E322: Liz Joyce - Fitness for Your End of the Leash

If you've thought about leveling up your personal fitness level so you can be a better dog sports competitor, but have been consumed by "yeah buts" (yeah but my knees... yeah but my age... yeah but my weight) this podcast is for you! 


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive trending methods. Today I have Liz Joyce here with me to talk about Handler Fitness and what you can do to ensure you hold up your half of the dog sports team. Hi Liz, welcome back to the podcast!

Liz Joyce: Hey Melissa, thanks so much for having me. I'm super excited to dive into this.

Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, I just wanna give folks a sense of your background. Can you share a little bit about how you got into fitness and how you became a fitness coach?

Liz Joyce: Yeah, for sure. I would love to talk about that.

I've always been a really active person, so I took a variety of sports and have done speed swimming, synchronized swimming. When I started wrestling in high school, I found that I wasn't quite strong enough to be competitive, so I took up power lifting, which became my main sport at that time and just have never actually stopped lifting weight. So it's July, this July will be 25 years since I started lifting weights, which is kind of a cool milestone. So I just got into fitness as an extension of the things I really enjoy to do. I have kept strength training because I love how my body feels when I can explore the world and not have it be a limiting factor. I like being strong and able in my life and so I appreciate it so much that I've kept it as a priority for, you know, 25 years, which is, you know, not a short amount of time. And I got into fitness because I just honestly could not imagine myself doing anything else. And people talk about having jobs that are an expression of their passion and this is an expression of my passion in the most pure form. So that's why I got into coaching people in fitness.

Melissa Breau: So what led you to working with dog sports handlers in particular?

Liz Joyce: Well, I got my first sporting dog, working dog about eight years ago and a big thing that's always been really important to me as a person and also as a coach is reaching out to the people that really need help as people that don't necessarily need help and are injury free and have a lot of vitality and energy and time.

They can get fitness anywhere. The people that really need help are the people that I would really love to work with and help them. And I met a lot of dog sport handlers through Hazel and noticed the theme of people that train for dog sports tend to not have a lot of time to give back to themselves in that way. So I'm really drawn to the crowd for that reason. And also y'all are an amazing, down to earth kind, wonderful group of people that I just really love.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Can you share a little bit about, more about Hazel, more about Levi, maybe share about your own experience training your own dogs and kind of how that influences your approach to then working with dog sports handlers?

Liz Joyce: It's influenced and changed a lot of how I deal with people when I'm training with them. The thing that I love that I transfer from dog training to training people is splitting, splitting things into extremely small little pieces. And also I have developed a very, very good eye for one in a movement. People are having a challenge and also what can we do to address that? I also found that the timing of that is really good and the clarity for the people that I'm working with.

I, you know, when I work with dog sport handlers, I will tell them in, I just actually give them a cue. Yes, that was right or, and they understand, which is wonderful. The other thing that I really love about training dogs that I'm also seeing happen when they're training people is approaching a situation and or a solution that we both want from a variety of different ways.

I want my dog to be able to hold a down stay in a bank. I have to be able to practice that in a number of different ways. And I also kind of take that, that is a very, maybe not the best example, but I take that approach with people too. So if they're having a challenge with an area of their body or a fitness goal that they have going on, I do my best to attack that from a variety of different ways so that they always have, you know, variety is nice when you're working out and they also develop skills that are gonna complement the initial goal while also developing other skills are valuable for them.

Melissa Breau: So I know that you work with a ton of the FDSA folks, so a ton of the instructors, a number of your clients are also students. Part of the reason that there's such a natural crossover there, right? Is that how you approach fitness training really aligns with FDSA approach to training dogs. Can you just talk a little bit about kind of your philosophy when it comes to fitness for dogs sports folks?

