We all find ourselves in a moral dilemma when we shift our focus to eating healthier.
“I really want to eat that [insert food], but I’m on this new diet and it doesn’t allow [insert food].” The boss buys lunch for everyone in the office but since your diet won’t allow it you end up staring at Terry while she eats it one bite at a time.
Terry doesn’t need that, let Terry enjoy that lunch. What you really need, my friend, is a solution to this problem.
That answer is substituting.
Finding new recipes for familiar items that are on the unhealthy side is the best way to ensure that you don’t black out and wake up in an alley covered in chocolate frosting. Take the concept of the meal and then breakdown what exactly makes the meal “unhealthy”. Is it the oil? Is it too much fat added in? Is it too many extra ingredients? Once you have that answer it’s really a process of addition and subtraction.
Example #1- Parsnip Fries
For clients that love french fries but want to get in better shape, you would break down why fried potatoes an issue. Aren’t baked potatoes approved in most diets? So why is this one in particular an issue? It’s the oil and salt added. Not to mention, the amount of carbs in the form of a snack can be a real problem for those lacking self-control and on a strict lower carb diet. So, I give you your substitute. Parsnip fries.
This recipe was given to me by a friend a while back. After doing some digging, I found the perfect way to make a much healthier variation of fries. It starts with a bag of parsnips, found at almost every grocery store in the produce section.
Taking these parsnips, you peel them like a potato and cut them up into normal french fry shape and length. At that point, you need to preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with the cut parsnips. I like to throw a few tablespoons of garlic, a few cracks of ground pepper, a few sprinkles of pink sea salt, a dash of paprika, and a bit of rosemary. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, check for flipping if necessary, and then bake again for 10-15 more minutes. Voila! Healthier, tasty fries with a similar texture and much less to worry about.
Magic trick: For best results, spray avocado lightly onto the fries before the second round of 10-15 minutes to make them crispy!
Example #2-Spaghetti squash
For those of you that missed the video of me making some spaghetti squash pasta, check it out on @AthleticAgain (IG). Spaghetti squash is such a cool and tasty replacement for pasta noodles that I rarely have actual pasta unless I eat at a restaurant. Think if you could eat some good pasta like meals at only 7g of carbs versus 43g per cup in real pasta. I would much rather have the squash if I can make it taste somewhere in the neighborhood of the real thing.
Start by taking a spaghetti squash and poking holes in the outer skin. Then, microwave the squash for around 5 minutes or until it becomes softer. This is a great tip because the squash can be tough to cut if you skip the microwave. Once warm, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds just like you do while pumpkin carving. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and stick the two halves on a baking sheet. Season the insides as you wish, I like to use paprika, ground pepper, sea salt, and extra-virgin olive oil. Bake for 45 minutes face-side up and then pull out the strands when finished. You can then take this and make things like chicken parmesan, asian stir fry meals, or whatever creation you have in mind. This substitute just allowed you to keep one of your favorites dinners without the added stress of meeting a diet requirement.
Subbing for success
This all comes down to you thinking of what foods you love to eat and creating awareness on how you can improve the nutritional quality of those meals. If we can identify the things that make them unhealthy, we can search for better ways to make them. Remember that your diet should never take away foods, it should only give you a guideline to work within. Almost any type of meal can fit in a diet, it just comes with moderation and some thought on what ingredients go into making it. Try writing down a few of your favorite meals and then do a little research on how you can make a healthier version. Who knows, maybe you might fall in love with a new version of a favorite dish.
It would be easy if we said that our main goal was to get healthier and fit. You can sign up for the gym, get a membership, and do a few exercises for a few months straight and that would be something.
After working in a gym for so long, I’ve seen so many people that signed up and paid their fees only to be a “no show” three months later. They didn’t stay motivated because their goals were not life changers. However, when your goals are big and your passion is present, actionable steps start to form. Too many people settle for the easy route and never get to see the view from the top.
Settling for “getting back in shape” is the easier route. But easier routes lead to short-term changes. An eventual loop back around to your current state shortly follows. That’s why I love a specific quote from JFK. During “the space race” in the 1960’s, President Kennedy declared the United States would put an astronaut on the moon by the end of the decade. People nowadays might not see the problem with that. After all, we’re now sending Tesla’s into space and trying to send someone to Mars.
During that time period, America was battling European nations to assert dominance in space exploration. The Soviets were kicking our butt and already accomplished many things before us including sending the first person into outer space. Even more important to add is that we hadn’t sent anything into space. But JFK knew that there was more riding on this than just space exploration. It was time to take a bold stance and reach more for more than the status quo.
That’s when he said this:
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
This quote resonates with me because he said it during a time when landing a man on the moon was only a dream. The Soviets had sent someone into space, but sending someone to land on the moon? That literally had never be done. The Soviets had proven themselves successful, America provided little in comparison. So why would he think we would be able to land someone on the moon? Because he believed that it was possible.
You think that losing 30 pounds is an impossible goal?
Or running a 5k is never going to happen for you?
Think of how big of a goal landing a human being on the moon is compared to running a 5k and yet, they still believed it was possible enough to set out and do it.
In that quote, he said the phrase “unwilling to postpone”. He did not say “get a rocket off the ground” or “send our own astronaut into outer space”. He wanted to be the first. They decided that America had the talent and capabilities to be the best and not settle for anything less. You have the same capabilities. You possess what it takes to do some unthinkable stuff. All it takes is confidence in your abilities and a plan to follow.
I want you to take what you think you can achieve and multiply that by 10. I say that because imagine what you can accomplish if you fall just shy of a goal that is 10x your original goal? I remember seeing a picture growing up that said, “Shoot for the moon, because even if you miss you will land among the stars”. I always thought that was a corny poster on the wall until I got older and realized the deepness of the message. Set your sights beyond what you believe you are capable and you will surprise yourself.
Get out of the comfort zone
People try many different times to get back into shape before they actually do. This is because the comfort zone is so hard to break away from. When we recognize a change is necessary, it’s still tough to break away on the first or second try. With a definable goal, you can avoid making vague statements like “I’m getting back in shape”. Think you can only lose a few pounds? Why not set a goal for 10? 20? 30? Even if you fall short you will have increased energy, be lighter on your feet, and your joints won’t be as cranky.
Take home message:
Loose, vague goal setting only leads to unmet goals down the line. Be specific and shoot for something big
Get comfortable being uncomfortable, get out of your comfort zone
We do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Remember that your view at the top of mountain will be well worth it if you get there with hard work over cutting corners.
As much as the internet and social media has opened up the flood gates for information, it’s still a struggle for many to put together a healthy and complete meal.
Our culture is centered around productivity and efficiency. Hence, the rise of fast food restaurants that allow us to grab and go to allow us to get back to work quickly. Most have to rush home from work to take their kids to practice or do an extracurricular activity. That schedule allows people to get a lot done in a 24 hour period. But, it also forces some things like health and fitness to get pushed into the “non-urgent” pile for later. While the rise of fast food chains satisfied a need, it also caused in the future.
