Over the years of being a trainer, I have noticed a marked difference between people who achieve the results they want and the ones who have a much harder time. Much of it has to do with how people eat and sleep on top of how they train.
Today I am bringing up the subject of sleep because I heard a motivational speaker say that you should sacrifice sleep in order to get the things you want. As a health professional, I do not agree with this statement due to the evidence I have collected over the years. You can sacrifice mindless television watching, video games, negative thinking and junk food, but one thing you should not sacrifice is sleep. A large number of studies have linked lack of sleep with obesity.
Proof of How Lack of Sleep Can Make you Fat
According to a study from the University of Chicago, people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to indulge in candy, cake and other sweets than they are in eating fruits and whole grains. Another study that appeared in “The Annals of internal Medicine” measured hormonal levels in people who do not get enough sleep with those who do. They found that sleep deprivation decreases levels of leptin, a hormone that tells you that you are full. It increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry and makes you crave sweets. Additional studies followed how many snacks people who aren’t getting enough sleep eat. The conclusion was that people who are sleep deprived are twice as likely to eat unhealthy snacks.
Lack of sleep also causes stress, releasing the hormone cortisol which also causes us to crave high-fat foods. Cortisol also triggers survival mechanisms in the body that causes us to store fat in our abdominal area.
For more information on how stress leads to belly fat, check out this post: http://heroestraining.com/?p=417
A study from Case Western University tracked the weight fluctuations and sleep habits of 680,138 women for sixteen years. They found that the women who slept five hours or less per night were more likely to become obese and the women who only got six hours of sleep a night were more likely to be overweight than women who got seven hours of sleep.
Researchers from the University of Warrick, England followed thousands of children and adults and found that sleep deprivation almost doubles the risk of obesity for adults and children. Another study from Stanford University found that people who sleep less have higher BMI (Body Mass Index) levels. In conclusion, there are a huge number of studies that show that lack of sleep can make you fat.
What is just as remarkable is a study conducted by Glamour Magazine to see if sleeping more will help you lose weight. They enlisted seven female readers and asked them to sleep at least seven and a half hours each night for ten weeks. They were not allowed to change their dietary habits for those ten weeks. All of these women lost weight.
It is very difficult to train clients who are sleep deprived. They have absolutely no energy. I usually train them as a lesson and tell them that they need to get more sleep if they want to get results. When they experience how poorly they perform and how much they struggle, they realize how important sleep really is.
Sleep is Nature’s Steroid
Some recent studies are being done on HGH (human growth hormone) and how this helps people recover, stay young and gain muscle. When we sleep, human growth hormone is released. This is when injuries are healed, when children grow, when cells in the body are restored and when muscles are repaired to gain strength. If athletic performance or strength gains are your goal, then sleep should be on the top of your priority list. Sleep has also been called “nature’s steroid” by many health professionals for this reason. Before you start your intake of experimental HGH, see if you’re getting enough sleep first.
Sleep Increases Athletic Performance
Mah, Mah and Dement studied college swimmers. They tested their athletic performance for two weeks during their usual sleep-wake cycles. Then they tested them after they extended their sleep to 10 hours a day for 6-7 weeks. The results showed that the swimmers swam the 15-meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds sooner off the start blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds and increased kick strokes by 5 kicks.
They also did a study on 11 male college basketball players. After extending their sleep for as much per night as they could, their timed agility sprint improved by 0.07 seconds; their free-throw percentage increased by 9%; and their 3-point field goal percentage improved by 9.2%.
They also studied seven Stanford University football players. They were tested before and after the sleep extension and their 20-yard shuttle run times decreased by 0.10 seconds. Forty-yard dash times also decreased by 0.10 seconds and daytime sleepiness and fatigue scores fell significantly.
Sleep also helps with memory, strengthening the immune system and alertness. This increases athletic performance, work performance, school performance, and wellness. It also makes you less cranky which should help with your relationships.
How Can I Get More Sleep?
–One of my favorite cures for insomnia is exercise or yoga. This helps release stress and burns energy that can lead to a better night’s sleep. Excess exercise can lead to burn out and insomnia so make sure you are getting just the right amount
–Get your life organized. Set aside time for checking emails, spending time with the family, eating dinner etc. so that everyone can get to bed on time.
–Take a warm bath or shower
–Try chamomile tea, which is known for its ability to calm the body, before going to bed
–The smell of lavender is known to calm the senses and release stress, making it easier to go to sleep.
–Instead of sacrificing things that are good for you, such as sleep, how about cutting out things that are bad for you such as excessive alcohol. Though it can make you feel tired, too much alcohol can mess with your sleep cycles.
–Tobacco is a stimulant that can make it hard to sleep
–Too much caffeine is a stimulant that messes with your sleep-wake cycles.
–Overeating can make it hard to sleep so give your digestive system a break. Also, don’t eat too much processed carbs or sugar right before bed
–Sometimes it is hard to sleep while hungry so a healthy snack like a fruit might help. Just don’t overeat.
–Too much television or video games can also lead to inability to sleep. Try reading a book before going to bed, meditating or listening to soft music. Even cuddle with a loved one.
–Take power naps if sleeping at night is not possible. If you have a hard time sleeping at night, limit nap times.
–Make sure your bed and pillows are comfortable
–Turn out the lights. Bright lights can fool the hormonal system into thinking it is still day time so avoid the television and other lit screens. Let your body know that it is time for bed.
–If you feel your inability to sleep might be a medical issue, check out AASM (the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.) Here is their website:
How Much Sleep Should I Get?
These are the sleep guidelines according to the National Sleep Foundation:
|AGE||DAILY SLEEP NEEDS|
|NEW BORNS (0-2 months)||12-18 HOURS|
|INFANTS (3 to 11 months)||14-15 HOURS|
|TODDLERS (1-3 years)||12-14 HOURS|
|PRESCHOOLERS (3-5 years)||11-13 HOURS|
|SCHOOL –AGE CHILDREN (5-10 years)||10-11 HOURS|
|TEENS (10-17 years)||8.5-9.25 HOURS|
Imagine a big pile of dirt. You take some dirt off and the pile becomes smaller, then you put more dirt on and it becomes bigger. This dirt is your caloric intake and your body mass. When you exercise, you are burning calories and body mass. You are taking dirt off the pile and the pile gets smaller. When you eat, you are putting calories and body mass back on the dirt.
You are this pile of dirt. If you want to make yourself stay the same size, you will take off as much dirt as you put on. If you want to get bigger, you will pile on more dirt than you take off. This sounds like an easy concept to understand but I get a lot of questions about this, so I want to clear up a few things.
Many people mindlessly pile on more dirt than they take off. In fact, a recent study has shown that the average person eats about fifty to a hundred more calories than they should per day and we wonder why we gradually gain weight as we get older. If we exercise moderately, most of those calories will get burned and we will maintain our size. If we exercise more or eat less, we will get smaller, much like that pile of dirt. What a lot of people don’t realize is that a small piece of cheese has more calories in it than it seems and they might be packing more dirt on that pile than they think. A salad that contains bacon, avocado and caramelized walnuts may have a lot more fat and calories (dirt) than what they anticipated. In order to know if you are really doing what it takes to make yourself smaller, you have to educate yourself on the calorie content of foods you eat. According to studies, most people don’t even know what broccoli looks like, thus the obesity epidemic.
