Cognitive Fitness

When we think of improving our health, the big 3 come to mind: movement, nutrition and recovery. Movement is what we’re doing physically. This can be lifting in the gym, spin class, going for a run, etc. We’re familiar with the kind of work we need to do here. Nutrition is a tricky one, but one we all understand. We know that we need to fuel ourselves for performance or intake less calories to lose weight. Recovery is about getting enough sleep, managing stress and includes soft tissue work and stretching.

The missing piece to get all these habits to stick, or the piece that allows you to continue to progress is your mindset. I heard this recently described as cognitive fitness. It’s not flashy or something that you can implement right now to feel stronger or lose more weight. What it does though, is give you the tools to continue to progress and stick with and form new habits.

If you need to improve your recovery habits, let’s say by getting more sleep, your mindset is the key to unlocking a new behavioral change. Without the mindset part, the recovery part, movement part and nutrition part doesn’t matter. The key to a nutrition change is implementing a plan and having the ability to stick with it, being flexible and changing your relationship with food. It isn’t just about eating differently. Eating differently without a mindset shift leads to crash diets and inconsistency.

Without changing your mindset, you’re going to have a hard time making real positive change. It’s why our first Core Value is “Have a Growth Mindset.” We think that’s the most important piece of trying to improve. How do you develop it? Lean in to things that are hard or that you’re bad at. Don’t give up out of frustration and remind yourself that you’re in this for the long game.

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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Stick with It

Improving mobility, flexibility or posture takes time. More than you want it to. As we approach our 5 year anniversary, it’s hard to not reflect on the journey of many of the clients. The ones that stuck with something, for a particularly long time, are now reaping the benefits.

It’s one thing to say you want better hip mobility, but another thing all together to take 2 to 3 minutes to work on it every single day. The progress may be so slow that you don’t even notice it. There isn’t a quick fix for more robust, more flexible shoulders than using them safely and stretching/mobilizing consistently.

You should have something you want to improve. Maybe it’s touching your toes, getting you arms over your head, improving your hip mobility to relieve stress on your lower back or regaining lost ankle range of motion. Whatever it is, it would benefit you to work on it in small chunks every day. There won’t be a magic moment, when it all of a sudden it became better. Instead, you’ll barely notice the change. Movements will gradually become more comfortable and you’ll be more confident in different positions and shapes.

Whatever the thing that you want to improve is, it would benefit you to work on it everyday. 

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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Building Mental Representations

As most of you have seen, the wood working, which historically brings out my impatient side, hasn’t slowed down. It always made me frustrated, I realized, because I had no mental representation of really building anything. I was making cuts, unsure how it would all go together. Meanwhile, my friend had to take a few measurements and put it all together in his head.

Once I noticed my frustration I leaned into it hard. I knew it was coming from a lack of skills and knowledge. I needed skills to cut and measure with exact precision. The knowledge to see a sheet of plywood and understand how it would all come together. The ability to confidently improvise. Instead of being frustrated that I didn’t have these things, I needed to take advantage of a weakness. 

I had a skilled teacher at my disposal. I was just outside of my comfort zone. If we were making finished cabinetry, I would have been way out, because the level of precision needed is much higher. I got feedback immediately. Was the cut just too short or a little too long? Is it straight? Does it fit where it’s supposed to or did I measure inaccurately? These are the principles of deliberate practice. Teacher, feedback, just out of my comfort zone and reps after reps. Each time, trying to be more precise. Each time, I was building my mental representation. 

Over the last few weeks, I can say my skills have improved. I understand wood working a little more now. More importantly, I developed a better mental representation. If I made a wrong cut I needed Patrick to tell me I cut it wrong by having the blade on the wrong side of the line. Now, if I make a cut too short, I know that I cut on the wrong side of the line and didn’t account for the width of the blade.

As we develop mental representations, we can more accurately give ourselves feedback. Clear mental representations give us the ability to self correct and realize what went wrong. Imagine a high level tennis player missing the line on a serve. They’re able to calculate what happened based on how the serve felt and where the ball landed. We do the same thing in the gym. At first, hinging is awkward. You need a constant reminder to stick your butt back and let your chest fall towards the floor. After you stick a few solid reps, you’re able to conceptualize what a good rep feels like. You’re able to self correct.