The typical fast food restaurant meal
The typical fast food meal is going to give you a piece of meat (chicken or beef typically) and potatoes. This type of ingredients in a meal allows fast food companies to keep inventory for long periods of time and increase profits. The “burger and fries” meal grew in popularity becoming a staple for a lot of working families. That company model of business was excellent by combining low prices and convenience for people with little time to cook after work. As more women worked instead of staying home, there was an increased demand being met. But as those families kids have grown, that way of structuring a meal has been cemented in their minds. Imagine when someone who grew up with fast food dinners goes to cook for themselves in their 20’s and 30’s. It’s tough for them to even imagine what a healthy meal is comprised of.
When you suggest adding broccoli to someone that grew up on fast food you get a reaction like..
Let’s be honest, broccoli doesn’t taste as good as french fries or a double cheeseburger and it takes more preparation than a drive thru order. The way we eat when we’re younger really has a significant impact in the way we eat as adults. I work with a lot of Latin American athletes that have it hard wired into their brains that a balanced meal includes meat, beans, and rice. I’ve found the best way to fix that is to give a visual. Explaining things aren’t nearly as effective as just showing what a healthy plate is.
With the typical plate including about 50-70% bread or potato and the rest coming from meat (sorry the lettuce doesn’t count as a veggie), we have an easy fix to dramatically improve the overall value of our meals. By lowering the amount of bread or potato and incorporating a veggie like broccoli, carrots, spinach, or cauliflower you are taking out some carbs and adding in vitamins and minerals. Not to mention, veggies are very low in calories but still fill you up. By avoiding fast food all together and cooking meals yourself, you save money and have the final say in what ingredients go in. So it’s so vital to learn about how to do it right.
Here are two examples of how to build a healthy plate:
The above graphics show a way to divide up your plate proportionally. In these two examples, you can see that a majority of your plate should be comprised of vegetables. Next, it’s important to have close to a 50/50 split between protein and starches. The plate on the left shows a section for grains and a section for fruits, while the other shows a combination of the two. However you want to slice it, the point is that you should start thinking of your meals in terms of what it can offer you.
The next visual will show how you can decide what is the right portion size.
When putting a plate together, use two fists or palms to determine the right serving size for vegetables. Grains and fruits are more like a handful and for proteins use your one palm as a measurement. Fat should be consumed in smaller quantities, so you should use a thumb instead to determine the correct amount. Here is a great graphic from Precision Nutrition showing these serving sizes:
This should be a good visual for those of you struggling to picture what a good plate should look like. If you can see it, you can do it. At times, your schedule may not allow for a home cooked meal. But at that point, it’s about making the best choice out of what you’re left with. Most fast food chains have realized that their customers are growing health conscious and as a result have included some better items. I suggest trying most of the salads or grilled chickens items and asking to substitute fries with something else. Chick-Fil-A has greek yogurt as a side item replacement for their fries and also has grilled chicken nuggets on the menu. That is a way to do damage control and get back to your regular schedule the following day.
Take home messages:
Think of your food in terms of what it can offer you rather than how great it tastes. There are plenty of foods that taste great and still offer more nutrients.
Try to split up your plate by carbs, fats, proteins, and veggies. Make sure veggies take up a larger portion of your plate than anything else. Protein is next in line for priority, then carbs and fats.
Although fast food offers convenience, it is not offering the proper balance. Your nutrition goals are too important to spend time wasting money on things that give you very little nutritional advantages. Your health outweighs any anything that fast food may provide unless you are in a real pinch. If you are, sub out the fries for a healthier side and try to pick something like grilled chicken.
The phrase “athletic again” can sound like a lot of work. When I say “athletic”, you picture Michael Jordan dunking a basketball or Usain Bolt blazing down a track. But those are athletes. Becoming athetic again is about developing athletic qualities, not becoming a professional basketball player or gold medalist sprinter.
You are sitting at lunch and come across one of my workouts posted on instagram and think…
But I want to stop you right there. A workout program is more than something that makes you sweat. It’s definitely more than something that only makes you sore. And it can be something that improves your quality of life. Instead of dreading the lower body workout I posted, start seeing the opportunity to develop your strength and mobility. Mobility and strength improvements lead to other things and so on. Understand what being more athletic can do for the rest of your day.
It’s important to define exactly what “athletic” means. I’ve found “physically active and strong”, “of, like, or befitting an athlete”, and “involving the use of physical skills or capabilities, as strength, agility, or stamina”. What would it mean to be stronger so you can hold your baby without struggling? What would it mean being agile enough to play tag with your children? Or what about having the stamina to work all day and come home and spend time with the family? Not to mention the secondary benefits like weight loss and lower body fat. Also, your heart becomes healthier so you can live longer and your joints aren’t as cranky throughout the day. That is why the goal is get athleticism back.
When you hear “get athletic again”, you might think, “I’m so far being out of shape, there’s no way”. However, we all have some athletic qualities that are ready to tapped into. Strength, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and flexibility/mobility are there for the taking. With a little consistency and hard work, it comes back. The body is an amazing machine that will adapt to what you give it. Tell your body you want to sit in a chair for 8 hours a day, it will start to adapt to that position.
What would be the problem with being stronger so you can hold your baby without struggling? What would be the issue with being agile enough to play tag with your children? Or what about having the stamina to work all day and come home and spend time with the family? Not to mention the secondary benefits like weight loss and body fat. Your heart is healthier so you can live longer and your joints aren’t so cranky throughout the day too. That is why the goal is putting athleticism back in your life.
Athletic again programming asks you to run, jump, hop, squat, and push/press, and pull stuff. That, in essence, is every way in which you can express the qualities listed earlier. That is how you will get your athleticism back. Move heavy stuff quickly and do all the things that encompasses an athlete on a daily basis. I want you to focus on getting back the things your body forgot it could do. It takes soreness and a little gritting of the teeth, but it will give you far more benefits than without it. Put meaning behind your effort and the results will be there.
Take home message:
We are shooting for more than just vague goals. You are training to feel athletic and be able to run, jump, throw, and do things physically again.
“Back in my prime” is only for people who don’t want to work for it back, anyone can get their strength and stamina back with a little hard work and focus.
The body adapts to stimulus you give it. Sitting at a desk all day tells the body to adapt to a position that isn’t smart for our structure.
Athletic Again is not asking you to be a competitive athlete again, but I am asking you to do things that can lead to greater quality of life and happiness down the road.
When you first get started going back into the gym, it’s overwhelming.
You look around and there is so much going on. What the heck is that guy doing? Why the heck is she throwing that ball at that thing? Why is that guy grunting so loud? Should I grunt that loud? What am I missing?
The beginning of improving your nutrition can feel very similar and make you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Where do I start? Why do people say to not have any red meat? Is fat bad for me? What is the healthiest sauce to buy? Eating better can also overwhelm the best of us. There is so much information out there that the percentage of bad information will proportionally grow too. Nutrition professionals and companies also are selling a product and that comes with lots of marketing and advertisement. Remember that last thing you bought? It’s no longer useful, so here is a new supplement that I have that will kick your last one in the pants.
