How to Make Tangible Goals Out of the Intangible

Setting goals is hard, especially when it comes to fitness.  Unless you are a competitive athlete trying to make weight, break a record or win in your sport, it can feel like making something materialize from thin air.

One of my clients is working through this right now.  She knows she wants to feel and see changes in her self.  But what exactly does she want to see and feel? A certain number when she stands on a scale?  The feel of a bit more room in her jeans?  The sense of strength of picking up a weight she never thought she could?

Thinking it might help, I sent her the Spitfire goal worksheet.  After working with it a bit, she wrote a post on her blog about it.  From reading her blog post, I realized that I have left something off the worksheet or just left it vague.  What makes us want to have or do something?

In striving for an Olympic gold medal, an athlete may seek to push the boundaries of human potential, love from family, fame and fortune maybe even enlightenment.  Fear can also move us though it is about moving away from something than towards something.  I am sure there are Olympic athletes that train and compete to avoid shame, guilt and pain.

I believe Love is the ultimate motivator. Without getting too woo woo, I’ll just say that we humans accomplish tremendous things for the Love of a person or Love of the Divine.  You might run a little faster when you know the person you have a crush on is watching.  You might work extra hard to drop two clothing sizes for your wedding.  You might choose to practice yoga everyday for a month to deepen your connection with the Divine.

So whose Love is your goal for?  What do you want to do or have for them? Do you want more strength to protect your kids?  Do you want to lose weight for your honey or potential honey?  Do you want to learn to change your nutrition for the health of your family?  Do you want to run a 5k to feel a sense of accomplishment and self-Love?

Exploring why you want to do or have something makes creating tangible goals out of nothing much easier. When I was a kid, I worked on my jump shot in basketball every afternoon, because I wanted to be a Harlem Globetrotter and loved by fans.  I practiced my camel turn on roller skates, because I wanted a handsome prince to see me perform in an ice-skating show and fall madly in love with me (I blame Disney for that one.).  I concentrated on trying to levitate objects with my mind to gain Jedi powers and experience the flow of the Force in, through and around me.  I was crystal clear what I wanted, why and for whom.

Let Love lead you to your goal.


Lift Weights? But I Want To Lose Weight.

Q&A: I Want To Lose Weight. Why Is My Trainer Having Me Lift Weights?
The Question

A dear friend of mine sent me a question about the training program and nutrition suggestions his new trainer has for him.  My friend’s goal is to lose weight.

His new trainer has him doing “mostly weights with an emphasis on strength training, and little cardio (and the cardio is high intensity intervals, not long duration walking or running).”

So of course his response is “Not sure I buy that cardio is so much less effective than weights for weight loss – I get the part about muscles=metabolism, but you want to burn max calories too, right? Then again, I’ve been in pretty good cardio shape at times in the past but carrying extra weight still.”

As far as nutrition goes, his trainer is “also claiming that 70% of the population has some problem with gluten, that the paleo diet is best (or at least as much protein and fruits/veggies as possible), and recommending we take 30g of fish oil every day to jumpstart weight loss…”

My friends greatest concern in all this is “I just don’t want to risk bulking up with weights and protein shakes (or whatever) when slimming down is my #1 goal.”

My Answer

(FYI: I’ve known this friend since we were 15, so pardon the familiar tone.)

Free your mind!

Let go of what you learned way back when about fitness and nutrition. You hired a trainer because all that no longer serves you. Experiment with what your trainer is giving you. Try it for 30 days. See what difference it makes or not. Make it a scientific project.

Over the last several years, fitness pros have really been questioning the old school thought about cardio vs strength training, etc. Helping people improve how their bodies function day-to-day has lead to the question of what the body was built for in the first place and some interesting investigations into ancestral health.

There are several reasons why longer bouts of cardio are not efficient for fat loss. The most obvious is that most people do not work hard enough and do not progress. The heart is a muscle. It needs hard work to strengthen and grow. Watching tv or reading the New Yorker while on a treadmill is not doing much toward strengthening the heart or igniting your metabolism. In fact, the stress hormone, Cortisol, which tells the body to store fat around vital organs, gets turned on during long cardio sessions.

Ok, 44 year old man, you are not going to bulk up from lifting weights. Sometime during our 30s, we start to lose lean muscle mass on average of 1 lb each year, unless we actively work to keep it. You would have to work incredibly hard and take crazy body-building supplements to “bulk up.”

For you, it is a matter of building muscle to keep aging at bay, strengthen your bones and make you a man, baby. Osteoporosis/penia are not issues for just women, especially with all the estrogen that has found its way into the American diet. Building muscle will increase your metabolism and testorone levels. It fights impotency and man-boobs.

Before humans became “civilized,” we were amazing generalists when it came to movement. We had to be. We had to crawl, climb, balance, lift, carry, throw, run, jump, swing, and sometimes swim and defend. If we stopped moving for too long, we died. We are killing ourselves by sitting around.

