The Comfortable Rut: The Worst Place to Be

I suppose in October, the month of ghouls, goblins and generally everything that scares us, it’s only fitting to talk about fear. For now, I’ll talk about mine. Be ready.

It was nearing the end of 2005 and I was a sophomore in college. Everything was panning out as any 19-year-old’s life would: hang out with friends, take a couple classes at a junior college, get average grades, and that’s about it. I was floating. It was also the year the thing I feared most as a kid happened.

Fear is an interesting emotion. It’s meant to warn of legitimate dangers to our well-being, like illness or accidents, and cause us to be alert, take action, and prepare.

More often than not though, it has a paralyzing effect. At a time when many of the dangers that once threatened our lives have been neutralized through technology and medical advances, we still live with fear. Only it isn’t fear of haunted houses or zombies that we’re afraid of.

It’s change.

Fear keeps us from making the changes that we know deep down we need to make. It keeps our broom in hand constantly sweeping our growing discontent under the rug.

Many people live in their comfort zone, a place that feels safe and familiar. It’s the shallow end of the pool. A place we can daydream about a better life without actually doing anything that calls for uncertainty.

Some of you may find yourself in this place. You go through the motions feeling stuck and stagnant. Things aren’t terrible but they just aren’t what you want. You’re not sure of how to get out of this funk, so you do nothing.

This is the place called “The Comfortable Rut.” The wasteland where you wish things were different but it’s just not bad enough to change. It was where I was when I was 19 and my father died. I was forced to reevaluate everything.

It was when he passed that I seriously looked at everything I was just tolerating. My health, my future, all of it, and I realized I was incredibly complacent. I woke up. I got my act together, took my education and my fitness seriously and dropped a lot of the low-value things I was doing. But it took a painful experience to do it.

How many times have you talked to someone who wants more of life? Every time you see them they tell you everything’s going to be different this time next year. They’re going to leave a dead-end job, finally get in shape, and yet they go on year after year never actually doing anything.

How are you doing on your goals? Are you making steady progress with consistent action everyday? Or are you no closer today than you were a year ago? Or maybe like many people you’re just going in circles but never really getting anywhere. Maybe you’ve given up trying all together.

Ask yourself, what am I tolerating? What did you imagine for yourself that you just gave up on by convincing yourself that you’re too busy, too old, or simply don’t have what it takes? What has you at the side of the pool dipping your toes in the water, afraid to jump in?

If that thing is getting in shape, here’s some advice:

Feel the fear. Do it anyway. The very fact that you’re afraid is a good indicator that it’s really important. Sometimes the most important thing to do is just start. Do this and the fear will disappear (eventually).

Quit swinging for the fences. Aim for singles. Everybody thinks they have to completely overhaul their lives to get fit. Start with small steps done consistently. Week after week, just show up.

Have someone who’s been there to push you. I recently started training for a triathlon. I never could have swum a mile in the ocean without a coach to guide and talk me through it. A little handholding is the fastest sure-fire way to conquer fear and reach your goals.

And remember, the pain of regret is more painful than the pain of changing for the better. spt

Food Is Evil (And Other Lies)

What I’m about to tell you isn’t particularly groundbreaking information, but the thing is, most people don’t know it. It’s astounding how we can know so little about something so essential. We do it everyday and how we do it will affect our health, fitness, body, mood, energy levels, and overall well being whether we want it to or not. That thing, of course, is eating.

Too many people are nutritionally illiterate. They can’t read a food label. They don’t really understand what protein, carbs or fat are. They just know that according to whatever website, friends, or alarming new “research” they come across, one of them will kill you if you don’t cut it out right away!

These days, the demon food of the week is gluten. So now you browse the aisles and you’ll see “Gluten-Free” so people buy these products and think it’s healthy when it’s really just marketing.

Eating is one of the subjects you shouldn’t choose to be ignorant on, but it’s hard to know whom to believe, right? What you need to know are a few principles that serve as a filter to discern whether the info you hear is valuable. You know, a B.S. detector. Here are some simple but universal truths that can help you decide on your own:

Food is energy, plain and simple. When you eat, you are fueling your body with macronutrients (proteins, carbs, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals). Your body is one shrewd machine so whatever it doesn’t have immediate use for, it will store. This storage is fat.

