Thursday, August 18, 2016

Glass Feet. Iron Mind. And the stupid that occurs when the two meet.

For the record, this is one of those "learn from my mistakes" type articles. Ie, don't be like me.  


For some of us, it’s a constant song playing in the back of our head.  For others, it’s a seldom heard, but piercing scream.  And then there are those who have both, way too often and deafening.  For those of us in middle age and beyond, pain can become a regular fact of life that we learn to deal with.  Its not just an unfortunate companion but something that snuffs out all of our other life experiences.  Pleasure, fun, and the freedom to do what we want. 

Given the darkness of this first paragraph, I must admit I am currently deep in the pain cave.  I’ve been here before and have found my way out.  Right now, I’m a bit pessimistic that there may be an end in sight, but I do remain hopeful.  My scientific brain tells me that there is a way out of this, so does my podiatrist, but with severe plantar fasciitis and a bone spur in my heel, my every day activities can be torturous.  I limp out of bed every morning and spend my days feeling like I am walking on broken glass.

I lift heavy weights and I throw heavy things.  This is what I like to do.  This puts a bit of pressure on the feet.  And prolonged pressure at unideal angles can cause some problems.  

Feet are really cool little machines with a lot of moving parts that absorb stress, exert force, and stretch when pushing a barbell up off your back, spinning with a 28 lb weight, or my latest activity: running.

Guess where the force is generated?  Yup, the ground.  Through the feet.
Hips can't do their job unless they have a surface on which to exert force.  
So, first, yes, I must admit, there’s a lot of dumb going on here on my part.  I’ve been having foot pain for years.  It started off as just feeling like I’d been on my feet too long, but when I started training in earnest for Highland Games last year, it began to get to the point where getting up out of bed in the morning and standing up made me break out in a cold sweat. 

Still, it was manageable. 

When I started training for the throwing season this year, it came back a bit worse than before, but then I had this great idea.  I was going to run a half marathon in the Fall.  My reasoning for this is sound.  I train better with a good endurance base and after training for a 12 mile Tough Mudder four years ago, I had a training boost that allowed me to push myself in the gym and on the field like never before.  But then, like most things you don’t work to maintain, this great endurance base eroded. 

I did what I was supposed to do.  I started out slow.  One to two miles a day, only three days a week at first, very slowly increasing distances.  But, what I didn’t account for was my ego.  I thought I could continue to squat heavy, throw heavy, and run farther and farther without really having a base to do all three of these things at once. 

Pro tip:  it takes a long time to build these skills.  And by skills I mean strength, power, and endurance.  I’d elaborate more, but basically, if you add in a big stress, something’s got to give.  You can’t just pile on another big pie piece without shaving down the ones already in play. 

I had a big Highland Games in July that I really wanted to compete in and I probably should have listened to fate when I broke my left foot (in my defense, I didn’t know it was broken) five days out.  But regardless, I came back from Grandfather Mountain with a less than stellar performance and feet I could barely walk on, much less stand. 

That left foot was broken.  The right wasn't working.  This was
not my best performance on the field.  
Finally, on the urging of my gut (and my wonderful chiropractor, Dr. Alan Ashforth), I went to see a podiatrist.  And that’s when I learned about the broken left foot and the heel spur on the right.  Got a cortisone shot in my right heel (don’t wish that on anyone), ordered some custom orthotics, and two days later, went for a run and realized how terribly inflexible my right foot had become.  In fact, looking down at my feet while running, realized that both the inflexibility and the pain had caused me to be running on the outside of my right foot with my toe pointed inward.  I’m working on correcting my stride, but the first two miles are excruciating and only mildly less so once everything has stretched and warmed up.  Daily walking and standing is just barely tolerable.
See that?  That's a broken foot.  After healing 3 weeks.

See that hook at the bottom?  Not supposed to be there.  

Also, my podiatrist pointed out to me that the Xrays also showed that my feet are structurally unsound, (ie, my feet are pretty, just not built well) which means that my arches are starting to collapse.  The extra weight I’ve put on these past five years (in my defense, about half of that is muscle) isn’t helping. 

So, now, I’m battling my way out of the pain cave and need to make some decisions. 

