I have a new client who started training with me just a few weeks ago. She's 65-newly retired from a government job where she worked for many years. The transition to retirement has been tough and she confessed that she's felt depressed. Her health has declined, and the first time we spoke over the phone, she shared with me that there are times she doesn't want to leave the house because she feels so ashamed of the weight she's gained.
We meet early in the morning, when it's still dark out and the gym is quiet. She tells me each week that it's a struggle to get there. We started slow, with lots of mobility and core work, but I've added in some more weight training and cardio each week as she's gotten stronger. She's progressing beautifully. She's started smiling more. This week she told me that I make it easier for her to come in and exercise.
Day made. Mission accomplished.
When I started working at my all-women's, group-exercise-focused little gym, I confess I didn't quite get it. I was a “lone wolf” exerciser-more likely to run or lift weights on my own than to shake things out with friends in a Zumba class. My idea of a good workout had more to do with the soreness I felt the next day than it did with the fun I had doing it. And I thought that's how my clients should feel, too.
I was wrong.
Turns out, not everyone loves to feel sore the day after a workout. Or to sweat profusely during a workout. Or to feel like their lungs are about to explode during a workout.
Turns out, a lot of people actually dread going to the gym.
Had I planned a high-intensity interval training workout for my 65-year-old client because it's the “most effective” way to lose weight, she may very well have walked out the door and never come back. “Effectiveness” for her, and many others, is about moving better. Feeling more energetic. Gaining confidence. Making it a little easier to climb the stairs or carry the groceries or walk the dog.
We all know the health benefits of exercise, and there is certainly no shortage of workout options. Home-based workout DVDs, bodybuilding, obstacle-court-themed races, bootcamps, yoga, water aerobics, 5-minute workouts, 2 -hour workouts. It's like the whole world is screaming “WORK OUT!” But so few people actually do it consistently.
To see more people actually stick to an exercise routine, I think we fitness professionals need to start looking differently at effectiveness. Do clients feel better when they leave than when they started? Do they feel listened to? Did they laugh while they worked out? Are we making it easier for them to exercise? Are they actually starting to ENJOY it?
If I can answer yes to any or all of those questions, then I've done my job well.
What a joy and a privilege it is to be part of these women's health and fitness journeys, and to be part of a gym that helps make working out fun and not drudgery. I'm thankful for it every day.
What about you? What, or who, makes it easier for you to exercise? I'd love to hear from you!
Everyone who knows me knows that my daughter danced in a piece at our church this past weekend. Because, well, I can't stop talking about it. It was a modern piece, set to a song called "Out of Hiding," by Steffany Gretzinger. My daughter played a girl hiding from God, and God, played by another dancer, brought her out of hiding and drew her to Himself as the other dancers leapt and circled around them.
It was breathtaking. It made me cry-not a sweet tear or two, but big ugly tears, the kind that used to make me run to the restroom because I was embarrassed. It made me want to dance.
Watching those little ones on stage, those 7,8, 9-year-old girls, it was hard to imagine them feeling self-conscious. Insecure. Worried. It's hard to imagine that in just a couple of years they could be scared about a failing grade or a failing relationship. As they danced, they just seemed free.
I see the same expression on the faces of women at my gym, taking a Zumba class. After an hour of (no men allowed) booty shaking and hip swaying, everyone seems a little lighter, a little happier. A little freer.
I think sometimes we can get so focused in the gym on hitting our weight-loss goals and choosing the right exercises to get us there, that we forget the simple joy of moving our bodies. When someone asks me about what type of exercise they should do to help them lose weight, I usually tell them two things. First, prioritize strength training. If you don't know how to lift weights, hire a trainer or enlist the help of a meathead friend who can help you. Second, figure out what you LIKE to do, and do it.
Zumba? Fantastic. Ice skating? Great! Brazilian jiu-jitsu? Go for it. If you like working out with others and need some like-minded friends, find a gym with group fitness classes and have a blast. If you like being on your own, find a path to jog or a trail to hike. Get outside, even if only for a few minutes on your lunch break. Twist yourself into a pretzel in yoga class.
Life is too short and full of the mundane to hate your exercise routine. Besides, you'll never stick to something that you dread doing.
What makes you feel free? What do you lose track of time doing? What type of exercise makes you feel strong and centered? What helps you take yourself a little less seriously and have a lot more fun?
When you know what you love doing, it's a whole lot easier to do it, consistently. And consistency is what gets results.
If you've rediscovered the joy of movement and found something you LOVE to do, drop me a line. I would love to hear from you!
