CrossFit and I finally met, and we became fast friends.
CrossFit for me has been like the boy in high school who you steal glances at for a year before working up the courage to talk to him.
This was the week I finally tried it. No more side glances. I went all in.
I was invited to try a class by the daughter of one of my boot campers. I'd recently become friends with her, and one day at the pool she asked me if I liked squats. (This is how women who love to lift heavy start conversations. It actually seemed perfectly normal.) When I said no, she looked pretty shocked. I confessed that upper body work is my favorite, and that squats are hard for me because of my old knee injuries. But I told her that I'd always wanted to try CrossFit, so I was all in, even if squats weren't on the menu that day.
But then she walked away and I started to sweat. Even in the pool.
Why? Because here's my dirty little secret: I hate doing things that I'm not good at. Can't say I'm proud of this trait, and it's something I'm working on.
I was nervous as could be yesterday morning, and probably went to the bathroom 5 times before Paige and I left for the gym. (Hooray for childcare at the gym!) My friend had texted me the night before, offering to send me the workout (aka WOD as they say in CrossFit) so I could see it in advance, but I was afraid I'd psych myself out if I saw it, and felt it was better to be surprised. I was crossing my fingers (and my ankles) that there wouldn't be any double-unders on the list, and thankfully there weren't. Healing my diastasis (abdominal separation as a result of pregnancy) has been on my to do list, but I haven't gotten there yet. Hence the fear of the jump rope.
As the group filed in, I met each of the regulars. They seemed like a friendly bunch, and the group was made up of mostly fellow moms. I was still nervous, but was feeling more at home.
The class began with something I had just seen somewhere on my social media feed somewhere: high plank side shuffles with hand taps on a row of kettlebells, and then air squats at each end. Got it. So far, so good.
Next up in the warm up: walking lunges and handstand push ups. Walking lunges? No problaymo. Handstand pushups? Um, ok--here we go. I tucked in my shirt and actually managed to do a few sets, and not completely embarrass myself.
Okay, still keeping up.
And then came the lifting segment: the split jerk. That was a new one for me, so one of the coaches came over to help me. After his explanation and demo, I tried a few but couldn't seem to get the rhythm down. I started getting a little frustrated, and a little embarrassed. He demoed again: looked easy enough when he did it, and also when my friend did it. But one of my other dirty little secrets is that I am hideously uncoordinated. (I was the one in the back of step class in the 90s.)
I tried the split jerk again. "Close!" he said kindly, but looked a little befuddled as he watched me try to connect the movements together. "Hmm," he said. "How about if you just stick with the push press today?" YES, PHEW. I'll take it.
So my friend and I are paired together at one of the bar racks and she's loading on the plates for her lift. And loading. And loading. My jaw drops. Holy moly moly is this woman strong. Keep in mind, pressing the bar over your head is a really hard exercise, especially for women, at least as I've seen in my experience. But she made it look so effortless, even with the motherlode of weight on the bar. But I knew I couldn't lift as much as her, and needed to use less weight on the bar for my lifts. I was having a hard time accepting this.
I felt exposed. Could I still call myself a trainer if I can't keep up?
"See?" the voice inside my head said. "You're not as strong as you think you are. You can't keep up with these women. You shouldn't have told them you're a trainer. Now they're looking at you and wondering why you're not stronger."
My heart started to pound, and I had to shake off the negativity before I began to spiral. It was all of my own doing. The group and coaches were very encouraging and supportive, and the negativity was all in my head. In that moment, I was my own worst enemy.
I don't know why I couldn't accept that this was my first class, and that I couldn't expect myself to be a rockstar on my first go. But that was my rational side. I had to let that voice be louder than the one tearing me down. So I picked up my head and kept at it, and watched in awe as my friend knocked out set after set. Amazing.
And then mercifully, relief came in the form of one of my favorite things: a short run. YAHOO! MY COMFORT ZONE! 800 meters, down the street and back. I ran like my pants were on fire. It felt so good.
But no rest for the weary. After the run came this beastly finisher: four rounds of 7 snatches/arm with a 35lb dumbbell (I used 25 instead) followed by 14 burpees. FOUR ROUNDS. And then the reward for finishing that was 10 lengths of the gym doing farmer's carries with kettlebells. Really heavy ones.
But then guess what? I was DONE!
HOLY MOLY MOLY MOLY. THAT WAS STINKING HARD.
So what did I learn in this experience?
