Ask Coach Jean: How do I stay motivated?

Coach Jean: I’m really good when I start a new exercise program, but after a few weeks or months, I lose all motivation and can’t seem to get it back. How do I stay motivated?

Quick Summary

To create a consistent exercise routine, use the fleeting “motivation” emotion to get you started, but don’t rely on it long-term. Build your exercise habits around autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Self-Determination Theory), and continually re-evaluate how your habits reflect your values and self-care needs.

How to Start

Understand first that motivation is an emotion, just like any other, that ebbs and flows.

If you want to exercise consistently (or do anything consistently, for that matter), you cannot rely on the fleeting “motivation” emotion. Instead, you can ride the wave of the initial motivation to feel excited about a new goal, but long term, you’ll need to rely on habit building.

Habit building is way more boring and way less sexy than motivation. It’s doing something small (which can be progressed over time), preferably at the same time each day, repeating it over and over, until it becomes a part of your unconscious decision-making .

The other component to creating an exercise habit is understanding why, on a deeper level, some habits are easy to create, but others just don’t seem to stick. Why were you able to go to that awesome Spin class regularly years ago, but not anymore? Why does the Body Pump class frustrate you rather than make you feel powerful like you do in yoga?

A well-researched psychological theory called the Self Determination Theory (SDT) says we need 3 things to change our behavior and create new habits that stick:

  1. Autonomy – ability to make our own decisions based upon our circumstances and our values (which change over time)
  2. Competence – knowledge, experience, confidence, and just the right amount of challenge to improve ability to perform a skillset or activity
  3. Relatedness – connection to others and sense of belonging to something bigger than one’s self – sense of greater purpose and meaning

If your exercise habit includes all these components, you’re much more likely to be feeling joy during exercise. Joy not only in the fact that you are exercising regularly (meeting the extrinsic/external motivation “goal”) – but exercise can give you joy in the moment (intrinsic/internal motivation).

For more on how to bring the joy back into exercise, check out this post.

Take a look at the habits or activities you’re currently trying to start. Do they meet any or all of these SDT (Self-Determination Theory) criteria? 

Let’s use the example of walking:

You decide you want to start walking as a form of exercise and you use a FitBit to motivate you. At first, you love it – you enjoy the thrill of seeing how many steps you can accumulate in a day. But after a couple weeks, you’re demotivated because you rarely are able to hit 10,000 steps, your right foot has a mysterious pain, and your family makes passive aggressive comments when you leave after dinner to get your remaining 5,000 steps instead of spending time with them watching your favorite TV show. Within 2 weeks, your FitBit has found its way to the junk drawer. How can we use SDT (Self-Determination Theory) to build this walking habit?

First of all, why do you want to walk?

I want to walk to be healthier.

Drill down a few times: Why do you want to get healthier?

Because I want to have energy to do well in my job and raise my family.

Why is having a job and raising kids important?

I enjoy the challenges of my job, and I love being a part of my family.

(You can drill down even further)

How can we use SDT to create a sustainable walking habit?

10,000 steps might be way too much with your busy work and family schedule. You need the autonomy to say, “No! My goal right now is 2,000.”

You may also need a coach or a friend who has been successful doing this to help you create a plan (develop competence) and ensure your stride, foot placement, and footwear are appropriate for the miles you’re putting in to prevent injury.

Lastly, you can start holding walking meetings with co-workers and enlist family and friends to join you for regular walks during the week – getting them on board makes it fun (relatedness) and you’re promoting a healthy community around you!

Top Tips

If you’re considering starting an exercise habit or program, make sure it incorporates SDT elements:

  1. Are you doing this based upon your own values and self-care needs? Does the program include modifications based on your circumstances and situation? (Autonomy).
  2. Does the program start with the basics, teach you skills and increase the challenge over time so that you can continue to grow? (Competence)
  3. Do you interact with other people, get feedback, ask questions, share triumphs and challenges? (Relatedness)

If the program doesn’t, can you hire a coach or talk to a friend that’s mastered this skill? Can you join an online or in-person group that you can check-in with regularly? Sometimes the program can simply be supplemented with additional support, sometimes you might need to find a different solution.

