Tomorrow we will be starting a new challenge for the month of March – our NEAT Challenge! It’s free, it’s simple, and it’s open to everybody.
For this month’s challenge, we wanted to take a step back from a focus on our training.
It’s extremely easy to get wrapped up in how much we train – how often we lift weights, how often we do cardio, how much ab work we do – IT’S IN OUR NAME, for Pete’s sake.
But, particularly in the winter months, we can get so wrapped up in our training and exercise that we forget about our activity levels. It’s cold out, so you stop biking or walking to work and start taking the train, you walk your dog a little less, you don’t go to the park or get involved with a weekend rec league; instead, you replace those things with an extra half an hour on a warm couch, in front of a fireplace… why it’s not called “Netflix and warm” I will never understand.
Yet when our activity levels dip down like that, it can require other changes to offset it – maybe a little less food, or another workout each week. And with those reduced calories or increased training stress comes a reduction in your ability to recover. You ache a bit more, you get hungrier more quickly, you feel a bit more sluggish in the middle of the afternoon.
What we want to do is increase something called NEAT – short for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. What does that mean? It means, the calories we burn just by doing things that don’t require any recovery – it’s not exercise or training, it’s just activity. Neat, huh? (I AM THE BEST AT PUNS)
In fact, it’s been shown that increasing your NEAT will actually help you recover more from your training and allows you to keep your food intake higher with no loss of progress. It’s not stressful on your body, it’s just… moving.
Here is the plan:
Week 1: Using a pedometer (you can buy one to keep on your hip, or you can use one on your phone – provided your phone is always on you, which may not be the case), you’ll track the number of steps you take each day. After 7 days, you’ll find the average number of steps you take in a given day.
Each week, your goal will be to increase the number of steps you take each day by 1,000. If your average was 2,000 in Week 1, your goal is 3,000. Pretty simple step. (HA!)
By the end of the month, that should put your daily average a full 3,000 steps (or more) higher than where you started.
Note: I personally would suggest not keeping your pedometer on you when doing any of your training or existing exercise – lifting, running, cycling, etc – the things you’re already doing. We’re not trying to cram in more workouts; remember, it’s Non-Exercise Activity we’re monitoring here, and I don’t want to stack more and more onto your recovery ability.
When it comes to fitness “bucket list” goals, for many people it’s as simple as “I want to be able to do one pullup again. Just one!” So we’ve made February officially Pullup Improvement Month here at AST.
Important note: this is the technique that you SHOULD be using when you do a pullup.
So flailing, flopping, bouncing, and generally attempting to imitate a drunk seal jumping through a flaming hoop while surrounded by penguins throwing lawn darts… won’t count.
You’ll start by finding out how much weight you can lift for 1-2 strict, clean reps. If you can’t lift your entire bodyweight for one rep, you can either use an assisted pullup machine (available at most commercial gyms), or use thick resistance bands attached to the rack or the pullup bar itself (we use resistance bands from EliteFTS here at AST). By stepping inside the bands it creates assistance, not resistance, allowing you to reduce the size of the bands over time as you get stronger.
Your goal over the course of four weeks is to increase the number of reps you can do with that initial resistance/assistance level, and then re-test your 1-2 rep strength at the completion of the program.
You’ll be performing this workout 2-3 times per week, and it can be done either at the beginning of your workout, at the end, or as a stand-alone on days you normally wouldn’t train. We’re using it after training sessions with our clients and we’ve removed any pullup variations from our regular programming over the course of the Pullup Challenge to avoid any overuse and fatigue issues that would hinder progress.
It’s easily one of the biggest battles you’ll face in your efforts to change the way you eat.
“How am I supposed to eat like this when I go out? I don’t want to just eat plain chicken at a restaurant. Should I just not go?”
Fortunately, it is absolutely possible to be social and still hold to your goals. Sure, you can’t throw yourself headlong into a basket of nachos every time you get an invitation to meet somebody for dinner, but you also don’t have to order “plain grilled chicken… no oil, no seasoning, no sauce, no fries, please strip away LITERALLY anything that will bring me pleasure and give me whatever is left. And an ice water. Hold the lemon. I’m on a diet.”
