Check your Ego at the Door

Injuries suck. They’re exhausting and painful and demoralizing and frustrating.

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They are also a really great learning experience. I mean, all adversity is an opportunity to learn and grow if you choose to treat it as such…and why not? Otherwise it’s just suckage with no point to it. That’s no fun.

Anyway, injuries: everyone who works out or enjoys physical activity in any capacity is going to sustain an injury at some point in their lives that derails their training and knocks them down a peg or two. Or more than two. So, you get injured, you get it treated, you do the physio and the rehab exercises etc etc and you’re feeling better. Time to get back at it, right? You’ve waited weeks, maybe months to get back into the gym and feel like you’re doing something challenging and worthwhile. Pedal to the metal, baby!!

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Nope. Slow down there, Tex.

Because at the moment you feel 100%, that’s when you’re about 80% healed. And the time you spend between being 80% healed and 100% healed is the window of time where you are at the greatest risk of re-injury. It’s also the time when your ego, the little shit, is not your friend at all.

“Psst!” it’ll whisper at you. “You should be able to do that. You could six months ago. Give it a shot and see what happens! You can always stop if it hurts.”

Your ego doesn’t care that if you make it hurt too much then congratulations, you have successfully joined the ranks of people who find themselves back on the injury bench. It just wants to GO. It wants you to feel like you got something accomplished. It also wants you to be some kind of superhero who doesn’t have to obey the laws of physics like the rest of us. Well, guess what? You’re not a special snowflake – of course you are a special snowflake – but you’re still a broken snowflake and that means that for a little while, you need to find a way to leave your ego at home when you go to the gym.

ego

This is not an easy thing to do.

The gym is where people go to get their pump on, to sweat, to feel strong and badass and sexy as fuck. It’s where people flex in the mirror and take more selfies than just about any other place on earth, right? The gym is any inflated ego’s happy place!

So when you bring your still-broken-but-feeling-way-better self back in there, it’s important – really important – that you take it easier than you think you need to. Lift the lighter weights. Work on mobility, balance, control. Get your mind-muscle connection firing again.  At this point it’s also good to isolate that injured spot and insult it just a little bit so that your body knows to concentrate its repair work there. Eccentric, or negative contractions (where the muscle is lengthening under tension instead of contracting; this usually is the down-phase of the exercise) done slowly and under control are key to let your body know that it needs to lay down more, stronger tissue in that location. (Plug: a good trainer can help with this and will know just how much to challenge you, or not, on any given day.)

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Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. You may not get a good clip for Instagram showing all the cool stuff you can do. All of that can wait until you’re all the way better – and the way to get all the way better is to start slowly and build back up. S L O W L Y. It’s agonizing, I know! But better to do that, than end up with an injury that’s chronic. Your body doesn’t need that kind of mileage – that’s what you get when you slog through the suckage and don’t learn anything!! So check your ego at the door and gently explore what your body is capable of. You’ll gain perspective and it might even be fun.

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Bullshit Healthy Things

Let’s face it, sometimes you just need cake.

And sometimes, when you go to Costco, even though you have told yourself a hundred times that it’s not a good idea (you’ve learned this from experience), you end up taking home that 10lb bag of carrots because you need a few carrots and you don’t want to go to a separate grocery store just for fucking carrots.

Furthermore, some weeks when you’re working a lot and are not caught up with keeping consumable snacks in the house, your preteen children complain bitterly that there’s nothing to eat after school and hassle you to within an inch of your sanity.

Obviously the solution to all of these problems is carrot cake. But what to do if you don’t want all the sugar and junkiness of cake? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!

Carrot Apple Muffins

Bullshit Healthy Carrot Apple Muffins

Preheat oven to 425F, and line your muffin tins with parchment cups – this recipe makes 18 muffins so that’s how many cups you’ll need to have ready.

