Fitness

Genuine Transformation

Genuine Transformation
My cousin Justin Kalef is currently teaching Logic at Rutgers University. I had a chance to chat with him briefly at a family dinner over the 2012 winter holidays. It was around the same time that I was mulling over the contents for the article I was composing on belief. Justin was the perfect person to ask some of the questions that I was working on. He told me what he tells his students on their first day of class, because from his experience teaching, it is inevitable that at some point during the course, one or some students will come to him completely overwhelmed.

We were talking about belief and how our beliefs can affect our ability to make long lasting change in our lives. When he said the following phrase:

“…but it’s only difficult for who you are now.

For the person you will become, 

it won’t be difficult at all.”

How great is this sentence? I think we could all do well to repeat this to ourselves daily. I asked him if I could use it for my belief article, and then I thought better of it…let’s tell the entire speech. So here you are, sit back and soak up these wise words.

“One of the things I do at the start of all my courses

is tell my students to think of the course like thinking of a physical training program (weight lifting or running). Suppose, I say, your goal is to run a 10k run in four months, but you can’t even run down the block now. Or suppose that you want to be able to do a shoulder press with fifty-pound weights in four months, but right now you can only do it with five-pound weights and you can barely lift ten-pound weights.

50 pound weights

These things are possible to achieve in four months’ time. If you go through a training program and are able to reach your goals by the end, you’ll be able to look back down the mountain when it’s all over and say:

‘Wow, I started out that far down and look where I am now!’

Looking down the mountain.

Look How Far You’ve Come!

Ideally, you’ll be able to do that at several points: each month, you should be able to look back to where you were the previous month and be impressed with how far you’ve come. If you can’t do that — if at the end you’re exactly where you were at the start — then that’s a sign that it didn’t work.  If you haven’t progressed in a month, then something went wrong. You didn’t commit enough or your guide didn’t find a way to climb the mountain — maybe both.

So my promise (I tell them) is this: I have worked out a path that you will be able to follow with me to the top of the mountain. There are some things you’ll be able to do at the end that you just can’t do now: here they are (and I set them out plainly). The mountain is high, but my path will allow you to get there a little at a time. If you need to go slower at some points, there are other paths for those times. And if you’re committed to it, you’ll see each month that you’re far in advance of what you could do the month before. That’ll be proof of your progress, and I make the promise to you now that you can make it if you follow my plan.

However, there’s a flipside to that. Logically speaking, if there’s something you’ll be able to do a month from now that you can’t do today, that same something must be out of your range today. And the things you’ll be able to do at the very end are way out of your range today. That comes with the course being a worthwhile one for you, but some people can find it scary.

They say, ‘I can’t do that!’

And they’re completely right:

They can’t.

If they could already do it, there would be no point in their taking the course!

Think of it this way (I tell them): if you can only shoulder-press with five-pound dumbbells and can barely lift the ten-pound ones out of the rack, then of course you can’t shoulder-press the fifty-pound ones. You might resolve to do it anyway, but you’d fail. You just can’t do it. That’s why you’re training toward that goal.

Going in circles

So: if there’s something you want to be able to do and already can do, then any training program designed to get you there is a waste of time and will only take you in a circle. So any reasonable goal must be something you can’t do yet.

And that means that any reasonable goal you have must be something that’s impossible for you to do!

Still, the situation isn’t hopeless. There’s one — and only one — reasonable way to see your training: your training takes something that’s currently impossible for you to do and makes it possible by changing you from someone who can’t into someone who can. So today, you can say ‘I can’t do this — but I can transform myself into someone who can.’ And that’s the key to training: transforming yourself into someone with more powers than you have today.

This is literal transformation: mentally or physically, you’ll be a different person with different abilities. You’ll even have different desires and values: things you find frustrating now won’t be to your future self, and things you find tempting now will be less so.

Genuine self-transformation can be very difficult in the short term,

but it’s only difficult for who you are now.

For the person you will become,

it won’t be difficult at all.