Liz Joyce: Yeah, for sure. The number one thing that I think about when I'm working with dog sport handlers is can we be as least time invasive and as effective as possible? You guys are busy, you have your travel for dog sports and training, you train your dogs and like the needs of working in sporting dogs are high. So my philosophy is how can we develop as much strength, balance, mobility, speed if that's what people are looking for in a way that leaves them mentally fit and mentally strong and not drained physically either so that they can still invest in their life and like do the sport that really that's what they're here for in the first place. And can we do that in as little time as possible? So it's taken some practice and, and I got to, I, I'm very good at that now. So I, that's how I, I really approach training dog handlers.

Melissa Breau: In your, some of your stuff that I've read through. Right. You talk about this idea of like honoring the body that you live in and so I wanted to just explore that a little bit. Can you, you talk to me about what that means for you?

Liz Joyce: Yeah, for sure. It means a bunch of different things for me and I'll go over a couple of them. You know, when I'm thinking about people and their bodies, I think about them almost as separate entities. The bodies like the vessel for the person.

And when I think about people honoring their body, it for me means that they are taking care of their body's needs. And I think a lot about that in the way of doing things that are not in line with what your body needs at that time. Like for example, if you are approaching needing a knee replacement, is doing sprints gonna benefit you as much as maybe hill walking?

Like no. So those are the kinds of things that I think about. I also think about it through the lens of celebrating the body that you're in. I am privy to a lot of conversations with people that are vulnerable and intense in a way that a lot of people aren't about bodies and there's a lot of shame and disappointment surrounding that and that's painful for people.

So honoring the body that you're living in for me also means just taking a step back and being appreciative that you can do the things that you do do and that you have a body that's hopefully healthy and able to support you in reaching the things that you wanna do. And also being responsible about the things that you're asking of it. I turned 40 this month and I've been recovering from surgery.

So for me to ask of my body what I would have asked of it when I was 20 and I was working part-time and I wasn't ill, that's unfair and unkind and I think that people often compare themselves to their younger selves and that's not fair or kind. And I feel like that's an extension of honoring the body that you live in. For me as well.

I really like that and I think it's super important to think about honoring the fact that our bodies change, that we can impact that change, You can impact that change and those changes happen if you, you know, go to impact them or you don't. And I feel like people always have this, most often actually people have this image of themselves when they're in their very best shape or they loved how their aesthetics looked at one point in time and that's their bar. They always wanna be at that place like who doesn't? And also it's not realistic. So it's like you kind of gotta, you know, just maybe make some peace with that but also just know that you can celebrate and you're worth celebrating every step of the way, even if you aren't at your, what you consider to be your very best.

Melissa Breau: I like that. I like that a lot. I know you work with folks in kind of all different sports, like just from the folks that I know that you work with, I know that it covers the gamut, right? Nosework and agility and bite sports and all the things. Can you talk a bit about what handling skills we can really impact through training our own bodies?

Liz Joyce: Yeah, for sure. And it depends a lot on how you're training and the things that you are working on when you're spending that time. So you will always get what you train for, just like dog training. So the course that I have coming up in FDSA is about strength training and that course I designed as a kind of couch to 5K equivalent.

So really the people that feel like working out might be inaccessible for them. This is the course that I designed so that it would be accessible for them and the people that are going to take this course. If they are in agility, they will notice that they have faster speed, better control in their decelerations, crisper send and goes. People that are in any kind of bite sport are gonna have a much easier time restraining their dog on leash, tugging with them. They have better endurance also for being have those kind of long training days, better balance for uneven terrain when they're out tracking and stuff like that. That is no joke, that is a lot of walking, nosework too line handling will be improved. And overall, you know, there's two people or two beings on your team, your dog and yourself.

And when you are in a better shape and you're not injured, you can continue to participate and the train keeps rolling and the goal really of this course is to put you in a position that's gonna prevent that from happening as well as have you be able to handle and do the sport you want with a lot more ease and confidence.