That I still have a lot of work to do in not beating myself up when I'm trying new things. Quell the voices and enjoy the new experience.
And that some of the moms in this town are INSANELY strong. My hat's off to these women: they work hard and never let up.
Inspiring? You better believe it.
Will I do it again? Perhaps. You'll have to stay tuned to find out.
In case you're curious, here's the WOD that we did: CrossFit Carrboro WOD.
When one of my clients started doing chin ups and deadlifts, she set off with my plan in her hand to find the squat rack at her gym. She came back the next week to workout with me and told me that she just cannot find the squat rack or a deadlift platform at her gym. She told me she found the Smith machine, but no actual squat racks.
I was befuddled. What kind of gym was this? Okay, I can perhaps understand the lack of a deadlift platform, but no squat rack?
So a quick Google search answered my questions: Planet Fitness has a no deadlift policy (a POLICY!) and does not have any squat racks. I know this may seem like old news to those of you in the know, but I was flabbergasted. (More here.)
Many of the articles talked about how it was a non-intimidating environment and that people like how there weren't big beefy guys lifting heavy. Well, okaaaaay, but my friends, hear this: being a lunkhead, especially as a woman, is awesome.
When I'm in my gym, I grunt, make weird faces (one of my clients said she does the Elvis lip when she lifts heavy) breathe really loudly, and clank down on each deadlift rep. And it's a beautiful thing. The clank is my favorite part of deadlifting.
One of my clients chucks the dumbbells down after each set, like, "YO. I'm done with these guys" and it inspired me. I used to gingerly place them down. But no more, especially when I'm doing a few exercises in a row with a set of dumbbells. When I'm done, I am DONE.
Embrace your female lunkiness. Because it means you're working hard, lifting heavy, and understand the beautiful power of intensity during your workout. Intensity can mean the difference between working out for months and not seeing results and quickly gaining strength and definition.
So friends, get under that squat rack and use it for all the fun things it offers, like chin ups, bench press, overhead press, and of course squats. There's something empowering about standing in that rack and lifting the bar up. And if you do it silently, without even a forceable exhale, are you really fully exerting yourself?
"Mommy, why are you breathing so LOUD?!" Paige said to me recently as I was doing a bench press set.
"Because I'm working hard, and when I work hard, I breathe loud." I said. She seemed to accept that, and went back to using my gliders as rollerskates.
So please, for the love of all things iron and glory, deadlift and squat. Because the real secret is that the heavy iron is actually what gives you the "toned" look. No joke.
And if you set off the lunk alarm or worse--get kicked out of Planet Fitness--my door is always open and the deadlift jack is always ready for you. Grunt as loud as you want.
So I was hit with the flu last week, and it was the first time I've been sick like that in a long time. I suspect I picked it up from the plane when I went to Palm Springs--those planes are petri dishes!--and it caught me off guard. I thought I could just soldier on with my life and schedule. I was so wrong.
What started on Wednesday as just feeling blah turned into down and out by Friday. Chills. Body aches. Crushing fatigue.
But by Sunday morning I'd come back around a bit. I started getting restless for a good workout back in the gym. So I got dressed and ready to lift.
But I had to let go of any idea of perfection. I was still bouncing back from feeling like crap, and my body wasn't ready for full tilt. Plus Sunday is PJ's gym day, so I had to share our one barbell with him, and share the space. Plus, Paige wanted to hang out, so it got a little crowded in our little gym. I couldn't do the workout I had planned on my schedule since I needed the barbell for most of it. Plus PJ's idea of workout music is pretty different than mine. Gloria Estefan I can handle, but Anne Murray and Barry Manilow don't exactly pump me up like Pitbull does. It kinda made me want to lie on the mat and bemoan my fate.
Boo hoo hoo. Poor perfectionist.
But that's just how it was going to be that morning, and it had to be okay. So I scratched one of my barbell lifts and switched to dumbbells. Tried to focus on how nice it was that we were all together, and everyone was in a good mood.
But I'll be honest--all during the workout, I had to quiet that annoying perfectionist in my head saying, "But you missed one of your big lifts. That's going to mess with your progress."
So I had to tell that annoying perfectionist to take a hike. Zip it and let me enjoy this workout with my family.
