Monday, March 20, 2017

Healing From Divorce: A woman's journey of the heart

"If You're Going Through Hell, Keep Going"
~Winston Churchill

I truly believe that no one says "I do" with the intention of parting.  It is the dream of the "happily ever after."  The story.  The ideal.  The hope.  We believe that marriage will create stability in our lives, and it can.  But, it also doesn't always deliver, and according to the most recent statistics, it rarely does in our society.  78% of people have been divorced.

Times are changing.  Things are different.  Historically, marriage has rarely been about love.  Its been about real estate, the joining of kingdoms, for commerce, peace, war, economic gain, etc.  Romance wasn't necessarily part of the equation.  More often than not, marriages were arranged, and even then affairs were common knowledge, mistresses were par for the course, and it was known that a spouse didn't necessarily equate to a fulfilling love life.

A perfect example of this is the old King Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triage.  Guinevere married Arthur to join their kingdoms.  It was a wise pairing based on mutual government and military advantage.  However, Guinevere's romantic interests were found in the dashing Lancelot.  He was brave.  He was gregarious.  Nothing was solid and steady about him.  Unlike the wise Arthur, who ruled with a judicious hand, was known for his fairness, and brought peace to nations.

Guinevere & Lancelot

When did romance and marriage become synonymous?  Is it even healthy?  Most love experts say no.  Our culture's expectations of love and romance are diluted by unhealthy expectations, which have proven to be ineffective.  It's also been proven that, all around, from a mental, emotional and physical well being perspective, that men benefit more by the institution of marriage than women do.

How then do we reconcile the notion of marriage?  Is there hope in it?  Is it worth doing in this day and age?  This is a question each couple must decide for themselves.  There is no right or wrong answer.

When marriage fails, how do you move forward from a dream that is now gone?  How do you make sense of the "bubble" that's been burst?  I never grew up really buying into the prince-on-a-horse saving me concept.  I was too independent.  Too awnry.  Too wild.  I was always in the ER:  making capes out of blankets (& jumping off our roof), climbing trees, challenging boys to skateboarding contests, stealing my mother's red lipstick and painting war stripes on my face, carrying around my Boa Constrictor in a backpack to school, jumping in muddle puddles, catching salamanders at the resevoir.  My mother had 5 separate fences, put around our backyard, to keep me in.  Each one higher than the last.  Each one more futile than the previous.

I'll never forget my Oma sitting me down, I had painted war paint on my face with my Mom's lipstick, had red Snoopy galoshes on, and a beautiful pink dress with lace...covered in mud.  I was 6 years old.  She said, "Look at you!  You're filthy!  You will never find a husband.  Never.  Boys don't like girls like you.  You will scare them.  Do you understand me?!?"  I never liked her.  My Oma.  She was an emotionally scarred woman.  She was a product of the Apartheid Wars in South Africa, left bitter by them.  I was always defiant to her.  My lower lip started trembling, mud dripping down my dress into my rainboots, down my hair, hanging on the tips of my lashes.

"I'm not like you!  I'm not like any of you!  I don't need a husband!  Leave me alone!  I can take care of myself!  You're mean!  I won't be like you!  I will save myself!"  I ran out the door, in the pouring rain, and spent the night in my tree house that night, shivering, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean waves.

That night I had a dream.  I still remember it...to this day.  I was riding on a beautiful horse, bareback, on the beach.  I felt free.  I began to see the silouette of an old man in the distance.  He had a long staff.  He walked slowly towards me, through the mist.  He put his hand out to me to stop.  I did.  He walked up to the horse, and pet its mane.  He looked at me and said, "You are a warrior.  You are far from your home.  You are not from here.  I'm sorry.  You will be alone much of your life.  But, not necessarily lonely.  Someday, you will meet a weary warrior, like you.  You two will walk next to one another, in respect.  But, it will be later."  He turned and walked away.

Is this a metaphor?  Is this a foretelling?  It doesn't really matter.  The message is important:  you will be alone, but not lonely.  This is a powerful message for anyone going through, or just having come out of a divorce.  It IS okay to be alone.  Our species isn't really built to be alone, long term.  But, it is important to learn to enjoy your own company.  Some of the best dates I've been on have been with myself.  I've really come to enjoy, and be interested in, my own company.  I like myself.  Its a freeing feeling.  The neediness and the clingyness for stability, and someone to love, doesn't shadow my world.  It interests me, but I'm not bound by it.

I often don't relate to women in my age bracket.  I frequently hang out with women of the menopausal age, because they're generally kind of over the ridiculousness of being needed so much. This isn't to say they don't love.  They do.  It just comes from a deeper sense of self.  A clearer understanding of who they are.

I needed to see what the big fuss was about, though.  I needed to understand society's need for being needed.  Think on that a bit.  I like to be useful.  I like to give and receive love.  I'm not cold-harded. Quite the contrary.  My love comes from a deeper place now.  A solid well of admiration, respect, peppered with a bit of romance.  But, naive expectations?  No.   And, its from that place I feel I'm able to love in a more real way.  More authentic than ever.

One of the most powerful things divorce taught me is that I'm even more tough than I thought I was.  And that was a relief.  I'm a tough cookie.  But, I grew up in a safe household.  I had a great childhood.  I was lucky to dodge the statistics of abuse, drugs and alcohol, growing up.  I had no emotional or physical parameters for my husband's behavior.  I wasn't accustomed to drug and alcohol addiction.  Day, after day, drug and alcohol induced rages became the norm.  I use to pack up my dogs and sleep in my office, for fear of the escalated violence that began to occur in my world. My peace had left me.  My animals would urinate all over themselves in fright, when he would come home.  He used to grab my wrists and shake me to the ground, until I would shake in the corner of the room in fright.  He would then say, "Now, you know what it feels like to feel fear."

