Having the Confidence to be Confident

Yes, it has been a minute since my last post.  Big thanks (and apologies) to anyone who sent me emails or left comments asking about when I’m going to post again.  I just needed a minute.

Fitness blogs started to kind of scared me.  More accurately, my participation in the Age of Fitness Blogging scared me. Everyone and their mom has a blog.   Many of them are just like mine.  The more time I spent reading them, the more I had to wonder if I was really contributing anything new to the world or if I was just being redundant.  After all, fitness experts and personal trainers are crammed in at about 1,000 per square foot of blogosphere.  And we are all so damn presumptuous.

Blogging is all about voice and audience.  Who am I talking to?  Recently, when I started to picture my audience, it was all over.  Am I talking down to someone?  Who do I think I am?  The whole premise of the blog was to send the message—hey, I’m not an expert.  I’m just this chick who got fit and learned to like herself.  Come get fit and like yourself with me!  But lately I am forced to remember that I’ve been doing this so long that I just make people feel bad when I swear that I relate to being overweight.  A friend politely pointed this out (thank you, Friend!!), and I haven’t been able to get my voice back since.

As you may be able to tell, I had started to picture the haters in my audience.  Oh yes, I have haters.  And I got a little freaked out by them. They are actually reading this right now—because that’s what haters do.  This is a very personal blog—all the best fitness blogs really are—and that leaves me wide open and vulnerable to critics and weirdos.  Which straight up creeped me the hell out.

I began to see myself through the eyes of the haters—who does she think she is?  Who decided that she was an expert?  She’s not even that great.  God, what a selfish mom.  I’d have time to get fit too if I had [fill in something, it could be anything].  Is fitness really even that important in the grand scheme of things?  And on and on.  Total existential crisis.  It’s never my peers in the industry, either.  It’s never the people I look up to whose opinions I really value.  It’s always the insecure ones who hate their bodies and take it out on me.  My existence makes their day bad.  These haters find each other and are comforted by other overweight self-haters and motivate each other on Pinterest using images of women who look much like me, but aren’t me, because the anonymity makes it ok.  Sometimes they even go out of their way to NOT do what I do.  If this makes you giggle, good.  Because once I got over the hurt of it, I couldn’t stop laughing.  I now giggle from time to time when I walk in the room and see that I’ve just ruined some woman’s day by living.  This might make me a bad person, but I tried to be nice.  And I’m not without fault—I have feelings too.

I ran away for a bit, into the safety of silence.  I closed myself off and away from vulnerability.  I stopped blogging.  I stopped actively marketing myself and my business on social media.  I made myself less so that other women wouldn’t be insecure.  But who does that benefit?  I went into the fitness industry with a specific goal—first, it was to stop hating myself.  And then, it was to help other women stop hating themselves too.  I want to affect change in body image and self esteem.  If one person reads my blog and is affected positively, then I’ve reached my goal.   So I’m going to keep writing, because I’m presumptuous enough to believe that I have something important to say.

Interestingly enough, my change of heart was inspired by a teenager.  Well, a conversation I have been having with this teenager.  She is a volleyball player on the team I coach for.  At 14, she was putting in more work than some professional athletes I know.  She is intense, she is driven, and she is not afraid to call her shots. She will work tirelessly for every claim she makes.  And she is misunderstood.  People mistake her determination for cockiness, her focus for snobbiness, and because many of them never see the long hours she puts in at the track or in the gym, they just don’t understand that she is backing it all up.   They just don’t understand her.  They don’t get where she is coming from.  And they are incredibly jealous of her unapologetic confidence.  So few people have the confidence to be confident—and when people meet the ones who do, it highlights their insecurities.