Melissa Breau: So you mentioned the class in there, I wanna talk more about that, but before we kind of transfer entirely to that, I think that anyone who knows you or has worked with you would kind of emphasize the fact that you really approach training with the same kindness and positive reinforcement focus that kind of, we typically emphasize in dog training here at FDSA. And yet I know that a lot of folks are listening to this and even with the really awesome description you just gave to the class going, yeah, but right, so they're saying, yeah but I have bad knees or yeah, but I'm overweight or yeah, but I'm getting older. Can you talk a little more about kind of that piece of the picture? What do we, you know, what do we accept, what do we try to change? How does that kind of fit into all of this?

Liz Joyce: This is a great question and a lot of people get stuck in this rutt where their body isn't where they want it to be and they don't want to do anything or even attempt fitness until their body feels great. And you know, people that are in all different walks of life and have all different injury histories, there is almost always, and I'm gonna say almost always, but like 99.999% of the time things you can do to invest in your physical health and strength and mobility regardless of what you have going on. And it, you know, fitness really is for everybody and it's just the avenues that you choose that are going to make that a positive experience for you and one that you're gonna grow from physically and get more comfortable and more able or not.

So a good way to check that out is to try something for a month or two and see if you feel any better, and go from there. And it's okay to reassess. It's also okay to change disciplines as you age and your interests change and your body changes too. I think the idea of like what do people wanna change and what can they accept, I think that anyone can work on the power that you would feel in your body. If I could have people when they finish working with me, leave the experience feeling powerful and be more able, that is like really my end goal for working with people and the things that you can accept, like you do need to accept, you know, if you've had children, your body will have changed. If you are aging and we all are, our bodies are going to change.

If you encounter a chronic illness, your body will change. And I think you need to, everyone needs to just take a hard look at it and be appreciative of the things that you still can do and the things that you can change. You know, if you're in chronic pain it's, there's a lot of, you know, medication and doctors and things like that that can help with that. But generally speaking, also getting stronger and having better mobility will help your comfort regardless of your situation.

Melissa Breau: So we mentioned the class and I wanna go back to that now you're offering a class for dog sports handlers during the August term you mentioned you kind of set it up as a couch to 5K type program, but for dog sports handlers and strength training, can you share a little more about the class? How will it work? What does it look like, what you got going on?

Liz Joyce: Yeah, I sure can. So the first week, I love that I did this, I put together 10 or 12 videos all about foundations and the foundations are really hammering home the idea of the basic form so people can really work through and practice good form, just like dog training. Flashy stuff is an expression of an extension of beautiful foundations. And so people taking this class can expect to learn how to better engage their muscles and improve their physical literacy, in terms of how they're actually moving, which I love the class builds from there. So if you are thinking about foundations and thinking, oh this feels like maybe it's gonna be too easy for me, that is the foundation part. The class has quite a lot of range in terms of rep ranges and weight selection and I talk a lot about how to find that happy spot for yourself. The class itself is going to be posted in FDSA, so the workouts will be, they're listed in all of the videos and also the participants are welcome to join that class on my app where it's super easy to follow.

They can enter the reps, they can enter the weight they've used, all of the timed exercises, have a timer on it, there's like amazing reinforcement in terms of, hey, you're on a 10 day streak and stuff like that that comes up, which is really, really nice. So people can expect all of those things. And also just a really thoughtfully designed program, so building strength in the ways that are gonna support long, more complex movements. And my, I'm hoping, and what will happen is between week one and week six, if people were at week one to look at week six thinking that it would be really, really challenging, they will enter week six having all the skills and the strength they need to do those workouts. And so I'm, it's gonna be a really empowering and fun experience for people.

Melissa Breau: That's awesome. So I wanna, I wanna go back to something you said in your answer there. You talked about the foundations and the physical literacy and I've, I've had the opportunity to see some of the workshop stuff you've done. Can you just give an example of what that might look like? Like that little foundation piece, like what are we talking about when we say foundations?

Liz Joyce: Okay. Foundations are things like when you lie on your back, are you able to not use your six pack muscles and use your inner core muscles to keep your back flat on the ground? If you can do that, can you also do that while you're lifting your leg?

