The Fitness Mindset

I hate to say this but the majority of people whom you see in the gym—and perhaps you have been one of them (up until now)—will not reach their goals. That’s because simply being in close physical proximity to calorie-burning machines and other sweaty people will not get you fit. Nor is it enough to mimic what others are doing or hop on a machine and push until you’re tired.

Being physically fit requires an outlay of physical and mental energy. The latter point is the one most people usually neglect. And, if you speak to anyone whom you consider a fitness role model, you will probably hear similarities in the way that they think about training.

For instance, fit people generally see movement as a part of their lives. No matter how busy they are—from business professionals to full-time parents—they prioritize exercise. That may mean sneaking it into little cracks of time throughout the day, getting up early to hit the gym, or forgoing social activities to make it happen.

Fit people also see fitness as a long-term journey. They typically don’t have micro goals, such as wanting to shed 10 pounds for a wedding or school reunion a few months away. Usually, committed exercisers take the long view, understanding that consistent training over years is the means to achieving consistently good health, aesthetics, and performance.

Finally, fit people understand and embrace discomfort. There is no way to avoid the fact that exercise is work and it demands its practitioners be uncomfortable to reap the rewards. Like Nike espouses, Just Do It.  

Being physically fit requires a certain fitness mindset

If you want to make any serious progress towards your goals, you’ll have to do more than show up. If the fitness mindset doesn’t come naturally for you, that’s just fine. You can learn it.


1.      Define your why

Why are you coming to the gym? What change would you like to have happen? What is your why? Defining your why should be the first step in your fitness journey because, without a deep understanding of your desire for change, you will likely go through the motions of your workouts without much passion or engagement.

Most people don’t dig deep enough to uncover the root of their why. If I ask a new client what her goal is and she tells me “to lose 20 pounds” I want to understand what that 20 pounds represent to her. In other words, how will being 20 pounds lighter change her life? Will it help her avoid being ridiculed by her spouse? Or will she experience the confidence she enjoyed in her 20s? Or perhaps it would reduce her fear of having a heart attack, which her father died from when she was a teenager.

A number may be important for you to define as a goal but it’s more important to probe yourself for the deeper understanding of what that number represents. The only right answer to your why will be the one that motivates you to get to the gym on frosty mornings of rainy nights.


2.      Make the time

The most common reason why people say they can’t exercise is because they don’t have time. Yes, you do. If the President can train consistently, so can you.

 If one of the busiest people on the planet can make time for exercise, so can you.

If one of the busiest people on the planet can make time for exercise, so can you.

If you can’t manage to arrange your schedule so that you can hit the gym or park for 30-45 minutes, that’s fine. Aim for smaller chunks of 5-10 minutes of concentrated, intense effort. And if that’s not going to work either, you can consider adopting a more movement-based lifestyle (which would be good for you even if you are hitting the gym regularly), which I’ve written about HERE.


3.      Take the long view

Sure, you’d like to experience a different-looking and feeling body relatively soon after you start a training program. But keep in mind that being fit and healthy is a lifestyle choice and you want to choose to remain active for your entire life.

Another way to say this is that your training never ends. Sure, there will be ebbs and flows based on lifestyle changes (relationships, job changes, kids, relocation), medical issues, interest level, and shorter-term goals, but wrap your mind around the idea that movement is life and without the former you don’t have the latter.


4.      Endure discomfort

This is the part that may be the most difficult for you to embrace. And it makes perfect sense since human beings are designed to avoid physical discomfort. However, you have to be uncomfortable in order to push your current physical limits.

I often have to tell my clients, who don’t squat low enough (even though they can), to “go to the uncomfortable place.” The self-protection mechanism is potent and can undermine your efforts for improvement. But, unless you are in immediate physical danger, there is no reason why you can’t push past the place where you’d prefer to stop. Choose to be better.

Keep on Movin,


Neutral Spine

In the United States, low-back pain is the number one reason why people receive care from physical therapists (1). What’s behind all the pain and what can you do to keep your back healthy and safe?