I recently conquered a fear that I didn't even know I had, related to a dream I didn't know I had. It took me months and months of practice, several failed attempts, and even a couple of resolutions: "I'm not doing this. It's not me. I don't even know why I signed up for this to begin with."
I'm a little sheepish to even admit this, but here's what I'm talking about: I taught my very first choreographed group fitness class.
That's right. I'm a fitness professional who lacks coordination. Who used to be picked last in gym class. Who never quite mastered the coordination to play a sport, ANY sport. Volleyball? I wasn't aggressive enough to spike hard and I never conquered the overhand serve. Basketball? Same thing. Tennis? Kinda fun, but I totally sucked at it. I sucked at every sport I tried, so I ended up not trying at all. I stuck with drama because I was great at it and I knew I wouldn't fail.
Fast forward a few (ahem) years, and I found myself in a similar spot. I love group fitness and jumped at the chance to teach a 30-minute class called CORE. But to do it, I had to learn choreography, group coaching, cuing movement with precise timing, etc. I put it off several times, and even committed NOT to do it, for reasons that nothing to do with ability and everything to do with this:
I had to do it perfectly. And if I couldn't do it perfectly, I didn't want to do it at all.
I recently watched a TED talk by a woman named Reshma Saujani called "Teach girls bravery, not perfection." In it, she attests that girls are, from an early age, encouraged to be perfect. If a little girl doesn't like an activity or feels that she's not good at it, her parents move her on to another activity that she's great at. Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to get dirty, jump from the highest beam of the monkey bars, to take risks. Over time, this socialization leads to gender gaps in fields like IT, which is why Saujani formed a company called "Girls Who Code." The company's mission is to close the gender gap in computing by offering girls the chance to learn to code in a fun and supportive environment.
All this got me thinking about coaching women. I've coached women from 14-65, from many different walks of life. I've coached single women, moms, single moms, nurses, chefs, students, social workers, military women. One thing they share is a need to get it right. Is my form perfect? Can I eat this? Did I do that right?
And, this: if I can't do it right, do it perfectly, I won't do it at all. Sadly, I have clients who disappear from the gym after they gain 5 pounds or fall back into old habits.
Here's Saujani's message for parents, teachers, and society at large: let's teach our girls to be brave, not perfect. To take risks. To fail. To struggle, because struggle tells us that something is changing.
I'm so thankful for the risks I've taken. To get married and follow God into ministry, sometimes into countries and cultures that made me uncomfortable. To have kids, knowing that having a child is like having your heart walk around outside of your body. To move to a state that's very unlike where I grew up. To compete in figure, a division of bodybuilding. And, to pursue a career I never knew I would love.
As women, let's be brave and not perfect, especially when it comes to fitness. Run a 5K if you've never before, try a triathlon if you're like me and haven't mastered swimming. Join a gym. Ask for help. You'll never regret moving toward a healthier body, mind, and heart.
I have a confession to make. I'm a recovering workout addict.
I started working out in high school, running (well, slow jogging) on the hamster wheel called the treadmill. I ran my first 10K in college, just a couple of weeks before graduation and my wedding. I loved the feel of moving my body, of my heart pounding hard and, of course, running across the finish line under time.
I ran and did workout tapes for awhile, tried group exercise at the Y, bought an elliptical machine. During the time that I was in Christian ministry, I tried to make sure that my time with God was a higher priority than my workouts. Not always easy. Prayer time feels less tangible than a great run, and spiritual maturity felt like less of a priority than the 10 pounds I seemed to always want to take off.
I did Insanity in 2013 and discovered muscles I never knew were there. From there I decided to compete in a bodybuilding show and the hard work began. Hours in the weight room, lots of meal planning, morning cardio, more time in the weight room. And, learning how to pose on stage to show off my physique.
It was a wild ride. I backed out of the first show I had planned to do-stepping on stage in that tiny suit was just too overwhelming to me. I backed out of the second show because my body wasn't ready. I finally stepped on stage in June 2014.
All this time, I was spending hours in the gym. In the bodybuilding community, that's normal.
It's not normal.
After the show, I continued to work out excessively. I worked out when I was sick, when I was sore, when I was exhausted. I battled injuries left and right. I ignored my own advice to clients, to listen to your body and adjust your workouts and recovery days accordingly.
I'm currently undergoing a yearlong body transformation program through Precision Nutrition that I'll offer to clients. One of the lessons I'm learning is about evaluating what you've done for weight loss or fitness in the past and asking yourself, "how's that working for you?" Then, if it's not working, what might it look like to do the OPPOSITE?
Hmmm. Hours of exercise, for me, produced overuse injuries and exhaustion. My weight still fluctuated wildly because my diet sucked most of the time. I didn't sleep well because I would often work out at night without a bedtime routine. How'd that work for me? Not so great.
