Women Should Run if They Like it: My Response

 

http://wildopenheart.com/2013/04/19/why-women-should-run-they-just-need-to-have-more-fun-doing-it/

 

http://www.dangerouslyhardcore.com/5343/why-women-should-not-run/

 

It started with a link I saw on my Facebook feed.  “Why Women Should Not Run.”  This title certainly necessitated my undivided attention!  How can anyone ignore such a bold title?  However, I read the article and moved on, giving it very little thought afterward, because like most of them, it said some stuff I agreed with as well as a bunch of stuff I didn’t agree with.  I read dozens of articles like it every day.  No big deal.  But then, the link popped up on my feed again and again.  Someone tagged me in it.  Someone else sent me a link via private message.  Several times, I started to comment but then decided against it.  After all, I don’t want to be “that person” who disagrees with everything.  So I kept my opinion to myself, resolving neither to approve nor disapprove of the opinions stated in the article.

But then, I started receiving concerned messages from clients, friends, and general acquaintances asking me for advice.  Can I not run? Should I stop?  How much is “too much?”  Someone heard five miles or less was ok, but someone else heard anything over two was bad.  People wanted to me to give them a number!  Oh dear.  After putting out several small fires, I began to realize that we now have a much larger fire on our hands.  It seems that, in an attempt to clear up some myths and point out some very destructive habits that we see often in women who are trying to lose weight, the message may not have been received as intended.  I believe the writer had a good intention, but with full respect for the author I believe it was miscommunicated slightly.

Surely, no one would mean tell women not to run.  Surely, no one would mean to suggest that no woman should ever run a marathon, under any condition?

And then the second article came out, I’m sure among many responses to the original.  So now my friends are more confused than ever.  One says women shouldn’t run, the other says they should.  Now what?  I feel the need to respond on my own blog, for my own clients and readers, because both of these articles contradict what many of my clients know to be my own belief regarding fitness.  And because there should always be a compromise.  One-size-fits-all fitness is not my style.  I’ll be the Iceland of fitness advice.

Here goes: The problem is not running.  The problem, if we should refer to it in the singular, is the combination of calorie restriction, running for the sake of burning calories, and the belief that the simple “calories in/calories out” equation will result in the lean bodies that so many are striving for.

For some, running is entirely counterintuitive to fitness goals, especially if the goals include a lean, muscular physique.  As the original article pointed out, excessive cardio is catabolic—meaning, essentially, you burn your own muscle for fuel.  And, as the article pointed out, it can lean to imbalances in cortisol and thyroid function.  Hello skinnyfat.

For others, running is a release.  I know many women who run for the love of running.  Guess what?  I’m one of them.  I love a good run.  That’s my mediation time, my release.  In fact (and I have no research to back this claim I am about to make…), I find that running really helps me loosen up through my shoulders, which are chronically tight from heavy lifting.  I’m no marathoner, nor do I care to necessarily become competitive with it, but I certainly love it.

However, I have many friends who are very healthy marathon runners—and I feel that the original article failed to discuss the ways in which running could be approached healthfully.   For instance, my runner friends eat to support their runs, cross train with some pretty heavy lifting to maintain their strength and muscle, and are not even concerned with weight loss.  I’m pretty sure they don’t even care if they are skinnyfat, just like many powerlifters don’t care about being perceived as “too big.”  As hard as we work to fight articles that claim lifting makes women “bulky,” how could we be so quick to embrace an article that claims the opposite?  One size and shape does not fit all.

To summarize, in case you do what I do and skip to the end of the blog to catch the bullet points:

  • If you like running, keep doing it.  If you don’t like running, don’t force yourself through it just to lose weight—there are more effective methods!
  • If you are going to run, your nutrition needs to support it
  • Don’t skip the crosstraining  days (included in most smart running programs)—it’s critical to your success in terms of physical health and in terms of running!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beginner’s Burnout: Why More is not More

I love the motivation I’m seeing in people this month!  I have observed, in more than one gym, a relatively large number of newcomers still on the fitness wagon.  Awesome!  But, I’ve also noticed a trend that is going to lead to injury, unwanted time off, frustration over goals not met, or maybe even all three at once.  Somewhere in the fitness motivation memes, photos, and rhetoric, a message of “more is more” has made its way to gym newcomers—and it’s hard to watch!

gymmeme

This is “the guy” we are referring to when we say, “don’t be that guy.”

Newly motivated people often say things like, “Man!  I came in this morning, and I’m here again, and then I’m gonna train AGAIN TONIGHT!  High five!”  Hmmm.  I’m not going to give a nod of approval to this—I’m going to ask you what the hell your plan is, and why you think this is a good idea!  At this rate, it won’t take long to burn out, have to take a week or two off, and have trouble getting started again.  Doing a lot in one week is good, but to still be doing it in two months is way better—so pace yourself!  Set a goal, have a plan that is conducive to reaching that goal, and don’t do more or less than what’s on the plan.

My workouts would look very odd to a newcomer.  If I’m in bodybuilding mode, my training is usually done in 45 minutes.  If I am in power lifting mode, I could look even sillier—at 5 minutes between sets (at LEAST—my training partners are pushing me to rest longer!), and often only 1-3 reps in a set, I probably look like I’m just sitting around all the time!   Depending on my goal, sometimes I train twice a day, with my second workout being an intense conditioning session that I can complete within 30 minutes!  But all of my workouts have something in common: when I’m done, I’m done.  With some intuitive exceptions, if my set calls for three reps, I do three reps even if I could have done five.  If my workout calls for five exercises, I do those five.  If my plan is to do 20 minutes of HIIT, then after 20 minutes I stop.  The type of training I’m doing depends on my goal, and the structure of my training follows accordingly.  If I stray from the plan today, I risk screwing over tomorrow’s plan.

Fitness beginners often believe that all training is for the same purpose, and that “go hard or go home” means 2 hours at the gym is better than a 1-hour quality workout.  This is evident in the way that most people describe their goals.  People usually list all or several of the following: lose weight, gain some muscle, tone up, get shredded, have abs, get bigger biceps.  Back up: do you want to lose weight, or get bigger biceps? Do you want to have abs, or put on more muscle? Appearing to have bigger muscles and actually having bigger muscles are not the same thing.  And, one month of “working out” isn’t going to be a cure-all approach to reaching every goal under the sun.

When I meet a new client, I have a responsibility to not just put them on a cookie-cutter workout plan.  I spend a lot of time up front on trying to define realistic goals, get us on the same page with terminology, and discuss exactly how we want to approach and prioritize the goals.  I map out a long-term plan, and break it up into short-term plans of execution and really make sure the client understands why we’re doing what we’re doing, and how each part will contribute to the goal.

But what if you don’t have a personal trainer?  Not everyone needs one, but you still deserve better than a cookie cutter plan.  You deserve more than to keep performing aimless workouts and wondering why you aren’t getting anywhere.  You should understand what the machines do—and don’t do.  You should understand that biceps curls aren’t going to directly contribute to fat loss, and that crunches won’t really change the appearance of your midsection.  And you should know that more work is not necessarily going to equal more progress.  Too many people go to the gym, perform every exercise they found in some magazine (7 variations of the biceps curl…good job…), go home totally spent, and then wake up and do the exact same thing the next day.  You can only do that so many times before you get bored, get hurt, over-train, or give up.  And everyone does, eventually.  I’ve done it myself.  I call it Beginner’s Burnout.

