Strength, beyond your muscles. 

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As we discussed with cardio, we often talk about strength training in terms of the long-term benefits. Yet your brain really cares about the instant rewards of doing something. But what if the instant ‘reward’ you get from lifting weights is muscle soreness and fatigue? Sure, you could tell yourself ‘no pain, no gain’ and convince yourself that it is a ‘good sore’ and all that discomfort means you got a ‘good workout’. Your brain, though, is most concerned with you feeling good now and it’s designed to avoid things that are painful or uncomfortable. When your willpower to endure the discomfort runs out, your brain will start to plant excuses in your head about why you need to skip strength training today (and the next day, and the next).

Eighty percent of people are not doing strength training. Like you, they probably know the benefits—stronger bones, better aging, stronger metabolism—but the brain has some concerns—injury, weight gain, getting ‘too muscular’, or looking like a weakling at the gym. This keeps many people living in the ‘should’ when it comes to strength training.

Are you ready to get out of the ‘should’ when it comes to strength training? Ready to reassure your brain that it is all good, because you are going to work with how your body is designed to be strong? Let’s cut through the marketing- and myth-based ‘facts’ and clear the path to your strongest possible muscles, bones, and metabolism now and every decade going forward.

What is strength training? Strength training is also known as weight training, weight lifting, and resistance training. Basically, it’s when you challenge your body to be able to move your body or objects more easily against gravity. If you are thinking the things you do in your daily life like housework, child care, and yard work mean you don’t need strength training, click here to see why these physical activities are different than exercise.

Making your brain want to strength train. From the very first time you do a strength exercise, you set into motion a cascade of events that produce unique and powerful events in your whole body. Yet, most of the effects of doing or not doing strength training are not noticeable right away, so it’s easy to forget why it is so important. In the next few blogs, I’ll show you the Real-time Results of each strength training session, and why pain and discomfort are not necessary. This way, your brain will be more confident that doing strength training will help you feel and function better now, without having to first endure pain, discomfort, or embarrassment.

Why strength is not from your muscles. Although we most equate strength with big muscles, that is not where strength comes from. Before you even move, something very important happens. Your brain is activated and ‘plans’ what muscles will be needed to create the intended movement. It estimates how many muscle fibers are needed to create the force you need to move against gravity. Then your brain sends a signal through your spinal cord to the muscles you need to do that movement. Without this nervous system signal, muscles can’t move. This pre-planning of movement makes it much smoother and more efficient.

The pathway to strength: Just like the first time you take a trip somewhere, the first time you perform a movement, your brain has to work harder to find the most efficient pathway. Over time, it becomes easier as your brain remembers the pathway. Think about how your body learned to walk, ride a bike, tie your shoes, swim, or play sports. All of these are examples of this process we call muscle memory. This building of muscle memory is what makes movements more automatic, so you can gain coordination, balance, agility, and strength.

Confusion about muscle memory: There is some talk that muscle memory is bad, because you burn fewer calories as your body gets used to an exercise and that you need muscle confusion to keep your body burning more calories. Honestly, the calorie-burning difference is minimal and probably won’t add up to any change on the scale. Muscle memory is what allows you to function. If you are exercising to lose weight so you can feel and function better, muscle memory is your friend.

The strength of your brain. Since the brain and nerves are what tell your muscles how to move, strength originates in your brain and nervous system, not in your muscles. That means you need your brain for building strength. You can see why present moment awareness is so important to get the most from strength training. It ensures you are creating the nerve pathways you want, the ones that allow you to access your strength by positioning your body in the right way, and creating nerve pathways so that strong movement becomes more automatic (more on that later). If your brain is distracted by a TV show, or other people around you, it won’t have as much ability to put into building your strength.  If finding the time for strength training is a concern, choose high-quality strength training by focusing your attention on your body rather than trying to save time by multitasking and doing it while watching TV

Bottom line: Your full mindful attention is your best strength training tool!

In the next blog, we’ll look at what happens in your muscles when you strength train that continues the cascade of events that leads to you feeling and functioning better.

How to drop the ‘should’ in exercise

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If we know we should exercise, why do we struggle with it? The answer is complex, but as I said in my last blog series there is one word in that statement that changes everything. ‘Should’ makes exercise an externally-imposed activity with future results. Why does that matter so much? Your brain’s job is to pay attention to what is most important to you right now, what will keep you well right now.

Yet those of us in the healthy-person business keep telling you all the great reasons why you should get more exercise.

Exercise regularly to reduce your risk of

  • colon cancer by over 60%
  • recurrent breast cancer by approximately 50%
  • Alzheimer’s disease by approximately 40%
  • heart disease by approximately 40%
  • type II diabetes by 50%
  • death from any cause (overall mortality) by 40% 1

No matter how powerful these statements are, they are not enough to keep you motivated now. When you are feeling tired at the end of a long day or overwhelmed by too many things on your to do list or comfortable in your bed when the alarm goes off, what you ‘should’ do does not hold much power. What is ‘good for you’ at some point in the future just does not get top billing compared to these more immediate challenges to your well-being.

In the last blog, I simplified all the science-based factors for self-motivation into the Exercise Motivation Equation.

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What is important right now and doable right now will be most motivating right now. The trick is keeping exercise important and doable in the present moment.

Step one: Importance. When businesses are clear about the company’s core values, know their ‘why’, and communicate it well, they are more successful at motivating you to buy what they are selling.2  This not only works for successful companies, it works for successful individuals. This is why a personal coaching call is the first step in my Exercising WELL program. When we use a coaching conversation to clarify your well-being Vision and uncover your most value-driven Why for exercise, you’ll find your self-motivation for exercise ramps up.  In the coaching conversation, we transform exercise from a ‘should’ to a ‘want to’.

Once you know your Why for exercise, you are ready to discover what is most doable for your body and life now.

Step two: Doable. When your brain knows exercise will leave you feeling better now, it will want to do it. But knowing how to exercise in the way that is right for your body right now, rather than for the body you want in the future is not so easy. Many of the marketable future-based results like melting fat, having long lean muscles, and enjoying toned arms are not even doable because they ignore the natural laws of the body. Other results like six pack abs, reaching a goal weight, or completing a fitness challenge only distract from your Why.

Once you know how to move in the way your body was designed and are focused on what you can do now, exercise will immediately make you feel better right now.

In my next blog series, I’ll talk about the Real-time Results of exercise. When you know what is happening in your body with exercise now, you have the best chance of knowing how to get the results that are most important for you now, and leave you feeling better now.

Rethink this Week: Take a moment to explore your Why for exercise. Ask yourself ‘why is exercise important to me?’ Now, ask yourself ‘why is that important to me right now’ four more times. This seems a bit silly—repeating the question—but it is based on the well-established process of Motivational Interviewing3. Asking the question repeatedly, and answering it thoughtfully, will get you closer to the most value-driven reason for exercising. This is your Why. It is the deepest source of energy for your motivation in the present moment. With this motivation energy, you will be ready to use the Real-time Results of exercise that are most important to you to stay out of the ‘shoulds’ and in the ‘want tos’ for exercise. This process is more effective in a coaching conversation but doing this for yourself is a great way to get started with getting to your Why.

Enjoy Exercising WELL,



  1. Exercise is Medicine 
  2. Simon Sinek TED talk
  3. Instant Influence, by Michael Pantelon, PhD 

Does your exercise motivation burn out too easily?

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As I wrap up this series on building self-motivation for exercise, I hope you have learned some things about motivation and why you may have struggled in the past to keep exercising.

To review:

  • Motivation from external sources, (the scale, activity monitors, trainers, groups, exercise partners, challenges), are like the flame when you strike a match. It starts strong, but burns out quickly. When that flame connects with ingredients like the wick and wax of a candle, that flame will be sustained. You have the ingredients for motivation, but they are found only on the inside.
  • Neuroscience has found in the Habit Loop that our brain gravitates toward positive experiences like a magnet. Exercise science gives us simple solutions to making exercise a consistently positive experience.