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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Bracing

When we lift something, particularly in the gym, we want to create full body tension. Creating this stiffness, not just in our abs, but everywhere in our body, is an upgrade to movement quality, strength and will aid in protecting our lower backs.

A common question around the gym is to do more “core stuff.” While the intention is there, the person is mislead in believing only core exercises that make your core sore are effective in creating strong abs. I want you to think of your core, not just as your abs, but your entire trunk. Everything that isn’t an arm or a leg.  Whenever we are creating tension and stiffness in our bodies while moving is a core exercise. It’s an opportunity to practice using it and therefore strengthening it.

Bracing is using your body in conjunction to create rigidity. Basically, trying to hold a plank with your mid section while you’re doing something like a reverse lunge, sled march, squat or deadlift. Most of you know what a plank feels like. The disconnection is that we need to apply that feeling to most exercises we’re doing in the gym.

Let’s say you’re going to do a goblet reverse lunge. Once you pick up your kettlebell, take a big breath in. When you exhale, prepare for someone to punch you in the stomach. This should feel like you’re holding a standing up plank. From here, a take breath in and breathe into the brace. Use the tension in your trunk as feedback for a good breath. It’ll be hard to maintain. You’ll need to keep reminding yourself, every rep, until it becomes natural. 

This will make you stronger and safer in the gym. Questions about bracing or strengthening your core? Let me know in the comments below.

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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Mental Complexity

For a long time, we thought that once adults hit 25 or 30 years old, they were done developing. We’ve talked on here before about neural plasticity and our ability to learn and develop new skills. Not long ago, this was thought impossible. Mental complexity is developing abilities to look at the world more abstractly. The skill to understand things from many different perspectives.

In Immunity to Change, Harvard researchers on adult development and leadership, Robert Keagan and Lisa Lahey, argue that in order for us to compete and survive in our world, we need to develop this mental complexity. The world around us is getting more and more complex. Things are moving faster, more information is available and things are clearly different than they were just 20 years ago.

The authors claim there’s two ways to deal with the complexity of the world. We can decrease the complexity of the world, which, seems unlikely. The second, is to develop our own complexity, which until recently was thought impossible for adults.

How do we do this? We continue to learn, think, apply and adjust based on experiences. We learn how to analyze our own thoughts and actions and create an ability to learn from seeing things in a different perspective. To use the term from the book, we must transcend and include our former selves in order to grow.

Recently, while talking about training and playing baseball in college, Taylor mentioned how he wished we knew what he knows now about practice, nutrition, mindset and improvement. I often think the same thing about my days playing hockey. The problem with that thinking is we needed those experiences to learn what we know now. We have transcended our former thinking, but are also able to include it in our training principles today. 

What can you do to increase mental complexity? You can continue to try to learn new skills, push your limits and develop the ability to look at things from many different perspectives. It’s a moving target. You won’t wake up one day and feel more complex, but small changes in thinking will add up over the years to come. 

Justin MIner

@portsmouthcoach

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Can Numbers Lie?

Last spring, I was making the final climb up the Stone Fence Trail. My quads and calves were locking up. I was quietly screaming at myself to keep moving. I was about 6 hours and 30 minutes into the Big A 50k. Each 10 mile lap, this final climb to the top of Mount Agamenticus gets harder and harder. That day, I ended up crossing the finishing line under my goal time of 7 hours. Barely sneaking by at 6:58.

This past Saturday was this year’s running of the Big A 50k. I had the same goal, under seven hours, but I really wanted to beat my time from last year. To me, that would show a year of putting in the work and taking care of my body had paid off. How could I get worse? I run better, I move better, I’m stronger and more confident about running all day.

As I was making the climb up the Third Hill on loop 2, I realized there was no chance of under 7 hours. There was nothing I could do but stay focused and keep moving. I came into the summit aid station, restocked on water, ate some Swedish Fish and headed out for my final 10 mile loop.

