movement Neurobiology and Behavior

Getting Stronger in 2018

Last year was a big year for me all around. Deciding to go back to school brought a slew of things to do and think about which, in itself, would take several blog posts to unpack. A second major area of growth was in my physical training – I got a whole lot fitter.


Tired of making the same fitness goals year after year? This post is for you. Read more at


If you follow along on Instagram then you’ve seen various snippets of PRs and workouts. You’ve probably also observed that I went “all in” on the Crossfit framework. In the past I’ve done bodybuilding, general strength training, hiit, and powerlifting – all of which play a role in crossfit programming – but I’ve seen an increase in intensity and volume plus the addition of monostructural (running, rowing, jump rope, etc), gymnastics (kipping pull ups, handstand push ups, etc), and olympic weightlifting movements. In the past I have dabbled but no real time spent acquiring skill.


With all that new stuff 2017 was filled with trying a lot of new things and getting stronger in order to be more successful (and stable) in those skills. I also had to adapt quickly to the intensity part. I humbly scaled weights and exercises for workouts, confronting my “I’m fit!” mentality for one that respects my current limitations and seeks effective ways to expand my capabilities. And I also pushed hard against my long-time avoidance of sustained elevated heart rate.


Despite stepping out of my personal training business over a year ago I continue to field questions and send out recommendations for programs and tutorials whenever I’m asked. Because of that, and in an effort to externalize what I’ve been thinking about in terms of strength goals and skill development, I’m going to spend some time over a series of blog posts talking about how to systematically gain strength in 2018.


Why getting stronger is more than finishing a program

While it’s tempting to view getting stronger as simply following a designated program – indeed, that’s how it’s often done – I think it’s important to note that you can complete a program without acquiring the skill of strength training. Just as you can take an algebra class, pass, and remain to recognize when and how to use it in everyday life.


What’s the outcome of finishing a program without understanding the concepts?

  • Making the same goals for your health year after year.
  • Continuing to go to the gym and feel insecure in your ability to effectively use the equipment / space.
  • Not being able to tell if you made any progress despite getting through the workouts.
  • Meeting your goal followed by a drop in consistency and re-gaining weight / losing muscle mass or strength.


Big idea: If you’ve tried various diets and workout plans but you still ended the year feeling like all your work hasn’t added up to significant change then you need to take a different approach altogether. One that emphasizes understanding *your* body and the relevant concepts to physical transformation.


One of my personal goals with coaching was always to produce clients who could make progress independently. There are plenty of reasons to use a coach or program, but you cannot outsource understanding your own body and its capabilities. This takes time and can happen faster through the help of a high quality coach focused on equipping you [rather than focused on making money off of your shame triggers] however you must fully engage in the process.


In order to have power and autonomy in your body you must have a framework for developing your physical capacity and transforming your body as you desire. To have a framework would mean you have to have a system of concepts and methods for getting the outcome you desire for your body. It would also mean that you can effectively problem solve when you come up against something like increased bloating when you change food intake or failing to see physical changes during a program.


A quick look at what a framework in strength training might include (not in any particular order nor all-inclusive):

  • Anatomy and physiology
    • Muscle, nervous, and skeletal system – knowing both their individual components as well as how they coordinate to produce force that can move a load
    • What muscle groups are being targeted in each movement? Where do they attach? How are they activated? What joints and movements do they drive (i.e. extension versus flexion)
    • What does proper movement look and feel like?
    • What are the important ingredients / players in each system? Where do they come from? How are they activated?
    • Key terms like hypertrophy, aerobic versus anaerobic,
  • Physics of movement / force output
    • What does it mean for the body to get stronger? How are each of the above systems changed? How does a change in 1 affect the other?
    • What determines the level of difficulty in a movement?
    • How does each system respond to stress/overload?
    • Why do we squat, press, pull, hinge? What are each of those anyway? What movements should be included in a movement?
    • How does weakness in one area (like the core) affect force output and susceptibility to injury?
    • Pain: Sign of injury or sign of progress? Back off or push through?
  • Other-system factors – how they affect outcomes
    • Nutrition
    • Stress
    • Sleep
    • Support / Community
    • Mindset
    • Cross-training (conditioning, accessory, mobility, gymnastics, brute strength, etc)
    • Menstruation, etc
  • Metrics
    • How do you know you’re on the right track?
    • How do you know when to add weight?
    • What kinds of changes should you expect and in what time interval?
    • What landmarks make sense for each stage of experience?
    • What do other markers, like sleep quality and heart rate variability, should be tracked throughout the day?


A framework gets developed over time with experience

If that list seems overwhelming, take a deep breath. Reality is that I can’t definitively tell you all you need to know about each of those items. And no doubt there are many more I could include. This gets at a major element of gaining skill: recognition that it’s a never-ending process. There are always more layers to uncover. There are countless movement variations and science cannot yet explain how all the various systems interact. So rather than feeling overwhelmed, see it as an opportunity – an area of your life that can provide endless exploration throughout your life.


As I progress through this series it will be a personal challenge to put out two or three stages of strength training skill and the concepts a person should understand at each stage (e.g. beginner, competent, proficient). I think that is about the most useful “download” I could give you. Over time I will develop similar downloads for nutrition and mindset as well.


What’s coming next

I intend to publish on the subject a couple of times per month until I’ve covered all I’d like to cover.

To end this first installment, I invite any questions you have about the above framework. Is there are particular area you’ve found to be difficult to understand? Any areas or concepts I didn’t mention that you’d like to hear about?


Finally, I’ll be making a resources page that I’ll keep updated with my recommendations on coaches, programs, and products I’ve found to be trustworthy.


Next time I’ll get into the essential skills of learning skills progressively.

Neurobiology and Behavior Raising Capable Kids Self Care

How to transition from work to home

Life doesn’t stop just because you chose to pursue wellness. In fact, trying to maintain momentum during the busier times of life can often feel like the hardest part, right? Your wellness journey does not exist in a vacuum where you have ample energy, time, and resources to devote to your goal. Instead, you have to apply strategies to ensure that even on the longest days you aren’t defaulting back to where you began.

One such strategy is to focus your efforts on the places that will do the most work. You could heave a giant boulder by pushing on it with all your might or you could use a pole and apply leverage. Which would you rather do after a long day?


Are you tired of setting goals only to abandon them after a long day or a long week? It doesn't have to happen like that. Read on for strategies to help you transition from work to home PLUS a free guide containing 8 steps to RECLAIMING your evening after a long day. Read more:


My guess is you’d prefer to use leverage. And today we’re going to talk about a huge way you can leverage your efforts for more effective action even in the midst of a full season. Because here’s the thing: If you wait until life “slows down” then you will likely never actually give your wellness the attention it needs…and you will end up on the burnout cycle over and over again.

Transitions provide space for escaping survival mode

As a mom I have learned the importance of transitions – of helping my kids move from good morning snuggles to breakfast to getting ready to leave the house, etc. When I apply my energy to helping them transition I am helping them move on to the next portion of our day with purpose rather than an aimless wandering.

I have to do the same for myself too. Without attention to the transition between putting the kids to bed and the rest of my evening, I end up scrolling on my phone instead of reading the book I was planning on.

Routine comes in handy during transitions.

As a routine becomes a habit it becomes automatic. My brain comes to expect it so I can skip over the “what should I do now?” and go right into my routine. All the actions that form my routine are grouped together – so instead of needing the willpower to do each individual thing, I complete a series of tasks.

For instance, a routine you might already have is to check social media when you wake up. You don’t have to tell yourself to go from Instagram to Facebook to Twitter to Email. You follow the steps automatically.

What if we used that to help you set a higher standard for your wellness on a day-to-day basis?

The evening transition from work to home is a very important transition. If you work all day it is likely the only time you have to do things outside of your job. But how often does a long day lead to eating whatever is easy in the fridge, skipping the workout you intended, and sitting on the couch the rest of the evening?

I know. Happens to me too.

In fact it’s one of the phrases I hear tossed around the most whether online or in person. It’s hard to do more than stare at the wall or binge watch Netflix.

Honestly? It’s so common we turn it into a verb and make jokes about it.

Heck, it’s so common Hulu uses it in its advertising! And we just smile + nod, “yes I do need Hulu Plus so I can binge watch tv instead of doing something valuable with my time.”

To be clear, “valuable” is not working overtime on your couch. I actually mean carving out real time to do the things you say you want to do – like learning a new song on the guitar or coloring in one of those books you bought 6 months ago or finally having that girls night. Those activities are highly valuable for rejuvenating your mind and spirit. They serve to help you become the person you wish you were.



So how, then, do you transition from work to evening?

An effective transition routine is going to involve attention to three parts: your body, your mind, and your connections.

Let’s dig deeper:

How to help your body transition

Give your brain time to catch up – by zoning out.

All throughout the day you were taking in new information and your brain was trying to process it. This includes how events or people made you feel and your personal thoughts on a new project or team member. At the end of the work day, your brain needs to catch up. The tendency however, is to fill space with a screen of some kind. This ramps up the stimulation – overloading the brain. You need to stare out the window or walk in circles around your yard – just don’t try to direct your thoughts anywhere. No meditating or focus. Just let your mind go. (this takes practice).

Respond to physical needs: hydration, nutrient-dense foods, and restorative movement.

Drinking water and eating a good meal – whether it’s a snack right when you get home or if you go right into dinner preparations – will revive your body. The lull you feel after work might seem like it requires a boost of caffeine or sugar but between letting your brain catch up and nourishing your body, you will experience a revival. Note: if you don’t, you actually might need a power nap.

Restorative movement includes things like yoga, stretching, or a walk around the neighborhood. After a day of sitting it’s important to bring alignment back to your body and increase blood flow.

Finally, you might opt for a harder form of exercise

Rigorous movement can serve an important purpose in expelling pent up emotion and stress. Rather than wasting energy mulling over workplace drama or social media posts do some sprints, a quick kettlebell routine, or hit a punching bag. Trust my experience – it feels amazing. And you’ll walk into your evening feelings more powerful and alert.

How to help your mind transition

A mental download can help you clear the slate from the day’s problems or worries.

Perhaps after zoning out you realize you have a conflict you need to think through, verbal or written processing can help you determine a course of action and move on.

Schedule (or eliminate) tasks that didn’t get accomplished today.

Don’t let unfinished work hang over your head. It can lead to numbing behaviors or agitation toward others if it is allowed to go unchecked. Let this time also serve to redirect your focus. Is the task relevant to your priorities? Can it be saved for later? Can it be passed off? Why do you keep avoiding it? Can it be broken down into more actionable steps? Sorting through your list can save you time and energy later.

Finally, write down your plan for tomorrow

Include any preset appointments, the big tasks you need to get done, and any self-care you plan to do (exercise, time with friends, etc). This is a must-do item. Having a plan for tomorrow is a major way you can keep the stress of today from carrying over into the morning.

How to build connections

Re-establishing a connection with your own purpose and your important relationships is essential to recovering from stress. You are free to make decisions and spend your time in a way that aligns with who you really are and who you want to be when you are connected.

  1. Do a short check-in with yourself
  2. Celebrate the ways you stayed on track or moved forward in your goals
  3. Spend time doing creative expression – color, cook, read a favorite book, write for fun
  4. Remind yourself that you aren’t alone by reaching out to a friend.This is more than fishing for encouraging words or compliments, it’s an opportunity to get a new perspective. It’s valuable to pick your head up and see what’s going on outside of your own life – beyond what someone chose to publish on Facebook for the day.
  5. Encourage someone else.Whether you write a note, send a text, or make a phone call, choose to be what you want others to be for you. Refuse to isolate yourself from the burdens of others and instead remind them that YOU are there for THEM. Because we’re all in this together.

Making this YOURS involves experimentation.

No need to try to do everything at once (or ever), as you get to know your own needs you will start to see what is most valuable in helping you transition from a long day at work to an intentional evening. The most important piece is that you refuse to accept a dud evening as normal. Might still happen occasionally (I recommend going to bed early then) but you can still raise your baseline. This isn’t a step away from grace for yourself after a long day, it actually shows greater self-love when you refuse to let the stress of today carry over into tomorrow.

What to do next:

Click the image below to get this blog post in step-by-step format. You’ll also be signed up for the Lab Notes Community where we do things a little differently. I’m not going to fill your inbox with fluff – we’re going to work together to move you toward your goals and shift you into action. Click below and get your first taste of survival mode freedom.


Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Neurobiology and Behavior

5 steps to staying consistent in your goals

Raise your hand if you wish you could wake up tomorrow and have already conquered those dreams you have. Maybe you’re hoping to make 2017 your year of health. Or maybe you’re in the process of pursuing a career in the field that lights you up.

Here at I talk a lot about the value of self-awareness – but a mega-downside of being aware of where you are and where you want to go is the discomfort you experience when it takes a long time to reach the other side. That saying “ignorance is bliss” is not a joke. No matter where you are on your journey the gap always feels too big, right?



Walking the talk

Publishing video on my website has been on my mind for a long time and what better time than when I get to talk about being on the path toward growth. The mind finds ways around trying new things because that involves uncertainty.

Even as I’ve prepared to publish this post it’s been a test of how much do I really believe the stuff I say – am I actually willing to put something up that isn’t polished yet? Am I willing to come out from behind my writing and show that there’s a real person here trying to grow skills alongside everyone else?

So I’ve followed the five steps I’m sharing in today’s video.



Growth requires tension

If you want to step into 2017 with greater confidence in your capability to follow through and see success, then this video is for you. Remember how I said it’s important at the start of any journey to remember that you are an organism? A machine can go from scraps to completion in a matter of days. Hours, even.

But not you.

If you want to truly become something different than you are now – not a simple filter or outward image to portray but bone-marrow-deep real change, then you must master staying with something even when it feels uncomfortable. Even when it means showing someone your unpolished, just-starting-out self.


Today’s video is just under 8 minutes and even includes an unpolished “don’t hit mommy” moment. Because real human life, ya’ll. And to help you start putting it into your own context, I made an action book for you. And it’s even editable so you can get started right away if you’re about ready to jump ship on your dreams for change. No email required, just click the button and start writing.



Here’s the big idea

Consistent movement toward a goal requires little steps along the way that prime your brain to focus in on the target. Rewards feel good and by racking up small wins you can teach your brain that growth actually feels good. Making it less of an obstacle and more of a lifestyle.

With each of the 5 steps I mention in the video you are putting your energy where it matters most – getting your brain on board with living life a new way. By answering your built-in need for human connection, predictability, and long-term benefit you set yourself up for success during that in-between time that feels so uncomfortable. Now you’re free to fully engage in the process of living your life and growing because you have taken the steps to normalize it.


Now it’s your turn

In the comments below I want you to tell me which step is the most difficult for you right now. I’d love to help you start to bust through those blocks so you can keep on the path to growth. If you’d rather talk privately, send me an email ( I’d love to talk over email or jump on a Skype call and talk face-to-face. Seriously. No sales pitch, just two humans strategizing on how you can take a step forward.