They say you are what you eat. But, you’re also who you hang out with.
There are no quick ways to being healthy. It takes lifestyle change and that’s the truth of it. Of my time in the fitness profession, the biggest game changer I see to succeed in your health and fitness goals is looking who you surround yourself with. If you are constantly around people without the same goals as you, it is going to be a huge uphill battle to succeed. When you surround yourself with likeminded individuals, it takes the temptation out of things that are currently holding you back and provides the support you need to flourish.
If you want to finally make change and become the healthier and fitter version of yourself, you have two choices when it comes to who you currently hang with if they aren’t on the same page as you with their health:
Yeah, it’s harsh, but it’s also reality. If your friends don’t want to support your in your quest for a healthy lifestyle, F- them. You’ll find new, better, and sexier friends soon enough.
Do it together
What better way to get healthier than to do it with your current crew. Going on this journey with a spouse, family, or friends is an excellent way to ensure your success. You’ll know what you each are going through and be an amazing support system.
Surrounding yourself with healthy people gives you:
Avoidance of temptation
You and your bestie have your first half marathon next weekend? You both will have no problem staying in this Saturday evening and watching a movie instead of going out. You’ll be hitting brunch after the race anyway!
My best friends all go to the gym and I legitimately miss them when they aren’t in class. When I text them later that day it isn’t to remind them they wanted a deadlift PR, it’s just because I wanted to hang with them. Maybe I care about their goals a little bit, but it’s mostly me being selfish.
Healthy activities and hobbies
Paddle boarding at the beach? Yeah! Rock climbing? Sure thing. Volleyball at the park? Let’s go! This is kind of blunt, but healthy people like to do cool shit. Find some healthy people to do cool shit with. Disclaimer: beer can be drank during or after this fun shit too.
Life’s unhealthy temptations are always surrounding us. Whether it is a bacon maple glazed donut or a jalapeño passion fruit margarita, my goal isn’t for you to avoid these pleasures altogether. Rather, instead I want you to find balance of both of these worlds. The problem lies when the ones who you spend the most time with are constantly pulling you in the directions you shouldn’t be going to very often. You need friends that will run with you at 9 am, then go to brunch after. You need acquaintances that back your decision to leave a party early because of your workout the next morning. And you need supporters that are running this race with you, not telling you to skip your Friday workout to go to Happy Hour.
An African proverb states that “it takes a village to raise a child.” This works perfectly for our health and fitness too. We are setting ourselves up for failure if we try to tackle it alone or without a support system around us. This journey is hard enough, so make sure you are surrounding yourself with individuals who not only support you, but make this trip of health and fitness incredibly fun and successful.
Is the “New Year, New You” a real thing or just marketing bullshit to get you to set some goals for the new year?
Here’s the reality: it’s up to you. And I’m into it.
Every year, people make their New Year’s Resolutions and January leads to an influx of people trying to become fitter. It’s so popular to make resolutions based around health and fitness because, as a whole, America is terribly out of shape. It comes as no surprise that when people look to better themselves in the new year, their health becomes a priority. And it should be!
We constantly debate and worry about our health in this country. Which diet is best? What style of fitness is the safest? How can we better control our obesity epidemic? The answer is simple – take your health out of your doctors’ and the media’s hands and put it into your own control. Start simple and see where that takes you; eat real foods, limit processed foods and alcohol, and begin moving more. After a bit of that, see where it takes you, and determine what you need to do to continue to better yourself.
We should always be trying to better ourselves. The new year gives us that fresh opportunity and a new page in
our novels to do so. If you aren’t setting goals year-round, you should be. Setting them alone is not enough, you need to actively check in on them, revise them, and add onto them. Goals also give us a perfect way to back track, set timelines, and see what we should be doing everyday to get to that end result.
Most importantly, don’t put your health and fitness on an unattainable pedestal. Simplicity is the first start. Give up sweets and start walking. Only drink one night a week and ride your bike more often (preferably not on the night you are drinking). Or better yet, stop by a local gym (if possible, my gym) and meet with a professional who can outline your journey and support you all along the way. Regardless of your path, you can do it. New Year’s Resolutions only suck if you don’t reach them. Don’t let them suck this year.