So, here's my challenge: being kind to myself. Eating what I know helps me feel better. Taking a couple of days off every week-a workout that looks like a long walk with my husband while the kids ride their bikes. Listening to my body when my knee feels cranky or my SI joint is giving me the middle finger.
That may be your challenge, too. Take whatever you've done for weight loss in the past, turn it upside down and try the opposite. If it doesn't work, that's cool. It doesn't mean you've failed, only that it didn't work. Try something else.
Over all, be kind to yourself. You are a person created in the image of God. Treat yourself that way!
I've been thinking lately about self-control, especially why it's so hard to say no to temptation as we move through our days. Did you know that self-control is a finite resource? And, that we need to practice self-control not only over what goes INTO our mouths, but what comes OUT of our mouths?
This means that the same self-control we exercise when we choose not to yell at our kids in the morning (NEVER happens in my house. I lie) may run out by the time we come home from work at the end of a long day. That's why it's so important to make our kitchens "nutritional havens," so we're not face-to-face with a giant cupcake when we're already exhausted and our self-control tank is empty.
I recently had to cut alcohol out of my diet. I LOVE wine-there's nothing like a good cab (or pinot noir, or malbec...) at the end of a long day. But it was messing with my sleep and making me sluggish. It's easy for a 6 ounce glass to become a 8 ounce glass, and then one glass becomes two....
My self-control was depleted, and if I'm being honest, I was also using alcohol to dull some negative emotions I was feeling. We all do it. If it's not alcohol, it's food, or drugs, or shopping, or sleeping, or exercise, or work.
The problem, as I'm learning from Brene Brown in her excellent book, The Gifts of Imperfection, is that when we use these addictions to numb ourselves from negative emotions like shame or insecurity, we also numb ourselves to positive emotions like joy.
Now, addiction counseling is beyond my scope of practice, but I can speak from experience when I say that giving up alcohol is one of the best decisions I've made. I still love it and I've allowed myself a glass here and there, but I've learned to substitute a nightly glass of wine with a nightly cup of tea. I've learned that walking through negative emotions instead of numbing them with alcohol has allowed me to feel so much more joy and connection with the people I love.
Ask yourself this the next time you find yourself reaching for food, alcohol, or some other unhealthy habit or addiction: what am I REALLY feeling right now? And, is that feeling so scary that I need to numb it? Can I call someone I trust to talk it through, or pick up a journal, or pray instead?
The writer and researcher Elisabeth Kubler-Ross writes, "People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within." Let's not allow our lack of self-control or even addiction to dim our light!
So, I've been trying to ask clients lately about their "why?" WHY do you want get fit? WHY do you want to change your diet? WHY are you paying to see me? What are you looking to get out of our training sessions? How can I help you identify your why, so that we can then create a plan to get strong and fast in the gym, and get healthy and lose weight in the kitchen?
See, the WHY matters way more than the HOW. When I started working out, umpteen years ago, it was because I wanted to see a magic number on the scale. I discovered that I love exercise, I lost weight, but my weight went up and down, up and down, for years. There were two pregnancies, yes, but there were also years of depression that contributed to lethargy and weight gain. I can't even count how many times I thought to myself, "if I could just lose 10 pounds, 20 pounds, 30 pounds, THEN things will be good." How ridiculous is that? But, how often do we think it?
A few years ago, I did Insanity and got ripped. I was encouraged to do a figure competition (which I'd never even heard of before!), and I got on stage on June 1, 2014.
I looked good. I looked REALLY good. But it wasn't enough. I was still insecure about my body, and so I continued to lose weight. I've written about this before. 122 pounds on a 5'6 frame is way too thin, and 10 percent body fat is not healthy. I liked being thin, but guess what? IT DIDN'T CHANGE ANYTHING. That magic number on the scale didn't make me a better person. In fact, it made me a person I didn't like. I was cocky. I wasn't even the kind of trainer I wanted to be. It was more about me than it was about my clients.
The good news is, I put some weight on (a little too much weight, but I'm getting back to my happy place) and learned a little more about my why. My body will never be perfect. Nobody's will. But when my daughter fell off her bike and broke her wrist, I was able to run down the street to grab her and carry all 50 pounds of her back home. That's functional fitness!
If you're looking to lose weight, strengthen, "tone," (I'm a little done with that word, but that's another blog), or get fast, I would encourage you to take some time to ask yourself WHY? If your why is getting into a size 6 or seeing your magic number on a scale, it may not sustain you. We need look no further than the Biggest Loser study to see that. What's your why? Is it because you want to feel better and have more energy to play with your kids or grandkids? Is it because it helps lessen the symptoms of depression that you struggle with? These are GREAT reasons to hit the gym and make over your kitchen.