  1. Do I continue to run? Well, yes. I have to. My 12 year old son begged me to let him run this with him. And ordinarily I wouldn’t, but this kid loves to run. And, as aside, two years ago, he missed going to Nationals for javelin in USA Track and Field by one placement at Regionals. Just had a bad day and that bad day continues to haunt him. He sees this race as his redemption and being the Mama Bear I am, I will face down this ghost with all my might. (No, Mama Bears are not rational so don’t even try to argue with me.)
  2. Do I continue to throw? Well, maybe not. I can see the two things are at odds with one another and throwing AND running doesn’t seem to be working.
  3. Do I continue to lift? I think so, but for now, not heavy. Might be a good time to work on my bench. Heavy squats seem to exacerbate it so we'll be lightening those up for a while.
  4. Do I lose weight? Yes. Easier said than done. I like food. And I'm a middle aged woman.  But, sometimes one must suffer for one’s art.
All that being said, I’m not down for the count.  I think I’m going to get this race done with my son.  I will enjoy the benefits of a bigger endurance base with my training over the winter when I’ll get back to lifting and throwing.  I am going to give my feet time to heal and then I think I’ll stick to more regular rowing for my cardio and endurance training for a while. 

Most importantly, the next time my son wants me to train for a race with him, I will have the insight and wisdom to focus on one goal at a time and not sacrifice my body in the process.

For those of you suffering from chronic pain of the body or soul, my thoughts are with you.  May you find peace and healing. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Winning at Fitness or Competing for Fun? How Motivation Is the Most Important Part of the Fitness Puzzle.

There are two kinds of people in this world:  those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don't.  Despite the first part of that statement, I am the latter.  I don't believe that we all are either all in or all out on most things we so, our spectrum of choices just tilts us in one direction or the other. In the context of this article, I think there are those who enjoy exercise and those who need motivation to exercise.  That motivation can take on a number of faces, however, this article is about using competition to motivate ourselves to better ourselves physically.

Motivation to exercise is a topic interests me a great deal because I am not the most motivated person in the world when it comes to fitness.  When I was younger I liked playing sports, I liked playing outside and riding my bike, and I would occasionally go on a several week exercise binge when I realized that my metabolism was not keeping up with me.  However, for the most part, I didn't really enjoy exercising or dieting.  When my babies were small, I went to the gym because it was the YMCA and they have childcare.  That means my kids were watched by responsible adults (that were not me) for two hours while I got some exercise, and more importantly, a shower.  If you have three kids under the age of four, a shower by yourself is probably the only thing you deeply care about other than sleep.

But, I digress.  As I got older, I realized that I needed to exercise.  All the time.  And for the rest of my life.  Because when you don't have or maintain that base of fitness, things start to fall apart rather rapidly.  When done correctly, well planned exercise is what keeps you feeling good and keeps the pain at bay.  (You young folks won't understand this until your mid-thirties.)

I do like to learn and so I found that one of my prime motivators to keep going to the gym was to learn new things, new exercise routines, new training methods, new equipment, etc.  I did all the gym classes, I did CrossFit, I did powerlifting, weightlifting, all that stuff and when I finally had enough equipment to quit my gym membership and work out at home, I was so very excited.

And then I stopped working out.

I actually trained clients for 3-4 months in my home basement gym without doing anything myself.   I was tired, bored, and lonely.  And I had lost all motivation.  I started to wonder if I actually ever liked working out at all or if I just craved the camaraderie, attention, and social aspect of it all.  This is extrinsic motivation, the motivation based on the expectation of others, and not the best one for a lifetime commitment to fitness.

But then I read about this crazy race called the Warrior Dash.  It seemed kind of impossible to me at the time since it requires that one not only run three miles, but climb over and crawl through a whole bunch of obstacles including mud and fire.  I wasn't running at all at that time, but I got excited about coming up with a plan to rebuild that running base as well as the other demands of the race.
Also, you get a furry viking helmet for signing up for the Warrior Dash.
 The beauty of a goal and a plan is that there is a date on the calendar and a lot of work to do.  You don't have to WIN the daily workout through blood, sweat, pain, or beating the timer, you just do the work and find out how well you worked on race day.  There is much less immediate gratification with this kind of training, but if you know what you're doing, there are plenty of markers along the way that let you know you are progressing.

As a scientist, periodization (otherwise known as training with a plan) fascinates me.  Basically you start with a goal (Warrior Dash), figure out what qualities you need to complete the goal (running 3+ miles and climbing/crawling strength), figure out what qualities you have and don't have, and from there you build your plan.