And then today, something similar. My potential pockets of time for working out got booked up with air conditioning guys and guys to come and do the quarterly spraying for bugs. But if I hustled, I could get in about 45 minutes in between dropping the kids off at the bus and an 8am client. But for some reason when I got home, I felt I needed to do the breakfast dishes first. And change my clothes. 50 minutes turned into 40. My perfectly planned barbell workout was slipping through my hands.
But it was my only window, so I had to figure it out. So I decided to prioritize my top exercises, and not waste any more time. Deadlift first, with V ups in between sets. Then a superset of barbell overhead press and dumbbell chest press. I was sad about missing bench press, but there was no time to mope. Just re-focus.
And it turned out to be a good and sweaty workout. When I'm pressed for time, my intensity is usually better, so I get more out of my lifts. I got the major muscle groups in that I wanted to work, and felt good at the end. Not perfect, but pretty darn good.
This has been happening to me a lot lately, and as a perfectionist, sometimes I have an inner struggle. I have to force myself to adapt on the fly and not get upset over things not going as originally planned. Air conditioning guys need to be scheduled. Kids want to come in and ask for things. Windows of time get eaten up.
If I tried to find the perfect window of time to workout, I would never work out at all.
So I have to let go of perfection. As a busy working mom, perfection just can't be the goal. So the best thing to do is to have plan Bs, Cs, and Ds, and always be ready to change tack. Find peace with the changing tide. Because wasting energy getting upset over not getting the perfect hour to workout is just that--wasted energy.
Want to know my secret weapon? It's this: I always have a cache of 30 minute dumbbell circuits in my head that I can switch over to if I need to do. They all pack a punch, and deliver a good workout.
But maybe next time I need to work out on a Sunday, I'll see if I can convince PJ to let me play some Pitbull. A little Fireball never hurt anyone.
Oh friends, what a month.
Some not so good things, but also some amazing things. I'll confess that I've been off my routine a bit for the past couple of weeks, both fitness and nutrition. A little bit of stress eating. A little bit of wine drinking. A lot of coffee drinking.
But it's just life, and the skies are starting to clear. I feel back at the helm this week, and that's a good thing. I finally feel back in the groove on bench press, and was even able to PR since my husband was around to spot me. Got off the bench and did a little strut around the gym. He laughed at me, but that's okay.
But you know what's even better? When my clients are hitting PRs and milestones like mad. There are few things I love more as a trainer than watching someone hit a milestone or a PR, especially when I'm there. I love seeing their face as they finish something they didn't think they could do.
One of my clients did her first (and then second and third!) unassisted chin up right before my very eyes, and it was so stinking awesome. That look on her face was a mixture of joy, astonishment, and pride. I wish you all could have been there to see it.
Then one of my boot campers ran her first 5k without stopping to walk. So amazing to share that milestone with her.
This got me thinking about goals.
For so many years, my goal was to lose 10 pounds. I was solely focused on the scale, week in, week out. The gym--and the road--were tools to get me there. A means to an end. If I wasn't getting results fast enough, I had to up the ante. More restriction. More exercise. But as a perfectionist, I was never satisfied, even when the scale showed the number I was aiming for. When I hit a goal, I scrutinized myself in the mirror. Time for a new goal.
But then I turned to marathon training, and the goal became the race. It was a longer term goal, and one that had higher stakes. The idea of training all summer in the heat and humidity to tank or bonk during the race was too much to bear. So I followed those training plans to the letter, and finished each marathon. I can't say that I finished each one feeling like a million bucks (especially Asheville -- those hills were tough!) but I did finish.
But then my body told me that it was time to ditch the marathon training. I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 2013, and after doing the NY marathon in 2014, I knew it was time to give my body a break from all of that time on the road. It was crying for a change, and a new goal.
Enter my new friends: the dumbbell and barbell.
When I started lifting heavy, I didn't really set out with a goal in mind. But as I got stronger, some things started becoming a possibility.
My first chin up.
Sets of 10 push ups.
Squatting and deadlifting my bodyweight.
The goals suddenly became about getting bigger, not smaller. Stronger, not skinnier. And I was loving it.
My goals got bigger: 10 chin ups. 200 pound hip thrust. 150 pound deadlift. Pipe dreams became realities.
There's something really freeing about focusing on strength and PR goals and not just scale goals. And barring injury or life getting in the way, these goals are cause and effect. If you put in the work consistently and patiently, you'll get there.
So if you've always focused on a weight loss goal, I encourage you to think about turning your attention to a strength goal for a little while. Maybe it's your first push up off your knees. Or your first chin up. Or your first time bench pressing.