Dry stuff: mix the following in a big bowl – bigger than you think you need:

1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour

2 scoops vegan protein powder (unflavored, vanilla, or I used Epicure Optimum Vegan Protein Blend which has a mild coconut flavor)

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 ½ tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

½ tsp nutmeg

Wet stuff: mix the following in whatever bowl it fits in:

3 cups shredded carrots (this is a lot of carrots. If you don’t have a food processor with a shredder, you’re going to be grating for a looooong time. I am not above bribing my children to do this part of the job)

2 apples, diced

1 cup milk

½ cup maple syrup

⅓ cup coconut oil, melted

2 eggs

Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and quickly stir to combine. Don’t be a perfectionist; some lumpiness is okay. Spoon the batter into your prepared muffin cups and bake for 13-15min.

These little mofo’s are delicious on their own, but if it’s cake with icing that you’re after feel free to pipe some cream cheese icing onto the top of each muffin (after they’ve cooled of course.)

Cream Cheese Icing

2 cups cream cheese

4 cups icing sugar

1 tsp. Vanilla

Whip all the ingredients together using an electric mixer and pipe over the muffins. You can use an icing bag with fancy nozzles for this step or just dump the whole mess into a freezer bag and cut a corner off – it’ll taste awesome either way!

Don’t call me Supermom

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Over the last couple of days I’ve heard that word used to describe a number of women with kids, in various contexts. If I’m honest I’ve heard it used to describe me too…and though it is flattering and always used in the most generous and affectionate and admiring context, it eats away at me a little every time I hear it.

Maybe I’m being overly politically correct or sensitive here, but hear me out on this one: my thought is that the vast majority of mother-figures (there are exceptions of course, as always) are just doing their damnedest to raise happy, healthy kids who feel loved, build fulfilling careers (if they so choose), and maybe, if there’s energy left over, look after their own spirits. Yes I know, we’ve all heard it a million times – we have to carve out time to look after ourselves and we can’t be good examples to our kids if we don’t – but when something else comes apart, that’s often the first thing to go. That’s what we signed up for when we became responsible for other humans. But I’m not trying to be a martyr here; that’s not what this is about.

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So what is this about?

It’s about competition. Because when someone is described as ‘supermom’, it implies that they are head and shoulders above us regular ol’ moms; someone to aspire to rather than someone who is down here in the trenches with the rest of us. And I get it – when a woman sticks out and does something amazing, she definitely deserves to be celebrated. OF COURSE she does. But does it make her a better mom? Not necessarily. And then if we pin the label ‘supermom’ on her, should the rest of us aspire to be more like her? What if we aren’t interested in achieving what she’s achieved?

Women don’t need to be in competition with each other. My thought is that there are too many of us who feel like we aren’t enough as it is. Let’s admire each other’s achievements without comparing parenting skills, mmmkay?

supermom

It’s about sexism. Let’s turn this around: how many male professionals, athletes, artists, leaders, etc. , who have children are referred to as ‘superdad’? Often you don’t hear that those guys have children at all; instead we admire their achievements for what they are. We don’t pull the parenthood card and call them superdad. We have no idea what kind of dad they are. The fruit of their loins doesn’t enter into the equation because…well, because it doesn’t.

Really the term ‘supermom’ is just a crusty old fossil from the late 70’s and early 80’s when women were taking on more traditionally masculine roles – you know, like having jobs and their own public social status. We don’t need it anymore.

I’ll tell you something about being a mom (which every parent reading this will already know, but here it is anyway): if we’re going to achieve anything noteworthy, something has to go. There has to be considerable sacrifice, or considerable external support from somewhere. I’ve been called supermom because I juggle two careers as well as two children, but I promise you, anyone who sees the unfortunate results of my housekeeping skills will revoke that supermom card in a hurry, because I can’t do it all. Maybe one day I will be in a position to hire someone to clean my house and then I can be called supermom again.

See how ridiculous that sounds?

