Supercoach v. Supercoach: Creating active, healthy kids

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In this edition of “Supercoach v. Supercoach,” Mental Performance Coach Toby Larson joins Minds of Steel Founder & CEO Juan Antonio to discuss past and current PE classes in the U.S., the dangers of a show like The Biggest Loser, and how habits hold the key to changing lifestyle choices.

Supercoach JA: I was thinking about our last marathon breakfast. I took many mental notes. Can you do me a favor and remind me about what you were saying with the ways schools provide and discourage physical activity and the results of the current trends?

Supercoach Toby: America is struggling with a lifestyle health epidemic that is claiming more victims daily. According to CDC data, physical activity levels are at an all-time low with fewer than 25% of the population achieving the recommended minimum level of activity of 30 minutes a day 5 times a week.  Here are some childhood obesity facts from the CDC and 10 alarming facts.

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This lack of activity has real costs, with $1.3 trillion being spent annually on diseases related to inactivity.  With this well-known and documented, you’d think that our public school system would be one institution used to combat this trend.  

Unfortunately, it isn’t. In fact, the school down the street may be culpable for contributing to this epidemic. The obesity rates for children aged 6-11 is estimated to have tripled since 1980. Nationally only 4% of elementary schools required daily PE classes.  

One of the reasons given for less time devoted in the school day to physical activity is the pressure for improved academic performance has caused a shift to increased classroom time. This is despite the abundant research demonstrating that cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with good academic performance.  

In addition, a common punishment for poor behavior is typically withholding recess or PE participation to the misbehaving student. In other situations, physical activity may be used as punishment.

In either case, making physical activity part of a punishment/reward system has a bad motivational effect for these kids, with the potential of creating an adversarial relationship between them and exercise. Instead, I’d ask you to talk to your teachers and ask them to find other ways to manage this behavior, keeping physical activity as an integral part of the school day which can’t be interfered with.  

Supercoach JA: Yup, America is being overrun by fat and inactivity. Inactivity will lead to the death of far too many people. How sad and silly is that? And there’s no logical advantage to having obese/overweight kids. When I see a child/teenager struggling with body fat, all I see is pain.

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Inactivity is the most preventable ailment and yet, a weird sense of apathy pervades the mindset of many individuals.

I’m fat, oh well, that’s just me.”

When the solution could be as simple as, “I’m overweight, what could I do to better manage my weight?”

I could come up with 100 different things to try, but I’d be part of the minority percentage of people actually willing to try all 100.

I can see why you’d think public schools would be a great avenue to fight the war on fat. Just watch this 1962 video from President JFK when he challenged the nation to make a “great national effort” for fitness. 

4,000 high schools followed this training model. Now all our schools have are vending machines for chips and Coca-Cola.

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But those fitness-focused days are long gone. PE classes for the last two decades as been more “fun moving around” time than focused exercise time of the 1960s. Most of the PE/recess sessions I’ve see are just socializing outside. Add smartphones into the mix and I’d imagine most PE classes today just have kids outside, dressed in gym clothes, Snapchatting and Facebooking away.

The window for PE reform has passed. The First Lady Michelle Obama was one of the most passionate proponents of exercise and healthy eating, and yet no significant legislation was put in place in the past 8 years. 

Vending machines are a start, but with cardboard pizza and tater tots a weekly norm for kids across the nation, of course we’re going to get fatter as a nation. We’re still mostly eating like shit and moving less and less. It’s simple:

Eat >>> Move = Fluffy

As well, America is falling desperately behind on learning computer/mobile programming. That will take precedence over PE classes any day of the week. Maybe the solution is as simple as an after school program that brings PE back without making it a “class” student will dread.

If you can exercise fun, exciting, and invigorating, people want to do it.

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FYR Obama/next U.S. President

And you’re right, too many people that “hate” to exercise have some bad experience with it. My client’s husband loved to cycle endlessly on the seated bike (ideally, while watching a sports game) and I tried desperately to nudge him to try any type of resistance training. We got to the one-yard line and at the last minute, he just didn’t want to give it a try.

