Last Time You Got Better?

When is the last time you got better? Most likely it wasn’t by accident.


All too often people think just because they’ve been doing something for a long time, it automatically makes them good at it. Child Please. As Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”


The best way to get better at a sport is to play the sport to implement deliberate and focused practice of the sport. This holds true for anything that you want to become better at in life. Just doing it won’t make you better.


If your conditioning for the sport is just playing the sport you’re asking for overuse injuries. There are ways to help condition yourself for a sport that will help your body become more in balance, more resilient and create less wear and tear on your body. Yes, part of conditioning for your sport should be playing the sport itself, however, if you lack development in certain areas, then focusing on improving those not as strong strengths will really help your performance.


“I can’t do blank anymore.”


Forget about what you used to be/used to do and focus on what you can be now/can do now and how you can get there. So many people watch their performance drop off and choose to just chalk it up as aging, not the fact that they haven’t stretched in decades or tried to increase their strength since they were teens or do anything differently.


Skill development is how you get better, combined with improving your conditioning and strength.  If you aren’t working to get better, you are probably getting worse.


Playing a sport over and over and never having someone mention your faults or address your shortcomings or cue you to do something better is not how anyone gets better at a sport.


If it was as simple as running around playing your sport and you would get better, why isn’t everyone Andre Agassi?


Movement x Strength = Key To A Healthy Life

The answer to many questions in relation to improving your health is to improve your movement quality and strength. It is fascinating to me the number of people who do not see the importance in strength work. I understand that for the longest time strength training was only seen as something meant for those who wanted to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was thought that if you lifted weights you would become big and bulky. This perception still lives on today, where people fear that if they lift weights they will become slow or bulky, and their performance will go down. Or they simply believe that strength training won’t benefit them because they are already strong. If you can already bang out 10 pull-ups, a bodyweight deadlift, and over 20 pushups then maybe you are right that you do not need to get stronger if you are not an athlete. Doubtful, but maybe. Even the strongest people I know can benefit from becoming stronger even if it is just mentally. Strength is for all, and it is for all to cultivate always.


I want to start by debunking the myth that if you strength train you will turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is not true. If you lift like Arnold then maybe. Arnold spent hours on top of hours in the gym, training for the purpose of becoming huge and he successfully did that. However, what he was doing was not strength training, though he did become strong in the process. He was bodybuilding. BODY BUILDING. Not STRENGTH TRAINING. True strength training consists of low reps per set and plenty of recovery time in between sets. It is meant to make you stronger, not tired, not weaker, not bulky. In fact, here is a list of some of the benefits that you can expect from proper strength training:

In every sport, power is a key component. Whether you are playing tennis, golf, football, baseball, or running. The ability to have a high power output can help your non-maximal efforts seem even easier, aka improve your endurance. Let's say you have to move 100 lbs. Do you think it is better for you to only have the ability to move 100 lbs one time or have the ability to move 100lbs 10 times? Strength helps to make any task feel easier. If the rate of perceived effort is lower for the same amount of work, guess what? Your endurance goes up. This is why strength is so important. The formula for power is p=force x velocity. In layman's terms, to improve your power you can either apply more force to an object or move it faster. In other words, to improve your power, becoming stronger is a good idea.


Now that you are convinced that you need some strength training in your life, do not forget the first part of that equation. Movement quality. You must move well inside and outside the gym in order to increase the likelihood of living this life pain-free. For many of us not only do we need to become stronger, but we need to move better. Life behind a desk, in a car, on a couch, biking, running, jumping, swinging has been quite damaging to many of our bodies. None of these activities are inherently bad. This is not what I am saying at all. Please enjoy the activities you like to do. However, also do the things that will ensure that you can continue to do them into old age. Even if you enjoy the couch, there are a few movements that I find highly beneficial to learn and to do but only if you wish to have healthy hips, spine and shoulders as you get older which are the main areas that will ensure you are able to be active in your later days.


