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!  :-)

Monday, November 30, 2015

CROSSFIT: The Ins/Outs, How To Spot A Good Coach, And Pick A Box That's Right For You

"CROSSFIT:  Increased Work Capacity, Across Broad Time & Modal Domains"

~ Coach Gregg Glassman

I get a lot of email with questions.  Questions about everything from health, to fitness, to sports nutrition to complimentary medicine.  This blog is about addressing various topics that seem to re-surface frequently.  A question I get asked quite a bit is "Almine, your posts have inspired me to try 'CrossFit,' except I don't know where to start.  I'm not sure what to look for in a 'CrossFit' gym (a.k.a. "box"), or a coach.  What would you advise?"

This is a good question.  One I wish I'd asked myself, when I first started 'CrossFit,' almost 9 yrs. ago. People may go for trophies, or entries at "The CrossFit Games," and that's all great.  That's not my goal, however.  That's almost a sacriligious thing to say as a veteran 'CrossFitter," (not to mention coach).  I don't care about competing in it at all.  I enjoy the occasional "for fun" team comp., but am not in it to win it with "CrossFit."  I actually, think that's one of my secrets of longevity in a sport that's renowned for its injuries.  The vast majority of people that seem to have a short "shelf life" with "CrossFit," are typically the competitors.  "CrossFit" is my 3x a week cross-training program for the other sports I do in my life.  It excels in this department.  Every other sport I do benefits from my foundation of "CrossFit," but that's the extent of it for me.  When I say that to other "CrossFitters" they seem dumbfounded.  It's the folks that eat, sleep, and breathe "CrossFit" that I observe to be the ones most injured.

The philosophy of "CrossFit" is to move your body in as many ways as possible in an anaerobic state.  When you recommend "CrossFitters" do this outside their "box" (gym) they almost seem panicked.  Suggest they head to a pool?  They seem bewildered.

It's important to examine any system of training you're into with a critical eye.  This is difficult when you're bias, and love something so much.  It's hard to be own's own critic.  I do think a worthy effort, however, at this is important.  It's important to be able to drop a system that has worked for you, when something better comes along, that shows more promise.  With that being said, in almost 9 yrs., something better hasn't proven itself to me in the cross-training department, more than "CrossFit."  When it does, I'm open to embracing that.  You have to be willing to change, at a moment's notice, when opportunity knocks.  That's how I embraced "CrossFit."  I let go of my previous cross-training system, when "CrossFit" proved itself to me in the gains department.  I will do that again, should something better prove itself to me.  That is what a good personal trainer, and/or coach does.  They're constantly seeking better ways to enhance human bio-mechanics for elite performance.  It's that simple.

Let's examine some critiques of "CrossFit," and some solutions to those critiques.  Some are justified, some aren't.  Let's have an honest, raw look at the ins/outs of "CrossFit," with the hopes it may bring clarity to those just starting, and those who are seasoned.

1)  HOW TO SPOT A GOOD COACH:  This is crucial to your "CrossFit" experience.  Membership at a "CrossFit" gym isn't cheap.  You have a right to interview a coach about his/her experience level and credentials.  Some things I suggest you look for:  a degree in exercise physiology, several years of previous experience as a personal trainer (before they became a "CrossFit" coach), any type of medical professional background (which will entail anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, etc.).  Even though standards are being raised by headquarters, I still feel as a medical professional, "CrossFit" coach and personal trainer, that the one weekend seminar to become a coach is insufficient.  Its given "CrossFit" a bad name, which is unfortunate, because the system works.  The vast majority of coaches are inadequately trained, however.   I would NOT be coached by someone who only has a "CrossFit" coach cert.  There are very few coaches who are GOOD coaches, with "CrossFit" certs. only.  One or two good ones, come to mind, but they are far and few between. It's not the norm.  In general, I would stay away from a box that has only "CrossFit" coaches, certified by "CrossFit."  The coaches should have a wide resume of exercise and training background experience, outside of "CrossFit."

