A frequent and recurring theme I hear from those interested in weight loss is one where the client asks for, or thinks that they 'just need a diet plan'. They say, ‘What I really need is just a diet plan. I mean I know what I need to do, *insert nostalgic mention of when they used to be in shape or similar* but it would just be really helpful if I had it all written down, you know I think that would be all I need'.
If you are someone who has lost weight on multiple occasions, and struggled to keep the weight off, this blog is about why I don’t believe that ‘just a diet plan' is really what you need or want. This blog is about how when it comes to weight loss and maintenance of that lower weight ‘just a diet plan’ rarely cuts the mustard.
Its not what they actually want
In any coaching relationship, part of the role of the coach to help the coachee to get from A to B. Many people looking to lose weight will have lost weight before, only to have regained it. Sadly, in the obesogenic environment within which we live, due to the way the body tends to respond, frequently, they might weigh even more now than when they first started! This can understandably be exasperating for the client and is often referred to as ‘yo-yo’ dieting.
If this is the client, then they definitely DON’T need ‘just a plan’. Just losing weight is not their ‘B’. They’ve followed plans before, which if you look at their ‘A’ (where they are now) either didn’t help, or maybe made things worse. They THINK they need a plan because it will help them lose weight. It might. What they likely want is to achieve a healthier and more sustainable relationship with food. I’m not here to tell you what you want, but this is a great ‘B’ for anyone to aim for. What most people actually want, is to get to a lower weight, and to be able to maintain it. This is not just semantics, saying what you mean and being able to describe exactly what you want are actually two very important skills in developing and maintaining a sustainable and healthy relationship with food.
Its not what they actually need
When the individual has lost weight on several occasions previously, there is more than likely something else going on. The chances are, its not actually just the technicalities of putting an appropriate plate of food together that have led to their current predicament. That is, its not JUST about food. Losing weight and then maintaining a lower weight is a complex problem that requires self-awareness, honesty, problem-solving skills, planning skills, emotional intelligence, and a host of other abilities. In order to respond to the complexities of life and its competing, unpredictable demands, just a short-term plan is rarely suitable for anyone (for very long anyway). We make many decisions around food every single day, in a variety of contexts. We need a flexible, adaptable skill set to deal with multiple eventualities.
What’s worse, is that the longer a client goes on believing it is just about what they eat (with this notion being reinforced by the enthusiastic line of dogmatic nutrition gurus lining up to sell them the next big plan to solve all their problems once and for all), the longer they will be distracted from what is important. I believe that any practitioner who operates in the realm of health & wellbeing has an overarching responsibility to 'do no harm’ to their clients. By ‘just' giving someone a plan, I think certain practitioners might be guilty of contributing to a disempowering environment, which is already challenging enough for the individuals involved. We are complicit in harming those we engage with by giving our clients more of the same, through our inaction to do something different. Practically speaking, anyone who is looking to lose weight and keep it off (especially those who have tried and failed before), must understand that what they need are a host of skills to manage an ongoing process. Not an instruction booklet on what to do, when, forever more.
I implore practitioners and clients alike to buck the trend and start to shift the status quo, seek out something different, and don’t settle for the old dynamic. 'Just a diet plan’ probably isn’t suitable for what you want, or what you need. Any questions, please reach out to me on twitter, or drop me an email email@example.com
So off the back of a brief conversation in the twittersphere concerning a previous blog, Jo Carritt of Everyday Training and I came up with the idea of a collaborative piece on the murky and expansive topic of motivation and ultimately, athletic readiness.
The plan is to integrate Jo’s insight and coaching nouse with an alternative perspective from me in the hope of coming up with something worthy of practical application for both the coach and athlete. So here we go:
It’s always great as a coach when people come and congratulate me on the performances of the athletes that I work with, and as I’m working with ever more athletes within my local community, this seems to be happening with increasing frequency. Of course, I cant and don’t take all of the credit for their success, and am always fast to point out that it’s the athletes themselves who do all the hard work - I just provide the guidance and advice that enable them to get the best effect from their commitment.
