The hidden keys to physical well being

The one big issue for achieving personal health and fitness goals is the one most commonly overlooked: having the right mindset.
It’s important that your mindset is working for you, not against you. Elite athletes know this well, but it applies to all of us.
Through working with and observing elite athletes over many years, I have found there are six key areas that improve mindset, leading to greater physical health and well-being:

1. Welcome obstacles & challenges

Do you see obstacles as an opportunity to increase your fortitude, or an excuse to give up?
All health and fitness regimes will encounter roadblocks. An injury or an illness may stop you for a time. The test is having the fortitude to ease back into your regime when you start feeling better.
Some challenges may require a change of routine – whether you are able to be flexible in these cases comes down to mindset again.
It’s worth remembering that every time you successfully overcome an obstacle, your mindset improves.

2. Embrace effort

A poor mindset may see you falling into the trap of thinking “there is no point to all this” or “it won’t make a difference” or “this is too hard” or “what did I get myself into?” It’s amazing how these negative thoughts can appear when the body requires an effort.
The key to maintaining effort is to keep chipping away. If your task seems overwhelming, b
reak it down into smaller, more achievable lots. Take one step at a time. Remind yourself of how good you will feel later if you make an effort now.

Gym man and woman push-up strength pushup

3. Use positive affirmations

Positive thinking has huge potential to improve mindset, but it’s easy to slip into a cycle of negative thinking unintentionally.
Many elite athletes have had great success using positive affirmations – these are sayings that prop you up and pep you up. For example, an athlete may say: “Each and every day I am a better athlete”.
Telling yourself a positive affirmation in the early morning, and again late in the evening, can be re
markably effective in getting you to think and feel positive – with tangible benefits for physical wellbeing. It could be something as simple as “I am better today than I was yesterday”.

4. Welcome criticism
In your journey toward a healthier and fitter lifestyle, you may come in for criticism – hopefully this is constructive and from someone you respect, such as a physio, personal trainer or exercise partner.
A negative mindset will see you brush it aside, dismiss it, and in some cases totally de-rail your program. A healthy mindset enables you to learn from it, take it on board and improve – you won’t see it as a personal attack and your ego won’t be bruised as a result.

5. Enjoy others’ success

We can either celebrate or feel threatened by others’ success. A healthy mindset will always appreciate and admire our peers’ achievements, and understand that it is no reflection on us. In fact, we can use it for inspiration.

6. Consider meditation

Meditation is a huge topic, and impossible to cover in a few sentences. But for mindset the right meditations can be hugely influential.
The only requirement is an open mind. But as everybody is different, some meditations will be more effective than others. People may be surprised how many elite athletes use meditation to achieve bigger and better things.

Positive change to mind & body takes less time than people think

The pathway to a healthy body and healthy mind requires less time than many people think – in fact it’s possible to create healthy habits in just three minutes a day.
People often equate healthy changes with a massive time commitment, but it’s not always the case.
Healthy physical routines and a strong mindset start with small, manageable timeframes. Research has shown that even taking a small amount of time to work on your mindset or exercise has a powerful effect. We know that certain practices like deep breathing have tangible benefits for well-being, even in small doses.

Likewise, research shows that working out for as little as three minutes at high intensity can have greater impact than longer forms of moderate exercise:

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology conducted a landmark study, demonstrating the benefits of short, high intensity training.

The ABC’s Catalyst program covered the topic last year, showing surprising results from short exercise routines.

The biggest barrier to good health is getting started – once you get over that hump, you can achieve anything.

Woman Stretching
Once you are up and going, there are other little things you can do to keep momentum, in the form of affirmations. Athletes are big on positive affirmations. They are usually simple phrases, such as “each and every day I am a better athlete”, which take no time at all to say.

Repeating these affirmations early in the morning and late at night is powerful, as that is when the mind is most receptive to these messages. It’s such a simple practice but athletes use them because they know the power it has on their mindset.

Change can be easier than you think. Once you get going progress happens quickly, even committing just a couple of minutes a day.

Elite Akademy

This is covered in greater depth in a book I have co-authored with LA-based life coach, Helene Finizio – Natural Healing – Quiet and Calm.

