Growing into Goals: Aiming High and Being Inspired

I feel like this article needs a disclaimer: This is more of a personal story with a little bit of motivation at the end. This isn’t just straight information about nutrition or workouts, this is a more personal look at my life and the knowledge I’ve gained in my 23 years of life.

So I’ve been focusing a lot on bettering myself lately. Specifically, I’ve been spending a lot of time in school. And when I’m not in school, I’m researching more school options, for after I’m done with the school I’m currently in. It made me think about how my mindset has changed over the past few months and how my goals have suddenly had an exponential growth spurt. Why is this? Simply put, I work with someone, her name is Breanne, and she has completely changed my mindset on so many things. Let me rewind a bit and give you some background.

I met Breanne a little over a year ago, but we didn’t start working closely together until about 5-6 months ago. As you’ve probably seen in my previous posts, I’ve made a pretty big transformation physically and I’m continuing with that until I reach my goal physique. She had a hand in that. She’s a nutrition specialist, and when I met her I hadn’t realized just how passionate I was about nutrition. I knew a decent amount before I met her, and I had entertained the idea of becoming a Registered Dietitian (RD) but hadn’t committed myself to it just yet. I started taking her nutrition workshops and not only learned more about nutrition, but also learned about the science of behavior change. I could drag this story out more, but basically she opened my eyes to the world of health coaching and major body transformations, and I realized that THAT was what I wanted to do. Nutrition was everything I had been looking for in a career. It’s also rated as one of the least stressful jobs you can have, and they make pretty great money. It seemed like a no-brainer for me to go down this path.

So what’s the point of explaining how I know Breanne? Well to make a long story still kind of long (sorry I’m not sorry), she recruited me into leading her Body Breakthrough program at one of our sister fitness clubs. She plucked me from training obscurity and groomed me for the opportunity of a lifetime. Not only am I forever grateful for that, but she also forced me to dream BIGGER. I had decided to become an RD at this point already, but she mentioned getting a couple more certifications before that, because my degree realistically won’t be done for about 3 more years. And then suddenly I was in this place I like to call “anything is possible land”. So here I am, taking classes for my degree, getting certified in nutrition and health coaching so that I can not only learn the science of behavior change, but also start taking nutrition clients by the time the new year rolls around, flying out to Long Beach in October to get my HKC certification (this is a kettlebell certification), and basically setting myself up to actively work in this field for the next 3 years while I become an RD.

I woke up this morning and thought about my life at this time last year, and I literally said out loud “who the hell do I think I am right now? What changed here?” The answer is that I’m the one who changed. I stopped viewing the world as impossible. I stopped thinking that a 4 year degree was too much work for me, or that it would take too long. I started listening to the encouraging words of other people, specifically those of my peers and mentors, and stopped listening to the negative self-talk I had been feeding myself unknowingly. Which brings me all the way around to what this has to do with YOU.

612 words later, I’m here to be the first person to tell you that you CAN do whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. Losing weight, going back to school, whatever your goal may be, you CAN do it. I can’t tell you how important it is to have a support system like mine. I have someone I look up to cheering me on, I have supportive parents, I have probably the best guy in the world helping me work my way through college and making sure that I don’t flounder financially… These people are the answer. And I want to be the first person to tell you that I’m on your team. Society keeps telling us that we need to be independent and do everything on our own, and I’m telling you that that is bullshit. I’m all for being a strong and empowered woman, don’t get me wrong here. But sometimes you need someone to tell you to AIM HIGHER, and I’m here to do that. Stop selling yourself short. I’ve been there and I can’t tell you enough how much better it is to have goals that almost seem too big for you. Trust me, you’ll grow into them.

Personal Progress

So I’ve had some pretty awesome comments lately about my progress, and I’ve shared a decent amount about my journey already with you guys, but have failed to provide pictures. So, here’s what I promised when I created this blog.

IMG_1659So I’d like to start with a true “before”. This is an old picture from when I was very sick. As many of you readers will know, I struggled with an eating disorder. I wrote a whole blog about it, so I won’t get into it too much. This picture was not at my smallest, but it’t the closest to it I could find. I weighed about 125 lbs in this picture, which isn’t very healthy for my 5’9″ frame. At the peak of my disease, I weighed roughly 115 lbs. I don’t know how small I really got, but I’m guessing it’s around that ballpark. I also had no muscle to speak of on my body.