There are a couple of athletes in particular who generate a great deal of praise for my coaching, and are widely admired within our community – widely admired, because they are widely known. But whilst they’re achieving great results and showing improvements that their peers find remarkable, I know that it’s the result of deep commitment and hard work…born of a true love for doing it.
These people live and breathe their training. But, not just THEIR training - they give they share, they talk about, they interact, they get involved, and they support others too.
During a conversation with an admiring friend of one particular woman that I coach, I remarked that .. “She’s not one of these athletes who’s all about “me” and “my training” ….” And this made me think – perhaps that’s part of what enables her to work so hard, be so dedicated. A deep love of the sport that she’s become part of. Or in other words…intrinsic motivation.
I’ve written and spoken a lot about motivation and goal-setting through the period that I’ve been racing, learning, mentoring and coaching triathlon. Sports psychology and the aspects of NLP that relate to it are really interesting to me and I read and think a lot about these topics. This interaction has me wondering if whether I might have attributed more importance to the GOAL than the motivation framework that it lies within.
Having goals with strong emotional resonance for season to season motivation is very important for most of us. Even so, I’ve worked with a number of athletes who’ve had very clear GOALS and a genuine desire to achieve them….but those goals turn out to be unrealistic for the amount of energy that they want to put into achieving them. As this becomes apparent through the coaching process, the goal is devalued and their motivation easily disintegrates. I believe that a big part of my role coach to help steer an athlete away from this vicious cycle (ie lack of motivation>less inclination to train> poor training frequency> results that don’t reflect progress towards the goal> further lack of motivation) and towards goals that are in line with the lifestyle and importance of triathlon within the priorities of the athlete.…without killing their hopes of course!!
For example, many people have the basic physical capabilities to qualify for Kona, (the Ironman World Championships) which is THE most common goal for talented long-distance triathletes. It’s what they’re willing/able to do to become the best in their age-group that sets apart those who actually get to wear a lai around their neck. If it’s a chore – and all coaches have worked with athletes for whom they feel like they’re having to persuade them to complete each training session - then it’s just not going to happen.
If the training process and trying each day to being the best you can be in the pool, on the bike, running the hills, in the gym …is what gives you your buzz, is what makes you YOU…then you’re on your way to success. And you’re a pleasure to coach!
But, obviously these clients are a small minority. So, how can I, as a coach, tap into this type of motivation in order to instill it on the more “goal/task oriented” athlete and benefit them? These people, on the whole are willing to work just as hard for what they want…and to invest in the services of a coach to help them….it just doesn’t flow quite as easily for them.
Is this due to the direction that their motivation comes from? How does one determine that at an early stage in the coaching relationship? And can we help to turn that? Or do we simply learn other methods to engage with athletes with different types of motivation? Are there “good” and “bad” motivational origins???
The first thing to notice is that motivation is a broad and multifactorial topic. Many of the questions raised Jo’s post are centered around different types or sources of motivation and the variable climate and coaching dynamic they might influence. To best respond to these conundrums, I'll adopt a broader perspective and focus on the idea of ‘readiness’.
The topic of readiness something I encounter frequently with my work regarding obesity and seemed like a unique angle to approach as it is often overlooked. For example, when an individual is considering dieting it is important to establish that they are ready, willing and able to undertake the challenge that lies ahead. Within the context of the questions Jo poses, there are numerous parallels that exist with the client who is looking to diet and the athlete who is considering getting coached toward a specific goal. I believe that taking the time to understand the readiness of an athlete can be the difference between a successful and exasperating coach-athlete relationship!
Why is readiness important?
First of all it is crucial to understand the importance of readiness. That is, knowing that wanting something, and being ready for it are not the same thing. Using Jo's example, I might really want to qualify for Kona. This however doesn’t mean that I’m ready to undertake and prepare myself for the qualification process. Being ready means I’ve organised my life to the point where I have enough time and resources to train and recover to give me the best possible chance of qualifying. While I can theoretically qualify without being truly ‘ready’, the chances of doing so are greatly enhanced if conditions are in my favour. This is so self-evident it hardly seems worth mentioning. But is often an important question we might forget to ask!
