I love Lifting!

Sometimes people say they wish they could be motivated to weight train like me, or they wish they could compete. I usually follow this by asking why? Usually it’s something like I want to lose weight, or the magazines look so good etc. Almost always I give them the same piece of advice; “Do what you like.” Not in a snarky, do whatever you want, I don’t care kind of way. But literally, find something you like and do it.

Gains are made when you are loving the gym 🙂

Not everyone likes weight training, even though it is a great way to get in shape. There are other ways! (blasphemy) Some people prefer running or swimming and like to just do cardio. Other people like team based sports. And still others like the competitive workouts of crossfit or martial arts. These are all legitimate ways to get in shape and I bet every person could find something fitness related that they LIKE to do.

I don’t just like lifting weights. I LOVE it. Very few things make me as happy as picking up heavy things and putting them down. I guess I’m pretty simple that way. 😉  haha

But sometimes I get it in my head to do workout “programs” or “methods”.  And I do. I experiment with these things all the time. But then I find myself skipping the gym a little too often. And when that happens I often go back to what I normally do… and I have an epiphany.

I have an epiphany that I have about once a year. A Re-piphany if you will.

And that is that I really like doing my own thing in the gym. My love of weights is contingent on it not being overly structured or programmed.

I’ve even blogged about it before! So why do I forget?

Well I’ll tell you why, but first let me tell you what I mean by “my own thing”

I like following frameworks, and not schedules. Principles and guidelines instead of a strict timeline and regimen. It keeps me engaged with the process and gives me the flexibility to adapt to my schedule outside of fitness or even how I am feeling that day.

If I follow a strict program that someone else designed I don’t feel like I’m really working towards MY goals… I’m working towards THEIR goals (or the ones they imagined for their user). And that’s great for the most part. But I inevitably can’t follow it to the letter because of such and such a reason and I end up modifying it, and then I am basically doing what I normally do anyways. EXCEPT now I feel guilty because I’m supposed to be following this program.

So now I have this ridiculous, self-imposed guilt that I’m carrying around, and my workouts start to suffer. I’m  not giving it my all, or if I am, I’m just not “feeling it”.

Stop that!

Let’s stop with the theoretical now. Yesterday I went to the gym and decided that I was getting really bored of the tempo I was imposing on myself from the program I’ve been following. It has a 1-0-3 tempo (1 seconds contraction, 0 second pause, and 3 second decentric movement) So that’s a slooooow down phase. It forces you to focus on form, and also means you probably have to drop the weight.

But I like lifting HEAVY. It’s motivating for me. So yesterday I decided to shed the tempo counts and just lift like a beast. It was back day and I really wasn’t feeling that into it at the start. There were no treadmills so I decided to warm up on the row machine. I managed to bang out over 1000 meters in 4 minutes! (1 min intervals) So that put me in a good mood.

Then the lat pull down machine was being used, which is normally where I start my  back day… ok well second in line is one arm rows, so I decided to start with that instead. With the slow tempo I had been using 40-45 pounds and struggling. But without the tempo restriction I decided to give 50’s a shot. After banging out 12 it felt pretty light. So I decided to try 60’s – My previous PR is 55 for the record. I did 10 clean reps with the 60’s and did a second set! It still felt pretty easy. So I upped it to 65 pounds and still managed a last set of 10 clean reps!!! I couldn’t stop smiling and definitely got a couple of weird looks.

After that I thought I would be completely toast for the rest of the workout. But I wasn’t I upped my weight on every single exercise. Partially because I was using a much faster tempo with gives you some momentum, but I think a lot of it had to do with me ENJOYING my workout.

OK, so here is my point.

I often want to try new programs because I see them around all the time. So and so it one this diet, that persons doing these workouts etc. So I give them a try, but in the process I lose sight of what I love about my workouts and they become a chore. It’s such a small change too! I’m not forcing myself to try to become a runner, I’m just using a different structure to my weight training sessions.

So listen up… if you feel like you can’t get in shape, or weight lifting just isn’t for you… that is OK. You are a unique person with individual likes and dislikes. But I promise you there is some form of fitness out there that you will fall in love with. You just have to find it! So experiment, try new sports, methods, times of day even! Just keep trying until you find what you love. And once you do, keep doing it! 🙂

Why am I weak in the morning?

I’ve written about morning workouts before. Some people love them, some people hate them. I’m kind of in the middle ground somewhere.

The Pro’s:

I use this lovely alarm to motivate myself to get out of bed in the mornings

  • It’s out of the way and I can get on with the rest of my day
  • It’s less likely to be skipped because something came up
  • I feel super accomplished the whole day
  • I am more likely to stick to my plan the rest of the day because I started off on the right foot

The Con’s:

  • Waking up super early sucks (for me)
  • It means my meals are more spaced out throughout the day and I’m therefore starving the whole day
  • I’m significantly weaker in the morning than in the afternoon

That last one, being weaker in the morning, has been bothering me a lot. I’m not talking about just feeling a little weaker or the lifts being harder. I’m talking about physically not being able to lift as much weight as in the afternoon. I’ll give you some comparative weights:

Morning (10 reps to almost failure) Afternoon (10 reps to almost failure)
Squat 135-155 165-185
Deadlift 135-155 185-205
Lat Pull-down 70-85 85-100

I’m pretty sure if I ran a regression those would be statistically significant differences and, no, I’m not just being lazy in the mornings, I promise.

Cardio doesn’t seem to be an issue, though sprinting I seem slightly slower, but I haven’t noticed a big difference. Anyways, I decided to look into why this might be. So if you notice this difference you can understand why and not freak out (like I may have) that you are rapidly getting weaker!

