Do you keep a journal?

I've been working for the past year on a book for women who want to learn to lift weights. I had trouble believing in my own authority to write this book. Friends and supporters assured me that my voice and perspective are unique, and that they want to hear the information that I want to share, even though books on lifting already exist.

I wanted to make myself more aware of whatever they were seeing. What is unique about me? We know every person is unique, but how? "Find the uniqueness" is the motto I've found myself repeating in 2018.

I decided to reread my journals from my young adulthood -- thirteen years' worth of spiral-bound notebooks I filled with handwriting and then hid away in a box. I had never read these journals all the way through since writing them. Well... I found uniqueness, all right.

From the perspective of fifty-three years old, I can see so much in myself and my friends that I could not see at the time. I want to use all this accumulated writing as a creative resource somehow. I also want to encourage other people to keep journals and to revisit them without judgment. (I don't know why, but this is the first year I've been able to delve into my journals with no embarrassment.) I would love to find a way to encourage young people to write without self-consciousness, as I did, privately, starting at age ten after reading "Harriet the Spy."

My notebook was an extension of my mind. I wrote when I felt like it. I had no rules for what to write about or not write about. I kept up this habit all through my school years, and then majored in creative writing in college. I kept up the habit after college, and hand-writing in my journals helped me see the feelings and untie the knots in a long and intense relationship. It was almost meditative (a concept I'd never heard of then), helping me to observe what I was going through, even while I was in over my head.

If we keep a journal -- of whatever type of content we choose -- we can look back and learn. We can see our own uniqueness, and I believe that we can also find out that even though we are each unique, we are definitely not alone in whatever we experience. That is, if we find a way to share the material with others in whatever way is appropriate.

What do you think? Have you kept a journal? Have you reread it? Is it possible that there could be a safe enough setting to share bits of it -- not for irony or for laughs, but as a constructive space for vulnerability and feeling seen?

I want to create a setting like this, for a small group to explore seeing their own uniqueness and their not-aloneness. Can you help me flesh out this idea? Have you taken any sort of class in journal writing, or in using a journal for creative personal writing that is public, or using a journal for any other reason?

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Inspiration: Generated by you.

Inspiration! It sounds like... a beautiful scent of lilacs on the air! Or a warm breeze! But it isn't. Don't wait for it. Don't assume it sometimes will just hit you -- even though sometimes it will. Look out for it. When you get a glimmer -- pull on that thread, wind it into a ball of thought, and turn it over in your mind. Let the thought turn into a plan -- even a tiny one! And then put yourself in the right spot to take action. That's what I did today:

Working out is part of my job, but I always have chores or a good book pulling at me with enormous gravity during my free time. If I scold myself when it's time to exercise and I don't want to do it, I try to stop and look around for positive inspiration instead. 

For example, today, I went to my first guitar lesson in nine years. My teacher certainly did inspire me to practice -- but that was bound to happen. The inspiration I really needed came as a surprise. He asked me what I do, and I described personal training with barbells. He said, "Oh, that sounds similar to the Starting Strength method," and I exclaimed, "That's what it is. I'm a Starting Strength coach." Turns out, he trains himself in this method at a local gym. What a fun coincidence. 

We talked about the Starting Strength linear progression for beginners -- add a little weight every time, gradually -- and about how this can apply to guitar practice. (Not with weight, but with metronome speed.)

No problem! Guitar skills will be a gradual acquisition, and I'm patient. What I really latched onto intentionally was the surprise opportunity to talk about lifting. At home, I went out to the garage with the workout I had planned yesterday (and hadn't done). My mind was saying something like, "I just told this guy I lift. So, let's lift." Not that he will ever know. The point is just to grab the momentum of the thought.

I do that all the time. Earlier today I spontaneously had invited a friend over to lift with me. She couldn't come, but just asking her would have made me take action even if I hadn't run into yet another lifter at the guitar lesson.

The conversation with the guitar teacher could have been just a fleeting thought. It could have disappeared, forgotten. I had a sensation of almost flinging out a hand to latch on to it and pull it in. Do you have a favorite way to notice inspiration and hold on to it? Let your enthusiasms weave into each other to build them all.

