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Embracing Fitness as a Training Ground for Building Better Character

Pain hurts. Struggle can be agonizing. Completing a project that is mentally or physically challenging can feel tedious and uncomfortable.

So, we avoid. We put things off. Procrastinate. Hire the hard work out to someone better suited than us. We stuff down our pain instead of opting for healing because it feels easier.

 

And even though we feel weak, ashamed, and like a complete fraud when we quit or avoid hard things, we keep trudging down the same path.

 

Some of us spend our whole lives avoiding struggle. We parent our children from the sole motivation of keeping them from heartbreak and pain. And we live our lives from the same goal.

 

And then we wish. We wish we had done the thing we always said we’d do. We wish we knew how to build this or play that. We wish we were more successful, healthier, stronger, better at relationships. We wish.

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All the influential and inspiring people in the world tell us the same thing. Embrace fear. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. The clichés ring in our ears like church bells at noon, but we know we’ll dismiss them as soon as we encounter a difficult situation. They’re right, we’re sure. But comfort is addicting.

 

What we don’t know, is that running toward pain and struggle and fear and discomfort isn’t just for accomplishing BIG dreams and finally checking that incredible thing off our bucket list. Nope. It’s necessary just to become better people than we are today. Right now.

 

To move forward at all, we have encounter at least some discomfort. It’s essential. We are either facing something hard head on, or we are stagnant in our character. It’s how life works. We are overcomers or we are succumbers.

 

It’s so daunting though, right? Facing the hurt and adversity in our path in order to become ourself. The real, whole, self we always wanted to be.

What if there was a practicing ground for doing hard things? A less daunting place for risking a little embarrassment in order to become more complete, more generous, more loving, and more alive versions of ourselves?

 

Fitness is that place for me. I get to choose everyday between comfort and struggle. Excuses and integrity. Shame and courage. Jealousy and generosity. Succumbing and overcoming.

 

Does that sound a little off-base? A little too small and easy? Well, hear me out.

 

I am an introvert to the core. I like to be home with coffee and quiet, and most days when I drop my kids off at school, I think to myself that the easy, comfortable thing to do would be to go home and drink my coffee in peace, read a book, or stroll around Target alone.IMG_2190

But, I have a choice to make. This is my prime time to take care of my body. I know if I don’t do it then, I will struggle to find time to do it later. So, I am cultivating a practice of embracing something that feels a little like a struggle some days to do the better thing. The thing that will bring me more benefit.

 

See, I know I am a better mother and wife and person when I take time to exercise my body AND I always feel really good when I finish my workout, physically and mentally. Of course, I take time to rest and read and enjoy quiet time regularly, but that is not a healthy habit for me to embrace every morning at the sacrifice of moving my body, so I have to risk discomfort to build my character and my health.

 

Now that I have been committed to this practice for a while, I have found it easier to do the other things that I used to put off and make healthy choices in other areas of my life. I will have the hard conversation with a loved one now because I know it leads to a better relationship. I know a messy house causes me stress, so now I fold the laundry instead of watching television. I call on a friend when I’m struggling emotionally instead of isolating, even though going inward feels more comfortable to me.

 

Do you see where I’m going with this? Using fitness as a training ground for life may sound silly and inconsequential, but it has made a real impact in my life. I know what it says about my character when I plan to do 5 sets of squats, but quit after 4 because I’m tired or it sounds too hard today. And I am taking that lesson into the rest of my life. I will play with my kids for 20 minutes instead of 5 because I know what that means to them and says about me.

 

When I feel jealous of another woman at the gym because she is leaner or stronger than me, I can choose to go home and pick her apart in my head or to my husband OR I can choose to notice my jealousy, go to her, and give her a compliment.

 

So, I aim for the latter. I am an introvert who approaches strangers in the gym to give

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them

compliments. Regularly. Because I would rather be an encouraging woman than a jealous one. And, you know what? I will probably never see that person again. It’s an easy way to practice. Way less threatening than approaching a colleague or school mom, but it’s a good lead-up for encouraging those women too.

 

Maybe even this feels overwhelming. So just start with one thing. Wipe down your yoga mat, or gym equipment when you’re done with it because you are not a lazy or entitled person. Be the person you want to be for just one hour at the gym. And then, watch how your life changes outside of it.

 

Fitness can be just about your body if you want, but there is so much more that you can gain. What if you tried embracing all of it to welcome more wholeness, strength, and joy into your life?

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3 Things Every Exerciser Needs

IMG_1085Exercise doesn’t need to be complicated. You can get a perfectly good workout at home without dumbbells, benches, or pull up bars. But, as a personal trainer, here are the three things I think every exerciser should invest in. And don’t worry, none of these are going to break your bank.

1. A Stopwatch

Okay, I know this seems too

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I know you may think you can accurately count seconds in your head, but you probably can’t. Or you’ll get distracted. Or you’ll pick up your phone and five whole minutes later (which will feel like 30 seconds) you’ll finally get to your next set or round.

So, just use a stopwatch to make sure you are timing your rests. Your workouts will be so much more efficient and every phone has one these days, so there’s really no excuse not to!

2. A Foam Roller

There is no question about it, this is absolutely the piece of equipment that I recommend most often. If you don’t have one, you need one, in my opinion.

IMG_1096Foam rollers allow you to basically massage out knots in your muscles. Knots in your muscles, or adhesions as we call them in the fitness world, will make you uncomfortable, alter your movement patterns, and eventually lead to injury.

Foam rolling (a.k.a. self-myofascial release) is essential to keeping your muscles healthy, maintaining flexibility, and reducing soreness. And, you can pick one up for around $30, so it’s affordable for most anyone.

3. A good pair of shoes

Are you pulling out the same grass-stained, 6-year-old sneakers you wear to mow the lawn when it’s time for a workout? If so, stop it right now and get yourself to the shoe store!

A good shoe is so important! You are putting a lot of pressure on your feet when you exercise, so you need to take care of them by giving them the proper support for the activities you’re doing.

For most people, a cross-trainer will be sufficient. If you’re doing power lifts, you’ll want to consider something with a more solid sole. If you’re doing plyometrics, jumping, etc., you’ll want something more flexible.

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Not sure what shoe to buy? There are plenty of shoe stores that will assess you and help you find the right one.

Once you have these three essentials, you’ll be set for an efficient, safe, and comfortable workout.

Are you already using any of these? Is there anything you find to be absolutely essential to your workout that isn’t on the list? I want to hear about it! Let me know below.

 

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Resolutions that get Results: How to set great goals.

img_5401-1Here we are in week one of January and you may already be struggling to keep up with your resolutions. Maybe you have a goal but it’s vague and uninspiring and has already left you wondering how you will ever achieve the end results you desire. Not to worry, we are expert goal setters here at Lynx Fitness, LLC and we’re here to help you create the kind of resolutions that lead to success.

First things first: What exactly is it you want to accomplish? Good, attainable goals are specific. “I want to lose weight this year” is not a specific goal. You need the what, when, where, how and why to get you to victory.

What? Instead of “I want to lose weight”, try “I want to lose 15 pounds.” That is a specific goal that gives you something to measure. Every goal should be measurable. If you can’t measure it, you will not be able to determine whether you have succeeded. Moreover, you won’t be able to track your progress, and progress is the MVP when it comes to sticking with a goal.

When? This is a dual purpose question. First, when do you want to have achieved your goal? One year from today? Before your beach vacation this spring? Determine an end date for your goal. This will keep you pressing forward instead of aimlessly meandering toward a far-off desire that isn’t really a goal, but a wish.

Along with an end date, you will need to decide when you will actually work toward your goal. Try something like this:  “I want to lose 15 pounds by March 1st. I will do so by exercising at 7 a.m. each Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.” Now, you’re getting specific. You’ve got a goal with an end date and the days and times of when you will work toward that goal.

Where? Where will you be working toward your goal? Will you exercise at home, join a gym, or go jogging at the local track? These details will help you to be prepared as you move toward who you want to be. So, at this point, you’ll want your goal to look something like this: “I will lose 15 pounds by March 1st. I will do so by exercising at Home Town Fitness Center at 7 a.m. each Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.”

How? Now this is where people seem to get off track. How exactly are you going to do this? If your plan is to exercise, you have to know how you will exercise. Do you need to hire a trainer, find a few exercise DVDs, hire a babysitter to watch your kids while you work out, sign up for a gym membership, buy running shoes? You have to think through all of the details because any one of them could send you off course if you have not planned well. What if you go out for a run only to find that your 12-year-old sneakers hurt your feet because they’re worn out? Or maybe you get to the gym (which is half the battle) but you have no idea what to do once you are there. The anxiety or boredom you feel at that point may overshadow your desire to work toward your goal. Make sure you have decided exactly what you will do and take care of all the details beforehand, so you can be confident when you begin.

“I will lose 15 pounds by March 1st. I will do so by exercising at Home Town Fitness Center at 7 a.m. each Monday Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, using the plan my trainer has put together for me. I have obtained a gym membership, purchased 12 weeks of personal training, and have appropriate apparel to wear while exercising.”

img_0160Why? This should actually be the first question you ask yourself. Why are you setting this goal? What will losing 15 pounds do for you? If it were easy to accomplish this, you would have done it already, which means you are going to need some powerful inspiration to keep you on track when things get uncomfortable. So what is it? Is your ‘why’ important to you?

“I will lose 15 pounds by March 1st because I want to fit into the cute clothes in my closet.”

Go deeper.

“I will lose 15 pounds by March 1st because…”

What is your why?

“I will lose 15 pounds by March 1st because I am borderline hypertensive and I don’t want my kids to become my caregivers because I haven’t taken care of myself. I will do so by exercising at Home Town Fitness Center at 7 a.m. each Monday Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, using the plan my trainer has put together for me. I have obtained a gym membership, purchased 12 weeks of personal training, and have appropriate apparel to wear while exercising.”

Now that is a good goal.

Make it specific. Make it measureable. Make it personal. This is YOUR resolution after all.

Attack your fitness. You are worth it. 

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The basics of weight lifting

“I want to start lifting weights, but I have no idea where to start.”

I hear this all the time. Squats and bench press and those dumbbells look intimidating and nobody wants to embarrass themselves. I get it!

But, they are actually the simplest and most versatile things in the gym. You just need to know a few things to get started safely and successfully, so here are the basics for beginning weight lifting.

1. Balance the Bar – Anytime you use a barbell, you must balance the weight on both sides of the bar. If you put a 25-pound plate on one side, you need to put a 25-pound plate on the other side. That’s it. Pretty simple. You don’t want to try to lift a bar that’s unbalanced. That’s the stuff serious injuries and accidents are made of.

2. Use the Collars – To keep the weights secure on your barbell, you always want to use a collar on each side. This is especially important as a beginner because you may be a little wobbly until you get familiar with the lifts and develop the strength needed to move the weight in a steady and controlled fashion. Here is what collars look like:

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Credit: BeBodySmart.com

 

Notice the collar is snug against the plate. It is distracting when you’re weights are moving around on your bar and can be dangerous if they slide out too far, so push those collars all the way to the weight. Unfortunately, these things seem to be notorious for disappearing, so you may need to go looking on another piece of equipment for them, but do what you have to do to find a pair and use them!

3. Always lift equal weight when using dumbbells – So your left bicep is not as strong as your right. What to do? Some beginners make the mistake of using a lighter weight with their weaker arm, so they’ll curl a 20-pound dumbbell in one hand and a 15 in the other. Never do this. This will only keep your weaker side lagging behind. You really want to bring it up to speed, so lift the same weight with each arm. If your left arm can’t pull that 20 pound dumbbell, then go with a pair of 15s (or whatever weight you can lift) and let your arms gain strength together. Same goes for any other muscle group.

4. Always, always engage your core – Draw your navel into your spine, hold a slight arch in your back, slightly bend those knees and don’t let that stance go until you finish your set. An engaged core is your best tool for preventing injury and for ensuring good form and technique, meaning you won’t throw out your back by letting your body swing back and forth with every rep and the muscle you intend to exercise will actually do the work!

5. Ask for a spot when attempting a heavy lift – Beginners should always start light when starting a weight-lifting routine to get their form worked out, but if you’re ready to go for a heavy lift, ask for a spot. This simply means asking another gym-goer, or the friend you came with, to be available to support you during the lift. A spotter gives you just enough assistance to successfully finish the lift. For instance, if you are doing a dumbbell shoulder press, a spotter would stand behind you and when it appears you are unable to lift the dumbbells all the way through, the spotter would help push your wrists up just enough for you to be able to complete the rep. It’s an easy job and most any gym-goer will be willing to assist you.

Now that you know the basics of weight lifting, go ahead and get in there! You’ve got nothing to lose and all kinds of gains awaiting you!

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Take your hard work in the gym with you when you leave

Exercise is challenging, but not just physically. It will test your mental fortitude as well. Most of us fight the discomfort of physical and mental exercise, but I’d love to tell you how it has changed me for the better because I believe it can do the same for everyone.IMG_5408

Most of us know the basics about the mental benefits of exercise. It releases endorphins that make you feel great, it relieves stress, and it reduces feelings of depression and anxiety. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of those positive mental effects of exercise, but here are a couple more to add to that list.

Exercise can build good characer traits. You are building self-control when you choose to go to the gym as planned even though your friends just planned an impromptu happy hour, or when you choose the higher reps or the heavier dumbbell or the longer run when you know less, lighter, and shorter would be easier.

We do not want to be impulsive people who don’t have the ability to tell ourselves no, so let’s take every opportunity in the gym to improve our self-control.

The same goes for perseverance. We want to be people who can survive hard things without giving up. Exercise is meant to push you. You can absolutely expect to want to give up sometimes, but it’s what you do in those moments that tells you what kind of character you have.

These are good practicing grounds. If you can develop this in the gym, you can grow in maturity in your relationships, your workplace and your personal life. We all want to be honest, trustworthy people of integrity. All of those things can be developed in part through exercise.

I know my character is stronger now after pushing through some mentally tough moments at the gym, but my favorite mental benefit of exercise is definitely the increase in self-confidence.

It is so gratifying to know that even though you wanted to quit, you kept working and accomplished a goal. I can’t tell you how many times I have experienced this.

Opportunities for success are abundant in exercise if you set good goals, and so these moments of choice between giving up and pushing through happen every day. It gives me so much confidence to know that I am not a quitter, and that my body and my mind are capable of incredible things, even when I think they can’t possibly go one more step.

I started exercising at my lowest point mentally and emotionally and it has been a huge tool in helping heal my self-efficacy. I am so grateful for that.

I challenge you to go into your workouts with not only physical goals of strength and endurance, but mental goals of confidence and strong character as well. And when you feel like quitting or taking the easiest road, remember that these are defining moments. We have this opportunity to work out our weaknesses and become the person we always wanted to be.

Let’s take it with gusto and let’s bring it out of the gym with us when we leave.