Lessons from Black Widow on Creating A Better Life

Throughout all of the Avenger movies, we learn that Black Widow is forever haunted by what she calls the “red” in her ledger

Her “red” represents her life as a Russian spy before the Avengers and all the awful things she did to accrue the moral debt she carries in her mind.

Whether or not we realize it, many of us carry around a ledger of our own to keep a mental checklist of our good and bad choices.

No matter how many good Black Widow does, no matter how many lives she saves, she still had difficulty acknowledging that she’s worthy of being an Avenger.

Like Black Widow, you might wince when you think about your ledger, thinking only about your mistakes instead of your progress. Only about how far in the hole you are. How you can never get out.

Today we’re going to dive into the red in our own ledgers, come to terms with where we are in our journey, and prepare to balance it once and for all.

Acknowledging The Red in Your Ledger

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Photo from: https://pixabay.com/en/notepad-pen-paper-writing-business-926046/

“Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor!” – Odin

During Avengers: Age of Ultron, there is a moment between all of the Avengers where they each try to lift Thor’s hammer (the Mjolnir) after a party.

The rule is, whoever can lift the hammer is worthy of ruling Thor’s realm of Asgard.

Hawkeye can’t move it at all.

Iron Man and War Machine make an attempt to no avail.

The hammer shifts ever so slightly when Captain America tries (giving Thor an incredibly worried look).

But when it’s Black Widow’s turn, she passes on any attempts to lift the hammer.

Something about that short hammer scene always stuck with me. Like there was so much more going on than just a few friends having fun.

Then, one day, I was at the gym surrounded by these beasts who were performing moves I’m still far off from achieving when that scene came to my mind.

I realized it’s easy feel like Black Widow when you’re around these demi-gods and think you’re so far behind on your journey.

The problem with Black Widow is that she doesn’t think she’s worthy of the hammer. She thinks of her own ledger and deems herself unworthy without even giving herself a chance.

This is Black Widow’s constant problem: she’s haunted by her past and won’t allow herself to fully embrace the new person she’s become. And here she is, just like Hawkeye (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsdk-AnkVks), a mortal amongst these super-humans.

We all have symbolic red in our ledger. The things we think are holding us back from achieving our goals.

Some possible red includes past injuries, unhealthy habits, lack of confidence, comparisons to other people, food addictions, self-sabotage, or trying to break up with your previously-held beliefs.

Think about the past year of your life.
Which way did your ledger move?

Did you add more red, or did you start to balance it out? Did you already give up on trying to make progress this year?

The red in your ledger probably isn’t as big as being an assassin for Russia (I hope), but it stands for who you used to be; the things you work hard to change.

Moving Past Your Red

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Photo from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/126293860@N05/15225676088

The red in our ledger is real – we have to correct our past mistakes and move forward with our lives. But so many of us, like Black Widow, can’t get out of our own heads and actually do it.

So what can you actually do now that you’ve acknowledged the red in your ledger and you want to continue to move forward?

1. Focus on your progress and your goals.

Black Widow brings a unique and badass skillset to the Avengers team. If she compared herself to others, that would defeat the point of what she brings to the table.

In our lives, we may not be on a superhero squad, but with social media, it’s easier than ever to compare yourself to the people around you.

Take the time to think about what you want from your health and fitness journey. You bring your own unique perspective, advantages, and disadvantages to the table. You’re your own character. You can’t choose where you are right now – you’re already here. But you can choose how you move forward.

Write out each goal you’ve had in the back of your mind. Yes, write all of them. Then actually go through all of them and ask yourself if it’s something that would enhance your life or something that you think you “should” want.

You don’t have to run a marathon, deadlift 600 pounds, or climb a mountain to be the best version of yourself. Instead, just focus on being a little bit better tomorrow than you were today.

Make progress toward the goals that actually matter in your life.

It boils down to you being better than you were, not better than anyone else.

2. Be Prepared Like an Assasin

It’s when setbacks happen that most people want to (and actually do) quit.

But guess what: everyone slips, even superheroes.

