What’s NBF all about – a refresher

Fitness, Exercise, Sport, Triathlon

What’s NBF all about? More than this picture, that’s for sure…

To celebrate the 40th post of No-brainer Fitness, I thought it worthwhile to offer a brief recap.

Basically, in case you are still wondering, or if you are fairly new to No-brainer Fitness, here’s what it’s all about, in the form of an interview, but definitely in No-brainer Fitness style:

What does NBF stand for?

NBF is my acronym for No-brainer Fitness.

Ok, smart ass, but what is it all about, really?

No-brainer Fitness is about getting fit so as to be, and remain, as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.

Why the “No-brainer” part?

Because it is my contention that, in order to get and remain fit, you don’t need to do anything very complicated. Also, the benefits of being fit are so good and numerous, that you should not have to think twice about it.

Don’t you have some secret agenda?

You mean other than helping others reap the benefits of fitness?

Yes.

No.

C’mon, admit it! You are trying to create a cult to fitness, or at least get rich from this, aren’t you?

Well, it would be nice to make a living helping others, but I still do it for free.

So, no cult?

No cult. Quite the contrary, I promise.

Ok, prove it: How does one get fit?

You need to move more. A lot more. On a daily basis. Not just 30 minutes of intense exercise every other day, and then sitting on your chair or sofa the rest of the time. Instead of seeking ways to save your energy, you need to get into the habit of using more energy. Walking more, taking stairs instead of escalators or elevators, doing some light strength exercises, not sitting so much at work, picking up a fun sport again, etc.

That sounds like hard work: I’m getting tired just reading about it. How does one get there?

A big part of it is changing your mindset so that you no longer think about moving as hard, but as something that your body craves, much like you crave food. Our bodies really do crave movement, and as you get moving, you start to feel it more keenly.

Talking about craving, what about eating super foods and taking supplements that will make me fit and healthy and help me lose weight? Isn’t that a lot easier?

There is no such thing as “super foods”, and if you eat well, you don’t need supplements. Losing weight comes naturally from moving more and eating a good diet, not from dieting. But the key is moving more. First and foremost, that’s what you have to focus on. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something (like supplements).

Unlike you?

Unlike me.

But if we wanted to buy something from you, we could. Right?

Well, if you are interested in picking up running or triathlon as a sport, because those are great ways of getting and remaining fit, I could help with that, too. And for that, yes, I do get paid, because it demands much more attention to make sure it is done right, and you reach your personal objectives.

What else do you provide? Surely it can’t be that simple…

It is. Really. But I try to make it enjoyable to do the right thing, and I provide advice to help steer through the wild west of products and tips out there. Because being fit is both simple and fun.

Hmmm… What else?

Well, it doesn’t hurt to stay away from things that are clearly bad for you, what I call NOT FOOD. But the key, I insist, is in moving a lot more.

Ok, I think that’s enough for now. I almost believe you.

Feel free to ask me other questions. Or read some of my 39 previous posts; you are sure to find more about what NBF stands for, and how to be more fit.

Move on!

Health, Fitness, Exercise

Working on some visuals for No-brainer Fitness… Feedback welcome.

 

Now that’s my kind of conspiracy theory

Fitness, Health, JFK, History

Finally, a JFK conspiracy worth subscribing to…

I recently visited the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

I’m no history buff, nor am I particularly into admiring political figures of the past (or present, for that matter). But I must admit that the visit turned out quite fascinating on various levels.

This guy (John F. Kennedy, to be precise) clearly died way too soon. I picked up a few good quotations and a new-found respect for what he tried to do during his brief stint as POTUS.

And I got one major surprise in the process, as the picture at the top of this post hints at.

You see, back in the early 1960s, people like JFK were already very concerned about the fitness level of Americans.

JFK re-launched a council on fitness early on in his presidency, and got a fitness program created and disseminated to schools in the US. Later on, he enlisted the help of the artist who was then drawing the Superman comics and asked him to create a special story in which Superman went on a mission to help kids get into better shape.

You could say that JFK was conspiring with a few other people to improve the fitness of Americans. That’s the kind of conspiracy that’s worth talking about.

Keep in mind that this was back in the early 1960s! Already then, there was unease about the fitness level of people, and of kids in particular…

JFK, Superman, Fitness, Health, Exercise

This is done to promote fitness. Let’s hope I don’t get sued.

Some things change, some things stay the same

Sadly, JFK died before the book was published, but his successor got the comics published, as you can see from the other image.