And if you need help getting to these goals, you know where to find me. Me and my barbell are always here for you.
I'll just come right out and say it: our American culture can be awfully strange when it comes to the messages we receive about food.
Take the months of January and February, for example. When you open your inbox on January 2, you are inundated with messages about cleanses, new diet plans, insane workouts, and "clean eating."
But if you just wait it out a few weeks, you'll start to get messages about how to make the most over-the-top appetizers for your Superbowl party. Wings. Cheesy dips. Layered dips. Monkey bread. Drinks.
And then as soon as that's done, you start to get tons of messages with recipes for decadent desserts to make for Valentine's Day. Molten chocolate cake. Gooey brownies. Cocktails drizzled with chocolate sauce.
Think that's it? Nope. Because then there's Girl Scout cookie season. Yes, there's a season. And yes, I buy several boxes every year. #teamthinmint
So what do you do when your New Year's resolution to eat healthier is serious and you want to kick off your year on the right foot? Well, if your name is Kate Kirkpatrick, you kick booze and sugar to the curb for a month.
I met Kate back when I was working for Gensler, a very large architecture firm. She always impressed me with her drive and focus at work, so I knew her month of no sugar and booze would be similar. She's also a fellow runner, so we've always bonded over that, too. In fact, when I crossed the finish line at my first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, I looked over and there she was, finishing at the same time.
When I heard that Kate was doing another month of no sugar and booze this year, I had to ask her if she wouldn't mind sending me some of her thoughts behind her self-imposed sugar and booze restriction, especially since it's now an annual tradition. And not surprisingly, she got right back to me, and had some pretty interesting things to say.
So if you're thinking of going sugar and booze free for a month, read on for how it went (and now goes every year) for my friend Kate.
What made you decide to stop eating sugar for the month?
Holiday month of eating everything in sight!
How many times have you taken the month off from sugar?
I've done it every January for four years. Annual tradition now, I guess.
How does your body feel on week one versus week four?
I notice no difference in how I feel, to be honest. Outside of January, I do normally eat ice cream but otherwise I don't eat processed foods or many things with surprise added sugar (jarred spaghetti sauce, store-bought salad dressing, etc) so it's not that big a change for me.
I quit drinking soda 10 years ago, even diet, and I don't do "skinny" versions of anything. Black coffee.
Yeah, oatmeal without that teaspoon of maple syrup tastes terrible but you get used to it. I know people who say OMG it changed my life but to me, the reality is, I feel pretty good all the time anyway so I probably talk myself into believing I don't have a sugar problem to start with! Dairy would be a bigger challenge.
What did you miss the most?
Alcohol! Maybe that's all this is--drying out. I don't think about ice cream when I don't have it in the freezer but wine after a long day, a beer with work pals, and a Sunday night Manhattan are all enjoyable habits.
What happens on re-entry? Do you go back to your regular eating habits or does it change the way you eat the rest of the year?
I don't suddenly start buying Frappuccinos and donuts! This time I did learn that Grey Poupon mustard has sugar in it, so after I finish the jar that's in the fridge, I have a new non-sugar brand to use.
I think what changed for me the most about this over my few experiences is always reading a label to check the grams of sugar. I used to eat Cliff bars--now I don't. I started using garlic chili paste instead of Sriracha, etc. It's easy to avoid when you make your own food but anything that comes from a grocery shelf has to be read. I am surprised that Whole Foods doesn't have a stronger stance on this, actually.
Have you ever considered doing Whole30?
I looked at it and feel like it is all about NO. That's not living to me. I did something close to it once and was just angry and hungry the whole time, plus it was an incredible amount of work to plan/make meals ahead. There's no room for flexibility. I cannot imagine how someone with children would manage it. I love the new "healthy-ish" thing that Bon Appetit magazine has coined (website too) because it recognizes that everyone defines this differently, extremes aren't sustainable, and treats in moderation aren't going to kill you.
Anything to add?
I think this exercise is a useful, enlightening, and less-invasive way to learn more about healthier eating. My guess is that some people will find it shocking and others may be more like me where it's sort of annoying but not like solitary confinement. I love to cook so I buy real food for the most part.
My REAL problem is getting my exercise habits back since I am now lucky if I get in 3 days a week!
I also thought I'd share some of my go-to snacks (aka oops it's 3pm and I didn't have lunch options that satisfied my sweet tooth but not from added sugar):
So, friends, talk to me -- have you ever tried this?
