How to Use Improv to Network Like a Pro

I wrote an article for Improve It! Chicago recently! It’s called How to Use Improv to Network Like a Pro. Go check it out here and read below!

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There is a very small subset of people who get excited when they look at a meeting agenda and see the dreaded “Network and Cocktails” time slot. Before beginning improv, excited was the last word that came to mind when I thought about networking. My initial response was usually, “I hope I can find a group of people I know to go with” or “I hope something good is happening on Twitter so I can spend the next hour playing on my phone.” Neither of these options helps to make any new connections.

There is a better way to make it through a networking event, and a way that can actually lead to making some new friends or identifying business opportunities. What if networking events could actually be fun? Well, they can be if you embrace some of these general improv techniques that will help you get rid of the anxiety, make new friends, and most importantly, have FUN at your next event!

Enter the Networking Scene:

This is the hardest part, especially when you don’t know anyone at the event, or there is someone in particular you really want to meet. You need to make the first move. Start by engaging someone new with a statement or feeling that can take any direction. Improv is about joining a scene in a way that adds value; no one is going to cue you up for your entrance.

  • Point of View: By having a point of view, you add value to the conversation. Enter a conversation by making a statement that will allow you explore a subject. For example, I could enter a conversation and state
    • Me: “Wow, this guacamole is actually really good! It almost tastes fresh!
    • New friend: “I thought so too.”
    • Me: “I think the best guacamole I ever had was at a little taco place in San Diego called Oscars. Have you ever been to San Diego?”
    • New Friend: “I have! Actually I grew up in Orange County.”
    • Me: “How cool! What was your favorite part about California?

Choose a Character to Play:

To be clear, you need to be yourself in order for the networking to be effective. But if you’re simply too uncomfortable to walk up to a group of people, or even a single individual, choose a character! Chose different (real) assets that you want to highlight about yourself to be your focus.

  • Body Language: When we take on a new character we also channel their unique and identifiable body language. For example, if I’m in a scene where I’m playing a sad old man, I’ll bow my head, shuffle my feet, and look at the ground. Note, this would NOT be a character I’d recommend embodying when trying to meet new people. Choose a character that is strong, friendly, and approachable! Think of yourself as a celebrity – someone that other people want to talk to and approach. Remember to smile, uncross your arms, and turn your body to face each new person. Remember, never turn your back to your audience!
  • Take on a Persona: Let’s say you’re an investment banker. Imagine instead, that you’re the “best investment banker in the Loop”. This might be true, but you need to bring that confidence and carry yourself like you ARE the “best investment banker in the Loop”. This confidence will create all types of new introductions!

Add Value with the Call Back:

Now that you’ve entered into a conversation, here is a great tip to take it even further. In improv, a “call back” is when a character refers to something funny that happened in a previous scene. In networking, a “call back” is anything that helps make a mutually beneficial connection for two people. It’s a great way to add value!

Let’s say you are speaking with someone whose specialty is digital marketing and they are in need of someone in graphic design to help with their website. Turns out, you were chatting with someone earlier at the event who is a graphic designer! This is a perfect opportunity for you to make an introduction. In the end, both will be grateful to you for making the “call back”, and perhaps they’ll return the favor!

Evoke Emotion:

If you aren’t able to add value with an immediate “call back,” another improv technique that will help fuel the conversation is to make statements that elicit an emotional reaction. Asking good questions can work in the same way if what you ask the other person allows them to respond passionately and with full emotion. For example, if the person you’re speaking with mentions they have kids, dig into that a bit! Chances are they will be delighted to talk about their kids!

Listen to Understand:

The most common question asked at networking events is “what do you do?” But how many times have you asked that question without actually listening to hear what the other person has said? Most of the time, you’re too busy planning on how you’re going to describe your answer when they ask you the same question.

In improv, there is a skill called listening to understand, rather than our innate habit of listening to respond. The next time someone tells you what he or she does, ask follow-up questions that show you are interested and give the other person an opportunity to share. For example:

  • Listen to Understand: “Wow, a microbiologist, how interesting! What part of your job is the most fun?”
  • Evoke Emotion: “Tell me about the moment you decided microbiology was a field you wanted to pursue.”
  • Listen to Understand & Evoke Emotion: “What is the most exciting project you are working on right now?”