But because we have become so skilled at outsourcing our motivation, building confidence in your internal motivation takes a new way of thinking about motivation.  And making exercise a consistently positive experience in today’s world is not simple at all. Between conflicting messages about exercise, the constant weight of guilt about not doing ‘enough’, and the ever-changing nature of your body and your life, positive experiences with exercise are like a carnival game where you try to hit a fast-moving target. Avoiding exercise can easily become a more positive experience than actually doing it!

So how do you make exercise a consistently positive and internally motivating experience? Let’s look at the two key ingredients from brain and body science covered in this blog series.


  • When something is important to you, you will find the energy and a way to do it. What is most important to you about exercise is the flame that makes it a rewarding experience. However, when your reasons for exercising are too ‘surface’, like losing weight, or getting in shape, or being healthy, they lack that sustaining energy. Taking time to get below the surface to your Why is at the heart of making exercise a personally rewarding experience for you.
  • When exercise connects you with others, especially the people who are most important to you, it is a hugely positive experience. However, this can backfire when
    • you rely solely on groups or teams to keep you motivated
    • you are exercising because someone said you ‘should’
    • you are embarrassed about how your body looks
    • you can’t keep up with others and feel more isolated than connected


  • Knowing you can get the results you want from exercise makes it a positive experience. The way to do this is to combine mindfulness—being aware of your body as it is right now—and knowledge of how to work with the natural laws of the body. This is tricky because the natural laws of the body are not very marketable. Fitness marketing often ignores them to make exercise appealing, and in the end, those fabricated results leave you less confident you can get what you really want from exercise.
  • Instant gratification makes something a positive experience (e.g., comfort foods). Exercising in a way that instantly makes you feel better, and being aware of that feeling, helps your brain learn and remember that exercise is a positive, not a negative. Yet, all of our ‘no pain no gain’, ‘just do it’, go-for-the-gold-type messages about exercise promote the delayed rewards of exercise. Delayed rewards take more energy and thus are a negative experience for your brain. Only when you focus on the Real-time Rewards of exercise is it going to be a consistently positive experience.

Importance plus Do-ability is what I call the Exercise Motivation Equation™. Using this equation gives you what you need to make exercise motivating amid the noise and confusion in the media and the dynamic nature of life.

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The next step is to learn how to exercise in a way that puts you in control of getting the results that are most important to you, that make you feel better now, and that give what you want from exercise in the future.

All of these ingredients are integrated into my coaching program, Exercising WELL. From our initial coaching call, throughout the online programs and our weekly coaching emails, you gain a working knowledge of how to put this all into action in your own life.

In the next blog series, I will share excerpts from Exercising WELL, so you can see how user-friendly, positive, and motivating this information is. With this real-life integration of exercise and motivation science, you gain confidence in your ability to keep your flame of motivation alive.

Enjoy Exercising WELL,



Do you have exercise information overload?

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This is fifth in the series on building self-motivation for exercise.  

Click here to read blog #1 , blog #2, blog #3, and blog #4.

The other day, I met a woman who was really motivated to exercise but was not doing it. She knew what was missing. She said, “I was getting so much conflicting information about exercise. I didn’t know what to do anymore, so I just stopped doing it.” If you’re in the same situation, let’s get you out of exercise information overload and free your motivation for exercise.

Condition number three for self-motivation is competence: the need for a sense of control over the outcome and sense of confidence you have the ability to get it.1  How does this apply to exercise? You might have conditions number one (autonomy) and two (relatedness) strongly in place, but if you don’t know how to exercise to get what you want from it, it’s like being lost in a forest without a map and a compass.

For competence, you need to know how to apply the natural laws of the body2 to exercise so you can confidently navigate your way to getting what you want, while skillfully avoiding the quicksand of exercises and programs that break these natural laws.

Use it to keep it. Your body is a “use-it-to-keep-it” system. The movements you use regularly, you get to keep. The ones you don’t use often will naturally fade away. That means that consistency is the most important factor and that means how you exercise must be do-able for you and fit your current lifestyle.

What you practice gets stronger. This natural law means what you practice (specifically) is what you get better at. Sounds simple, but there are many examples of how we break this natural law, such as doing programs designed for certain sports, for dancers, or for military professionals. Design exercise to practice the movements you want to do to function better in everyday life so you can achieve specifically what you want from it.

