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Rewiring for Success

Many people set a goal in their mind of what they would love to accomplish, only to instantly prevent an emotional attachment to that goal by creating a backup plan. Commitment to success and the existence of a backup plan are mutually exclusive. Entering halfway into any endeavor is the quickest way to ensure a future exit.

To reach any goal, a true connection and commitment to that goal must be made or the driving force to change your habits will not be strong enough. Saying “I would love to lose 40 pounds, but I’d be ok with losing 15″ often prevents you from losing 40 OR 15 pounds. The backup plan of 15 pounds is not nearly as exciting of an accomplishment, so thinking about losing 15 rather than losing 40 pounds instantly disconnects you emotionally from your TRUE end goal. Emotion is your absolute most important tool in reaching the goals that you set. New habits based on logical choices without an emotional anchor are nearly always short lived.

The key is to convince your subconscious mind that your goal is not simply a wish or hope, but is just an inevitable “future memory”- and once you believe that you will accomplish your goal, your daily habits and choices will begin to reflect that. The saying “What you believe, you can achieve” is not simply a cute saying to tell children, it in fact has more truth and depth than it is typically given credit for. Will power can greatly affect short-term decision making, but if you do not believe that you will reach your goal then you really have no reason to stay committed to it.

The most effective way to re-wire your brain for success in your goals is through the use of meditation and visualization. Even in a short time of 8 minutes per day, the changes can be amazing. While meditating, you achieve brainwave states that allow more direct communication to your subconscious mind, with much less of a “logical” conscious filter telling you that what you are thinking about is silly and will never happen.

Visualization also has this conscious by-pass, as your subconscious mind does not truly know the difference between imagination and real life (which is why your silly and ridiculous dreams still feel real while you are asleep and unable to access your conscious filter). A short meditation to clear the mind of conscious thoughts and reach a more receptive daydream-like state greatly improves your ability to access your imagination that most of us have all but lost in our adult years.

A great place to start is to meditate for just 5 minutes, trying to sit comfortably with your eyes closed and just focus all of your thoughts on your breathing. At first, quieting the mind is no simple chore- but the most important part is to understand that this is completely normal and just remind yourself as many times as is necessary to return your focus to your breath. If anything, the more times you find your thoughts wandering away from your breath, that is more reason to be excited about the process you are undergoing. The more room for improvement, the greater the opportunity for change.

Immediately following this 5 minute meditation, spend the next 3 minutes just visualizing yourself having already achieved your goal. The absolute most important part of this is to FEEL the emotion of reaching your goal. If your goal is to lose 40lbs as in the example, then don’t just picture yourself 40lbs lighter, but instead picture yourself doing all of the things that you will be able to do and feel in a different way once you have achieved your new body. And of course, picture yourself looking the way you want to look.

Try to picture the same scene every time that you do this so that you can burn that visual into your mind. This will make it gradually get easier to visualize, because it may not be easy for you to access your imagination at all in the beginning- but if you can just get a couple of vague images, then the next time you do it you have that as your starting point to gradually build on each time you do it.

Begin putting these habits into practice and you will be amazed at what will happen in just 30 days of following this routine. The best times to do this are directly after waking up or directly before going to sleep. Or, if you want to fully immerse yourself in your new thought patterns, you can achieve even faster and more powerful results by doing this both after waking AND before going to sleep, and even a 3rd time to refocus yourself in the middle of the day. I personally do a 30 minute morning meditation when I wake up and 15 minute meditations mid-day and before going to sleep (I do not recommend starting at any longer than the 8 minutes described earlier).

In the end, the details behind how you do it are much less important than the fact that you do it.

 

…To be continued in my next blog in which I will cover the significance of each of the 5 brainwave states (most importantly for this topic- Beta, Alpha, and Theta), more tips on how to meditate and eventually reach deeper states of meditation, what is really happening from a neuroscience perspective on re-programming your brain and how that leads to changes in daily habits.

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Natural Running

I get asked on a regular basis about my shoes because all I wear day in and day out is Vibram Five Fingers. As the name implies, these are those silly looking toe shoes you may have seen by now that barely even look like shoes. In the last year or 2 of the 4 years I have been wearing them, the responses to them have changed significantly now that more people at least know what they are and don’t think that I might be walking around in toe socks or some sort of water shoes.