This would be upsetting to anyone, but at age 15 this is a lot to deal with.  Of course, as an adult, it’s plain as day.  Keep working, I told her—no one will be laughing when you make it to the Olympics.  People don’t understand intense people, but don’t let that stop you, I told her.  I even shared with her my favorite quote:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

Well.  Some lessons are a lot easier taught than learned, aren’t they?  And a lot easier spoken than lived.  It was easy to see why she has haters, and it was easy to recommend that she just push on and do her thing.  They’re just jealous.  But for me to accept that someone is jealous and keep pushing forward?  Well, I feel cocky and awful just typing it.  More advice to my young athlete:  accept the jealousy for what it is (it’s ok to get a few giggles in from time to time when you start to see how transparent their behavior is), let it humble you, and move on.

So here I am, back to my blog.  Humbled (and maybe a little entertained…) by my haters, forced to accept my own advice, inspired by a young athlete, and unapologetically determined to affect positive change in women around issues of body image and self esteem.

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Unwrapping Motivation: Not All Who are Fit are Healthy

It’s been a minute since I last wrote.  Honestly, I’ve had a lot on my mind!  Between the recent inclusion of women in the UFC, mainstream acceptance of female muscle, and emphasis on body image I’ve been seeing in the media, there has been a lot to take in.  Sometimes it’s nice just to be quiet and observe. After a pause, here is my major observation: there are two conversations happening around women and fitness.  One is taking place within the sports and fitness industry, and the other is taking place outside of it—and each affects the other.

Let me sum up these conversations quickly with some tags and key ideas:

Fitness industry: metabolic disorder, too much cardio and dieting, becoming unhealthy, reaching goals, body image issues

Outside the industry:  motivational photos, muscle, too much muscle, body as work in progress, striving to get fit, reaching goals, body image issues

Did anyone spot the overlap?  While competitors inside the industry are coming forward with stories of metabolic damage, eating disorders, and ruined lives, people outside of the industry are being motivated by images of them.  And, in both circles, more and more women are blogging about body image and self esteem, while striving like hell to reach fitness and body goals.  You may also have noticed a little more optimism in the second set than in the first—I believe that the fitness industry is reaching a dangerous point of negativity and frustration, while still providing hope to outsiders who have still never heard of metabolic disorder.  So how can we be so focused on self-acceptance while still being so willing to abuse our own bodies?  Because goal attainment is extremely important to a person’s self worth; and, as has always been the case for women, deprivation, sacrifice, and self-improvement are the key motivating forces behind most fitness goals. And it can’t be ignored that somewhere, someone is making a lot of money off women who will buy anything to feel better.

This new ideal of the fit woman is being used against us and few even realize it. In fact, the conditions by which most eating disorders develop exist in extremely high concentrations within women’s sports, and it’s starting to show.  Despite messages of health and self-empowerment, we really are back where we started when Kate Moss was the reigning ideal.

What do I mean?  Well, to sum it up, I’ll use the most popular answer from a recent poll on Sioux Country which asked competitors to name one thing they wish they’d have known before they started competing:  “That I would never see my body or food the same way again.”  Many can never feel “good enough.”  Once you’ve seen yourself at single digit body fat, it’s quite difficult to feel comfortable at 18-20%.  Suddenly everyone comments on how great you look, and with all of that reinforcement, it’s difficult to go back to maintaining a normal and healthy body.  But, a woman generally cannot comfortably maintain low bodyfat for longer than is necessary to peak for her sport, and that can be really difficult to wrap her mind around.  This affects female athletes across many sports, including MMA, gymnastics, and even volleyball. The more the mainstream adopts these ideals, the more women outside of sports will be affected.

Many of you may be wondering what I mean by “metabolic damage.”  Basically, hours of cardio and extreme calorie deficits have caused hormonal imbalances that result in thyroids that become sluggish or completely shut down, reproductive hormones that cause their bodies and moods to go haywire, and adrenals that fail to function properly, among other complications. Eventually, not only can they no longer lose weight, but many gain more weight than they had to begin with, causing body images and relationships with food to deteriorate.   Somewhere floating around in that nightmare are psychological problems including but not limited to disordered eating and over-exercising.