"CrossFit" Masters, 2014 (ages 40-60)

Also, the best coaches are typically NOT competitive "CrossFit" athletes.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  This is a blaring criticism I have with the "CrossFit" community.  There's a blanket notion that if you're an amazing competitor, it makes you an amazing coach.  My experience is that they're "oranges" and "apples."  They're two different skill sets.  Rarely, do you find a person who excels at both.   They THINK they do, and therein lies the problem.  If you want to compete in "CrossFit," then great.  But, I would find a coach, who COACHES competitors...but, isn't necessarily one.  That may sound counter-intuitive, but, its not.  Think of the 5'7" basketball coach, who doesn't play basketball, but he's a strategist behind his 6'7" players.  Being a competitive analyst, and mastermind behind top athletes, doesn't actually make you one, and vice versa.  I've found, over the years, that the majority of coaches who compete, have divided attention.  They're thinking of their own competitive "edge," trying to impart that to their students also, all the while being a high quality coach.  Its too many "hats" to wear well.  Its a rare person who does.  They're out there, but once again, its not the norm.

It's also important that your coach is aware of how to scale workouts for people of all ages, and with pre-existing injuries.  Many say they do this, but it doesn't always translate.

I would also advise asking them how many years they've been coaching.  You have a right to ask all these questions.  Don't feel shy about it.  You're hiring them to do a job, and it's an important one.
Personally, I like an "age seasoned" coach.  Generally, I like people to coach me, who are in their 40's, 50's and 60's.   Here's why:  they generally coach with EFFICIENCY in mind.  They make better use of their workouts.  In other words, due to the awareness of their own age, they've learned how to train SMARTER, NOT HARDER.  This is important.  They've figured out the "holes" of ageing athletes, and learned how to fill them with efficient training methods.  This equals longevity for you in "CrossFit."  My goal is to be doing "CrossFit" when I'm 90.  This means, as impatient as I am with my own training, I need to be okay with incremental gains.  This is a hard lesson for me, but a necessary one.  A coach in his/her middle to "golden years" understands this, and encourages this.

2)  BOX LIFE:  The atmosphere and community of "CrossFit" is one of its biggest selling points.  Rightly so.  Countless studies have been done on the human need for belonging.  We can scoff at this need, but it's undeniably there, and it's powerful.  We know that its imperative for health.  No human being is an "island unto himself," no matter how hard we try.  We know that people who are depressed, or going through a rough time, tend to withdraw.  We know that a happy, healthy human is able to give and receive love with others.  "CrossFit" facilitates this need for belonging and community in a world that appears to be getting more "global," yet is simultaneously producing more isolation.  I don't belong to a church.  As a Buddhist, the "sangha" (meditation group) is paramount to support one's meditation practice.  Bend is a small community.  I have no sangha here.  I'm a lone meditator.  Sometimes I like this.  Sometimes I don't.  "CrossFit" has been a stable community for me for almost 9 yrs.  When I say "community," I mean a large one.  I've traveled quite a bit, internationally, in those 9 yrs., and no matter what country I've been in, if I walk into a "CrossFit" box there, I'm welcome.   This feels good.  It feels like coming home.  I don't negate this need for belonging.  I'm just honest about it, and am good with its function in my life.  They call "CrossFit" the "Cult Of Fitness."  There's a lot of accuracy to this statement.  This has some perks, and some drawbacks.  I'm aware of both, and choose to capitalize on the perks of this community.


With that being said, there's some basic things to assess the "health" of a box by:

- Small class sizes (no more than 7-10 max per class)
-Multiple class offerings throughout the day
-A Fundamentals or "On Ramp" class offered
-"Open Gym", where an experienced coach can help you target (and work on) your weaknesses
-A bonus is a class offered, dedicated to "Olympic Lifting," which is an art in and of itself, and deserves focused work
-A kids class.  Kids will be inspired by their parents lifestyle habits, and dedication to "CrossFit," and can also benefit from the community, and physical fitness
-A competitors class, where people who are focused for competitions can train together, get advice from a competition-focused coach, and support one another's goals.

Sometimes the above mentioned things are dictated by space.  If you have a large box, the above mentioned classes will be easier to accomodate.  If the box is small, additional class offerings may not be an option.  If you can find a box with several of the above things mentioned, it's a good plan.

