Mental health is tricky. Just like our physical health, we all find ourselves at a different place along the mental health continuum, depending on the day, hour, or even minute (like myself). Unlike physical health, the topic of mental health is frequently only discussed with a close friend or professional.
But what would happen if we started talking about mental health, in conjunction with physical health, while at the gym?
We frequently hear clients say that they didn’t want to leave the house to go to the gym, but they were so glad that they did. Why is that?
We like to think that we are pretty cool here at Urban Athlete so that’s why you want to come hang out with us, but there is more at play here than simply coming to the gym in order to feel stronger. If you want your muscles to “feel” stronger, that is both a physical and mental health goal, and here’s why:
There is a feedback loop between our muscles and our brain, where our muscles are constantly telling our brains how they are holding-up, and our brain is constantly telling our muscles to get a move-on or quit altogether. Seriously. We would not be able to bench, squat, swing, high pull, jump, tire flip, and you name it if our brains weren’t telling us to do so. In fact, when we begin a new exercise, the very first improvement we see is in that neurological pathway between the motor neuron in our brain and the specific muscle that it innervates (i.e. the quads for a squat)! That is the first to happen! Before you could ever dream of getting stronger, that specific pathway from our neuron to our individual muscle fiber needs to fire over and over again!
I say all this, because when we go to the gym, our brains are working hard – arguably harder than our muscles. Not to boo-hoo on any Netflix bingers out there, because I am certainly one of them, BUT it is a very practical and relatable example. When we are lying on the couch watching TV or sleeping, what are our bodies doing? Our hearts are beating and our lungs are breathing and that’s about it. Arguably a very important job for our brain to have, but it does this job involuntarily and with incredible ease. These pathways also require very little energy, because they are incredibly well established and don’t need our help in order to happen.
As a result, we (myself included) have all this extra energy (our brain needs glucose in order for its neurons to fire) to spend thinking about whatever we want.
~ Here’s what I’m suggesting ~
Spend your brain’s available glucose stores on telling your quads to squat, hamstrings to deadlift, or shoulders to do a push-up.
At least until you eat your next carbohydrate-based snack, your brain won’t have the energy to think about anything else.
Have you ever sat for too long at your desk or watching TV, go to get up and you find yourself stiff and uncomfortable?
Ever been tired, on more than one occasion, on the days when you’ve had plenty of sleep and nothing occurred that day that was overly exerting?
How about catching a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and noticing that you’re a little more pale or gray than the last time you walked past a huge glass window while peaking at your youthful reflection, never mind either a few pounds heavier or a little jiggly?
There are, of course, plenty of things that exercise cannot cure…but when it comes down to it, movement is better for us than no movement. Movement helps to keep our joints lubricated. Movement decreases our risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Movement keeps us agile, allows us to improve balance, get stronger and increase bone density. Movement is by far one of the best things you can do for the health of yourself.
(The others are eat well and sleep appropriately.)
I’ve been exercising consistently for almost 20 years. I have had several injuries that have set me back but despite those, consistent exercise or movement has helped me feel less cranky, more confident, more mobile, stronger and overall I often forget what my biological age is. I also owe a big thanks to consistent exercise for maintaining mostly the same physical size as an adult, bouncing back from my first pregnancy (c-section nonetheless) with more ease than expected, a factor in keeping my type 1 diabetes in check and in general having the energy to keep up with my life which includes running two businesses, having a toddler-aged boy and a little girl on the way, consulting part time as a fitness business coach and volunteering.
Of course, life isn’t perfect so there have been times when I haven’t been as consistent as I would prefer or when I’ve even just taken some time off from exercise, but the reality is those are the times when I’m at my worst. I don’t sleep as well. My bones feel achy. My joints get a little restless. I don’t eat as well. I feel tired.
These are all the reasons I remind myself to move each day. This is the key, moving each day doesn’t mean beating myself up in the gym until I have nothing left in the tank. Some days it means a walk, 10-15 minutes of Original Strength resets, dance parties with my kiddo, heavy lifting at the gym, endurance sessions, high intensity interval sessions, etc. My point is – there’s moderation to movement but the common denominator is mindful and purposeful movement that happens every day.
I don’t know about you but I don’t particularly care for the times when I’ve felt stiff, fatigued or older than my age. My intent for all of us is to feel less about those three things and to feel more inspired to spend time in the opposite spectrum; agile, rested and youthful.
Want to see what I’m talking about? Give us a call or stop in to schedule a success session.
I know there have been times in my life when I’ve said this.