One easy thing to do before you go would be to check out the Healthy Dining Finder online to see if the restaurant you’re visiting has their information available. Since only larger restaurants are likely to have their nutrition information readily available, you won’t necessarily find every place you’d like to go, but it’s a good first start.
In addition, we recommend that you check out the PN Restaurant Eating Guide from our friends at Precision Nutrition. Even when you’re not able to be perfect, every restaurant is going to have food on its menu that runs along the spectrum from Worst to Best, and you just want to find things that sit as close to the Best end of the spectrum as you can. Bad is better than Worst, Better is better than Good… you get the idea.
And remember – even if you can’t find something on the menu that’s prepared specifically the way you’d like, 99 times out of 100, all you have to do is ask. After all, if they have the food in house, there’s very seldom any reason that they can’t make a special combination just for you. Just remember to be polite about it… eating well doesn’t require a dramatic performance when it’s time to give your order.
With the bulk of AST members falling into the “busy professional” category, whether it be sales rep, CEO, accountant, stay-at-home mom, and many others, the biggest constant is always stress management. While working on lowering the amount of stress you’re exposed to should be important, there are certain stresses that aren’t practical to eliminate – a newborn who’s only sleeping for an hour at a time, a long commute on Lake Shore Drive every day, mandatory overtime to meet project deadlines – it’s not always an option to completely rid yourself of the stresses in your life.
But one thing that we do know can help is to use different tools to help buffer your body’s stress response – getting an environment where a stress that used to feel like a 10 out of 10 now only feels like a 7 or an 8 (or less, in a perfect world). Less adrenaline, less anxiety, less disrupted sleep… all things that when left unadressed can impact your efforts to get in shape and improve your health.
1 – Get Better (and MORE) Sleep
There are a few things at play with this one here – some that you can control, and some you can’t. The obvious one here is, you just stay up too late. Not for any real, time-sensitive reason, but maybe because you have been coming home from work and binge-watching old episodes of Who’s the Boss well into the evening hours. The answer isn’t very complicated, just GO TO BED ALREADY. Seriously.
Besides, Angela is the boss. Everybody knows that already.
If you want to do everything you can to improve your sleep quality, you may want to look into the 10-3-2-1-0 approach to your sleep routine:
10 hours before bed – no more caffeine
3 hours before bed – no more food
2 hours before bed – no more work
1 hour before bed – no more screen time (computers, cell phones, TV’s)
0 – the number of times you’ll likely hit the snooze button
Even installing applications like f.lux on your computers can help, as it reduces the blue light glow from your screen and drops the intensity of the light coming from your screen to mimic the rise and fall of the sun. Mobile options like Twilight are also available for Android and iPhones and work the same way.
2 – Meditation
You may not be able to crank out an hour of yoga or tai chi every day (although if you can, go for it), but you can certainly spare 10 minutes of your time that you might currently be using for Facebookery or Netflix binges, and replace it with guided meditation and deep breathing exercise. The Headspace app takes you through an ongoing… program? I guess that’s an appropriate thing to call it… and as you work your way through and improve your proficiency, new tools are introduced to keep you challenged along the way.
You can do it at any time of the day, but the most popular usage seems to be first thing in the morning or at bedtime. If you’re an anxious sleeper (your body is exhausted but your brain is working overtime) then placing it at bedtime may have the most bang for your buck.
And yes, I know I just suggested ditching electronics for an hour before bed, but I’m willing to make an exception here if you can’t get it in early enough. It’s better than trolling your roommate on Twitter, anyway.
Let me get this little disclaimer out of the way first – there isn’t a supplement in the world that will allow you to drop endless amounts of stresses onto your system. Relaxitor (I call dibs on that name, by the way) won’t fix your lack of sleep, the gallon of Red Bull you drink every day, the poor planning that leaves you sprinting out the door late for work every morning… BUT… there are things that can help boost your body’s defenses against chronic stress loads that aren’t necessarily within your control.