Today, you say to yourself “Living by this routine is so difficult — when will I be able to do the things that I want?” But perhaps you’re only thinking of what the present version of you wants: not the future you. If your self-transformation is to be successful, the routine will not remain difficult. You’ll miss it if you don’t  follow it.

So instead of saying: “This is difficult for me,”

say: “This is difficult for me now,

but I’m transforming myself into a person for whom it isn’t difficult.”

Otherwise, you run the risk of leaving it up to your present desires to choose the values and habits of your future.”

-Justin Kalef

 

 

Modified Sun Salutation

Upward Salute – Urdhva Hastasana - Person perf...

“If this is how my body feels at twenty-one,

it worries me to think about

how it will feel in ten to twenty years.”

– Travis Nelson

Travis is a swimming coach and lifeguard at the pool where I swim. One day last year (September 2011) he asked me if I could recommend some exercises for his back. He told me that his lower back was sore and he thought that he should do some exercises to strengthen it.

I offered that it might be more complex than that and that focusing on strengthening the back could very possibly make things worse. There could be a whole host of possibilities as to why he feels pain and discomfort in his lower back. Oftentimes, this type of pain stems from imbalance. Meaning that some muscles may be over developed while others are underdeveloped and therefore being overworked. When our muscles are balanced, “not too tight and not too loose” then our joints are better supported and will work better on demand. Anyone can use brute force to blast through a set of an exercise or sprint to the finish line while in pain or not. But as far as exercise and physical movement is concerned, in my mind, exercise is about establishing a bio-mechanical functioning body. Sport on the other hand is about times and points. But as you will see, most professional athletes spend an inordinate amount of time perfecting the accuracy with each micro-phase of each movement.  It is this concept of precision, which is what I hope to relay in this site.

My conversation with Travis lasted no more than 4 minutes. I suggested he start with the 3-Hip Stretches and I showed him very quickly (pool side) how to stretch his psoas. He is the ideal student. He actually followed-up and did these exercises.

For quite some time afterward, in my mind I could not stop hearing him say: “If this is how my body feels at twenty-one…” and I wanted to share these words with you. So, I caught up with Travis and asked him if I could film him saying what he said to me in that first conversation. It was funny, because I wanted to assure him that I could edit the filming in the case he was uncomfortable, to which he assured me that it wasn’t a problem because he is an actor. Fantastic! He surprised me by walking me through what I had taught him in those few minutes from a few months earlier. You will see, I think he did very well.

Below is the long overdue video that I promised Travis that I would put together so that he would be able to see what the sequence looks like in its entirety. This is the modified Sun Salutation that I do each morning.

My Morning Routine (20 minutes):

  1. Bed Stretches (2 – 5 minutes)
  2. Wall and floor stretches with Travel Roller ball & roller (3 – 5 minutes)
  3. Modified Sun Salutation (3 – 4 minutes)
  4. 4 Minute Morning (week 3 – DAY 7) (4 – 5 minutes)
  5. Walk in a figure-8 (30 seconds)

Down the road I will put together a video to break down the finer points of the modified Sun Salutation. The first step for anyone is to learn the sequence by memory; once that is achieved then we can begin to fine tune and deepen our understanding.

Note: These stretches/ exercises are appropriate for my body but may not be for yours. Use caution when trying anything new. I find it works best to err on the side of caution. Begin with one exercise and repeat that one exercise for a week or so, until it is committed to memory, only then consider adding on.

Related Articles:

One One-Hundredth of a Second Faster: Building Better Olympic Athletes 

Chin Ups

The Jenkins film camera

Do You See What I See?

I started filming myself doing some exercises shortly after I started my website, with the intention of developing a series of how-to videos to complement the written instructions that I was posting.  It was quite a shock to see myself. I thought my alignment and technique was better than it is. It just goes to show that knowing something and applying the same principles is very different.

Needless to say, if you are interested in making change and improvements, I highly recommend filming yourself. Watching in the mirror is helpful, and getting corrections from an expert is helpful, but to truly analyze and critique we need to view ourselves from the outside – a bird’s eye view. And practice, practice, practice.