I am of the mind that world domination is not necessarily the goal of every individual who walks into my gym, but if you have a goal and the time it will take to train for it, I can come up with a plan to get you there.  Whether it be weightlifting, powerlifting, highland games, obstacle course races, or flat out endurance, the process is relatively simple:

  1. Set a goal
  2. Determine the necessary qualities
  3. Assess the individual
  4. Design a plan that develops those qualities as efficiently as possible in the time given in a sequential manner.  

(This last part is the most difficult part and does require some experience and insight, but overall, it is a simple process.)

So, to make a long story short, I have found my motivation to work out by competing.  After I completed my first Warrior Dash with a group of friends, I branched out with a number of long term goals; some with friends, some with my kids, and some just by myself.  I've trained for obstacle course races, powerlifting competitions, highland games, a highlander (strongman/highland games hybrid), and now I'm going to be training for a half marathon.  For some of these events, my only goal was to complete it and not hurt myself, however, after you get one or two under your belt, in order to keep improving, you really need to raise the bar.  In that respect, I competed in the Masters World Scottish Games last Fall and I trained for nine months to put in one of the best performances in my life.  I didn't win (placing second didn't suck), but it was, by far, the most successful competition I've ever had in terms of my own numbers.

Getting strong enough to pick up and throw this thing is good motivation for me.
Right now, I am still in the peak of my highland games season which means lots of strength work and throwing practice.  But, I've recognized a deficiency in my fitness that I know needs fixing and so I have signed up for a half marathon this Fall.  Personally, I really don't like running, but I know when I have a good endurance base, I train better and I have way more endurance on the field and in the weight room.  The last time I built a good base was four years ago when I trained for the Tough Mudder (12 miles) and it enabled me to work much harder and longer in both the weight room and on the field.  And so, I signed up for the City of Oaks half marathon this November.  To make this challenging for myself, I'm not looking to just finish it, I'm going to try and finish it in under two hours.  This goal is based on my running times from my Tough Mudder training and although it will be challenging, it is within my reach.  I've started with the slow and low work and will begin my 14 week peaking at the end of July.

So, in conclusion, reasonable goals + time + good planning = a lifetime of enjoyable fitness.  Maybe you love your gym family, maybe you're on a recreational sports league, maybe you just like walking in the woods.  Whatever motivates you, keep at it, but if you're having a hard time finding your motivation, give competition a try.  Even if you're only competing with yourself.

My ultimate goal is to be one of those badass old ladies who is still competing in her eighties at one thing or another.  Maybe I'll pull a world record deadlift the same year I complete some ultra distance trail run,  And if anyone asks me how on earth I ever managed such a feat, I'll nonchalantly say, "Well son, I've been working on this for over fifty years."  

I want to be like them.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Exercise Science vs Best Practices: Where’s the Holy Grail?

Earlier this week, I was researching the topic of “cardiovascular exercise vs high intensity interval training”. I simply wanted to show that old school, long steady distance training had a great deal of benefits for both the performance focused athlete and the casual exerciser. Instead, I found a whole lot of contradictory information.

Here’s the problem: I know, as a coach of athletes of all different stripes, that if you lack an endurance base, your performance in the gym will suffer. I also know that if you have no previous experience biking, running, swimming, etc., no amount of weight room based high intensity interval training will allow you to complete a long distance race in any of those formats with considerable ease. Training is specific, whether it be movement, intensity, volume, or load, if you aren’t practicing it, its not going to be easy. 

You get better at squatting by practicing squatting.
There are two things basic components of physical fitness that we know for a fact will improve your overall fitness and performance:
1. Strength training
2. Cardiovascular training

However, there are a number of exercise styles that target both of these components and the spectrum of training effects between the two is long and varied.

For example, a beginner weightlifter is going to be breathing pretty hard during his training sessions because he’s doing a taxing physical activity. His heart rate will be up and he will get better conditioned while he gets stronger. A beginner runner will also be taxing her heart rate and aerobic metabolism while also building strength in her legs and back from maintaining upright posture while she runs. A fitness enthusiast who takes his first high intensity interval training class will notice a boost in his overall conditioning while he gets stronger and more cardiovascularly fit, but not for longer durations. Notice something about these three people? They are all improving their overall fitness level. They are probably also improving their health based fitness as well as some performance based fitness.

In other words, exercise makes us fitter. 

