Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

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As a coach I have become accustomed to the comments like “who pissed you off?” when the workouts I prescribe are challenging. In the same vein, I’ve looked at many workouts and dreaded the ensuing pain that I know is coming. Not injury pain, or masochistic pain, but real discomfort that is necessary to get faster and stronger.

Leaders also get used to the idea that discomfort is a necessity if they are to be effective. Whether it is leading your household, your business or on the battlefield, effective leadership is born of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. This means unbridled discipline, effort and attention to detail that makes us uncomfortable and separates those who will lead from those who will follow.

Other Side of the Coin

On the other side of this coin is the comfort that is so alluring to which our culture holds out as our ultimate end. Avoid suffering…at all costs. This craze for comfort in our culture has resulted in a world which spends more but has less, we have larger homes but smaller families, we acquire more things but have less joy, we are more “educated” but lack wisdom and we are surrounded by conveniences but have less time. The dizzying pace to add comfort and security to our lives has skewed our vision of who we were made to be and the path we must take to get there.

What about Being a Disciple?

If we are to live an authentic Christian life this principal remains the same; get comfortable being uncomfortable. The Gospel of Matthew recounts a scene in which a scribe came up and proclaims that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. Another disciple having heard this, felt the rub of choosing between security and comfort or surrendering everything to Christ and said “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (Matthew 8:21). Biblical commentary has explained that the disciple was not literally asking Jesus to wait an hour or so in order to properly bury his father, but rather he felt the pull to wait until his father died so that he could acquire his father’s inheritance. This was the security he needed in place before he would follow Jesus, just in case things didn’t work out with this whole discipleship thing. Jesus replied “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22). Christ is calling the disciple in this scene as he calls each of us today to not be afraid and to follow him.

We want to wait until everything is in its proper place and ordered the way we think our lives should be before we truly commit to become a disciple of Christ. Jesus blows this sentiment out of the water. He doesn’t promise comfort and security, but he does promise peace and joy. The kind of peace and joy that outlasts pain and discomfort and guides us along the path of suffering.

Sacred Scripture and the history of the Church provides great consolations in that it is filled with men who blew it and had plenty of excuses not to follow Jesus. St. Paul was a murderer, St. Peter was so afraid that he couldn’t stand up to a slave girl when asked if he was a follower of Christ. Zacchaeus was short and unpopular. St. John of God was an alcoholic. St. Camillus was a con man.

So if you find yourself clinging to excuses and are putting off true surrender because you consider yourself not Holy enough, financially stable enough, you may be waiting until your kids have left the house so life is less complicated, or you may feel like you don’t know enough about the Faith to defend it, then consider yourself in good company. Christ doesn’t require us to be perfect to follow Him, He just wants our faithfulness, our yes.

If we are to become strong athletes, self-sacrificing fathers and husbands, true leaders and authentic Christian men then we must get used to the idea of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.  This path is not easy and you will be ridiculed by the world for not seeking the easy way, but remember Pope Benedict’s elegant synthesis of this truth when he said

“The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness!”

Striving for Eternity

striving-for-eternityJose Fernandez, the 24-year-old ace pitcher for the Miami Marlins, was killed in a tragic boating accident this past week. People have obviously struggled to make sense of this loss just like most of us do any time we lose people we love, respect, and admire.

And while I also felt incredibly sad for the family, friends, and teammates of Jose Fernandez I couldn’t help but think of how fragile life really is. How our time here on earth can end in the blink of an eye no matter how strong or talented we may be.

My next thoughts then transitioned to eternity and how we always need to be prepared for human death by being in a constant state of grace… totally free of mortal sin.

You see, as important as our family, careers, and health are nothing, and I do mean nothing, is more important than the state of our souls.

So if you’re not living in the state of grace I beg you to run, actually sprint, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation… most commonly referred to as confession.

If you haven’t been to confession for some time, years even, please don’t worry. The priest will welcome you and help you through it. And if you’re not sure how to even make a confession since it’s been so long all you need to do is review this guide to confession.

