Posts tagged training
Body Autonomy: A Coaching Perspective
IMG_0460.jpg

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.

PCOS & FHA Update: Regression, Stress, and Next Steps

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, dietitian, or medical professional. I’m simply sharing my experience with PCOS and FHA and the strategies that have and have not worked for me. Always consult with your health care professional and remember that what works for me may not work for you.

IMG_1597 (1).jpg

 

It’s been a minute since I’ve written or talked about my PCOS and FHA. In case you missed it or want to catch up, I was diagnosed with PCOS and functional hypothalamic amenorrhea in the winter for 2016 and have since been on a journey to find ways to keep my body happy. You can read more about that here:

Dealing with PCOS & FHA: My Experience

Dealing with PCOS & FHA Part 2: Carbs, Stress, & Weight Gain

PCOS & FHA: 1 Year Update


Since my last update, quite a lot has happened. I started dieting and it was going quite well – I was making decent body composition changes, my lifting was going well, and the scale was even moving down. At my last endocrinologist appointment in late December/early January, my testosterone levels were a smidge elevated but nothing that was extremely out of the ordinary for what was going on in my life at the time. For me, my testosterone levels will get elevated during times of high stress, low sleep, and when I’m doing training that is focused on higher intensity (i.e. heavier lifting) rather than high volume. I had not been experiencing any negative symptoms that tend to occur when my levels are high, so I took note to chill out a bit more and went on about my life.

Stress and Regression

Stress is my number one “trigger” for my hormones getting out of whack. Stress comes in many forms ranging from stress because of positive things, stress from acute traumatic incidents, and daily life stressors. I like to think of the stress response as a light switch on a dimmer. When we incur stress like the physical stress of training, daily life stressors, and a fight with a friend or significant other, our dimmer switch gets turned up and our room is brightly lit. We recover, eat well, hydrate, calm the fuck down, and then the dimmer switch gets turned down. Sometimes though, there are stressors that turn that switch all the way up and keep it up. Things like traumatic events, large life changes, and jarring incidents would certainly qualify here.

In January, my switch got turned ALL the way up. My brother had a very extreme health episode and was in the hospital on life support for several days. (Sidenote: thank you to everyone who reached out with kind words – it meant A LOT to me and my family <3 ) He is physically fine now but sustained an anoxic (lack of oxygen) brain injury and suffice it say, life has not and will not be the same. His recovery has been nothing short of incredible and his prognosis is the best that it could possibly be. The body is freaking incredible and my levels of gratitude for his health, my family, and life in general are astronomically high, but the trauma of that event left a serious mark on my body. Add to that the ever present stress of trying to build and run a business by myself, general life shit, and a very busy schedule…and well, my stress levels were lit the fuck up.  

I continued on with my life, adjusting to this new normal, and tried to give myself some compassion. Training changed to accommodate a hectic schedule and stress levels, however, I was already committed to a powerlifting meet in early February. I decided against pulling out of the meet because I just wanted to do something that was normal. Things continued to go well in training and I was so ready to have a great meet.

When I went to go weigh in…I was told that I was FIVE pounds over. I had cut weight (mind you, not extremely hard) and according to my apparently very defunct home scale, I was at weight the night before. Not being at weight isn’t a big deal for powerlifting and quite honestly, I didn’t care all that much – I knew I wasn’t going to sweat out 5lbs in the next few hours and I just lifted in the higher weight class. But, it DID throw me off my game enough to shake my confidence somewhat. And more than that, it was a big glaring sign that things were not quite right on the hormone front.

I felt defeated – my competition plan for the year had already fallen apart but I promptly made a new plan because that is the human that I am. I felt very out of control of my body and was honestly pissed off. I DID THE THINGS DAMMIT. I did my time! I’m ready, SO ready, to just push forward and do what I want to do.  I just felt like someone had pulled the reigns back, just as I was prepared to sprint ahead. My meet went sort of okay but it was abundantly clear that my body was not happy. My anxiety was outrageous, my recovery was shit, my weight was one big guessing game, and I felt off. That light switch had been pushed to the brink and in that glaring light, I was forced to see what was in front of me. Hormonally, things were not okay. 

Next Steps

So what now?

Now,  I’m in a space that feels familiar yet very different – clearly, my hormones are a little whacky and my body has detected that things are not quite normal. I’ve been here. I’ve done this. I know HOW to do this. But also, I don’t. The stressors aren’t the same, the process isn’t the same, and my body isn’t the same. This narrative is certainly one that is not unique to anyone who has experienced PCOS or hypothalamic amenorrhea. So, what is game plan now? Quite honestly, it isn’t much different than what I have done in the past. 

The biggest factor, for me, is stress management and reduction. This includes several things:

- more food and lots of it

-  trying new recovery methods

- blocking out time in my schedule to not work/check email/train/etc.

- saying no a whole lot more often

- more quality sleep

 

Training & Nutrition

As far as diet and training go, I was starting to prep for an April strongman show however, given my current weight situation, I decided to withdraw and hold off to aim for a summer show. Switching gears into strongman training means that my volume is quite high and intensity is relatively low. For me, that tends to push my testosterone levels back into the normal range and serves as a good mental relief for me. Training is one of the few times when I am doing something that is solely focused on myself and I can have some time to not interact with a ton of people all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE what I do, but I do need specific times to not be talking, educating, coaching, etc.

On the diet front, after a couple weeks of dieting and being stalled out, my coach upped my calories substantially to help bring stress down and get hormones in a better place. I need to lose a decent amount of weight to make the LW class for my strongman show and honestly, it was not a fun decision to decide to pull out of the April show BUT, there are other shows and that is totally okay. Now it is time to focus on eating more, recovering, and turning that dimmer switch back down. Is it frustrating? Yup. But, I know that it is worth it. I also know that I’ve learned when I’m starting to dig a hole that is too deep and can catch it early, so hopefully, it doesn’t take quite as long to climb out of.

_________________________________________________________________

And that’s the current update! I’m also reading a TON about hypothalamic amenorrhea and female hormonal issues to compile a list of resources that would be helpful. If you have any suggestions, please leave them below!

PCOS & FHA: 1 Year Update

*Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor. What has worked for me won't necessarily work for you and you should always, ALWAYS take the advice and recommendations of your medical professional.*

image1.jpeg

 

Well, it's been just about a year since I was diagnosed with PCOS and FHA (functional hypothalamic amenorrhea). You can read much, much more detail about my initial diagnostic progress, actions taken, and my progress thus far in these two posts:

Dealing with PCOS & FHA: My Experience 

Dealing with PCOS & FHA Part 2: Carbs, Stress, and Weight Gain

I've hesitated on writing a new update because, well...things are pretty great! At my last endocrinologist appointment all of my bloodwork was normal (including my testosterone), my periods have been mostly regular, and everything has felt surprisingly normal. 

Since July, there have been a few tweaks made to my training and my nutrition that have been a sort of litmus test to see how things have come along. The past year has been one giant experiment: how would my body react? would my hormone levels stay normal? what works for me? what doesn't work for me? My coaches, Anthony and Annie at Complete Human Performance, have been absolutely incredible with helping me through this entire process and providing amazing guidance. It truly has been a big collaborative process and I can't thank them enough for helping me through this tough year. With that being said, let's play catch up. 

Training:

Training has involved a lot of playing with different types and styles of programming, working around some nagging things that are really a result of old injuries, my hypermobility, and the fun stuff that comes along with having autoimmunity issues. I've spent the majority of the year training submaximally and building up a lot of volume. A LOT. OF. VOLUME. Particularly for things like my squats (sets of 20, anyone?) I've also spent a lot of time working various sticking points in all of my lifts and  just steadily building over time. I haven't really competed since my meet in March, minus a literally last minute decision to help fill a weight class at a strongman show which I treated as a training day. 

I have most of my competition plans for 2018 laid out and am currently starting a 3 month powerlifting meet prep and starting to push the intensity of training. A large component of being able to do this is learning how to work around my cycle. Since my period has started coming back with regularity, it has decided that I now have a 17-21 day cycle (why, tho?!) so I really only get about one to one and half weeks of normal non PMS/non cycle hormonal levels. The biggest implication of this with my training is that I get very extreme joint laxity before and on my cycle, which means I have to be extremely mindful of positioning, technique, and various other factors when I'm training. I don't tend to experience any extreme variations in strength or abilities around my cycle, but I do monitor it closely to make sure I train accordingly.

Nutrition:

This has been the area that has experienced the greatest change over the past year. Last year, I dieted very hard and made some really great progress physique-wise and then once my body had enough, it really had enough. As I have alluded to in previous posts, I put on a decent bit of weight (around 15lbs or so), which is a bit more than I typically try to put on in an off-season.  It has been incredibly difficult, both mentally and physically, to watch this unfold but it has also been incredibly rewarding.

The most beneficial thing I have done for my body, my sanity, and managing these issues has been: not losing weight. Seriously. I spent almost the entire year not dieting and in fact, spent most of the year bringing my calories way up and keeping them there. If you're dealing with FHA, the one piece of advice I would give is: STOP DIETING. Stop. Stahp. Stop it. There are exceptions to this, of course (and your doctor knows better than I do), but bringing food up and maintaining it there has worked absolute wonders for me and several other women I know. 

After implementing the carb cycling I discussed in part 2, my period returned to normal, as did my hormones, and my physique began to normalize out a bit after a few months. I still carb cycle between my rest days and training days but I've gradually added in a little more carbs on rest days and that seems to be working quite well.

I've been able to begin actually dieting for my season next year with a very slow and steady approach and I'm eating about 600 calories more than I did when I was dieting last year. My coach has only lowered my calories once or twice throughout the past 2 months and I'm continuing to see progress. I'm steadily losing weight in a way that doesn't feel brutally hard, isn't impacting my cycle, and isn't impacting my performance. Honestly, it's been...easy. THAT is what spending a year of not dieting and really trusting the process will do. It wasn't easy, especially mentally, but it was absolutely worth it. 

Mindset:

Stress management still continues to be the most difficult thing for me to implement. It's easy for me to get overwhelmed, spread myself too thin, and get caught up in all of the things I am doing. The difference now is that I am more aware of when this is starting to occur and I do my best to mitigate it. I've made some really big decisions to help with this and while they are scary, they're more than necessary. I've also really thrown myself into things aside from just training and competing. This year has been an incredibly year of growth and quite honestly, I don't think it would have gone that way if I hadn't had really great people in my corner to support me directing my efforts to other things. Managing my expectations regarding my body and training continues to be a huge component of making this entire process manageable. 

____________________________________________________________

And that's where I am at! I have another follow up in January to make sure my hormone levels stay normal while I'm dieting and training hard. I'll continue to make updates as things change as well. 

Onward and upwards. Always.