Similarly, I sometimes get clients who want to gain muscle. When they tell me that they aren’t getting results, I make them write down what they are eating and it becomes apparent that they aren’t eating enough. The truth is we often don’t plan what we eat. Most people eat what is available to them at the time which makes it very hard to proactively control our body size. I can’t emphasize enough how important awareness and planning is if you want to change your size.
Clients who want to get bigger often ask, “How can I make sure that the food I am eating is going to building muscle and not gaining fat?”
This all has to do with what you eat, when you eat and how you exercise. To get bigger muscles, you must break them down. You must lift weights until your muscles are sore and a bit torn up (not pulled or injured.) When the muscles heal, they heal a little bigger and stronger. You must give your muscles recovery time. You must eat the right portions of protein, carbs and nutrients and you should do it immediately after you exercise so those calories contribute to repairing muscle and not to storing fat. Body builders plan their workouts, what they eat and when they eat very precisely. The average professional body builder spends 40,000 dollars on food a year.
One misunderstanding clients who want to get bigger have is that only lifting weights will make their muscles bigger. You have to eat more too. Remember that exercise alone will make your pile of dirt smaller. If you don’t have energy to fuel those muscles, they won’t get bigger. If you want bulk you HAVE to eat more too.
One question I get a lot from clients who want to get smaller is, “will lifting heavy weights make me get bigger or bulkier?” Again, you won’t get bigger unless you eat more than what you normally do. Lifting heavy weights takes more energy and burns more calories than lifting light weights. Therefore, lifting heavy weights will take more dirt off your pile, making it smaller. The pile can only get bigger if you eat more.
For example, I once had a client who wanted to get lean and cut. She wanted her abs to have definition for a trip she was planning. I advised her to lift heavier weights but she told me she didn’t want to bulk up. I told her that she would only bulk up if she started eating more. I put her on my program and within a couple of months; she did get much smaller and toned.
Lifting heavier weights helped her build muscle that raised her metabolism. Because she didn’t eat more, her body used the energy stored in the fat she had to help her tone her muscles. Because her fat was being burned to build muscle, she became smaller and leaner. In general, women don’t bulk up as easily as men because they lack the male hormones that make them bigger. As I stated above, it is a lot of work to get big. Women who are afraid to bulk up don’t challenge themselves when they exercise. Because they aren’t working as hard, they don’t burn as many calories and also don’t get the results they want.
Therefore, if you want to get smaller you have to eat less and exercise more. The harder you work out, the smaller you will get. Exercise will only make you bigger if you eat more calories than you need to fuel that work out.
More on awareness: Sometimes we think we are burning more calories than we really are. Some fitness modalities insist that their workouts burn a thousand calories an hour. This may not be the case. How many calories you burn depends on your metabolism, size or level of fitness. I go into this with more detail in my post about calories here:
Sometimes we think that we can eat a pizza and ice cream and just work out harder the next day. Well, a pizza and ice cream can add up to over 1000 calories and it’s really hard to burn that off. The average person burns about 300 calories during a one hour cardio session. That person would have to work out for an extra two and half hours to burn off an extra pizza and ice cream. This is fine if you have the time but if you don’t have the level of fitness to do this, you risk injuring your body.
Also, if you are binge eating foods with no nutritional value such as ice cream or pizza, you will feel too lethargic to work out hard. Junk food can add to more fat and ruin your workouts. Therefore, we have to be aware of how we approach our lifestyle. If you have a tendency to overeat, this is usually due to psychological attitudes towards food. I’ve had to change many of my attitudes. I used to think I could just go to extremes and work out like crazy so I could support my binge eating. Now I’m learning to eat moderately and exercise moderately.
This doesn’t mean that you should starve yourself if you want to get smaller. Starving yourself will make your metabolism slow down and your body will store fat, making it harder to lose weight. To read about metabolism, check out this blog post:
Also, I will give more resources below, so you know how many calories you should be consuming and burning.
All in all, how we eat and how we exercise is intricately related in determining the size of our body. If you wish to change your size, you have to really think about how much you are putting into your body and how well you are burning it. We personal trainers are very good at tracking these kinds of things so if you need help, just ask. We usually notice things that most people overlook.
I highly recommend you write down your diet and workouts. Websites such as lose it or fitpal have been very successful in helping people change their size and become aware of their lifestyles. If you go to those websites, it will calculate how many calories you should be eating and burning a day based on your current size. Here are some links to wesbites and apps that will help you track how much dirt you are taking off and putting on:
If you don’t like computers, write down what you eat on a food diary. Studies have shown that people who write down what they eat are 50% more likely to reach their goals.
As you can see, changing the size of your body can be a lot of hard work. If this is what you really want, ask yourself what you are willing to change to reach this goal. Ask yourself why you want to change. Is it for health reasons or for cosmetic reasons? What are you willing to change about your body and what are you willing to accept?
For more information on how to know how many calories you are burning, check out this post:
For more information on how to plan out a fitness regimen, check out this post:
When the porter Ranch YMCA introduced the new Life Cycle bikes, fully equipped with computer technology, we were all excited! The bike can track RPMS (revolutions per minute), WATTS (energy or power used), duration, mileage and how many calories a person is burning. If you wear a heart rate monitor, the bike synchs with it and shows you your heart rate. It also has a USB plug in case you want to record your workout.
One would think that the members would be super excited and most of them were. However, many were very disappointed when they realized that they weren’t burning 1000 calories an hour. Some of the members who struggled to lose weight was also enrolled on a computer online service that helped track her workouts. According to the service, one hour of indoor cycling burns 1000 calories an hour. They were devastated when the consol on her new bike told her she was only burning 250 calories an hour.
Then again, when I was trained on the bike, I was told that there was a good chance that the members were burning more calories than indicated on the consol. She said that the bike was designed so there was no way the members were burning “less” than the number on the machine. The numbers were based on the lowest estimate. This was an ethical decision on the part of Life Cycle. They didn’t want to falsely claim that you are burning 1000 calories so you can eat a ton of junk after your workout, then wonder why you aren’t losing weight.
Some people also found that they burned more calories on one machine than they did on the other, even though they felt like they sweat more and worked harder on the machine that they were burning less calories on. This is due to nothing but inaccuracy of the machines and how they estimated caloric burn. Some machines ask for your weight and others don’t. Without knowledge of your weight, or resting heart rate, the machines can only be so accurate. Many people found that what their heart rate monitors said didn’t always match what the bike said. In fact, the numbers could be more than 100 calories off depending on the day and which bike was used.
These leads me to one of the most common questions people ask me at the end of a class or session, “How many calories did I burn? (How much energy or fat did I burn?)”