These two here are in December of 2014, about 8 months ago. This is the heaviest I had been in a long time, maybe the heaviest I’ve ever been. This was after a couple years of recovery and some metabolic issues. This is also after a couple years of weight lifting. I weighed about 183 lbs in these pictures. It definitely could have been worse, but I also knew what it felt like to be much thinner than this. Taking these pictures was the closest I had ever been to going back to my disorder. I thought about it for half a second. And then I did what successful people do and decided that I was going to succeed. I had been given the okay from my doctor a couple months prior, saying that my metabolic state had stabilized enough to where I actually stood a chance of losing the fat I had gained. I also had the knowledge that not everything under there was fat, because I had put almost 3 years of serious weight lifting into that fluffy body.

IMG_1663 IMG_1664

And this is a couple weeks ago, July of 2015. On this day I weighed around 160, probably more like 162 because it was after my birthday weekend where many indulgences were made (I still don’t feel even a little bad about it). Total weight lost since December, 23 lbs (I’m at 159-160 right now). My biggest regret is not taking my earlier pictures in shorts because I have had some serious lower body changes as well.

So how did I do it? Well, I did a lot of things honestly. I work as a trainer, so I work out at least 4 times a week, usually 5 or 6 if I’m being honest. My true love: kettlebells. I’m flying to Long Beach in October to get certified actually. It’s an amazing way to work out. High strength, high cardio, high results. Most of my personal workouts are about 45 mins long, and I’m near death for most of that. I try to work out once a week with Breanne, a kettlebell trainer at my gym who I credit for my love of bells, in one of her kettlebell small groups. I found a new part of myself in those groups. This is the same woman who told me “check yourself before you wreck yourself” and forced me to get into yoga. She was also right about that, because she has almost infinite wisdom in all things health related. I don’t love yoga, but I do it enough to keep my muscles long. Lengthen to strengthen is her motto, and it’s mine now too. I went from big strong power-lifter girl who couldn’t touch her toes or actually move weight functionally, to a much leaner, longer, and ultimately stronger young woman who can move a fairly ridiculous amount of weight in a pretty safe and functional way. I’m planning an article on the basics of kettlebell and some of the science behind why it works, so I’m not going to keep talking about it too much anymore.

I also made a big choice in majoring in nutrition. I am in school to become a registered dietician currently, and will be taking a health coaching/nutrition certification course this fall/winter so that I can help people with their nutrition in a professional capacity as well. Do you have to major in nutrition to see these big changes? No. Absolutely not. But you do need to be willing to learn a little bit about eating for fat loss and how to get the most bang for your buck in your diet. I also will be writing an article about the basics of a fat loss diet, but you can start now by cutting out soda and drinking 96 oz of water a day. If you’re looking to over-achieve, get the first 32 oz in before 10am.

So that’s it folks. That’s my journey so far. I’ve got my eye on some bigger prizes, soon to be announced, but for now, that’s where I’m at. If the eating disorder girl with metabolic problems can get fit and strong and healthy, so can you! Just take it one step at a time 🙂

How to Spin Fire: Finding Success in Everything You Do

So I did that thing where I’m completely MIA again, and I’m sorry loyal blog followers. I know there aren’t a ton of you, but I also know that you expect me to post at least once in a while. I’m going to be better about that, I promise. I also will undoubtedly break that promise again, because that’s part of my nature as a human. Sorry in advance.

I’ve been thinking and researching a lot about successful people. Let me clarify. I’ve been researching WILDLY successful people. The guy who created Blizzard entertainment (the makers of World of Warcraft and Starcraft, among other MMORPG games). A woman who runs a company in China that makes the glass for our phone, laptop, and tablet screens who is worth like 10 billion dollars. An Australian girl my age, Kayla Itsines, who created a workout guide that sparked a revolution of millions of girls to get healthy and strong. Have you ever stopped to think about the person who is behind a product or convenience that you love? A guy created eBay. He’s worth over 10 billion dollars. Amazon was also created by a person too. Who HASN’T ordered off Amazon before?? Google became both a noun AND a verb. Even when we don’t use Google as our search engine, we’re still “googling”. These people transcended all boundaries, threw up a middle finger, and said “screw your system, I’m making my own and I’m making it better than yours.” And then they DID.