However, as fitness trainers, we have to figure out how to design our client’s exercise or training to meet their particular goals. And we have two sources that we will often look to in order to determine if we want to include a training protocol in our practice. These are: Science and Best Practices

Science is the research done by exercise physiologists, physiologists, medical researchers, physical therapists and pretty much any organization with a published journal. There are studies on everything from what muscles are stimulated when we jump to how high intensity interval training affects our blood pressure. A lot of these studies are designed to answer a question, but the biases of those asking the questions can significantly influence the outcome based on how the study is set up, the populations used, and the questions asked.

Best practices are the training and coaching practices used in a variety of disciplines that are known to work over time to both improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. Although there may be periodic detours to explore other methods, the core ideas have pretty much remained constant over the decades.  Although many of these best practices are indeed the best way to practice, other practices reflect the biases of the participants.  Maybe they don't include certain elements simply because they don't like it.

Now we have a problem. Because often times Science and Best Practices are in conflict with one another. The important thing to consider with using both of these sources is context. In other words, its not so important for us to understand THAT something worked. Rather we must understand WHY it worked.

If I want to look for the answer in Science, I can find a number of articles on high intensity interval training and how it is superior to low intensity, higher volume cardiovascular training in improving health fitness markers. I can find studies that show that it improves blood pressure, VO2 max, stroke volume, and resting heart rate. I can also find studies that contradict these findings.

I can’t find any studies that show how HIIT alone improves performance over the long term. I can’t find any studies that are carried out long enough to show if there are any detrimental effects such as soft tissue injuries or burnout. I also can’t seem to find out what “untrained” or “well-trained” means in terms of the study participants. Many studies are carried out in non-athletes and are short-term. So, while the researchers are looking at the effects of “High intensity interval training” are, they may simply be seeing the effect of “exercise” in people who aren’t used to exercising. As a biochemist, the study design and context of the results is just as interesting to me as the results and the design of a lot of these studies is lacking.

If you want to run fast, for a whole game, you must first be able to run far.
I’m certainly not the first person to be disillusioned by exercise science, but I don’t think we can toss the baby out with the bathwater. In weighing the potential benefits of a study, we have to keep in mind the short-comings and more importantly, the things that weren’t measured. So, before using a scientific study to justify changing how you train your clients/athletes, ask yourself a few questions:

1. Does the study sample reflect the population I am training?
2. What were the baseline fitness levels and additional training activities of the participants?
3. Is there any evidence regarding long term safety and continued improvement in performance?
4. Are there any inherent risks such as overuse and soft tissue injuries that may not show up in the duration of the study?

After you ask yourself these questions, you have some things to keep in mind as you evaluate the progress of your trainees. Remember, its always about training the individual and not everyone is going to have the same tolerance or benefits of a particular training protocol.

Best Practices aren’t going to get a free pass either. Some best practices, such as the use of long steady distance training as the foundation for most endurance based sports, is universally used and accepted by most coaches of high level athletes. Mainly because over the decades, when they divert from this practice, performance suffers. Although HIIT at various levels of intensity are used to enhance one’s speed, power, and overall endurance, best practices dictate that slow and low should be the biggest piece of the pie.

However, in the broader spectrum there are other best practices related to including or avoiding other types of training, recovery, and nutrition that may simply be best practices because they are haven’t been shown to have negative effects. For example, a lot of athletes avoid strength training because they fear injury in the weight room. (And they aren’t wrong, it happens.) However, a good strength coach and a well-designed program in an appropriate sport can not only help avoid injuries, but boost performance as well. Wrong coach, wrong program, wrong sport? Well, that may well be a disaster.

When utilizing a best practice, it is good to ask yourself “why”? Its also good to recognize that you are not going to revolutionize the human body. The body responds to exercise by getting stronger and more conditioned. Focusing specifically on one or the other will enhance that particular focus. Practicing sport specific skills will get you better at your sport. That’s exercise science in a nutshell. So, if something seems out of place, figure out whether or not its actually necessary. It may not be for the individuals you are training at their current level of fitness. For example, if you are training a group of beginners to run a 5k, just plain running is way more important than specialized intervals, lactate thresholds, and tempo runs.

As with the science, ask yourself the same questions:

1. Are the best practices used with the population I am training?
2. What were the baseline fitness levels and additional training activities of the participants?
3. Is the method you are using typically used at a specific time and for a specific duration in a training cycle? If so, when and how?
4. What are the benefits and risks of using this method? Is there a baseline level of fitness or performance that is necessary before employing this method?

