Before and Afters. They have a constant presence in the
world of fitness. Almost every program out there begins with ‘take your before
pictures’. From the front, from the side, from behind. You’ll need them to
reference how much you’ve brought your body in line with society’s ridiculous expectations!
Okay, that was a bit much. Especially since I’ve taken
before and afters of myself and others so I don’t have much of a leg to stand
on here. But I don’t use them anymore and here’s why:
Life is built on more important before and afters than the
ones you take at either end of a fitness program.
One of the most important before and afters I have
experienced in my life is ‘before and after having my son’ who empowered me to
become my true self. Or ‘before and after getting married’ that helped me lose
my naivete and gave me many adventures across this continent. Or ‘before and
after my EDS diagnosis’ when all of my physical and mental ailments finally
started making sense.
I know that you have been through many important before and
afters to, but do the ones that come to mind involve being half-naked for
evaluation by strangers on how skinny you got?
The truth is, I don’t think there should be a ‘before and
after’ fitness. I don’t think you should be killing yourself for 12 weeks in
order to take a picture and go back to reality. I think you should find a
trainer or philosophy or programming that takes you way beyond that. It should
be a constant, something that you return to after breaks and are able to follow
easily when you are able to exercise.
And honestly, our bodies naturally vary their size and shape
over the course of our lives, regardless of what program we are following. I am
a few sizes bigger than before I gave birth, but a few sizes smaller than what
I was in the year or two directly after that experience. I am more muscular
than I was as a teen, when I hardly experienced puberty’s effects on my shape
until I was almost 20. I remember the thinness of my youth and the large belly
that grew my large baby. My body will continue to change as I’m only 32. I’ll
keep getting grey hairs and wrinkles and my body might get more or less
muscular or thinner or bigger or fatter, and that’s just what happens. What I’m
more concerned with is that I can keep being functional in my everyday life and
there will never be an ‘after’ for that.
So you want to make a lifestyle change. You want to get healthy
and maybe lose weight or get stronger or lower your blood pressure or run a marathon.
Yeah! Goals AF! So you’re gonna join the gym and get a trainer and change your
eating. Maybe you need some meal plans? Yeah, I want someone to tell me what to
Changing your life can be so exciting but I want to stop you
right there, friend. Let’s have a short chat about those meal plans.
It sounds pretty convenient eh? You’re confused about how to
change your eating but you know you’re having a few too many sodas and maybe
those extra slices of pizza aren’t helping a ton? If I get a meal plan, then I
just have to follow that and it’ll be easy.
I have bad news for you. I’m sorry (but not really and you’ll
The first thing I need to tell you is that most personal
trainers are not qualified to give out meal plans. And yet a lot of them do.
Why? Because their clients want it. And the customer is always right, right? (If
you’ve ever worked in retail, you know that’s not really true ha!)
The truth is that eating changes usually go hand in hand
with lifestyle changes. And especially if you’re trying to lose weight, because
that is more dependent on how and what you’re eating than the amount of exercise
you’re doing (and actually too much exercise can make your hunger worse which
can inadvertently cause more overeating, omg so confusing right?).
So trainers give them out to make things easier on their
clients, but if you’re in the US, most states have laws prohibiting this
practice. Some are a little less restrictive, but the best practice is to get
meal plans from a Registered Dietitian because they are really the only ones
who are supposed to prescribe meal plans and foods. Your run of the mill personal
trainer is not going to have enough education on nutrition in order to put
together an evidence-based healthy diet. And truly, most of them push fad diets
and some even push MLM products (you should definitely dump your trainer if
they do that). But hey, if your personal trainer is also an RD (not a
nutritionist either) then you are good to go!
BUT AMANDA. If my trainer doesn’t tell me what to eat, how
will I lose weight, I’m so lost!
The alternative to this practice is nutrition coaching. The difference between the two is that meal plans just tell you what to eat. That is extrinsic change, change from the outside. It is not as effective as nutrition coaching, which is intrinsic. You change from the inside and learn how and why to eat differently. What this means is that your change will last longer. You can always come back to habits you’ve learned, even if you haven’t been doing them for a while. You already know how to do it, you can re-implement it. You don’t even really need a nutrition coach to make this change. Just pick a habit (eating more veggies at most meals) and practice it until it becomes a natural part of your day.
When you follow a meal plan or even a fad diet with random
rules, you’re not retraining your brain. You’re just following someone else’s
rules without really understanding why. Why does this matter to you? How does
this make sense to your lifestyle? Why is this diet or meal plan or method of
eating the one I am following?
Now, someone will come along and tell me that it’s no
problem for them to follow meal plans to the letter and they are fine adopting
huge changes all at once, it’s been the key to their success, yada yada. Hey,
more power to you. I am happy for you and proud of you. For most people though,
that is not the case and you are just special 😉Go conquer more goals! I believe in you.
