Back to Basics and Purple Cows

If you’ve been following along, you know I think my powerlifting coach is great and summer was challenging for us as individuals and as partners. The last strength cycle knocked me flat, literally. My left knee developed an awkward ache and tightness, I was too wiped to get accessory work at my big-box gym for the final ten days, and eventually I lay on the floor of the barn hoping I wouldn’t have to get up and squat anytime soon while we reflected on the mess we were. This cycle had been ambitious and complex with some form of each major lift on each of three days. In exchange for all of this misery, my maxes didn’t move.

After assessing the knee and figuring out it hurt on exertion, he offered “If you have questions about your knee, you should get it checked out.”

From the floor I reply “Why? All they are going to do is tell me to rest and ice it.”

Ain’t nobody got a co-pay for that. He also observed I was old and a woman and didn’t recover like a young man. “Differently,” he said. Yippee-kai-ay.

We laid off squats for a week. Prayer works.

I wasn’t the only one struggling with the programming. His weightlifting was suffering. Back in the barn, he made an announcement. “This was too complicated. I think I’m going back to basics. We will do one lift per day, a variation for strength and then another variation 5 x 5 for hypertrophy. It will be a hybrid cycle.”

We are now at Week 2 of the new plan with time and space to chat about Big Ideas instead of being exhausted and cranky and making small talk. Tonight’s topic was Seth Godin’s Purple Cows, giving people their pickles, and figuring out what makes a service provider unique. As part of a new hire process at a local barbell club he was asked to watch a TED talk by Seth Godin…

 

What is my coach’s Purple Cow?

There were somewhere north of 100 other exercise science graduates walking across the stage with my coach. There were maybe a half-dozen of those 100 who are as obsessed with building training spreadsheets, but still, a half-dozen this year and there will be another half-dozen each year. He prides himself on being highly technical and inhaling Russian, Bulgarian, and Chinese training programs while developing his own process. His Instagram feed is his teaching tool, full of training minutia, with the exception of just a few posts.  What is his Purple Cow? Can you tell? It won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who are destined to be loyal clients this thing makes him irreplaceable. I’m not telling him, as payback for squat days and not talking about the new A Star is Born until I see it. He’s not the only one who loves his process.

Developing self-awareness is the pre-cursor to the intimacy challenges of early adulthood. I like this Khan Academy video explaining Erikson’s psychosocial stages, but all I’m interested in today are “Identity vs Role Confusion” and “Intimacy vs Isolation”. Longer life spans and a relatively wealthy society have conspired to extend the time we are allowed to spend in adolescence/ “Identity vs Role Confusion” well into our 20s. Developing supple answers to The Big Four (h/t to Krista Scott-Dixon)

  • Who are you?
  • What’s important to you?
  • What are you willing to trade?
  • What is non-negotiable?

allows individuals to move forward into intimate relationships conscious of what they have to offer as well as their wants and needs.

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What the heck is intimacy anyway? Let’s borrow this one from Weinbarger, Hofstein, and Whitbourne (2008)

Intimacy was defined as the potential to establish close relationships involving high levels of communication, closeness, and commitment.

[Without going full Bowenian (and you never go full Bowenian), spot me the idea when we say “closeness” we are talking about closeness-caregiving and not enmeshment, those icky relationships where the one partner is trying to manage the other’s feelings/solve their problems and personal boundaries are for people who don’t care enough.]

The Eriksonian definition of intimacy also defines modern marketing. Social media enables high levels of communication, perceived closeness, and commitment to a brand which expresses shared values and ideals or aspirations. Godin’s Purple Cow. Further, the more authentic the communication, closeness, and shared values, the more loyal the fan. From a psycho-social perspective, as a human, failure to stake out an identity independent of authority figures and peers expectations leaves the individual wandering in the wilderness looking for a tribe he can’t describe and feeling out-of-place and discontented at best. Using this psycho-social perspective, as a brand, failure to stake out an identity independent of the larger, undifferentiated market leaves a brand wandering looking for clients he can’t describe and feeling unnecessary or unappreciated at best.

My spouse tells it this way:

When we’re little, we’re playing in the sandbox and some new kid comes into the sandbox. We both like the sandbox and so we’re friends for now. If the new kid also likes the same flavor of Kool-aid, we’re besties. When we get older, the process is the same and we pretend it’s more complex. If you can’t decide if you like orange or grape flavor better, or all flavors are just as good, or if the flavor you think you like depends on what the last new kid liked, how can you find your True Besties?

My coach’s Purple Cow follows him everywhere, and for the moment, like Mr. Snuffleupagus, the Purple Cow is large and just out of view.

He asked me what my pickle was, as a client, but that’s another post because I think I misspoke.

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Monday Morning Excitement – A Better Version of Me?

Monday morning begins a new phase of training. This will be an 18-month macrocycle of muscle and strength gain balanced with fat loss, which follows a 6-month macrocycle of muscle and strength gain introducing me to powerlifting. Will this lead to a better version of me?

I say no.

There is a difference between who I am, those stable internal characteristics, and what I do, unstable internal characteristics. Am I a better person at 35% or 30% or 25% bodyfat? If I’m a better version of myself at 25% then shouldn’t even lower bodyfat be better? One of Simon Sinek’s more famous quotes is

What you do simply proves what you believe.

Sinek, one of the world’s most sought-after figures in leadership today, did not say “What you do proves who you are.” Let’s do a little thought experiment. Substitute a bank balance, prestige, fame, or any other external marker of success for bodyfat. Does more achievement equate with a better version of myself? Does less achievement equate with a worse version of myself? Take this a step further. Does more achievement mean I’m a better person than someone with less achievement? Is the bank president a better person than someone with no home? I say no.

If you resist this idea, take a closer look. Are you trying to argue the person who is able to execute the processes necessary for greater achievement is a better or different person than the one who is not? The common meme from Pinterest looks like this

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Who am I, and how is who I am separate from what I believe? Self-image is collection of beliefs about the Self. These beliefs may or may not have any grounding in reality and influence how we see and respond to the world around us. The beliefs are layered on as we interact with people and the environment from the moment of conception. One of the most profound questions I can ask someone searching for personal growth is “How do you know any of this is true?” Think about how your behavior might change if a few key beliefs you hold were different. Does that change who you are?

One of the functions of asana and meditation practices is to separate who-you-are from what-you-do. The who-you-are is sometimes characterized as the sky and what-you-do, or emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, as the clouds in the sky. Who-you-are can watch the what-you-do, therefore they are not the same. With careful observation of what-you-do, it is possible to peel back the layers of belief to arrive at a more complete sense of Self and accept the present moment as it is, not create a better Self.

Nadia Bolz-Weber engages with this idea of self-image and ideal self in this 11-minute talk at the Makers conference. Go watch it now and come back.

What I believe to be important, my values, creates a fence around all of the acceptable versions of me. As long as I am inside the fence, I am in my integrity and am a valid version of my self.

There is this dark corner where the Inner Critic lurks. He tells me I will know I’m okay if my children are polite, my house is clean, I earn advanced degrees, teach more people, finish another project, or any one of an infinite list. The Inner Critic has all the time in the world to come up with new tests, new proofs, new “if-onlys” and “as-soon-as”. The Inner Critic can suck it.

When I was younger, what I believed led me to do things which deposited a heavy layer of adipose tissue on top of an otherwise capable body. The adipose tissue protected me from a variety of evils and uncertainties which no longer exist and it has to go. The 18-month arc is not about becoming a better, stronger version of myself.

I am, and that is enough.

Namaste.

Trust

School is over. The first powerlifting competition is in two weeks. What next?

I have a good relationship with my coach, so I let him choose. If you don’t have the kind of coach you could trust with your body, find a new one. Seriously. He’s certified, degree’d, and committed to holistic well-being. We’ve spent more than (2 hrs * 4 weeks * 4 months) + (3 hrs * 4 weeks * 6 months) together and he knows me fairly well. He was also spot-on with his lift estimates for my first meet, even with my wacko eating, stress, and sleeping the last semester of school. We committed to eighteen months. If I had eighteen months to spend on a goal, what should it be?

He chose body transformation with a sprinkle of powerlifting for interest. We agreed to blog both sides of the quest over at groundedsc.com, because AO is also my business partner. My blog is about my stuff, the emotional and mental game, and my response to coaching. His blog is about working with a difficult client on a challenging goal, e.g. balancing the calorie deficits required for fat loss while increasing muscle mass and maintaining powerlifting performance.

You’ll be a different person in eighteen months. So will I.

Body transformation is an ambitious goal. In theory and in practice, I understand nutrition, change psychology, habit formation, blah, blah, blah, so AO has stayed out my nutrition struggles. He’s the CSCS, I’m the LMSW. We have scopes of practice, but I’m having trouble settling into consistent eating habits and my weight loss is stalled. He’s gently insisting on a higher level of accountability because as a client I am back to knowing and not doing. I thought I could count macros and cut once school was out and I was so wrong. As long as I am still inhaling chips and guac or treating myself to a burger and fries this often, he can’t do his job. He is very good at his job.

The plan at the moment is to use Precision Nutrition‘s ProCoach system to manage my return to sane, consistent eating. It will lead me back through thirteen evidence-based habits, while I reflect on what’s important to me and any barriers I experience. On the movement side, AO is anticipating an eighteen-month macro cycle composed of four meso cycles, each of which will culminate in a powerlifting meet. Each meso cycle consists of a fat loss, hypertrophy, and strength microcycle. I’m glad he’s doing the spreadsheet because it hurt my brain just to construct the sentences.

We are also avoiding setting any end-game goals. It was his idea to set micro-goals as we go and not look too far ahead. I suspect, however, he will set secret goals. His eyes lit up and he got a vision when he thought about me being a different person, I saw the thought run across his forehead. We don’t care so much about the scale as we do body-fat and tape measurements. The scale will move, but weight loss isn’t a linear process and I care less about how much I weigh than how much weight I can push or pull. I ordered an inexpensive at-home body-fat BIA device which may not have high validity but should have good reliability.

If you can’t do this with your coach/trainer, find a new one. You deserve better.

 

Saturday.

Saturdays have this strange, roller-coaster quality. I can go to the garage and lift! Yea! I have to go to class. Boo! Saturday is squat day! Boo. My squat is getting better! Yea! Equanimity is still a goal state for me. I spend a lot of my time on the various roller-coasters in the amusement park that is my life right now.

And I feel angry. Really angry. It has something to do with the end of the semester and graduation and life pressures. That’s fair. What wasn’t fair was throwing the barbell after a few sets of terrible squats. Nothing felt right. My knees were creaky, the squat wasn’t deep enough, the shelf wasn’t supporting my upper body and a warm-up weight was kicking my ass. It felt so wrong, I picked the bar up off my back, hoisted it overhead, and threw it into the J-hooks from about three feet, and yelled “No!”

The garage is supposed to be my happy place, where the weight makes it all go away. I don’t have to share it with my family or the people at school. The garage is my place, where I have space and excellence and effort, and the barbarians tore down the gate. Like most people, I resorted to blame. It’s their fault, those people. Those people who are not me. They stole one of the happiest hours of my week.

If you live for a few hours in the week, you’re doing something wrong.

I am doing something wrong. First, the expectation of equanimity is bullshit, at least for now. Second, what’s creating the base conflict is an uncertainty surrounding what I’ll be doing after graduation. Third, fueling the base conflict is a reflexive checking with the voices in my head for direction. They are not helpful, and never have been. I should fire them. A few quiet moments to check in with a good friend is what was desperately needed, and wasn’t happening. These last two weeks are filled with other people’s business. Class is for professors. Field is for patients. Home is for homework. The garage is for me and I couldn’t keep the barbarians out. My coach is not my therapist. We have a relationship, but not that kind of relationship, and my barbarians are my business.

What did we learn? We confirmed performance is linked more to joy than to sleep. I’ve staggered into Saturday mornings, happy to be there, on four hours of sleep and a previous day’s diet I wouldn’t confess to my macro counter, and lifted well and easily. Yesterday’s shit show followed three straight nights with seven hours of sleep and good nutrition. It’s all about me and my head space.

Self-compassion is the way out. It’s understandable to feel angry right now, and I’m sorry I’m going through this. It’s hard and it sucks. I’m good at what I do, what I have to offer is valuable. I don’t have to be at the top of my game everyday and I’m proud of myself for sticking with it, loading the bar and working through what I could.

The barbarians can suck it.

Talk to me about it

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Today I asked my coach to talk to me about weight manipulation, “cutting”. Talk to me about it.

Remembering the Trans-Theoretical model, there are stages of change.

  1. Pre-contemplative
  2. Contemplative
  3. Action
  4. Relapse
  5. Maintenance

People move back and forth among the stages as we work toward change. The process is hardly linear and is usually depicted as a circle. I’ve been bouncing between contemplative and pre-contemplative about dropping weight for nearly a year. Graduate school has consumed every available ounce of will, and when I realized this had to wait, I took my first action step by pushing the whole project off until graduation.

Looking back at old blog entries, there is a tidy plan from two Decembers ago, which would have led to a desired outcome. It was fabulous! So SMART. Like I’ve done this before… a billion times. I can operationalize your ass in a heartbeat.

Today’s discussion was fairly technical. From his side of the house, there are three types of goals to work toward. First, there could be an aesthetic goal, or striving to achieve a certain look. Second, a body-fat goal, trying to achieve leanness, as measured by the percentage of body weight that is fat. Third, a weight goal. The third one is off the table. The body-fat goal makes the most sense. I’m far away from any kind of “look” and done chasing a number on a scale. Body fat percentage can be estimated by bioimpedance (BIA), calipers,  or a measuring tape. Everyone is graduating, which is good, but it also takes away our access to the medical-grade BIA equipment at the school’s fitness center. No one owns calipers. I have measuring tape and a helpful spouse. Done.

I’ve undergone this process a billion times since I was seven years old, but never in the context of powerlifting, so how do they do it? It’s calorie deficit. Simple enough. My coach says the usual process is to figure out what my estimated maintenance calorie count is, and every week for a set of weeks drop the calorie consumption to 80% of the previous week. How long did I want to cut? Twelve weeks. Okay. He also recommended some periodization, some weeks on and a de-load week. I think he wants to live. Really, if I think about the calendar, cutting in two phases until early July and then de-loading for the meet makes sense. The macro split also has to be calculated. My preferred split is 40-30-30. It’s been a very long time since I watched my macro splits.

What prompted the post today was reflecting on something I remember from Motivational Interviewing. Miller observed their early substance misuse patients,  wait-listed for treatment, who were given a handout on reducing alcohol use began changing without treatment. Curious about the phenomenon, they began looking at what happens if you make people wait to change when they are ready. Strangely enough, those relapse rates are higher than for folks who started the process while waiting for official treatment. In this instance, as I’ve felt better, I’ve made better choices and tried to move those “big rocks” of weight loss without accounting for any failed attempts. After all, this effort isn’t “on the clock”. Today, I turned down an enormous cinnamon roll because I didn’t want it without feeling the pressure to not eat it.

The math is strong in the exercise science folks. There’s a spreadsheet for everything. It’s all concrete, no woo-woo. Talking about weight loss with athletes is always a difficult conversation, suited to my side of the house. The emotional and social components are huge, as is the foundational idea this is not a diet for a short-term result but a change in my relationship with food. I don’t want a relationship with food! Can’t we just date casually? Yes, yes we can. In order to date casually, I’ve had to let go of my death grip on the damn stuff. There have been some seriously dysfunctional relationships in my life, but this one takes the cake. Maybe that’s how I should recast my affection for Love the Way you Lie.

This is my coach’s first time introducing an athlete to powerlifting and pursuing long-term goals. My job is to be a guinea pig, to show up and follow the plan. Healing occurs in relationship. In this relationship I’ll trust what he thinks he knows and count my macros. After April 28. Because that’s the plan.

Don’t think, Do.

I never should have stepped on the scale. Sure, I was probably the only woman at the fitness center who whooped with excitement because I was up 10 pounds. However, now outcome measures are on my mind again. The spring semester has been a dumpster fire. I knew it would be a dumpster fire and vowed to not watch what I ate because there was no way in Hell I could keep up with Any More Things, especially things that trigger feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and shame. No measuring anything, no watching anything. Nada. I pretty happy lifting three times a week, playing around with being sore, and tending to the dumpster fire.

