On Instructing Well

It turns out that I have been teaching a good cycling class for a long time. I haven’t really been sure if I’ll be able to do it in the hours leading up to the start of class, but each week the right words seem to flow out of me; and for this I am grateful. I have taught for more than 5 years and been on stage for 500 or 600 times, spend 1000’s of hours practicing and am moving towards being an expert.

Something odd was happening though, I was getting better and better, participants were saying that they really enjoyed my classes, but it was never clear to me why they were. I always thought it was because I would work hard and deliver a high energy performance. This is part of it, but it isn’t the entire thing – and I’m not sure it is very much of it now. I posted the following to facebook this morning:

If you anchor the feelings of athletic performance, accomplishment, fun and success to your class participants they will fall in love with your classes, your performance and their Group Exercise enrollment. Get them to feel their heart beating faster, the pain in their muscles as they grow stronger. Have them hear their quickened breath and the sound of the room gasping for air. Ask them to look are their hands, arms, legs and the other members of the class to see the sweat and glow of extraordinary effort. Coach them to notice what their highest moment looks, sounds and feels like and start being their most powerful inner voice.

THAT is why I am getting better. My classes remind people of just how great their bodies can make them feel when they are training. I take them on a physical journey that connects many of the things that are what it means to be truly alive – hard work, passion, intensity, fun, crushing limitations, creating and being new possibilities, love of life and existence in the moment – and anchor these to the room, the bikes, and the experience that is a class.

Life gets clearer, a little bit each day!

Stuff I Can Do With My Future

Texting Tony a few weeks ago about my life now that I’ve given-up my compulsive behaviors and he asked what I was going to do with my future now that it is no longer my past.

I passionately replied with:

Whatever I want! Write a few books, learn a bunch of stuff, eat well, date, marry a partner, buy a house, travel, start a charity, volunteer, become a public figure, coach people through life changes, ride my bike up bike mountains, get my teeth fixed, hang with friends, be inspiring, get therapy, get my body functioning, laugh, smile, shamelessly dance, go to weddings of friends, see my old girlfriend start families, be grateful for having lived, loved and still love so many beautiful people,….

Then I went to the Landmark Forum (LMF) and realized that I had already started it a few weeks ago after I got off the phone with Sean, Jeff, Heather and Kate having cleared-up my concerns about attending. Something funny happens when you commit to a different future, some doors close while others open.

On March 21st, a few days before I went to the LMF, I had an amazing conversation with one of my bosses about my intentions and she gave me a very clear indication of the vision that is to become a future. My intentions are not a big part of that, so I let her know how grateful I was for her honesty because it set me free. Gone was my created possibility and almost immediately I found that new possibilities were already opening in front of me.

It’s funny how acting boldly, decisively and authentically by announcing your intentions can actually slam shut doors that were holding you back for doing something new and creating the possibly of a more meaningful life.

Five Years Isn’t Just One Year Times Five

“People often overestimate what they can reasonably achieve in a year. But they vastly underestimate what they can achieve in 5 years.” – Steve Pavlina

Something odd happens when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Take a human being for example. I’ve been keen on saying we’re $7 worth of carbon and some other stuff, but each living person can achieve a lot more than a Brita water filter if they do anything at all.

Time is sort of like that. I’ve enjoyed writing for most of my life. It used to help me dream and since my brother is a good writer it gave me something to share with him – another way for us to be similar. I think he’s a better writer than I am, but he’s also an avid reader and he seems to understand words in a way that I don’t. He has a low emotional affect and his prefrontal cortex seems loaded with glucose such that logic seems to be his baseline state.

But Des is one of those mentors who just says do it, fake it till you make it and swing a lot, you’ll eventually get good enough to hit something.

So I started writing publicly more than 5 years ago and now, a half decade later, I’m still writing. This makes me a writer. I’m not as good as I would like to be so my 10000 hours are no where near up, but I’m still plugging away at it.