Nutrition is the hardest thing to change. We have so much attachment to the comfort and pleasure that we get from our favorite foods. Ok, I am tempted to go off on a tangent about how out-of-touch we are with our food sources but I’ll leave that to Michael Pollan. If you haven’t read his stuff yet, do it now.

The big issue with wheat gluten is that it has been so genetically modified that it is less like the wheat our grandparents grew up eating than chimpanzees are like humans. I can speak from experience in saying that I can only tolerate very limited amounts of wheat and gluten. When I eat it now, I get congested and my intestinal system protests. It took me trying it after a 21-day cleanse to recognize that I had an intolerance at all.

Ultimately there is no one “correct” diet for everyone. Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine are based on that principle. What can be said is that by eating as close to nature as possible we honor our biology. Educate yourself and experiment. It’s kind of fun when you get into it.

Your trainer is probably trying to explain all of this to you. Listen.



Ancestral Health Symposium 2011,– a lot of videos from the first conference on ancestral health. The major focus was on food.

MovNat,– Natural movement program developed by Erwan Le Corre.

Exuberant Animal,– Great stuff on the blog about playing rather than working out.

Sucker Punch Training video,– Movie sucked ass but my friend, Logan Hood, trained these girls with heavy lifting and hard training. As you can see, they got strong but not bulky.

Nom Nom Paleo,– Great recipes in an easy-to-follow blog.

How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy by Paul Chek- One of the first fitness gurus to talk about primal movement patterns. Includes cartoon graphic of what our poo tells us.

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan- Any of his books are great reads.

The Paleo Solution
by Robb Wolf- With his sense of humor and academic mind, you will love Robb Wolf.

Hope that helps.

Train hard and reap the rewards, my dear friend!

Q&A: Thoughts on Crossfit

Today’s question comes from Michael on Facebook.


What do you think about Crossfit?


Crossfit can be very valuable, as long as function and safety are the main objectives of the Crossfit organization you train with. It is fun and challenging.  It’s popularity continues to grow as both a fitness program and a sport. ESPN 2 just broadcast the Crossfit Games in September.

According to Crossfit Founder, Greg Glassman’s “Foundations” in the Crossfit Journal:

“CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning program. We have designed our program to elicit as broad an adaptational response as possible. CrossFit is not a specialized fitness program but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains. They are Cardiovascular and Respiratory endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy.”

The signature of Crossfit is the WOD (Workout of the Day).  A Crossfit WOD incorporates a few or many of what Glassman calls “fitness domains.” This challenges the body to adapt, as it shifts from one to the next. You might go from squats to overhead press to sprints to ab work to gymnastics.

Crossfit is designed to be scalable to any fitness level. For anyone, who is curious about it, I would recommend trying it. Just do some research about the organization and the instructors/trainers. There are many exercises in Crossfit that can cause injury, if either the participant or the instructor takes safety for granted.

Know and understand for yourself the function and purpose of each movement and exercise. If you do not understand why you are doing something, ask! Make sure you and your instructor know the body mechanics and intention of what you are doing.

I enjoy jumping into a Crossfit workout from time to time. It challenges my body and shakes the cobwebs out of my brain. I have learned quite a bit about Olympic style lifting from my Crossfit experience.

Crossfit is great for women, especially if your trainer understands how to adapt movements to the female body.  You get strong and lean.  Your confidence grows as you continue to top your own personal record.  There is also a strong sense of community in Crossfit organizations.

For more information, a list of Crossfit affliates and video demos of WOD, visit the Crossfit website.

For folks in DC- I love the good people at Crossfit DC and Crossfit BalancePrimal Fitness also has a great reputation.

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Q&A: Can You Recommend a Nutritionist?


In an email, Jane asked if I could recommend a nutritionist, “A woman I work with who is only about 30 years old has high cholesterol.  She is into yoga but has terrible eating habits (at least until she had a 260 cholesterol number last week).  She is looking for a nutritionist to help her get better eating habits and working with her schedule. She is a busy woman, she is a (project manager for a busy building company), does yoga a lot, and goes to graduate school at night.”


I highly recommend Nutrition Counselor, Ellen Kittredge.  She understands that changing eating habits can be challenging, even monumental.  She has her clients make small changes at a time, rather than having them completely revamp their fridge and pantry.  Ellen understands there is no one-diet-fits-all and everyone responds to food differently.

Some people do want to make big changes to their nutritional habits.  For them, Ellen offers a 21-day cleanse twice per year.  I have participated in 3 of her cleanses myself.  During my first experience, I discovered I have intolerances to gluten and cow dairy.  My eating habits have changed quite a bit from that experience.

Ellen works with clients in person in the DC area but she also offers counseling by phone.  She understands that people have busy schedules but she also encourages her clients to take time for their health.

Ellen will offer her 21-day this fall.  In fact, I am creating a movement program to coincide with her cleanse.  We will make the announcement in the next couple weeks.

Ellen will also make some guest appearances here on the Spitfire Blog.  To contact Ellen, visit her website at

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Q&A: Muscle Soreness Affects My Training

The Question

Thank you to Lisa for sharing her question about delayed onset muscle soreness on FaceBook.  She says, “I’d love to know more about mastering the blend of resistance training and yoga – I can’t seem to get into a weekly rhythm that avoids the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) of one affecting the practice of the other…”


Audio version: Muscle Soreness Affects My Training

DOMS is that soreness you may feel the day or two after training.  It can feel like a tenderness or burning sensation when you move or general stiffness.

What causes DOMS is a question up for debate.  Because of the burning sensation, there is an argument that is comes from lactic acid build up though there is little evidence to prove that.  Lactic acid is a product of prolonged muscle activity.  Mostly, it is believed that soreness comes from micro tears in muscle and connective tissue fibers.

If the latter is the case, then the body needs to repair the damage to the tissues.  There are things you can do to help the body heal faster and more efficiently.

Hydration and Nutrition

Be sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day and both during and after your practice.  Your body is made mostly of water.  If you are not staying properly hydrated muscle and connective tissue fibers become less pliable and tear easier.

Along with the water, you want to be sure you are getting enough electrolytes.  Electrolytes are minerals that regulate the flow of fluids around and within cells.  Without proper electrolyte balance, cells can become dehydrated or even swollen with fluid.  A simple and inexpensive way to get electrolytes without sugary, artificial sports drinks is to squeeze some lime juice and sprinkle of a bit of sea salt to your water.

Are you eating enough protein?  We, women, love carbs and sweets, but we often forget to get enough protein.  Protein is vital to repair and rebuild tissue in the body.

Something else to think about is having an anti-inflammatory diet. Cut back on grains, dairy, sugar, and coffee, which tend to be acidic, and add more alkaline foods.  Watery fruits and veggies like melons and cucumbers are more alkaline.  Also, add herbs and spices like ginger, garlic and mint.  Their anti-inflammatory properties help speed healing in the affected muscles.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Before you jump full force into your workout or practice, give your body time to warm up, especially if you are already sore. A good yoga instructor should ease you into your practice, but you may need a little extra time to do some gentle movement before class.

The cool down is most often ignored.  I am guilty of this after weight training.  After my last rep, I head straight for the locker room.  What I need to do is take the time to cool down and let the body know that it’s done.

There is argument about whether the human body really needs to warm up and cool down.  Back when we actually moved our bodies most of the day, we probably did not but given our sedentary culture, our bodies may need to ease into training.


Your body is still active when we sleep.  That is when it goes into repair mode.  You need sleep so your body can heal those micro tears that are causing soreness.

Granted it is challenging to get enough sleep these days.  If you cannot get 7-9 hours, try to get quality sleep.  Prepare the body and mind to wind down by keeping the lights low in the evening and turning off computers and televisions an hour or two before bed. Take a bath or shower.  Read a good book.  This will help you settle down and sleep better.  Eating 3 or more hours before bed can help you stay asleep throughout the night.  Darken your room as much as possible, including covering up digital clocks.  Reducing noise can improve your sleep as well.

Home Remedies

Your post-workout shower is a great hydrotherapy treatment for muscle soreness. I’ll a huge fan of hydrotherapy so I would go to someplace like Spa World in Chantilly, VA or Kabuki Springs in San Francisco after every training or practice, if I could. Turn on the water as hot as you can tolerate it for one minute to get circulation moving toward the skin, then turn on the water as cold as you can tolerate it for one minute to get your circulation moving toward your inner organs.   Go back and forth a few times to get the circulation pumping toxins out and healthy fluids into the cells.

Another combination that works well for me is to take a long hot bath then get into a cold shower.  The circulation moving feels like something prickling your skin but I find it relaxing and healing.  These hot/cold treatments are great sleep aids too.  Adding Epson salts to your bath water is very soothing.

When I know a client is going to feel sore after one of our workouts, I usually advise them to use Arnica Montana. Arnica is a homeopathic remedy that you can use topically as a cream or gel or, if you think your whole body will be sore, you can use the oral remedy.  Arnica relieves inflammation and speeds the healing of bruises.

When I was dancing with Naoko Maeshiba, Tiger Balm was my savior.  I would have very little time to warm up after an hour and a half driving commute before jumping into three-hour dance rehearsals.  Tiger Balm’s ginger-cinnamon warmth saved me from who knows what kind of injuries from tightness and stiffness. It smells great too.

Know Your Rhythm

DOMS usually occurs 24 to 48 hours after exercise and lasts up to 72 hours.  Do you feel sore the day after a workout or two days afterward?  Awareness of when you usually feel it can help you schedule your workouts.

Say for example, you went gung ho in hot yoga class and you know that two days from now getting up from your desk will be monumental, but you plan to have your heavy weight-training day.  You may want to rethink that.  Have a light weight day or go for an easy walk.  If you have had a heavy weight-training day, you might want to opt for a restorative or gentle yoga class for the next workout.  If you are super sore, you may want to schedule a massage.

Don’t just take my word on these suggestions.   Experiment with any of these methods and let me know in the comments below which work for you.

If you have your own methods for overcoming muscle soreness, please share them in the comments as well.

With Love,


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