Same old, same old… if you want to get old in good shape

Exercise, Everyday, Health, Fitness, Training

Go ahead, make a move! Make it over and over again…

I know, I said I would write about physiology next. But that will have to wait just a little longer.

Today’s post will sound like I’m repeating myself, and of course it is a little the case.

In my defense, it is a well-known fact of communication that in order for your message to get through, and for it to be believed, it must be repeated many times. (Preferably by more than one independent “sources,” though that never stopped anyone. Just think of the persuasion success the American leadership had a few years ago about weapons of mass destruction…)

So while I continue learning about physiology (I’m taking an online course, among other things) and clarifying my thinking about how to get that message across effectively, today I’m inviting you to review some recent news items about the importance of fitness for long-term health.

(Added note: I know most bloggers would have split this up in 2 or 3 topics. I’m not most bloggers because I prefer to see things as they fit together, not apart. And I think most people are capable of taking a bit of extra time to read a slightly longer post, instead of three short ones. Like my coaching, my blogging is about quality, not quantity…)

In the News

There has not been anything ground-breaking in the news lately; the artificial conflict between maintaining (or returning to) a healthy weight through diet alone versus exercising more (while being careful what we eat) has been raging. Because most folks on the “food only” side are clearly peddling books and special diets, I’m not even going to talk about what ridiculous stuff has been said on that side of the “debate.”

Instead, you should keep in mind that the best way to increase the odds of being healthy for a long time is through exercising a lot, and being careful about the food (not too much, mostly from plants) we ingest. That’s the “same old, same old” part of my message.

In support of that, you should read an interesting article about how many of the health problems of aging are due to inactivity, not “just” getting old. This is exactly what I mean when writing about muscles being extremely important, not just for metabolic reasons, but to keep bones and brains healthy.

Basically, to be healthy and active well into old age, you need to use your muscles more. The thing is, as one of my favorite authors on the subject has recently added, you don’t even need to do a whole lot in order to reap the benefits. That’s a key point about the approach I embrace and promote: balance is more healthy than excess.

Exercise, Health, Fitness, Training, Marathon

Running the New York Marathon in 2013.

For instance, while I say that we should all move a lot more than we currently do, there are some who say that we should all be training like professional triathletes, 25 or more hours per week. And others say we should not move at all, and instead restrict what we eat in a radical way.

I’m clearly not on the side of diet restrictions without any exercise, and I’ve run ultra-marathons and I do an ironman distance triathlon each year “just to stay in shape,” but even I would not pretend that such a level of training is sustainable for everyone. Although not sustainable, it may be something to shoot for, or, at least, going well beyond the “standard” recommendations of some 150 minutes per week of exercise, remains a very good idea.

Which brings me (finally) to a third tidbit of news about those who have been clamoring that doing marathons and intense training for more than 150 minutes per week were actually causing damage instead of doing good for their health. In light of new research, it seems they are admitting that our bodies can really benefit from a lot more exercise than they previously allowed for.

Moving More, Up to A Point

But keep in mind that, based on the research, there is a diminishing return to be had from increasing the activity level. And at some point, while it may not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer (which is what the study was concerned with), you up the risk of injury, which is not really taken into consideration from what I’ve read so far.

As reported in Runner’s World:

When mortality rates were adjusted for exercise levels, the researchers found the lowest rate among those who exercised about three to five times the amount recommended by federal guidelines (i.e., 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise like running). However, the increased benefit of working out three to five times more than the guidelines was modest, the researchers wrote.

More importantly to serious runners, there was no evidence of harm at ten or more times the recommended minimum.

At three to five times the federal guidelines, you are in marathon and short-distance triathlon training territory. Maybe up to a decent half-ironman. Nothing crazy. And sustainable, if part of a lifestyle choice that features living a long and healthy life as its Purpose.

And you can go well beyond that, if you are careful.

Same Old Advice (Summary)

In summary, allow me to repeat what little wisdom I can impart, based on what I’ve learned and what more knowledgeable people have said before me:

  1. Move, a lot, because our bodies are at their best when they do.
  2. Eat food, not too much, mostly from plants.
  3. Obtain, and follow, the advice of a coach (especially if you are going to train seriously for something like a marathon or triathlon (or any endurance- or speed- or strength-focused sport).
  4. Steer clear of excess and obsession; strive for balance in all things.

Oh, and I should probably have added “stay tuned.”

Because I’m bound to come back to this subject, and provide more specific advice over time.

After all, much like with training, repetition is what eventually gets the message through… and turns it into a no-brainer.

Running, Marathon, Fitness, Health, Training, Exercise

A bunch of superheroes with their capes, or tired marathon runners done running?

Photos by the author at various events.

Keep you Purpose in mind, question the Purposes of Others

Purpose, Exercise, Diet, Advice, Health, Fitness

Purpose is what keeps us all moving (each in our chosen direction).

