Ask Amanda: Sunny Side Up

As winter  approaches (in the Northern Hemisphere, sorry Aussies – save this entry for like, May or June) and the days are getting shorter, I find that a lot of my clients struggle more with sticking to their exercise routines.

Sure, there are lots of other factors affecting workout adherence around this time of year – holidays that center around unhealthy food, festive parties and events taking over the schedule, and demands from kids and family for costumes, cupcakes, party prep, and what-have-you wiping out even the most dedicated exercisers.


But I want to focus on something near and dear to my own heart: the sun.

I have always, always been a morning person (much to the chagrin of many of my friends and my long-suffering sleep-a-holic husband), but I qualify that with this: I am actually a sunshine person.  When the sun is up, I want to be, too – and when it’s dark outside, my spirit and motivation are black and sad (ok, dramatic, but you get my point).

This being said, being this type of sunshine person (especially in my line of work, where a “late” morning starts at 7:30am) is all well and good when it’s summertime and the sun is out at 5:15am – but not so much when it’s the dead of winter, the weather is already freezing and it’s pitch black until 7:45.


Add to this my current situation – living directly on top of the equator, where the sun rises at 7am and sets at 7pm daily – and where I still must get up at 5-5:30am (in the aforementioned soul-crushing darkness) at least five days of the week, and you’ve got quite a pickle.

I present all of this information as long introduction to a great #AskAmanda question – how in the hell do you get motivated to exercise when it’s dark outside (whether that means early in the morning, or later after work when your energy is shot)?

First of all, don’t make darkness an excuse.  I know you guys are probably up to here with my no-nonsense advice when it comes to getting your workout in, but I only offer up the tough love with just that – love.  In reality, only about the first two minutes of waking up in the darkness really sucks (you know, those glorious first two minutes after the alarm where your bed is so warm and your PJs are so comfy and you just want to live in your bed forever and ever).  Once you get up, flick on a light, and get moving, life isn’t so hard.

Second, set up a decent mini-ritual to look forward to.  For me, it’s a piping hot pot of really good coffee (right now that’s Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Spice, imported from the States and literally giving me life for the next few weeks).  For you, it might be a shower with a really nice-smelling soap, putting on a podcast you’ve been waiting to listen to, or saving a certain breakfast food you really enjoy for “only” the days you wake up for a workout (treat yo’self).  However small and whatever it may be, make it special to you, and it’ll matter.

Third, sleep in your (clean) workout clothes.  Sure, this may be easier said than done (I tend to wear compression gear for my workouts, so I’d actually prefer not to sleep like a cased sausage), but it’s a surefire way to make the journey from bed to gym a bit shorter, a lot easier, and using a lot less brainpower (a superb thing when you’re just struggling to tie your shoes at 6am).  If this is too much, at least lay out your clothes and necessities so that there is no dread, confusion, or struggle in the morning – just pick up, dress, and go.

Next, consider being a bit silly (especially if you live alone).  Wake up and put on “Baby Got Back” and bust a little 5:45am move in your mirror.  Buy one of those complete crap gossip magazines and commit to 30 minutes on the treadmill to read it.  Download a hilarious YouTube workout video and do it in your living room while wearing baggy sweatpants and an old college T-shirt.  Nothing is too stupid if it makes you laugh AND gets you motivated enough to skip the snooze button and commit to a lil’ old workout.


My final tip is this: if waking up in the darkness (or again, dragging yourself to the gym after work once it’s already dark) is too painful, find another time to work out.  Maybe you need to commit to a lunchtime power hour.  Perhaps it’s a 3pm living-room booster while the kids are taking their naps.  You might be the type that can space out three 10-minute HIIT workouts throughout the day so you don’t have to wake up a half hour before the sun.  Whatever time you can consistently work out is the best time for you to be working out (path of least resistance and all that, guys).

Whether it’s changing seasons (hello, winter) or lack of seasons (hello, Singapore), there will be shifts and changes in even the most established routines from time to time – and it’s up to you to roll with the punches, re-prioritize, and figure out a “new normal” that fits your needs, schedule, and preferences.  If you make it happen, it will happen – so in the great words of the NIKE marketing gods: just do it.

When do you like to work out?  What are your strategies for getting up before the sun?

