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Looking Closer at Habits – Part 2

5 Jul

In our last post we picked apart the pieces of a habit–the gears, so to speak. Turns out there is a powerful habit loop that deeply ingrains habits into patterned behavior. Cue, routine, reward. As we go around and around this loop, the cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and a craving emerges (Duhigg 19).

The key to understanding our habits is understanding how cravings form in our brain and how they influence our behavior patterns. In short, neurological cravings power the habit loop.

We all know cravings. It’s what we encounter when we walk into Starbucks and look at all the tasty treats behind the glass. It’s what we encounter when we catch a whiff of fresh french fries from our favorite fast food restaurant. We even encounter cravings before we head to FIT, anticipating the reward we are going to experience after we finish our workout.

Cravings form gradually so we often don’t even notice them as they take shape in our brains and influence our actions. And we can create new habits by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward. And then cultivate a craving that drives the loop (Duhigg 49).

Let’s use my obsession with Peet’s coffee as an example of how cravings work. When I see one of my colleagues with a Peet’s cup (the cue), my brain starts anticipating a shot of caffeine (the reward). This anticipation of the reward is enough for me to crave a caffeine rush (even if I just finished a cup of coffee) and the craving grows until I race over to Peet’s to satisfy my desire.

Cravings are not completely deterministic (more on that in the next post), but if I’m not conscious of my cravings for caffeine, I’ll never question why I’m always stopping at Peet’s on my way home.

Understanding cravings also helps us understand exercise habits. Studies show that the overwhelming majority of people who exercise habitually do so because they crave the endorphin rush during a workout or the sense of accomplishment after their performance. These self-rewards are enough to make exercise a habit.

If we want to start a new habit, we must figure out how to spark a new craving powerful enough to drive the habit loop.

So how might this work for me? Last January, I wanted to make sure I got to the gym even after a long day of work. So I started keeping my workout bag visible next to my bedroom door (the cue). When I saw my workout bag, I started to think of the sense of accomplishment I got from my training. And now, even when I think I’m too tired to get to the gym, I look at my workout bag and immediately start craving that sense of accomplishment. That craving is enough to get me off the couch and into my truck to head to training.

Think it sounds too simple? Try it. Think of a habit you want to create. Pick a cue. Pick a reward. And then try it out. You might be surprised at how powerful your brain really is.

Looking Closer at Habits – Part 1

2 Jul

We’re creatures of habit. We all have them. Some good. Some bad.

And if you’ve ever garnered the will power to attempt changing a habit, you know how difficult it is.

But why?

As a staff, we are currently reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. So as I process through Duhigg’s work, I thought I would share it with you in a series of posts.

The logical starting point is to figure out what habits really are. Because if understand what habits are all about, we can better work through re-tuning our bad habits.

With the massive amount of information we need to process from moment to moment, our brains are looking for ways to be more efficient and save effort. Turning certain processes, such as brushing our teeth, into habits allows our minds to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors so we can think about doing more important things, such as that upcoming board presentation.

Our brains will convert sequences of actions into “chunks” to make them automatic. Habits consist of a three-step loop. First, our brains are signaled by a cue, some trigger that puts our brains into automatic mode. Then, there is a routine, a sequence of actions. Finally, there is a reward, and this is what makes our brain decide whether this is worth remembering.

As we rehearse this loop–cue, routine, reward–over and over again, cravings emerge.

Duhigg summarizes why this is important: “When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks” (Duhigg 20).

That means unless we actually fight our habits to adopt new patterns, the routines will unfold automatically.

This helps explain why it’s hard for us to change our eating and exercise habits. And most of us probably know this. It’s why we describe changing our diet or exercise program as a “battle” or “struggle.”

But it’s important that we understand the basic components of our habits–the cue, the routine, the reward–so we know how to “fiddle with the gears” of our habits, as Duhigg says.

So, here’s something to think about. This week, pay attention to the habits you have that you would like to change, such as where you go eat on your lunch break. Identify the cue. Notice the pattern of behavior that ensues. And reflect on the reward that you anticipate and enjoy afterwards.

Before we change our unconscious habits, we must first become conscious of the process.

Jeff P. Gets A ‘Strong’ Education

12 Jun

Here’s the second installment of Jeff P’s recap of his trip to the East Coast to learn from some of the brightest and most experienced minds in the world of strength and conditioning. You can read Jeff’s first post here. To learn more about these coaches, follow the embedded links.

 

The 3rd Annual Eleiko Strength Summit was equally exciting to attend. Here, the Swedish company that produces the best barbells and plates in the world hosted guest speakers to present on topics related to weightlifting and strength development. Here’s a quick summary.