It all boils down to Purpose. Everything.

There, I’ve said it.

Everything you do, everything you read, everything you come across on a daily basis. They all stem from one thing: Purpose.

Some of it is your Purpose. A lot of it, especially what you encounter around you, is the Purposes of Others. But it is all Purpose. To truly make sense of the world, you need to remember this.

If you want to keep on target, to keep moving regularly and eating well, you have to keep your Purpose firmly in mind.

If you want to avoid being taken for a ride (i.e. being taken advantage of, or negatively affected by what’s going on around you), you need to remember the Purposes of Others.

(If you need to remember what Purpose means, you can go back to some of my previous posts. But the common meaning of word purpose is also a good proxy, so feel free to just read on.)

Perhaps it is not always clear what those Purposes might be. Or perhaps you are starting to think I’m a conspiracy theorist of some sort. Quite the contrary, I assure you.

As a matter of fact, thinking about what you read, see, experience on a daily basis in terms of the Purposes of Others goes a long way in explaining things without resorting to some kind of conspiracy theory. It’s simply no longer necessary.

How so? Funny you should ask. (You did ask, didn’t you?) Because I’m going to devote this post to providing a few examples.

The Purposes of Others

The sections that follow are generalizations. Not absolutes, but generalized tendencies as observed by me (and doubtless others). They might upset some people, which is not my goal. I simply want to draw attention to some very real possibilities. Keeping these possibilities in mind could help you make sense of things…

Corporations

What is the Purpose of a corporation that makes sporting goods, apparel, nutritional supplements, etc.?

This one is terribly easy: to make money. No, they are definitely not there to help you perform at your best. They are not there to prevent you from getting hurt.

They have one driving obsession: to sell more products. In general, and against their competitors. After all, the “supply” of money from would-be buyers is not infinite. So they have to present what they offer as being better; better than what they sold last year, and better than anyone in the category is selling today. And they have studies to prove it. Everybody pretty much does.

Which means you should not trust those studies, right? It is not quite that clear-cut. But in case of doubt, we all had better take what we read from corporations with a grain of salt. (Keep the salt-shaker handy, because we’ll need it again.)

Magazines

A magazine’s Purpose is to make money. How do they achieve that? By selling as many copies as possible, month after month. How do they achieve that? Sometimes by exaggerating, but, mainly, simply by always having “new” things to publish.

But you can’t have new things to publish every month for years, at least not at a general public level in a field like fitness. So the same stories come back repeatedly. Like how to choose a pair of shoes this year. And other stories are simply variants on the same theme, like advice from multiple sources over time.

Diet, Advice, Exercise

Have some salt. Just not too much in your diet…

Which is why the advice can appear contradictory over time. My favorite example is the back and forth over how to do long runs (if you are a runner or a triathlete); one time you read that you must do it slow and steady, and then a few months later you read how you must spice it up with some speed. And then back again a few months later.

Because when you train, you are interested in having the most effective training program, you are bound to want to read what appears to be the latest best advice. Which is what they are counting on to sell their next issue of the magazine…

Diet Pushers

The Purpose of someone who comes out with advice on how to lose weight is probably to sell you his or her own newfangled way of doing that. That’s just simple fact.

It may be disguised at scientific truth, accompanied by a plethora (that’s an abundance, just to be clear) of scientific papers, but you can be pretty sure that it is there to convince you to buy something. Otherwise, that advice would be free for all to obtain, and it would be widely supported by others (as opposed to being published in a book, because “nobody else has that truth”).

You guessed it, there is a money-making Purpose in there. So beware.

Journalists

Without denying that many are genuinely interested in making a difference in the world by reporting on important matters, journalists need first and foremost to make a living as journalists. In essence, they need to sell pieces to newspapers or magazines; if they are staff, they need to make sure they are read regularly. They need to ensure their articles, columns, opinion or editorials are read and talked about. The more buzz, the better.

In order to achieve that, they resort to tried and true methods like talking about controversial topics, reporting sensational information. The vast majority verify their facts before publishing, but as we’ve seen examples of recently (the Rolling Stone magazine fiasco), they don’t always.

Sometimes, in an effort to appear “balanced” in their coverage, they frequently will present opposing points of view, even if it is completely unreasonable to do so. Sometimes, they will simply ignore the Purposes of Others in order to generate a lot of buzz, and play into the hands of diet peddlers and corporations. Whatever works at the time.

So it is no surprise that you often encounter what seems to be ground-breaking new facts about fitness, completely different from the ones you read just last week. And it is no wonder that headlines about such “new” facts are frequently deformed well beyond what the scientists said in the first place.

Advice, Fitness, Health, Exercise

Have some more.

The facts are often far less controversial or ground-breaking than they might appear in newspapers and magazines. But lack of sensational words don’t make people want to read the article. (Which in turn don’t help sell the magazine or newspaper…)

Fitness/Health Bloggers

This is a more difficult one to generalize. There are so many bloggers, and so many different reasons why people take up blogging on this topic. (Including mine, of course.)

