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Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

If you ever want to grow as a human being, you need to get out of your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is “any situation where you feel safe” or a “method of working that requires little effort and only brings acceptable results.” What does that mean exactly? Any activity that you do (usually daily) that brings low anxiety levels, such as watching TV, socializing with friends, sitting in your office doing minimal work, or avoiding difficult tasks. These are familiar situations that you feel comfortable in and usually things you can control. By always staying within your comfort zone, you will probably be able to reach a satisfactory level of results but you would be doing yourself a disservice. What happens when you don’t break out of your comfort zone? Usually people deal with issues of laziness, procrastination and/or weakness of the mind.

There is a world of great opportunities that you are avoiding, opportunities to bring you success and happiness and excitement in life. It’s not easy to get out of your comfort zone, but it’s possible and you will discover new and amazing territory once you breakthrough!

The problem is most people don’t want to be uncomfortable. But know that you don’t have to JUMP out of your comfort zone all at once. A small change here and there and facing a little feeling of discomfort everyday can help solve many problems and make you healthier, happier and stronger physically and mentally.

How does this relate to fitness?

Let’s start with examples associated with Ramadan. To some people, training while fasting during Ramadan is so far out of their comfort zone that they decided to stop their membership for this month and not come to the gym at all! They didn’t want to face a little of discomfort and completely missed the opportunity to challenge themselves. While others know that training in a fasted state will be difficult and uncomfortable, but they continue to come everyday anyways. You know what results those members are seeing? I have one of my girls telling me that this is the first Ramadan in years that she didn’t gain weight and is staying active. And then you have the girls that stuck to their diets even though they attend Ramadan social gatherings every night. It’s hard and uncomfortable to sit with your friends and have to say  “no thank you” to dessert! But guess what? This other member lost 3kg of fat and gained 2kg of muscle because of a good diet and training while fasted.

How about being uncomfortable in training? Learning new movements and exercises can be difficult. For example, for a new member at a CrossFit gym it can be uncomfortable learning how to squat when they have been moving wrong their whole adult life up to now. They will feel sore, they might feel pain in places they never felt before, they will be working muscles in their body that have been inactive for so long because of prolonged sitting. But that’s okay! We are working through this discomfort and then one day squatting correctly will feel so good! Another example is getting used to pushing yourself as much as you can during a workout. There are so many thoughts that go through our mind during a workout: “I’m tired” “this is hard” “why am I doing this” “I want to go home and sleep” “my legs are shaking” “why am I breathing heavy”…and many other negative thoughts that you keep telling yourself because you are suddenly feeling uncomfortable in the workout. When you start to get tired and the discomfort becomes even more unbearable, that’s when you need to push the hardest. Most of the time, you haven’t even come close to your limit. Your body is just in shock of the discomfort that it’s telling you to slow down or stop. But the people who keep pushing and try their hardest to finish the workout, the feeling of accomplishment once it’s over is the most satisfying feeling.

So when things get difficult, most people will quit or go back to doing what made them feel comfortable. But those who have gotten used to being uncomfortable will stay on track and soon achieve the results they work hard for.

Did you know that by getting uncomfortable in training you are also training your mind to get used to being in uncomfortable situations? This will translate into your everyday life and make you a mentally stronger person ready to face challenges and ultimately live a successful and happy life.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: I just want to point out that when I say ‘discomfort’, it is doing things you are not used to doing and the discomfort is mostly mental. There is physical discomfort but mostly mental. Feeling real physical pain is NOT a time to push harder. That is how people get injured. You need to get to know your body and understand how it works, what soreness feels like, what discomfort feels like, and what actual pain feels like. There is a big difference and it’s your responsibility to be aware of your own body.

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Discipline And Trying To Get Your First Pull-up

Some people know what they want. They make a plan (or ask their coach to make one for them), they do the work, and they get results. What is the difference between people who get results and those who don’t? DISCIPLINE.

CrossFit can be fun, but most of the time its just plain hard work in order to reach the result you want. And not everyone is willing to put in the work. Discipline is showing up and doing the work every single day without loss of enthusiasm.

