Mental Health · Workouts

How my workouts have influenced my other life goals

Starting this blog about my new workout goals couldn’t have come at a better time in my life.

It started at a time in my life when I felt a heightened sense of self-doubt, anxiety and insecurity. I had just quit a job that offered me a lot of security: decent pay, decent hours, reasonable commute. And yet, I was miserable and passionless; I woke up with no real motivation to get me through the day. So I quit and traded security for insecurity, with no real sense what I wanted from life or what lie ahead.

Rather than feeling elated when I left my job, I felt lost and insecure. Instead of looking forward to having time to discover my passions, I felt disappointed that I hadn’t figured it out yet (I mean you’re supposed to have your life figured out at 26, right?). And that stung all the more because I used to know what I loved and what I wanted to be: a journalist.

I knew I wanted to be a reporter since high school. I worked my butt off through college, landed a political reporting internship in Washington D.C., and was lucky enough to get a reporting position out of college. It was everything I’d worked for and everything I’d wanted.

Until it wasn’t. About a year into the job, I remember crying in my car on my way to an assignment because I was so exhausted and because my editor was on my ass again about something. I remember in that moment thinking I don’t want this anymore.

That was pretty deflating. All my life I’ve set goals and worked towards achieving them. And now I had no idea what to do.

When I started this blog, I didn’t think much would come from it. I’d hoped that it’d get me to go to the gym more and I set a goal for myself to participate in a competition, but in reality I had no confidence in myself that I could achieve any of it.

I could not have been more wrong.

In the two months since I started this, I’ve gone from going to the gym zero days a week to four, plus a ballet class twice a week. I can see the difference in my energy levels, my body, and most importantly, my confidence. Even the trainers notice the difference.

Setting a goal as small as “go to the gym more” made me realize that yes, I can in fact set and achieve goals successfully. More than that, I can set a goal and learn a lot from all the highs and lows along the way.

This little achievement has helped reignite confidence that I will, in fact, figure out a new career path. Doing something I never thought I could do — like weight training — helped me realize there are careers other than journalism out there for me.

And it’s made me realize that figuring it out is a goal in and of itself. There’s a lot I can learn along the way.

 

Body Image · Workouts

More women should lift heavy weights

The other day my friend was nice enough to invite me to check out her gym for free.

We went to a women’s-only gym that specializes in cross training group classes. The women were all so lovey and welcoming, the instructor was enthusiastic and motivating, the facility was bright and welcoming. My only problem? The workout. More specifically, the weights we used.

The actual exercises were good ones — deadlifting, squatting, kettlebell swings, etc, combined with all kinds of running and jumping to get the heart rate up. But when it came time to lift weights, I was a little disappointed at the size of the weights. The heaviest kettlebell couldn’t have been bigger than 30 pounds. When I grabbed a 20 pound kettlebell to deadlift, all the women tried to advise against it. I deadlifted 120 pounds for 5 reps the other day — 20 pounds is more than manageable.

I’m not telling this story to shame these women or to brag about myself. But after this experience, I realized that there is still this misconception that women shouldn’t be lifting heavy weights. Some of the most powerful, strong, and awesome women I know still believe this. Why do they think they shouldn’t lift heavy?

  1. They’ll bulk up and look manly
  2. They’ll hurt themselves
  3. Women can’t lift anything nearly as heavy as men can

Pardon my bad language, but these three reasons are total and complete bullshit! Women are so much stronger than even they give themselves credit for. Just look at your mom — she gave birth to you; if that’s not strong, I don’t know what is.

I am a petite woman, and I used believe in this myth that women shouldn’t lift heavy. I had my three pound dumbbells and that enough for me.

I’m not sure where this myth comes from and why it’s still being perpetuated. Even when I was looking up weightlifting photos for this post, I was shocked that almost all the photos were either of men lifting ridiculously heavy weights or women lifting delicately small, pink ones (see example above).

If you are a women reading this, please heed my plea : STOP lifting small and START lifting heavy!

But, you ask, what if I bulk up, injure myself, or can’t do it? I’m no weightlifting expert but from personal experience I can tell you….

No, you won’t bulk up and look manly if you lift heavy

The idea that women are delicate flowers who are limited by their femininity and gender drives me crazy (if you can’t tell, I’m an unabashed feminist). You are not going to suddenly become ultra masculine overnight because you lift heavy. Yes, you will put on weight — I think I’ve gained 10 pounds since I started lifting. But you will also feel better, look stronger, and be more confident in your body than ever.

My grandma once said to me that she noticed I’ve put on weight. I told her that I’ve never felt better about my body.

You won’t injure yourself if you have the right trainer

I would advise any woman (or man) against weightlifting without learning proper form from a trainer. I’m new enough to weightlifting that I haven’t gotten my form dialed in and that is so, so important to lifting effectively and without injuring yourself. That being said, as a woman you’re not automatically setting yourself up for injury because you are lifting something heavier than 40 pounds. In fact, you’re doing your body a huge favor.

Yes, you can lift with the bros

How heavy you can lift is all relative to your size, genetics, and, yes, gender. It is true that men are, overall, physically stronger than women. But that doesn’t mean you can’t join the Bro Barbell Club. I’m 5′ 2″ and 103 pounds so no, I’m never ever going to out lift a 160 pound dude, but I’m learning to stop comparing myself to others and believe in my own ability to be a badass female weightlifter.