For everyone else, please don’t put all your trust in a
personal trainer with minimal nutrition knowledge to dictate your diet. If you
want a meal plan, hire an RD. There are private ones out there who work with people
I want to end with a short anecdote that may cause you to
rethink trainers with meal plans. I once had an internship at a local gym. The workout
part was great, but you were only allowed to workout with a trainer there, it
wasn’t a gym you just came to and did your own thing. When you signed up, you
also signed up for their meal plan system. This was not optional. It was always
included. And the owner was always ‘we don’t sell meal plans and training, we
sell results’. I hate that phrase with a passion because what it really meant
was that in your contract, if you weren’t following their meal plan, then your
money-back guarantee was voided. This is a poor business practice and
considering some of their plans were starvation diets (1200 calories is not
enough energy for a grown woman, I don’t care who you are), it is dangerous and
unfair. So if you do sign up with a trainer with meal plans, do so with extreme
caution. They may be using the same unfair (and in my opinion, fraudulent)
Or you could just avoid trainers who push meal plans and
work on changing your habits internally, on your own, or with a nutrition coach.
This is what is more likely to bring you lasting success and confidence.
Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a very useful tool in the fight against chronic pain. In this article series, I’ll be detailing the different important areas of your body that you can use self-myofascial release on and how to approach them.
This article focuses on the Iliotibilal Tract (ITT), the Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL), and their attachments, which are in the knee and the iliac crest.
This is an often-overlooked area of the body when it comes to stretching and SMR. It’s not an easy area to target but it can have a big impact in contributing to pain, stiffness, and dysfunction. As you can see in the illustration, the ITT and TFL are connected and work together to contribute to movement at the hip joint. Because they are so long and attach into the knee joint and on the pelvis, they can cause pain throughout the leg if they are tight. If you’ve ever been to physical therapy for a hip or knee issue, they may have instructed you to use a foam roller on this area to release some of the tension that could be contributing to the injury. It can help a lot, but you’ve got to do it carefully and thoughtfully.
1. First things first: this will probably be painful. And that’s okay. It will get better!
2. Start at the knee and go up. Finding the right posture for rolling out your TFL and ITT can be difficult. One thing to try is lying on the side of your leg that you’re rolling and putting your other foot on the floor in the direction you’re facing. It will feel a bit pretzel-y, but you’ll get the hang of it.
3. Don’t stop at your hip joint. As you roll higher up your leg, you’ll eventually find where your femur joins your pelvic. This is your hip joint. You don’t want to roll directly over it since that could cause issues, but you do want to go above it and keep rolling higher, up into your hip and towards the top of your pelvis, where you can see they insert into the ilium.
4. Target the TFL by leaning forward. The TFL is more to the front of the hip. Once you hit that hip joint, lean forward so that you’re facing the floor more. This will allow you to target the TFL more directly. (See below for example)
You don’t necessarily need to roll out your TFL or ITT if they are not causing you problems. However, if you have tight hips/hip flexors or hip bursitis or do a lot of leg dominant exercising like running or Olympic style weightlifting, you might find this to be helpful. It can also help to get rid of any stiffness you might encounter if you have a sedentary job. Of course strengthening the area and stretching it gently can also help. Foam rolling should be a part of your fitness routine, not all of it. Don’t forget about the other functions of your joints and muscles! If you do try this out, let me know how it goes at my Facebook page or send me an email!
The word ‘exercise’ has many meanings. Its first recorded use as pertains to physical activity has in the 14th century (1). In the technical sense, exercise can relate to spirituality, mental faculties, patience, and so much more. Its meaning before the 14th century was widely varied and often had to do with play, practice, general activity, busyness, and intentional movement (1).
Exercise has been present in many forms throughout human history. As far back as 2000 BCE, we have examples of physicians prescribing exercise for health (2). This principle has wound its way through our cultures, taking many forms.
In early Hindu culture, exercise was prescribed to prevent disease states related to sedentary living. In early Chinese culture some physicians suggested exercise in the form of mimicking the movements of animals. In Greek culture, exercise was slightly more structured, and this was around the time that the foundations of modern medicine were planted by Hippocrates and his peers. Spartan culture was fully built around the concept of training for war. As history moved on, people less attributed disease states to punishment from the gods to lack of movement and training (2).
So that’s your history lesson for today. But what does this have to do with our modern ideas of health and wellbeing?
The modern idea of exercise has really solidified in the last few decades. But training just for the sake of training or looking a certain way is still a young idea. When I was writing my Master’s Thesis on exercise as a treatment for hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, I searched the scientific literature for papers and recommendations on this topic. I became increasingly frustrated because there was…nada. I expected there to be something! Why hasn’t anyone been testing this beyond the confines of physical therapy? This type of research would not just apply to people with this disability. It would apply to others with hypermobility or joint issues, and to elderly people with mobility issues, and people with other disabilities.