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Book excerpt: How to find a strength coach

I wish I could train every woman! Since I can't, here are some tips on finding a trainer near you, and what to ask them. Don't be shy if you feel like you don't know what you're talking about. They have to meet you halfway and understand your questions even if you are hesitant.  We are not born knowing what a squat rack is (a good thing), versus a Smith machine (not a good thing), for example, so no trainer/coach should be impatient with questions. Below is an excerpt from my book draft. (It's getting there...)

Where to look for a strength trainer/coach and what to ask them

First choice: see if there’s a Starting Strength Coach in your area, and contact the one nearest you. Tell them you want to strength train, and a Starting Strength coach will know what to do with you. Make an appointment and go talk to them to see if you want to work together. Starting Strength is my favorite beginners' method because of its simple and gradual approach, and it is becoming better and better known by trainers, so it can be a good way to start a conversation.

Next choice: Some CrossFit coaches are also excellent strength coaches and are happy to do personal training in basic strength only, rather than putting you into CrossFit classes. Contact your two or three nearest CrossFit gyms to ask if they have the type of personal training you are looking for: strength training on its own. (Just to be extra clear, you are NOT looking for CrossFit training at this point.)

Another place to look: Independent gyms where freelance trainers do personal training and where gym members also can work out on their own.

What to ask the trainers you contact:

If he or she isn't a Starting Strength Coach, ask the following questions.

"Do you offer personal training or small-group training in the basic barbell lifts -- the back squat, bench press, deadlift, and shoulder press?"

"Do you actively teach the lifting skills to middle-aged or older people who have never lifted weights before, and who may not even know exactly what these lifts are yet?"

"Do you start light and progress the weight a few pounds every time, according to the trainee’s ability?" You’re interested in a gradual progression of weight in as efficient a fashion as possible. You can tell them, if you wish, that you’ve heard of the Starting Strength novice method and that is the type of training you are looking for. If they say their training is similar, that’s good.

"Do you have squat racks and/or power racks?" (If they say they have a Smith machine, that is a different thing -- used for a different type of squat -- and is not what you want. You want them to say they have either power racks or squat racks, or both.)

Ask, “If you teach other exercises besides these four, are these four lifts the primary focus? I don’t want to do anything similar to a CrossFit WOD, for example.”

If the trainer says they train with “free weights,” tell them you are open to starting out by learning the lifts with free weights (this phrase usually refers to dumbbells), but that your goal is to train progressively with barbells. Do they have light training barbells and training plates in addition to “free weights”? Will they make it a priority and a goal to put you under a barbell?

You want them to answer yes. If they sound very cautious, that’s okay. They can’t be sure how soon you’ll be using barbells until they work with you, so they shouldn’t make specific promises other than to have a goal of getting you under a barbell.

Send me a message if you have questions about the questions. Thanks for reading!

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We need to lose the "but"

In The New Yorker dated Jan. 15, 2018, writer Alexandra Schwartz reviews books about self-improvement. In 2018, not only is there a fad for striving to improve every aspect of one's being -- there are also gadgets and books and apps and coaches to exhort us, measure our efforts, and reward us for being "accountable." She says, "Self-help advice tends to reflect the beliefs and priorities of the era that spawns it. ... In our current era of non-stop technological innovation, fuzzy wishful thinking has yielded to the hard doctrine of personal optimization."

Does all this make you feel a bit tired? It does me. I know for sure I can't "optimize" everything all at once -- if in fact I can "optimize" anything -- even though self-improvement is part of my vocation and I want to be a good example. 

It's a tremendous privilege to have time and space to choose to exercise during free time, or to cook healthy meals most of the time, or to get eight hours of sleep. Working people are fortunate if we achieve one or more of these healthy habits during some portions of our life, let alone "optimizing" all the details. (I keep putting "optimize" in quotation marks because it sounds so snootily privileged and reminds me of "They have no bread? Let them eat cake.")

If you're thinking about making a change -- if you are wanting to improve your well-being or your self-image in some way -- I want you to do one thing before you choose a new healthy habit or goal to pursue. I want you to tell yourself (mentally, aloud, or both) many, many times a day, "I am exactly the person I should be" or "I am who I am, and that is the fact, and I'm good with that." The real key: you have to say it without immediately thinking, "But." No matter how long it takes for that "but" to stop showing up (and this means you must cultivate patience).