My intent of this article is focused on discussing the mindset you have to have in order to set yourself up for success. The workout part is already taken care of with daily workouts on my instagram @AthleticAgain. But, this still leaves a huge gap in your nutrition. Most people know they need to sweat and exercise, so that part is not as difficult to get them on board. But, if you start taking away comfort foods and asking to add in non-sexy looking vegetables, that’s where a lot of people backflip off the boat and swim back to shore.
I know you want to make a change and I know you have aspirations to crush it at work and come home with tons of energy for your family. That is why when the nutrition part comes up, the positivity and the determination is there. A lot of players I’ve worked with will go on a two week focused diet where they are hell bent on losing body fat. After those two weeks, you see their face when they realize that all of the things they’ve read on fitness websites and diets they looked into are asking so much of them. They like ice cream, they enjoy drinking a few beers. That is not the way they want to live.
That is why my advice to you starting out, in order to make sure you are starting a change that you will continue to follow through with, is do not sweat the small stuff.
Brown Rice vs White: The great debate in line at your favorite tex-mex
If I had a nickel for every time I heard this question, I would have like four or five nickels. You’re in line and the person behind the counter asks, “Would you like the white or brown rice?” Chances are, you’ve heard someone either in your family, at work, or in line at a restaurant say they picked the brown rice because it’s healthier. You wonder, what makes the brown rice healthier? This is a prime example of “word of mouth” nutrition. So, let’s do a quick review.
First of all, white rice is just a stripped down form of brown rice. Initially, brown rice looks better because the process of stripping off the brown layer to make white rice loses some nutrients. But in the last year, more information being put out shows that white rice might actually have better bioavailability than brown, bringing it to about even on a “pros vs. cons” scale. White rice is higher in the glycemic index, but when paired with other important macros (which you almost always will be), it negates the GI argument. Plus, brown rice causes more digestion issues and bloating giving white rice another bump up. Also, brown rice is higher in arsenic, although all rices have levels of arsenic. So, really the point is that white rice and brown rice are very similar and definitely not supposed to be viewed as one healthier than another.
This is one of the things where someone said it once from some research article they saw and things just snowball. If the news puts out something where someone important said to eat more apples, soon you will see more people eating apples and swearing that they helped them lose 15 pounds. My point isn’t that diets don’t work or not to try them. My point is that when someone believes what he or she is eating is healthy; they are more likely to stick to it. The brown rice that they believe to be healthier makes them feel good about what they are doing and that positivity breeds more motivation to work hard and stick to a routine. What kind of salt you put into your food is not nearly as important as the bigger things you still have not fixed like drinking a 12 pack of beer on Saturdays.
Rice is just an example, but there are many things just like it. You are focusing on the minors and overlooking the majors. Building a routine around healthier options and making better decisions that set you up for greater success is what it boils down to. Your type of potato chips might not be the problem as much as the choices you are making on a regular basis. If you keep doing happy hour twice a week with your colleagues at work, you are asking to drink more alcohol. If you meet your friends for pizza every week, it’s going to be tough to say no to a large slice. Don’t get bogged down by all these videos and articles about whether you should be using olive oil or coconut oil and keep your focus on eating three solid meals a day with good quality food sources. If you’re crushing your nutrition and have been at it for six months, then you can start to talk about whether sweet potatoes are better than russet. You can do it if you keep pushing the sled, no matter how slow it moves, keep your legs driving and it will start to gain momentum.
Thank you for your support on the blog, comment below to ask questions or speak your thoughts!
I can say with confidence that a high percentage of people headed to the gym today are going to do a few ab exercises. But instead of “abs”, sometimes you will often hear it phrased “core work”. To set the record straight, there’s a difference between doing a little tummy tightening and actual “core work”. And you SHOULD be doing “core work” as opposed to just abdominal strengthening.
If I sampled 100 people in a crowded gym and asked them to list their top three training goals, how many would say “flat stomach” or “nice abs”? What are your three? Chances are, the stomach area is included. Besides “losing weight” or “gaining muscle”, the midsection/belly area is one of the most important points of focus in training. There’s a reason workout tapes like “P90x” and “Insanity” have you perform a billion different ab exercises. They want you to feel soreness in areas you want to rave about the workout. They know what they’re doing.
A nice set of abs to show off on Spring Break is nice, but should get more out of this crucial area of our body if we aim to be fit and athletic again. We want to be fit, strong, and healthy. We want to jump higher, run faster, and feel better.
A brief look at the core musculature
It’s important to note that the term “core” not only includes the rectus abdominis (middle six pack muscles), but several different layers of muscles. The grey areas in the picture above on the show that in combination with the six-pack muscles are the obliques (external, internal) and the transverse abdominis. The grey areas also wrap around to the lower back for muscles groups like the erector spinae and the quadratus lumborum (QL) that aid in the process of bracing and protecting the spine as well as extension.
Your diaphragm and some lesser known muscles like the ones that sit deep in your glutes or attach from your hip bone also aid in core function. All this to say, there is a lot more to “core work” than just training the muscles that show up at the beach. If you want a healthy body and a happy spine running at full function, we need to talk about better exercises than just doing crunches and situps.
The function of the core
In order to train any muscle or muscle group properly, we need to look at what it’s function actually is. The core muscles are our center, our midpoint in the body that aids in literally everything we do from running, jumping, and lifting. When you go to pick up your groceries, you are going to use your core muscles to some extent. When you pick up your baby to put on your shoulder, you are definitely going to be using it. So, understanding how it works it vital to prescribe training.
In the typical crunch exercise, for example, the core helps us flex the spine forward and bring the upper body closer to the ceiling. In a typical twisting or rotation movement like a baseball or golf swing, the core helps us rotate our spine. Our erector muscles and QL (quadratus lumborum) of the back help to stabilize and extend our spine, like when we pick up groceries off of the ground to standing. So far, I count the ability to flex, extend, stabilize and rotate. That means in basically every movement, the core is aiding to some capacity making it the most important area we can focus on. However, one of those functions in particular takes priority.
The ability to brace and stabilize the pelvis and spine is by far the greatest function of the “core”.
Flexing, extending, and rotating can be performed by certain layers of your core independently, but the ability to brace and stabilize requires all the musculature to work together as one unit. A crunch is not necessarily “core” work because it’s just isolating certain layers of the abs to do flexion. A russian twist is not necessarily either, unless you are pairing it with other work. It can definitely improve the strength of a single layer, but as we talked about already the core is responsible for doing much more than just flexing for the gram.
I’ve stressed the importance of bracing and stabilizing because it can keep your spine healthy and lead to greater improvements in performance. For example, by learning to brace properly before a deadlift or squat, you can immediately improve movement quality as well increase your strength and power. Health in the spine is no small feat either. I don’t know about you, but I want to keep my spine happy and stay away from any disc issues in the future for as long as possible. Training your core as a strong group of muscles working together can help you do so. This is why some folks with very defined, strong looking six packs still have back issues. We want to do loaded exercises like barbell back squats or heavy deadlifting, but without improving our ability to create stiffness in the core musculature we end up distributing the load improperly.