This is a difficult question to answer because that magic number is based on many factors such as the current weight of the individual, their metabolism and their fitness level. There are many ways to record calories, from reading one’s pulse to using heart rate monitors or cardio machines such as the Life Cycle bike. All of these machines vary in accuracy and quality
If you are on any blood pressure medication or beta blockers, reading your pulse or using a heart rate monitor does not apply to you. If you are on blood pressure medication, do not bother using heart rate to measure caloric burn. Your medication changes how your heart beats and renders measuring your heart rate as a way to determine energy expenditure useless.
Then what is the best way to measure how many calories I am burning?
Most experts agree that the most accurate way to measure caloric expenditure is by using the Rate of perceived Exertion (RPE) method. This method is not based on a machine or heart rate but on how you feel. It is based on a scale of 1-10.
A RPE score of 4-6 moving but not struggling. 4-6 means that you are exercising comfortably, sweating and pushing but not to the point of great suffering. You can still talk.
A RPE score of 6-8 means that you are breathing hard. You are working so hard that you can’t talk. You might manage a curse word at your personal trainer but that’s all the talking you can do. You can still continue for over a few minutes but you’ll probably be completely exhausted at the end.
A RPE score of 8-10 means that you are pushing so hard that you can barely keep up. You will have to stop after a few seconds because your body won’t be able to take this type of exertion for very long. I often tell my students that the more you suffer the more calories you are burning and this is the truth. I’ll go into more details on this later.
You may ask, “With all the latest technology, isn’t there an accurate, measurable way to calculate caloric expenditure besides using the RPE method?”
Yes, there is. The most accurate way to measure caloric expenditure is to hook you up to monitors that track your heart rate, repository signals and metabolic reactions. This can be done in a laboratory.
There are two mathematical formulas used to track heart rate and caloric burn. The easiest way to determine your maximum heart rate (the fastest your heart can pump in one minute when exercising hard) is to take the magic number 220 and subtract it by your age. However, in a laboratory setting, this method has proven to be as much as 20 heart beats off! This is probably due to the fact that it only uses age as a method for determining metabolism.
The other, more accurate formula is to take the result of subtracting your age from 220. Then take you resting heart rate (the amount of beats your heart can beat in a minute while in complete rest. This is best measured when you first wakeup in the morning) and subtract it from that number. Now determine how many calories you want to burn. If you want to burn a ton of calories, estimate 50 to 80% of your max heart rate, divide that remaining number by 50% or 80%. This will show how many beats per minute you need your heart to beat in order to be working out at this intensity. This formula (the Karvonen) formula is more accurate but still can be up to 10 beats off measurements done in a laboratory.
Websites such as this one can calculate this for you:
Again, these methods should not be used if you are on blood pressure medication and the RPE method is much more accurate.
Okay, back to the magic question, “how many calories did I just burn?”
I will divide workouts into four catagories:
Fidgeting – 50- 150 calories per hour. RPE of 1-4. Heart rate is at rest to up to 40% of max heart rate.
Light aerobics—150-350 calories per hour. RPE of 4-6. Heart rate is 30-55% of max heart rate.
VO2 max—350-600 calories per hour. RPE of 6-8. Heart rate is 55-70% of max heart rate.
Anaerobic – 600-1000 calories per hour. RPE of 8-10. Heart rate is 70-90% of max heart rate.
How to understand the differences:
How do I know if I’m fidgeting? Studies have shown that people who fidget burn up to 150 calories more a day than people who don’t fidget and move around. This is the same amount of calories an average person burns by using a cardio machine for a half hour. So everyday tasks burn calories. Examples are: Climbing stairs, walking a dog, taking a stroll, housework, twitching or any other restless movements.
How do I know if I’m doing light aerobics? You are hot and sweaty but you can still talk. You are exerting yourself but not to the point of having to stop. The average fitness enthusiast works out at this pace. Examples of light aerobics are: Walking or light jogging, dancing, light cycling, circuit training with lighter weights or movements that aren’t extremely difficult, any movement that is at a pace that you can keep for a long time without having to stop and take a break.
How do I know if I’m doing my VO2 Max? You are struggling and breathing hard but you can keep going. You might be able to say a quick phrase or word but you can’t continue talking. This is a more advanced workout. Examples of VO2 max are: Running a long distance race as hard as you can without stopping, high impact aerobics, hitting or kicking a bag as hard as you can for a long time, cycling up a hill, kettle bell workouts, a hard circuit with difficult moves and heavier weights.
How do I know if I am doing anaerobic training? You are pushing to failure. You are expending yourself to such a high intensity that you have to stop, take a timed break or a few breaths of rest. It is not anaerobic if you are not pushing to failure. You rest between bursts of energy because you have to. This workout is for elite athletes or people who are very fit and not prone to injury or heart attack. Examples of anaerobic training are: Interval training, high intensity boot camp, tabata workouts, speed intervals such as sprinting for a timed interval with timed rest intervals in between, plyometrics (explosive power moves), heavy weight lifting that incorporates many muscles (including the legs) such as Olympic lifting with timed rest periods.
Keep in mind that if you are not fit, you don’t have to do much to burn a lot of calories. For example, I always teach mixed levels and give options in my bootcamp classes. Sometimes I will see someone who is advanced and can do the harder moves without suffering too much. Next to that person will be someone else who is new or not as fit. That person will be doing beginner moves but they are huffing and puffing and I can tell they are really exerting themselves. So, I can safely say that the latter person, the one who is huffing and puffing is burning more calories. This is why RPE is so important. After the latter person loses twenty pounds it will become easy to do the beginning moves because he/she no longer has to carry so much weight. They aren’t huffing and puffing as much so they probably aren’t burning the same amount of calories they used too. This is when it is time to move on to harder moves if one wants to continue losing weight.
For more information on plateauing and how to break a plateau, check out this link:
For more information on plateauing and how to break a plateau, check out this link:
For more information, also check out this link on eating, burning calories and how to get bigger or smaller:
Some people may look at me and think, “She doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle like I do. She’s already in such good shape.” This wasn’t always the case. When I was a chubby kid, I had all kinds of self image issues. I injured my back three times in my life. I’ve also dealt with a knee injury, a hamstring injury, and a groin injury. Like many moms, I dealt with an awful laceration when giving birth to my large son, while the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. I know what it’s like to have never been fit. I also know what it’s like to lose the ability to move and have to start over from scratch.
The hardest part of my job is teaching group fitness classes that cater to mixed levels. I give many options and modifications in my classes. It’s still difficult for a beginner, who has never taken a fitness class before, to do the easier modifications while those who have been doing it for years are doing harder moves. “Just do the beginning move,” they hear the perky instructor say, as if it were no big deal, as if it’s not a blow to the ego to realize that one is not as fit as everyone else.
I know how you feel. Actually, most of us do. Some of the greatest athletes were beginners once, eating everyone’s dust as they struggled in the back of the herd. It’s okay to be a beginner. To be a beginner is exciting. It means you are doing something you haven’t done before and there is nowhere else to go but up.
I still recall my first week of high school. I spent the summer working out at a gym for the first time in my life. I wanted to take the next step and lose more weight so I joined the cross country team. Everyone else on the team was so fit. I struggled, barely being able to run. I wanted to be able to run like them, but I couldn’t. They could run for miles and miles. I barely jogged and walked the warm up.