How much you need to eat (and your capacity to store fat) varies from person to person depending on activity level and metabolism. To use a car analogy, some people burn fuel like a Mack truck (high metabolism) and some people like hybrid vehicles. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. The key is pay attention to how your body responds when eating certain foods.

You must decide what outcome you are eating for before you decide which foods are “bad” for you. Eating for health, body transformation or performance are not the same thing. Certain foods accomplish different outcomes. Some help you burn fat, some gain weight, some prevent cancer, support longevity, some make you stronger, some give fast energy, some slow energy, etc.

Knowing this one fact will clear up 90% of the information that you are flooded with.

Anytime someone spouts nutrition advice like, “Carbs are bad,” ask yourself, “Bad for what outcome? Is it harmful to the results I want?”

Broccoli is a carbohydrate. Is that bad? So is fruit. The statement is too general to be meaningful and yet it’s used all the time.

For an obese, sedentary individual with a desk job, excessive carbohydrates would be bad. Sugar, refined carbohydrates, and starches should be avoided. However, a high school linebacker hoping to play in college needs to eat carbs (and lots of them). He needs to fuel his performance and growing body. In his context, carbs are good and absolutely necessary.

But eating foods that cause weight gain, or help you get stronger when you’re trying to lose weight (and vice versa) is a recipe for frustration. You’re following the wrong recipe.

Food is Neutral. Despite what the media says, food isn’t evil. Any food can be good in the right context and right amount. You get that? It’s all about when you have it and how much.

(By the way, when I say food, I’m talking the broad categories of protein, carbs and fat. Not food preparation or sources like organic, GMO, grass-fed, artificial, etc.)

So here’s the takeaway: avoid absolutes. We are all special little snowflakes and we tend to react differently to food. The best things you can do are test it for yourself and see how you feel and what your blood work says.

Eating is too important to rely solely on Dr. Oz. If you care about health and fitness, inform yourself. spt

The Price Of Dramatic Results

What would it take to get dramatic results?

The kind of results people go on reality television shows for; the kind of results that people chase relentlessly but can’t seem to get. The kind of results that we keep resolving to get every time a new year passes or we hit some milestone birthday. “This year when I turn 30 I’m finally going to…”

But somehow it seems the New Year just comes and goes. The milestone birthday was three years ago and now, here you are, still struggling; still stuck, feeling guilty for breaking that promise to yourself.

You’ve gone down every rabbit hole that promised to end your frustration: diets, ab-rockers, or a miracle herb endorsed by some host on daytime television. What’s it going to take?

Well I can say that the only thing I’ve really seen work time and time again is… dramatic action.

Some would take “dramatic action” as meaning try harder, work out longer, or eat less. It doesn’t. It means take the action you’re afraid of taking.

Every time I’ve made significant progress it required me to do something that made me very uncomfortable. Something I really wanted to avoid but somehow managed to overcome my shaky knees and do it anyway.

Productive Avoidance.
Have you ever done something “productive” to avoid doing something painfully important?

You ever find yourself with the urge to shuffle papers, clean your room, or get a haircut when you have a big deadline? Trying to stay busy doing seemingly productive things to avoid doing what’s really necessary? That’s productive avoidance.

For someone who wants to lose weight, this is the person who lets twenty things get in the way of getting their workout in or someone who just does more cardio to avoid the real problem, like late-night binging, a vicious sweet-tooth, cigarettes, or using food for emotional relief.

Too often people try to outwork a subpar diet. They hope they can just “work off” the other habits they’re not ready to let go of. This is why people yo-yo. Lose weight, gain it back and lose it again, and repeat never getting any results to last.

Do you have something like that? That thing that makes your palms a little sweaty when you think about it? The thing that you know holds you back way more than anything else?

Most people think getting fit requires more effort. Doubling down on the workouts, finding a new miracle pill, blah, blah, blah. Those things are just band-aids. They aren’t solutions and they won’t last. Dramatic results come by addressing the root of the problem, getting control of the low-value habits that sabotage your health and eliminating them.

Einstein has a famous quote that goes, “We cannot solve a problem at the same level we created them.” This is why progress can be so hard. Unless you take action that requires you to be bigger than the problem, to stretch, to grow, then you simply won’t get past it.