As I've gotten more into the world of weightlifting, I've discovered something I find pretty fascinating: most lifters HATE running. Seriously hate it. Like with hashtags and memes. My trainer, who is in the anti-running camp, saw a picture of me on Instagram this week doing a hip thrust with the bench up against the treadmill (this picture here) and said, "Now that's the best use of a treadmill I've ever seen!!"
Their reasons for hating running vary, from boredom, to complaints about muscle loss, and how they feel running is not effective for weight loss. While I understand these complaints, running still has a special place in my heart and will always be a part of my fitness regime, in one way or another.
What brought this topic up for me this week is that I read two articles that both talked about the mental benefits of exercise: one about lifting and the other about running. It was interesting reading them both in the same week, and identifying with each. Let me explain.
Weighlifting and running both bring me joy. But lifting has brought out a level of confidence that was largely untapped before I started lifting seriously. There is something about walking up the barbell, loading on heavy plates, and then lifting said bar, either up from the floor in a deadlift, up from your chest on bench press, or over your head in military press, that makes me feel like there's nothing I can't conquer. When I hit a new record on a lift, like I did this weekend on hip thrust (205!!), I got up and did a little strut around the gym. I thought to myself, "WHOA! I just lifted over 200 pounds!!" To put it in context, at this time last year, I was doing the same exercise with about 80lbs. If you had told me last year that I'd do 200lbs on hip thrust, I wouldn't have believed you.
For me, the exercises that make me feel the most invincible are chin ups and bench press. I suppose it's because they used to seem like exercises only the big beefy guys at the gym could do, not someone five-feet-nothing and banged up from years of rugby. But slowly, steadily, I worked my way up, and now they are my favorites.
Tonight I actually had the pleasure of watching someone bench press for the first time. I knew she could do it since she's gotten crazy strong through her hard work in the gym over the past few months, and watching her push that bar up, and then get up off the bench with a huge smile on her face, totally made my day. I knew exactly how she felt.
And it's not just the confidence that makes lifting great -- it's the level of focus and quiet in your mind you need as you prepare for a lift. When I set up for deadlift and brace my core, I clear out my mind. I'm focusing only on dragging that bar up my body. Same on bench press. Deep breath out. Fingers lined up. Shoulders back. Core braced. Focused.
You just can't let your mind wander when you lift heavy. Your form will suffer, as will your intensity. You need complete focus.
Which is the complete and total opposite of running, especially distance running.
When I was marathon training, I had a lot of time alone with my thoughts out on the road. So much would go through my mind, and often it would start on one thing, like mulling over a recent conversation, and then change to an email I would draft in my head. Sometimes I would find myself getting emotional on a run, as the time to think would make me realize how much something was bothering me, or how grateful I was feeling, or how angry I was at something that I clearly was repressing. Running tends to make me shed the protective layer that keeps me from wearing my heart on my sleeve all the time. While sometimes the emotion can catch me off guard, most of the time it's complete catharsis. The ability to let your mind wander without any distractions is amazing, and extremely therapeutic. I thought the article in NY magazine did a really good job of explaining it.
So I am proud to say that I have equal love for lifting and running. It's like having two kids who have very different personalities, but you love them both. Love is love, after all, and finding some form of exercise that you truly enjoy is all that matters. When you find two, it's pretty great.
noun ac·count·abil·i·ty \ə-ˌkau̇n-tə-ˈbi-lə-tē\
the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions
Accountability = responsibility = owning up to your behaviors
Let's take a few real life scenarios.
1. If you're doing Whole30 and you eat a Thin Mint with nobody around, does it count as "cheating"?
2. If you put your jog bra on intending to go on a run by yourself, but you end up sitting on your porch drinking coffee, does it count as a workout?
3. If you go to the gym but spend most of your time walking around and scrolling through your song list looking for the perfect song to accompany jump squats, can you check off your HIIT workout on your plan?
4. If you hit every sample table at Costco, do you account for that in your calorie or macro count?
It just comes down to being honest with yourself about your actions. You know, deep down, when you're putting forth the focus and effort you need to get to your goals.
I spend a lot of time by myself, so I struggle with accountability. It's one of the reasons I hired my own fitness coach (the amazing Jenna Damron of Devoted Fitness Coaching) to write my workout plans. If I fall out of touch, I start to hear Facebook Messenger dinging.