Exit Stage Left

As you can see, networking can be made easier by embracing a few tried and true improv tactics. If you enter each conversation with purpose, add value by making connections, and truly listen to understand, you will be able to work a room like the best of ‘em! We guarantee that if you employ these techniques over time, you’ll gain confidence and see your network, and your business grow!

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chuckfeerick

Chuck Feerick is a graduate of the Second City Improv Program. He performs around Chicago with his Improv group, Roger Bob, as well as in other shows. Professionally, Chuck is a healthcare consultant as well as a certified personal trainer. You can find out more about him at his website or contact him on Twitter!

“Yes, and…” My Journey Into Imrprov – And Why You Should Do It

Moving to Chicago in the middle of a bitter winter makes the process of making new friends very difficult. Everyone is bundled head-to-toe until about March, and it seems no one really does any outdoor activities, such as softball or flag football. So with finding a cycling group or joining a rec sports league out of the question, I decided to start taking Improv classes at Second City.

Second City is where a lot of names you may know started their careers, such as Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, or Stephen Colbert. It is a cool feeling knowing that I was taking classes at the same place so many of these successful actors and comedians had. Second City offers a plethora of classes, but Improv (improvisational comedy) was the one I knew would give me the best chance to really connect with my classmates and make new friends. Plus, I didn’t really have any interest in taking a sketch writing class or a voice-over class, as cool as that would be someday.

So over the past 10 months, I’ve taken levels A-E at Second City. Each level added a new element to the craft, for example in Level A it’s all about learning to “yes, and…” and support your classmates. In Level C, we worked a lot on character development, and in Level E you really work on bringing it all together and learning your style.
What hooked me were my first couple classes; for the first time in what felt like forever, I was able to be out of my own head, mindful, and fully present to the environment I was in. When you’re forced to remember a bunch of new names, throw multiple objects in a specified pattern, and remember everyone’s favorite hobby all at the same time, there leaves no room to think about the minutia that take up so much of our brain space.

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A few of us got together in Level C and opened for a late night show at one of Second City’s stages. Once I got the chance to perform and make an audience laugh, I was hooked.

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I had an amazing group that I went through the program with. While we lost a few and gained a few along the way, a core of us went all the way through Levels A – E and I’m now in a group that is going to start performing around the city!

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During Level D, I also auditioned for and got a part in a coached ensemble team. For 4 weeks, a group of 8 or 9 of us had a running performing on the Second City stage. We had a coach who gave us guidance and feedback and we were able to perform a mix of scenes based off a random idea we pulled from the audience.

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The essence of Improv is simple, but so much of it can be applied to everyday life. The main rule of Improv is always say, “Yes, and…” You never disagree or shoot someone’s idea down, instead, you accept their idea and build upon it.

For example, if someone enters a scene as yells “Ow, I broke my leg!”, instead of responding with “no you didn’t”, I would say instead, “Yes, and your crutches match your shirt perfectly!” Every scene requires energy and commitment and you are always looking to heighten in some fashion—How could I make this scene more fun? And remember, “If you’re not having fun, you’re an asshole.”

Here are a list of the benefits and lessons I’ve taken from Improv:

  • To learn to listen; hearing what my are my scene-mates are saying in order to understand and respond appropriately
  • To say “yes”—“Yes, and I will do this __________”
    • Never “yes, but” or “no
  • To live in the moment
  • Don’t talk about getting ready to jump out of a plane, instead, have already jumped and then start the scene
  • Play with people who have your back
  • Make big choices
    • Make them often
    • Make them early
  • Take risks:
    • If you’re scared, look in your partners eyes and know they will support you
      • “I got your back”
    • Work with others and allow them to be in the spotlight with you
  • There’s nothing more unattractive than a selfish “actor”
    • The compelling actor is one who is going after what they want. But there are roadblocks or other actors trying to prevent the actor from getting what they want
    • They act on their wants and goals
  • Rather than being devil’s advocate, say instead “Yes, that’s an interesting idea and I have another!”
    • Don’t crush the energy that is moving the group forward
    • “Yes, and”, but without being a “Yes-man”
  • Mistakes are gifts—own them, don’t correct them but keep going, keep the flow and acknowledge it without apology
  • Heighten, Explore, Transform
  • Approach the scene with an attitude of “today’s the day!”
    • Be confident! Like a pilot walking through an airport
  • Can enter a scene as if the scene is already occurring
  • Don’t have a planned end
  • “Yes, and”—accept and build upon
  • Listen to understand, not to respond

Improv summed to one statement: “Yes, and…”, love, and have fun!