I want you to feel the calming effect of accepting yourself as you are. In a calm place, we can look around with deliberation and decide what appeals to us. In a calm place, we can see the good things in our life, not just the stressful ones. In a calm place, we can choose to work on a good  thing to make it better or bigger, or we can choose to work on a problem. 

Throughout this lifelong process we need to keep practicing self-acceptance and patience. And this is something anyone can do, no matter how limited time and money are.

Personally, I've been through times when major changes felt like major failures. After muddling through a few of these as a young adult, I stumbled onto the peace of self-acceptance when it seemed I was powerless to do anything else. After finding that calm, and figuring out how to glimpse it again when it started to dissipate (because even a glimpse helps!), I saw that from that place of quiet I could appreciate the good things about my life and I could figure out how to improve it further.

So, before you feel too exhausted by all the means available for consumers to "optimize" themselves, practice self-acceptance and patience, and if you can, find someone to support the process. Let me know if I can help.

The photo is of a collection of figurines secured to a tree root ball on a street near me. I love this display.

Thanks for reading.

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About the photos!

I am sometimes unsure whether I should share pictures and videos of trainees or myself lifting in my studio. On one hand, sure, everybody likes to see what the lifts look like when we’re talking about them. “Here’s what a deadlift looks like” seems like a no-brainer.

On the other hand, sometimes the response on Facebook or Instagram is, “That looks too heavy for me to lift,” or “Wow, she [person in the video] must be really strong!” This is a problem because what you are NOT seeing is how that person started out. (Nobody wants me to post a video of their very first lift! Even if I promise not to use their name!) If you could compare a lifter's “then” to “now,” you might feel much more encouraged.

Some people are inspired by seeing other women lifting weights, and some are discouraged because they can’t imagine how to get there. With anything I share, my aim is to give you an idea that you yourself could do this. By watching me or someone else lift, I want you to see yourself in that picture. Maybe even just long enough to contact me with a few questions.

Everyone is welcome to send me ANY question you have about lifting or training. There are no stupid questions; we are not born knowing this stuff. Email me your questions at fran@franmasoncoaching.com or use the contact form, and that is regardless whether you will ever train with me or not. Please let me answer your strength training questions. My schedule is pretty full BUT I love to answer zillions of questions and spread the lifting knowledge. The more women are empowered about lifting, the better! No matter who you train with. 

You can follow me on Facebook at Fran Mason Coaching, and on Instagram as @fitness_within_reach .

Book excerpt: Fitness Is Within Reach

I'm writing a book on strength training for women over 50, from my perspective as... a woman over 50. For updates, like my Facebook page Fran Mason Coaching, and/or add yourself to my email list (at the  bottom of this page). I'll never spam you and I don't send email very often. Below is an excerpt from my book in progress. Send me your questions about strength training -- the more basic the better -- and I will answer you and use your question to help my writing. Thank you!

What’s in this book for you?

You will find out:

  • What real strength training is, how to talk about it, and how to ask informed questions

  • What motivates middle-aged and older women to train? What keeps us going?

  • Why YOU should strength train -- and I’ll prove that it’s not too late to start

  • What to expect from strength training: starting out, in the long run, and for healthy aging

  • Inspiring stories from women age 40 to 84

  • Who I am, how I train at age 53, and why I dream of a world of really strong women

I’m writing for women who are out of shape, or want to be stronger, or who are (like me) over fifty. My goal is to give you a radical new view of your body and make you believe in it in ways you may have never even thought about. For example:

  • Your body is a being of tremendous potential power and capability.

  • Your body is a divine mechanism whose capacities you can take joy in exploring.

  • Your body can become your utterly reliable best friend and part of your means of self expression.

When I was out of shape, and I saw other women who worked hard at rigorous forms of exercise, I sometimes fleetingly glimpsed my own potential. Imagining my potential inspired me, and I sought to chase that vision. I knew nothing about training. All I could do was work out one session at a time for its own sake, doing what my coach told me to do. It felt intimidating and overwhelming at first, but those glimpses of potential and of joy in the physical are what motivated me. That was sixteen years ago. My life and health changed, and now my purpose is to share that vision with you.