The difference is, the superheroes correct their mistakes. They get back up and move on.

Just like courage cannot exist but in the face of fear, heroism cannot exist but in the face of difficulty and missteps.

All is not lost for the day because you had a bad meal.
All is not lost for the week because you missed a workout or two.
All is not lost for the month because you were sick for a week.

When a mistake happens, it’s easy to think of the red in our ledger and give up. But Black Widow doesn’t. She knows life is full of ups and downs with new surprises every single day.

Just like Black Widow, you need to be prepared for what life throws at you.

Now that you have your goals from the first action step, it’s time to make sure we’re prepared. Create your plan of attack for all the things that come your way.

Here’s mine:

  • When your coworker brings in donuts, you will say no.
  • When your workout partner skips a workout, you will show up to the gym anyway.
  • When you sleep in, you will fit in your workout at lunch or dinner.
  • When you miss a meal, you’ll be sure to meal prep tonight so you are prepared tomorrow.
  • When your coworkers ask you out for happy hour, you’ll either be prepared for this in your diet or you simply won’t go.
  • When your significant other buys snacks to fill the cupboards, you’ll maintain your discipline.
  • When it’s time to workout, you’ll be there.

If any of the items in your list fail, simply acknowledge you added more red to your ledger and immediately get to work to balance it out.

At no point does Black Widow say, “This isn’t going as planned, I quit.”

She stays adaptable, and so should you. At no point should you quit, no matter what life decides to surprise you with.

3. Be a part of something larger

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Photo from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tales2astonish/6976086600

There’s a great scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron where Captain America is doing what he does best: Preparing to save everyone knowing he might die in the process

And Black Widow doesn’t hesitate to join him on the floating rock and sacrifice her life to save others. She knows she’s part of something larger than herself.

She’s an Avenger. She can’t put herself first, and her teammates aren’t just there for her sake. The Avengers have saved the world many times, and Black Widow is a central part of this heroism.

Coming together to help others is the ultimate push to confront the red in your ledger.

We’re all part of our own Avengers team, whether we know it or not.

Your family, friends, community, city, country, team, or any other group you feel a part of needs you to step up.

But we don’t always act like it.

Black Widow was the same way. Sure, she has always been prepared for her demise, but she never was prepared to sacrifice herself for the good of the world. By joining the Avengers she can help herself and move past the red on her ledger by helping others. She has an extra piece of motivation to be better each day – one that isn’t selfish and that helps her to overcome the guilt she had.

Your journey isn’t just about you. There are people around you that need you to start putting your best foot forward. We really are the average of the five people we associate most with.

So be a positive influence on the people who associate with you. Bring out the best in yourself for others. Be better to yourself, and help people directly:

  • Checking in with them to see how their progress is going
  • Cooking paleo meals together
  • Going on group hikes
  • Signing up for a new fitness class
  • Or just supporting their journey in general

You might not be able to fly, but you can change our life and others around you.

There are multiple Avengers for a reason. You may not have Thor’s strength, like Black Widow, you have your own set of skills.

Celebrating Your Progress

Most of the Avengers went from good people to great people.

Thor was a cocky, successful warrior and had to be humbled.
Captain America needed the strong body to match the mental determination.
Tony is still Tony, just with better technology at his disposal.

But Black Widow’s past is, well, darker than the other Avengers. None of the other Avengers were “bad” before they were “good.”

Black Widow transformed everything, especially how she was living her life.

She doesn’t acknowledge this, though. Just like how many of us do not take the time to look at our lives and say, “Wow, I’m making completely different choices than I did in the past.”

In the real world, most of us have transformations that look and feel a lot more like Black Widow than Tony Stark.

Your journey to a better life is sometimes a tweak here and there, and sometimes it adds up to an entire lifestyle transformation. It’s important we stop to take a moment to acknowledge our progress. Because if we don’t, we might believe that we simply can’t balance our ledger, when we may already have!