While there may be a variety of reasons causing this widespread problem—too much sitting, excessive spinal flexion (2), lack of movement, tight soft tissue, lack of proper hydration, stress—often times a lack of awareness and education about how we position ourselves is one huge piece of the puzzle.

 Don't scare people with lousy spine position. The first step to changing your habits is to become aware of them.

Don't scare people with lousy spine position. The first step to changing your habits is to become aware of them.

Most people sit at their desks, text on their phones, or slouch in their cars while driving. All static positions, all likely done with poor posture.

In order to realign yourself closer towards the optimal neutral position you need to understand what that position looks like and how to maintain it under a variety of circumstances (sitting, standing, bending down, etc.).

Check out the following video for a brief tutorial on neutral spine and then let’s regroup below:

Now that you’ve gotten a visual, here are a few more things to keep in mind:

  • Neutral spine position is a bit different for everyone due to a variety of reasons
    • Subtleties in skeletal design, soft-tissue length differences, repetitive use of the body in particular positions, occupational stresses, etc.
  • Because of individual differences there is a range of what’s considered optimal positioning
  • When doing rotations—i.e. trunk rotation with cables or bands—keep your shoulders and hips moving at the same rate in the same direction to keep the spine neutral.

Are you sitting up straighter now?


Keep on Movin’




  1. Jette, A.M., Smith, K., Haley, S.M., Davis, K.D. (1994). Physical therapy episodes of care for patients with low back pain. Physical Therapy, 74, 101–110.
  2. McGill, S. (2004).  Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance.  Stuart McGill: Waterloo, CN.

Objectivity is the Objective

I often work with clients who are either perfectionists or accustomed to rapid success in most areas of their lives. That’s how they’ve been able to do so well in their professional lives: by maintaining an uncompromising vision of their own potential to excel in current or new endeavors. I respect that tremendously and try to follow such a philosophy as well.

However, the way in which we achieve excellence can be quicker and less detrimental if we limit the tempting, judgmental jabs at ourselves when struggling to succeed.

For my client Suzanne, who’s used to progressing at a fast rate, who ‘gets it’ quickly, challenging balancing exercises can bring out her inner ugly. She is quick to berate herself when struggling through a set of one-legged squats and I observe her meltdown with interest.

My goal is to help her remove the negative personal attacks ("My balance sucks," "I'm pathetic") and learn how to get to the essence of improving the skill.

My objective questions help her focus on what's actually happening rather than how she feels she's doing. I’m not interested in putting her down but I want to help her come up with a solution to do the movement better.

With shame and humiliation off the table, we've taken her feelings out of the equation so she can focus only on the pertinent, objective information about the single-leg squat to achieve a better outcome.

Playing the tape of negativity often enough will lead us to believe our self-generated recordings.

Rather than thinking that the exercise was challenging, Suzanne classified her own ability to execute it as insufficient. I encouraged her to record a new tape with a different message by focusing her answers towards constructive solutions.

If you’re attempting to learn a new skill, whether it be knitting, baking, or skiing, leave your emotions out of the process.

Before you judge yourself incapable of accomplishing a task you need to understand:

1.      What is required to do it well

2.      What skill level you’re starting from


The Well-Meaning, Misguided Approach

Think of a well-intentioned yet boisterous parent shouting to his daughter from the sidelines at a basketball game. Ella is new to the sport and isn’t yet good enough to execute her father’s instructions. More often than not his ‘helpful’ commentary only makes things worse.

He'll say things like, “Drive it down the lane, honey.” While that might be the right strategy, Ella is having enough trouble just dribbling the ball under control. Inevitably, when she tries to do more than her skill level will allow, she creates a turnover. “That was terrible,” he shouts. “Stay focused!” She was focused—on dribbling—until her overbearing father pushed her beyond her skill level.

