better. And damnit, I was better than that.

It wasn’t until I was 29 or 30 that I started to casually research this surgery. Fast forward to last year and at 33 I was fresh out of a long relationship and having a heart to heart with my best friend. She’d had a co-worker have a similar surgery that loved the results. And when Lindsey said to me “Why not get a consult? What’s the worst that could happen?”, I realized she was right.

And the rest is history. I had that consult. I had confirmation that my surgery was classified as a medical necessity and would actually be covered by my insurance plan. The day I got my braces I cried. I knew there was no going back. And here I am:  8 months later and 1 month out from my surgery.

radiancebraceface

I’ve had a lot of time to consider what I’m doing. And while I am intrigued to see how different I’ll look, more than anything I am proud of myself for taking the leap.

I’ve let other people make a lot of big decisions for me in my life. I certainly understand my parents choices, but I wish I would have had the courage to dig deeper for myself when I was younger. I wish I would have listened to the dentists in my 20s. But hindsight is 20/20, right?

All we can do is live in the here and now. And in the here and now, I’m so excited that I took the bull by it’s horns. That I spent the time to consider what is my best for MY future. Sometimes choosing what’s best for you won’t be apparent to others. They may see your choices from the surface only– they may think that you are choosing to change your fitness routine for vanity. They may think you are eating healthier to simply be skinnier. But no one knows what is in your heart. No one knows your true reasons, except YOU.

So how do we handle these bigger changes? Especially when it’s the kind of thing that people notice and that have opinions about? And namely, how do we handle comments by those close to us about these kinds of changes you are making in your life?

1. We Give People the Benefit of the Doubt. My client that made that comment wasn’t trying to hurt me.  This is a group I am close to, so she likely just felt comfortable saying it. She probably knows someone that has the surgery and maybe their reasons were aesthetic. WHO KNOWS? The point is, even though it was a little jarring for me to hear it, it wasn’t with malice.

2. We Foster Resiliency in Ourselves. Negative emotions and interactions happen. It’s a fact of life. If we’re resilient, though, we we are able to roll with the punches much easier. We are able to brush things off. But, according to research, there are a few things that are facets of resilient people:

The ability to make realistic plans and being capable of taking the steps necessary to follow through with them

A positive self-concept and confidence in one’s strengths and abilities

Communication and problem-solving skills

The ability to manage strong impulses and feelings

3. We Know Our Why. I’m having this surgery so that I’m not in pain any longer in my TMJ join. I’m having this surgery so that my teeth wear evenly for the rest of my life. I’m having this surgery because it’s the best choice for me. You have your reasons for why you want to change. Maybe your blood pressure is too high. Maybe you’re just fed up. There are millions of valid reasons for why you want to change. That is no one else’s business but yours.

And the end result of making these kinds of changes? Likely it will result in a happier you. Right? And isn’t happiness all the reason we ever need to make a big decision in our life? I’m going to give that one a resounding YES.

If you’re struggling with a choice like this, try to focus on one of the above things to work on. Maybe you need to focus on giving people the benefit of the doubt. Or maybe you need clarity on what your why is. That’s okay. But my advice would be to focus on one step at a time. Enjoy the journey, trust the process.

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!

Feel Your Power: Go Climb That Mountain.

Hillway Avenue is a little street near the UCSF Parnassus campus. It’s a relatively steep hill, based on other streets I would guess it’s grade percentage is in the high teens, maybe low 20s. And it’s the first place that I realized one thing:  I was kind of a badass at sprinting hills.

Our BCSF classes meet in the corner of Golden Gate Park close to UCSF, thus close to Hillway Ave. It has long been a favorite of our trainers to take members to this prime spot on hill days. I can’t tell you much about the day that I realized this was something I *liked* except that it was probably the Spring of 2007, that I remember dodging a few doctors on their way to work and that all I had on my mind was beating my classmates up that damn hill.

Hillwayave

I am not viciously competitive by any means, but I like to win when I feel it’s in my grasp — don’t we all? I’m more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner in terms of my athletic talents. That is to say, I can go hard for a short period of time. And there is nothing that makes you feel more accomplished at 7:30 in the morning that knowing that you’ve conquered a steep hill multiple times.

Hill repeats are one of those beautiful in their simplicity type of workouts as it requires only you, your running shoes and finding a perfect hill. In my neck of the woods this last part is easy-peasy.

The physiological benefits of running hills are impressive:  as long as you’re pushing hard, you’re contributing to a better EPOC — so, it’s a great fat-burning tool, they promote muscular strength and endurance and they also can increase your VO2 max, meaning your cardiovascular system is improving.

And yes, running hills is hard. But that is exactly one thing I love about it. It’s a huge challenge and yet, I can do it. There is an end in sight – I can see the crest and know that I can make it that far.  The first time I ran up Hillway Ave. and beat someone else? It was one of the first times I realized that I can do this. I can be athletic. I have talent. I am kind of a badass. It made me feel powerful in a way that I had not ever felt before.

I would love for you to have that same feeling. To feel powerful. To reap the physiological benefits of this type of workout. So for you willing participants, I have a workout for you to try. It’s simple. If you’re a beginner, you’re going to run shorter sprints.

A few things to keep in mind when running hills:

1. Going downhill is hard on your body as it generates more force on joints, muscles, etc. To combat that, you will either walk down the hill for recovery, or if you run I want you to either go backwards (yes!), or traverse down the hill like you are skiing a slalom, side to side.

2. Warming up your feet and calves are super important on a hill day. Below the workout, you’ll find a video where I give you a run down of things to do to warm-up your lower leg region.

climb that mountain workout

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.