Running is how you build a running base.  And its good for your body.
So, I originally started writing this article because I wanted to tell people that they really need to get out and walk, jog, bike, swim, ski, etc. for overall general health. The bulk of the research science and best practices tells us that low intensity cardio is good for your heart, lowers your blood pressure, aids in recovery, has a low risk of injury, can help reduce stress, and can help you sleep better. I could quote a whole bunch of studies and/or best practices, but bottom line, we’ve all known this for a long time and for some people, this exactly the kind of exercise they need to get off the couch or get to the next level. For more reading on the subject, check out these excellent articles that already beat me to the punch by Mike Robertson, Steve Magness, and Stephen Seiler.

You Need Long Duration, Low Intensity Cardio

And the actual Holy Grail:

Intervals, Thresholds, and Long Slow Distance: the Role of Intensity and Duration in Endurance Training

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: A Review

2015 was a good year.  I didn't post much, but did a lot of teaching, coaching, and finally got back to getting serious about my own training again.  I have a dedicated group of clients and athletes that I'm working with (including my own kiddos) who are making some great progress.  I was able to set and achieve some more long term training goals in both my strength training and Highland Games competitions.  I helped my husband train for a Spartan race he ran with one of his best friends and am proud to say that both of them finished in the top 5% overall as Elites in their late 40's.  Definitely not due to my training, both of them have a long established base of strength and endurance, but I think that maybe I might have helped my husband keep up with his friend who is in the freak class when it comes to this kind of stuff. 

I know that the time to set resolutions is coming and we will all be thinking about things we want to change about our lives in the coming year.  However, instead of setting some arbitrary rules, how about you set a goal?  Once you set a goal, you can set about planning how to get there.  In case you're wondering, that's something I help a lot of people do both online and in person.  But whether you seek my help or the help of another qualified coach, setting a clear goal is the first step in being successful in creating change in your life.  

Anway, if you're interested, here's my year in review and some things I'm looking forward to in 2016.

1.  I will be once again teaching the third and fourth graders at my son's elementary school how to have fun and get strong starting at the end of January.  Haven't seen a kid yet who can't deadlift their own bodyweight and 90-100 lbs seems to be the average lift for most of these kids, even the wee ones.  Can't wait to see this next group of kids in action.

2.  I competed in the Scottish Masters Athletics International World Championships in St. Louis, MO this past September.  After training hard for nine straight months, I came in second in the lightweight division and set some lifetime PRs on almost all my throws.  I plan on competing again this coming August in Buffalo, NY.  
*Photo courtesy of Kristin Bishop

3.  I am still coaching weightlifters and powerlifters.  Two of my powerlifters, Kris Kobza and Vicky Lehman competed at USAPL Raw Nationals this past October and did quite well.  Kris also competed at Bench Nationals won both championships in the masters division.  Vicky has increased her total by over 100 lbs in the past year and plans on doing the same this year.  Kris was invited to compete on the US team for IPF Bench Worlds and is currently training for that.  And I may have a contender for IPF Masters Worlds in the ranks.  

4.  My kids spent the summer running and are back to training for a powerlifting meet this coming February.  This will be their first full power meet (squat, bench, and deadlift) and they have really learned to work together in the weight room, an extremely important part of a successful training life.  Even though I primarily teach strength, an aerobic and endurance base is an extremely important part of well-rounded fitness and so my older children joined the cross country team at their middle school this year.  I was elated when my daughter told me she actually grew to enjoy it and wanted to keep running.  Which was awesome considering I thought she was going to start poisoning my diet coke when I was pulling her out of bed at 7 am over the summer to start training. 

5.  I hosted yet another successful neighborhood Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.  This might not seem like much, but its great fun to get a bunch of neighbors and friends out exercising when they could be lying around in their pajamas fantasizing about turkey and stuffing.  And as we all know, exercise is always more fun with other people.  And even more fun when there is coffee and breakfast at the finish line.  

6.  And speaking of exercising together, the group training course I wrote for the ISSA 5 years ago with my partner, Scott Dyck, is finally published as both an independent study course as well as an online course taught by me.  It is a stand-alone certification as well as an elective as part of the Exercise Physiology associates degree program. As to the content, in the words of my partner Scott:  

"This course builds on the foundational ISSA CFT course. We take a fresh look at the physiology and physiological conditions that drive the training effect, and introduce concepts of periodization and exercise selection that provide any trainer with the no-nonsense tools to create an effective group training program, for virtually any group of any size, demographic, and desired outcome."