I have years of experience helping other people correct form and technique and in the old days, could only dream of using film as a teaching tool. I knew, that for my clients to be able to understand and apply the corrections I gave them, they really needed to see for themselves what they looked like and what they were doing. Today, with easy access to media, this tool is at our fingertips…amazing!

But what if you don’t even know what you should be looking for once you’ve made your video? Well, you have to start somewhere.

Posture types (vertebral column) classificatio...

Posture types (vertebral column) classification by Staffel. Русский: Типы осанок по Ф. Штаффелю. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Analyzing how your body looks will give you a starting point. Are your shoulders level with each other? Do they round forward? Does your upper back look hunched over – does the head poke forward? Do your feet point outwards? Are your knees knocked together or bowed when standing straight? etc…When we look at other people we naturally and subconsciously critique proportions and symmetry. It is these proportions and balance or lack of, that is pleasing to the eye or not. And it is this alignment, proportion and symmetry, which defines functional movement patterning.

Yet, we all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Now, I have decided to put myself out as an example. I don’t mind showing my faults or where I’ve gone wrong. Sometimes, a bad example is as effective as a good example!

I’ve experimented with a lot of different training techniques over the years and have learned a lot from my mistakes and from many A-Ha!, moments along the way. So here goes…

Take me for example: I am just under 5’5”. I have a very small head in relationship to my frame. So when I was bodybuilding, I looked pretty ridiculous! But I couldn’t see how ridiculous I looked because my focus was to get as muscular as possible (naturally); hence the term muscle head. The first time I noticed how silly I looked was when I saw this photograph of myself (the day I won Ms. Fitness Canada – Toronto – 1994). And this is when I was much less muscular. I had toned down the muscle building when I discovered Fitness Competitions and decided that it might be a more balanced and feminine look for me.

When I look at this picture I can’t help but laugh, because it looks to me like the head just doesn’t belong, as if it has been photo-shopped in.

Anyhow, I still have a pea-sized head! Oh well, some things we just can’t change! Like I say to my kids, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”

This long explanation is meant to prepare you for a series of videos that will use me as a learning example. I will demonstrate what I was doing wrong, relative to my imbalances and how I have gone about making corrections.

The first in the series is the Chin Up. I realize that for many, the chin up is a non-existent exercise and may even seem unattainable. Think of it as a simple example to get the ball rolling in terms of looking at analyzing movement.

About three weeks ago I casually filmed myself (with my phone) doing 5 Forward Grip Pull ups. Complete and utter disbelief when I viewed the footage. No wonder I’m having such difficulty getting my ribs to sit in a neutral position. No wonder my waist looks so short, its like I have been literally sculpting my body into this shape – almost solidifying. Finally, with video, I was able to analyze my own technique. No amount of Rolfing or bodywork can correct my alignment if I continue to undo the physical therapy by repeatedly reinforcing this alignment with such exercises.

It’s like taking one step forward and two steps back.

In the video, you can see (especially pull ups, numbers three to five), each time I do a Pull Up how I contract my latissimus dorsi so much that I am simultaneously thrusting my rib cage forward. This is not helping with my functional alignment. So I then ask myself why am I doing this exercise in the first place? Well, I like to be able to pull my weight. I think it’s important. Ok, fine – but, I tell myself that I can’t continue on like this. So I stopped doing any pull ups for two weeks while I thought about what I was doing to myself. How could I continue to do this exercise without adding to the problem AND not undo the myofascial release work?

It finally dawned on me. I would do Chin-ups with my knees tucked to my chest. The effect of tucking the knees to my chest and attempting to round my lower back (slightly) in the process would cancel out the lats to some extent – IF done properly. Holding knees to chest is difficult to begin with. I can do five, then I take a break and do five more. You can see in the video when I do the chin ups with knees tucked to chest, that in the last two I begin to arch my lower back ever so slightly…as fatigue sets in I naturally revert to my most powerful source and habitual patterning. At this point I am better off to take a break, recover the strength needed to hold a slightly rounded lower back or stop entirely. I will follow this pattern for a while and see where it leads.

I thought about putting my feet on a high stool in front of me as an option if I couldn’t tuck my knees to chest or for when fatigue sets in.

Next is to consider how often I will do this exercise. I have decided that I will do only 5 – 10 reps, three times per week, with one or two days rest in-between. There is also a very important stretch that I have added to my repertoire which encourages the opening and releasing of the fascia around my ribcage. I’ll show that one another time.

But just quickly, while we’re on the subject, I wanted to describe the evolution of my Chin Up:

About three years ago I started working out at the gym, after a long hiatus. (I trained at the gym for about one year before I switched to training at home exclusively). I had gotten back into using weight machines. One day after having built up some strength with the Lat Pull Down machine, I started eyeballing the Pull Up Bar, just maybe I might be ready to try a chin up. I used to do them regularly in my bodybuilding days. But no – nothing. I just hung there. Not a chance. I was hooked, I love a challenge…I would teach myself to do a chin up.

So each time I came to the gym I hung from the pull up bar – and tried. And tried. That was it – nothing – I just hung there trying. Still nothing. After a week of trying, I was able to budge about one inch of the way up. Basically, just isolating my shoulder blades downward. Light bulb moment! This was the first sign of progress. So I kept on with it. Each time I went to the gym, I hung and tried to pull myself up one inch, then one quarter of the way. It worked. After two weeks of trying, I finally did one complete parallel-grip pull up. It just snowballed from there, until I was doing three sets of ten reps. Yes – Three Sets of Ten! But then one day, I looked in the mirror, and gasped…oops, too many pull ups…starting to grow wings. So, I had to have another talk with myself…what exactly are you trying to achieve, Woman!? Right. Why on earth did I NEED to do 3 sets of 10 chin ups every other day? I didn’t. I just liked to. So I re-evaluated and decided that doing five to ten pull ups, once to three times per week was probably sufficient. This way I got my ‘fix’ and still had the strength to do them, to pull my weight when I needed or wanted to, like when I’m at the playground with the kids and want to do monkey bars or D-rings. Oh, and the wings went down.

Which brings us full circle. Back to top.

WARNING: HIIT is Highly Addictive

A US Marine Doing Pull-ups.

My wise nine year old son asked the other day, “What’s the difference between a habit and an addiction?”  Taken completely off guard, I stumbled for a minute then started to think out loud.

Well, a habit is generally something you do that is good for you, like brushing your teeth after meals or doing your daily body maintenance exercises (got to drive it home while they’re young).  An addiction is generally something a person does repeatedly – usually in excess, which in the end causes them harm.

We came up with a few more examples for each and then left the thought behind. But of course our conversation provoked for me a little blog post.  I’ve said it before, but sometimes we need to hear the same philosophy from various perspectives.  What if our healthy habit of exercise turns into one of addiction? Meanwhile, the opposite is a concern for many…difficulty developing the habit in the first place, more on that another time.

Healthy Habit of Exercise = Increased Level of Fitness, Flexibility, Strength, Endurance, better sleep pattern and food choices, Active Living, etc.

Addiction to Healthy Exercise= Increased Level of Fitness + Chronic Injury/ Pain + Symptoms of Overtraining etc. Click Marks Daily Apple to read more about symptoms of overtraining.

But what if it’s not really an addiction to exercise, but rather enthusiasm?  How do we differentiate?  Well, all of this is obviously subjective – enthusiasm can very easily morph undetected…usually those around us see our symptoms long before we see them for ourselves.

When I first started transitioning from doing my hour and a half long workouts at the gym to doing HIIT at home exclusively, I had a difficult time accepting that anything under 40 minutes would or could be enough.  After a month or so I shortened my training sessions even further to 20 minutes, and because I was getting stronger with each workout and working at such maximal effort, I was ok with the change to shorter workout times.  The short-high-intensity workouts satisfied my ‘workout high’.

But then, there was a time when I had brought the workouts down to 12 minutes and I felt so energized from them that I just didn’t want the workout to be over. So I would do another 4 Minute Tabata to top it up. Or I would do HIIT workouts five days in a row – eager for the next day so I could get my 12 minute workout in.

I only had to do this a few times to realize that I was missing the point of what HIIT could offer.

When I was playing soccer regularly, there was a few times that after having played an hour of fast paced soccer I would then come home to do a short HIIT workout. For me that was the sign that I had crossed the line. Exercising in excess would lead to overuse and injury…I felt them (overuse and injury, that is) knocking at my door. What I ended up doing instead of a HIIT workout was to come home and stretch (Yoga) – a much healthier pattern. Lucky for me I generally only make the same mistake a few times before I change my pattern…unfortunately, there are countless opportunities for making new mistakes waiting for me at every turn.  (Actually, I honestly think making mistakes is terrific, it is our greatest teacher).

Today was another opportunity to listen to my truth and not my ego. Zuzka Light is back on YouTube – Zuzka has been taken under the wing of Darren Copik from Watch It Now Entertainment. She is the original face of BodyRockTv. In September of 2011, Zuzka stepped away from BodyRock to do her own thing (she and Freddy divorced – BodyRock is still going strong under Freddy’s direction and other hosts).

So, I grabbed Zuzka’s first ZWOD (Zuzana’s Workout Of the Day) Bodyweight Only Time Challenge workout, though I had to modify one exercise to suit me. I could have fallen into my old pattern and just used brute force to push through, but just by looking at the line up of exercises I knew that doing 3 Rounds would be excessive for me. So I did 2 Rounds and finished in 14 minutes. Just right.

Here’s what MY version of the workout looks like:

I warm up with 10x flight of stairs (up + down = 1x) by two’s going up + single steps going down (13 steps) + light stretches.

Complete 2 Rounds of the following 9 exercises in sequence as a Time Challenge.

1. Dive Bombers – 10 Reps

2. Burpees – 5 Reps

3. Squat + Side Leg Lift (Alternating sides) – 20 Reps

4. Lunge Back (Alternating sides) – 20 Reps

5. Burpees – 5 Reps

6. Side Plank Lift – 10 Reps Left Side + 10 Reps Right Side

7. Burpees – 5 Reps

8. Pistol Squat – 5 Reps Left Side + 5 Reps Right Side + 5 Reps Left Side + 5 Reps Right Side

9. Burpees – 5 Reps

Cool down with 4 x 100 skips with rope

+ 5 Forward Grip Pull Ups.

Plus 40 Minutes of Ashtanga Yoga Standing Series (including the first 12 seated postures -no vinyasa- + 3 Backbends + closing sequence – no inversions).

Tomorrow I will swim for 30 minutes and do 15 minutes of stretching in the Jacuzzi. I won’t do another HIIT or Yoga till Monday. But, regardless will start my day with stretching in bed (view the Bed Stretches #1 video here), some modified sun salutations – focusing on stretching out hip flexors (iliopsoas), followed by a 4 Minute Morning Week 3 – DAY 7.

Watch the sneak preview of what’s to come from Zuzka Lights new video series:

 

We all have to start somewhere. And we all have to find the right balance. Whatever you choose, be consistent and be kind to yourself. And most important of all STRETCH your body!

And to see the original workout breakdown and video click here. At :29 seconds there is a pause in the video which shows the breakdown in writing – for anyone who wants to write it out!

What exercise did you do today?

To Do or Not To Do?

Just Do It Anyway

Image by MikeVC via Flickr

I read this great bumper sticker a few months ago: “Kids who hunt, trap and fish do not mug little old ladies”.  It got me thinking…

The Industrial Revolution brought with it an incredible opportunity for creative thinkers, builders and doers.  Yet, the same seed spawned a cloud of laziness for the masses.

Sliced, pre-packaged bread – no need to make your own anymore…who’s got time anyway? We have gone and replaced the time we’ve gained from these inventions with more things to do.  Because in truth, we are not lazy we are doers – each one of us.  We have gained more time to do more, but at what cost?

My point is that for a large part we have lost the art for having to take care of ourselves.  Not having to explore, create or examine because the fundamentals have been taken care of for us.  This wheel of convenience has run amok.

Humans need to ‘do’.  We are no different from the very busy animal kingdom.  We see the birds preparing their nests for spring: tending, feeding and guarding their nestlings.  This is their natural cycle, which is not so different from ours.  But ours has gotten muddled up.  Historically, our natural drive was to find shelter, be clothed, and eat three meals per day, dance and sing.  Presently, we still have this natural survival energy.  We need to burn it off somehow.  If we do not find a constructive way to utilize this energy we are going to sit around and overeat.  Much like the housebound dog that doesn’t get exercised; he gets himself into mischief to satisfy his natural drive, often in the way of eating a lone leather shoe or digging up the garden. Or, like the “kids who mug little old ladies”!

To think that those of us in Western society who are lucky enough to live in an age where education and personal development is attainable and affordable:  from life coaching, music lessons or personal fitness training to name a few…isn’t that fantastic?

However, it is what we do with this gift of learning that is worth questioning.  Has it become an affordable disposable luxury much in the same way that food has become?  (Read FUEL https://youasamachine.com/fuel-2/ to know what I’m talking about.)

Let me pick on personal training since it is my background.  Does personal training work? It depends. It always depends on a variety of factors. It depends on whether you hire a trainer as an educator or as your motivator.

I know way too many people going to personal trainers and not making progress.  Sure, maybe at the beginning when doing anything new will have an effect.  But as time goes on the people I have talked with admit to not doing any workouts except for when they have a scheduled appointment.  And even fitting in those appointments becomes challenging.

I think personal training would be more effective overall if sessions were viewed more as lessons, like swimming, martial arts or piano lessons for example. A lesson being something whereby you acquire further understanding of a subject.  You learn, practice, refine, learn more, practice more, refine more etc.

For the most part personal training has become a service of sorts, a session in which a client is often mindlessly put through their paces.  They leave feeling wiped out and think they got their money’s worth.  But has the client learned anything in the process?  Money can buy an hour with the best trainer on the planet but I don’t believe that it can buy health or a lean well-conditioned body. But if it does, it is only a temporary transformation. Yes, you’re better off having done a mindless session than none at all. But this reinforces dependence.

Your body doesn’t know how much money you have or don’t have.  You can deceive the mind but not the body.

If a client is seeing a trainer once to three times per week for a year and hasn’t made a significant change, which is to blame, the trainer or the client?  I would think that after one year of private instruction a client would be very well versed and on the road to becoming self-sufficient and accountable.  But that rarely happens.  Why?

In order to make progress in any subject we need to understand the fundamentals.  Before we can read we need to learn our A-B-C’s. In terms of our physical health and fitness we need to have a grasp of basic anatomy.  Does this mean that in order to brush our teeth effectively we should first be schooled in dentistry?  Not quite.  But our brains are able and hungry for knowledge and up for the challenge.

We all should be well versed in our anatomy and physiology, but we aren’t.  We let the experts take care of us!  We let doctors prescribe pharmaceuticals.  We let our governments come up with ‘programs’ to raise awareness to better our health.  It’s all fluff.  We need to take control of us.  En masse, we need to give our heads the proverbial shake.  Just like handing over our hard earned life savings to the expert to invest for us and not having done any research into where or what it is being invested.

Each and every one of us needs to become accountable.  We need to learn about how our body works so we can take care of it – and stay out of mischief.

Be accountable.  Become your own expert.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever.”

– Gandhi (1869-1948)

Change

Global Warming & Climate Change

Change does not always happen right away.  For me it took a couple of weeks just contemplating these new Short- Duration High Intensity Interval Workouts, to then implementing a few concepts into my gym workouts.

It had been drilled into me that to be effective a traditional workout could only be done a certain way.  This new approach challenged everything I had studied and what had worked for me in the past.  Or rather, what I believed had worked.

I then started substituting a home workout for a gym workout, until all my workouts were done at home.  The elapsed time for this transition took about eight weeks.  It is amazing to me the amount of time I have saved.  And the results I have gained.

Note: Short-duration High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Tabatas are completely different from 4 Minute Mornings.