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Training at SPS with Limited Time

A gym like Speed Power Strength is a commitment. Not just financially, but of time and an indicator that you’re ready to commit to getting stronger and in better health.

You see, the business model at most big box gyms is they charge some nominal rate, give you not direction or oversight, and kinda hope that you don’t come in too often.

But at SPS, we WANT you there. Our coaches thrive on watching you get stronger, move better, and reach goals that you might not have even thought you had. We love seeing you get your first pull up, taking the risk of stepping on the competition floor, or finding the confidence in yourself to set goals that you might have considered outlandish before.

So how do you make the most of that if you can only show up a once or twice a week?

First and foremost, we have several people that frequent SPS only once a week, or on the weekends. And they still make progress. We have class passes that allow you to not feel tied to a membership and come when your schedule allows. While these passes don’t come with personalized training plan, you’re still going to get coach oversight and be given a lifting routine for that day off the cuff.

When should you come? There are two answers to that depending on where you are in your fitness exploration.

If you’re pretty new to this barbell business…

You’re pretty new to this. You know what you need to do, but you’re nervous about going about this without any oversight. You want to make sure someone catches technical discrepancies quick because the moves still feel a little foreign.

If anything in that paragraph sounds like you, you’re going to be best served coming when the gym is a little slower. These would be your top three times to come in:

  • Mid-morning (8am to 10:15am) Monday through Friday

  • Mornings (6:30am to 8am) Monday and Friday

  • Thursday evenings (5:30pm to 8pm)

These slower times will ensure that the coach on duty will be able to see you frequently to answer questions and check form. The busier the gym, the more people the coach has to rotate through before getting back to you.

If barbell training is old hat and you want the energy of our facility…

You’ve been doing this thing for a while. You can’t make it often because of life, work, or commute obligations, but you could use the inspiration of training around other serious and fun people once a week.

You’re going to want to come when the gym is FULL and the energy is high. The top three best times for you to come are:

  • Saturday Open Gym (9am to 12pm)

  • Monday night (5pm to 8pm)

  • Wednesday night (5pm to 8pm)

I’d also like to throw in an honorable mention for Friday night. There seems to be an ebb and flow to how busy Friday nights get, but when the flow is on, it’s a real Happy Hour at SPS.

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Strength Programming Without a Specific Goal

Strong is good for bodies, brains, and coffee.

Strong is good for bodies, brains, and coffee.

Goals and goal setting is a hotness.

I talked about it a little with my New Year, Same You blog post earlier in the year.

SPS Coach Brandon talked about it in his I don’t have any goals blog series.

As the Athletic Director of SPS, I’m often the first point of contact with prospective members. Each new strength and conditioning member goes through a movement evaluation with me as a quick form and comfort check to make sure each person will be safe in a group coaching environment. It also gives me information about a person’s movement balance, mobility, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses that I can use in creation of each member’s personal program.

And, of course, one of the questions I ask is “Do you have any specific goals?”

Look.

I don’t actually expect much of an answer from most people. Sure, it’s awesome when I get one. Our members tease me and others “If you tell Kristin what your goals are, be ready because she’s gonna make sure you work towards them.”

But as I learned from my friend Stevo, founder of Habitry, most people come to the gym as “A” and really their only goal is “not-A.”

THAT’S FINE!

As coaches and trainers, we need to be able to work with that. If we push and dig, we risk making someone feel guilty or shameful for not having their brain properly organized. It’s vulnerable enough to come to a new community, don’t make it harder.

And for members and prospective members, don’t fret! You clearly have goals, even if you can’t verbalize them yet. You’ve stepped into a gym after all!

But how does someone program for a person without specific goals?

I’m gonna let you in on my programming checklist. This is assuming there are no glaring technical or mobility issues that come up during the movement eval.

  1. STRENGTH - I start most people with 3 days a week. They get a squat, a pull (deadlift, sumo deadlift, trap bar deadlift) and a press (strict press, bench press, push press). Usually in the 8-10 rep range for 4 sets. Most people come to us with either a long break in training or mostly CrossFit training where they need to build up some hypertrophy, re-engage with their technique, and have some general strength endurance work.

