Good Reads 4.1.2016

Happy April Fools Day!

I’m not sure what’s “happy” about April Fools Day, but we’ll just go with it. Come to think of it, there’s only one prank that stands out in my mind over the years and it was anything but happy. Many many moons ago, when Will and I first started dating, things were going great. Then we got to about 8 months into a real relationship, and he called me one day (we lived about 45 minutes apart at that point), and said we “needed to talk”.

Everyone knows that phrase never means anything good.

He proceded to tell me in very vague terms that things were changing and he just wanted to meet up to… talk.

OBVIOUSLY I thought we were breaking up, and in that moment had no idea of the date. Of course it was April 1. Of course he thought he was being funny.

So just a little PSA for all of you out there… April Fools Pranks must never include even a hint of a break up — it’s never ever as funny as you think it might be. In fact, I’m pretty sure I missed a great chance for a revenge prank on that one, but it’s really just not in my blood.

Anyway, obviously he wasn’t actually breaking up with me because we are happily married today, although for some reason when I bring that up he STILL laughs about it. Such a comedian, that one!


I would hit you guys with a prank today but I’m just about the world’s worst liar and I’d have to come clean in about 3.5 seconds. So instead, I’ll just let you take in these links, all good reads that I’ve found within the past few weeks.

Ranging from body positivity to the convergence of athletic training and personal training, I think we cover a pretty wide spectrum here!

Why I Won’t Apologize For Posting About My Run on Social Media  From Dr. Mom at Sammiches Psych Meds. Do you sometimes get annoyed by people who post every workout on social media? There could actually be some great benefits to it, and it’s not just about bragging rights.

Is Perfectionism Holding Your Training Back?  From the folks over at Breaking Muscle. This goes along with a couple of posts I’ve written lately, speaking to the fact that success doesn’t necessarily equal perfection and striving for that may lead to unrealistic expectations and let downs. Take the set backs in stride and keep moving forward!

What Is An Athletic Trainer and Can They Help The Fitness Industry? From the PTDC. As I’m in a unique position of being both an athletic trainer and a personal trainer, I can understand both professions and how they might benefit each other. But for someone who has never worked with an athletic trainer, that may not be the case. I’m a firm believer that fitness professionals should be open to working with health care professionals when needed — we’re all after the same goals, are we not?

Fat Loss Is Okay.  From Erika over at Hurst Strength.Does body positivity mean that you give up on wanting to improve yourself? Can you be working towards fat loss but still preach about body positivity and training for strength vs. aesthetics? Erika breaks it down here very well, and tells us that YES, you can work on both of these concurrently (and successfully).

Happy Friday everyone.. Have a great weekend!

 

 

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Finding Inner Peace and Positivity

Every once in a while I have the urge for a good yoga practice, but I don’t practice regularly anymore. I keep meaning to start up again, to find a new studio, but then life gets in the way and all of a sudden it’s been months since yoga even crossed my mind. It’s  unfortunate, because each and every time I do allow myself a good yoga practice, I am reminded how much I love it and how wonderful it makes me feel, both inside and out.

Recently, although I haven’t been to a studio in quite some time, I’ve decided to treat myself to some yoga movements at home on days when I either don’t have time for the gym, or days when I simply feel that I need some healthy, flowing movement to feel my best. I sometimes just do this on my own, moving through whatever flow feels good in the moment. However, I’ve also taken to searching the corners of the internet for some guidance when my brain isn’t feeling up to the task. This has brought me to Lesley Fightmaster on Youtube, and I’ve found her videos to be just challenging enough, but also the flow and relaxation that I need sometimes.

In one of the recent videos of hers that I followed, she finished the practice with a poem by Rumi, entitled Houseguest. I just wanted to share this with all of you today, because it struck something within me that was hard to let go. I hope you enjoy as much as I did!

Houseguest 

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi 

In that moment, this poem really resonated with me and has stuck with me ever since. I find myself thinking of it often, going back to read it over and over since that day. It’s a poem that’s been around for centuries, yet it’s one that I feel can impact each and every one of us at any time in our lives.