3)  SHOP AROUND:  This is important.  Try out several different boxes.  They'll each have their own personality.  Since I started "CrossFit" I've been a member of 4 different boxes.  I can attest that they're each completely different.  I've gone to several different boxes in the Portland, Oregon area.  Each had it's own feel.  At one box, the coaches were wearing tie-dye, and the mothers were all sitting around in the locker room, after class...knitting! (True Story).  It was the classic "Portlandia Box."  I went to another that was nothing but "meat heads," where all they did was lifts, and strength sets.  Zero met con.  The one I went to in Vegas was "perfectly Vegas."  It was hilarious.  The coach's name was Guido, and about half the class members were strippers, who had just come off "the morning shift."  The perfect Vegas "CrossFit" experience.  Too funny!  It's like finding a shoe with the perfect fit.  Try out a number of them, if you have the option to do so in your area.  Don't rule "CrossFit" out, because you went to a box that didn't match your personality type.  Most boxes will let you try 1-2 classes there for free.  You'll want to call in advance to confirm this.


4) DON'T ACT LIKE A TEENAGER:  What does this mean?  Any parent will tell their teenager not to succumb to peer pressure.  I would admonish the same for "CrossFitters."  Here's why:  everyone feels pressure to beat the clock, their fellow classmates, and to proudly present their time on the white board.  This is okay...for AWHILE.  This is where the criticism comes into play from other fitness professionals.  They say "This is where the injuries happen."  They are right...IF...the person succumbs to peer pressure, like a teenager.   My problem with authority has pros and cons.  It makes me a good fit for being self-employed.  I don't take orders well from people I don't respect.  I also don't like to be pressured to do things "by the herd."  If you want to be 90, and still doing "CrossFit," eventually, you'll have to tell the voices in your head, the clock, and anyone else pressuring you (which they shouldn't be doing) to "Fuck Off" (with a smile, of course).  You need to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.  This is the only way to do anything.  Your coach is not a babysitter.  They are merely a guide.  They can't read your mind, and you shouldn't expect them to.  They're there to offer cues.  You must check in with where you're at, on any given day.  Maybe you didn't get quality sleep the night before.  Ladies, maybe you're having cramps.  Maybe you have some emotional things going on in your life.  Who knows?  Your coach doesn't know this.  Only YOU do.  If someone tells you to slap more weight on the bar, you need to do a mental/physical inventory on yourself.  And, be honest.  Are you in a place that day to PR your 1-rep max?  Maybe today's just a day to go light, and work on speed.  ALL of that is good training, and okay.  You don't have to succumb to some invisible peer pressure to do something you're not ready to do.  That will be a lesson to you in "CrossFit."  I'm convinced that's one, of several reasons, why I remain injury free doing  it.  I listen to myself on any given day, do what I feel I'm up for, and let go of what others think of me.  This is an ongoing process, and it's not always easy.  It's a powerful lesson that does translate into my daily life.  "CrossFit" teaches me to listen to myself.


There are many things I've not touched on, but I think the things mentioned are helpful to keep in mind.  I'm 39.  I'm not 20.  For the first time in my life, this year, I signed up for a competition (in a different sport) in the "Master's Category."  I'm aware of where I'm at in the life cycle, and am enjoying where I'm at.  I believe ageing occurs, but decline in health is optional.   "CrossFit" is a way I ensure continued fitness for all the activities I love doing in my life.  I'm both grateful for what it's given me, and am also aware of it's short comings, which makes me enjoy it for what it is.  This takes it off a pedestal, and instead makes it applicable.

I hope you've found some of the above suggestions helpful.  Feel free to share this blog post on your box website, and/or social media pages.  I think it's a helpful list of some suggestions, which can help you enjoy your "CrossFit" experience, particularly, if you're new to "CrossFit."