Last year, the third loop was mentally debilitating. There’s still 10 more miles! This year, I was calm. Just another loop I thought. I didn’t feel overwhelmed or stressed. I was able to focus on running, even though my legs were starting to scream at me. They weren’t cramping like last year. I stayed focused, moving as quickly as I could, and chugged though the last loop.

I crossed the finish line at 7:18. I was pissed. Instead of seeing a year of work paying off, I was 20 minutes slower. It’s taken a couple of days for me to realize this, but even though I was slower, I had a better race this year.

On Sunday, I painted and mowed the lawn. I handled going up and down stairs with grace and continued to feel better the more I moved. I realized, I’m much stronger and have more muscle mass than last year. I’m able to handle more training volume, keeping up strength and recovering quickly. What’s there to be upset about? 

By all accounts, I had a worse performance this year compared to last year. But when I think of other factors besides the race clock, I’m doing better. Numbers can skew our perspective. It's common for someone to confess to us Gain Coaches that they feel amazing, they’re sleeping better, watching what they eat, seeing their strength improve,  but it’s all worthless because they scale said they’re 5 pounds heavier. We need to take in all the data, not just the scale weight, not just the time elapsed. They’re making us feel like we failed, when there other markers saying we’ve improved.

I’m going to make some adjustments on my training moving forward. When I get frustrated with my apparent lack of progress, I’m going to remind myself of the things that are getting better and update my processes to keep improving.

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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Complicated Feet

Humans have a great ability to adapt. Recently, we’ve adapting into needing something on our feet. We need shoes to protect our feet from different surfaces and temperatures. We rely on shoes to let us perform our best. Imagine an NFL running back trying to cut hard into turf without cleats. Ever try to walk on hot pavement? You need something to protect you from getting burned. Shoes have their place, however, we shouldn’t forget about these complex things that are our feet.

There are 33 joints in our feet. These joints have ligaments, tendons and muscles surrounding them. All of these work together to help us stand up, stabilize, move and feel the ground. Our toes are made to be spread out, not crammed into a narrow shoe. Our heels should be on the ground, not lifted above our toes. Sneakers, high heels and the lot inhibit our ability to react with the ground. It numbs those muscles and joints and ligaments in our feet and we rely on needing support from shoes.

Before you throw your shoes in the trash. Remember, we do need shoes. Our environment calls for it. They help us run, lift more weight, handle varied surfaces. They have a place. My challenge for you going forward, is to be aware of your feet. Since we always have shoes or socks or slippers on our feet, we forget how to use them. We forget to let those muscles breathe and never give them a chance to stretch. Our feet are complex, let’s stop writing them off.

Be barefoot around your house. Do your warm up at the gym in your socks. Give deadlifting without shoes a try. We don’t need to ditch shoes all together, we need to find chances to let our feet be feet.

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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Slowing Down

I like getting things done fast. I enjoy the feeling of urgency and like checking tasks off. I rush and because of it, often create a mess. I recently wrote about the saying, festina lente, move slowly with haste. It’s about moving deliberately, but taking your time, not rushing. A client recently got a tattoo of it on her arm, that was the first time I heard it.

While I still rush, I starting to become aware of it. I don’t always catch myself. Sometimes, I’ll notice it mid act. Last night while serving myself dinner, I was frantically scooping rice, chopped up chicken thighs and veggies into a bowl. Rice was flying everywhere. All over the glass-top stove. The sense of urgency came from no where. I just needed to get it done fast. While throwing rice all over the stove, floor and counter I noticed I was being crazy.

It was like time slowed down. I realized I was rushing, asked myself was I was rushing and actually slowed down. I focus on the precision of getting the food from the large cooking vessel to a tiny bowl. I breathed. I relaxed and focused.

Right after that, I was walking the several steps to the living room with unnecessary speed. I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m working on getting better and noticing when I need to slow down. 

