Why do elite athletes constantly improve while others spend years on a plateau?
That question has befuddled me for years. But we’re about to crack the code.
On today’s show, you’ll learn how to skyrocket your performance, break through that plateau, and shatter your personal bests with Crossfit coach, TV star, and elite athlete, Emily Schromm.
On today’s show, you’ll learn:
- The key to elite-level mindset and performance
- What to do if you get injured
- What it’s really like to be a reality TV star
- How to reverse adrenal burnout
- How many carbs to eat (especially if you’re physically active)
- The surprising exercise women should do to feel and look their best
- And much more…
EMILY SCHROMM: UNLEASH YOUR SUPERHERO
Abel: Emily Schromm is a CrossFit Coach, athlete, and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner in Denver, Colorado. Emily was named Women’s Health Magazine’s Next Fitness Star, and she tells us to lift heavy, eat bacon, and UNLEASH your inner superhero.
I love that. Emily, thanks so much for coming on the show!
Thanks Abel! And yes – we also had the pleasure of being on a panel together at Paleo f(x).
Abel: I learned how reality TV works starring on ABC’s Diet Show. Your goal was to make it to an athletic competition, but your film debut was on MTV’s Real World. What did you learn?
I was 20 years old, still at my college campus in Missouri. I accidentally got into a great conversation with the casting director of Real World. It ended up being an amazing opportunity where I could either say no (because reality TV is crazy), or I could go with it. That was my launching point.
Abel: And you actually won a reality competition after that The Real World….
I would only do Real World if I could compete in these challenges after the show. It was actually happening as I got in better shape, became more aware of my body, and started dialing in my nutrition. I entered and won one.
Abel: You see many people stay at the “weekend warrior” level. But not as many continue to improve as the years go by. How do you keep leveling up?
There’s a point where you’re always hitting the wall. If you’re going to get where you want to be, you have go to deep dark places and have “come to Jesus” moments with yourself. That’s a really vulnerable place to be, and people shy away from that.
Either they change their goal – even though it’s not what they want – or they just settle. I’m someone who grew up settling, and I refuse to do that now. The discomfort is okay, and if you push through that you can get to the next level.
Yesterday, I did not want to do the workout. It was everything I’m bad at. Handstand pushups, upper body.. it’s just not my jam. During the workout and even after, you see your time and you’re looking at everyone’s times and you’re like, “I feel so bad about myself.”
When you workout, you’re supposed leave feeling happy and like Superwoman. But there are days when that doesn’t happen. You have to get through those and not beat yourself up to the point where you quit, because that’s so easy to do. I’ve done that so many times, and you have to refuse to accept that.
Abel: Fitness is a journey, and a rocky one. People think that once you’re fit, everything is easy. Can you shatter that myth?
Yesterday I looked at my training partner and was like, “Are we getting any better?” I felt so out of shape. That’s the only way you can really get to that point of improvement. Of course there are times when you should do things you’re good at and have that confidence booster. You should run that 5k if you’re a runner, for example.
I’m in this new stamina program. “Murph” is this great hero workout we do in crossfit. You usually do it on Memorial Day—it’s a mile run with a weight vest, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats and then a mile again.
My program right now made Murph feel easy. The crazy part about this program is that my stamina has improved. But I’m not a runner, so doing that every day is tough for me.
I have to tell myself that, yes, I can do things that make me feel good, but if I’m doing that I’m not getting closer to my goal. Ultimately, I do it to be a better crossfitter/athlete.
Abel: How do you define “better” as it relates to performance?
For me, it’s a crossfit competition, or a time on a 5k you want to run, or a number of pushups you want to complete in a minute. There have to be those markers of progress because if not, you have this elusive “better.”
You can come to me as a trainer and say you want to get fit. What does that mean to you?
Without some sort of measure of progress, you’ll be beating yourself up… because you’re never “fit enough.”
HOW TO RECOVER FROM AN INJURY
Abel: What happens if you’re on a roll and you blow out a knee or tear your shoulder?
I was on a roll after I won the Challenge TV Show. I was on such a high. I jumped straight back into the gym and ended up tearing the labrum in my hip. The motivation and excitement I had dropped.
I was suddenly very emotional, and now I realize why it happened. It sounds so cliche, but when you have those life halts and unexpected twists, they happen for a reason. The universe is trying to tell you something. For me it was, “Your mobility sucks. You need to learn a lot more about your anatomy before you put yourself in these situations.”
I had to understand that my happiness wasn’t going to come from me being a better crossfit athlete. It had to come from me being content with myself.
If you’re struggling with an injury or having a hard time, the best thing to do is stop looking across the way and hoping and wishing you could be there. Instead, acknowledge something about yourself that you appreciate in this moment.