About a month after I started writing I met Rachel and she directed me towards Larry at SST to get a job. I was hired as a manager but watching how his team of coaches interacted and facilitated change within athletes really excited me. I told Rachel that I thought the coaches were amazing and she said that I could be one of them if I worked at it and she also reminded me that I was in one of the best learning environments in Canada to gain the skills needed. So I asked a lot of questions and Larry didn’t answer many of them, he pushed them back to me to give him the answers and when I did, he’d coach me on the finer points so I was able to apply the principles of science and physiology to get predictable outcomes. One day I noticed that I was a personal trainer and strength coach.

For most of my life I have wanted to look a particular way physically – my upper chest was always kind of small and my shoulders never really looked wide enough for me. My legs were functional but not really well muscled. The skills gained at SST allowed me to create programs to address these perceived short comings. The upper chest and shoulders grow when your legs grow. And the legs will only grow when you train the hell out of them. Squatting, dead-lifting and posterior chain work caused the hormonal release that promotes growth and eating massive amounts of good quality food provides the building blocks needed to make a battle ready body. After years of training like this, I’m still very lean, with a layer of muscle all over that looks more appealing.

In an around the time I met Rachel I decided to become a Group cycling instructor. We took the training together because we were the only two people from our club who were going to do it. She was already a great instructor – strong stage presence, very friendly and happy and intensely strong. She intimated the hell out of me and after the first day of training I considered quitting. When I told her this on the drive in on Sunday she just laughed and said “you have no idea how inspiring it is to see someone work as hard as you do to try and learn something. You HAVE to do this Pat, not just for you, but for the members who don’t think they can do it either.” I just accepted what she said and when I thought about all the puking on the drive home after the first day and all through that evening I handed off responsibility to her and went for it. Five years later, I know I don’t teach like they do in the master video’s but I teach a class that is different but equally effective. I’ve mentored a few instructors and when I see them develop I tell them “I wish I could teach like you.” They laugh at me and say “you don’t need to Pat, you teach like YOU.”

Now all of this is to say that 5 years ago I made some choices to try some new things and if I had stopped any of them after 1 year, I wouldn’t have been all that good at them. But I kept doing them for another 4 years and the improvements were anything BUT linear. You grind it out for months feeling like nothing is happening and suddenly you find yourself lost in the moment wondering how you end up being good at it. It seems easy looking back, but looking forward it seemed impossible.

Half a decade seems like a long time, one year doesn’t. But we get it wrong when we think about how good we’ll be in 1 year and we get it wrong when we think about how good we’ll be after five years of sustained effort. If you start it today, by March 2013 you won’t feel embarrassed by your level of proficiency and by March 2017, if you stick with it, you’ll wonder if you were ever NOT able to do it.

From One Release To The Next

One of the cool things about teaching LMI’s RPM is that there are four releases each year at the start of each season. We get the music, learn it and then teach it for 3 weeks before mixing older tracks back in. Getting the music every 3 months changes the instructing work flow enough to have each release feel like a distinct period of time, unique and memorable. I like this because it causes me to stop and consider what I was doing during when I was learning a previous release.
I take particular pause at the revelations that I’ve had between release 50 and 51.

  1. It takes time to recover and heal from big changes in life. Certain parts of the recovery will be quick, others will seem like they have occurred only to pop-up again.
  2. The way I have been living my life is unsustainable because it no longer represents the manifestation of who I am – I’ve changed a lot since I dreamed my dream so I need to dream another one that reflects my present wishes and entitlements.
  3. I do not take action quickly and actions make me feel better. Almost any action makes me feel better. It really doesn’t matter what it is so long as it stops me from sitting there thinking about stuff that I can’t control, can’t know and can’t possibly care about.
  4. You don’t have to enjoy what you are doing in order to be doing something purposeful. You just have to be doing what you set out to do.
  5. Do the small things quickly, buy the convenience items, find out what is stopping you from letting go and take care of it. Letting go from time to time is important.
  6. There can be a lot of changes in three months, but if I look closely, the signs of change were there for a while. There are few surprises when I’m willing to take a long honest look at myself.

Bring on 52!