So what can you do to avoid Beginner’s Burnout?

  • Work smarter, not harder.  THINK, plan, execute.  Know what step 2 will be before you start step 1.  Don’t kill yourself on Monday and then remember than you have basketball practice on Tuesday.  Build your plan to accommodate both.
  • REST!  Unless you are a competitive athlete (and maybe even then…),  back-to-back workouts, or training 12 times in one week, , will not help you.  Especially if you’re not doing the next step…
  • Eat for recovery!!  You break your body down in the gym, you build it back up with nutrition.  It’s that simple.  If you have two workouts back-to-back, both workouts are going to suffer if you don’t fuel your body to recover and perform again.  If you break your body down repeatedly, but never recover and repair, then you just end up with a broken down body.   (Example: skinny arms and legs, belly fat, generally “untoned” all over…).
  • Utilize your resources!  Find a good online resource and do some research!  Or, solicit the help of a trainer.  A personal trainer doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment.  Most of us are happy to consult with you for one or two sessions.  Those of us who do this job because we want to help people will be happy to see you succeed with or without us!  Identify a trainer who specializes in what it is you want to do—and if you don’t know, we will point you in the right direction.

Good luck reaching your goals!  It’s already February, so if you’re one of the New Year’s crowd and you’ve made it this far, you’re in the clear!  If you stop seeing progress, don’t give up–get your eyes on the prize and start focusing your workouts!

 

 

Fail-Proofing your Fitness Resolutions: 5 Silent Killers

I do not enjoy New Year’s resolutions.  From where I’m sitting, they are awful and annoying.  They bring a temporary surge of optimistic gym-goers who crowd my space just long enough to annoy me–and just when I figure out how to work around them, they’ve disappeared.  I am not as cynical as I sound (well, that may not be entirely true…), but I have spent so much of my time trying to help these people that I am now very guarded about accepting New Year newcomers.  By the way, if you are one of them, understand that the gym regulars may take a while to warm up to you–prove their assumptions wrong and you’ll have new friends in no time.

I do not subscribe to the idea that January 1 comes with a magical reset button.  However, I do believe in setting goals and making transformations, and sometimes the new year gives us the opportunity to stop and really think about our lives.  So, for those of you who will be starting, re-starting, or reaching for new levels in your fitness journeys, let’s talk about what stands between you and year-long commitment.

First of all, let me be clear: You WILL mess this up.  Accept this, and you will be fine. The difference between keeping your resolution and giving up before Valentine’s Day is sticking to your plan even when you don’t feel like it and things begin to go wrong.  At some point, usually before you reach the one-month mark, you will make a mistake.  And it’s never for the reason you’d expect.  Here are some of the silent killers—be prepared for them.

  1. You will run out of something.  Often.  No matter how perfect your meal plan is, it is impossible to be stocked perfectly with everything all of the time.  This is where it becomes important to understand WHY you are eating WHAT you are eating.  If your diet plan calls for almonds, you need to know that a handful of pretzels is not a good substitute.  If your meal plan calls for chicken, almonds aren’t going to do it.  If you’re reading this and don’t know why these are bad subs, google the term “macronutrients” and get started.
  2. Somebody at the gym will be mean to you, and it may make you feel so bad that you dread going and/or eventually give up.  I don’t mean to scare you, but there will always be one person of the same sex who absolutely hates you.  You are not crazy—she definitely hates you.  It’s not your fault.  Kill that bitch with kindness.  Bitches hate kindness.
  3. All of your cute clothes are dirty.  At some point you will get behind on laundry, and your “cute” pants/top/bra/socks are dirty.  Buying more does not help.  Trust me.  I buy several pairs of the same pants, and still ONE becomes the “good pair” and the others get pushed to the back of the drawer and dragged out in priority order until laundry day.  And despite the fact that all of my gym clothes match each other, there are still some tops that I swear only go with certain pants, or sports bras that can only be worn with certain tops.  And then there are the priority underwear.  It’s true—you can predict what kind of day it is going to be based on how far back you had to dig into your underwear drawer.  Don’t let this affect your workout!  Do more laundry, buy more underwear, but face it: sometimes you just have to go to the gym in your ugly stuff.  Do it.
  4. You will try to get creative.  The “healthy food” at the health foods store will begin to call your name, and the next thing you know you are adding coconut oil and agave to everything you cook.  In fact, you will be inspired to bake more in general, with all of your newfound healthy ingredients.  But you will fail to notice that your “healthy fats” and gluten-free products are calorically dense and contain 200 calories per teaspoon.  Don’t try to be a hero–just stick to your plan for now.
  5. OPP.  Other people’s plans.  In order to be successful, you’ll have to find community with other people who are doing what you’re doing.  You’ll hear about high carb diets, high fat diets, cheat meals, refeeds, carb loads, and all kinds of other approaches to dieting.  In fact, right now you may be wondering what a carb load is, so let me help you: if you don’t know, it’s not on your plan.  So don’t look it up and start trying to justify it.  You will see these terms, read some crap about why they are great ideas, and soon you’ll be piecing together some Frankenstein version of a diet plan that will do nothing but make you fat.  Stick to your plan.

Ultimately, you have to be committed to your goals. You will make mistakes, and you will have bad days.  You will not always feel like working out, and pizza may be much more appetizing than chicken–the honeymoon phase will wear off, and you will have to find a way to keep going.  Along the way, little things–and big things–will stand in the way of your success, and you will have to overcome them.  But your progress is made and broken by what you do consistently–so if you can get past these hangups to set a new habit by February 1, you will be half way to keeping your resolution.  Good luck!

REST is WORK! Recognize and Prevent Over-training

In the pursuit of health and fitness, most people tend to focus their energies on food and training.  However, there is a third component that is often overlooked and absolutely critical: RECOVERY.

What we do in the gym is important, so don’t get me wrong, but what we do AFTER the gym is critical to reaching our goals.  It’s where the magic happens. Think, for a moment, about the process by which we grow our muscles: during weight training, we essentially break them down by creating damage to the muscle fibers. The process of repairing these damaged muscle fibers is what causes muscles to grow, as new cells are created to repair the site of the injury.  The result is literally bigger and stronger muscles.  Mind you, there are many factors, including genetics, that determine exactly what your bigger and stronger muscles will look like, but the process is the same for everyone.  So stay with me for a minute—I’m not going to turn you into Arnold.

Continuing to train on muscles that are never allowed to recover is the fast track to overtraining; this not only halts any progress you are trying to make, but also leads to injury.  Think about it: if you damage your muscle but don’t allow it to heal properly, and then train on it again, you just damage it further.  And if you continue to push, your body will be miserable, you’ll be depressed, your progress will halt, and you’ll be wondering where on earth you went wrong.  I am usually on the other end of this phone call or email at least once or twice a week.