Abel: You train differently from other people. I’m training at what I’d call a recreational level of fitness. You’re gunning for that elite level, which is a different game. What’s your “why”?
My “why” is the same for all things. Not just my athletic career or business, but the way I function in day to day life. I see so many of us settle and become comfortable with less. I refuse to do that.
With every aspect of my life, I want to be better. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse. I have a really hard time settling and being appreciative because there’s always something better. But a workout gives me a sense of relief that I’m doing something to be better, and I feel that in the moment. It gets rid of the anxiety that I’m not doing enough. That workout gives me the “phew, you’re going to be okay” feeling.
Abel: I can totally relate to that. When I go too long without exercise, I get that rabbit in a cage type feeling.
If I break a sweat, I feel like I’ve done something. You get that one little hit of daily exercise intensity and your body is like, “Whew, I’m alive.”
And for some people, it’s just walking outside in the middle of the day. Go outside for 10 minutes and bask in the sunshine. It makes such a difference in how you’re going feel the rest of the day. It doesn’t have to be a crazy Murph workout.
Abel: As a coach in crossfit, what do you wish you could telepathically transmit to people who walk into your gym?
I think the biggest thing is that nutrition is so much more than we’ve been taught.
People come in with end goals, like “they want to lose weight” or “they want to get fit or strong” or “they’re getting married.”
But I wish they would stop worrying so much about the finished results and start focusing on the moment and appreciating how powerful their body is. It’s hard for people to get out of the mindset of not enjoying it because you’re so focused on the end goal.
If you can’t just enjoy the workouts as they come, it’s a bad cycle.
Abel: Many people assume that if you are in shape you always want to do every workout. But everybody struggles with motivation.
There are many days and times that you have to listen to that. If I have a program or workout scheduled and my body is really sore, or I didn’t sleep or eat well, or I’m traveling… I’ll go to the gym and just do ten minutes.
If my body is screaming at me and telling me “no,” especially with the adrenal health piece—you need to learn how to put on the breaks. Just get on a roller and leave, or break a sweat and leave.
A lot of people push through and suck it up, but I refuse to believe that’s best. I’m very in tune with my body and listen when it needs a little TLC.
Abel: How do you find the sweet spot where you’re working but not pushing yourself past the threshold of burnout? I asked Shaun T about this on his show.
I think it comes down to acknowledging what pushing yourself means.
If you’re comparing yourself to the person next to you, you will not be on the right track. For me, it’s being aware of the cues my body gives me when I’m not feeling my best.
If you’re not used to listening to your body, it’s hard to get in touch with that. You’re not sure—Am I just tired? Does that mean I shouldn’t work out?
There’s a fine line between what your body needs and what the world is telling you your body needs.
I’ve always had hip issues. For a long time I thought that was just how my hips were. When I started this nutritional therapy program, it brought into light how the adrenals really tie into so much of the way our hips move—specifically hips and glutes, and for women—pelvic floor. If your adrenals are not 100%, you will start to get the shift. For me, my leg length would substantially change when my adrenals were not 100%.
I’d stand in front of a mirror and squat, and I could see myself shift. If I saw that shift and I could feel SI pain, and then I’d try to push out that workout, it would take me two days to recover. I’d sleep ten hours and feel like I slept two, and I’d get a headache.
If my hips start to feel achy when I start to warm up and it’s not just tightness, and the foam roller doesn’t work, I realize there’s something else… and it’s usually during my most stressful weeks.
If I’m really pushing it in my business, that’s a time when I have to take a few notches down in my workout.
WHEN GOING “TOO FAR” CAN BE GOOD
Abel: To some extent, it helps if you have gone “too far” in the past. There’s a thin line between pushing yourself and denial.
You can push yourself and still listen to your body, but a lot of people who’ve had terrible injuries (and this is not how to do it), push through and simply try to survive.
This is how you finish your marathon on broken feet.
Fasting is a good example. I love fasting in short bits, but if you push it too far it’s horrible. But that means pushing too far at least once to understand that.
When I was in hyper adrenal disfunction, maybe signing up for a crossfit competition was a terrible idea.
We don’t want people to run a marathon on broken feet, or get so low on cortisol that they’re having a hard time functioning in day to day life.
That’s my biggest message with my clients—yes, you need to be tough on yourself to a point, but you have to find that happy balance.
I hate the yoga side of fitness because it’s “listen to your body” all the time, and people don’t change their body with yoga.
Abel: I think theres’a difference between not feeling your best and knowing there’s something really wrong.