To be more blunt, group training is very popular, but is often done wrong.  There is a fine line between actually training people vs selecting for the fittest in the group via pain and suffering.  When your program only selects for the already fit (because those who aren't give up, get injured, or burn out), you aren't really training anyone new.  And considering that less than 50% of the population exercises at all, there is a huge market out there for smart trainers who can progressively and safely train people in a way that is both fun and compassionate.  I've taught quite a few already and look forward to teaching more in the coming years.  

I hope all of you reached your goals this year and if not, keep it up for 2016.  As long as you have a plan, you will eventually get there.  :)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Horse Latitudes

One of my friends aptly used this name for that period of training when you're just doing work and not really seeing much progress.  Practice the skills, move the weight, recover, and repeat.  If you recall from high school history, the Horse Latitudes, also known as the Doldrums was that area of the tropical ocean where the wind just wouldn't blow, the rain wouldn't fall, and it would take a lot of rowing and patience to make any progress.  Fortunately, the story about horses being thrown overboard in this area to save water is most likely a myth, but I digress. 

Well, sometimes the boats sank and they swam to shore.
When training, it can often seem like the work just isn't paying off.  This accumulation phase can be boring, tedious, and unrewarding.  However, its like digging the foundation for a house.  Day after day of moving dirt.  But then all of a sudden the cement truck shows up and everything moves up from there.  

I'm in the middle of training for some Fall highland games events including the Masters World Championships and my numbers are not moving.  Its frustrating to go out day after day and sometimes throw worse than I did the week before.  Its the same with my lifters.  During the heavy volume periods, progress seems to stall and we all just feel beat up.

The good news is that when we are done with the volume period and start honing our skills and recovery to peak for our intended date, all of a sudden, we have a lot more energy in the tank, weight on the bar, and distance on the throws.  And we get there with fewer injuries and a much higher level of performance.

I train for a lot of different things, but always with a date on the calendar.

What is the lesson here?

A lot of us push ourselves really hard all the time and wonder why we can't make progress or are chronically sore/injured/tired, etc.  A better approach is this:  Dial down the effort.  Approach your training as skill development whether it be strength, endurance, or sport specific skill.  Set a goal and put it on the calendar.  Give yourself enough time to achieve it.  And then, and only then, test your progress.  You'll most likely see that you've made far more progress than you expected. 

(For a comprehensive approach to building training programs, check out our latest book:  Play the Ball As It Lies)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Finally a new post.

I was competing at the Highland Games in Maryland two weeks ago when I was approached by a couple who had seen me compete the year before.  They were happy to see me, but also concerned that I hadn't posted on my blog in over a year.  I was both flattered and a little surprised, but when I thought about it, I haven't update my blog since last July.  I guess I've been busy.  But, not too busy to be that lame, so, here's my 9 month update.

1.  I taught 3 more classes of 3rd and 4th graders to be strong and deadlift.  All of them lifted their bodyweight.  More than half of them lifted over 90 lbs.
2.  I registered for the Masters Highland Games World Championships in St. Louis this September.  They now have a lightweight division, less than 155 lbs, and I stand a good chance of placing in the top three.
3.  I am still coaching weightlifters, but now have a sizeable powerlifting team.  One of my members, Kris Kobza, has broken the USAPL American record for bench press in her age and weight division twice now and plans on doing it again at Raw Bench Nationals in August.
4.  My kids are still competing in powerlifting and doing great.  Adding a few more wee ones to pre-teen crowd.
5.  The group training course I wrote for the ISSA 5 years ago with my partner, Scott Dyck, is finally on the cusp of being published.  I am really excited for this and am working with a hand-picked group of trainers to review and optimize the launch which will hopefully be this summer. As to the content, in the words of my partner Scott: 

"This course builds on the foundational ISSA CFT course. We take a fresh look at the physiology and physiological conditions that drive the training effect, and introduce concepts of periodization and exercise selection that provide any trainer with the no-nonsense tools to create an effective group training program, for virtually any group of any size, demographic, and desired outcome."

I have a bunch of topics I want to write on in the next few months, but am very excited about the future and getting back to writing here.

