Ep #28: Life Lessons Learned from Fitness

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | LIFE LESSONS LEARNED FROM FITNESS
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It’s the start of a new year, and many of you may be considering starting, committing, or re-committing to an exercise routine. There are so many reasons to get active, and the physical benefits are one thing, but the benefits of exercise go far beyond your biceps and your quads. So this week, we’re taking two of my favorite things and tying them together, and I’m sharing the life lessons I’ve learned from fitness.

We already know that exercise is good for the mind and body, but there’s so much more to it than that. No one can make the change you want in your life but you, and it can feel so easy to give up when things get challenging. But how does anything that starts out challenging become easier? Practice! So this week, I’m helping you with starting or re-committing to an exercise routine and actually sticking to it.

In this episode, I’m compelling you to see fitness as more than just a means to an end and use it in a way that truly serves you and your life. Find out the key to seeing different results – both in the gym and in your life in general – and why you have to push yourself past the point of comfort if you want to come back stronger and grow and evolve in your life.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make this show better for you. Want to get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong inside and out? Share this podcast with a friend by texting a show link, sharing a screenshot, or posting a link on your social media, and help other busy working moms feel better and change things up.

Be sure to tag me on Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you!

What You Will Discover:

  • How I use fitness and challenging myself physically as a dry run for what’s going on for me personally.
  • What progressive overload is and why I love this concept so much.
  • How you should and shouldn’t use exercise to get the best results in your life.
  • Why you shouldn’t make too many drastic changes all at once.
  • The benefits of pushing yourself physically to do challenging things.
  • The key to making the changes you want to see in your life and having them stick.
  • Where so many fitness plans fall short.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #28. You already know that exercise is good for your mind and your body, but there’s more to it than that. Let’s talk about it.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high achieving, busy working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer and Certified Life Coach, Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So, what’s good here, is that I am going to shake it up just a little bit today. We are going to take two of my favorite things and tie them together. I’m talking about life lessons learned from fitness. So, it’s the start of a new year, and many of you may be considering starting or committing or recommitting to an exercise routine.

And if that’s you, awesome. And if you are at all nervous about getting into or getting reacquainted with fitness, I can only encourage you to go for it. This is not the time to get down on yourself because you used to be a track star and now you can barely run around the block. This is also not the time to let your past experiences dictate your future successes or lack thereof.

I hear this at least once a week on the Peloton, and it is so true; it’s exercise, it’s not that deep. So, don’t make this complicated. If there is something that you would like to do to move your body, do it. Don’t make it any more monumental than that. And if you hate all exercise, try walking. And if you hate walking, please send me a message because we just need to talk. Okay?

I have mentioned this before, and I will say it again, but there are so many reasons to get active, both for your body and for your mind. So, the physical benefits are one thing, but the benefits to moving your body go far beyond your biceps and quads, I promise. This applies both to cardiovascular activities like running, walking, biking, swimming. And, this also applies to strength training.

We know now that there’s an overall improved quality of life and mood from straight-up strength training, independent of any other physical activity. And if you need a reminder about all of the many benefits of strength training, please go back and check out Episode 14; that’s where I get into all the details and science about that. But today, I’m taking a different spin on things. Today, I want to share some of the life lessons I’ve learned from fitness, and why I think that pushing yourself physically, is really great practice for pushing yourself in other ways.

And I thought of this, as I was reflecting back on the different ways I have pushed myself and stretched myself physically, and what I realize, looking back on it, is that many of the big physical challenges I have pursued have coincided with other big challenges I was taking on personally.

So, I started looking back at the last couple of decades of my life and made some connections. I trained for the Chicago Marathon in the middle of applying to residency programs. During my fourth year of medical school, I trained for my first bodybuilding show while transitioning careers from full-time to part-time clinical practice, so I could build my business. And most recently, I trained for my first triathlon while writing and preparing and launching this podcast.

And, those are just some of the big ones. At the same time, I have also sobbed my face off during a Peloton ride. I have cried in the bathroom of the YMCA gym during some of the worst moments of my life. I used the pure rage that I was feeling to hit a new max on the squat rack.

So, when I look at all of this with a macro lens, it makes sense. I use fitness and challenging myself physically, as a dry run for what is going on for me personally. And what’s cool about this, is that in this process of training, preparing, planning, failing and coming back for more, whether it’s on the trail, in the pool, or in the weight room, you gain physical strength, sure, but the very awesome byproduct of these physical pursuits, is the mental strength that comes with it.