The shouting father in this example represents the voice we often use to talk to ourselves when trying something new and Ella represents our actual skill level. Scolding words may work for some highly-skilled technicians as a motivating factor (a la John McEnroe) but will work for few others. They only serve to make us feel bad about what we’re not yet able to do rather than helping us figure out how best to improve.

 Not all great athletes' behavior should be modeled.

Not all great athletes' behavior should be modeled.

The Patient, Respectful Approach

When learning to play any sport one easier skill comes before the next, more progressively difficult one. In basketball dribbling comes before layups. So, what’s the point of yelling at yourself for not being able to hit a 3-pointer if you can’t even shoot a free throw? How will negative self-talk be effective in improving your jump shot?

Rather than spending time telling yourself that your jump shot sucks, try objectively analyzing how you missed the shot in order to get it better the next attempt.

Ask yourself objective questions if you didn't achieve the desired outcome. Examples of useful questions to improve your jump shot include, "How far away from the rim was the ball?" (2 inches versus 2 feet dramatically changes how you would approach the next shot.) Likewise, "In what direction did the ball go in relation to the basket?" (2 feet to the right is very different from 2 inches too low).  

The better you get at asking yourself objective questions the better (and more accurate) the information you'll glean so that your future attempts will be more likely to hit your mark. 

Learning is a proactive process that involves being curious and patient with yourself. If you can remain objective enough to gather pertinent clues from your movements you’ll be better able to put the puzzle together.   

Keep on Movin’


Power to (All) the People

I once sat in a class on power development being taught by a “master trainer,” who posed a seemingly innocent question: “Who needs power?” The obvious answers surfaced, such as athletes and physical laborers. 

When I chimed in with “seniors,” the instructor stared at me with a combination of disbelief and snide condescension. He then asked me,

“So, you would do a kettlebell swing with grandma?” 

“Absolutely,” I responded, “because seniors lose a disproportionate amount of fast-twitch fibers and the ability to quickly react to a missed step to avoid falling.” 

He refused to agree with me, which is fine, but I wanted to make the point to the dozens of uninitiated trainers in the room eagerly soaking in this guy’s “wisdom.”

I also want you to understand that, regardless of your chronological age or training experience, you need power training in your program.

First, it's important to understand how your body changes throughout adulthood, beginning at the tender age of 30 (1, 2):

  • Muscle mass and strength decrease by 25%-30%. In addition, fast-twitch type II fibers are lost in a disproportionate amount. Consequently, power decreases.
  • Nervous system function declines; there is a decrease in the number of total brain cells, motor unit size, and conduction velocity while synaptic delay and reaction time increase.
  • Bone density decreases between 10%-30% (women lose the most).
  • Cardiovascular capacity decreases, including the following: VO2 max, stroke volume, anaerobic power.

Your habits and lifestyle choices will certainly impact the severity of the decrements listed above. And the good news is that training can help offset these changes

 Now 79, Ernestine Shepherd holds the title of Guiness World Records' oldest female bodybuilder.

Now 79, Ernestine Shepherd holds the title of Guiness World Records' oldest female bodybuilder.

However, decreases in sensory system functioning are not really trainable and they do have a significant impact on movement production. A few examples (3):

  • Sensory receptors decrease, especially on the bottom of the feet, making seniors less able to take in critical information when walking or even in quiet stance. (Big, orthopedic shoes designed for comfort and stability will mask even more sensory information.)
  • Loss of 40% of vestibular hair and nerve cells in the ears, which help to sense changes in inner ear fluid (reducing kinesthetic awareness and accurate orientation in the environment).
  • Vision changes, especially in depth perception, prevent accurate assessment of the environment, increasing the likelihood of missteps and falls.

Considering the vast physiological and sensory changes listed above, it becomes easier to understand how you might trip, fall, or experience performance declines if you are in your second act of life (50+).

Conventional thinking is that, if you are a senior exerciser, you should take a conservative, even gentle approach to physical activities (read: a slow tempo) so as to reduce injury potential. While I agree that slow, deliberate practice of movement mechanics is critical for building a solid physiological foundation, you also need to develop the ability to produce force rapidly for real-world situations.