Most people have experienced or will eventually encounter overtraining, whether they know it or not.  So it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of overtraining.   A quick Google search for “overtraining” will turn up an exhaustive list of all of the possible symptoms, but sometimes they are pretty far-reaching and may leave you wondering how to tell the difference between the flu and overtraining.  So here are some descriptions of the ones I see the most.  If you recognize yourself, as I suspect many of you will, be patient with me.  And if you’re a skimmer, make sure you catch the last few paragraphs—I’ll tell you how you can avoid or respond to the following:

1.  Lack of motivation.
I see this one most frequently, and for me it’s the first sign.  Last week you couldn’t WAIT to get to the gym, but suddenly you realize that for the past few days you haven’t really been feeling it, your workouts seem aimless, and you can’t get motivated.

2. Changes in your normal sleep pattern.
Insomnia is usually my second sign.  After a good workout, you should be tired at night!  Suddenly you’re up all night for no reason, or just aren’t sleeping very soundly.  You may also experience more difficulty getting out of bed than normal.

3. Low immune system.
You know that feeling you get when you’re just about to get sick?  Learn to recognize it if you can’t already.  When you feel this way, you usually have an opportunity to prevent the impending illness.  When I encounter days like this, I know it can go either way: if I’m smart, I won’t train in this condition.  Admittedly, I’m not always as smart as I should be. Do as I say, not as I do…I’ve learned this one the hard way!

4.  General pain, discomfort, or not-quite-right-ness.
For me, this one shows up as a discomfort that edges on pain that I can’t quite put my finger on.  I’ll usually say that “my central nervous system hurts,” as a joke that really isn’t funny because it’s kind of true.  This one can also show up as muscle or joint pain that persists longer than normal or for no apparent reason.

5.  Moodiness/irritability/low patience.
Usually due to one or more of the above.  You know it when you have it.

6.  Sudden decline in performance.
Weight that should be easy isn’t.  Endurance is way off.  You probably had trouble getting started (see #1), but once you did it didn’t get any better.  Maybe you float around the gym unable to actually commit to your workout.

Great news: overtraining can be prevented!  There are a few things you need to know.  First and foremost, recognize that REST IS WORK.  My clients should all recognize this statement!  Do not allow yourself to feel guilty for taking time off.  You need that time off for several reasons.  It not only gives your body a chance to repair and recover from the work you’ve done, but it also gives you a necessary mental break.  Too much of anything can lead to burnout, and this is true for the mental side of training–if you do something over and over, you’ll eventually get tired of it.  The people who train the most consistently also usually rest consistently.  Be the tortoise, not the hair.  If you don’t plan for a rest, then you’ll be miserable when your body forces you to rest—and it will, eventually.

Realize the importance of nutrition.  There is a reason why bodybuilders focus on protein—it’s what repairs the damages we inflict on our muscles! Translation: it’s what allows muscles to grow.  <—–you want this.  Trust me.  Now, I could write a whole new post on exactly how to optimize your body’s ability to use this protein, but for now I’ll just leave you with the knowledge that it can indeed be sped up or slowed down based on the form you choose and what you choose to eat with it.  If you want specifics, contact me or look it up.  No, contact me—there is a lot of junk out there written by supplement companies who are just trying to sell you something.

If you are on a heavy lifting program, don’t forget to designate an occasional de-load week.  I know it’s no fun to lift less than 65% of your max effort, or to sit around stretching while all of your friends are lifting; it’s tough on the ego.  But it’s necessary. “Go hard or go home” is a great motto, but sometimes it’s counterproductive.  No one should be lifting at or near full capacity every day of every week.  A day off won’t cut it.  You need several days of active recovery—keep your body moving, but lay off the heavy stuff.  There are many ways to do this, and it really depends on how you train—again, if you have specific questions please feel free to run them by me so we can create a plan that works for you.

Go to bed at a decent hour!  A large part of recovery takes place while you are asleep.  The fastest way to overtrain and piss off your adrenals is to not get enough sleep.  If you keep going and going, you will overtrain very quickly and end up in a vicious cycle that ends with fatigue and overcaffeination—eventually, your adrenals will hate you.  If you push yourself into adrenal fatigue, you will have a very difficult time reaching your fitness goals—many people experience this wall and eventually give up, and its ‘ll because they didn’t get enough sleep.  Very sad–don’t let this happen to you.

Add variety to your training.  A lot of the smarter programs I have encountered have variety built in, but even still it’s important to switch it up.  This functions in the same way as the de-load week, but gives your body a longer break from one kind of stressor while allowing you to focus on new goals.  I prefer to stick to a program for 4-6 weeks at a time.  If it is a program that I really enjoy, I might only interrupt it for a week or two, but it’s really important to me to focus on short term goals.  How many people go to the gym and lift the same way every week for years at a time?  Do you really think they get stronger every week? Probably not.  Curling 25lb dumbbells every week for a year, with no variation in training, is not likely to result in a substantial increase in the amount of weight someone can curl.  I often get emails from people who have become extremely frustrated and want to know why they are not getting stronger. The first thing I ask is how long they’ve been doing the same thing.  Invariably, I find that the person has not changed his or her training in months or even years. In order to break past a plateau, try something different.  Walk away, try something new, and come back to it.

At some point during your training, you are likely to encounter symptoms of overtraining.  But there are degrees of severity—learn to recognize the signs quickly so that you can manage a small problem before it becomes a much larger problem with a much longer-lasting interruption to your training.

And now, the clean cookie recipe I promised:

  • 3 cups oats
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • splenda/stevia (optional—I didn’t use any)
  • 1 overripe banana
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1 grated zucchini and/or carrot (I used both)
  • ½ cup crushed walnuts
  • 2tbsp peanut butter (ok, maybe 3…it was a big glob)
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips (optional for the kid version—I made it both ways)

Bake on 350 for 12 minutes.  This yielded six very large cookies.  I am not currently counting calories or macros, so if you are you may want to be mindful of the amount of nuts and peanut butter you use–they add up quickly.

…And the Only Prescription is More Barbell

In a previous post, I suggested that barbell training is absolutely foundational to a good lifting program.  Many people have told me that they are trying to “work up to” barbell training, or that they want to “start out with” other exercises.  Now, don’t get me wrong—there are important uses for dumbbell training, cable exercises, and even stability ball exercises.  But knowing how to use them correctly is absolutely critical to avoid injury and achieve results—and barbell training is the absolute best way to learn the proper form that is necessary in order to correctly perform all other exercises.  Additionally, many beginners who start with barbells and cables are not training  effectively for any significant muscle gain–so basically they are doing cardio.  This post will explain why weight training–specifically compound exercises with barbells–is an effective way to reach fitness goals.

As I pointed out in my last post, many resistance exercises require a basic posture: shoulders back, chest out, hips slightly back (<—otherwise known as a nice arch in the lower back), and feet shoulder width apart.  You also need to know how to properly recruit your lats and delts, how to recognize and avoid overcompensating with your traps, and have at least enough core strength to stabilize yourself against resistance.  Barbell training accomplishes all of these things more efficiently than any other kind of training.