Rhodiola rosea – I’m going to save us all time by just directly citing the benefits from Thorne Research:
“Rhodiola rosea has been extensively studied in Russia and Scandinavian countries for over 35 years and is categorized as an adaptogen because of its ability to increase resistance to chemical, biological, and physical stressors.* Rhodiola has been found to inhibit stress-induced depletion of important brain neurotransmitters.* The adaptogenic properties of Rhodiola are attributed primarily to this ability to influence the levels and activity of neurotransmitters and the amino acids that mimic the effect of opiates in the brain, such as the beta-endorphins.* Because it is an adaptogen, Rhodiola has the potential to normalize neurotransmitters in the central nervous system without causing drowsiness or fatigue. In other words, it helps maintain normal levels of brain chemicals but, when they are already normal, Rhodiola will not further affect them.*
Russian studies suggest a positive role for Rhodiola in situations characterized by a decline in work performance, poor appetite, sleep disturbances, irritability, and fatigue.* Studies have found improved mental performance in physicians on night duty who were supplemented with Rhodiola.* Medical students given Rhodiola during exam periods reported improved concentration and performance, as well as enhanced well-being, improved sleep, and greater mood stability.*
In addition to aiding sleep, Rhodiola can enhance mood and decrease occasional episodes of worry and nervousness, allowing for more efficient functioning under stressful conditions.*”
Rhodiola tends to work well as an almost “catch-all” type of stress supplement as it has benefits in improving a wide array of stress reactions.
Suggested Use: 300-400mg per day, in divided doses
Relora (Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense) – once again, I may as well turn it over to Thorne’s summary of benefits for their version of Relora:
“Individuals who are occasionally anxious, feel stressed, or eat when stressed can have trouble maintaining their optimal weight.
Relora Plus is a proprietary blend of plant extracts from Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense (two major botanicals used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 1,500 years) along with a mix of B-vitamins, including active forms of B2, B6, B12, and folate.
Studies have demonstrated that the plant extracts in Relora Plus help to lower morning cortisol (a marker of adrenal stress), increase salivary DHEA, manage stress-related eating, and help manage body weight.* Study participants felt significantly more relaxed, less anxious, and better in control of their mood and stress-related eating habits.* The B-vitamins in Relora Plus are nutritional cofactors in the creation of neurotransmitters and have been shown to support mood.*”
Suggested Use: 500mg per dose, taken 2-3 times daily
One quick note on stress supplements – a common prescription for them is to take them toward the end of the day, or after training or some other stressful event. However, if you’re already doing a poor job of handling stress, waiting until after things have already started to accumulate before addressing it is like waiting until the dam has already broken before you try to fix it, instead of making improvements so that it never breaks in the first place.
Most people will benefit the most by dividing their intake into more than one dose and taking it throughout the day, with at least one early-day dose so that you can buffer the effect of stressful events as they happen. For the two supplements listed above, the recommendation here at AST is:
Thorne Rhodiola Rosea – 1 cap (100mg), taken 3x/day (although I may do 2 caps earlier in the day if I’m trying to get to 400mg when stress is HIGH)
Thorne Relora Plus – 2 caps (500mg), taken 2-3x/day (again, on the high side when stress isn’t being tolerated well)
Supplementation is never a magic fix, but when done in conjunction with other efforts, including nutrition and lifestyle changes, it can be extremely valuable.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
So, we’re located in Chicago, about a half mile from Wrigley Field. And in case you haven’t set foot near a TV, a radio, Facebook, Twitter, a Goodyear blimp, or a still-drunk-but-soon-to-be-hungover stranger dressed head to toe in blue and red yet this morning, the Cubs just won the World Series, in a Game 7 with more twists and turns than your average M. Night Shyamalan movie and three decades of Days of Our Lives reruns combined. I haven’t checked yet but I have low expectations on our 5am session attendance rate this morning.
And it would be really easy for me to call up anybody who missed their workout this morning and give them a hard time for choosing to stay out late drinking and partying. After all, I’m their trainer, so why shouldn’t I expect anything less than perfect attendance from my clients? And a hangover? Surely you would have had just as much fun had you been drinking diet A&W and eaten tilapia and Brussels sprouts out of a Tupperware container at 12am?
Except this wasn’t just a regular Wednesday night in Chicago, and I would be shocked if the reason anybody missed their workout this morning was because they stayed up too late drinking Leinenkugel and watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy. It was capping off a once in a lifetime experience for literally everybody. I don’t know that there is anybody in Chicago who was alive the last time this happened.