For example, about a week and a half ago, I usually have monster lifts on Mondays. It’s a themed day and usually I psych myself up to do it. That day I didn’t really feel like it, but I showed up and I started doing the squats. I come down and go up a couple of times and normally I can hit a very predictable amount of reps, and I knew it wasn’t happening.
I stopped the workout and took the dog for a walk instead.
But after resting last week – and this surprised me – I had my Monster Lifts two days ago and CRUSHED it. I jammed through 30% more reps than I usually do. And that’s the way it works.
We have all these cues, we just have to listen to them. It’s that gut feeling—I could push through this, but why? Will one day of me not feeling 100% prevent me from getting to that goal if I do something else?
It’s the same with food. Do you want to be 100% strict and then binge? Or give yourself a treat when you feel it?
HOW TO FIX ADRENAL BURNOUT
Abel: You have bad days, but then you also have really good days. On good days, that’s when you can push it a little further because it’s fun!
Many people struggle with adrenal health. How did you get yourself into a pickle – and how did you get out of it?
I was actually in school learning about adrenal health, which was the main reason for me finding the school. I was seeing what my clients were eating and watching them work out, but still not losing weight. I was frustrated with my knowledge and lack of knowledge.
I ended up traveling to Patagonia and got some sort of tooth infection and hit a wall because it was also during the Crossfit Games open. I was feeling super emotional. Little things became huge problems.
I was sleeping a lot. I’d push snooze 30 times. Then of course my workouts were horrible. Headaches. My glutes weren’t firing so I had hip shifts and sciatic pain. Then I got a cortisol panel done.
Your cortisol is this amazing thing, but if it gets to a point where it can’t maintain all the stress you’re putting on it. Even little changes in cortisol can feel like a really big change in your day to day life.
I cut caffeine, which is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Just to give you an idea—I started my caffeine addiction at 13 years old. I worked at Starbucks for 8 years, so ten espresso shots was not unusual for me in a day.
Once I got to Colorado, it was around 3 or 4 cups or 6 shots of espresso a day.
I ended up switching to decaf first, and it was the hardest month of my life. I was like, “Oh my god, without coffee I’m a zombie!” I had been depending on coffee as a drug for so long.
Then I toned back on the conditioning sets that put me in that dark place. It took about six months to really feel like myself again. If I feel my hips shift or get a headache after a workout, I make sure I take care of myself because I’m terrified to get back into that place.
You can heal yourself if you have the right supplements and factor into the lifestyle changes. Trust yourself and the practitioner you’re working with and you can heal.
Abel: How long did it take for you?
It was about six months of not really feeling like myself, but getting somewhat better. Looking back, it was emotional and I was going through some big changes with my business. It has to be visual for me.
If I know I have a huge thing with my Superhero Challenge this week, then I need to time my workouts accordingly. Maybe I’ll plan to sleep more, or even cut the decaf because I’m sensitive to it.
Can I get into the weird theory I never talk about?
I’ve had a lot of concussions—8 in my life from sports, snowboarding, etc. My first was when I was 4. My gut has always been off and I never knew why until I turned paleo. Everything I ate was causing horrible upset. Nobody could figure it out, and I think the brain trauma caused some of the gut trauma.
When you look at food intolerance, you have to look at the things you’re having all the time. Coffee was the one thing in my life I didn’t cut out. I cut grains and dairy, but the coffee I had since I was thirteen. Why not cut it out? As soon as I did, it was a pretty substantial difference for me.
I rarely drink green tea, and if I’m traveling I love experiencing the culture’s coffee. But outside of that I stick to decaf.
Abel: How are you fueling? Some people are totally keto all the time, but you’re hanging out in the “let us eat rice camp” with me, right?
I played with a lot of things when I first found Paleo. At first, I was in the “no carb” camp. But I got too lean and I lost my period. That’s a big sign. That’s not normal. I need a little bit more carbs.
I’ve played around with cyclical ketosis. I’d eat carbs the meal before I worked out and then about 40 grams after… and stick with pretty much 60% fat throughout the rest of the day.
Now I’m doing more stamina. My workouts are around 2 hours a day, so I upped my carbs to higher than they have been in a long time.
Getting 200 grams of carbs has been a really hard thing for me. I always felt really good at maintenance with about 125 – 150 grams of carbs with the workouts I was doing, but as the intensity increased, I started needing about 200 grams.
I love the dual source of fuel, where I use glycogen stores for workouts and then tap into fat fuel when I do longer workouts.
Abel: When you go too low carb for too long, it’s not that great. I start to lose strength. Lose energy. Lose the will to live.
When I combine being fat-adapted with topping off glycogen to fuel my activity, not only are my workouts better but I WANT to work out a lot more. It’s a psychological emotional change that happens when that sweet potato brings you back to life.
