Listening: The Forgotten Half of Effective Communication

Like any other “normal” couple, my girlfriend and I have our issues. Those issues, while never major, do sometimes end up in some sort of dispute. These disputes over time have changed, but one thing remains: effective communication is the glue that always brings us back together. While we have both improved in our communication skills, it wasn’t always this way, and is something that we had to consciously work on. Through the process of working to improve our communication skills as a couple, I’ve realized how important communication is in everyday life.

If you want to be successful, happy, and fulfilled in life, learning how to communicate properly and effectively is a must. Most people know this, and those that do, tend to turn toward learning how to speak and talk better in a effort to improve their communication skills. While this will certainly help to some extent, it’s leaving half of the communication equation unanswered.

Speaking + Listening = Communicating

You see, communication is about far more than just speaking and entails a large portion, if not majorly defined by, listening. Listening is like the younger, quieter sibling. It’s not as flashy, loud, and easy to notice as it’s older, more sought after sibling, speaking. Speaking, because it’s so apparent as a part of effective communication, often overshadows listening but I urge caution in this regard: those who are truly successful in life, whether it be relationships, business success, or general well-being, are those who not only speak well, but often times those who listen even better. 

You may be saying to yourself, “I hear you Adam, I do, but how hard can it be to listen?” Well, my friend, you have just answered the question for yourself. Hearing and listening are two very different things, and just because you hear someone or something, doesn’t mean you were actually listening.

Hearing + Understanding = Listening

Hearing is the physiological act of your ears taking in auditory noises and sounds. It’s a passive collection of data with no analysis, understanding, or translation of what is actually being said or heard. While hearing is a component of listening (and not actually necessary, mind you, as there are loads of people who are deaf and communicate far more effectively than people with great hearing), there are many more pieces that build the listening puzzle.

Hearing, for most, is a human sense, whereas listening is a human skill. So, while you may not be able to actively improve your hearing (without the use of external devices), you can choose to improve your listening. And learning how to effectively listen will change every aspect of your life, from your personal relationships to those you have in business and beyond. 

Become a Better Listener in 4 Easy Steps

The first step in becoming a better listener is really freaking easy: CARE. It’s that simple. Those that genuinely care about others typically care about what they have to say and are better listeners as a result. So, before you do anything else start working on empathy and caring about others. Not only will this improve your listening and communicating skills, but you’ll start to see the world through a different, more open-minded lens as well.

The second, and arguably just as important piece to better, more effective listening skills is to UNDERSTAND. Rather than listening to a person speak just to wait for your turn to respond, work to understand what that person is saying and why they’re saying what they are saying. This understanding will build into the first point of caring about the person and what they have to say, as well as allow you to actively analyze what’s being said to better receive and interpret this message. By trying to understand the other person, you put yourself in a better position to receive their message, and they will be more likely to receive and understand yours as a result.

The third component to effective listening is CURIOSITY. Being genuinely curious about, or interested in what another person is saying is a great way to build a rapport and relationship with that person during communication. Treat it like a child does almost anything: ask questions, but ask them out of curiosity rather than judgment. And make sure to reserve those questions for the proper time, after a person has finished speaking.

That brings us to the fourth and final component of effective listening skills: PATIENCE. “Patience is a virtue” as they say, and this couldn’t be more true than when it comes to listening and communicating. Too many times when we communicate, we lack the patience necessary for effective listening and jump into the conversation before the other person has had a chance to finish their thought. Not only does this cut the other person’s thought process off, but it also shows that we weren’t fully listening to what they said in the first place. The next time you get that urge, that anxious feeling that you just “need” to speak, put it on the back burner and understand that if you want to be heard and listened to, you must first hear the other person and listen to what they say. You will get a chance to voice your opinion, thoughts, concerns, etc. and by showing patience, and practicing the effective listening skills listed above, you will put yourself in a better position to be understood as well. 

Ultimately, your ability to listen effectively, and thus communicate effectively, will depend on your ability to CONNECT with those that you are communicating with. The four components above all work in unison to help you create that connection in a healthy, and genuine matter and will create deeper, more meaningful relationships with those around you. These improved relationships will lead to more success at home, school, work, and anywhere else human connection and communication is required (everywhere). 