And if any of my clients had a few too many drinks, stayed up too late, maybe had to go to the hospital from 2nd degree fireworks burns… I don’t care. I’m happy for them, because in the end if I asked them “was it worth it?”, I can’t see any answer except “yes.” Because life doesn’t revolve around your body fat percentage or your MyFitnessPal consistency, and sometimes all of that day to day health stuff has to take a backseat to more important things.
It’s not unlike the advice I’ve given to clients who are planning their wedding, and want to “run the menu” by me to see if it meets my approval. “But it’s your wedding… why would you care what I think? It’s just one day and it only happens once.” And like I told another client of ours earlier this week, you may as well celebrate the Cubs in the World Series while it’s happening, because even if they go back again in a year or two, the shine is off of the apple. And not unlike a wedding, it’s just not the same the second time around.
So please… if you are trying to decide whether you made the right choice in neglecting your diet and training program, ask yourself “was it worth it?” And if you can answer “yes,” than who really cares?
And if you happen to be dealing with an epic hangover this morning, you may want to contact these guys:
Mobile IV hangover treatment. I highly suggest you book now because 100,000 other Cubs fans are probably calling them.
Sorry for the lack of a column lately- we overhauled our website in August and postponed adding any new content until we got everything imported and updated just to make sure nothing got lost in the shuffle. Then Christine and I took our first vacation together (kid-free!) since our honeymoon… 10 years ago. We didn’t work much.
Maybe we’ll drop an extra one this month to make up for it!
This month is a low-carb meal. We just launched our Back to School transformation challenge at AST a few weeks ago, so we have over 25 competitors trying to figure out how to make food taste good without adding the words “and fries” to the end of all of their meals. This was my first time prepping cod this way and it turned out fantastically, and the prep time was super-short.
Baked Lemon Herb Cod
2lbs wild-caught cod fillets
juice from 1 lemon (or 2tbsp lemon juice)
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp minced garlic
1tsp dried thyme
1tsp smoked paprika
1tsp sea salt
1tsp black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pat the cod fillets dry with a paper towel and drizzle the lemon juice over top. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a small dish and mix together, then spoon small amounts (maybe 1/2tsp or so) onto each piece of cod and use the back of a spoon or your fingertips to spread it onto the top of each piece.
Bake for around 15 minutes or until cooked all the way through.
For sides, I went super low-tech and did sauteed spinach and saurkraut.
Preheat a small skillet at medium heat. Put a dab of olive oil or cooking spray on the skillet. Once it’s heated, throw a handful or two of spinach in and mix often with a wooden spoon, until it starts to wilt down. You can add some salt and pepper, maybe a squirt of lime juice, but you don’t need anything fancy with spinach.
Go to the grocery store. Buy a jar of sauerkraut. You can get some great stuff in the refrigerated section but the off-the-shelf kind doesn’t have to be terrible either. Ingredients should be cabbage and salt. No vinegar, no sugar. Turn the lid counter-clockwise to open. Put some on your plate. You can saute it in the same skillet you used for the spinach if you’re feeling fancy.
It should be 20 minutes or less from start to finish – you’ve got time to kill while the cod bakes and sauteing spinach and sauerkraut isn’t exactly a time-consuming process.
I've been exploiting the warm weather as much as possible by doing tons of grilled meals lately – besides making it easier to prep large quantities of food, be serious: doesn't everything taste a little better when it comes off of the grill?
Dry-Rubbed BBQ Chicken Breast
I know, I know, another chicken breast recipe. But this one is quite a bit different from last month, and honestly, it never hurts to be well-equipped with options when it comes to making chicken breast. This one is a bit more barbeque-influenced than last month's was and goes in a pretty different direction taste-wise.
3lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast (we use frozen Perdue chicken breast from Costco because they're a bit thinner and cook better on the grill than thick pieces, but you could easily use thick breast and just butterfly it before you put the dry rub on)
1tbsp sea salt
1tbsp garlic powder
1tbsp onion powder
1tsp dried thyme
1tsp rubbed sage
1tsp smoked paprika
1tsp black pepper
As usual, I just added all of the dry ingredients into a small Pyrex dish and mixed it by putting the lid on and shaking it. I used paper towels to pat all of the chicken dry, then put them in a big glass dish and added about 1 1/2 tbsp of the seasoning mix and mixed it with my hands until everything was covered well. I let it sit while I heated up the grill (I do 5 minutes on high heat). Then I dropped the heat down to medium and did 5-6 minutes per side on the chicken breast, then let it rest for a good 10 minutes on a cutting board before trying to cut it. Don't cut it right away or you'll let all of the juice run out of it and you'll just end up with dry chicken. Use a food thermometer if you're not confident it's cooked through all the way and it should temp at 165 degrees.
