Raising funds for InnerCity Weightlifting to celebrate my 29th Birthday!

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The gym has always been a very important part of my life. I had the opportunity to start lifting weights during my freshman year of high school (15 years ago), and this early exposure has helped me become the confident, strong, well-connected person that I am today. So here’s the skinny:

I turn 29 at the end of January, and I want to celebrate my birthday by fund-raising for an organization that is meaningful to me. I chose to team up with InnerCity Weightlifting, a Boston-based non-profit that also embraces the power of the gym.

ICW recruits proven-risk young people to become student trainers at their different gym locations throughout the city. In essence, ICW’s work disrupts the pattern that leads to street violence, replacing segregation and isolation in Boston with economic and social inclusion. The students are introduced to new networks and opportunities through their gym, including meaningful career tracks in and beyond personal training.

ICW is expanding into Philly and Chicago this year, and a small donation will go a long way in helping them. I will personally donate $0.50 for each dollar donated until I meet my goal of $1029!

Thank you so much for your support. You can find my donation page HERE

Love, CM

7 Tips to Stay Jacked While Traveling

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I don’t know about you, but when I travel, my number one and two concerns are: 1) Where am I going to train, and 2) How am I going to not f*** up my diet?  If you’re doing strength training and cutting weight in preparation for an upcoming meet, show, or competition, you’re probably nodding your head in agreement right now.

Strength athletes require a high level of certainty in their environment because of the discipline, equipment, and time commitment needed to be competitive. Travel is a big challenge for us because we have much less control in an unfamiliar environment than we do in our familiar home environments. For instance, if you’re a Strongman competitor, your gym at home probably has most if not all of the non-standard equipment you need for your program. When you travel, however, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be able to find things like Atlas stones or axle bars. What to do?

My mantra to stay on point with training & diet while traveling is simple, but not perfect: Control what you can control, but be prepared to adapt. Below, I dig into 7 tips that will help you embody this mantra and keep you on track while you’re away.

Tip 1: Bring non-perishable food with you.

Regardless of what diet you follow or whether you’re flying, driving, or unicycling to your destination, you should allocate some space in your travel bag for non-perishable food items. How much food you bring depends upon how many meals you want to supplement, whereas which food items you bring will depend upon the diet you’re following. Whether you follow RP, Keto, Vegan, Zone, Whole30, Paleo, Mediterranean, IIFYM, etc., you should have no problem finding compliant foods that travel well.

The picture I snapped below is a good example of non-perishable food prep I did for a 7-day trip. In this case, I wanted to have enough food to supplement my breakfast, lunch, & dinner for about 5 of the 7 days because I was volunteering at a seminar and knew that 1) food wasn’t provided, 2) the hours were long, & 3) there wouldn’t be many breaks. You’ll notice that I put a strong emphasis on bringing enough lean protein because I was (roughly) following the Renaissance Periodization nutrition protocol.

 

Pictured above, moving clockwise from top left:

  • 1 x large bag of coconut flakes
  • 4 x bags of turkey jerky
  • 7 x packets of chicken-of-the-sea-salmon
  • 7 x individual servings of casein protein powder (in plastic bags)
  • 1 x bag of rice cakes
  • 1 x container of instant coffee
  • 1 x container of whey protein
  • 1 x large bag of single serving raw almonds
  • 8 x quest bars
  • 12 x single packets of powdered wheat grass (Powdered greens are awesome if you’ll have limited access to fresh veggies)

Upon arrival, I also purchase fresh foods like:

  • 5 x apples
  • 1 x large container of cherry tomatoes
  • 3 x avocados

Tip 2: Commit to NOT eating or buying anything in the airport or on the road.

This one is pretty black and white. With few exceptions (like water, gum, coffee), just don’t do it. It’s no surprise that there are sub-optimal food choices in places like airports, gas stations and hotels. If you’re hungry in transit, reach into your bag, pull out some jerky & almonds and call it a day!

Tip 3: Get in contact with local gyms before you get there. 

If you are going to need specialized equipment, it may behoove you to do some research about the gyms that are located in the city you’re traveling to. If you do this early enough, you may be actually be able to select your accommodations based on the gym that best fits your needs.

For example, I traveled to Orlando on a week-long business trip back in 2014 when I was in the middle of a training cycle for a Weightlifting meet. A few weeks before I left, I did a Google search for “CrossFit Gyms Orlando” and CrossFit MouseTrap was one of the top results that came up. So, I reached out to the owner, explained my situation, and asked if I could swing by during open gym to do my Weightlifting workouts. He appreciated the heads up and was great about it. With this knowledge, I picked a hotel that was right across the street from CF MouseTrap. I had no trouble getting all of my workouts in during this trip, despite a packed schedule.

However you go about your local gym research is fine, but methods that have worked for me include: 1) the powerful, almighty search engine (e.g., Google search for “CrossFit Gyms Orlando”), 2) referrals from my Coach, and 3) referrals from a Facebook post. Get creative and go make a plan.

Tip 4: Bring basic gym equipment with you.