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This trainee inspires me nonstop

I am so excited to share this excerpt from my book with you as a blog post because it’s about one of my most inspiring trainees. (Takeaway: Even if you’re WAY over 50, and don’t always feel 100 percent grand, you can still train your body and get stronger, just like anyone else.)

 

C.H. had trained with me for 22 one-hour sessions when I wrote this. We continue our work together now that she is back from two months’ travel.

At age 83, C. was motivated to train by seeing a friend losing her robust health with age. A former tennis player and hiker, C’s friend and neighbor of 30 years experienced some health problems. She abstained from exercise afterward, and gradually became frail and unable to walk. C. was also tired of her own inertia -- she says, “I was tired of myself, tired of saying I deserve to rest.” She eventually went to see a local fitness trainer. The young trainer turned out to lack “understanding of an older body.” C. didn’t go back. Next she was referred to me by a physical therapist. She  eventually contacted me and started training.

Today C.’s motivation comes from the life-changing results of her hard work. She says she’s now motivated by the energy and hope she gets from our gradually progressing strength training. Instead of going downhill like her friend, she’s gradually improving her physical fitness.

In C.’s initial email to me, she described herself as “in poor physical condition and discouraged.” Her challenges included fear of falling or of being injured through training. She wasn’t certain she would be able to make progress at all -- maybe it was too late to learn to work out, or too late to change. She had the good fortune to work with a physical therapist who helped with these challenges, assuring C. that she could benefit from exercise and who gave her some exercises to begin with.

C. met with me and we started working together twice a week. In my studio I rigged up benches of slightly decreasing heights and C. practiced sitting and standing from each one. Within four sessions she was able to stand from an inch lower bench than during her first session. This trend has continued gradually. C. can stand up from a bench a few inches lower than a dining-room chair and can stand up from the floor.

I also had C. practice walking while carrying a small weight in each hand, or in two bags, like groceries. C. says her walking speed, stamina (distance), and grip strength have all improved. In each session, we practice the “sit-stand” (the squat, modified for safety), the deadlift, walking while carrying, step-ups, and step-overs. After 22 sessions in four months, C. went to Europe with her daughter. She was able to walk to the departure gate without help, and on arrival, walked through the airport and took the train to her destination with good stamina.

C. has a couple of chronic health problems. They are difficult but not debilitating, and she has determinedly continued training twice a week most weeks. Her training is very gentle and gradual, but the amount of work increases over time, and this is what makes her stronger. (Everyone can lift, recover and adapt, and then lift more, each at her own level of ability, and that’s how we all get stronger.)

At home, C. can carry her laundry downstairs or put groceries away without "over-thinking it." She’s also started driving more, to have dinner with friends who used to come and pick her up at her home. She credits strength training -- learning to squat and deadlift and carry weights -- for her improved abilities in her daily life. And that’s what motivates her now: She’s seen the results and wants more of the same -- more strength, more days feeling good, more confidence. So that’s where motivation comes from now. She says motivation means “feeling energized, measuring progress, and having hope.”

The photo is of C. safely deadlifting 55 pounds after a few months of training.

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Four ways patience pays off

One of the most delightful aspects of my job is seeing stiff, creaky adults gradually become able to position their body around a barbell correctly and squat, deadlift, press, or bench press it. Sure enough, after several sessions, a person who described herself as totally inflexible is lifting with as much skill as any other new trainee. And she’s on her path to increased strength and confidence. Love it!

The point is, patience is not just a virtue here -- it’s a requirement. When I learned to abandon expectations of how quickly a new trainee learns to lift, and just to watch and see how the person progresses, our training sessions became better focused and more rewarding. There’s no pressure! For you, this means you can relax your mind and focus on what you’re doing. You don’t have to worry about what I think, or about what’s next, or any of those mental distractions. The “no rush” atmosphere feels good.

My work consists of teaching and demonstrating, looking at your movement, adjusting my instructions, looking at your movement, and so on. I have no agenda other than to teach you and eventually to see you lifting correctly so that you can get strong.