The most important move one can learn how to properly perform is the hip hinge. I have mentioned the hip hinge many times before such as in my fitness tips article which you can find here. The hip hinge is THE athletic stance. Every single sport utilizes the hip hinge in some way shape or form. Not only is it useful for athletic development but it is pivotal in preventing back issues and rehabbing back issues. Often times, if we can clean up how someone moves in everyday life, we can decrease the amount of time that they experience back pain. The move that saves people’s back the most is the hinge. It teaches people how to properly pick things up off of the floor without using their backs as the prime mover. In other words, it utilizes the hamstrings, glutes, core as the main lifters and allows the spine to not do the heavy lifting. I like to start off with this drill utilizing a PVC pipe. When done correctly, you should not feel your low back working.


The next move combo that is great for teaching the body how to be strong and move well is the quadruped rock and head nods. These two moves are resets. Meaning there purpose is to restore the bodies natural reflexive strength. They operate utilizing the vestibular system, which is responsible for spatial awareness and balance, as well as utilizing proprioception which also helps spatial awareness but through a different mechanism. If your proprioception is off it can be very difficult to move optimally and pain-free. Improving your body awareness can only help and these seemingly simple moves go a long way towards improving your body awareness. Outside of these benefits, these two moves also help the spine to return to its natural shape and function in a passive but effective manner. The list of these movements benefits goes on and on like Erykah Badu. To simplify it, they make you feel good, give them a try. Thank me later.


Another move that, when done correctly, can really help you feel strong and healthy as the days go on. Emphasis on when done correctly. This move next to the deadlift might be the most often seen movement done in a very less than optimal manner. It is supposed to be an anti-extension exercise. Meaning you are supposed to create a neutral(straight) spine and fight the urge to hold the position by arching your back. When the plank is done right, it is an incredibly useful core exercise that helps to teach you how to brace your core and protect your spine. It also teaches you what a proper lockout position looks and feels like. Same as with the hip hinge, I often utilize the PVC pipe to help teach people what their position should look like. When done correctly, you should not feel your low back working.


If you think strength training isn’t for you, you should seriously reconsider.


Bonus: Many of us do not stretch, or those of us who do stretch have no goal other than becoming Gumby. I think mobility is extremely important if you want to be strong and healthy as the clock ticks. Two places that I think most people can improve their mobility are their hips and their thoracic spine (mid/upper back). It’s no secret that we live in a sitting culture which often tightens up our mid and upper backs as well as our hip flexors. Also, we love cardio, usually utilizing a bike or running, two activities which can also tighten up already tight hip flexors. Losing the ability to extend a joint usually leads to some sort of pain/injury down the road. Losing the ability to extend your legs usually leads to pain in your hips or your low back, no one wants that. Having a spine that loses its natural s curve puts a lot of strains on the vertebrae which can create some discomfort in your back, neck, hips or even knees. Each human is built different so don’t expect your posture to have to be the same as the next person, however, most of us can work to release some of the tension we have in our bodies due to the posture we are frequently in. The moves I love to do to help unwind are the infamous Bretzel series. These “stretches” do an unbelievable job of finding tension and releasing it. Leaving you with the ability to take more full breaths and have a more humanly posture.


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CURB YOUR NEGATIVE MINDSET

Negative mindset, curb dat ish. Don’t be comfortable being miserable. We create our own misery. I struggled forever getting into a pouty baby mood at the snap of a finger and just dwelling there. Sometimes refusing to even try to find my way out.


The year was 2015. I hadn’t curbed Irritabledenz (my hungry alter ego) yet. Misery was always nearby. I used to think it was inevitable, no way of preventing my massive mood swings. One minute I was happy, the next minute I was a sourpuss. It was not until I realized how much it was affecting my relationship that made me have to figure out how to find a solution for it. This was not limited to being hungry, often it was control related. A change in plans, a question, traffic and a plethora of other “irritants” would easily ruffle my feathers.


