Words of "Wisdom"

Spurs Seven Virtues

Today we have a fantastic guest post brought to you by mental coach, Brian Levenson. Brian is a phenomenal coach who has helped/is currently helping countless different people from all walks of life to improve their mental game. He primarily works with athletes ranging from the youth to the professional level, but he also mentors business owners and even Jedi Masters, too. I think you'll really enjoy his post for today.

Spurs Seven Virtues

It’s been a week since the San Antonio Spurs were crowned champions of the NBA.  Since then, they have been celebrated as one of the best, most selfless teams in history.  Personally, I have never cheered for a team whom I had no allegiance/ties to, like I did for the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs.  It wasn’t that I fell in love with the way one guy played, or marveled at the sheer talent of the players on the floor, instead I found myself grossly enamored with seven virtues that the team possessed.  As I dissect each virtue, think about your organization and how you may benefit from the Spurs way.

Virtue #1:  Can>Can’t

Of all the people in the Spurs organization, RC Buford may be the most underrated.  Buford is the architect behind a roster chalk full of what ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy called “heart guys”.  They are guys who are willing to dive on the floor for loose balls, take a charge, and be gritty enough to keep playing hard even when they are struggling.  When selecting those “heart” players the Spurs choose to look at what guys can do rather than what they can’t do.  As Buford reflects in this article about their draft process: “We get everybody in a room, and ask each other, ‘What can we do to help this player?’”  This not only crystallizes their decision making process, as they better understand a player’s potential, but it also helps them create an action plan to give that player the best opportunity for success.

Take a player like Kawhi Leonard, the recent MVP of the NBA finals, who was passed up by all the teams in the lottery, selected by Indiana at 15, and then had his rights traded to the Spurs.  The biggest knock on Leonard was that he couldn’t shoot.

From the well-respected NBA draft website, Draftexpress:

“Leonard is not only an average ball-handler, but he also struggles to make shots consistently from beyond the arc. His 0.743 points per shots on jumpers ranks 16th of 17 in the class, where he shot an abysmal 31% from the field. His struggles extend both to his catch and shoot jumpers (32%) and pull-ups (28%).”

But teams were forgetting one of the most important characteristics to acquire a new skill, Leonard was coachable; and the Spurs had just the coach to help him acquire the skill of shooting.  Chip Engelland is considered one of the best shooting coaches in the NBA, and he happens to be an assistant coach with the Spurs.  The Spurs paired Leonard with Engelland and the rest is history.

Spurs take can’t and turn it into can.

Virtue #2:  Honesty

Each player on the Spurs knows their strengths and weaknesses.  They are honest with who they are and are open to feedback from their lead general, Coach Pop.  Pop’s brutal honesty led to him writing, “DNP-Old” last year to describe why Tim Duncan wasn’t playing, admitting that during timeouts sometimes “I’ll say I’ve got nothing” as his players look to him for answers, and is part of the reason that he has the most brief in-game interviews with side-line reporters.

The honesty that Pop displays leads to accountability, which enables each Spur to get the most out of their potential.

Virtue #3:  Empowerment

The Spurs empower each of their players to step up and produce.  This was most evident in last year’s NBA Finals when Tony Parker walked up to Pop during a timeout to interject his opinion.  Pop gave Parker the keys to the timeout huddle and Parker started explaining to his teammates what he saw.  That empowerment to step up and make a difference is a hallmark of every player on the Spurs.

Pop explained the interaction in a press conference, "That’s not a rarity. While the coaches are out talking on the court, we do that so that the players can communicate and talk to each other because most of the time they know more what's going on than we do.  There will be times when Timmy will sit in that chair or Manu will sit there or Tony will sit there and they'll talk to the team if they have something they want to get across. That's just how we do things.”

Spurs don’t put people in their place; instead they empower each other.

Virtue #4:  Share

San Antonio had 1771 passes in the NBA finals compared to Miami’s 1299.  That’s 472 more passes, or about 95 more passes per game.  Pretty remarkable.  Pop constantly tells his guys that the ball can’t “stick”; meaning ball movement is paramount.