Charles presented on the eccentric/concentric ratio and its application to sports as well as a demonstration of exercises. Preston Greene, the head strength coach for Florida Gators basketball, lectured on strength and conditioning methods for college athletes and took us through his training methods for an entire basketball season. It was interesting and humorous watching a montage of the athletes’ strongman workouts.

Al Vermeil, the only strength coach to sport two championship rings (one with the 49ers and the other with the Chicago Bulls), lectured on “the art of coaching” and was extremely enthusiastic about aspects of positively motivating athletes to perform at their best. Many of us stayed after to keep talking with Al about training methods.

Tamas Feher, the current UK Olympic weightlifting head coach, lectured on strength development of athletes particularly in relation to using the snatch and clean and jerk. It was interesting to hear from his point-of-view, as weightlifting has greater emphasis overseas than it does in the US. Another Olympic weightlifting coach, Jon Broz talked about his experiences with weightlifting using high volume to achieve maximal levels of strength. Finally, the 1997 World champion and head of Eleiko Russia, Maxim Agapitov spoke about his experiences with weightlifting and coached us through the clean and jerk exercise.

 

This was one of the more memorable trips I have taken. This post doesn’t do justice to the wealth of information but at least it can provide some insight into the new movements and strategies I hope to implement for the benefit of everyone at FIT!

For more information, feel free to contact me at: jeffery@focusedtrainers.com

 

Jeff P. loves helping people to get stronger whether you’re an athlete, a weekend warrior, or looking to achieve optimal health. Just ask him.

FIT Partners with Bald Eagle Summer Camps

8 Jun

In our efforts to build up the leadership and health of our youth, FIT has partnered with Bald Eagle Summer Camps. FIT trainers will be coaching at the summer camps every Wednesday starting at 9:20am. Summer camps run every week from the week of June 11th to July 18th (except the week of July 4th).

What are Bald Eagle Summer Camps?

Good question. Bald Eagle offers 3 unique Summer Camps on one location, and in each venue the Positive Coaching Alliance message is taught and modeled.  Parent Testimonials rave that Bald Eagle Camps is one of the best summer experiences you can give your child.

What will kids learn at Bald Eagle Summer Camps?

Campers learn what it means to be a Triple Impact Competitor, making the most out of themselves, being a great teammate and having a positive impact on the game and community around them.  Every coach at Bald Eagle is a Certified Double Goal Coach through PCA, creating a camp culture that is rich with encouragement, inclusion and passion to be your best.

Parents have three camps to choose from:

CAMP 1: Summer Sports Camp (1st-8th graders)

  • Campers participate with their team in the morning in our non-traditional inclusive yet competitive games
  • Afternoons are traditional activities such as swimming, basketball, volleyball, hockey, whiffle ball, frisbee golf, arts & crafts, indoor Activity Arcade, kickball, flag football and many, many more.
  • Our message on how to be a great competitor is emphasized throughout.

CAMP 2: Basketball Summer Camp (3RD-8th)

  • Basketball campers will walk away with improved skills and a deeper passion for becoming their best.
  • Skill development stations, Fundamentals,  Fun Competitions, Game Play
  • Free Choice period where they get to spend 45 min doing any activity across our Sports Camp like swimming, etc.
  • Daily Emphasis Skills, guest speaker, tournament games or competitions.
  • Our message on how to be a great competitor is emphasized throughout.

CAMP 3: Jr.High Leadership Camp “NEW!” (7th-8th)

  • How important is it for a young person to have clarity on the type of person they are aiming to become while they trudge through the onslaught of peer pressure in Jr. High and High School?
  • Bald Eagle Camps founder, Bob McFarlane, is a Special Ed & PE teacher at Los Altos High School.  He is also the Head Varsity Basketball Coach and the founding Advisor of the Fellowship Of Christian Athletes (FCA) Club at LAHS.  This camp design serves a broad range of camper strengths, skills and interests.
  • The benefits from our Leadership Camp are immeasurably positive because it teaches and tangibly develops the skills to support a successful transition to being a young adult.

Visit www.baldeaglecamps.com , or call (888)505-2253 for more info.

You can also email Danielle Durante at danielle@focusedtrainers.com

Jeff P. Embraces New Strategies for Fat Loss

5 Jun

At FIT, our trainers take their education seriously. We pride ourselves on seeking out the best information available to continually serve our clients better. On occasion, our trainers take time to attend education. Today’s post is brought to you by Jeff P. who recently attended a seminar by well-respected strength coach Charles Poliquin.

 

Last month, I spent 7 days at the Poliquin Performance Center in East Greenwich, RI to take the Biosignature Modulation course, as well as attend the 3rd Annual Eleiko Strength Summit.

Developed and taught by Coach Charles Poliquin, Biosignature Modulation (or, biosig for short) is an individualized method of body fat loss. Basically, specific receptor sites on the body are blocked and lead to dysfunction- that is, there is a relationship between where you store body fat and your hormones. Technically speaking, there actually is such a thing as ‘spot-reduction’ in fat loss.

For example, that stubborn tummy-fat is an indicator of prolonged exposure to the hormone cortisol (a.k.a. low grade adrenaline). Cortisol stimulates abdominal fat synthesis by inhibiting growth hormone. The good news is that this can be reversed through recommended dietary and supplement intervention.

During class we discussed the relationships of 6 key hormones and 12 sites on the body as well as the methods for modulating these sites. For example, increasing magnesium intake has shown to improve insulin sensitivity, improve quality of sleep, and improve cortisol management (anti-stress).

We also practiced measuring the sites 3 times a day for 30 minutes each. Coach Poliquin’s teaching method is geared for 70% retention: 40 minutes lecture, 10-point review, 5-15 minute break, repeat with or without 20-30 minute practice. With over 100 pages of notes, I’ll testify that it is quite effective and consequently very helpful!

 

If you’re interested in finding out how Jeff’s Biosignature practice might be able to help you, feel free to contact him at jeffery@focusedtrainers.com.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Jeff’s experience where he shares his insights from the Eleiko Strength Summit.

Exercise Reduces Neuropathic Pain

3 Jun

ScienceDaily recently reviewed an interesting study examining the effect of exercise on nerve pain such as that caused by trauma or diabetes. The study suggests that “Exercise helps to alleviate pain related to nerve damage by reducing levels of certain inflammatory factors.”

 

The Gist

Researchers examined the effects of sciatic nerve pain in rats. Post-injury, some rats performed progressive exercise including swimming and walking on a treadmill over several weeks while researchers monitored observable pain behaviors.

The researchers noticed a significant reduction in neuropathic pain in the group that performed exercise post-injury. Those suffering from nerve injuries are known to have abnormal pain responses to changes in pressure or to changes in temperature. The researchers observed that the exercise group did not show abnormal pain responses when they encountered changes to these elements and thus the researchers attributed this to a reduced pain response.

 

The Nitty-Gritty

Previous studies have suggested that inflammation (including pro-inflammatory cytokines) play a significant role in the neuropathic pain response to nerve injury. Researchers found that exercise led to an increased expression of a protein which may have contributed to a reduced expression of the inflammation-promoting cytokines in sciatic nerve tissue.

 

Why We Care

When dealing with nerve pain that cannot be controlled with conventional pain medication, many attempt to regulate nerve pain using antidepressant drugs or others that carry unwanted side effects.

We know that exercise can help reduce pain in people with chronic conditions, so why not also in those with neuropathic pain?

While exercise may not eliminate nerve injury pain, if it can reduce pain up to 50% as demonstrated in this study, this is a significant step in the right direction towards reducing the inflammation in injured nerve tissue.

FIT Buddies Take 5

29 May

 

Coach Jen’s class shows us how to Take 5–simple strategies to stay healthy and happy. Watch the video. It will definitely be worth your time.

Just in case you forgot, here’s the 5!

Take 1 Eat Well

Take 2 Move Around

Take 3 Drink Water

Take 4 Sleep

Take 5 Have Fun

We love what Coach Jen is doing with the FIT Buddies program. What’s more, the life habits she is helping to form in her kids are applicable to all of us.

So Take 5, and be ready to follow the lead of our FIT Buddies!

Rick Gives All at CrossFit Regionals

27 May

Every athletic competition tells a story of heroic feats and heart-breaking setbacks, all in the face of tremendous adversity unfolding moment-by-moment, right in front of our eyes.

And this year’s CrossFit NorCal Regional competition was no different for coach Rick and his FIT contingent of supporters.

Rick had already overcome a number of injuries that prevented him from training at full tilt all year round. Rick made no excuses and came into last weekend’s competition quite confident that he could make another run at a top ten finish.

The competition opened with a classic CrossFit workout affectionately named “Diane”. Rick had to perform twenty-one deadlifts at 225# followed by twenty-one handstand push ups, then fifteen of each, then nine of each as fast as possible. Battling fatiguing shoulders, Rick finished with a time of 5:30 to start off the competition in 32nd place.

Later that day, in the second workout, Rick rowed 2,000 meters, then did 50 1-leg squats, and then 30 hang cleans at heavy 225# in only 16:00 to move into the top 20. With a solid first day in the books, Rick was optimistic that he could continue to climb the standings on Day 2.

Rick came out of the gates firing on all cylinders Day 2’s first workout. Snatching a 100# dumbbell and sprinting a total of 400m, Rick’s time of 4:08 put him in 5th place in that event. The second event of Day 2 proved to be a treacherous test of mental and physical stamina and endurance. Completing a circuit that total 150 weighted squats, 120 pull-ups, and 90 push presses just under the time cap of 17:00, Rick sat in 16th place at the end of Day 2.

Day 3, the final day of the competition, was set up to test the mettle of even the most seasoned athlete. The first event of the day involved testing the athletes’ heaviest snatch. The catch was that they had to move up a ladder of barbells beginning at 155#, moving up 10# each step on the ladder. In between each progressively heavier barbell, Rick had to perform 20 double-unders with a jump rope.

Rick had warmed up to a comfortable 210# snatch in the warm-up. Then had to wait nearly 45 minutes before he could begin the ladder.

On the first snatch, a mere 155# that Rick could do in his sleep, he felt a sharp pain shoot down the side of his leg.

Rick had re-aggravated an old injury. He had torn a muscle in his quad.

With his back against a wall, there still was not a single hint of quit in Rick. He managed to eek his way several lifts up the ladder, but at last failed to snatch 185# within the time limit.

FIT’s fan contingent watched Rick battle his competitors, the workouts, and himself all weekend. And while Rick came away from the weekend disappointed to be knocked out of the competition by injury, his supporters were amazed by the tremendous heart, tenacity, and grit Rick put on display.

We’re proud of you of the way Rick represented FIT and CrossFit Los Altos with such class and poise.

And we look forward to another epic performance next year in 2013.

FIT Kids Summer Camps are Coming!

25 May

At FIT, we believe in the vital importance of long-term health and fitness.

And we also believe in equipping our young generation with the physical and mental tools to cultivate long-term habits of health, confidence, and teamwork.

One way we get to do this is through our Kids Summer camps. You’ve seen the banner. You’ve seen the fliers. Now check out the details below and get on board!

What’s it about?

Kids will explore themany different aspects of fitness through new sills and exercises involving movement patterns, strength, flexibility, jumping, footwork, speed and agility all in a structured and fun way. Camps are taught by certified fitness professionals.

When?

June 25-28

July 16-19

August 6-9

Time?

All run from 10am – 2pm

Age?

7 – 12 years

 

For more information, contact Danielle or Kevin at 650-947-9831 or see the flier at the front desk.

Dont miss this opportunity to get your kid FIT!

Celebrate National Salad Month!

15 May

No, seriously, May is National Salad Month. And what better way to celebrate with America than by re-tuning your salad habits?

For too long, salads have been seen as foo-foo meals. You know the salads I’m talking about. They usually are made up mostly of light green leaves with just a few dry pieces of chicken breast smothered in dressing. Even more concerning is the meat-less salad. You know what that’s called? An appetizer.

For this year’s national salad month, celebrate by turning that appetizer into a nutrient-packed power meal.

Start here: the foundation. A power salad needs a good base. But if you’re tired of always using spinach (like I do) or the romaine “salad mix” then consider experimenting with arugula, bok choy, butterhead lettuce, cabbage (red or green), or kale.

Next, the meat and potatoes (minus the potatoes). Protein is an essential ingredient for a power salad. But if you’re getting tired of the run-of-the-mill chicken breast, change the game by adding one (or more!) of these hearty protein sources: duck, shrimp, salmon, bacon, pulled pork, or any variation of sausage.

Now, get creative. My power salads usually consist of the usual suspects: avocado, broccoli, shredded carrots, berries or apple, cucumber, and a smattering of colorful peppers. But if you’re looking for some new flair to add, try adding a splash of fruit like pineapple or mango, or other vegetables like asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms or olives.

When it comes to dressing up a power salad, I usually stick to the classic Paleo combination of olive oil and lemon juice. But if you want a new twist, consider using avocado or walnut oil. Or, try my favorite way to change up a power salad and top it with salsa and (a lot of) guacamole.

So, celebrate National Salad Month by trying out a new version of your power salad. And if you come up with or have an excellent recipe.

Share the power salad love with the rest of the FIT community by posting your recipe in the comments section.