For the most part, people want to share their own experience. Let’s face it, it both validates said experience, and could prove useful to someone else. If someone has come a long way from being sedentary, perhaps even of poor general health (or feeling that way), that life lesson and the efforts put into improving could prove extremely beneficial to others. But they may not apply generally. A success story may not turn out to be the best advice for your specific situation.

At that end of the spectrum of bloggers, I’m afraid, are many who are trying to turn what has become their new way of life, not to call it an obsession, into a money-earning activity. Those think they are applying the “turning one’s passion into a livelihood” approach, and to some extent, that is fair. But one’s personal experience may not be applicable to others. Be careful of any such person selling their services based on their own personal success at getting fit, healthy, or slim (or any combination of these very different things).

Others still are doing it to promote themselves and the services and/or products they sell. The are at the other end of the spectrum; they typically start blogging with the clear Purpose of, once again, making money. (Bring out that salt shaker again.)

Don’t get me wrong: Not everyone that sells something is necessarily bad. Many believe they are genuinely providing something that will help others. (That’s definitely where I’m located.) Yet you should be very careful when following the advice of anyone who sells something. Especially if they claim you cannot possibly get the full effect of what they promote without buying some sort of product or supplement.

Advice, Health, Fitness, Diet, Exercise

Keep the salt shaker nearby at all times.

Coaches

The Purpose of a coach is to help you achieve your own goals as an athlete. Even as an everyday athlete. Unless the coach is a crappy coach, in which case the Purpose of the coach might be to increase his or her reputation. Or perhaps simply to make money off of people who want to perform in a sport. Such coaches leave behind them a trail of broken, injured, and sometimes abused athletes.

How do you go about recognizing the Purpose of a coach?

First, ask about the coaching philosophy and the approach to training. Question also how much time a coach can really devote to each athlete he or she coaches. Be very weary of “secret sauces” and “special techniques” that no one else knows about; don’t assume that because the coach was a great athlete he or she knows what will work for you. And run away as fast as you can (there’s a good training session for you!) if the coach wants to sell you supplements or special equipments…

There would be more to say, but I’ve already gone on too long. And it sounds like I have a chip (or a bag of chips, salty ones at that) on my shoulder. I confess: I’m often frustrated by what I see. Too many earnest folks being taken advantage of, too much pixie dust being thrown into the eyes of unsuspecting (or willfully suspending critical judgment) people who want to pursue their own Purpose.

It is not that complicated, as I’ve tried repeatedly to explain on this blog. And it should not cost you a fortune to pursue your Purpose.

As long as you keep in mind that we all have a Purpose…

Image credits: Post picture by Sophie Tremblay-Paquet, at the Shipyard Maine Coast Half Marathon in 2015. Other images from Pixabay.

The Trouble with Superheroes

Exercise, Training, Consistency, Everyday, Movement

Who wants to be “super”? Who doesn’t?

Full disclosure time: I read comic books. I watch TV shows and movies about superheroes. I enjoy that tremendously. I also read “real” books, some that aren’t science-fiction or fantasy, or even about fitness and health. I also watch other types of movies (but watch very little TV in general).

This topic is coming about through serendipity: On the one hand, I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit since visiting the JFK Museum a year ago, where I was struck by the Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy initiative for health and fitness back in the 1960s. On the other hand, I’m currently enrolled in a course on edX called The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture.

Yes, I also take courses from time to time. Also, the latest Avengers movie recently came out. And they were my favorite superheroes when I was a kid. That’s quite enough disclosure for now.

It’s a simple, fairly well known observation that comic books and stories about superheroes are a great form of escapism. Not just for kids. They are fun distractions from the daily grind. They manage to make us dream a little. We sure need that once in a while.

In some cases, they inspire us to accomplish much. Many have pursued dreams of becoming athletes, scientists, journalists, doctors, soldiers, and other occupations (though probably never lawyers and politicians) based on the stories they read in comic books as children.

And that’s great.

Or is it?

Yes, actually, it is. Being inspired like that is a good thing. That’s one of the prime benefits of fiction. But not everyone reacts the same way, both consciously and sub-consciously, to fiction. Especially to fiction about, or featuring, superheroes.

Allow me to explain.

Becoming a Superhero

Here’s where I think there is a problem with superheroes in particular, and the stories, be they in comic books, on the television, or on the big screen, that feature them: There’s always a secret sauce, a previously unknown causation device (known as a “ghost in the machine” in the jargon) that comes from outside the characters and without which there is simply no story.

In the case of superheroes, the main such plot device is about how they became “super.” It is a pernicious plot device because, no matter how much one tries, no matter how much effort one puts into preparing, the outcome is, ultimately, up to chance alone. But how often do normal folks acquire special abilities as a result of an accident? (Answer: Never. On the contrary. And too many have tried, so don’t.)

Stories, Training, Exercise

Inspiration, but also sub-conscious lessons.

I dare you to find a single superhero character that did not become “super” by some freak accident (of birth, of being bitten by something, of having something radioactive spilled on him or her, etc.) or that does not benefit from being extremely rich (typically by birthright) or extremely intelligent (innate trait). Or a combination thereof.

Basically, I dare you to find a (major) superhero that became that way through long years of training, without any money, just barely making do with minimal support and resources.

No, Batman does not count: Yes, he trained hard and for many years, or so the story goes, but he’s super-rich, and can afford lots of cool gadgets which he did not have to invent. Similarly for Green Arrow. Ironman is a combination of super-smart and super-rich, without any effort. Etc. You get the gist.

And those who were born on Krypton or elsewhere, or were given powers by mysterious extra-terrestrial entities, etc., simply abound in the same direction.

Let’s face it, the message superheroes propagate is that one does not train to become super; it is simply something that happens to you. Or that you are born into.

Which begs the question:

If I’m not super (or fit, or an athlete, or really really smart already), why should I bother work at it? Why should I train my body or my mind to become better? Might as well just drink beer and watch football on TV… – Anonymous

Superpowers, not Supertraining

In fact, I think I noticed a troubling trend that amplifies what I’m talking about.

Even when the story talks about training, it if often after one becomes a superhero. As maintenance. And when the story relates the training that took place before becoming a superhero, it used to be (in comic books) that it took a really long time (e.g. Batman again); but now, in TV and films, it seems mere months, when not just weeks, of training will turn someone of no skill (and precious little fitness) into a tough crime-fighting vigilante (e.g. TV series The Arrow).

Take another example of the same thing, but from another realm of fiction, and quite similar: In the Star Wars series, we are made to think it takes training from childhood to become a Jedi as an adult. Yet Luke Skywalker is able to achieve it with a few months of discovering his powers (the Force, in this case) and at most a few days of training with Yoda.

No wonder consistency, long practice, and the respectful following of a coach’s instructions is so under-valued nowadays.

C’mon, I want to be a sub-10 hours Ironman triathlete, and I want it now. Gimme a training program that will take me there in 6 weeks, and, by the way, I’m going to listen to every other bit of advice I can find out there, and try lots of different things at the same time… – also Anonymous, but a different one

As a coach, it makes you want to dunk the athlete in radioactive, mutagenic goo. Whatever that is. With an extra-dose of magically enhanced plant enzymes for good measure. Whatever that does.

I Need a (Super)Hero

Seriously again. When it comes to fitness and health, the subconscious message we get from these superhero stories is two-pronged:

  1. Most of what you are, what you are capable of, is innate. Or the result of freak accidents. That’s just the way the world works.
  2. If you train, you should expect results to be both very quick, and very dramatic. No need for long years of honing skills and becoming fit. Fitness, more often than not approximated by weight loss, should be almost instantaneous. Or take no longer than the duration of a TV show’s season.

It makes us look for quick fixes. At the very least, it makes us believe those who tell us their 90 days program, their 60 days program, their 4 weeks program, etc., will get us looking and feeling fantastic. (Like one of the Fantastic 4: stretchy and nimble, or hot like fire, or bulky-muscular like The Thing.)

In the end, we are looking for a silver bullet, for a hero, to save us from poor health. Just because it seems to work that way. We are thus constantly looking for that super solution; the next one must be the right one. We enter a vicious cycle; a kind of prison of the expectations. A prison of our own making.

The Truth Shall Set You Free

What is the truth that shall set you free? It is this: It takes time, and effort.

Just how much time, and how much effort, depends on each person’s genetic make-up, as well as on whether the person gets helped by a coach or not.

So, in a sense, some of it is innate. It does come easier for some. We each have some predisposition for some types of activities. I’ve touched upon that before.

But all of us can become much better everyday athletes, to the point of being true heroes of our own health, families, and society around us, by exercising regularly, consistently.

So move, train, and exercise more. That’s the ticket. After all, the extra weight and the shortness of breath when trying to run for a minute did not come all of a sudden; they happened gradually over many years of too little activity.

And when you need to rest, because training requires proper recovery, I know just what you can do to spend a bit of quiet time: Pick up a comic book, and let your mind dream a little. It won’t hurt, as long as you remember that it is pure fantasy.

Training, Exercise, Regularly, Everyday

You want a piece of me? You’d better train hard. And eat a lot of… gamma radiation.

Images from Pixabay.

P.S.: Regarding the dare, a couple of superheroes come to mind, but I wasn’t about to let that get in the way of the argument’s flow. Besides, they are fairly minor, and don’t have “super” powers: Black Widow and Hawkeye, two so-called “master assassins.” I wish we had more stories about how they trained, and how long it took, for them to become what they are in the Avengers’ world. But keep in mind that they also use super gadgets, which they must have had someone finance for them… Just sayin’…

How do you measure success?