Resources

http://selfdeterminationtheory.org/ ; overview of the theory, research and everyday application

http://habitry.com/; podcast, articles, and more relating to motivation and creating habits

How to Apply Intuitive Eating Principles to Exercise

New to Intuitive Eating? Check out more about it here, here and here.

Many people on the body-positive/IE/HAES (Health at Every Size) journey quickly find that the diet mentality is also deep-rooted in exercise and fitness culture.

If you have a difficult relationship with exercise, it can get better! Just like you can make peace with food, it’s absolutely possible to make peace with exercise too! Below are the Intuitive Eating principles, interpreted from a fitness/exercise point of view.

What principles resonate most with you?

Reject the diet mentality

The diet mentality applied to the fitness world is that exercise exists to lose weight, get lean, or build muscle.

Exercising without regard for your mental and emotional health can lead to cycles of over training, injury, movement restriction, then mental/emotional turmoil from not being able to work out.

End the cycle by changing your intention: Moving for pleasure and self-care.

In addition,  there’s the belief that exercise (and “eating well”) is part of an overall obligation to “be healthy” and if you don’t do it, you’re lazy or morally inferior. The truth is that your physical health is not wholly under your control and judgement towards yourself and others is counterproductive to holistic wellness – you cannot guilt yourself or others into improving health.

Get curious about your thoughts around exercise to lose weight and “get healthy.” What judgments are you making about yourself and others regarding weight and health? Is it possible for you to exercise as an act of self-care and pleasure?

Honor your energy (Honor your hunger)

Remember when you started eating intuitively and you couldn’t always figure out how your body told you it was hungry? The same might be true for understanding how your body signals your energy level.

Physical fatigue requiring rest feels different than mental or emotional fatigue that might also require rest, or it could benefit from gentle movement (your favorite yoga poses, or walking in the sun perhaps?).

And sometimes, your body might be asking for something more intense, or more fun like a dance class or weight lifting session!

For both eating and movement, it takes time, experimentation, and endless self-compassion to figure out what your body cues are and how to listen to them the best you can.

Try keeping a journal of body sensations you notice and types of movement (or rest) that you tried. Then note the after effects of that rest or movement – does your body feel the same? Better? Worse?

Make peace with exercise (Make peace with food)

Exercise, like food, is not up for moral debate.

Exercising and being “fit” does not make you a good person. “Missing” one workout (or years, or a lifetime, of workouts) doesn’t make you a bad person, lazy, or undisciplined.

Exercise is just that – exercise.

In addition, no one type of activity or workout is “better” than another: When you want a grilled cheese sandwich, you eat it. When you want ripe strawberries, you have those. So, when your body needs a stretch session, enjoy the sensation it gives you. When your body wants to run, put on those shoes and hit the pavement!

Challenge the fitness police  (Challenge the food police)

Once you become aware of the societal pressure to exercise, and to exercise in specific ways, you’ll notice the constant chatter about it everywhere – friends, family, and all forms of news media.

Fitness has become a religion of sorts, with several branches of dogmas – you must do high intensity interval training, or functional movement is best, or building long, lean muscles by using a special machine.

Keep in mind, these dogmas are exactly like different types of diets – there is no one size fits all fitness program, and most are unsustainable long-term.

Find the activities you enjoy right now, and continue to modify and change your routine to fit your life and your physical, mental and emotional needs. Anyone who tells you otherwise (including the “fitness police” that lives in you own head) is plain wrong.

Respect your fatigue (Respect your fullness)

Many fitness programs and classes promote pushing yourself well beyond fatigue during workouts and furthermore, not taking appropriate amounts of time for rest and recovery between workouts.

Just as discussed in the “Honor your energy (Honor your hunger)” principle above, it takes time and experimentation to understand how fatigue feels in your body, and how much rest you need.

If you have a history of over training, fatigue may feel like an everyday norm for you. This is why it’s sometimes recommended that you take several days, weeks, or months completely off from exercise to let your body fully recover so that you understand what your true “normal” feels like. Speak with your healthcare team to see if this might be the case with you.

If you haven’t been consistently active in a long time, suddenly adding lots of exercise puts a lot of stress on your body (not to mention your mental state!). Incorporate new activity slowly; a good rule of thumb is to add around 10% more volume or intensity week over week.

For example, you might start your first week with 2 workouts of 20 minutes (total of 40 minutes), then in your second week you can do 1 workout of 20 minutes and 1 workout at 25 minutes (45 minutes total; just a bit more than a 10% increase from week 1).  The following week both workouts can be 25 minutes, and so on. [This is an example, some folks may require different activity levels].

Note that the 10% rule is a very different approach than most workout programs out there – many popular fitness programs start with several, long (60 minutes) workouts in a week and increase intensity level very aggressively in a short period of time. This can lead to injury at the worst, or at the least a combination of physical and mental burnout by the end or soon after the end of the program. Unfortunately, a lot of people blame themselves instead of realizing that the program set them up to fail.

Trust that listening to your body and slowly increasing time, intensity, and complexity of your fitness activities is a better long-term option than an all-or-nothing intense program.

And, have compassion for the inevitable periods in your life (illness, injury, stressful circumstances) where you may have to scale way back on the time you spend on your fitness.

Finally, you don’t need an excuse to not exercise -it’s your body and you owe absolutely no one a justification.

Discover the satisfaction factor

Have you ever distracted yourself from walking on the treadmill by watching TV? Wished the clock would tick faster during a boot camp class? Silently pictured hitting your instructor instead of the punching bag?

These distractions while exercising aren’t very different than eating while preparing dinner, squirting Sriracha on your steamed broccoli so you can choke it down, or realizing you ate the whole bag of chips on the drive home from the grocery store.

What happened to making eating and exercise pleasurable?

You won’t be satisfied if you’re not fully present. Ask yourself why you watch TV on the treadmill – do you actually like walking on the treadmill? Or are you just doing it because you “should?” Maybe there’s another activity that you actually ENJOY?

After associating exercise and movement with what you love, you won’t need to distract yourself; it’s a welcome part of your life!

Respect your body

Your body has physical, mental, and emotional needs and limitations.

Finding the right balance between these needs and limitations is a challenge, but it’s possible.

If your health and fitness decisions come from a place of respect and kindness, you are much more likely to find this balance.

Eat Intuitively- feel the difference (Exercise – feel the difference)

Exercise and eating are inextricably linked; exercise is a part of the Intuitive Eating principles because humans were meant to move. Without movement, it becomes much harder for our bodies to give clear hunger and fullness signals.

And the reverse is true: To move regularly, we need to nourish our bodies.

Listening to and trusting your hunger and fullness cues helps give your body the energy it needs to live and move!

Honor your health

Did you know that one of the greatest predictors of health is your socioeconomic status? This shows that health is a lot more complicated than food and exercise!

Your social and family relationships, emotional and mental health, financial status, spiritual growth, career aspirations (and more!), are all a part of your overall “health,” not just exercise and food.

Instead of trying to control your body, exercise, and food intake, ask yourself, “How can I honor my health today?”


If you’re recovering from an eating disorder, please discuss any concepts you read here with your treatment team before making any changes to your activity level.

All I got is … a BENCH!

You don’t need lots of equipment to get a great workout!

This series of exercises uses only a bench, and you can sub in a sturdy chair if you don’t have a bench.

Bulgarian Split Squats

(Too tough? Try a simple bench squat; Too easy? Use a “prisoner” position or add dumbbells)

Dips

(Want something a bit harder? Extend your legs. Dips too tough on your shoulders? Try an elevated pushup on your kitchen counter top or coffee table).

Plank with touch downs

(Too intense? Work on your regular plank, or holding the plank with your feet on the bench).

Bridges with back on bench

(or feet on bench)

Burpees

Start with 3 to 5 rounds of 8 repetitions of each exercise, then progress to doing 12 over a few weeks.

How did your bench workout feel?

Posterior Power

These movements help strengthen the powerful muscle groups in your lower back, bottom (glutes), and back of your thighs (hamstrings).

Bridge:

Single leg bridge:

Marching bridges:

Superman:

Single leg deadlift / reach:

Which exercise was most challenging for you?

Playing with the plank

Try these plank variations for a fresh take on strengthening your core:

Side to side (on elbows or straight arms)

Toe touches (opposite or same side with reach)

Swinging side plank

Walking plank (alternate in and out with hands and feet)

Which was your favorite?

Bored of the squat?

Try these body weight squat variations to strengthen your leg muscles and improve your balance.