So what’s with my fascination with these obscenely successful people? I want to know what made them that way. I want to know what makes them different from the rest of us. I think I’m beginning to uncover those qualities, slowly but surely. One that I was hit in the face with right off the bat was their decision to be successful. They didn’t hope and pray for success to find them, they made it happen. They didn’t stick within the confines of our current systems and allow themselves to be held back by expectations. They just went forth and kicked ass.

Some of them didn’t even kick that much ass initially. That leads me to the second quality I noticed, which is an unbreakable determination to succeed. It’s kind of an extension of the first quality really, but it really is a huge part of what made them successful to begin with. Failure wasn’t an option for these people, even when they failed. They viewed failures as learning tools, simply telling themselves and others that those failures were simply the rough draft of what will ultimately be a successful finished product.

These people were also rule-breakers. Very few people can claim that they found success by following all the rules. In every industry, someone had to be the first. Someone was the pioneer. Someone was the creator of the next big thing. The health and fitness industry, the industry I work in currently and hope to work in for the rest of my life, hardly existed 30 years ago. Personal trainers were hardly a thing, and there were hardly any credentials to hold them to. Much like any new industry, rules and regulations had to be established to find success. But once a new industry finds a firm grasp on even a narrow population of people, potential businessmen and investors start to flock to it. Moths are drawn to flame. To be wildly successful, it helps to be the guy holding the match.

So what happens if you aren’t that guy holding the match? I’m certainly not. I’m in the process of getting certified in both health coaching/nutrition and kettlebell, finishing my bachelors in nutrition and taking my board exam to be a registered dietician, and trying to achieve my own performance and physique goals. I’m not at the top of the pyramid here. I didn’t create the fitness and health industry, I just want to live and work in it. I also want to change it. I want to be the girl who knows how to spin fire. So how do I do that?

From my research, I’m seeing that it takes being in the right place at the right time, which means a TON of networking is in my future. Talking to people who are already influential in the industry you want to work in is usually a good place to start. To be honest, I fell into a really great position at a gym that has expanded to working in two gyms, owned by the same guy. This guy also owns the parent company of these gyms, which is a company that focuses on indoor soccer leagues for children during the day, adult leagues at night, and soccer birthday parties on evenings and weekends. The training manager at one of my gyms knows the guy who started a major fitness chain, Orange Theory Fitness. He actually had an opportunity to buy into that chain, but ultimately didn’t. A woman I work with, someone I consider a friend and mentor, has some of the best knowledge about nutrition certifications and programs of anyone I’ve ever met. What does all of this do for me? Well, it’s going to give me the chance to open some major doors later in life if I play my cards right.

So what does all of this have to do with you, the reader of this blog? What does this have to do with health and fitness? Well, I think some of these qualities are pretty amazing and might be worth incorporating into your daily life, even if you’re just looking to find success in the gym and not necessarily in creating the largest massive multiplayer online role playing game to date. Lately I’ve been dreaming BIG, and I wanted to share that with you all. More importantly, I wanted to talk about successful people and what we can learn from them. Because really, I’m pretty sure if someone gave you the formula to make yourself wort 10 billion dollars, you’d probably use it. While I may not have the WHOLE formula for you (yet), I did just give you a few solid pieces of it. I want everyone I come into contact with to be successful, both in and out of the fitness industry. If we fill the world with more successful people, the world will ultimately become a better place to live in. Now if only someone could figure out a way to slow the rotation of the earth and give us all a few more hours in the day….

Health as the Goal

Lately I’ve been thinking about health a little differently. Many people are unaware of the health issues that plague my family, but today I feel it’s necessary to expose them in an effort to change the way “health” as a concept is perceived. 

My step father has PKD, or polycystic kidney disease. Basically, it causes cysts to form on your kidneys which eventually reduce, and then eliminate, kidney function. PKD is genetic, and there are many other health issues associated with it that can cause complications. Mainly, it can also impact heart functionality. He also has heart problems on both sides of his family, which obviously doesn’t help anything. Because of his PKD, he eventually went on dialysis, and then recieved a new kidney via a donor a few years ago. While this was and always will be a huge blessing to my family, it simply slowed the progress of this disease, which is now rearing it’s ugly head again. 

