The Shapely Ass Project is in full swing. We are now eight weeks deep into the Precision Nutrition curriculum, through the first round of hypertrophy and into a small strength cycle. My coach moved, so I lost my training space and joined a commercial gym this week. Losing the training space has been jarring for several reasons. First, the garage was the crazy safe space. Second, my routine was disrupted. Third, contact with my coach has changed. How do you handle mental, emotional, and physical disruption? His dog vomits every morning at the new house. I whine like a four-year-old. It isn’t pretty and some days I can’t tolerate myself, but the whining is slowing down as I settle in to our new reality. There is hope for the dog, too.
Why should the disruption of a routine be so disruptive to an adult? I don’t have any diagnoses like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which would indicate a clinical difficulty with transitions.
Making changes stick has several elements. First, we “harness the elephant,” or our limbic system, by appealing to emotion and creating a motivating feeling. Most people don’t overhaul their eating and movement patterns because they looked at a set of lab results, evaluated how far out of lab limits their various levels were, and decided those levels just wouldn’t do. It even sounds silly. The changes come after you look at a sky-high A1C and you react to the vision of not being able to play with your children or grow old with your spouse. Maybe you’re inspired by how you think you would feel completing an Ironman triathlon. Emotion gets us started. In my case, about a year ago I realized I needed to get back into the gym for stress management. I felt terrible and knew the gym made me feel better.
Next, we “direct the rider,” also known as the prefrontal cortex, by creating support systems and conditions that make the path as smooth as possible. The rider is what makes plans and choices and will take the easiest path possible. If our desired path is smooth enough, the rider will use the energy of motivating emotion to get us where we want to go. I made my path smooth by creating a set schedule and booking time with a trainer. There were no choices to be made on first two, and then three mornings a week. I was meeting AO at the gym. In fact, when we made the transition to three mornings a week, I paid for six months of training up front. This removed even more decisions from the queue and allowed each of us to not worry about our side of the relationship and focus on training for six months.
Imagine the strength of the habit created by the stress/anxiety – lifting – relief habit loop. For six months, three times per week and then five times per week for the last six weeks of the program, I knew I would start my day by generating enough endorphins to relieve my anxiety. In six months we missed three workouts.
In the new set-up, I lift alone in a commercial gym four times a week by following a spreadsheet shared in a Google drive. We meet for metabolic conditioning, or “metcon”, in a local park a few times per week. Because of the nature of the work, we chat less and are physically farther apart. It feels strangely lonely. The schedule is still variable, I’m constantly making decisions about when to work out and how to implement the workout once I’m in the gym, and even went to the wrong location to train one day. Before we were able to even structure this much, the ambiguity surrounding the transition was brutal because none of it was mine to resolve. The elephant is skittish and the rider is picking his way down a cliff face during an earthquake. All of my most functional cue-action-reward loops are blown to hell.
So, I whine like a four-year-old about discomfort and wet grass and ego challenges. His dog vomits every morning. Today was better than the first day and as we find our stride, the path will smooth and the elephant can keep charging ahead.