Just as I know, there have been times in your life when you’ve said this too! Maybe you’ve even said it recently.
Unless there is some sort of underlying factor, chances are in order to have more energy you simply need four things to get you started and keep you going on the path to having more energy.
- Consistent Activity
- Supportive Nutrition
- Quality Sleep
- Better Life Balance
Don’t get me wrong…None of the above are either easy right out of the gate, nor are they going to be game changers overnight. When done with purpose and consistency, you will begin to see noticeable differences in your energy levels, your mood, and likely your body composition, among other things. At Urban Athlete, we like to think about this like Lifestyle Design.
It shouldn’t feel like you are making all the hard changes all at once. It shouldn’t feel like you can’t enjoy yourself, whether it’s having a relaxing day or an indulgence of food or drink. It should feel like you make good choices the majority of the time so that when you want to treat yourself you are able to without guilt.
There is no one right path for all of us to take. There is no one right nutrition plan or exercise plan. Or waking time. Or bed time. Or career path. Or number of hours worked. (I think you get my point.) There is no simple equation that balances out to the perfect answer. Above all else there are no quick fixes. I don’t write any of this to discourage you. In fact I write all this to encourage you to take the next step because change is good, and small change should feel manageable.
What is the one thing you could do today to move you closer to having more energy in your day?
Perhaps it is:
- drinking more water
- going to bed 15 minutes earlier
- taking a walk
- creating sleep specific space, free of electronics
- eating a vegetable with every meal
- starting a morning stretch routine
And the list can go on. Eventually we would aim to do all of these things, but for today…in this moment, pick just one thing that you can manage to start to make an impact on your own quality of life and gain some energy back. Each day keep with the same one thing, make a promise to yourself that you will stick with it. Notice I didn’t say for how long…That’s intentional, for now at least. The goal is to create a daily, small success that lets you believe in yourself to encourage you to do more.
As you start to master this one task and eventually more you might choose to make larger commitments like:
- getting a personal trainer or joining a group training program close to home or work
- scheduling your day to make sure you get at least 7 full hours of sleep each night
- doing food prep 1-2 days a week for optimal nutrition even on your busiest of days
- knowing when to say no to the things that aren’t a priority to you
When you’re able to make these larger commitments and incorporate them into your lifestyle you find you will have created a new path to walk in. One that likely feels better to you and is how you will gain more energy in the long haul, along with many other benefits.
I think there’s a little bit of a stigma to when you hear someone say they have a personal trainer. There tends to be an underlying misconception that there is a title status one is seeking. While this could be the case in some instances I believe that having a personal trainer really can propel your fitness forward.
It ranges from a wide variety of goals like simply just getting committed to a routine and having the accountability of another person to meet for appointments, to someone who is guiding you along the path of either working around injuries or really pushing you hard so you can’t talk yourself out of doing something that you know deep down you can do. Personal training is just that, personal, it’s tailored to your specific wants, needs and goals. While group training, like ours, can be scaled down or progressed to be more accommodating to what you need. Personal training should always meet your needs. It’s equally as important to communicate with your trainer to let them know how the workout and the exercises within the workout feel to you.
Please don’t confuse this with every workout should leave you crawling out of the gym. That too is not the desired goal, but open communication from both of you will help your trainer progress your program along in an effective way to meet your goals and then be able to set new ones!
Can personal training be expensive? It sure can but think about it… It’s one on one or small group dedicated time with one person who’s studied anatomy and physiology, who has also had experience in helping others reach their health and fitness goals and who most importantly is interested in seeing you reach your goals. When you find the right person, think of the wealth of knowledge you obtain without having to learn all the knowledge yourself! Not to mention the benefit of doing some exercise over others and why… but that’s a topic for another time.
If personal training is out of your price range you can look for places or trainers who offer semi-private training or small group training. Simply put it’s still personal training, it’s just that 1-2 other people are also doing their own workout at the same time as you. Often these sessions and monthly memberships can be significantly less expensive than one on one personal training and have a little extra bang for their buck; like camaraderie, additional accountability and support and a social component – all while focusing specifically on what you need to succeed.
Here are some things that we offer with our semi private training at Urban Athlete that you might want to consider when you are looking for a coach or trainer to help propel you toward your goals.
- Flexibility in scheduling – Often times a static schedule is a far greater option from an accountability standpoint but if you have a little wiggle room to make changes based on your busy schedule, that is an added plus.