Have you…

  • Losing a few pounds
  • Put on some muscle
  • Tried a few new exercises
  • Avoided eating that extra cupcake even though it looked delicious
  • Started sleeping or resting properly.
  • Packing your lunch for work
  • Tried a new vegetable
  • Committed to a new adventure
  • Started walking or a new active hobby

Let’s learn from Black Widow’s struggle and acknowledge what we’ve done, no matter how big or small.

If you’re having trouble acknowledging your daily victories, you may need to do a better job tracking your progress! Whether you need to take progress photos, keep a workout log, start timing your runs, use Jerry Seinfeld’s chain technique, join an accountability group, or simply journal, you need to be sure you’re keeping track of how you are moving forward.

Don’t just assume you’ll know when you’ve made progress. Without documenting your progress, it’s hard to see how far you’ve come.

Balance Your Ledger

You can never go back in time to take things off your ledger. Those mistakes are done.

However, every day is a new day to begin the process of balancing your ledger. It is no small task, but if you feel up to it you can even list out your ledger.

Take a sheet of paper. Draw a line down the middle. On the left-hand side list out the red in your ledger.

However, instead of just listing all the red in your ledger and beating yourself up over it, for each item in your red directly across on the right-hand side, list something you could do to actively balance the red.

  • Not enough walking? Plan in a walk around your local park.
  • Forgetting to bring your lunch? Put in your calendar to meal prep.
  • Sore and stiff all the time? Sign up for a trial yoga class this weekend.
  • Want to try a paleo meal? Print out a recipe right now and buy the ingredients on your way home from work.
  • Lack of support? Find a group either online or in real life that can support you on your journey.
  • Keep cheating on your diet? Resolve to stop buying any temptations from the grocery store so they’re not in your house.

For every mistake you’ve made, there’s something you can do to make it right.

You don’t need to balance your ledger all at once. It took you years to get here. So take it slow and be proud of each step.

Every day we can work to erase the red in our ledgers. To acknowledge how far we’ve come. To deem ourselves worthy of our own personal hammer.

What mistakes did you make in the past?

How can you reach your own Level 50 and be worthy of the hammer?

 

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Wonder Woman – Gal Gadot Workout (And A Bonus Amazons Workout)

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Ah, Wonder Woman.

The movie that changed the lives of millions.

Every time I think of the scene of Wonder Woman putting on the crown from Antiope and marching into No Man’s Land… My body feels something very real.

I’m currently reading Women Who Run With The Wolves, and in it the author discusses the idea of the Wild Woman archetype. It’s something inside every woman that we’ve lost touch with through the years.

It’s a lot deeper than just a woman out in nature. It’s the basis of who we are when we’re allowed to get in touch with our deepest feelings.

“The archetype of the Wild Woman and all that stands behind her is a patroness to all painters, writers, sculptors, dancers, thinkers, prayermakers, seekers, finders–for they are all busy with the work of invention, and that is the instinctive nature’s main occupation. As in all art, she resides in the guts, not in the head. She can track and run and summon and repel. She can sense, camouflage, and love deeply. She is intuitive, typical, and normative. She is utterly essential to women’s mental and soul health.” – Women who Run With The Wolves

This is something I believe Wonder Woman touches on. That gut feeling. That story that we all feel within our bones but we’re unable to articulate. The reason we feel restless most days.

I’ve seen a lot of movies with women kicking ass. They’re tough, they can shoot guns really well, they are great with stunts… but Wonder Woman was something different in a way I’ve never seen in film.

While you read through this article, feel free to listen to the theme music. (Warning: It will make you want to run around and start jumping on top of every piece of furniture in your home.)

If you’ve followed any of my character workouts, you know I like to break these workouts down into different parts:

  1. What the actor said about getting in shape for the role
  2. My take on the workout (I worked as a personal trainer for years, so I combine that knowledge with what the actor said… also because finding the actual workouts always seems impossible)
  3. The diet
  4. The mentality behind their characters, so you can use it to become mentally stronger
  5. The gear you’d need if you wanted to become the superhero

Gal Gadot’s Workout

If you want to cut right to the chase, this is what her trainer said about the workout and here are two women going through that workout so you can see how it worked.

Gal worked out for six hours a day for six months. But keep in mind, that also included sword training, horseback riding, and other skills she needed for the movie. So although 6 hours sounds intimidating, you could easily do it in less.

Overall, it looks like a lot of high-intensity whole-body training. Every exercise had about 6-to-8 weight training and metabolic exercises.

Each day, you could pick between the following (but be sure to balance each exercise out throughout the week):

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Push-ups
  • Planks
  • Burpees
  • Bear crawls
  • Mountain climbers
  • Tricep dips
  • Calf raises
  • Donkey Kicks
  • Overhead press
  • Romanian deadlifts
  • Goblet squat
  • Hanging leg raise
  • Bent-over rows
  • Bench press
  • Rope crunches
  • Pull ups (substitute with lat pulldowns if you can’t do them)
  • Overhead squat
  • Crab walk
  • Burpee broad jump

Gal said she works out with two minutes of exercise and two minutes of rest. (Be sure to warm up, too! Gal warmed up with rows, mainly to keep herself safe so there were no injuries before filming.)

So, theoretically, it would look like:

Monday: Squats, mountain climbers, overhead squat, tricep dips, planks

Tuesday: Bear crawls, burpees, tricep dips, overhead press, hanging leg raise, burpee broad jump

Wednesday: Bent-over rows, calf raises, donkey kicks, lat pulldowns (or pull ups if you can do them)

Thursday: Deadlifts, planks, goblet squat, rope crunches, crab walk

Friday: Push-ups, Romanian deadlifts, hanging leg raise, bench press

Then add more exercises as you become stronger. It’s up to you if you want to do things in circuits or one at a time. Doing them in circuits increases your endurance and usually helps with weight loss (depending on your diet), or do them in sets.

(Circuit means you do one exercise, pause for a few seconds, then go right into the next exercise and when you’re done you start at the first exercise again. Sets means you do something like deadlift, then wait about 30-60 seconds, then deadlift again for about three sets.)

The Amazons Workout

Between all of the characters, the Amazons are a little more #swole than Wonder Woman herself. Now, to be fair, Wonder Woman is an actual super hero. She’s given superhuman powers as gifts by the Greek gods.

Also, to keep it real, Gal Gadot would have needed a lot, a lot, a lot of time to get as big as the other women on set (spoilers: not everyone in the movie industry is on steroids, even though that’s the common narrative that people say because it makes them feel better for not working out).

Don’t get me wrong. Gal is in incredible shape, but you can see a lot of the Amazon women had been training for years before they were in the movie. They’re #swolegoals for me.

Overall, the women trained for about four months together. (That video breaks down a good overall idea how their workouts looked. ALSO WARNER BROTHERS PLEASE LET ME COME WORKOUT WITH ALL OF YOU FOR THE NEXT ONE. They’ll never see this but COULD YOU IMAGINE? Okay, nerd moment over.)

A few of the actresses who are fellow Amazonians in the film talked about their past experiences in the fitness world. (The workouts are toward the end.) A lot of them were professional athletes, cops, and fighters before they came on set, which gave them an advantage.

To look like the Amazons vs. Gal Gadot in the movie, you’d train in a completely different style. If you want that look, your best bet is Crossfit or Olympic/powerlifting-style training. Basically, lots of heavy weights and lots of food. You’d follow something much closer to the Emily Blunt – Edge of Tomorrow workout I posted or Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Size.

The Diet

When sites break down food for actresses, it always kills me. They almost never take into account someone’s height or muscle mass.

Gal Gadot is 5’10” and every website pegs her around 128 lbs. There’s just no. way. she’s only 128 lbs for this role. It creates an unrealistic expectation for women when they step on the scale. Gal herself said she gained about 17 lbs for this role, so she was closer to 145, so keep that in your mind.

Gal also said she focused on three main things: meals based on green veggies and protein, drinking 1 gallon of water each day, and reminding herself that food is fuel.

I love this approach.

Before you eat something, really analyze how something is going to make you feel.

Those cookies are not going to make you feel well in a few hours no matter how good they sound in the moment (I’m writing this while I’m on a cookie hangover and feeling horrible today, so it’s more of a personal reminder).

Food IS fuel. It’s the basis of everything. Start eating healthy and then have a day of binging and see how you feel the next day.

The water tip is genius, too. Most people do not drink as much water as they should. Period. I thought I drank a lot of water until I started measuring and realized it’s barely even 1/3 of a gallon.

If you want a run-down on different diets from the Amazon warriors: here’s a good overview. Basically, lots of protein, don’t be scared of fats (seriously, ladies, fats are just fine), and timing carbs around workouts.

The Mentality

Wonder Woman is an extremely complex character while at the same time being an extremely simple character. This is going to dive into the complexity of our world, and if you’re just here for the workout and diet, you don’t need to read any further. However, if you’re like me and you love to dive into the complexity of embodying a character you want to workout like and become, keep reading.

To get into Wonder Woman’s state of mind, you have to pursue truth, honesty, love, justice, and compassion before anything else. There’s a reason she struck such a cord with so many people: because we see these values as something lacking around us and within us.

This sounds like an easy idea, but to apply it at every given moment is not always easy. For example, in the movie we see her in a state of panic when she sees men injured from battle, a horse struggling to get through mud while is owner whips him hard (something she struggles to understand), and a mother and baby crying.

She’s overwhelmed.

This is so far from the world she came from where everyone took care of one another.

Look, I’ll keep this from getting too political, but it is politics/greed/fear/anger/etc that has made the world the one she wouldn’t recognize compared to her home. She loves everyone who is struggling and shares that love with the world and those around her. You can’t love Wonder Woman and consider her a role model without at least attempting to embody the traits she believes in the most.

Wonder Woman is ready at any given moment to give everything for the sake of helping someone.

When Steve lies to his bosses, she’s complexed. There is no lying where she comes from. They say what they feel and believe. Although he is a spy and uses it for the greater good, as you go throughout your life, simply think about the times you want to use a white lie to make something easier instead of speaking your truth.

Wonder Woman never backs down from a fight. She will always stand in her truth, no matter the consequences. She walks onto No Man’s Land because she sees no other option. It’s what she must do.

You can use the Wonder Woman mentality in your every day life.

Every day you can choose love over fear.

Every day you can get yourself to the gym because it’s what you must do.

Granted, going to the gym doesn’t feel as life-and-death as saving the world, but it’s also important.

The Gear

The Lasso of Truth. Unfortunately this isn’t something you can buy at the corner store (could you IMAGINE if there was a real lasso of truth?). However, it’s something you can mentally create by learning how to tell when people are lying. An interesting fact about the lasso is that it only breaks when Wonder Woman won’t accept the truth she’s been told. Accepting the truth when you’re told it is important when it comes to embodying everything Wonder Woman stands for.

Bracelets – Technically called the Bracelets of Submission, these bracelets are used to absorb incoming attacks, which is why she can use them to deflect bullets and anything else that intends to harm her. According to Wikipedia, “They were an original creation by William Moulton Marston as an allegory for his philosophy on loving submission and the emotional control associated with it in order to balance out the strength of the human ego.” Meaning, you have the power inside of you to absorb any attacks that come your way. (Okay, it can’t stop bullets, but emotional/verbal attacks aimed at you.)

Tiara – In the movie, the tiara is given to her by her aunt, Antiope. Diana only puts it on before walking into No Man’s Land. Meaning, she only puts it on when she’s ready to embrace who she really is and to pursue her mission in life. There are a million ways you could apply this lesson to your own life, but if you truly want joy, you must find your purpose and pursue it relentlessly.

 

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(Generic disclaimer: *As always with any fitness program, talk to your doctor first / see a trainer / it’s not my fault if you hurt yourself / please don’t sue me / you assume all risk / etc etc. Also, if any exercise ever hurts in a bad way, stop doing it immediately.)

What superhero workout do you want to see next? Leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list!

The Case for Becoming A Superhero

After seeing Captain America: Civil War, my love for superheroes has grown even more.