"HEY. Talk to me. How are the workouts going?"
She checks up on me a lot, and I love that.
Accountability was also the reason I liked Weight Watchers so much back in the day. I knew that each week I'd be stepping on that scale, and I had nobody to point fingers at besides myself if I didn't like that week's number.
It was also one of the reasons I liked marathon training. If I planned, trained, and was responsible about recovering properly and getting enough sleep, the odds were good that I'd cross the finish line standing tall. I was responsible for how I felt at the end of each race because of how seriously I took my training. I never had a coach, but I was pretty obsessive about staying true to my training plans.
So if you raised a glass on New Year's and announced that 2017 was the year you would lose the weight, run the marathon, get chiseled arms, or be able to walk up the stairs without getting winded, start tracking your progress, or recruit a workout buddy to keep you accountable.
Here's what I recommend. Keep a journal, both for exercise and nutrition. The amount of detail is up to you--please understand I am not advocating for obsessive detail here, just basic notes to refer back to--but you may find it useful when something goes awry. When you wonder why your pants are tight and you look back over the past few weeks and notice that you ate more peanut butter than you realized, you may decide to change that habit. If you wonder why you're not getting faster and you look back at your training journal (or Garmin data) and realize you haven't changed your pace or done any tempo runs, you have your answer.
It's a cliche, but knowledge is power. There are so many amazing tools out there now to help you stay accountable, so I encourage you to find one that feels right for you. For me, it's inputting my nutrition into MyFitnessPal and writing down the weights I use for each workout.
It's like how I used to keep an old bridesmaid dress in my closet, long after I'd lost a lot of weight. There were days when I'd feel bloated, or would look in the mirror and would start picking myself apart. But putting on that dress--which was way too big on me after I'd lost the weight--reminded me how far I'd come.
When one of my clients finishes a 12-session package, I like to tell her how far she's come with weights from the beginning. It's awesome to see her face she realizes how much she's added to each of her lifts. She walks out of the gym with her head held high and a swagger in her step.
If you ever need someone to keep you accountable, my virtual door is always open. Just be ready to hear some dings on your phone.
"Hey, how are things?"
[And one quick announcement: I'm pulling together a small group of women to work closely with me online for personal training. If you'd like to join the inner circle for some accountability and some fun workouts, send me an email.]
When I was a senior in high school, I joined a gym for the first time. It was a rough but transcendent year for me. My long term boyfriend and I broke up early in the school year, and I sort of lost myself. To cope, I threw myself into exercise and a restrictive 1,000 calorie per day diet, which included a lot of grapefruits and green apples. It was the only way my 17 year old self knew how to move on in 1990. By the end of the year, I had gotten over my grief and abandoned the crazy diet, but I never stopped exercising, in one way or another.
Up to that point, I had always done some sort of exercise -- running with my dad, Jane Fonda videos (seriously -- leotard and all), and even mini trampoline class. In the fall, I was cheerleading, and the practices were not exactly physically taxing. Difficult in terms of coordination and remembering the cheers (I was actually a pretty crappy cheerleader) but my muscles didn't really feel spent. I remember going home after practice and then going for a 3 mile run in the neighborhood.
I don't remember how I got the idea to join a gym, but I did. I remember feeling like a fish out of water, and thinking how weird it was to be working out inside around a bunch of strangers. I had no idea how to use any of the machines (and nobody offered to help), let alone the free weights. But I fumbled my way through it, and felt good when I left.
It's so different today. If a 17 year old girl walks into a commercial gym, I would hope that she'd be shown the ropes, either by a trainer there or by her accompanying parent. My mom was never really into fitness (save the occasional aerobics class with a friend) and my dad is a lifelong runner who only works out inside (in a gym or otherwise) under duress.
So if you're ready to start working out but have no idea where to start, let me give you a few thoughts on how to get going. For this post, I'm going to focus on working out at home, but I will do a follow up post on starting out at the gym.
Working out at home
Working out at home is a new thing for me this year, and I've really come to like it. I do miss the energy and camaraderie of the gym, but at home I have all the weights to myself, can workout any time of day, and can listen to any music I please.
Here are the pieces of equipment I recommend investing in for beginner home-based workouts:
1. A yoga mat: not a deal breaker if you have carpet, but definitely needed if you have hard floors. Be aware that they come in many different thicknesses and styles, but don't feel you need to buy an $80 mat. Generally the cheaper they are, the thinner and less durable they'll be.
