Reduce negativity in your life. We all have people, things, habits, phone apps, etc. that we know are sources of negativity for us. While it is often not possible to completely eliminate these negative influences, it is hugely important to reduce them through proper boundaries. Reduce your contact with friends, family or co-workers that make you feel worse rather than better. Delete social media or news apps off of your phone if they bring out your bad habits. Don’t eat foods that deplete you of energy or make you feel sick. Be brutally honest with yourself about the negativity sources in your life and do your best to set better boundaries around them.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mariah Heller, creator of Pain-Free Fitness. Mariah Heller is a certified trainer, gym co-founder, author, and certified massage therapist whose mission is to help everyone live a healthy and pain-free life. Mariah is a featured regular contributor on Breaking Muscle, Medium, and T-Nation, and her website, 10minutefit.com/blog, provides simple and effective techniques that allow busy professionals to reduce their nagging pain and improve their fitness in just ten minutes (or less) per day.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
I grew up as a martial artist, and in order to qualify to test for my first black belt, I had to teach the kids’ classes for a minimum of six months. That’s where I got my start teaching! I continued to teach martial arts well after I achieved my black belt. A few years later when I was training for my second-degree black belt, one of my best friends opened a CrossFit gym and promised that he could get me in the best shape of my life for my upcoming test. From that point on, I became heavily involved in the CrossFit world and developed a strong passion for fitness and strength training, but simultaneously developed some devastating injuries. At the age of twenty I had to have major surgery on my hip, and throughout the discovery and rehab process I realized that there wasn’t a lot of guidance for the injured population — both in terms of prevention and rehabilitation. I decided to become a coach and a trainer to help healthy bodies stay healthy, and to give my injured or chronically hurting clients a chance at regaining a healthy, active life. In 2016 after being a coach and trainer for six years, I completed massage therapy school in order to grow my toolbox even more for my clientele. That combination of personal training and massage therapy is what informs my coaching and my business, Pain-Free Fitness.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I owned my gym and ran my massage business out of one of the offices, I had a client come to me with unilateral (one side) lower back pain from a work-related injury. She was a nurse, a mom, and an all-around great human. In our first several sessions together, NOTHING worked. She would walk out of our massage sessions feeling some mild relief, only to relapse the next day with even worse symptoms. In our fourth session, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and take a bit of an unconventional approach. Rather than focusing on soft tissue work on the affected side as requested, I spent an hour taking her through stability exercises, working the opposite side of the pain, and showing her exercises and self-massage techniques she could do when we were apart. After that session, she had an 80% improvement of her pain and continued to get better as she stayed consistent with our exercises. This experience showed me that — while people often WANT a “done for them” approach for immediate relief — client empowerment is the beacon of pain management, and this helped shape several of my philosophies behind Pain-Free Fitness!
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
At my first CrossFit gym, I trained an amazing pre-teen boy named Sam for about a year before I left for college. At this stage in my life I was working and trying to balance my prerequisite courses at junior college, and I was generally exhausted all the time. This week I was particularly exhausted as final exams were looming. One afternoon, Sam came in for his training session, and as per our usual routine, I got him warmed up and took him over to the board to write up his workout. “15-minute circuit,” I said, as I wrote on the board. “20 squats, 15 sit-ups, 10 jumping pull-ups.” I looked over and Sam and his mom were obviously trying to hold back laughter. I was desperately trying to figure out what they were laughing at but I couldn’t. I then looked at where their eyes were directed (at the whiteboard) and saw that -unbeknownst to me — I had written “20 squats, 15 sit-ups, 10 jumping pillows.” Later that evening I saw a social media post from Sam’s mom with a picture of the whiteboard and the caption: “Sam’s coach must be tired!” Moral of the story: get your rest…and if you don’t, make sure you at least proofread your writing.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
I began coaching at the age of eighteen. I didn’t know much about fitness or the body, but I was determined to help others prevent and heal from injury so that they could lead active lives. Over the last nine years, I’ve been a CrossFit coach, a personal trainer, a TRX instructor, an OrangeTheory coach, a gym owner, a massage therapist, and an author in the fitness and wellness space. I’ve worked with thousands of bodies and collected my own data which I am constantly reevaluating and optimizing to meet the needs of my audience. My uniqueness stems from my ability to take complex issues and make them simple enough that any of my clients can understand and follow my programs without feeling intimidated or confused. I don’t believe in a “one size fits all” approach, nor do I believe that any one methodology is inherently better than another. My goal is to help clients figure out what works for them with THEIR goals in mind, not mine.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Jacob Tsypkin, former owner of CrossFit Monterey and current owner and creator of TZStrength, was my original mentor and gave me my first opportunity in the fitness field. Jacob has been my friend since we were young children. When he saw me — at the age of eighteen — feeling depressed, injured, and generally lost, he told me that if I could spend the money to get my certification, he would allow me to start shadowing him at his gym and begin coaching. Over the next two years, he acted as my mentor, my coach, and my best friend. I wound up leaving CrossFit Monterey for college, but I would never forget the lessons that I learned there. I would not be where I am today without him.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
This is a complex issue, as I believe that everyone has their unique mental blocks and limitations around our lifestyles. I will provide three of the most common issues I see below, but I know there are MANY more.