We all have aches and pains. The goal is to have as few of them as possible and deal with them as quickly as possible, but they happen. Some pain is acute. This kind of pain may be from tripping on a root while in a trail run or from a tough workout the day before. Although it’s acute and likely as a direct result of a previous event, we still need to be conscious of it and do what we can to help it. Often however, we can work through this pain and not aggravate it further. In fact, sometimes working through these minor bumps and bruises, soreness, or tightness can lead to an increase in blood flow, range of motion, and lead to improvements in the issue.
Other pain is chronic. This pain could have been lingering for weeks, months, or even years. This is the pain we need to be careful of, take care of, and avoid movements that bother it.
Some of these chronic issues may be preventing us from doing things in our workouts. Regardless of the desire, we first need to rest, rehab, and see what we can do to progress the rehabilitation of the area and get rid of the issue altogether. If all goes well, we can progressively add back in exercises that previously caused issues.
Unfortunately, long term chronic damage may have occurred and a full recovery may not be possible. Now we ask: what movements bother you and how much do they affect your life. Let’s use the snatch and deadlift as our primary examples. The deadlift is a vital exercise for life - all it entails is picking something up and down from the ground, so you need to do this a lot! If a deadlift bothers you, we need to fix it as best as possible and occasionally work through the pain. We can take some time off of it, but eventually we need to return to it in some sort of capacity. You need this movement to live. The snatch however is another story. Unless you need to snatch in life for competitive reasons, pain during the movement might be an inevitable exclusion of this lift. Sure we can constantly try to improve the movement patterns that are not allowing us to achieve a safe, effective snatch. However, we may never be adding load in this movement – it’s just not necessary. We can achieve similar goals of the snatch in the clean, kettlebell swings, pressing movements and box jumps.
So ask yourself – what is this pain and what am I doing to fix it. We should not be in pain, especially during our exercise. Our workouts are supposed to be a time that we enjoy. When we push in a workout it should be because we are pushing our limits to failure, not pushing ourselves into injury.
Why do we teach people how to swim, but not how to run? Back in my swimming days, technique was constantly analyzed from the age group to collegiate level – our form was never perfect and we constantly worked to improve it. So why is it that we neglect all things technique when it comes to running. I just can’t be convinced we all run a certain way and need our shoes and our injuries to match our “natural” form.
Below are the four most important things to consider with your run technique. Revisit these often and complete drills before runs to be able to “feel” what you should be doing.
You should be maintaining proper posture with a straight line from the top of your head to your feet. Shoulder blades should be slightly pinched and eye gaze forward. Breaking of this posture will lead to lower back pain, inefficient running, and slower paces.
The Drill: Check your head position by putting your pinky and thumb on your collar bone (like a Hawaiian shaka or hang loose sign). Then straighten out your index finger and rest your chin on top of it. This will put your head into position and begin the process of your whole body being in alignment.
Gravity moves at 9.8 meters per second squared. That’s a hell of a lot faster then you will ever run. So use gravity to your advantage! Create a falling sensation that puts the body at a slight forward angle. Now use your feet to keep up with your fall, rather than propelling you forward. You should feel as if you stopped moving your feet, you would fall into the ground. This fall uses gravity to your advantage, increases economy, increases speed, and saves energy!
The Drill: Stand about a foot away from a wall. Standing with great posture, fall towards the wall from the hips while keeping the toes grounded. Catch yourself in a push-up position against the wall. Repeat 10 times. This is the falling sensation you should feel while running, but instead of catching yourself against the wall, you will be propelling yourself forward.
Tip: Fall from the hips rather than the chest to avoid losing your midline posture and stabilization.
Feel your Heels
While we fall, we want to repetitively move our feet to avoid crashing into the ground. Do so by lifting the feet from the heels instead of lifting the knees. When we lift and recovery our stride from the knees or toes, we are predominately using our hip flexors to perform the motion. Because the hip flexors are a small muscle group, they will begin to fatigue quickly. Instead, use the larger muscles of the hamstrings by pulling the feet up through the heels.
The Drill: Stand with your back against the wall. One leg at a time, drag the heel to about mid shin height and back to the ground. This lifting of the heels to raise the foot off the ground will activate the hamstrings. Use this feeling while running.