To me, the most salient example of why power training is so important relates to walking pace. Research has been done on the timing of traffic lights to allow pedestrians to safely walk from one curb to the other in an intersection. New Haven, CT, East Boston, MA, and Los Angeles, CA are among some of the cities that have lights timed to allow a person to cover an intersection while walking at a pace of 1.22m/s (4 ft/s) (4). However, over 96% of subjects involved in multiple studies walked slower than 1.22m/s, putting them at risk every time they crossed the street (5).

 A daily task that can become life-threatening.

A daily task that can become life-threatening.

In my hometown of New York City, I cringe when I see impatient cars bearing down on slow walkers, hoping for a safe outcome for the pedestrian. I use that image to fuel my work with my over-60 clients. They don’t need to move quickly all the time but that ability needs to be at their disposal when necessary.

How You Can Power Up Your Training

As long as you are progressed properly there is no reason why you can’t become more powerful. Even if you have physical limitations you can simply speed up the tempo of whatever exercises you are currently able to do, resulting in increased force production and the ability to summate forces more quickly.

Here are more power training tips to implement into your workouts:

  • Increase weights
    • The more weight you move the more force you produce. And force is a prerequisite for increasing power output. So, hit the heavier weights at least once a week to stimulate the precious fast-twitch fibers that are so critical to moving faster.
  • Increase tempo
    • Every movement has two phases (concentric=muscle lengths getting shorter, eccentric=muscle lengths getting longer). Performing movements at a slow tempo won't stimulate power as much as speeding up one, and then both, phases of a movement. Make sure that you can execute both phases quickly and accurately.
  • Incorporate sensory cues prior to producing a rapid movement
    • Just as crossing a street requires a visual stimulus (green light) to initiate the appropriate response (begin walking), try to incorporate visual or auditory cues before squatting, lunging, pulling, or pressing. This is easier if you have a gym buddy or willing partner. Have that person make a hand gesture or sound and then try to respond with your squat as quickly as possible. The less of a delay between cue and movement the better.

As long as you keep in mind the demands of real-world situations, from crossing the street to heaving a heavy suitcase onto a luggage rack, you can better prepare yourself to be successful at those tasks. 

Power up your program today.

Keep on Movin’




  1. Gabbard, C.P. (2008). Lifelong Motor Development (5th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.
  2. Brooks, G.A., Fahey, T.D., & Baldwin, K.M. (2005). Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
  3. Shumway-Cook, A., & Woollacott, M.H. (2007). Motor Control: Translating Research into Clinical Practice (3rd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  4. Hoxie, R.E, & Rubenstein L.Z. (1994). Are Older Pedestrians Allowed Enough Time to Cross Intersections Safely? Journal of the American Geriatric Society. 42, 241-244.
  5. Langlois, J.A., Keyl, P.M., Guralniik, J.M., Foley, D.J., Marottoli, R.A., & Wallace, R.B. (1997). Characteristics of Older Pedestrians Who Have Difficulty Crossing the Street. American Journal of Public Health, 87(3), 393-397.

Making Life MORE Work

Last week, I bought a new garbage can for the bathroom. This may not sound exciting but I had been searching for a small, lidded one to replace my tall, open-mouth one for months and lucked up at The Container Store. Had my son not been with me I probably would have made many more fun purchases because that place is my version of Toys “R” Us. Yes, color-coated bins and kitchen organization tools make me giddy.

  Photo source:

Now, you might not think that the swap of one garbage can for another would impact my health, but it has. Before, I would stand at the sink and let my floss drop into the can’s open mouth, requiring virtually no exertion. Now, I have to squat and hold it for a couple of seconds while I open the lid with one hand and deposit my floss with another. The same activity has now become a total-body movement. And I do this new pattern several times a day, whenever a refuse opportunity crops up. And, life with a toddler provides many such opportunities.