Cinnamon (Extra) Sweet Potatoes
Fair warning – we'll make up 5 or 6 sweet potatoes like this in our house and it will last maybe two days. It's awesome
5 sweet potatoes, sliced or cubed
1 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin coconut oil
1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1tsp sea salt
1 pinch of stevia powder (or 2-3 packets of Truvia)
1tsp sea salt
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut off the ends of the sweet potatoes and then cut into either 1/4" slices, or wedges. If you want to do wedges and don't know how, I'm going to give you the same eloquent instructions I did last month:
How to Wedge Potatoes
Cut your potato in half, then cut that in half, then cut that in half. Boom, WEDGED.
Melt coconut oil in a small dish, then add the cinnamon, stevia and salt and mix. You can coat your sweet potatoes one of two ways:
Put your sweet potato wedges in a large bowl and pour the seasoning mix over top, then mix and coat with your hands. Then transfer to a baking sheet (we've begun putting a sheet of parchment paper on the baking sheet first lately as it keeps the bottoms from burning and it speeds up the cleanup when you're done)
Be lazy like I am and skip the bowl all together. I just throw the slices onto the parchment paper as I'm slicing them and then pour the mix over that once I'm done, and mix with my hands.
There isn't a lot of oil called for, but it's enough to help basically bind the dry spices to the sweet potatoes and help everything cook a little faster and easier. I'm not a big fan of a lot of oil on these as it takes away from the cinnamon/stevia combo too much.
Roast at 400 degrees for an hour. If you're somebody who likes your sweet potatoes on the crispier side, you can turn them about halfway through. They should pierce with a fork without being mushy (which they shouldn't be if you didn't go overboard on the oil).
Asparagus is one of those veggies that 1) always tastes better on the grill, and 2) doesn't handle a lot of seasonings well. Here is what I did:
Break the bottom stem off of each asparagus spear – if it's not past its prime you should be able to snap the bottom 2-3" off without needing any utensils. In a large bowl or dish, put in all of your asparagus, and add 1-2tsp of olive oil depending on how much asparagus – I did 2 bunches and used 1tsp per bunch. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper but don't go nuts – you want just a bit of extra flavor but don't drown it in salt.
Lay it all out on the grill and use medium heat for about 5 minutes, turning frequently (with tongs unless you're feeling like gambling with your fingertips).
It’s summertime, and everybody wants to have a more developed midsection. Nutrition is half the battle there, and the quality of your training rounds out the rest. See some of the most common mistakes we see people making with their ab training, and how to fix them quickly and easily!
Welcome to the first installment of a new feature you'll find on allstrengthtraining.com, where we'll be giving you the recipes and cooking instructions for meals that Christine and I use ourselves.
Up today is a relatively simple combination of grilled chicken breast, roasted red potatoes, and steamed broccoli. Doesn't sound like much, but one of the biggest takeaways we hope you get from this feature is that eating healthy, performance- and physique-friendly meals doesn't have to be complicated.
Ok, here we go!
Cafe Mocha Grilled Chicken Breast
Chicken breast can be a challenging dish to keep interesting, because even some of the best seasonings can get a little bit stale if you use them all the time. I was looking for something new and remembered that the combination of coffee and cacao had come up in a steak dry rub that we had tried a while back, and it was fantastic. I couldn't find the original recipe so I dialed up my friend Google to see what I could find, made a couple of small changes, and came up with this:
3lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast (we use frozen Perdue chicken breast from Costco because they're a bit thinner and cook better on the grill than thick pieces, but you could easily use thick breast and just butterfly it before you put the dry rub on)
3tbsp coffee grounds
1tbsp raw cacao powder (we have Nativas in our cupboard but any 100% cacao will do)
2 packets of Truvia (we were out of pure stevia powder but a pinch of it would work just as well)
1tsp cayenne pepper
I just added all of the dry ingredients into a small Pyrex dish and mixed it by putting the lid on and shaking it. I used paper towels to pat all of the chicken dry, then put them in a big glass dish and added about 1 1/2 tbsp of the seasoning mix and mixed it with my hands until everything was covered well. I let it sit while I heated up the grill (I do 5 minutes on high heat). Then I dropped the heat down to medium and did 5-6 minutes per side on the chicken breast, then let it rest for a good 10 minutes on a cutting board before trying to cut it. Don't cut it right away or you'll let all of the juice run out of it and you'll just end up with dry chicken. Use a food thermometer if you're not confident it's cooked through all the way and it should temp at 165 degrees.