This habit was not an easy one to curb and I definitely wouldn’t say I no longer have spouts of being a brat. I will give myself credit and say that I am by and large a much more positive person than I was in the past. The goal is not perfect or bust, it is to work towards being better than you were yesterday. Since we know life operates in waves, this means there will be days that you knock this out the park and others where you hit a pop fly.


I knew I needed to change. I wanted to change. I was determined to change this habit which led me on a path searching for answers. Why was I fine with wearing grey like a rain cloud? Why would I have hunger like I was a bear fresh out of hibernation?


This journey led me all over the place, from physiology to spirituality, to psychology. It left no stone unturned. There were many suggestions that I came across to help change this habit, from cultivating happiness to giving back, to therapy, to meditation and many others. I didn’t try every solution, however, I did try a lot of them. Some worked, others did not. Generally, I like small doses, the biggest bang for your buck solutions. I do not want to spend 100 hours doing something that can take 5, give me the 5-hour solution. Everything starts from the root, if you choose to clip the branches instead of just tearing the thing from the ground, time is going to be wasted. I went in search of the roots, what was the root cause.


HIIT TRAINING COMES AT A HIGH BIOLOGICAL COST


I knew Irritabledenz needed to be the first thing to go. That grouchy MF was a tyrant, and he needed to go extinct with his brethren. Why does one often have the physiological response of wanting to jump onto a cow's back and take a bite? Low blood sugar could be the culprit. Out of whack hormones possibly. What was causing these huge fluctuations in my perceived blood sugar levels? High-intensity interval training. Yeah, that’s right, HIIT. Everyone's favorite. It had to go. I was overextending myself habitually working up an appetite like no other. Then eating a ton of carbs or restricting my carbs like crazy, both led to the same outcome. Me crashing and wanting to tear heads. It was even worse if I did not immediately eat after “working out”. This was an easy fix. Stop going balls to the wall every time it was time to train. Actually follow a strength program. The results I was looking for still came but at a much lower biological cost. This, however, was only part of the solution.



“YOUR HUNGER IS NOT AN EMERGENCY”


I heard Lauren Perrault talk about this next solution on Sarah Polacco's Purposeful Strength Podcast. Cutting HIIT from my weekly/daily training went a long way in keeping Irritabledenz at bay. However, he laid dormant waiting for the right opportunity to rear his ugly head again. For this, I needed a solution for any time he tried to show up, how I could keep him away. During the Purposeful Strength Podcast, Lauren said she says this, your hunger is not an emergency, anytime she feels herself getting irritable. This simple mantra was a complete perspective changer for me. That mantra was packed with informative data for myself. I knew I was going to eat again in the future, why was I acting like if I did not eat right then and there I was going to starve. Why did I act as if everything else in the world needed to stop in order for me to eat? I realized quickly at that moment how much of a schmuck I had been. This was a significant piece of the puzzle.


JOT DOWN YOUR DAILY PEAK


Fixing my issues around eating was only part of the solution to fixing my mood swings. I knew at the time that I really had nothing to be pouty about. I had lived a relatively privileged life, pretty much trauma-free, which meant that I was creating my own misery out of thin air. My best magic trick. I can’t remember where I found the solution to this problem if it was Oprah, Tony Robbins or someone else with great advice. However, the solution was extremely simple, yet ultra effective. Since I would easily spiral into negativity and put myself in a crap mood and feel like I had a “bad” day, this solution was great for me. The solution was to write down the peak of the day at the end of the day. This forced you to have to recall your day and find some positives. You would do this every day for a month. Then you could go back and read the past 30 days which obviously would all be positive notes. You wouldn’t even remember any of the negatives, just the positives. This practice helped me understand how minuscule the negative situations were. They were not worth being upset over or wasting any time thinking about.