Consider this: of all the moms I know (and I know lots of them), there are career-minded women who are going after their goals with singular determination. There are stay-at-home moms who have put careers on hold to be with their kids and look after their households. There are single moms who are juggling jobs and the demands of parenting solo. There are moms who are super fit, whose peace of mind depends on getting their workout in, and moms who have given in to the pull of obesity because the demands of all the kids’ activities means that they live in their minivans from 4-8pm. And ALL of them have well-adjusted kids who are happy and healthy. The point is that we all have different circumstances, different priorities, and different heaps of baggage and shit to deal with. None of us are supermom. Or rather, we are ALL supermom.

 

The 10-Minute Rule

This morning I squirted hand soap on my toothbrush.

toothbrush

Fortunately for me, I figured out something wasn’t quite right before I stuck it in my mouth. Maybe it was the smell. Either way, it was a piss-off and just added to the giant heap of suck that today was turning into. I’m fighting a cold, didn’t sleep well last night, and when I went to the basement to move the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer, climbing the 14 stairs back to the main floor left me gasping for air.

The last thing I wanted to do in the whole world was work out today.

I have a rule for days like today. Because we all have days when the thought of working out is about as appealing as brushing your teeth with hand soap. Yup, even trainers. (This one, anyway.) This rule has served me well over the years and helped me stay consistent with my workouts even when everything sucks – ESPECIALLY when everything sucks! The rule is this:

I WILL WORK OUT FOR TEN MINUTES.

Often just getting out of my head and into my body is enough to keep going. In fact, 99% of the time, at ten minutes in, I’m having fun and happy I forced myself over that hump. Most of the time I have an okay workout and at the very least, get to the end of the day happy that I embraced the suck and made it happen. Sometimes, beast mode appears on the days that I feel the worst and I end up surprising myself, kicking ass, and turning the suckage right around. And some days, after ten minutes, my muscles are aching and my energy level has taken up residence in the bottom of a construction-site port-a-john. And on those days, I am completely okay with just dragging my carcass to the couch because it is not a workout day. If you’ve tried to get going and are still feeling the HELL NO after ten minutes then likely your body is feeling stressed and the risk of working out outweighs the potential reward. Don’t do it.

So, with the 10-min rule in mind, off I went to the gym at lunchtime. My plan was to do a quick posterior-chain smash (still fighting with my moody left hamstring) and then some steady-state cardio to get my heart rate up a little bit so that I could get through the afternoon without falling asleep. The verdict? It was a low-energy kinda day. Nothing wrong with that, because…

regret

Breakfast?

baby seal

EVERY TIME YOU SKIP BREAKFAST A BABY SEAL GETS CLUBBED TO DEATH.

Seriously, who doesn’t love breakfast? Breakfast is awesome – it is without a doubt my favorite meal of the whole freaking day. I was chatting with a friend of mine about breakfast a while back, sharing our favorite breakfast foods and comparing notes about our typical macronutrient breakdowns and calorie counts for breakfast amidst a lot of drooling and high fives. See, both of us train hard, we lift heavy, and we wake up ravenous for our big-girl breakfasts. It isn’t uncommon for either of us to pack away 30% of our daily caloric requirements at breakfast time.

breakfast

On the other hand, my husband is just not a breakfast eater. He wakes up, pours a cup of coffee, and MAYBE has some breakfast a couple of hours later. And here’s the thing: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. Show of hands, please: who has been gagged over and over with the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? My thought is that any statement that sounds THAT absolute and applies to everyone, is worthy of a raised eyebrow and further scrutiny. Nutrition science is too young and too individual for anyone – ANYONE – to be making blanket statements…unless they’re selling something. You know, like breakfast cereal.

Now there’s a can of worms. I am invoking the wrath of my entire family here, but I just can’t stop myself: most breakfast cereal, along with most other packaged ‘breakfast food’, is shit.

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Ok fine, maybe not total shit in that there are worse things you can put into your body…but there are also lots and lots of better options. Let’s move on, shall we?