So now we appreciate why readiness is important, how do we actually assess whether someone is ready to achieve their goals?
This is where it gets tricky. There is no real way to know for sure as to whether someone is ready until they try. But that doesn’t mean we have to rush in without attempting some basic levels of enquiry.
After having established whether an athlete’s goals are vaguely realistic, we can try to understand if their goals exist for the 'right' reasons. Obviously this is tricky ground and I preach extreme caution around quarrelling with the values of an athlete (don't), but we know that engaging in a challenge is more likely to be intrinsically enjoyable and motivating if:
The athlete is doing it for themselves, not for someone else (e.g. to prove them wrong - although this can be a powerful motivator)
Borne out of self-respect and not self-hatred
They have accurately weighed up the true costs of what they are committing to
They don't see goal as a solution to a problem they have. (In and of itself, winning a race or a medal, or even comparing favourably to others in athletic terms won't make you happy)
Is their goal or challenge personally meaningful?
These are all ideas worth discussing in preliminary conversations with an athlete. It is important to stress there is no right or wrong answer. But gaining a better insight into the reasons behind the goals of an athlete can allow you to assess whether they might be ready in a little more of an objective fashion. If all of their responses point in one worrying direction, it is not unreasonable to assume that there might be something else going on an that there might be bigger fish to fry!
Readiness, motivation and commitment
While its good to know a little bit more about the 'why', readiness is also about motivation and commitment.
While athletes are often guilty of saying what they think a coach wants to hear (and the coaches equally guilty of taking this at face value) getting the athlete to rate their motivation out of 10 can be simple way to assess their readiness. Compare their motivation now with past efforts. If they have a special goal, is there actually anything particularly special about now? If not, is there anything they can do to make it different right now? Again, a few more pertinent questions here will uncover any uncertainty in their desire to pursue a given challenge. A good dose of honesty here might save a lot of frustration down the road.
Commitment should also be discussed and is another idea that is often confused with motivation. Commitment can be thought about as how to how long motivation is likely to last. Lots of people can be motivated for a couple of weeks or maybe even a couple of months. But when the same sessions keep rolling around, and its deepest darkest winter our desire to train can fast diminish. Remember that certain 'favourite behaviours' are likely to have to go in service of lofty goals. Appreciate also that lots of things can affect commitment, such as the behaviour and attitudes of those around you.Is the wife, partner or family onside? Again, its vital that you discuss these openly and honestly without judgement. Its ok to say you don't want to be a world champion. Remember that everything has a cost. Are your life circumstances now a suitable environment in which to take on the challenges ahead? If not, is there anything you can do to alter this?
If any sense of ambivalence still remains, nothing beats a good old pros/cons style list. Sit down with the athlete or get them to write out what they might gain, and what they will have to sacrifice in service of their goals. As you can see below, written down in the cold light of day, my aspirations of heading to the big island don't stack up so well!
· Sense of personal satisfaction
· Appreciation from peers regarding dedication required to achieve goal
· Enjoyment of new and sought after race experience
· Consistent early morning training sessions
· Lack of social time due to extensive training commitments
· Loss of training freedom
· Financial cost of (numerous?) qualification attempts, and race entry
· Financial cost of coaching
· Holiday sacrifice for training and race weekends
So there it is. Perhaps more questions than answers and no clear cut way to assess the readiness of an athlete with absolute certainty, but hopefully some places to start. It is also important to remember that just because the athlete might not be ready now, doesn’t mean they will never be. Alternative, more suitable goals might even become apparent to both the coach and athlete by working through the process above. Give it a whirl, and let us know what you find! Whatever you do, leave your ego at the door, and be honest with yourself and your coach/athlete.
Strength training exercises for endurance athletes
In order to find out which aspects of strength training exercises for endurance athletes were really important to the masses, I recently polled the @UKrunchat and @UKtrichat followers on twitter.