This is increasingly common in the fitness/bodybuilding industry, but certainly not limited to it.  As acceptance of female muscle leads to new ideals in mainstream culture (which is GREAT!), unrealistic goals and misunderstandings about how to get there are making these problems more common outside of the fitness industry.  I’m already seeing them show up in my non-competitive clients in alarming numbers.

People often look at photos of competitors for inspiration and motivation.  At least, this is what they say.  But really, the motivating force behind these photos is the hope of one day looking like them.  Or maybe even half way—but even then, these photos become a measuring post.  And this is where the danger lies.  Many of these photos involve chemical enhancement, strict dieting, and more cardio than anyone should do.  Even the healthy ones have made sacrifices to their social lives, lifestyles, and careers that would be unrealistic for most people. I would invite anyone to look closely at my lifestyle and see how, exactly, I make it work—most of you would turn away immediately and readjust your goals and expectations.  If you want to be an elite athlete, you need to train and eat like one, definitely.  You might even look like one.  But not everyone needs to be a competitive athlete, and it’s ok to accept this.

And that brings me to my point: I promote health and fitness, yes, but I do not promote spending one’s entire life in the pursuit of looking better or different.   And, as much as I advocate for family fitness and women in strength sports, it’s just not realistic for most people’s households to revolve around fitness 100% of the time.  Yes, for most people fitness involves some level of sacrifice.  Like, sacrificing pancakes for oatmeal, and sacrificing Big Macs for home cooking.  But not like sacrificing all carbs, avoiding all social situations,  or depriving yourself all day every day in the name of glory.  There is no glory in that.

Fitness inspiration photos capture one of two things: someone who took drastic measures to look like that for a very short time, or someone whose life revolves around fitness.  Both are fine—I do both, and I know firsthand that both can be done in a healthy way.  However, it is not for everyone, and therefore the apperance is not for everyone. Strive for something else!  The question you have to ask yourself is, “what are these photos motivating me to DO?”  Diet harder?  Lose more weight?  Even the photos that show women working hard often depict THIN women working hard.  Or they focus on the [often temporary] end result, instead of the process.  Not to say that thin women can’t work hard, or can’t be motivating—the photos often focus on the reward of thinness, and not the work it took to get there.

To be clear, a large majority of what you see from the fitness industry is unhealthy.  Diets with no variety, two hours of cardio per day, demolished families, budgets, social lives, and even metabolisms are all heavily prevalent.  More and more women are coming forward with stories of eating disorders and metabolic disorders—many of whom will never compete again, nor ever get back even to the weight they started at!  And, sadly, many started in the same place: simply wanting to reach a body ideal.

I have been in that place.  During preparation for my first show, I was doing over two hours of cardio a day, while lifting and eating only 1000 calories.  After the show, when it was time to go back to looking normal, suddenly “normal” was no longer good enough.  I felt like everyone expected me to look like I did for the show, and I soon developed a very unhealthy relationship with food and my body that has taken me years to correct.  The second show was better, but afterward I took two years off with no plans of ever competing again.  I had a new goal: to let a cookie just be a cookie.  To eat a damned bowl of cereal from time to time.  To ban food guilt from my life forever.  And, honestly, I won the battle and went on to compete again.  In fact, this blog was created in the hope of reaching people with a new idea of what it means to be fit and healthy.