Just like jumping rope, you should be landing under the body, on the forefoot, with a quick cadence. Use the innate shock absorbers of the ankle, knee, and hip to absorb impact. Landing under our body’s center of gravity will enable you to spend less time on the ground, increase running economy and help to avoid injury by not over striding.
Use these 4 major points to check out your running technique. All the above is not mastered immediately and must be practiced. Gradually progress yourself into any new technique or running program by not increasing your time in this new form for more than 10% of the previous run. Although injury can occur by running incorrectly, it is more often associated with progressing mileage too quickly.
The IT Band, or the iliotibial band, is a band of thick fascia on the outside of the knee. It is responsible for stabilizing the knee, especially during running. When the band continually rubs over the lateral femoral epicondyle, is constantly stressed due to the flexion and extension of the knee, and repeatedly stressed by impact forces of running, the area is likely to become inflamed. This can cause extreme tenderness of the IT band and knee pain, often diagnosed as IT Band Syndrome.
Technique - The number one way to limit your running career is to land on your heels. Heel striking it the single worst thing we can do for our body. With all the impact forces going straight up our leg upon impact, it will cause a number of issues to happen to your body, but your IT Band and knee will be suffering greatly. Land softly by mimicking jumping rope and land under your center of gravity on your forefoot. This will decrease impact forces to almost zero and not cause additional strain on the IT Band. Additionally, be sure you are landing with a relatively straight foot. It can have a slight turn outward, but be sure not to externally rotate your foot too much which will cause shortening of the IT Band.
Progression - Ensure through any exercise discipline that you are progressing properly. If starting a new running program be sure to not increase your mileage too quickly. Many believe you should never run more than 10% in a linear progression. I think you can up that a bit to about 20-25%. So, if you run 1 mile on your first day of running, you shouldn't be running more than 1.25 miles on your next run.
Rest Days - Unless an event calls for it, never run on consecutive days. Regardless of how amazing your run technique and how precisely you are progressing your miles, running is tough on the body. Take rest days between runs.
Mobility - even if you aren't currently feeling issues, you should still be taking care of your IT Band, especially if you are a runner. Check out the treatment options below and hit a couple of those each week for IT Band Maintenance.
Foam Roller - DO NOT ROLL LENGTHWISE OF THE IT BAND! This will cause the IT Band to smash into the quad and will not heal your pain. Although it might cause temporary relief, instead roll side to side on the IT Band or flex and extend the knee on tender spots. This will release the IT band from the quad and ease inflammation.
Lax Ball - Use the lacrosse ball to roll the IT Band side to side either against the wall or in the ball of your hand. Remember to not roll too much as it can create more damages and we need the area to repair itself. Roll only once a day for 2 minutes or so on each side.
Mobility - Since you cannot stretch the thick and strong fascia of the IT Band, you will need to focus your efforts on the gluts and hip flexors. Low Lizard Pose, Pigeon Pose and Couch Stretch are some of my favorite stretches for these areas. Remember, you should be holding each stretch for 2 minutes on each side to really promote change.
Yes. I said it, Ironman Triathlons are easy. I’ve always said on race day, from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to bed, you will have done something extraordinary and you’ll remember for the rest of your life. It’s one day. Anyone can push themselves through one day of shit that will last a lifetime.
The training however is not easy. For months, maybe even years, you will have signed up for a race, on a particular day, and you have to be ready for it. I don’t even think the physical aspect of training is that difficult. If I told you to run for one minute today, could you? Sure you could. Then, tomorrow we can increase it by 10 seconds. You could do that too. If we continued adding 10 seconds a day, you would be able run for two hours straight in a little under two years. It’s the basic principle of progressive overload. Will it take two years to progressively overload to complete an Ironman? It depends on where your fitness currently is, but most likely it’ll be quicker than that.
The mental aspect of your training is what’s going to separate you from finishing or not finishing on race day. A million things can happen even before the start line. Did you arrive the day before and feel too rushed? Been there. Did you leave one tiny bike part while packing your bike and have to scramble to a bike shop to get a new one? Done that. Did you start cramping and need to quickly figure out what you can do to fix it? Yup, that’s happen to me too. If you have trained at least adequately, the body will be more than ready on race day. The mind is going to be the greatest predictor of finish time.