Refinding My Passion For RPM

When I first started teaching RPM back in 2007 with release 33 my desire to be the best instructor possible was insane! Even for me, I was single-minded. It was easy to get lost in because it let me work really hard and there was structure to follow and I tend to do better with structure when I’m starting off with something new.

I taught as much as I could and started to get better. I got a little burned out in the first 6 months because I did it so much, but my energy came back when I went down to 2 classes a week. My passion for RPM has stayed pretty high up until about 6-9 months ago when I started to dread it. I taught decent enough classes, but they weren’t really doing much for me. I drifted over to focus on my own cycling classes and released myself from any RPM. I had considered giving it up completely.

In early June release 51 arrived and when I got it I thought about it wondering if I would care enough to learn it as well as I need to. I listened to it, loved track two – Halfway Gone and basically played it over and over again.

A little while after that an instructor friend copied me on a message to a new cycling instructor saying that I loved what I did and may be of some service to him as he finds his way. He has the fire for RPM like I had fire 4 years ago. He’s really driven to improve and be better than he was yesterday. Each day needs to show some improvement and he’s going to the limit to have the experiences he needs to be better. It’s contagious and I caught it!

The last few classes I have taught have been some of my best in the last couple of years! They’ve been a lot of fun, I’ve known the choreography because I’ve heard the songs 100’s of time and the right words and coaching seem to flow out of me spontaneously and with no conscious effort. A few participants have commented that it’s nice to see me back to what I was doing before. The classes were okay before, fun and hard working, but it has been evident that my mind was not completely on-task. This weeks classes have seen me being completely present with the participants, working them, coaching them and leading them again, both in body and in spirit. I’ve really enjoyed the trip back to and rediscovering my one of my passions.

So for me, release 51 has been paired with release 33 as significant and, in many ways, life changing. It’s a wicked release and I’m really looking forward to teaching this week!

CanFitPro – Certification I Now Hold

I attended and took a lot out of the 2008 CanFitPro conference in Toronto. I was like 1000’s of people who attended with the intention of gain new qualifications, certifications and experiences that will make their journey through the fitness land-scape more rewarding and more enriching for those they interact with. I now hold two certifications that I didn’t hold before – my Spinning certification and my CanFitPro PTS certifcation.

So What?

I’m now qualified to be a personal trainer and to teach indoor group cycling classes at places other than GoodLife; given that my LMI RPM certification only qualifies me to teach at GoodLife in Canada.

What now?

There are two things I need to consider now, the first is the easier of the two and that is to create and market some All Terrain cycling classes using my own choice of music and my own choreography. This shouldn’t take me too long given that I’ve been riding while listening to music for the last 4 years. Things I need to complete before I’m ready to launch my class include getting my computer set up with music editing software so  I can cut and paste songs to create the specific profile that a track requires, track objectives or scenarios, riding and hand positions and their names, class format stuff (e.g. length and pacing) and the materials to teach participants about zone training.

The tougher of the two things is setting up a personal training company. I say this is going to be tougher because unlike cycling classes, I’m NOT already doing this. While I have trained before, it was working at GoodLife and at SST, but this is going to be the first time that I have gone out on my own to do it. I’ll need to come up with waivers, educational materials addressing nutrition and lifestyle behaviors, templates for workouts, assessment materials and tests, goals sheets, designing workouts, creating and pricing a list of services, training clients, building a client base and marketing myself as a trainer and a brand.

There is a good connection between teaching cycling classes and being a personal trainer given that both are natural next-steps for the active person. They are a great complement for each other in that those who do a lot of riding should also be doing some weight training and those who do a lot of resistance training should be doing some intense cardio based training.

It’s going to be a fun and challenging venture and I’m looking forward to see how this next chapter of my life works out! Stay tuned for updates!

Feedback Destroyer – Mitigating an Automatic Response

The best way to stop someone from giving you feedback is to make the person regret giving it to you. The quickest way to do this is to attack the person and call their credibility into question because these things will evoke a visceral reaction in them.

