Managing and Recognizing Stress

Stress. A general term with a broad application.

Signs:

  • Fatigue. General fatigue is often a sign of stress. No energy for movement is a clear indication that the mind and body are worn down.
  • Decreased self-regulation. Are you indulging and grabbing sweets to snack on or an extra glass or wine at night?
  • Looking for ways to feel better? Bad habits rear their ugly heads here as escapism infiltrates our path to change.

All stress is cumulative.

Simply put, it adds up. Adding more stress via excessively difficult training sessions or group fitness classes will not make it better. Remember this: it doesn’t need to be painful. Do you want more stress in your life? Is stress associated with progress and rewards? Discard those thoughts when working out.

The other side of stress.

Adaptations arise from bouts of stress and recovery. This may represent itself at your job, working on a project deadline or sales goal. If met there is often awards and incentives. Positive right? Maybe not… subconsciously you may be seeking out stress or stressful situations to improve your health. Chronic conditions arise when we fall out of balance. Work / Life. Training / Recovery. Hard / Easy. Polarity is a good thing!

Step 1: recognize stress.

Step 2: manage the cause of stress.

Step 3: eliminate the stress if you can.

Step 4: begin your day with mindfulness.

Step 5: end your day with physical activity and mindful nutrition that brings peace back to yourself.

Step 6: review your day and plan for tomorrow.

Flowing Fitness Continuum

The flowing fitness continuum.

There is a multitude of ways to workout and gain fitness: calisthenics, kettle bells, free weights, machines, cardio, yoga, and Pilates just to name a few.

  • Where should you start?

I can’t say there is a perfect place to start. If you begin at a young age, your introduction to fitness will most likely include tumbling, running, some gymnastic, apparatus based movements, and maybe a few basic exercises such as pushups, squats, and sit-ups. Ideally, we’d all start here and stay here for quite some time. Learning by doing, and being inquisitive about movement is the best way to “do” fitness. Interest in exercise stays peaked longer, avoiding the boredom and monotony that most common fitness programs seem to evoke.

  1. Free weights are excellent to have access to. Many of the movements done with them are very effective and functional. Yet, the drawback is that a multitude of weights are needed and you really can’t travel with them, anywhere.
  2. The kettle bell (KB) is a fascinating tool. Simple in design and function, the (KB) directly targets the most commonly weak area on almost all humans, their posterior chain: hamstrings, glutes, low and mid back. The (KB) also provides an excellent non-impact cardio component to your workout. Simply put, if you can learn one implement or tool, make it the (KB).
  3. Unless you are in a rehab facility or situation, machines are completely unnecessary. Size, cost, non-functionality, there are simply too many drawbacks to basing a fitness program around machines.
  4. The mind-body movement, including yoga and Pilates, is one that needs its own article. I have only positive things to say about both of these disciplines, especially when used in conjunction with a sound strength and conditioning program.
  5. Lastly, we have cardio: running, biking, skating, skiing, rowing, swimming, etc. Nothing beats endurance training. It’s extremely positive for your body and mind. Any activity that allows you to propel your body over long distances, under your own power is going to be the ultimate form of exercise.

What it comes down to is personal preference. What do you enjoy the most? Do the activity that brings you the most enjoyment. If you enjoy it, you are more likely to do it. The more you do anything, the better you get at it. It’s all very personal, but having a basic understanding of various fitness disciplines is helpful in choosing your path. Become the best YOU!

  • Does mastering one discipline help prepare you to master others?

Yes and no. Mastering the ability to control your body, kinesthetic awareness, is the best way to begin. This means gymnastic, bodyweight movements are the preferred method. That being said, it’s not practical for the average adult to begin training as a gymnast. Having the background, learning how to move well at a young age, is the ideal beginning. Being sufficient at more than one discipline is never a bad thing. If I can enjoy more than one activity, the variety at my disposal is greatly increased. Endurance/cardio activities pair well with any other form of fitness. Love to move!

