Pay close attention to what happens before you reach for that snack. What is it that acts as a trigger? If you’ve eaten a proper lunch it’s probably not so much about hunger. But a deeply ingrained habit.
Is it pouring (or ordering, for you high rollers) a cup of coffee? You mustered all your willpower to have just the coffee, but the action of filling your cup with steaming black magic sets off a cascade of habits to follow.
You can’t fight the urge to dip into the cookie jar. Or that hot cross bun box in the cupboard. Or, if you do fight it, you’ll sap your willpower for the rest of the day.
The best solution is the path of least resistance. Keep the actions the same. But instead of a hot cross bun, choose a healthier alternative. Still have your coffee, still have a snack.
Start by asking yourself “how would this look if it’d be easy?” Any action in the right direction is better than no action.
Or, if you are yet to have a hot cross bun this Easter, just eat the damn thing.
Let’s say we’ve always outsourced cooking. How much in a shit would we be if all the restaurants and food delivery services would have to go into a full lock down? Not just “we still do takeaway”, but “closed for business”.
Or what if our partner who always does the cooking would get sick and couldn’t dish up our favourite potato bake?
Would we have to resort to eating cold pea soup concentrate out of a can? To bite into a raw potato hoping that the holy spirit would cook it with our saliva?
What if we’d never bothered to learn about nutrition because someone else dictated what’s good for us? Sure, their intentions of helping were great. But we got ripped off. We got the service, but not the knowledge.
Let’s say we have never tried to discover our intrinsic motivation for exercise. Instead we’ve always hired trainers to keep us accountable. We never paid attention to what the training program was about because we didn’t have to. We turned up to train and then forgot all about it by the time of our next session.
What would happen if we couldn’t get a trainer? Would we be content at doing it on our own? Would we still show up when no one is holding us accountable and telling us what to do?
Money is nice when we can buy all the help we need. But what if money wouldn’t cut it anymore? If we could no longer by our way out of problems.
As a society, we are so used to outsourcing that we’ve lost some basic skills. Because as long as we can buy them, what’s the point in learning…
Let’s change that. We can still buy a service. And we should trust the experts to guide us. But how much better off would we be if we’d learn in the process? With the goal of eventually becoming self-sufficient.
Anyways. On that cheery note. I am off to learn how to grow vegetables. And to make boots. And to figure out how our 2007 Corolla could go on lukewarm dish water.
Judgemental attitude is unproductive. Whether it’s judging ourselves and our actions, doing the same for other people, or for things and life circumstances in general. Judging our way forward doesn’t take us anywhere worth going.
If anything, judging puts a negative spin on our day-to-day life. It can stop us from taking action. It’s almost like judgemental attitude gives us a ticket to bask in helplessness. To be the victim.
The more productive alternative, not surprisingly, is much harder.
Your diet is not good or bad. It just is. What do you notice about your eating habits? One of my favourites is, “I ate so much shit yesterday.” (Judging). To which I usually go, “Really, there wasn’t anything else available?” That’s an attempt at humour.
A pizza is not bad and a carrot is not good. One might take you closer or further from your goal. But they are still just thoughtless food items without any larger scale political or sociological agendas.
Your body is not good or bad. It just is. What do you see and feel? Not, “I feel like shit.” That’s you judging again. But, when observing your body what do you notice?
Today’s training session wasn’t good or bad. It just was. What did you notice while doing it? And based on that, do you think there’s something you could do differently next time?
Weather is not good or bad. It’s your observations that makes it. What can you appreciate about the torrential rain and thunderstorm?
And last, the most challenging scenario. She didn’t behave badly towards you. You just feel like she did. Why do you think that is?
Next time you find yourself in these situations, I challenge you to observe them without judging.
Sport Specific Strength Training Is Probably Not What You Think It Is
Most athletes think that their sport requires a unique approach to strength training. And fancy marketing tailored for a specific sport often reinforces this.
But once you peel off the layers of fluff you’ll see what is (or should be) in the core of any quality strength training program. Regardless of your sport, the basics of strength training and building overall athleticism apply.
Strength training for all sports is made up of 90-100% of the same stuff. In the gym, train the qualities of being a more athletic, stronger human by training the six movement patters:
Then take the qualities built in the gym and transfer those into your sport in the sport specific skill practice outside of the gym.
If you do kayaking, go paddle. If you run, go run. If you swim, go swimming. If you participate in mosquito killing world championships (happens in Finland every summer), or wife carrying world championships (also happens in Finland*) go practice those.