So, is this true for you? Have you ever pushed yourself, whether it was to try a brand-new sport or class, pick up weight training, sign up for the half marathon, and found that by the end of the training, you felt different? That’s what I’m talking about. It’s like a dry run for the rest of your life outside of fitness.

With that in mind, I want to take some of the life lessons I’ve learned from fitness and share them with you. Maybe it is my love of analogies or my love of visuals, I don’t know, either way I hope that this resonates with you. And I hope that this compels you to see fitness as more than a means to an end.

I know I’ve said it numerous times, but I’ll say it again: Don’t use exercise to lose weight. Use exercise to feel good use. Use exercise to build trust in yourself. Use exercise to show yourself what you’re capable of, both physically and mentally.

Because I will bet you $1, it is more than what you think. I am proof of this. There is no way that I would be where I am today, or be the person I am today, if it wasn’t for fitness. It is part of me, and I want it to be part of you, too. Okay?

All right. So, here we go: Life lessons learned from fitness. First and foremost, two words; progressive overload. So, this concept, I didn’t learn about until I became a personal trainer. But it is absolutely central to strength training and building muscle. Very simply, progressive overload means that in order to build muscle, you have to subject that muscle to an increased stress over time.

This is best illustrated in an example. If you’ve been doing the same three sets of 10 biceps curls, with the same 12-pound dumbbells for the last three years, and you’re wondering why your biceps don’t look any different, it’s because you haven’t achieved progressive overload; you haven’t challenged yourself.

As a reminder, when you lift weights, you are intentionally creating small micro tears in your muscle fibers; when you put those muscles through a range of motion with weight. So, when you put the dumbbells down, your body gets to work repairing the muscle, to come back bigger and stronger for next time.

What this means, is that over time, a weight that was at first challenging for you to lift will become easier, because your muscles grow and adapt to accommodate it. On the flip side, if you don’t feel that you’re getting any stronger, take a look at how you’re challenging yourself. Maybe, you’re too comfortable with those 12-pound dumbbells.

So, turn around and apply this concept to your life. If you want to see different results… If you want to see growth, whether it be in the weight room, in your career, in your relationship, or in your head, you’ve got to challenge yourself.

You have to push yourself past the point of comfort, if you want to come back stronger, and if you want to grow and evolve. That is true for both your muscles and your brain. Right? Growth doesn’t happen within your comfort zone. And that is true, in and out of the gym.

So, think about it, where have you been comfortably lifting the same 12-pound dumbbells in your life? Are you sitting with a so-so career because you’re afraid to look for something else? Are you staying quiet in your relationship because you don’t want to rock the boat? Are you staying miserably comfortable in a body that does not allow you to freely move, because you’re afraid of the discomfort of day one at the gym?

What is it for you? We’ve all got it. Where are you too comfortable, and as a result, not growing or getting any stronger? Okay, so go with me on this analogy, and let me take it just a step further. In order to make gains in the weight room and achieve progressive overload, you do it in baby steps.

Meaning, you don’t start out bench pressing bar on Monday and then twice your body weight on Friday, right? No. Instead, you gradually increase the weight that you lift. And most often, you do it in increments of two and a half pounds, most of the time. Those are the smallest weight plates; two and a half pounds. And while those plates are small, that’s how you do it.

That two-and-a-half-pound plate, even though it’s small, you feel it. You notice it when you add it to the bar. It makes a difference. So, there it is. That’s the small nudge that I refer to over and over again. That’s the one-degree shift. Meaning, to change your status quo, you don’t have to rip the Band-Aid off and make drastic change all at once.

Just like in the weight room, where you can hurt yourself, you will do the same outside the gym. If you go too hard, too fast, that’s a great way to set yourself up for failure. Remember, when it comes to growth, most humans are not wired for big sweeping change; we don’t work that way.

Instead, if you want to change your life, find the small nudge. Find something small, realistic, doable, and sustainable. And, it’s just a smidge out of your comfort zone. And then, do it over and over again until it becomes the new normal and it’s not uncomfortable anymore.