A solid lifting program should include some variation of the following compound exercises: squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and standing barbell rows.   Compound exercises involve multiple muscle groups and more than one joint, allowing for more muscle breakdown and subsequent repair (translation: growth!).  While using dumbbells for these exercises has benefits and there is a place in every program for them, I strongly recommend that beginners first learn these exercises with barbells.  For starters, they streamline coordination—they require that your feet remain flat on the floor, and your hands are both doing the same thing at the same time! They also simplify the exercises by keeping everything symmetrical and eliminating extra movements: you move it one way, and then you bring it back.

In my best Arnold voice: “I lift things up, and I put them down.” 

Barbell training is also a means to just about every end—no matter your goal, barbell training can get you there.  For instance, if your goal is to get “toned,” lose weight, and feel more confident, then let me translate that for you: you want to get stronger, lose bodyfat, and tighten up all over by building a little more muscle.  You want to walk in a gym and feel like you belong, and you don’t want to feel weak and awkward.  Maybe you want to change a specific area of your body.

I recently posted the following quote as my Facebook status:
“Squatting—the difference between having a butt and owning an ass!”

One of the very first comments I received was something like, “ok, now tell me how to tighten my tummy and thighs!”  Great news: in a roundabout way, squatting can make those things happen too.  Remember: you can’t spot-treat a specific area of your body, so to “tone the belly” and see changes in the thighs, it is necessary to lose body fat and train the muscles.  So let’s talk about how barbell training is an effective way to achieve just about any fitness goal.

Let’s start with fat loss.  This is not the post where I talk about the importance of diet, nor the post where I weigh the benefits and drawbacks of HIIT vs fasted cardio.  This is more basic than that: to lose fat, you have to burn more calories than you store.  While diet is a key player, guess what your diet will be based on?  Your basal metabolic rate. That is, how many calories your body burns while you sit at your computer and write a blog post.  And your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is influenced by the amount of lean mass you have.  My BMR was much lower five years ago than it is right now, because I have spent these years increasing my lean mass (muscle).

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “muscle burns fat”?  Well, it’s not quite as simple as that but it gets the point across.  Your body requires more energy (read: kcals) to maintain lean mass (muscles) than fat.  So a body that weight 150lbs at 18% bodyfat will naturally burn more calories while doing absolutely nothing than a body at 150lbs and 30% bodyfat.  A lot more.

When I create a nutrition plan, I first estimate to the best of my ability the BMR so that I can then create a deficit—that is, how many fewer calories need to be consumed than burned.  If your BMR is 2000, then to lose one pound each week on diet alone, your diet would consist of 1500 calories a day.  1500 calories is not a lot of calories, especially for someone who wants to lead a normal life that doesn’t focus on fat loss 24 hours a day.  My calories don’t drop that low until I’m half way through my contest prep diet (and at that point my life IS focused on fat loss 24 hours a day).  So when I work with someone whose BMR is in the 2000 calorie range, I don’t like to suggest creating the deficit from food alone.  You can decrease your calories, increase your activity, and…wait for it…increase your BMR by increasing your lean mass!

Have I convinced you to grow your muscles yet?  Now you’re in my world, speaking my language, and you didn’t even know it!  You might have thought you just wanted to lose a little belly fat and now here we are talking about how we’re going to put muscle on you.  Ha.  Now, let’s go down that road.  Curls and front raises with ten pound dumbbells are not going to get you there.  How often do you see someone with HUGE arms, but no back muscles and tiny legs?  If you have, you were looking at a bad combination of chemical enhancement and crappy training—and those guys get laughed at DAILY.  The truth is, the people with the most muscle have that much muscle because they know how to get it: they are squatting, pressing, rowing, and deadlifting. These four exercises work just about everything.

Wait wait wait!  Don’t get scared and run away—I’m not suggesting that you need THAT much muscle, nor am I suggesting that it’s possible to get that big by training alone.  I’m just pointing out that the people with big muscles are clearly on to something and we can learn from them.  Long story short:  You need more barbell in your life if you want to gain muscle.  You need more muscle in your life if you want any significant change in your body composition.  So now what’s holding you back?

Stop Throwing Like a Girl!

 

“You play ball…like a GIRL!”

Does anyone remember that quote from The Sandlot?  That moment really hurt my feelings when I was ten years old.  It’s not just what he said–it was the reaction it elicited.  The horror on the faces of those boys made me realize what a shameful thing it is to be compared to a girl.  Maybe that’s when my Women’s Studies career was born.  The worst insult someone could possibly come up with was to compare them to…me?  So please recognize that I am not quick to use that phrase—and yet, if you’ve ever trained with me you may recall that I’ve told you, “hey you’re throwing like a girl again—focus on your big muscles.”  What do I mean by this?

I borrow this phrase not from the insult but from an essay by Iris Marion Young (1977) in which she breaks down what it really means to throw like a girl and why women often have trouble with things like opening jars.  Young points out that because we are taught to sit with our legs together, keep our arms close to our bodies (how many women drive with their arm extended over the passenger seats?), and not take full advantage of our lateral space, we confine ourselves to using only our small muscles.  Men, on the other hand, have not been taught to limit their movements in this way and therefore take up as much space as they please; the result is that they learn to use their larger muscles.  Essentially, men “put their backs into it,” while women tend to use only our wrists when opening jars or throwing a ball.

I have built on this idea in my own occupation to explain why women struggle with squatting, pull-ups, rows, and other compound movements.  I have observed over and over that male clients jump up on a pull-up bar and naturally recognize it as a back exercise and do pull-ups easily, while women try to curl themselves up and fail.  This same observation applies to rows, pulldowns, etc.  I see so many personal trainers whose clients aren’t anywhere near proper form, and I suspect that it’s not because the trainers suck and failed to teach the proper form.  I think it’s that they tried and eventually gave up because they never understood what was holding the client back in the first place.

Women who are uncomfortable in a gym but decide to give weight training a try naturally gravitate toward dumbbells.  And my gosh do they do some ridiculous stuff with those dumbbells.  I am not judging, so don’t take offense!  But I am observing which exercises seem to feel comfortable for women and which don’t, and sometimes it just blows my mind!  How is balancing on a bosu ball and doing half squats while curling more comfortable than an actual squat?!

Is it a coincidence that dumbbells are easy to keep close to the body, or that “comfortable” arm exercises simulate womens’ habitual use of small muscles, instead of  taking full advantage of the larger, stronger back and leg muscles as the compound exercises would?  I think not.

By sticking with dumbbells and shying away from barbell training, you are holding yourself back on many levels.  Not only will you most likely not come anywhere close to your fitness goals, but you will also never fully develop the confidence that you deserve.  You will never know how strong you are, how capable you are, or what kind of person you’d have been if you hadn’t been forced to keep your knees together in a skirt.  Forgive me, but that is some profound @#$%.

If you look at my client training programs, you’ll probably notice a trend: there is almost always some variation of the squat, bench press, military press, and deadlift.  My plans almost always involve barbells.  Why is this?  Well, I’m trying to brainwash all women into getting bigger, stronger, and more masculine so that I can start a converse-wearing, feminist army and take over the world.  Duh! Or, maybe it’s because I believe very strongly in the MANY benefits of training with compound exercises, and I feel that barbell training should form the foundation of anyone’s understanding of weight training.  Too many people think the barbell is step 2 and for more advanced lifters, but I believe the opposite is true.

Simply put: before we talk about squatting on a bosu ball and adding in a dumbbell curl, we should break that down and learn proper form.  And the best way to do that, in my opinion, is with a bar on your back.  It naturally draws the shoulders back, brings the chest out, and allows you to form the beautiful arch you’ll need for almost every exercise thereafter.

If you know darn good and well you should be training with bigger weights, or that you should be incorporating barbells and compound exercises (squats, bench, deadlift, rows) into your training, but you’re shy, intimidated, or just plain lost, HIRE A PERSONAL TRAINER.  And look, that’s expensive–I understand and it’s the bane of my existence.  Ideally, you’d hire someone for at least the duration of a program (anywhere from 4-8 weeks), but if you can’t afford it then do what you can!  A couple of sessions to teach you how to do the exercises may be all you need.  I’m not recommending that you make a long-term commitment to paying an arm and a leg for someone to stand next to you with a clip board.  The truth is, even as a trainer I see way too many people sticking on with a personal trainer for way too long.   On the other hand, there are plenty of people in the gym who clearly should have let someone help them but never did, and now they have big egos and crappy workouts.  Let us help you get on your feet, get past a hurdle, or achieve a goal, but then go on about your business of kicking ass on your own!

Stop throwing like a girl.  Use your big muscles.  You CAN do pullups, I swear.  The barbells aren’t going to crush you, and you won’t “bulk up” unless you want to.   Trust me, there are plenty of men who ask me for advice on how to do this—for women, it’s much more difficult and can’t be done accidentally. Whether you think I’m “too big” or “just right,” remember that it has taken me five years, tons of HEAVY training, and a lot of eating just to get what I have now—and I’m still growing.  If you need help, hire a trainer even if only for a few sessions.  I can recommend some great ones who live all over the country, so don’t hestitate to ask!

In the next post, I’ll discuss the benefits of compound exercises, how they actually help with fat loss, and why women really really need them.

Round Pegs, Square Holes, and Finding Your Space in the Gym

“I just feel…like I don’t belong at the gym.”

Let’s think about this for a minute—first of all, how many of us are guilty of this?!  For many, this is a total setback from reaching goals and making progress!  And then, let’s talk for a minute about what the hell it even means to look like we belong in a gym?  Why are we still so inclined to believe that fit people belong in gyms and unfit people don’t?  How backward is that?  But how about the general assumption that fit has a look, and that it’s usually slender?  Why are people so inclined to notice  a thin woman, who may or may not work out at all, and assume she’s fit, while overlooking the fact that plenty of bigger girls are way more fit?  Hell, when I’m not dieted down I am not sure how fit I appear, but I have rarely met a thin woman who can outlift me.  I actually want to write “I have never…” but to avoid argument I’ll say rarely.

So it’s time for another post about what fit looks like, what it means to be fit, how our minds have been so unfortunately adulterated by the media, and how we can rethink our bodies.

Nobody—not even the most fit person you’ve ever met in your LIFE—goes to the gym BECAUSE she’s fit.  People go to the gym to GET fit.  To get MORE fit.  To improve, to reach goals, to affect some new change.  Some people think they go to STAY fit, but to be honest, it usually doesn’t go well for people without goals.  So half the people I know who go to stay fit are really just there because they feel like they should be, and they’re just taking up space that would be way more useful to someone trying to GET fit or get MORE fit.

When I was new to lifting and trying to explore the possibilities for my body, I met a coach who had been around bodybuilding and powerlifting for two decades.  This old man was seriously what we’d call old school, but after years of observing athletes of all sorts, the guy knew a thing or two about them.  He approached me while I was deadlifting at the University of Maine gym, and we became friends.  The next day, he caught me running on a treadmill and asked me what the hell I was doing.  Shocked and frankly a little scared, I told him I was trying to get lean.  He told me that runners run, and lifters lift, and stopped my treadmill for me.  Bastard.  I was not yet a “lifter,” I was just a girl in a gym trying to figure it out!  But he gave me some great advice—he told me that runners are not thin because they run, they run because they are thin and their bodies are made for it.  He explained to me about body types and genetic inclinations, and pointed out athletes in a variety of sports that had certain characteristics.   He told me that I could fight my genetics or work with them, but my life would be a lot better and I’d love my body much more if I figured out what my body was meant for.

His advice not only stuck with me, but has been proven over and over for the past several years.  I do not train abs.  Ever.  And yet at high body fat I still have them.  What use would this genetic freakery be to a runner?  I have short, huge legs that build easily—I still have yet to realize my full potential in powerlifting, but I can promise I’ll be a much more successful power lifter than hurdler.  Now, I run because I like it, but I have no hopes of hitting crazy marathon times.

There are days, oh god are there, that I feel too big.  I feel bulky, unfeminine, out of place, and sometimes just plain awkward.  I have a hard time shopping or getting dressed, and my entire “look” is always affected by my build.  Certain hair cuts, clothing, and too much jewelry just look weird with my build!  I love fashion, but I understand what works on my body, and it rarely involves patterns, ruffles, a-line tops, skinny jeans, or capped sleeves.  But I can’t change this.  At my leanest, I still look hard and vascular and kind of masculine.  When I get softer (read: more body fat) I don’t actually get more feminine, I just get bigger all over!  Damned if I’m lean, damned if I’m fat.  I can change my body fat, I can change the size of my muscles (a little), but I can’t change my body type or general shape.

I recently competed in Women’s Physique instead of Women’s Bodybuilding.  I did this for several reasons, but mostly because I’m a little small for a bodybuilder.  But I love exactly how my body comes in when I’m lean.  It’s unique, and I think one could identify my physique in a lineup because it’s very different than a lot of others.  I have big round muscle bellies so my biceps and triceps are beautiful!  I love my huge legs, my big traps, and my abs.  I love the parts that are “too soft,” and I love the lines of my frame.  I also have a very feminine face and a striking complexion, and I love how that pairs with my physique.  But those things I love don’t win shows!  So I decided to try Women’s Physique, knowing the judging hasn’t been streamlined and it would be hit or miss.  I made an effort to show up a little softer than I would for bodybuilding, but it wasn’t enough–I have been analyzing photos of my most recent show as well as photos from dozens of others, and I realize that there is an unmistakable look that is being favored by Physique judges–they are looking for longer lines and a more slender frame.

I’m in the post-show regrouping phase, where I decide what I want to do next and how I’m going to do it.  I had to decide if I like my physique as is, what improvements I’m willing to make, and what changes would win shows but aren’t improvements in my opinion.  I can try to get smaller–no more squatting or super heavy lifting–to try to fit into Physique a little better, or I can get bigger and keep at it in bodybuilding.  That decision is harder than I’m making it sound–it comes with tears and frustrations, and it involves my self esteem.  But, returning to the advice of the old school coach from Umaine, I chose to deal with this by focusing on what my body is made to do–my “thing.”