(Side note: Just so we’re clear I’m Team Cap from now until forever. If you’re interested, you can read these blogs and determine your stance: Team Cap vs. Team Iron Man.)

It isn’t even a nerd thing, okay it’s a little bit of a nerd thing, but it’s also a realization about all the attributes our world so desperately needs: honor, commitment, hard work, dedication to a cause, putting everything on the line for what’s right, and everything else we love about superheroes.

More than ever before, we need superhero virtues.

And yes, fitness plays a huge part in all of this.

Look, I understand this isn’t a “sexy” thing to talk about.

It’s easier to get some half-naked pictures and sell you on some superficial “magical” secret to get the abs you’ve always wanted.

Abs are great.
But an empty life is not.

I’ve seen the people who chase the bullshit, and I’ve seen the people who chase the real fulfillment.

The real deal is what this blog is for and what I’m going to talk about from now until forever.

There are a lot of people out there who think that fitness is a superficial endeavor. There are also quite a few people who think that fitness isn’t “deep” and it’s simply just exercise and nothing else.

However, after you’ve worked as a trainer and seen the joy in someone’s face when they realize they can walk up the stairs on their own after not being able to for years, you realize that health is so much deeper than just how you look.

Fitness is simply a tool for a better life.

Superheroes know they need to stay in shape so they can complete all their missions.

Of course, most of us aren’t out there doing daring missions every single day, but continuing to stay in shape for anything life throws at you is one decision you will not regret.

Stop being passive

I’ve met too many real-life villains and people that fell into what Hannah Ardent called The Banality of Evil. Basically, it means being passive in the face of evil and continuing to go along with the program. Actually, that’s an incredibly simplified version of it but roll with it.

I’ll bet you’ve met similar people. The kind of people who don’t care about anything but their own selfish gain. They pay no mind to their communities, families, the businesses they give their money to, or anything else.

Too many people are more invested in the Game of Thrones than in their own lives.

If you truly care about something, act like it.

The world already has enough people who don’t care about anything at all or only care about things at a superficial level.

You know what you care about. You know what matters to you. Stop pretending like it doesn’t matter.

Get your health in order

Few superheroes are out of shape. Of course, they are mostly perfected and enhanced versions of what humans look like, but that doesn’t matter.

Losers sit around and debate which superhero actors did or did not take steroids, but smart people realize those debates don’t matter.

What matters is the inspiration to reach for more.
To do better.
To be a better person.
To serve the world in a positive, helpful way.

Get in the gym, get on a program, don’t eat your way into an early grave, and stretch once in awhile (something I’m constantly working on).

Do it so you have the energy and vitality to accomplish all the goals you want in your life.

Find something to fight for

Although this was mentioned above, there is something to be said for not only acknowledging what matters to you, but also acting on it every single day.

I recently took some time off of work to really sit and think about what mattered to me.

During that time, I realized that the career I was working so hard toward didn’t matter to me any longer and that I wanted other things out of life now.

Once you know what matters, it’s essential to not only acknowledge it, but to work toward what matters every single day.

Every single superhero has a cause they believe in so hard that they’re willing to die for it at any moment.

I’m not saying you need to sacrifice your life for something, but you need to ignite that passion inside of you again.

That’s what I realized I lost over the last few years: that burning desire to continue to fight for the things I want day in and day out. Especially once you’re crystal clear on what those things are.

Embrace failure

Every superhero fails. You’ll also fail on any journey, but it’s worth every single second of failure because if you are relentlessly persistent, you’ll win.

There will be times that will test you, where it will all seem ridiculous and you’ll debate quitting, turning back, and never attempting this goal again. That’s when it is even more important to get back on the horse and get back to work.

Failure is a part of the struggle, and the sooner you embrace that the greater the chance of winning.

You’ll miss gym days, you’ll binge too hard on food, you’ll fail that test, you’ll get injured, you’ll feel like quitting… Every single champion has those moments, too.

It’s cheesy, I know, but it’s truly the getting back up that separates the winners and the whiners.

Suit up and get it done.