Body Autonomy: A Coaching Perspective
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If you’re a coach, how many clients have you had say to you “can you just tell me what to do”? I’m guessing that it is at least a dozen. It’s a common and understandable question. Clients come to coaches for their expertise and guidance, which can often look like coaches who hand out plans with “do this or else” type directions.  Somewhere along the way, the focus of health and fitness as an endeavor for total self-betterment was forgotten. Instead, it became a process of checking off items on a list to meet some arbitrary requirements of what we think a health and fitness journey should look like. It became defaulting to “gurus” and coaches and trainers who pushed their own agenda on their clients without caring if their clients even wanted those goals to begin with. Instead of creating a process to help women take ownership of their bodies, it became a process of turning your body over to someone else’s agenda, wishes, and goals. The concept of autonomy has been lost. And quite frankly, that’s a fucking shame.

Body autonomy, or what I call the “your body, your goals” concept, has been glossed over in so many realms of health and fitness. We see a lack of autonomy on several different levels ranging from pressures to look a certain way to not having a say in competing or training. As a client, it may feel like you’re in a dictatorial relationship where the coach’s instructions are not to be questioned or that you must complete a task that aligns with their goals, not yours.  You may feel like like you’re pressured into fitting in to some sort of box - whether that the box of being a powerlifter, being in a particular weight class, losing weight, not losing weight, etc. The point being that as a client, you perceive that a choice is being made for you instead of with you. While some of this may be done with malicious intent (we know that there are some coaches out there who systematically abuse their clients), a good portion of this is done by well-meaning coaches who take the “tell me what to do” demands at face value. If you’re a client who is experiencing this, it is worth it to have a conversation with your coach to discuss your concerns. Good coaches will welcome the conversation and work with you to create a stellar coaching experience. Others may tell you “too bad” and if that’s the case, I highly suggest taking your hard-earned dollars somewhere else.

The process of learning to stand in your power and build confidence is one that can be messy and difficult. I know it was,and still is, for me.  In my short coaching career, I’ve had the honor of working with individuals from all different walks of life ranging from nationally competitive powerlifters to women trying coming back to lifting after serious injuries. Whether you coach in the digital or “real world” sphere, your clients come to you with their own stories and experiences. They may have had very negative coaching experiences in the past, they may have experienced traumatic events, and they may be slow to trust another person. As an athlete who has been in all of those positions, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing coaches.  These experiences have been transformational for me as an athlete and instrumental in helping me become a better coach.

On the coaching side of things, helping clients stand in their power while also giving them direction and guidance can be complicated. This issue is even more complex when coaching women since women tend to be inundated with a significant amount of bullshit surrounding issues of body image, food, exercise, and appearance.  There are so many mixed messages coming from every direction when it comes to women and their bodies. It seems like every day there is a new expectation associated with how women should exist in our bodies and what they should do with them. As a woman, it is an incredibly exhausting experience. As a coach, it is a difficult thing to see the clients you care about be weighed down by the baggage of these mixed messages.

You want to help your clients to embrace the potential that you see in them (even if they don’t see it in themselves, yet). You want the absolute best for the individuals that hire you. You believe in them and their abilities and want to see them also believe in themselves. So how do we, as coaches, encourage autonomy while providing the guidance and expertise that our clients are seeking from you?

  • Let them tell their own story: Women who have had negative coaching experiences, experienced domestic or sexual violence, or other traumatic incidents often do not get to tell their actual story. Stories are told about them to other people. Their stories may get told, but they often do not get to share their experiences in their own words. Allow your clients to share what they want, when they want, and how they want. It is THEIR story, not yours.

 

  • Promote decision making: A common theme for women who have undergone traumatic interpersonal relationships (whether domestic, coaching, or otherwise) is that their decision making power is systematically stripped away from them. Give your clients ample amounts of decision making power. Coach in a collaborative manner and ensure that they feel that they are an active participant in the process. This can mean that perhaps they choose some of their accessory work for their session or that you seek input about what they want to focus on in their next training cycle.

 

  • Focus on strength based progress: This is not limited to adding weight to the bar! Strength based wins can come in the form of rep PRs, volume PRs, or my personal favorite, mental PRs. Encourage clients to find at least one “win” from the session or week and focus on giving feedback on their strength, both mentally and physically.

 

Having a degree of autonomy in my own training is incredibly important to me and it is something I am adamant about for my athletes. Educating, facilitating growth, and confidence building are pillars of my coaching practice and making space for client autonomy is a big, BIG component of accomplishing those things.  Women deserve to feel autonomous in their bodies wherever they are, whether that’s out in public, at home, or under a barbell. I know that it may be easier or more desirable to the client to tell them exactly what to do, no questions asked. But to me, that feels like a disservice. As coaches, I know we can do better for our clients. We can help them come into their autonomy and exercise it, unapologetically.

F*ck Your Motivational Quote
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Want to know a secret?
I haven’t been “motivated” to workout in years.  
 
You read that correctly. I very rarely feel motivated to workout.  The other day, I spent some time doing a short Q&A session on my Instagram stories (if you’re not following me there – please do! I spend a lot of time there) on all things training related. One topic that continually came up was the topic of motivation. Specifically, what do I do when I’m not motivated to workout? I shared that I haven’t felt traditionally motivated to train in years. What I mean by “traditionally motivated” is the way that most people and social media conceptualize motivation.

Social media can paint a deceptive picture of what sustainable health and fitness look like. This type of “Motivation” tends to look something like bounding out of bed to go to the gym, smiling through your entire workout, and going home and laughing while eating a salad. It’s all positivity! And enthusiasm! And being super excited every single day! This is just not real life. Everyone has bad days, bad moods, and days where the last thing you want to do is put a bar on your back or go sweat it out at the gym.

It is 100% okay to not be feeling it sometimes.
It is normal to not feel endless enthusiasm.

It’s easy to feel like there is something wrong with you if you don’t share this seemingly endless enthusiasm.  This is not the case. The presentation of motivation is failing you; not the other way around.  Motivation, like anything else, is individual. What works for one person may not work for you. The drive that fuels your long term success and goals does not have to fit into a box or formula.

Motivation is not a pinterest quote. It is not pretty cursive words on a perfectly contrived, faded, slightly out of focus background.  It is not a perfectly posed #fitspo photo with a narrative of text about how hashtagblessed you are and how excited you are day in and day out.If pretty pinterest images and quotes do motivate, then keep collecting them! If they don't, that's okay too.  Motivation can be messy and difficult and maybe not so pretty. It is unique and it is your own.

If I'm not motivated, what does keep me going to the gym?

The fact that I have goals that I want to reach.  These are goals that I have made and that resonate with me. They’re important to me. They mean something to me. These goals will not just happen and success will not just fall into my lap. I must work for it. In the realms of strength, everything is earned and nothing is given. I am firmly in charge of my outcomes and the efforts that I put in to achieve those outcomes.  

Does that mean I skip the gym when I’m not feeling it? Not at all. Sacrifices DO have to be made, being uncomfortable is a given, and it is NOT easy. I cannot reach my goals without putting in the work, even on the days that maybe I’m not totally enthused about it. Is it always perfect and according to plan? Absolutely not. Keeping space for life to happen and keeping the perspective that the barbell will always be there is also important to keeping me “motivated”.

So don’t fret if you’re not feeling it one day, one week, or one month. Change it up. Explore your goals. Work hard for them. Create your own version of motivation.

Tell me: What goals are you working towards? What keeps you motivated?

Is there a "right" way to have a body?
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Love your body.

Change your body.

Don’t change your body.

Hate your body.

There are so many mixed messages coming from every direction when it comes to women and their bodies. It seems like every day there is a new expectation associated with how we should exist in our bodies.

I totally understand the struggle of trying to find where you “fit” and grappling with wanting to change your physique but also embrace where you’re at. I’ve felt this way numerous times in my journey. I’m currently about 15lbs heavier than I typically feel best at due to a PCOS flare up (check this post for more details) and honestly, there have been MANY moments where I have said some not so nice things to myself. There have been some tantrums and frustrated fits of grabbing at things I don’t like and obsessively staring at old photos.

While these moments happen, the frequency and duration of them has diminished over the years. That is not to say that I am head over heels in love with my body all day, every day. In fact, I’d describe my relationship with my body as pretty neutral. My body is a vessel that I exist in – it does amazing things, allows me to live the life that I want, carries me through tough times, and helps me celebrate good ones. I try to do things to keep it happy and functioning. It is part of me but it is not my entirety.

So what should we do? Should we love our bodies unconditionally? Should we hate them? Do we change them via diet and exercise? Or is that an act of hate towards our bodies?

The pressure to live in our bodies and feel a particular way about our bodies can be overwhelming. It can feel like no matter what we do, we aren’t doing it right. We aren’t loving our bodies enough. We aren’t trying hard enough to change them. We aren’t embracing them enough. The weight of these expectations can be downright soul crushing.  

I had a conversation with someone just the other day about the feelings of failure associated with health, wellness, and existing in our bodies. They felt like they failed at changing their body in a way they wanted, so they opted to shift gears and work on embracing their body in the present moment. After a while, they felt as if they failed at that too because they still wanted to make changes towards living a different lifestyle and therefore, they must not reeeeally love their body if they have a desire to change it.  Living in these two extremes and feeling like a failure is no way to live. No one has the right to make you feel like you’ve failed at building a relationship with yourself. You can absolutely feel positively about your body and want to change it.

What if instead of trying to shove ourselves in a false dichotomy of self love and self hate,  we move towards a healthy relationship with our bodies? What if we honor them and treat them in a way that feels good for us?

We eat, move, and exist in a way that serves our mental and physical health.  

We release the expectations of a labeling our relationship with our bodies because, let’s face it, sometimes relationships are complicated and messy. These relationships don’t need to exist in a box or adhere to a particular set of standards that are set by someone other than ourselves.

Can we actively fight against arbitrary standards that tell us how to exist in the world?

Can we resist the urge to trade one box for another and instead forge a unique path?

I think we are up for the challenge.