My step fathers heart problems are far from new. In fact, he had his first heart attack in his early 20s. That’s right, he was barely an adult. He was my age exactly actually, which I’ve thought about almost every day since my birthday last year. While his heart has been well monitored and controlled for many years, his heart rhythm was controlled by a medication that eventually was found to be doing harm to his body. After many years on this drug, they chose to slowly wean him off of it in hopes that after the transplant, his heart could maintain a healthy rhythm on its own. Unfortunately that was not the case. In the past 6 months, he has gone into a-fib twice, which is basically when your heart beats rapidly and irregularly and can start throwing clots that could potentially kill you if you aren’t treated within 72 hours. A common method of getting your heart out of a-fib is called cardioverting. This is done by mildly sedating you, giving you a drug that stops your heart and brings it to a flat line, effectively killing you, and then shocking you back to life in hopes that your heart will restore a normal rhythm. 

He has had this happen twice in the past 6 months, and is in a-fib again as we speak. Clearly his heart can’t find a proper rhythm on its own. So, they’re turning to different drug options, which will require him to be hospitalized for 3 days for monitoring. This is because of the fact that his risk for heart attack is very high during that time, and it will take a few days to determine the correct dosage of the drugs he so desperately needs. With all that being said, there’s even more to the picture. 

See, when you have PKD, your kidneys develop cysts and swell. He had one kidney removed several months before his transplant, and then the new one was put in its place. Now, his remaining original kidney is so swollen that it’s crowding his other organs, meaning that one needs to be taken out. This will leave him with one kidney again, and it will be his donated kidney. This issue can’t be addressed until his heart is stabilized. 

Meanwhile, his liver is also swollen, making his torso a pretty cramped place to be. While its larger in size, it’s function seems to be decent enough to not warrant further action at this time. With all of that taken into consideration, there’s the issue that he will most likely need a new heart someday too. I could write pages and pages about the risks and terrors associated with transplants that we went through some years ago, but I won’t at this time. 

I felt the need to share this because it changed what I thought when I heard the word “healthy”. There are so many things we can do that contribute to our health, but some things truly can’t be avoided. This is why I have made it my mission to continue to work out and eat right in the pursuit of health, because those are things that can be controlled. Some people wake up and want to be big and strong, or skinnier, or look a certain way. Those people are 100% entitled to think what they want and I support them in their endeavors. With all that said, don’t let that take precedence in your life. Don’t bust your ass to be skinny, bust your ass to be healthier and achieve skinniness along the way. Always keep your health first, because there’s no telling when that option will be taken from you. Take it from a family member of someone whose health is no longer in his hands, and ultimately will leave this earth so much sooner than I will ever be ready to accept, your health is everything. Protect it, cherish it, nurture it, and do everything you can to be as healthy as you can possibly be. 

Owning Up

So I’ve been a little MIA from this blog for a while. But life happens I suppose, and what matters is that I’m here now and I have a pretty important topic I want to talk about. When it comes to working out and eating healthy, you’re going to have setbacks. Most people have one of two problems when they address these setbacks.

Option A: You don’t own up to the situation. By this I mean that you might acknowledge that you’ve fallen off the wagon, but you blame your surroundings or other things “out of your control” (think “I was on vacation and had to eat out for all of my meals” or “it was a holiday and the party didn’t have any healthy options”) and take zero ownership of the control you had over the situation. Every single person trying to live a healthier lifestyle will face this at one point or another, and you’ll try to convince yourself it’s not your fault. Here’s some tough love: it IS your fault. 100% of the blame is on you. Does this make you a bad person? No. Does this mean you’ll never succeed in achieving a healthier lifestyle and improving your body composition? Hell no. What this DOES mean is that you need to check yourself and check your mindset. What this DOESN’T mean is that you should beat yourself up over your mistakes. Owning your mistakes is not only important in fitness and health, but it’s a valuable life skill that will lead you to greater success in all aspects of your life. Knowing how to own your mistakes in a professional setting will make people respect you. Being able to take credit for something you did wrong means that you’ll also know how to take credit for what you did right. This leads into our other issue…