Monday, July 6, 2015

How To Fall In Love With Your Sport (Again)

"Obstacles Are Put  In Your Way To See If What You Want Is Really Worth Fighting For"
I think about this statement a lot.  Inevitably, the sports you do will wax and wane with success.  No one is successful 100% of the time.   This can create frustration, and lead to the question of "Why am I doing this anyway?" 
If you go back, and re-read January's blog post, titled "Finding Your WHY,"  this can assist you in doing an "internal inventory" regarding your training.  Every athlete needs to re-motivate him/herself periodically.  "Plateaus" are part of training, & (at least for me), are the hardest to contend with.
My worst trait is impatience.  This is predominately with myself.  I work hard, and like to see results...quickly.  Yet, anything worthwhile doesn't come easy.  It's the attribute of perseverance that yields a champion.  A champion will do what others won't.  When others sleep, he/she trains.  When others seek comfort, he/she practices being comfortable with the uncomfortable.
This process is rewarding, yet can also take a toll on the psyche.  It can create "burnout," and prevent an athlete from breaking past plateaus, when they feel they've "hit-a-wall" with their training.
In Jiu-Jitsu, there's something loosely termed "The Blue Belt Curse."  This means that, often, when people get their blue belt, they quit Jiu-Jitsu.  Just when they broke through the "just-trying-to-survive" white belt stage, they burn out.  You see this in all sports.  The plateau-frustration stages that you'll invariably hit can weed out those who are serious about training, versus those who aren't.

The question is, when you hit a stage of frustration in your training ( and this can be due to many things), what can you do about it?  How can you re-focus, shift your frustration pattern of thinking back to "training mode," wake up ready to be excited again about your sport?

Let's first identify some causative factors that can produce the plateau-frustration effect.  There are many.  These are just a few. 

- Working With The Same Coach For Years On End
- Poor Diet ("I Workout, So I Can Eat Whatever I Want")
- Not Enough Water/Fluid Intake
- Training The Same Way All The Time (which can also be connected to working with the same coach)
-Poor Body "Maintenance"
1.)  Working With The Same Coach:  There are pros/cons to this.  On one hand, if you have a highly experienced coach, you are able to really practice his/her way of training, & get specifically good at that one style.  This, of course, can be of benefit.  This can, eventually, make you an expert in a specific way of training.  While this has many "upsides" to it, this also has many "downsides."  No one coach or person has ALL the answers.  If you find a coach/trainer that you "mesh" with, by all means, stay with him/her.  However, to keep things "fresh" with your training, it never hurts to get a 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th opinion.  Work with your coach, but attend specialty workshops by other experts also.  Sometimes it just takes a new perspective to get you excited to train again.  Sometimes it even takes a fresh voice to say the same thing you've heard, repeatedly, but said in a different way.  It then "sinks in"...you get excited at your new understanding...and are ready to get back...and give it 100% again.  Always seek new knowledge in your sport.  Always attend workshops, seminars, watch videos about it, read books to increase your breadth of knowledge.  This will keep things interesting, and you excited to get up, yet again, and give it your best.  Every expert has many teachers behind him/her.
2.)  Poor Diet:  I can't emphasize this enough.  I blow up social media with this message.  As a health care provider, fitness trainer and "CrossFit" coach, I can't help it.  My passion is motivating people to better lifestyle choices, and this always starts with your nutrition.  As an athlete, it's even more vital that this becomes top priority.  You can't put bad fuel in a car, and expect it to run properly.  Your nutrition is paramount to preventing "burn out," and helping you move past training plateaus.  You need to pretend you never heard the saying "You Can Eat Whatever Your Want If You Workout."  I couldn't disagree more.  In fact, I'd even reverse that, and say, if you want the benefits of being an athlete, you have to have a disciplined nutrition plan, no ifs, ands, or buts.  Repeated injury can happen, not only from training incorrectly, but from poor nutrition.  Not giving the body adequate nutrients, thereby, not feeding the body properly is a recipe for training disaster.  "Bonking" is a common term amongst athletes.  It means being past the state of hypo-glycemia, and therefore, far past a "negative checking account balance," of vitamins and minerals.  Its difficult to recover motivation at this point.  And, let's face it, an injury (and repeated ones, at that) are deflating to the morale.  Good nutrition is a large percentage in preventing both repeated injuries and "bonking."