- Additional gym access – If you’re doing training in a big gym this shouldn’t be an issue but if you’re at a smaller facility this might not be an offering. If you have the option see if the gym space is accessible to you outside of your training time for an additional workout during the week. Your coach or trainer should be suggesting what you do on your off days to help move you along toward reaching your goals.
- Travel workouts – Whether it’s work travel or vacation, continuing to move while you are away is one of the key factors in continuing to reach those goals! Im’ not saying that you have to pack a gym in your luggage when you travel but you do want to plan to be moving even if just for 10-15 minutes in your hotel room before the day starts or once it’s over. Daily movement should feel like therapy to your muscles and joints not a chore.
- Nutritional guidance – While most of us might not be registered dietician’s you can seek our guidance on the direction of what your nutrition should look like as well as get some feedback on all the crazed nutrition / diet options that exist out there today. This might be tough to digest but your nutrition is more important than the exercise you get in. One of our favorite sayings; “You can’t out train a sh!tty diet.” This goes a little further into detail but for the most part, food and exercise really shouldn’t be transactional. You can however prepare differently on the days that you will / will not exercise as well as on the days that you will / will not indulge with your calories.
Those are just some considerations for you when thinking about adding in personal training or semi-private training into your weekly routine. Remember that movement really is important and once you start with it consistently, you’ll feel better and start to see results. This shouldn’t be an endeavor that you decide to do for a month or two as a sprint to get ready for either a trip or big event. This should be a lifestyle consideration for the long haul to assist in longevity and quality of life.
If you still have questions about personal training or exercise, reach out and let us know what they are. We’re happy to help!
Here’s the honest truth; habits are hard but they aren’t impossible. Plain and simple.
Here’s the other truth; they don’t have to be as hard as they seem. We tend to make them hard on ourselves for a variety of reasons. Often overcommitting, being unrealistic to start, not being attached to the outcome, among other things.
Let’s break it down.
Habits, by definition, are an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost voluntary. Think about some things you do a daily basis right now that you practically do like clock work… brushing your teeth, washing your face, making coffee or tea in the morning, etc. These are all habits, despite how simple they might seem.
Why then, does it seem so challenging to add in a habit like eat better, exercise more, get more sleep? For starters, none of these have specific measurables of how much more, at what frequency and more importantly what it all looks like.
Let’s look at ‘exercise more’ as an example.
You currently don’t follow a consistent exercise program and you’ve been trying to workout on your own. Near the end of every week you tell yourself that you’ll start again on Monday. Monday comes and goes and maybe you’ve done one workout but are then resetting your clock to next Monday to start again or maybe you’ve skipped Monday and tell yourself that you’ll do it tomorrow. None of this is necessarily bad, we just need to make a few tweaks to the plan of ‘exercise more’.
Let’s start with some parameters.
- Define ‘more’. It can be as simple as exercise three times a week. Don’t over do it as you’re starting, saying you’ll exercise every day when you don’t currently do it at all will set most of us up for burn out. Regardless, pick a number of times you will exercise each week. My recommendation is to start with three times a week. There are seven days in the week and three gets you close to half the days of the week, this is a good starting point.
- Define when. Life gets busy and when you feel like you can easily push something off until tomorrow we do. When you’ve decided on how many times a week you will exercise, schedule those times into your calendar. If you need routine, find a time that works for you multiple days and schedule the appointment with yourself. Allow nothing except emergencies to get in the way. If you don’t need routine or your schedule doesn’t easily allow for it, identify three times during the week when you can commit to your exercise program. This might vary from week to week but if you plan it out weekly, you’ll attend your appointments with yourself.
- Define where. If you’re motivated by your own energy and working out at home or in a bog box gym on your own works for you then you’ll just need to show up on time and put forth the effort. If you need a little more guidance with your exercise then find a group training or personal training program that is either near your home or near your work and commit to becoming an active member of their community.
Now that we know the goal for the number of times each week for exercising, when they are and where you’ll be doing your exercise it’s far more likely that you’ll show up and start creating the habit of exercising three times a week. (See that too… the new habit is exercise three times a week and not just exercise more!)
Here are a few other things to consider as you start on this new habit creation or any for that matter.
- Overcommitting won’t get you to your goals faster. It might seem like a great idea to exercise every day but as you are starting out it’s not the best idea. For starters it will be overwhelming to make a commit that grand to your schedule. Start small and master then move up. The other consideration is that even elite athletes need a day off or at the very least an active recovery type day. Going hard, 7 days in a row, in back to back weeks is not ideal.