Never judge a woman by what she looks like when carrying
a sixteen foot tree. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Childhood Obesity

As some of you may know, in addition to being a coach/trainer/mom, I am a professor for the ISSA’s online college.  I also teach a seminar designed specifically for trainers and coaches and have written a book on training in the context of the bigger picture and how to utilize your training knowledge in the most effective and compassionate way.  Coming up in October, I will have the privilege of teaching an afternoon seminar on training kids for trainers, parents, and coaches.  I’m really looking forward to this.

In addition to my own kids, I’ve been working with kids in training and teaching situations since I was fifteen years old.  I come from a long line of teachers and education experts and teaching has always come naturally to me whether its teaching kids to ride horses, lift weights, develop sport skills, or improve their math and writing skills.  So, I have a lot of experience with kids.

Yeah, its a problem, a parenting problem.
One of the big subjects that comes up a lot in training personal trainers is the childhood obesity epidemic.  It gets a lot of attention and we all agree that it is a problem.  However, I differ from many of my colleagues in that I think the problem is very different from what most people think it is and I think it needs to be approached from a different perspective.  There really isn’t a good answer to this problem, but a lot of it is the fault of parents and caregivers who just don’t know any better, don’t know how to educate their kids about nutrition, or don’t know how to control their own over-eating issues.  Being straight here, if your kid is overweight and you have junk food in your house, you’re part of the problem.  Overweight parents are more likely to have overweight kids and that’s not a genetic issue, it’s a lifestyle issue.  Likewise, parents with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia tend to have children with the same issues.  Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen mothers tell their teenage daughters, “maybe you should order a diet soda”, or tell them they are too chunky in the middle of a growth spurt.  Own your own problems, don’t pass them down to your kids.

Obesity may be a problem, I like this much less.
That being said, I think that our society’s obsession with six-pack abs is incredibly unhealthy and expecting children to be lean throughout their development is unrealistic.  Many children are “chubby” before the onset of puberty and that’s completely normal.  Give them a few years and they usually shoot up several inches, or feet, and keeping weight on them becomes the problem.  My youngest son is a lot “softer” than my older son who has had a six-pack since he was two.  It upsets him a great deal and he won’t take his shirt off at the pool.  He’s eight years old and I find this very disturbing.  He’s a big boned strong kid and if he follows in my and my husband’s footsteps, he’ll be a tall, lean adult.  He is active and eats a healthy diet, I don’t see a problem.  But society at large has already made him feel “fat”. 
The gal on the right is totally aware of her weight.  No need
to point it out.  It never helps.  Never.
In the case of my son and other heavier children, I have a real problem with some trainers’ need to “diagnose” kids with obesity and treat it like a disease.  Let’s be honest here:  Fat kids know they are fat.  And we can tell they are fat by looking at them.  No need to measure, poke, prod, and make a big deal of it.  Kids are very sensitive about their appearance and making a point to measure exactly how fat they are is kind of cruel.  If obesity is a child’s primary problem, tracking progress is certainly in order, but anything more than a waist measurement and an occasional weigh-in is just not necessary.  I coach a few weight class sports, Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, and I am very careful to not make a big deal out of what weight class a kid is competing in, especially if they are girls.  All I require is focus and hard work and that’s the point of having kids compete in sports.  If they are overweight to the point that it affects their health, again, its mom and dad who need some help with nutrition and making better choices.

Rhinos are awesome and should never judge themselves
based on what unicorns can do.  
And let’s talk about genetic variation.  Humans come in all shapes and sizes.  Making a child feel like she needs to be a dainty princess when she is built like a bulldog just isn’t fair.  Likewise, making a kid feel like he should look like he’s chiseled out of marble when it’s clear he’s programmed to carry 20% bodyfat isn’t fair either.  If a kid is active, eats a healthy diet, and is happy, we don’t need to pressure them to look like underwear models.  Carrying some amount of extra weight is not necessarily a health problem and obsessing over it only causes unhappiness and low self-esteem. 

So, yeah, basically what I’m saying here is that the childhood obesity problem is not a problem in children.  It is a problem in adults.  It is caused by adults making poor nutritional decisions, not encouraging or allowing their children to be active, and refusing to see the problem for what it is.  A lot of it is caused by ignorance, but it’s also caused by laziness and a lack of attention.  Adults can make this a lot worse by not recognizing what a normal weight range can look like and insisting on perfection instead of “good enough”.  We need to take better care of our children by taking better care of ourselves, having looser tolerances, and leading by example.  Kids are awesome and in my experience, the best way to motivate kids to play sports, eat a good diet, or exercise is to show them what they are good at, not telling them how fat they are.