I noticed myself almost doing this the other day. My Group Ex cycling team leader took my class and we team taught. After class I asked him for his feedback. He likes the way I teach and believes that I have a good handle on what I’m doing. He suggested that I verbally coach and cue the riding positions to help the participants find a more athletic position. My automatic reaction was to think “I did that” and then “I did it more than he did” then “who is he to say that?”

What do these thoughts indicate?

I did that” – this one really amounts to me interpreting what he is saying as an attack on me. My reaction was to assume his suggestion to do it more meant that I didn’t do it at all because I am not very good at instructing.

I did it more than he did” – this is the beginning of the personal attack on him. It is basically something like “I did it more than you, you are saying that I need to do it more therefore you really didn’t do it at all”. It draws his credibility into question and it starts to paint him as being a hypocrite.

Who is he to say that” – escalation the personal attach by belittling him; basically calling his qualifications into question so I don’t have to consider what he is saying.

In less time than it took to think it my brain had perceived and defended against an ego attack with no conscious input from me. The thoughts just presented themselves one after the other and in no time at all I had create the reason for not listening to what he was saying.

Fortunately over the years I’ve became more aware that I have these automatic reactions to the things I unconsciously perceive so I didn’t say or do anything other than listen to what he was saying and let the thoughts wash over me. I trust my team leader because I believe he is a good person who has my best interest at heart. He’s also a good instructor with good form and great fitness so his advice and feedback are both useful and honest; I know that it will help me and that is why I asked him for it.

Talking back to the automatic response:

I did that” – I did, I know I did because I remember doing it and I do it every class. I do it out of habit because I’ve been instructing for a while. However, there was nothing to indicate that more positional cueing would have had a negative impact on the class or that it wouldn’t have helped them out. In fact, more of it would have been a good thing. It’s good feedback.

I did it more than you did” – I don’t know if I cued the class more than he did but it really doesn’t matter. His feedback is good feedback – it isn’t good feedback because he or anyone else does it, it’s good feedback because it would have made the class better.

Who is he to say that” – who is he not to say it? He’s an expert so what he has to say about it is worth hearing. Even if the feed back was to come from one of the participants it would have been worth hearing. People have a sense of what has order and what is unnatural; you don’t need to be an expert to offer advice on ways to improve something. This is particularly true when receiving feedback about an experience. Anyone having the experience BECOMES an expert so their feedback is worth hearing.

This week I took his advice and cued more. I did notice an improvement in the performance of some of the participants. Their shoulders stayed back while their chest remained up and open. When I cued their posture towards the end of the tough tracks some of them seemed to respond and increase their effort. By remaining open to his feedback, I became a better instructor.

If you notice that you have a tendency to close off when people offer you advice or feedback, you may want to consider talking back to your automatic response in order to reprogram it.

What I Learned In 2007 – Eric Cressey vs. Patrick McKinney

Inspired by T-nation author Eric Cressey’s What I Learned In 2007, I decided to put together my own list of things that I learned in 2007 (note – Eric’s 2006 article was my first ever post so be sure to read this years version).

1) Gifted athletes do not necessarily look remarkable but there is something weird about the way they look when they train. A few weeks ago we did the athlete testing for SST’s 12 week football academy. There were a variety of assessment tests but the one that stood out to me was the penta jump. This is basically a standing long jump with 5 jumps instead of just one, all linked together in a fluid unstopping order. It is a skill, but talent does impact ones performance.

Many of the athletes performed unremarkable, which is what we expect to see at the start of the camp because many of them are untrained and are coming off of a month or two layoff from exercising. But one of the athletes, a 14 year old, look weird doing it. He seemed to float away from me when he jumped – each jump took him so much further down the turf than any of the other athletes. His distance way 6-8 feet longer than any one else in his age group. I wasn’t very surprised to see his sub 5 second result in the 40. He’s 14 years old and pretty small. I’m looking forward to seeing how he’ll continue to improve as he grows pounds of muscle and gains more complete neural control over his muscle firing patterns.

