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Teachers: Please Stop Doing These 2 Things

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We’re not “teacher bashers.”

We understand only too well the challenges of the classroom: overcrowding, underfunding, a wide spectrum of student learning styles…

We love teachers. Every year, we even give a free “Teacher’s Week” at our gym as a “thank you” to those entrusted with the futures of our kids.

Here are two habits used by some teachers that we’d like to stop. Most don’t realize the long-term implications of each (yet) and that’s okay; it’s our job to teach healthy habits outside the classroom, not theirs.

  1. Using exercise as a punishment.

When kids get a “bad taste for exercise” in school, it’s usually not because they got beaned in dodgeball. It’s usually because exercise is used as punishment for bad behavior.

“If you don’t listen, you owe me 10 burpees.”

“Stop talking or do pushups. Your choice.”

Coaches fall into the same trap sometimes. When a student is talking when they should be listening, that’s frustrating. But teaching the student that exercise is punishment for bad behavior will stick with them forever. Think of the way most adults approach exercise:

“Ugh, I have to do this because I need to lose weight.”

“If I eat this brownie, I’ll have to run an extra mile tomorrow.”

Adults PUNISH their “bad” behavior with exercise. They don’t pursue exercise for enjoyment. We’re trying hard to reverse this plight, but (as you know) habits start early.

Use “dance breaks,” “exercise breaks” or play as rewards for good behavior; not as punishment for misbehavior.         

        2. Using food as a reward.

Food is awesome. We love food. But we don’t love the emotional connections people form with eating.

Logically, people know how much to eat, and when to stop eating. Logically, we KNOW which foods are unhealthy. That’s not the problem. The PROBLEM with most adults (and, increasingly, with kids) is that we form emotional attachments to eating that are unhealthy.

“I need this sugar to get pumped up for the game.”

“If I try hard at math, I’ll get a treat.”

“I’ll eat this brownie tonight and just skip breakfast tomorrow.”

As you know, emotion trumps logic every time. And if we reinforce emotional connections to food in the classroom, kids will attach effort to “treats” as rewards.

Don’t think this is a real problem? Look up “Teacher Candy Boards” on Pinterest or Google.

You don’t need to teach kids about “grit.” You don’t have to get philosophical and teach them that effort is its own reward. You just have to stop throwing them candy when they get an answer right. Please, please stop bringing cupcakes “if the class is good.”

We won’t mention the “pizza days,” “hot dog fundraisers” and “treat tables” at events. Not yet.

For now:

Record “bright spots” on a chalkboard. Encourage collaborative competition. Give high fives. Praise effort, not outcome.

We wish we didn’t have to ask. And most teachers will read this and think, “That doesn’t apply to me.” That’s good. But if this post makes you defensive, or want to roll your eyes at “that parent who thinks they know it all,” I can live with it. If you’re unsure, ask yourself, “What’s the best legacy I can leave with these kids?”

Tutors Wanted

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The Ignite method is practiced in schools and gyms around the world.

With the our NEW location at 130 Wellington St. East, we’re launching the Ignite Tutoring program for elementary and high school students. And we need fun experts!

Ignite incorporates exercise with academics in a “game-like” atmosphere. This service is for a normally-functioning population (no behavioral challenges.) A typical Ignite Tutoring session looks like this:

  • 5-8minute “BrainWOD” incorporating a physical game
  • 3-5 minute “Focus” Skills
  • 20 minutes of intensely productive study time

Some students will have access to an open “study hall” each month, to complete their homework assignments.

On Monday, 11/16, we’ll host an information session for potential tutors at Ignite’s new classroom in “The Tech” at 130 Wellington St. East. If you’re a teacher looking for a way to help kids and make some extra income; love exercise; and really love kids, show up and hear about a one-of-a-kind opportunity!

What: IgniteGym Tutoring Q+A for Potential Tutors

Where: IgniteGym, 130 Wellington St. East (call for room number)

When: November 16 at 7pm

Want to save a spot? Email tyler@ignitegym.com.

“Flowing” With Dirt

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The “flow” state occurs when you’re totally immersed in a task. The body moves automatically, requiring very little conscious thought. Its preoccupation with repetitive movement “frees” the mind to wander or focus.

The state of “flow” is harder to achieve while sitting still, except for those educated in mindfulness practice. But for novices (like me,) a shortcut to total mental immersion is repetitive physical work.

For many, manual labor can be the easiest path to concentration. Some enjoy running, some like repetitive movement like Tai Chi or dance. But everyone experiences the flow state: if you’ve ever thought, “I do my best thinking while I’m driving” or “I have all my best ideas in the shower,” you’ve experienced the flow state. In those cases, your body moves reflexively, leaving your brain clear to think.