Parsley Roasted Red Potatoes
This has been my go-to for potatoes of any color for a while now. Pretty sure that my inspiration for using parsley as the base herb for the seasoning was from the time I spent in high school working at a buffet restaurant where they had sliced parsley potatoes as one of their sides. Granted, I don't soak them in a tub of butter/lard/margarine/whatever they were using but the 16-year-old version of me remembers them being awesome and I was never wrong about anything when I was 16.
As a note, you may notice that most of the recipes use pretty big batch sizes because we go through a ton of food at our house. You can scale these up or down pretty easily if it's just for you, or if you aren't looking to get 10 meals out of a single dish.
5lbs red potatoes (or Russett, or yellow, or purple, or whatever color floats your boat)
1 1/2 tbsp grass-fed butter or extra-virgin coconut oil
2tbsp dried parsley
1tsp dried basil (optional but I like the combo of this with the parsley)
1tsp garlic powder
1tsp sea salt
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut your potatoes into wedges – cut your potato in half, then cut that in half, then cut that in half. Boom, WEDGED.
Melt your butter or coconut oil in a small dish, then add the dry spices and mix. You can coat your potatoes one of two ways:
Put your potato wedges in a large bowl and pour the seasoning mix over top, then mix and coat with your hands. Then transfer to a baking sheet (we've begun putting a sheet of parchment paper on the baking sheet first lately as it keeps the bottoms from burning and it speeds up the cleanup when you're done)
Be lazy like I am and skip the bowl all together. I just throw the potatoes onto the parchment paper as I'm slicing them and then pour the mix over that once I'm done, and mix with my hands.
Roast at 400 degrees for an hour (less if you're not doing 5lbs of potatoes, but they should pierce easily with a fork).
Not going to lie – we do mostly frozen broccoli from Costco because it's a) cheaper, and b) I hate trimming fresh broccoli.
Put a sauce pan on medium high heat on your stove top and let it heat for a minute or two before you add the broccoli. NOTE: if you're doing fresh broccoli, add a little bit of water to the bottom of the dish, just enough so that the bottom of the pan is coated with water (1/8" maybe? Just don't drown your broccoli). Get the water to start bubbling before you add the broccoli.
You can add whatever spices you want, but this is what I used:
2lbs frozen broccoli
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sage
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Put a lid on the pan and steam it until it pierces with a fork but don't let it get soggy. Somewhere around the 8-10 minute mark seems to work the best but it depends on how much you're making and how hot your stove top's burners are.
Please comment below and let us know what you think! I'd like to make this a recurring monthly feature so if there's anything specific you'd like to see, let us know, and if you like what you see, please share with your friends!
Ever learned something new? Of course you have, you’re sitting upright and reading this in English, so already we’re looking at three things I’m assuming you weren’t able to do when you were born. Too simple? Okay, do this for me. Close your eyes and try to remember the first time you did any of the following:
rode a bike
drove a car
learned to play an instrument
learned a new language
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it wasn’t a very glamorous first attempt. Seriously, don’t lie, or I’ll ask your parents/driver’s ed teacher/guitar instructor/Spanish teacher/high school girlriend for the truth.
But honestly, did any of us have that high of expectations? I have three kids. I’ve already watched two of them learn how to ride a bike and have seen plenty of scraped knees and high-speed tire-to-tire collisions. In a few years I’ll master the art of sitting in the passenger’s seat when they learn to drive, wondering at what speed it becomes more life-threatening to tuck and roll out the door than it does to remain in the car. I might get to see one of my kids angrily drop his guitar when he keeps messing up his AC/DC solo because he can’t quite get the pentatonic scale just yet. Maybe I’ll overhear one of them that their llamo es Ethan and “donde esta el bano?”. And that last one… will never happen because my kids are never moving out of my house and I will chaperone them everywhere they go forever. Shut up.
