The Best Workout when You’re Not Feeling It

by Michael Plank

I’ve been working out for 20 years. For a long time I thought there would come a day when I would be totally motivated and engaged for every workout, every day, without exception.

Nope.

Some days, even now, I am just. not. into. it.

So what’s a person to do? Skipping is definitely an option, but you can’t expect to keep getting results if you skip every time you’re not feeling it. So never fear! There IS a workout you can do. It will help you improve balance, flexibility, body awareness and control, shoulder strength, and core strength. You don’t need equipment. You probably don’t even need to change clothes.  And it’s not physically demanding enough to make you feel like it’s a whole freaking thing.

Enter: SLIPS

SLIPS is an acronym from the gymnastics world. It stands for Scales, L-sits, Inversions, Planks, and Stretching.

Scales look super boring, and yet are amazing at improving balance (if they’re easy to do, try closing your eyes). L-sits are incredible for building core strength (they’re very advanced though, so we often sub in hollow variations). Inversions include the downward dog pose, wall walks, piked handstand holds, handstsands against a wall, and freestanding handstands. They build shoulder strength and help improve your proprioception (your body’s awareness of itself in space) by being upside-down. Planks are great for core strength too, and Stretching is always good (the wall straddle stretch is my personal favorite for SLIPS).

There are countless ways to work on these, but my favorite is 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of transition for several rounds. I like to do:

3-5 Rounds:
-30s front-to-back scale (left leg)
-30s front-to-back scale (right leg)
-30s rest
-30s accumulate max L-sit/hollow
-30s rest
-30s accumulate max inversion hold
-30s rest
-30s accumulate max plank hold (squeeze core muscles at 10/10 for added intensity)
-30s rest
-30s wall straddle stretch
-30s rest

In and out in 15-25 minutes. No warmup necessary. Will absolutely make you a better athlete. And you might not even break a sweat.

The Supertool You Might Not Be Using

by Michael Plank

Want to be leaner? Stronger? Faster? Want to have more discipline? More motivation? Want to have an easier time with nutrition? Want to live longer? Be mentally sharper? Improve your memory and productivity? Want to be more injury-resistant?

Go to sleep.

Why do we need to sleep? It’s up for debate. But it’s clear that amazing things happen when we do sleep: physical recovery, memory consolidation, hormone regulation, and all kinds of other things. Good, quality sleep is definitively linked to making you more attuned to hunger cues, to improving the effects of any efforts at body composition change – whether gaining muscle or losing body fat – to longevity, and to mental acuity.

And culturally, our sleep is garbage. Which means we’re missing out in a big way. Things like blue light, alcohol, caffeine, systemic stress, a 24-hour economy, and hustle culture are making it so that we sleep less and less, and more poorly than ever.

In a perfect world, you’d get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Not 6. Not 4. You would fall asleep easily and wake up refreshed. But most of us don’t live in a perfect world. So how do you go about changing your sleep?

Like everything else we talk about, you do it slowly, with habits.

It’s widely agreed that good “sleep hygiene” (that is, the stuff you do that sets you up for good sleep) includes the following, at a minimum:

  • A consistent bedtime
  • Daily physical activity and time outdoors
  • Cool nighttime temperature in your bedroom
  • A dark bedroom (without screens, lamps, or LED indicator lights)
  • A 1-2+ hour break from screens before sleep
  • Abstaining from caffeine for 8+ hours before bedtime
  • Abstaining from alcohol or heavy meals late in the evening

That’s a lot. So if your sleep quality is not what you’d like it to be and you want to work on improving it, we recommend the same approach that we do with fitness coaching or nutrition coaching: start small (we call this habit coaching).

Take a look at that list of 7 things and see if you can find the lowest-hanging fruit. What’s the one thing on that list that seems easy; that you’re at least 80% confident you can pull off at least 5 days a week? Start with that. Maybe it’s turning down the thermostat at night. Maybe it’s putting a bedtime reminder on your phone. Pick one thing and then do it for a month. When it’s easy and just part of your norm, go back to the list and pick a second thing that seems easy. The rule is, you should be 8/10 confident that you can do it and it’ll be easy. Does everything left on the list seem hard? That’s ok. Just stick with what’s easy for a little longer. Little by little, these habits will build on each other and can improve things.

And look, some people will just always have an easier time sleeping than others; just like some people build muscle more easily or are naturally leaner or recover more quickly. But the goal here isn’t to WIN SLEEP QUALITY! It’s just to improve it so that we can improve our health and well-being.

A disclaimer though: if you haven’t worked out in years and then you start working out, you’ll be sore. Like, really sore. You’ll actually have a harder time moving for a couple of days than you did before you started. That doesn’t mean that exercise is wrong or bad, it just means that there’s an unpleasant adjustment period. The same is true with changing sleep routines. If you’re used to taking Nyquil and scrolling on your phone while you listen to the TV until you fall asleep, changing that may well have an unpleasant adjustment period. That doesn’t mean that your new sleep routine is wrong or bad. But it can take some time.