In Thinking Body, Dancing Mind, author Chungliang Al Huang discusses the path to “flow state” through mindfulness training, and also yoga (which originated as physical exercise to prepare the body for long periods of meditation.) I prefer a more down-to-earth method: a big pile of dirt.

Years ago, when my business was faltering, my wife bought me a truckload of dirt. I didn’t have the money to pay a builder, so I tasked myself with leveling our driveway. It was hard work, done in small amounts on my rare time off. But as I worked, I considered different options for restructuring my business. As the weeks passed, I became eager to “hit the dirt” on Sunday afternoons after the gym closed. In fact, I felt guilty about spending time with the dirt pile instead of my daughter, because I was enjoying it so much!

When our son’s hockey team failed to secure ice time for practices, I volunteered to enlarge the rink in our backyard. Relatives ask why I choose to shovel the dirt into place myself instead of using a tractor, which is readily available. But I consider the opportunity for physical labor a luxury; it’s recreational time for my brain. The pile of pit-run gravel requires just enough focus to block out distractions. I wrote three blog posts in my head in a single hour yesterday.

How can you enter a “flow” state? Simple labor. Walking is enough for some, but if you add external load (a weighted pack) to the task, you’ll have to work a bit harder physically and your mind will be free to focus. Try it: a simple mindfulness trick from a poor student.

Cognitive Load and Weightlifting

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Almost every morning, I spend an hour in my garage. It’s not really a garage–it’s never seen a combustion engine–but it looks like one on the outside. Inside, there’s a pullup rig, a weightlifting platform and a wood stove. There’s no electricity because I want to hear the birds in my garden outside the window.

I don’t listen to music when I lift weights. But I DO usually listen to audiobooks or podcasts. I block out emails and text messages, listen and lift.

This week, I’m listening to the last chapters of an excellent audiobook (“Resilience,” by Eric Greitens) and building to a near-max clean and jerk AND a near-max snatch several times. I’m not great at technical lifts, so I need maximal concentration to do them well.

Today I reached my cognitive limit. After thinking several times, “I’ve gotta remember that!” while listening to Greitens, and telling myself to “think more about my hips” during the snatch, my mind was full. I started snatching badly. I began to make mistakes I haven’t made in months: early arm pull, knees drifting in on the catch. Amateur stuff that I thought I’d overcome.

But when the brain is full, your body falls back to its level of unconscious competence. When weightlifting technique isn’t yet automatic at high levels, you’ll simply perform at a low level. You fail at the margins of your experience. And when your brain is full, that margin widens.

Lifting technique and learning new material contribute to cognitive load. But so does stress. So does a clock. So does a grocery list, schedule and everything else you’re trying to remember. You can’t fit it all in.

In my case, it was easy to turn off the audiobook and regroup. But stress doesn’t have an “off” switch. When you’ve had a crazy day, lower your workout expectations. Scale down the weights and work hard at your minimum level of competency.

Step One: Make Your Bed

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Motivation requires success.

The first opportunity for success every morning is making your bed.

Most haven’t done this for most of their life. But many high-achieving military specialists start their day by making their bed.

Admiral William H. McRaven spoke about it in his 2014 Commencement address at the University of Texas

“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task. And another. And another. And by the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And if, by chance, you have a miserable day, you’ll come home to a bed that is made–that you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. So if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

Hindu priest Dandapani speaks often of the value of rituals including making your bed in the morning. Western psychologists call these “cornerstone habits”: little habits that start a snowball effect and grow to larger accomplishments.

Tim Ferriss spoke about making his bed on his podcast last week.

The end result isn’t the important part, but the act itself. Dandapani’s earliest monastery taught him to seek improvement in bed-making every day. He started over fifty years ago. Your bed won’t be made as well as his on your first day, but focusing your attention on one simple task will help organize your mind in the morning, when the giant “to-do” list starts shelling your thoughts. Meditation teaches the focusing of attention through the practice of regaining attention after distraction. Making your bed is a simple way to start.

IgniteGym 101: The Client’s First Session

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Winning doesn’t come from motivation. Motivation comes from winning.

In a client’s first session at IgniteGym, they’ll play. We call this the exploration stage, and the basic premise is to find something they like.

If a client feels comfortable in the gym and identifies an activity they enjoy, the Ignite coach can use the activity for:

  • Future warmups
  • Rewards
  • Integration into a higher-level challenge.

For example, if a child with ADHD enjoys swinging on the rope, his session can start with five rope swings. Then they’ll be challenged to focus on a short task before returning to the rope.