Often that 10% difference (at most) between different sports is more about undoing what gets overdone in the sport practice:
Runners run in a straight line. Balance it out with lateral and rotational strength work.
Swimmers do a lot of overhead work in their sport practice. Balance it out by limiting overhead in strength training.
And anyone working in an office already leans forward and rounds their back. Limit ab work that rounds the back and do more pulling vs pushing exercises.
Or, the 10% difference can be finding an exercise that feels better for a particular athlete. You might feel better doing a dumbbell bench. Some prefer almost-horizontal landmine press. They both accomplish the same thing: upper body push.
When you become stronger, faster and more resilient you will become a better athlete. Regardless of your sport.
*I guess when you spend 8-9 months of the year in the dark frothing for summer you’ll come up with all kinds of activities to enjoy those long summer days and nights.
Exercise improves the immune system and can help you fight off illnesses. That’s science. But there’s no information yet (as far as I know) whether this is the case with COVID-19.
Common sense would assume so, but we have to be careful on drawing conclusions. Let’s remember that this is a completely new illness with no built-in immunity in the community.
Regardless, staying active can help you fight off other illnesses which might make you more prone to COVID-19.
Perhaps the worst cocktail party I can think of. Having the seasonal flu would reduce your immune system significantly. Which would then get your body to bring out the marching band welcoming committee for COVID-19 to join the party.
And having those two illnesses simultaneously does not sound like a party I want to participate in. Besides, as an introvert I find most parties a drag, anyway.
Exercise is also a powerful stress-killer and anxiety-reducer. Both are something that a lot of folks are dealing with now. I mean, being stuck inside with limited social interactions is not ideal for a human. Even for an introvert.
But now is probably not the time to train like Meatloaf.
A large increase in exercise duration and intensity can have an adverse effect on your immune system. Especially if you’re somewhat new to exercise. So I wouldn’t focus your training efforts into doing intense Crossfit Fran (or any other female name workouts where you do 20 snatches with switched on flamethrowers?) sessions or marathon endurance sessions.
If you feel like certain parts of your body need some extra love (come on now, we all have issues), get improving them during this pandemic.
Now is a great time to work on your technique. Whether it’s in running, squatting, darts or river-dancing leg switch. Often we are too focused on getting a workout while letting the movement quality to go down the shitter.
Get those ankles moving nicely. Improve the hips. Work on your core strength if you have a habit of neglecting it. That old shoulder needing some long overdue attention? Get into it.
You’ll come back feeling stronger and more resilient once you’re able to return to normal patterns of being.
And since being outdoors helps fight stress, anxiety and overall “meh”-ness, get outside as much as possible while adhering to social distancing rules.* During our yesterday’s virtual small group session one client logged his equipment to his back yard. We heard the birds.
In case you start to feel sick, especially with respiratory symptoms, rest. Otherwise you might prolong the illness, or make it worse. From what we’ve seen COVID-19 can start off mild and gradually get worse within the first two weeks.
In the end of this I’ll give you movements to loosen up stiff neck, but let’s start at the root level. Have a proper set up for working from home so you’ll get minimal neck pain in the first place.
By now you likely know what an ergonomic desk set up looks like for us, the greatest of them all hominids (and, I say, the only ones needing to adhere to an ergonomic desk set up), humans.
Here’s how to sit:
Straight spine all the way from your hips to the back of your skull.
Upper arms vertical.
Elbows at 90 degrees.
Hands resting on the keyboard.
Head and eyes looking straight ahead.
If you use a laptop, either prop the screen to eye level and get a separate keyboard. Or, keep the laptop for keyboard use and get a separate monitor (this is what I do).
And here are few things to remember as you’re pounding away the keyboard, stressed out of your mind for the impending deadline:
Don’t make the chicken neck inching your forehead ever closer to the screen.
I suggest sticking a post-it note on the side of your screen saying “don’t be a chicken”.
As in, don’t be this guy:
And we should talk briefly about breathing
It’s common to breath like an un-human when neck deep in focus mode. And guess what. Breathing like an un-human is not that good for you when your goal is to be as much human as possible.
Here’s how to breath like a human:
Focus on inhaling into your ribs, hips and even low back. Not into your neck and shoulders. If your shoulders raise with each inhale you’re on a train bound for neck and shoulder stiffness.
Inhale and exhale through your nose only. Gag your mouth shut if necessary. You can’t get the diaphragm to do it’s work with mouth breathing.
On that earlier post-it note add “breath like a human.”
Adventurous anti-sitting options for the enthusiastic worker
Try half kneeling and kneeling positions. I often alternate between these two to stop my hip flexors, low back and consequently neck, feel like I’ve been cursed by some evil, hip stiffness shaman from Brazil.
Already being an ergonomic being, but still needing some neck love?
Here are few simple movements you can do at the comfort of your home. This combination will help to reduce the neck tension and strengthen your upper back.
Neck, upper back and shoulder rotations (first three in this video) x 2-3 rotation in each direction.
Swimmers in tall kneeling x 2-5 in each direction.
Naked batwings (on the floor or against a wall) x 1 max hold x 2-3
We’ve had to alter the way we live. And it hasn’t happened on this scale since bombers were terrorising cities during World War II. A potentially defining moment in history.
Yet, there could be a silver lining.
We are forced to rethink how we live and work. We are required to innovate new ways to replace our old habits. Some that only exists for no better reason than, “we’ve always done it this way so shut up, Mark”.
Once this is all over, maybe more people could stick to working remotely. To commute less. To have the work come to you. Before 2020 we were stuck in a model that was mostly created for factories needing the workers to turn up and switch on the machines.
In a world where you can video call from Sydney to Helsinki with a click of a button using a device no bigger than a third of a deck of cards, the factory model is painfully dated.
What about the negative effects of our chronic financial stress. If we’d commute less we could live further from the cities. And not cram the trendy inner city suburbs with mortgages bleeding us dry.
The services we now access in our cities would be available to us closer to home. Near where we live and work. But they would be better, more community orientated.
Now it’s mostly bigger chains and corporations* who can afford to pay the city rents and take risks. They can afford to try. But in the future of our spread out suburbs there’d be more customer focused small businesses.
Because the rents would be lower, these services, shops, gyms, cafes and restaurants would better. Warm and personalised, with people who care about the customer, you. That’s because the small business could focus on better service instead of just worrying about the overheads. Or worse, pleasing the shareholders and boardroom.
Because of the reduced commute there would be less pollution. We could take deeper inhales of fresh air instead of stale exhaust pipe fumes. How much better would all of us feel, both physically and mentally?
Less time in the floodlighted office building, and more time at home closer to nature. We could switch our weekly commuting hours for walks and time outdoors. All with the family and friends we care about. Not just a random foul-smelling, bad mannered co-worker with the personality of a diced cucumber, we’re forced share a workplace with.
In the long term, what would be the positive effects on us, and the society as a whole? Not only to our healthcare bills, but to the future of our heating planet.
In the middle of a hardship, it’s possible to see a healthier future we thought impossible.
*I am not in the camp which thinks big businesses are all evil. They employ a lot of people. Some of them do real good for the society. Besides, how good are the chippies (fries) at McDonald’s?
Ankles Are The Window To Your Butt. Why and How To Injury-Proof Ankles for Running, Hiking… and Stuff
If the glutes are the powerhouse of your body, the engine room of your youth, then the ankles are the window to your butt. When the ankles lack mobility, especially in dorsiflexion (the shin moving forward towards the top of the foot), your butt won’t get the signal that more hip extension (the movement that the glutes are meant to do) is needed.
Instead, all of that work that the glutes are meant to do is taken over by your quads and calves. This can lead to issues up the chain in the knee, hip, low back, even shoulder or neck.
As a side note, calf-butts are a tragedy.
It’s not uncommon to see people with huge calves and tiny butts. Not because of some trendy, but doomed, anti-Kardashian Instagram movement. But because the calves in those bodies are doing all the work that should be given to glutes. In simple terms, it means that their butts now live in their calves.
But(t) would make a great side-plot in anything by Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
And even if there is no pain anywhere, you could be wasting time doing all the hip bridges, glute strength and deadlifts in in the world. It wouldn’t help you to run, hike or play sports any better because the hip extension strength is not accessible without an ankle that works.
How much ankle mobility you need depends on the activities you do
Here’s a simple ankle screen you can do right now. We are measuring the ankle of your rear leg.
As a general rule, you want to be able to get your rear knee inline with the ankle of your front leg.
Based on your results in the above ankle screen, we can decide what to do next:
If you lack mobility and feel pinching pain
For a pinching pain in the front of your rear ankle, or even directly in the achilles, see a manual therapist to have the ankle evaluated. Their hands can do things you and I can’t. Instead of foam rolling and whatnot for months on end, a professional can probably clear the ankle within a session. Or at least show you how to proceed to get there quickly.