Let’s discuss the concept of discipline by accepting a physical challenge and relentlessly working towards achieving a set goal. Let’s talk about strict pull-ups.

Everyone is obsessed with getting his or her first pull-up. I remember I was too. A movement that looks so simple is yet one of the most difficult exercises. Getting a pull-up is also one of the very first steps in working towards getting the muscle-up.

There are many exercises you need to do in order to get yourself on the right path to getting your first pull-up. Here is a list of some of those exercises and what you need to know about each one in order to benefit from them:

1. Banded pull-ups: Most people start out with the green band that is the one that provides the most support. Once you are able to do multiple reps comfortably, you can move on to the next band, which is the blue band and then the red band. The important thing to remember when using bands is not to get too reliant on them. The band is there to assist you in lifting your chin over the bar. You still need to be contracting your upper back muscles and using your arms to pull yourself up. Don’t get attached to the band. I let the girls at CrossFit Q8move on to a harder band and practice even if they can only do 2 to 3 pull-ups with that harder band. It needs to be challenging or else you’re wasting your time.

2. Negative pull-ups: This exercise is great and I still practice negative pull-ups to get me stronger. The idea of a negative movement is starting in the finishing position of a pull-up (chin over the bar) and lowering yourself in a slow and controlled way. You need to remember to hold at the top and come down as slow as possible. Dropping down quickly is not a negative pull-up. If you don’t have the strength to hold your bodyweight for a few seconds and lower yourself slowly, then you can do the same exercise but with a band. If you usually use the blue band, then use a red band for your negatives. That way you are getting a little bit of assistance but you are still using your own strength to perform the exercise.

3. Chin-ups: Another variation of pull-ups is a chin-up. A chin-up is when you have the palm of your hands facing towards you when holding the bar. Chin-ups are going to strengthen different muscle groups that will assist you in getting stronger with pull-ups. You can practice chin-ups just like pull-ups: with a band and negatives.

4. Ring rows: This exercise is neglected by many and passed on as a very easy exercise, when actually it can be very difficult. Ring rows are an excellent addition to your program for getting stronger with pull-ups. You use the same muscles that you would use when performing a pull-up. When starting out, you want the rings to be hanging at chest level and your feet slightly behind the rings when standing. Lean back and keep your whole body tight: abs, butt, legs, and back. When you pull your chest towards the rings, make sure you squeeze your back muscles and feel the movement. Once that gets easier there are so many variations to make this movement more challenging and beneficial. The more you place your feet farther away in front of the rings the more horizontal your body will be to the ground. This will make the movement much harder. Another variation is to keep lowering the rings and as they get lower it will get more challenging. One more variation is to lower the rings as far as they go and place your feet on a box. The level of your feet should be as high as or higher than the rings. This one is really difficult and I struggle to do it myself!

Each of these exercises needs to be practiced consistently in order to gain strength and achieve a pull-up. If you come to the gym and practice pull-ups once a week, then forget about improving your pull-ups. If you come to the gym and swing aimlessly with a band that’s way too easy for you because you don’t want to put the effort, then forget about improving your pull-ups. If you get excited and start doing the work one day, two days, one week, then start to lose interest and stop practicing and jump to a completely different goal, then forget about improving your pull-ups. Getting your first pull-up needs DISCIPLINE.

You need to be disciplined in training by practicing as often as possible. You need to be disciplined in training by doing all the steps necessary to get stronger. You need to be disciplined in training by doing the exercise with intent and real effort. You need to be disciplined in training by working as long as it will take without losing interest. Because those who stick with the program long enough, will reach the result they want. These are lessons that you should take with you when trying to achieve any goal, not just pull-ups.

P.S. at CrossFit Q8 some of our girls did the work necessary and achieved their first pull-up (woohoo!!). Also, the girls are not allowed to even attempt kipping pull-ups unless they have at least one strict pull-up. The only reason for that is safety. I’m not trying to be a mean coach. If you don’t have the shoulder and back strength to support you then a kipping pull-up is asking for an injury to happen.

Now put in the work and lets celebrate your first strict pull-up!

