How do you get out of your fitness funk?

It happens to all of us at some point - we get on a good roll, with work, with fitness, with life - and then life happens.

This is a photo taken by my friend Joe Chandler, whom I worked with at Rocky Mountain National Park all those years ago - he named this sleep owl “Lefty” and I’m guessing Lefty is having his own fitness funk…

This is a photo taken by my friend Joe Chandler, whom I worked with at Rocky Mountain National Park all those years ago - he named this sleep owl “Lefty” and I’m guessing Lefty is having his own fitness funk…

We miss one workout, then another, and then before you know it, you haven’t worked out in weeks, or did any meal prep, and you feel like a sloth.

Sloths are pretty cute though, you have to admit….

When we start to feel like we’re behind on everything - then we start to get overwhelmed. And I don’t know about you, but when I’m overwhelmed, I’m also prone to anxiety and fits of existential despair, fearing that I’ll never amount to anything every and also I’m a horrible person.

It’s a completely logical place to to when you get off track, obviously.

Friday, I asked my therapist to hold me accountable to three workouts over the course of the next week. Yes, I asked my therapist to keep me accountable to my strength workouts. Here’s why:

My workouts are my domino - I know that when I get my workouts in, other habits fall into place. 

If you are off track or have found yourself in a fitness funk, you don’t need all of the things, even if you have all of the feels.

Stop thinking of all of the things you need to or want to do, and find one.   

What’s the one action that can take that will propel you forward with all of the other actions?

I have a list of things I’d like to do, and a bigger list of things I feel that I should do. The best way for me to get out from under the weight of those project lists is to focus on the one.

For me, it’s my workouts. When I get my workouts in, I feel better. When I feel better, I eat better. When I eat better and workout, I sleep better - and have better brain function and I'm a better coach, co-worker, and spouse. 

For instance, I have many clients tell me that they know that if they go grocery shopping, that meal planning happens more easily. And when meal planning happens, meal prep happens. When meal prep happens, they feel in better balance and like they have more energy. When they have more energy, they workout.

And on and on it goes. 

So what’s the one thing you need to do?

Perhaps you need to put your screens away and get into bed by 9:00, because you know that when you do that, you get more sleep and wake up feeling more rested. Maybe you need to hit your 10 minutes of meditation, or a morning walk with your dog or 30 minutes on that new Peleton in your basement. 

The bottom line is that you don’t have to figure out everything. Not today, and not tomorrow. 

You need to figure out the one thing. That one domino that will help all of the other ones fall into place. 

How do you gauge strength gains?

I’m bad at math. I know that, you know that because I’ve written about it, and at least a handful of my clients know it because of that one time someone accidentally hit a personal record of 205lbs on the trap bar deadlift…

One the biggest challenges I have day to day is helping clients focus on what they are gaining, and not what they are losing. On convincing them that they can set out to be more, and not less. This is an uphill battle when most of us, women especially, come in to the gym trying to lose body fat, inches, weight or appetite.


If you include a dynamic warm up in your program (hint: do your warm up and here’s why), as well as using the foam roller, you’re gaining better range of motion. Hopefully exercise is helping you to move better, think better, sleep better and feel better overall.

These are the things that you’re gaining.

But often, after a few months in the gym, clients can become frustrated with all of the things that they are “only” doing. (Which is why no one is allowed to say only to me.) On the other hand, I understand how lifting weights can feel stagnant sometimes. Which is when I like to bring out my calculator and introduce the concepts of progressive overload and total volume.

Progressive whaaaa??

Progressive overload is fancy schmancy way of saying that you increased your workload for an exercise by either adding more weight or more repetitions to your workout. For example, if you perform three sets of eight dumbbell goblet squats with 15 pounds in week one, you squatted a total of 360 pounds.


The next week, let’s say you lifted 15 pounds, but added more repetitions and sets. So you did 15x10x4.

Most clients are still stuck on the idea that they are “only” lifting 15 pounds. But when you do the math (with a calculator if you’re me), the reality is that you have now lifted a total of 600 pounds.