Breathing and bracing
Creating core stiffness is the first step to our improvement plan. We can do so by learning how to breathe and brace properly. That’s right, I said learning to breathe right. Believe me, that is something I never thought I would have to teach someone or work on myself. It’s such a funny concept that we are living (and obviously breathing), yet need to work on our breath. Although it comes off cooky initially, it is something I’ve found to be extremely helpful for anyone including high level athletes. The fact is, we sit more than we stand these days. The posture we get put into does not allow for full breathing function of the diaphragm and as a result we start breathing at lower capacity and develop compensations. I’ve actually had to take high level athletes and re-pattern their breathing. If someone in professional sports needs it, chances are you can use it too.
Let’s start with a breathing test.
You can check your breathing by laying on your back with your eyes looking at the ceiling and hands at your hips. Feet can be flat and knees slightly bent, they won’t be playing a role yet so just leave them where you’re comfortable. I want you to do three total breaths, with the inhalation part lasting five seconds and the exhalation part also lasting five seconds. Make a “C” with your hands and cup the sides of your stomach with your index finger running parallel to your front hip bone and the inside of the thumb running across the top part of your glutes just above the back side of the hip. Once you take your first breath, notice if your hands were being pushed out by your breath. Did you feel any expansion? If the answer is no, you are probably not breathing with the correct sequence. As you exhale, did you feel your hands sinking in like your sides were deflating? If not, we need to get to work.
Re-patterning your breathing
In order to make improvements, we have to follow a proper teaching progression.
Crocodile breaths and 90/90 breathing
This is the first step in learning to brace and breath right. Here are two ways that I’ve learned and used to improve and re-pattern the way to sequence it. These two drills allow us to practice in a low demanding position either on our back or on our belly. With the position easy for everyone, it allows the focus to be put on our breath. Most people, with correct cueing, will pick this up within an hour. This portion makes the light bulb go off, but then is rarely practiced again. Remember to come back to this again even when you are advanced because it is something easy you can do watching tv at night or before you go to bed.
Dead what? Bird what?
Progression: Breathing —-> Deadbug/Bird Dog
Going from the 90/90 breathing position right into a dead bug is a great way to progress. It’s the same position, but now you get to practice and test if you can breathe and brace while moving limbs. Don’t let the names fool you, these are excellent core exercises. Both exercises allow you to practice bracing while moving limbs which, in sports, happens almost all the time. Whether it’s throwing, jumping, or swinging the more core stiffness you can create the more stable your body will be. Stability in the trunk and core allows for power and strength to be expressed and this is what we’re looking for. You will be surprised to see that if you are strict on quality the exercises will highlight your compensations.
What to look for: While performing the bird dog or dead bug, you can easily fly through the movement and say, “man that’s easy”. Be strict and really focus on maintaining your bracing while you move your limbs. Get a strong brace and breath, then perform the drill. If your low back doesn’t stay put, you need to keep working on it. Chances are, if your back moves during these that you are not staying very stable once you put 225 pounds on your back.
Progression: Breathing —-> Deadbug/Bird Dog —-> Bridges and Planks
Following the progression, we go from low level breathing on our back and belly, to on your back with movement, to a greater demanding position. Planks require no movement, but are a challenging drill or exercise to practice maintaining stiffness in the core. Bridges and planks are prevalent in every niche of fitness. Yoga, pilates, strength & conditioning, group classes, bootcamps all incorporate a type of bridging or planking. At a glance, it doesn’t look all that challenging. But when you throw them into a tough circuit and focus on really contracting your midsection, they’re tough. This is also an easy exercise to throw into programs whether it’s in the warm-up, intra-workout, or post-workout.
What to look for: Within the plank or bridge, keep a flat back and watch for the low back to start dipping. If you don’t feel challenged, squeeze your midsection hard and pull from the elbows to the toes. Shaking will ensue.
Band Iso Holds
Progression: 90/90 breathing —> Deadbug/Bird Dog —–> Planks —-> Iso Hold
Banded isometric holds can be very helpful depending on how you use them and when you use them. Getting yourself into the right position to start is key. I suggest started from a half kneeling position and performing a few sets of band holds for 10-15 seconds. Progress to longer durations and then eventually add sets. Once you have demonstrated the ability to hold for 20-25 seconds and have done the proper technique, switch to a standing band hold.
Applying this to the big lifts
Progression: Breathing —->Deadbug/BirdDog —-> Plank —-> Iso Hold —-> Athletic Movements
This is our final stop on the core progression. By this point, you should have learned to breath and brace, shown the ability to maintain this bracing with limb movements (dead bug/bird dog), for long duration (planking), and in different athletic positions (iso holds). Now you need to check the bracing is kept with dynamic movement.
Once you have progressed this far, you should have a feeling of strength in your midsection. Instead of just flexing your abs, you should feel like your entire midsection is fully protecting yourself. Now, you can implement these strategies into big movements that give us our greatest performance gains. Squatting, deadlifting, olympic lifts, and bench pressing should all be improved just by mastering this progression. Imagine if you could lift more weight in an exercise like the back squat just from doing core exercises for a month. Doing actual core work has tremendous benefits and should be started right away. You can absolutely do all the crunches and sit-ups you want for aesthetic purposes, but if you want to get serious about your lifting and health it’s time to throw in real core work.
Take home message:
Core training requires much more than isolated exercises like crunches
Complete core training treats your midsection as a group of muscles working together to protect the spine and create stiffness in movements.
Throwing in a proper progression allows you to check if you’ve learned the necessary pre-requisites to move to the next drill.
Most of this can be learned quickly, but should be repeated and practiced no matter what level you are.
Learning to breathe and brace properly can add strength and power to big movements like squats and deadlifts.
Working on expanding the midsection 360 degrees avoiding the chest rising and falling with each inhale/exhale.
Dead bug finish
Bird Dog finish
The banded iso hold from a half kneel can be done from both knees down or done as a pallof press (Pressing band out and back in)
Bracing before the descent
Working on maintaining the brace throughout the movement
Here is a question I’ve been getting recently and I figured others have the same question. It doesn’t matter which demographic or goal, everyone wants to know which supplement is best to help them accelerate their results.
The problem is that most of them don’t.
A “food first” approach
It’s important to start this topic off by clearly stating what supplements are and what they are not. Supplements are not quick fixes or substitutes for hard work. They do not give you that magic result and if they do give a quick fix, they are probably setting you up for failure later on. Supplements should serve to do exactly that, supplement your actual diet. My approach to anything nutrition related is “food first”. We always want to try for whole food (not to be confused with Whole Foods) before we start throwing in any powders, pills, or bars. Real food is going to be digested and absorbed to a greater capacity and offers a variety of things that we simply can’t get from any supplement. However, once we get a handle on that, we can start to incorporate a few tried and true things to our daily routines.