Exercise, Success, Everyday, Psychology, Training

Winning. Is it everything? Is it even all it is cooked up to be?

I’ve written about this before. Or perhaps I just talk about it so much that I think I’ve written about it before. But seeing as the Boston marathon was just a few weeks ago, that quite a few people I know ran it, and that with summer around the corner, there’s lots of talk of running and races, why the heck should I not repeat myself?

Especially on such an important topic.

The Tired Old Way

How do you measure success in endeavors such as running, cycling, cross-country skiing, swimming, or, of course, triathlon (to name just a few of those highly competitive “timed” sports)? Your answer is likely to be along the lines of “very simply: by whether one wins the race or not, duh!”

Indeed, if ever there was an area where measuring success, or performance, seems very straightforward, it is in events that are objectively measured by duration. (This post is therefore not about any of those “sports” where style, form, technique, and other subjective aspects are being scored. They might be very difficult to master, highly demanding, and quite enjoyable things to watch, but I’m not going to talk about them.)

If you’ve ever participated in a race of some sort, I bet you’ve been asked by at least one person (who was not joking about it) whether you won or not. It seems a natural thing to ask about in our society that celebrates victory and watching winners take all. But is that really the only way of evaluating the success of people taking part in such physical activities?

Allow me to have strong doubts about it, and a few minutes to try to convince you. Because, as much as it is commendable to strive hard and win races, being obsessed with winning is not healthy. You only have to observe the number of times people have cheated in order to qualify for Boston, even cheated to win it (or other races), to see that the winning obsession brings out the worst in us. (It is to the point where, either from misplaced pride or jealousy, fellow performance runners become very skeptical of anyone who claims to qualify for Boston. For instance, this recent article from the Runner’s World blog. But that is both very interesting in its own right, and a topic for another post.)

Valid Alternatives

So what else might there be? Here are a few possible answers:

Why not “going past our own limits”? To train hard, sacrifice much time and money to get into better shape, and finally be able to go farther, last longer, and feel better than we did. Surely that is a form of success worth celebrating. That we must celebrate, in fact.

How about being able to cover a certain distance in less time than previously possible? Measuring, in pure objectivity, an improvement in performance, even if said performance is not of a winning races type, that is surely a form of success for an athlete. And if one starts slowly enough, and improves slowly as well, it becomes possible to have success repeatedly over a long period of time…

For amateur athletes in sports like running, there appear to be many yardsticks, entirely arbitrary, that offer good alternatives: A half marathon in under two hours, a marathon in less than 4, etc. They are pretty good objectives to have, precisely because they are entirely… objective. It can provide a better frame for friendly competition, instead of the binary “winning or losing.” As long as one remains reasonable about said objectives, keeping in mind that we are all physiologically a little different.

Especially for marathon runners, to continue in that rich vein, there is of course the long shadow of the Boston Qualifier (BQ). It is like a badge of honor for runners, and as a personal objective it can be highly motivating. But since it is not necessarily a reasonable objective for everyone, it can indeed become a dark and cold place. Many start down that road with good intentions, and reasonable personal goals like those mentioned earlier, but then, at a bad turn, find themselves in the ditch of performance stress. However, if managed carefully, and as long as the goal is not to do better than others, it can be a very good measure of success.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter; to what I think is really the best measure of success of an athlete: Becoming a better human being.

The Best, So to Speak

Consider, for instance, an acquaintance of mine who just recently completed her second Boston Marathon. She trained hard, and long, to get there the first time. She suffered a great deal to reach that goal (and probably caused a bit of suffering to her husband in the process). But as a person, running has brought her tremendous benefits. She has grown, as much in personal health as in her capacity to do good around her.

Moreover, for years now she has used that energy to good ends; by being a mentor and a coach to folks who participate in the Team in Training fundraising program of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Thus, she is also serving a much greater cause, which is to fight against blood cancers (and cancers in general).

When she qualified for Boston the first time, she did not win the marathon she had entered. I know; I was there: I was her personal pace bunny. But that performance required her to go well beyond what she was previously capable of doing, running-wise.

And in doing Boston, she also did not win. But the more she runs, the more she grows, and the more she gives around her.

Success should be measured by being the best. The best human being you can be, that is.

So forget about being fast, about winning at all cost, about “qualifying” as the only worthwhile goal. Let those who seek only those things, and generally think only about their own persons, wallow in their narrow-minded attitudes. (If they have not yet driven you away because of their frustration at not quite having BQed at their latest races.)

The only yardstick that should matter is simple: Does it make you a better person?

Triathlon, Exercise, Everyday

Heck, at times, just “adding to my race bling collection” would appear a good objective. If it keeps you moving…

So move, everyday, by any means you enjoy, and pursue your own objectives. As long as it makes you better, and helps others around you more than it annoys them…

Image credits: Pixabay

I’ll do it tomorrow…

Everyday, Exercise, Psychology, Purpose, Motivation, Training

So much to do, so little time. No wonder some things get pushed to the next day.

We’ve all been there…

I get home after a long day at work, not to mention a breakdown-inducing commute, only to face a list of chores which includes making dinner, cleaning the kitchen, paying a bill, assisting with kids’ homework, bath, story time, etc., and, of course, exercising.

After a short internal debate (very short, because there simply is not much time to debate), I come to the obvious conclusion: “I’m too tired, and there’s too much to do, so I’ll exercise tomorrow instead.”

The details vary, but the scenario is similar, whether it’s you, me, or our neighbours living through such a story. More often than not, the decision is to postpone the workout.

It is not a flaw of character: It is simply human nature. It is a form of procrastination, but it is mostly due to our tendency to view the future more optimistically than we have reason to: Although we feel tired now, we still feel we won’t be as tired next time.

Because, of course, what happens the next day, is pretty much the same story… And so days go by that we don’t exercise.

It gets worse: After a couple of days missed, OK maybe three, the brain switches to thinking: “Well, this week is screwed, so I’ll start fresh next week.” It’s the ultimate version of “I’ll do it tomorrow…”

Skipping one workout because something else comes up, or being sick, or really, really needing the time for something else, can happen. It is no big deal. The problem arises when it is not the exception anymore. The real problem is when exercising becomes the exception, not the regular occurrence. When “I’ll do it tomorrow…” is everyday, instead of exercise being everyday.

Let’s face it, very few of us are able to maintain an exercise regimen day in, day out. It is not easy. Heck, I do a few marathons and one iron distance triathlon each year, and I have a hard time keeping a steady exercise regimen.

But some people are capable of doing it.

Those who do are either exercise nuts who don’t really do anything else (you’ve met some, admit it), or have a very clear purpose for training (like elite athletes, which you also think are nuts, but you respect that kind of nuts), or are extremely motivated (for a while, but it does not last), or… are nearly unnoticeable because they operate on auto-pilot.

That’s right: Auto-pilot.

Making decisions is hard

Exercise, Everyday, Training

Just push the button, and let it go.

Why do I say they are on auto-pilot?

Because many who manage to exercise have understood something critical to maintaining a regimen: Mental energy is often in low supply, so if you rely on making the decision to exercise, more often than not you won’t.

So exercise, for those people, is the default behaviour. There is no question, there is no debate. You might be surprised that you don’t see them all that much because they tend to be quieter than the highly motivated or the exercise nuts. They don’t fuss; they just move.

There are two ways this can be achieved, and there is one very important trick you can use to increase the odds of success.

Auto-pilot mode

The first way is to turn your own, internal, auto-pilot mode to ON. It is not easy, and it takes a bit of time to stick (is it 21 days, or more?).

An auto-pilot mode is like a switch that you must program, a mental shortcut that just gets triggered whenever needed.

When you catch yourself asking the question “do I want to exercise” you must immediately answer “yes, of course” and then just do it. (Not trying to infringe on Nike’s trademark, but those are three really good words to tell yourself.)

The sooner you catch yourself and switch to automatically respond in the affirmative, the easier it is. For instance, if you wait until you’ve already told yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow…”, it is much more difficult to tell yourself “No, I’m doing it today.”

But that’s exactly what you must do.

Everyday. Until it becomes automatic.

A trick that helps a great deal is to put exercise on your daily agenda first thing in the morning. Even if it means having to get up earlier. That way, when evening comes, you’ll actually have more energy, and the chores will still be doable.

Let someone else be your pilot

The second way to have an auto-pilot is to actually let someone else be your pilot. Perhaps only for a while, to get over the hump of starting a good habit and jump-starting your own auto-pilot programming.

How does that work?

Get a coach.

And then do what the coach tells you to do.

As you follow the instructions of the coach, notice how things are simpler. Enjoy the free time from having to make decisions. All the decisions are made for you. All you have to do is, well, “do”.

But pick a good coach, one that understands what you are trying to do, and has your interests at heart. That way he or she will have you do things that make sense, in the right intensity, to get you fitter and healthier.

Getting that sort of help is not a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary: It shows resolve for doing the right thing for your body. A commitment to what is important.

After all, top athletes all have coaches. (Many even have more than one, by the way.)

Isn’t it time you consider yourself also an athlete? Albeit, an everyday athlete?

That time is today. No more “I’ll do it tomorrow…”!

Exercise, Everyday, Athlete, Everyday Athlete

You need to make your habit of exercising an automatic behaviour.

Images from Pixabay

Injuries – A causation guide (of sort)

Injury, Movement, Training, Exercise, Triathlon

Move, move a lot, but make sure you don’t end up injured this year.

To start off the new calendar year, I thought I’d touch lightly on a very serious topic.

So this post will have a very serious component, and a more humorous one. (You’ll have to guess which is which. I’ll make it easy.)

Anyone talking about training, exercise, and racing of any king, has to talk about injuries. I’m a triathlete, and a triathlon coach, so of course I know about the topic, and I cover it with the athletes I coach.

When talking about this topic, we have to first share an understanding that injuries can, and do, occur. That comes with the territory of training. There’s no denying it. (Anyone who does, is selling you something, and most likely lying.)

Indeed, injuries (or pain perceived as injury by a newbie to exercise) is the primary cause for quitting an exercise regimen or training program. It seems a reasonable thing to conclude: If movement is what caused someone to get injured, then stopping to move is the solution. (That seems to be the reasoning of many General Practitioners of the medical profession, to the frustration of many coaches, including me.)

But not moving is, overall, worse for your health than moving.

As a matter of fact, the best way to prevent injuries is to move more, not less, but to do so in a reasonable way. By reasonable I mean by using the correct techniques, and doing only as much as is necessary to stress your body into getting into better shape (once it has sufficiently recovered).

The Main Culprit

Let’s face it, athletes are often their own worst enemy: overuse (over-training) is the primary cause of injury in athletes. And that’s why you should have a coach, and, equally importantly, why you should listen to him or her!

Preventing injuries that can occur through intense training (and over-training) is obviously priority #1 of any coach. And that is achieved through well-balanced programs that include strength training and sufficient rest.

And constant reminders to athletes to take their rest days.

Once injured, the best approach is not to stop all activity, but rather to take some rest (complete rest at first, then some other activities can be recommended by a competent physiotherapist or even by the coach). Interestingly, that’s frequently how people get started into doing triathlon; through having to do other sports than the one in which the injury occurred.

A single-sport approach to training increases the risk of getting hurt, so triathletes have a slight advantage in injury prevention.

However, triathlon also has a bunch of other types of injuries you can fall prey to, so you have to keep them in mind, and be careful. If, in running, injuries typically come to feet, ankles, knees and hips from bad training (bad form, too many impacts, running too fast, too often, too long), in triathlon the same thing can happen, but to more parts of the body (shoulders, back, etc.). So you need to work on more parts of the body to fix an injured triathlete.

And in some cases you also need a mechanic…

The Other Causes

So, to balance this post, here are the main causes of injuries for triathletes, from the least likely to the most common, and tongue a little in cheek:

10) Drowning. Very, very, very unlikely.  Recovery is usually impossible. Near-drowning is another matter and can lead to the encounter of interesting people, but is not recommended as a potential dating strategy due to its risky nature.

9) Getting beaten during the swim (kicks, fists, etc.). It can hurt a lot, and even cause mild injuries, but usually one recovers pretty quickly, and completes the race. The injury can last for a while, from bruises to muscle cramps, and can have some long-term effects (fear of swimming in a crowd, which is just a little less scary than being naked in a crowd).

8) Getting hit by a car when running. Results can be very dire, so be very careful, because recovery can take a long time. Unlikely to happen, but it does.

7) Getting hit by a car when riding. Results can be very dire, so be very careful, because recovery can take a long time. Unlikely to happen, but it does.

6) Missing a turn while riding. Particularly when the road is slippery, but the main cause is usually going too fast on a road that is not well known. So “pilot error” is a factor. Consequences range from scrapes and bruises to broken bones. Recovery (and returning confidence) vary accordingly.

5) Getting hit by a cyclist when running. Hitting a runner or a cyclist while riding. Recovery depends on how fast and how heavy the hit… and any subsequent altercation between the runner and cyclist.

4) Colliding with another swimmer in the pool. Either through carelessness on your part, or because the other swimmer is a nincompoop. Again, recovery depends on how hard the hit and the ensuing argument, but is usually fairly short.

3) Swallowing lots of water while swimming; can lead to serious gastrointestinal (GI) problems, especially if the water is salted or chlorinated. Recovery usually comes shortly after vomiting.

2) Over-training (a.k.a. abusing your own body); doing too much, too fast, too long, in all three sports.  Rest, and a consultation with your coach (or a psychologist) typically helps… We’re talking fasciatis, tendinitis, stress fractures, etc., and things that typically happen to runners’ legs, but in our case can also happen to shoulders (swimming) and the back (cycling). Some cases require extensive leave from the sport, so never underestimate the risk of wanting to do more, or obsessing about racing.

1) Falling on your side, from your bike, while trying to un-clip your shoe at a stop sign or light. You can get bruised (hip and arm) or even break something (wrist, arm, collar bone). But most of the time the damage is limited to the ego, and recovery can be very fast if you just laugh it off. But this is by far the most common cause of injury for a triathlete, so un-clip soon, and often.