This training of the mind doesn’t happen on race day either. It occurs during the months or years while you are training for this race. It comes during those early morning sessions when you would rather be in bed. Those bike rides when you get two flats on and have to walk miles to a gas station for a patch. It also happens during those long runs on those days you just don’t have it in you. Those are all examples of some of your best training days. It’s those days that will be more beneficial in the long run than any days where you set a PR in training. Overcoming obstacles leads to success during adversity. You’ll have plenty of hardship to deal with as you swim, bike and run 140.6 miles
Your mind is the most powerful tool in your bag if you train it to be. It takes training just as the body does. Staying positive, using mental imagery, and other sports psychology tools are vital when trying to exercise for essentially an entire day. Thing is, it’s do able. Don’t let the little things get you down, but instead find ways to overcome them. Push through those sessions, it’ll make you stronger in the end. Problems are just opportunities to find new answers. Don’t ever let mediocrity be acceptable.
It’s pretty simple, but we often get this wrong. Skill work is designed to be light and instill perfect movement patterns. Strength work is to increase load and get stronger. MetCons, or metabolic conditioning, are intended to move quickly, get the heart rate high, and kick some ass. Unfortunately, all too often in the world of CrossFit, we get that wrong. Daily, we prescribe MetCons during our WOD that typically last for 5-20 minutes. This short period of time is a vital part of your workout. However, we get hung up on doing a certain prescribed load or movement that does not allow for us to be intense during our MetCon.
Let’s look at our three main goals of MetCons:
None of the above happens when intensity is not achieved. When you are gassed, trying to complete a movement you need more practice in, or lifting a load too heavy to cycle for a number of reps, you are massively missing out and doing your workout a disservice. In every workout we should be both practicing and training. MetCons have no place for practice. You should be sufficient in the movement and/or load during your conditioning portion of the workout. A good rule of thumb is load being about 50-60% of your 1 RM. Yes, there are exceptions to this rule. But, for the most part, it’s a pretty good rule to live by.
Let’s look at an example:
Fran (21-15-9 reps for time of thrusters/pull-ups) is a 4-7 minute workout for most mortals. If you are going RX and it takes you 15 minutes, you are not getting the most out of your workout. I have never done Fran slower than 5 minutes. That’s because it took me a couple of years to RX Fran. Instead of taking 15 minutes to finish, I scaled the load to a barbell. Each time I repeated the workout, I went heavier until I reached the RX load of 95. I knew my intensity with the workout wasn’t going to be there until my 1 rep max was around 185. The same would go if you can’t string together a solid set of pull-ups. Scale the pull-ups until you can hit sets of at least 3.
In addition, the lasting benefits of intense MetCons are endless. The most important for many of us is burning fat. It’s a fact that high intensity interval training burning tons of fat for up to 24 hours after a workout. But, if we aren’t being intense with out MetCons, you are getting any of that benefits. This is not to say you should also go super light or pick out movements that are easy – no way! You should still be challenging yourself through load and movement, but just sticking to exercises that allow for intensity to be achieved.
In short, your metabolic conditioning should be an intense period of time, not a time to try to lift heavy or practice a new movement. A good rule of thumb is going to be 50-60% 1 rep max for loaded exercises and being about to do at least 3 reps unbroken of a gymnastics movement. This general suggestion will ensure that intensity can be achieved throughout the workout. Once the WOD is completed, then you can feel free to put in the extra work at movements to get better at them!
How do I tell people what they should eat?
Well, first off I always recommend them logging a couple days of food. From there, we can make recommendations on food intake, calories, and macro nutrients.
But, regardless of where those are set, there is a key to making healthy eating a lifestyle change – balance.
Balance gives us the ability to still indulge in the things we love. Whether it is dessert, lasagna, cheeseburgers, or alcohol, we all have that something that doesn’t align with our healthy lifestyle.
That’s why I recommend the 80/20 approach. I don’t know who was the first to come up with this, but it definitely wasn’t me. The 80/20 life that I recommend says that 80% of your diet should be real, good food. I go by the rule that if it roamed on the earth or grew in the earth, it’s probably pretty good; meats, nuts, seeds, fruit, and veggies. It’s just real food.