I never travel anywhere without my pink lacrosse ball, a skinny resistance band, a jump rope, and furniture sliders. They are small items that can just be shoved into my purse and carried with me at all times. I take comfort in knowing that I always have a workout in my bag. (By the way, if you’ve never used furniture sliders before, you’re missing out some pretty sadistic core and leg work.) If I have the space in another bag, I will pack my specialty shoes and gymnastics rings as well.

Tip 5: Stay active during long periods of airplane transit.

If you have trouble sitting still for more than 20 minutes, this tip will be a game-changer for you and is especially valuable when you’re in recovery mode from a hard workout. Even if you have a high threshold for long periods of inactivity, plane rides are tough because seating is cramped and there’s nowhere to go. As we know, healthy circulation facilitates muscular repair. Sitting for a long time limits blood flow and slows the recovery process. (Nothing Earth-shattering, I know.) With these challenges in mind, I put together a short, airplane-friendly circuit with the purpose of increasing blood flow:

  • 10 x Jefferson curls (do these in the front where snacks are stored)
  • 50 x air squats in the bathroom (face the toilet to get full depth)
  • 30 second x seated core activation
  • 1 min / side x seated hamstring & glute massage using lacrosse ball

During a recent flight, I got up 3 times over 6 hours to try it out and was very pleased with how much more comfortable I felt. I had almost no symptoms of restlessness, my hands and toes were warmer, and I am confident that these efforts minimized the impact of travel on my body.

Tip 6: Be resourceful.

Sometimes, no matter how much you prepare, you just won’t have access to the food or equipment you want. Learning how to be resourceful will help you succeed in spite of a lack of resources no matter where you are. Here are a few great examples:

 Don’t have Atlas stones? Strongman competitor Brittany Diamond takes resourcefulness to the next level with some big pumpkins. I. LOVE. THIS.

 

No access to weights? Try rocks! I used this trick when I traveled to the island of Bonaire last year and didn’t have access to any equipment.

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Can’t get to a gym? Be a total badass like Mattie Rogers and just lift outside on the cold, dark, pavement.

 

Tip 7: Master your mindset. 

 In order to be resourceful, it helps to be in the right state of mind. Why? Because your state of mind (what you focus on) has a direct impact on the actions you take, which determine your outcomes, which in turn, influence your perceptions and state of mind. Simply said: Your actions and outcomes will almost always mirror your mindset. If your mindset is negative, fearful, or rigid, you will not make the best decisions and you will struggle to adapt to unpredictable circumstances.

Let me give you a funny personal example of how a negative mindset can influence action and outcome. I traveled to Colorado a couple of years ago on a family vacation. Thinking back, my mindset on this trip was “If I can’t execute my plan for training & diet perfectly, I am a failure.” I made a horrible decision to venture outside during a big snowstorm to find a gym. Unfortunately, I got stuck in my rental car for over two hours and never made it there. I spent the rest of the trip feeling pissed off because I failed to complete my heavy squat day (outcome). Had I approached the same situation with a more flexible mindset, I probably would have found some way to get in a leg workout while avoiding the pain of getting stuck in the snow.

Example mindsets that will decrease your probability for success:

  • My training and my diet are going to be completely ruined by this trip
  • If I can’t execute my training & diet plan perfectly, I will have failed
  • If I can’t control everything, there’s no point in trying

Example mindsets that will increase your probability for success:  

  • I accept that I can’t control everything, but I will execute my plan to the best of my ability
  • I will remain flexible and be resourceful if I encounter a situation I can’t control
  • I will view unexpected challenges as an opportunity to grow, even if I fail

Today, I approach my travel with the latter, more supportive example mindsets. This helps me embrace the mantra “control what you can control, but be prepared to adapt.” As a result, the integrity of my training & diet when I travel suffers very little, and I can enjoy myself much more. I wish the same for you, and while I realize that these tips are not all-inclusive, I hope you’ve picked up a thing or two here that you can try the next time you travel.

-CM

 

5 Strategies for Coping with Injuries: The POWER approach

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If you clicked to this article, you are likely nursing some kind of injury. I’m sure you’re frustrated because you can’t train the way you want to right now. Maybe you feel like your strength and skills are wasting away, and your goals no longer seem within reach. Even if you’re not currently injured, you can probably appreciate the fact that coping with an injury can have a devastating effect on mood, productivity, relationships, and overall quality of life.

In my opinion, the psychological pain incurred due to injury is often worse than the actual physical pain, which is precisely why I’m writing this article. After 15+ years of competing in various strength and power-based sports (including D1 throwing, Gymnastics, CrossFit, Olympic Weightlifting, & Powerlifting), I’ve had my fair share of injuries. In the past 3.5 years alone, I’ve had two knee surgeries & am currently recovering from a lumbar back sprain. Below is a Clean & Jerk video from 2014 that I posted recently when I was lamenting about how much I miss moving heavy weight.

