Leg workouts and DOMS

I have talked about the dreaded DOMS on here before. But it’s been quite a while since I experiences DOMS that were crippling in nature.

Us fitties are always going on about how the gym makes us happy, endorphins are great and the muscle soreness is “good” right? That stuff is all true (really it is, trust me) but it’s true because our bodies have adapted to this lifestyle. Unfortunately, when you take 3 weeks off (involuntarily, I assure you) you’re body quickly unadapts.

Why? Because it hates you.

Well no, that’s not true, it’s just that it takes an awful lot of energy to maintain the ability to recover from intense activity, and your body is designed to conserve energy if it’s not needed (that’s also why we get fat!).

Squats1What happens is you don’t really lose much strength or muscle size, at least not that quickly, because your body expended a heck of a lot of energy to build that muscle, it’s not going to waste it if it can be helped. What is going to suffer is your ability to recover and your cardio.

Seriously, cardio conditioning is something you have to do ALL THE TIME otherwise it’s gone in 2 weeks. Annoying, I know.

But back to the whole recovery thing. So you (I) go into the gym after 3 weeks off and are like, ok, let’s decrease the weight a little, focus on form and get in a good solid leg workout. You get through a higher than normal rep range because of the decreased weight and your form is great. After the workout, you are tired, but feeling fabulous. Then in the afternoon you notice a slight twinge in your leg when you get up, it’s been less than 8 hours since the workout, and feeling pain already does NOT bode well. The next day you can barely move because your legs are so totaled from yesterday’s “lighter” workout and it’s now Tuesday (4 days) after the workout and your hamstring are still feeling it!

That’s what happens. It’s also what happens to a lot of first timers who go into the gym and think they are superstars because they can leg press 200 pounds no problem and then can’t walk for a week. Then they get discouraged because they are in immense amounts of pain from one workout and they are expected to do this 3 times a week?! Well we all know it’s not like that every time, but they don’t know that. So it’s definitely discouraging.

Your body learns that it has to recover quickly from these sessions because you are going to do it again in a few days. Your body gets good at recovering and next thing you know, you’ve forgotten what real DOMS feels like.

Some things that you can do to help ease the pain:

– Take a pre-workout that includes BCAAs in order to spare some of you muscle’s from breaking down during the workout

– Get your post-workout nutrition within 30 mins of exercise which should include a protein shake (not casein) and a simple carb (like fruit) and maybe some glutamine and more BCAAs for good measure (those 2 are optional but I wish I had done that)

– Warm up really well before hand without completely tiring out the muscles you are working

– Stretch well, but not excessively after the workout… stretching a little is good as it lengthens the muscle and helps flush lactic acid; stretching too much will increase the amount of tears in your already torn muscles and actually increase the pain.

– Take an Epsom salt bath, this helps flush lactic acid to and can warm up stiff muscles

Unfortunately once you have DOMS you are kind of stuck, you have to take preventative measures in order to deal with it properly.

Here is the workout that induced such pain:

Getting back into Legs

Cardio – 20 min interval run

  • Back squats – normal stance – 3 sets of 10-12 reps getting as low as possible with 115 lbs (normally 135 – 165 lbs)
  • Straight leg deadlifts – normal stance – 3 sets of 10-12 reps with 135 lbs (normally 155 – 185 lbs)
  • Bulgarian split squats holding 15 lb dumbells – 3 sets – 10 reps each leg
  • Kettlebell swings with 12 kg kb – 3 sets – 20 reps
  • Hamstring curls – 3 sets – 12 reps with 80 lbs
  • Back extension (focusing on pulling with glutes not back) – 3 sets – 15 reps – no weight

Stretch for 15 mins after



Weekend Workouts

This weekend I did 2 great workouts with what I would call a posse. On Saturday my boyfriend and best friend joined me for a killer leg workout, then on Sunday my best friends boyfriend joined in too for a rocking chest and shoulders sesh. Since this weekend had uncommonly nice and mild weather for this time of year, my boyfriend and I walked back and forth to the gym at a pretty quick clip instead of doing cardio. It’s about 2 kms each way so it’s not cheating! I am well and truly sore today, but it was awesome! Want the deets? Ya you do…

Legs for 3

Warm up (or walk 2 km to the gym)