Did it work? Apparently not; the general population, and kids in particular, have been getting less fit, even though elite athletes have been getting better and records have been broken systematically. You could say a wider chasm has been growing in terms of fitness, even as people have been getting wider…

What’s really interesting, however, other than the fact that this was happening already over 50 years ago, is that very little has changed in terms of what is being recommended as regular physical activity. Except perhaps that infamous rope climbing thing (now we beat the crap out of floors with ropes). Sit-ups, pull-ups, push-ups, running, variations on those themes.

We also have a lot more evidence, scientific at that, about how much to move, and at what intensity. Guess what? We should be moving every day. That’s a no-brainer.

Why has it not worked?

That’s a fair question. Consider the simple fact that we’ve known for a long while how to maintain our bodies; we’ve just fallen short of finding better ways to get people moving when they are not.

Perhaps part of the problem is the lack of understanding of how to best promote fitness among kids. Standardized tests and competitions are not the way to go; measuring personal improvements based on heart rate and deployed effort is much better, as Dr. Ratey illustrates in his excellent book Spark, (and about which I provided a brief review a few days ago).

We tend to focus on providing logical, rational, scientific arguments, trying to convince everyone of the importance of moving. Unfortunately, that does not work. Our relationship to effort is one based on emotion, not rationality. That’s the real problem. Something even Superman couldn’t fix.

What can’t be denied is that the last 50 years have seen a continued rise of suburban lifestyles that almost make cars mandatory even as schools have been cutting their physical education courses and made free play practically illegal in schoolyards. Instead of walking everywhere and playing, sometimes rough, now kids are driven and made to behave all the time when in fact what they need is to learn to use their bodies in a fun way and spend energy.

In any case, let’s not forget that we’ve been struggling with this for a while, so a solution is not likely to be easy. But we’ve known for a while that we need to move more, on a daily basis. That remains the key.

Moving On

By the way, the council on fitness still exists, and every few years a new document is created, new guidelines are provided, and so on. It’s an ongoing battle. The documents are getting thicker, perhaps so they can be used for weight lifting some day. The site is there, though I have yet to find useful advice there.

Instead, we should all join the conspiracy directly and get moving. No thinking, no arguing, no rationalizing. Just moving.

Should you happen to be in the Boston area, I highly recommend a visit of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. If you go, do as I did (and dragged my mom into doing with me): Walk from the nearest T stop instead of taking the bus. That way you’ll keep to the spirit of John “Fitness” Kennedy…

Images “borrowed” from the JFK Presidential Library and Museum Web site, which is visible to everyone, and that I highly recommend visiting to anyone in the Boston area (so please don’t sue me for having used them).

 

What makes a good coach? Part 2

Coaching, Athletes, Sports, Training

Coach: More than a timekeeper.

Last time, I wrote about the best coach I ever had. (If you haven’t read that post, feel free to take a moment now to do it; if you don’t have time, I’m about to provide a short summary.)

If you recall, this person was able to progressively take me (and many others) from beginners to sufficiently skilled players, both as individuals and as a team, to win a regional championship. How?

  • He made showing up at practice a no-brainer (we were actually looking forward to practice, instead of dragging our feet to it);
  • he made learning and developing our skills and physical condition fun through challenges we could achieve with reasonable effort (and some friendly competition);
  • he provided advice and guidance during games, to make sure we could perform our best;
  • he chided when absolutely necessary, and congratulated when applicable.

To elaborate a bit more, in my estimation this coach had the following attributes:

  • He knew the sport inside-out, and was excellent at teaching technique as well as game tactics and strategy.
  • He was a great planner for both individual training sessions and the overall season.
  • He paid attention to individuals’ talents and guided each of us so we would progress as rapidly as possible.
  • He built relationships with his athletes on the basis of mutual respect for our roles and responsibilities.

No doubt he was well served by many years of experience as a coach, but that’s still a tall order.

Yet isn’t it what all coaches do? On the other hand, is it all that one should expect from a coach? It begs the question:

What’s a “coach,” really?

A coach can, and must, be many things. But people generally agree about the following roles that a coach can fulfill:

  1. Teacher / Instructor / Technical Expert
  2. Planner / Scheduler
  3. Motivator ( / Cheerleader / Disciplinarian)
  4. First Aider ( / Medical Advisor)
  5. Basic Nutrition Advisor

I put a few items in parentheses because they represent certain expectations of coaches which I feel are not reasonable, or smart. For instance, unless the coach is a medical professional, the advice provided really should be very limited, and always conclude by telling the athlete to seek the opinion of a healthcare professional of the relevant specialty (or a GP with an interest in physical activity, though any GP should be professional enough to refer instead of just saying “stop”).