I truly believe we all have a “thing,” and I can’t explain the feeling of total joy and relief I experienced when I realized what mine was.  Even now, when I feel bulky, strange, unfeminine, and out of place, I return to the thing that makes me feel amazing—strength sports.  A side effect of this for me is the ability to build muscle relatively easily, but even in physique sports I’m caught between categories.  I always come back from a bodybuilding show revved up and ready to get back to heavy lifting—and I realize that this is because the subjective nature of bodybuilding always causes me to feel like I’ve fallen short and don’t belong, so I turn back to where I feel good.

So while I’m sorting out how I feel about competing, how I feel about my body, and what I’m going to do next, I’m flipping 400+ pound tires, looking forward to hitting awesome PRs, and pressing more weight than I have in years.  I am also forced to eat appropriately for recovery from these workouts–so I will probably get bigger.  And there we have it, folks–and answer: watch out Bodybuilding, I’m coming back for you!  Who the hell wants to do all that work to gain muscle, just to turn around and lose it again to fit into a category?  Not this girl!  And I love everything that comes with building my muscles up and leaning back out to see what I have.  So I will be back.

Where do you feel good?  What’s your “thing”?  It’s time to figure out what your body is meant for.  I believe you’ll know it when you find it.  And it doesn’t have to be some extreme sport or anything competitive–it could be a cardio class that you rock at.  It could be cycling, or maybe you’re a badass rower!  Have you ever played a sport or done something that just…clicked?  Are you aware that you’re incredibly strong but too afraid to push?  Are you really good at box jumps?  Do you ever wonder if you’d be a good runner?  Maybe you’re athletic all-around and need to be pushed in a cross-training environment?  And now, the shameless plug: If you live within a reasonable driving distance of Marietta, GA, ask me how I can help you find your “thing!”

Too often we think of our bodies in terms of how they look, and we base all of our effort in the gym on an aesthetic goal.  This leads to a lot of round peg/square hole issues.  A lot of people tell me that they don’t want to be thin, they just want to feel good.  I get that.  But until you put your body to use in a way that feels good, you will continue to judge how you feel by how you look.

In my experience, changing how you look is not always enough to change how you feel.  In fact, I find that they go hand in hand but require separate components of a long process.  If you want to transform how you LOOK, it’s time to talk about what you’re eating.  But if you truly want to change how you FEEL, it’s time to talk about what you’re DOING.  And it’s totally possible to do both at the same time!

I mentioned “eating for recovery,” and if you’re lifting heavy and not sure what I mean by this, don’t be afraid to ask!  For now, here’s one of my new favorite post-workout meals.

Pina Colada Pudding:

1 cup fat free Greek Yogurt
2 tbsp coconut flakes (unsweetened if you can find them!)
banana, sliced
1/4 c kashi cereal flakes (I love the crunch…but you can do without or sub for basically any cereal!)

Mix and enjoy!  🙂

It Takes a Village to Raise Your Fitness

  • I used to be fit, but then I had children and kid food isn’t the healthiest….
  • I would eat more healthy foods, but my husband doesn’t like vegetables…
  • I like healthy foods, but my kids/husband/partner won’t eat anything but pizza…
  • I get busy trying to get the kids off to school, and McDonald’s is on the way to work…
  • It’s just so hard with all the junk food in the house…
  • My kids take up all my time—I never have time to eat/go to the gym/etc
  • I can’t seem to make time for the gym because my family needs me…

These are all very common statements—I hear them each at least once a week.  Almost everyone seems to remember a time when weight wasn’t an issue and it was easier to maintain a healthier lifestyle.  For many, getting married, having children, or moving in with a partner can be major disruptions in a fitness regimen.  Face it—when you live alone, you live without the responsibility of what other people eat and you aren’t on someone else’s schedule.  But even living alone is not without challenges—there is no accountability.  With no real reason to get out of bed on a Saturday morning, one can sleep until 11:00 a.m.  and the next thing you know it’s dinner time and you’ve done nothing!

I couldn’t do anything without their support! So we do it all together. 🙂

So what’s my point?  Being healthy is not about isolation.  It can’t be.  In fact, if you can only achieve it in isolation then are you really healthy? We need partners for accountability—someone to encourage us and push us to keep our commitments during those moments of weakness.  We need people to motivate us.  Married with children is the BEST time to establish a healthy and fit lifestyle, because when we do so we set an example for our children that they will have for the rest of their lives.  Healthy eating does not have to mean cabbage soup and tofu or a really expensive grocery bill.  It can mean flat bread pizza—with extra cheese for your husband or children.  It can mean modifying all of your favorite recipes to include vegetables where you didn’t know they could go!  It means setting good habits, understanding how to balance your meals, and making good choices.  It’s not as out of reach as many people think it is.  I promise! 

 

When I take on a new client, I expect progress.  In fact, I refuse to stand there and watch someone do dumbell curls when I know that as soon as she leaves, she’s going to be a mess.  I ask a lot of questions—allergies, injuries, family history of illness, food aversions, craving times, etc.  But I also ask questions about social life and home structure—because I know that in order to see results, the magic plan I come up with has to support and be supported by people at home.  It’s your job to make fitness a priority in your life, but I consider it part of my job to  come up with a plan that is compatible with the parts of your life that are important to you.

People want to be “healthier” but have no idea where to start.  Start with a PLAN.  A

A busy work day doesn’t have to prevent you from eating and sticking to your plan! Bring it with you.

routine that is manageable and realistic—I don’t care if you eat tuna fish and oats six times a day (don’t take that literally…I do care), but for goodness sake, have a plan and follow it!  For several of my clients who have children, I have found that meals 1-4 on a plan are easy enough, but things fall apart at dinner.  For clients who are single, they fall apart over food preparation–they don’t want to cook for one person so they gravitate to fast food and the freezer aisle.  So once you identify your weaknesses, why not plan for these disasters ahead of time? Keep reading.  It’s about to get dense, so stick with me to the end of this, and leave me a comment if you need clarification.

If you took my advice in the last post, you looked up your maintenance calories.   If you didn’t, look them up here  (keep in mind this calculator puts you in the ballpark, but experience helps you hone it–my maintenance calories are a little lower than the calculator comes up with).

Let’s say, to choose a round number to work with, your maintenance calories (the number of calories your body needs in order to maintain its current weight) are 2,200.  We decide that to lose one pound a week (=3,600cal/week), you have to have a deficit of 500 calories a day (for some people, that’s one latte and two sodas!).  So you need to eat 1,700 calories a day if you want to lose one pound per week.  Let’s say we decide you should eat six times a day.  You have, roughly, 285 calories per meal (1,700/6=.  Now, some meals will be higher than that, and others will be slightly lower than that.  We are looking for an average.  Meal 1, for instance, should consist (arguably) of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.  This means that in order to balance that meal properly, you’ll need at least 300 calories to work with.  A post-workout meal, on the other hand, which could be a banana and why protein shake, is more likely to be around 200 calories.  Meal six might be cottage cheese, which is about 150 calories.