Exercise Sets Reps Weight
Kettlebell swings 3 20/20/20 16 kg (moderate)
Barbell back squats 3 10/8/8 135/155/155 (moderate)
Bosu ball squats* 3 10/10/10 10 lb bar (light)
Deadlifts 3 10/8/6 155/155/185 (heavy)
Seated hamstring curls (superset) 3 12/12/10+pulse 105 lbs
Leg extensions (superset) 3 12/12/10+pulse 105 lbs
Back extensions 3 15/12/12 10 lb plate held far in front of body
You can kind of see the scrunched up face I'm making... this was HARD

You can kind of see the scrunched up face I’m making… this was HARD

* I did one-one legged squats on the bosu ball and used the bar for a couter-balance, but this is a very challenging move for balance. My friend and boyfriend did the more stable two-legged bosu ball squat (which is still very challenging for stability) and used a 25 – 45 lb weight plate held at chest height. Either one will be a great workout and will earn you some curious glances from onlookers.

Stretch for at least 10 minutes and cool down

Push for 4

Warm up (or walk 2 km to the gym)

1 set of tabata sprints (just because)

Exercise Sets Reps Weight
Spiderman push ups* 3 12/12/12 bodyweight
Bench press 2 10/8 95/115
Military press 3 12/12/12 25 lbs
Lateral delt raises 3 12/12/12 10 lbs
Front delt raises 3 12/12/12 10 lbs
Tricep bench dips** 3 12/12/12 45 lbs (on thighs)

* These are push ups where on the down motion you bring one leg out to the side and bring your knee to your elbow. See more description here.

** I did these with my arms on one bench and my feet on another with a weigh plate on my legs for added resitance. To make these easier, remove the weight plate, put you feet on the ground or bring you feet closer to your body.

Stretch for at least 10 minutes and cool down

Having 4 people go through a workout can be tough, so we basically worked in pairs for everything except the bench press (which is why we only did 2 sets). Most of the time 2 people would be doing the exercise while the other 2 spotted and then switch. Thankfully, it wasn’t a busy day at the gym so we managed this without too much trouble. Working in a group could definitely have it’s down sides

Deadlifts and Danger?

Sorry for being totally MIA these past few days. I have been sick and I become less than useless when I’m sick. But I think I am getting better now.

I just got a text from my Dad saying that he almost did a full deadlift! My Dad is a very strong man but has struggled with back problems for a long time and back problems + deadlifts = bad things. That made me think of all the information around deadlifts saying that they are terrible and you will get injured. It’s kind of true… but only because most people 1) don’t know the correct form and 2) don’t have the hip flexibility to do it properly.

I have been trying to teach my friend how to deadlift on leg days because, well, I ❤ deadlifts. And I realized that even though it’s probably one of the most natural and functional movements a body can do… it’s really hard to teach. I started off teaching a regular deadlift, but quickly found that if you aren’t used to the motion you curve your back. This is why everyone and their grandma thinks deadlifts are dangerous.

So when I realized that something wasn’t computing I moved on to stiff-legged deadlifts. These are less powerful, but they are much easier to do from a form perspective. It’s a simple hinging motion from the hips and you only go as low as you can with you back 100% straight. As soon as you feel it curve to compensate for inflexibility, you stop! So that’s easier to learn.

But why is a move that should be innate, so bloody difficult?


The full squat is a natural movement

Let’s back track: Have you ever seen a toddler play with something? They usually look like this –>

That is a perfect full squat position, from which the child can easily stand without throwing out his back.

Now you do that.

I’ll wait…

Did you fall over? Did you even get past perpendicular? Did you heels come off the floor? Did you notice, perhaps, that the main issue is you have no flexibility in your hips?

Most of us don’t have the requisite flexibility in out hips to allow us to get into a full squat. It requires out thighs to sit alongside our bodies with our knees pretty much in our armpits. And if you can’t do that… you will throw your back out doing a deadlift.

Regular deadlift (bending the knees) - note the position of my back.

Regular deadlift (bending the knees) – note the position of my back.

Deadlifts don’t require the same range of motion, or so it would seem, but they do require complete control over keeping your back in proper alignment. Proper alignment means chest up and lower back straight. If you don’t have the ability to keep your back straight while you reach down for the bar, you will get hurt.