  • Which one is best, for me/you?

Just move. Begin. Walking, running, light calisthenics, some pushups, squats… develop a pattern, make it habitual and you’ll feel better, do it more often, see and feel an immediate difference. If something peaks your interest, go for it. Use any sudden spark of ambition to begin again. Respect that you are starting from the beginning. Don’t sweat if the initial activity is hard, challenging, and leaves you with residual muscle soreness. One last note here: if you can do it on your own, free of class, or gym/facility commitment, your ownership will come much more quickly. Learn, progress and move forward!

Our lives are our own. Enjoyment is 100% personal. Find the things you love and do them often. Don’t waist time on activities that provide you with no enjoyment. Contrary to what many believe, this includes exercise and fitness. There is a path for all of us. The focus, movement.

Patience. Presence. Persistence.

The Ebb and Flow of Training

Dealing with the Ebb and Flow of Training

Day to day, sometimes even hour-to-hour, life can feel like a rollercoaster. One moment you are excited, focused, and maybe even proud. The next you are lacking confidence, purpose, and direction. Seeking balance, in each moment, is not necessarily a possibility. Life is hard, but this too shall pass, as each day the sunsets and each morning we are given another chance.

In training we experience these emotions as well. Sometimes, you can’t predict when you’ll have a bad day of training. It just happens. As somebody that has been training, daily, for most of my life, these unpredictable bad training days are still hard to handle, but I have learned from them. The feeling of failure, or inadequacy is part of the process of improving. We must recognize that fact even before we begin our training. Sometimes doing our best means managing poor performance, or low points, when they occur.

Training for a purpose is very effective because it culminates. There is a competition, or end-point. Each day has significance as we only have so many days to make improvements. This pressure is healthy in that it helps us focus. Willpower becomes the most frequently used arrow in our quiver. By dealing with low points, struggling through tough training sessions, and working on our weaknesses we get stronger. This strength is not felt, but is part of the process of training.

When I signed up to run my first half-marathon my only goal was to be competitive and not finish last. I was naïve, but that naivety allowed me to have no ego. When my ego was essentially taken out of the equation, I had a very clear mind during the competition. I listened to how I felt, without worry about what place I was in.

This same thing happened with my first marathon, my first 50-mile, and my first 100 mile race. Sure I had goals, but I did not have lofty expectations. The races had equal amounts of low and high emotions, but what I remember more about each are the high points. You see experience, is what we seek. We are after the process of the event, not the product of finishing.

What I realized is that you never arrive anywhere. Things begin and they end. You have good days, and bad days. You have good races, and bad races. Motivation can be high or low. What ties these feelings together is the flow of training. We learn how to deal with the realness of the situation, in the moment. Removing the ego, and expectation of a result, transformation, or lofty “product” at the end of the cycle is mandatory to staying in the game.

I’ll keep running ultramarathons until I no longer have the desire. What I’ve learned thus far is that you can’t be tied to the past… your past successes or failures, in whatever form or arena they occurred in, cannot direct your future.

Work on developing your willpower. Strengthen your mind. Focus in the moment. Self-assess when things are not going “well” or “smoothly,” and recognize that you are in it for the experience and not simply the result. For most of us, walking 45 minutes a day is a lot healthier than doing a high intensity interval workout for 15 minutes three times a week.

Create flow and you give yourself a chance to be happy. Create chaos and you’ll end up cleaning up the mess both emotionally and physically.

A strong mind does not only come from getting up after you’ve been knocked down. A strong mind comes from confronting the emotional rollercoaster that is life, and learning to master how you respond to stressful, uncomfortable, situations on a daily basis.

Never give up!