1) Stress. Stress is the number one reason I have struggled to maintain a healthy lifestyle at times, and the same goes for my clients. When we AREN’T stressed (our bosses aren’t hounding us at work, our kids aren’t causing trouble, our family members and friends aren’t sick, etc.), it’s relatively easy to commit to a healthy lifestyle of meditation, healthy eating, regular exercise, gratitude, and quality sleep. When life gets stressful (work becomes taxing, kids are a mess, a family member gets ill or passes away, etc.), these habits become MUCH more difficult to maintain.
2) Convenience. Our lives have become inundated by quick fixes: television and Netflix, sugary fast foods, social media, and more. These lifestyle factors are designed to be addictive, which causes us to spend far too much time and energy consuming the wrong kinds of media and food. When was the last time you wanted to exercise, but your favorite Netflix show kept you on the couch for the evening? Or the last time you wanted to start eating healthier, but that drive-through successfully tempted you after a long day? Health takes discipline and effort, and unfortunately, it’s just more convenient to be unhealthy.
3) Pre-existing habits. Once you develop a habit, it’s difficult to change it. If I have developed an unhealthy habit (too little sleep, too much sugar, not enough water, etc.) — whether that be through my upbringing or my own lifestyle choices — changing that habit requires dedicated and, often unpleasant, work to change. This can be enough of a deterrent for many of us to just “give up.”
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
1. Practice the 90/10 rule. The 90/10 rule is something I’ve written about extensively as I believe it is pivotal to begin changing our lifestyles. In the 90/10 rule, every 90 minutes throughout your workday, get up and MOVE for 10 minutes. This doesn’t have to mean “exercise,” it can be a short walk, some stretching, or even some deep breath work. There are a few rules for the 10-minute breaks that I try to enforce with all of my clients and myself:
a. NO ELECTRONICS. I mean it! NO electronics!
b. Drink a glass of water. Because why not?
c. Do something different than what you’re doing, ideally involving something physical. If you have a physical job, do some breathing work or stretching. If you have a desk job, take a walk around the building.
2. Practice Craig Ballantyne’s 10–3–2–1–0 method. If you want to improve your productivity and wellbeing, Craig’s books are a gold mine. One of my favorite concepts of his is the 10–3–2–1–0 method.
a. 10 hours before bed — No more caffeine.
b. 3 hours before bed — No more food or alcohol
c. 2 hours before bed — No more work.
d. 1 hour before bed — No more screen time (turn off all phones, TVs and computers).
e. 0 — The number of times you will hit the snooze button in the morning.
3. Know, clearly, your ultimate goals. If you want to improve your wellbeing, you need to establish what your ultimate wellbeing looks like. What are your goals, professionally, financially, personally? Write them down. Then proceed to act in accordance with those goals. Reduce habits and people in your life that aren’t aligned with your goals. Make decisions with your ultimate goals in mind.
4. Keep your agreements. One of the fastest ways to erode our self confidence is to break our agreements with ourselves and with others. Just like we did in the last bullet point — it’s important to get clear on what your agreements are. Do you agree to exercise three days per week? Do it. Do you agree to wake up at the same time every morning? Do it. Have you agreed to a prior commitment? Show up. Write down your agreements and stick to them.
5. Reduce negativity in your life. We all have people, things, habits, phone apps, etc. that we know are sources of negativity for us. While it is often not possible to completely eliminate these negative influences, it is hugely important to reduce them through proper boundaries. Reduce your contact with friends, family or co-workers that make you feel worse rather than better. Delete social media or news apps off of your phone if they bring out your bad habits. Don’t eat foods that deplete you of energy or make you feel sick. Be brutally honest with yourself about the negativity sources in your life and do your best to set better boundaries around them.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
1) Exercise boosts your “feel good” chemicals. If you exercise regularly, you’ll notice that on days when you don’t exercise you might feel sluggish or lethargic. Exercise boosts your endorphins which make you feel happier and more energetic.
2) Exercise improves your circulation. Poor circulation can lead to many issues with our hearts, veins, muscles, and more. Exercise improves our circulation, allowing blood and oxygen to flow freely through our bodies which can keep us out of a whole lot of trouble in the long term.
3) Exercise helps to develop discipline. Having a daily agreement with yourself and keeping it, even when you don’t “feel” like it, is a fantastic way to improve your discipline and self-confidence. Exercise is a wonderful tool for this, as it often feels difficult to get motivated and requires an active commitment.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
1) Planks! Planks and plank variations (of which there are many) are one of my favorite tools for developing core strength, balance, and body awareness.
2) Glute bridges! The glute bridge (and even just the pelvic tilt alone) is one of my favorite movements to teach, as it requires clients to stay in tune with their core and glutes and self-adjust around any unwanted pain or tension. One of my favorite exercises for clients with back pain.
3) Unilateral (one-sided) strength work! Single leg and single arm movements have the benefit of helping us develop strength, stability, balance, and symmetry. While they can be frustrating initially, they are immensely important to help us avoid future injury. To this day, most of my training is based around unilateral movements.
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
Soreness is often a sign that you’ve done something your body isn’t used to (unfortunately, many people associate soreness with progress, which is a common misconception). Starting a new exercise regimen, increasing volume or intensity of your training, adding in a new movement to your routine — these can all be causes of increased soreness. Soreness generally doesn’t equal injury, however, overloading your body too quickly or changing your routine too drastically or suddenly can lead to injury. My number one suggestion is to always give yourself room to progress. If you start a new program or routine and go 100% full throttle during your first workout, what room do you have to progress at your next session? Start a new routine at about 70%-80% of your maximum effort and increase your output gradually over time. Additionally, be sure you’re adding in regular stability and mobility work. Band stability exercises, plank work, foam rolling, and stretching are all essential to a healthy body.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
There have been several, but one of the most pivotal books for me was “Quiet” by Susan Cain. I grew up as an introvert before introversion was really acknowledged as a legitimate trait. I was always shamed for being quiet or uncomfortable in social situations. “Quiet” helped me feel entitled to my needs: my need for alone time, my need for deep conversation rather than trivial small talk, and my need for an established “role” in various social settings. In my fitness career, I am often surrounded by extroverts that are rewarded for speaking loudly, even when they aren’t speaking the truth. I’ve learned that I can use my introversion to speak meaningfully and with authority, which has ultimately earned me more respect than many of my extroverted peers.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want my “10-minute fit” idea to reach the largest number of people possible. Exercise doesn’t have to hurt your wallet, your calendar, or your body. Spend 10 minutes per day moving: walking, stabilizing, doing bodyweight circuits, stretching, hiking. Consistent and meaningful movement, even just for 10 minutes per day, can create huge and lasting changes in our lives. If we all just did that, we’d be much better off as a population.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My favorite quote is “comfort is the enemy of growth.” I’ve used this quote many times in my life to remind myself that personal growth is often uncomfortable. Any time I feel fear or hesitation about an opportunity or event, I remember that bettering myself is going to be uncomfortable and to lean into that discomfort rather than use t as an excuse to run the other direction.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’d love to spend time with Jillian Michaels. She’s a badass professional woman who has made a name for herself in a male dominated field.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
@coachmariahpainfreefitness on Instagram
Mariah Heller, CMT, CPT, CF-L1 on LinkedIn!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!