The results came out just in favour of exercise selection with 45% of the vote. 40% wanted to know most about frequency/timing and 15% about sets and reps.
When it comes to exercise selection for endurance athletes I like to keep things simple and advise each time they strength train, to select one squat, one hinge, one push, one pull and one exercise from the 'everything else’ (hopefully self-explanatory) category.
There are many reasons for advising just 5 exercise variations, but primarily it is because I want cover the basic human movements, I want the session to be simple, understandable and adaptable, and because time is of the essence. If I come across an endurance athlete who is willing to dedicate some time to spend in the gym I (and they) need big bang for their buck if they are going to be incentivised to keep returning. Lots and lots of people I come across often make the mistake of confusing simplicity with ease. Don’t. Yes, its just 5 exercises. You’d be amazed how much impact they can have with a good dose of consistency.
There is a place for sport specificity, but at first, time is always best spent developing global movement competency before getting fancy. Most endurance athletes have terrific aerobic engines, but can only move with borderline embarassing levels of dysfunction. I often quip to that triathletes should focus on developing one type of athleticism before attempting to master three! Global and compound exercises completed with good form will create a globally stronger athlete and will increase their capacity for and resilience to greater exercise workloads. This aspect of training, in my opinion must take priority above any attempts to enhance sport performance. While it might seem a more direct and appealing manner in which to train, for almost everyone other than professional athletes, (and even many of those) specificity generally offers less rewards than the more ‘indirect' and generalised exercises.
My top 5 strength training exercises for endurance athletes
So, what 5 strength training exercises do I recommend endurance athletes include in their training and why? Taking one from each category they would be as follows. Caveat: I've added videos of each for illustration, but these are not necessarily how I would coach them, nor do they necessarily represent good form in all aspects, nor do I agree with everything those on the videos say. Always always always, get a qualified coach to show you through these exercise to make sure you can execute them with good form.
Squat - Goblet Squat
For those new to strength training, or those with horrible form, I find there are very few people I can’t get into a good position relatively quickly with a goblet squat. Front loading the squat pattern teaches the athlete to maintain good postural control and awareness, and generally stops them folding like an accordion when you ask them to squat down. If the athlete is advanced and can handle more weight, I’ll move this onto a front squat, but even this can come with complications. There is something remarkably healing about goblet squats, you just feel better after them. Once you can do 3 sets of 5-8 reps with the heaviest dumbbell in your gym, then we can talk about moving on!
Hinge - Single-leg deadlift
This can be a tricky one to teach initially, especially for those with poor body awareness, but it is WELL worth the time invested. Due to bilateral deficit, you’ll find that once your skill level is you can make great gains from adding load. I also know of few other exercises more effective at teaching the athlete to coordinate their body in a number of different ways simultaneously. Its a great stability, anti-rotation, hingeing, strength and rehabilitative exercise all in one. For any athlete with knee/ITB issues this is a go to, as it teaches them to stabilise their knee from the hip/glutes (as they should largely be), not via their ITB/TFL.
Push - Arnold Press
Again, a nice compound exercise that will help improve shoulder mobility and stability as well as teaching the athlete trunk control/core strength. It can be slow to progress, but gets us lifting a weight over our head, which really is a must-have for any exercise routine.
Pull - TRX Row
A simple, scalable and effective exercise to straighten out some of those hugely quasimodo like positions we get ourselves into hunched over our desks all day. Good strength and control through full range of motion here will really help teach the athlete to extend through their thoracic area and open out those shoulders. A vital exercise for the triathletes out there who spend time tucked in a TT position and trying to get their shoulders to touch through almost exclusively swimming front crawl. Good thoracic control is also a vital component of staying tall and having an efficient action during running. As humans, for a lot of reasons, we tend to prioritise the push over the pull, we shouldn’t.
Everything else - Turkish Get up
I just love these. If nothing else its a great assessment tool - if there is something you can’t do, or control, you’ll get found out pretty fast. If you make this look good, and controlled, you can fairly safely bet you are on the right tracks. Its basically everything other than a pulling motion, all rolled into one. At the end of a workout, I find it really locks in all the movements you’ve been working on as you have to coordinate them under control and load. Conversely, its great in the warm up to break off the rust and get you moving like you should.