The book has a selection of meditation and exercise guides, recipes to nourish body and soul, tips for goal setting and success, and a 21-day roadmap for positive change. Natural Healing – Quiet & Calm helps people to make the choice to improve the quality of their health and life.

Natural Healing – Quiet & Calm is available on Amazon

Healthy posture , healthy mind? 5 tips for better posture

At Elite Akademy, somewhere around 80-90% of injuries we treat relate to incorrect posture. Every day I see people with bad backs and related injuries caused by poor posture. Sitting posture has become the most important, reflecting our more sedentary lifestyles.

While good posture’s physical benefits have long been understood – such as encouraging stronger backs and better breathing capacity, what if posture can also aid our mental health? Medical studies suggest a strong link that few people are aware of.

A San Francisco University
study found that adopting a more upright, healthy body posture can improve mood and energy levels. The study also found that a slouched or poor body posture can lead to “feelings of depression or decreased energy”.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, a professor and researcher at Harvard Business School – takes it one step further. Her research shows that just adopting high power or low power poses for a period of two minutes has a measured hormonal effect.

Ms Cuddy’s research found that high power poses – good, strong posture – leads to higher testosterone, which is linked with higher confidence levels. High power poses also lower the “stress hormone”, cortisol

The opposite is also true: adopting low power posture leads to lower testosterone levels and higher cortisol. Ms Cuddy claims that only two minutes is enough to make you feel more assertive and confident.

There is no doubt that correcting poor posture is difficult, but it is possible. Consider the following five steps for improving posture:

1. Repetition: It takes approximately 3000 reps of straightening your spine (standing/sitting tall) for this to become automated by the brain. This is what we classify as motor learning. When motor learning occurs then a task becomes automated. For example, golfers try to automate their movements through practice; being a technical sport it takes about 10,000 reps (swings) to automate a golf swing. Standing tall and straightening your spine is not technical. Thus it only requires 3000 reps.
Using 3000 reps as a rule, it means if people do 200 reps per day they will achieve good posture in as little as 15 days.
So how do we achieve 200 reps per day?

2. Cues to remind you to “grow tall”: It’s easy to forget posture, so establish some cues:
Imagine a piece of string pulling you up from your head. We naturally elongate. You are NOT standing to attention. You are simply standing tall with your shoulders relaxed back not pulled back. Tie this cue into some of your daily rituals. For example, every time you check your phone, grow tall before you open the app. Studies have found people check their phone 60-80 times per day. So that means that in a little as 38-50 days people could change their posture. “Growing tall” while checking your inbox can account for another 30-50 reps per day.

3. Team up: Like with exercise, great results can be achieved by having allies on board. You may have a partner, family member, child, friend or colleague who also wants to work on their posture. Together, you can support and remind each other to stand or sit tall: every time you remind someone you remember too.

4. Use your regular walks: If there is a walk people do regularly (walking to the bus stop, train station, car park, coffee shop) then calculate the number of minutes taken to get there. People take approximately 100 steps every minute they walk. If you are conscious of “being tall” during a five minute walk, this would account for 500 reps meaning you can achieve good walking posture in as little as six days. On your walk you may use your reflection in shopfronts and mirrors as more cues.

5. Wearable devices as another cue: Wearable tech such as fitness trackers can become a reminder system. If it turns on/off randomly with movement then it becomes a cue. Using this method alone can help you achieve good posture in about 100 days.

– Kusal Goonewardena, Elite Athlete Sports Physiotherapist & Founder

Why You’re Your Own Worst Enemy

Think you are in-tune with your body? Think again. The reality is that most people are their own worst enemies regarding physical well-being.
Every week I see people who start out with good intentions and unnecessarily hurt themselves by falling for common mistakes.

Does this sound like you?

Going too hard too soon: We live in a ‘go hard or go home’ culture. But our bodies prefer it if we build fitness and strength gradually.

Comparing yourself to others: Too many people will start a fitness-related class, which is great, and then worry that they aren’t as fit/ripped/athletic as the person next to them. They may eventually quit the class, a huge shame. It’s important to measure yourself against yourself and not those around you.

Getting advice and treatment from friends: People’s willingness to follow advice from friends who aren’t qualified is bewildering. But every week people hurt themselves following bogus tips like how to ‘crack your back’. Everyone is different – what works for your friend may not work for you. And nobody should ‘crack’ their back or neck, unless they are fond of spinal/stress fractures or plan on increased risk of stroke.

Trying to emulate TV & magazines: Celebrity culture is everywhere, but has no place in our physical health regime. Unfortunately people become deluded into chasing an impossible dream. It’s pointless trying to emulate celebs – best focus on being the best version of yourself, not someone else.

Not listening to advice: Think you can cut corners and get away with it? Take an easy example: we’re told our whole lives that heavy objects must be lifted from the knees, but this doesn’t apply to you, right? Why not take a chance on your back?

Self-diagnosing injuries: Shooting pain in the lower back? It must be sciatica. Can’t walk? You’ve popped a disc. If only actual diagnosis was so simple – but that doesn’t stop legions of people performing their own diagnosis, or even better, using the Internet or an equally unqualified friend to find the source of their pain. The truth is, getting to the cause of underlying pain can be difficult and elusive for trained professionals – so what do you know that they don’t?

Finally, remember that making one or more of these mistakes is not a failure – merely a bump on the road to better physical well-being. Being aware of these basic mistakes and being honest with yourself will keep you on track.

– Kusal Goonewardena, Elite Athlete Sports Physiotherapist & Founder

The ‘big three’ misdiagnoses haunting back pain sufferers

The only thing worse than back pain is prolonging it with incorrect misdiagnosis. Yet this is a common reason why regular back pain progresses to Chronic Back Pain.

Too many people self-diagnose their pain or, even worse, make an Internet diagnosis. They then become attached to the diagnosis.
They often fail to get a second opinion when treatment isn’t helping, and become resigned to their fate.
But it all starts with misdiagnosis, and the ‘big three’ misdiagnoses which mislead back pain sufferers are:

Believing it’s a disc problem:
Around seven out of 10 people, if put under an MRI, would show some kind of disc issue. Our bodies aren’t perfect. For example disc bulges are incredibly common yet don’t necessarily cause pain or discomfort.
Debilitating disc problems are less common than people think. People are too quick to believe it’s a disc. With proper analysis they often find it’s something completely different, such as gluteal tightness, nerve spasm, lower spine joint tightness or even stress.

People often assume a shooting ‘nerve-like’ pain emanating from the back is sciatica – it’s a favourite of the ‘self-diagnosed’ – but nine times out of 10 sciatica is not the issue.
Problems which can masquerade as sciatica include lower back biomechanical issues, hip pain and even knee issues. None will improve while you wrongly mistake these complications for sciatica.

Stress fractures:
Stress fractures can be debilitating and commonly impact sportspeople and those performing physical manual labour. But a funny thing happens to people who suffer from stress fractures – they then fall into the easy routine of blaming any other body issues on the stress fractures, even after it has healed. Meanwhile, they are missing other issues such as shoulder pain, knee problems or neck pain.
Believing that a healed injury is still troubling you is a common trap. It’s almost always something else, even if it appears to be mimicking that old familiar pain of a previous injury.

Five fitness secrets we all can learn from elite athletes

You don’t have to be an elite performer to benefit from Olympic training secrets.
Weekend cyclists, runners, triathletes and golfers can all improve performance and cut down on injury time by emulating some of the principles driving elite athletes.
Years of working with elite athlete have taught me there are five simple things athletes do which the rest of us don’t:

1. Not trying to ‘ride out’ injuries: Athletes are great at listening to their bodies and will seek an expert quickly if they have an injury. Sure, we all know inspirational stories where athletes pushed through incredible pain and adversity. When a medal or a ranking is on the line they can do amazing things. But they are way more in-tune with their limits and capabilities than we are. When something goes wrong they do not push their luck – they don’t try to ‘ride it out’. By contrast, weekend warriors in their thousands make small problems much worse by being macho or refusing to give in and betting that ‘riding it out’ is the only way.

2. Rehab exercises are also preventative: Athletes take rehab very seriously, but the rest of us tend to skimp on rehab exercises once the pain goes away. The secret athletes know is that rehab exercises are also preventative exercises. Even if your body is feeling better you may continue to enjoy significant benefit from those rehab exercises.

3. Recovery is essential: We may think of recovery as a beer and a sit down, but even a short recovery routine can help. You may not need the ice baths favoured by elite athletes, but anyone can benefit from using the correct warm-down recovery routine after training and playing.