The players bought in to the sharing concept as well.  As Manu Ginobili pointed out in this article, “I think it can potentially be a game-changer, for other teams that don’t have as much talent to give (an individual) the ball and let them create like Kobe or Durant or LeBron. It kind of showed the way in the sense … if you don’t have as much talent, you still can do it. You can move the ball and put a lot of pressure on the defense."

Then, there are the salaries that each player makes.  The Spurs "big 3" all took less money to stay in San Antonio.  Parker made 12.5 million, Duncan made 10.4 million, and Ginobili made 7 million.  Those salaries combined are less than what Kobe Bryant’s salary was this year (30.5 million).

Sharing is a non-negotiable for Spurs.

Virtue #5:  Process Focus

“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”  --Jacob Riis

That quote has been at the heart of the Spurs culture for years.  “Pound the Rock” has become the rallying cry for one of the best organizations in sports.  It’s become so popular that there is even a popular blog named after it (www.poundingtherock.com).  It didn’t matter if they had lost game 2, or were down 22-6 in game 5, the Spurs were always focused on executing and playing the right way for 48 minutes.

Regardless of the score, Spurs continue to chisel away at their opponents until eventually they break.

Virtue #6:  Something to Prove

The Spurs are filled with guys who have had something to prove throughout their career.  They are an eclectic, diverse group, highlighted by 8 international players, which led the league in that category.  Each player on the Spurs has had a different journey to the NBA, but only one of them (Duncan) was selected in the NBA Draft lottery.  The rest of the team is filled with late 1st and 2nd round picks, guys who were passed over because of weaknesses.  They are a resilient, gritty group of guys who constantly have to prove they belong.

Nothing has been given to the Spurs and that’s why so much has been earned.

Virtue #7:  Best Friends

Teams often talk about how there needs to be a mutual respect amongst each other, but that they don’t have to be “best friends” with their teammates.  Yet, as Patty Mills grabbed the microphone during the Spurs celebration ceremony, he introduced his teammates as his “best friends”.    He went on to talk about each and every player and how they brought something unique to the team.  He was genuine, funny, and comfortable talking about the guys he sweated with all year.  He mentioned their quirks, how they were better people than players, and how much he loved each of them.

It’s not good enough to just be a teammate, Spurs must love each other like best friends.

The word “virtue” has many different definitions, but the one that sticks out is “a good or useful quality or thing.”  When it comes to the 2014 NBA Champions there are plenty of good qualities to go around, and those champion qualities should be celebrated, admired, and duplicated by us all.

Sweat and Sacrifice: It’s OK to be Uncomfortable

Kidding! It's not Kelsey. Goose is back in the blogging world and has a solid post, just in time for the holidays!

Every now and then random people approach me asking, "How do I get abs?" "How do I lose weight?"

My answer: “Well, what are you doing right now?”

It’s surprising to me how much people underestimate the amount of time and hard work it takes for change to happen. Whether you’re an athlete not breaking a sweat in the weight room or a Desk Jockey who thinks walking 25 mins on a treadmill is a hard workout, the outcome is the same. If you don’t put in the work you don’t get any results!

NO RESULTS FOR YOU!!

A simple, yet extremely effective, rule to live by is: If you aren’t sweating you aren’t trying! Not breaking a sweat can be attributed to 1 or more of the following:

- Improper warm-up etiquette

- Moving too slowly

- Using too light of a weight

Wrong! Errr-body got time for dat!

Are you warming up properly? If you aren’t breaking a light sweat, lubricating your joints, or elevating your heart rate, what exactly are you doing?? A great quote by Olympic Weightlifting Guru, Greg Everett, “If you’re not warming-up, you’re not tough or elite, you’re lazy.”

If you skip or half-do youe warm up, well done! You've set yourself up for an injury or, at best, an unproductive workout!

How fast are you moving through your workout? If your workout speed can be described as “Slower than molasses on a winter day” we’ve got a problem on our hands! Going too slowly or taking too long between sets of exercises is not only a reason for the lack of perspiration but is also detrimental to strength gains.

Don’t be that guy!

Are you going heavy enough?? Once passed the learning period, where technique needs to be mastered, there is no reason to do “easy” weights. If the weight/load of an exercise isn’t in the least bit challenging there is no point in simply going through the motions.

Motivation: Somewhere in China there is a child warming up with you max!

Getting sweaty and uncomfortable are side effects of truly pushing the limits of your body in you quest for greatness! A concept that one of my coaches constantly drilled into my head was “If you are comfortable, you are not giving your 100%." Whether you are conditioning or resistance training, I believe this concept to be true.

The human mind is a very powerful thing; it is also incredibly lazy if you let it be. When things start to get tough, when your legs burn and you are breathing heavily, your mind likes to tell you that’s enough. However, the reality is that your body is still good to keep going, you’ve just got to find the resolve to push through the fatigue and finish whatever your objective is. That is mental toughness, that is what separates 1st from 2nd place. No one ever said getting better was a walk in the park. Getting better sucks, it’s painful, and super frustrating. But in the end when all the work has been done in the weight room and on the field, when you’ve lost countless ounces of sweat and winced through sore muscles, that’s when results will show. And that’s when PRs will be broken and victory will be gained.

Rant over. Happy Holidays!

"That's A Load of...." Debunking Media "Fitness" Terms

Glance at the front of the magazines at grocery stores and you'll see a variety of "fitness" or "health" claims such as "tone," "fat-blasting," and other such nonsense as that. I find myself rolling my eyes so much that my occipital (eye) muscles are as big as a body builder's biceps. Sorry, strength coach joke.

Moving on, today I'm going to rip through debunk a few of those outrageous claims so that you too can strengthen your occipital muscles as you wait in the grocery check-out line. I can not possibly cover all the silliness out there, but I've narrowed it down to a few of the common ones (that seem to appear month after month on magazines such as "Self" or "Woman's Day"). A lot of these claims are found on women's magazines, mainly because I think we're fed more crap than the fellas, but they apply to both genders.

CLAIM: "Tone," as in "tone those jiggly arms"- First off, let me remind you that everyone's arm jiggles; that's what happens when a muscle is relaxed. The main definition of "Tone" in exercise physiology is: the normal state of elastic tension or partial contraction in resting muscles. For example, the postural are constantly contracting and relaxing to keep you upright (or slouched...stand up straight!). The fitness magazine "tone" refers to the ability to actually see the muscles' shapely form. (So really, they should say "definition" not "tone.")

In order for a muscle group to be defined, say your arms, two things must occur: 1) the muscle is big enough to be seen (so those stupid tricep kick-backs or bicep curls with 5 pound weight ain't gonna cut it when it comes to muscle growth.) and 2) there needs to be less subcutaneous (under the skin) fat. How does one accomplish bigger muscles with less body fat? Why, picking up heavy stuff and eating a vegetable and protein laden-diet! Glance through a women's magazine at those "arm toning" exercises and you tell me if you think they would actually succeed. As for eating healthy, the details look different for each person (i.e. paleo, vegan, omnivore, etc.), however it should be 90-100% REAL FOOD with minimal crap (though a Christmas cookie or two is ok.) 90% of the time.

FACT: "Tone" means: less fat, bigger muscles. 

CLAIM: "Fat-blasting" food- The media makes it seems as if these foods (and it's a new one each week!) has heavy artillery and upon entrance to the body, starts blowing up fat cells left and right.

Uh, sorry, that's not how the body works. Fat cells, once formed, don't go away. They do however change size depending on how much fat is stored in them. So, in order to reduce the amount of fat in each cell, the body needs to be in a caloric deficit. This means you need to eat LESS than what you're using up, for the basic metabolic functions, exercise, and other activities. The body will burn it's excess energy, aka stored fat, to make up for the lack of energy intake. Altering body composition is a life style change; I guarantee you that just eating a serving or two of "fat blasting" foods will NOT be enough to reverse years of bad eating habits. There is a wealth of solid (and scientific) advice out there, and there are definitely more details than I plan on elaborating in this post (maybe another time...) however it boils down to this:

Stop eating crap, eat real food, and pick up heavy things. Take note that I put the nutritional advice first. You can not out-train a crappy diet, so clean that up first! There will be a blog post later on this month regarding that whole aspect of fat-loss.