3.)  Not Enough Water/Fluid Intake:   A reduction of just 2% of fluid can result in reduced athletic output by as much as 10-20%. This is not insignificant. Ponder for a moment the amount of energy that goes into training to improve by just 5%. All that, and more, can be lost by inadequate hydration.  Water intake is something I'm constantly working on.  Its something that every athlete should pay attention to.  The times I tend to forget to drink water is typically when I'm doing something in the cold (like snow-shoe running), and swimming.  You are expending more calories in the pool than you think, but for some reason, when I lap swim, I get "in the zone," and forget to drink water in between laps.  This is something I'm now making a concerted effort to do.  Pay attention to the times that you tend to forget to bring, or drink, water.  Then, make an effort to change that.

Jiu-Jitsu at "Clark's University of Martial Arts," Bend, OR.

Girls That Lift Are Strong & Confident

4.)  Training The Same Way All The Time:  This can be connected to #1.  After all, if you work with the same coach, day in, day out, you may get in a rut, working out the same way.  People often ask me how I can do so many different sports, and not get injured.  I share with them "It's because I do so many different sports that I don't get injured."  I truly believe that being a "mono-sport" athlete is not the way to go, for most, in the way of fitness and longevity.  Even the top mono-sport athletes, now cross-train.  At least, the best ones do.  I know several ultra-runners that also weight train.  As they should.  Weight training will do something totally different (and necessary) for their body that cardio won't.  I also believe it goes both ways.  My big power lifter/strength patients lack agility, speed, and flexibility, because they rarely do cardio, and stretch.  My motto is:  "I will cross-train your cross-training."  You body should have zero idea what you're going to ask it to do, when you wake up each morning.  It should be ready for anything:  run, jump, lift, climb, swim, bike, row, bend, stretch, dance, whatever.  The minute you become a "specialist" in any one area of fitness is the minute you hit a "plateau."  Whatever your given sport is, consider cross-training as your ticket to staying in that sport.  Anytime you train the same way, for months and years on end, you're asking for overuse/repetitive injuries.  Why do triathletes tend to suffer less injuries versus runners or cyclists alone?  Because they're constantly asking their body to train differently.  Even though more sports are involved in a triathlon versus a marathon, you're less likely to get injured.  It's counter-intuitive, but the more different types of activities you do, the less likely you are to get injured.  The body wasn't designed to eat the same food, over and over, and it's no different for exercise.  Cross-training also prevents boredom, and keeps things fun :)

5.)  Poor Body "Maintenance":  Now I put on my acupuncturist hat.  I'm constantly amazed at how well we maintain our cars, homes, and care for our pets...but, not ourselves.  People have a funny notion that it's "charitable" to put themselves last.  Not one of my Mom clients/patients have said this has worked well for them.  We run ourselves ragged care-taking everyone else, yet our own "gas tank" is on "E."  You must put the same amount of effort (if not more) into taking care of your body.  My guy patients only typically come in to see me, because their wife/girlfriend made the appointment for them.  They grumble their whole first treatment, then come back to the second treatment reluctantly admitting that they feel better.  Once their symptoms start to disappear, they then ask me how often should they come in.  I (only semi jokingly) say "You're On The 'Jiffy Lube' plan.  When that sticker on your windshield says it's time for an oil change then you come in for one of your own."  That seems to work.  I have my own plan, which I highly recommend for every athlete.  Every 3 months I do CPR:  "Crack," "Poke," and "Rub".  That stands for chiropractic, acupuncture and  massage.  I play hard, and want to continue playing hard.  I know my body needs "tune-ups" and "oil changes," just like my car.  In fact, it's more important than my car, because it's the "house" I live in.

If you give your attention to the following things listed, you will skate over training plateaus easily.  Molding your body into an efficient, strong, capable machine is a joy.  There are bound to be a few  "obligatory" bumps and bruises along the way, but don't lose your enthusiasm.  Sports offer us limitless bounds to test our capabilities in so many ways.  From the inner to the outer levels of who we are.  Frustration is normal.  It can be a way of doing an inventory in your life to see where the "holes" are in your training.  This can be a powerful way of participating in your health, and enriching your life with success, confidence, and growth.
Climbing At "Smith Rock," 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015

REAL Women Move

It became apparent to me, early on in life, that I was a MOVER.  I rarely sat still.  My parents could see that I didn't fit the mold of "traditional" team/ball sports that were offered for the girls at my school.  I swam, rode my bike, rode horses, went to dance class, but rarely did I fit in with the girl jocks.  I liked, and associated with people of different social groups, but never really fit into one, in particular.  I'm still that way.  Only now, I'm very comfortable with it.  Some people never get comfortable with not fitting in.  In fact, I would say most people don't.  Even upon reaching adulthood.