2) Fish oil supplements eliminate most of the shoulder pain I experience when I’m lifting heavy. I’m both shocked and happy to have found this to be the case. There is practically no fire in my shoulders in the days following my chest / back workouts. There used to be pain that prevented me from sleeping and stopped me from training heavy in the summer. This is all but gone now, thanks to 6-10 grams of fish oil per day.

3) Great athletes embrace coaching, lifters tend to ignore it. How someone responds to feedback plays the biggest role in the quality of feedback that they get. The gifted 14 year old listens to all the advice and coaching that he is given and he continues to improve, and people continue to coach him. This isn’t surprising because people do not like to waste their time. IF someone isn’t going to follow the advice that is given to them, people learn very quickly to stop giving it to them. Personally I begin to disengage from a person after the first time they role their eyes and DON’T change their movement pattern – they can role their eyes, call me a prick but so long as they change their movement pattern I’ll keep coaching them.

When it comes to lifters most of them do not want to lift correctly. They lift the weight and not the movement. I look away a lot when I’m at the commercial gym because I don’t want to see someone hurt themselves and feel responsible from helping them. I’ll offer advice to a young lifter on the off-hand chance that they want to become better, but more often than not they don’t want to hear it. This is too bad for them and good news for Rachel because she’s going to be an athletic therapist and will have a lot of people to work on.

4) Energetic coaching is more important than knowledgeable coaching when it comes to working with young or inexperienced athletes. Young people don’t not have the movement inventory or body awareness that older people have because they have spend less time in their bodies interacting with the earth. Most athletic movements are going to be new to them and they are not likely to have the motor control to move their bodies in the way that is required in order to be performed the movement correctly. For this reason, advanced coaches are not going to be able to use their knowledge to facilitate improvements within this population. More importantly, given that it is frustrating to be bad at something, particularly when a coach or another athlete does it with ease, inexperienced athletes may find quitting an easier choice if they do not find any enjoyment in an activity. An energetic coach can help bridge the gap between a lack of experience and learning a new skill and will often help the young person find joy in an otherwise unrewarding experience.

5) Rotator cuff muscles are primarily fast twitch fibers and should be trained in the 7-10 rep range with fast effort and slower negative tempos. This one could have read – people should train their rotator cuff muscles. I started doing internal and external rotation exercises just after I started working at SST after the cause of my horrific posture was pointed out. While I am still imbalanced in this area, I’m catching up and standing taller than I ever have.

6) Steady state cardio promotes fat storage while high intensity interval training creates more EPOC that will result in greater fat loss over the long haul. I credit RPM with starting my brain thinking about this one. The choreography is interval based with exertion levels growing from comfortable to breathless. One of the things I found once I stopped trying to keep my heart rate at 150 was that I was more tired at the end of the workouts and couldn’t do so much riding. I also noticed that there is only have a finite length of time that I can get my heart rate above 160 and once this time is up I get too fatigued trying to bring it up there again.

As this relates to fat loss: you need to workout very intensely to promote fat loss, but you need to workout at various levels of intensity to get the most fat loss because it requires the most amount of energy to adapt to many different level of effort. Also, if you workout at just one intensity, your body will quickly adapt to make it more and more efficient to work at that level the next time. This means if you are working out at a level that requires fat as fuel, the body will adapt to store more fat to fuel the effort next time. If you keep it at a steady state, your body will become so efficient at working at this level that it will stop losing fat. Given that your activity level will not change, it is unlikely that you will alter your diet to account for this improved efficiency and will begin to eat a calorie surplus thus promoting fat storage.

7) Spell check and proof read your resume a number of times before you submit it. We initially passed on a trainer candidate because of the typos on his resume. I looked over his resume a week later and thought that maybe there was a good reason why the mistakes were there. When we chatted it was obvious that there wasn’t a good reason but that he was a good candidate. He did fantastic in his interviews and we hired him. He is a gifted trainer with a wonderful demeanor that allows him to connect with almost everyone he engages. I’m glad I called him because he is a real asset to the team and a good human being. But I almost didn’t take the chance because of something that is very easy to avoid.