I was talking to a guy at the gym who commented on how much I was lifting and wasn’t I concerned about hurting myself? After a few exchanges he said “but I thought that deadlifts were purely a back exercise!”. AHA! So here is the confusion, yes you will work your back, but you are lifting with your legs, just like you’ve always been told to do – lift that computer with your legs, otherwise you’ll hurt your back! Why would we do the opposite on purpose for an exercise?

So here’s what it comes down to, if you can’t do a full squat, please work on your flexibility BEFORE you attempt a deadlift. But if you can do a full squat and you have good mobility and strength in your back, the deadlift is one of the best exercises out there. It works almost every muscle in your body – rear deltoids, upper back, lower back, glutes, hamstrings and quads. Plus it’s the lift that you can lift the most weight with, which is always encouraging. Being able to say “I can lift over 200 pounds” or whatever your goal is, can be extremely motivating and empowering.

I will never encourage someone to do something that is dangerous, but make sure you understand WHY something is dangerous before writing it off. It might be that the pro’s outweigh the con’s for some things, and in my opinion, the upside of mobility, strength, power and functional movement are worth the patience required to do a deadlift properly.

Happy lifting!

Compound Moves

Do you feel like you don’t have enough time to eat healthy and workout?

So does everyone else… including me.

As the saying goes; If it’s important, you will find a way, if not, you’ll find an excuse.

Squats 2Being short on time is not an excuse anymore. The steady state cardio myth has been debunked and HIITs are shown to be just as effective. Crossfitters’ WODs take about 20 minutes in total and build muscle like crazy. Circuits can be just as effective if not more than a regular weight session and take half the time. All of these things give you great bang for your buck, but for me… compound moves are king.

What do I mean compound moves?

A compound move is defined differently by different people, but what I am talking about are you “standard” movements that involve multiple muscle groups. Some of my favourites are (in order of my love for them):

  1. Deadlifts (Stiff leg, regular, sumo, you name it, I love it!)

    Regular deadlift (bending the knees)

    Regular deadlift (bending the knees)

  2. Back squats (with variations on stances)
  3. Lunges
  4. Pull Ups
  5. Kettlebell swings (these are not standard moves, but I love them and they work your whole posterior chain)
  6. Thrusters
  7. Push Ups

There are others, but my points is that all of these work multiple muscle groups in ONE exercise. If you only have 20 minutes to workout do you think you should do the hamstring curl machine or deadlifts?

Instead of working on individual muscle groups and having to do 14 different exercises to get a full workout in, just do a couple of these and you are done. Look how many muscles the following workout will target and I guarantee you can do 3 sets of 10 reps of these in less than 30 minutes. The bolded muscle group is the main muscle being worked.

Stiff leg deadliftsHamstrings, Glutes, Lower Back

Wide Stance SquatsQuadriceps, Glutes, Hamstrings, Adductors

Stiff Leg deadlift


LungesQuadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves

Kettlebell Swings – HamstringsGlutes, Quadriceps, Lower Back, Upper back, Deltoids

Now that is one efficient workout! Be forwarned though, the tradeoff for less time is higher intensity. Doing squats and deadlifts is harder, more tiring and requires more effort that doing leg extensions until the cows come home. But there is nothing more rewarding (for me… maybe I’m crazy) than lifting some insanely heavy weight in a real life movement… because I guarantee you will have to pick something up off the ground, but when do you ever have a weight strapped to your ankle and you are only allowed to use you  quad in a kicking motion?




Girls: Lift Heavy Things!

My friend KC sent me a text today of this pic… thank you for inspiring this blog!

Before I get into the fact that girls need not be afraid of the heavy, or even light weights in the gym, let’s clear up this picture… The woman on the left is posing specifically to show off the most muscle she can, has carb loaded to bulk up her muscles, has dehydrated herself for vascularity and has just done a bunch of exercises to help swell the muscles by bringing blood to them or getting a “pump”. The girl on the right is obviously not posing to show her muscle, has more water in her and has probably just dieted down for 3 weeks (at least) to look smaller for the photo shoot. Ok, so obviously neither of these pictures represent what these women look like in their day-to-day lives.

But let’s get to the point of the picture which is that you will NOT become a she-hulk the minute you touch a 25 pound dumbbell or actually grab a plate of some sort. Not only is this ridiculous, but it’s somewhat insulting to the women who are trying to build muscle. Do you have any idea how hard it is to build muscle as a woman??? We do not have the testosterone required to build muscle. The average man has approximately 20 times the testosterone than the average woman. Testosterone is required to bulk up and some women who bodybuild will actually supplement the hormone to increase their ability to put on muscle. The woman on the right probably (not definitely) has used steroids and she is likely in the gym lifting more than the guys so don’t worry about looking like her by aiming to do one pull up!