I love sweet potatoes. There’s a few people who come in and are like, “I can’t eat sweet potatoes.” And I’m like, “I can’t train you.”
Abel: Is eating 200 grams of carbs hard emotionally or practically?
It’s sort of anti what I believe in. Adding carbs to every meal, I don’t want to eat every three hours. I’m trying to find that balance as an athlete where I can maintain the fat-burning state where I’m not dependant on food.
I’ve been through eating disorders and calorie counting, and when you can give up this control that food has and just live because you ate a meal, and it’s going to fuel you for hours and hours, that’s huge.
Having to be a little more conscious in order to work out harder and longer, I’ll have to add more carbs – and carbs don’t keep you satiated. It’s more timing, more work, more frequent. I’d much rather not do that.
I’d rather eat two meals and fatty decaf coffee and call it good. But I’m in that stage where I can push it really hard and become a better athlete or stay where I am.
So if I add a little more carbs and adjust this and maybe eat one more meal a day, can I get to the next level?
Abel: You’re 5’8” and very athletic. You’re rocking it athletically. You understand low carb and clean eating, but at the same time you know that if you want to push the performance game you need to add carbs.
One of the great advantages of low carb is when you can’t work out super hard, if you’re injured, or want to lean down like Lebron James in the offseason. Low-carb is great as a tool. But finding your carb sweet spot is a process.
Everyone wants this prescription—percentage, grams, macros. I don’t know your genealogy, your genetics, where you come from, what diets you’ve been on, or how your metabolism is and all of those things factor into how you do with carbs and fat.
When I first started this Paleo journey, I wanted everyone to eat a super high fat diet because I felt so great on it. The majority of people did great with it, and a minority of people did terrible. Maybe they didn’t have a gall bladder. Or maybe they never had fat in their life and all of a sudden I’m giving them 60% fat and I’m causing all kinds of gut trauma because they can’t digest it and they’re bloated.
So it’s just pulling it back and saying what are your goals, and what is your past history? Do you have digestive issues? I ask questions and really make people think and listen to their body in ways they’re not used to.
You can’t just give a blanket prescription, it’s all about you and how your body respond to it.
WHERE TO FIND EMILY SCHROMM
I do Superhero Challenges online—in 21 days I teach people about food, exercise, and the fun nerdy things I do in my day to day life as a health practitioner. It’s an online community that’s super fun and thousands of people do it around the world. It’s $21 so it’s super cheap.
I also launched a kickstarter in January for a backpack turned training bag called EmPack. I was sick of traveling and not lifting heavy. So I designed a backpack you take straps off and tighten it up to make pretty much what you’d imagine a sand bag to be. You fill up these water reservoirs. It gets up to 55 pounds. It’s in preorder right now.
LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
BEFORE YOU GO… READY FOR A WILD CHALLENGE?
Ready to take it to the next level?
Here’s an update from our latest 7-Day Fitness Challenge in the Fat-Burning Tribe.
Rebecca H.: I enjoyed this challenge. It pushed me out of comfort zone. I tried out Tai Chi as a way to relax after long 12 hour shifts on my feet. I never thought I could do anything after work, but this felt great! I also tried new workouts and being more active all week wasn’t as hard as I thought. Awesome way to develop a new habit!
Janet C.: I completed the 7 Day Fitness Challenge. Feeling accomplished and ready to keep it going. NSV—I didn’t realize it until I tried it this week, I can now plank for a minute! That’s big for me! ; )
Rebecca S.: Wow! This challenge rocked!! It came at the right time for me and it was a springboard for getting me to the next stage of my progress. I realized that this challenge was a motivation I lacked. I was active but not aggressive. By writing down my plan I had to decide what I was going to commit to.
I also LOVE reading the feed in the Tribe’s Facebook group. I have learned soo much…. I had to buy a new smaller swimsuit, I could lift my daughter’s wall beds. And to top it off – I was actually happy to take selfies to share with the tribe. It has been 3 years since I felt that way. Thank you, Abel Alyson and the awesome members of the tribe!!!
Congrats to all of you who finished strong in our latest challenge. Alyson and I love running these, and there are plenty more to come!
By the way, you still have time to join in our upcoming 7-Day Sugar Detox Challenge starting August 12th. You won’t believe what we’re giving away to the winner!
In the Fat-Burning Tribe, you’ll join thousands of people from across the globe who have dropped fat, shattered personal bests, all while eating ridiculously good food.
Get our new meal plans, and you’ll learn why BBQ and chocolate are back on the menu in the Tribe. Right now, you can join us for just $1!
How often do you fuel with carbs? How do you feel when you add a bit of sweet potato in your diet? Leave a comment below to let us know what you thought of this interview with Emily!