“Being patient” sounds, in our impatient culture, as if it’s by nature a chore. For me, it isn’t. It feels great. It also paid off in my personal life, when I stopped trying to rush around people in traffic or in the supermarket who were moving more slowly. Turns out there’s very seldom a reason to behave that way. My whole day is more relaxed and happier when I’m patient. If you're not an especially patient person, can you commit to making a focused effort to show patience to others and see how it feels?

So if you're new to training, and/or your expectations or confidence are low, your willingness to progress slowly will be rewarded by both safety and results. My method is to have you try things, do more of the things that you can readily do, keep trying until they become a moderate challenge, and then move on to something else. When there’s something that’s a lot harder to do, we try it a few times, then put it aside and try again another time. Eventually, we always get there, in your own time.

If you're looking for a strength or fitness trainer, and you can't train with me, I encourage you to use patience as one of your criteria for judging a new trainer if you try one. Even if you get off to a slow start, you will go far with a patient trainer.

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Strength builds confidence... all over the place!

 

Now that I'm training people with a pared-down, simple menu of lifts and just a few calisthenics, I've learned a few things from my new clientele. One is that it takes about ten training sessions for them to start to feel different, and at that time I often can see a new spring in their step. And two, they describe an array of widely different results after training for a while longer. Some of my favorites are:

"I have more energy and less of the 'blues' in the morning."

"That long hike was so much easier than last year."

"I go down my stairs with my laundry without thinking twice."

"People have told me I look happier."

"I'm stronger, but I've lost weight."

"My clothes are looser even though my weight is only a little bit lower."

"I was confident to drive myself to dinner with a friend instead of her picking me up." 

That last one is amazing to me, and I keep trying to reverse-engineer it -- confidence related to driving on the freeway into a busy urban center. 

It seems newfound confidence in one area also applies to a very different part of life. Additionally, since exercise improves mood in a lot of people, maybe this senior trainee has more optimism that things will go well. Maybe her posture is better and she can see better because of that. Maybe it's a subtle matter of stamina -- of being able to drive that far, park, and walk into the restaurant or her friend's home. Maybe driving a car takes more strength than I realize. 

In any case, I was thrilled to hear that not only is she walking more, and walking down her stairs with her laundry with greater ease, but she's also driving more. In general, she's able to do more of what she wants and needs to do because she's spent an hour exercising with me twice a week for four months. At the moment, she's traveling with her family, and I can hardly wait to hear what she's been doing.

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Self-discipline: trust and ... vigilance?

 

I worried before I closed my gym, CrossFit 206, that I was going to get soft. I worried I would lose all sense of an active routine, train clients in the home studio, fritter away my time, and fail to train myself. (My mind tends to go down the worst-scenario road!)

Instead, the very first Monday of no CrossFit 206, I found myself looking at the schedule of another gym and making up my mind to go to their noon class. "Jump right in and break the ice!" I thought. Going into an unfamiliar CrossFit is not easy, even for me after all these years and experiences with CrossFit. 

I went in and had a great workout. Just like that -- it took one morning decision followed by one hour in class, and I felt confident about maintaining my active routine. The next day I started a new habit of going for a one-hour walk on days when I don't do a hard workout. 

Now it's three months later. I've been lifting hard, walking every other day, and have joined my first powerlifting competition. I'll squat, bench press, and deadlift at a meet in a couple of weeks.

It now seems unnecessary for me to have worried that I would fail to exercise. But I think self-discipline requires both trust and a bit of vigilance. I can trust myself to continue to exercise even if I take a break from it; and a break is always for a good reason. On the other hand, if I don't work out for a couple of days, I need to wake up and ask myself why not, and what's my specific plan to get back into it? 

Not every workout has to be hard, but you should know what's the most effective workout* for you, what active rest means for you, and try to be active every day. It is long-term daily activity (aside from diet) that does the most to control body fat and keep our posture good and our energy up. 

*"the most effective workout for you" is (a) one you'll do a lot, (b) one that challenges your strength via large movements of your body. Basic healthy cardio conditioning comes with this. Not sure what I mean by that? Contact me any time.

