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You Are Building Adults - Modeling Success For Successful Children

We talk to a lot of parents because we’re curious about the experience of being one. They tell us their hopes and fears, their concerns about the future and the things that bring them optimism. Over the years, their stories have helped us developed an appreciation of what it means to be a parent. One of the striking facts that seems to jump out is related to the observational learning and the normalization that children do when they seeing their parents doing ANYTHING. This is something that we see in our coaching clients everyday - most of them are doing what their parents did when they were growing up.

Things that parents pass along to their children that don’t serve to optimize development:

Teaching ineffective exercise habits. Active parents tend to have active children. When a parent teaches a child that there is joy in moving, we rarely need to work with them in any way other than to help them achieve peak performance. With a well-established baseline, young people tend to continue to move. They may decide to go as far as they can in a sport or simply become a recreational participant, but the activity habit is sticky and most enjoy the lifelong benefits associated with maintaining an active life. We do however work with a lot of individuals who didn’t have the exercise habit modeled when they were younger and there is a host of issue associated with this lack of movement. It is fair to say that teaching an adult how to love moving is one of the bigger challenges primarily because they have already learned how to love NOT moving.

Teaching children poor eating habits. A serving size is a different thing for every family but it tends to be the same size for everyone in the same family. Lean parents tend to raise children who are closer to their ideal body weight and composition than obese parents, who tend to raise children who are heavier. Families who sit down and eat meals together tend to continue to sit down and eat meals together. Parents who help children view food as the source of nutrition, building material and the occasional treat establish a repeatable and reasonable relationship with food. Those who teach their children that food a reward and that every meal should consist of foods that are enjoyable and easy tend to raise children who are lazy when it comes to their attitudes towards food preparation.

Not teaching children how to not win. Learning how to handle defeat or not being the best appropriately will go a long way in giving a child an advantage when it comes to life. Human beings do most of their learning by making mistakes - trial and error is how each of us learned how to walk, talk, move, etc…. However, at some point we are taught to feel shame for being wrong and this causes us to close-up and avoid the experiences that will produce useful lessons. There is a trend towards eliminating failing grades in schools to ensure that no child endures the lesson of accountability and responsibility until they graduate high school. The impact of missing these lessons can be devastating given that failing in school opens a person up to improved coaching / teaching while failing in the work force eliminates their employment. There is an equally damaging trend toward sports tournaments becoming festivals in which everyone participates and is regarded as a winner. The stigmatization of everyone being the same is likely more damaging to motivation than the consequences of not being the best.

Passing long a tendency to give-up before success or goals are achieved - phrased another way, allowing a child to rely too much on talent or innate qualities to garner attention or positive reinforcement vs. reinforcing their effort. Trying is a skill that will last a lifetime. Looks will fade, other people will come along who naturally better at something, talent burn itself out over time as one ages. If a child never learns the value of putting in enormous effort in order to increase the likelihood of success, they will tend to give-up very quickly before achieving anything in terms of transformation, success or problem solving. Those individuals who are taught to work hard regardless of the outcome will be at a distinct advantage when it comes to achieving ANYTHING.

Now each of these things can be taught to a young person through direct intervention and teaching or they can be taught passively through modeling. Teaching is not the same as doing, so when you try to teach a child these skills, you do not reap the benefits associated with BEING those skills. Modeling tenacity will guide a child towards persistence alone with generating greater success for a parent. The same applies to being an active parent who takes a direct role in food choices; not only will their children learn how to eat more effectively and develop a love of movement, but the adult will enjoy an improved quality of life a boost in vitality that can only come from participating in a health choices.

How I Have Not Served My Clients Adequately

Looking back about 3 years on my training, I can now see a few ways that I have not provided my clients with adequate service. Below is a list of 5 things I am now doing differently:

1) Sell small numbers of sessions during the initial few months. Some people will not keep doing this and while it is good for them, getting them to do it actually makes their life worse. It SUCKS to be out of shape and it can be even worse trying to get back into shape. And maybe, just maybe, selling someone a years worth of training when they are feeling excited in January is going to hurt them a lot more than help them. Give them the option to leave early on, and give them plenty of chances. You don’t want to train those who do not want to be trained.