So let’s say you’ve averaged it out so that once all the other meals are accounted for, you have about 350 calories to work with at meal 5 (“dinner”).  That’s a lot of stinkin calories to work with if you’re trying to achieve a relatively clean meal that tastes good!  That’s three hard taco shells, 1/2 cup pintos, and ¾ cup of lean ground turkey.  Live without some cheese or use a tiny bit (grated carrot is a good sub).  Your family can enjoy tacos their way, while you manipulate the recipe to fit you own needs.  You can do this with so many other things!  Make oven-baked chicken nuggets (coated in raisin bran or corn flakes), or flatbread pizza (using THESE), or baked sweet potato “fries.”  It’s possible to cook a dinner your family loves while maintaining a meal plan that will help you to reach your goals.

So create a plan.  Decide what you’re going to eat every day for breakfast and lunch.  Plan two meals in between.  Stick to it.  Make sure you have what you need—if you’re going to eat oatmeal, for instance, make sure you have oats on hand!  Prepare those meals ahead of time and have them ready so that you can take them with you or pull them out of the fridge when it’s time.  I highly recommend having two “lunches”.  I swear by it.  Let’s say you go with chicken, rice, and veggies.  That’s 300 calories on the dot if you follow appropriate serving sizes.  The alternative might be a protein shake and some nuts, or greek yogurt and some granola—both of these are easily skipped.

This reminds me: People tend to think of snacks as little mini meals, but in fact they should be thought of as meals or you will have the tendency to skip them because you overlook their significance.   The meal you eat after meal 3 (lunch) is not a snack—in my world, that’s called meal 4.  Treat it like one, and eat it like one.  If you skip a meal on your plan, you will be hungry when you don’t want to be and you will make mistakes. Don’t be that guy.  Half of what prevents binge eating and emotional eating is…well, eating.  If you eat what you’re supposed to when you’re supposed to, you’re much less likely to binge.

Once you have 5 meals planned, leave dinner open.  Shoot for balance, make good choices, and eat within your calculated calorie range.  This way, your family or friends don’t feel totally shafted just because you’re getting healthier—and if you do this right, you can introduce health in a way that they can appreciate rather than fear.

Dinner ideas on 350 calories or less:

Note: these ideas are for people hoping to sustain a healthier lifestyle.  The idea here is to show you how you can set and maintain a plan that is reasonable and achievable in the long-term.  If you’re looking for a short-term, ASAP weight loss plan, then these meals may not be for you.

Flatbread BBQ chicken pizza:
1 flatout (90 cals)
1 tbsp bbq (30 cals)
1 oz cheese (85 cals)
veggie toppings
4 oz chicken (120 cals)

Tacos:
3 crunchy shells (140)
4 oz lean ground turkey (120)
shredded carrot
lettuce, tomato, etc
1/3 avocado (90)

Oven “fried” chicken tenders and sweet potato fries:
chicken, cut into strips (4 oz, 120 cals)
3 cups corn flakes, flax flakes, or bran flakes (you have to eat a full cup to get 120 calories…you might get a quarter of a cup per serving of chicken here)
spices–I like Mrs. Dash
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 medium sweet potato, julienned (6 oz, 150)

Whisk egg and milk together; set aside.  In a plastic bag, mash up the flakes and add seasoning.  Dip chicken pieces into egg mixture to coat, then place them into the bag a few at a time and give it a good shake to coat the pieces.  Bake on 425 for about 15 minutes–adjust time depending on the size of your pieces, as larger pieces may take longer to coat.

Coat sweet potato lightly in Pam cooking spray.  Lay flat on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 for about 20 minutes.

Is Your Gym a Community, or a Destination?

FIT IS NOT A DESTINATION.

IT IS A WAY OF LIFE. 

Maybe you’ve seen this quote on a T-shirt, in a Facebook status, or plastered across a photo of some girl doing dumbell presses in her underwear.   In any case, it’s true (but not because the chick working out in her underwear proves it). But I’d like to offer a new one:

A GYM IS NOT A DESTINATION.

IT IS A COMMUNITY.

Fitness is not something we do, it’s the way we live our life.  My fitness is not over when I leave the gym.  I don’t take a break from my life to stop in and do a few curls—rather, I pursue a life that supports my workouts.  It all works together.  I always tell new clients that if they can go to bed at the same reasonable time every night and wake up at the same reasonable time every morning, they are half way to fit.  I can write you an awesome nutrition plan and stand next to you while you do lunges, but if you can’t organize your life well enough to eat regularly or work out dilligently, then you won’t get very far.  While not everyone needs to be as rigorously disciplined as a competitive athlete, if you desire to be fit then it is necessary to integrate fitness into your lifestyle.

Your fitness also depends on the people you surround yourself with.  Do your friends respect your lifestyle?  If the answer is NO, then you need new friends.  (Don’t worry, if you pursue fitness long enough your unfit friends will give up on you after you turn down repeated invitations to drink or eat pizza).  In order to accomplish any lifestyle goal, you must join a  community of like-minded people.  And where else would you expect to find this community but at a gym?

Unfortunately, not all gyms are equal.  I have been fortunate enough to have been a part of gyms that are like family, but I have also seen plenty that weren’t.  Oh, they all try, but at best often end up forming cliques that make many members noticeably excluded.  How many of those excluded members stick around long enough to see their fitness goals happen?  When people don’t feel welcome at a gym, they give up.  Don’t let this happen to you!  If you go to a gym and feel excluded, out of place, or lonely beyond the first couple of weeks, then you are at the wrong gym!

Father, son, and the instructor who teaches them both. How cool is that?

I am very lucky.  At my current gym, everyone is welcome.  And I don’t mean that in the bull$** utopian way, or because I’m a bodybuilder and I just naturally fit in at a gym.  At my gym, our kids can train at the same time as their parents.  We invite each other to birthday parties, outings, dinners, and events.  We friend each other on facebook and support each other.  Husbands and wives with very different goals can train at the same time.  A hard-core professional fighter can take the same class as an accountant in his mid-40s trying to get fit for the first time.  Stay at home moms become instant badasses, and people in all stages of fitness lift right alongside bodybuilders.   Some people even lift with their kids.  And everyone talks to everyone.  I dare you to visit my gym and escape without someone introducing herself.