But what about the other woman? Some girls might think that even she is too muscular (I personally think y’all are crazy but I’m sure you’re out there). She probably has about the same level of muscle as me, maybe even a tad more and I know that there are girls who don’t want to be as muscular as I am. She also has very low body fat, likely unsustainably low in the rang of 10 – 14 % which makes her muscles look harder and more defined. Addlback some fat and she will look softer and more feminine, and all that muscle underneath adds some dangerous curves! But she is also probably in the gym 4-6 days per week, she probably doesn’t do steroids, but I would bet my right arm that she uses various supplements including protein powder, BCAAs, and maybe a thermogenic. She also probably squats more than you weigh and can pump out 15 pull-ups.

So why am I blithering on about this? Because it is a lot of work to look like that and the most frustrating thing I hear women say is “I don’t want to get bulky!” You won’t! At least not by accident. You aren’t accidentally going to put on 10 pounds of muscles, trust me. You will get more toned and defined which I think most people like. But just TRY lifting heavier, do some weights, get off the treadmill, put down the 3 pound pink dumbbell and haul yourself over to the squat rack. If by some miracle you put start putting on more muscle then you want, then stop doing what you are doing, but you will have plenty of lead up to that to modify you approach.

Ok, if you are still reading you are awesome. Hopefully I have enticed you to try lifting heavier… how do you go about doing that though? Well you start with the basic movements and build a foundation. These are what I consider the basic movements:

1. The squat

2. The lunge

3. The deadlift (this is more advanced so master the first two before you attempt)

4. The push up (which you can progress to bench press or any form of press)

5. The dip (this can be done on the floor, a bench, with legs supported, bent, straight etc.)

6. The chin-up

7. The row

That’s it, now I do lots of different variations on these movements, but these will work pretty much every muscle in your body and at least every muscle group. Just in case you are curious; when I am not depleted my maximum weight for 6 repititions (or 6RM) or the maximum number of the movement I can do without rest is as follows:

  • Squat – 175 lbs
  • Lunges – 125 lbs
  • Deadlifts – 205 lbs
  • Push-up – 48 reps (as discovered while drinking in a competition at a work event)
  • Dips – 23 (based on years ago, I typically don’t do this to failure anymore)
  • Chin-ups – 12
  • Rows (Single arm bent over, AKA lawnmowers) – 40 lbs (I haven’t actually gone to failure on this either, so I’m guessing)

To choose a weight, you should be lifting something challenging that will be very hard to do your desired number of reps with… the last rep should be hard to keep proper form, but not impossible. What’s a rep? A rep is a repetition, or one complete movement of the prescribed exercise. Reps make sets, a set is completed by doing a certain number of reps continuously without rest. You can combine these is oh so many ways but here is a SUPER basic way of looking at reps and sets.

Building strength (not size) – Low reps (1-5), high sets (4-8)

Building muscle mass and size – Medium reps (8- 12), medium sets (2-5, I like to stay in the 3-4 range)

Building endurance – High reps (more than 15), low sets (1-3)

The endurance range is what most girls think they need to do using super light weights in order to “tone” and “lengthen” the muscles, well if you don’t have muscle to begin with, you aren’t going to tone very much and lengthening happens when you stretch, period. Endurance ranges are great when trying to lean down because they can become aerobic if the set is long enough and work well in circuits and to fully exhaust the muscle… if that sounds like babble to you, do the muscle building!

As another plus, I always feel wicked when I hop over to the squat rack and leave the same plates on that the guy before me was using, or put more on. It’s always gratifying to get the looks of “can she really lift that?”.

Ok rant over. Moral – lift heavy!

Drunken pirate stew

On a completely unrelated note I made the most awesome clean stew yesterday night and will share the recipe with you tomorrow. I’m calling it drunken pirate stew because I added some spiced rum to it which was delectable, if not exactly part of the diet, but shhhhh. I love cooking when the seasons change. Especially as it gets cooler and I get inspired to make comfort foods like roasts, stews and soups. Yum.

  • Getting “Toned” (paleoplan.com) – this person obviously gets asked how to “tone” a lot!