I began to realize that I attracted him in my life to learn the opposite of love.  We humans learn through opposites.  Our chemistry was a spark that turned into a wildfire I couldn't control.  I needed to understand everything I could about fear.  I was already a climber.  I had looked fear in the eye through that lense.  My whole childhood was doing extreme acts that made the other kids feel fearful. I had traveled the world, alone, through third-world countries, to face my fear of being alone.  Yet, I hadn't experienced love turning into fear...until my marriage.  And, that was the most valuable lesson of all.

High-Ball Bouldering, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii

An old palm reader came up to me in Varanasi, India, in 1997, and said to me, "Child, you are a student of fear.  You are here to master it on all levels."

Varanasi, India

The day I handed my husband divorce papers, hands shaking, was the day, I began to understand that I would be okay.  My voice trembled and stuttered, "I can no longer help you.  You need to help yourself.  Go home to your family.  Heal yourself.   Thank you for the lessons.  You are free now, and so am I."

That night a great storm swept through the high desert of where I live.  I lived in a small rental home that was a true "fixer upper."  The roof leaked buckets of water into my bedroom and living room.  I had pots and pans all over the house, catching water.  We only had a wood-burning stove.  No electrical heat.  The dogs howled with the roar of thunder, and hid under the bed.  I had a panic attack, realizing, I was truly alone now.  I tried to call my parents.  They were out of the country.  My sister?  In Mexico.  My brother?  In Colombia.  Everyone was gone.  I sat in a heap on the floor, and cried the hardest I had since my best friend died.  After I cried, until I could cry no more, I felt a wave of peace over me, and had a sense of knowing that my end would be a beginning.  Its inevitable.  It is the law of nature, and the way of things.  Your end will be a beginning.  This, I can promise.  As sure as the sun comes up every day.  Your tears will water the newness of a fresh start.  Time is the only true healer.  It comes slower than we want it to, but heals the heart more thorougly.

There are some practical things that you can do, from day-to-day, to take care of yourself.   I will let Sophia McDermott address some of these things, and touch on the subject of self-care.  We have both been through it.  We have grieved.  We have lost.  We have both rebuilt ourselves, and are in the continuing process of doing so.  You can too.  You will realize you ARE so much stronger than you ever thought imaginable.  This is your freedom.

Almine & Sophia Have Both Been Through Divorce, And Came Out Stronger

From Sophia:

Divorce is one of the most difficult times a human being can go through and yet statistically it is something that almost 50% of us experience. In  my previous article I discussed some of the heartbreaking factors associated with divorce as well as some management strategies such as focusing on being in the present moment and exercises to  help you get there.  In this article I want to look at the rollercoaster of emotions we go through during the grieving process and strategies to deal with these. Too many people around me have experienced this difficult stage in life and I have seen some channel their pain into positive ways and others into not so positive ways. I think if we build awareness on the subject and make this less of a 'taboo' topic more and more people can be learn about the grieving process which leads to a greater understanding. Once we are made aware of the stages of grieving that most of us go through we can first and foremost have greater acceptance of the process and our emotions and then adopt coping strategies that allow us to work through the emotional process of grieving.
The process of grieving is quite universal, whether it be because of divorce or a death or a diagnosis of a serious,  life changing illness. This is because the overall theme is about loss. When we lose something important in our lives or
lose part of our lives we tend to experience the myriad of emotions in this order, which are:
Shock or Disbelief
Acceptance and Hope

METHODS TO MOTIVATE: (For the stages of shock, denial and depression.)
Sometimes when you are in shock and denial you tend to be frozen like a deer in headlights. Consumed in your thoughts of 'why?' and 'how?' it can be difficult to carry out a usual day, especially if your significant other was a big part of your daily routine. Depression can make you unmotivated, tired and lethargic. The will to get out and do things seems to be diminished. It is exactly for these reasons why you should enroll in a set class or hire a trainer,
whereby the instructor or trainer can hold you accountable if you don't turn up. The other bonus of joining a class is that you are around other people and hopefully in a joyous and positive environment which can help lift your spirits.

Sophia teaching a Jiu-Jitsu Seminar
CREATE A PHYSICAL OUTLET:  (For the stage of anger.)
For other stages of grieving such as anger, I think it is really important to channel this emotion into something physical. Punching the crap out of a heavy bag is a wonderful way to release it all. Doing something with high intensity that really works your body is the key. Although you may feel tired after the session you will also feel great, having channelled that anger out all the while your body is high on endorphins- your feel good hormones.
If a martial arts is not for you, whether it be MMA, kickboxing or jiu jitsu, there are other exercises that you can do in the gym such as sprinting, or jump rope.

Check Out Sophia's Website For Exercises To Help Empower You Through Divorce At:

This is a great plyometric exercise for the upper body to develop speed and power. In order to be able to do this exercise you must be able to perform push ups and have decent core strength to support the spine while performing this exercise on an unstable and uneven surface as well as transitioning from side to side. 
Aim to do 10 push ups each side, 3 times through and try to keep a straight shape from head to toes.
- burpees with a jump.
Burpees are an awesome full body exercise. They work your upper body, lower body and your cardiovascular fitness. Remember to bend your legs instead of just bending at the hips when you lower yourself down to the ground. Kick your feet back to create a strong plank shape for the push up. Once you have performed the push up, bring your feet back in and jump from a squat position. Aim to do 20 reps, 3 times through.
Medicine Ball Push-Ups Build Strength & Confidence For Women

These exercises are high in intensity and require a lot of energy. The aim is put all your efforts into jumping as high as you can, or propelling yourself from side to side in the push-ups or kicking that bag as hard and as fast as you can.