It just really struck me as a beautiful notion, to embrace the bad things that come into your life, instead of always trying to push them out. We expend so much energy trying to get rid of the bad in our lives in order to make room for the good, but maybe there is something to the notion that the bad things are there for a reason, and instead of always pushing, maybe sometimes we should allow these things to run their course without too much stress or negative energy expended.

Of course that’s easier said than done, but I think that we do sometimes spend too much energy worrying about the bad things, and all of that worry can cause you to miss out on something good that may come your way. We’re not all going to love all negative things that happen to us, or celebrate them by any means, but maybe trying to find some peace in them is what we’re missing. Whether or not you are a believer in “everything happens for a reason” (I am), I think that some solace can be found in the belief that even negative circumstances can bring good to some extent.

Maybe whatever we are going through makes us stronger, maybe it prepares us for a future circumstance, or maybe it just teaches us a little life lesson in humility. Whatever it is, embracing and allowing life’s changes both good and bad could lead to a little bit more inner peace, once you stop giving all of your energy to the negative things that may occur.

Let’s face it, there is no way to completely avoid all challenges or disappointments, it’s just part of life, although sometimes very difficult to understand. But maybe the key here is that we don’t always need to understand, that we can just let things be and do our best to continue on in the face of adversity. “Meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in” really resonates with me specifically. Meet things head on, take control, and do your best to turn each day into something that will make your future better.

Readers: Do you have a any specific quotes or poems that resonate with you, that you turn to at different times in your life? 

Be Your “Best Right Now”

There are a few hashtags I use consistently on social media. One of them, my absolute favorite and probably most used, is #bebetter.

I truly feel that no matter where we are in life, we should be striving to be better, no matter if we’re 16, 96 or somewhere in between. But you have to understand what this means. You have to understand that just because we’re always striving to be better, that every aspect of our lives will move in a linear fashion. Your “better” at different points of your life will vary, but that doesn’t mean that progress isn’t being made. Just because you don’t get from Point A to Point B with a perfectly straight line, doesn’t mean that there isn’t value to each and every one of those ups and downs.

best right now

I think that one reason that people get so frustrated with their fitness routines and lose motivation is that they focus too much on their idea of “perfect”, and lose sight of the small things along the way that get us there (sometimes very slowly).  I wrote a post a little while ago about my ups and downs with deadlifting over the past couple of years, but that it had led to a new max lift just a short time ago. There were so many “down” times during those past two years, I think it would have been easy, and almost understandable, to just give up.

But then, a couple of weeks before my new PR, I pulled a lift that wasn’t my best by far, but was my best at that moment. And I realized just how important that moment was. If we only celebrate the times in our lives when we reach new highs, we might miss out on some important moments along the way. It is so worth it to stop and acknowledge what may have set you back, realize what you’ve done to overcome that obstacle, and celebrate that small victory, even if to everyone else you’re no better off than you were before.

Positivity feeds off of itself, and I think that so often we wait for the big changes and miss out on the small ones that are right in front of our face. And I have a hunch that this may be a big part of why so many people lose motivation to work out a couple of months into the new year. They don’t see huge results right away, the scale isn’t budging despite their best efforts, and maybe they feel like they’re doing all of that hard work for nothing. This is why it’s important to stop and recognize the small things, because most things in life are small. To see effects from training and a healthy lifestyle takes months, years of commitment to that lifestyle. If you are waiting to see grand changes and don’t take the time to spot the little ones along the way, it’s incredibly easy to just give up and say that it’s not worth it.

Maybe your running pace hasn’t improved but you might notice that when you walk up the 3 flights of stairs to your apartment, you’re breathing a little less heavy. That is an improvement worth acknowledging. Maybe you can’t give up your Oreo’s completely, but you’ve gotten pretty good at only eating a couple instead of a whole sleeve. That is an improvement worth acknowledging. The big changes and big steps don’t often come on their own and they rarely just “show up” one day out of the blue. The big changes you see in your health and fitness will be the result of many tiny building blocks, some so small you won’t even notice happening.