So there you go. Just 5 exercises, but they’re all big hitters for endurance athletes. Master them and train them regularly, and you will become more injury resistant and I’d wager your capacity to absorb workload will be significantly improved. A total of 15-25 reps of each exercise completed across a session at a challenging load, will take no longer than 45 mins. 2-3x a week. Do it for 4-6 weeks and let me know how you get on, I’d love to hear. Tweet me @acbcoaching or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Good luck!
Sorry if using the word fat offends you, but I needed your attention. By the end of this article, I want to try to convince you of something important. That is, if you are serious about wanting to lose weight and keep it off, you have to stop talking (and thinking) like a fat person. While you will have to do this as well as doing and eating all the right things, there is an upside to learning to think differently. It will make everything else much easier. It will boost your chances of maintaining change, something which is a far more challenging prospect than just losing weight in the first place. Many of the clients I work with have lost lots of weight. Lots of times. The issue is not so much weight loss, as it is maintenance of that loss. I believe that an absolutely key part to achieving ‘maintenance’ of a lower weight is learning to think, speak and feel differently about both food, exercise and yourself.
The context of Obesity
Obesity can technically be defined as a case of excess adipose (fatty) tissue. When it comes to the management of obesity however, it is not helpful to view it with such simplicity. This is the first trap that people might fall into. Losing and maintaining a lower weight should be considered as multifactorial issue. Obesity is caused and perpetuated by an interrelated and often complex combination of factors.
While it is generally accepted that in the the majority of cases, people get to this diagnosis of being ‘obese' from consuming more calories than they expend, there are plenty of different ways they achieve this. The contribution and salience of these factors above will also differ from person to person. All this means that when we want to manage or treat obesity in a given individual, we are not just dealing with one factor in isolation, but many, in a broader and often shifting landscape. People’s lifestyle circumstances change. Their friends change. Their jobs change. They move houses, have kids, get divorced etc. etc. Suddenly, the simplicity of its ‘just a case of excess fatty tissue’ or ‘just a calorie balance problem’ starts to seem an inadequate explanation in the context of making a lasting change. Food is everywhere, everyday. What we eat and how we feel about it can be influenced by a thousand-and-one different things.
How not talking like a fat person can help
All hope is not lost however. Just because people become obese for a host of different reasons, and it can get really complicated, does not mean there are not similarities that we can leverage. One interesting thing is that a lot of these similarities are in the ways people think and feel (and subsequently talk). This is why ‘fat’ people, often talk in a certain way. They often over-generalise ‘I’ve always had a sweet-tooth', magnify problems and think in all-or-nothing and extreme ways ‘I had a chocolate pudding yesterday, I’ve blown my diet’. They are also often very judgemental and negative of their own past, current and even future behaviour. ‘I couldn’t resist that chocolate pudding, i’ve got no willpower’. Since our thoughts feelings and behaviours interact with one another (see video below) these ways of thinking can start to act as commands. In thinking and speaking in a certain way, obese individuals fuel a pernicious cycle that can damage self-esteem and lead to increasingly unhelpful behaviours like emotional eating.
If we can help people to think differently we can start to interrupt the unhelpful ways of thinking that undermine an individual’s attempt achieve and maintain a lower weight. Talking like a fat person abdicates responsibility from their goals. It permits failure, again and again. The trouble is most people don’t even notice they do this.
Talking like a fat person can also sends mixed messages to those that might be able to help us. When we don’t give people a clear message about our behaviour and expectations, we often permit them to sabotage our attempts too. This can be really subtle. Saying something as innocent as saying their is a certain type of food that you ‘shouldn’t’ eat or referring to food as a ‘treat’ are two classic examples. In creating these rules, we tempt our (and others’) inner rebels to break that rule. Tell a kid not to touch something, you know what will happen. How many times have you been cajoled into indulging in a ‘sneaky’ chocolate bar or bit of ice-cream by a a partner or friend when you are a diet. ‘One won’t hurt’ they say. You indulge, then guilt follows. These are the very real consequences thinking and speaking in a certain way. We must change them to change the dynamic they create.