On Friday of that first week of school, a boy who knew my older brother teased me and said that my brother told him that I joined the team to lose weight. That day, after practice, I cried. The stress of my first week of high school had built up inside me and I let it all out.
The main thing that gets me, when I look back at this memory is the horrible feeling of embarrassment I had for wanting to lose weight. It was true. I didn’t want to be the chubby one anymore. I was tired of the fat jokes. I was tired of being slow. I wanted to be thin. What was wrong with that? First I was ridiculed for being overweight. Now I was being ridiculed for wanting to do something about it.
I’m sharing this memory with you now because I want you to know that you are not alone. There were times when I felt overwhelmed and wanted to give up. It’s a perfectly normal feeling, especially if you are new to something. Think of the first time you started a new job. In a way, the physical part is easy. The psychological part, the part that is dealing with the stress of change and the reactions of those around us is the hard part.
By the end of my first week of school, I had blisters all over my feet. My coach told me to purchase running shoes but I told him the sneakers I already wore were brand new and that my parents couldn’t afford new running shoes. I guess my coach got tired of seeing me kick those shoes off because of my blisters, preferring to run on the football field grass. One day, he pulled me aside. He said that he liked my spunk and that if I kept trying, even though I could hardly jog, I would get better. He gave me a check for 100 dollars to spend on running shoes. He told me that it was scholarship money.
I couldn’t believe it! It seemed like so much money and I never spent that much on shoes before. I bought my first pair of Nike running shoes with that money and they felt amazing. It made me feel like a real athlete.
I probably would have quit if people like Coach Martin hadn’t supported me, letting me know that not giving up is better than winning right away. On my first cross country meet, I almost finished last. There might have been one or two girls behind me. I learned what it was like to literally eat someone’s dust. A whole herd of girls ran ahead of me, kicking dust into my face, mouth and eyes. Before I knew it, they were out in the distance and I was alone in the back with a few of the stragglers. At some point of the 5k course on hills, a new group of girls passed me. Yes, another race started and I hadn’t even finished the first one. Struggling up “pukes peak,” a steep hill at the end of the race, was shear torture. Still, I didn’t give up. My goal was to finish the race and I did.
I ran cross country throughout high school and discovered martial arts in the meantime, something I could get really good at. Over the years, I discovered more movement modalities such as yoga and pilates. I learned that exercise isn’t just about weight loss and muscle gain. Exercise can be used to achieve relaxation, rehabilitation, energy and healing. Over the years I have helped athletes, seniors, kids, beginners and elite practitioners, all with their own unique strengths and weaknesses.
I want everyone to know that there are so many fitness modalities that can help you in your journey to being healthy and strong. You just have to start looking. Try walking, running, dancing, martial arts, yoga, weight lifting, aqua classes, chair classes or many more. We are all on our own journey, a journey that will make us explore our bodies and minds. It will make us come to terms with what we can and can’t do, and what it means for us to be healthy. I hope to offer to my support, no matter what your set backs and accomplishments might be.
For more personal stories and struggles check out:
Be Kind For Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle:
Often we will be told to find “awareness,” but what does this mean? Yoga teaches that we can separate the parts of the mind. When we meditate, we find ways to observe our own reactions, subconscious impressions and emotions.
Some translations of the Yoga Sutras call the part of our mind that is able to observe itself, “the perceiver.” To me, the perceiver is the part of us that has common sense, a knowledge and acceptance of how things truly are. When we meditate, the perceiver is the accepting friend and counselor in our head. Someone once told me that common sense is not so common, but I think we call it “common” because deep down inside, we know the truth. The hard part is accepting it. Only when we are in touch with the perceiver, or our illuminated mind, will we react with common sense. If we are confused or overwhelmed with “afflictive emotions,” we will react in a destructive manner.
In this post, I will attempt to describe the difference between the perceiver and the afflictive mind in a way that we can relate to in our modern lives. I will also offer suggestions on how to tap into the perceiver while meditating or dealing with life’s problems.
The difference between the perceiver and the afflictive mind:
The perceiver is our true self. It is our higher state of awareness. The perceiver is enlightened and when we tap into it, we are in touch with what religious people call God. Non-religious people call it a higher power that can see and accept the way of nature.
The afflictive mind is not our true selves. It is simply the toxins that confuse us into being someone that we are not. The Dali Lama described it in a wonderful way. He said that our true selves are like pure water. The negative emotions such as pride, anger, hatred, jealousy etc. are toxins that cloud the water. However, pure water is still there. We simply need to rid ourselves of toxic emotions and we will find peace and knowledge.
If you are having difficulty tapping into the perceiver during meditation, simply tell yourself that you are not your anger and you are not your jealousy, etc. If you were not emotional, how would you act and how would you feel?
Pretend that you are talking to an objective friend, mentor, adviser, family member, or spiritual leader. What would that person say if you came to them for advice? If you were God or an omniscient being, how would you look at the situation?
The perceiver is detached from prejudice emotions such as greed, lust or hatred. Yet, detachment doesn’t mean that the perceiver is a sociopath or doesn’t care. It is the perceiver’s supreme love and compassion that makes it understand that all life is important and that we are all interconnected. Knowing this makes it want to help all living things and refrain from harming ourselves or others.
The afflictive mind identifies and clings to its emotions. When it is enraged, jealous, confused, or violent, it may say “this is who I am.” It may hang on to hatred for another country or person. It will unfairly side only with people who are like him/her. It cannot see how we are all connected. It grasps on to identities such as race, religion, politics and pride.
During meditation, focus on how we are all alike. We all live. We all suffer. We all feel pleasure. We all have bad days. We all get angry or frustrated. If you are having a hard time understanding someone who is being ignorant or rude, think of a time that you made a mistake and acted ignorant or rude and try to see yourself in that person.
The perceiver seeks peace.
The afflictive mind seeks trouble and drama.
When meditating, ask yourself if your thoughts and actions are bringing you to a state of peace, or if your actions and thoughts are creating more drama, confusion or trouble.
The perceiver spreads good karma. The definition of “karma” is actions and the result of what we do. Always seeking to do kindness and to spread peace, the perceiver creates success for him/herself. On a small scale, the ability to stay calm and make wise decisions brings the perceiver success in business and relationships. On a higher scale, people may gravitate to the perceiver and his/her wisdom helps people beyond him/herself. These actions also help future generations
The afflictive mind spreads bad karma. The confused mind attaches itself to emotions and reacts with violence, or trouble. This creates drama that could lead to altercations with friends, relatives, co-workers and the law. This bad karma will lead to lack of success and a sad life. On a grand scale, this suffering can spread to others, perpetuating the cycle of war and violence. These actions can be passed on to children and future generations.
Meditating on karma is a very serious matter. Look at how the actions of others have affected you. For example, someone might have insulted you and this has made you angry. In turn, you insult another. If this cycle goes on, it could escalate to more people. Make a choice to become aware and end this cycle.
Choose to smile instead. Say something kind to another. This kindness will spread and will lead to a better environment for you and everyone else.
