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I truly believe that motivation is a skill; something you can learn and practice to get better at. Though we speak of it more as an abstract quality, something inherent that we are either born with or not and subsequently unable to cultivate.
The same line of thought is used when people say things like they aren’t artistically inclined. All it is, is practice, a deep focused practice, but nonetheless, just practice. Has your friends’ kid ever drawn you a picture and you put it on your fridge because its sweet and you’re just happy that someone made you something out of love and without you asking for it? Me too! But did the drawing kinda suck? Of course it did! Because they’re like 3 years old and they just started drawing and they haven’t learned concepts of perspective and dimensions and how to translate that onto paper. And….they haven’t practiced enough yet. But because they are 3 and its adorable, we give them some slack and we don’t criticize them, in fact we encourage them and tell them how great it is. If you are struggling with motivation, that’s where you are with it…the concepts, strategies and perspective hasn’t been practiced enough for you to be good at it – for it to look so natural that we call it inherent. So give yourself some slack, start slow, begin to practice and learn self encouragement. I promise, it will come.
So where do you begin? Do you have a big goal? Something that may take months or even years? Is it so lofty and vague that it causes anxiety because there is no specific pinnacle that defines your achievement? That’s fine, all we need to define are the steps that get you there or on the right path. Everything is in flux so sometimes its best to keep the big goals vague but define the means to the general end.
Visualization is a tool often talked about by successful people. You hear them describe how they visualized a championship bout, holding the belt or trophy, or doing a victory lap before having it happen. There seems to be a correlation between visualizing victory and achieved it.
One day. a broke and depressed Jim Carey sat in his car daydreaming of success. He thought about what success would meant to him at the time and he wrote himself a cheque for 10 million dollars, post dated it for 10 years from that day and put it in his wallet. He visualized something that symbolized his future achievement (though somewhat vague), put it in writing and with a lot of hard work (practice) he eventually made it a reality. This is a great story, one that inspires us and goes to show what belief in oneself, even when in the midst of struggle, can accomplish. But the story does a slight disservice in that it glosses over the actual work that was necessary for the achievement and how belief in oneself is actually harnessed.
Belief in oneself can start with visualization and is reinforced through repetition. Visualizing your big goal is great because it can reignite the spark that got us excited to begin with. But it can be a bit overwhelming when it seems so far away. I like to think that success comes in increments rather than being defined by the big splash moments. The same goes for confidence and motivation. You have to practice the path and not just the goal.
Take some time out of your day and envision yourself going through the simplest of tasks, the things you need to do to achieve the loftier goals. Want to have an exhibit of your artwork? Visualize the path. Go through the steps you need to take, see yourself setting time aside to sign up for painting lessons, see yourself buying supplies and making room in your house for a little art space/studio, see yourself practicing, painting the pieces, prepare yourself for setbacks, envision the struggle but know that each of these simple steps is achievable. Use visualization to break the path up to its smallest challenges and see yourself getting past each one. This is how you can use visualization to help build self belief and it is backed by science!
In 1999, research by psychologists Lien Pham and Shelley Taylor showed that visualization of the process of studying made for better grades compared to students who visualized simply getting a good grade or not visualizing anything at all. Not only did it reduce anxiety linked to studying for exams it also improved organization and increased time spent studying. Since then, more research has shown similar results for athletes who spent time visualizing training more so than those who visualized winning.
There is a lot to be said about visualizing the struggle and set backs. It makes things slightly more visceral. Research has also shown that those who imagining possible problems in a positive manner has more benefits than visualizing everything just going well, or simply focusing on the negative. Thinking the path is going to be a smooth one, is a recipe for being overwhelmed.
You can start really small by using visualization to help yourself accomplish a simple physical exercise, like a plank.
Begin by kneeling on the floor. Focus in on your breath, try to elongate each breath just by a little bit, prolong your inhalation and exhalation so that it becomes purposeful rather than just reflexive. This in itself is great practice, it brings attention inwards and allows you to focus on a single goal. To make this slightly more complex, run through the following steps to visualize each component of the plank, once you’ve visualized each step, follow through with the action
1 – Draw in your abdomen to create a brace
2 – Place your hands on the floor and walk out until your body is extended, but you are still on your knees. Hands directly under your shoulders.
3 – Brace your core as much as you can to prepare for lifting your knees off of the floor.
4 – Activate your shoulder blades so that they are not collapsed.
5 – Stretch out one leg and squeeze your quad and glute.
6 – Stretch out your other leg and squeeze that side.
7 – Tuck in your pelvis slightly as to not put pressure on your lower back.
8 – Hold for as long as you can maintain this perfect position, Go back to focusing on your breathing but stay aware of your body.
This simple exercise of visualization and execution can do wonders. You can then take it to another level and try and use it for an exercise that you can’t complete just yet. The progress will be surprising. You may just need some guidance for the proper steps to use.
The next part is to recognize each successful moment. As I do with clients who have been struggling with a certain movement pattern (which is just a step in the path to reach a bigger goal of higher fitness or weight loss or rehabilitation) I try and take the time to point out the effort it took to get there. We go over the progressions we used, the time it took and most importantly the effort they exerted. Each session is a challenge overcome. If you get in the habit of recognizing all the mini successes, you begin to cultivate self belief, you build on motivation and perpetuate good habits. So take the time to reinforce your effort and then visualize the next steps. Practice the path and it will all come together into something you are proud enough to put on your fridge.