 

Okay, so we all have bad days, but the good news is that it’s not all doom and gloom. With a mindset that injury is an opportunity to develop mental strength (which is equally, if not more important than physical strength and skill), it becomes very possible to implement effective coping strategies and ultimately move you closer toward your goals.

If this sounds like something you’re struggling with, read on. I’ve distilled my strategies into five directives, which I call the POWER approach (because who doesn’t love acronyms?) The POWER approach supports the “opportunity” mindset instead of the “doom and gloom” mindset.

P is for Physical therapy. Be as devoted to your rehab exercises as you are to your training when you’re at 100% health.

“Do your physical therapy exercises” sounds super simple, but sometimes athletes don’t execute on it because it doesn’t necessarily feel like anything is happening. In a healthy scenario, if you perform 6×10 reps of back squats at a heavy percentage of your 1RM, you get immediate feedback from your body that you just put in some serious work. Hello #jellolegs (and by the way, we’re all addicted to that feeling). 😉

In an injury-compromised scenario, if you perform 4 x 45 sec glute-bridges, you don’t get the same physical feedback as you do with the heavy back squat. You don’t feel the same rush, you’re not sweating, and it’s kind of boring. So, we tell ourselves the story that it’s not accomplishing anything, and that we shouldn’t waste our time. Who can relate?

Unfortunately, we couldn’t be more wrong. Let’s pretend that the process of rehab and PT is similar to the process of writing a book. Writing 1 page in 1 day doesn’t sound like progress, but do it every day over the course of a year and eventually you have 365 pages. Performing just 1 set of glute-bridges is analogous to writing just a single page.

The short version: Nike really says it best… just do it.

O is for Openness. Go try something new that doesn’t bother your injured bodypart at all.

The idea with the openness strategy is to break your pattern of focusing on what you can’t do. After I had my second knee surgery in 2015, I knew I needed to take time away from the Olympic lifts. I wanted nothing more than to compete at USA Weightlifting Nationals, but I knew that my body wasn’t going to hold up if I moved back into it too quickly. (In fact, moving too quickly about a year ago is why I needed that second surgery.) So, I signed up for a hand-balancing class at Esh Circus school in Somerville, MA.

 

The “something” that you pursue while recovering from your injury should help satisfy the same need that drives you to do your sport, but need not be physical in nature. Handbalancing was perfect for me because it satisfied my need for a consistent physical challenge, but had no impact on my knee. If your primary need is to experience growth, maybe you can find satisfaction in learning how to play an instrument or by dialing in on your nutrition.

The short version: Refocus your energy on any activity that fulfills the specific need (e.g., physical challenge) which you satisfy by training for your sport.

W is for Wins. Record & celebrate your progress!

You will be a MUCH happier person if you stop obsessing about your setbacks. Instead, trying keeping a log of your “wins” related to movement function, improvement of pain, or any other kind of progress. An example of a recent win from my back sprain win log is “Today I achieved significant pain relief from the double pigeon stretch!”

These wins are something to take pride in because they represent your dedication and investment in your recovery. They can also be an effective reset button for when you find yourself in that dark place.

The short version: Always celebrate and track your wins so you have a way to remind yourself of your progress when you’re struggling.  

E is for Emotional support. Keep showing up to your gym.

The people you train with are often your closest friends and sometimes even your primary social circle. Social support for an injury is just as important as the therapy itself. In fact, there’s peer-reviewed literature on this topic out there to support this statement. Humans are social creatures so don’t be a stranger.Your friends will miss you and the truth is, you need each other. Even if all you can do is stretch or rehab in your gym, continue to show up and participate in whatever capacity you can.

The short version: Don’t isolate yourself from your gym-buddies just because you’re down and out; the emotional support they provide to you will help you heal faster.

R is for Reason. Get really familiar with your “why.”

Have you thought about what needs you’re trying to satisfy by training in your sport? Does it make you feel special? Are you looking for a challenge? Does it help you connect better with your peer group? To get the gears turning, here are a few reasons (in no particular order) why I am so serious about my training:

  • I love the way my body looks when it’s muscular and lean. To be a sexy, sculpted, goddess is a non-negotiable standard I’ve set for myself.
  • I demand a high quality of life for as long as possible, and having strong muscles and bones mitigate the effects of aging.
  • I feel happiest when I’m active, in some way, shape or form.
  • My body and brain crave physical challenges because they help me grow, and this growth brings fulfillment to my life.

Be dirt honest with yourself. The better you understand what makes you tick, the more effective you will be at minimizing the injury’s negative effects on mood, productivity, relationships, and quality of life.

The short version: Understanding why you train is the key to cracking your own code, which helps you reduce the impact of the injury on your psychological well-being.

That’s all folks! I hope you’ve found a nugget or two in here that you can apply today for a more peaceful recovery process, no matter how long it takes. I go back to the POWER approach every time I’m struggling and am always able to pull myself out of that “doom and gloom” place. If you are injured and want to learn more about taking action on this approach,send an email to chelsey.musante@gmail.com with subject line “MINDSET” & I will email you back a free resource to help you build momentum as you get started.

Thanks for reading!

-CM