The perceiver takes responsibility for his/her actions and seeks to find solutions to life’s problems.
The afflictive mind blames everyone and everything else for his/her problems. Passing blame onto others, he/she relinquishes self responsibility and free will, never finding solutions.
When faced with a problem, take the blame off of others. Instead, take full responsibility. Start brain storming solutions. Ask yourself what you can do and search your mind for solutions. Maybe even research the internet. Write down as many solutions you can.
If we focus on the solution, the universe will reward us with solutions. If we focus on the problem, the universe will react by bringing more problems.
The perceiver is accepting and forgiving of the self and of others. The perceiver knows that the self and others have afflictive emotions. It knows that problems are temporary. It knows that these emotions do not represent who we truly are and it forgives itself and others, choosing unconditional love over judgment and self loathing. By not holding grudges and hanging on to afflictive emotions, peace is easier to find.
The afflictive mind gets angry and frustrated at itself. This makes failures and life’s problems bigger than they really are. It is also hard on others and gets easily insulted when other people have afflictive emotions. The afflictive mind just can’t let go and find peace.
When faced with the ups and downs of life, feeling guilty and beating yourself up will only worsen the problem.
Also, passing judgment on others only feeds the afflictive mind which is obsessed with anger.
Forgive yourself and others. When you forgive another person, you do it for yourself, so that anger and loathing does not ruin our own life. You’ll be amazed at how much ending a grudge will allow you to focus on bigger and better things.
Ask yourself how the person who has wronged you has made you stronger and thank them for the lesson.
The perceiver understands when there is too much or too little of a good thing. It practices discipline and moderation. It treats the body and mind with compassion.
The afflictive mind may over indulge in pleasurable activities until they become destructive. It might seek to escape in drugs, eating disorders, alcoholism, gambling and other vices out of frustration and self loathing.
Practice awareness in everything you do. Pay attention to how you feel. Take a moment to breathe while you are eating. When exercising, take a moment to see how you feel in order to avoid injuries.
When escaping into drugs or overindulging in any act, ask yourself if this is helping your situation.
If you still can’t stop overindulging, seek outside help.
Because the perceiver has a higher view of the universe, it is stronger in character and principle. It is less easily swayed by suggestion, peer pressure or manipulation.
The afflictive mind is easily swayed by commercials, subliminal messages, insults and psychological conditioning. Some people seek therapy and yoga to find their perceiver because their lives have been controlled by negative conditioning in the past. The perceiver can stand outside of the mind and see when it has been manipulated.
When you feel strong feelings arise in you, think before you react. Look at your past and ask yourself how your past experiences could have positively or negatively lead to how you react to events today.
When you find yourself wanting to own something just because of commercial advertising, ask yourself you truly need that item and if it is worth the cost.
Turn off the TV and computer now and then to clear your mind of clutter. With the rise of social networking, websites such a facebook can lead to addiction.
The perceiver is the angel on your shoulder. The perceiver is the sensible part of yourself that tells you when you are getting into trouble. It is your higher intuition.
The afflictive mind is the devil on your shoulder. The afflictive mind doesn’t listen to its higher intuition and chooses the lower path which often leads to trouble and regret.
There is an old Native American parable that goes: There is a fight going on inside me between two wolves. One is angry, and full of destructive emotions. The other is happy, calm and full of love.
Which one wins?
The one we feed.
When you feel afflictive emotions rising in you, try not to feed them by seeking council with people who patronize them by perpetuating malicious gossip and hate. Tell yourself that you don’t want these emotions inside of you. Find friends that are objective. Surround yourself with positive influences. Keep practicing awareness. It will come in handy during challenging times. Keep books, poems, essays, mantras, letters or songs of wisdom handy and turn to them when you find yourself feeling negative. Over time, the positive and more intelligent and intuitive part of your mind will win over the negative and destructive part of your mind because you choose to feed it more.
For more insight on how I asked a family member to be “the angel on my shoulder,” check out this link:
For more insight on meditation, check out this link:
For more information of the wisdom of the yoga sutras, check out this link:
For more insight on the act of compassion, check out this link:
I will be teaching a seminar for the Kaiser Permanente Theatre Department on proper lifting technique. I have put together a very concise list of tips to remember when you lift something heavy. These tips important to keep in mind whether you are lifting weights in the gym, lifting a box on moving day or picking up a child.
As my gift to you, I am posting this list of lifting tips on my website. It is a very quick read but also a great reminder to help prevent injuries.
Lift objects as close to the body as possible
Keep shoulders in socket. No slumping of shoulders, slouching or shrugging shoulders into ears. Keep the shoulders down and back.
Engage core muscles. Tighten glutes and abs. No slouching or slumping.
Bend from the hips not from the spine
Bend the knees
Keep head in alignment with spine. Dropping the head can throw off balance and ‘cause falls. It also causes the shoulders to slouch.
Make sure your back is warm and that you are not stiff or tight from sitting or lack of movement when you are about to lift something. If you need to warm up, do so.
Always assume you are lifting a thousand pounds and engage your core. You may not be aware of the weight of the object so don’t relax and assume it is light.
Lock the joints.
Lift more weight than muscles and frame is capable of handling. Even with good form, lifting more than you are conditioned to lift can lead to injuries. Ask for help if you think something might be too heavy for you.
Twist body while lifting. Try to turn by using your legs.
Stop and think:
Think about how you are going to lift and where you are going before you start to lift. What is your best position? What is the best way to lift this object?
Be aware of your space and make sure your path is clear before you start lifting.
When lifting with a partner, communicate effectively. Talk about where and how you will lift the object first. Lift on a “one two three” count. Communicate as you lift, and tell each other if you see anything in the path in front of them. “There is a step coming up.”
Introducing my guest blogger Alyssa Curran! Alyssa has done something to hold herself accountable. She started a blog that logs all of her fitness progress. Reading her blog is a fun way to connect with other people who are going through the highly experimental journey of weight loss. Alyssa has made a commitment to health and she holds herself accountable by writing about it publicly. Having a public persona puts more pressure on her to keep her promises as she doesn’t want to let her readers down. What a great way of holding yourself accountable and having other people hold you accountable.
For more creative tips on how to hold yourself accountable, click here:
BUT WILL YOU?
I’d like to share this very entertaining post about Alyssa’s first fitness injury:
Hello all! This morning started out like any other; my alarm clock blared at 6:45, I hit snooze, rolled up in my blanket, nuzzled my pillow and refused to accept the fact that I had to get out of my warm bed and go get sweaty. Then, I heard the “buzz buzz” of my phone, letting me know I had a text. My workout buddy was sick and wouldn’t be going to bootcamp. Instantly, I thought “I shouldn’t go either, especially if she’s not going.” Then, the skinny girl in my brain said “Get yo’ ass out of bed. You have no excuse not to go. HOW BAD DO YOU WANT THIS?!” and with that, I got out of bed, got dressed, and drove to the park. So that was victory number one of the day. Victory #2 is odd because nobody should be happy they got hurt working out, but it’s kind of like this weird badge of honor like, oh, I didn’t get hurt because I tripped on my wedges, I got hurt because I was doing something AWESOME. Tara from Worth Every Ounce ironically posted about this today, too – how getting hurt when you’re doing something cool has way more “cred”. For people working hard to get in shape it’s kind of like, wow, I guess I really am workin’ it! Anyways, how did I get hurt doing something awesome?