 

The reason I wear these shoes is because it is the best way of allowing our feet to work the way they are supposed to. Most shoes try to do the work that is supposed to be done by our feet, and in turn our feet are weakened and improper movement patterns develop. First off, having a shoe that provides “support” means that you are no longer asking your feet to support themselves- so they get weak. Having a shoe that provides cushion means that you are no longer asking your feet (and the rest of your body) to learn how to absorb shock- so they get weak. Having a shoe with a high top to help prevent your ankles from rolling means that you are no longer asking your lower leg stability muscles to keep your feet and legs aligned- so they get weak. See a trend here? When we ask our shoes to do things that our feet are meant to do, our feet no longer have to do them and therefore the foundation of our body is weakened and every instability that we create at the roots leads to compensations all the way up our trunk and limbs.

 

On my gym’s website I have written a much more in depth analysis of this and provided links to a couple of other sources for more information.So if you want to know more about the specific benefits of wearing “minimalist” footwear, then go here:

http://www.a-wfitness.com/2013/01/22/running-how-nature-intended/

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Addicted to Caffeine?

From coffee to Red Bull and everything in between, people are always looking for ways to get a quick energy boost. The problem is, in the long run this tends to backfire and cause the exact opposite to happen! Many of you reading this right now are probably addicted to caffeine to the point where you would get a headache if you didn’t have your daily dose of caffeine tomorrow morning! Now I’m absolutely not saying caffeine is all bad, but our culture tends to think that if a small amount of something can be good then more must be better. Having 25mg of caffeine from a cup of green tea is clearly nothing like 200mg+ that is in plenty of energy drinks out there.

When you take in caffeine and/or other stimulants in excess, it has a similar effect on your adrenal system that taking steroids has on your endocrine system. If a bodybuilder’s body becomes accustomed to getting copious amounts of testosterone injected every week, then his body recognizes this excess and has no need to produce as much testosterone itself because plenty is being supplied already. So in turn, he becomes reliant upon this outside source of testosterone and would have a deficiency if he were to stop injecting it artificially and rely again on his natural production that has drastically decreased (and this is only a small part of the problem, for the sake of this discussion I won’t get into the effects of throwing off the ratios in relation to other hormones and having much more complicated problems than just testosterone levels).

In the same way that the bodybuilder would stop producing enough testosterone because of getting it injected, a person over-consuming stimulants will have trouble producing adrenaline and extracting enough energy naturally from food. Once it gets to this point, stopping all at once becomes extremely difficult but by gradually tapering down and working toward cutting it out completely it is still possible to regain proper adrenal function. And as I said before, this doesn’t have to mean ZERO stimulant use, just preferably very minimal. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t go a few days without any caffeine and feel just fine then you are probably still too reliant on it. All of this being said, this will only work if you are also eating properly, exercising and getting enough rest. In the end, everything comes back to nutrition and exercise, which is why there is no magic pill that can make you healthy.

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Changing Your Subconscious Perspective

We all make decisions about our health constantly throughout every single day. Aside from short term changes that don’t last, the bulk of our decisions come down to one thing- our subconscious perspective. For most people, this perspective is that we put up with a long work day and reward ourselves with junk food and relaxation time in front of the TV after work. On the contrary, a healthier person simply views his or her day differently and makes decisions with an entirely different subconscious belief. They believe that if they eat well and make time for exercise, the entire rest of the day becomes their reward because they will feel better, have more energy, have a higher level of self-confidence, be more free of guilt, likely make more money as a result of higher productivity, and simply be happier in general.

This change in mindset is the key difference that I have observed in all my time as a personal trainer that separates those who do and don’t make permanent changes in their lifestyles. No matter how good the intentions are of a person looking to change, they will end up right back where they started if they don’t begin to look at their choices from a different angle.

The best part about all of this is that these good decisions affect MUCH more than just weight loss and physical health. Making these decisions tends to set off a chain reaction that affects all areas of life. The aforementioned changes in self-confidence, energy, productivity, and lack of guilt lead to drastic improvements to mental health and overall well-being to go along with the physical health changes. Many people initially want to get fit because they want to look better in a swim suit, but in the end realize that their beach body was only a small side benefit in comparison to the higher quality of life that they have achieved. As the trainer, I can handle all of the gritty details and the education on which decisions will get to the desired outcome, but the success of each individual comes down to one simple concept:

Health is a mindset, not a diet and exercise regimen.

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Exercise Outside of the Box

When was the last time you watched the Olympics, saw a ripped gymnast perform on the rings, and thought “I bet he spends a lot of time on the bench press”?  When the swimmers came up next, did you wonder how much weight Michael Phelps squats?