If you want to build your network, start reaching out to former colleagues, connect with people on LinkedIn. If you want to run a half marathon but you haven’t run in years, start by running a lap around your neighborhood or walk it. If you want to lose weight, maybe don’t swear off chocolate for the rest of your life, and instead have a salad, instead of french fries with your dinner tonight. Don’t go 0 to 180, okay?

So, here’s the cool thing. Here’s why I really love the concept of progressive overload, as it applies both to your muscles and to your life. When you challenge yourself, whether it’s with the two-and-a-half-pound plate in the weight room, or by applying for that reach job, changing your schedule, speaking your mind instead of standing down, whatever it is.

The more you do it, it’s not that it gets easy, instead, you get stronger in your physical body, but also in your mind. So, just as your muscles will adapt to that two-and-a-half-pound plate that you add on, your brain will adapt to the new change that you are creating in your life. And what at first seems really, really scary, like turning on a microphone and sharing your voice for all to hear and critique, over time becomes fun. Speaking from experience here.

It’s progressive overload; slowly, but consistently applying an increased stress over time, in order to produce strength. I love this concept, because this is what evolving yourself is made of.

All right, so the next life lesson learned through fitness, is the concept that your work produces your results. Here’s what I mean by this. You can hire the best coach, you can have the best exercise plan and meal plan, you can have access to the best equipment, belong to Orangetheory, have the cutest workout outfits, and have all the things you need.

But it is not until you put your nose to the grind and do the work, that things really start to happen. That’s what I love about fitness. Whether it’s in the weight room, in the pool, on the treadmill, on the trail, whatever setting you prefer, no one else can do the work for you. No one else can squat the bar for you to grow your quads. No one can run the miles or swim the laps for you to get faster and build endurance. It doesn’t work that way.

You can buy and pay for all the things, like the coach, and the plan, and the books, and the outfits. But at the end of the day, you still have to show up and do the work. And this applies to your nutrition, too. If you want to change the way you eat, yeah, you can buy a diet book. You can start a program. You can hire someone to help you. You can buy all the fruit and vegetables on the planet, but at the end of the day, you have to choose to follow the plan.

You have to actually make the food instead of getting takeout. And then, you have to eat the food that you make; no one can do that for you. And this is, partly, how I learned from my mistake. Early on, when I started coaching, I would write nutrition plans for people. And then I realized, “This is not working.”

So first, the clients weren’t following what I had written out. And second, they weren’t learning anything about themselves, they were just trying to follow a plan. Here’s the thing, anyone can write you a diet and exercise plan. Anyone, really. That’s why there are so many influencers and people who have made lots of money doing this, because they claim that if you simply follow this plan, you’re going to succeed.

But here’s where I call their bluff. The real work, and the real results, will come when you manage your brain. You manage your mind. And that is where so many fitness plans fall short. You are not a machine. Sure, you can follow a plan for a few weeks, you can strongarm yourself into following instructions and checking the boxes and eating a certain amount of protein or carbs.

But here’s the thing, and this is key: If you do not do the real work of getting into your brain and figuring out why you fall off your plan, or why you make a plan for yourself and don’t follow it. Or, why you constantly rely on willpower instead of practicing managing your urges. Or, why you eat your emotions instead of feeling them; all of this will be temporary. It won’t last; your eating and moving will only take you so far.

If you are not thinking and really managing your mind, it’s a temporary fix. So, it’s when you do the real work of addressing your limiting beliefs, addressing your inner criticisms and fears, and actually practice your thinking, that right there, that is the real work.

And when you do that work, those results will stay with you so much longer than any exercise or meal plan ever will. So again, turn this around and apply this concept to your life outside of fitness. I’ve worked with many of you who wanted to change the way you think so you can feel better and have more confidence.

When I’m in a coaching session with a client, I will give her tools and concepts to practice. And then, once the coaching call is over, it is up to that client to practice. So, even though I may have tools and concepts and ideas to offer you, ultimately, it’s up to you to put them into practice and try them out.

When you’re looking to make serious change for yourself, you can hire someone, you can read a book or listen to a podcast. You can consume information and think and plan and wonder and brainstorm. And I think of coaching sessions as dedicated time to do that, that’s consuming and sharing information and ideas.

But ultimately, you have to take action and try something new in order to make results happen for yourself. Again, no one else can do the real work for you. No one can come in and clean out your brain of your limiting beliefs and negative self-talk for you. But I get it; it is so much easier to follow a plan and eat a half cup of egg whites and do three sets of 15 squats, than it is to get into your brain and figure out how to change the negative self-talk that’s been playing there for decades.

You know where the real results come from, but not everyone is willing to go there. It is so worth it. It is so worth it to do that work. And that’s the best part about this concept. In whatever setting, whether it’s the weight room and you just hit a new max on the bench-press. The finish line of a race and you just got a new PR. A job that you thought was out of reach that you landed.

A new way of thinking that helps you to feel empowered, instead of stuck. Or, a conversation that you initiated, even if it was so painful, that resulted in an improved relationship, whatever setting. When you put in the legit, real, hard work and you see it through, you’re the one who sees the results. And that, in my opinion, is the highest form of self-efficacy.

It really is so awesome. It’s you having your own back; putting in the work and seeing the results come to fruition. Your work, your results. And that is the highest form of empowerment I know. All right?

So, next life lesson, is to fall in love with the grind. And I know that sounds hokey, but hear me out. I really love this concept on so many levels. And when I talk about the grind, in terms of strength training, it really is just that. I’ll use myself as an example. So, I wanted to be strong. I wanted to have muscle so I could pick up heavy stuff, and keep up with my kids. I wanted to do pull ups, and see if I could squat twice my body weight, and see how far I could push myself.

But in order to do those things, in order to build muscle, and especially to keep that muscle, I show up and I do the work, week after week. So, Mondays; Mondays are light days. Tuesdays: I bench-press. Fridays are for pull ups. I’ve got a routine and I stick to it. And yeah, while it might sound like a boring, repetitive routine, I don’t see it that way. I don’t see it that way, at all.

Sometimes, the best things you can do for yourself might sound or feel super boring. But that’s what gets you the results. And here’s the thing, it’s that process, that process of showing up day after day; grinding along in the weight room, busting out pull ups or squats, that ultimately gets you stronger.

You can even think about it in terms of competition, for those of you who like races. Okay, so it’s not the half marathon or the triathlon itself that makes you stronger. Think about it; it’s all the work that you put in leading up to race day that made you stronger. And that race, is one short blip in time where you get to put it to the test.

But come Monday, after race day, if you want to keep up whatever strength you’ve built; whether it’s in the weight room, on the road, in the pool; you have to keep showing up. It’s back to the grind. And for me personally, I really love the grind. Maybe, it’s because I’m not a super competitive person.

So, when I was training for my first bodybuilding show, I found that the whole process of training for the show was way more fun, than the show day itself. That might have also had something to do with the spray tan and the outfit, but that’s for another day. But even the triathlon, the race day itself, that was a lot of fun. But looking back on it, it was all the training and seeing and feeling the change, as I got faster and stronger. That was more meaningful to me than race day itself.

It’s in that grind, where you learn to trust yourself and build discipline. And that is what gets you the results; not the race day itself. So, to go back to Atomic Habits, as I often do, because it was such a great book. James Clear said it so well. He said, “The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.” I cannot love this anymore.

Goals give you direction, and they’re important because they keep you moving forward. But you have to have a system in place, in order to achieve your goal and continue to make progress. That right there, that’s your routine. That’s your grind. That’s your ‘every Monday is leg day’ approach.

And you can choose to love the grind and appreciate it, or you can choose to present it. Alright, so here’s the thing; while there may be a race, or a show, or a presentation, or day one on a new job, there really is no finish line. There is no day that you wake up and arrive at strong, or arrive at success or happy.

I think that we’ve been conditioned to think that after there’s another zero on the end of our bank account, or a new set of credentials after our name, or a new address in a fancier neighborhood, that we’ve arrived. But that’s not it, you’re not going to be any happier once those things happen. That’s just changing your circumstances. So, whatever the outcome is you’re looking to achieve; whether it’s muscles, a thinner body, a better job, more career satisfaction; that’s all secondary, really. It’s the process that got you there, that made the difference.

So, you might as well enjoy it.

Don’t underestimate the process it takes to get you there, because it’s in that process that you find growth. And here’s another thing about the grind; it’s really, generally, not flashy. It is not fancy, at all. Just as there is absolutely nothing fancy about trying and failing at pull ups. Or, needing your spotter to help you lift the barbell off your chest of the bench-press, because it’s too heavy. Again, speaking from experience.

It is not pretty to be writing posts and newsletters every day. It’s not pretty to come up with a lecture and submit it on a conference website. It is not pretty to update your resume and reach out via LinkedIn to random strangers to network. But that’s okay. The process does not have to be pretty; it just has to keep you moving forward. And truthfully, it is only a grind if you see it that way.

Alright, so next life lesson learned from fitness, putting in your reps. It’s a phrase I use often. I’m pretty sure I’ve used it on a few episodes already, but it most definitely relates to both fitness and life outside. So, think about the first time that you showed up to the weight room. The first time you clipped into your Peloton for a 30-minute hit and hills ride. The first time you showed up to try and swim 25 yards in a pool. It probably wasn’t awesome, right?

It was probably challenging. And you may have fumbled, maybe uttered a few four-letter words; maybe that’s just me. But how does anything that starts out challenging become easier? Practice. I get asked all the time, how to work up to an unassisted pull up. I’ve made tutorials on this; I’ve made posts on this. There’s definitely a progression of exercises that you can do, in order to get you ready for a pull up.

But ultimately, you’ve got to try and fail on a pull up. You’ve got to jump up, grab the bar, turn all red and get all shaky, over and over and over again, until you finally overcome your own bodyweight and pull yourself up. And once you get that first pull up, after you high-fived yourself, which you absolutely should, if you want to continue doing pull ups, you’re not done.

You keep practicing them, week after week, so that you build that muscle memory and get stronger and keep busting out pull ups. So again, turn this around and apply this concept to your life outside of exercise. If you want to stop overeating, you’re going to have to practice. You have to practice stopping overeating, and allow all of the feelings to come up, and sit through the urge of wanting to overeat. You have to practice not buffering your emotions with food.

You try this process and fail at it, and learn from the times that you overeat even though you didn’t want to. And you keep showing up and repeating it until it feels less foreign, until it feels less challenging. If you want to stop overeating, you stop overeating. It is as simple and as complicated as that; you have to practice. Quitting and giving up on yourself does not get you there.

So, on another level, how do you learn to think differently? How do you stop listening to the negative soundtracks that are playing all kinds of unhelpful sentences in your brain? How do you stop listening to those sentences that are keeping you stuck? Or, the sentences that are resulting in you playing small in your life?

How do you turn down the dial on the self-criticisms playing, and turn up the dial on the sentences that inspire you to take action, and make really awesome things happen for yourself? You practice. You practice thinking differently. You try, fail, learn, and repeat the process. And those failures, yeah, they are inevitable.

And you can take those failures; whether in the gym, in the kitchen, at work; you can use those failures as proof that you’re growing. Proof that you’re a fool. Proof that you’re learning. Proof that you stink at something. Or, proof that you are getting stronger; it’s your choice.

And it’s when you take those failures, just as you would the successes, and keep showing up, that’s putting in your reps. The most successful people don’t make the failures mean anything about themselves. They don’t make it mean, “I am a failure.” Instead, they make it mean, “I failed at something.” And then they dust themselves off, pivot and keep going. Successful people put in their reps.

Alright, so there it is. These are four of my most favorite life lessons learned from fitness. Progressive overload. So, to grow, you have to consistently apply an increased stress. Or, more simply, you have to continuously get uncomfortable.

Your work your results. No one else can do the work for you. Find fun in the grind. The grind is what makes your results happen. You can choose to love it or you can choose to resent it.

And last, put in your reps. Keep showing up. Very simply, the more you do it, the less it stinks.

Okay, I hope that this helps you to see fitness a little differently than you did before. For anyone questioning whether or not to start moving your body, I hope this compels you to move. Here’s why, and here’s what I hope I’ve been able to share with you today: When you push yourself physically to do hard things, and put in your reps to learn something you’ve never done before, there is serious mental toughness that develops as a byproduct.

And, that toughness will serve you far beyond your fitness. Again, going back to your goals here, it’s not about achieving the goal that makes you better. It’s the skills, tenacity and straight-up toughness that you get from doing the work that makes you better.

Alright, thanks again for hanging out with me and I will catch you again next week.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. And, share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. Be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook, so I can follow along and engage with you.

This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong, inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better, or eat and move differently, but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. And you know, making that change starts with how you think. And that is what we do here, on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.

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