But it’s worth it. Because sleep is one of the single most powerful tools we have to improve our health and well-being. It’s massively underrated, massively effective, it will help you achieve your goals way faster, and literally all you have to do is lie down and close your eyes.

(A great resource is http://www.sleepfoundation.org. And for parents of young children, check out https://www.babysleepscience.com/resource-blog)

What to do When You Feel Like You’ve Hit a Plateau

by Aimee Wojtowecz

At some point in your fitness and nutrition journey you are going to plateau. It’s inevitable. We have forward progress for months upon months and then one day it’s like the brakes locked up and you start wondering what went wrong. 

Our bodies crave homeostasis, aka. balance, and will always look for a way to settle somewhere. Eventually there will come a point where what you’ve been doing just isn’t going to work anymore. Rather than freak out and start eating less and exercising more, treat this as an opportunity to evaluate what you’ve been doing: does it still serve your goals? does it align with the lifestyle you really want? have you mastered all the basic habits before you try to tackle more advanced ones? If you’re answering no more often than yes, maybe it’s time to change things up. 

Let’s start with consistency. If the habit you’ve been working on is to have 5 servings of vegetables a day and you hit that goal 70% of the time, let’s shoot for 80% for at least 3 months (Oh were you looking for a quick fix? Sorry to be a dream crusher but fitness and nutrition are a long journey). Then maybe go for 85%, or 90%. If you’re not being at least 90% consistent you can’t say you’ve mastered that habit yet. 

Next, think about tweaking those habits a little if you’ve nailed the consistency. Maybe you’re swapping out one high intensity workout for a 1 hour walk. Maybe you’re adding a little more to each serving of protein throughout the day. Most often when you feel like nutrition is where you’re stuck it comes down to amount and quality. Are you underfueling or overfueling? Are you relying too much on processed foods because they’re quick and easy and we all just have too much going on? 

Ask yourself these questions next time you think you’ve plateaued: 

  • Could something be further refined or improved?
  • Could my routines be further streamlined or made more effective?
  • Could I be doing a habit more skillfully?
  • Could I be doing a habit more consistently?

And if it really is a plateau can we reframe the concept away from a “plateau=failure” to:

  • An opportunity to refine your habits and goals.
  • An opportunity to improve existing skills.
  • An opportunity to try new tasks and learn new skills. 
  • An opportunity to take the pressure off and just maintain for a little while. 
  • An opportunity to be grateful for the progress you’ve made and celebrate your journey.

If you feel like you’ve hit a plateau and you’re frustrated, let’s start reframing that and dig deeper to find out what’s really going on. Set up a goal review session, try nutrition coaching, find one small thing that you can change up in your daily routine. There is almost always some simple improvement or adjustment that is going to get your progress moving again no matter what your goals are. 

What I Wish I’d Never Said as a Coach

by Michael Plank

“Eating like an asshole.”

Man, I wish I’d never said that. I used that term a lot a few years ago. I never used it to directly criticize someone. I always said it about myself or used it in a hypothetical scenario. But if I could go back and delete that phrase from my brain, I would in a heartbeat.

What I was trying to talk about was the phenomenon where eating an extra roll at dinner leads to 5 beers, a trip to taco bell, and a pint of ice cream (what? just me?). Melissa Urban of the Whole30 uses the term “food without brakes,” which is much better. In my own work with my nutrition coach, we started using language around eating “with or without intention,” which I also like.

The problem with describing any kind of eating as being “like an asshole,” is that it overlays a huge heaping of judgment on it. And if there’s one thing any therapist or counselor or meditation teacher of philosopher worth their salt will tell you, it’s that adding judgment to a behavior is not a helpful way to change it. It doesn’t mean that judgment can’t be valid, but it does mean that people are much more successful when they can look at a behavior objectively – as neither good nor bad – and then make a decision about whether or not that behavior serves them. That’s easier to do with a clear head than with the shame spiral that inevitably follows the second you believe that you’re “eating like an asshole.”

Ugh. Any time I hear someone use that phrase now I cringe and feel a stab of guilt. If I ever said that to you or around you, I’m sorry. I wish I hadn’t. And I don’t anymore.

But we can’t change the past, so here’s what I’ll say moving forward. The next time you feel like your eating is careening out of control, take 30 seconds and clear your head, then ask yourself “what’s my intention right now?” and then make a guilt-free decision based on that. And, spoiler alert, sometimes my intention is to have an extra beer with my friends because we’re having a great time. It’s not all about deprivation. And if that doesn’t work, try nutrition coaching, it’s worked wonders for me, and our nutrition coach will take 10-15 minutes with you to talk for free about how we can help.