So if breakfast in the morning really isn’t that big a deal, what IS a big deal as far as attaining optimal health is concerned? Studies have shown over and over again that eating three meals a day is the best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Simple, right? Three meals that consist of plenty of plants, lean protein, and healthy fats – and nothing else. Now, before anyone accuses me of making the blanket statements that I was just slagging a paragraph ago, that kind of eating pattern is not going to work for everyone and you have to do some experimenting to find what works best for YOU. But really, whether your first meal of the day happens at 7am or noon or 3pm is up to you. For example, people who stay up late tend to not want to eat right when they wake up in the morning.  Does this mean that they are killing their metabolisms and messing with their insulin tolerance? Probably – but not because of not eating breakfast! Which leads me to my next point:

Often people who don’t want breakfast are eating too much at night.

Because who needs eggs in the morning when you had four slices of  pizza at 11pm?

Again, I have to qualify my statements here: imagine someone who works in a hospital until 11pm. They’re home at 11:30pm, tired and HANGRY because they haven’t eaten since 6:30pm and they just spent the evening running back and forth getting yelled at. They’re mentally and physically exhausted and the temptation to eat the entire contents of the fridge seems insurmountable. With this client I would work on having some quick, healthy options at the ready, because for this client it actually is time to eat.

Now, imagine someone who works from 8am to 430pm. They come home from work, eat a healthyish supper, then park in front of the tv/computer/book/whatever for the evening. An hour goes by and they have dessert. Then, after another hour, potato chips. Hot chocolate would be good too; it’s not that nice out and it’ll help with getting settled. By 9pm it’s getting close to bedtime and they’re a little peckish – time for a light snack. Cereal or a couple pieces of toast.

They go to sleep stuffed and are not hungry for breakfast in the morning. This is the client who, if they want to make a change to their body composition, really does need to start turning their calorie intake around and eat breakfast.

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“But coach, I’m not hungry in the morning – do you want me to force myself to eat?”

Nope – you shouldn’t have to force yourself to eat. Not ever (unless you are trying to gain weight). What may take a little bit of mental muscle, is NOT eating late in the day so that you don’t go to bed stuffed – THAT’s where a little bit of willpower will come in handy for the first week or so. Do that for a week and your stomach should start waking up when your peepers fly open in the morning. If it doesn’t, you may just not be a breakfast person and you’ve created a very effective calorie deficit – that may be all you need to do to achieve the physique you’re after!

You’re welcome.

In a nutshell, it doesn’t really matter when you eat what, as long as you’re eating lots of plants, lean protein, and healthy fats throughout the day.

 

10 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

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One year ago this week, I gave up. I quit.

Admitting failure is the worst – it still physically hurts me a little bit to even type those words. Sometimes, though, it takes more courage to admit defeat than it does to persist. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Early in 2014, I left my stable job in a chain gym to start my own personal training business. I was not unhappy in my job, you understand – but I felt too comfortable. Stagnant.  I felt like I was ready to take the next step, to spread my wings and really put something new and better out into the world, something I could build up and pass to my children if they wanted a career in health and fitness. I had written a detailed business plan – I wanted to do things right – and all I had to do was execute it. It was going to be awesome.

Everyone I talked to told me how brave I was, that you have to risk big to win big, that being an entrepreneur was the dream life, follow your passion, blah blah blah.

That’s a load of shit.

Which is why, one year ago today, I found myself in my old boss’s office asking if I could come back to my job. And seriously, that was the hardest thing I have ever had to do: my defeat was complete and…and PUBLIC.

It didn’t take courage to leave that job. It took courage to go back. And at a time when I didn’t have much mental fortitude to fall back on (my confidence was thoroughly destroyed by then), it took every ounce of willpower to walk in and have that conversation. Lucky for me, the gym welcomed me back with open arms and today I’m 100% confident that it was the right decision. At the same time, I don’t regret trying – if I hadn’t tried I wouldn’t have learned the following lessons. I would still be dreaming of a life that I don’t really want. And I would be driving myself crazy over small and inconsequential details. So without further ado, here are the ten most important lessons that I learned as a self-employed trainer:

  1. Accountability

Running a business is a lot of work, whether you’re doing it for yourself, or as part of a company. (And make no mistake: YOU are your business and your clients are your bosses, no matter where you are.) Some parts of running a business take some discipline and some mental muscle to get done; you aren’t going to just float through it all…and budgeting the time to get that shizz done is easier if you’re accountable to someone. Having a boss to report to helps in that respect. Conversely if you ARE your boss, your boss might decide that it’s more fun to play video games in your free time and that important stuff can get done later.