If you want to live a better, happier, and more fulfilled life, I urge you to work on your communication skills, specifically your ability to actively listen and not just hear. The effects that improving your listening and communication skills can have on your life can not be overstated. Whether you’re looking to improve your marriage, relationships with friends and family, get that promotion at work, or simply live a happier and more fulfilled, effective communication is the skill that will bring all of that together. 

When you go out in the world today, take some of the information within this article and use it to improve your communication by focusing on your ability to listen and understand the person. Forget about a response, or getting your point across, and simply try to fully understand what the other person is saying and why. You will be surprised at all the details and nuances you pick up on that enrich the conversation and improve communication.

Vitamin C for Colds, More like Vitamin B.S.

The cold has come, snow is falling, and as they say in Game of Thrones, “Winter is Coming” (more like it’s already here). With winter comes a whole host of changes: cold weather, hot drinks, and the dreaded common cold.

The common cold is the most frequent infectious disease that affects humans. Symptoms like coughing, sniffling, and runny noses, among other things, are common occurrences when dealing with a cold. It leads to an average of 12 sick days for adults, and over double that for children. That’s hundreds of missed days of work and school over a lifetime, and an increase in health care costs, so it’s no wonder that so many people want a solution to fight off the common cold. 

One of the most popular solutions, and where many people turn when they start to get the sniffles, is a Vitamin C supplement, like Emergen-C. The praise for supplements like Emergen-C is enough to make you believe that it can cure everything from the common cold to more serious issues like the flu.

But how truthful is that? What does the science say? 

If you’re interested in finding out more about Vitamin C, whether it has benefits for the common cold, and how you can do your best to avoid getting sick this winter, continue reading!

What is Vitamin C? Why is it so popular?

Vitamin C became popular nearly 50 years ago, when Nobel Prize winner Dr. Linus Pauling made public his theory of high doses of vitamin C being able to prevent and/or speed up the duration of the common cold. Since that time, vitamin and supplement companies have done their best to capitalize on a growing industry, backed by the words and ideals of a Nobel Prize winner.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that your body does not produce and thus must be ingested through diet or supplementation. It’s involved in various functions throughout the body, including the production of collagen and assistance with immune cells in fighting off disease. When someone is sick, Vitamin C is depleted from immune cells, making it Dr. Pauling’s theory about Vitamin C helping fight off and speed up the duration of common colds and other infectious diseases. Unfortunately, like many things, what seems logical in theory doesn’t pan out in practice.

Emergen-C, the most popular brand of “cold fighters”, was introduced in 1978, just a few short years after Dr. Pauling made his theories about Vitamin C known

The research behind Vitamin C is rather thorough, and pretty straight forward. When it comes to Vitamin C there are only a few scenarios where supplementation is beneficial. The only benefits for the average person come from either taking it daily (at least 200mg) or getting it naturally through your diet, or taking an absurd amount (8g or more). Getting your daily dose of Vitamin C, while important, will only reduce the average number of “sick days” every year by about one. While it’s nice to get that day back, it’s important to realize that if you eat a well balanced diet you are probably already getting plenty of Vitamin C and reaping the benefits.

As far as the higher dosage, which in some studies has been shown to reduce severity and duration of illness, it can come with nasty side effects like nausea, diarrhea and possibly kidney stones. Luckily, Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin, meaning that anything “extra” will be excreted through the urine and doesn’t pose toxicity issues like fat soluble vitamins and minerals. This doesn’t mean that you can ingest as much Vitamin C as you’d like without consequence, but that the consequences won’t be as severe as fat soluble vitamins. 

There is one very specific population that has shown marked improvement in severity and symptoms of common colds, but the average population doesn’t fall into this category. For those who exercise strenuously outdoors (marathon runners, cross country skiers, Armed Forces individuals), you may find that supplementing with Vitamin C (at least 200mg) will help you deal with less instances of colds, and for shorter duration, but again, if you’re eating a well balanced dieting you may already be hitting these numbers.

If Vitamin C doesn’t work, what does?