Why I'm not an internet fitness guru

There are a lot louder voices in the strength-training world than mine. It isn’t because I have less to say. It’s a personality thing. I hate arguing with people I don’t know, for one thing. And I’m not competitive or quick with a comeback. I’m turned off completely by people who aggressively trumpet their views as if to drown out others, especially if they trumpet at me or pick one thing I said and then talk down to it. I’m also not photogenic (young) enough to try to spread my thoughts via Instagram.

So I won’t be an iconic figure in the fitness world. And yet a couple of thousand people have found me credible and authoritative, and have learned valuable skills from me since I became a fitness trainer ten years ago. I know I could help people even more now that I’ve had a course and experience in lifestyle coaching, beginning in 2015.

What I want is to find the people who want to hear what I have to say regarding strength and exercise, and who want to talk with me about what kind of help they need and what problems they need to solve in order to move forward in the ways that they want to. Based on experience, these people are as follows:

People over 50, women and men, have been the ones to come looking for me. Usually they had heard that I’m their age, or they heard that my former CrossFit gym offered gentler classes for non-CrossFitters, or they were referred to me by one of my trainees.

Young adults were not the ones who sought me out on purpose, but open-minded young people have found me to be an important resource too. They are the ones who really have to meet me to find the value in what I do that’s unique. These people usually came into my gym just because it was a CrossFit affiliate. Sometimes a younger person seemed a bit surprised at who was in charge (a gray-haired woman), and then found that I was a good teacher of technique and methodology, and a fun trainer with a sharp eye and a ton of experience. Often they were inspired later by how I was able to help empower people much older than themselves to get strong.

What these groups have in common is that they consisted of people I met face to face, one at a time or in groups of fewer than ten. I try to write about what I do, and I’m not a bad writer, but I am compelling in person. I know this because more people than I could count have walked into my former gym, talked with me for about five minutes, and said, “If I decide to start working out in this method, I definitely want to do it with you,” or “You’ve convinced me. I know this would be really good for me. In fact I’ve always known it.” Or, “Your enthusiasm is really contagious -- I can tell that you love your work!”

This doesn’t happen in response to my best efforts at marketing copy, casual blog posts, careful descriptions of what I do, or anything other than meeting or talking on the phone.

So that’s one more reason I’m not going to be a well-known strength guru: the way I come across on the internet doesn’t do me justice.

But the people who have chosen to work with me, I have reeeeally been able to help them.

What it's like to be trained and coached here

I’ve completed the move out of my commercial gym and into my home training studio. Believe it or not, in this space is all you need to develop physical strength that will probably surprise you. As a companion to training, lifestyle coaching will help you find paths toward your self-care goals.

Inspirational videos and articles like these (Winifred in Seattle; Madelon in Seattle; Gus in Texas), which I had nothing to do with but feel super inspired by, provide some examples of strength development where, at a glance, you might not expect it. (These videos are from trainers I've learned from or have trained with.) The system I use with my trainees is similar, but conservative. We stick to a simple progression, without throwing in lots of extra, high-intensity accessory exercises whose only purpose is to tire you out. 

The lifting you will do with me doesn't typically produce severe soreness. Lifting weights, or learning to move your body in the ways that will be needed for lifting, will make you feel tired and spent, but accomplished rather than beat-up. 

The lifestyle coaching we will do together will give you ways to use your creativity and resourcefulness to keep you on track. If you've been looking for ways to improve your eating habits or your sleep, find time for exercise or ways to enjoy it, or set boundaries at your job for better self-care, for example, our combination of coaching and strength training helps a lot.

I want to say more about the difference between high-intensity exercise versus pure strength training. I have a lot of experience with both. I never played sports or worked out as a young person, but at 40 I started doing CrossFit. As part of it, I learned to lift weights. That part became so important to me that I started specializing in strength training in my own CrossFit gym, CrossFit 206. One significant reason for its closure was that I wanted, for myself and for my clients, to simplify, to do less CrossFit and more pure lifting.

What do I mean by “pure”? I mean that for each session, I plan two lifts for you -- for example, the squat and the bench press. You get warmed up. You lift light, you rest. You lift a little heavier, you rest. And so on, about four to six times, until you’ve lifted something that moderately challenges you. Then we repeat that weight and number of lifts (that set) two more times. Then we move on to our other lift. 