If you have enough mobility and feel pinch in front of the ankle
This often means that you have the mobility, but lack the strength to control it, resulting in a pinch. Here’s an exercise you can try to strengthen the ankle itself.
If you don’t have enough mobility and feel tension in calf
Follow the principles in the above Ankle Mobility PAILS/RAILS video. Include the long two and one minute holds between bouts of isometric contractions. Do it daily.
And combine it with the steps below. Except #4, which you ideally wouldn’t do until your ankle moves like a champion. But, I know there’s the perfect scenario and the real world.
If you have enough mobility and no pain
So much of your ankle strength comes from the hip. Follow this single leg hip progression to build a stronger butt and therefore a stronger ankle.
Because COVID, use the principles (even the exercises) of Minimalist Strength Training for The Housebound.
Add some calf raises with a slow heel drop. You know this one, but here’s a video.
Include power/plyometric work once you’ve built a base level of strength. Obviously there’s no gym access right now for nobody, so perhaps jump on some steps at an appropriate level. Or I don’t know, that sounds kind of dangerous. Either way, use something sturdy that allows for a proper landing.
Start with box jumps x5-6 reps x 1-3 sets
Progress to 1-leg box jumps x5-6 reps x 1-3 sets
And eventually, lateral/medial box jumps x5-6 reps x 1-3 sets
Now, go do it. And then come back. And eat some muesli while admiring your newly discovered brilliance of ankles. How good are they?
Stronger Butt to Reduce Knee and Ankle Ache in Running, Hiking… and Stuff
A stronger (dare I say ‘perkier’) butt leads to a better quality of life. It sounds dramatic, but it’s true. The glutes are the muscle of youth. They are the powerhouse of your body propelling you forward in the world during these uncertain times. If your butt would be a person, it would be a train.
Strengthening the glutes can alleviate back tension, knee problems, and even ankle issues. Sure, it’s not always that straight forward. But you can often see huge improvements in how the body feels and performs by honing in on the butt.
Here’s a progression to make you butt-abled. Start with the 1/2 kneel lift and work your way to 1-leg deadlift. Once you have progressed from one exercise to the next (without butchering the technique) you don’t have to keep coming back to the earlier ones. Unless you feel like your butt needs some reassuring.
I’ve added notes to make these exercises home-friendly, where necessary. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a cable column stacked in a lounge-room corner.
1/2 kneel lift x 8-12 reps x 2-3 sets
Golfer x 3-5 reps x 2-3 sets
1-leg hinge reverse reach x 8-12 reps x 2-3 sets
1-leg hinge swing x 12-15 reps x 2-3 sets
1-leg deadlift x 8-12 reps x 2-3 sets
You don’t have to do all these in a single workout. Well, you can. But you could also keep doing your usual training and plug an appropriate progression to where you would normally do a hip dominant single leg exercise.
Training goals are typically set in three to six-month intervals. With my clients most goals fall into three somewhat fluid categories: return to activity after an injury (could be a sport, could be gardening), train for a specific sporting event (not always a competition either, but to participate), or look good for Barcelona*.
All great goals for the short-term focus they bring to training. But we can do even better.
What if you’d have an additional long-term goal that makes you feel warm, fuzzy, weepy and all the other overly positive skirmish adjectives one can think of?
Think not in years, but in decades. Lifelong, if you will. An aspiration that can feel slightly out of reach, but provides a framework to guide all your future short-term goals.
To be clear, you will still set three to six-month goals, as hardcore as you might want**. But achieving these goals shouldn’t take anything away from your life-long aspiration.
To give you an example, when I’m 85 years old I want to go for long walks in the nature, carry bags of groceries up the stairs without hips exploding, and throw frisbee and semi-kick football with my possible grandkids. Every short-term goal I set has to fit in within the framework of my long-term vision.
If any three to six month training goal between now and 2069 will make me less likely to move and exists like that 85 year old white haired rioter, the short-term goal is not for me. I have to either scrap it altogether, or adjust the approach so it still supports the future me.
Now, what are you really training for?
*This is not some poor attempt at corona virus related joke. What’s going on in Spain is horrific. Rather, Barcelona really was one client’s goal last year. And he nailed it. **Although, if you’re like me or most of my clients, hardcore is probably not your jam.
Blog idea from Dan John’s long, heartfelt goal on dancing at his granddaughter’s wedding.