So what does this mean for my non-competitor readers?  First, it is so important to have a clear understanding of the entire process—before, during, and after.  Here are some tips to help you stay in the safe zone with your fitness lifestyle:

  • Set appropriate and realistic goals
  • understand fully what it will take to reach and maintain them
  • be able to picture life “after” you’ve reached your goal
  • Single digit bodyfat will not happen year round for women; for most women, bodyfat in the low to mid teens will require ridiculous sacrifices—if this is your goal, be prepared to make them
  • Unless you are competing, I do not recommend setting goals that you have no intention of maintaining
  • HALF OF YOUR FITNESS GOAL SHOULD INVOLVE ACCEPTANCE OF YOUR BODY AS-IS.  If you can’t accept yourself now, how will you accept yourself after you’ve lost weight?
  • DO NOT divide food into black and white categories; once you view food as “good” or “bad,” it’s difficult to undo.  (It is ok, however, to recognize “fuel” and “not fuel,” such as McDonald’s)
  • Eat a cookie every now and then, and don’t you dare feel bad about it

If you are looking for healthy inspiration, I strongly recommend getting plugged into these two places:

http://www.siouxcountry.com/

http://www.sweatybettiesfitness.com/

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!

Have Your Progress and Own it Too

I have been noticing a terrible trend in the men and women around me, and it is time to address it. I apologize to my friends who will likely recognize themselves in the following examples—I write only out of love for you all.  But you are driving me crazy.  These are all real-life examples from friends and clients (male and female!) in this past week alone:

  • “A 105 squat isn’t that good, but it’s good for me…”
  • “This may not sound like much to the runners out there, but I ran 3 miles in 42 minutes!”
  • “I still can’t bench press very much, but it felt so much easier!”
  • “I can’t dead lift as much as [some random dude], but that was a personal record!”
  • “It’s not a lot, but three days in one week is good for me.”
  • “I put on ten pounds of lean mass! I know I’m still not very big, but it’s a lot for me.”
  • “I know I’m still fat, but I’ve lost six inches!”

STOP MINIMIZING YOUR SUCCESSES! Your journey is personal, and that makes your progress personal.  It’s yours, you earned it.  If you accomplish something, don’t downplay it! If it’s awesome for you, it’s awesome. Period.

strongforgirl

What I love most about power lifting is that it is ultimately an individual sport. And, to ensure fairness in competition, it is divided into multiple categories.  These categories exist for a reason!  I can’t bench press anywhere near the amount of weight my training partners put up, but they are men who outweigh me by well over 100 pounds!  It’s the same for runners–how could someone who has been running for three weeks possibly be expected to run as fast or as long as someone who has been running for 20 years?  We can apply this perspective to any sport or goal–it’s important to keep things in context.

Women have been taught to be humble, to be thin and weak, to be quiet about our accomplishments, to be unimposing and docile. To see so many women breaking past those boundaries to pursue strength, muscle, and endurance is absolutely mind blowing.  But it’s not enough to do it—we have to OWN it.  You may be new, face challenges, experience setbacks…but you are HERE dammit, and there is no reason not to claim your achievement.  If you do something awesome, let yourself have it!  No one is going to laugh if your progress isn’t in the same range as theirs.  The people who are ahead of you have just been doing it longer or have a different set of circumstances.  Men, you aren’t off the hook either—for you guys, it may even be harder because masculine ritual basically requires you to laugh at each other, but suck it up and keep your focus on what you’re doing.

You can own your accomplishments and be humble.  In the same way that health and fitness must be a lifestyle, not a short-term endeavor, change is a long-term work in progress.  This is why I urge clients to choose goals that don’t focus on weight loss—the weight loss will come, but if that’s your only goal you will eventually tap out your potential.  With healthy fitness goals, there is always room to be bigger, stronger, faster, and to have more endurance.  You can recognize that you’ve gotten stronger without suggesting that you set the standard for strength.

Powerlifters and Strongmen set a pretty good example, in my opinion, of what it looks like to have tons of pride but still be humble.  I have seen 250 lb men who can squat 800lb (and aren’t ashamed to tell you all about it…) get excited about a 120lb girl who can squat 135.  It is understood that “awesome” means awesome to you.  Surround yourself by true athletes and good trainers who see past what you’re doing to recognize your potential, and learn to recognize this in others.

