Peanut butter.

In coaching and in achieving change, self-awareness is a key skill that requires constant honing and practice. Wikipedia defines self-awareness as

“the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.”

The capacity for introspection is the most important aspect for creating positive change. This is because the ability to know yourself, to know your idiosyncrasies and to know how you cope with situations enables conscious ‘pattern interruption’ to make better decisions for long-term health, or to respond to fear courageously, or to just say ’no.’

I’d add that this separateness enables recognising oneself as capable of changing the environment as well as changing yourself.

For example, I know that I really struggle with self-control on evenings when I get home from work at 8:30 or later. At these times, I’ve found myself eating half a jar of peanut butter, finishing a block of chocolate and eating tomorrow’s prepared meals. Obviously, this isn’t great!

Acknowledging it for what it is let me change the behaviour for the better. So first, the next time I went to the fridge door, I paused and reminded myself that I am a healthy person, and really, healthy people do not do this.

Naturally, this only half worked.

Maybe I had a tablespoon (or three) of peanut butter rather than half a jar. It’s a step in the right direction.

Now it was strategy time. I realised that this behaviour was often me misinterpreting dehydration as hunger and then wanting to reward myself after a long day at work. Then the inconvenience of cooking a proper meal was too big at that time.

Ah ha the insight!

So I began preparing a small meal I could have before leaving work such that I wasn’t grumpy, hungry or irritable. I ensured that good hydration habits were maintained all the way into evening sessions, and I placed a handful of dark chocolate bars in the fridge at home.

Hydrated, fed, happy, rewarded. It’s simple.

It would have been too easy for the days to roll into months, and the months to roll into years, where I continued to wolf down random collections of food every night before bed. Now though, I have taken control of the habit and made it work for me.

On the whole, it seems to me that this is the main reframe we need with our lives. Habits are habits, they will always be a part of us and how we live. Then they can help us or hinder us. Habits can also be reactionary or proactive – that is, we candesignour habits to improve our lives or our habits can rule us to despair and dis-ease.

 

Slow Down to Speed Up Fat Loss

Working at Fitness First I see all sorts of training mistakes and less than optimal strategies to improving health, body composition and functionality.

Endurance athletes have known something for decades that ought to be a central idea in health and fitness. Mark Sisson (former pro-triathlete and mastermind behind the Primal Health movement) talks about the almost universal modern situation of being excellent an sugar-burner yet poor fat-burner. How to test this? There are two obvious ways.. First, how long can you go without eating? Second, do cravings and severe hunger rule the day?

The majority of gyms and trainers are amazing at building a hype around feeling the burn and getting a sweat on to ‘balance’ being sat at a desk all day. When work stress is prevalent, layering that with stressful exercise is not the fastest way to achieve results – unless the desired result is falling ill, getting injured or wasting time.

Think of fat-burning ability as the base of your pyramid. The wider, the base, the greater the return from high intensity training. Training at a lower intensity improves the machinery underlying accessing our own fat storage, in place of relying on external sources of carbohydrates. Think about our ancestors – we would often have been forced to exert ourselves in pursuit of prey, without access to quick sugars or a proper meal. We need to set our nutrition, training and lifestyle up to improve our fat-use to be fit, healthy and live a long time. Improving fat use as fuel is linked to nutrition strategy, but also how movement is approached.

Endurance athletes talk about heart-rate zones to no end. Using the “180 – age” rule of thumb tells us where we want to be spending most of our training time (maybe 80%) to get better at utilising fat as fuel during movement and also at rest.

Using myself as an example, I’d look at 180 – 23 = 157 bpm. What’s my protocol?

I’d structure my movement so that approximately 80% of it is spent at this easy, but not nothing, heart-rate. For example, jump on the treadmill with a heart-rate monitor and adjust the incline until I’m cruising around 154-157 bpm. Start small, say 30 minutes, and over time increase the time to 90 minutes and increase the incline to improve the efficiency of our aerobic energy system.

The standard I like to see is 45 minutes focused walking at 12% on a treadmill – without being completely puffed out. Then if it suits, progress to jogging, running, cycling, whatever.

Luke Leaman of Muscle Nerds describes a protocol including this as a ‘least mode’ plan – slowing down and becoming a fat-burning machine in order to push the functioning of higher-intensity zones to new levels.

Yes, to achieve greater results in Beast Mode, get a whole lot better in Least Mode.

Burn fats, work the aerobic system, get stronger and get faster.

Dream Big. No, Bigger.

On a journey with no well-defined destination, any path is correct.

WrightMolyneux-ChartoftheWorld-c1599-large.jpg

To move forward to a desirable future requires defining exactly what it is we are working towards. The most common goal I help people accomplish is to get fit and/or to lose weight. Both of these are unclear and fail to provide instruction.

How do we know when we are successful?

How do I know when I am fit?

Is it the number on the scales really what matters?

Let’s take getting fit. Each of us has a different mental image of fitness. It might be Kayla  Itsines, Ben Greenfield or maybe doing what we did a decade ago. Fitness has come to include how we look, how we feel, what we can do and even our health overall.

I have found that whatever resonates and jumps out as significant for each of us is a sign of something that we can work towards. Maybe it’s getting the 1:30 half marathon, or dropping that 10kg, or moving painfree. As a gateway to self-understanding, the process of sacrifice and improvement to attain that goal is critical in developing excellence in fitness.

Working with runners in this regard is simple. They have concrete metrics that can be used to track progress and the micro-goals add up over the months to amazing transformations. Tracking and following numbers is one part of getting to the final destination, because the course to success in non-linear and requires individualised experimentation and adjustment.

John Lee Doumas (of Entrepreneur on Fire) talks about FOCUS as standing for…

Follow

On

Course

Until

Success

That’s what it’s all about, really. Goals do not work unless we do, so first and foremost, defining where I want to be in 12 months gives me feedback of how I am progressing month-to-month and week-to-week.

A resolution for myself this year is to be more real with myself, and looking at the metrics for what they are – being on track is great, being off track requires adjustment.

Trust the process and the results will come.

 

Why 99% of Running Core Training isn’t Relevant

A quick Google search for running training plans often distils down to a) slowly increasing volume, speed, intensity, depending on the goal and b) using gym sessions to build up core strength and ‘single-leg strength’ work.

Now part a) has its place in any endurance program and of course to get better at running speed-endurance, we had better run.

Typically, our gym work is physio-like movements that micro-target individual aspects of the running movement. Single leg deadlifts, 1-8th range single leg squats, push ups (?), planks (?), hyperextensions… the list is endless.

Advice centres on the idea that muscular strength in ‘sport-specific’ movements transfers over and improves our performance. Alternatively, large compound movements building full body strength, and prepare our muscles for the volume in running. Build strong legs, a strong back and a strong core and you’re a strong runner! Right? Wrong.

Why are large compounds better for body transformation than running? Large lifts target our musculoskeletal system, with massive metabolic effects, whereas running (and so the fundamental of human movement) is fascial and cardiovascular.

When we run, we utilise networks of fascia to propel us forward. Fascia is like a webbed network across our body, it encompasses our muscle groups, and gives that ‘whipping’ effect whenever we throw, run or jump. Think about the difference in feeling between a really good throw and smashing your chest with bench press. Our throw feels all encompassing (think about a baseball pitch), whereas a chest press is isolating.

Even if we don’t know about it, the SAID principle applies. This ‘Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands’ basically says that we get better at what we do more of. I’d like to point out, this adaptation includes our muscular system, our cardiovascular system AND our biomechanics as a whole.

An aside.

Picture the biomechanics of a horse. I hope you imagined something like this.

Now do the same thing for us, what are the biomechanics of the human body?

If you got something like this, we are on the same page. If you got this or this, I’ll ask you to reconsider our horse.

Now to core training… most fitness professionals (from my small perspective) agree that sit-ups are largely redundant for optimal posture and performance because they encourage slouching, which most of us are pretty good at anyway! That is, the problem is that it is ‘training’ us to be in a poor position. (This is additional to the mismatch with the actual function of the rectus abdominus as a dynamic stabiliser.)

Let’s talk about planks. Question is this position what I want to get better at? 9 times out of 10, runners have tight hip flexors, kypho-lordosis and associated shoulder-chest rounded problems. Get in a typical plank with all this going on, and what’s getting encouraged?

You got it. Tighter hips. A slack lumbar. Rounded shoulders.

Not ideal.

Running is a challenge in hip extension (kicking our leg down, from bent to straight). From sitting, stressing and other lifestyle problems, 99% of us have dysfunctional core-hip relationships and our glutes cannot properly facilitate running.

If your plank is practicing pelvic tilt, pelvic shift, kypho-lordosis and rounded shoulders, it might not be improving your core in any helpful way.

So what’s the alternative?

Take a look back at Usain (who, by the way, does not have perfect biomechanics, but obviously he’s doing something right!). Notice that at no point in his movement does his body look like a plank, Russian twist, dragonflag or anything else. Likewise, I’m hard-pressed to see a hip-hinge pattern, a squat, a push up or anything like that.

If being an efficient runner is our goal, the SAID principle tells us what to do, impose demands on our body that parallel the movements we are aiming to enhance!