Turns out he had a personal trainer a few years ago that would kill him during his training sessions. He was excessively sore throughout the week, would border on being nauseous, and worse yet, he wasn’t getting any results. Why would anyone put themselves through pain if no results are coming?

Supercoach Toby:  I think one of the other issues is the idea of results. On the show The Biggest Loser, “experts” take overweight individuals and put them on a radical and intense mix of strenuous exercise and near starvation diets. It turns out that one long term result this show actually created for its participants is that it ended up decreasing their metabolismSo even though they saw a significant change to their body composition, they left the show facing bigger weight struggles than they had at the beginning.

Of course, spending a few years working on increasing lean muscle mass, fueling the body properly to enhance this process, and creating true and enduring life changes would probably have been a story only of interest to an academic research journal.  

Supercoach JA: Hate to break it to you Coach, fitness in the media is not about results. At the end of the day, it’s about drama. Drama creates Ratings –> ratings create Ad buys –>Ad buys allow another season to continue.

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I watched a handful of episodes of the bullshit show The Biggest Loser once and I felt nothing but disgrace for these so called “expert trainers.” I much prefer to address them as “TV Trainers.”

Of course the show is scripted, the producers call the shots, and the TV Trainers mean well (some anyway), but the bottom line is their methods of “working out” only work in TV and (where participants “workout” 2-3x per day and have a professional chef cooking all their meals for the duration of the program).

I’d bet good money that all these TV Trainers would produce pitiful results in the real-world. That NY Times story won’t be the first or last time someone is harmed after having left a TV show.

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Supercoach Toby: The Biggest Loser also highlights a bigger problem: a focus that is only oriented on results also has serious motivational pitfalls too.

One potential issue is that the more we focus on getting a result, the more we become affected by missed targets. We talked previously about setting goals and once again I will emphasize that the big outcome goals that people typically set for themselves are of little support to reaching the desired level of fitness and health. Instead, we need to focus on habits and habits take years to develop or change.

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Mark Twain was onto something.

Supercoach JA: When you say results, I think “outcome goals” for most everyday people. You know, “I want to lose 25lbs” or “I want to gain 10lbs of muscle.” To play on Peter Thiel’s epic ethos, “Competition is for losers,” I’ll say this:

Chasing outcome goals is for losers.

For most everyday people, outcome goals are a guaranteed way to set up over ambitious goals that lead to unrealistic expectations. This only invites notions of “failure” and will ultimately lead to quitting. I’ve seen it happen too many times to count.

I’ve said this time and time again, and will say it once more:

Behavior Goals >>> Outcome Goals.

People need to focus on realistic, simple, actionable steps and need to stop trying for giant leaps.

This is how simple creating a habit can be: Just. Fucking. Do. It.

Every day, for 30 days, just fucking do it.

If you can habitually get that Starbucks orange mocha frappuccino and habitually check Facebook upon waking up, and habitually watch Games of Thrones, then you can create any habit you desire. 

Black belt in judo Russian President Vladimir Putin has a daily habit of mixed martial arts. If he can devote 60 minutes, the modern world can only come up with bullshit excuses about being “too busy.” I hope President Putin can come to America after his presidency and consult schools on how to start a fitness revolution here.

Supercoach Toby: Our focus should be on creating active healthy kids. The obesity epidemic is a sign of a broken system. Please don’t misconstrue this to mean that I want to make more “lean” kids. 

I’d rather propose the goal to be creating multiple generations of people who are highly active and feel the desire to make healthy choices in their lives. I’d also like people to realize that this needs to be a long-term behavior change not only for the kids in the education system, but also for the system itself.  

Touching back on your point Juan Antonio, about making PE something that is hard, but also something that kids love, is exactly what I would hope to see. I think this could be done in a few ways.

One idea that is to copy the way we treat reading in the early grades. Kids aren’t all given the exact same book and told to read. Instead, we provide them books appropriate for their individual reading level that provide challenge and maintain interest. Let’s stop making physical activity a one size fits all activity.

Toby Larson is a Mental Performance Coach and owner of Fit Mind Training. He works with amateur and professional athletes around Silicon Valley. Juan Antonio is Founder & CEO of Minds of Steel. Follow them on Twitter at @FitMindTraining and @MindsofSteel.

 

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