Find your why, THEN make it happen! If you need some help, hit me up!
A few months ago, I found myself in a confusing place. I love my job. I LOVE my job. There are so few people who can say that, and I'm thankful to be one of them. To be part of someone's health and wellness transformation is a joy and a privilege. I was seeing clients almost every night, leading Tabata Bootcamp-a high intensity interval training class, and working hard in the weight room on my own training.
But my family was suffering. I wasn't home for family meals, and I felt like I was missing so much. One day, my husband shared something that brought me to tears. We sing the doxology as our prayer before dinner- "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," that one. When I'm gone, my 7-year-daughter never sings. But when I'm there with her, she sings her little heart out. A girl needs her mom.
I had coffee with a couple of dear friends, who encouraged me to seek God's face. When He says "no" to something, He always says "yes" to something better. Things became clear to me as I heard from Him. Yet, I still struggled with the decision to cut back my hours to stay home. Missing Monday nights, the busiest time of the week for trainers? Cutting my hours, despite having just bought a new home in a very expensive area?
But I chose to move forward in faith. I knew in my heart that God would bless it.
Guess what? I have more clients than I've ever had. I've signed 6 newbies in the last couple of weeks. I'm starting a bootcamp in our new neighborhood to get to know some families. And, I'm launching a new online nutrition curriculum through Precision Nutrition. How 'bout them apples?
Additionally, I've been talking with a friend about advocating for suicide prevention, a cause that's so near to my heart. This is something I wouldn't have pursued had I not created the breathing room in my life that allowed me to hear from God. I'm so thankful.
Do you need breathing room in your life? Take a few minutes today to think through what needs to be taken off your plate so that you can pursue something better, even if it's something as small (SOOO not small) as a family dinner. It is so worth it!
Those who know me, know that I have a very personal and painful story related to mental illness. I lost my older sister, Julie, to suicide in 1995, and my grandmother succombed to debilitating, borderline-catatonic depression later that same year. I've also struggled with depression and anxiety, at times going days without sleeping or eating. I know the brain fog, the paralyzing fear, and the feelings of worthlessness that come with this hellish illness. I also know the havoc it wreaks on a family to see someone you love struggle to simply get out of bed, much less perform simple tasks like going to the grocery store or reading a book.
Over the past year and a half, my mom has been battling a depression that's resulted in two hospitalizations. She finally began to improve upon receiving a new treatment-a last-ditch effort to save her life. My dad, brother, and the rest of my family are so thankful for her improvement.
Last summer, the stress of my mom's illness had my anxiety at an all-time high, and I found that the only way to feel better, besides lots of tears and prayer, was running. My body craved the large motor movement of feet hitting pavement, even when I was exhausted from the busyness of training clients part-time and raising kids full-time. I had taken time off from running while I was training for a figure competition, and returning to it was a relief.
I vowed to embrace winter running as well, and sure enough, this is the first year I haven't struggled with the lethargy, weight gain, and overall blahs that plague so many of us northerers during the bitter winter months.
I'm currently reading Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John J. Ratey, who writes at length about the research into exercise and it's effect on learning, stress, anxiety, depression, attention deficit, hormonal changes, and aging. Here's a passage from his chapter on anxiety that I found fascinating:
One aspect of anxiety that makes it so different from other disorders is the physical symptoms. Because anxiety brings the sympathetic nervous system into play, when you sense your heart rate and breathing pick up, that awareness can trigger anxiety or a panic attack. But those same symptoms are inherent to aerobic exercise-and that's a good thing. If you begin to associate the physical symptoms of anxiety with something positive, something that you initiated and can control, the fear memory fades in contrast to the fresh one taking shape. Think of it as a biological bait and switch-your mind is expecting a panic attack, but instead it ends up with a positive association with the symptoms.
Isn't the body amazing?
Diet also plays a key role in fighting depression and anxiety. As Camille DePutter writes in the excellent article, Mood Food: How to fight depression naturally with nutrition:
Your brain is greedy. It needs a lot of energy to work properly and to create neurotransmitters-chemicals that send signals through the nervous system.
Without energy or nutrients, your brain won't get what it needs. If fact, one study suggests that eating a lot of nutrient-sparse foods could up your chances of becoming depressed by as much as 60 percent.
I'm so thankful for the excellent research linking nutrition and exercise to mental health, as well as the general awareness and lessening stigma toward mental illness. By no means would I suggest that medication and therapy be discontinued in favor of exercise and nutritional intervention; instead, I see how all these areas can complement one another.