To this day, molds don't fit me, nor I them.  I'm almost 39, not married, & childless.  Many other women, actually, don't really know what to do with that.  You'd think it'd come from the men, but no.  Often, I make other women uncomfortable.  They can't put me in a box, & therefore squirm just a bit.  This is not new to me.  But, I'm good with it.  Women have asked me "Ohhh...you must not have kids, because you're infertile, or there's something 'wrong' with you?"  Not it.  But, to tell them, you're currently "childless by choice," there's a lot of squirming that goes on.  The "Fit Mom" group doesn't quite know where I fit in.  I'm fit too, and they like that, but my lifestyle is less restricted than theirs.  That's both a pro and a con, but because I don't fit the age norm, for what my life "should" look like, I make many women uncomfortable.  Half the time they're not even clear what about me makes them uncomfortable, but I can see it in their eyes.  Women are threatened by one another.  It doesn't have to be that way, but to say that doesn't exist, would be false.  I mirror emotions in them that are uncertain, and they're not sure what to do with that.  I know.  It happens often.  And it's OKAY.

I'm typically the one who, out of a group of women, will be doing the "odd" sports.  I climb as high as I can, until people below me disappear.  With the wind in my face, and the sun inching towards me, I feel free when I climb.  I can climb away from all issues on the ground.  I climb towards my true self.

              Ice Climbing, Ouray, CO.


I beat dudes up.  Well, sort of.  Sometimes I'm able to pull it off.  Sometimes I'm not.  But, Jiu-Jitsu has become an intrinsic "thread" that connects me to the core of myself.  Try explaining to other women that you roll with large men (especially, other women's husbands).  Most of the time, I'm the only girl in the morning classes.  Other women tend not to know how to react to that, either.  Just one more way that I make them squirm.

(Pictured Right)
Jiu-Jitsu at "Clark's Univ. Of Martial Arts," Bend, OR.

I like to lift heavy weights.  I've been doing "CrossFit" for 8.5 yrs.  I've been coaching it for 3 yrs.  I've been a certified fitness trainer since 2005.   Happily bench-pressing, with a bunch of dudes, often raises an eyebrow with other women.

"CrossFit" comp., Salem, OR., 2013

I don't have a stroller.  I'm not married.  I typically do male dominated sports (although campaigns like this are helping to change that), and I love it.  I will never fit in.  I will always dance to the beat of my own drum.  I will always be a MOVER.  In my OWN way...and that's what #REALWomenMove means to me.  That's what this campaign is for.  To help raise awareness that you will find your own unique movement(s) to express different facets of your nature.  That's powerful in it's own right.  I am a candle for other women.  That is what I do.  I live in a strength of my own, which gives other women and girls who observe what I do, silent permission to do the same.  I'm authentic.  I'm confident.  I love to grow internally by activating my body to dig deeper.  I've always known, since I was little, that my role was to live authentically, a life full of adventure, full of laughter, and to inspire other women and girls to do the same. 

Be a part of the movement.  Join the campaign.  Hashtag your social media pictures, over the next month with #REALWomenMove   Let's demonstrate that ANY way you choose to break a sweat, is not only valid....but valuable.  And that being authentically YOU is the best gift you can give to the world.


Instagram: @alminebarton
Twitter: @AlmineBarton1
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/alminewellness

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Running With My Ancestors

"Listen To The Wind,  For It Carries The Wisdom Of Our Ancestors On It's Back"

Fitness has always been important to my father.  Jogging on the beach, along the Oregon Coast, and swimming at our local pool were always "non-negotiables" to him.  We knew the harder it rained, the longer he'd be gone.  He loves running in the rain.  He always says he feels it "cleanses" him.  He would come home dripping wet, with a big smile on his face.  No words were needed.  His batteries had been re-charged.  He was able to give to his family again.