This is where things get a bit more boring, and a whole lot more practical. There are few things that will truly affect whether you get a cold or not, and how long that cold will last. None of them are as easy to take and easy to sell as Vitamin C though, which is why they get pushed to the side in search of other “cures”.

Sleep

Sleep is vitally important to your health and wellness, and it becomes even more important during the winter months when immune systems are constantly attacked by different viruses. I cannot stress to you enough how important getting both enough sleep, and quality sleep is. It will improve your immune system, and help protect you from colds and shorten the duration.

Sleep is your key to health and vitality, so prioritizing it is key. Try to get at least 6 hours of sleep every night, but 7-9 is more optimal. This means you have to plan ahead, and get in bed at a certain time to ensure you are getting enough sleep. You should also avoid electronics at least an hour before bed, keep your room somewhat cool, and avoid activities that are overly stimulating. Try to find an activity that calms both your mind and body to perform before bed like reading, writing, meditation, or stretching/yoga. These activities will help you unwind from a long day and signal to your body that it’s time for sleep.

Hydration

During the winter months, people tend to drink less water. It’s a result of the temperature dropping and not feeling the need to drink water the way we do during the summer months. I myself struggle with hydration during the winter months, and have to make a conscious effort to stay hydrated.

Lack of proper hydration, or worse, dehydration, has been shown to negatively affect numerous functions of the body. When it comes to warding of viruses and shortening the duration of those viruses, water plays an important role. It helps to boost immune function by delivering oxygen to immune cells and helping clean out waste and toxins. Hydration also aids in a quality night of sleep, as it helps to keep your nasal passages and throat moist so that breathing is easy and clear. 

To ensure that you are getting proper hydration, try to shoot for around 2/3 of your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 200lbs, like me (at times), your goal should be to drink around 135oz of water. To make it a bit easier to reach your target goal, make sure to start your day with a large glass of water (20oz or more) and always have a water bottle with you. I like to use transition times, like driving to and from work or waiting in line, to catch up and get ahead on water by drinking as much as I can during those moments. 

Wash Your Hands

There is a reason that your mother always told you to wash your hands before dinner and after using the restroom, because washing your hands can be a huge deterrent for viruses. Washing your hands helps to remove germs that can cause sickness, and stats show that consistent washing of hands reduces the likelihood of the common cold by 15-20%. 

If you want to stay healthy this winter, do yourself a favor and get in the habit of washing your hands, especially while in public. Anytime you go to the bathroom, wash your hands afterward and always make sure to wash your hands before you eat. The pores in and around your face are extremely absorbent, so avoiding touching your face (noses, ears, eyes, mouth, etc) and keeping your hands clean is a great way to help keep the colds at bay. 

Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

Getting a variety of whole foods that are rich in nutrients is a huge part of living a healthy lifestyle. Foods like fruits and vegetables can play a key role in providing your body with the vitamins and nutrients it needs to assist and optimize the functions of the body, including the immune system. To do your best in fighting off colds and viruses, make sure to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables from every color of the rainbow. The more variety, the better (in most cases). 

Even though we know that fruits and vegetables are extremely important for health, it’s very easy to not eat them. To make it easier to consume enough fruits and vegetables, make sure that you always have some prepped and on hand. That’s the great thing about fruits and vegetables, they don’t need to be cooked, which makes them easier to include in your diet than foods that must be prepared. You can also bake several different kinds of vegetables at once on cookie sheets and prepare all your weeks vegetables in a matter of 20-30 minutes. The important thing is to then make sure that you have them with you and eat them. Keep snack bags of fruit and vegetables that you can grab and go, or leave at work to make life just a bit easier. 

Stick to the Basics, Live Long and Healthy

As you can see, staying healthy and fighting off colds and sickness isn’t as glamorous or complicated as people would like to make it, but simple doesn’t sell well. Instead of spending money on “cold fighters” that don’t make any difference, try focusing on the basics of health that are time tested for success. Make sure you are getting plenty of quality rest, be sure to hydrate sufficiently, wash your hands, especially in public places and when eating, and focus on a balanced and wholesome diet that will provide all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. 