It Could Take A Year

I took my RPM training about a year ago this weekend and started teaching group cycling classes a few weeks later. One of my brothers friends from university just happened to belong to the gym I teach at and I was able to convince him to take one of my classes. He had never taken one before and at the time he had been doing a lot of resistance and strength training. He had started lifting after his lower back disagreed with his dream of completing a marathon. After he stopped running he never found another appealing way to get his heart rate up and figured a cycling class may do the trick.

He liked it enough the first time he did it to come back and try another class. And then another and another. Over the first few months he took a lot of them and eventual stopped the weight training to focus on becoming a better rider. The body fat started to come off and he noticed that he had more and more energy. After about 4 or 5 months he bought cycling shoes and found that they made the classes more challenging and effective.

A few weeks later he finally had his first real break through on the bike. The moment is basically the same for everyone and it comes right when you think that you have nothing more to give and you suddenly find some reserves and push harder than you thought you could. It changed Clif as it changes many who have the experience. You go from being someone who is working out to being someone who is doing something athletic. It is a wonderful feeling and once you have it, your training is never the same. You have raised the bar considerably and each time you get onto the bike, you push harder than you ever thought possible.

I remember talking to him about the experience and finding a lot of validation in it. He is a determined guy who works hard but given that I had taken him to the edge and he had made the decision to push on, I realized that I could take other people to the same place and that maybe they would find the same thing within themselves to push on. Clif continued to go to class and work hard to find the training effect he was looking for. I thought the switch had flipped and that he was really enjoying himself. It turns out that I was wrong. His time on the bike was still really hard and that he hadn’t found it to be as rewarding an experience as I do.

Moving forward to last week. I taught RPM release 37 for the first time on Wednesday and after class Clif came up to me and said that he was actually enjoying himself now. He had become good enough at RPM to enjoy the classes. They were still hard work, but the work was fun in and of itself and not just because there’s the high feeling from doing something to improve your health. He told me that he “got it” and that coming to class was something he looked forward to and something we would miss if he wasn’t able to make it. It had taken almost a year for someone to find the joy in this, a brand new activity.

If you are just starting your fitness life take a lesson from Clif. While your health is going to start to improve immediately, it could take up to a year before you find the experience enjoyable. But it will become fun eventually and once it does, you’ll be doing it forever!

Cycling Pedal Stroke – When It Feels Right

I use clipless pedal so when I ride my feet are attached to the pedal – I am one with the bike. Being locked to the crank allows a rider to exert force to pedal throughout the entire rotation of pedal stroke. You are able to pull up on the back leg while pressing down with the front one channeling more force to chain and the wheels. They make you a more efficient and powerful rider.

I’ve been riding with clipless pedals for the last 7 years and each year I get better at feeling the circular drive force. At the end of last season I was able to feel it consistently when I was sitting – it feels like my butt sinks an inch into the seat and there is a noticeable increase in the power output.

This year it feels like that, but after I learned to lock my lower abs I’m able to feel the power coming from my hips as opposed to my legs. I get the same hip stability that I have on the saddle by really locking my core. As a result, I’m able to get that same increase in power when I stand or hover and have found that my max output comes right when my butt seems to just float above the saddle – there is no real space between my body and the seat but there is no real contact either. It feels like I’m floating and there is the sensation of my femurs powering away from my body. Like many body sensations, it is hard to put into words, but I know immediately if I am completely recovered from the last workout or ride because I am unable to get this feeling if I do not have enough energy or power.

With my lower abs locked tight, I feel the bulk of the effort of the pedal stroke coming from my hips, then my upper leg and finally my lower leg – from the big muscles to the small ones. Given the relative strength of my glutes, I’m really happy that I’ve learned to engage them when I’m riding as opposed to relying exclusively on my quad strength and their associated knee extension to power the pedals forward and slightly down. A tight core also helps to facilitate hit flexion on the back part of the stroke.

I know that I’m going to continue to improve, but after 7 years of practice I’m starting to drive more power to the pedals throughout the entire 360 degrees of the crank rotation and the result is longer faster rides and an increase in intensity.