- Know what you want to get out of the new habit. Although there is plenty of evidence that tells us exercise is good for our health on many levels, if you are not motivated by reaching your own set of goals, sticking to the new habit will have less importance. Visualize what you want to get out of exercising three days a week (if we are sticking with our example.) Imagine what that looks like, how you will feel and what it will mean to you.
- Reaching goals takes time. Depending on your reason for exercise and the goals you want to achieve, you aren’t likely going to be able to hit them in a few weeks. Everything from weight loss to strength gains takes time to see results and then to maintain or improve upon those results. Patience and consistency truly are attributes for the long game of health and wellness.
If you’re still unsure of how best to start a habit and deciding what is realistic as a starting point, we’re happy to help – just reach out to schedule a success session with one of our coaches. We want to see you reach and exceed your goals!
I get it… Not everyone loves strength training. It makes a certain amount of sense since there is plenty of chatter about using lighter weights to tone the muscles. Now, trust me… I’m not mocking what other people say, that’s there prerogative.
Here’s the deal from my perspective though.
Strength training assists us with
- burning fat
- increasing bone density (this means less breaks and fractures as we age, particularly women)
- boosting confidence AND…
- gets us through every day life
Here’s the other BIG thing to consider, strength training or resistance training is unique from person to person. The maximum amount of weight that I can lift today will be different from yours, which will also be different from your friend and your other friend. The common ground is that it is really important, for all of us.
I know another big concern is that some of us get a little more bulky than others when doing some serious strength training. If this is the case, which it certainly can be… then you want to vary the weights that you use throughout your workouts on a weekly basis. Not to mention there’s zero benefit to lifting the max amount of weight you can lift every single time you workout.
So how do you know where to start?
There’s a little bit of trial and error that goes into it. For starters though, you’d want to set aside some time to pick few exercises that you’d be curious to knowing your max amount of weight that you can move. You’d likely only want to test 1-2 of these exercises a day and spread them out over the course of a week. Trying to lift your maximum amount of weight for a single exercise will be very challenging, you don’t want to test several in one day, unless you are at a competition.
Once you know your numbers take them into consideration when you are deciding which weights to use for your workouts. If the workout has rep schemes that 8-12 or more, use a lesser percentage of the weight. If the rep scheme is 3-5 or less, consider using a greater percentage of your maximum weight and vary those higher percentages from workout to workout so you aren’t always doing the same. Remember, attempting 100% of your weight all the time isn’t a good thing.
When it comes to H.I.I.T. (high intensity interval training) keep in mind that high intensity doesn’t necessarily mean fast. This could be a great opportunity to use a slightly heavier weight for one exercise and lighter to moderate weight for the other exercises, provided the rep/set scheme is appropriate. Adding in strength training here will help with all the attributes of lifting heavier weights that were listed out above while also feeling like you’ve worked out doing the H.I.I.T. component of the workout.
If you aren’t quite into the whole idea of lifting heavier weights this will be a mindset shift for sure. It’s OK to ease into it, remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. Mixing up the amount of weight you use during your workout program as a whole (meaning month over month) helps you to avoid serious plateaus so from that standpoint it’s highly important to vary the amount of weight you use for both different exercises and the same.
Want to see what I’m talking about, stop in to set up a success session with one of coaches today!
There is so much noise in the world about what to do for nutrition and exercise. Even as a fitness professional I’ve occasionally been caught up with it. After careful analysis I’ve also delivered some of the more sound options, in short durations, because I know clients are curious about it.
Some nutrition fads are just that fads, some have real science behind them, most are not sustainable long term and even more are executed incorrectly. The other consideration is that not every new thing that gets introduced will work for all of us. However, the thing that will work for most of us, most of the time is the simplicity of eating non processed foods that are high in nutrients, while paying attention to portions.
Enter Urban Athlete’s LifeStyle Program. We took components that define a realistic and sensible health, exercise and nutrition program and organized it to make reaching your goals not only possible but sustainable in the long haul. It’s not going to be a quick fix. It’s not going to be easy in the beginning. BUT…
It will change your life.
It will set you up for success.
It will be a program you can follow long term and not feel deprived.
LifeStyle Program Starts: February 11, 2019 and runs for 6 weeks
Registration End Date: February 9, 2019
-committing to an exercise program at minimum of three day a week
-logging your nutrition
-checking in weekly and being held accountable.
To register please fill out the form below:
We will do an intro to the LifeStyle Program that you can watch at your convenience. Once registered we will send the link to your email.
We will only be accepting 7 people who are not currently clients into this program so you’ll want to register fast.