MEDITATION


The last piece to the puzzle that has had an equally large impact and continues to have an impact is guided meditation through the Headspace app. The level of awareness this has created, I am unable to fully put into words. Being able to see myself clearly in each moment, knowing when I am slipping into a funk is something I used to be unaware of before. I did not know any of the signs, I could not spot them out, which meant I could not prevent the pouts from happening. Meditation has helped me become far more in tune with my emotions, with my body, with my breath. This has all benefited the control of my mood. It helps me understand that I have the power to change whatever mood I am in. If I sit in it, I’ll stay in it, if I work to get out of it then I will head in the right direction.


Changing your mindset is work. It has to be work. The saying you have to do what you’ve never done if you want to get what you’ve never gotten is factual. You have to actively seek change out and have a plan of action. Hope is not going to get you there, yet belief and action will. If you constantly find yourself spiraling down a negative hole, watch your language, watch the language of those around you, if you are a Negative Ned or are around a Negative Ned, steer the conversation into positivity or choose to not engage. Negative mindset usually leads to negative health since physical and mental health are interconnected. Be better than you were yesterday, don’t be a Negative Ned/Nancy.


Taketh Back Your Powa

In order to accomplish all that we want in life, we must ask questions. Ask a lot of questions, ask better questions. Often times, we give away our power, we write off what we want and say we weren’t meant to have it. “So and so is naturally gifted that’s why they can do whatever it is that they do. So and so was born with a silver spoon in their mouth, I had to work for everything, life is so unfair.” We need to quit looking for excuses and instead start looking for solutions.


If we want to retake control of our lives, take back the power that we gave away, and harness that power to write our own journey then we need to start focusing on what we can control and take a deeper look at our own story. WE ARE ALL PRIVILEGED. PRIVILEGE IS NOT A BAD WORD. However, we all need to know how we are privileged and understand what that privilege entails. It is important to understand your own privilege that way you can stop looking at life like it is unfair. Since you have your own story that no one else knows, it is safe to assume the same of others. As the old saying goes, everyone is going through something you know nothing about. Instead of feeling lonely in your journey, know that your neighbor can likely relate to you. Understanding ourselves and our own behaviors can go a long way towards empathy and compassion. Applying this outward will help you apply it inward.


Looking for mediocrity in others who you think are doing something better than you can only be described as being a hater. We are all guilty of it. For many, it is a coping mechanism to not feel bad about ourselves. Instead of trying to find what we do better than that person, admire their skill and acknowledge the fact that no one is perfect. Most people do not fit into whatever mold or bucket you have them placed in. We are all vastly different and intricate. Traits you wouldn’t think could go together, can. A person who doesn’t care about what they wear can have a pristine home. A person who doesn’t like dogs can still be a good person just the same as a person who likes dogs can be untrustworthy. Noticing how much we judge and make quick decisions of people can help us to better understand ourselves, allow us to start rewriting that narrative and watch our lives start to shape a little differently. We have the power to see the good in everyone and not view their actions as inherently bad. This can then allow us to not beat ourselves up over any misstep.


Instead of immediately giving our power away by saying someone else is where they are because of X, start asking questions. How did they get to where they are? What are their habits? Am I being as consistent as I could be? The more questions you ask and the better questions you ask yourself coupled with answering the questions honestly should help you realize why you are where you are. It’s important to remember that you are still a good person. A “bad” choice does not make you a bad person. Failing at something does not make you a failure. Be kind to yourself no matter what the findings are.


The two places I tend to see people give their power away the most is in relation to their health and their career. They’ll say so and so is so lucky they are naturally lean, or strong, or bigger, or good at math or speaking. These things may be true however the purpose for most of us to say things like this is to give our power away, to make excuse as to why we are not like that. This does a great disservice to ourselves. Like I mentioned before, we all have unseen stories. You would not like it if something you obtained through hard work was written off as coming easy to you. Even if something did come easy to someone else, what good is that doing you to say that and focus on that, as opposed to focusing on what you can control?


Most of the answers to your questions will be some sort of variation of consistency. You cannot be considered consistent from one blip of time. Consistency is patterned behavior over a long duration of time. Ask yourself what behaviors can I be more consistent with that will yield the results I am looking for. No longer do we look for excuses, just solutions. Regain your power and realize its strength. With this, more and more will appear possible.