As you can see, the main causes are mostly accidents.  You have to remain tuned onto your body, but also and particularly aware of your surroundings at all times, during races and training sessions.

And that’s a lesson that valid all the time. The more mindful you are, the more attuned to your body and surrounding, the safer you will be. And the more healthy you’ll be.

Have a great year of moving a lot!

Fitness, Injury, Triathlon, Movement, Rest

Just because it is still early in 2015. Have a great year of fitness!

Pictures from Pixabay.

What makes a good coach – Part 4 (End)

Coach, coaching, sports, training, exercise

What makes a good coach? Lots, it turns out…

So, what makes a good coach?

If you have read part 1, 2, and 3, on this topic, your patience is about to be rewarded. No more discussions, no more illustrations, no more stories. Just my take on the question.

(But rest assured, there will be more stories later. There are always more stories later.)

Here are the qualities and attributes that make a coach truly good, based on my years of experience on both sides of the question. They are not in order of importance; I consider all of them equally important, but I had to organize the list, somehow. Consider that the earlier attributes in the list are, in some cases, prerequisites for the later ones…

The List

Athletes come first
A good coach puts the interests and health of the athletes before his or her own. So it should no longer be acceptable to put athletes through a meat grinder to extract a few star performers if you end up burning out the vast majority of hopefuls. And the converse is true: It must be acceptable that some athletes want to have a great time doing sports, but not necessarily aim to go to the Olympics.

Knowledge
A good coach is very knowledgeable in the sport(s) being coached, both the overall aspects (rules, tactics, etc.) as well as the techniques that are considered optimal for athletes to use in performing the sport.

Teaching
A good coach is able to teach the sport and its techniques to athletes. This goes beyond demonstrating the correct techniques: It is about being able to understand in what ways the athlete is not succeeding, and finding ways to gradually bring about changes in the athlete’s technique.

Customization
A good coach can adapt to the level of athletes, providing customized instruction and training programs that are suited to their own needs, instead of pushing a standard program onto everyone. You might say this goes hand in hand with teaching, and you would not be wrong; however, some aspects of this can exist where no proper teaching is found.

Planning
A good coach is also able to adapt the training so as to make progression fun and not seem like hard work. Basically, being able to plan individual training sessions so that athletes enjoy them even as they learn, and planning those sessions so that they fit neatly into an overall development plan. Especially for younger athletes or kids beginning in a sport, but I strongly suspect this approach would have significant success with adults who try to maintain a resolution to exercise more.

Role Model
A good coach exemplifies fair play and sportsmanship, and insists on it, no matter what, by being respectful of the rules, those who are in charge of enforcing them, and other athletes involved in the sport. Name calling at referees and treating opponents like enemies are not acceptable, ever.

Constructive
A good coach congratulates and motivates in a constructive way while sparingly using negative feedback. Basically, a good coach should only need to smile to show appreciation, but doesn’t, and frown to show displeasure, and does never more than that.

That’s it

This is a tall order. In some ways, almost impossible to find; at any rate, very demanding of the coach to perform all the time.

I feel that is why many coaches choose to focus on a type of coaching that does not require all of those attributes: By coaching highly committed adults, those I might qualify as passionate to the point of being obsessive about a sport, it is possible to get by with deep knowledge of the sport and techniques, and forget the rest. But that works only as long as the athletes are self-driven, and don’t particularly care about their own long-term health.

The key thing, when you are an adult interested in picking up a sport like running or triathlon (or any other, really), is that you should seek a coach that suits you. I encourage you to use the above list as a reference, but your own needs come first.

If you are a parent, you should look for the listed qualities in your kids’ coaches, and act accordingly. If you are considering coaching kids, your own and/or others, you should really keep the above in mind, and pick-up the knowledge and habits you’ll need. And keep your own emotions, and ambitions, in check.

And if all you are interested in is joining a group to have fun with a cheerleader-coach, then by all means, do so. The important thing is to move more. Yet I encourage you to ask for more, and expect more, of yourself as well as of others…

A few more words

A lot of what I wrote has to do with personality, at least on the surface of it. It is true that some personalities are ill-suited to be coaches, just like some athletes are impossible to coach. But it is not just about personality: It is about a fundamental attitude that coaches need to have.

No matter what their own ambitions and motivations, good coaches act in such a way as to show those qualities. They understand that the needs of the athletes are more important, and that if they do a good job as coaches, the rest will follow: good athletes, good performance, opportunities to coach at a higher level maybe, etc.

Knowledge, it must be noted, can be acquired in many different ways. No need to have a degree in sport physiology, or to have been an elite athlete.

Teaching is by far the least obvious part in the list. It takes skills, and time. And patience. But coaching is too important, because of its potential impact on athletes, to be given any less.

Finally, if you can’t be a good role model, if you don’t show respect to others as a coach, what kind of athletes will you have?

Have I forgotten anything? Let me know what you think…

Picture from Pixabay