Our awesome bootcamp teacher Gordon uses all kinds of creative methods to make sure we get a maximum calorie burn. Today, we all pushed and pulled an orange sled filled with free weights and barbels. I was shocked how hard it was, because the sled was HEAVY and the dirt patch didn’t give it any traction at all.Plus, you have to be way low on your knees and push fast – NOT an easy workout.
As I pushed it, my momentum got the best of me and I lurched forward, having that “Oh sh*$. I’m going to fall” reaction. I quickly thought “not on my wrists”, because as a writer and computer nerd, god forbid my wrists get jacked up, but instead I had my knees pointed out…
On my way to a wipe out
Going, gone, gone. I was down, landing on my right knee with all my weight. I cried in pain and the teacher called for an ambulance as I read my last will and testament… JUST KIDDING. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention. Here’s another reenactment, because I’m all about the dramatic:
I laughed it off and got up, a little muddy and a little embarrassed, but it didn’t feel like anything more than a scuffed knee until we started running sprints. I had to jog in place because my little scuffed knee had started to throb in an unpleasant way – and tonight, I have a battle scar of a purple bruise and a swollen knee.
So yeah! Weird, right? Sucks to get hurt, but thankfully it’s mild, and if anything, I feel all hard-core being like “Yeah. I fell. Pushing a sled filled with 70 pounds of weight. What did YOU do today?” Have you ever had a fitness related injury? What was it? How’d you overcome it? I know my poor dad tore his ACL when skiing and his knee has never been the same…
If you’d like to follow Alyssa’s blog and support her in her journey, check out http://doublechindiary.com/
Over the years of being fitness professional, I have focused my attention more and more on the psychological aspects of achieving success in health and fitness. I realized that it doesn’t matter how knowledgeable a person is if he/she doesn’t put that knowledge into practice. I think back on all the people I have known who clearly understood that eating that second serving of ice cream and falling out of their fitness regimen was not good for them, yet they still did it.
So, the question remains, how do we hold ourselves accountable for our actions? How do we ensure that we will do what we set out to do? Just like anyone else, I find it difficult to balance healthy eating with my professional goals and raising a family so I have learned many creative ways to hold myself accountable. I’d like to share some of these findings with you. If these methods worked for me, they might just work for you.
Make a commitment or promise: This is a very simple shift in mindset that has changed my life. I stopped being wishy washy about the things I set out to accomplish. I started making strong promises and commitments. There is a world of difference between saying that you “might” work out or show up to a fitness class if you feel up to it, and promising to be there. When you make a commitment ahead of time, you will set your alarm, wake up, get ready and be there whether you feel like it or not. We can’t let our every day moods dictate what we do in our lives. We need to be in charge of our own destiny. If we don’t commit, we won’t get there. That’s the bottom line, so make a commitment to being the person you want to be.
If you can’t hold yourself accountable, find someone who will: This is where I started getting creative, for it is one thing to let myself down but letting someone else down is something else altogether. Oprah lost weight by hiring a personal trainer who went with her everywhere she went and told her what she should and shouldn’t eat. I did the same thing but for a much cheaper price. I hired my son who is now eleven. I was getting chubby as my busy life was causing me to eat out too much and indulge on deserts that I mistakenly thought I “deserved” due to all my hard work. I knew I needed to stop this. I told my son that I would pay him five dollars for every pound I lost. Of course, if I gained and lost a pound, it didn’t count.
My son latched on to this idea like a pit bull. Nothing makes children happier than the opportunity to turn the tables on their parents and to make money on top of it. My son was relentless. He never let me eat junk food and he forbade me from ordering desert. If I ate too much, he made sure I worked it off. The waitresses thought he was so mean for stopping me when I tried to order a brownie a la mode at Denny’s but he didn’t care. He loved telling me what to do. I lost seven pounds since we started this. The best news is, my husband joined the program and lost seventeen pounds so far. Now my whole family is eating healthy which has changed the whole culture of our household. There is less junk food around and we are all dedicated to eating healthy. My son has gained a new awareness for health as well. It was a win win situation all around.
My son isn’t the only one who holds me accountable. You do too. Yes, you, my readers hold me accountable. My students and clients hold me accountable. My job is to motivate others and if I can’t do what I expect you to do, then I am one big hypocrite. So thank you, for being one of the main motivators for me to be super fit and healthy. I have benefited so much from your support.
This is very important as our friends and family members can sometimes pressure us to eat unhealthy and skip our workouts so we can spend more time with them or so they have someone to drink and eat chocolate with. If this is the case, it is very important to find people who support you in your goals. I tell my son that he is my “angel” because he is the angel on my shoulder telling me to eat right. Of course, I consider him my angel for many other reasons.
Here are some other things you can do to get others to hold you accountable:
Write blogs, form groups, find a workout buddy, hire a coach or make a strong promise to someone else. Sometimes I give people deadlines and if I don’t get something done by then, I ask them to contact me and get on my case. If this happens, I feel bad and make sure I get it done.
For a great example of how to use social networking support to hold yourself accountable, check out my guest blogger: http://heroestraining.com/?p=604
Write it down: Not long ago, I was reading a fitness journal. In it, a study was conducted that showed that if you write down what you eat, you are 50% more likely to lose weight. This method worked for me. As a matter of fact, I had been trying to lose weight after having a baby for four months and I didn’t start seeing results on the scale until I finally wrote down what I ate. I have my clients do this. Most of them don’t realize how they eat until they do this. Writing it down makes a record of your progress and it holds you accountable. You may not realize that you eat more calories than you should or that you starve yourself for hours, lowering your metabolism until you write it down.
Write your goals down as well. There is something profound about a written contract. It sets everything in stone and shows that you are not just thinking about it. Write down your actions in your diary or date book. Write down your workouts and rest days. Set your weekly and monthly goals, Make notes, have a check list. Update it on your blog or social networking site so your friends can hold you accountable. It makes a huge difference.
Ask “how can I” questions: This is something I learned from Anthony Robbins that I find to be so life changing. I learned that the mind is capable of amazing things but if we focus on the wrong things, we waste a lot of time and energy. So, when you want to improve your life, ask questions that are proactive. Instead of asking yourself why the government sucks, or why you weren’t born with a slim waste, or why can’t ice cream be good for you, or why we can’t be more beautiful as we grow older, ask yourself questions that directly relate to what you can do to change your situation. I notice that people waste a lot of time on what they can’t change.
I call these “how can I” questions. How can I write to my leaders so I can improve the current laws? How can I slim my waist now? How can I find a level of health that will make me feel younger? Once we stop blaming the world and start taking responsibility for our actions, change becomes easy but we have to know that it is us that makes the difference, not our friends, our government, our employers or our families. What can I do? I will do this. I have found that when I do something proactive to make a change in my life and in the world, the world follows suit but we can’t expect it to work the other way around.