Looking for help with your own customized workout and/or meal plan? Contact Joey. Online coaching available for everyone and personal training/coaching available to Montreal residents.
The last blog post on cumulative training garnered quite the response and I have had a number of requests for an example of a program that we have used in the past. There are a number of ways that you can break up a traditional workout into sections throughout the day, most of which will be effective. But over the years I have found that we can cater to natural hormone, energy, eating patterns to increase the efficiency and benefits of this kind of training. This is a highly individualized process and does involve some data crunching and trial and error. When it comes to the analysis side of things we’re the ones doing the heavy lifting, so to speak.
Down to the nitty gritty. The example I will be sharing here is a high intensity program built for someone who has been doing moderately intense workouts for some time already. In this case, my client suddenly found themselves working upwards of 60 hours/week and had less time to come train in the studio for a few months. Rather than lose the progress we had accomplished over the last year we decided to break up the workouts into 5 mini sessions of 5 minutes each. This is a full body workout and involves the use of some equipment but could very easily be altered for a complete body weight program.
Program needs –
Time – 25 minutes – in 5 bouts of 5 minutes each
Space required – 7″x5″
Equipment used – 2×20 lb. dumbbells, towel
1st 5min. Bout – – Interval training – – 40 seconds on / 20 seconds off
Back lunge to high knee jump – Take a step back into a full lunge (knee inch from the ground) then spring back up, bringing your back leg up, trying to tuck your knee in as you hop on the stable leg. When you land go directly back into the lunge. The lunge should be long enough so that your front knee is behind your toes – this activates the glute more than the quad. REST 20 SECONDS THEN SWITCH SIDES
Push up / knee tuck – Place your feet on the towel, hip width apart (need a wood floor). Perform a full push up (nose to floor -> back up all the way) then tuck your knees in towards your chest and push them back out to your starting position. Keep your shoulders over your hands to maintain a “light” bottom half, this will make the tucks quicker and smoother. Its murder on the shoulders and gets the quads burning too – hence why we want the long lunge in the previous exercise. REST 20 SECONDS
Burpee – Regular burpee minus the push up. REST 20 SECONDS
Weighted jump squat / punch out – Holding 1 dumbbell at clavicle level – one end in each hand – squat low. You should squat at least low enough so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. Then burst upwards into a jump. The jump should be small, just enough to get your feet off of the floor. When you land, go directly into another squat. This time when you come back up, don’t jump just punch the weight outwards as you stand up. When you punch, the motion should be quick but controlled. You want a short and explosive activation of your arms, shoulders, chest, back and abdominals. The following squat should be a jump…keep alternating between the jump squat and the punch squat.
2nd 5min Bout – Strength Training / Push & Pull
Bench press – using your two dumbbells you have a few options. If you have access to a bench or a stability ball you can use this to lay down on and allow for more range of motion on the downwards portion of the movement. If not, just do them on the floor and go until you hit the floor. TEMPO – use the 4-0-1-0 pace = 4 seconds for the downwards motion, no rest at bottom, 1 second to push back up, no rest at top position. 20 SECOND REST
Renegade Row – This is a row from a push up position. You can hold the weights in each hand or have them resting next to your hands. Pull one weight in towards the outside of your ribs while trying to maintain core stability. Minimize the twisting of your waist when you row. Alternate sides. 20 SECOND REST – REPEAT BOTH EXERCISES 3 TIMES
3rd 5min Bout – Core Progression
Scissors 10x / Single leg raises 10x / bicycle 20x / hollow hold 10 seconds – repeat this circuit non stop for 80 seconds then rest 20 seconds. REPEAT 3X
4th 5min Bout – Repeat of 1st Bout
5th 5min Bout – 1 Exercise for Endurance
Single arm Dumbbell snatch – Better to watch a demonstration of this exercise rather than read a description. This is a complex movement and is best done at this pace only when you have learned it properly. Here is a link to a good demo.
– Perform 50 reps total. 25 on each side. Try and do 5 reps each side every minute on the minute. This will start out easy and get more difficult. You can increase the total reps if the weight you are using is light.
Remember this is an example of a fairly high intensity version of one of our cumulative training programs. Its only 5 minutes but its a pretty brutal 5 minutes. I tend to get more “i hate you”, “you’e the devil” and “whyyyyyyy” texts throughout the day than I normally do.
Some of these exercises are quite complex and so you may want to find a simpler progression. Never sacrifice quality for quantity…or anything else. Begin slow and use exercises that you can keep good form with but are still challenging. For the interval sessions, including the core progression you are supposed to go all out for the 40 seconds. Give it everything you’ve got. And remember, I do this with love!
The number of repetitions for the strength training depends on the weight you are using and the difficulty level. You shouldn’t be going to failure but it should be quite difficult for the last 2 or so reps.
I would normally mix this program with 1 or 2 other programs to be followed throughout the week. Variety improves engagement and maintains motivation. If this is a long term scenario, or when it is an online client I offer some new programs every 4-5 weeks (training and nutrition journals are kept and reviewed every week. There is still a small time commitment involved but now you will still be able to do things like hug your family, finish writing your novel, eat a proper meal and maybe even look for a new job that doesn’t make you work so much!