Also, never underestimate the influence you have on other people!  I know two women, one a friend and one a client, who don’t know each other—each has talked to me about how the other has inspired her at different times and in different ways, as they are both at different places in their journeys.  Whatever shape you’re in, wherever you are in your goal, remember that there is someone behind you trying to summon the courage to go forward, and sometimes it’s more inspiring to see someone else struggling to “get there” than it is to watch others who make it look easy.  Even elite athletes, coaches, and trainers can be inspired by your progress! I am humbled and inspired daily by the progress of my clients and others in my gym.  Here are a few examples:

candice

  • A client who brings her baby to the gym just to get her fit on! While the rest of us whine about what a pain in the butt it can be just to drive over to the gym, she’s lugging a pack and play in one hand, gym bag in the other, with a baby on one hip!
  • A young strength athlete in the gym with a prosthetic leg.  Remind me never to make an excuse for giving up.
  • A friend who recently overcame self-consciousness and self-doubt, bit the bullet, and is now learning how to lift in her mid-30s.
  •  A young athlete, one of three 12 year olds on a team of 15-18 year olds (and the smallest girl on the team), who pushed herself through the same rigorous team workout long past when her body began to fail, far beyond when someone else would have given up, to the point of crying.  And kept going! 

 Who inspires you?  Who do you inspire? If you keep your accomplishments to yourself, or if you make less of them, you rob others of the inspiration you could be providing.  Marianne Williamson said it best:

As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others.

Speaking of my awesome clients, one brought me cookies yesterday!  Big shout out to Candice, who gave me permission to share the recipe:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Ingredients
  • 1¼ cups old fashioned oats (instant will make the cookies a bit softer, I prefer traditional)
  • ½ cup white, almond flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup raw honey
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup chocolate chips
  • 2 tsp butter
Bake @350 for 10-12 min.  When mixing, mix all wet and dry separate first, then combine.

10 New-Kid Gym Tips

Face it: gyms are really strange spaces of pride, masculinity, and ritual.  Gyms can be intimidating, confusing, and even embarrassing.  Starting a membership at a gym is a very vulnerable time, like being the new kid at school.  Yes, the whole class is going to look at you, trying to decide if you have anything good to trade at lunch.   They will take in your backpack, your lunchbox, and your shoes, sizing you up to  decide whether your mom will bring cupcakes on your birthday.  It’s true.  But, like on the first day of school, you have some sizing up to do as well.  Who is the stinky kid?  Do you really need an elevator pass?  Who sits with whom at lunch?

My best advice is to just bite the bullet and go—once there you’ll find that you’re not the only one who is new.  But I am not going to lie to you—there is some weird stuff that goes on,  and some unspoken rules you need to be prepared for.  I could write about this topic all day long (and I just might, in a dissertation…), but for now I’ll keep it short with just ten tips.  For those of you who are gym regulars, take it easy on the new people, and feel free to laugh at the funny stuff we do.  Add to the list by leaving a comment!

  1. Monday is Universal Bench Press Day.  I know, this isn’t listed anywhere in the rules, and there is no way you could have known.  But now you do.  So if you’re new to a gym and don’t want to have to figure out when it’s your turn to use a bench, just take my advice and don’t EVER try to work chest on a Monday.
  2. There is no such thing as So-and-So’s [fill in the blank].   If you need a bench, and no one is using it, it’s yours.  Same goes for dumbbells, cables, or any other piece of equipment.
  3. Just because there are no other women in the weight room does NOT mean that women are not welcome.  Claim your space!
  4. There IS an alpha somewhere in the room—but do not be intimidated.  Identify this person; he or she will help you out.
  5. Be very careful about accepting advice from the loudest person in the room—this is the wanna be Alpha, and the noise is meant to confuse and distract you from his or her insecurities.
  6. It’s totally ok to look at yourself in the mirror—but if you’re going to do it, don’t try to hide it.  We see you.
  7. When a random person cheers you on or tries to encourage you, this is a sign of acceptance.  Just in case you were wondering, this is generally a good thing.
  8. Don’t try to talk to someone while they are in the middle of a set.
  9. When someone is about to lift something heavy, do not walk in front of the person, make any loud noises, or cause a distraction of any kind.
  10. Every gym has a Creepy Bastard.  He’s annoying, creepy, and…well, kind of a bastard, but generally harmless.