600 pounds.

That’s an increase of almost 50%.

The deadlift is another lift where clients tend to minimize their workload.

In the beginning, we start with the kettlebell deadlift, which is an excellent exercise to learn how to properly hip hinge (which translates into helping you pick things up from the floor in a way that keeps your back healthy and your knees happy).

Often we begin clients with a 35lb kettlebell to build a solid movement pattern, but it isn’t very long before we graduate to 50 or 60lbs. After that we progress to the trap bar.

Most clients average between 85-105lbs when they begin using the trap bar. Last week, I had two clients use the trap bar for the first time, both at 85lbs. They did 8 reps for four sets.

They lifted 2,720 pounds. And that was just on the deadlift.

Next time you’re frustrated with what you’re not losing, or the fact that you only lifted a certain amount of weight, step back, pull out your calculator, and do the math.

You’re gaining strength every day.

Celebrate that.

Celebrate you.

Waiting for Godot - Following Your Curiosity

When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher had us read “Waiting For Godot,” the play by Edward Albee. 

If you are unfamiliar, the play involves two main characters who spend the entire play engaging in conversation while waiting for Godot to appear.

Spoiler alert - he doesn’t. 

This was my introduction to the theatre of the absurd and I absolutely loved it. I loved that the play was open to interpretation, and my mind was spinning with ideas when we came together to discuss it. I was so taken with the play that my teacher moved me to a different class where other students found the play as interesting as I did. 

Somewhere in that discussion Mrs. Hostetler asked us all what our individual “Godots” were. I remember my friend Erin sitting next to me saying that her Godot was to be accepted to college. She did that and more, working now as a doctor in the Pacific Northwest.

My Godot was a book. 

I was waiting to write a book.

At least that’s what I thought at the time. No, scratch that. That’s what I knew.

What I didn’t know was that the next 20 years of my life would reflect some level of the theatre of the absurd

There are vocations, and then there are jobs. I spent much of my time in high school and early college thinking about jobs.  Then I took every single career test I could find. I looked around at all of my roommates and friends in college; they were education majors, physical therapy majors, occupational therapy, pre-med - they were all heading into helping professions, and most of them are still in those helping professions twenty years later. 

But I was trying to reconcile several things: my love of writing, my innate desire to help people, and the ultimate goal of helping people. Ideally, I should have been a teacher. But one semester at Erie’s Cathedral Prep, the all boys’ Catholic High School in the city fixed that. But if you didn’t teach with an English degree, what did you do?

Well, I can only tell you what I did.

I followed my curiosity. And I’m privileged that I was able to do that. Because as much as I am proud of the fact that I finally found my vocational calling at 39 years old, I also need to be realistic about a few things. First of all,  I never made much money in any of my jobs. So when I decided to become a personal trainer, I didn’t throw some high salary job to the side to do so. And second, I have a spouse with a stable job and benefits who has supported me through every existential crisis (and 14 jobs during our time together). I’ve had double-digit jobs, she’s had two.

I don’t discount that.

But I have also followed my curiosity.  In retrospect, I was an awfully curious person, but was also indecisive, afraid of job commitment, and struggled with feelings of worthlessness that can come along with bouts of depression. If you thought Waiting for Godot was easy, well - now you know.

Depending on the circumstance - life can feel hard. 

As I come up on my three-year anniversary at Spurling, and reflect on how fortunate I am to be in a calling and not a job these past three years, I can only offer some very basic advice. 

1. Don’t confuse a job with a purpose

Jobs make you money. A purpose fills you in a way that’s indescribable. It is my sincere hope that you can experience both. I am not shy about the 29 jobs I’ve had, most of which have made me money since I graduated college in 1999. But I’ve had only a few select “jobs” that have given me purpose. And those jobs have been writing and coaching. 

2. Don’t follow your passion, follow your curiosity

Liz Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love)  speaks about this - how she followed her passion and how some woman during one of her speeches was horrified  because life is never so easy as following your passion. But the most interesting people she knows, according to Gilbert, are the people whom have followed their curiosity and done whatever has been asked of them. 