  1. Competition makes you better

It’s tough out there! Competition for the health and wellness dollar gets stiffer every day, and as a small business owner competing with the big chains, life can look bleak and overwhelming in a hurry. That’s not the kind of competition I’m talking about here; that’s just depressing.

What I’m talking about is the friendly competition that happens inside the doors of the chain gyms. Trainers in big box gyms get a bad rap sometimes, but I’m here to tell you that there are a lot of great trainers that I work with who really know their stuff and are passionate about what they do. We trade ideas, we watch each other at work, and we push each other to be better every damn day. That kind of competition keeps me sharp and keeps the fire stoked – this is an industry where there’s always more to learn and opportunities to improve are everywhere. I’ve been a trainer for over ten years now and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of all there is to know.

3. Coworkers

What I missed more than anything else when I cut myself loose, was my colleagues – many of whom had become good friends and valued confidants. I thought I’d be fine without having co-workers around to chat with and bounce ideas off, but I wasn’t. I missed my bunch of crazies so much it hurt. Being part of a team is like having a built-in support system, a ready made social network of people that share a common passion. It’s also worth noting that in an industry where we are expending considerable amounts of energy caring for people, having relationships at work where the care goes both ways just makes everything better.

  1. Work is your second home – not your first

Don’t watch TV in bed. Don’t eat sitting on your couch. Don’t work out in your living room. And don’t work at your kitchen table.

Okay, maybe this is an exaggeration – I know lots of people are successful working from home. And hey, I still do lots of stuff from home; heck, right now I am sitting on my couch typing on my laptop. But hear me out.

Having a workplace to go to is great. It keeps work and the rest of life compartmentalized, which is a really good thing if you are like me and the demands of household management, kids’ activities, and seriously you want supper again? We just had supper yesterday! tends to get overwhelming. My experience with trying to work from home is that the shizz from #1 (the shizz that I don’t really enjoy but needs to get done) tends to get pushed to the bottom of the priority list, and the list itself is buried under a heap of laundry. It’s much easier to just close the door on the laundry, take the mom-hat right OFF, and go work at work.

  1. The boring stuff

I love training. I love designing programs for people. I love the coaching, I love watching my clients succeed, I love watching the lightbulbs go on when my clients get over mental roadblocks and physical pain. It’s awesome.

You know what I don’t love? Filing GST returns. Shopping for benefits plans. Income tax. Employment insurance. Professional insurance. Vacation pay. Vacation pay? There won’t be vacations, at least not for the first five years!!

Fuck that stuff – when you work for a chain, there are people at head office who do that stuff better than you, whose job it is to do it for you. That way you can spend your time doing what you love.

  1. Gym culture

Every gym has it’s own special feeling; an underlying culture that stays basically the same as clients and members and staff come and go. The culture itself is neither good nor bad; it just IS…but it has to fit and feel good to the gym-goer, the training client, and the staff. If the underlying culture doesn’t fit, then relationships don’t gel and nothing feels quite right.

When I left the chain gym (whose culture basically aligned with my values and where I felt like I fit, most of the time) the goal was to eventually open my own studio and build my own culture. In the meantime, I trained out of a lot of different facilities, and visited some clients in their homes…but I never felt like I (or my clients, for that matter) really FIT, really BELONGED where we were. It always felt like a temporary arrangement and I never really felt comfortable. Comfortable was what I had left behind.

  1. Making the Weather

This one is really an extension of #5: what I wanted when I got my own studio open was MY OWN PLACE, where I could build an atmosphere of acceptance and friendship and learning and improvement. Where I was the host of the party.

That didn’t happen. Not until I went back to my job at the chain gym, and I realized that there, I have all the freedom in the world to take that space and make it my own – because although I wear a uniform with the company logo on it,  it is up to me to make the weather in my clients’ sessions.