Do you have any favorite cold remedies or family traditions for when you’re sick? Comment below and let’s share our favorite ways to get over being sick (or at least make it feel more enjoyable)

Improve Your Glute Training for Better Health, Strength, and Sex Appeal

If you spend an hour with me as your trainer, regardless if it’s in a one on one personal training setting or in a large group, there is one word you will hear repeated again and again: glutes. Squeeze your glutes. Engage your glutes. Contract your glutes. Stabilize with your glutes. Glutes, glutes, glutes. They are that important.

The glutes are involved in almost every activity we perform throughout the day. The glutes help to generate force and propel you forward as you walk or run. The glutes contract to help you walk up the stairs or jump over a fence. Even if you don’t care about having round and firm glutes that look great, you still want to tune in and learn how to train these muscles to function at their best for longevity and health.

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You get glute exercises! You get glute exercises! Everyone gets glute-focused exercises!!!

Training for muscle hypertrophy?

You better TRAIN YOUR GLUTES as they’re a major piece in a well-balanced physique, regardless of if you’re male or female. Large glutes make the waist look smaller, leading to a more pleasing and aesthetic looking physique.

Are you a powerlifter or Olympic lifter needing strength and explosiveness?

The glutes may very well be the most important muscle as it is a huge muscle that generates large amounts of force and also stabilizes the pelvis, increasing the efficiency of your lifts and decreasing the likelihood of injury. TRAIN YOUR GLUTES.

Are you an athlete?

If so read the paragraph above again for good measure. Power, speed, and explosion is the name of the game for athletes, so, you guessed it, TRAIN YOUR GLUTES.

Do you have back pain, hip pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, etc?

Many times strengthening the glutes and re-patterning them will reduce tension on other muscles and joints, improve your posture and movement mechanics, and ultimately lead to less back pain and better overall functionality. TRAIN YOUR GLUTES.

Regardless of who you are or what situation you’re in, you need to train your glutes and ensure that you’re training them properly. This means training them with various rep ranges and weights, in several positions and muscle lengths, and having a good understanding of their function and a quality mind-muscle connection (how well you can “feel” a muscle working in various positions). Add those all up and you’ve got a great recipe for a rocking set of glutes that are nice to look at, perform well, and keep you standing upright, healthy, and pain-free.

First things first, let’s talk about the function of the glutes, because without understanding this trying to isolate, strengthen and/or grow your glutes is going to be a futile effort.

The glutes are one of the strongest muscles groups in the entire body and serve multiple purposes. In addition to assisting with stabilization of the pelvis, the glutes also perform hip abduction, external rotation, and extension.

 

Main Functions of the Glutes

Abduction of the hip is moving the leg, specifically the upper leg, away from the mid-line of the body. When you drive your knees wide at the bottom of a squat, or side step/shuffle, you are performing hip abduction. It’s important to note, that while hip abduction and rotation can seem similar, like in the bottom of a squat, they are not the same thing.

External rotation of the hip is the act of rotating the upper leg away from the body’s mid-line. When thinking about external rotation, imagine your thigh/upper leg has a laser pointer shooting straight out from the thigh. When relaxed that laser pointer will point at a target right in front of you. When externally rotated, like in the bottom of a squat, those lasers will point slightly outward at an angle. This is the difference between abduction and external rotation: when the hips abduct, the thigh, and conversely, the knee, are still pointed directly in front of you. In external rotation, this isn’t the case as the thighs and knees will rotate and point outward.

 

Hip extension is moving the upper leg behind the hips and torso. This is one of the most important, and difficult, functions of the hip as many people tend to have poor motor control and/or bracing techniques, leading to movement from lower back, rather than the hips. When you walk or run, you are extending your hip, further reinforcing the importance of strong and healthy glutes.

Hip abduction, external rotation, and extension are the primary functions of the glutes, and should make up the bulk of your glute training. A truly strong and healthy muscle is able to contract through its full range of motion, which means we must train that muscle through in various positions and ranges of motion (ROM). This calls for us to develop and master a strong mind-muscle connection that allows us to load, contract, and use our glutes basically any chance we get.