Before we go any further, answers these questions (Be honest):
Are you able to eat at least three solid meals each day?
Are you incorporating important things like vegetables and healthy sources of protein and fat on a daily basis?
Have you spent some time trying to cook and prepare your own meals?
Is the reason you are looking into supplements because you are swamped with a work/life schedule that doesn’t allow for planned snacks or meals throughout the day?
-If the answers to these questions are yes, we can move on.
–If you answered a few “no”, it’s time to take ownership over your health and success by learning how to make a few meals for yourself.
Knowledge is power, especially when dealing with what you put into your body. Almost anything a supplement can offer you will be found in a well-planned, well-prepared meal plan. So let’s get that handled first and then we can re-visit what you are missing in your routine.
Which supplements are effective? Which supplements are a waste of money?
I enjoy answering this question, but often don’t get a massively positive reaction when a client or athlete hears it. People ask that question hoping on the other side there is some product or supplement that they haven’t heard of. The fact is, the answer is probably something you’ve always known but didn’t want to do.
Setting a goal of being athletic again is not easy, and when you hit a wall it’s important to know that the basics will keep you going. The truth is, the real benefit of supplements come from their convenience and not their ability to be a magic bullet. For those working long hours and have families, being able to open up your desk drawer at 3pm and add 20 grams of protein to your daily total without taking much preparation or calories is huge. That is why all of the supplements I will recommend to anyone will add convenience more than benefit. No one supplement is necessarily better, it’s just about taking a look at what YOU are missing and adding it in the form of a supplement. So, without further adieu, here are my top three recommended supplements.
If you are following some type of muscle building or strength program, protein is a major macronutrient that aids in recovery and tissue repair. We want to get our protein from lean meats first, but when you’re in a pinch and can’t go heat up something it sure helps to throw a scoop of protein powder into water or milk and go. Not only do protein supplements offer us the recovery benefit, but they also help to keep us from starving in between meals. The time between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner is when people start to get cranky and reach for snacks in search of energy and relief. We’ve covered which snacks are better in a previous article you can find here, and protein powder was one of them. This is an excellent supplement that has been heavily researched and found to be effective, unlike a lot of stuff the guy at GNC will try to sell you. Brands of protein are something you will have to research more of. I’m not going to recommend a specific brand, but it’s rather easy to find some top brands for a good price on the webs.
TIP-Avoid all the hoopla about the “window of gainz” after your workout and just eat real food post-workout if available. Use the protein powder in the form of a snack at a time where you really struggle to get protein and make your shake then. You can go with a smoothie for an actual meal replacement or just a quick 25 grams of protein in water.
The second supplement I would recommend is omega-3 fish oils. These fish oils contain two important components called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Not only have these been found to be helpful for people dealing with heart disease, but will add a good source of fat to those with lower fat diets. I’m by no means telling you to run out and grab fish oils right now. But, I am saying this has shown the ability to provide a benefit unlike a lot of supplements being marketed out there. I recommend first that you try to include types of fish like salmon or tuna two times a week. If, for some reason you can’t, omega 3’s are an option. Fat plays a major role in so many important bodily processes including protecting your brain, so don’t skimp on the fats because you think that helps you get to your goals faster.
TIP- This is a great supplement for people that just can’t do fishy. But, before you buy anything, check to make sure the fish oils have been highly purified. Fish can contain high amounts of mercury and metals, so it’s very important to check your product first. Only buy from verified sources. Next, look at the amount of EPA/DHA per serving. This another way to tell if the product is quality. Low values and no purified methods means to sling that thing like a burgundy burrito.
The third and final supplement I recommend, especially for athletes, is creatine monohydrate. This supplement is a tried and true supplement that has been shown through research to improve maximal strength and power. Being athletic again really revolves around those two things. Creatine also has been shown to add muscle mass, increase muscle fiber size, and improve your resistance to fatigue. Essentially, it helps you grow to a greater degree because it delays fatigue further allowing you to train longer. This can mean an extra set or an extra rep at high intensities, which is important once you get to lifting heavier and heavier. Creatine has several forms being marketed and sold, but don’t worry about all the variations and stick with the monohydrate form. A common misconception with creatine is that you gain water weight or that it causes injury. Creatine is naturally occurring in foods, just like protein, so you eating meat would’ve caused problems long ago if that was the case. A “loading period” is also a topic of conversation, but has been shown to be unnecessary as long as you are consistent with taking it daily for around a months time.
TIP-I recommend you take creatine specifically in blocks of training that require high intensities or percentages of your maximum (>80% 1RM). If you are training at a low intensity or just doing a general exercise program, this is probably not worth buying. However, creatine could eventually be a part of your regimen once you build a solid foundation and can train at high weights. For now, stick to eating great and drinking tons of water.
The supplement industry is absolutely crushing it right now. Companies are literally starting out of their garage and selling their supplements within a short period of time at stores in your neighborhood. You have got to be extremely careful what you buy and where you buy it. Even stores like GNC or bodybuilding.com will sell products that are not necessarily verified and proven to help you. With the amount of money flowing into this industry, there is a ton of false claims and advertisement that you can find that magic bullet. Don’t buy into that. We both know that hard work and a patient, long-term approach is the way to go. We do not need a diet pill, we definitely don’t need something that has 15 ingredients we’ve never heard of claiming to give you a “rush you’ll never forget”. In order to avoid how much misinformation there is, I try to stick with what research is able to tell me and take a conservative approach to recommending anything.
Supplements that almost made the list:
This is one of the most widely used things on the planet. Starbucks is crushing life right now due to it and research is showing very positive results from it’s effect on workouts. However, I don’t really like athletes or clients getting caffeine from pre-workouts or energy drinks. Personally, I get my caffeine from coffee. I genuinely enjoy good coffee, so the caffeine is an added benefit to a drink I like. Energy drinks and pre-workouts can definitely give you a boost, but I can’t recommend them long-term to anyone. It also affects the brain like a drug and can cause withdrawal like symptoms for people consuming large amount for long periods of time that quit cold turkey. And what I don’t like in terms of athletes, is that they try to mask their fatigue by adding caffeine on top only delaying an inevitable crash.
This is the component of your pre-workout that gives you the itchy, tingly feeling. Beta-alanine is still not well known, with the itchy feeling still being attributed to caffeine or other components of a pre-workout. I remember in college, when a lot of research was being done on beta-alanine, that I took it individually and literally was itching my face and neck like Tyrone Biggums in the middle of a physics lecture. It was clearly more than I was supposed to have. The big draw to beta-alanine is it’s ability to buffer hydrogen ions that accumulate during tough exercise to allow you to delay fatigue. This allows for more reps at greater intensities and overall more training volume to be done. However, more recent research has people second guessing what we initially thought about this supplement. It’s a great reminder that unless your particular supplement has been shown benefits in research for longer than a few years, it could end up being a placebo. The verdict is still not out on beta-alanine and much more research needs to be done before it makes my list.