And, remember, God delights when his son’s and daughter’s return home… see the Prodigal Son parable (Luke 15:11-32) if you don’t believe me.

Then, once you’re in the state of grace make every effort to stay there. Attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, help others in need, and avoid sin… especially sins of the flesh. And if you do fall into sin please don’t despair. Instead, pick yourself up and get back to confession as soon as possible and continue fighting.

Finally, if you’re not Catholic and want to learn more about what we believe and why we believe it please go here. The good folks over at Catholic Answers have made, and continue to make, a massive impact on my personal faith journey.

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

How Far Should I Push – Part 2

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Last week we dove into the topic that keeps many of us at bay from jumping into physical training….injury. Whether we have an old injury that is still lingering or are worried that intense workouts can cause injury and put our livelihood and role as provider at risk, it is important that we not fold so quickly to fear and look at the issue head on with an open mind. This week I’d like to offer some insight into the other common objections which stifle our wellness journey.

I’ve got a previous injury, how can I work through or around that and train?

Having been injured in the past can have a profound impact on our mindset in building strength and getting back in shape. Whether you still suffer from pain related to the injury or you are shackled by anxiety that you could suffer re-injury, there are real mental and physical hurdles to conquer in order to get fit. Most of us stop there, but if you take on the challenge knowing that it will be harder for you than others, improvement…and I mean life changing improvement, can happen. Through a slow progression and knowing ahead of time that your strength and range of motion will be inhibited but can improve over time, you can still enjoy the benefits of exercise like increased energy, better sleep, and an overall decrease in risk of major health problems. Personally I injured my back when I was about 22 years old. Since using the type of programming that is introduced to you here at Intentional Encounter I’ve had no major relapses and am in better shape today than I was at 22 when I was a gym rat. Read here how Shane Upchurch overcame serious injuries from a brutal motorcycle accident and worked towards a level of fitness most never thought was possible.

I’ve been working out but how far should I push it because I don’t want to get injured?

This is a common concern anywhere you hear the word CrossFit mentioned. While I am a CrossFit instructor, our program is different than the traditional CrossFit model because it develops at a much slower pace and eventually includes exercises like sandbag and punching bag work that is not typically programmed in CrossFit gyms. If you have been working out and making steady improvements but are unsure how hard or fast you should push the intensity of a workout because you don’t want to get hurt, then you are entering a good place to be. Generally, if you are asking this question then it is time to pick up the intensity. This simply means to do more reps in less time while maintaining good form. Our bodies naturally have a built in barometer of how far we should push the intensity during workouts although our minds can be trained to push our bodies quite a bit further once you know your thresh holds better down the line. Intensity should only increase when your form and range of motion has developed to a point where you are moving safely and efficiently. This work can seem tedious, but by deliberate practice of these movements like squatting correctly, you can develop neuro muscular connectivity that will result in a great fitness capacity which dramatically decreases the chances of injury.

Most of us stare two choices in the face on a daily basis…do good…or do nothing. Indifference and the choice to do nothing keeps us from growing in every aspect of our lives especially our personal fitness. Whether you have a previous injury that you have to battle with or are worried about getting injured by training, use this opportunity to face that choice with a new outlook and choose to begin.

Defeat Muscle Soreness with Active Recovery

active-recovery-domsEver wondered why your muscles seem to ache the most a few days after a hard workout? It turns out this pain is the byproduct of something called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

And, make no mistake; DOMS can bring you to your knees and/or cause you to have to roll out of bed since your abs hurt so bad you can’t get yourself to sit up! And, if that isn’t bad enough, DOMS can also wreck your ability to perform other workouts later in the week. It can even impact your work and family life since you can barely move your limbs!

The good news is researchers have discovered a technique that can dramatically reduce the symptoms of DOMS. And this technique is called active recovery.

Now, when I used to hear the words active recovery, or active rest, I simply thought it meant to take it easy. You know, get some good rest and eat well. And while getting at least 8 hour of quality sleep is extremely important as is eating clean… active recovery isn’t actually synonymous with resting.

Instead, active recovery requires us to do some light exercising at 60% to 70% effort after a hard WOD and, especially, during our “off” or “active recovery” days. Some of my favorite active recovery exercises are light jogging, rowing, and playing basketball or soccer with my kids after dinner.

There’s a ton of science behind active recovery. When we perform hard anaerobic (without oxygen) exercises like 4 rounds for time of 400-meter run, 25 push-ups, and 25 air squats lactic acid builds up in our muscles. This lactic acid decreases the pH of our blood and causes something called metabolic acidosis. And this, my friends, is what brings the pain to our game a day or two after that killer AMRAP workout.

The good news is active recovery can help to clear this lactic acid from our muscles. It does this by oxidizing the lactate enabling our bodies to flush it away.

But, again, in order to actively recover we must move. So, here are some practical ideas you can experiment with.

  1. Do some mobility work and light stretching after a hard workout. If time permits, do an easy, very relaxed, 800-meter jog once your heart rate has come down.
  2. Then, on your active recovery day go for a light 1-mile jog at around 60% to 70% effort. If you have access to a rowing machine you can do a relaxed 500 to 1,000-meter row. You could also go for a relaxed bicycle ride.
  3. Next, play sports on your active recovery day! Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, encourages all athletes to regularly learn and play new sports. It helps with DOMS and can be fun for all involved… especially your kids!
  4. Finally, ask your wife what sorts of chores she needs help with. When I recently did this I ended up bringing several Rubbermaid bins full of clothes down from our barn loft… not only did I work up a good sweat the lactate was definitely flushed out of my body and the slight soreness I was feeling from a few days earlier virtually disappeared!
  5. And, of course, get at least 8 hours of sleep, stay hydrated, eat clean, and spray magnesium oil all over your body after your cold shower!

So give these tips a try and take note as to whether your muscle soreness becomes more tolerable. Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

How Far Should I Push? – Part 1

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Most of us know that it is a good idea to workout but we inevitably fall back to our default position in the recliner and stay in to watch football. One of the common scripts that runs through our minds which keeps us stranded in the land that flows with milk duds and honey buns is the possibility of injury during training.   Previous injuries and the prospect of re-injury keeps many men out of the gym and paralyzed from attempting to even begin training.

So, how do we train and get stronger while avoiding injury? If we have a previous injury, how can we work through or around that and train? We’ve been working out but how far should we push it because we don’t want to get injured?

All of these concerns are legitimate. In this two-part series we’ll be addressing the above questions and put your mind at ease. After all, fear should not hold us back from reaching our wellness goals.

How do I train and get stronger while avoiding injury?

Injuries are a part of sports and physical fitness, there’s no way around that. However, athletes can substantially reduce the risk of injury through a slow and incremental development of physical skills while at the same time learning about those skills from an experienced coach. In business, successful people are those who incrementally learn the product they will produce and likewise efficiently run the business by learning from other successful people in that industry.

In this same way our Intentional Encounter Wellness Plan begins slowly and develops incrementally with Push-ups, Sit-ups and Squats so that athletes can build up the necessary core strength and stamina needed to move on to more intense programming. Gaining competency in these three basic movements and working to improve the full range of motion of each of these goes a long way in producing the solid foundation necessary to reach your wellness goals. Learning these movements through consistency and strong effort will help prevent future injury as the programming gains intensity.

Follow the Leader

Another important element to avoid injury is having a good coach or mentor who possess the experience and knowledge of gaining strength without incurring injury. IE wants to provide this element of mentorship to you through relevant articles about our experience of success and failures, incremental programming, and being available to answer questions that you may have.

Years ago I discovered a type of fitness programming that lead me to a healthy lifestyle and physical fitness in my garage gym. Over time I began to sharpen my knowledge and earned a CrossFit instructor certification. Now, after successfully training dozens of athletes over several years, I have developed a style of fitness instruction that provides a more solid foundation, building upon core strength and three basic functional movements. With this solid foundation, the athlete can slowly add more complex functional movements, lessening the chance of injury, as his fitness level increases. This is contrary to what many instructors promote, which is an “all out till your joints wear out” approach leading almost certainly to activity-ending injury and back to the couch.

Ron can attest to this approach, coming from being totally untrained which was causing him to slip down the road to major health problems, depression and general numb dissatisfaction with life. Since beginning training less than a year ago, he has used the program offered through Intentional Encounter to become energized, strong and has made a complete U-turn with his health concerns.

The key to avoiding injury while gaining strength and stamina is following the IE program down to the T. It may seem too easy to start where we prescribe, but if done correctly, you will gain a firm base to then build the brick house you’re after.

Seek Virtue & Adventure with the Troops of St. George

tsgFall is almost here and you know what that means, right? OK, yes, college football and the NFL are in full swing and my Texas Rangers are closing in on a playoff spot… but that’s not what I’m talking about especially now that I’ve been able to control my sports addictions!

No, fall means the Troops of St. George are about to ramp things back up. In fact, my local troop, Troop 5, has our first campout of the year next weekend.

Who Are The Troops of St. George?

Now, for those who aren’t familiar with who the Troops of St. George are, and what we’re all about, I’d like to spend some time in this article getting you up to speed since it’s changed my life (and my son’s life).

So who are the Troops of St. George (TSG)? Here’s the official description from the National TSG website.

The Troops of Saint George is a fraternal Catholic nonprofit apostolate for priests, men, and young men looking for a life of adventure coupled with virtue. Initially founded in 2013 by Catholic author and professor Dr. Taylor Marshall we have become a collection of troops that do the following:

  • experience reverent and beautiful Masses on mountaintop vistas
  • pray the Rosary with other men around fire pits in the freezing cold
  • catch a Fish Friday meal by fly fishing for trout
  • go to confession with our priests while kneeling on moss in the woods
  • teach our sons archery, rockclimbing, marksmanship, fishing, survival skills… and Catholic virtues
  • foster a love for the priesthood and a reverence for the sacrament of Matrimony
  • support our local parish, our priests, our bishops, and community by being available for works of mercy and service

What’s Different About TSG?

My oldest son has belonged to other “outdoor boys groups” in the past… sadly they usually involved one or two lame campouts on parking lots or him coming home from even lamer meetings with some pretty feathers glued to construction paper. Not exactly forming his manhood if you know what I’m saying.

The thing I love most about TSG is that the apostolate is just as much for me, a grown man, as it is my sons, young men. This is definitely not a “drop your son off” organization. And while mothers can, and do, support TSG the campouts are for men and boys.

What Do We Do?

The main focus of TSG is definitely our campouts. Most troops do have one, short, meeting each month to prepare for the campout… but don’t worry arts and crafts are strictly forbidden!

Most troops aim to camp out 8 times a year. Of course this doesn’t mean you have attend every one of them. Life happens. But, we’ve definitely found you get what you put into it.

Troop 5 campouts usually start on Friday night and run through Sunday morning. We celebrate Mass in our incredibly awesome chapel Saturday evening and usually have confession available before Mass.

We also eat incredibly well from food cooked in Dutch ovens and pray the Rosary around the campfire every night. This has been particularly moving for me on more than one occasion!

How Can You Get Involved?

So, if you have a Catholic son between the ages of 6 and 18 I’d definitely encourage you to seek out a TSG troop. The national website has a troop locator tool.

Of course, we’re still relatively new in the grand scheme of things so there is a chance no troops exist close to you. No problem!  Simply seek out a few other fathers and sons and start your own troop!  The amazing men running the national TSG organization, which includes our brother Brian Squibbs, will help you every step of the way.

And, again, I’ve been involved with TSG since day 1 and can also help answer questions so please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

Total Commitment

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Eight years ago I was selected to be a part of the SWAT team for the municipality where I work. As soon as I became a police officer I knew that I wanted to be a part of the team and applied for selection the first chance that I was eligible. As a young officer I could see something in the SWAT officers that were on the team that I wanted…an intangible confidence, calm and skill during high stress calls that very few others had. I desired to be the best and a part of a unit that was set apart and called upon when the crap really hit the fan. I was drawn to this sub set of policing because I knew that it would push me to my limits, sharpen me and rebuild me into a well-organized, fast thinking and disciplined officer who was capable of reclaiming order in a world that is quickly spinning out of control.

Most of us can point to times in our lives when we were drawn to an elite and radical way of living that demanded a complete commitment from us. Whether it was the work it took to become part of a select sports team or taking the leap into entrepreneurship, men desire challenges and a way of life that require us to be all in.

Living Radically

Living a Christian life is no different. If we really stop and think about what Jesus is asking of us then we can see that it is a call to live in a radical way that requires great discipline and heart!

Unfortunately for most men, an authentic Christian life which involves heroism that can change the world if adopted with its necessary demands, has never been presented to us. Most have never met other men with dynamic personalities that are animated by their total abandonment to the life of Christ. The demands of Christianity have often been diminished to being a nice guy or attending this or that bible study or fellowship group from time to time. If this is all that living a Christian life holds out then no wonder men are bored and so easily disregard it while picking up real challenging ways of living that the world offers.

Up for the Challenge

Men love to be challenged and to be a part of something great which demands more from us than we think we can give. I propose that this innate desire for greatness that we seek in various careers, sports, or athletic feats is ultimately fulfilled and found in the living out of an authentic Christian life.

If one takes the time to find out if this proposition is true, they will surely discover who the real Jesus is. Jesus is a real warrior that actually walked the earth and turned the culture of His time and every other time to follow, on its head. People flocked to him because of his immense power to heal and create change. Those who followed Him dropped everything and clung to Him. They left their careers, families, and the plans that they had for their life even as good as those plans may have been. It would be inauthentic to reduce their decision to being gullible or because they found comfort in fitting into a group. They radically changed their lives because they encountered someone who was worth the discomfort, the humiliation, the pain and eventually laying down their life.

Answer the Call

This challenge to become a part of something great which all men seek is still being offered today. It is a radical call to a specialized unit that most won’t bother to even consider. I urge each of you to answer the call, get off of the fence and join the cause which has and still does change the trajectory of the world.

Man, those AMRAPs!

Those AMRAPsI saw my friend, Scott, the other night at a church function. As it turns out, Scott is working his way through Exodus 90 with 3 other men and has incorporated the Intentional Wellness workout plan into the journey.

Scott’s first words to me went something like this, “Hey, Ron… great to see you.  Man, those AMRAPs!” I knew exactly what he meant and simply grinned and replied, “I know, brother. I know.”

AMRAP stands for “As Many Rounds as Possible” or, in some cases, “As Many Reps as Possible.” So what is an AMRAP style workout and why are they so challenging?

What is an “AMRAP” Workout?

Let’s start with what they are. Let’s say today’s workout is as follows:

10 minute AMRAP:
– 5 pull-ups
– 10 push-ups
– 15 air squats

So, over the course of ten minutes you’ll do as many “rounds” of these three exercises as possible… one right after the other with no rest. In this particular AMRAP the exercises are 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats but you can do an AMRAP with any movement. In fact, if you’re feeling especially froggy, and want to enter what my kids and I refer to as the pain cave, just mix in some burpees and thrusters!

As an aside, the 10-minute AMRAP above also goes by the name of the “Half Cindy.” A full Cindy workout is a 20 minute AMRAP.

Why Are They So Demanding?

So that’s what they are… but why, you wonder, are they so demanding?