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Lets talk about sleep. Most people know that taking rest days, making sure your nutrition is good and supports your training, mobilizing and getting massages are the most important factors to recovery. Of course, all of these points play a major role in your recovery so that you can continue to perform at your best and allow your body to rest. But, many people neglect the most important factor to recovery: SLEEP.

Before I explain how sleep will get you stronger and fitter, lets discuss what sleep does to the body. During sleep, the body restores its organs, bones and tissues. When you sleep your body replenishes the immune cells and circulates human growth hormone. Sleep provides the human body with mental health, hormonal balance, and muscular recovery. There is definitely more detailed research that provides lots of explanation of what happens to your body during sleep, but I’ll stop here. In general, sleep has an overwhelmingly huge effect on your physical well being.

So how does sleep relate to making you a better athlete? Let’s start with the simplest one: motivation. You need motivation to get yourself into the gym. You need motivation to work hard to reach your goals. You need motivation to stick to your clean diet and eat healthy. Motivation can come easy if you are focused on what you are doing and focused on your path in fitness. But how can you be motivated without being mentally alert? When you sleep, you are recharging your brain and that helps you to have mental alertness during the day. This is needed for your motivation levels. Once you are in the gym, you still need to be mentally alert to be able to perform your best. If you are so tired that you can’t focus, you won’t be training very well. Days at the gym can be wasted without enough sleep.

If you want to get stronger, grow your muscles, or get a leaner body composition, its nearly impossible if you aren’t sleeping. Sleep provides growth for muscles and hormonal balance. During sleep, your body repairs and recovers your muscles, which allows them to grow and get stronger to prepare you for your next training session.

There are of course people who are able to train with barely any sleep but that will catch up to them soon and they will reach a plateau. Everyone is different in terms of how much you train, how hard you train, your lifestyle, your genetics, how good your diet is, but overall most people need a minimum of 7 to 10 hours of sleep a night. The harder you train, the more sleep you need.

Did you know that most CrossFit Games athletes take naps in between their training sessions and throughout the day? With all the amount of work they put in, their body needs the time to rest, recover, and restore itself so they can keep training at their intensity level.

Okay, so I know we are in Ramadan and everyone’s sleeping is messed up. But that is not an excuse to completely neglect allowing your body to recover. As for myself, I sleep much later in Ramadan but still wake up at the same time as usual (6am with my lovely early rising daughter). So in order to make sure that I am getting enough sleep in a day, I started napping. I try to nap 1 to 2 hours a day. Without those extra hours of sleep, I probably won’t have energy to train well. And I won’t be able to focus during training because my brain will be exhausted. My body will probably be sore and not recovered enough to allow me to perform as hard as I would like.

So remember that the best training and most perfect diet routine can be ineffective in reaching your goal without adequate amount of sleep.

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Nutrition During Ramadan

This is a discussion and my personal view of how a diet should be like during Ramadan. All the information provided below is my own opinion and from my own experience. This is what works for me, it might not work for everyone. You have to test things out and see what suits your lifestyle best and what helps you see results.

From people trying to lose weight and people trying to build or maintain muscle, everyone starts to panic about what to eat once Ramadan starts. I’ll get straight to the point and this is completely my opinion. If the diet you were following before Ramadan was working and helping you on your way to reach your goal, then why would you change it during Ramadan? The only thing that will change is a shift in what time of day you will be eating those calories. You can switch around your meals however way you want. If you eat eggs or oatmeal or whatever your breakfast usually is, then iftar can be your breakfast meal or suhoor becomes your breakfast meal. It’s completely up to you. Forget the rules of not eating carbs at night. Every meal should have some portion of HEALTHY carbohydrates, fat, and PROTEIN.

My goal for Ramadan is to maintain my bodyweight. I have a set number of macronutrients and calories that I follow so I need to make sure that within the few hours that I have to eat, that I’m reaching those numbers.