This a popular one that a clerk at a store is almost guaranteed to tell you will help you. However, research is still too muddy for me. Amino acids are just the broken down forms of proteins. So, in theory, they should have the same effects on the body as protein supplements. However, that is not the case. It seems that whey protein is more effective. Some research shows amino acids to have benefit, but again, I’m not ready to sell it to the people that depend on my advice. If you must, take these in times where you have no real food available. It’s better than nothing at all, so in those circumstances it can be helpful.
Understand that the supplement industry is mostly just marketing and advertisement. A lot of people don’t want to give the unsexy answer that most supplements are a waste of money. Almost everything you can find at a store, you could be getting from your nutrition at home. Don’t let someone sell you on something that isn’t that complicated. If you have metabolic issues like a deficiency then you need to speak with a professional about specific supplements to help.
Take Home Message
Whey protein can be a convenient way to supplement your protein intake each day without adding tons of calories. It can also taste great.
Omega 3 fish oils can help people that can’t do fish or gravitate towards lower fat diets. Be very careful and select only high purity grades.
Being athletic means being strong and powerful. Creatine monohydrate has been shown to improve those components and therefore can be added to a block of training that focuses on lifting high intensities or concentrates on strength/power improvements.
Supplements claiming quick fat loss, improved energy, joint health should probably be left alone. The supplement industry is centered around selling you with shiny labels and claims of greener pastures. You can definitely take anything and immediately feel better, but it’s highly likely it’s a placebo effect you bought for $29.99. Don’t let someone put a price on what you can achieve for free through hard work.
Food first approach! We want to improve the food we put into our body first, then try to find where we fall short and supplement from there.
We’ve probably hesitated to go to the gym to avoid the specific times they go.
I’m talking “bros”. And without proper advice, you could find yourself in the middle of a full swarm of them.
This is a funny topic to talk about and something that anybody who is a consistent lifter knows all too well. There is a type of person that really gravitates toward weightlifting, but doesn’t really get much done when they go. This can be an issue for people who show up for a lift with a plan and a purpose. You showed up to the gym, set goals for yourself, brought your program that took time to put together, and…….you have to wait because someone is on the squat rack doing a set of bicep curls to infinity. I’m not dissing bicep curls either, I enjoy a good arm farm as much as the rest of you. But, there’s a time and a place to pump the balloons.
I wanted to share some clear cut ways you can avoid this epidemic of bro-ness.
Here are four fool proof ways to avoid the stink eye from serious lifters:
Spending too much time on a machine (especially when there’s only one)
I can’t tell you how much it bothers me when someone isn’t aware of other people lifting around them. It just takes common sense. We’re all there paying money to have access to getting better, but sometimes there are only two squat racks with two people using them that must think they bought the racks with their gym fees.
“Yo bro, stop hogging the rack or let me work in.”-Brain
This is our brain’s snap reaction to someone’s selfish lifting tendencies. A proactive, intelligent lifter would eventually think of an alternative to their programmed exercise choice and avoid the argument. I’ve gone both routes and sometimes the person doing 15 sets and taking four minutes of rest snaps out of it and apologizes. Other times, they put their headphones back on and add a few sets on purpose. Also, this person is probably wearing a belt for 135lbs. and quarter squatting.
TIP: When lifting in a public gym, be aware of who needs to work in and help everyone get better at the same time. We all have busy schedules, if you have 5 or 6 sets to do get in and get out.
2. Spending too much time on your phone
This has always been an issue since phones became affordable and an integral part of our lives. There are some people that literally have all day to workout and aren’t on a clock, so they tend to take their time. Understandable. Sometimes, it really isn’t what you think and the person really just has a ton of emails and texts to reply to. Understandable. This is not as much a problem as long as when you approach the person to work in or use that space, they comply and seem genuinely busy. Nobody needs to say sorry, just let me get some time on that lat pulldown too because there is only one. I don’t mind at all that someone gets caught up because they have a busy life, we all do and we all should understand that. They’re not officially a “bro” until they play candy crush for 2 minutes on the machine we need and when asked if we can work in they say, “Sorry dude, I have like 5 more sets”. That’s strike three strikes in one sentence.
TIP: If you have tons of work stuff on your phone, set a timer for your rest time and plan to have that span of time for answers or replies and then put the phone in your pocket to get back to training. If you want to video sets, save editing your clips or posting it to social media for when you get back home. It doesn’t make much sense that someone has to delay their #gainz because you want to pick the right filter for your videos or trim a clip to edit out your bad reps.
3. Checking yourself constantly in the mirror
This is not for the occasional glance. This is the person who checks mid rep, again mid set, and then a nice long stare n’ flex during the rest period. This is not something that is an annoyance to your day if you don’t let it. But, there are days where you look over and see the constant flex fest and the brain gets to speaking.
“You literally have only bench pressed for an hour each day the month. We all get that your chest has grown.” -Brain
TIP- If you must flex, try to keep it in a spot where most of the gym isn’t facing. I get for some, the point is to get eyeballs on the bod. But we don’t want to see it as much as you think. Go into the group exercise room when there are no classes or nobody working and absolutely go to town. Flex until you cramp. But, save it for another time. Some people are training, don’t make them have to watch a 45 minutes pose sesh.
4. Never does a lower body workout (or counts the leg extension as one)
Maybe don’t come at your friends like this. But, there are memes out there specifically for this topic because it’s common. We have a tendency, as people, to go for things that offer immediate gratification. In the fitness world, this means improving muscles we can see, or “mirror muscles”. That includes shoulders, chest, bi’s, tri’s, and for some their abs. Most people don’t stop and hand out compliments on your quad/hamstring definition or size. So, naturally, people will focus on what will give people the impression that they work out. It’s hard for people not to seek compliments for the hard work they are putting in. I get it, but keep a balance.
Some people aren’t even looking for praise, they just follow the path of least resistance. I’m not saying that a bench press, lat pulldown, cable row isn’t tough. Those exercises can be extremely challenging and lead to massive improvements in strength. I’m simply stating that lying down supine on a bench and pressing a bar up is not nearly as difficult from a demands or technique standpoint. Almost anyone without severe shoulder issues can perform a successful rep of the three previously mentioned exercises. However, a deadlift or barbell back squat takes more practice and technique to gain proficiency. But, you need to know that neglecting big lower body exercise out of your training leaves a huge gap in your training and potential.
Lower body exercises not only produce great improvements in muscle size and strength, they can also stimulate the hormones in the body necessary to help total growth in the body. In layman’s terms, lower body workouts can help support and stimulate growth of your upper body too. Specificity does play a role (chest exercises stimulate chest growth), but lower body exercises will help lower body fat (which helps upper body muscles show to a greater degree) and produce hormones like growth hormone (which while circulated can be distributed to upper body muscles as well).
Oh, and leg extensions < squats, lunges, deadlifts, RDLs, jumps… that is all.
TIP- For people really struggling to add in lower body work because a) it sucks or b) they don’t know how to perform the exercise, there are easy fixes. For “a”, throw in either jump rope or bodyweight squats/lunges in between sets of your upper body workout. This gives you an added health benefit elevating heart rate and gives you a more productive rest time for your upper body. If you belong to the “b” group, it is understandable to feel this way. However, there is so much quality information online now that you can easily access tutorials and coaching on sites like youtube.
My advice: Watch a few different videos of how to do the exercises from different coaches. Some coaches will cue an exercise differently, so watching a few different ones will give you the general gist of what to focus on. Either way, throw in two bodyweight leg exercises in your next upper body workout and reap the benefits.
Go out and make the gym experience better for everyone around you. A good bonus tip is to avoid the chest exercises like the plague come 5-6:30pm. This is blood in the water for sharks. Sharks that get off of work at 5 and are hungry for chest growth. It’s likely that if you’ve been working out at all you already know this. Mid-morning/mid-afternoon is always a safe bet to get your workout done if possible.
Take Home Message:
Be aware of other people around you. If there’s only one machine to get something done, chances are other people are going to hover around trying to work in. Let them get their work done and later they might do the same.
Give yourself boundaries from your phone during the workouts. I’m guilty of answering tons of texts and e-mails while I workout, so I have to give myself a set timer to put it down and do my next set. It’s not time to play games on your phone. Music should be set before you walk in the door.
If you are working on posing for competitions or just really like to see yourself clanging’ iron, find a space in the gym to do that where everyone else doesn’t have to be a part of it too. Group exercise rooms offer tons of space and allow you to go nuts.
Mix in lower body work because of the benefits. Give yourself the results you deserve for the effort you are putting in. Balance is important, don’t be the top heavy person with twigs for legs.
To avoid the most inconveniences, try to train during mid-morning or mid-afternoon rather than 5-6:30pm feeding frenzy times.
Hope you enjoyed the article! If this article was entertaining or informative, please comment, like, or share so that it can reach someone else.
For workouts and nutrition videos, follow me on instagram and facebook @AthleticAgain. I appreciate all the support and feedback you’ve given.
A question I’ve been getting lately from clients and friends is, “What is the healthiest way to snack when I’m busy all day?”. This is a good question, especially for people who are really trying to improve but can’t seem to find a way to fit it into their work schedule. Hungry workers = grumpy workplace. Hungry workers binge eat and grab high sugar snacks leading to afternoon crashing = sleepy workplace.
I like to use the analogy of a campfire for your metabolism. We want to build a nice, strong fire that burns calories and continue to throw logs on it so that the fire keeps on going. If you let the fire go for too long, it starts to dwindle. Giving yourself planned snacks in between breakfast, lunch and dinner allows you to keep the fire burning and put you in a position to be successful in your goals to be athletic again.
So I’ve decided to put together a rough outline of how to answer that question so that people reading can improve their daily nutrition immediately.
First, it’s important to discuss what qualifies as a good snack. So, I think we can start by breaking down the components of a good snack:
For a snack to be worth adding to your day, it has to be able to give you more of the important nutrients you need. We know from previous NTOTW’s that protein is essential in the process of building muscle and recovering from workouts. So, it’s important that whatever snack we have includes it (20 grams or more).
2. Offers fibers
Fiber is an important part of our diet and it’s actually harder to get than you would think. Fiber has impressive benefits including improving your gut health and associated with a reduction in cancer risks (breast and colorectal) and type II diabetes. Shoot for 5 grams of fiber on your snack labels.
3. Low in sugars
A snack that is packed full of sugar is one guaranteed to sabotage your efforts. Sugar can accelerate aging, interfere with your immune system, be problematic for your teeth and gums, and lead to long-term problems with the heart. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any of those.
So what snacks include all three?
Coincidentally, one of the tougher things to find is a low sugar, protein packed snack that is high in fiber. Ain’t than somethin’. So, below is a list of snacks that I’ve compiled that will allow you to keep munchin’ while you’re number crunchin’:
Smoothies are one of the easiest ways to include all the necessary components of good recovery and allow you to get the most bang for your buck. If you throw in some protein powder (protein, peanut butter (fats), a banana (carb) and water you have yourself a drink that includes all three macronutrients. Be careful going to a smoothie bar thinking you are going to get the same good nutrition as a homemade version. I really want you to try and make everything yourself so that you know exactly what’s inside and you can control what you’re putting in your body. Places that sell smoothies have the goal in mind of getting a customer to return and it’s tough to do that on a large scale if their smoothies aren’t good tasting (meaning mostly high in sugar). A lot of athletes make the mistake of throwing in more and more fruit in an effort to make their smoothies extra healthy. All that does is cause a huge sugar rush and inevitable crash later on.
Here’s a great infographic I found on nomeatathlete.com (credit to them) to show what your smoothie should ideally include:
Greek yogurt with fruit and granola
Yogurt itself can be beneficial due to the probiotics found inside. But the “Greek” type of yogurt can provide you with a higher protein, lower sugar version than your regular yogurt. It also can serve as a source of calcium and potassium. Plain, unsweetened greek yogurt is the best option here. If you are missing a sweet taste when you try it, add some blueberries or cut up banana along with a little bit of honey and granola. This is a great afternoon snack or addition to your breakfast as well. You can also buy greek yogurt cups with fruit mixed in, just be smart and read the label for sugars.
Create your own trail mix
This snack allows you to customize what you like and leave out the things that you don’t. Nuts are a good source of fats and fiber and allow you to grab a few handfuls without any preparation necessary. Simply mix and match some almonds and sunflower seeds to have yourself an easy grab and go. Picking the pre-packaged snack versions can include high amounts of sugars, so beware. Some might want a good contrast of salty and sweet, so feel free to add in small amount of dried fruit. My advice to making this snack great is bringing a container to work filled with a mixture of those and keep it in your desk. Limit yourself to a few handfuls and then stow it away in your desk again.
Jerky (Beef or Turkey)
Most guys that have trouble with snacking in between large meals won’t have much issue if you hand them some beef jerky and tell them to try snacking on that. Beef or turkey jerky is a good option because of the protein it provides. Just don’t eat the whole pack in one day.
I left this last because a lot of people know to grab bars when they want a snack. The only issue with snack bars is that most of them are going to contain a lot of sugar. Sure, you are getting some protein and fiber. But, we are trying to keep are our sugar intake low and adding more on top of our regular meals won’t be helping our cause. If a bar can add 20 grams of protein or more without being ridiculously high in sugar and below 500 calories, feel free to grab it in a pinch. I wouldn’t suggest making this a regular thing, but do have some on hand in case you’re short on time and don’t have any other snacks on you. I prefer the Rx Bars (unbiased, not affiliated with them at all) because I like what they are trying to do by putting everything on the label and make a point to not include a bunch of extra stuff.
So, you have the knowledge and the power to crush the snack game. This is a huge step up because you are now going to be able to avoid crashes in the afternoon and those hunger cravings that drove you to eat that bag of Cheetos last week. If you can surround yourself with great options to snack on, it will lead to better choices long term. Try to store some greek yogurts and fruits in your fridge at work and stash a tub of protein powder as well as bars and trail mix in or under your workspace. If the person next to you at work gives you a stink eye about all of it, just tell them you’re getting athletic again.
If this article helped you, please like and share so that other people can enjoy. Also, follow me on Instagram @AthleticAgain for daily workouts, videos, and recipes. You can also subscribe to this blog to get weekly updates on new blog posts. If you have questions, please comment below and thanks for stopping by!
Last October, I was fortunate enough to attend a Strength & Conditioning conference that hosted a great talk by Ron McKeefery. If you don’t go to seminars and conferences, I would encourage you to do so for the simple fact that you meet people doing exactly what you’re interested in and you might pick up something like I did.
Ron McKeefery has been around the strength & conditioning profession for a really long time and held several high profile jobs in the pro and collegiate setting. He has a great podcast called “Chalk Talk” that you should definitely check out. His talk was well done and pretty impactful on my thought process.
It centered around two books he had read by Chip and Dan Heath called “Switch” and “The Power of Moments”.
He gave a synopsis on each one and then discussed how he applied them into his own coaching with picture slides and examples of ideas. It motivated me to buy and read both books (pretty quickly I might add). While I did enjoy Switch and highly recommend it, I felt like The Power of Moments made more of an impact on my mindset going forward and got my creative juices flowing to a greater extent. So, as I read it, I decided to take some notes so I could share the highlights with you.
I really enjoy the Heath brother’s books, even another called Made to Stick, because of the way they speak to their audience and present the information. Their books always contain solid sources detailing situations or studies that really drive points home. They take an observational approach to answering questions instead of filling the entire book with their opinions. It’s refreshing to read something written by people who spent time researching a subject because they were genuinely interested. I wanted to highlight a few things from their case studies in this article.
The basis of the book is to review and deconstruct the power that certain moments have in our lives. It starts with questions like, “Why are some moments like birthdays or anniversaries so powerful in our memory?” and, “Can we create our own powerful moments in our everyday lives?”. It also stresses the importance of thinking in terms of moments and trying to spot occasions in our work and relationships that are worth investing in creating powerful moments or peaks.
The authors bring out four moments that are present for something to be remarkable:
Moment of Elevation
Moment of Insight
Moment of Connection
Moments of Elevation-Moments that are elevated like birthdays or graduations have specific things like gowns or cakes with candles that make it a special occasion. In order to elevate a moment, it’s important to a) build sensory appeal b) raise the stakes and c) break the script. Doing these three things allow you to build what they termed “peaks”.
Moments of Pride-example of this is when someone acknowledges your work and it gives you a feeling of pride. The authors make a good point that pride for something is never without recognition from someone else. And that in order to create a feeling of pride to an employee, a genuine compliment can go a long way. Creating moments of pride can be done by setting up milestones like FitBit does by giving a badges for a certain number of steps. This creates a unique way to say “you’re doing great, keep going”.
Moments of Insight-Whereas elevation is a powerful moment because of it’s mostly positive effect, moments of insight can happen when the not so positive moments happen. These deliver realizations and transformations almost like epiphanies. But you can create moments of insight by “making someone trip over the truth” or “stretch for insight”. This is like the saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it”. Sometimes people can’t see the truth until it’s staring right at them. If you really want the light bulb to go off, sometimes you have to make them trip over the truth. The authors give an example of a company trying to show a village to change their way of going to bathroom in order to improve sanitation and health in the area. Instead of scolding the people and telling them how terrible it is there, he asks them questions that they answer in front of the town. He continues to lead them to the truth by asking questions and not attacking anyone. Eventually, just by answering these questions allowed they become embarrassed and come to the realization of their mistake. Instead of attacking someone you think is doing something wrong, ask them questions and see if they will have the “aha” moment.
Moment of Connection-the last of the four includes the power that connection can have. We can create these by putting people in a situation to deepen ties to each other or create a shared experience. Making your group feel like they are all in it together can make a huge difference in the energy and attitude they bring to the workplace. Mentoring can be an extremely effective way to help someone that’s coming up in your field. It can help to create a connection for that person and improve the amount of success they have by taking advice from someone who has been there. I can say that a big reason my knowledge base has grown like it has is because of the mentors that took the time to teach and educate me outside of a classroom. If you aren’t taking on any new mentees, but expect someone else to mentor you then you are not understanding how it works. Learn as much as you can and then give that back to someone else who is in the same spot you once were.
My goal is not to spoil the great stories in the book, but to highlight the key points that can help you create powerful moments and discuss a few of my favorite stories.
Two of my favorites
One of my favorite stories in this book was the one about the Magic Castle Hotel in California that elevated their guest experience. They are rated one of the best hotels in LA, close to the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, despite being a very average hotel overall. Nothing that they have should make it stick out considering it’s a former two-story duplex built in the 1950s. So how is this possible?
The hotel has found out how to take what they have and deliver memorable, unique experiences to their guests. One thing being the cherry red phone they have by their pool that you can use to call the “popsicle hotline”. This is a line that you call and minutes later someone wearing white gloves deliver you a cherry, orange, or grape popsicle on a silver platter for no charge. They have magicians doing tricks three times a week at breakfast and offer tons of snacks, board games, and DVDs at no charge. They’ve found a way to make the experience at their hotel remarkable. People can forgive a smaller pool or less than luxurious accommodations, especially when you’re giving them a popsicle hotline. That’s something you remember and tell your friends about later.
“Trial of Human Nature”
The second story that really struck a chord with me was “The Trial of Human Nature” at Hillsdale High School. This story talked about two teachers collaborating to come up with an idea to create an experience in the classroom that students could look back on and remember forever. Students often look back on their most memorable times that include things like prom, a football game, or something else that’s extracurricular. That’s because things like sports have practices that are followed by games (peaks). School has no real peak, just the same structure over and over with the “learn this skill and then test on it” approach that isn’t great at creating elevated, memorable moments.
So, when students complained that two big exams fell on the same day, their teachers saw an opportunity and seized it. Since one class was based on the book, “The Lord of the Flies”, they cooked up an idea in which the students would host a trial deciding if the author slandered human nature in his book that portrayed mankind as being a bunch of savages. In the first year, the students were shaky in some of the execution, but they seemed to really enjoy it. They saw students who never really were active in class participating and opening up like never before. Since that first trial, it has become a yearly tradition. Witnesses like Darth Vader, Florence Nightingale , and the Dalai Lama have been called to the stand. It’s such a monumental experience for a kid in high school to be a lawyer in a trial in front of the whole school. These teachers took a school curriculum and made something powerful on their own.
This was a great book because as I’m reading these stories I was thinking about how I can improve my own career and create powerful moments for the people I work with. Case study after case study gave me inspiration to break from the script of the daily grind and look for opportunities to make long lasting impactful moments. I hope you check out this book and that it helps you brainstorm ideas in your own career and lives.
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Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog. Tim is an author of 5 #1 NYT/WSJ bestsellers, investor (FB, Uber, Twitter, 50+ more), and host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast (400M+ downloads)