First, the AMRAP doesn’t cap the number of reps or rounds we’ll do. The only limit to an AMRAP is time. How much work you do in that time is totally up to you. And this, my friends, can really tax you mentally! It’s as if the AMRAP reaches into your soul and challenges you to be your best each and every time.

Additionally, since you don’t have a set number of reps to shoot for like you do during a “for time” style workout you don’t really have anything to lock your mental crosshairs on.  Instead, you simply have to grind and battle through the discomfort until the clock reads 0:00.

Now, don’t get me wrong, doing something like “4 Rounds for Time” will also challenge you since your goal is to go faster. But, at least for me, the AMRAP is particularly fatiguing (mentally and physically) since you’re never quite sure how many reps/rounds you’ll do.

Give Them a Try!

So, once you’ve built up a strong enough base (i.e. you can do at least 20 consecutive push-ups, sit-ups, and air squats) I’d encourage you to give the AMRAP style workout a try.

We build up to the AMRAP during our 40-day Intentional Wellness program so be sure to download the free eBook by completing the form at the bottom of this article (click through to website if reading via RSS or email). And if you know others who may benefit from the program please share this article with them!

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

Rescue Plan

Rescue pic 3This week I had the opportunity to attend a course for SWAT officers from around the state of Texas to learn advanced techniques in dealing with hostage rescue operations. The class was intense and physically and mentally challenging. The instructor cadre, who are also active SWAT operators, passed down techniques they’ve learned and put to the test in real world situations.

While the course was fast, furious, and demanding on us all I was proud to see how all of the men in attendance carried themselves as we prepared diligently on the details of solving the worst case scenario. Regardless of what area of the state the officers worked in or their backgrounds, each man had the common link of desiring to improve our ability to think through and win a battle to preserve life even at the cost of our own.

It’s not like what you see TV

I wanted to bring this experience out because it is good for the general population to hear what peace officers are really doing to train for our jobs. The current climate of American society would have you believe that most officers are preparing and planning or in the best case innately responding to their drive to interact with the public by looking through the lens of bigotry, hate and racism. In my 12 years as a police officer this narrative that bubbles over on a regular basis is puzzling to say the least.

During this course we drilled and worked through the careful detail it takes to successfully launch a rescue mission where our sole objective is to save life, regardless of skin color or any other perceived divisive trait, and to swiftly and with great force bring to justice an attacker who has chosen to take the freedom of another for his own.

You may be thinking, man that’s cool Mike, I wish I had a job like that where you get to kick doors, blow crap up and arrest bad guys, but I’m a banker, or a lawyer, or a techie. What does this stuff have to do with me? The common thread that we all have is the preparation needed for battle. It’s true that most people won’t assault a residence or business to take out a hostage taker, but we all are in the midst of a spiritual battle whether we admit it or not. Most of us hang out on the fence and fail to commit to the mission of taking back the world for Christ.

Rescue Plan

At Intentional Encounter, we believe that the best way to prepare for this fight is through an incremental and progressive battle plan that starts with fitness and nutrition and ultimately leads to a spiritual encounter with Christ. Just as SWAT operators learn and practice the details of setting an explosive charge, detonating it and entering a room in a systematic and aggressive manner, we all need to learn and practice the details of self-mastery through a systematic way of detaching ourselves from the ways of the world so that we can reclaim true freedom through Christ.

Through our experience at Intentional Encounter and others who have gone on the journey with us, we feel strongly that if you begin to form your will through decisions about your physical wellness you are much more likely to have success in the spiritual arena where the real battle for lives is fought.

Through meaningful repetitions and practice of physical skills like push-ups and squats or choosing to eat healthy meat and vegetables instead of the comfort of ice cream and cake, we can slowly and diligently prepare for doing the things that Christians do.

By training our will in this way, we find it easier to make choices like feeding the poor or visiting the sick and at the same time quickly and decisively turning away from temptations like anger, spiritual laziness or pornography. The body and soul, after all, are linked in such a way that they reflect one another and can become reintegrated and used for God’s mission of saving lives.