Adaptable

2018 is in the past. However, experiences from 2018 will be with you for life. It is up to you to learn from the experiences and let them help you become a better version of yourself. No matter if the experiences are good or bad it is ultimately up to you to decide how you want to respond and how much power you are going to give away. I am a firm believer that we can gain our power back by facing whatever we gave our power away to. Some moments are so strong, so powerful that they strip you of some of your power. As long as you are still here then you have the ability to regain that power once again but it will take facing that moment head on and truly seeing it for what it is.

For me, 2018 was the most life experiencing year. I dealt with a lot of change, some I chose, some I had no control over. From traveling to a part of the world I had never seen before, to losing my father, to so many friends getting married and having kids, to moving across the country and starting a new business. There were many ups and downs. Having to find myself through the grief and change was one of the biggest challenges I had ever faced. I give past years experiences a ton of credit for helping me persevere through the hard times and finally finding myself again.

At the beginning of a new year, I always find it useful to create a list of experiences that you want to have or behaviors that you want to continue to cultivate. Over the years some of the behaviors I wanted to cultivate were meditating, moving frequently, becoming more empathetic and understanding, becoming less negative, reading more, trying new ways to move and so on. For each behavior or experience, I would do some research and try to find stories from people who have already done what I wanted to do. I am thankful for the time I had committed to cultivating each behavior and really give it credit for helping me survive a year full of so many mixed emotions.

One of the more recent and useful behaviors that I have cultivated is meditation. I had discovered meditation when I was reading about Alzheimer's and stress. Before I had built this practice I viewed it as some hippy-dippy ish and thought it was all about pacifying your aggression. However, once I read up on its effect on stress management and mental health I started to become more and more curious. What I have found since starting to meditate a little over 2 years ago is that I am able to notice my mental state much sooner than I was before. I am able to bring awareness to any negative thoughts that are going on better than I could before. I am not perfect and I still have moments of lethargy or anger, however, they are far less frequent than at any other point in my life. During “arguments” I am able to hear the other side better and keep myself from allowing my emotions to take over my mouth ( also known as amygdala hijack = emotions take over your brain. From the book Incognito). During this heightened emotional climate that we are in, I have found that having this skill is extremely useful and highly recommend developing this ability. Using the app headspace is an amazing place to start. When I started to build the habit, I began with very short bouts of meditation, only one minute at a time until I was doing 4-5 days per week consistently. Everyone has a minute a day to spare and if you think you don’t then you are the person who needs this the most.

Another habit I am hella thankful to have cultivated is strength training. Developing strength in a systematic manner has been incredible for many reasons. The ability to know how to goal set and break your goal into smaller chunks and habits is a useful skill no matter what you do in life. Also, it teaches you patience. Knowing that you can’t rush things and some things you cannot change. You can change yourself but you cannot change outside things to a certain degree. If you want to lift 500 lbs you can’t change the 500 lbs your only choice is to change yourself, become stronger. If you want a person to stop doing an annoying behavior, you may be able to get them to change however, you’d be better served to “simply” change yourself to not become triggered by their behavior. I am a believer in human optimization, becoming the best version of yourself, and I view strength training as a very important part of the equation. Meditation helps you own your mind and your body and strength training helps to reinforce the strength of both.

There are many inevitables that we have to deal with in life. Your ability to adapt and change is crucial for how you are able to deal with any moment that presents yourself. If you are someone who loves comfort, traditions, and wishes everything would just stay the same, I challenge you to seek out some new, seek out some discomfort, seek out creating new habits because you will want to know that you are able to change. You will want to know that you are strong and have been strong before when times get hard. Everything can’t stay the same, it’s a reality of the world. Becoming adaptable has been the most important trait throughout all of any living organisms’ history and if you wish to thrive for life, then start to hone the skill now.