  2. UNILATERAL - We all have a strong side and a weak size, and while I can’t train that out of you, I can help you make the difference less obvious. The balance and stabilization needed to execute these movements also have great life transferability.

  3. ACTIVE BRACING - I do very little direct ab work unless it’s requested. I LOVE what I call active bracing drills, where you have to lock your torso down against a movement that’s trying to make you move: Pallof variations, planks with rows and other movements, suitcase carries, etc.

  4. CARRIES - Picking up something heavy, maybe even something awkward, and having to move around with it while maintaining good posture is one of the most functional things we can do. It also makes you generally “farm strong.”

  5. ANTERIOR vs POSTERIOR - In general, people need more posterior (backside: lats, traps, spinal erectors, glutes, hamstrings) work in relation to anterior work (front side: quads, abs, hip flexors, pecs). So I try to build in a 3:2 ratio of back:front work.

Obviously, some of these can overlap. Suitcase carries check the unilateral, active bracing, and carries boxes. Someone might not be ready for barbell squats and do some form of split squats. This is a general guide for the average person, but the scales and possibilities are really only limited by your imagination.

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Thinking in Spectrums

Where does each color begin?

Where does each color begin?

How often do you catch yourself thinking in absolutes?

I see it happen a lot in the fitness world. If you can’t do a full workout, you don’t workout at all. If you can’t construct the perfect meal plan, you just fly by the seat of your pants.

Or the other side of that, where something slips a little and you count the whole endeavor as a failure. That cookie that caught you in a moment of weakness and you beat yourself up. You ran out of time at the gym or your lifts didn’t go as planned and you count the whole session as a loss.

I want to challenge everyone to notice when they slip into this mindset.

I almost did it myself this week: I wasn’t going to be able to do part of my normal Tuesday programming because of a strained back so I was tempted to call the whole thing off. But you know what? My arms and abs are still fine. I can do bracing and bodybuilding, which will still ultimately support my goals.

It happened again later that evening. A member brought some treats, senorita bread, to the gym. I had two (they’re pretty small), and was tempted to say “Fuck it, might as well eat more.” But I also knew that my stomach wouldn’t feel good if I did.

First step is just to notice when you’re about the throw out the baby with the bath water.

When you start to see a pattern in the areas you’re most likely to do that, then consider making a contingency plan for those moments. Don’t rely on will power to gut through something you’re on the precipice of not doing. Find a new route, instead.

Let’s focus on moving the needle, no matter how little.

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Sloggin Through the Suck of Learning a Skill

And let me tell you, it really does suck sometimes.

You’re probably used to going to the gym to unwind, zone out, get sweaty and tired. Now you come to the gym to get better at something that’s pretty complicated, and the only thing tired is your brain and your emotions.

Learning a skill takes a toll on you, but not in the physical way we’re used to. It’s important to know that it’s like this for everyone.

No one came out of the womb snatching or doing handstands. We didn’t even come out being able to crawl.

But I’ll avoid those annoying metaphors about babies learning to walk and falling over all the time. We’ve all heard those, and I know for me, they just piss me off more.

Let’s talk about what’s happening inside our bodies and brains. I, personally, find that much more comforting.

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of 10,000 hours to master a new skill. So think about this: let’s say you train 2 hours a day, 5 days a week to accumulate 10 hours a week. No breaks for 52 weeks a year, 520 hours a year. It will take you 5 years to truly be proficient at the new skill.

Olympic lifting abso-fucking-lutely falls into the paradigm of a skill. And in my experience and interactions with people of various levels, that 5 year mark plays out pretty solidly.

And it’s not just any type of practice, but DEEP PRACTICE.

Deep Practice is a targeted, mistake focus method of skill development. You move through the desired skill, slowly at first, watching closely for any deviation from “perfect.” If you deviate, you go back and do it again. And again. And again, until you’re satisfied with what you’re doing. THEN you can move on.

This process affects a biological process called myelination, where your body wraps layers of fat around nerves. By wrapping fat layers around nerves responsible for a specific skill, the signal travels faster and with less signal strength degradation.

This is why we can’t say “practice make perfect,” we have to say “practice makes permanent.”