Post 2014 "Shamrock Run," Portland, OR.

The elements, so harsh and cold on the Oregon Coast, are what chiseled him, like the rocks that line the sea shore.  Dark, jagged, and resilient. The Pacific Ocean, and the abrasive landscape it shapes, are what he draws strength from.

I remember the day he left home to spread his mother's ashes, along her favorite stretch of beach she ran.  Like his mother before him, un-hospitable landscapes are where they chose to derive their stoic nature from.  Raising 4 children on a houseboat in Alaska is something that seasoned my Grandma. A hardy woman, who braved Alaskan winters, got her bush pilot's license, and shot dinner for her children.  

My Dad is adamant that his Alaskan roots, and mother's influence are what solidifed the foundation for hard work in his life.  "Train the body, train the mind" are at the core of his life.  Hard work breeds good results.  Sweat equity yields excellence.

Dad Enjoying The View From "Pilot Butte"

He lives that to this day.  He insists he can run and lift weights 5-6 days a week, "because I swim."  He's a big fan of swimming.  "It's a sport you can age with.  You'll never find fault with a pool."  He states his balance, coordination, clear thinking and level-headedness "come from the water."

One day, I will spread my father's ashes along his favorite stretch of beach, just like he did his mother's.  I will run along the shore, and  know that my love of fitness is a gift from him, like his mother bestowed to her son.  I will feel the cold wind on my face, hear my feet touch the sand with rhythm, and know my ancestors are running with me...as I do my best to carry their wisdom on my back.

Handstands On Christmas Morning, At Home In Newport, OR.


I am a jury trial lawyer.  My work is intense and pressure-laden.  Stress and responsibility are my daily grist.  I have worked out 5-6 days a week since 1971. Why?  Maybe it was the vision of my mother jogging down the beach when I was home from college, rain or shine.  Maybe because it’s a natural stress reducer and helps me sleep, or maybe it’s just because I enjoy pushing myself.  When I work out alone I also gain the private time necessary to sort out my day and life’s challenges.  I do know I’m 66 and enjoy great enthusiasm, health, and optimism. 

There’s a communion that occurs during and after a good sweat.   When my daughters were young, I took them jogging on the beach.  While we no longer take beach runs, working on our fitness together allows me to connect and share with all three of my kids.  I enjoy playing tennis with Almine’s older sister and basketball with her younger brother.  These days when I get together with Almine, we share a workout at the gym and pool, followed up by a salad.  

From L--R: Dad, Me, Brent & Monique, 2014 "Shamrock Run"

We’ve also taken some exciting trips and have hiked the Inca trail and rafted rivers in Croatia.  I look forward to more adventures.

Last year my daughters and I planned the first of what will hopefully be many father-daughter weekends centered around shared physical activities like hiking, swimming, tennis, and yes, hanging out.  We workout, get massages and eat right.  These weekends are intended build our relationships and are a wonderful opportunity to share, vent, revisit and rewrite history.

*Dad & His Girls*

A lot of people are very good at many of life’s tasks, including their jobs, but neglect taking care of themselves.  This catches up with them; I know as I look around at my peers.   I think of my workouts as the best investment I can make in myself, and it’s obviously something nobody else can do for us.

When people don’t take good care of themselves they marginalize a central aspect of their lives.  It’s easy to take one’s health for granted, especially when you’re young.  Regularly working out isn’t convenient or easy, and not every workout’s a pleasure, but good health is certainly one of our most important personal assets.

Do running and the outdoors in some mythical way connect Almine to the grandmother she barely knew?  Maybe.  I believe working out is a glue that bonds me to my mother, and in turn to my three children.  When my mother died I spread her ashes on the beach where she used to jog.

Dad (with my pup, Anok) Surveying The Land He Purchased To Be Left As A "Green Space" For Future Generations

My advice to parents is to find an activity you can share with your children, and remember, each child is different.  Find something they like, and then build on it.  It all starts with them, life will answer where it ends. 

"Love Your Parents.  We Are So Busy Growing Up, That We Often Forget They Are Getting Old."