Option B: You beat yourself up endlessly over your faults and setbacks. For example, I went to a soccer game this weekend and ate way more than I should have. I track my food intake pretty religiously and I knew I was going over my macros for the day. We’ll call this a YOLO moment. When I woke up Sunday, I felt horrible about myself. I am a full believer in a cheat meal, but my cheat meal was spread out over the last week or so if I’m being completely honest. I went out with a friend one night and ate a ton and drank, I was snacking late at night, and I went crazy on some stadium food this weekend. I weighed in today (I usually weigh myself on Monday, sometimes I skip a week) and was sitting about 3 lbs heavier than last week. Boom. Reality set in. Initially, I beat myself up over it. You’ll tell yourself that you know better. You’ll look at yourself and think you look disgusting and fat. You’ll over-analyze every food choice you made and make a mental list of everything you ate that was bad for you or went over your macros, and proceed to beat yourself up over each one of those things until your confidence is at an all time low. So how do you deal with this? If you fall into this category, chances are you’re a perfectionist like I am. You strive to be the best and work your hardest. There’s no one way to handle this feeling, but understand that so many people face this challenge every day and overcome it. It’s a matter of reminding yourself how far you’ve come. I’ve lost 10 lbs of straight body fat over the last few months. I’m fitting into clothes I haven’t worn in a pretty long time. I’m feeling confident about myself in a way that’s very new and exciting because even though I’m not at my goal size/weight/body fat percentage, I’m getting there. I take progress pictures every week or so and I encourage you to start if you haven’t. I used to think it was stupid, but it helped me see the small changes that are happening. You can look at yourself in the mirror every day and not see any changes, but if you snapshot that moment in time and look back on it a month later and compare it to yourself now, chances are you’ll see some differences.

Setbacks are a part of the game when it comes to healthy eating and exercising. Knowing how to handle them is the best way to keep yourself moving forward. Next time you face a setback, especially from eating a little too much, think of the positives. Extra calories are just stored energy! What this means is that you can head to the gym, pick up some super heavy weights, and probably have an amazing workout as a result of those extra calories. Some other ways to quickly get rid of any excess weight you’ve gained over the last week or two: drink lots of water. I aim for 96 ounces a day (I know it sounds like a lot) and 12-18 of those ounces are electrolyte enhanced water. Smart water or other generic brands (Safeway has a great deal at $1 or less per 24 oz bottle) are great choices. If you work out a lot and drink lots of water, chances are you’re flushing out some of your electrolytes. One electrolyte enhanced beverage a day will help you stay balanced. A final quick-fix way to get rid of that weekend weight would be upping your cardio over the next several days. The thing about gaining weight is that it’s directly proportionate to how fast you gained it. If you’ve gained 50 lbs over the course of a year, chances are it’ll take that long to get it off. If you gain 2-3 lbs in a week, you can get rid of that weight in a week as well. If you keep yourself in check and know your own body, you’ll have no problem keeping that extra weight confined to just a week or two.

Goals: What Should You be Striving For?

Goal-setting is one of the most important aspects of fitness and health. I recommend that everyone have a goal at all times, simply because it keeps pushing you forward without realizing it. Whether you consciously have decided on a goal or not, chances are you have one. If you’ve ever looked in a magazine and said “I want a stomach like that” then congratulations, you have a goal. Whether that goal is attainable or realistic is one thing, but having a goal is the first step.

When it comes to goal-setting, the first step is having a goal at all. Lets assume that you have one. Check. Now it’s time to look at this goal a little closer. Is this a short-term goal or long-term goal? When I use the terms short and long-term I really mean that you should think about how long it’ll most likely take to achieve. This amount of time should be both reasonable and challenging. If your goal is to lose 50 pounds then you probably shouldn’t expect to lose it all in a couple months. If you are extremely obese, meaning 100+ pounds overweight, then you can probably lose this weight in a few months. If you only have 50 pounds to lose, this will take you longer. Why? Well to be frank, the body is a bitch. It’s an awesome and incredible thing, but it’s also a huge raging bitch. The less weight or fat you have to lose, the longer it will take. If you’ve ever watched the biggest loser, you probably have seen people lose 10-20 lbs a week. Hell, the record for losing 100 lbs is like 5 weeks or something stupid. The person who set this record, or anyone who will achieve anything close to that for that matter, has a total of like 200-300 lbs to lose. Weight and body fat is all relative. I absolutely hate using weight as a marker of progress, because over the last couple years I’ve weighed about the same but lost almost 10% body fat. 20 lbs lost for me is much more drastic than it is for someone who weighs 300 lbs. The number on the scale is something I could talk about for hours, but I will keep it simple: detach yourself from this number immediately. You are not defined by your weight. Weight is an arbitrary number. It can help measure progress, but so can measuring and body fat percentage. If you shrink your waist by 2 inches and lose no weight, chances are you’re still getting results. Plus lets be honest, what we see in the mirror is what we care most about. Focus on shape and overall body composition instead of a stupid number on a stupid scale.