What exactly are you looking to achieve this year as it relates to your health and fitness? Have you decided you want to lose 15 pounds or stop eating processed foods or maybe even deadlift your own bodyweight or more.
Any of the options I listed or any you have in your heart, all require you to start and then be consistent.
I could have belabored that a bit but that’s the reality right? If you want to see a change, you have to make a change.
It’s a really unique time at Urban Athlete right now. It is of course the beginning of the year and resolutions are flying around everywhere but the reality is this… We want to see you reach your goals. Sometimes it takes a little kick start to get things going and to remind you or even inspire you to keep going!
The upcoming 6 week Lifestyle Challenge isn’t about restrictions and two-a-day workouts. In fact we’re bringing it further back to the basics than I ever have before. It’s crazy but it’s true – measure the calories in, measure the calories out and ensure the calories in are rich in nutrients.
You ready to make the jump?
Starting Monday, January 28th – you can take the lifestyle leap with us. Send us a message to urbanathletephilly (at) gmail.com or 215-248-2130 to get set up for a success session this week and get started on the path that will lead you to long term success with your health and fitness.
Consistency… The Spice of Life
Here’s a picture I’m going to paint for you.
Four days a week you attend a 45 minute, high intensity interval training workout. You get an average 7 hours of sleep a night. 90% of the time you follow a healthy and supportive meal plan. You’ve reached your most recent weight loss goal and have noticed an increase in strength and flexibility.
Here’s a very different picture.
You’re staying up too late each night trying to get in some last minute work while you have the TV on the background. You miss breakfast and lunch most days and often eat far too much at dinner time as well as snack mindlessly while doing the late night work. You’re often tired and groggy in the morning and it’s tough to get out of bed. You miss morning workouts because you’re tired and you miss evening workouts also because you’re tired. Over the past 6 months you’ve really started to notice that your clothes are no longer fitting well.
Both of these stories have very consistent daily life patterns.
The last one is the slow consistency of becoming more unhealthy each day. Slowly adding on weight and leading a relatively sedentary lifestyle.
The first one might not be the full pillar of health but is the reward of making consistently smarter choices by sticking to the road that is usually less traveled. It can sometimes be harder to stay on this path but the reward when you do is triumph for better daily quality of life.
The first story also isn’t about such rigidity that there is no fun to be had but rather building a foundation that will support your ability to balance the fun, life, work and taking care of you to be able to take care of others.
In the second story, it becomes easier and easier to continue on the sedentary path because to some degree it is easier just not healthier. The full blown reality is that you are slowly letting outside factors take over and ruin the mind and body you were given to protect. It might not seem like it now but soon a few flights of stairs will be uncomfortable for you.
Here’s a starter plan to help lead you from the second story into the first, just remember it’s all about different habits with the same consistency.
- Each week, schedule 3 days at a specific time where you will be active. This can include going to the gym or you can start as simple as going for a rigorous walk outside. You must keep these appointments with yourself.
- Twice a week, plan and prep in advance a few days worth of meals. Don’t try to be elaborate to start. Make a crockpot of chili and grill 2-3 lbs of lean protein. Portion them out into containers with your favorite veggies for your meals for the week.
- Turn the TV and your phones/tablets off at night by at least 10pm and go to sleep. Avoid laying in bed watching TV or surfing the internet, give your eyes and your mind some time to rest.
If you fall off the plan, simply pick it back up with the very next step.
Above all else, remember it’s all about different habits with the same consistency. It takes time but you can succeed.
There’s a really great quote,
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”
If effective exercise and good for you nutrition were easy, everyone would be doing it. Everyone would have successes. As a whole we’d likely be a healthier, happier world.
When your exercise routine doesn’t challenge you anymore you probably won’t see results, at least not the same degree of results you had in the beginning of starting. You can challenge yourself by:
- using heavier weights
- taking less rest
- varying the tempo of the exercise
- completing the same amount of work in less time
- changing the time of day you exercise
The same concept applies for nutrition. It will take more time to prepare your food but it will be healthier and better for you than eating out or buying prepackaged food items. It might be easy to order a pizza for dinner but over the long haul you’ll have a greater response from grilled chicken, roasted vegetables and a salad.
I don’t mean any of this to say that you should purposefully make life harder on yourself, that’s not the angle I’m approaching this from. If you’re going to put in the effort to do a workout, be sure to make it challenging so you benefit from your efforts. If you’re going do that, then you’ll want to fuel and refuel the body with nutrients that are needed by doing some meal prep.
Don’t know what to do for your workouts?
Call us to set up a time for your success session and we’ll show you how! 215-248-2130
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