2. Dumbbells: I recommend starting with 5s, 8s, and 10s. I know there have been articles out this year saying that those light weights like the 1s and 3s will give you a good workout with high reps, but if you're looking for real body composition changes--especially if you say you want "toned arms"--I recommend heavier weights. It's pretty rare that I bust out anything lower than 8s for my clients, unless there are special circumstances.
3. Resistance bands: If you follow me on social media, you know about my deep love for the Slingshot hip circle. It's amazingly effective at building hip and glute strength. I also have a few mini bands (this is the pack I have) that I use for warming up, either wrapped around my hands for shoulder warm ups or around my legs for glute warm ups. I also have several long and sturdy bands, which I use for assisted chin ups or for face pulls. I bought a great set from the "Band Man," who runs a site called Resistance Band Training. If you follow him on social media (his YouTube channel is fantastic) you will get a lot of good instruction on how to use the bands.
4. A good plan: If you don't want to work directly with a trainer, you can certainly find resources online, but be picky. There are a bazillion online resources out there, ranging from BeachBody, to P90X, to Jillian Michaels, to DailyBurn, to name a few among the thousands. The one I recommend the most is Girls Gone Strong's Guide to Strength Training. It's a great place to start, especially if you watch the intructional videos. If you don't want to invest in a plan like that and really just want to start with the basics, here are the exercises I recommend:
Putting it together
If you're starting out, here's a basic way to structure your workout: pick a squat variation, a lunge variation, a shoulder exercise, and a core exercise, and perform them circuit style, doing sets of 6-8, for at least three rounds.
1. Goblet squats
2. Bulgarian split squats
3. Shoulder press
4. High plank (20 second hold)
Hopefully this will give you a good place to start on your journey to strength. As always, if you have questions or want more guidance, please ask away! I love getting emails from readers!
I've been getting a lot of emails and direct messages lately in an SOS fashion: "HELP! I want to lose some weight! What can I start doing?!?"
I hate that this is the month we're inundated with messages about "undoing" all of the "bad things" or "indulgences" from the holidays. It seems like fitness armageddon. ALL HANDS ON DECK! DO IT NOW! GET ON BOARD! GET RID OF THOSE HOLIDAY TOXINS!
So let's all agree to take a collective deep breath. This month does not represent a do-or-die timeframe -- if you wait to start your workout routine or new nutrition regime in February, you'll still get results.
But if you're raring to go, I say go for it. So where DO you start?
I think the best place to start is with food shopping and food prep for the week. Even if you hate to cook, you can buy pre-chopped veggies, add some olive oil, salt, and pepper, throw them on a sheet pan and roast them at 400 for 45 minutes. Very easy, and very tasty. I also typically keep a lot of frozen veggies like spinach and brocolli on hand. If you REALLY hate to cook, then Trader Joe's should be your go-to place. They have a ton of frozen or pre-made food that make life easy, like pre-cooked grilled chicken, salad mixes, marinated chicken and beef that you can just pop in the oven, tons of chicken sausages, and lots of gluten free options. You can even buy pre-made hard boiled eggs. If you don't have a Trader Joe's near you, your local grocery store probably makes a pretty good rotisserie chicken, which is great for multiple meals, and a good frozen vegetable selection.
I also recommend starting with a food journal for three days. Don't try and eat perfectly "clean" for those days -- try to eat your usual foods and see how many calories you're typically ingesting on any given day, and how the macros (fat/carbs/protein) break down. People usually discover that they're not eating enough protein or nearly enough veggies. Starting with upping the quantities of both of those things will pay huge dividends on your road to weight loss.
And since I'm a wee bit compulsive, I also plan my meals out for the week. It makes my life easier, with less trips to the store or to the pizza place.
Need some ideas? Here are some ideas on each meal of the day:
1. Breakfast: Focus on protein and veggies. I know it may seem weird at first to eat veggies for breakfast, but you'll get used to it. If you like eggs, they're a good way to get in your veggies without eating a pile of them plain. Sneak them into a scramble or add them to a frittata that you can eat all week. Eggs can be your best friend with weight loss, even if you eat the yolks (which are full of vitamins, by the way.) I eat one almost every day with my breakfast, hard boiled. Lately my breakfast has been a hard boiled egg, a chicken sausage link, and a pile of cooked veggies. (This week has been frozen spinach and brocolli with lemon zest.) Hate eggs? Try Greek yogurt with berries, or a protein shake.