Then, out of curiosity, the scale. The number didn’t matter, right? Just step on. Just once. It won’t hurt. Dammit to Hell, it may as well have been an apple offered to me by an old woman in the forest. Up ten (10) pounds. Whoa. Seriously? The program was working? Hypertrophy is a real thing. My clothes were fitting better, so this stuff wasn’t fat. Next time in the garage, I realized the last time I wore this t-shirt, it was tight to my skin. Now it’s hanging. I started wondering about fat loss again in an unhelpful, unstructured way. The reason the hypertrophy program worked was I didn’t think about it. Show up, lift stuff, talk too much, go home, soak. Repeat. My coach did his job. The program works. Thinking is what got me into this mess. Don’t think. Do. Let him do his job.

The program changed two weeks ago. Out of hypertrophy and on to strength because of the powerlifting meet in Atlanta in June. Because of strange Spring Break schedules, we lifted Mon-Tue-Wed and played around doing each lift each day, with variations and different loading schemes. It’s not social work, outside my scope of practice, don’t ask me for specifics, we’re playing around trying to figure out how to nudge my body into doing its thing. Thursday I woke up feeling perfect. Straight up perfect. A little sore here, some extra awareness there, but perfect. This is how I want to wake up every day and I’m sad because no lifting until next Monday.

This is the Spotify playlist I lifted to on Wednesday. It’s not a traditional gym-rat, bass-heavy, drive a woman through her last rep kind of playlist. It’s full of love and grief and joy and passion. When I had athletes, it was important to me they understand their own path to peak performance. Everyone has a different optimal arousal level. Self-awareness, folks. Because this is my fucking blog and I can drop the f-bomb and have my hair be blue, the link to Vaynerchuk again –

I do my best work laughing. Not thinking. Unproductive thinking is a performance killer.

This one makes me thoughtful.

Eminem. I don’t even know. It’s Eminem.

I have never loved a darker blue, than the darkness I have known in you…

Sleep. Lift. Eat mostly veggies to appetite when hungry. Sleep. Bring it down. It was so hard Thursday to resist grasping at that feeling. It had been a long time. I will feel that way again. No need to grasp. Do, just do.

Mental Prep

Over Winter Break I spent time prepping to lift heavy, lift consistently, and raise my game in the gym. I scoured Pinterest for motivating graphics and quotes, pasted them in my planner, thought about how I would feel and when it would suck the most. I sacrificed extra money so my trainer would make sure I worked out three times a week.

My squat is deeper than any human emotion

Every time I step up to the bar on squat day, this is what I say. When we began, my squat couldn’t get to parallel and I had to do sets of box squats even on non-squat days. My stabilizers were some weak-ass muscles. It wasn’t leg strength, just faith and stability. Friday I pleased my coach with a squat, at least to parallel and with some weight.

He makes it easy to be my best self, to show up and take risks, and showing up is more than half of the game.

How can I use that same kind of preparation to raise my game in other areas?

Most Challenging Client

Is me.

A Facebook group for trainers who work with women recently asked for case studies. Tell us about your most challenging client! Trainers immediately chimed in complaining about ambivalence, people who obviously had time but said they didn’t have time to train or eat well, clients who wouldn’t follow training plans, people who were looking for the next quick fix and trying every gimmick with their social circle, clients with stressful professional and home lives who felt they should be training…

People with feelings are challenging clients.

It is seductive, to believe a trainer can provide a client with education and the client will then immediately realize the error of his ways and eat well, move often, and lift heavy things on schedule.

People with feelings are challenging clients.

Because eating and moving can become disordered without rising to the level of the DSM 5, an apple can be not an apple and a cookie can be death. A walk in the evening air for the pleasure of a clear view of the stars is a distant memory. Everything is logged, everything is exercise, for those of us whose relationship with our bodies is troubled. I fail my body, my body fails me.

What trainers miss with challenging clients is the need to heal that relationship. There’s some education, some knowing, but mostly progress is made with feeling. If I eat better, calm down, get some sleep, go walk outside for fun, and lift heavy things on schedule, we can start re-building this relationship.

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