These dynamic exercises are exhausting, and rightly so. They work many different muscle groups, they  require balance, power, speed and coordination and intensity which is the perfect recipe to channel that anger.
Getting in a class environment or hiring a trainer will help motivate you if you are feeling shocked and depressed and the coach or trainer can hold you accountable if you miss a session.  So whether it be divorce or a traumatic event in your life that is causing you to experience grief, adopting some healthy strategies such as these will help you along the process and make it more manageable.

Almine Barton:  @alminebarton
Sophia McDermott:  @sophiamcdermottbjj

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Foes to Friends: One Journey From Opponents To Allies

"If You Want To Go Fast, Go Alone.
If You Want To Go Far, Go Together."

~ African Proverb

When two women meet in a competition setting they have choices.  The choice presents itself to see one another as adversaries or teachers.  The ego likes the adversary.  The heart loves the teacher.  There is already so much pitting women against women.  Our society almost designs it that way, in many aspects.

I'm not oblivious to the animal kingdom.  There are alphas and there are betas.  One is not better than the other.  They both serve different roles in the grand order of things.  But, lets face it.  You are probably an alpha female if you're drawn to competing in combat sports.  Its possible, yet unlikely, a beta would even be drawn to this.

So, what happens when two alpha females meet one another, eye to eye, in a combat sport setting?  Sometimes a journey of the soul ensues.  A journey of introspection, dark feelings, resolution, ending with deep mutual respect and sisterhood.

Here's the journey that Vickie Valdez and I have undertaken.  Our journey of friendship, competition, training, and understanding has seasoned us as women.  We hope that by sharing our process, you too may benefit in some way...


I became an athlete later in life. Growing up, I did not play any sports, which is what I thought being an athlete equaled. I opted out of gym class to take AP Chemistry. I was co-captain of the speech team and editor of the literary magazine. I crafted an identity around being nerdy and crafty and a love of learning. My body and what it could do was not relevant.

In my early 30s, I started lifting weights. I found a trainer and fell in love with the barbell. I obsessed about my squat and worked to improve my bench press. The metrics of it - logging reps and sets, setting PRs - were exceptionally satisfying. They would be a comfort when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 34. Lifting became a greater focus, as it was something I could control during a time when I felt out of control. I met with my trainer as soon as I was able after each chemotherapy session, and after surgery I had to rebuild much of my upper body strength.

About three years ago I joined a new gym where I’ve had the chance to learn completely new sports, like Olympic weightlifting and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). This is where I began to think of myself as an athlete. I started competing in powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting and BJJ - all with the excellent guidance of my coaching team and without injury. My understanding of my body, of what I can ask it to do, started to shift.

"Hard Work Yields Success"

Jiu jitsu, for me, has been more about getting my mind and my body to work together. The physical aspects are challenging, as is the need to repeatedly drill movements and techniques so they feel natural. But what I’ve struggled with, and continue to struggle with to be honest, is my mental ability in the fight. Unfortunately for my friend Almine, she was initially an instrument for much of my learning. 

Almine was my very first competitor in my very first BJJ tournament. I’d been training for about 6 months at that point, and have never been in a physical fight in my life. Once we slapped hands, my brain shut down. I panicked. There was a lady trying to hurt me. My brain stopped as she pulled me into guard and choked me in 38 seconds. My second match was better, but I succumbed to that same x-choke.

Over the next few months, she became my arch enemy. She was so nice I thought she was being fake, trying to get in my head. I wanted to beat her. I wanted to choke her. I called her not nice things. My teammates knew about all about it. My coaches used the thought of her as a tool to get me to train harder. I want to say that my lack of experience in competitive sports meant I was learning as an adult what most people learn in their youth. But I can’t really defend what is an exceptionally shitty attitude.

We competed against each other in three tournaments, during which I never did beat her. I was frustrated and acted coldly towards her - stuck in my own head. It was when she came to my gym for a charity competition that I was finally able to put myself in her shoes. To have empathy. She was scared. Usual competition jitters combined with a fear that the other ladies were going to be mean to her. Any enmity I had evaporated. I could see in her pieces of myself - someone who’s had to work to feel comfortable in her own skin. On that day we started building a friendship, and it’s become one I can rely on and am grateful for, both on good days and bad.

Vickie Competing
Photo Credit:  SmithHammer Photography

I’ve competed since and will compete again, but never again against Almine. I'm still working on the mental game, and have a lot more to learn. But this experience with Almine taught me that focusing on my competition doesn't help. Feeling angry or wanting to beat someone just means I’ve lost my control over myself. I’m really competing against the little part of my brain that is yelling that someone is trying to hurt me. I’m competing against my own sense of self and my willingness to keep fighting. I’m lucky that other ladies sign up to compete in my division as it gives me the opportunity to measure that progress against full resistance.

Almine & Vickie Competing At "SubLeague," Portland, Oregon


Competition was a new concept for me.  Excuse the pun, but it really was one I grappled with.  My background is climbing.  Unless you're going for some major speed record up "El Capitan," or doing an indoor climbing comp, people really don't compete with one another in climbing.  Its more about pushing your personal limits, enjoying nature, taking in the views, and cheering on one another, when you're pushed to your edge.  That's what I'm used to.

Almine, free-soloing, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii

Sure, I've also done "CrossFit" for a decade, and have been a certified coach for almost 5 years now, but I never saw myself as a competitor within the sport.  It was just more of a fitness class for me, where I got to see my girlfriends, and cheer one another on.

You'll notice a theme with me:  cheering one another on.   This is the essence of who I am.  I've always felt particularly passionate about this amongst women.  I've always felt myself to be a "cheerleader" for women, women's rights, and empowerment.