Justin MIner

@portsmouthcoach

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Brain Train

It turns out, we can affect our brains much more than we used to believe. It’s interesting that when we're younger, we have distinctive stages of our lives. We are newborns, then toddlers, pre-teens, teens and young adults. After that, we’re just adults. Recently, I’ve been reading about Robert Keagan’s stages of development. Similar ideas are shared in Peak. This is fascinating because it means we don’t have to be stagnant. We can continue to grow, improve and get better. 

We can still learn and rewire our brains once we’re adults. Exercise seems to be a big influencer of this. Recently, NYT writer Gretchen Reynolds posted an article about how exercise can affect our memory. She referenced a study where long-term treadmill walking made the brain more efficient in some processes having to do with semantic memory. That’s part of our long-term memory that helps us pull information like what colors are, capitals of states, sounds of letters and common knowledge we learn over our lifetime.

The reasons to exercise keep stacking up. Making your brain work more efficiently is just one of them. As more and more research comes out of its importance, I hope more people will be inspired to exercise. It’s not just about developing physically, but mentally as well.

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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Effective Reading

A lot of the material for this blog comes from books I’m reading or have read. I started reading my senior year of college. I never read much in college and I didn’t read at all in high school. I wasn’t interested in what other people were telling me to read. It wasn’t until I was a little older and all the strength coaches and fitness people I was following were constantly telling me to read more books if I wanted to be successful.

Here are some tips I have learned on how to be a more effective reader. I didn’t say read more. I think the ultra-competitive, I read 4 books a week people can shut up and concentrate on speed reading. I’m interested in learning when I read. 

When choosing a book, I have no rules. I’ll read anything that's recommended to me if it piques my interest. If it sounds interesting to me, I’ll give it a shot. The third way I find a book is if it applies to something else I’m currently learning. I may buy a book, but wait to read it until more curiosity strikes. 

I always have 3 or 4 books going at once. If one isn’t doing it for me, I can switch to another one. I’m also okay with skipping around. If I find a chapter isn’t doing it, or doesn’t currently apply, I’ll head to the next chapter. 

When I started writing this blog, I started taking more notes. I used to do some highlighting, but nothing consistently. Some people, like author Ryan Holiday, go deep with their note taking. For me, I mark passages, pages and quotes by folding the page or using a small post it note. When I read something blog worthy, or something that I’d like to share with the GAIN coaches, I’ll summarize it in my notebook.

I never feel bad about not finishing a book. This took a while to become okay with, but Nassim Nicholas Taleb summed it up nicely in Anti-Fragileby saying as soon as you’re bored with a book to move on. He also mentioned that unread books are more impressive than read books because they are potential new knowledge. I really like that, and will continue to buy books faster than I read them because of it.

The final thing, I try to actively read. No, not squatting and reading. I mean I won’t have the TV on or answer text messages in-between pages. It’s easy to become distracted, so I really try to read for short, but intense periods of time. For me, that’s always been first thing in the morning. I drink coffee and read until my attention is waining or I need to get moving.

The biggest barrier to read more was breaking all the rules I thought there were. I didn’t think you could read more than one book at once. I didn’t think skipping around was allowed. I thought you failed if you didn’t read it to the end. Once I got those constraints out of my way, I was not only able to read more, but read more effectively.

What are you reading? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!


Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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Improved Performance, It's Not What You Think

The common goal that unites most people from Gain is living a higher quality of life. Our vernacular for this is performance. That can be confused with improved performance on the field for some sport. That’s not the case. For us, increased performance means a more capable, less fragile life.

The fragility of life was shown to me yesterday. At 5:45am, Hannah walked out the back door on to the deck. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her feet leave the ground as she flew down 7 steps and landed below. I rushed outside, almost slipped on the icy steps in my bare feet, and checked to see if she was okay.

Nothing was broken. She didn’t hit her head. I picked her up carefully and walked her inside. It could have been a lot worse. She could have hit her head, broken her arm or landed on her tailbone. Instead, we’re having a different conversation.

All day yesterday, I could stop thinking about it. What if she was 30 years older? What if she never lifted weights and only did cardio? What if she didn’t have any muscle mass to handle the fall? She would have been more fragile. She wouldn’t of popped up, took a 5 minute breather and hopped back in her car to get to the gym. Instead, she sporting a couple of gnarly bruises and is going to be extra careful on stairs early in the morning.