That other 20% can be whatever you want. These are your indulgences – cake, ice cream, other sugary treats, and alcohol. Some take the 80/20 on a daily approach and eat great all day long then get their splurge at night. Others can eat great all week long and use the weekends as their time to partake in not so healthy choices. You choose what’s best for you.
Your health is your responsibility. No one else can be accountable for what you put into your body. I am not here to tell you to never eat (insert bad food option) or drink (insert sugary or alcoholic drink) again. In fact, I am telling you the opposite. You should partake in those things you love, but make it in moderation and make sure the vast majority of the time it's good stuff. This is not a short term solution, but something I want you to take for life.
Three things need to happen to make a lifestyle change. You need to eat real stuff 80% of the time, don’t eat in excess, and do intentional activity almost every day.
The last one tends to scare people when I first tell them they need to do something almost active every day. Then I explain it and it doesn’t seem like such a feat.
The 3 key words in my statement are intentional, activity, and almost.
Intentional – I want you to mean to do this activity. Walking your dog around the block doesn’t count if you already do it. Walking your dog an extra loop now counts as your intentional activity. Elevator broken at work and forces you to use the stairs? Doesn’t count. Choosing to walk up the stairs does however.
Activity – this can be almost anything. I want you to do something that makes you move, burn some calories, and gets you closer to your goals. Activities can range from a CrossFit class to recreational soccer game to yoga. This activity doesn’t even have to be a class. It can be a short workout at home that only lasts 10 minutes. Or could even be a long walk around the neighborhood with your family. It doesn’t need to be a massive calorie burning ordeal. It just needs to be something.
Almost – what happens when your schedule just doesn’t allow for any kind of workout? Or you just really want to sleep in on a Sunday instead of getting up for a run? That’s okay! You’ve done something every other day of the week so you are good! Sometimes life gets in the way or our bodies just really need a rest. Take the day off because you are good, you’ve done plenty the last week already.
Don’t overthink this rule. Just do some sort of intentional activity everyday and you will be on the road to health, fitness, living longer, and living better.
I am a huge advocate of logging your food. It takes so much of the guessing game out of eating and allows you to hit proper calories and macros accurately. I recommend everyone walking through the doors of our facility or during our first consultation phone call to log at least 3 days of food.
These first three days I want them to eat normal. If we can’t see what hasn’t been working for you, it could be harder to determine what is best for you. After these first few days, we will then set you up with calories per day and macro nutrient distributions based on your current weight, activity levels, and goals. Then, I will have you log 3 more days for us.
For some, that’s all they need. From those three days, they can essentially eat the same stuff and be on the way to their goals. Could they lose quicker? Maybe. Could they perform their workouts better? Likely. But, it is working for them and I am fine with that. Progress and sustainability are at the top of my priority list, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is also the perfect strategy for body maintenance. If someone stops logging, I encourage them to log a day or two every couple of months to ensure things are still going in the right direction.
For the rest of us, logging long term may be necessary. This is often the case for fat loss clients and muscle gain clients. These goals require pretty specific calorie and macro goals, in which your body may not be regulating properly when it tells you it’s hungry or full. Sometimes you need more, sometimes you need less, and especially in the beginning of any dietary change, our bodies are not necessarily in line with our satiety levels. I still prescribe individuals to log normal food intake for a few days. Then, we will give them their calories and macros and constantly check up on them to measure progress and reanalyze intake levels.
Does logging every day seem too much? No worries, because I actually recommend skipping a day each week. This will allow for them to have freedom with their food and not deprive themselves of what they really want. Issues come with deprivation. Don't go overboard on this day every week. Trying to keep in mind moderation with all things is key. But, this day off from logging will lead to a better, long term, lifestyle change.
With so many food options, diets, and trends out there, it is often overwhelming. Eating real food, in correct quantities is always going to be the best approach. Logging your food to ensure your calories and macros are where they need to be takes away a lot of the guessing. Remember, this isn't a diet for the short term, it's a solution for life. If you need help, let us know, we are there for you in this process of making a lifestyle change.
Sean Spire is the Head Coach of ASL. He was a competitive swimmer who discovered CrossFit and Ironman Triathlons. He has his BS in Exercise Science from Florida State University.