The good news is that we can enter that cyclical process from a different angle. We have another way in which we can work towards our goals. Its not just about working harder, its about working smarter. Thinking differently. We can speak in a way that allows us to own our responsibilities as opposed to abdicating them to others. If you you don’t make a choice, someone or something will make it for you.
How do I do this?
To get you started, first just try to recognise these common examples in everyday language:
should and shouldn’t (when it comes to food/exercise)
negative self-talk about the your current, past or future self.
Once you’ve noticed them, try to identify if it was either aligned with your goals, or potentially unhelpful. Remember, there is often very little remarkable about the way in which people have lost weight and maintained that weight loss. Despite the marketing and the AMAZING transformations, these changes normally happen gradually, through balanced and consistent decisions, without fanfare.
If you’d like to know more please don’t hesitate to contact me (on twitter @acbcoaching or by email - email@example.com) and of course if you enjoyed this article, please do share it with anyone you think it might be of use.
So first of all, what is the Bilateral deficit? This is basically the phenomenon whereby the sum of forces produced unilaterally (on a single leg) can exceed the amount of force you can produce bilaterally (on two legs).
Another term that is important to understand in relation to this is Super-Incumbent load - This is the (body) weight above the joint that is being used to lift a weight.
So lets compare a theoretical bilateral (two-legged) back squat and compare it to its unilateral cousin, the single leg squat. For the sake of argument, lets use the example of an individual perhaps your everyday endurance athlete, uhhh, Dave, that weights 75kg.
Lets say Dave can do a nice set of 8x single leg squats while holding just 10kg of added weight. Nice one Dave.
The super-incumbent load of this athlete is 65kg. That is, if we chopped his leg off just below the knee, his bloodied stump of a shin, ankle and foot conveniently weights exactly 10kg. We don’t want to count the weight of his shin, ankle and foot because he’s not lifting it, so 75kg-10kg = 65kg. Add that (65kg) to his 10kg dumbbell and we have 75kg of weight being lifted on each rep, on that leg. So for his set of 8 reps - he’s lifted 600kg on that one leg. WAY. TO. GO. DAVE.
Now, lets say look at Dave’s back squat. The key question is:
How much weight do we have to slap on his back to get through the same amount of work as his 1 set of 8 rep single leg squats with 10kg?
Because he’s on two legs, his super-incumbent load is now only 55kg as we have 2x10kg metaphorically bloodied stumps not being lifted and supporting him (75-(2x10kg stumps) = 55kg). Remember, we still need to achieve 600kg in just 8 reps. But this is also PER leg. So assuming both legs do the same amount of work, we need to hit 1200kg across 8 reps. He’s still lifting his super-incumbent load of 55kg for 8 reps, so thats 440kg done and dusted, but we need to find the remaining 760kg (1200 - 440 = 760kg) in 8 reps. 760 divided by 8 = 95kg.
Now for an endurance athlete like Dave - this is a no brainer. It will be much faster, safer and easier to get him to work up to a set of 8 single leg squats with 10kg than 95kg for 8 back squat. For example I don’t know many endurance that at around 75kg bodyweight can squat their bodyweight well for 1 rep, much less 1.26x body weight for a set of 8.This would put their 1RM at nearly 120kg or 1.6x their bodyweight. To be fair, I don’t actually know many endurance athletes that can single leg squat for 1 rep, but with a bit of coaching and practice, this is still a far more sensible and achievable prospect (especially in the short term) than getting a 75kg athlete to 95kg for 8 reps. For a start, it requires much less equipment, no gym membership and can be more easily practiced at home.
While there are other benefits to a single leg work, especially as an endurance athlete, I’ll leave it there for now. Now you know about the bilateral deficit, you can use it to your advantage. If you want to find out more or have any questions, please get in touch with me either via twitter, facebook or my contact page.