2) Focus on getting them to properly engage their core. Humans need to be able to rotate their upper and lower bodies independently, but they also need to be able to prevent this rotation. If you do not set the ab muscles correctly when you lift, energy is going to be wasted and you will not lift as much weight. Worse still, is that if you ruin your back with relative ease when you lift without properly engaging your core. There has been an enormous increase in the level of satisfaction with most of my female clients now that I stay on them throughout the set to keep their core tight. The initial reduction in load is a small price to pay for the improvement in posture and function that accompanies appropriate core recruitment.

3) Focus on flexibility, joint mobility and function. This is one that annoys me because it was completely selfish. I don’t like stretching much (at all) and while I understood the importance of having adequate flexibility and proper joint range of motion, I didn’t place enough value on this for a long time. Fortunately all of my clients remained injury free so this shortcoming in training didn’t have a major impact on them now that it is being addressed.

4) Focus 70% of the strength training on eccentric phases. The lengthening phase of a working muscle is called the eccentric phase. It’s easiest to build strength and most of the micro trauma that forces muscle recovery occurs during this phase - these mean that if you have a lot to lose by not focusing on eccentric work. At its simplest, when you are lowering a weight you just move at 1/2 to 1/4 the speed that you would when you are lifting the weight. I don’t think you’ll lose fat as quickly if you avoid 4-5 second eccentric phases.

5) Focus on psychology with the people who don’t follow instructions. Athletes listen and do. People who want to change their body composition shut-up and follow the advice that is given. But what do you do when the people say they want something but fail to do what is needed to achieve their objective? You have two choices, the first is to fire them and get a new client, hopefully someone who will follow instructions and work towards their goal. The second choice is to get into their head and try to point out exactly what you are seeing and what it indicates. Doing the second consistently is what separates the good coaches from the great ones - and I’m hoping to be one of the great ones - because you’ll be able to get people to change who could not have achieved it on their own.

I have started to spend more time addressing these areas with my current clients, but I’m sure there will be a new list of shortcomings in the coming months and years, and that’s a good thing! We only improve the process when we admit to that which is not working and seek to change it.

5 Characteristics For Successful Body Composition Change

Having worked with hundreds of people over the last decade, I have had the opportunity to observe their progress and to get an idea what qualities are needed in order from someone to make a dramatic change to their body composition. Below are the 5 characteristics shared by those who make the most positive changes.

1) They are independently motivated. Being self reliant is more important than anything else when it comes to body composition changes. If you are able to train, cook and shop on your own, you are going to be much more successful in the long run because you are actually creating new and sustainable behavioral patterns. When you lean on another person to be your training partner, chief or to hold you accountable to YOUR goal, you are shifting some of the responsibility onto the other person. This can work, but you run the risk of creating conditional success or dependency.

2) They give-up their notions of what they know and follow instructions. Given their independence, if they knew how to do it they would be doing it. The sooner people shut their mouths, listen and act, the sooner their bodies change. Body composition changes are not complicated 98% of the time but people tend to make them more complicated (possible to ensure their failure). It’s about eating real food, exercising intelligently and doing both consistently for an extended period of time.

3) They see themselves as the cause of their problems and do not blame others for the state of their life. If it’s someone else’s problem get them to fix it. But you control your body so if you are an adult and you don’t like the way it looks that’s your fault. Blame other people if you like, but they aren’t going to make you lean and muscular. If you want to change your body change your body. Crappy or toxic friends are one thing, but you are the one who gives in to their negative influence and makes their problem your problem.

4) They are able to focus their attention onto the experience of change in order to improve their body awareness. Food makes you feel something, so does exercise. Changing your thoughts about food feels like something. Change feels different and it’s important to gain awareness into what that is. You can feel your blood sugar level changing, you can identify the difference between actual hunger and psychological hunger, you can get feel and contract almost every muscle on your body. You can feel all of this once you identify what each thing feels like and then practice feeling.

5) They accept suffering as a part of the change process. If you have body fat to drop there is a very good chance it didn’t get there through exercise and sound eating. Accepting that you now have to pay for the party is critical in embracing the suffering that going without is. It can be hard and that sucks, but being lazy and eating too much was easy, so the pendulum swings.

Possess these qualities and there’s a good chance that you have already taken control of your life and your body. If these characteristics don’t sound like you, start changing the way you act to embody them. You only have your extra body fat to lose!