A couple of researchers, Zimmerman and Kitsantas, watched and followed volleyball players of various levels. They made extremely accurate predictions about which athletes would move up quickly in the ranks and which ones wouldn’t based not on inherent skill, but on mindset and approach:

“Our predictions were extremely accurate. This showed that experts practice differently and far more strategically. When they fail, they don’t blame it on luck of themselves. They have a strategy they can fix.” ~Barry Zimmerman on his study with Anastasia Kitsantas

As outlined in the book “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle, there are three main methods to creating deep practice.

  1. Chunk it Up - Absorb the whole thing by watching/listening/however so you have in your mind your ultimate goal. Then break the movement down into its smallest pieces.

    1. Slow it down - Be precise with your movements, whether is lifting something light enough you can ensure proper bar path, or it’s playing a song single note by single note.

  1. Repeat It - Myelin sheaths are built through action. Each practice session should bring that same attention to detail and focus on correcting mistakes as the initial session. It’s better to do 10 very concentrated lifts than it is to do 50 grip and rip lifts.

  2. Learn to Feel It - If something doesn’t feel right, it should bother you. It should feel like an eyelash in your eye. And you need to be in tune enough with your body and your targeted skill that these feelings arise.

While that seems like a short process, it’s a long road. Just like taking a single step is easy, linking all the steps needed to traverse a marathon is a whole ‘nother story.

So make your practice WORTH IT. Embrace the sucky parts and make each moment, each movement, count.

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Titles to pick up:

“The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle (Amazon Link)

“Mindset” by Carol Dweck (Amazon Link)

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Setting Your Eating Intentions

This is something I realize I do before eating out or eating snacks. I don’t do it when I’m eating prepared food, meal prepped stuff, or my regular on-track foods. But whenever I go “off course,” I’m setting my eating experience intentions.

What does that even mean?

It means that when I consider what I’m going to do with my day and how my meals are going to go, I decide early how I want to feel about it. I don’t always decide to treat my body like a temple, mind you, but I do make conscious decisions around any binge levels snacks happen. I don’t just let them happen TO me. I decided to experience them when I want to.

I started thinking about this habit of my last Sunday when I ate out with the husband. I really wanted some veggies and meatballs. So we went to an Italian place, and the only meatballs they had were with fettuccine. That’s fine, I ordered it with an extra meatball and a side of Brussel sprouts. I ate all the veggies, stole one of his asparagus, ate all the meatballs, and just picked at the fettucini. Not because I was depriving myself, but because it just didn’t fit the intention I had set for my meal and how I wanted that meal to make me feel.

Full disclosure: I had eaten a bowl of pretzels, half covered in dark chocolate and half covered in raspberry yogurt. See, deprivation is just something I don’t care to do.

This hasn’t always been the case. It’s taken years to get here.

Calculating my macros like…

Calculating my macros like…

When I was a dancer it was all about restriction all the time. When I got into weight class sports, it got better as I had to learn about nutrition rather than just calories, but I still had a very ON/OFF mentality about paying attention to what I ate and didn’t really focus on how it made me feel.

It’s really only been in the past three years that I’ve really started seeing beyond the “food is fuel” and “fun is fun” dichotomy that is usually pushed.

It’s both. And it’s more.

So I want you to try something for me.

Eat the way you normally do. But each morning think about what your food and energy needs and wants are for the day. Set your physicality intentions.

Then at each meal, look at your food and consider it. Does it line up with the intention you set for the day? How will eating this food make you feel (1) as you eat it (2) 30 minutes after you’re done (3) later that day as your prepare for bed.

There is no shame here. I do this even when I fully plan to eat an ENTIRE BAG OF MILANO COOKIES. I hold that bag in my hand and thing of what joy it’s going to bring me as I devour it and prepare myself for the slothitude I’m going to feel when I’m done. I don’t like that sloth feeling unless it’s been a fair amount of time since I’ve imbibed in such gluttony. And when I experience that only once in a blue moon, the sloth feeling can feel quite indulgent.

Just notice your thoughts and predictions. Still eat the food. Then pay attention to whether you were right.

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