Ok, so here are the reasons that I have found:

  1. You have been fasting for 8-10 hours and likely only have one meal in you before you workout. Therefore, your muscles do not have as much energy/stored glycogen to use for the workout. This means that you tire quicker and are not as capable of pushing out that last rep
  2. Your circadian rhythm affects your body temperature. You are generally cooler in the morning after waking up and your muscles are also cooler. A cold muscle is harder to contract and is less flexible making you slightly more prone to injury and not quite as strong in the mornings. This is also a good reason to make sure you do a thorough warm up in the mornings!
  3. The central nervous system (CNS) is still “waking up” along with the rest of you. This is, in my opinion, the biggest factor in the loss of strength. Getting your CNS firing rapidly means that the electrical impulses telling your muscles to contract are getting to the muscle faster and more frequently. In the morning, this process is slower because it has slowed down over night so you can sleep. With a slower firing if the CNS come muscles that are less responsive, less coordinated and overall weaker…. crap!

So what can you do about it? Because let’s face it, working out in the morning is sometimes the only and best option, but you want to perform your best.

The food one is relatively easy to address, eat a quick acting carb like fruit at least 45 minutes before working out to try to restore glycogen levels. In general you should eat before any heavy training, though fasted cardio can be beneficial.

The circadian rhythm is a lot harder to work around. The best option in to wake up a little earlier and make sure that time is consistent every day. Your rhythm will adjust and if you have been up for an hour and a half by the time you get to the gym, your body should be warming up by that point. This unfortunately does not seem feasible to me since I have a hard enough time with my 5:30 wake up to get out the door by 6. So I think I’ll just stick with a really good warm up.

The CNS firing is a challenging one, but there are some techniques to deal with it. After your warm up try doing a couple explosive movements like box jumps, thrusters or burpees. Whole body, explosive movements have been shown to get the nervous system firing better than a steady warm up or slow, heavy lifts. Don’t do too many though as these can easily deplete those glycogen stores which were part of the problem to begin with. You want to do just enough to feel like you have a bit of adrenaline in your veins, but not so many that you need to bend over to breath. I’ll be trying this technique on my next heavy morning workout and let you know how it goes 🙂

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!

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!

Split or not?

Have you ever seen the guy in the gym with a shredded upper body like the hulk supported by toothpick legs? Even if they are normal sized, they look small because it is not proportionate. These guys look ridiculous (and I may make fun of them behind their back).

We’ll come back to this in a minute. So my boyfriend an I usually workout together pretty regularly. He used to be a cardio only kind of person, running 5 km and 10 km races and always on the go. I introduced him to weight training and eating a variety of foods that aren’t pizza and chicken fingers, and he hasn’t looked back since. He has put on quite a lot of muscle and he (and I 🙂 ) really like the outcome. However, recently with the move and my competition, we haven’t been working out as much together. I still get to the gym 4-5 days a week, but he might only go 2 times. Going to the gym twice a week is fine and you will still maintain results… except he did something that he knows is ridiculous, but I understand it. He decided that if he was only getting to the gym a couple of days, he would focus on “the glory muscles”.

This is not good. He was only working his chest and biceps for almost 2 weeks before he told me what he was doing, and he had not done a leg day in over a month! My own boyfriend was falling victim to one of the worst weight training traps a man has. Sometimes women forget that men have funny ideas about their bodies too.

Balance and proportion are so important to overall health an appearance. Muscle imbalances (i.e. training only your front and not your back) can result in injuries or poor posture. Plus it just looks funny if you get to a point where it is noticeable. So how to deal with this? There are a couple of different ways to train.

Whole body training – You train all major body parts in one workout

Lower/upper split – You train all lower body muscles on one day and all upper body muscles on another.

Muscle group splitting – You train a specific muscle group in each workout and never consecutively (i.e. pull muscles, push muscles, abs and shoulder, legs)

These basically go up in complexity and timing. Whole body training works well if you can only get into the gym 1-3 times per week and if you have a little bit longer to train on those days. One of the problems is that you usually don’t get to all the muscles and smaller muscles tend not to get trained. This is best for people looking to get into good overall shape and not training for anything specifically.

Upper/lower splits are the next level up. This is also good for people whole can only make it to the gym 2 – 4 times per week, but you should be going at least twice in order to hit both upper and lower at least once a week. This allows you to do more than one exercise for each muscle and work them a little harder, or to shorten your workouts a bit if you don’t have the time. Smaller muscle groups are less likely to be left out in this type of schedule.

The muscle grouping split is what I use and is what I started my boyfriend on which unfortunately led him to focus on certain glory muscles. I train with this schedule:

Monday – shoulders and abs + cardio

Tuesday – legs (heavy and slow)

Wednesday – cardio (longer session but light)

Thursday – Push muscles (chest and triceps) and abs +cardio

Friday – Legs (bodyweight and plyometrics)

Saturday or Sunday – Pull muscles (back and biceps) + cardio

I hit legs twice with different methods because I want to make sure that I am giving them as much attention as my upper body; my lower body tends to develop slower. This schedule allows me to really focus on the different angles of muscles and make sure that all aspects of the muscle group are worked in different ways so I look balanced and proportionate. It also allows me the flexibility to work a muscle group more or less if I feel like it is not developing proportionately. It’s a great method, but is time-consuming and is more geared towards higher levels of weight training. So if you are limited for time just do either whole body or lower/upper split.

If you are looking for a program to start you out bodybuilding.com has some really great options.