Two sessions like this per week will make you so much stronger, and make you feel so much better, you may be astonished. Most people start to feel stronger and more confident after about six sessions, and improvements continue for months or years. Bending over to pick something up, or getting down on the floor and up again, become trivial. 

You won’t want to quit this type of training — and you’ll know how to do it on your own when you’re ready, because I make a point of empowering you to do that. (Correctness is important for safety and for progress, but it’s very learnable.)

When it’s warmer we open the door! The ingredients you see in the photo are all you need to improve your strength, agility, balance, confidence, likely your all-around health, and maybe even your mood. Schedule a meeting with me (online or in person) to find out more. I have room for two more clients at the moment!

Lazy? Are you sure?

"I don't exercise because... I guess because I'm lazy."

"I set up my business that way out of laziness."

"He's too lazy to take his car in for service."

Sometimes "lazy" seems like humourous shorthand for "I didn't feel like it." But in general I suggest we avoid using the word "lazy." There is always a legitimate explanation, a reason that will make sense whether or not we consider it a good reason. Back up and imagine you can look at the situation from 40,000 feet up in the sky. Is it laziness? Or is there a reason that can be discerned with a little more perspective?

In the first example above, a person labels himself. Having applied the label, he's got permission not to exercise, because lazy people don't. More helpfully he might say, "I don't like to exercise because it freaks me out to get so out of breath" or "I get sweaty and it seems too time consuming to take another shower." Those are statements of problems, and problems can be solved.

In the second example, she set up as much automation as possible for customer interactions. If customers are displeased with automation and the business owner feels overwhelmed by having to be more hands-on, that also is a problem that can be solved. "Laziness" was really a desire to be as efficient as possible. But calling it lazy allows us to dismiss the problem as being unworthy. 

The third example, calling someone else lazy, expresses frustration and perhaps an unwillingness to understand another person's motivation. A friend pointed out that we call other people lazy when they are not doing what we want them to do. Is it helpful? Is lazy ever a constructive word? Maybe it is, when we're planning a vacation in which we intend to do very little. But even then I think it really means, "I need a rest."

More on why you should strength train

You have the right to a strong body, and you can have one. Strength improves over time for virtually everyone who trains for strength. You have no need to believe you can't get significantly stronger. Regardless of age, fitness level, genetics, and lifestyle, virtually everyone can significantly benefit -- scratch that, the fact is everyone WILL benefit -- it's that certain -- from strength training. This may be something you've heard before, but keep it in mind: in this way, strength differs from other physical attributes, a lot of which are less changeable. Your body is made with the ability to build muscle and gain strength.

People of all ages can gain strength through training. Training creates good stress. The right level of stress disrupts your system without hurting you; hormones, rest, and your metabolism cause you to adapt to the stress (get stronger). Next time you train, you can lift just a little bit heavier. Virtually everyone can do this. Do the right things, and your body improves (gets stronger). You can't prevent it. Amazing! And it's all yours.

Strength training lasts. Aerobic conditioning decreases fast when you stop (and is also easier to regain). As you get stronger, you'll maintain your strength longer than you assume. For example, after a vacation or other layoff, you won't be starting from zero again. Not even close. You should train methodically a few times a week, but when you miss some training, muscle memory (referred to as "neuromuscular efficiency") helps you come back.

Patience is a virtue. Lots of people, maybe most people, who come to me for strength training doubt their ability to do it safely. It's not because they're not confident people, but because they don't yet know how strength training works. If you've never tried it, you may be carrying a sort of unconscious belief that lifting weights is for strong people. In fact, lifting weights is the best way to get strong when you're not, and that's how those strong people got that way. But your willingness to progress gradually -- even if it comes from nervousness -- pays off, because gradually is the way the body builds muscle and gets strong.

Here are some of my other, brief recent thoughts on weight training. And from my post a while back on my gym web site, here are some of my other thoughts on why you should strength train. 

Let me know if you have any questions or want me to back up these statements when we meet!

Can you be patient in traffic?

Did you ever think about the fact that when you're driving, lots of people see your behavior? And that behavior in traffic is almost virally contagious?

