Eating vs. Training

I frequently get questions about which exercises to use to “spot reduce” certain areas, and the answer is always the same – it’s more about the food we eat than the exercises.  

Spot reducing does not work, It can’t hurt to focus on an area, but without a comprehensive approach, efforts are often in vain, leaving disappointment in the wake of (some) concerted efforts.

Clean eating has a bad rap, though, among the masses – it isn’t about depriving at all which, in my mind, is 100% doomed to fail. It’s about the overall consistency (treats are allowed here and there!) and choosing healthier, whole foods as the primary sources of nutrition. When we are *generally* fueling our bodies with healthier options, having a goodie once is a while is NOT a big deal.

I don’t know this Instagram page – @vshred4women – but this image cropped up this week in one of the App’s ads (hence my post.) Much that sponsored material makes me crazy, I did agree with what was being presented. I always say that our nutrition accounts for 80 to 90% of the results we see and feel.

@vshredforwomen

This particular image shows meal prepping at it’s finest.  Not everyone feels like they have time to do this, and that’s okay – you don’t necessarily need to.  I tend to cook several pounds of chicken at once myself because I find that’s easiest for me.  If I’m also making veggies, or I think in a day or two I’ll be preparing a different meal, I may chop up those extra veggies ahead of time since I’m already at it!  Do what works best for you because that’s what will keep you on track.

Getting back to eating clean though…it’s all about setting yourself up for success.  I shared a few of my personal tips in this post – 10 Tips To Feel Full – Yes, Really! (Because Hangry Is Horrible!) – a few weeks ago, and they really can help.  

Not buying foods I know will derail me is one of my key tactics, and filling up on foods that will keep me feeling full longer is another…but again, it’s about works best for you.

I think the misconception about healthy nutrition is that one mistake is the end of the world – many times people will eat poorly for a day or two, even a week (vacation, anyone?!) and then go into “weeeell, I’m failing as it is, may as well give up!” and they continue with poor choices. It is NEVER, EVER too late to have a fresh start, so toss that negative notion to the waist side. PLEASE!

Each day is a new opportunity to try again. If there is a strategy that you know works / has worked for you, re-employ it! If there isn’t, take baby steps and make a point to notice your progress – a tiny step forward is still in the right direction!

It’s also important to remember that little changes can make a huge difference.  Some examples:

  • Switching from cream to milk in coffee
  • Switching from whole milk to 2% or skim if you are a milk drinker
  • Having a whole fresh fruit versus putting a few fruits into a blender 
  • Using lettuce wraps instead of bread, or making an open-face with just one slice
  • Adding veggies to the base of your meal, or doubling the portion you already have
  • Switching to healthy fats like avocados, portioned nuts, fatty fish, or egg yolks instead of the kind you get in sweets
  • Having slow-cooking oatmeal instead of sugary cereals
  • Swapping your regular yogurt for Greek
  • Putting dressing on the side and just using what you need, vs creating a salad dressing swimming pool for your greens
  • If you must have a soda, try a zero calorie version. . .

There are so many possibilities, you just have to look! 

Fueling our bodies with the right foods also aids our training efforts, and the results of all that hard work. Without the proper combination of protein, carbohydrates and fat, we won’t function optimally, and we may not see the results we would otherwise if we did nutritionally support the exercise we are doing (for example, lifting weights and skimping on protein means you aren’t going to see the muscle mass you would if you had the appropriate protein intake.)

That ridiculous saying that abs are made in the kitchen? It is more true than it isn’t. Our culture is a food-centric one, so saying “clean eating” is sometimes meant with scoffs and dismissal, if not considered a bad word / phrase. But it isn’t some horrible, unachievable state of being that should scare or intimidate anyone. Unless you are working on preparing for the Olympia competition, there’s probably room to tweak (and even then!) 

Healthy changes…

Don’t have to be monumental…

You don’t have to go cold turkey (unless you know that is an ideal method for you)…

You don’t have to follow some stringent fad diet!

And you don’t have to say goodbye to all the things you enjoy.

Recognizing that you can see the results you want with some adjustments to your nutritional intake is actually very freeing – it’s something you have total control over, and can customize as it works for you. The key? Being honest and realistic with yourself – YOU are who matters the most, and there is no reason you can’t enjoy life, enjoy delicious food, and also have the results you are looking for.

 

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Giving Back

Every aspect of life is a journey and I suppose that’s the fun of it – nothing remains static and we always have the opportunity to grown and learn.  As we get older we are often bombarded with the idea that we have to be young, have to portray that image, or that it is simply too late.  None of that is true – there is so much beauty in getting older, and it is absolutely never – ever – too late to try, learn, do something new…especially when that “something” makes your soul glow or your heart beat.

I spent a long time in industries that I was, perhaps, “meant”…but not “destined”…for.  While life ebbs and flows, and is indeed rife with ah-ha moments along the way, I’ve realized that I just had a monumental epiphany. And that’s not only okay, but amazing…

I didn’t question my work in fashion – I’d loved so many aspects of the industry from early childhood that it made sense that I was heading that direction.  No matter we all thought I was primarily left-brained, I was incredibly drawn to the arts, performing sports, to fashion, to photography, makeup artistry – they were worlds so colorful and captivating that I sort of just “knew” that’s the broad arena in which I’d eventually land.  That said, my pedigree was – finally – to the contrary.  I did a double major in International Business and Marketing, not exactly the design and creative background required for a position in Product Development.  But, what I lacked in typical education, I made up for with enthusiasm and a no-bullshit work ethic.

I suppose throughout it all, I always had a feeling that something was missing – I didn’t have a name for the sensation, nor did I know exactly what, specifically, was absent.  I’ve always wanted to do more, be more, achieve more, so I believe I attributed the growing hollowness to that.  

But, it wasn’t.

The truth is, life for me is vastly more magical than it isn’t – I will always strive to be better each day, in every aspect of my life, and I will always have goals and aspirations.  So that sense of still seeking fulfillment might be there…but after having had more recent revelations, I’m willing to bet it will die down a bit.

I began working with children on a whim many years ago as an instructor in Karate – I wanted to get out of my home town (not to escape an increasingly prosaic routine, but to evade one person, of all things) and this amazing gift, so aptly timed, just fell into my lap.  I initially contacted the Sensei in effort to learn new Arts – my background was in the Korean Arts of Hapkido and Taekwondo.  Despite my lack of knowledge (or experience) in his Japanese styles, he welcomed me warmly, and with sincere enthusiasm.  In seeing my passion for Martial Arts in general, and, I imagine, my personality, he encouraged me to stick around and teach. Game changer.

I realized at that moment both the responsibility I was given, and that I was in the unbelievably fortunate position to offer inspiration to these children. You never know when such moments of motivation and revelation may occur. Knowing that I could provide a strong role model, not only by means of a physically active body, but emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, was a gift to be valued.

I was, and still am, more of the disciplinarian – it is incredibly important to me that the children enjoy their time at the Dojo (why bother otherwise?!) But it is also a place in which we discuss and learn core values – how to treat one another, the meaning of respect, responsibility, healthy living, honesty, courage, integrity… It isn’t just about how we control our own bodies and space, but how we affect others around us in a physical way, and beyond.  Our attitude matters. In some cases, we are reinforcing what is taught at home.  In others, however, we are providing a framework and structure that they child is not exposed to elsewhere – a framework that hopefully will help them blossom and embrace life fully, challenges notwithstanding.

I’ve continued working with children in Martial Arts simply because I love to do it – I appreciate the opportunity to instill positive values, to encourage and nudge potential, to lead by example, and to help the children develop important life skills.  Along the way, however – and frankly I don’t even recall the impetus – I began to look into working with Special Needs children.  The opportunities for children with disabilities is far less, and as a huge proponent of physical fitness, I realized I needed to be out there helping kids who are often denied the chance.

Having a BLAST and high-fiving!

By some great fortune there is a volunteer organization in my state that offers the kinds of hands-on activities I was looking for – they serve children with varying disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome, ADHD, apraxia, and others.  None is so severe on the spectrum that they must reside in full-time facilities, but depending on the child, there might be some aggression, or major athleticism (as in, the “runners” who are hard to keep at one’s side!)  For me, though, that’s the fun of it – each child is different, and with my background in Martial Arts training and instructing, I feel very comfortable taking on the toughies.

My time with these children has been relegated to my 39th year of life (and some of my 38th) – my path managed to diverge rather drastically in some way, but I feel suddenly so much more aligned.  While it is not currently my profession to work with children with disabilities, I have made it my mission to find ways to help.  I have purchased several books to begin self-educating myself, and have reached out to others in the field whom I know are both honest and passionate.  It is in so many ways the beginning of a new journey for me, but life has a way of doing that…

Life presents us with opportunities along the way if only we remain open to them. When we listen to what our hearts are truly saying in between the beats, we allow a magic we may not have known existed the opportunity to unfold.  The gifts you will receive will be priceless…

The Secrets Of Ninjutsu

Ninjutsu is probably one of my favorite Arts – its unique and unorthodox techniques, its higher-level, somewhat ethereal concepts, and the intriguing furtiveness captivated me from the get go.  It is, truly, an Art…and as a dancer and ice skater at heart, artistry is my language.

I’ve (rather sadly) seen traditional Arts dismissed as irrelevant – many modern-day practitioners want techniques that they can apply to modern-day scenarios.  Makes sense.  But therein lies the deception. Being rooted in a deep and complicated history also means that there are thousands of gems lying within the teachings.  Ones that have not only stood the test of time – when it was truly life and death – but ones that can also be very readily adapted and applied to “today.”

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One of the most interesting facets of Ninjutsu is the whole air of “secrecy.”  It sounds like an exaggeration but trust me, it isn’t.  Even within the walls of an official school, we find lots of “Henka,”or variations on specific techniques – the thing is, they are not always relayed in a straight-forward fashion, and sometimes are only hinted at.  For some Artists, that idea doesn’t go over (I can feel the eye rolls.)

While reading a Curriculum, for example, you might see images that don’t always jive with what the written directions are saying.  It ISN’T a lost-in-translation mistake either.  It’s completely deliberate.

The idea here is not that the “powers that be” of Traditional Ninpo are aiming to be unreasonably difficult, nor necessarily that they want to add some mysterious air that the Art can’t back up.  It’s more about the principle that learning is very much about DOing. Your Sensei is “passing down” the traditions, so to speak, and it drives home the idea that just reading a book, going online, or cerebrally understanding concepts ISN’T enough.  Martial Arts transcends any one approach – it takes grasping the fundamentals intellectually, absolutely, but the Art cannot be realized without being fully hands-on.

Taking it a step further, there are countless layers to the Art – you may learn a technique at one level, only to discover – throughout your own progression – profound jewels embedded deeply with in them…ones you neither could see, nor were capable of comprehending, in earlier training.

Ninpo embraces that we are not always ready for all of the “secrets” but that to develop our true “artistry” will take time, hard work, both finessing and breaking down the techniques until we can create our own. I suppose in a way many Martial Arts take that tact but here, some of the information is simply not shared until one has proven oneself to be ready.

The multi-faceted Ninjutsu is 1,000% NOT for everyone. It is acrobatic, intense, a little bit cryptic, unabashedly sneaky, and incredibly down-and-dirty at times.  Remember, the Ninja needed to survive…not stand on the battlefield until they – or you – were terminated (a la Samurai.)  

Ninjutsu focuses more on learning to keep distance, disabling, taking up an opponent’s space (including mental and spiritual) and getting away with one’s life.  To me, that’s the ultimate – I never began Martial Arts to “beat someone up.”  It’s an ART first and foremost for me, personally.  But, should I be faced with a true threat, I want the ability (or at least the tools) to disable, disengage, and get to safety.  It isn’t about “the fight,” but minimizing injury and getting away.  No ego.  No heroics.

Ninjutsu specifically will expose the student to everything from joint locks, small joint manipulations, grappling, takedowns, throws, sweeps, striking and weapons, to name a few.  I love that we have the opportunity to have such exposure, as many Arts are much more limited in scope. That said, the journey for each practitioner is unique, and built upon vastly different goals – in my own heart, I believe all Martial Arts are worthy and beneficial, markedly different they may be.

Martial Arts isn’t for the faint of heart – Ninjutsu isn’t “gentle” by any stretch, but it does teach us skills by which we can learn to keep ourselves – and our opponents – safe.  At the end of the day, however, we are taught that if we must overcome that individual, we must be prepared to do so.  Fortunately in modern times we don’t have to take it quite that far (certainly not in practice!)

Sometimes techniques hurt, sometimes they baffle, and other times they’re a little difficult to track down…. But each one of them – both the clandestine and the clear – are there should we be required to use them.  

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Giving Yourself A Break

I had a really rough week last week with a loss in my family.  It’s one of those things that I know takes a long time to “get over” – I’ve been there before.  

But. . .I’ve also had a lot of conditioning that makes me feel that I’m a burden if I’m feeling down, or that I have tp put on a happy face…even when it’s the last thing I want to do.

Part of me agrees with the idea that I need to keep going – one foot in front of the other, and sticking to my routine is more helpful than it isn’t – I get out of my brain, for one (which frankly isn’t firing on all synapses at the moment.)

And part of me feels like…let me get through this, and then I can go home and cry when I need to…because it is just as important for my wellbeing to “allow” my emotions” as it is to be stoic.

I haven’t had much energy, but I still go through the motions.  Form is integral, though, and no matter if we are doing lighter weight, or just running our “usual” on autopilot, we have to pay attention to the form.  I’ve made it a habit to really focus on the muscle that should be working when I exercise, so fortunately I’m in tune with what’s moving (and what shouldn’t be.)  I listen to my body and always try to respect when it needs a break…and to give it a little bit of a push if it needs it.

Today was one of my leg days – I have two.  I used to do EVERYTHING on one day, but it’s overboard for me at this stage in the game. Instead, I like having two manageable but challenging days that aren’t to the point that I make myself sick thinking about them (which used to be the case.)  What’s the point if you are stressing about what’s supposed to be fun and / or good for you?!

My usual Tuesday exercises include the following (I try to keep some of my rests “active” to knock out my ab work without tacking on a ton of time – I don’t want to live at the gym the way I used to back in the day!)

  • SQUATS – 5 sets, narrow and wide stance (with a reconstructed knee and no ACL in one, I opt for smith machine for these.  Yes, Physical Therapist approved! 🙂 )
  • PLANKS – 4 minutes total, main core and obliques, interspersed with squats
  • LUNGES – 3 sets each side, smith machine (free weight done on my other leg day)
  • CRUNCHES – 2 minutes total, varied, flutter kick and bicycle variations, interspersed with lunges 
  • STEP-UPS – 3 sets each side, smith machine and bench
  • BULGARIAN SPLIT SQUATS WITH DUMBBELLS – 3 sets each side
  • DUMBBELL DEADLIFTS – 3 sets of 12 to 15 (using 2 45 lbs dumbbells. If I’m at another facility, I’ll use the 110 lb bar.  Too much weight here really hinders kicking in Martial Arts!)
  • AB VACCUUM – 3 minutes total, interspersed with the three exercises above, as they fit
  • DUMBBELL HIP THRUSTS – 3 sets of 16, using the 45 lb weights.. (If at another gym, Ill use an 80 lb bar.)
  • JUMP SQUATS – 2 sets for 30 seconds each
  • BENCH JUMPS – 3 sets of 8 to 10 (IF my legs aren’t total jello)
  • KICK UPS – 3 sets of 15 (with a dumbbell if I want to add one more exercise in)

As I look at it here…it’s A LOT.  I’m even happier that I split it up!

So today wasn’t my finest – I wasn’t feeling great, and I’m incredibly over tired.  BUT…

BUT…

I went to the gym, I put on some music, and I went through the motions (carefully.)  I didn’t get upset if I couldn’t do everything as well as usual, or if I had to cut my reps.  Movement is helpful even when it can’t be as much as I normally do.  It’s SOMEthing, and that’s what matters.

We have the opportunity to melt down at any given time.  We also have the opportunity to pick ourselves up and move forward as best we can.  I choose both, and that’s okay.  One allows me the freedom to be comfortable with myself and what I’m feeling – to acknowledge that those emotions are acceptable.  The other reminds me that I’m goddamn strong, and I will get through ANYthing.  

 

Be Brave

Fake it until you make it, as they say. . .

You may not be ready – literally, or in your own mind – to give that monstrous presentation to the CEO.

You may not be ready – literally or. . .in your own mind! – to compete in the next category up in your sport.

You may not be ready to take the next step, whatever it may be. . .

Or, frankly, to face yourself head on, once and for all. . .

But. . .

You can pretend to be brave enough to get by.  

Most things in life move fast – ever notice how you say “oh my god, is it APRIL already?! How did the year get here so quickly!?!” It isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.  If you worry about not being ready, opportunities will (not maybe) pass you by.  

It’s a lot like putting on a “happy face” even when you don’t feel like it – that physiologic action pulls a mind-over-matter type about-face by relaying to your brain that things aren’t so bad after all. The act of smiling in and of itself creates a chain reaction (thank you neural messaging!) that helps lift your mood – when things are severe, any uplift can make a huge difference.

Pretending to be brave may not have the same scientific explanation exactly, but it can bring about a wave of confidence you didn’t know you had.  If, in the moment, you are still struggling, remind yourself that being thrown to the wolves, and being UNprepared WILL teach you.  A LOT.  You will learn from the experience – what to not to do, what to do better, and most importantly, what you did that really worked.  Down the road you won’t have to put on the “I’m a shark” face (or…er…fin!) because you will have already proven to yourself you have the wherewithal to kick ass. 

 

Hard Work

Nothing in Life worth having is free, or easy.  Period.

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We all have a different path, different goals, different failures and struggles… But the one thing we can have in common – if we choose it – is opportunity.

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If you want it, you have to be willing to work.

Blood.  

Sweat.  

Tears.

Some days the journey feels insurmountable, but the results are always within reach if you keep at it.  There would be no meaning, nor joy, in any of it were it not the case – to be handed what we have not earned will never give the satisfaction.

 

Take What You Need

I’ve shared these time and time again, but am tempted to print them and post them around just because…

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Some days a tiny, random nudge of encouragement can make h u g e difference.

Share the goodness.