As the child progresses, rope swings can be made more challenging (swing from box to box,) mixed into a BrainWOD, or even discarded as new skills are attained.

This strategy is also VERY relevant to the average adult client in any gym. If the client can identify “her thing” early, she’ll be more encouraged to stay. For example, if she tries a deadlift on her first day, and her coach is quick enough to point out her strength, she’ll return for more deadlifts (it’s “her thing.”)

Finally, every workout should be the best part of an athlete’s day, whether working with a cognitive challenge or not. Exercise should be considered a reward. Find their Bright Spots!

Social and Emotional Functioning

By | Blog, Enrichment, Enrichment for Adults, Ignite! At Home, Ignite! At School, Ignite! In The Workplace, Interventions | No Comments

Social and Emotional Functioning refers to the ability to develop and apply self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management skills which enable people to understand and manage their own and others’ emotions in social settings. Optimal functioning allows for individuals to better handle stress, make decisions (emotional and logical), form and sustain positive relationships, explore and engage with the environment, display empathy, feel confident and succeed in school and work environments.

Enhancing Social and Emotional Functioning

Being aware of controllable and non-controllable factors is a good starting place. Controllable factors such as what you eat, how much you sleep, if you exercise and how much, if managed well can greatly improve your ability to self-regulate.  Another concept worth understanding is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how emotions play a role in learning.

Ignite clients work on this skill before every session.  It allows them to choose the appropriate levels of intensity of the physical task and difficulty of the cognitive task to make every session as productive as possible.  We teach coaches how to use this skill in our Ignite 101 course for one on one clients and even groups.

Managing the Controllable Factors

We can gather some very important information surrounding these factors just by talking to the parent, client, teacher, health care professional etc.  You will want to ask some questions that give you information about sleep patterns, stress management strategies already in place, nutritional habits, how often they exercise and if they take time to stretch.


The 6 controllable factors that can hinder or improve cognitive functioning are:

Stress, Nutrition, Sleep, Exercise, Energy Level and Mobility.

On a scale from 1 – 5, we can constantly monitor the effect these factors have on our cognitive performance.


Stress                   1 2 3 4 5       (1 being you are unable to cope, 5 you can take on anything)

Nutrition              1 2 3 4 5        (1 being did not eat, 5 being ate a complete meal including veggies)

Sleep                    1 2 3 4 5       (1 little to no sleep, 5 slept like a baby and feel rested)

Exercise               1 2 3 4 5        (1 rainy day on the couch, 5 haven’t stopped moving)

Mobility               1 2 3 4 5         (1 too sore to think, 5 feeling limber)

Energy Level       1 2 3 4 5        (1 nap time, 5 let’s run 2 miles and wrestle a bear)


If we have a poor sleep the night before, we have to make sure the other factors are as close to perfect in order to maintain balance. Or to prevent a snowball effect of bad things.   Not every day are each one of these factors going to be perfect but the closer they are to 5, the better the chance you will have optimal cognitive functions. When we assign a number to rate our day we’re much more aware of how we’re doing and then have more control over certain circumstances.


Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s easy to see how difficult it can be to access higher order thinking needed to overcome a difficult math problem or complete a challenging 15 minute workout.  The brain’s priority system will allow us to access certain levels, only if the more important levels have been taken care of (per say).  This particular prioritizing system is the same for everyone however management of the higher priority levels differs allowing the individual to gain access to higher order thinking.



Other activities that boost social and emotional functioning:

1.) Meditation or Mindfulness – setting time aside to allow thoughts, any thoughts, to come into consciousness for a brief moment then letting them pass as another one comes along.

2. Yoga or Warrior Yoga

3. Coloring books

4. Answering easy questions, as fast as you can for 3 minutes.

Computation and Calculation

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The ability to select and apply basic arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems) quickly and accurately require well developed computational skills. Calculating skills then are the techniques and methods in which we carry out these operations using mental methods, paper-and-pencil, and other counting tools to help us arrive at the answer.


Enhancing Computation and Calculation skills

Math continues to be one of those skills perceived as ‘fixed at birth’ and is one of the most avoided brain functions, often outsourced to a calculator or computer.  Like reading, it’s a subject that requires time, patience and perseverance in order to become proficient and even grow to love it.   Those that have well rounded computation and calculation skills spend time using a variety of calculating tools, especially mental methods and expose themselves to a wide variety of problems involving numbers.

Love it or hate it, basic numeracy skills are a vital part to everyday life.  Whether comparing prices, calculating tax, reading a statistic, splitting a pizza between 6 friends or trying to decide if you can jump over that puddle, computing and calculating are life-saving and life changing cognitive skills.