Industry Sanctioned Laziness

I had a consultation with a 40 something lady yesterday. She was interested in personal training because she has found that her weight loss is very slow since she joined the gym about three months ago in spite of her coming in and working out 4-5 times per week.

I took my normal approach with her - which is to assume she is missing one or two critical pieces of information that are preventing her from being successful - and didn’t try to sell her. This approach is effective for me because a lot of people don’t need or want training, they just need a little wisdom or a slight change in behaviour. This lady was no exception.

The first 45 minutes focused on nutrition. Hers is fairly good. The only real issue is that she is eating a considerable amount of carbs with the mistaken belief that just because they were organic they would help her improve her body composition. I let her know that the body doesn’t know or care where the food comes from - it’s going to treat organic carbs in basically the same way it will treat conventional carbs - as one or two steps away from being sugar.

The final 15 minutes focused on her exercise routine. She is making a number of mistakes here but two that are dramatically impacting her performance. The first is that she doesn’t record the weights she is using and as a consequence has only added about 10 lbs to any of the lifts she is performing. 10 lbs in 3 months is fine if you are dead lifting or squatting 400 lbs but when your numbers are 80 lbs on leg press and you have no injuries, 10 lbs in 3 months doesn’t cut it - particularly for a beginner. So I told her to keep a record of the weights she is using to make sure they are progressing upwards.

The other mistake she is making is a lack of intensity on the cardio movements. When she started, she would work until she was out of breath, sweating and tired. But early on, someone showed her how to use the machines “correctly” for weight loss and she started working in the fat burning zone (I’ve written about this bs before). This basically means you try to keep your heart rate around 60-65% of its max. So, for the last 2 months she has been avoiding working hard because of the mistaken notion that the fat burning zone is the way to go for fat loss. I corrected her on this notion and encouraged her to work as hard as she can or as hard as she did initially and to consider some high intensity intervals. She was pissed off that she had wasted the last few months just coasting along doing effectively nothing because she was more than willing to work hard - in fact, she was working hard until someone showed her the “right” way to do it.

Why this “fat burning zone” stuff continues in the fitness industry doesn’t make any sense. Anyone who spends a few minutes doing some research will quickly learn that what matters is the amount of energy you burn and not where that energy comes from. All things being equal, working harder is better for the fat loss and conditioning than working with a lower intensity. If you can work at 80% you should work at 80%. The fact that fewer of the calories will be coming from fat isn’t all that important as the body will use stored fat to help replace any deficit in energy that results from the high intensity movement.

Intensity Won’t Kill You, a Lack Of It Might

One of my clients has started wearing a heart rate monitor during his workouts recently to make sure he is working as hard as he needs to - his goal is fat loss and to recapture some of the health lost during the last 20 years of smoking. What is more interesting than the information the monitor reveals are the views of the client.

After a particularly grueling super set the monitor revealed a heart rate of 170 BPM. He was gasping for air, pouring sweat and looked extremely tired. Resting before starting the next set, he said “a month ago I thought that I would have died if I ever got my heart rate higher than 150 BPM”. I laughed because I thought he was kidding but he wasn’t. He had never in his life worked with that kind of intensity and really did think that he was an ideal candidate for a heart attack if he pushed himself that hard.

He didn’t die. In fact, 170 is tough for him, but he’s able to work that hard fairly consistently - we’ll get his heart rate up to 170 5 or 6 times during the high intensity intervals we’re doing. His body fat is dropping, his energy is increasing and his posture and muscle mass are improving.

The irony of the entire thing is that his lack of intensity was shortening his life. Because he didn’t get his heart rate up, he had gained a lot of body fat, had very poor cardiovascular health and had basically given up doing anything that was unpleasant. He was well on his way to an early grave and, as a husband and father of two, setting his family up for unnecessary hardships when his life ended prematurely.

If you need to reduce your body fat and get your life back, get medical clearance, go to the gym and work with as much intensity as you can handle, and then push a little further.

Takes Time To Turn On Fat Burning

I’m back to working as a personal trainer in a commercial gym. Most of my clients are interested in fat loss changes vs. strength or pure hypertrophy so one of the questions I get most frequently is “how long with it take to lower my body fat by X percent?” It’s a good question that anyone who is interested in getting a trainers should ask, but the decision to buy training should be influenced by the answer the trainer gives.