The capacity to deal with that fall is performance. There are things in life that we can’t train to be prepared for. Improving performance through strength and conditioning is your safety net against the unplanned. Fitness is freedom, be ready for anything.

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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Planks

Planks are a commonly misunderstood exercise. When doing an intro session, this, along with the push up, are movements that people think they have a grasp on. Probably because it’s written off as a beginner exercise or something you can do anywhere without equipment. To clarify, we’re talking about a high plank, hands on the ground not elbows. A push up then, is just a plank where you bend your elbows. 

The thing about beginner exercises is that once you get better at them, you can continuously make them more challenging by creating more tension, getting better alignment and making sure your breathing is under control. 

Start by aligning your wrists under your shoulders. Spread your fingers and dig them into the ground. Push the back of your palm into the ground. This should make you feel like your upper back is rounded, we’re lining up your shoulder blades. From here, we want you to try and push your heels away from your body, squeeze your glutes and brace like someone is going to punch your belly.

Create this awareness around your planks this week. Pay attention to other exercises that you day dream through. Is there a way to become more engaged? Can you create more stiffness or tension in your body? Are you breathing? How are you breathing? Where is your breathe going? Deep or shallow? These little details will take your training to the next level. Don’t write off a simple movement as too easy. There’s always a way to make it harder.

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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It Depends

While thinking about the last few months we’ve spend with Clayton, I was reflecting about what he got out of his experience here. He got hands on time training clients, learned effective program design, understands our training principles and got a crash course in real life through conversations with you all. I hope he learned how to help people. Which, they certainly don’t teach you in school.

Clayton is curious. Usually, within 3 minutes of me walking in the door, he eagerly approaches me and says, “I have a question for you.” The other day, when he asked me, I laughed and said you know what my answer is going to be. “It depends,” he replied.

I hope his biggest takeaway was that context is everything. A lot of stuff works in fitness. There are many different roads that take you to the same place. What works for someone, might not work for someone else.

Context helps us define who or why or how for something specific. For example, heavy deadlifts are different for everyone. Someone may need a 25 pound kettlebell and someone else might need a 405 pound barbell. Setting the context simplifies a sea of correct answers. Without it, nothing makes sense.

Today is Young Clayton’s last day at GAIN. Be sure to wish him luck on his future endeavors. 

Thanks for you time Clayton, you were a pleasure to have at the gym. 


Justin Miner 

@portsmouthcoach



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Negative Feedback

Last week, I went to a dinner party. It was at a friend’s house we had all been to before. Our host wasn’t preparing our meal though. Another attendee, Chef Matt, would be testing out a dish for his restaurant, which opens up for the season in a few weeks.

Our instructions, before cooking started, was that we had to give honest feedback. He didn’t just want to know if it was good or not. He wanted to know what we thought. What we didn’t like. He wanted us to tell our initial impressions.

To facilitate the somewhat awkward conversation after dinner, we all went around and gave 3 pieces of feedback to the chef. It made me really consider the meal. What went through my brain as I took a bite of the slow cooked porchetta? What did I feel when I took a forkful of the collard greens dipped in the sweet potato puree? How did the pickled fennel mustard sauce go with everything on the plate?

It was hard to come up with my 3 things. I admired the chef’s curiosity as to how he could make it better. It surely wasn’t easy to listen to us talk about the dish. We threw a lot of compliments his way, for sure.  When you praised the dish though, you knew you weren’t really helping him improve.

To really get better at things, we need to be able to use feedback, honest information about how we could do something better, and develop a better relationship with it. If we all had the ability and courage to use it like Chef Matt, we could be using it to improve our performance.

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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Ten Thousand Hours

The first book I read, not assigned to me, was Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. I read it, then listened to it on my long commute to my senior year classes. It had a big impact on me. Not only did it kick start me realizing I needed to read, but the focal point of the book, the Ten Thousand Hour Rule made sense to me. If I wanted to get good, at anything, I needed to put in the time.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. It’s not just about showing up and putting in the hours, it’s about how you put in the hours. In Peak, Anders Ericsson, claims Gladwell simplified his research to appeal to our desire for cause-and-effect relationships. In the original research, Ericsson and colleagues gathered data of solitary hours played for upcoming violinists.