4. Change a treatment if it’s not working: Too many people continue getting the same treatment when there is no change. Elite athletes expect results quickly, and so should we. You should see a change in three sessions or less. That’s how quickly athletes expect a response and it is a good rule of thumb for anyone. Seek a second opinion if there is no positive change after three sessions.

5. Sleep: Just ensuring regular sleep may make a big difference. Elite athletes are serious about sleep because it’s so important both for mental and physical recovery. You won’t find them rushing to join the ‘sleepless elite’; the famous world leaders and captains of industry who supposedly only need a few hours. An improvement in sleep often has tangible benefits in performance, but again it’s important to have an awareness of your body.

Have you returned to work with ‘holiday back’?

Many people come back from holiday feeling worse than when they left, because they have developed back pain.
The biggest culprits are sleeping in different beds and over-exercising.
Sleeping in a bad bed can cause issues such as low back pain, upper spinal discomfort, neck strains and even headaches. A different pillow can also cause these problems.
Running on the beach is the other big issue. Even regular runners develop problems due to poor footwear support and running too far.
If you have holiday back pain, try the following (if the pain is debilitating or not improving then it’s best to seek out physio treatment):

So how can you lessen your chances of picking up a ‘holiday back’ in the first place?

1. Mobility: Back pain can make you feel seized up and stop you moving. But mobility is the single most important thing for beating back pain.
Be careful not to sit down for too long at a time. Get up at least once an hour. Ensure you do some walking on holiday and generally maintain a good degree of mobility.
2. The 20% rule: Holidays allow more exercise time, tempting us to over-do it and leading to injury. But it’s best to restrict that exercise to only 20 per cent extra on what your body is used to.
It’s ok to do extra exercise, but the body responds to gradual change, such as the 20 per cent rule.
3. Realistic New Year’s resolutions: People often set the bar too high on New Year’s resolutions, which means the resolution either ends up abandoned or causing injury. Fitness resolutions should be realistic, such as considering a three minute high intensity training regime. Anyone can do these exercises at their own level and it will make a positive difference.
4. Keep the beach running casual: Beach running can be one of the joys of summer, but needs to be moderate. Running bare feet on sand is hard on the body, and we see ailments caused by beach running every year. Take it easy and save your serious running for good running tracks and proper footwear.
5. Get a second opinion if treatment isn’t working: The last thing we need is holiday injuries to trouble us into March and April. If a back problem isn’t showing improvement within three physio treatments it’s time for a second opinion.

Kusal Goonewardena
Elite Athlete Sports Physiotherapist
Melbourne University Olympic and Winter Olympic Team

The 3:21 Workout

The 3:21 Workout Three minutes a day, for 21 days. This is the routine that was created for those who are super busy.

You may not have enough time to commit to exercise.
You may not have the correct equipment.
You may not know where to start.
This routine is simple, to the point and you do not need any equipment. You can do it at home, or you can do in a hotel room, or you can do it where ever you please.

How can it benefit you?
It will help improve arm strength, it will help you improve leg strength, it will help condition your body to anticipate more exercise (so the body isn’t shocked if you start doing other forms of high intensity exercise over long periods of time), core control, fitness and help your cardio vascular health.

What do you have to do?
You will do six exercises for 30 seconds each. You will push yourself to 85% with each exercise. You will NOT push into pain during the 3:21 Workout. And if an exercise is not tolerable you will not persevere through it… You will change it slightly so you can tolerate it and still continue at 85%. Three minutes a day for 21 days straight.

Why 21 Days?
For best results we recommend you do this routine for 21 days straight. The old adage is true – it takes 21 days to break a habit…We are instilling a nice habit to help you body be healthier.

So what are the 6 six exercises?

Sit ups | Push ups | Squat jumps | Star jumps | High knee running on the spot | Shadow boxing

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You can change the order of the routine depending on what you want to address:

Upper body strength
Shadow boxing
Push ups
Star jumps
Sit ups
Squat jumps
High knee running on the spot

Lower body strength
Squat jumps
High knee running on the spot
Star jumps
Shadow boxing
Push ups
Sit ups

Good luck & keep healthy!

Kusal Goonewardena
Elite Athlete Sports Physiotherapist
Melbourne University Olympic and Winter Olympic Team