Monday, January 5, 2015

Find Your "WHY": 2015 A New Year...New You

My fellow "CrossFit" coach, Danielle King, & I both thought we'd share with you why we workout, & love living a healthy lifestyle.  Different women are motivated to workout for different reasons. Maybe you have kids, & it's about setting an example for them.  Maybe you don't have kids, & it's about setting an example to your community.  Whatever your motivation, it's important to find your "Why." 

Human beings are motivated to perpetuate healthy habits when there's a reason behind it.  It needs to make sense to our logical brain, just why we're getting up, when it's dark out, to make ourselves get "uncomfortable."  And that's what fitness should be...a bit uncomfortable.  If it's not, you're still within your comfort zone.  The "comfort zone" is rarely a place where you see gains, & grow internally.  It's important to find out who you are, outside your comfort zone.  This is where you see progress, and growth.  Not just externally, but internally as well.

Fitness, for me, is an outward manifestation of internal growth.  The physical is just a reflection of hours of mental determination, & pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.  I like to think of it at "The Tao Of Fitness."  When I see someone whose fit, I can appreciate the anatomy and the physical beauty their body is an example of.  What I really see, as a personal trainer & "CrossFit" coach, is beyond that.  It's the hours of dedication, discipline and hard work that it's taken that person to get where they're at.  The physical is just the shell.  It's the mind that's been "harnessed," & controlled to do the will of the spirit.  The spirit is a powerful thing, that drives the human being.  In Chinese medicine we call it the "Zhi."  It is the "Zhi" that makes you dig deep to find that "One More Rep."  You could think of the "Zhi" as being slightly beyond the mental will.  It's just a smidge beyond the word "willpower."  It's the strength of the "Zhi" that will be the deciding factor in who stays alive, & who doesn't in a survival situation.  It is important to harness the "Zhi," to discipline the physical body, & it's capabilities.  It's the horse that drives the cart.  Discipline the horse.  The cart is pulled efficiently.  

A powerful acupuncture point, that is considered the "seat" or the "house" of "Zhi," thereby affecting it's reserves, is GV-4.  This point stimulates motivation, and drive to succeed.  It's a point that is beneficial to be needled, by a licensed acupuncturist, before a sporting event, for extra motivation, determination and drive.  It was a "secret house" point of the Shaolin martial artists in ancient China.
They knew of its abilities to procure, and strengthen the "Zhi."

Find your "Why" and dig deep to harness your "Zhi" this year.  It's a fresh start to a new you.  My mantra for this year is "NEW YEAR, NEW STRONG."  I invite you to embrace your next level of "strong," increase your fitness in 2015...and embrace "Uncomfortable."  Your growth there will yield more than you ever dreamed of.  

Best Wishes For A Year Of Health & Fitness,

Almine Barton & Danielle King


I am sort of like George Washington being I cannot tell a lie. Well sometimes and one thing I cannot lie about are fitness and why and how I love fitness. In the beginning it wasn’t as if I had this great epiphany nor was I an awesome high school athlete. I haveto admit I had gained a few pounds and had what most would refer to as a mom body and I was ok with it. Well, ok with it isn’t and wasn’t enough for me so when a young lady practically talked me into taking her cross training class I reluctantly took her up on her offer.  I mean seriously, most start working out to look hot so then it started!!Damn!! What am I doing here sweating, trembling and on the verge of vomiting? I am embarrassed, but Iwas more embarrassed at the weight I had gained and how I wasn’t eating properly so instead of… here goes nothing, wait here goes everything!!After the first few sessions I was hooked!! The sweating, the heavy lifting, the cheering, and the camaraderie it was all so amazing. After a few weeks I felt a change a change that I had never felt before.My body was different. I was both stronger and happier. This transformation wasn’t just physical but even more so mental. I felt like I could tackle the world. It was amazing, invigorating and quite frankly liberating feeling. These gym feats trickled over into other aspects of my life aand career. For instance, I stood taller, spoke with confidence and most importantly became a role model of health for my children especially my 14-year-old daughter. I want her to see me as strong and not afraid to lift heavy and train hard.

DANIELLE KING, "CrossFit" Coach, Certified Personal Trainer

ALMINE BARTON, "CrossFit" Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, Licensed Acupuncturist