There are two main components of being able to load your glutes and hips properly. The first is the hip position and control of that position. A muscle functions and develops its best when working from a neutral position. For the glutes, this means keeping the hips as close to neutral as possible and avoiding excessive tilting in either direction.

anterior-pelvic-tilt
I often find strange analogies and ways to express to my clients how they should be moving and what they should be feeling. I call a posterior hip tilt a “tail tuck” because it’s like a dog tucking its tail after it’s been in trouble. An anterior tilt is what I like to call “stripper hips/arch” as it looks like the individual is arching their back to show off their backside. These are simply different ways of visualizing and understanding different movements and positions of the hips and pelvis, you may have different ways of seeing and feeling the movement for yourself.

Just as important, if not more so, is the control and stability of the pelvic position. If the pelvis isn’t properly stabilized, not only will you leak force production, reducing power, output and ultimately, growth, but you will greatly increase your risk of injury. When thinking about alignment and stability of the pelvis, especially during movement, it helps to think about your pelvis a cup full of water. The idea is to keep your cup (pelvis) neutral so you don’t leak or spill water, which is the equivalent of losing stability, leaking force production, and risking injury.

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Image borrowed from Eugen Loki, @pheasyque on Instagram. Check him out for other awesome illustrations and explanations that will help you better understand fitness and exercise!

Secondary to hip position and control of the pelvis, is learning how to properly flex and load your hips. Most people understand how to contract their glutes, they simply squeeze them. Learning how to load your glutes is the key to fully developing strong, healthy, and nice looking glutes.

Loading your glutes comes down to the flexing of your hips. Hip flexion is the act of folding your torso and bringing the lower half of your stomach and upper half of your thighs together. If you were to place hands, palms up, into the front of your pelvis and fold around them, you would be flexing your hips. When squatting and deadlifting you are flexing your hips at the bottom of each movement. Doing this properly allows the glutes to stretch and contract to their fullest, increasing the effectiveness and safety of the movements in which hip flexion is performed.

Many coaches and fitness enthusiasts use the cue “weight on your heels”, and while this can help some people, in many cases this actually interferes with their ability to flex their hips. Instead of flexing the hips, people tend to focus on shifting their weight into their heels, many times lifting the toes to accentuate the feeling. This is not only ineffective for glute training, it also greatly reduces stability and increases risk of injury.

Instead of worrying about your weight being on your heels, try to imagine shifting your hips as far behind your heels as you possibly can while maintain a neutral spine (no arching or rounding of lower back/shoulders). This will allow you to keep your feet planted, improving stability, safety, and power, as well as help to engage and isolate the glute muscles during movements like squats, deadlifts and lunges.

Another cue or idea I like to give my clients (when actively trying to target the glutes) is to keep the shins vertical, and control or restrict forward translation (movement) of the knees. Vertical shin position helps with force production and engagement of the glutes, and restriction of forward knee movement reduces involvement from the quads and emphasizes use of the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings). Learning how to reduce usage of the quads, and subsequent movement of the knees, is a huge factor in being able to isolate and target the glute muscles.

By now you must realize how important the glute muscles are to your overall health, regardless of what your goals are. Everything from sitting and standing, to walking and running, involves the use of the glutes. Learning how to isolate and use your glute muscles is key to being able to engage them to generate force, improve stability, and decrease the risk of pain and injury. Whether you are looking to build round, firm glutes that draw the eye, powerful glutes that can lift thousands of pounds, or simply want to improve your posture, and reduce pain/dysfunction, training your glutes (properly) is arguably the most important thing you can do.

Take the information that you’ve learned here and apply it going forward in your training. Doing so will make each and every workout more effective. And, for more information on the glutes, like the best ways to activate them and exercises to grow them, follow me on Instagram @adamchosenson or AchieveFit LLC on Facebook. Happy glute gains!

 

P.S. Keep in mind, many of the cues used in this article are designed to specifically target or increase output from the glutes and won’t transfer over to each movement. For instance, if you are squatting for maximum power and depth it’s unlikely that you will be able to keep your shins vertical and knees from shifting forward and that’s ok. The cues in this article are here to help you shift your intention on certain exercises (including squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc) to make them more glute focused.