I woke up in a bad mood on Wednesday morning, unhappy with the result of the election. As I got ready to leave home, my mood made me think about one of the ways we express our emotions in public: driving. Getting in the car, I was tempted to project my mood onto everyone else. I thought people would be driving super aggressively, and I imagined I'd get sideswiped and slammed into as I merged onto the freeway. (Wow! Was I ever in a BAD mood.) 

I was on my way to teach four fitness classes to four groups of people I love dearly. Feeling so, so down, I knew it would be hard to bring the fun energy to leading the classes that day. As I got in the car and started driving, fortunately I remembered once again that it's up to me how I treat other people in traffic. Just as on any other day, I could and would decide how I was going to drive, instead of acting out. All day I was patient in traffic, stopping and waiting for pedestrians without crowding them, or not rolling through a stop sign to beat the other car. I also restarted courtesy-waving to people who let me change lanes. (What happened to the courtesy wave? Let's bring it back!) 

It felt really good to slow down and be patient. In fact, it changed my mood. 

Whenever I can be conscientious enough to drive considerately, regardless the mood I'm in, I feel better. Driving is a great opportunity to choose our public persona. Anything kind or unkind that we do in traffic is possibly witnessed by more people than most other things we do all day. For an average person like me, driving is my most public act. I haven't yet figured out a grand way to make the world a better place. But when I maintain a patient, courteous driving style, I believe I'm affecting other people a little bit, and it helps make my day better too.

Of course, my fitness training is another way of trying to make the world a better place. I'm a small-scale "influencer," just a few people at a time.

What's your most public action in your everyday life? Who are the people who find you influential?

Strength training is brain food

It’s becoming widely known that strength training, also called resistance training, is really good for you. Clinical studies are even finding that it’s good for the brain -- better than stretching and balance training and better than “cardio” training. Strength training is exactly what I want to do with you at Fran Mason Coaching + Training.

This New York Times story reports on a study that found weight lifting beneficial to brain health in older people. Lifting weights was more beneficial than stretching and balance training, and more beneficial than “cardio” training, if they had two lifting sessions per week. Basically, their “white matter” (brain) looked better than the control or other exercise groups, with less “shrinkage and tattering” of brain tissue.

This is the study the Times reported on. 

(P.S. Why do I put cardio in quotation marks? Because no matter what kind of exercise you do, you’re getting some cardio training. In the workouts you’ll do with me, you won’t have to go running, jump rope, etc. Trust me, we’ll get your heart rate up anyway!)

Get-ups are great

A new trainee was extremely enthusiastic to get in shape, but he hadn't been exposed to weight lifting before, so he needed to learn that in class. But he wanted workouts to do at home on non-gym days.

The answer for many people is VERY simple. This is for you if:

  1. you rarely get all the way down on the floor, but
  2. you have no reason to think you can't get up again if you do.

Do this the first few times when someone else can be there with you. If you believe maybe you CAN'T do this, then if you try it, make sure someone is with you who is strong enough to give you significant help.

Get down on the floor, lie down on your back, then stand all the way up again. You probably have a preferred side, or a stronger leg on one side. Start on that side and do one, then try one on the other side. I won't try to specify in a blog post how many times you should do this. Challenge yourself, but don't continue if it starts to feel risky or very wobbly. A little at a time is perfect. This will definitely get easier. Let me know how it goes.

P.S. Personal coaching, but not physical training, can be done long distance. Let me know if you're interested.

Muscle is your friend

Muscle is your friend

This article contained a few quick phrases that really inspired me. Despite the discouraging fact that most people who lose weight gain it back, this professor of exercise science provides helpful and encouraging insight. Dr. Wayne Westcott says that for him and his exercise-study subjects, the one fairly controllable key to health AND weight maintenance is muscle mass. That is, you want to build it and keep it.

Say no to frustration, yes to patience

Say no to frustration, yes to patience

If you’re trying to lose weight and are frustrated, I have some ideas to share, because hundreds of people have come to me to get in shape. If they stick with their workouts, one hundred percent of them get stronger, fitter, and healthier within two to three months and continue this trend for years. They lose fat, but how much they lose is much less reliable. It’s much more subject to metabolic processes you can’t see and can’t directly control. Even with a healthy, young metabolism, fat loss is gradual, takes a long time, and has an unreasonable tendency not to stick around.