Prerequisite: Make sure you feel comfortable performing the basic body weight squat, pushing your knees out and weight in your heels:

Prisoner Squat: Forces you to keep your torso upright

Split Squat: Challenges your balance

Prisoner split squat: 

Reverse lunge:

Walking lunge: Make sure your front knee doesn’t jut forward in front of your toes

Lateral lunge: Sit butt down and back instead of jamming your knee forward.

Curtsy lunge: Stepping back and out slightly (don’t step out so far that it tweaks your knee).

Offset squat: One leg is primarily working; other foot’s toe is in alignment with heel and acts as a “kickstand” without weight in it.

Skater squat: Front leg is working, back leg barely touches ground

Pistol squat:

Which variations did you try?

What’s a body positive workout?

A body positive workout is a way of moving your body that feels good – It’s really that simple!

We hear over and over that to get an “effective workout” we have to push ourselves till we puke, burn as many calories as possible, and build long, lean muscles.

But exercise doesn’t need to be punishment for what you ate, nor does it need to change your body.

It’s ok to exercise just because it feels good!

With an open mind and some experimentation, you too can find ways of moving that help you take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Below is a strength workout using your own body as the resistance; walking, yoga, dance or any activity you enjoy can be a body positive workout too.

BoPo Strength Workout

Prisoner Squat

 

Why?
Strengthens your lower body muscles (quads, glutes, hamstrings), and because your arms keep your torso upright, it also strengthens your mid and upper back muscles (rhomboids, lats, traps, spinal erectors)

Pushups

 

Why?
When performed with a neutral spine (no butts sagging or up in the sky!), pushups strengthen both your upper body (chest and shoulders) and your core muscles.

Single Leg Deadlift/Reach

 

Why?
This exercise incorporates both balance and strength elements. Start with a target that’s waist level, then as you advance, reach closer to the ground.

Bird Dog

 

Why?
An alternative to the plank, bird dog strengthens your core, while also working your glutes and upper back/shoulders. As you progress, you can try with your knees hovering 1 inch off the ground.

Instructions:

Beginner: Perform each exercise for 8 repetitions; rest 60 seconds in between exercises; repeat for 3 total rounds.

Intermediate: Perform each exercise for 15 reps; rest for 45 seconds; repeat for 5 total rounds.

Advanced: Perform each exercise for 20 reps; rest for 30 seconds; repeat as many rounds as possible in 20 (or more) minutes.

Ask Coach Jean: Do foam rollers really work?

Coach Jean, I’ve been seeing people rolling around at my gym and my friend told me lacrosse balls are great for working out knots in the back. Does this stuff really work?

 

Quick Summary

Although further research is needed, some studies indicate that foam rolling is helpful as a warm up and/or post workout recovery to prevent soreness. How and why it works is still not totally understood.

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Background

Well, with that glowing recommendation, I bet you can’t wait to get started!

In all seriousness though, it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between something that works well for you and something being well-researched.

The technical term for foam rolling and using a lacrosse ball is self-myofascial release (abbreviated as SMR). SMR means you are releasing fascia (connective tissue) on your own, rather than massage therapist doing it for you.

The fact is, SMR isn’t well researched. There are a handful of studies and some of these indicate it helps with range of motion (a joint’s ability to move freely) without reducing performance. Static stretching, on the other hand, has sometimes shown to reduce power and performance, so many athletes and coaches use foam rolling rather than static stretching as a warm up.

In addition, some SMR studies show a reduction in soreness after a workout (although it’s still not clear why, exactly).

How to Start

The easiest way to remember a SMR routine is to work from the ground up.

Feet

  • With a lacrosse ball, roll the bottoms of your feet, especially the arch.
  • Breathe through any areas of extra intensity and try pressing in one spot while spreading and curling your toes.

Calves

  • Sit on your bottom with legs extended in front of you.
  • Keeping your feet relaxed, work your way up your calves from the Achilles/ankle area to the back of the knee.
  • For extra intensity, stack one leg on top of the other, and/or lift your bottom off the ground.
  • In extra intense spots, try pinning your leg and rolling your foot and ankle, drawing a circle with your toes.

Glutes

  • Sit with one “cheek” on the lacrosse ball, holding some of your weight with your hands and opposite foot.
  • Perform 10 “clamshells” on the working side.

Upper back

  • Lie with your upper back on the roller, hands behind your head, supporting your neck.
  • Lift your hips off the ground and use your legs to roll forward and back, from your shoulders to the mid, almost lower back.

Top Tips for Success

  • These are the top 4 areas; you can use the foam roller and lacrosse ball on any fleshy area (avoid bony joints and areas). See resources below for some books and websites.
  • Try other tools, like the rumble roller, softballs, make a t-spine rollers with your lacrosse ball, and more.

Resources

NOTE: Always consult your physician first if you are experience ongoing muscular or join pain.

As you look at the resources, keep in mind these methods may be helpful for you, but they are by no means “miracles” or “cure-alls” to your ailments and pain. . The people selling these resources are businesses and use a lot of hyperbole to sell their products – take it all with a grain of salt.

  • Trigger Point Performance (SMR tools and videos): https://www.tptherapy.com/; YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/tptherapy
  • Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: http://www.triggerpointbook.com/
  • Kelley Starrett’s Mobility Workout of the Day (MWOD) website and Supple Leopard book: http://www.mobilitywod.com/the-supple-leopard/ ; YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/sanfranciscocrossfit
  • MELT Method: https://www.meltmethod.com/
  • Sources
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23588488
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22580977
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=self-myofascial+release
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26562930
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26592233
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26118527
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25968853
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25883869
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23772339
  • http://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/foam-rolling-self-myofascial-release/
  • http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/science-says-foam-rolling-increases-rom-and-does-not-decrease-strength

Think Foam Rolling and Breathing Training Don’t Work? Think Again! BIG new research studies that you need to be aware of!

A Critical Appraisal of the Foam Rolling Research by Greg Lehman

 

Ask Coach Jean: How do I start meditating?

Coach Jean, I hear a lot about meditation and “mindfulness,” should I be doing it? Where should I start?

Quick Summary:

Get curious about why you’d like to meditate and start small with just a few minutes a day. Find a daily time and use guided meditations on an app, podcast or CD then develop your own customized practice.

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How to Start:

1. First, ask yourself why you have decided to begin meditating. Some of the most common reasons people meditate are:

  • Reducing general and social anxiety
  • Dealing with stress at home and work
  • Deepening a yoga practice and/or strengthening the mind-body connection
  • Resolving compulsive (over)eating
  • Including as part of mental health therapy/treatment

2. Next, understand the difference between meditation and mindfulness.

Meditation is a practice within the approach of mindfulness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the founders of the mindfulness movement, defines mindfulness as, paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”

The goal of mindfulness is to be “awake” in life rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future.

In order to be awake, practicing meditation (like doing bicep curls to strengthen your arms), strengthens your brain and body’s ability to come back to the present moment again and again throughout the day.

In this way, mindfulness and practicing meditation are not about “clearing your mind” or “reaching Zen,” rather, they are a way of listening, feeling, and tapping into what is happening right now so that you are in the habit of doing it even when life gets challenging.

Mindfulness, therefore, is not associated with any religion or doctrine, but mindfulness meditations do borrow from various styles of religious-based meditation.

3. Just like exercise, start with 10 to 20 minutes each day, and feel free to break it up into 5 to 10 minute increments. To remember to do it, try to meditate everyday at the same time, right before or after an activity your already do consistently:

  • Just after waking up
  • Right before bed
  • At a morning, lunchtime, or afternoon break
  • Before or after exercise
  • Before or after brushing your teeth

4. Choosing the right kind of meditation for you is a process of experimentation. Many people have good success starting out with guided meditations where you sit quietly and listen to a practitioner lead you through various techniques like focusing on your breath, performing a body scan, visualizing a peaceful scene, or discovering emotions.

 

Top Tips for Success:

  • Jon Kabat-Zinn now has 3 meditation apps available for download which include shorter (10 minutes) and longer (1 hour) practices on breathing, body scans, and more. http://mindfulnessapps.com/
  • Headspace is a popular app which creates a game out of building a meditation practice. https://www.headspace.com/
  • Deepak Chopra and Oprah host free 21-day meditation “challenges” throughout the year with various themes, also available through and app, online, or CD. https://chopracentermeditation.com/