 

 

 

Realistic Fitness (training)

The Meat:

Do your own thing. No, seriously, do your own thing. You don’t have to train like a pro athlete, nor should you want to. You don’t have to be a vegan, vegetarian, paleo, gluten/dairy free or whatever to have “the look”. You don’t (nor would I recommend) have to quit your job (you’re good at it, get better), to complete a super inspiring bucket list race. We are, understandably, attracted to the “lifestyle” we watch on film, TV, and the web, or read about in magazines, journals, and autobiographies. It’s a beautiful thing… portrayed simplicity… single minded focus… me and my goals… freedom of doing what I want, when I want to, etc.

The Rest:

I’m a firm believer that the mind is our strongest, sharpest, and swiftest tool. Whether we think we can, or can’t we are right. Competition and training place us in direct contact with these thoughts. A few years ago, when I started running trail races and ultra-marathons I had no idea what my potential would be. I knew that as long as I didn’t quit, I would finish. Obvious right? Lining up for my first trail half-marathon in Los Alamos, NM I didn’t know if I’d come in last or towards the front. It was a big unknown, and it concerned me. I’d placed a certain level of importance on how well I would do. Why? I attached “self-worth” to my placing in the race. This of course added stress and anxiety to an otherwise completely laid back and positive experience. In the end the race went well. I started off conservatively, and pushed hard on the back half of the race to finish 6th place overall. I felt good about myself. I felt relieved.

Being self-coached lends itself to walking a fine line. The physical and nutritional is pretty easy to maintain as long as you listen to your body. On the other hand, the mental, emotional, and rational side of physical fitness is very difficulty to keep control over. You see we can talk ourselves into or out of doing anything. We’ve all done it. It’s a tough habit to break and even to recognize. Self-assessment is easier said than done.

The past weekend I found myself browsing facebook and twitter for information on upcoming trail races around the country. After a few minutes of clicking I found myself reading athlete training logs, and blogs from around the country. People are very open in what they are doing to prepare, posting workouts, miles ran, elevation gained, etc. In my head I started comparing my fitness and workouts to what they had done and were doing. I felt I was getting behind. My worry bounced from my climate (icy, snowy, long hard winter), to my lower leg tendinitis, and to other “reasons” why I wasn’t putting in big miles and epic training runs in preparation for my race season. I made excuses (it’s not important anymore, I have other goals now, etc.). A few days later I was thinking back on the first trail marathon, 50-mile trail race and 100-mile trail race I ran back in 2012. I went into each event totally naïve, with no expectations. My goal was to do my best and to finish the race. In short, I raced well that year. I placed 5th overall in the Leadville Trail Marathon (June), 10th overall in the Leadville 50-mile race (July), and 2nd overall in the Heartland 100-mile race (October).

I was excited to compete and it showed in my results. No expectations. No pressure. Plenty of smiles, miles and finish line jubilation were experienced.

Since then I’ve had races that went really well and a few others that didn’t go well at all. In hindsight, the races I competed poorly in I went to them over-trained, tired, mentally fatigued, and with a little self-doubt. I put too much pressure on myself based on past performances. I didn’t rest enough. I raced too often. I was racing and training without a coach. I did it the hard way and it showed.

Athletics are no different from academics or business. To be our best selves we need mentors, leaders and coaches. No excuses. Our time on this planet is so short. Each experience and endeavor deserves our best effort. Our most intelligent approach to the process, which will lead us to the product, can be the most elusive piece to the puzzle.

As a coach by profession, my job is to make you headstrong, confident, injury free, and able. Through self-trial and error I’ve learned invaluable lessons on performance, prioritization, and realistic goals, planning, training. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything as they’ve made me a better coach. Where I am on the path is where I want my students to be, without the low points, struggle and self-doubt that it took me to get here.

The Hobby of Health

Fitness is not unlike other personal hobbies in life. To keep it up you have to enjoy both the process and the product. An artist or musician must enjoy the process to reap the satisfaction and accolades of the product. When a hobby or activity is approached without enjoyment, excitement, and enthusiasm you can be rest assured it won’t remain a hobby for very long.