2. Lunch: I'm a creature of habit, so I have a giant salad every day. The ingredients vary depending on what's on hand. This week it's been a giant bowl of lettuce (I use my kitchen shears to chop it up), cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, Trader Joe's grilled lemon pepper chicken, and a quarter of an avocado. When I run out of avocado, I'll probably use sliced almonds that I toast in the toaster. It's pretty satifying, and since I use a huge bowl, it takes me a while to eat it.
If I work out during my lunch hour, I'll usually make a smoothie afterwards, which cools me down and gives me a good mix of carbs and protein. Lately I've been doing this one:
3. Afternoon snack: I'll admit to all of you that this is my Achilles heel. I have always been a snacker, and it's gotten worse since I became a parent, with the omnipresent kids' snacks. I've recently gone dairy-free to help my stomach (which has helped A LOT!) but that meant giving up a lot of my favorite afternoon protein-rich snacks. Here's my favorite list of afternoon snacks, including the dairy:
4. Dinner: Protein and veggies. My go-to's are pulled pork tenderloin in the slow cooker, roasted chicken breast in the oven, and chicken thighs in the slow cooker over onions mixed with mustard powder and thyme. I make a giant sheet pan of roasted veggies once a week and then used the leftovers for my salad.
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When you go on vacation, do you pack sneakers and workout clothes or are you more of a, "I am going on VACAYYYYY-TION! NO WORKOUTS FOR ME!"
I have friends who fall into both camps, and I truly don't judge either way. One of my hard working one-on-one clients, who suffers from sleep issues, usually comes back from vacation telling me she did not workout but did get more sleep than usual. And then proceeds to KILL IT in the first workout back in my gym. To me, this told me that her body needed a break, and was able to come back restored without missing a beat. That's a win in my book.
When I travel, I try to just get in some sort of fitness whereever I go, and try not to stress about whether or not I'll be near a gym. If I know for a fact that I won't be near a gym (like when I was in the hinterlands in Canada over the summer) I do, however, pack some of my portable equipment, so at the very least, I can get in a good bodyweight workout.
I spent the first few days of my holiday vacation up in New York City, where we were staying at my brother-in-law's beautiful apartment up in Harlem. The apartment complex gym was only steps away from his apartment, and had a whole rack of dumbbells, a chin up bar, and a pretty large space. I got in a solid workout there on Christmas Eve morning, and left there feeling great.
Then on Christmas Day, we took the kids out for a walk around Harlem. It was a beautiful clear day, and I wanted to see the old architecture of Harlem, while my son wanted to go Pokemon hunting. So we first ended up in an old park, which had a beautiful set of stairs that I went up a few times and a set of monkey bars that I used for chin ups, plus there seemed to be an endless number of Pokemon to catch. Then we strolled down Convent Avenue, which has some beautiful old buildings. It was a nice family walk, and a good way to get the kids out in the fresh air for a while.
From New York, we flew to Jamaica, where we are now spending the week with my parents and my brother's family. My brother lived in Kingston for a few years so he found a great spot for us all to stay. It's a house and not a hotel--so no gym--so I knew my equipment would come in handy.
So on the first morning, I hooked my TRX straps up to a beautiful tree in the front yard, set out a towel on the ground, and brought out all of my resistance bands, including my hip circle, which I affectionately call the Blue Band of Terror.
And lo and behold, who should join me for my workout that first morning? MY HUSBAND PJ.
I know it doesn't sound shocking to you guys, but PJ is old school when it comes to working out. If there's no barbell in sight, he is not happy. He pretty much sticks to deadlifts, overhead presses, and bench, and that's it. So for him to join me for a bodyweight/TRX workout was a first. I loved working out with him, and was even able to teach him a few new exercises.
Then on day two, my nieces joined me. My niece Sarah is a ballerina, and mainly likes to come out to use the bands to contort herself into positions that I haven't been able to do since elementary school. She looks beautiful in her ballet positions, and I never tire of watching her.
My niece Katie is a gymnast, and is super strong. I bought her a set of TRX straps for Hanukkah (yes, I'm that aunt) because she loves to workout. I love working out with her because we're both a little competitive, so we silently push each other in a workout. It's awesome.
So this week, it's been a family affair during a lot of my workouts. And I wouldn't want it any other way.
Just your average stopwatch-toting suburban mom, looking to make some locals sweat and curse my name.