Can you do that while you're doing a variety of different things? And that is a foundation piece, building that inner core work, the inner core of strength that's gonna transfer to you having genuinely a lot better balance and a better posture. So that's one example. Another example, people that drive a lot or have desk jobs typically get quite weak glutes. So when you don't, don't use muscles very often they get sleepy and you can turn them back on by using them. So some of the other foundation skills in there are, you know, learning how to use your glutes when both of your feet are on the ground, learning how to use 'em when one foot is on the ground and so on. And just simply learning how to fire your muscles properly and there's a tutorial video for all the relevant muscle groups that we're gonna cover in the course.

And learning how to use your muscles properly is going to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of the exercises that you enter into, which is amazing. And also the more you use those muscles, the more your body's going to have access to them. So you'll be able to use them when you're just out walking your dogs and doing different things and you won't need to be thinking about, you know, could I engage my core like I should, it will just work for you. And in that way the training just becomes also a part of something that you do all of the time, which builds on kind of a snowball effect of it being even more effective in the course, which I really love.

Melissa Breau: Okay, so equipment, what do people need, what should they purchase or what do they need to purchase? And then from a skill level, you know, who should consider signing up equipment wise?

Liz Joyce: There's a band set that I recommend people purchase, or that is, I'm gonna say mandatory for the class, it's like 25 bucks, maybe 30 bucks and it is 10 to 50 pound tensions on the band and they have handles and the door anchor and there are mini bands that go along with this set.

So that is a key piece of equipment. I would also recommend people have something comfortable to lie on. You do not need to purchase a yoga mat, you do not need to purchase a bunch of stuff, a carpet or carpeted surface in your home is adequate. And then dumbbells, I'm recommending five, 10 and 15 pound sets. And also if people, you know, need to go lower or higher in those weights, that's something that I'm super happy to help people decide what is appropriate weight range for them. Those are the weights and the equipment that I, I'm gonna recommend. And then who should kind of think about signing out? When I think about the ideal person that's gonna take this class, it's someone that has been busy with their dog for a long time and they have maybe not had the time to take care of their own physical strength and fitness and mobility for a while.

So when I think about the most ideal person to take this class and really who I made this for, it is someone who is 35 and older in all different body shapes that hasn't worked out in a while or maybe hasn't ever worked out or maybe worked out in high school or is feeling nervous about "am I gonna be able to do my form properly?" Or they've gone to fitness classes and found that they are too hard and maybe their foundation skills were lacking or they arrive at their trials and find when they get out of their vehicles that their body just feels kind of achy and tight and sore. Or they've noticed over the years that handling their dogs is getting harder, their sports getting harder. Those are the kinds of people that I really would love to see in the class.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, I love some of the, the phrases you said just really kind of paint the picture of, of who we're talking about. Right. In terms of time commitment, I know you're asking for 30 to 40 minutes, two to three times a week plus daily mobility work. Can you talk more about that mobility work piece? What does that look like? What, what do you mean by mobility work? What's mobility work?

Liz Joyce: Mobility is the, the difference between flexibility and mobility is that in mobility you have strength and control at the end range of the stretch. So building mobility is gonna help you be able to handle so much more effectively.

Super common that people get tight and then tug with their dogs or go to pick a container or a bag of dog food up from kind of a weird maybe angle and their bodies just kind of freak out a little bit. So having better mobility will open up a lot of handling options and if you are an agility handler, it's also going to really help you express more speed, which is super valuable. And for anybody it will build a lot more comfort for them in their life. Mobility is just stretching. There's a number of different stretches that I've put together that are gonna address really the key areas. I think there are 12 of 'em, 10 of 'em, and they are amazing stretches that really are, they could progress throughout the course as well.

So the mobility work piece is something that I ask people to do every day, especially during the first six to eight weeks. And the reason for that is when you're strength training, if you haven't been strength training for a while, while the first eight to 12 weeks is when your body's neuromuscular connections get so much stronger. So people notice that they get so much stronger during the first eight to 12 weeks and some of that is strength and also it is this neuromuscular connection that's building.

So when we're building patterning and muscle memory, we wanna do that in the most effective way possible and pattern and reinforce form that we wanna see happen again and again. And the best way to do that is to have really good mobility. So you can do the different exercises without compromised form or range of motion due to mo due to a lack of mobility.

So there's, you know, some tips and tools that I share in the class, which are, you know, split the, the split the mobility work up into different chunks and maybe stagger them one set one day, another set the other day. Or if some of these stretches maybe aren't relevant for you, you do not need to do them, but pick the ones that are more challenging for you.

And it's just like, it's, it's really great when people can stretch regularly for the first six to 12 weeks when they're beginning a strength training program. It really makes the whole picture come together, in a much better way. We talked a little bit about skills earlier. What kind of skills can handlers maybe expect to see improve as they work through the course?

In particular, It depends on the sport that you're in. So if you are an agility athlete, you will notice, you know, anytime you're walking, you are, you will have two feet on the ground at some points in that motion. When you're running, you only ever have one foot on the ground. So having better balance is going to help your sprinting speed and also help your ability to handle effectively.

It's gonna help you with your ascend and goes, it's also going to help you with your decelerations and keeping your body more compact and strong and tight when you're on the course. So your movements, I should say, which I love and it's amazing to see the changes of people, the agility handlers that I work with that get stronger, their handling just changes completely.

It's amazing. People that do bitey sports can expect to have much easier handling of the dog tugging will be a lot easier. I think that their ability to have maybe a more expressive tug game with more movement from them will increase too, which is always really fun. And any of these dog sports too come with other lifestyle stuff, you know, like picking up dog food and moving crates around and all that kind of stuff, which will get easier for people as well.

Melissa Breau: So kind of one more class specific question here.

Liz Joyce: Can I, I gotta tell you one more thing. I also know that people are gonna have improved endurance. So, you know, trial days can be long, it can be warm out, it can be cold out, it can be a bunch of different things. And when your physical fitness is at a higher at at a better place, it is improved. You will be able to do more when your body is under fatigue or stress. So that also will be something that runs across all of the dog sports.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Important one to mention. Yeah. So obviously this is a little bit different than a dog training class, right? So how will the silver and gold spots kind of work for the class?

Liz Joyce: Well, gold spots and silver spots will have the opportunity to post videos. There was a thread going on in Fenzi about people feeling maybe a bit nervous about posting videos. So by the time this aired, I will have a video in the alumni group showing just a demonstration of the types of videos that I expect and want to see for form corrections. What I'm, what I would like to see in the video submissions are a couple of reps of different exercises, preferably when the person is fatigued or at areas of the exercise that they're having challenge with. And then I will from that point, either give them different directions in terms of how they can think about executing that or we will change what they're doing so that it better fits what they need. So that's what I will ask of both the gold and the silver students and anybody else watching this too? It is super easy and there's a huge variety of people that I work with too. So of the gold spots and there's gonna be 15 of 'em, there is gonna be a variety of people. So if you are considering signing up for a bronze, it is not gonna be hard for you to pair yourself and your movements with somebody who's in a gold spot that and then follow their progress through and check their exercise videos also.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Any final thoughts or key points you just wanna kind of leave listeners with here?

Liz Joyce: I think we've covered a lot of ground, but you know, for your dog sport, being stronger is gonna help you and being more mobile is gonna help you and you are also more than half of the team. And if you can, and if I can show you how to invest a little bit of time in yourself with huge improvements that are gonna pay off in your life long term, short term as well as your dog sport, it's really worth the investment. And if you're feeling nervous about it, I'm maybe the nicest person that you'll ever meet in fitness and you are gonna have a really great time.

Melissa Breau: What a good note to kind of leave things on. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Liz Joyce: Thanks for having me. Absolutely.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Nancy Little to talk about start line stays and agility, how to get them, how to keep them, and what to do if yours are broken. If you haven't already subscribed to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice of our next episode, automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast, music provided royalty free by bensound.com. The track featured here is called Buddy. Audio Editing provided by Chris Lang. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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