Not surprisingly, the best students accumulated the most practice. The better students, the second most. The good students, who were exceptional, but not world class, practiced less than the best and better students.

The point Ericsson makes though, is that is isn’t just about the hours. It’s about the type of practice. Specifically, what he calls deliberate practice. That is, practice that has immediate feedback, internal motivation, deep focus and has the practitioner slightly out of their comfort zone. He claims, not only did the best students accumulate the most hours, but they were the best at practicing as well.

There are no shortcuts. It takes time and focus to get better at anything. It’s not going to happen without serious effort. If this overwhelms you, it shouldn’t. It should empower you. You have the ability to get better, and there’s a blueprint of how to do it. You just need to be willing to put forth the effort.

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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Rest Days

I’ve been on a training hot streak. I was going hard every day for 3 weeks. During the third week, I felt awful. I wasn’t sleeping as much as the previous weeks. I was eating too much junk. I knew I needed to take a couple days off. I felt it. I also felt like I would lose everything if I stopped running. I didn’t want to break my streak.

Taking a day off, when you’re on a hot steak, can be really hard. It feels like you’ll let momentum slip through your hands and you’ll continue skipping days. The good news for us, we need to take rest days.

When we give our body the opportunity to rest, we actually make progress. Our muscles adapt to the stress we’ve been giving them and when we hit the gym again, they’re more prepared to handle the load.

While it can feel counterintuitive that skipping a day at the gym or running will ensure progress, it’s the truth. Without taking a day off, we risk over stressing our bodies. While pushing through when you’re feeling banged up may feel like the right choice to keep momentum going. More times than not shutting it down pays better.

Yesterday, I had a great run coming from taking 4 out of 5 days off. I hated it while it was happening. I was sure I was going to lose my momentum and desire to train. Getting back on the wagon yesterday was tough. As soon as I hit the woods, I couldn’t hold back my smile. Running was fun again. I needed those days off. Obviously.

Justin Miner 

@portsmouthcoach

Clem was happy for a few days off too.

Clem was happy for a few days off too.

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The Push Up - A Beginner Exercise?

We so badly want to simply the push up as a beginner exercise. The truth is, it’s complicated. It’s hard to do and requires a base level of strength. Many people are able to skate through life thinking they are a push up master, only to realize their technique, is exactly why their shoulder hurts every time they do it.

It’s demoralizing when you think you can bust out 20 push ups and then learn you can’t even get 2 with the best, most transferable technique. It would benefit you though, to get over how many you can do In one shot and instead, learn how to do 2 or 3 really good ones at a time.

Getting good at really low rep sets is the road to becoming a push up master. If you can maintain good positions: butt squeezed, shoulder blades moving, elbows pointing back, no funny neck things. That’s good. The best way to practice that is small sets, 2-5 reps, for a bunch of sets, maybe 8-12.

Instead of trying for 3x10, the most classic rep scheme around, stop yourself when you get sloppy. Become aware of what else is happening to your body. In order to develop that awareness, you need to stop thinking it’s an easy exercise for beginners.

Give the push up the credit it deserves.

Justin MIner 

@portsmouthcoach



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Mental Representations and Patience

The other day, I was in the grocery store grabbing a few items. The register froze. They slide me over to another register and that one froze too. Turns out the whole system froze and they needed to reset it. The apologetic cashier said it would be a few minutes. No problem, I said, I’m patient.

I do consider myself patient. To teach people how to move, you need to be. I think most of you would agree with this too. I haven’t always been. Now, I try my best to never get flustered. Slow driver, no problem. Food taking a while, no big deal.

Just yesterday, my friend brought up something I am totally impatient with. Anything to do with building. I have limited construction skills. I can use a skill saw, know what a Phillips head is and I can swing a hammer. My skills stop there. I have trouble envisioning how something will come out when building it. I have no mental representation of what a finished product should look like. 

A good mental representation is how you see something that other’s can’t. It’s how I can notice subtle nuances in your bench press technique or how a doctor can perform complicated surgery. It’s how my friend can plan to build something and have a very clear picture of what it’s going to look like in his head.

Yesterday, we built a counter. As he’s explaining it to me, I’m nodding. I understand that I need to cut 3 boards to 24 inches and 4 boards to 40 inches with a 45 degree angle. I don’t see how that translates to the finished product though.

The lack of my mental representation is where my impatience and frustration comes from. That’s true for all of us. When something is frustrating or we don’t quite understand it, it’s because we don’t have a clear mental representation as to what it is. This is why it’s a good idea to have a coach. We have the ability to set a mental representation (we call it a movement standard) and give you cues or drills to get there. Hopefully, after some practice, your mental representation of what a hinge is improves.

In Peak, Ericsson explains that the most skilled people have the best mental representations. A violinist can feel the song with their fingers and picture how to play it. In the documentary, Free Solo, Alex Honnold is so dialed he can recreate the different moves his hands will make all the way up the wall. I can imagine exactly what a 95 pound snatch feels like versus a 135 pound snatch.

Want to improve your mental representation? Get more reps in. Try to understand. For me, I hoping that getting more reps in building things will improve my patience. If I can work on that, I hope I will get less flustered when trying to build something. The more I practice and commit to understanding, my mental representation should improve.

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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The Box Squat

The best movement teaching tools around is the box squat. This exaggerated squat variation loads the hips, uses the posterior chain, limits knee flexion and requires a neutral spine. It’s the first thing we go over during an intro session, and something we revisit with veteran clients when they need a refresher on smooth squat mechanics.

Let’s break it down:

When you set up near the box, take a slightly wider than normal stance. From here, create tension by screwing feet and knees away from each other, engaging your glutes and squeezing your belly. From here, back and down. Start moving your butt towards the box, imagining trying to reach it to the far side. Allow your torso to dip forward, sternum facing the ground. Once you run out of room for reaching back, allow your knees to bend, working to maintain a vertical shin.

The forward lean and vertical shin are the most important parts of the box squat. The vertical shin, shows me if you can control tension in your knee and get the ranges of motion from your hips not your knees. If you’re someone who suffers from any sort of knee issue, this is great news for you. By not letting the knee translate forward, we’re essentially not allowing it to take any load. The forward torso lean is so you can learn what neutral spine position feels like. 

If I were to keep upright during the box squat, two things could happen. My knees drift forward, which, we’re trying to avoid. Or I would arch my lower back and get range of motion from spine movement instead of hip movement. 

There’s a lot of moving parts on this simple, beginner exercise. If you’re having trouble with your squat or feeling it somewhere you shouldn’t, give box squats a try to regroove your pattern with the exaggerated variation.

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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How Hard is it to Change?

We know it’s hard to make positive changes in our life. We’re all resistant to change for a host of reasons. I want to share a statistic I heard about how hard it is to change. How we struggle to change even when our life is on the line.

Let’s say you go to the doctor for a regular check up. They inform you that you have heart disease. You’re seriously at-risk from all the cigarettes you smoke, the few hours of sleep you get and your constant inactivity.

The doctor tells you that need to make some lifestyle changes or you’re going to die. Soon. You need to clean up your diet, stop smoking, move more frequently, hit the gym, find a community and drink some water. That’s an overwhelming list for anyone. It’s not ideal to make all those changes at once. Your life is on the line though. You have to make those changes or it’s game over.

1 in 7. 

That’s how many people are actually able to make these changes. I even found someone citing that it’s 1 in 9. People are unable to make these behavioral changes. Our lives have become secondary to our current comforts.

If it’s that hard to change when our life is on the line, how hard is it to change just because you want to stay ahead and never have that conversation with a doctor? This goes back to what we talked about yesterday: we need to constrain our system. Make it so there are less decisions to make so you can’t choose wrong. 

Justin Miner

@portsmouthcoach

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