MY Workouts Versus YOUR Workouts

I was recently telling a friend about my work/workout (since they seem like they’re one in the same, most of the time) schedule, and it went something like this:

“I try to Crossfit twice a week, run 1-2 times, and yoga 1-2 times.  Oh, and I teach 8 Spin classes and a boot camp.”

That last part always gets people.

My swolemate kangaroo "gets" me

My swolemate kangaroo “gets” me

In any fitness professional’s life, there is a distinct and tangible difference between the workouts you do “for yourself” and the workouts you do while teaching group exercise – as in, “for others.”

Working out for Under Armour at an awesome sponsored event!

Working out for Under Armour at an awesome sponsored event!

When I am working out for others, I am completely engaged in their experience.  I am constantly checking on their form, wondering how they’re feeling, focusing on the details (music, lighting, timing) that make their workouts feel special, motivating, and effective. When I work out for others, I am often sweat-drenched and usually exhausted afterward, because putting your mental and physical all into something is a truly challenging pursuit.

That said, it’s a whole different ball game when I’m working out for myself.

When I work out for myself, I am free.  I turn my music up and my distractions down, and for a blessed hour(ish), I am silent.  Voiceless.  Focused.  I can enjoy the way my muscles burn, the cadence of my own breath, the familiar comfort of my own strength.  Instead of concentrating on details, I let my world get fuzzy, blurred, relaxed into an abstract “zone” where I am at once fully myself.

I recognize my authentic self when I am working out this way; I lose track of time and feel connected to who I am deep down inside – not a shell personality screaming from a Spin bike, not a military-style force lording over the trembling bootcamp masses, but an authentic human presence working and loving and pushing myself without judgment or pressure.  It is indeed my “happy hour,” my favorite place, the few moments of respite I seek from each day’s routine.

They say that part of finding happiness is losing yourself in what you truly love to do; finding “flow” to the point where you are barely even aware of what you are doing except for the way it makes you feel – blissful, productive, accomplished, fulfilled.  That is what my workouts do for me.  I love teaching for others and will always need that purpose in my fitness life; however, I need to remember that part of my balance as a fitness pro is making time to give myself the pleasure of working out for ME.

Rave run at Macritchie Reservoir

Rave run at Macritchie Reservoir

What makes you feel like you’re “flowing”?  Where do you find bliss each day?

ROCKTober Week 1 Results

Well, TFB readers, it’s been one full week of the ROCKtober mission (in case you missed it, this is what’s happening with my month-long lifestyle reboot).  Let’s revisit the goals, shall we?

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ROCKtober board in full effect

The junk food one was easy – I went through and did a full sweep before we even started ROCKing, and I haven’t brought anything “bad” in since.  I’ve been hitting it on yoga – went once on Friday and once on Monday, definitely averaging the 1X/week goal.

Salads were lunch every day, including a really tasty one from DEN (just next door to my work!) yesterday.  I’ve hit my water goal every day except one (and I got 88 ounces that day, so it wasn’t nothing).  And our dinners have been veggie-tastic (and home cooked!) each night.

I know you’re all wondering about the booze, what with my weekend party time at the Clarke Quay Oktoberfest – but again, I said I’d only be drinking 2X in the week, and I stuck to that – two glasses of white wine with the girls at dinner on Friday; a few (cough) beers at Oktoberfest on Saturday.  And not a lick of booze otherwise!



Check that salad bowl

Check that salad bowl

On the con side of things, Nick and I have yet to be together for a weekend swim, so we’re going to try and hit that this weekend in Bangkok (we specifically chose a hotel with a pool to make this one happen!).  The Singapore haze has made it near-impossible to run, so I had zero runs this week (sure, sure, I know what you’re thinking – you can make excuses or you can make it happen, get on a treadmill, yada yada) – but hopefully that too will be remedied in Bangkok.  Crossfit also happened zero times this week as well, although I was able to get into the gym and lift twice in a WOD-inspired fashion, so I won’t count this as a total loss.

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One of my WODs

And I’ll be completely honest – I’ve been 50/50 on the positive self-talk.  Some days I wake up and go, “yes!  you’re on track!  You rock!” and other days I wake up and say, “you’re not doing enough.  Get your a*s to 6:30am Crossfit class, you lump.” It’s a work in progress, as things like this always are.

On a final (and VERY positive!) note – I’m down three pounds on the week!  Just goes to show that this whole diet and exercise thing really does wonders on the scale.

Did you set a ROCKtober goal?  How has your progress been so far?

Motivation Nation

A common question I get from clients is this: how do you find the motivation to work out when you just don’t feel like it?

And usually I have an answer for them, which is some combination of the following: think of what’s at stake (your health, your family, your confidence, your mental health, etc.).  Remind yourself why you started exercising in the first place.  Consider why this specific workout is important for your long-term goals.  And if you’re already an avid exerciser, remember the mundanity of excellence – and go do your daily duty.

But what happens when I can’t motivate myself?

As you probably guessed from yesterday’s entry about my amazing running-wine-ing-not-so-much-sleeping bachelorette party, I have been training for an event for nearly six months (I started in April for the race this past weekend).  The event is now over.  I gave myself Sunday as a freebie, because it was the day after the race, and Monday, because I was driving home.

Along came Tuesday, and I taught my usual Cycle Sculpt (cycling-weight lifting hybrid) class, but by Wednesday I was struggling to find a YouTube video with a decent weights circuit to kick my butt into gear (I ended up following this one, BTW).  Today is Thursday and I couldn’t find a single half hour in my admittedly not-that-busy day to kick in a little workout.

I didn’t break a sweat.  I didn’t lift a weight.  I barely hit 10,000 steps – half my daily goal.  What’s wrong with me?

The answer, of course, is that there’s nothing wrong with me.  I was completely physically and mentally exhausted after the race and needed a couple good nights’ sleep to even function correctly at work.  My body feels achy and sore from the one-two punch of racing and minor injury, and is begging for rest.  My mom is in town and I have been choosing time with her over time in the gym.  None of these are mind-blowing in validity, but add ’em all up, and you can imagine that my motivation to hit it in the gym is hovering just above zero.

So what to do?

I have been in this exercise game long enough to know that even among the exercise-addicted among us, there are good days and bad.  Good weeks and bad.  In terms of racing seasons, good races and bad.  None of the bad days define us as long as we push through to the good days – and remain confident that they’ll be there if we keep working hard.

I will be back in the saddle tomorrow (literally, as I have to teach Spin!).  I will get back on track.  I have the motivation fire burning inside me – even if it’s in embers so far this week – and I will fan the flame tomorrow.

The Mundanity of Excellence

The title of this post isn’t mine – and anyone reading that took UCI professor David Meyer’s course in Sociological Theory (anyone?  ANYONE?) will recognize it from one of the articles we were forced to read as brand-new grad students.

[Quick aside: did you all know I had another life before fitness?  That I was four years into a Ph.D.?  That I made a crucial life-changing decision to become a fitness entrepreneur instead of becoming an academic indentured servant?  Well, it all happened.  And we can talk more about it in a later post.]

The Mundanity of Excellence (heretofore shortened as MOE so I don’t go crazy typing the title over and over) is technically an article about Olympic swimmers (weird, I know).   And if you want to read it, hey, go for it.  But it impacted my life in a way that I never realized, and with a permanence that few other words have – so I wanted to talk about the concept here.

MOE means basically this: more than talent, skill, aptitude, desire, motivation, or any other word we typically associate with the climb to excellence, what matters most is consistency.  Boring, normal, everyday, routine consistency.  And when consistency is practiced – well, consistently – over a long period of time, with the narrowest focus and with the utmost determination, excellence will be the result.

Simple enough, right?

I hear every day from clients that they “could never do what I do,” or that they “aren’t that good” at something, or that “they’re not cut out” to reach a certain goal, whether it be losing weight, running a race, cleaning up their diet, or any host of things that keep people from being their best.  I tell them each and every time that what matters is that they are taking the steps to attempt their goals, and taking those steps consistently – one foot in front of the other – each day.

Think of it this way.  A young athlete with all the natural talent and opportunity in the world could give it up to drugs, gangs, or other temptations and never reach their potential – while a similarly skilled person with far less natural ability but far more focus, over time, can excel above and beyond what “talent” has given them.  Talent is inherent.  Excellence is earned.

This leads me to the focal point of the entire MOE article, which is this (taken directly from the text, Chambliss):

“In the pursuit of excellence, maintaining mundanity is the key psychological challenge.”

In other words, until something becomes mundane to us, until it becomes completely ordinary, intrinsic, effortless, and unremarkable, we’re not ready for excellence.  Until exercise becomes a normal part of living rather than an “event” or a “stressor” or a “problem,” we will not excel in that realm.  Until making clean, healthy food choices is our everyday, not a “diet plan” or a “30 days to thin” or an anomaly, we have not reached excellence.  Excellence is earned when the healthy choice becomes the default choice.

This concept never really hit home with me until I ran my first marathon.  Training for a distance running race is nothing if not boring; you get out of bed each day, check how many miles you have to run, and pound ’em out on the pavement.  For days.  And weeks.  And in fact months, if you’re doing it right.  Every day feels kind of the same, and every day feels kind of like a checkmark on a never-ending to-do list.

But the weird thing is this – by just doing the everyday, mundane action of running the mileage, you are getting better at it.  You are self-disciplining into excellence.  Without doing something that might outwardly seem remarkable or noteworthy to the “outside world,” you are slowly developing excellence in your habits, mindset, and performance – and that’s a valuable thing.

Mundanity keeps me sane because it reminds me that even when I feel like I’m doing the same thing, day in and day out, I am being consistent.  I am working toward excellence.  And as long as I keep pushing ahead, I will get there.

What is your daily “mundane” that moves you toward excellence?  

Finding Strength

I just got home from an inspiring afternoon with two amazing powermoms and friends.  The purpose of our meeting?  Going over our Strengths Finder 2.0 results and discussing some action steps we can take to capitalize on our newly identified strengths.  My friend and business partner Marilyn is an amazing leader (in SF2 terms, a Maximizer) and put together a full training for us to deeply consider and analyze our test results and open a dialogue about this type of strengths testing.

SF2 is a quiz – yes, one you can easily take online for the low low price of $14 – that helps you identify thematic areas of strength in your personality, work ethic, and interpersonal life.  The book is based on the “strengths psychology” of the late Dr. Donald O. Clifton, which can be summarized as this: exploit your strengths; ignore your weaknesses.

At first this seems startling, since most of us (and especially us women) are constantly being told to work on our weaknesses and “tone down” our strengths (particularly if our strengths are traditionally considered masculine, such as Competition or Self-Assurance).  

Strengths psychology, on the other hand, asks us to consider what we are best at – what are our dominant talents – and develop plans to use our strengths to better our daily lives, align our strengths with our passions, and make changes to our lives to allow our strengths to shine and our weaknesses to…well, not matter so much.

While I encourage you to purchase the book and take the quiz yourself (and no, this is not a “sponsored” post – I’m not that famous of a blogger yet, haha), I want to share my five thematic strengths in hopes that it will inspire you to start a dialogue with me about yours – and how they figure into your work, personal, and aspirational life.

So who is ThisFitBlonde?  Apparently I am a/an:

Achiever.  Has a great deal of stamina and likes to work hard.  Gets satisfaction from being busy and productive.

Activator.  Can make things happen and turn thoughts into action; often impatient when decisions aren’t being made.

Learner.  Wants to continuously learn new things, enjoying process over outcome.

Relator.  Enjoys close relationships with others.  Likes to work hard with friends to achieve common goals.

Positivity.  Has an enthusiasm that is contagious.  Is upbeat and can get others excited about what they are doing.

When I took the test and received my results, I immediately thought “Yes!  This is so me!”  The hard part, of course, is thinking about your natural aptitudes and how they relate to career goals – which is something I’m still figuring out.  

Being a trainer allows me to be a Relator on a daily basis; I infuse my work with a great deal of Positivity as well.  I live and die by my to-do lists and am constantly taking steps to Achieve my next goal (even if it’s as simple as getting laundry and grocery shopping done in the same day) and being an Activator through my decisiveness and can-do attitude.  And while I fancy myself a lifelong Learner, doing the Strengths Finder 2.0 made me realize how much I am not quenching my thirst for new knowledge, and this is probably one of the main reasons I started this blog – to learn a new skill, synthesize information, and commit myself to writing each day.

Have you ever taken an aptitude/personality test like this before?  What did it reveal to you about yourself?