I made this swap with the understanding that I’d have to work a little harder to achieve a task that used to be easy. In fact, I’ve started making a concerted effort to work harder at a bunch of small chores that definitely add up by the end of the day.

Examples of how I increase my daily movement quotient:

• Holding the water pitcher for several seconds as I fill it rather than letting it rest in the sink
• Squatting to my son’s level in order to take his shirt off rather than sitting on the couch to do it
• Eating some meals while standing or sitting on the floor instead of at the dining table (depending on how much time I spent sitting during the day)
• Buying only the food I need to make dinner for a single day so that I will walk to the store more frequently
• Wearing my son in a carrier while carrying groceries home rather than pushing him in a stroller and putting the groceries underneath it


Rather than eschewing exertion I’m embracing it


Part of the reason I’ve done this is to actually use the strength, endurance, and mobility that I build in the gym for something other than gym activities. After all, what’s the point of training if you don’t ever test its results in real-world scenarios (to know if your gym time is being used wisely)?

And, when my time is tight and I can’t make it to the gym or I’m not able to swing some ketllebells at home because I’m on mom duty, I can count on chores to provide me with a chance for movement.

 Photo source:

Another reason I’ve changed my approach to everyday tasks has to do with being influenced by a very smart lady at the heart of a relatively new movement, aptly called Nutritious Movement. Katy Bowman is a biomechanist and admitted science nerd whose work I first came upon when doing research for my forthcoming book on pre-natal fitness. Since discovering her I’ve read three of her books and frequently listen to her podcast. She’s as prolific as she is influential.

One of Bowman’s main arguments is that we are designed to move and that living a more movement-based lifestyle will solve a lot of our physical ailments (and diseases). For example, she has gotten rid of almost all of the furniture in her home because sitting on the floor is more beneficial to our bodies than sitting in a chair. That’s because our muscles and joints are asked to do more to get down and up from the ground than when sitting on a couch.

If that’s hard to imagine then picture your knee. In a couch or chair your knee will be bent at about 90◦. If you sit on the floor the joint will likely be bent at a much greater angle, forcing it to use a bigger range of its available motion. Not only will using more range of motion mean that it will be there for you when you need (hence, the principle of use it or lose it) but maneuvering to and from the ground is a vital life skill that will be preserved with more floor-sitting.

A final reason that I’ve bought into the idea of making my life less convenient has to do with the recent abundance of research that highlights the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. The longer you spend sitting throughout the day the greater the rise in mortality rate. And, even more scary to me, is that these findings apply to those who regularly go to the gym but who still may sit for hours (1,2). As one study concluded, “Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity (1).”

So, it seems that overall lifestyle patterns trump a concentrated effort of intense activity sandwiched by long stretches of inactivity.

What you can do

A simple adjustment can have an additive effect and I urge you to start looking in your environment (home, work, mall, leisure locations, etc.) to create more opportunities for movement. See if you can squat to accomplish tasks that occur low to the ground instead of rounding your back or sitting. Try carrying packages or bags instead of using a cart or other object with wheels. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is an oldie but goodie. And vary the positions in which you work at your computer: standing (elevate the keyboard on a crate), kneeling or sitting on the floor (use the crate as a desk on the floor). You are only limited by your creativity.

Your homework: make a list of common tasks that you perform in each environment you occupy during the day. There may be times and places in which you cannot change your habitual patterns. However, I bet there are a host of ways that you can make changes that will benefit your health. And then let me know what changes you make. The more you share your clever hacks the more you can inspire others to get healthier too.

Keep on Movin’




  1. van der Ploeg HP, Chey T, Korda RJ, Banks E, Bauman A. (2012). Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk in 222,497 Australian Adults. Archives of Internal Medicine. 172 (6): 494-500.
  2. Patel, A.V., Bernstein, L. Deka, A., Feigelson, H.S., Campbell, P.T., Gapstur, S.M., Colditz, G.A. & Thun, M.J. (2010). Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Total Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of US Adults. American Journal of Epidemiology.172 (4): 419-429.

Photo Credits: