New Year, New Habits

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After a full revolution around the sun we mark off the new year and begin planning for our next trip around the sun. This post is to serve as a reminder that FAILURE is a part of the journey to achieving our goals. When we set a goal, we must accept that we will also make mistakes.

It is natural to feel disappointed, upset, and angry when we fail. I believe that this is a result of our poor expectations. We set a goal and expect to achieve it quickly. We see every set back and mistake as utter failure. It becomes easy to lose the desire to try again.

We are creatures of habit, but habits are built over time. When we examine our behaviors and the emotions connected to them, we find that these behaviors are the result of years of self-reinforcement. Even bad habits are results of years of positive reinforcement.

A plastic surgeon in the 50s, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, concluded that it took his patients a minimum of 21 days before they got used to their new face or an amputation. Over the next several decades, people dropped the word “minimum” and took this as fact: It takes 21 days to create a new habit. This isn’t the whole truth. I’d wager that a patient recovering from plastic surgery has to see and feel the reality of their new body far more often than you have to face the reality of a new habit like running a couple of times a week or losing weight. It takes a person with a new nose a minimum of 21 days to get used to what’s on their face all day long every single day.

So what does that mean for us? I want to lose weight by changing my diet but doing that is so hard. How long do I have to wait before it becomes a habit?

In a more recent study, habit formation seems to take an average of 66 days. That’s just over 2 months of consciously doing something over and over before it starts to feel natural, and that’s just the average. On the higher end of the scale, it took some participants up to 254 days to fully develop a habit. What does this tell us? That it takes time.

Now that we understand new habits take time and we need consistency and patience to utilize that time, we can focus on the other part of the problem with sticking to our goals.

Setting short term goals.

An important takeaway from the study above is that the researchers note that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” This is good news for us. We can make mistakes and still achieve our goal. However, it becomes easy to set big goals for ourselves and become discouraged when we make mistakes. Instead, we should reassess our goals by checking our expectations. By setting short-term smaller goals, we can make it easier to get more wins and focus less on the setbacks.

Here’s my advice. Replacing a habit is easier than erasing a habit. If you want to stop drinking soda, commit to drink more water instead. If you want to quit smoking, focus on taking a morning walk instead of a morning cigarette. Look for ways to replace bad habits with good ones instead of just trying to quit the bad one.

One more thing. A year is a long time. Big goals are hard. It’s going to make all your small missteps seem so much bigger and discourage you further. Start with daily goals. Becoming a vegan is difficult. Instead, your goal should be to learn a vegan recipe and make it for yourself tomorrow. Learn new recipes one at a time and slowly replace what you eat with more vegan dishes. Running a 5k is daunting if you haven’t ran in years. Instead, take a walk today. Take a walk tomorrow. Walk a little further one day. Feeling good today? Try a jog.

I’m not someone who thinks the new year changes much on its own. However, I am constantly working on myself and looking for ways to keep progressing in any area of my life and I love to encourage others when they get the fire for change. We’re all changing all the time. It’s up to you to decide to seize that change and make it into something better for yourself. Today is our opportunity. Let’s take it.

Sources:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejsp.674/abstract?wol1URL=/doi/10.1002/ejsp.674/abstract&regionCode=US-NY&identityKey=6b879a0a-d305-4bba-bd78-54564f8c5d7b

Train Like A Ball Player

I tell everyone I can: Value performance over the scale. The numbers on a scale can be deceptive in many ways. Performance, however, is a measurement of what your body is capable of. Instead of staring at a mirror trying to attain an unrealistic standard you’ve set for yourself, focus on improving your abilities. As you improve your performance you will improve yourself confidence. By doing things you never thought you could do, you will make your body strong and capable and you will look in the mirror and like what you see.

Because we are focusing on performance, we don’t need to follow dreadful, monotonous routines. There is something to be said about training with the passion of a professional athlete instead of doing countless reps of boring exercises.

Lots of us grew up playing basketball and even as adults, all it takes is the sight of a basketball to want to pick it up and shoot some hoops. Some of us never stopped playing. There are a number of adult leagues all over and playing brings us back to when we were kids and all that mattered was the ball and the court. Let's bring that feeling back and take a look at how top level teams train to improve their court performance.

Assessment

Coaches look for a lot of things from their players in the weight room that they know will translate into a better performance on the court.

 

Some things that strength and conditioning coaches will test their athletes for is their raw strength, their agility, their jump, and their endurance. In the weight room they'll look at the back squat, bench, chin up, power clean, and the overhead squat. Meanwhile on the court they're testing an athlete on their 30 yard sprints, the Figure 8 test, the NBA’s box agility test, the vertical and broad jump, and finally their 1 mile run. Now you do not have to do all of these tests every week to get better at them, a good idea would be to test yourself on some of these, just to see where you are. Continue to train and follow your program then in another month or so, you can spend a day retesting yourself and trying to push past your previous limits. What we will talk about next is what exercises you can do in the gym that will translate into progress on these benchmarks.

Figure 8 Agility Test

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NBA’s Box Agility Test

 

This isn't bodybuilding and this isn't a summer body workout (although you will certainly have a one with this training), so you won't see any body part splits. An athlete doesn't walk into the gym prepared to do “back & bis”. They have a particular set of skills they know they need to work on and their programs are scheduled accordingly. These skills are grouped as such:

  • Maximal Sprint Speed

  • Speed & Endurance

  • Vertical & Horizontal Jumping Power

Kevin Love - NBA Power Forward/Center

Candice Parker - WNBA Forward/Center

Maximal Sprint Speed


Maximal Sprint Speed is tested with the 30 yard sprint and the 1 mile run. How fast can you push yourself to the absolute maximum for 30 yards? And then for a mile? The 30 yard sprint test is a great gauge for how quickly your can cover a short distance. This is optimal for that half court action, getting to that ball and taking it to the basket. While the mile run is a different kind of gauge to see how you can keep up that maximal speed for a longer distance, which is necessary for constantly running up and down the court for the entire game.

Walk into any collegiate gym and you'll see rows of power racks and athletes occupying them. Inside of every power rack you will see them  The most common exercise that you will find any athlete doing is the back squat. This is a fantastic exercise for many reasons but for basketball it helps with that maximum sprint speed and for improving power in that vertical jump. The posterior chain is hammered by the back squat and that is where we find the power for most of our movements.

A variation you will see is the front squat, which places more emphasis on the quadriceps. If you look at the muscles activated at the beginning of a sprint, the quads light up. By placing the bar on top of your chest, you move the weight from over your posterior chain and onto the front, loading your quads with the most resistance. You will also find that the front squat engages your core in a totally different way. Your lats will be more involved by trying to keep the weight on your shoulders and your transverse abdominus (aka your 6 pack) will be on fire trying to keep your torso stable.

 

 

 

Front Squat

More emphasis is placed on the quads.

Usain Bolt isn't the fastest ever because of weak quads.

A big problem with the casual gym goer is that they just don't know what exercises to do. If we’re looking at working out the way a basketball player trains, we find the exercises that will provide assistance to the skills we talked about before. Namely, running and jumping. Exercises that assist the squat in building powerful legs are:

  • Romanian Deadlift - building up that superior hamstring and glute strength

  • Leg Curls - an isolation exercise for the hammies

  • Lunges - the second best exercise (Squat is god-tier) for all round leg development. If you have problems with balance and mobility, working into this exercise slowly can help with that because this requires lots of it.

  • Step Ups - An exercise popular with a lot of personal trainers, and for good reason. It's a low impact exercise and it's easy to increase the resistance just by changing the size of the box.

  • Calf Raises - If you play basketball, you wear shorts. If you wear shorts, you can't have undefined calves. Put some weight on and finish your workout with 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 25 reps of calf raises.

I'll finish this segment by saying that everything I listed above is just accessory. If you want to get better at sprinting, the best way to do that is to sprint more. Run suicides, run patterns, sprint up a hill, sprint backwards. If you want to get better at jumping, jump! Whatever you want to improve, do that.

We’ll talk about Speed & Endurance and Vertical & Horizontal Jumping Power in the next segment.


If you have any questions about the exercises or how to develop a routine around training like an NBA star, feel free to email me: ironbornefitness@gmail.com

Teens Can't Weight For Anything

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Our journeys to weight loss always encounter a number of snags. The problems are expounded when a parent is looking for weight loss solutions for their child. Adolescents are impressionable and going through especially important developmental stages. The language we use and the efforts we make to encourage teens to a healthier lifestyle can harm them, even with the best intentions.

Studies show that weight loss attempts in young adolescents that focus on body image tend to have several negative effects, both mentally and physically. Longitudinal analyses have shown that low levels of body satisfaction are predictive of later signs of lower self-esteem and depressive symptoms (Holsen, Kraft, & Roysamb, 2001; Johnson & Wardle, 2005; Stice & Bearman, 2001). The leading risk factor for eating disorders is consistently a high level of body dissatisfaction (Jacobi, Hayward, de Zwaan, Kraemer, & Agras, 2004; Stice, 2002). Overall, body dissatisfaction is a predictor of increased dieting, unhealthy weight control behaviors, binge eating, decreased physical activity, and decreased fruit and vegetable intake. Even controlling for individuals’ weights and BMIs, the risk factors remain the same (Neumark-Sztainer, Paxton, Hannan, Haines, & Story, 2006). An increase in dieting and unhealthy weight-control behaviors alone can increase risk for obesity. Unfortunately, some obesity prevention efforts will lead to increased risk for obesity by not successfully motivating adolescents to engage in behaviors with benefits for long-term weight management.

I ask a lot of middle school and high school students about what they learn in their health and their physical education classes. According to their responses, they don’t learn much at all and when they do learn useful things, they don’t spend enough time on them.

If they’re not learning in school how to properly eat and exercise and most adults aren’t as knowledgeable as they’d like to be about it themselves, then how do we encourage our children to lose weight?

It’s simple: Don’t.

Don’t encourage them to lose weight. Don’t tell them they need to work out to lose weight. Don’t even mention a scale.

Instead, encourage them to join a sport. There are dozens inside and outside of school. Let them try different kinds, encourage them to stick to at least one. There is a type of physical activity out there for everyone to enjoy. There are team sports, there are solo sports, and there are sports with partners. If your child is in high school and doesn’t have the skillset to join one of the competitive high school teams, there are organizations outside of school for those sports for varying skill levels.

Exercise doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. It doesn’t need to be an hour set aside on each day for the only intended goal of losing weight. No one wants to do that. It’s hard, it’s demotivating, and makes a healthy lifestyle a chore. Joining a tennis club or signing up at a martial arts school has infinite more benefits than doing a half-ass jog a couple times a week or dragging your young teen to the gym. Instead, sign him or her for your local Y’s basketball league.

In psychology are are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. When a person does a task or activity with the expectation of a reward, they are described as extrinsically motivated. Whereas if a person does a task or activity simply for the enjoyment of the activity itself, it’s described as intrinsic motivation.

When we create an external reward for a task, such as looking skinnier or losing x amount of pounds, we create a type of motivation that isn’t likely to sustain itself. On the other hand, we can  spend the time to find a physical activity that can be truly enjoyed, with the side effect of benefiting us health-wise (and weight-wise).

What about dieting? How are you supposed to encourage your child to lose weight if we don’t talk about diet? “Diet” has become a dirty word. No one should have ever used that word as a verb. You don’t “diet”.

You can go on a specific diet. You can change your diet. Either way, your diet is what you eat. Maybe you have an unhealthy diet, but it’s still a diet. “Dieting” also has a bunch of harmful connotations like eating less, counting calories, and extreme (aka harmful) “Lose Belly Fat in 12 Weeks!!!”-type of diets.

Just like you shouldn’t encourage your child to “exercise to lose weight”, you shouldn’t encourage “starting a diet”.

Instead teach your children how to cook simple, healthy meals. Do they know how to make oatmeal? A smoothie? What do you buy from the grocery store? Is there a bag of chips in the cabinet or did you buy the greek yogurt instead? A “diet” is a regimented, excruciating pain in the ass. But if I’m looking for a snack after school and you don’t buy the chips and the cookies, I’m going to be grabbing that yogurt, or maybe a cup of almonds.

Using things like a scale, a “diet”, an exercise program, or body image as a means to weight loss can lead to harmful effects. Your 11 year old shouldn’t be losing weight because she’s “fat”, that leads to body dissatisfaction. She should be joining a sport and learning to seek healthier alternatives for snacks, this leads to the slow building of good habits that would develop a healthy lifestyle for a lifetime. Don’t celebrate losing 5 pounds or looking better, instead celebrate physical achievements like a new mile time or better handling on a soccer field. Your child will be happier and healthier for it.