Depression affects more than 120 million people worldwide, making it the leading cause of disability, according to the World Health Organization. As health and fitness professionals, let's use every resource available to fight this deadly disease.
I remember walking up the stairs of high school between classes as a freshman and hearing some bully (Who shall not be named. No, I really can't even remember his name.) call out, "Hey! You have a big butt!" So clever, those freshmen.
I knew I had a big butt. I was pretty skinny until adolescence, when my starchy, processed, midwesterny diet caught up with me. I was 14 years old, 5'6 and probably around 150 pounds. I was never bullied, but (butt???) for that one kid. And it stuck with me.
I steadily gained weight throughout high school. I lost my older sister when I was 15, then my grandparents that same year, and so I ate my feelings. When I started college, I was probably around 180. I had stopped weighing myself, but I remember feeling fat almost all the time.
I dropped the weight when I started running, and really transformed my body when I started weight training.
A couple million squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts later, I can finally say that I've embraced my big, strong butt. It's not perfect, but it gets me where I need to go.
Here's the thing, though...I was bullied by one kid, about one part of my body. What about kids who get bullied EVERY DAY, about multiple body issues? Those words are powerful, and they take a long time to heal. It breaks my heart to think of the possibility that my beautiful little girl could become a victim of bullying about something as ridiculous as the way her body looks.
My heart breaks for clients, and potential clients, who are still reeling from words spoken to them years ago. These are the clients we trainers need to reach, and they are the ones least likely to hire a trainer or join a gym.
I'd like to reverse the negative self-talk about our bodies, by focusing on what they can DO, rather than what they look like.
Yes, I have cellulite. But I can deadlift 185 and I'm getting stronger.
Yes, I have stretch marks. But, today I ran 4.42 miles in 35 minutes.
Yes, I have a big butt. That's how God made me, and if you don't like it, you can just...never mind.
;) Drop me a line if this resonates with you, or if you have a similar story you'd like to share!
Back in 2001, I ran my first race. It was a 10K that I trained for with a friend. I ran it on a cold, Cleveland, April morning-we only shed our outer layers after the first mile or so.
I ran slow, but I finished in just over an hour. I still remember all the food vendors, the massage tables, posing with our our t-shirts and race numbers-basking in the high of, "I just did that!"
That night, a woman named Joni Erickson Tata spoke at my church. Here's a brief synopsis of her life and accomplishments:
"Tada was born in 1949 in Baltimore, Maryland, the youngest of four daughters.
As a teenager, Tada enjoyed riding horses, hiking, tennis, and swimming. On July 30, 1967, she dove into Chesapeake Bay after misjudging the shallowness of the water. She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical levels and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down.
During her two years of rehabilitation, according to her autobiography, she experienced anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, and religious doubts. However, Tada learned to paint with a brush between her teeth, and began selling her artwork. To date, she has written over forty books, recorded several musical albums, starred in an autobiographical movie of her life, and is an advocate for disabled people.
Tada wrote of her experiences in her 1976 international best-selling autobiography, Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman's struggle against quadriplegia & depression, which has been distributed in many languages. The book was made into a 1979 feature film of the same name, starring herself. Her second book, A Step Further, was released in 1978."
This remarkable woman wheeled herself onstage and told her story-waking up in the hospital at the age of 18 without use of her arms and legs, wanting to die. And then, awakening to God's call on her life to serve others: to write, to sing and paint (with a paintbrush clutched in her teeth), and to advocate for the disabled around the world.
Her ministry is called Joni and Friends, and it's been around for 35 years. Since 1994, Wheels for the World has been collecting, fitting, and donating wheelchairs to the disabled in developing countries. This ministry provides mobility to kids and adults who have been bed-ridden. Can you imagine?
This woman is a hero. And, the next time she runs will be in heaven. The next time she even stands will be in heaven. What she wouldn't give to be able to run outside, to hike or swim or bowl or kayak.
To hug someone. Hard. To stretch her arms over her head, to feel those tight muscles lengthening. To raise her hands in worship. To dance.
Here's what I thought as I listened to her, my legs sore from the longest run I had ever done:
I will never stop doing this. As long as my legs will carry me, I will run. Because there are so many people who want to, and can't.
This is the challenge I offer to my clients, and to you: don't take your mobility for granted. Don't take your health for granted. Push through a final set, a final rep, for every person who wants to do what you do, and can't.
You probably don't have to wait to get to heaven to experience the joy of putting one foot in front of the other, feeling the wind at your back and the crunch of the gravel under your feet. Get outside. Today. And, make it your act of worship.