As to being a disciplinarian, really, that should fall in another category such as legal and/or sport regulations. The coach is expected to teach the rules of behaviour and sportspersonship, not to enforce them. (However, the coach must abide by such decisions as rendered by referees and disciplinary bodies, and support such decisions. But I digress.)

Finally, let’s hold off on talking about cheerleading for the moment.

Do I believe a coach, a good coach being implied, has to do all of that?

My answer is: It depends.

What most adult “athletes” seem to need

Nowadays, you see a lot of coaches who are primarily fitness instructors, in a very limited sense of showing techniques and guiding through workouts, and motivators, bordering on cheerleaders. Especially in gyms, the kind that one joins in order to lose weight (oh, and get into better shape as well, but primarily to look better).

This is fine for the majority of people who dabble in spurious gym attendance and faddish, er, novel, exercise classes. It might even be exactly what some people need. But it might also explain a great deal about the tendency for people to sign-up for, and then drop, such classes and gyms.

You see, there is a big difference between being able to illustrate how to do something, and being able to teach someone how to do it right, possibly by modifying the movement and gradually bringing about the correct form. That’s teaching, not instructing.

And there is a big difference between cheering someone on while they are exercising, and making exercising so much fun (or at least enjoyable) that they’ll keep coming. That the difference between being a cheerleader, and being a good motivator.

More to the point, coaching should involve personal attention to the needs and progression of the individual. Being instructor to dozens of people at the same time, seeing up to hundreds of fitness enthusiasts each week, is not the same kind of coaching as taking a few individuals through the skills and fitness development they need to complete a triathlon, for instance.

A lot of those instructors and personal coaches come from a relatively recent discovery of the benefits of being more fit, and keep on going by becoming coaches themselves. Their personal experiences (“I went from so many pounds, to looking like this, so you can do it, too!“) speaks to hopefuls, and gets them hooked. Often enough, a group dynamics also forms that further motivates participants, which is what gyms and classes count on.

But that kind of motivation is not, ultimately, what will keep folks showing up at the gym, or get truly fit and healthy. What is needed for that is a real Purpose, not just rapidly fading enthusiasm.

And beware in particular of any coach who offers more than a generic level of nutrition advice. Especially if they start talking about supplements, or some strange cleansing diet. A coach ought to know enough to provide some guidance as to how to eat well, but unless he or she is a nutritionist, it should only go so far.

I am not (really) trying to put anyone down; I’m simply trying to point out that there is a wide range of people having claims on the title “coach,” and that not all of them are the same.

Does that mean only certified coaches should be able to call themselves coaches? (Let’s forget for a moment that there are numerous bogus certifications out there…) Certainly not: You can find excellent coaches that have not bothered to obtain certifications by recognized sports bodies. Especially in sports like running and triathlon.

What matters for adults, who have the life experience to make their own decisions, is that there be a good approach to coaching, one that suits their own needs.

There is, however, one exception to the “certification not required” statement:

What kids need

Childhood is a critical time in the learning of skills and fitness principles.

Unfortunately, too many kids are turned off from sports through old-fashioned (and simply wrong-headed) gym classes. Coaches can play a role there, if the kids are also taking extra-curricular activities like soccer, football, baseball, or hockey, but that’s an uphill battle if gym classes set the wrong tone.

Worse than gym class, however, is when kids are being yelled at by improvised coaches who focus more on performance than on development.

Pretty much every parent wants his or her kids to be healthy and to move, so participation in little leagues is pretty strong. Which means the teams need coaches, and lots of them. Hence the parents are asked to help out.

While it is commendable of parents to want their kids to move (they seem to be applying something they understand intuitively, yet don’t do themselves), putting them into the hands of just about anybody is not a good idea. Adults don’t see team sports the same way as kids do, and so emphasis is often put on competition instead of fun. (And I’m not even talking about parents with dreams of their kids becoming professionals.)

Coaching, Sports, Movement

Coaching kids: not the same as coaching adults.

That is something certified coaches are trained to deal with. That’s why I would much prefer there be fewer teams, with good coaches, than large leagues with yelling parents pretending to be coaching the teams.

Ok, I’ll admit, even some certified coaches are pushing the performance aspect too much, and much too soon. We are all human, it seems. But it is something that coaches are drilled about, and do know better, so a friendly reminder from time to time wouldn’t hurt.

Ultimately though, I feel it is primarily the job of parents to encourage their kids to move and learn to use their bodies. For that, nature has equipped us with a desire to play, to have fun. Organized sports and gym classes can be a part of that, but not at the cost of kids having fun.