If you are struggling and the things you’re doing now are what you’ve always done, in that little box of comfort you’re living in, then it’s time try again. Time to rip off the band-aid.

Yes this is hard. It can be painful. It can be scary. But it will be worth it.

What are you afraid of? Grab a pen write down everything you know you need to do, but really don’t want to. Then get to work. spt

To read case studies of people with dramatic results done by Crossfit Heyday, contact Ricky Magana at ricky@heydaytraining.com.

Why We Fail

Another year has flown by and here we are scratching our heads (again) at how unfathomably fast time passes.

It’s 2013 and the world hasn’t ended despite the Internet oracles proclaiming Mayan prophecy. And since it hasn’t ended we should get back to the lofty work of keeping our health vibrant and bodies strong for many years to come.

Many people have tried and lost the battle with weight and fitness. Many have given valiant efforts but in the end gave up. I want to focus on why they (or you) failed and how to get back on the saddle.

If you or someone you know has tried over and over to lose weight, it’s probably because you succumbed to one of the following stumbling blocks common to nearly everyone who’s tried to get fit. So read on and decide if any of these applies to you, and if so, dust off the spandex and get back to work. Here goes:

You expected it to be easy. You were perhaps sold a Shake Weight and told all you had to do was six-minutes a day. Somehow that’s not working out and your ambitions are thwarted. Fitness isn’t easy, but it can be fun and very rewarding, which is way better than easy.

You’re a perfectionist. You say things like, “I only like to do things 100% and until I have the time blah blah blah,” or “As soon as I ______ then I’m really going to take my health and fitness seriously.” Getting fit means surrendering our pride to gain self-respect. Aim for progress, not perfection. It’s going to be messy at first and that’s okay.

You didn’t start small. You spent $200 on kale and salmon. You quit smoking, eating chocolate, and started running five miles every morning. You lasted a week. If you fell off the wagon it’s because you took on too much too fast. Try again, only slower. Pick one thing, do it consistently and go from there. Baby steps.

You chose Victim over Victor. You let circumstances outside of your control determine your fitness for you. You encountered obstacles like a busy schedule, or your age and let it stop you. You hung your head and said, “Oh well,” when you should have puffed your chest and said, “Challenge Accepted.”

You refuse to be led. You know you need to lose 30 pounds but don’t see the benefit in reducing your learning curve, being coached and held accountable, or making a small investment in undoing years of bad habits to build a lifestyle that will impact you for the rest of your life. A coach will believe in you before you believe in yourself. This can be crucial.

You didn’t have a plan. “Spray and Pray” was your fitness regimen. Showed up to the gym, and hopped on whatever machine least intimidated you and wandered the aisles of cardio machines till you got hungry and left. You need a plan that maps out your fitness regimen to your desired goal. No more guesswork.

You let your self-doubt run the show. Feeling unsure of our abilities is completely normal. We’re all scared when we take on something big and often feel completely ill equipped. We hear the voices telling us we can’t do it. Those who succeed ignore it and carry on. Unfortunately, you listened.

And finally, you didn’t make yourself a priority. No one can want it more than you. You’re probably great in your career, a great father, mother, or grandparent. You’re there for lots of other obligations but at the expense of maintaining your health, burning the candle at both ends.

Start keeping obligations to yourself like you do to your job and family. After all, being healthy only means you get to be there for the people you care about for as long as possible. It’s a win-win.

Here’s to a great 2013. spt

P.S. Email me to receive a free copy of the 4 Golden Rules of Fitness for Busy People to discover practical ways to start losing weight & build muscle (even with kids, careers and crazy-busy schedules).

36 Workouts

Do not think that what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; and if it is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach. – Marcus Aurelius

This months post is about tackling big goals, like losing weight, by changing how we perceive them. Sometimes getting fit seems impossible, but what seems impossible is only a series of steps followed consistently if we can map out a big fat hairy goal into a clear path that goes from scary and unattainable to totally doable.

We love targets. You give someone a challenge and a definite path to get there, and they will work their butt off. But they have to know how long and they want to see if they are making progress along the way.