These lessons have helped me so much, not only do I think differently about approaching problems at work and with others, but also in every way that I interact with people on a day-to-day basis. I’m more inquisitive and try to find how I can connect with them so that we quickly form a better relationship. Actually listening to what people have to say shows them that you’re actually paying attention and care about them and not just biding time to say what you are thinking. And being able to think quickly and be witty is great… especially when talking to girls…

Now that I’ve finished the program, I’m exploring some options of what to do next. As I mentioned, I’m in a group with a coach who will be performing around the city. I’ve taken a few other classes (like Yes, Yes Y’all: An Improv Rap Workshop) and just finished class on Auditioning For The Screen. I finally got some headshots done (needed them my business life as well, so win-win) and am planning to take an acting class and start auditioning for more shows and creating some of my own stuff.

I’m lucky in that my approach is to try it all and see what sticks and find out what I love doing.

If you’ve never done Improv but it’s something you’ve thought about trying, or just want to have fun and meet some new people, I can’t recommend it enough!

And with that: Yes, and you are all amazing!

What happens between November and March…

I’ve done and accomplished many things since I last wrote a blog update. I guess I’ll blame Chicago’s winter for my lack of writing… Although it hasn’t stopped me from riding my bike to work every day and walking everywhere (both of which I love!) So I’m going to go through a quick highlight of coolest, most fun, and most impactful things that have occurred up until now.

In November, my parents came to visit for the first time here in Chicago, which was a blast. They were able to stay with me at my apartment and then tour the city and do everything they wanted whilst I was at work, and then I was able to meet then for dinner and do some other fun things. They then drove the 3 of us to Pittsburgh where we spent Thanksgiving with the family at my cousin’s new house. She and her husband moved there from Tulsa, so we collectively got to do some exploring.

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In December, I took the most epic trip I’ve ever been on. My cousin Stephen and I took a 10-day trip to Costa Rica. We started in San Jose, the capital, and rented a car and drove to Arenal, the country’s biggest volcano. It also happens to be a rain forest… and it rained for the entire day we were there. Thus, instead of waiting around to see if it would stop, we hopped in the car a day earlier than planned and headed to the beach!

Sloth again

Sloth again

Sloth!!

Sloth!!

Mt. Arenal

Mt. Arenal

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Sloth!

Tamarindo picture

After 4 hours on the treacherous Costa Rican roads, we arrived in beautiful Tamarindo, a beach town on the Western Coast. Leaving a day early was a great decision and we toured the city and body-surfed in the Pacific all day. From there, we moved to a nearby hotel for a couple more days, then drove south to Samara (spending the majority of our time in Nosara, a surf-town in between Samara and Tamarindo) before spending a fun night in San Jose before flying home.

Resort pictures

I can’t remember which activities we did in which city, but here are the activities we got to do and some pictures!

  • Mountain biking
  • Left cell phone in mountain biking guides truck…
  • Surfing
  • Went to a Costa Rican “Discotecha”
  • ATV riding
  • Hiking and driving through a crazy forest on barely-existent roads
  • Body-surfed some epic waves at different beaches
  • Saw a sloth
  • Saw howler monkeys
  • Got our car stuck in a river… and consequently made friends with locals who help us lift it out…
  • Ate Brahman (grass-fed Costa Rican cattle)
  • Got stung by jellyfish (in the worst possible places)
  • Went zip-lining
  • Worked out at a tiny, sweltering gym in Samara
  • Walked around San Jose central marker
Tamarindo

Tamarindo

Samara hotel

Samara hotel

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Off-roading

Off-roading

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Crossing Costa Rican "river road"

Crossing Costa Rican “river road”

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IN the river...

IN the river…

Coming back to Chicago in the middle of winter from Costa Rica is a pretty hard transition.

I don’t know if I have mentioned this before, but I started taking Improv classes at Second City back in April. This has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I plan to write a lot more about it in the future. In short, I just graduated from their Improv program last week after completing Level A through E! Friends and I have done some shows around the city and I was also part of a Coached Ensemble recently, doing a 4 week run of shows on the Second City stage.

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I also took a hip-hop improv class, called Yes Yes Y’all, late last year which was a blast! YouTube videos to come…

I’m now taking an Auditioning For The Screen workshop and plan to take an acting class beginning in April.  I don’t have an end goal, but I’m excited to see where this all goes.

Lastly, I’m stoked to announce that I’ll be racing for the Wattie Ink Elite Triathlon Team again this year! This team is comprised of such an amazing group of people and I’m so proud to be a part of it. Check out my sponsors page as well for more on some of the amazing sponsors our team has. I’m also excited to announce a few new partners in a couple weeks as well!

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I’ve been doing an indoor triathlon series put on by my local gym. I’ll write about the whole series after the championships in April, but it has been a lot of fun doing smaller distance-for-time style races to even a full indoor Olympic distance race this past weekend! Last week I got to again with one of my AWESOME teammates, Cate!

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That’s it. I’ve got some cool stuffed planned over the next month that I am really excited to bring to fruition and highlight here! Here’s a hint—if you are doing something that’s cool (anything!) and want to talk about it, let me know!

Be easy–

Adventure Racing!

With my triathlon season coming to a close at the end of August (thanks to not having a car and living in the middle of Chicago), my focus switched to obstacle racing! As soon as I made the decision to move to Chicago, I immediately signed up for my 4th Men’s Health Urbanathlon. I had done this race 3 times previously, here in Chicago, and it’s by far one of my favorite races. Plus, it’s in downtown Chicago, so I can get there.

I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was doing this race and he told me he was doing a Spartan Race two weeks before the Urbanathlon. I desperately wanted to do this Spartan Race, but even though it was in “Chicago”, it was over an hour away and I didn’t have a way to get there. Luckily, my awesome friend wasn’t doing the race with anyone, so we were able to carpool and get a hotel.

The race was a Spartan Super: 8+ miles of trail running and obstacles! Our wave got pushed back to 1:45 pm, which actually turned out perfect for me because I hate morning races. My body doesn’t really wake up till 1 pm or so, and therefore I was able to really feel awake and ready to rock.

Within half a mile of starting the race, we were submerged in chest deep mud and water. There was no avoiding it. The keys to this race were being a strong runner, being agile and swift, being strong, and being alright with getting hurt. Also, being able to run in soaked and muddy shoes.

For every obstacle you weren’t able to complete, the punishment was 30 burpees.  I ended up doing somewhere between 90-150 burpees, but mostly for avoidable reasons (messed up the spear throw by having the cord wrapped around my leg, falling off a 6-inch high balance beam, and slipping off the monkey bars, to name a few). I was really pleased with ability on a number of the obstacles though, mainly the rope climb. For this obstacle, you started in chest-deep water, then had to grab a rope above you, climb 20 feet into the air and ring a bell at the top, then climb down.  I’m very grateful now that I taught myself to climb a rope back at my old gym in Tampa.

I finished the race in just over 2 hours. I was really happy with this time, but was frustrated because I would have at least 20 minutes faster were it not for a huge jam up where at least 100 people were all trying to get up an impossible mudbank. It’s all good, but I’ll remember that for next time!

Rock the W!

Rock the W!

A while later, I saw my friend making his way toward the finish line, but he was struggling by this point after a long day. I knew how hard the last obstacle were and that he wouldn’t be able to (as I wasn’t) get over the last couple without someone to help.  So I asked the staff if I could go back in, which they let me do! Together, we pulled him over the last hurdle (which was a slippery, sloped wall, covered in water and mud) and crossed the finish line together! It was such a great finish and amazing race!

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Fire!

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I can’t wait for my next race and am already planning a lot of obstacle racing for next year. With my strength being running, plus my willingness to suffer and my love of lifting, this type of race caters much more to me. Here are some tips that I will remember for my next race and hopefully will help you in you in your next race:

  1. Know your strengths! I knew that some of the strength obstacles would take me longer, but that I could make up ground with my running. Therefore, every time I got the chance, I would run hard.
  2. Learn how to run downhill. I’ve been lucky enough to do a fair amount of trail running and have had some good friends who’ve taught me to run downhill well.  You basically swing your arms out wide and take big steps and just barrel down the hill. It looks super dangerous, but its safe if you know how to do it right.
  3. Lift! You have to be strong to be competitive in these races. Lifting strengthens your both physically and mentally and those are key factors in this race.
  4. Help other racers and allow yourself to receive help. The only reason I made it up that mudbank I mentioned above was due to working with a few other guys and basically making a ladder out of ourselves to take turns climbing up. When we reached the top, we each instinctively turned around and started pulling other people up who were struggling. While I wanted to do well, the camaraderie is more rewarding than the podium in a race like this.
  5. However, if you do want the podium, like I would like to see in the future, chose the right wave. I’d like to go elite at obstacle racing next year and will be signing up for races to be in the first pack of elite racers who are the first on the course.

Fire Jump

Two weeks after the Spartan was the Men’s Health Urbanathlon, which takes place right in downtown Chicago. I had absolutely no expectation going into this race since i had no idea where my fitness level would be. I always train hard, but had been doing less running mileage.

The race, as always, was fantastic. The obstacles weren’t nearly as hard as the Spartan, but this race was 10.6 miles, colder, and had the added “fun” of Chicago winds. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like I was going “with” the wind since I’ve moved to this city… The obstacles in this race were more of crawling under obstacles, jumping over obstacles, and some more challenging tasks like 5 foot military hurdles, which aren’t difficult if you approach them correctly.

The killer in this race, though, is the 1-mile worth of stairs you climb inside Soldier Field! (The Bears stadium). The portion consisted of running up, over, and down, the top tier of the stadium over and over. Talk about a quad burner.

The race ran North up Lake Shore, around Navy Pier, and back down Lake Shore past the Museum Campus, through Soldier Field, then around the Convention Center, before finishing in the parking lot of Soldier Field (If you’ve read Divergent, I know you’re picturing this…)

The last obstacle of the race is what has killed me each previous year–the 9 foot wall. In past years, I’ve been so close to getting over, but having someone grab a leg and help me at the end. Feeling much stronger this year, I took a much more aggressive approach and flung myself up the wall! One of the race staff started to reach for my leg to help me out and I just remember screaming “NOOOOO! Don’t touch me!” to make sure I got over all on my own : )

As for results, I finished 37th of 1,500, 8th in my age group of 227, and had the 13th fastest split overall on the Stairs! I was really happy with this!

I’m looking forward to writing again soon about a ton of other fun stuff that’s been going on mixed with plenty of personal things I’ve been working on. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

The Minimalists

How much stuff do you really need? When it really comes down to it, how many T-shirts, old books, shot glasses, or old shoes do you really use? As you think about it, the question is harder to answer than you would initially imagine. Every piece of clothing has a memory, every shoe ran a mile or a race that was special, and every book you might want to read again someday…

A few weeks a go, my friend Conor and I went to an event held at the Apple Store here in Chicago. Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists were giving a talk about their lifestyle and thought methodology on the concept of “minimalism”. The tenets of minimalism are in its simplest form:

“Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution. There are many flavors of minimalism: a 20-year-old single guy’s minimalist lifestyle looks different from a 45-year-old mother’s minimalist life. Even though everyone embraces minimalism differently, each path leads to the same place: a life with more time, more money, and more freedom to live a more meaningful life.

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Getting started is as simple as asking yourself one question: How might your life be better if you owned fewer material possessions?”

Minimalism endures on the doctrine of Deliberate Consumption—Intentional Living. When every choice you make leads to an end as opposed to frivolity, life takes a more purposeful turn. Instead of things happening to you, you make things happen. It’s thinking 5 steps ahead whilst simultaneously being in the moment. If I decided to buy a new material item, what value will it bring me in this moment and, consequently, what value will it bring in a day, month, year from now?

Having less physical objects and mental obligations in your life allows you to pursue what you are passionate about. And that’s the key. Everyone’s minimalism will have it’s own spin.

As I write this, I am looking at my collection of baseball hats organized in a shelf on my room. Do I need twenty hats? No. (Well, possibly, if it completes an ensemble and matches the shoes I have on…) But these hats each mean something to me. I’ve narrowed them down and only kept the ones that are special, but they are a keepsake of places I’ve lived, events I’ve been to, or unique times with people who I care about.

But what if Minimalism keeps me from missing out on a new experience? That is not the point. Minimalism isn’t saying “I’ve never been snowboarding and I don’t know that it will bring me value, so it’s better that I don’t go at all”. In my instance, Minimalism would say “I’ve never been snowboarding and I don’t know if I’ll like it, but adventure is something that makes me incredibly happy, as does spending time with friends, so I think I’ll go!”

There are 5 main areas of minimalism:

  1. Health—Emotional and physical
  2. Relationships—You can’t change another person, but you can change the people around you
  3. Passions—Cultivating a passion and mission
  4. Growth—Doing what scares the shit out of you
  5. Contribution—Adding value to your life and the lives of others and establishing deeper connections with people

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Image Credit: @DavesInk

I’ve just moved (again) to a new apartment in Chicago. Over the past 4 years, my travels have progressed as follows:

  • Moving from Cincinnati to Tampa: Full SUV + Moving Truck full of stuff
  • Moving from Tampa to San Diego: Full SUV + Mailed boxes of stuff
  • Moving from San Diego to Chicago: Full SUV + Full rooftop carrier
  • Moving apartments in Chicago: Half SUV full
Loaded up

Loaded up

So what have I gotten rid of? Not enough. But I have gotten rid of many items that just don’t add any value to my life. All my race shirts and awards are no longer in my closet and on my walls, but instead in boxes at my parent’s house (my Mom has promised to make me a quilt out of the shirts… someday.) The awards I’d like to hang on a wall someday when I have a house, but I don’t need them now. I’ve gotten rid of tons of clothes and need to get rid of even more. And I still have way too many shoes, but that it’s one of those items that I really do find some value in so I can have the perfect shoe to complete a look. That might be something that another person would find ridiculous, but I enjoy it.

I’m also in the process of my “packing party”. In the move I put everything in boxes. Everything that I haven’t unboxed within a month of moving into the apartment, I plan to donate, trash, or give away. Right now, I have a feeling that I’m not going to be using the 10 or so drawstring-backpacks that every triathlon gives away…

My next goal is to streamline my wardrobe. I want to find a bunch of shirts that fit me really well and buy a bunch in different styles. Can anyone recommend a shirt brand that actually makes a quality, (truly) slim-fitting shirt?

But those are physical objects. What am I doing to cultivate passion and better connect with people? That’s always harder (in fact it scares the shit out of me… and what scares me even more is not being able to cultivate those connections.) I approached my moved to both San Diego and Chicago with a mindset of being more open to experience and getting more involved in things I wasn’t comfortable with. But the more I pursued these different avenues, the more I realize that sticking with what makes me the most happy is more important than checking the most boxes that says “I’m involved with this”.

Rather, instead of attending every “MeetUp” event that I’ve signed up for online, I’ve narrowed my focus to just a few things: Improv/comedy/acting, exercise/triathlon, and personal betterment and my career. This allows me the flexibility to go randomly listen to the founder of Redbox give a talk on a Wednesday night or to go see a comedy show on a Tuesday night with a bunch of friends in addition to my regular class on Thursdays.

Life is meant to be lived with intent. When we spread ourselves too thin and amass too much junk, we let that get in the way of what makes us the most happy and spending time with those who mean the most to us.

I encourage you to try one of these. What is one thing you can get rid of this week that will allow you to bring more joy and value into

Trip to Virginia Beach and The Unbreakable Body

I just got back from a great trip to Virginia Beach where I got to spend an awesome long weekend with my whole family! It was great to get a little break from the big city and get some “real summer”. The weather cooperated most of the time we were there and the Atlantic Ocean gave us waves for at least one of the days… and then acted like a lake for the rest of the weekend…

2014-08-15 20.10.56 2014-08-16 15.53.13We went to some great restaurants and got some fantastic local seafood. My brother has a sweet little house in Norfolk and it was nice to have everyone in one place. It was really weird to be back honestly. If you recall, I used to live there and it wasn’t my favorite of the places I’ve lived. But the trip was great…  Saw a Norfolk Tides game, plus we did the traditional Feerick men trip to see a Super Hero movie! We saw Guardians of the Galaxy and, if you haven’t seen it, it was awesome! I highly recommend it. Also got some great workouts in with my dad in little brother’s “garage gym”.

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Today I wanted to bring you guys a post from someone else whom I highly recommend! Kate Galliet is a good friend of mine and I’ve know her for a while via Twitter and both being personal trainers. She lives here in the Chicago area and she and I have hung out a few times; including walking across the city to get great coffee in negative 10 degree weather as well as going to awesome EDM concerts.

If you weren’t already aware, I am a huge proponent of strength and mobility work to compliment endurance training and I make all my clients do it. In my last post I mentioned the shoulder pain I was having in my wetsuit during my last race. Kate read that and immediately called me and we got down to the root cause of the issue and how to fix it! I’ve been putting into place everything she said and hopefully I will be pain free this coming weekend at the Chicago Triathlon!

Kate has just launched a brand new product called The Unbreakable Body! It is an all-inclusive solution to fixing yourself, maintaining mobility, and preventing injury to be a stronger athlete. While the program is for everyone, it has a strong bent towards endurance athletes who (myself included!) largely neglect mobility and recovery work. And no guys, using a foam roller doesn’t cut it! I asked Kate if she would be willing to share more about how she diagnosed my shoulder and more about her program! If you have any questions let me know and I’ll do another post later this week to answer more questions about the program.

Enter Kate!

500 Hours – Are You Ready To Handle That?

For most triathletes, the focus in training is on volume; run more miles, swim more laps, ride further routes. Did you know the average Ironman training plan adds up to around 500 hours?

This places an immense amount of pressure on your body, from your joints to your muscles. And as that pressure increases, your body begins to compensate in strange and damaging ways.

And when your injury happens, it likely won’t be a freak coincidence. It will be because up until the moment of your injury, your body’s durability was being worn away one day at a time.

Then, finally, it reached breaking point.

The saddest part about this isn’t the pain and emotional grief of suffering an injury while you’re training your heart out.

It’s that it could’ve been prevented in the first place.

Sexy Comes Second, Foundation Comes First.

Yes, you want to hit the pool straight away, or hop on the bike. But that’s the sexy stuff. And it’s also the stuff that, if sub-optimal movement patterns exist, will be the demise of your body. Before beginning any workout, it’s important to ensure your foundational movements  are correct. If you don’t, you not only run the risk of encouraging weak movements, but setting yourself up for injury. Whenever I work with an athlete, they are not allowed to start their workout until after we’ve done muscle activation work. We do this at every single workout, so that when we reach race day, doing pre-race movement activators are second nature (and protect them from mid-race injuries, too).

99% Of The Time, Your Injury Was Preventable

People hate me for saying this. But it’s the cold hard truth. If you get injured, 99% of the time it could have been avoided.

Yes, there was an unexpected bump in the road and your ankle rolled, and it caused a sprain… But would your ankle have rolled if you did ankle strengthening drills every day for 60 seconds?

And yes, your arm was pulled awkwardly by the current as you reached the 1/3 mile mark and impaired your pull…But if you’d been doing daily mobility work on your shoulder, would you not have had greater margin to absorb the awkward movement in the swim?

The reality is that nearly all injuries are simply the punctuation mark at the end of a long string of poor decisions. But it’s ok. You’re ok. We’re gonna be ok. We learn. We get better. We get stronger and more durable.

You Aren’t Alone: Preventable Injury Happens At Every Level Of Performance

I’m gonna put Chuck on the hot-seat now. ;-) When I first met Chuck, it was over a coffee at La Colombe in Chicago. He hit me up over Twitter, I obliged, and the friendship began.Then, not long ago, I read Chuck’s blog about his race and saw that he was noticing something strange.

Every time he swam in his wetsuit, his shoulder would go numb and start to ache. This was to the point where if he didn’t stop every few strokes to shake it out, it would get worse. But it was more than an uncomfortable feeling. It cut into his performance. Imagine doing a swim and every few strokes you gotta stop to address your arm — annoying and time-consuming!

Chuck’s an Elite Team Member of Wattie Ink, he couldn’t be getting held up by something stupid like a numb shoulder!

After a quick assessment of how he felt, and his current training regimen, I had a solid idea of what was causing his issue but was straight up with him – if this didn’t help him, or anything got worse, I wanted him to seek out a medical professional.

Chuck had tissue that wasn’t moving as it should, and it was compressing the nerves around his shoulder that led to his hand. Without a wet suit, this wasn’t noticeable. But when he put on the skintight suit for the swim, the added compression of the suit seemed to magnify what was going on already in his shoulder. My hope was that with proper, consistent, mobility work that we’d unglue the area and get everything that supports the shoulder girdle moving well again and working in a harmonious way that allowed him to swim, and do so without that numb aching feeling in his shoulder.

So with a lacrosse ball, some basic mobility drills and specific area targeting, Chuck was able to begin unlocking the tissue that seemed to be compressing the nerve. And happiness ensued in Chuck’s and my worlds.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure: Prehabbing The Pain Points

With the compressed nerve now unlocked, Chuck’s got a new mission. To ensure that he never has to stop mid race and shake out his fingers again. To do this, he’s continuing to perform regular drills with a lacrosse ball. These drills don’t just prevent the nerves from being clenched tightly beneath his skin, though. They put his tissue into a more optimal state for every movement he is going to ask his body to do.

In turn, this will help Chuck to move faster, take greater advantage of his strength training, and see better performance across the board.

*******

Thanks again Kate! If you guys want to learn more about the Unbreakable Body, click here! Let me know if you have any other strength training or mobility questions for myself or Kate and we will be sure to get them answered!

Lake Zurich Triathlon Race Report

A few weeks ago I finally got to race my first triathlon of this year! After seeing a bunch of my teammates at the Chicago ITU race a few weeks before, I was itching to race. That night, I signed up for the Lake Zurich Triathlon, a nearby triathlon. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, just simply that I was going to race.

Getting to the race was no easy task. My plan was to take the train to my aunt’s house, sleep over there, borrow her car the next morning and drive to the race, then drive back to her house, and take the train back home. Turns out I chose the ONE weekend of the year that you can’t take bikes on the train (due to the Taste of Chicago)… After lugging all my tri gear to the train station with me (and managing to not crash on my bike there) I was crushed when the conductor told me I couldn’t board. After pleading my case for the next 15 minutes, he decided to break the rules and be a decent guy and let me on. Thanks conductor–you’re awesome.

The rest was pretty simple–except that they didn’t have my registration when I got to the race site that morning. Turns out I had just signed up late but there were no issues with me racing.

The water temperature was awesome; wetsuit legal but not too cold. I wore my Wattie Ink exclusive BlueSeventy wetsuit and got off well with the age group pack I was in. My swim was feeling strong but, as has happened in many races before (only is open-water, wetsuit races), my left shoulder started aching. I don’t know how to describe the feeling except that it felt like there were only so many strokes I could take in a row, or only so much power I could put behind the stroke before I had to give that arm a second of rest. I gave my shoulders a ton of warming up before the race in fear of this, but it still happened. If anyone has any insight, I’d love to hear it!

I came out of the water in a time I was pleased with given the circumstance. My bike was ready to go, but after scratching the visor on my helmet, I had opted to remove it and race with sun glasses instead. My Rudy Project glasses look sick anyway, so it was a good move.

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H/T teammate Cate Demet for this image (these are her glasses and picture but I have the same pair)! Image source: Rudy Project

The bike was a 2 loop rolling course so you had the benefit of learning the course during the first lap and attacking more aggressively on the second lap. The course had enough hills that it was fun but not so many that you couldn’t still go consistently fast. I was caught by a few of the strong older guys, but spent of the time passing earlier waves.

I much preferred riding without the visor on my helmet as I could see a lot clearer and didn’t have to worry about to the visor fogging up, especially early on during the bike. Nor did I have to worry when trying to wipe away any sweat or water that would collect on the visor.

I decided to really push hard on the bike and had one of my fastest bike splits to date on an olympic course. This left me more tired for the run, respectively, but I still felt good. It was my first run of that distance in a while–my training as of late has been much more focused on short intervals and tempo work, so I was happy to be able to keep the pace I did.

The run was 2 laps as well. On the first lap I felt strong, but knew I would be hurting by the end (but that’s supposed to be the case!) I started running alongside a guy in an older age group and paced with him for most of the race. He actually was passing me and I wasn’t going to let that happen, so I filed in immediately behind him and basically drafted off him. Whether drafting during a run is mental or there really is some benefit, it seemed to work! At one point I ran up next to him said “Just to let you know, I’m not trying to be a dick, just trying to keep up!” His response was something like “Fuck you kid, you’re 20 years younger than me!”  To which I just gave a grin… While there was nothing memorable about the run course, I would rate it as “difficult”. It was all pavement and only partially shaded with small rolling hills.

I finished with a time I was happy with! I placed 3rd in my age group and in the top 10% overall. It felt really, really good to medal in my first race in 7 months. I’d really like to figure out this shoulder issue and see how well I could do in the swim if I could really give it my all.

 

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A fun start to the season and I’m looking forward to a few more races I have planed for this year! Let me know if anyone has insight on my shoulder issue!

– Rock the W –