In my opinion, the only answer that a trainer or coach should give is “it depends” because if they give a hard time frame they are making a huge leap of faith and assuming that a large number of variables at NEED to be controlled CAN be controlled. Controlling these variables can be extremely difficult; particularly for the individual who is new to training.

For example, burning fat is a skill and if you don’t have the skill you will need to learn it. If comes down to proper nutrition and intense movement and it is fairly safe to assume that if someone has fat to lose they do NOT have these skills (if they did, chances are they would be doing what was required and not asking for help).

Learning proper nutrition is fairly simple because a good trainer or coach will be able to offer sufficient guidance to their clients to allow them to move forward quickly - the truth is that you only need to eat correctly, you do not need to understand why you need eat a particular way.

Learning how to move with the intensity that is required to shift your body away from being a fat storing machine to a fat burning machine is more challenging because it requires a trainee to push themselves harder than they ever have before and for longer durations than what they are comfortable with. Working out for fat loss is TOUGH physically and mentally and the decision to stop early or before the intensity has been reached is too easy. Frankly, if you don’t know how to do it, there is a very good chance you will not learn it on your own because you may think that you are going to die - you will feel pain in your muscles and lungs that is so completely out of the ordinary that you will likely believe that it is an indication of injury or impending death. But, in most cases, if you are healthy, NOT working this hard will lead you to an earlier grave than doing what is needed to shed the fat.

How longs does it take to turn your body into a fat burning machine? Well, in most cases it’s going to be about 2-3 months before you see any significant fat loss that is associated with intense movement vs. nutritional changes. If your trainer says that it is going to happen in a few weeks they may not be telling you the truth or they may be making the assumption that you already know how to do it. If you have never done it before, it’s going to take you a while because fat loss is a skill.

A Calorie Is Not A Calorie

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

When it comes to weight loss, there seems to be a common belief that if you eat fewer calories than you burn you will lose weight. Part of this notion is that a calorie is a calorie so if you eat 200 calories of fat or 200 calories of carbs, the consequence on the body is the same. Over time I have found this to be false - a calorie of fat will have different consequence on the body than a calorie of carbs or a calorie of protein. Further more, not all carbs are the same - watch the link.

People need to stop saying that changing body composition is about energy in and energy out because it isn’t the case. It is about the amount of specific energy in. For example, low carb, high protein and fat diets are more efficient at reducing body fat when compared to low fat diets even when calories and activity level are the same.

Fat loss is possible but only if you eat the right foods in the right amounts for a sustained period of time. With the exception of high intensity athletes, most people will get better fat loss if they limit their sugar intake (of ALL types of sugar and particularly fructose and man-made sugars like high fructose corn syrup).

Food The Drug

“How do I get rid of body fat” and “how do I gain weight” are two of the most common questions I get. My answer “you eat the right foods at the right time and you avoid the wrong foods at the wrong time, and move more” is an answer I am comfortable giving because it is completely accurate. However, a lot of people don’t like this answer and when I ask them why they they mention that they’ve heard it before and that they are looking for something new or quicker.

And I have a moment when I think that our species shouldn’t be at the top of the food chain.

I think the issue most people have with their relationship with food is that they don’t really understanding the nature of the impact it has on their bodies. Food has drug-like effects on the body. Some foods cause the release chemicals that have a powerful impact on the body - chemicals that require you to have a doctors prescription.

From a body composition point of view, the key chemical to control and manipulate is insulin. In non-diabetic individuals the body will release it when the blood sugar level increases to a certain level; a level that I call the insulin threashold (IT). This occurs because too high a blood sugar level can cause a number of very serious consequences in humans. There are other mechanisms that promote fat storage in human beings, but insulin is the most efficient energy storage hormone that the body releases. If you cross the IT while you are working out, the body will begin to transport energy into the muscle cells to help fuel the movement. If you cross it while you are not working out, the body will transport energy into the fat cells to help fuel future movement.

Insulin is a very powerful chemical that one can control to create desired changes in body composition. When we want to release it, we consume high glycemic index carbs such as dextrose and when we want to keep it steady we consume lower glycemic index carbs or consume very small amounts of carbs. By timing our insulin events we are better able to store the type of energy we need to improve body composition to either lower body fat or increase lean mass.