Take marathons, twenty-six miles is long but map it out and place mile markers every step of the way and suddenly it’s manageable. It’s the path and markers that makes the effort tolerable. Exercise, or marathons, would be unbearable if we merely said run until we say stop. Getting in shape works the same way.

The not knowing what to do is much more difficult than actually doing it and it’s why a lot of people fail when trying to get fit. They have a goal but have no real idea how they will get there or how long it will take.

People aren’t as afraid of hard work as they are of uncertainty. We’ll endure any amount of pain if we know what it’s for and have decided it’s worth it (and we’ll complain like crazy if even small effort seems pointless.) So if you can give yourself a target, like losing 30 pounds, and remove the variables of what it’ll take to get there, you have just made what seemed impossible, possible and will find yourself with the energy to make it happen.

If you happen to be “out of shape” and secretly desire to do something but also feel overwhelmed by it, you should know most men and women who’ve either fallen off the wagon or haven’t worked out in several years can completely turn it around in under a year. I’ve seen it happen over and over again to people who were 20 to 40 lbs. overweight, stressed from jobs and raising children, completely transforming their bodies.

For these people, walking into the gym for the first time was scary because it was a change. It was uncharted territory. But most of that fear disappeared after a few weeks because it became clear what to do, keep showing up.

Getting in shape is no longer this big scary undertaking that has no definite end but instead is a series of steps: 1. Show up, 2. Eat right, 3. Repeat for desired effect. Do it enough times and voila, the weight is gone, replaced by confidence and strength.

Many of you will make resolutions this year hoping to do just that; to get in shape, eat better or start working out. But what if instead of making vague health-related resolutions, we had a series of steps to follow that would very clearly define our success or failure? If you’re one of those people who want to lose 20 to 40 lbs. and feel younger, here’s some news for you, it’s going to take 36 workouts.

That’s right, after training hundreds of people, I’ve observed that it usually takes about 36 workouts within three months to get an overweight average Joe or Jane into great shape again.

That’s 36 trips to the gym or 36 runs on Paseo del Mar, or pressing play on your dusty P90x videos 36 times. With just 36 tick marks on the calendar, you can feel ten years younger by Easter.

Of course, fitness doesn’t end at 36 workouts and getting fit is a life decision not a temporary fix, but the first 40 workouts are all you need to get you out of the rut you’re in. spt

You’re Only As Fit As You Decide To Be

If you were asked what the most important benefit to exercising and eating right was, what would you say?

Over the years, I’ve had a few injuries. I’ve broken or torn multiple bones, ligaments, and muscles; donned casts, slings, crutches and a wheelchair. Some injuries occurred through my own stupidity and some were just freak accidents that seem to catch us when we least expect it. You know, life.

When I first found myself incapacitated with a hip-to-toe cast, I figured any hope of staying in shape was out of the question. I surrendered to the fate of withering away on the sofa medicating on Oreos and chocolate milk. I had 12 long weeks to feel sorry for myself.

It was at my lowest point of self-pity where I arrived at a very important question, how am I going to react to this?

Simply because I couldn’t run or walk, I was focusing on things I couldn’t do rather than what I could do. I was being a victim of circumstances I couldn’t control rather than taking responsibility for what I could. My leg needed to heal, but beyond that, I had total control of what I ate and I still had complete use of my upper body, which allowed for plenty of exercise.

This left me with the sobering (and empowering) conclusion that if my health and fitness declined, it was because I allowed it to, not my injury. And I wanted it too much to stop.

In the gym, you’re not only developing physical strength, but everyday you are exposing yourself to the pain of exercise. Our bodies change because we expose it to stress and stimulus causing it to rebuild stronger and more resilient than before. But more importantly, you’re fighting the urge to say “the hell with it” and give up. Every day you defy this urge to skip the workout, you get a little stronger.

Over time you develop patience, mental strength, and discipline, and what were once weaknesses (both physical and mental) have been built up to make you a better version of yourself. Someone who has more energy, complains a lot less, and walks taller. And that, my friends, is way better than a nice pair of biceps.

Some people may be thinking, “Oh, I’m not strong or disciplined.” You are. In fact, if you are struggling with getting fit or losing weight it is not a question of how strong you are, but rather a question of wanting it badly enough and knowing that it’s possible. Most of us fail simply because we kind of committed to something we only kind of want, or never really believed we could have in the first place.