Meditate on your character: Here is something I did which really turned my life around. I asked myself what character traits I needed to change in order to see a positive change in every aspect of my life. In the beginning of the year I made a list of these character goals:
Slow to anger
Better discipline and attitude towards work
Reliability, keep my word
Honesty and tact
Practice humility and support for others
I meditated on these character goals, realizing that if I can improve these aspects in myself, my fitness, relationships and career will all get better. I realized that life isn’t handed to you with a magic pill. Without perseverance, for example, we can’t succeed in anything. After four months of making these character traits my new years resolution, I have seen positive improvements in every aspect of my life.
So ask yourself what beliefs and character traits you need to change in order to help you get to your goals. Ask yourself how you can get there. Make a promise and commitment to get to those goals and find creative ways to get others to hold you accountable.
Today, I’d like to address a subject that I see a lot in people, shoulder and neck tension. Many have told me that this is getting in the way of their fitness goals. I also see a large amount of shoulder injuries due to lack of strength and flexibility in the rotator cuffs. Another cause of injury is that many people use bad form due to lack of posture awareness or muscle imbalances that have not been addressed. Lack of core strength ’causes people to overcompensate by straining their neck and shoulders. Lifting weights adds stress to an already dislodged area, aggravating the issue. Another reason this has become such an epidemic is because people simply do not know how to relax. Living in a “no pain, no gain,” society has made us tense up, thinking that holding on to stress will somehow get us somewhere.
How did this happen and how can we address these issues?
Unfortunately, many of these problems start in elementary school where children are forced to sit in chairs for long periods of time. These chairs are rarely created to fit their size. They are also forced to carry heavy back packs. Sadly, I see many teenagers enter my classes with the kyphotic hunch of an older adult. To make matters worse, children grow up to be adults who live sedentary lifestyles, often making a living by sitting at a desk, hunched over a screen. A reliance on texting and portable devices has developed a society of people who spend more time hunching over a screen than they do anything else, not to mention the fact that we drive this way as well. If you watch a a toddler or pre-schooler crawl, walk, squat, lunge and pick things up of the floor, you will find they use perfect form. The imbalances start when television, video games, and forced chair sitting creep into their everyday lives.
Until recently we have evolved to move our shoulders, to hunt, throw and dig with our upper bodies. In our modern society, a lack of proper movement has caused the muscles that support our scapulae to weaken and become inflexible.
An average sedentary American doesn’t lift his hand higher than his desk. This lack of movement leads to inflexibility and weakness in our core muscles. Also, many people work in awkward positions, spending all day with their head thrusted forward to read the screen. This puts the alignment of the spine out of balance. The weight of the head (about ten pounds) causes the spine to fuse in an unnatural position.
The tightness this brings to the shoulders and neck can cut off nerves that run down the arm and into the fingers, causing pain and numbness in the wrists. Often, neck impingments are misdiagnosed as carpel tunnel or tendonitis of the wrists.
Shoulder tension can also lead to lower back pain. The misaligment of the upper spine, can cause the lower spine to curve unnaturally. So pain that starts in the neck can radiate into the arms and lower back. Tension in the neck and shoulders cuts of circulation to the brain, causing headaches. As you can see it is absolutely imparative that we address this part of our bodies. Fortunately, with proper movement and awareness, we can reverse this damage. I will be teaching all of the methods below in my upcoming Shoulder and Neck Release Workshop on March 3, 2013
Click here for more information:
NECK AND SHOULDER RELEASE WORKSHOP
Since most imbalances and chronic pain are caused by things we do everyday, we have to look at how we move when we aren’t exercising. Are we contorting our bodies unnaturally in order to fit into our work spaces? We need to make sure that we can lean back on our chairs without curving our backs or stressing our shoulders. Our keyboards should be close enough to us so we don’t have to reach our arms out to type, causing tightness in the front of our shoulders. Are we hunching forward in order to read the screen or do we make the characters on the screen larger so we can see them while balancing our head on our neck where it should be?
There is a sheath of tissue surrounding our muscales and organs known as “fascia.” This tissue gets tighter the more we move in the same ways. If we hold our posture in an incorrect position for too long, the fascia hardens in that position and it is very hard to release it. Also, our muscles can get swollen. This makes it very hard for blood to circulate. We start forming “knots” in our shoulders and neck that can only be released through myofacial techniques such as massage. Fortunately, we have found many ways to use self massage by using foam rollers and small balls so we don’t have to pay for a regular weekly massage. Once we have softened our fascia and reduced swelling in our shoulders, we are more able to move this area.
Seeing how our greatest problem is lack of movement, we should start releasing tension by moving this area. This brings energy currents, circulation and neuromusclular connections to a once dormant area. Over time, we start achieving more ease and mobility
Strengthen rotator cuffs and core:
The weaker we are, the more likely we are to get sore. The smallest things will ’cause pain. Most people have weak rotator cuffs (the muscles that surround and protect the shoulder blade) Due to lack of movement, these muscles lengthen and get weaker, making it hard for us to sit straight,with our shoulders back and down. In order to fix this imbalance, we must strengthen our upper back and the back of our shoulders by rowing, pulling down, or just drawing our upper back muscles down. It is imparative that we strengthen these muscles that protect our shoulders if we have trouble standing straight with our shoulders back. Doing advanced weight training with weak rotator cuffs can cause injuries in the lower back and shoulders.
Also, our dependence on chairs and machines has made our core muscles completely dormant. Often, people strain their necks to make up for lack of strength in their torso.
Learn how to relax:
Living in a “no pain, no gain” society has made us create pain for ourselves. Our subconscious belief that pain will lead to gain has caused many people to hang on to pain, thinking it will lead to success. In reality, this tension is an obstacle to health and freedom. Fortunately, there are meditations and stretches we can do to change this pattern.
Poor posture can constrict the muscles that allows us to breath deep into our diaphram. Since our body needs oxygen, lack of proper breathing can cause more lack of circulation and anxiety. This leads to more shallow breathing. Instead of using the diaphram, shallow breathers use muscles that lift the shoulders, causing even more strain.
For more information on how and why to breath properly, check out this link:
DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH
During my NECK AND SHOULDER RELEASE workshop, we will learn how to address these issues without relying on a massage therapist or chiropracter. This workshop is designed for people who suffer from chronic tension in the shoulder and neck while at work or during exercise. It is not geared to people who have an accute injury that may require a specialist or surgery.
During this workshop, we will learn to assess our own imbalances by applying techniques using ergonomics, mobility movements, myofascial release, core strengthening, relaxing stretches, breathing and meditation that teach us to let go of our stess and prevent us from being stressed out by others.
I will be providing the best information on this subject after many years of being a personal trainer, pilates and yoga instructor. I will also offer mind/body techniques I have learned from studying the Alexander Technique and chi kung.