FACT: Eating a whole-foods based diet, with minimal crap, and exercising regularly OVER TIME will reduce body fat levels.

CLAIM: "Target" body part, usually for fat loss- This myth just won't die! It keeps reappearing week after week on the covers of magazines and on the interwebz. People, YOU CANNOT SPOT REDUCE!!! The body doesn't say, "Oh, I see that you are doing thousands of crunches, I should reduce the body fat I store there so you can have a flat tummy." Really, it says, "For the love of all things iron, STOP CRANKING ON THE SPINE ! It HATES that!" Targeting is about as effective as trying to grow eye-stalks.

Oh, if grunting made it so!

For "targeting trouble areas" see the above two points: an overall body fat reduction will promote definition of muscles and those "problem areas" will be not so problematic. Again, it's a life-style change, not a quick fix.

*This is not to say that isolation work has no purpose. How else are you supposed to have guns for the ladies? Some isolation work thrown in to an already compound-movement heavy (lots of multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts, pushups, pull ups etc) work out can provide some extra stimulation to a muscle group that can lead to hypertrophy (growth).

FACT: Compound movements should be the bulk of you training program. That combined with a diet of whole foods will reduce body fat levels and thus reducing the need to "target" certain areas. (anyone picking up on a theme?)

CLAIM: This is an actual quote from a celebrity trainer, who is a disgrace to our industry:

"Oftentimes, heavy weights can tear the muscle fiber causing it to bulk, but using a lighter weight for a longer duration and allowing your body to move in many different ways to target all of the muscles will lengthen them without tearing."

-Tracy Anderson

Multiple other coaches and trainers have ripped into this (and other nonsensical claims that spew forth from her mouth). Sadly, she is not the ONLY trainer out there who thinks this is true, she just happens to profess this poop where more people can read it. I'm not going to touch the first half of that statement except to say, uh, that's the method by which the body grows stronger...by tearing and repair muscles. Oi!

The phrase "lengthening muscles" is also found, unfortunately, in other fitness "experts" mouths and in their writings. It is physiologically impossible to lengthen a muscle without breaking the bones and extending them or altering the attachment points of the muscle. Yes, the muscles lengthen and shorten during normal movements, however, the actual length of the muscle doesn't change. Got a problem with that? Take it up with your parents, they passed the genes along.

I think that term is really just "tone" said in a different way. Ultimately, the phrase is intended to indicate "definition" just like the word "tone." If a trainer says/writes that claim, it's a pretty solid indication that the trainer/coach has absolutely NO idea how physiology works and therefore you should turn and flee. I'd also like to note her splendid use of the buzzword, "target."

FACT: "Lengthening" a muscle is impossible, and the intended implication is "definition" which is attained via the methods described ad nauseam above. 

Now, my SAPT readers, you are armed with the knowledge to see through the baloney that fitness magazines and products proudly display and you have the ability to recall the truth: a great, healthy body is created by... do I really need to say it again? Don't allow the stupidity of the outrageous claims dissuade you from thinking that anything but consistent hard work (both in the kitchen and in the gym) will accomplish your performance and/or physique goals.

Maximize Each Workout: 3 Practical Tips on Mindset

The mindset associated with any training plan is really what makes the difference in achieving your goals. Sets, reps, exotic exercise selection, equipment, etc. doesn't make a drop of difference if you are only 60% engaged, focused, and mentally committed. Here are 3 practical tips to get you in the zone - and keep you there - for your next workout session:

 

  • Music: I think everybody knows about this one, but it bears repeating. Music is so powerful because it has the ability to change your mindset and push you in the direction you want to go or need to be for a great training session.
  • Environment: Make sure your training environment is conducive to you achieving (and be able to focus on achieving) your goals. Constantly getting stopped by other gym members to chat? Always feeling ashamed of making any noise whatsoever? Tired of being harassed for breaking out chalk? Well, all these are signs that you may need to reconsider your training environment and get into one that supports your focus and goals.
Planet Fitness Lunk Alarm

Alright, you've got at least two of three tips that you can implement TODAY to get your training dialed up and instantly more productive.