Movement is about positivity. Doing what you can, when you can, for as long as you’d like. I enjoy reading, drawing, fishing, and archery because they are relaxing hobbies. This is pretty universally agreeable. I enjoy fitness for the same reasons. It is a relaxing, therapeutic, and beneficial part of my life.

Hiring somebody to keep you accountable and force you to exercise is a serious waste of money and time. No one can be the sole possessor of the success or failure of your health and fitness. You’ve got to own the responsibility. A good coach will motivate and inspire you. He will nudge you and challenge you when it’s needed, as well as back off and give you space when it’s needed. If you find no enjoyment in the prescription, you will find no attachment to the process. We may hang on to see it through, as so many people training for a vacation, wedding or pageant/show often do, but when the cameras turn their focus off of you so will your attention to the details of that which brought the success and subsequent attention and admiration from your peers.

Today’s fitness or workout is portrayed and defined by numbers, calendars, reps, sets, and intensity… how to do more, in less time, with less equipment, and for less money. This is a product, and sad reality of a society that sees only what they don’t have, and clings tightly to their excuses, which have gotten them to the unhappy and unfulfilled place they are currently in.

Remember, the marketing plays on the mindset of the consumer. The message takes the path of least resistance, reaching “you” through your perceived limitations on your life.

My takeaway:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Never stop learning.
  • Always have a direction.
  • Find true enjoyment in everything you choose to do in your life.
  • Seek coaching to help enhance the experience and promote positive growth and change.

One final thought. If you find yourself agreeing to someone’s message, whether they are a politician, teacher, family member, or who ever. Stop and think about if the message is positive or negative. Is it self-limiting, or is it self-expanding? Are you a victim, or a victor? Is it building you up as an individual, or is it unifying you with a group of victims?

A Little Caution…

A little caution avoids great regrets. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Keep fully insured physically and materially and keep hedged emotionally. Insurance is not for sale when you need it.

Your health is personal. The old adage, “find an hour a day to exercise, or get ready for 24 hours a day of death,” is blunt, but mostly true. In its truest form exercise is meant to keep us healthy, both mentally and physically, providing us with a release from our daily tasks and commitments. The idea of changing your appearance, or modifying your image to compete in or complete a complex task is a whole other aspect of fitness training. When comparing the two we are confronted much more with the latter image of “fitness training.” The intense, extreme, and transformational are obviously more dramatic to sell. As consumers we want to believe the message, but doing so can set us up for frustration and failure. How you might ask? In short, to achieve phenomenal, mind blowing transformation in an unrealistically short period of time, requires an extreme time and energy commitment, drastically changing your lifestyle, effecting not just you, but everyone around you: family, friends, and coworkers included. You can only pull this energy from other areas of your life.

Maturity, confidence and self-control are the biggest factors in staying consistent with your health and fitness. They are the behaviors that keep you insured. Through your chosen activity you hopefully begin to build a solid fitness foundation. Basic examples are squatting, pushing, and pulling. Including these movements with a consistent aerobic activity is your solution. Being patient with health is essential. Good habits take some time to develop and bad habits take even more time to get rid of. A little movement goes a long way. Forget about high intensity until you have a firm grasp of your fitness. The consequences of too much, too soon are very great and very real.

Now take a long deep breath. Stand up, reach high above your head, bring your hands down in front of you and squat. Hips back, chest open, and bend your knees, breathe in as you go down, and breathe out as you come up. Listen to your body. Perform 10-20 repetitions. Three sets. Rest about a minute between sets. As you finish move around a little. Drink some water. See how easy that was? You took initiative and you started. No one can take that away from you. If you sit all day, this is how you break free from that monotony. Don’t forget… maturity, confidence, and self-control… these are your tools. Keep them sharp and carry with them everywhere you go.

Someday you will be happy you took these steps to arm yourself for what lies ahead. Remember, insurance is not for sale when you need it.