You used to dread going to the gym and now you are able to get out of bed early most days  without grumbling too much? Success. You used to take the escalator at every chance and now the stairs are your #1 option? Success. You used to drink 3 sodas a day and now you’re down to 1? Success.

Don’t worry about being your absolute best all the time- that’s overwhelming. Be your best right now, and acknowledge what that means to you. Make one small change today, continue on your path, and each step will lead you to your bigger goals, even when you inevitably take a few steps backward. Focus on you, focus on now, and the rest will fall into place.

Not feeling your best right now because you indulged a little last weekend? Forget it. What can you do to be your best right now, in this moment?

 

Wellness: One Easy Question That Will Turn Your Day Around

Working with athletes is an incredible thing. The determination and motivation that I see on a daily basis is enough to keep anyone inspired, and it’s all just in a day’s work. Most of the athletes that I work with don’t even know that they’re inspiring though. To them, they are just doing what they do — playing the sport they love, one that they’ve been playing for their whole lives. To them, each day is sometimes just another day.

One athlete in particular that I work with has impacted me beyond just the daily ups and downs of college athletics. This particular individual often comes to see me at the most exhausting points of my day, at times when I feel like I can’t even think for one more second. But no matter what my mood or the circumstances, she always manages to get me with one simple question:

“Steph, what was the best part of your day?”

And in that moment, I stop and I think about my day. Truly reflect on the good things that have happened in the last several hours for just a moment. Sometimes, the best part of my day is something as benign as a cookie I picked up from a local bakery. Sometimes it’s something more, such as a great conversation with someone or a random act of kindness. Whatever it is, I find that that moment spent searching for the best part of my day can turn my mood around instantly.

I go from just going through the motions, to really reflecting on the last several hours and all the good things that may have happened, something that I might not do otherwise.

happy dog

This guy knows what’s up, and he’s embracing the good in his day! 

Sometimes, she also asks the flip side of the question: “What was the worst part of your day?” and this gets me thinking too. Usually, I realize that I can’t pin point any “bad” things that have happened to me, or I realize that the worst part of my day has been something silly like a longer commute time, a shortened workout, or forgetting my lunch. All things that can seem “bad” in the moment, but in the grand scheme of things, tell me that I pretty  much lead a wonderful life. If the worst part of any given day is that I forget my lunch, then there’s really not that much to complain about, is there?

And on the rare occasion that there is something truly bad that has affected my day, it still helps to have this reflection. Because if I can stop focusing on the negative and realize all of the positivity in my day, all of a sudden that “bad” thing is just a little bit better. And sometimes, just that little bit of positivity is all you need to move on.

Both sides of this question can help to turn around my day. In fact, I’ve told this athlete this — there have been times that she has come to see me in my grumpiest moments when I don’t want to talk to anyone, and with these one or two questions, my mood can turn around instantly. All it takes is a little reflection for me to realize that my bad mood is unfounded, and it’s up to me and my pretty-awesome-day to turn it around.

In fact, I find it pretty amazing that I’m usually choosing between several things to tell her the best part of my day, and there have been several times when I couldn’t come up with any type of answer for the worst part of my day. Not even one. Not even the most benign “bad” thing ever. How great is that? Even if the “best” parts are silly and possibly meaningless, the fact that they strongly (and almost always) outweigh the worst parts of my day is a wonderful thing.

But honestly, sometimes I can’t see through my own moods to realize how great everything around me is. No, every day of my life isn’t sunshine and roses, but to stop and think about the bits of sunshine that we get along the way — and realizing that those bits of sunshine are far more significant than the negative is an important thing.

Next time you’re in a mood, think about these two questions. Maybe something bad did put you in a reasonably bad mood, but possibly by thinking about the best part of your day, you can improve upon that even just a little bit.

I can tell you right now that for yesterday, the best part of my day was visiting with my mom, who I haven’t seen in a while. And the worst part? Probably waiting an hour for brunch, which turned out to be one of the best brunches I’ve ever had. So hey — I’d say that pretty much cancels out that bad part, huh?

And with that, I ask you: What’s the best part of your day? And honestly, what’s the worst part of your day?

Negative Inspiration Not Wanted

Motivation to exercise and to stick with a fitness routine can be incredibly hard to come by for some people. I have spoken to many people who have a hard time “convincing” themselves to go to the gym, or who feel like they have to “trick” their bodies into working out.

I feel fortunate, because for me, exercise comes naturally. No, I’m not saying I’m good at everything I try (not even close), I’m simply saying that the motivation for exercise comes naturally — it’s just a  part of my day, a part of my life that helps me to feel complete.  I know that I’m pretty lucky to feel this way, but why do I feel this way and others don’t? Is it something that I’ve created myself, or is it innate? I’d bet on the former, but let’s dig a little deeper.

So why is it that so many people have a hard time finding the motivation to move and to sweat?

That is something I don’t think we’ll ever completely know the answer to. But I do know one thing that doesn’t create good, sincere, long lasting motivation:

Negativity.

I was recently at a fitness class where the instructor told the group that we were working our triceps because “women want to wave with their arms, not with their flab”.

I’m not kidding when I say I almost walked out of the class right there. Inspired? No, I was infuriated.

There are so many wonderful reasons to move and to work out, so many beautiful reasons that do not include putting ourselves down. You know what? I’ve been working out for years, and I still get a little jiggle when I wave, unless I’m actively flexing my triceps as I do so (and that would look pretty awkward). But this isn’t something that bothers me, and it’s certainly not the motivating factor to my workouts.  I don’t work out because of parts of myself that I hate, I work out to improve the parts of me that are already pretty dang awesome.

positive

Every single part of you is what makes you You. You are not that photoshopped fitness model, you are not Gisele, you are not that world class Cross Fit athlete or elite endurance runner. You are you, and that’s what you have to work with. So your arm jiggles a little bit when you wave at someone? So what, you’re human. We aren’t all bronzed gods and goddesses made of 100% muscle.

You know what motivates me to work on my triceps? The fact that stronger triceps lead to better push ups, a stronger bench press, and more ease in my job which requires a good amount of physical activity and heavy lifting.

Would it have killed her to say something along those lines? “We’re working on our triceps to improve our strength for push ups!” motivates me a heck of a lot more than hearing someone put everyone down for something they really can’t control.

And maybe that’s the key. Maybe we need to look less at whether or not we are motivated, and more at what is behind our motivation. I’m no social scientist, but I have a pretty good idea that the more we use negativity to fuel the things we do, the less of a chance we have at making those things long lasting habits. The more you tear yourself down and punish yourself through workouts, I’d wager that you’ll be less likely to continue that workout or routine in the long run.

If you were forced to eat your favorite food every time you did something perceived as “wrong”, it probably wouldn’t be your favorite food for long now, would it? When it becomes a punishment, I don’t see how it could possibly be enjoyable long term. See where I’m going with this?

So if you’re working out, do so from a place of inspiration and potential progress, not from a place of hate and shame. And if you’re the fitness instructor who is shaming ladies into “better” bodies, what are you teaching them about how they should feel about themselves in the long run?

What if their arms always have a little “jiggle” when they wave — should they keep punishing themselves for eternity? What if they can go from doing 1 push up to 15, yet they still have a little wiggle — personally, I think we should be applauding that progress, not punishing the aesthetics (and genetics).

So it may be a long shot, but I really feel that someday we may be able to close this motivational gap when it comes to exercise. And I would bet that the key to that will be avoiding those negative spaces in our brains and embracing our potential as strong women (no matter which bits may wiggle or jiggle).

So tell me, why do You exercise? Where do you find your motivation?

My Name Is Stephanie and I Have Beyonce Knees

Almost every girl I know has a part of their body that they don’t like, or at least a part of their body that they consistently wish would change. For some it’s a constant desire to have smaller thighs, perhaps a flatter stomach or perkier back side.

As for me, the one thing that always tormented me growing up was not one of these obvious choices. In fact, when you hear it, you may laugh, because it really does seem pretty funny.

My knees.

Sure, I always wanted smaller thighs when I was younger, and there was a while when I wondered if my butt would ever be considered “normal”. But these things I learned to embrace and love, and I have grown to find them beautiful over time. And then there are my knees.

Knees, you ask? Who even looks at knees? Well, I’ll tell you. An insecure little girl with mildly chubby legs, and genetics that have given her mildly chubby knees. I’m not kidding you when I say that I spent a good part of my youth looking at the knees of my classmates, wondering why I didn’t have bony little kneecaps instead of the marshmallow fluff that seemed to settle around my legs.

You see, I may have been a little chubby at times, but I was never “fat” growing up. I was the same size as a lot of my friends, but still, they had pointy little knees and I had what I thought looked like pincushions. (I know this makes me sound like a crazy person, but stay with me here.)

It wasn’t until the end of high school/beginning of college that I began to find some peace with my little pudgy knees. Enter: Destiny’s Child. Now, what does a late 90s girl band have to do with my chubby little knees?

Two words: Queen Bey.

Destinys-Child-3

[Image Source]

It was around this time that I started watching Destiny’s Child videos (remember when videos were cool?), and realized that this beautiful woman, this amazing goddess called Beyonce Knowles had “fat” knees too. Here she was, reminding all of us that we weren’t ready for her jelly, yet she wasn’t perfect. She wasn’t the image of long, thin legs that everyone at the time said was perfect.  Yet she was, and still is, revered as one of the most beautiful women on this planet. And whether you agree with that or not (but I mean, lets be real, there’s really no question there), it’s pretty apparent that that is the perception. Beyonce, although not model-thin, is beautiful.

It was at that very moment that my knees stopped being fat. Instead, they became my Beyonce knees. I kid you not when I say it was the first time that I realized that legs that looked like mine could be considered beautiful. That knees don’t have to be bony and knobby, and that a little extra cushioning on your legs is not a curse after all. Because Beyonce had fat* knees too. And Beyonce was is a goddess.

Now I’m in my 30’s, and you know what? I still have Beyonce knees. No matter how thin I’ve gotten over the years, and more recently how muscular, the shape and appearance of my knees has not changed. Yes, my legs have changed over time, but I still do not have, and will never have, “skinny” bony knees. The simple fact of this is because it’s all about genetics, and that’s just how my legs were made.

Some people have longer, thinner legs. Some people have shorter, muscular legs. Some people have naturally well defined calf muscles and some people have match sticks for legs. The shape of your body, for the most part, is determined by genetics. Sure, you can manipulate it somewhat with diet and weight training, but for the most part, your body type and shape sticks with you for life. I will never have long thin legs, but I will always have a relatively small waist, just as long as I keep my health and body composition in check. It’s just the way I’m built.

IMG_0919

My Beyonce knees in all their glory. 

I have friends who have naturally slender legs (and skinny knees of course), who gain weight mostly around their midsection. Again, it’s just the way they’re built, and that’s not something we can change.

So if a flaw is something that is inherent to us, something that we can’t change, is it really a flaw? Or is it just part of who we are as humans, part of what makes us so beautiful and interesting as creatures? Next time you find yourself criticizing something in the mirror, take a second and turn those thoughts into something positive. I don’t have “fat knees”, I have Beyonce Knees. And they are fierce, because Queen Bey would have it no other way**.

Beyonce

[Image Source]

Stop picking apart your body when most of it is determined by genetics. Stop looking at the tiny bit of flesh you have on your upper arms and wishing it away; stop looking at your upper thighs and wishing a visible gap between them. You were built a certain way, and you can manipulate it, but you can’t totally change it (without going to drastic and often unsafe measures).

Because once we find peace with ourselves, that’s when the real change begins to happen. Once you can learn to appreciate your body for what it is and what it does instead of dwelling on every perceived flaw, that’s when you can truly see the beauty in yourself. I could go around my entire life hating my legs, hating my knees, constantly trying new diet schemes and exercise plans to get the bony knees I wanted as a kid. But instead, I have learned to embrace and appreciate my legs for what they are.

If you’re constantly chasing something that can never possibly happen (such as the “perfect” body), how can you expect to be happy, I mean truly happy, ever? I feel like women are on a constant hunt for perfect body parts when they have everything they need already, within themselves. Look in the mirror and find a way to love what you see, even if you see some things that you want to improve.

Because as the Queen herself would say: You are fierce, and you are flawless. 

*In the .0000000000001% chance that Beyonce would actually read this, I just want to be clear that I mean absolutely no insult by saying that she has “fat” knees. Thick knees. Is that a thing? Ok then. You know what I mean.

**I also want to add in that I’m exponentially disappointed by the recent allegations that Bey photoshopped some pictures of her on a yacht to give herself a thigh gap (although, I think the knees were left untouched, so there’s that). Maybe she does need to read this post after all.

Celebrate The Positives

There is a lot of negativity on the internet. Heck, I tend to go off on rants on this very blog, even though my tag line includes “joie de vivre”, or the joy of living. We all tend to get bogged down by the negatives sometimes, especially when things get stressful or in times of change/unknown.

I thought I would take today to take a look at the things around me, and celebrate some of the positive things. Yes, things have been busy and stressful lately (and I suspect that I’m not the only one who feels that way), but there are always things to celebrate and smile about.

1. So many lady lifters! I work at a college, which means that I work out in the college fitness center (because hello, it’s free!). In the past few years that I’ve been working at this particular school, I have been just about the only female in the weight room most of the time. There have been a couple other consistent ladies who sling some iron, but for the most part, it’s been just the boys and me. But I’ve noticed a wonderful thing this fall: there are so many other females frequenting the weight room. There have even been a few times lately where almost all of the power racks have women in them, and then a guy comes in and almost seems out of place. It’s amazing to see more women getting into weight lifting, especially at the college age. Back when I was in college, the elliptical was my best friend (or so I thought… Maybe it was more of a frenemy), so kudos to these girls for going outside the “norms” and working on getting strong!

2. Early to rise leads to some amazing views. On Wednesday mornings, I generally get up very early to go workout with the November Project group at 6:30. This past Wednesday, however, I had to be at work at 7 am, so I decided to join the NP group that starts at 5:30. This meant a 4:40 wake up after getting home from work at 10:30 the night before. To say I wasn’t looking forward to it is an understatement. But once I got up and got moving, I forgot about how little sleep I had, or how chilly it was on my bike that early. When I got to the stadium, it was still pitch black, and stadiums were done under the stars (awesome!!). As the workout progressed, the sun began to rise around the stadium, which was breathtaking.

IMG_4467This was last week when the sun was already up, but you get the point. 

But then, the early morning sunrise views on my bike ride to work from the stadium really got me. I found myself riding along the Charles River, audibly saying “Woooooww” (yes, like a crazy person), and not being able to keep my eyes on the bike path. The mixture of colors between the water and the sky was just to pretty to ignore, and I actually stopped for a few minutes on a foot bridge just to take it all in.

skyline

The view on my bike ride to work from the stadium. 

3. It may be getting colder out, but it’s Friday, it’s a (kind of) long weekend, the Red Sox are in the ALCS, and we’re taking our engagement pictures this weekend. All this greatness in one weekend is pretty awesome, so no complaining here! Play off baseball and a chance to get all gussied up with a photographer for the day. What more could a girl ask for?

Readers: Are there many females who frequent the weight room at your gym? What are you doing with your long weekend?