I would hope I might qualify as interesting, because I have had the luxury of following my curiosity. But while I appreciate Gilbert’s distinguishing between following a curiosity and a passion, I still think it important to recognize that I A: did not have to choose between leaving a high paying job and pursuing a new career and B: had a partner who made a solid income and whose benefits I could use. So while many people out there may want to ditch their jobs out of boredom, I must confess that circumstances allowed me to do so more easily than other’s might. 

3. Be authentic to you

I wish I could think of something more glamorous to write here, but the reality is this: be true to you, whomever you are. I don’t know what that will mean for you. And I want to appreciate that I am fortunate to be able to enjoy the opportunity to be authentic to me. No strings attached. 

Three ways to build up to your first chin up

Despite the fact that I lift weights regularly, I am not what the kids call swole.

And by swole, I think I mean overly muscular or busting out of my t-shirt sleeves. I’m not sure. The further away I get from my twenties the less I understand teenager speak. By the time I understood that “dabbing” wasn’t just getting a stain out of a shirt, the phenomenon had passed.


As I was saying, despite the fact that I lift often, I don’t have much upper body strength. I have more than I did 10 years ago, but doing certain upper body movements like bench pressing and push ups are still a challenge for me.

The reason my instagram feed is filled with deadlifting videos (and Rooney) is that deadlifting came naturally to me. Like anyone else, I gravitate towards what I’m good at and avoid what comes harder. And post pictures of Rooney because Rooney.

My goal for 2019 though, is to nail my first bodyweight chin up. I set out after this same goal in 2016, but a torn labrum in my shoulder derailed my efforts and now, looking for a goal to help keep my training focused (performance goal), I’m back at it.

You are not incredibly weak if you cannot do a chin up or a push up from the floor (not from your knees). Especially as a female. Most of us do not have the natural upper body strength to do either of these exercises in the beginning, and yet we assume that we are weak if we can’t. You’re not weak, you’re human.

In most cases, these two exercises can take a lot of work - very few females (and some males) can do so without training regularly.

If you’d like to train towards doing your first unassisted chin up, here are a few exercises that can help you get there.

  1. TRX Assisted Chin Ups

If you have access to a TRX system or any other suspension training system, this exercise can be a perfect way to strengthen the lats (that area on your back, just below the shoulder blades) and using your feet as much as you need to complete the range of motion.

Coaching Tip: Complete the full range of motion at the bottom of the movement - in other words, make sure your arms are fully extended, elbows not bent, at the bottom of the movement. (*As long as your elbows and shoulders can tolerate the full extension.)

2. Hollow Body Pull Downs with Dowel Rod

I stole this exercise from Tony Gentilcore and have been incorporating it into my own workouts. The hollow body hold begins by lifting your upper back (above your shoulder blades) off of the ground and lifting your legs a few inches off of the ground at the same time. Cross one leg on top of the other, and press down as hard as you can, while resisting with the bottom leg. This will increase the tension in your body, and probably make you hate life for 30 seconds, but in a good way.

This position, as Tony says, “teaches a trainee what it means to attain full-body tension, as well as helping to drive home some context (on the floor) of what needs to happen if or when someone is ready to hang from a bar.”

So you’re not just hanging limp when you jump up on the bar to perform the chin up. You need to create tension. And if you’re wondering what that means, that’s a great question, and I’ll work on doing a post for that.

3. The Band Assisted Chin Up

And possibly the most fun of all of these.

I mean, fun is relative here, obviously.

You can loop the band vertically around the bar and put your knee or feet into the bottom of the band for assistance. But ever since I learned this variation when I completed my Certified Functional Strength Coach course, I’ve been using it often with clients and myself.

Prior to learning this exercise, I was forever putting the band around my knees or my feet and swinging around like a monkey stuck in a banana branch (I don’t think that’s a thing) - but using this version, with the band under my feet, helps me achieve full extension at the bottom - my goal is to do the chin up from a dead hang position (with my arms completely straight) and this variation helps me do that. It also helps me keep tension in my body.

You might have to experience with band height and band resistance at the beginning before figuring out where the best starting point is for you. If the band feels like it’s going to shoot you through the roof, that’s fun, but not exactly what we’re after. Experiment with the band resistance that will allow you to feel like you could barely do another two reps if you had to.

In the video below, I have two bands to create enough resistance for me to perform eight reps. When I took one of the bands off, I could get one solid rep, so I’ll continue training at this resistance until I can get at least six reps with one band.

These exercises are by no means all encompassing strategies to help you do a chin up - but they are a great place to start if doing a chin up is on your bucket list.

Questions, comments, thoughts?

I’d love to hear from you.

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Stop trying to be someone you're not

According to the Urban Dictionary, the definition of going against the grain is "when you make life difficult by going against the wishes of others."

I'm going to suggest here that going against the grain is when you make your own life difficult by trying to be someone or something you're not. 

I see people do it all of the time when they join the gym. "I'm not a morning person," they'll say. "But I'm going to sign up for the 5:30 am time slot to force myself to get out of bed." 

In some cases that works - in some cases that's the only time people can make it to the gym and they make that work. But usually, if someone is trying to force themselves to workout in the morning, it fails. Because when it comes down to it, they're just not wired to work out in the morning. 

I think we live in a society where certain qualities are reinforced as "good" and others as "bad." I wrote last week that I'm not I'm not a checklist person. I'm not particularly organized, and I'm sure as hell not a morning person. Yet I've tried to make myself be all three of those things at one time or another. I am easily criticized for my inefficiency. Yet when I try to work against my nature, I just become bitchy and annoyed, because I'm not working with my personality - I'm working against it. And it feels awkward and makes me miserable. 

In our latest podcast (you can find the link below), Doug and I talk about our respective process for writing a book. If you're going to write a book, the bottom line is that you have to sit down and write. 

You can’t create something if you don’t find the discipline to sit down to do it. In Doug’s case, he worked writing into his morning routine. He made an appointment with his laptop every day and he kept it. That’s how he has been able to write a new blog post almost every day of the week for the past few years. 

My process for writing a book has been much different. I sit down to write, get antsy, stand up, pet the dog, pour more coffee, scratch my armpits, shave my legs, pluck my whiskers, turn my hat on backwards, flip over the vinyl record, write three words, stand up, vacuum the office…..

Hell, I once tied myself to a chair with panty hose in order to keep myself put. But it just put a knot in the panty hose and freaked my roommates out.  

Ultimately, what allowed me to finish my book was two things: external accountability and a weekly goal instead of a daily goal. I found someone to meet with once a week and that meeting kept me accountable to the process. But I had certain pieces of the book that I would finish during the week, without necessarily following a set schedule. I couldn’t keep a daily appointment, but I could keep weekly accountability… someone else. And that made a big difference.

That's also how I get my workouts in. I don't set a daily schedule - I set a weekly goal. I want to lift three times a week, and if Thursday comes along and I haven't gotten the first one in, I have no choice but to do it then. That kind of flexibility also allows me to bite things off in chunks. I also give myself permission to do half of a workout - usually when I do that I can get the whole workout in, but it prevents me from inertia. There is so much to be said for starting. 

For a long time, I felt bad about many of my natural tendencies - sure I was creative, but I was messy, disorganized and scattered. I tried using a planner for a hot minute, tried to train myself to become a morning person, tied myself to a chair with panty hose - but in the end, I’ve had the most success when I’ve worked with who I already am. 

When I stop trying to force myself to be someone I’m not, good things happen. 

When I work with my personality instead of against it, I can find the slightly better version of myself that I’m looking for. 

Most days, that’s all any of us can ask for. But we can stop feeling bad about all of the things that we’re not, and all of the characteristics that we think will make us a better version of ourselves.

The best thing you can do, is do you, whatever that looks like.