Try this Number Search activity to challenge your computation skills by selecting addition or subtraction to make the equations true.

Work on your calculating skills using a variety of methods, mental, pen and paper, objects, abacus, etc. in this Mixed Operations work sheet from www.math-aids.com


By | Blog, Enrichment, Enrichment for Adults, Ignite! At Home, Ignite! At School, Ignite! In The Workplace, Uncategorized | No Comments

Motivation explains what we do and why we do it.  Its role in the learning process is so paramount that it outweighs IQ scores when measuring future academic and economic success.  It has been demonstrated that hard work or ‘one’s desire to do well’ can carry them far beyond the limitations of their natural ‘intelligence’.  The higher the motivation, the more favorable the outcome.  By this definition, motivation is a cognitive skill that can be enhanced.

Every behavior can be traced back to a certain type of motivation, which can be intrinsic (driven by personal fulfillment such as curiosity or joy) or extrinsic (driven by the removal or addition of an external condition or reward)

The different types of motivation are:

  • Attention – to seek approval or be noticed by peers, family, teachers, boss or media scale recognition
  • Sensory – to experience a pleasant sensory response or seek out desirable responses from the five senses as well as our feelings and emotions (Ie. The desire to be right.)
  • Tangible – to seek an external material gain or incentive
  • Avoidance – to avoid danger or a threat, real or perceived from our 5 senses and emotions

Enhancing Motivation

The goal should be to develop mature motivation within your class, program or team.  Essential to mature motivation is ‘Big Picture’ thinking from the coach, teacher, parent and student.  Big picture thinking is realizing that mistakes will happen and are necessary for growth. This will promote mature motivation while immature motivation is shaped if emphasis is place on result over effort.

The following links offer research on motivation and what might be the key ingredient for success and intelligence, or at the very least help us understand how to get individuals participating in activities that can improve cognitive and physical fitness.

Growth Mindset


How Children Succeed

Immature/Mature Motivation Theory


Sensory Processing and Perception: Part 3

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In Part 3 of this series we take a look at another important skill involving vision called Visual Spatial Processing.  The affect that this system has on learning is quite profound. Students who struggle with visual spatial processing may have:

  • difficulty making visual images to “see something in the mind’s eye” or “get the picture”
  • difficulty remembering and differentiating left and right
  • difficulty in combining disconnected, vague or partially hidden visual information patterns into a meaningful whole
  • difficulty manipulating simple visual patterns or maintaining their orientation to see things in space
  • difficulty mentally manipulating objects or visual patterns to see how they would appear if altered or rotated in space
  • difficulty finding a path through a spatial field or pattern
  • difficulty in estimating or comparing visual lengths and distances without measuring them
  • difficulty understanding mathematics concepts in geometry, calculus and other higher math
  • difficulty in remembering letter formations and letter patterns
  • difficulty in reading charts, maps and blueprints and extracting the needed information
  • difficulty arranging materials in space, such as in their desks or lockers or rooms at home
  • difficulty catching all visual details
  • difficulty copying information from far point, like the blackboard or from near point, like texts


Enhancing these skills vs. reducing their use

When designing instructional strategies around visual spatial processing, a common approach is to reduce the use of visual spatial processing opting for more language based processing so that the student can keep up with the flow of the lesson.

Rather, create opportunities for students to strengthen their visual spatial skills because they much more capable of solving problems in the future having worked on this skill.

Physical challenges that focus on body awareness is a fun and easy place to start building this skill as well as sharpen executive functions like planning, organization and evaluating.

Here’s one example of a “comparing” workout:

10 meter Bear crawl forward

5 narrow stance squats

5 wide stance squats

5 toes out squats

5 natural stance squats

10 meter Bear crawl backward

3 rounds for time followed by reflection questions like “Which type of squat did you feel the most stable?  Which bear crawl was faster?”

Take this activity one step further and develop a challenge with a specific goal.  This will get the individual to Visualize, Plan, Verbalize, Execute then Reflect how they will complete the task.

Example of a “goal setting” workout:

Get over the box then, broad jump to the wall 5 Rounds.

Rule: You must get over the box a different way each round (record how) and estimate the number of jumps it will take you to get to the other side before you begin each round.  

It’s important for each individual to have a written copy of their plan for reflection and tracking.  Individuals who have difficulty writing should doodle or make some kind of shorthand visual representation of their box jump tactics followed by their broad jump estimations. For example, a student may use their left foot first so they would write the letter L and draw a foot.

Again, this is a way to DEVELOP the visual spatial skills not reduce the use.

Try out some other Visual Spatial Activities here.