I think that the biggest issue preventing this research is our society’s conception of exercise. What do you think of when you think of exercise? Big burly dudes doing curls with huge weights? Crossfit? Strongman? The Olympics?
All of these are exercise and athletics. But having this idea of exercise be what we think of first only serves to limit us.
I’ve worked with some elderly clients and I really enjoy it. Unfortunately they become very frustrated at times because they can’t do the things they used to be able to do. I have felt this frustration myself due to my disability and it is awful. But if we can change our idea of ‘exercise’ from this overwhelming concept full of unachievable goals, then we can settle into a new idea of exercise as one based on movement and fostering strength, mobility, and flexibility that serves to make our lives better.
I was talking with one of these elderly clients this morning and she was talking about her mother and grandmother and how they both died in their 90s and were still fairly mobile and capable. I pointed out to her that the way they lived is very different from the way that even she lives today. Her grandmother was born in the 1870s! There were no cars. There were no electric washers and dryers and dishwashers. They had a garden. They canned their food. Everything required more labor. Their bodies were ‘trained’ just from everyday life.
Now, I’m not saying that we all need to live this way. Modern conveniences are amazing. And quite frankly I’m not about to give up my dishwasher for anything. But it does mean that we have to re-conceptualize our idea of physical activity. It doesn’t have to include the gym. It doesn’t have to only include structured workouts. The other day I deep cleaned my bathroom. It took two hours and you better believe that I was sweating my booty off. To me, that’s exercise. It takes muscles, it takes energy, it’s movement. Sometimes all I do is a few sets of kettlebell swings and some resistance band work. There’s some exercise. Going for a walk, cleaning out the closets, going for a swim…it’s all exercise.
Recently a study came out that found something very important. Any ten minutes of movement is better for your body and your brain than ten minutes of sitting (3). And that’s not to say that sitting is always bad. But if you even do ten minutes of some form of movement, you will be better off for it.
You may not be able to make it to the gym. You may not be able to do the crazy workouts you see advertised on Facebook. You may barely be able to do a squat or pushup. And that’s totally fine! Rethink your movement. What gets your heart rate up? What gets you sweating a little bit? What tires you out? Do that and take it slowly. You’ll see improvement. And then you can keep building from there. Don’t complicate it! Just move.
When someone is hypermobile, there are a few hard and fast rules that they’re usually told to follow. “No running”, “No yoga”, “No stretching”, etc. And when you have hypermobile EDS, there are more rules piled on. “No heavy lifting”, “No high-impact exercises”, “Just use the elliptical or go swimming”. Why do these rules exist? Because they are the safest recommendations. But if you’re here I know you’re not after the same old restrictions that everyone always reminds you of when you want to try a new activity or dig deeper into one you already love. That’s what this series is about.
You can be hypermobile in several ways. It can be benign, it can be Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, it can be hypermobile EDS, etc. This is for anyone who is hypermobile. Why shouldn’t you give up stretching? Won’t it make the hypermobility and joint instability worse? Not necessarily.
When you have instability in your body that your connective tissues can’t handle, it passes the load on to your myofascial system. Myo=muscles. Fascial=fascia. Your muscles are surrounded by fascia, which is another type of connective tissue. Fascia is similar to an information highway for your body’s stability. It communicates across muscle groups and gets involved when there are muscular issues.
If you have tight muscles due to hypermobility or joint instability, then your fascia will also become tight. Self-myofascial release (such as foam rolling or massage) can help loosen fascia but will only help muscle tightness a bit. It is usually used alongside stretching in order to keep muscles loose enough that they don’t become tight due to overuse or instability. By stretching properly, hypermobile people can allow their muscles the right amount of freedom to do their stabilization work properly.
So how should you stretch if you are hypermobile?
First of all, learning your own hypermobile limits is essential. Where do your joints naturally go to (this is not where you can make them go to do party tricks for your friends!)?
Once you learn that, you can passively stretch to that point but no further. You should not be increasing your flexibility or hypermobility. Pushing past those limits will add looseness to your already loose connective tissues. You just want to stretch the muscle so that your body has access to its natural movement limits. If you add this to strength and stability training, then you will allow your body to become stronger in its natural state and it won’t become so tight that your joints start to hurt or have issues from problems you’ve created.
I have tested this theory and honestly it helps. When I avoided stretching, my knees started to hurt because I was doing strength training and my thigh muscles became tight and began pulling on the inside of my knee. When I added some gentle stretching for these muscles, I started to feel better and my knee pain subsided.
You can also do active stretching, PNF stretching, and self-myofascial release (which is not really stretching but it helps).
Rules can be great sometimes, but when you have a chronic issue that affects your body in a certain way, learning how to deal with it on your own or with the advice of a professional is crucial so that you can do what’s best for your body and your overall health.