  1. Niche marketing

Argh, marketing. Another thing that costs a million bucks, right? Wrong! It totally doesn’t have to. This was something I really struggled with when I was self-employed – how on earth do I find the people who are in pain and don’t know where to start as far as improving their health is concerned? How do I convince them that I know what I’m talking about and that it’s worth making the initial investment? That I can make it an enjoyable process, even?

Inside the gym it’s easy – again, being a part of a team of professionals who know who’s good at what and can make a recommendation with confidence is a good thing. Also, just being at work is it’s own advertising; we are all on stage in the gym. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve picked up from strangers who have seen me work and thought “hey, I know someone who needs that brand of help!” I don’t ever have to go home from a day of driving from gym to home to rec center and sit down and think, “okay, I need another client in a month – where am I going to find that person?”

  1. The rules…that you don’t have to make!

Yes, there is definitely a lot to be said for making your own rules. On the other hand, NOT making your own rules is pretty nice sometimes – especially if – no, when – there are people who don’t like the rules. In those situations, being able to say hey, I don’t make the rules but we all have to follow them, is particularly convenient! Especially if you are like me and would prefer to avoid confrontation.

The other point worth noting here is that rules have to be written down and adhered to consistently, which means that as a business owner you need to have a solid set of policies and procedures documented…and you can file THAT boring-ass task under #4: shizz I don’t want to spend time doing.

  1. Small stuff is stupid

Stupid is inevitable. It worms its way into every part of life, and nowhere is this more true than at work – NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO. It’s how you choose to deal with it that counts. Whether it’s the lifeguard at the city rec centre pool who habitually wanders into the gym and loudly questions your exercise choices in front of your clients, or the niggly little piece of company policy that you disagree with, it is on you to decide whether that makes life intolerable or not. And most of the time, getting your skivvies snarled isn’t worth the effort.
So really, what it all boils down to is how you want to spend your time. I don’t doubt for a second that being a successful business owner is all kinds of rewarding. It’s also a tonne of work, and you have to be good at a myriad of jobs in order to be successful. (Having a really solid Type ‘A’ personality helps too.) I’m not going to be the one to recommend not trying it…but for me it was the wrong choice. I feel very lucky to be able to get up in the morning, trot off to work, and do what I love all day. And when I’m done doing the job I love, I go home and look after the people I love. Life works really well this way – it’s full, but not too full (most of the time) and I can go to sleep every night knowing that I’m exactly where I need to be.

 

Win! (exerpt)

You know those days where everything just seems to go right, from the minute your eyelids fly open ten minutes before the alarm goes off? Today is one of those days – I woke up feeling rested, had lots of time for breakfast and coffee and silly iphone games and rubbing my dog’s hairy tummy before I went to work, drove to work in the rain (which, in the current drought condition, is a huge relief)…

 

And then my first client canceled. So what do I do? I figure it’s time to get on the scale; my weight tracker has been pinging at me for a couple of days now to remind me to log my weight.

 

So I went through my usual routine of closing myself into the farthest consultation room, away from the rest of the gym, chanting “I don’t give a shit I don’t give a shit I don’t give a shit” while I took my shoes and sweater off…preparing myself because I knew what was going to happen.

 

And I was right – the number went the wrong way.

 

It was inevitable, you know, because there was some indulging over the weekend, and because I’m feeling a little bloated and crampy this week. And you know what? I found, to my surprise, that I don’t actually give a shit. It’ll go away once I feel normal again.

 

Today is still awesome.

 

There was a time when a weight gain of a little over a pound would have ruined my day. Like, not in a “I’m gonna be a little surly for a couple of hours” kind of way, but more like a “I’m gonna go home and crawl back into bed and cry into a pint of ice cream for the rest of the day because I suck and I don’t deserve to feel better and there’s no point in even trying” sort of scenario.

 

I’m not proud of those moments. But the lessons that I learned from going through those horrible low times made them worth surviving.