Natural growth rate. Your body has a natural rate of growth, which is about 10% per week. That is how much of an increase in exercise the body can tolerate per week. If you walk for 20 minutes, your body can adapt to a two-minute increase the next week. We break this natural law when we try to ‘jump start’ our progress by pushing the body hard right from the start to get quicker results. The pitfall is the body doesn’t work that way and you risk your body or your motivation breaking down.

You are unique. Your body is unique and responds differently to exercise than someone else’s. We break this natural law when we copy what worked for someone else or think we should be able to do the same amount of exercise we did the day before or exercise in a way someone else decides is best for us. Your body is also unique day to day, depending on factors like sleep, nutrition, and stress. This is where mindfulness puts you back in control of getting what you want from exercise. Paying attention to your body in the present moment, with kindness and curiosity, allows you to stay out of the ‘shoulds’.

Exercise science is the map. Mindfulness is the compass. When you know how to use them to follow the natural laws of your body, you can navigate through the ‘noise’ out there and have confidence you can stay self-motivated to get what you want from exercise.

Rethink This Week: Try using this statements as a way to simplify your exercise know-how and give you confidence you will get what you want from it.

  • What I do for exercise is do-able enough for my body and my lifestyle to keep me consistently exercising right now.
  • What I am doing is specifically designed for the skills and abilities I want from exercise right now in my life.
  • The level of exercise I do each week is at the ‘just right level’ for my body right now.
  • I use mindfulness to listen to my body, rather than basing what I do on the ‘shoulds’.


Exercise WELL,




  2. Exercise Physiology, 8th edition, McArdle, Katch, Katch.

Are you getting what you really want from exercise?

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This is the third in this series on building self-motivation for exercise.  Click here to read blog #1 and blog #2

“I hate exercise with every fiber of my being.” This is what a client said to me once. The amazing thing was she was walking on a treadmill once, sometimes twice, a day. Knowing what I shared with you in the last blog, I was curious about these seemingly contradictory facts. As we chatted more, it made sense.

She had been an athlete all her life. She prided herself on toughing it out, pushing her body through pain and discomfort, not giving in. She was motivating through sheer will-power, but it was taking its toll. She was open to a new mindset, ready to Rethink Exercise.  As we spoke about the difference between athletic training and healthy-person training, I saw the lightbulb appear above her head. She left our conversation saying “I think I can have a casual friendship with exercise now.”

Condition for self-motivation #1: Autonomy—the ability to know what you need, and how to get it.

When you shift from exercising to meet external goals to exercising to feel and function better, you have autonomy.

Internal external

  1. Completely External: ”I am exercising to win a step or weight loss competition.” “My doctor/spouse is making me exercise.”
  2. Demonstration of self-worth: “I have to keep up with others in my group to save face.” “I need to prove to myself I can still do this.” “I want to look better than my classmates at the reunion.”
  3. Value in an external goal: “I am exercising because I want to lose weight.” “I want my blood sugar to go down.”
  4. External goal with strong connection to personal values: “I exercise because I want to ski with my kids.”  “I want to lower my risk of dying early to be around for my family.” “I want to age well so I can stay in my home.”
  5. Completely intrinsic: “I exercise because I feel and function better when I do.”

To get to four or five, you need to first know what you value and how exercise can help you achieve it. This may sound easy, but answers like ‘weight loss’ or ‘to be healthy’ don’t tap into values. You need to go deeper, get to the heart of what you really want. For my client, she was still exercising for the external ‘wins’ that keep athletes pushing their body beyond limits. When she updated her Why for exercise, the internal motivation gave her more autonomy.

Equally as important, however, is knowing how to exercise so you get what you really want from it. If exercise goes against how the body is designed, it does not feel good, and you slide backward into needing external motivators to ‘make you do it’.

A strong connection to what you value and science-based exercise know-how gives you autonomy and you are one third of the way to confidently self-motivating for exercise.

Rethink This Week: Where do you fall on the 1-5 continuum of self-motivation for

  • Strength training?
  • Stretching?
  • Cardio?