And when you end up doing stuff that you ultimately regret (ahem – see the beginning of this post), learn from it, and move on.

The Ultimate Form of Self-Care

by Aimee Wojtowecz

“If you take care of yourself – and what’s included in that is improving your health and your fitness through eating in a certain way, not abusing your body, exercising to improve your strength and mobility – that is enjoying your life, that is improving the quality of your life. Why are so many people looking at changing their health, changing their exercise, changing their nutrition as a negative, as a lower quality of life or as if they won’t enjoy life? If people only understood what this could be for them, if they looked at this as the ultimate form of self-care rather than self-punishment.” 

This is a quote from a recent podcast I listened to and it was mind blowing (The Behavior Chef Podcast episode 41 CHECK IT OUT!). The ultimate form of self-care is changing your outlook on what “quality of life” means to you. If you used food and exercise as a form of self-care to improve your health and fitness rather than as a punishment for eating or to lose weight to fit someone else’s expectations, what would that mean for your life? Would that free you to find a workout routine that involved activities you truly loved rather than activities you force yourself to do because “you’re supposed to”? Would that free you to make food choices that allow you to balance flavors and foods you enjoy with foods that are good for your health (can they be both)? What does that kind of life look like to you? Does it look joyous, does it look hopeful, adventurous? 

Unfortunately diet culture in America has become so ingrained in our lives that we have started to look at making changes to our health, fitness and nutrition routines as some sort of extreme and sometimes as punishment for the things we’ve eaten or consumed. There becomes this fear that we’re never going to be able to have ice cream again if we’re working on our fitness or nutrition, or that it’s going to consume hours of our lives and who really has time for that. We mock people who choose to spend time in the gym while also mocking people who don’t. Who wins in this situation? Nobody. 

To make permanent changes to your health, your fitness, your nutrition, it all starts with a mindset shift. Start thinking about it as the ultimate form of self-love; you love your life, your body so much that you are going to treat it with the utmost respect and really start listening to what it needs. Does it need to dance around the kitchen for 10 minutes (oh and if you didn’t know, kitchens are made for dancing while you cook) or does it need a balanced meal with colorful vegetables and flavorful seasonings? Start trusting that because you love yourself so much that you will make the right decisions for your body.

Set Yourself Up for Success

by Michael Plank

 

It’s just about that time of year!

“New Year, New You.”

“It’s YOUR year.”

“THIS year will be different.”

We’ve been in this game for awhile now and have worked with literally hundreds of people on goals and resolutions over the last six years. Here’s the bad news right up front: roughly 80% of New Year’s Resolutions don’t last more than 6 weeks. But the good news is that it’s not that hard to be in the 20% that make it beyond that! Here’s how to do it:

1) PICK A RESOLUTION

One. Not two. Not five. Not nine. Pick one resolution. I’ve been in the lots-of-resolutions camp and started many January 1sts with 15 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of mobility, 4 meals that were all prepped and pre-packed, 5 minutes of journaling, a strenuous workout, prayer, scripture reading, more journaling before bed, and 8 hours of sleep. Guess how long that lasts? (I’ll give you a hint – you’ve got an 80% chance of being right). If the goal of a resolution is to make your life better, set yourself up for success by making it easy to focus. Pick one thing and it’ll be way easier to stay on track and not get overwhelmed by your new 14-step, 2-hour routine. One thing.

2) PICK THE BEST DOABLE OPTION

Avoid the Best Theoretical Option. Here’s what I mean: If you want to get more control over your in 2021, the Best Theoretical Option might be to work out 5 days a week, do 1-on-1 nutrition coaching, hire a house cleaner, hire an organizer, and start reading about personal finance and productivity. Great. But that’s a lot. You know what’s not a lot? Making your bed. But will coming home to a made bed at the end of the day move you one step closer to feeling like your life is under control? Yes. And would you actually be willing to spend 30 seconds in the morning do it? You probably would. Don’t pick the best thing that you could do (the Best Theoretical Option). Pick the best thing that you actually would do (the Best Doable Option). Remember that the goal is to move the needle, not to wake up on January 1st to a perfect life.

3) GET HELP

Get a friend who has a similar approach to progress (not necessarily a similar goal). Get an accountability buddy. Find social media groups for people doing what you’re doing. Read books, listen to podcasts. Best of all, hire a professional – someone who specializes in what you want to accomplish. For physical health, find a coach. For mental health, find a therapist. For spiritual health, find a clergy person or advisor. Or hire a guitar teacher, or writing coach! The point is to find someone who knows how to help people improve in the area that you are pursuing.

Remember that perfection is a myth. The route to real, lasting change is slow, maybe, but it’s steady. Ending 2022 a single step beyond where you are right now is progress that counts and is worth making. Progress is the magic.

Here’s to a 2022 that’s chock full of it!