So, when I was given an opportunity to compete in Jiu-Jitsu, it was a foreign thought to me.  Sure, I liked watching the UFC.  I understand you don't have to be mean to be tough.  But, what I've found, over the years, is that not all women have learned that lesson.  They feel the two go hand-in-hand.  That they're inseparable.  That's unfortunate to me.  A famous example of this is the Rousey vs. Holm fight.   I've always had challenges with Ronda's trash-talking her opponents, treating them poorly (see "Ultimate Fighter" t.v. series), and threatening them.  I never saw a need for this. When Holly Holm knocked Ronda out, she exhibited pure class.  Staying with her trash-talking opponent until she received medical attention, making sure she was okay.  This was even after Ronda demonstrated horrible sportsmanship towards her at the weigh-in and wouldn't touch gloves with her, at the start of the fight.  "Why?  Why are you like that, Ronda?"  I've always wondered.  I didn't understand the need for it, and still don't.  I instantly became a Holly Holm fan, then and there.  Class, integrity, sportsmanship, and kindness CAN exist in combat sports.  In fact, to me, its the origins of martial arts.

Rousey vs. Holm, UFC #193

In my 3 years of BJJ, I've realized a lot of women start the sport, fighting invisible "ghosts."  These ghosts are comprised of memories, most of them painful.  They're fighting those "demons," really.  Not you.  Many people who enter the world of combat sports do so with a "chip" on their shoulder.  They're fighting and running against their darkest self.   When you can do as much internal introspection as you can physical training, you realize the meaning of the Ying/Yang symbol. They're interdependent.  Kindness and combat, actually, aren't mutually exclusive.  The word"Code" is fundamental to who I am.  I choose to live, to the utmost of my ability to the Bushido "code," or "Way."  This means, your competition is, in actuality, your teacher.  How can you feel anger at one whose about to teach you something?

Vickie has taught me many things.  She's wise.  She's funny.  She's kind.  She gave me a second chance.  This second chance came in the form of changing her viewpoint of me, and our connection.  She gave both of us the opportunity to go from "opponent" to "training partners."  She gave me a second chance, seeing me as enemy, initially, tofriend.  I'm grateful to her for this.  This is how I've always wanted to be seen. This is how I will always wish to be seen.

I'm not afraid of failure.  A win has never been as important to me as sisterhood and community.   My hope is for all women in combat sports to embrace this.  Its a wonderful thing when you can.  Its like a soothing balm to the heart.  Forgiveness is one of the highest emotional laws there is.

Vickie, (her Professor) Hillary Wright VanOrnum, & Almine

Because Vickie and I have transformed our friendship into one of deep mutual respect, we're now training partners.  We don't go to the same gym.  We don't even live in the same city.  In fact, we're 3+ hrs. apart.  Yet, we maintain an ongoing cyber "training log," where we post inspirational quotes, what obstacles come up for us on the mats (whether mental, physical or emotional), and have begun a wonderful year of goal-setting together.

Almine & Her Professor, Ryan Clark


"Impact Jiu-Jitsu," Portland, OR.  


"Clarks Univ. Of Martial Arts," Bend, OR.

Almine & Vickie's Sponsor:

"SmithHammer Photography"

Monday, January 25, 2016

Specialist Or Generalist? To Compete Or Not To Compete?

John's Thoughts:

Couch to competition?
With the obesity rate soaring and increasing trends in our society towards a sedentary lifestyle,  I think we can agree as a society we need a major overhaul in our physical culture. We are disconnected from our bodies and need to wake up! I hear excuse after excuse on a daily basis from incredibly capable adults about why they can’t find time to exercise, let alone compete in a sport or any physical endeavor beyond silly exercise videos, light family activity, or otherwise “safe” activities. Our society has created some kind of excuse bubble that keeps people from getting off of the sidelines to “just do it” as Nike saying goes. Time after time, I hear “I wish I was in the kind of shape I was in high school” or since I (fill in the blank with an excuse), it won’t work for me. At the same time, incredible new world records are being broken and more athletes than ever are competing and training in “extreme sports” like the StrongFirst Tactical Strength Challenge, Crossfit, Strongman, and Highland Games at all ages. So the art and love of competition is still alive and well in our society. Unfortunately, lack of planning, general conditioning and poor fitness levels leave a huge gap that will take time to overcome for the average deconditioned American. Lack of planning and patience can easily lead to burnout and major injuries before an athlete ever reaches anywhere near their potential in performance or true appreciation for the art of competition in our modern sedentary society. The big question is how do we bridge the gap between the couch and competition?
From Couch To Competition

My personal journey has been a long one full of twists, turns, and utter failures. My quest began after I decided I was tired of being a scrawny, awkward basketball player in high school. Within a few years, I became a seemingly “bodybuilder type” of guy after gaining nearly 50 pounds of solid muscle, but I was burned out, broken down with injuries and generally lacking passion in my training once I had reached my early twenties.  I was training to basically look good and ward off major health problems, but this was just enough to keep me in perpetual motion of maintaining a decent level of athleticism and looking fit, but not truly satisfied with training or life. Fast forward 10 years now, I have found my training and ultimately, my life purpose. That is: to empower others to reach their physical goals through safe, effective movement and strength fundamentals, which ultimately transfers into all areas of their lives. In 2004, I stumbled onto a unique “fringe sport” that has changed my life forever. The Scottish Highland Games were my new purpose and little did I know, I would find my way to the top as a world record holder and professional highland games athlete in the sport. These accomplishments did not come easy. I spent several years as a lackluster, bottom level competitor before a serious level of commitment and competitive focus took hold within me. I finally “caught the bug”, but I still had to fight hard to stay competitive and injury free as a very specialized athlete.
I am not particularly gifted as an athlete or coach out of the gate. I simply found my passions and I never stop learning, doing and setting new goals.. Having a true, deep physical skill has made a major impact on my personal and professional life. I would never have trained to a peak skill level or known my athletic potential without finding this this sport. I now have a purpose to my
training that is greater and I can measure and feel the benefits in the gym and my everyday life.  During a competition I feel like the world stands still and I have total focus for a brief moment when I “step in and throw”.  Every ounce of energy possible goes completely into my throw. At the end of a long day of competition, I always feel a wave of emotions and perspective on life as I walk away from the field knowing I gave it everything I possibly could on that day. I leave the field with a clarity and appreciation for life that just seems to wash over me.

Clarity Comes From Competition

It's all too easy to get side tracked in our fast paced society or get overloaded trying to train at a high level in any sport. A quote from strength coach and wise masters athlete Dan John resonates strongly with me and gives me a reminder of my purpose anytime I lose focus “the goal is keeping the goal, the goal”. I have seen so many young professionals in the fitness industry and other athletes get sidetracked or even paralyzed  trying to do too many things at once or lose focus on the purpose of their training or life goals.   Knowing I can keep learning and bettering myself in my sport keeps me feeling alive, yet grounded in my goals and purpose. The pursuit of perfection in a technical, physical skill has continued to carry over to how I coach and approach life. It makes me better at life. It’s empowering to know that I can always get better with some extra focus, effort, or by learning from other coaching and athletes. This pursuit of perfection has been an incredible gift, but it has also been full of challenges and obstacles.
Now my daily life involves the new challenge of running and building my new gym from the ground up, while still competing as a top ranked lightweight highland games athlete. I often work 7 days a week and many long hours. While it does help to be able to walk into the gym anytime to train, the weights don’t lift themselves and I usually don’t have a consistent training partner or coaches around me to keep me accountable.  My life must be very structured and disciplined to make sure I have time for training, proper nutrition, and a healthy balance to life. This has become a welcomed challenge and defines who I am in many ways now. It gives me structure and discipline that I may not have if I did not have a training purpose. I have to stay focused with my time and efforts in all areas of life to stay competitive, especially going into my late 30’s. Why do I still train and compete you might ask?. It’s basically a “strong body, strong mind” approach that I believe we should all follow. I even structure the year's competitions and events around my life whenever possible, which to many may sound extreme. To me, it has become just a way of life. I have learned to enjoy the challenge and find ways to keep going strong despite many obstacles of time, money, and many other life demands.
Competition is a raw, vulnerable way to challenge yourself and put it on the line. When you sign up for a competition it gets real. You have a deadline and sense of urgency to complete the task. It’s time to rise up and take action like the Nike slogan “Just do it”. This can present a new kind of challenge and uneasy feeling for most adults, since our culture is so far away from truly supporting adult athletic endeavors or even general physical activity after the teenage years. Many of us live though our kids and lose touch with our own physical abilities, which is just not how it should be. This doesn’t have to be the case, but you do need to consider a few essentials before training for competition…

Competing In "The Highland Games"
Am I willing to put in the time to train, learn, and develop the necessary skills?
Do I have a qualified coach and can I use my resources to prepare well?
Am I able to plan ahead and possibly let training revolving around life, at least for a few weeks leading up to the competition?
Do I have any serious injuries or health conditions that would make it unsafe for me to commit to this competition?
Have I considered the other obstacles that I might come across?
If you truly dig deep and can’t commit, then don’t compete! You really can’t lose if you can answer “yes” to these questions, because you will get better and learn a great deal about yourself. Say “yes” and find every reason to compete, turn the tables on your own mindset. I truly believe that we all have an athlete and warrior inside of us that wants to come out. Everyone should want to get better every day.  So show up, do work, and  learn hard.
Have a plan, stay the course, and step into the “arena”.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Theodore Roosevelt

Almine's Thoughts:

John's words ring powerful for me.  Last year, I tried my hand at competing in Jiu-Jitsu.  It was a year I explored my "inner competitor," what she could do, at the belt level she was at.  I decided to stretch my boundaries, and explore a different facet of myself.  I did this, all the while, continuing to climb, and do "CrossFit."

I'm a personal trainer, and "CrossFit" coach.  What that means is that I'm comfortable in writing training programs, and workout programming to meet goals.  I know when to increase a particular activity to meet a certain goal, and when to decrease others.

I have the capacity to see the end goal, and program according to it, giving myself a time table to increase/decrease various activities.  You could think of it like an "on" season and "off" season.

Typically, in the spring and summer, I decrease my olympic lifting, focus on climbing, and increase more MetCon and/or body-weight placement exercises (to enhance my climbing).  In the winter, when climbing rock at "Smith" is not a consistent option, I increase my strength training, and decrease my cardio/MetCon.   This gives my body a seasonal way to "rest" from specific movements and exercises, and to increase others.   This type of training schedule takes a lot of attention paid to it, watching the ebbs and flows of specific gains, one wants to see, to meet specific goals.

A perfect example of the mental game that climbers move through, when on "The Sharp End" (Sender Films, 2009)

I believe in the ebb/flow of training specific movements, and the ebb/flow of competition.  For my personality type, I need specific "rests" in my training, so that I can absorb the benefits of my hard work, re-focus on goals, and dream bigger dreams.

I don't believe many people can maintain the type of ongoing training schedule I uphold (and have for years).  They would "burn out."  I think a lot of it is genetics.   My paternal grandmother, and father are the same way.  In his late 60's my Dad's greatest joy is still being able to pull a "double" (one activity in the morning, one in the evening).  This is how he operates 6 days a week.  He's never been otherwise.

Climbing is a high adrenaline sport.  There is no doubt about it.  Particularly when you're on lead (a.k.a. "The Sharp End").   I know it would string my nervous system out to climb the way I like to, and compete in a separate sport, year after year.  I let myself ebb/flow, according to how I feel, from year to year.  Maybe I choose to focus my energy (adrenaline) towards hitting climbing goals one year (like this year).  Maybe the year prior I compete in Jiu-Jitsu.  I don't peak in both sports, and hit them equally as hard in the same year, however.

I've had many ultra-runner friends of mine say "You would be an excellent ultra-runner.  You have the determination, and tenacity for such a distance."  I agree with them.  I do.  I'm what you term a "Mult-Sport Athlete," however.  I'm not a "Mono Sport Athlete."  They each have their pros and cons, but I'm much better suited to "Adventure Racing," where multiple sports are required on the same course.  I'm a diverse, dynamic, eclectic athlete, and I also credit that with being a huge reason (in addition to nutrition, etc.) I have next to no injuries.  I make, not just my muscles cross-train, but my brain also.  My brain has to focus in a completely different way in climbing, than it has to while trail-running.  Jiu-Jitsu requires a totally different mental pathway in my mind, versus lifting weights.
I think cross-training your brain, along with totally different movements, is one of several keys to longevity.  They say doing cross-word puzzles, and card games keep older people's thinking faculties sharp.  Couple various ways of challenging your mind, with body movement, and you have a recipe for youth.  That is why I'm an advocate of doing multiple sports, with completely (seemingly) unrelated body movements.  

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) @ "Clark's Univ. Of Martial Arts," Bend, OR.

Climbing a steep overhanging route is a completely different series of movements than passing the guard in Jiu-Jitsu, is completely different than a deadlift.  Or, is it?  The reality is, even though I increase one type of body movement, and decrease another, seasonally, they all enhance one another.  They all involve getting the hips through, a strong core, and focus.  They all benefit one another.

The main thing for me is body awareness.  This entails listening very closely to when my body is asking for me to shift gears.  They body does talk to you.  You just have to know how to listen.  I knew 2016 was my year to downshift from competition, and increase my climbing.  I will listen, season by season to see if this changes.  When it does, I will be ready to shift my training programming again.  Fluidity is key.  Flexibility is key, if being a mult-sport athlete interests you.  Developing body awareness is key.

"NW Fit Games,"

Be willing to dream big, smash goals, and then move on to the next.  Opportunity has a funny way of presenting itself when you least expect it.  The question is:  "Will You Be Ready To Shift Gears?"

Handstands In My Home Town, Newport, OR., "Agate Beach"


John is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Clinical Exercise, and owner/head coach of his gym Empowered Strength in Bend, OR. John has a diverse background in the fitness/wellness industry, having worked with clinical cardiac rehab patients, high school athletes, and employee wellness programs in Longview, WA for 11 years before "retiring" to Bend to start his gym and online coaching programs. John is the current world record holder in the 42lb. weight over bar as a lightweight athlete in the Scottish Highland Games and finished #3 in the world at the Lightweight World Championships in 2015. John's newest pursuit is the StrongFirst Tactical Strength Challenge and competitive Olympic Weightlifting in his off season from the Highland Games.
Contact John or learn more about him here..

Learn more about the StrongFirst Tactical Strength Challenge here..


BIO.:     http://www.rechargesport.com/almine-barton/
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To Book An Appt. For Acupuncture:  (541) 306-6541

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fitness vs. Exercise: Know The Difference?

Several years ago I was an instructor in a program that taught/certified fitness trainers.  I asked the class a fundamental question.  One that I anticipated being too easy for this class of eager, up-and-coming fitness professionals:  "Do You Know The Difference Between Exercise And Fitness"?

I expected hands to raise immediately.  Instead, not one hand raised, and the room was silent.  Each of the students looked at one another, bewildered.  "Really?" I asked.  "Not one person?"

I went home that night, and thought about the question.  Its an important one for anyone whose interested in taking control of their health.

My Dad has a saying.  One which I ponder a lot.  It goes like this:  "You will always get a mediocre answer, if you don't ask a lofty question."   Think about this.  If the question hasn't had some thought put into it, how does one expect to get a thoughtful answer?  Its for this reason I'm raising this question.  Exercise and fitness may not be your life, passion, or career.  However, no one can escape it, if longevity interests you.  If you want to live a shorter life, don't exercise.  Studies back this up.  If you want to live a long, healthy life, you'll want to incorporate it, at least to the level of "maintenance" or "exercise."

If 2016 is the year that you vow to make healthy lifestyle changes, pursue your athletic goals, or even begin the weight loss process, then I invite you to ponder this question.  It will be pertinent for you.

I'm going to use a family member of mine to illustrate an example.  I'm going to share a personal story, because I believe stories drive home points.  Diabetes runs rampant through my mother's bloodline.  A woman in my family, on my mother's side, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.  She is a beautiful woman, however, grossly overweight.  Carbs were her thing:  pastas, breads, cocktails, always with dessert at the end.  She is a high powered business lady, after all.  "Happy hour" with colleagues, "power lunches," and decadent catered business dinners were the norm.  One day, a great shift happened in her life.  A loss.  A devastation.  Her world was turned upside down.  She was forced to examine her life, her choices, her habits.  On the outside, her habits seemed benign.   What harm is a "power lunch," really?  It isn't.  Its how many of them added up over the weeks, months, years, that left her body sore, her migraines at night painful, her lungs out of breath, going up the stairs, her energy low.

A carbohydrate give you approximately 45 mins. worth of energy.  So, then is there really logic behind "carb loading" the night before a race?  Not really.  Be aware of how you use carbs.  They're not bad.  You just have to know when to use them, and to what to what end.

This incident in her life, provoked her to examine her daily routine.  A "facing of demons" occurred, and she decided to make some lifestyle changes.  The circumstances in her world ignited a "sink or swim" feeling for her.  She decided she was going to swim.

She signed up for a dance-cardio exercise class.  Something outside her comfort zone.  She hadn't exercised in awhile, and she felt a bit self-conscious, but decided she was going to do it anyway.  She bought herself a bike.  She lessened her refined carbohydrate intake.  She still ate plenty, but it was a start.

She began to notice the pounds dropping off by the week.  She was pleasantly surprised.  Her headaches lessened at night.  Her pants were a bit more loose.  She began to walk with a little extra "pep in her step" each day to work.  She began to feel like her old self again.  She signed up for a few sporting events.  Again, reaching outside her comfort zone.  She began to achieve goals she'd given up on "because, they were for fit people."

Everytime I would see her, she looked more and more radiant.  Her confidence level went from high to "cloud 9".  I would always compliment her on her success, and offer my verbal support.  Then, one day, about 10 months into her weight loss journey (aka "take back your life journey"), I got a phone call from her....

"Almine, I've hit a plateau.  I've stopped dropping weight.  I've hit a snag.  I don't know what to do."  "Have you changed anything?"  I asked.  "Stopped exercising, Increase in your refined carbohydrate intake?  Have added stress at work?"

"No.  Nothing like that.  Well, maybe I have been eating a bit more bread and pasta lately." She said.  "You do realize you walk a razor's edge with refined carbohydrates (anything other than what comes off a tree, or grows in the ground), I replied.  "I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, in that regard, but its true.  With blood sugar issues running rampant in our family tree, you simply don't digest sugars like those who don't have that issue."

"I know, but, I don't want to stop enjoying my food.  I don't want to sacrifice anything."  she exclaimed.   "No one does," I answered.  "Therein lies the difference between exercise and fitness."

"What do you mean?"  she asked.   "You will not attain to a level of fitness, if you're not willing to sacrifice.  Its that simple.  You will forever be on the level of 'maintenance,' or 'plus 1, minus 1' with your metabolism."  I responded.    "That's so depressing," she sighed.   "Is it?"  I wondered.  "Why is that depressing?"  I asked her.

Therein lies the issue to be examined:  "Does one have to sacrifice, in the areas of food and exercise to move from an "exercise" phase to a "fitness" phase.  The unavoidable answer, no one wants to hear, is unequivocably, YES.

This is a disheartening thought to most.  I find that, however, sad.  One one hand, we have the American premise that this country was built on hard work and sacrifice.  However, the modern day American, is not super excited on the notion that giving up something is essential for success.  We don't like the thought of giving up anything.  Therein lies the core issue of our national obesity epidemic.

Americans like the notion of being able to REDUCE vs. ELIMINATE.  This is nice, in theory, however, when you start with something of poor quality to begin with, reducing it is a start, and you will see success, initially, but overtime, that success will plateau.  Then frustration ensues, and you typically see people revert to their old patterns, and "abandon ship" with their newly initiated habits.  Thus, the frustration "negative feedback loop" begins.

If you want progress to continue, there will have to be sacrifice.  No getting around it.  I liken the body to a devious, highly intelligent child.  It will do everything to outsmart you.  It will plateau, when you've done several months of the same exercise class.  It will plateau again, after a few months of reducing certain unhealthy foods in your diet.  You'll stop seeing gains, when it predicts you'll walk up to the free weights.  WHY?  Because the body is constantly meant to be kept "on its toes" (see "PALEO FITNESS" blog post).  Specialization in fitness...and eating is dangerous to progress.  Why?  It means you've become predictable to your body.  Predictability means plateau.  Guaranteed.

You must put as much thought into varying your physical activities, as you do when you plan your child's.  You must constantly "tweak" and "refine" your nutrition, as your gains are made.  You're a dynamic, ever progressing machine, and your diet/exercise should reflect this constant adjusting.

If you exercise, with the notion that your body will keep showing gains, after 6 mos. of doing the same thing, then you will stay in "maintenance" mode.

Make your fitness constantly varied.  Never consider aerobic exercise to be where you see gains.  In other words, I always say, "Aerobic exercise is for clearing my head.  Anaerobic is for fitness."  When I do a long, slow distance run, its not because I expect to get any fitness benefit from it.  Sure, its good for my heart, etc., etc., but I count it merely as a "head clearing" activity.  High-intensity, "breathless," anaerobic exercise is where I achieve fitness.  (unless you have some heart/pre-existing medical condition), you should plan on incorporating anerobic activity at least 3x a week, preferably 4, to begin to move from "maintenance" to "fitness."   Anaerobic exercise (while its happening) is generally no fun.  Its breathless, mentally intense, and not very relaxing.  "So why do it?" people ask me.  "Why do something if its not fun?"  Because anaerobic exercise trains the mind to become mentally strong.  It gives you the confidence, over time, to stick with things that aren't pleasant...for the long-term benefits.  It teaches you to persevere.  All qualities that have been generally lost in our modern world.

"CrossFit" pushed me from "exercise" mode to "fitness" mode, 9 yrs. ago

We give up so easily, nowadays.  We all want to believe that the ethic of America is still one of sacrifice, hardwork, and perseverance.  Yes, some still embrace these qualities, but, overall, culturally, this has become a diluted way of life.   These are qualities that have to be reignited in us once again.  They teach us to be hearty, and to move through obstacles in our life, when we think we can't.

When I mentioned to my relative on the phone, that her current "plateau" status is now calling for her to "step it up" another notch, she recoiled.  "Are you going to tell me that I have to sacrifice certain things I like to eat, and to begin exercising differently,  outside of my cardio dance class, if I want to move past this plateau?"  she asked softly.  "That's exactly what I'm telling you." I answered.  "It all boils down to how badly do you want to move from 'maintenance' to 'fitness'."   She replied "Well, I won't then.  I won't give up the amount of bread I eat, or change anything else."  she hung up on me.  I've seen her several times since that conversation.  She's been slowly gaining weight again.  You can see it in her face.  The panting up the stairs has returned.  She looks tired.