The best thing one can do with kids is be a good example by moving as much as possible, and play with them (or let them play and organize their own games, that way they also learn to socialize). If you insist on organized team sports, make sure the coaches are certified and have the right approach to your kids’ age group and development level…

What a really good coach does

I’ve laid the foundation, put in place a few caveats, and even talked about kids. Together with the first post, you should start to get the picture of what a good coach’s actions and behaviour should be.

Next time, I’ll focus on what makes a good coach for adults interested in getting fit, and/or picking up a fun sport like triathlon.

Stay tuned.

Photos from Pixabay.

Discipline, Motivation, and Purpose

How are we to be everyday athletes, to move and exercise regularly, and eat well?

If you think it is all a matter of discipline, you are not alone. If you think it is about motivation, you are in good company. And, like most people, you are wrong in either case.

There is a lot of confusion about discipline and motivation. And little is usually said about purpose. For a long time, I was not clear on those concepts either. People would tell me I must have a lot of self-discipline, and in fact I possess a good amount, but it was not what would get me up in the morning to train. I was simply very motivated. And like all things that come from motivation, eventually it died down, and I was left empty.

Until I found my purpose.

It all makes sense now, because a good friend recently explained it to me. So I’ll try to explain it as I understand it; maybe it will make sense to you as well.

Imagine you are working out and feeling the urge of going harder or longer than the plan called for, just because it feels so good. Discipline is stopping yourself from going off the plan. Discipline is necessary to make sure we do what we are supposed to do, no more, no less, and thus avoid undermining our health and future training sessions. Discipline is what keeps you from turning an easy session with a friend into a race against your friend. Poor discipline combined with high motivation is a recipe for burnouts and injury.

If you use discipline as the way to get yourself to exercise, to keep yourself going, then you are in an authoritarian regime where the stick is all you know. It is a harsh way of doing things, and not healthy in the long run because it lacks the balance that comes from other aspects of life, like listening to your body, and just letting go at times.

Motivation is related to our very natural tendency to want, the reward center of our brains. It is what gets you to sign up for a fun cardio-zumba-yoga-boxing class, to join a gym with cool instructors and funky new ways of working out, or to launch yourself passionately into a new sport. It is at times what keeps you going when going through a rough patch, like a divorce; it is the desire to make a change in your life. It is pleasure; a shiny carrot, in comparison to discipline’s stick.

But motivation is fleeting; wanting is the true constant. The fun new class eventually becomes just one more thing on your busy schedule, before being dropped altogether. It is why once you’ve overcome the rough patch, or been around the block of the new sport a little, it loses its appeal, and motivation is gone. Motivation leads to lack of motivation, and it is only natural, because we tend to want the next shiny new carrot…

Purpose, then, is what drives you. It is effortless, because it comes from within; neither a stick nor a carrot; it is simply who you are. The problem is that we seldom know what our purpose truly is, in life in general, but particularly when it comes to fitness.

How do you find your purpose in a sense that will guide you to fitness? You must first ask yourself, frankly, honestly, how you want your life to be in the long term. We could spend a lot of time figuring it out, and some day we might, but for now I can offer some tricks to make it take shape.

Exercise, Everyday, Movement

Living a long, active, and healthy life.

To some, it may be the realization of wanting to live a long, healthy life with a partner. Perhaps the vision of growing old and active with kids and grand-kids around. To others, it may truly be to become cardio-zumba-yoga-boxing champion, when it is finally included in the Olympics.

It may be tempting to define it in terms of what you don’t want your life to become (overweight, sick, dependent on others, etc.) but it is far more powerful to envision your purpose in positive terms, whatever you choose it to be. Fear can kick-start better habits, but it is purpose that will keep you going.

Beware of framing something too short-term, even if it is a major life event like doing an Ironman, or crossing the US on your bike. Such goals might do you for a spell, but once realized, the motivation (because that’s really what they are) will fade. Aim for how you want your life to be, not just for the things you want to do.

Imagine your life’s end-goal, voiced and pictured in enough details that it becomes part of you. And once you’ve done that, once you’ve found your purpose, and you can remind yourself of it easily, the daily decisions are easy. Being active and making the right choices becomes a no-brainer.

Through your purpose in fitness, whatever it turns out to be, you can keep yourself doing the right thing forever. Well, for a really long time.

Just keep a dash of discipline handy, to avoid doing too much at times…

Purpose

Your purpose is what will get you to fitness.

Photos from Pixabay.