Rant about weight aside, your goals should be divided into categories. Short term goals are usually ones that can be attained in 3-6 months. I try to set one super short term goal (one that can be accomplished in 4-6 weeks), one goal that’s fairly short term (3-6 months) and one that’s longer term (9 months to a year). This is the secret to staying driven and on point. If you’re at all like me (chances are a decent amount of you are, looking to lose a little fat but nothing super drastic), choosing multiple goals will keep you pushing when you don’t see results fast enough. Plateaus happen, plain and simple. The best way to shatter those plateaus are to stay consistent. What’s the best way to do that? Have many goals, and make sure those goals vary in their motivation and type.

Different types of goals are achieved in different ways. For example, I have an ultimate goal of a certain body fat percentage that I want to achieve by June of 2015. I also have shorter term goals that are not at all related to aesthetics. I lift heavy weights, and I’m always looking to challenge my body. One of my shorter term goals is the ability to do unassisted pull-ups. Plural. I want 2 or more. I can’t do even 1 now, so it’s a good goal for me. Very few women can do an unassisted pull-up. I set this goal a long time ago but ended up having to focus on some rehab of some injuries resulting from a car accident and put this one off. Now I’m back at it with a stable body and I’m going to make it happen. Looking at this goal, it’s a goal that has nothing to do with my measurements or what I look like. It’s all about strength, stability, and consistent conditioning. I also like to set a new max on some of my favorite lifts, like wanting to be able to deadlift 200 lbs at least 5 times. This is a 3 month goal for me, seeing as how my lower back was injured in the car accident I mentioned. I’m back to deadlifting again but I’m doing lower weight and higher reps to really stabilize my back again. I just got to the point where I feel comfortable really pushing my weight again, so this goal is happening. Short term, I want to maintain my current size through the holiday season. I don’t want to gain body fat or inches. So far I’m succeeding. I’m using the less-than-perfect food I’ve been eating as fuel for some high intensity workouts and so far it’s working out for me.

The goals I have set for myself are realistically attainable for me, but it’s important to keep in mind that they might not be for you. If you’re new to fitness or just looking for a challenge that’s not super difficult, try to work up to continuously running a whole mile. No walking allowed. This is a great way to gauge how far you’ve come and challenge yourself mentally. If you’re not a distance runner (holla, I hate running long distances), then set a speed you want to sprint at on a treadmill. I have worked up to sprinting at 12 mph for 20 seconds. Ideally I’d like to work up to 30 seconds at that speed within the next couple months. For a beginner, try working up to sprinting at 8 or 9 mph. Regardless of size or fitness level, this is an attainable goal for anyone within a 3-4 month period if you dedicate yourself to it.

Final note about goals: make them visible. I am guilty of not having a goal wall anymore (I moved in with my boyfriend many months ago and never set one up for myself in our apartment) but in the past it has served me well. Write your goals down, make them physically tangible, and look at them daily. You can’t forget the things you put right in front of your face and force yourself to see every day. A goal wall works great because you can put it by your bed or couch and see it EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I promise that you’ll see an increased level of achievement after you put your goals up. Set up rewards as well, like new workout gear or a manicure or something you love to do to treat yourself. Please note that this reward should NOT include food (that’s a little counterproductive isn’t it?). In the past I’ve bought myself new makeup (hello MAC), new workout gear from a nice brand, or gotten myself a manicure or done something that I normally consider frivolous. I’ve bought bikinis, or just had the reward be the fact that I got to post some great progress pics for the whole world to see. Pick a goal, make it visible, and pick a reward. Follow these steps for good goal-setting and I promise, you’ll achieve every fitness goal you’ve ever dreamed of. Bonus: All these tips are totally applicable to real life too! Watch yourself get promotions, be happier, and live a more productive life 🙂