If you are interested, please click here: RELEASE NECK AND SHOULDER WORKSHOP
Now that the New Year has started, some of you will be coming out of a hiatus due to holiday stress or illness. Others will be setting New Years goals by starting up a new fitness routine or athletic endeavor for the first time in a while. This puts you at high risk of getting injured. During my career as a fitness professional, I have many students and clients tell me about their injuries. Most of these injuries could have been avoided. A few years ago, I wrote an article about what to do in case of an injury. If you already have an injury, see a doctor and read this article by clicking the link below:
Today I am writing an article about how to prevent getting injured in the first place. If we can prevent injuries, we will achieve our fitness goals faster because injuries often cause us to stop our routines or exercise with less intensity. While planning out your fitness goals, keep these injury prevention tips in mind:
Leave your ego at the door:
Before you start your work out, resolve to leave your ego at the door. I’ve seen the ego monster trick many people into getting injured. Humbly ask for help if you don’t know how to use a piece of fitness equipment. Do the safer modification in a group fitness class if your gut tells you that the other move is too advanced, even if it hurts your ego. Don’t pile on more weights than you can lift just because you want to impress a sexy woman who is in the same room. Trust me, she’s not looking at how much weight your lifting. Don’t compromise form in order to get the fastest time in the crossfit class. All of these things can get you hurt. The truth is, people don’t care what you are doing. They are worried about their own workout, so put your ego in her place and use common sense.
Always use proper form, especially when dealing with weights:
I have a rule that keeps me safe: If I can’t lift a weight with proper form, I don’t. Bad form puts your spine and joints in a weak position and adding weights to bad form will exasperate muscle imbalances, causing chronic stress and injuries. If you can’t squat with proper form, work on your muscle imbalances first, before you add weights. Find out why you can’t do it with good form. Maybe you have to achieve more flexibility in your shoulders. Maybe you can do a squat with good form, but once you add 100 pounds, your knees start to go way over your toes. That’s when you know that you’ve reached your limit. Give yourself time to get stronger before you add more weight. Maybe you can do 10 squats with good form, but after 11, you start to slouch. Then you know that it is time to take a break at 10. As soon as you lose your form, your muscles have given up and your joints will start experiencing wear and tear.
Achieve mastery one step at a time:
We learn to walk before we can run. When implementing fitness into your life, don’t attempt to run five miles on your first day, if you’ve never walked a mile in your life. Take into account what you are capable of doing and gradually add to that. If you are smart, your goal is to get fit for life. Set long term goals and take it one step at a time. This will prevent injuries and burn out. It will also make you more likely to stick to a fitness lifestyle permanently. After all, if you do it for only three months, you will go back to being unhealthy as soon as you stop. Add a bit more every two weeks to one month at a time.
Always warm up and cool down:
Years ago I got injured because I was a receptionist at a small yoga studio. I was allowed to check everyone in and take the last yoga class, but I had to walk in a few minutes late. I got an adjustment to my down dog before I had even warmed up. I got hurt. It may not seem like a big deal, but jumping into heavy weights or high intensity moves before your body is ready can get you hurt. If you don’t understand the science of warming up, please read my post on proper warm ups here:
Balance–Always work the opposing muscles:
Our muscles tense up and get shorter in order to move our bones. For example, our biceps will shorten in order to flex our elbows in a bicep curl. When this happens, our triceps will lengthen and relax because it is on the other side. If we keep doing bicep curls without doing triceps extensions, we will have short and tight biceps and weak and long triceps. This is why we should work both muscles. If you do bench presses without doing rows, you will have short and tight pectorals which will cause your shoulders to turn in and may lead to a hunch back. Therefore, always do rows in order to strengthen your upper back and provide flexibility to your pectorals. If you always do abdominal crunches without working out your lower back, you will have tight abdominals which can cause your lower back to round excessively due to having a long and weak lower back. These imbalances can cause chronic pain and injuries, so always strengthen and stretch the opposite muscle groups.
Balance your fitness:
Speaking of balance, make sure that you aren’t overdoing it in one area of fitness and completely slacking in another. Our bodies need stability in order to protect our ligaments and joints. Therefore, only stretching without strengthening and stabilizing can cause loose ligaments and weak joints. However, only strength training without stretching can cause muscle stiffness and stress. Cardio and aerobic fitness helps circulate our blood, increasing our ability to recover. It also gives us stamina and strengthens our heart. In order to stay balanced and healthy, we need to balance out our fitness.
Learn to differentiate muscle pain from joint pain:
A gold medalist once said that our muscles protect our joints. Once you feel that your joints are in pain, stop. This means that your muscles have given up and you are just putting stress on your joints. If you run without overdoing it, the cartilage in your knees will actually get stronger. However, if you push through joint pain, you will hurt yourself and wear out the cartilage in your knees and hips. I have been applying this rule to my life for years. This is also a great tip because most of the complaints I hear from students regarding injuries are joint injuries due to overuse. Overuse injuries can be avoided if we stop when we are supposed to.
Vary your training:
I stated earlier that we achieve mastery one step at a time. Try not to stop at step one or two. If you do the exact same exercise for many years, you could still get hurt. Maybe the first time you did a particular routine, you felt massive changes in your body, so you kept doing it for years. Then one day, there is an emergency that requires you to move in a different way. Since your body has been programmed to move the exact same way for years, you get injured. The brain and the body are connected by a vast system, but habit can cause some connections to disappear completely.
I also suggest you practice functional moves so that you can use them in everyday life, such as learning proper technique for picking things up off the floor so you don’t hurt your back. Learn to use your muscles in different planes of motion because you just might need to move that way during an emergency. I have had students thank me many times because the moves I taught them have helped them in emergency situations. As I get older, I become more reliant on cross training because my body can’t handle doing the same moves everyday. Moving in different directions gives some of my muscles opportunities to rest while I work out others. Remember, the fitter you are, the less likely you will be severely hurt during an accident. So in order to keep from getting hurt, stay fit.
Weigh the risk of competition:
Many people get hurt during competition but some will say that it was worth it. Before you are about to break your ankle while crossing the finish line in tenth place, weigh the risk of competition and know how far you are willing to go to win. A professional athlete makes millions of dollars putting his body on the line and has the best orthopedic surgeons at his disposal. You have to ask yourself if finishing that marathon or getting beaten up in an amateur cage match is worth the risk of injuring yourself and being out of commission . Ask yourself why you are competing. If you join a marathon to lose weight but break a leg and gain all the weight back, is it worth it? Maybe winning a competition is a life long dream that you are willing to sacrifice everything for. Only you can decide what is best, but definitely premeditate on the risks before you go in the field. Then you will know if it is okay to risk it all and when to ease off and let someone else take the spotlight. Of course, if you want to reduce your chance of getting injured during competition, train smart. Strengthen your muscles so they are ready for the abuse they are about to take. Don’t compete without practicing and training like an athlete. I’ve seen many weekend warriors break bones or wreck their bodies because they competed without training for the event.
Don’t forget recovery:
Make sure you are getting enough nutrients for growing muscles and for recovery. Make sure you are giving your muscles adequate rest and time to adapt, and that you are getting enough sleep in order to avoid overuse injuries or fainting episodes caused by fatigue or low blood sugar.
For a short post on recovery, consistency and why some people practically kill themselves but still don’t improve check out this link: