Ep. #93 Workout Mindset with Kira Onysko

This week I’m sharing my conversation with the amazing Kira Onysko. We had a chance to talk about how to shift our workout mindset when it comes to exercise. She encourages you to embrace a performance based mindset (rather than a body-focused aesthetic mindset). Like so many of my guests, Kira’s work evolved with her own personal journey and struggles. This is a great conversation!

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Kira’s Start with Movement

As a certified personal trainer, Kira works exclusively with women. She’s highly passionate about teaching women how to incorporate fitness into their lives in a balanced, non-restrictive way as they improve their workout mindset. In her view, exercise and fitness shouldn’t consume your life. And all too often, they do!

Kira’s family was always movement oriented. She grew up loving exercise and physical activity. Her extended family also embraced a food loving culture that brought them together around lots of food. As a result, she felt she had a pretty good relationship with food and movement.

Around pre-puberty, however, her body changes started to impact her gymnastic performance. As she grew taller and gained a bit of weight, she started to feel her ability to perform in the gym and in competitions began to suffer. Her solution? To start limiting food and paying more attention to her diet in order to minimize weight gain.

A few years into those patterns, one of Kira’s gymnastic coaches brought a box of donuts to year end party. When Kira passed, her coach took her aside and told her that she could have the donut. Whatever else she said in her pep talk, it helped Kira break out of her food restrictions and realize that eating was a normal, acceptable thing!

The Downside of Workout Culture

Post-high school, Kira experienced the absence of athletics and organized exercise. Having been an athlete her whole life, she missed movement, and she found herself not feeling as good as she would have liked.

During that time, the health & fitness climate was very different. The only real adult role models in the field were fitness models and body builders. The mindset was – you work out to burn calories, lose weight, and/or change your body.

This means that you eating habits get adjusted as well. Because you’re pushing yourself hard in the gym to burn calories, it’s natural to want to decrease caloric intake in order to help your efforts go farther. Obsessing over intake and restricting food is celebrated and expected. Because it’s so normalized, you don’t even realize it’s necessarily an issue at first!

Eventually, Kira found her friendships and relationships were being affected. Missing workouts or consuming too many calories started to cause anxiety. She hesitated to go to new restaurants, since she couldn’t guarantee that she’d be able to find a food she felt she was “allowed” eat.

Fortunately, during Kira’s degree program she was introduced to CrossFit. For the first time since school, she was able engage in movement that was performance based. There was no focus on mirrors, body size, or other aesthetics. Instead, she was able to make mind/body connections and engage in movement for the sake of movement.

Fitting In with Fitness

For the first time as an adult, Kira felt excited about working out without needing to change her body. She was introduced to the exciting variety of American Oreos, and she realized that you could enjoy working out AND enjoy good food that you wanted to eat. She feels that she finally “saw the light” of all that was possible when it comes to enjoying the way you move and the way you eat, no strings attached.

Kira did note that even within the CrossFit community, there can still be a lot of emphasis on food and eating. Dieting and food restriction is very bonding. It’s something to talk about, commiserate over, and compare notes on. It’s an easy fall back conversation, and it helps create a sense of belonging. Even if the movement component is something you love, sometimes too much focus on food can create a tension that doesn’t provide an ideal atmosphere.

Also, that’s not to say that all food talk is “bad”. Eating to aid recovery and fuel workouts is important when you’re challenging your body and engaging in movement. And one of the best ways to make that happen is to get tips and tricks from others! The key, however, is to enjoy it as a conversation and then check in with your body to see what makes sense for your needs.

Since her transition to CrossFit and weightlifting, Kira has had huge workout mindset shifts in her life. She now feels she is able to embrace movement and eating in a way that works for her body and needs.

Performance Based Workout Mindset

Kira shares that many of her clients have never truly seen when their bodies are capable of. Many times they’ve engaged with lots of cardio and light weights, but they haven’t really pushed themselves to try other forms of movements.

When she puts programs together, Kira loves to create benchmarks based on “max effort”. In a certain amount of time, a client is challenged to perform as many reps or seconds of a movement as possible (pushups, wall sits, etc). More often than not, by the program mid-point all clients have surpassed their goals and feel really proud of how they’ve grown.

These benchmarks have nothing to do with weight, measurements, or aesthetics. They are purely about personal bests and personal growth. Often, this sort of growth is more inspiring and motivation than previous metrics based on body changes. Although shifting the workout mindset can take time, it’s an amazing way to build confidence and begin loving your body!

Exericse is NOT Punishment!

Kira encourages her clients to engage in movement they actually love. Rather than trying to punish your body or force yourself to move in a way you think you “should” be moving….you can find things you actually enjoy. Don’t be afraid to experience with different options; you might be surprised by what you like!

You might try exploring different classes and groups. Not only are you moving, you’re also engaging in a chance to meet others who have similar interests. Who knows, you might even find a new friend or two!

Getting to have fun, make friends, try new things – these are ways to appreciate your body for what it can do, rather than just what it looks like.

Kira also points out that many of our most amazing experiences in life are movement based. From water skiing to kayaking, mountains climbing to hiking, we often base whole vacations around moving in ways that feel GOOD for our bodies. You can find those sorts of movements and do them frequently (rather than just once or twice a year as part of a trip).

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