When your body reaches a new level of health, it will ask you to step up to the next.  This involves giving up some things, but gaining much more in return, as a gift for your sacrifice.  Many people are unaware that they're scared to begin their weight loss journey, because unconsciously, they know, at some point, they'll have to let go (sacrifice) certain behaviors.

People ask me, often, how I achieve the things in my life that I have.  My one word is "sacrifice." There is no way around this word, if you want to achieve a certain level of success.  This is a word I invite you to make friends with in 2016.  Don't be afraid of letting go of certain foods, behaviors, lifestyle habits, etc.  You will gain much more in the process.  That is a promise.  Confidence, self-esteem will follow  you.  No one can take that from you.

People look at physically fit people and say "He/she is full of himself."  "They're so egotistical."  I look at that person and think of the following adjectives:  sacrifice, dedication, perseverance, discipline.  You can't fake fitness.  It's your calling card to hours of hard work, and sacrifice.  Its like sculpting a beautiful work of art.  You're the clay, and the artist.  Its an empowering process.  Be expected to be asked by your body, now and again, to "step it up."  If you're not willing to do this, you will stay in "maintenace" mode.  The choice is yours.  Maybe you like "maintenance" mode, and that's okay.  Just be aware of it, and okay with that mode, then.  Don't complain that you're not at the fitness level of some athletes, if you're not willing to make the sacrifices they have.

It brings to mind people who say water aerobics isn't difficult.  You're right.  It isn't...when you're there to talk to your friends, barely listen to the teacher, rarely use additional resistance devices, and do it mindlessly.  Its a brutal workout when you focus, use resistance gloves, wear shoes for extra resistance drag, don't talk to your neighbor, and give it your all.  The choice is yours.  The first way of doing it is still in "exercise" phase.  You're there.   You're in the pool, but you're half-ass.  The second option is you achieving "fitness."  You're mentally and physically present, you're doing everything you can to get the maximum out of your workout, and you're giving it 100%.

Bring Focus And Attention To Your Training To Skyrocket You To Fitness

Here's a question for you:  Would you ever say "I'm going to put bad oil in my car, but, only in moderation?"  Be careful with the word "moderation"   We would rarely use that word with our loved ones, or things precious to us.  So, why would we use it for ourselves?"  No mother ever says "I'm going to give my child love, but, only in moderation."  The question is how do you define "love"?  Many, knowingly/unknowingly, do it through food.  We've all heard the term "comfort food."  Is it really that "comfortable," when your jeans are more tight after eating it?  That's not self-love.  Its avoidance.  Your task is to figure out the motive behind your actions.  No one else can do that for you.  This journey is about owning your own health, and taking it back.

An excellent point was raised by one of my fitness program students.  "Okay, but what about the French?  They eat pastries in moderation."  Yes, lets talk about that.  There is actually something nutritionists term "The French Effect."  Why can they eat eclaires and puff pastries (not to mention smoke like chimneys), yet their rates of lung cancer and obesity are lower than ours?  There are many factors that go into "The French Effect":  longer meals times (slow eating), eating around the table with loved ones more often, higher quality ingredients, more walking throughout their day, longer paid vacations throughout the year, etc.  We know, via studies, all of these things contribute to overall longevity, and higher quality of life.  Here's a key that the French have, that Americans generally don't uphold:  nationally, they hold very high standards for the word "quality."  Their cuisine ingredients are generally of exceptionally high quality.  Think this doesn't affect weight?  It does.

 When you start with poor ingredients, you start with items devoid of nutritional density, mineral profile, and amino acids.  Poor quality ingredients create a poor quality meal.  This leaves you devoid of satiation, and satisfaction, which causes you to eat more to try to obtain satiation and satisfaction.  Overeating is the result.  Its a vicious cycle.  Let yourself be called a "food snob."  You deserve high quality food.  We all do.  You deserve to be nourished from the ingredient to the bite on your fork.  The difference is, the French are unapologetic about it.  If you start with high quality ingredients, you will feel fuller, faster.  You won't be devoid of energy.  If you think your incredible body-machine is only worth "McDonald's," or low quality ingredients, don't be shocked when  it doesn't operate the way you want it to.  You wouldn't pour oil in your car gas tank, and question why the car isn't running.  Its obvious.  Food is your preventative medicine, and your fuel.  Its not just "calories in, calories out."  Its the quality that makes all the difference.

Its okay to be in "exercise" mode some days.  Those are the days I go dancing with my girlfriends, get my dog out, take her for a relaxing run, or a nice hike.  We all need those days.  Pressure free, feeling the sun on our faces.  But, what I'm advocating is that you not mistake that for "fitness."  They are different.  I want you to have this information, so that you can make an educated choice, on any given day, what you want to achieve.  Its OKAY to just want to move your body, get some exercise.  Its also okay to push it a little harder, get uncomfortable, and take it to the next level. They both have their place in your life.  I just want you to know what each entails, what to expect from each, and then proceed to make a choice as to how one, or the other, will fit your 2016 goals.

It's OKAY to just have a day of fun exercise vs. going for fitness.  They both benefit you  in different ways.

Next month's blog post, co-written by fellow fitness trainer/strength coach, John Odden, of "Empowered Strength" will assist me in taking this topic to the next level with you.  We'll flush out generalized vs. specialized fitness, even more, and each offer our perspective on the pros/cons.

Look for great, collaborative blog posts, with fellow health/nutrition/wellness/fitness experts coming your way in 2016.  Its going to be a great year!  :-)