Bonus tip: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, wash your hands after you use the restroom!!!! People will notice, and they will tell others.  Then you’ll become the Stinky Kid and your life will be over and you’ll basically have to switch gyms

Children are the Greatest Inspiration!

 

Last week, I watched my daughter become aware of her body for the first time.

“Mommy,” she asked, “how come I’m not skinny like you?” I’m pretty sure I felt my heart stop at that moment.  There really are no words for what I felt at that moment. I asked her what she meant, and she said, “my tummy pokes out.  I can suck it in and make it like yours but I can’t keep it like that. Is that what other people do all the time?”  I felt like I had just been dropped off the side of a cliff.  At an age where “beautiful” means a long dress, and “rich” means ten dollars, it makes sense that “fat” means a big belly—including her beautiful child’s tummy.  I was crushed.

I wanted to scoop her up and run with her all the way to the North Pole, where I could find a cabin and hide her away from the world.  But I realized that the world isn’t the problem yet—she is human, and she is simply understanding her Self in comparison to Others.  Isn’t this one of the natural stages of development?

Instead of panicking (ok, maybe in addition to panicking…), I took a deep breath and listened.  Really listened.  Now, if you haven’t experienced a deep conversation with a seven year old, then let me tell you—it’s harder than it sounds.  But you don’t know what you’re missing.  We talked about our plants, friends, shiny things, tummies, TV shows…and luckily, I began to understand that the crisis I was prepared to face really wasn’t a crisis at all.  She was just genuinely curious.  It still has not crossed her mind that different equals bad, or that her body might be somehow flawed.  She had simply observed a difference and was trying to make sense of it.  But how amazing to be present for and aware of this critical moment in her life!  Now it is my job to introduce her to the different ways of appreciating her body, and to make sure she grows up plugged into things that make her body make sense to her.

As a personal trainer and coach, this is very similar to the situation I’m in with my clients–only they’ve had years to make sense of things in their own ways. I have become the confidant of all things body related, the listener to the rambling thoughts of the body conscious, and the answerer of all questions health-related.  I am often the first person to explain body types, to help them understand why they have fought with their bodies for so much of their lives, or to introduce even the concept of non-aesthetic body goals.  Often, I find myself wishing I could go back in time and catch everyone at age seven and present a greater variety of body ideals.  The body best suited for sprinting, for instance, may not do so well in volleyball.  The body best suited for gymnastics may not excel as well in ballet.  If someone could have told us these things early, how differently might we perceive our bodies now?

 

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

― Albert Einstein

 

It is not enough to simply put people on a cookie cutter workout plan or meal plan that will help them burn a few calories and lose a few pounds —I must instead attempt to plug each one into a style of training that best suits his or her body and interests, and help to re-program his or her understanding of body ideals, health, and fitness.  “Fit” for an endomorph is quite different than “fit” for an ectomorph—and without that understanding, we will get absolutely nowhere in setting, defining, and reaching goals.  And I think this is the step where many people get lost and give up.  They resign to being “too skinny,” or “too fat,” or “too muscular” and simply give up—or worse, fall into unhealthy habits that set them further back in the long run.  We could prevent this simply by setting performance goals that are appropriate for our bodies.

So how do we quantify non-aesthetic goals? Can we conceptualize a fitness goal that has nothing to do with pounds or inches lost? In some cases, these are critical goals that can mean the difference between health or a future with life-threatening illnesses.  But for many, these could really be seen as peripheral goals.  I promise that with good nutrition and training programs in place, we can make inches and pounds disappear.  Why focus so much of our attention on how our bodies look? Why run for the sake of weight loss but hate running?  Why not focus more on what we can do when we apply ourselves at something we enjoy?  What kind of life will you lead if every day is spent in misery over the pursuit of an image in the mirror?