All foods have some impact on our hormone levels so it is important that we are aware of these impacts before we eat to make sure we are facilitating the desired response from our bodies. Otherwise we are basically reaching into a medicine cabinet and popping random pills.

Food As Fuel and Building Material (again)

Over the last few years I have had the good fortune of working with 100’s of different athletes of different ages, skill levels and stages in their athletic career. I have notice a number of things that are important but probably the one thing I have noticed that ALL successful high level athletes share is an understanding that food is fuel or building blocks and eating does not need to be an experience.

Personally, the switch flipped for my progress when I stopped regarding food as good or bad and instead choose to look at it as bricks, mortar or fuel. Once I stopped looking for experiences out of eating my progress accelerated dramatically - I remain lean all year round, continue to build muscle and have more energy now than I had when I was in my early and mid 20’s.

I have tried to empart this understanding onto ANYONE who is interested in getting more out of their bodies in terms of appearance or performance, but I’d venture a guess that longivity and quality could also be added to the list of things that will improve once someones relationship with food becomes realigned with reality. This understanding in not one that is easy to pass along and, frankly, getting someone to see food as something other than something that should be enjoyed is probably the most difficult task that a strength coach will have to perform as there is a lot of social inertia to overcome. Lets face it, our society treats food as a reward so the association of food and a positive experience is deeply ingrained in our brains.

ANYONE who has been able to overcome the food must be good belief has benefited from it tremendously. The body composition improvements lead to performance improvements which lead to confidence improvements. Without fail, correcting your understanding of what food actually means to you WILL make your life better. The simple act of making decisions that are based on reality will represent a significant movement towards self-awareness and self control. The inverse is also completely true, continuing to eat food for emotional / reward reasons will hold you back from complete self-awareness and optimal health.

Eat because you need to rebuild yourself out of the best quality materials and power your movement with the right fuel. Don’t eat because you like the taste of chocolate, cookies are an easy breakfast or because pizza tastes better than spinich. The easy way is rarely the successful way. If you want more out of your life, do what elite athletes do and eat mindfully.

What Phase Are You In?

Spend as much time in gyms as I do and one thing will become very clear to you, most people go to the gym without a clear purpose. There isn’t anything wrong with this – I’d sooner see people go to the gym for the sake of going than have them never go – but going to the gym without a purpose isn’t going to allow you to make the most of your time there.

The human body is an amazing thing with a fantastic ability to adapt to its environment; it takes an average person about 6-9 weeks adapt almost completely to an exercise program. For this reason, people need to approach their training or gym time in phases that have a distinct purpose and end goal. For example, many gym goers are there to drop a few pounds of fat and increase or tone muscle – basically, they want to look good naked. I think this is a fantastic goal because it is going to help someone feel better about themselves and it is going to improve the quality of their life significantly. The issue with it is that very often, trying to tackle two goals at once will prevent you from making much progress in either one.

For those individuals looking to lose body fat and increase or tone muscle I would suggest that they separate these two goals into distinct phases – one for fat loss and the other for muscle building or toning.

For example, the first 6 weeks are for fat burning and will consist of metabolic workouts aimed at increase calorie burning and cardiovascular fitness through the use of interval training. During this phase you may do 20-30 minutes of varied speed and resistance (or incline) running, cycling or elliptical machine 3-4 times per week along with some strength training – 1 or 2 full body workouts per week consisting of 1 or 2 sets of 8-10 reps per body part. Your diet will be modified and carbs will be reduced. After about 6 weeks, your body will have adapted to the workout and the reduced carb diet and you will move to the next phase with is for muscle growth.

The next 6-9 weeks will be for muscle development. During this phase you may do 3-4 full body workouts per week consisting of 3-4 sets per body part. The rep range will be different on each day and will range from 6-8, 9-12 and 12-15. The exercises will change every 3 weeks and you will lower the amount of cardio you perform. In some cases you will eliminate the cardio to allow your body to become deconditioned to it so when you enter the 3rd phase, fat loss, you will find the movements taxing on your body again.

You will repeat this cycle of fat loss, muscle building over and over again until you achieve your fitness goals. The good thing about this approach is that you will rarely get stale or bored with what you are doing in the gym because it is changing constantly and when you start each phase, your body will be shocked into adapting to the new stimuli.

If this seems completely foreign to you or you do not know where to start, consider getting in touch with a good trainer to help you plan your workout phases.