Seriously, we spend the better part of our lives learning new skills and failing at them, and you know what? It’s accepted. It’s understood. We don’t have to like it, but it’s a part of life. We aren’t born with the ability to drive a manual transmission sports car while playing the solo to “Back in Black” and singing the lyrics in Spanish (unless you are, in which case you’re my hero now and forever).
Yet when it comes to getting in shape and everything that comes with it, we have an innate fear of sucking. We quit REALLY EASILY. Raise your hand if you’ve ever started a diet and quit before the first day was even over because you didn’t realize that a potato wasn’t a vegetable and OH MY GOD I JUST BLEW EVERYTHING OH HEY IS THAT BURGER KING?! Or we join a gym on January 1, and have stopped going after 3 weeks because I don’t have gunz like Schwarzenneger yet and I can only squat 50 pounds and I AM SORE IN PLACES THAT I THOUGHT WERE ONLY USED FOR BABIES TO COME OUT OF AND I’M A GUY SO WHY DOES IT HURT LIKE THAT?!
Somewhere along the way, as a society we all just sort of decided that this is a thing we’re supposed to be good at. But it’s not. Want examples? Sweet, I’ve got plenty.
Ever wonder why some people do these big transformation competitions come out the other side looking like they were carved from granite, while you did it and came out with hunger pangs and sweat stains in all of your “going out” t-shirts? It’s probably because the first guy has done this like three times before, he’s been logging his food since Nixon was president and he can tell you exactly how many grams of fiber are in a cup of quinoa off the top of his head, while you’re still trying to figure out if green beans are a vegetable or a legume, and what the hell is a legume, and how do you pronounce it anyway? Is it le-GOOM or le-GYOO-me?
Trainers and gym rats are also terrible at this when they’re talking to somebody new to the gym. I remember a few years ago, I was working with a new client who was a very in-demand electrical engineer and we were doing his first training session. In a single sentence, I asked him to grab a pair of 25lb dumbbells, told him to load 10lbs onto each side of a barbell, and grab hold of a TRX. After much, MUCH confusion, I saw him try to put a spring collar onto one end of the bar. First he tried to slide it on, and when it wouldn’t go on, he then tried to pound the collar onto the bar with his palm, before finally giving up with the most dejected expression I may possibly have ever seen on somebody’s face in a gym. It was at that moment that it dawned on me that I had basically spent the entirety of our time together asking him to do things that he had no idea what they meant, and I never even stopped long enough to teach him first. Even though I KNEW it was his first day in a gym. Ever. I was the living embodiment of what happens when you assume…
I used to make that mistake when helping clients with their nutrition too. Their first nutrition consultation I was giving them protein goals, talking about their macros, bringing up cycling carbs around their workouts, only to find out two weeks later that they hadn’t made any changes because I never explained to them what protein is and they were too intimidated to ask.
Those situations might sound funny to some of you, and they might strike a huge chord with others, depending on which side of the fence you sit on. If you’re a fitness enthusiast, you probably assume that everybody knows exactly what you’re talking about, because you’re so deep in the Matrix that you forgot what it was like to be new. If you’re new, you’re so used to your fit friends talking to you in a way that you can’t understand, but they make it sound so effortless that you feel like an idiot if you have to ask them, “what… what’s a kettlebell exactly?”
This is a call to those of us in the fitness world to do a better job of making our world a little less intimidating to those entering it for the first time. I know if I took a guitar lesson for the first time and the instructor said, “okay, I want you to do a run in an A pentatonic scale and I want you to make sure your vibrato is nice and clean, and maybe give me a pinch harmonic or two to really drive it home”, I may have ended up in the corner chewing on my guitar and weeping. Yet that’s basically what I did to the client I mentioned without realizing it. Ever since, I’ve embraced the concept of teaching the basics and never presuming. More of us should do the same.
And if you’re brand new at this and feel overwhelmed by everything that you feel like you’re supposed to know but don’t, know this: when I was 8 years old I drove my Huffy straight into a pine tree at what felt like 30 miles an hour. Eventually I figured it out. So will you. Let me know if you need some help.