Maximize Each Workout: Train Like No One is Looking

Potentially - or probably - the biggest barrier keeping most people from making progress on their goals (fitness, build muscle, fat loss, strength, etc...) is their own state of mind. That feeling like "Oh, people are watching me, so I don't want to [X]..." [look like I'm trying], [fail], [struggle], [make a weird face], etc. But, all this self-limiting behavior successfully accomplishes is self-limiting progress. I've trained all over the place in a multitude of different environments and have often been seen doing off-the-beaten-path type exercises. But, even I sometimes get a little nervous about the liklihood of drawing attention to myself. When that hesitation kicks in, here are my top 3 reminders to keep my self-limiting behavior out of the way of accomplishing my goals:

1. No one is looking. Most of the time no one cares what you're up to in your daily workout and they really are not watching. Trust in this first rule.

2. Don't let your assumptions of someone else's perceptions affect your behavior. Okay, so you're doing something attention grabbing (read: weird) in your workout. Yes, you will probably catch a few eyes, so if #1 isn't working for you. Then ask yourself this: "So, someone is watching me train, why would I stop just because they're watching?" They're probably watching to learn something new. That's what I've found over the years. No one has ever approached me to tell me I'm "wrong" - rather it usually means I'll get to have a conversation with someone new about whatever it is I'm doing. They want to learn!

3. The world doesn't revolve around you. At least in the realm of weight training - I can't actually speak for other areas. This is really the bottom line. Whether you like drawing attention to yourself or dread it, the world doesn't revolve around you. So, keep your eyes down and power through on taking a small step towards whatever is going to help you accomplish your next goal.

The point in training for fitness, building muscle, or strength is making progress towards personal goals and achieving things you, personally have never achieved before. Don't allow those self-limiting behaviors derail your success!

Give Me Strength!: The Process

It hurts.  The short-term effects from strength training often leads to pushing the body to places the mind may not want to go.  But, if the mind is open and willing, the body can be pushed to places it may not realize are possible.  Strength-training, like any activity, requires a detailed process, which focuses on daily progression.  Below are three tips to help your mind stay right as you get your body tight:

  1. Goal-Setting:  It’s imperative to have daily, weekly, and monthly fitness and strength goals.  These should not just be based on weight loss/gain or amount of weight lifted.  Instead, there should be deliberate practice goals, which focus on progression.  Focus on the process of improvement rather than simply end results. Examples: Daily - Commit to trying one new exercise [pick one to help you put extra emphasis on a weak area or an area you enjoy training] for each daily training session for a month; Weekly - Commit to a weekly schedule of weight training, avoid a haphazard approach... what time does your workout begin? Don't be late!; Monthly - Did you achieve your daily and weekly goals? What does the next month look like, what are you planning to accomplish on a daily level? Is it time to do a quantitative test yet?
  2. Willpower Talk:  Use committed words like “will” over words like “gotta”.  Direct attention to what you will do rather than what you gotta do.  The more you talk about will the more you will get. For example, what is your weakest area that you WILL improve to build muscle and strength? A lower body unilateral exercise, perhaps?
  3. Expectation Scorecard:  Create a scorecard for yourself to grade your mental performance during a strength-workout.  Have categories like attitude, positive self-talk, energy management, etc. so that you will grade your mental-toughness.  This will hold you accountable to maximizing performance.

A couple other things to consider: what is your pre-workout preparation? It probably involves some foam rolling and a warm-up, but are you preparing your mind to take full advantage of the soon to start training session? Are you fully focused when the first set begins?

Like most things in life, success in strength training, fitness, endurance training, fat-loss, etc. is at least 50% mental. The process of engaging in a long term progressive program also teaches excellent (mental) practices that translate into many other areas of life (discipline, goal setting, enjoyment, commitment, etc.).