You have to decide that it’s possible for you and you have to want it more than watching television, more than sleeping in, more than donuts, wine and beers. When you want to get in shape, feel younger and more confident, more than any of those things, you will have no problem getting there.

That is the greatest benefit of exercise, discovering how much control you have over your body and life when you truly commit to get yourself out of the rut.

Every decision you face is made according to your commitment and belief in the outcome. The people you surround yourself with, the food you eat, the books you read, the television you watch, how much sleep you get, everything is a decision that has you either moving in a better direction, remaining complacent, or worse, moving backwards.

If you feel stuck, you have to look at your situation and know that it can be better. When you know it can be better, decide to make it better. Then act. And when it gets hard, you will find out how committed you are.

You will discover that can you work around any obstacle, albeit money, time, age, or injury. You just have to get off the fence and decide. spt

Why We Get Fat in the Fall

October is upon us and with it brings another holiday season. Everything will come in “pumpkin spice” or “gingerbread,” jars of mini-size chocolates and cookie trays will abound. The break room will be filled with cupcakes, the bake sales wafting fresh-baked aromas that taunt us, and supermarket aisles will overflow with economy size bags of individually wrapped sugar bombs.

Time to batten down the hatches! We got a storm coming called Hurricane Holiday Weight Gain!

According to a New York Times article, the average holiday weight gain can be as high as five to ten pounds by the New Year. But the trouble isn’t the weight gain, necessarily. One report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that holiday weight is often not lost in the spring. In fact, the average person (and keep in mind, the “average” person is now overweight) who gains a few pounds this season will not lose it… unless they do something about it.

You shouldn’t resign to the statistics and accept that weight gain is collateral damage of the season. You can and should do something so that you can finish the year with some good memories and none of the fat.

So why do we gain weight during the holidays? Is it because we’re inside roasting chestnuts as opposed to being outside? Is it because we eat too much and move too little? There are a few reasons but here’s a surprising truth: You don’t gain weight because you eat too much. You gain weight because at this time of the year, you eat food that triggers your body to store fat.

Sugar and refined carbs – It’s not groundbreaking news that sugar makes us fat but few understand why. From October to January there’s an abundance of breads, pastries, and sweets. When you eat these foods they enter the bloodstream as blood sugar. This triggers your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin directs traffic, it determines where your food goes: to the muscles, liver, or fat cells depending on where it’s needed. If it’s not needed, it goes into storage (i.e. abdominal fat). This is generally a smooth process in sensible diets but when you eat sweets, there is a huge influx of sugar into your bloodstream, much more than your muscles or liver require, so insulin has to get it out of your blood storing it as fat. Quite simply, your body stores fat easily when you consume refined carbs and sugar. So knowing this what can we do?

Set Some Boundaries – For the next three months, sugary food will be everywhere: at work, your child’s school and at parties. Most of it will have sprinkles, and well-intentioned people will be trying to send you home with baskets of it. Decide ahead of time when you will indulge. Eating what you crave doesn’t become worrisome until it becomes habitual. My advice is reserve confections strictly for special occasions.

Start Resistance Training – Resistance training increases your muscle, which means more fuel can get stored there and not as fat. This is why people who regularly exercise tend to not gain weight during the season, and if they do, they bounce back quickly. Their bodies have higher demands for food and less need to store it. Don’t think exercise gives you license to eat terribly but understand your body either uses or stores energy. Give it reasons to use it.

Stop Approaching Your Health and Fitness as Seasonal – As a trainer, I’ve noticed the yearly cycle seems pretty consistent from year-to-year for a certain segment of people. They generally eat better and exercise in the spring only to fall off the wagon come winter. Health is not a place we can arrive at and then neglect. We have to constantly nurture it.

I’ve put together a Holiday Guide to staying lean with workouts and grocery lists. Email me at ricky@heydaytraining.com if you’d like to receive it. spt

Ricky Magana is an Elite Fitness Coach and co-owner of CrossFit Heyday (220 8th St. Downtown San Pedro). He can be reached at ricky@heydaytraining.com.