Here’s where you can call me out.  But Sheena, you may be thinking, aren’t you involved in a purely aesthetic sport?  And yes, I am.  But believe it or not, I am not motivated by an aesthetic goal to train every day. Even the best bodybuilders I know understand that the pursuit of a perfect physique has to come in cycles in order to be effective—that is, to look our best for one night on stage, we have to be willing to step away from that as an immediate goal and focus on strength, rebuilding, and repair.  And we all set goals during that time—a bigger bench, a stronger squat, a faster sprint—that keep us motivated even when we’re taking time off from the immediate aesthetic reward.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t care about our aesthetic outcome—I am suggesting that we consider our bodies in other ways as well.

This week, don’t look at your tummy (yes, tummy…) and wonder why it doesn’t look like someone else’s.  Don’t envision what your body will look like when you grow up…er, I mean, reach your goal.  Don’t look in the mirror and wonder if it could be different—not today.  Don’t skip breakfast because your jeans were tight this morning.  Look at the bigger picture—learn to understand your body in a greater sense.  It would have been great to have started at age 7, but it is not too late to start now.

I am challenging everyone to set (and achieve!) a non-aesthetic fitness goal.  Push yourself in a way you normally might not.  Get stronger, get faster, get moving when you often wouldn’t, or achieve consistency when you think you can’t.  Get started, or get re-started.  Get through one training session without being motivated or shamed by an aesthetic outlook.  Test yourself and fall in love with what you can do. 

Example: that’s my daughter in the photo at the top.  She hiked Blood Mountain at age 6.  In the dark. On New Year’s Eve, in the cold.  The second time, just a month ago, she looked up and wasn’t sure she could do it.  That photo was taken at the top.  Now, she defines herself as a good hiker who set a goal and achieved it.  🙂

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?

*CLEAN* Mason Jar Banana Custard Upside Down Pie!

It worked!  Today I invented a recipe based on a recipe I found in a waiting room at my hair salon.  Go figure, right?  The recipe was for a simple egg custard, baked in mason jars, and it called for a bunch of eggs, salt, sugar, vanilla, and milk.  But I started thinking…what happens if I sub almond milk, drop the sugar, add some fruit….the next thing I knew I had my hair in foils and a new recipe was born!

So here it is, my clean version!  This recipe makes enough for three medium sized jars (8oz).


Custard:
3 eggs
1.5 cups almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 overly ripe bananas (I used 1.5)
cinnamon
Berries, if desired (today I threw in some frozen berries)
Topping:
1 cup oats
1/4 cup almond meal (whole nuts work fine, and they don’t have to be almonds– you’ll make it into meal anyway)
1/4 cup coconut flakes (optional!)

To prepare custard:

Mash banana with fork until it becomes nearly liquid.  In a separate bowl, mix eggs and milk until almost foamy.  Add vanilla, cinnamon, and banana and mix until it’s pretty smooth.

To prepare crust:

Put oats, coconut, and almonds into food processor.  Blend until it forms a powder.

Fill each jar evenly with custard mix.  If you want to add berries, add them here.  Then top with crust mix and pat smooth.  Place the jars into a baking dish and fill the dish with boiling water–half way up the jars is probably best, but my dish was too shallow so it only came up about a quarter of the way.  Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.  Custard and juice from berries will start to move up into the crust.

 

Enjoy!  Each jar contains 1/3 cup oats, 1 egg, 1/2 banana, a few berries, and 1/2 cup almond meal.  I calculated this at about 250-300 calories, depending on the brands you choose and what you put in it.  For instance, you could do without the coconut and slightly reduce the almond meal.   And I bet for my vegan friends, you could sub tofu for egg…maybe I’ll try it and let you know how it goes!