Gymnasts, swimmers, sprinters, and dancers all typically have extremely impressive physiques- and not from doing 3 sets of 10 reps on 10 exercises in the weight room.  The common perception (especially by professionals within the fitness industry) is that you can’t build muscle without heavy weights.  So if that’s the case, then why does that gymnast on the rings have more muscle than almost all of the guys spending countless hours on the bench press and squat rack, when all he uses is body weight?  It’s time to stop thinking inside of the box and following a cookie cutter exercise list, when the results can be even better from using less equipment.  By performing exercises without the stability of a machine or bench, the entire body has to work in harmony to create its own stability.  This is where core strength comes from, not from crunches.

The term “core” is thrown out improperly all too often, so I will briefly define what it really refers to.  The word core is NOT synonymous with abs.  The core is the entire torso and all of the various muscles within it that work to stabilize the spine, hips, and shoulder girdle.  The entire body is meant to function as a unit, and the core is what holds everything together.  So if everyone talks about wanting a strong core, then why do the same people typically work one body part at a time and almost completely eliminate the core from their exercise program?

Your body doesn’t count reps, it doesn’t assign a number to the amount of weight you are lifting, and it doesn’t only react to a small list of “approved” exercises.  There are many ways to make your muscles work hard, and it is my belief that you were born with one of the best weights around…  Yep, you guessed it- your entire body.

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“Lean muscle” vs “Bulky muscle”

To be blunt, muscle is muscle.  Many people refer to these as two different types of muscle, as if you can build one or the other, but this is simply not true.  The difference is all about body fat levels, and how much of the muscle you can SEE.  ”Lean muscle” is just muscle with less fat around it.

Also, for all of the women who are scared that lifting weights will make you bulky instead of slender, this simply is not true.  We have all seen the women around the gym who could put male football players to shame with their muscles, but I will put your mind at ease by letting you know that for them to accomplish this they had to inject a little “help”.  Women do not naturally have the testosterone levels to build nearly as much muscle as men, so you are not going to accidentally get buff.  You can look around anywhere and see men who are trying to get buff and still can’t- so if they can’t do it on purpose, I assure you that you will not do it on accident!  Just doing cardio will not get you the toned look that you desire, because you can’t have MUSCLE tone without MUSCLE!  Not to mention, muscle is the most important component of metabolism!  Every pound of muscle burns about 50 calories per day, so adding just 5lbs of muscle will add 250 calories to your daily expenditure!  One last point I want to make on this is in regard to a topic that all personal trainers get asked about all the time- bodyweight exercise.  Many people will say that they only do bodyweight exercise because they don’t want to lift weights and get bulky.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with bodyweight exercise (in fact, I utilize bodyweight more than anything else), but bodyWEIGHT is still a WEIGHT!  So you’re not going to get any more bulky by lifting a piece of iron than you will get from lifting a piece of flesh and bones!

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What Should I Eat?

If you have read my other posts, you will probably see a theme- no single solution works for everyone!  In the same way that there is not a one-size-fits-all exercise program, there is also no single diet that is best for everyone.  For starters, everyone has different goals, different starting points, and different foods that they respond best to.

Just about every person out there has a long list of foods that they are sensitive or allergic to.  Just because you don’t get a stomach ache, a rash, a stuffy nose, or other common allergic symptoms, does not mean that you’re not allergic or sensitive to a food.  I urge all of my personal training clients to pay very close attention to which foods make them FEEL the best after eating them.  If certain foods cause your energy levels to be lower than normal then that can be a sign that you are not efficiently able to process those foods.  This may not come as a surprise, but here is the interesting part- the foods you don’t process very well can just as easily be some of the healthiest foods there are.  Sweet potatoes are an extremely nutrient dense food with many health benefits, but if you feel lethargic after eating them then stop eating them!  Sometimes we try so hard to do things right, and we miss the obvious signs that our body is trying to give us.  My first rule of nutrition (and exercise for that matter!), is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!  Just to be clear though, apply common sense to this rule.  If you feel good after eating hot dogs, french fries, and cokes, this does not mean that these foods are healthy!  You may process them fine, but if there are minimal nutrients to process then being able to process it doesn’t do you much good!

Here are a few other pointers that I will try to dive into in more depth in future postings:

1. Try to avoid long gaps between meals.  Frequent small meals / snacks (preferably 5-6, but at least 4 per day) will keep your metabolism revving all day.  Going long time periods without food will train your body to store energy as fat instead of using it.  This results in fewer calories being burned, energy levels being lower, muscle being burned for energy instead of fat, and more stored body fat.

2. If you must “cheat”, at least watch your portion sizes.  It will not ruin all of your results to have bad foods from time to time, as long as you have them in modest amounts.