Cross-Training and Body Communication

The concept of cross-training isn’t a new one. For those who don’t know, cross-training is the idea that you’ll get better at doing something specific, like a sport, by incorporating things that are almost complete opposites into your training. A common cross-training concept that’s been adopted over several generations is incorporating ballet training into football player’s workouts. I’m not saying that football players will make good ballerinas, but the act of doing something that is such a polar opposite to the sport they play often leads to a better sense of stability and faster footwork on the field. This can be translated into the gym for your own personal use.

Most people who are regular gym-goers tend to favor one or two different kinds of exercise. I train several runners, and when they come to me they generally say “I don’t need to work out my legs, lets just focus on upper body.” I don’t enjoy bursting bubbles, but being a runner or a cyclist means that you probably have unevenly developed legs. Both running and cycling are intensely quad dominated sports. Running and cycling are both great for you because they provide a good cardiovascular workout, and they provide a much-needed release for many people that ultimately helps reduce stress. They are, however, not the most full-body workouts available. Does this mean you should stop running or biking? Definitely not. If you desire a balanced and healthy body, you might want to think about incorporating a little more strength training into your workout. Your quads are located on the top/front part of your thighs. They’re composed of 4 major muscles (hence the name “quad”) and they’re a major powerhouse in your body. They’re also bossy. They will take over most lower body exercises if you let them. This leads to the strong getting stronger and the weak (in this case your glutes and hamstrings) getting weaker. Let’s think about your glutes (your butt) and your hamstrings (the back of your leg) and how large they are. They compose about 50% of your leg above the knee. They’re huge, and they’re extremely capable if you know how to engage them. In the case of a runner or cyclist, chances are they have no idea how to engage them. This is where cross training comes in. Much like with football and ballet, the direct inverse of running or cycling would be a workout that works primarily the glutes and hamstrings. Not only will this create a more well-rounded athlete, but it will also create an increased sense of body awareness and the ability to suddenly access those muscles.

I try to avoid using the term “turn on your glutes” or “use your core” with people who don’t have that relationship with their body quite yet. Many people don’t realize that your brain “talks” to the rest of your body. Or at least it’s probably trying. The more sedentary and inactive you are, the more you’re hitting mute on your body when it tries to talk to your brain, and vice versa. Understanding human anatomy is helpful in teaching  your brain to talk to your body, as well as starting to strength train a few days a week. The more you do something, the better you get at it. Next time you hit the gym, think about what muscles you’re trying to use during an exercise and try and identify which ones are truly being used. If your muscles could light up, think about which lights would be on. Thinking of lighting up muscles also helps with determining how effective an exercise is. Isolated movements have their place, but if you’re looking to build functional strength you might want to think about incorporating exercises that light up several of the major muscle groups instead of a smaller exercise like a bicep curl, which really only lights up one muscle: the bicep.

Since we have turned our bodies into a Christmas tree of sorts (see what I did there? Seasonal references for the win), think about those lights and then think about the feeling that accompanies those lights. A good way to really drill in the relationship with your body is to physically touch the part you’re trying to activate. I make clients touch their stomachs and butts all the time, mainly because your butt and gut are directly related and work together. If our body is a family then your butt and gut are fraternal twins that never leave each other’s side. Knowing this body relationship is one of the most powerful tools in getting the best work out possible. Your ability to communicate with your body and having a high level of body awareness is something that even people who work out regularly don’t always have. Things like yoga and pilates both focus on this relationship, and strength training can foster this relationship as well if done correctly. I will always advocate for the use of a personal trainer, primarily for this reason. If nothing else, a good trainer (please note the word good, a bad trainer won’t teach you how to build this relationship) will help you learn how to use your body properly. Trainers make their livings by fostering the relationship between brain and body. They will also help you learn about any body imbalances you have, like being quad dominant or potentially guarding an old injury, which often results in poor posture and chronically tight muscles.

During this holiday season, try and make a new friend in the form of your body. If you’ve been hitting the mute button for years like many Americans have, it’s time to start talking to your body, and more importantly, start hearing it talk back to you.