I’ll give you an example of how my meals are spread out:

7:00pm meal 1: iftar (small portion of grilled chicken, rice, salad)

10:00pm meal 2: post workout (whey protein shake, then half of what I ate for iftar with maybe some fruit)

12:00am meal 3: dinner (salad, chicken or meat, with fruits or dates)

2:00am meal 4: suhoor (casein protein or whey protein, peanut butter, and a little bit of oats)

The biggest mistake you can make is eat one meal a day, and that’s for Ramadan and the rest of the year too! If you know eating one huge meal a day that has you unable to move for a few hours is bad for you any other time of the year, why would you do that during Ramadan?? There are so many reasons why eating this way is bad for you. One of them is by only eating one meal you’re restricting calories and not providing your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to function properly. You’re also making the next day that much harder because you’ll be starving! We already know your metabolism can shut down if you’re body isn’t receiving it’s required nutrients. This goes for people who are trying to lose weight and those who are trying to maintain or keep their muscle mass during this month. As for suhoor, it could be the most important meal to help keep you energized and full for the next day so you don’t go to work like a “hangry” zombie. Your suhoor should also consist of healthy carbohydrates, fat, and PROTEIN. There are endless examples of meal options online I can provide some links below. I prefer casein protein because it’s a slow digesting protein and provides nutrients to my muscles for hours after consuming it. My fats and carbs are from the peanut butter and oats.

Don’t stress yourself out during Ramadan by worrying about your diet. If it was working before keep doing it, if you weren’t eating healthy before then now is a good time to clean up your meals and avoid the sweets. Give yourself the chance to focus on what this holy month is actually about.

Last but not least and maybe the most important part of your diet; drink lots of WATER!

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Avoiding Unrealistic Goals

We previously discussed the difference between outcome goals and action goals. With one of them you clearly state the final outcome you want and the other helps you set process goals to reach that outcome.

Let’s talk about setting realistic goals versus unrealistic goals. In other words, you need to set an ATTAINABLE goal. For a goal to be attainable or realistic it means to be “capable of being accomplished”.   Before explaining any further, I’ll give examples of unattainable/unrealistic goals:

1. Pointing at a fitness model on Instagram and deciding you want to have the EXACT body as that person. (These fitness models dedicate their life to look like that. Do you know how much work and sacrifice goes into looking a certain way? You have to be willing to be so committed. The most important point though is everyone’s body is different, genetically. You will never have her body but you can reach your full potential and create the most amazing body that is YOURS.) 

2. Looking at a young, elite athlete such as Lauren Fisher and deciding I want to be JUST like her in 1 year. (Do you know that Lauren Fisher has been going to a CrossFit gym since she was 10 years old? She is now 20 or 21 years old. That is 10 years of training. Do you have 10 years of training? Consistent training and hard work and dedication? Commit and you can be whatever you want, just don’t be blind to the amount of time and work it needs.) 

3. Deciding you want to get a muscle-up in a month. (Can you do a pull-up without a band? Can you do an unassisted ring dip? How strong is your upper body? Do you know how to kip? Before you even think of learning the technique of an advanced movement you need to have your base strength. It took me 2 years to get my first muscle-up and I still struggle with it.) 

There are infinite examples of unrealistic goals. The problem with these goals is that it’s not possible to achieve them the way you want which will lead you to get discouraged and give up. Some goals are not possible, like looking exactly like someone else. Other goals people don’t realize the amount of work and time it needs to achieve them.

Here are examples of realistic/attainable goals:

1. I do pull-ups with a blue band and I want to be able to switch to the red band by the end of the month. 

2. I have created a healthy meal plan and my goal is to stick to it without cheating for 30 days. 

3. My goal is to improve my snatch technique. I will practice snatching at least 3 times a week before thinking about adding more weight. 

4. I have lost 1kg in the last month and my goal is to lose 1 more by the end of the second month. 

5. I want to join my first CrossFit competition. My goal is to train at least 5-6 times a week and work on my weakness so I can perform well in competition day. 

All these goals can be achieved! They have a good, realistic time frame and most importantly, part of the goal is specifying the work that needs to be done in order to achieve it.

Hope this helps you in creating your own realistic goals and start working towards them!

Reach for the stars but understand you need to build a rocket first to get there. 

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