3. If you are not sure how to construct a balanced meal, here is a simplified guide: one complete protein source the size of your palm (ex: meat or eggs), one carbohydrate source, also the size of your palm (ex: quinoa, brown rice, or sweet potato), and one green vegetable serving the size of your palm (ex: broccoli, spinach, or turnip greens).

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How important is supplementation?

The key to answering this question is realizing what the purpose of supplements is.  As the name implies, nutritional supplements are meant to SUPPLEMENT your nutrition- not replace it!  Even though there are many great supplements out there that can help, your eating habits are exponentially more important.  Using supplements to make up for a fast food diet is like putting a band-aid on a broken leg!  The only supplements that I recommend for EVERYONE is a good whole food multi-vitamin and a post-workout shake that is tailored to where you are and what your goals are.  There are a number of other supplements I will recommend as necessary, but not until the food intake is improving so that the supplements won’t give false hope that they can out-weigh the poor eating!  If eating frequency is a problem (and it usually is) then I will also recommend a meal replacement shake that fits in with the nutrition plan.

I will do later blog posts about individual supplements, but for now I will address the baseline of all supplements- the multi-vitamin.  First off, all multi-vitamins are NOT created equal!  The common brands such as Centrum and One-a-Day are practically useless because they will pass right through your system with minimal absorption.  This is because most of the ingredients are synthetic (made in a lab!) rather than pulled from whole food sources.  Your body is obviously supposed to ingest vitamins and minerals from food, and when synthetic vitamins and minerals enter the digestive system they are usually not recognized by the body- and therefore they do not get absorbed.  It is also important to only take a vitamin with food to ensure proper absorption.  Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble vitamins, meaning that if they are ingested without a fat source then they cannot be absorbed.  This doesn’t mean you need to eat an excessive amount of fat, even a small amount of fat that you will attain in any meal will suffice.  Eating a meal will also keep the vitamin in the digestive tract for longer and allow more time for it to absorb.

There are many good whole food multi-vitamins out there, but the one I typically recommend is Nature’s Way- Alive (for men and post-menopausal women, use the iron-free version).  I order most of my supplements from Allstarhealth.com because they are the cheapest I have found and are very prompt with delivery.  I have no affiliation with Nature’s Way or All Star Health, so you do not need to go through me to order.

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Should I exercise if I am sick?

This is a question that comes up any time one of my personal training clients gets sick.  The answer depends on how bad the person feels and what exactly is wrong, but here is the general idea… If you are feeling like you are just starting to get sick or like you have something that you can still function with, then there can be benefits to still exercising.  I would not recommend any heavy weights or anything that will require extensive recovery, but getting your heart rate up can help.  Doing cardio or a fast-paced, light workout can slightly raise your body temperature, and in essence kill off harmful bacteria the same way a fever does.  These types of workouts are also not going to overload your body with too much to recover from.  If you do a heavy workout then your body is trying to recover from muscle tissue breakdown at the same time as recovering from illness, and the result is often to speed up the progression of the illness!  If you are sick enough that you can barely function, then I do not recommend attempting to engage in ANY type of exercise, your body needs rest!

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Should I exercise in the morning or evening?

Every personal trainer out there has heard this question!  My answer is that it depends on the person.  Most people who ask me this question do so because they have heard that it is better to work out in the morning, but are not sure why.  The main reason for this is that testosterone levels are at their highest in the morning, because your body produces testosterone as you sleep (Yes, for women too, just in lower quantities!).  As the day goes, testosterone is converted into estrogen or DHT- so testosterone levels go down and estrogen levels go up.  Testosterone has a huge impact on burning fat and building muscle, so it is clearly a good thing to have higher levels circulating during exercise and immediately after exercise when recovery begins and the muscle-building begins.

The problem is, not everyone functions well enough early in the morning to get a productive workout.  All other things being equal, of course it is better to exercise earlier.  But if the choices are to have a lazy, half-hearted work out in the morning or a productive, energized work out in the evening, I will recommend the 2nd option every time.  That being said, one thing to keep in mind is that over time your body will adapt to morning exercise and you may actually become a “morning person”!  Many people will also choose to do their cardio in the morning and weight lifting later in the day- that way they are still energized for their lifting but get a metabolic boost to start the day!  Either way, until you get used to it, you just have to rely on pure will power to stay in the routine long enough to make it a habit!  And you better believe that if I am there next to you that you won’t be allowed to slack off regardless of how tired you are!  Overall, I cannot say that I have personally seen a difference in my client’s results between morning sessions and night sessions.  This seems to only be a small factor in the big scheme of things, because I’ve seen great results from either option.  Whether you workout in the morning, afternoon, or night, the important thing is that you DO workout and workout properly!

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