 

I recently had the pleasure of visiting a gym in Maine that I haven’t been to in about three years, and when I got there it was like nothing had changed; the owners were still motivated, excited, and full of projects for themselves and their clients.  After all of these years, nothing was stagnant.  They were my first experience with what a gym community felt like.  The owners, Sean and Wendy, engage their members on Facebook regularly.  If you join their gym, you are instantly a part of a community and you know it!  They will know your name, what you do, who you live with, and what your goals are within your first week.  You will not hide or fade into the wallpaper, but no matter how shy you are you will not want to.  Sean and Wendy are always up to something (muahahaha), and you become a part of it just because you’re there.  Likewise, they become a part of your goals whether they are training you or not, and eventually you’ll start to realize that the encouraging voices in your head sound suscpiciously like Sean and Wendy…

The only downsides to gyms like the ones I’ve described are actually the benefits you need in order to maintain a fit lifestyle.  For instance, it will never fail that you’ll run into Wendy at the grocery store on the one day you decide to give in and buy a bunch of junk food (happens more than you can even guess).  Or, where I am currently, if you haven’t been to the gym in a while, someone will call you on it right on your Facebook wall for everyone to see.  But guess what?  Any one of us will publicly congratulate you for something you’ve accomplished, such as a difficult lift you finally got, or for sticking it out when you would normally give up during a cardio kickboxing class.  You should feel like your goals, no matter how big or small, matter to the other people in your gym—because they should.

Tell me they don’t look interesting and up to something? 🙂

So look around your gym—are you invisible?  Does the owner know your name, or do you even know the owner?  Do people from your gym say hi to you in the grocery store?  Do you have at least one person, outside of your training partner or close circle of friends, who encourages you in the gym?  Do you feel like if you stopped going to the gym no one would notice?

If you know your gym is not also a community that welcomes you and your family, switch gyms!  If you’re in Maine, visit Bangor Brewer Athletic Club and say hi to Sean and Wendy for me.  If you’re in the Atlanta area, come visit us at Iron Clutch Fitness!  And you know what?  If you’re nowhere near either of these gyms but you want to be a part of a fit community, check them out on Facebook!

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bangor-Brewer-Athletic-Club/148939615124253

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Iron-Clutch-Fitness/246131018105

What Fit People Really Think of You

Maybe you’ve said, or overheard someone say, one or more of the following:

  1. “I want to hire a personal trainer, but I have to get in shape first.”
  2. “I am too out of shape and I feel self conscious in the gym, so I want to lose a few pounds before I join.”
  3. [Loudly, in public, usually to the ‘more fit’ friend]  “I was good today.  It’s 7 p.m. and all I’ve had was a salad and some crackers.”
  4. “I feel so awkward, like everyone is laughing at me when I go near the weights.”
  5. “My body is ruined anyway, so why even bother trying to lose this baby weight?”
  6. “I feel stupid running with a stroller.”
  7. “I’ll get back in shape once my kids are older.”

I can’t count the number of times I have run by a woman on the trail in a baggy t-shirt and a few extra pounds who looks down self-consciously and avoids eye contact when she sees me coming.   Or a woman running or walking with an infant in a stroller and a look of shame in her eyes.  I want so badly to pass out cards that say “hey we’ve all been there, rock on!”  How about the women who sit on the sidelines at the gym and watch what the rest of us are doing, dying to jump in?  Or the ones who cling to the treadmills, honestly believing that they have no place in the weight room?  Worse still—the ones who never even try because they are too self conscious about being judged.

And it’s impossible sometimes to know: do we avoid fitness because we’re not motivated, or do we lack motivation because we’re self-conscious about our lack of fitness?  I can tell you that when my thyroid was at its worst (just 6 months ago!), it was probably a combination of both!

Who says you need a babysitter?

Ladies, and I mean all of us, in whatever shape we happen to be in—where’s the love?  Shame on those whose judgement has caused the problem (though this is a problem that runs in cycles, so who knows who deserves the blame).  Here’s the truth: WE HAVE ALL BEEN THERE. Whether you’re already fit, trying to get fit, or looking on from the sidelines waiting to start your journey, this post is important!

While I can’t speak for everyone in every gym everywhere, and I can’t promise that every gym is a judgement free zone, I can tell you that the super “fit” ones you expect are judging you probably aren’t.   I don’t mean the wake-up-skinny-and-blame-it-on-the-salad women who normally occupy the treadmills in clusters—they are the gym version of Mean Girls and they probably are judging you.  The ones I’m talking about, and the ones whose opinions still don’t matter but are more meaningful, are the knows-what-hard-work-is fit women.  The ones who sweat and lift weights.  The ones who look the way they do because they work damn hard.

We all started somewhere that was not where we are now, and we know what it means to start from the beginning.

The Good Fit women (again, the fit women who are not the Mean Girls) see your potential the minute they lay eyes on you.  Personally, I find myself spotting good genetics everywhere I go—I think “hmmm I wonder if I should tell that woman she’s built for power….” Or “would it be creepy if I told her she has great genetics for bodybuilding?” I pass women on the trail who are clearly trying lose their baby weight and I want so badly to stop them and say “OMG I was really really fat with my pregnancy!  You look awesome–You can do this!”

I am often inspired by the badass moms with their months-old babies in running strollers.  Or the ones who put their babies in backpacks so they can hike.  Really—how hard core IS that?  Those posters and Facebook memes with pictures of really skinny women and messages like, “how bad do you want it?” have absolutely NOTHING on the real-life image of a woman dragging her tired-mommy butt out of bed to run with a stroller, or a woman hiking up a mountain with a baby on her back!  So if you’re sitting at home with an infant, avoiding the trails or the gym because you think someone will laugh, keep in mind that the only people who would even raise an eyebrow are the people driving by in cars—not running.  Those of us on the trail beside you are thinking, “damn I thought I had a hard time getting out for my run this morning—look at HER!”  We are rooting for you.

It’s the same in the weight room.   When you see women lifting weights, you can safely assume that we all want to see MORE women lifting weights!  Give it your best shot—if you have no idea what you’re doing, just ask someone who does!  The secret is that  most people don’t really know, and the ones who do can all remember a time when we didn’t.

True story: Several years ago, I was a treadmill clinger with a twice weekly, four-exercise “free weight” adventure.  I stuck to the basics, such as dumbell curls, front raises, assisted pullups (done horribly wrong, looking back on it!),  and maybe a rope pulldown.  I chose what few things I thought I knew, and I stuck with them exclusively.  I was absolutely terrified of the idea of breaking out into other things because I had no idea how.  But then one day I saw a girl squat, and after that I desperately wanted to try it.  Maybe I was just a little mad because it was a girl I didn’t even really like that much, and there she was being a badass in the gym while I did my stupid 10 lb. front-raises.  But damn if it wasn’t inspiring!  For me it was the little things that were paralyzing—what were those butterfly-shaped metal things she put on the bar?  How did she know how much weight to put on?  How did she know how to adjust it to fit her height?  I was mortified at the thought of someone watching me try to figure it out.  I was also mortified at the thought of asking my then-boyfriend—oh the horror of having him “lead” me!

But eventually he did.  I asked him, somehow without telling him that I had never squatted before, and he got me started on some basics.  After that, more people jumped in to help me out around the weight room…and here I am, six years later, ready to pay it forward!

Moral of the story: you have to be willing to be the Effin New Guy.  You have to be willing to put yourself out there and be vulnerable just one time.  But I promise that if you do take that leap, there will be people ready and waiting to help you discover your full potential.

…As long as you’re not the Effin New Guy know-it-all…but I’ll save that for another post!

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