And there are women out there that are stronger than men. I’ve met some truly strong, badass women that out lift a lot of guys.

 

Have you ever lifted heavy before? If not, what’s stopped you? Let me know if the comments 🙂

 

Body Image · Workouts

My personal record and why comparing yourself to others is useless

Have you ever finished a great workout, felt super accomplished and strong and then looked to the girl next to you and thought “Sh*t, she/he’s better than me.” I know I have.

That girl next to me has really great arms, flat abs, and a killer squat all while looking effortlessly non-sweaty and not exhausted. I should be admiring her but instead I’m comparing myself to her.

We all do this from time to time in any facet of our lives.  It’s when you start letting these comparisons shape your perception of yourself that it gets unhealthy.

Having not been very athletic in the past, it’s hard for me not  to compare myself to other girls who are stronger, more toned, and more active with seemingly little effort. That insecurity has negatively impacted my motivation to workout in the past. It’s a daily struggle, but today I had something of revelation on my fitness journey.

I’ve been disappointed so far with weightlifting that I haven’t gotten the impressive numbers that all the other girls at my gym seem to have. But today I hit a PR (personal record) on my deadlift: 137 pounds for one at 103 pounds (my weight). Not bad for a relative novice.

I’m realizing just how useless it is to compare your body to someone else’s. Your body will always be your body. And if you treat it right, it’s capable of amazing things!

Everyone’s body is different and capable of different things. I don’t like not being good (or the best) at something but I’m realizing each week I train more, my body is pretty awesome and pretty strong on it’s own.

And bonus, I even made it on my boyfriend’s business Facebook page!

 

Mental Health · Nutrition · Workouts

Why resting is as important as the workout

So in writing all of these blog posts, I’ve realized I failed to mention something somewhat important to me and my fitness journey: I’m dating a personal trainer.

To be clear, I’m not doing this blog because of him — I’m doing it for me. I’m incredibly lucky to have him supporting and motivating me, offering me tips and, yes, sometimes training me. I’ll admit that sometimes I get self-conscious when comparing my athleticism to his but I also know that I bring other things to the table (I’m a mad oboe player, y’all).

I bring this up because my boyfriend has really helped re-frame the idea of workout recoveries for me. Some myths I used to believe about post-workout recovery:

  • Being sore is the goal forever and always
  • When you workout, you can veg as much as you want the rest of the time
  • Eat what ever want post-workout
  • If you feel fine, you don’t need to recover

For fitness newbies like myself, it’s hard enough getting to the gym in the first place. But having to think about what happens after? Why does that matter if I already did the hard work?

Well as it happens and is the general consensus, the post-workout recovery time is when your muscles actually start to grow. So resting is just as important as the workout. Aha, my laziness finally comes in handy!

Well, sort of. I’ve learned from my boyfriend* that recovering doesn’t just mean an excuse to munch on some Ruffles in front of your favorite movie (not ashamed to admit my favorite movie is “The Sound of Music.”).

But resting and refueling is important, especially after an intense workout. And how you recover will all depend on the type of workout you do and how new you are to it. When I first started weightlifting, my muscles hurt so badly that sitting on the toilet was an exercise in torture. Now? I can sit on the toilet no problem! Take rest days for as long as your body is telling you to (but seriously, don’t use that as an excuse to rest indefinitely).

If you’re totally new to working out, take it easy and rest well. I’m good at that. But I’ve been working out long enough that my body feels fine engaging in active recovery like a nice hike, a ballet class, some body weight workouts, or chasing my cats around the yard.

And obviously crucial to the rest period is sleep. I’m an occasional sufferer of insomnia sometimes due to stress and anxiety, sometimes because I can’t tear myself away from my phone, and sometimes because Mercury was in retrograde and sleep just wasn’t in my cards. But sleep is so important to your mental and physical health, so please ignore all advice that you should squeeze that workout in and sacrifice an hour of sleep. And to get a good night’s sleep, don’t workout too close to bed time. 

Eating the right foods before and after working out is important too. There are a million zillion blogs out there with recipes of what to eat before and after and when, so I’m not gonna go there. But the general consensus, again, is to get some protein and complex carbs into your system to both fuel your energy and help you maximize recovery. It seems like silly, obvious advice — don’t forget to eat! — but something I often forget. Just the other day I skipped a meal before some tough cardio and man, I felt awful afterward. Don’t do that.

Lastly, take your recovery seriously! I know that I used to treat the time between workouts as my “reward” for being active and an excuse to be lazy. And on the flip side, gym addicts might see rest time as unproductive and being lazy. But seriously, take it seriously!

Looking for other advice on post-workout recovery (or anything about fitness)? Checkout my new Pinterest board:

I’ve also started a new YouTube channel with videos of my workouts and, *special bonus,* videos of my adorable, temperamental cats:

 

*Disclaimer: In case you’re wondering the validity of my boyfriend’s advice don’t worry, I triple fact-check everything he says. As a former reporter, he’s used to my incessant questioning like “Do you have data or research to backup that claim?”

 

 

Body Image · Workouts

How I stay motivated when there’s no time and too much good TV

Why do I love being so lazy?

I’ve asked myself this question many times while wearing my unused workout clothes, finishing off a bag of chips and catching up on just one more Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode (a show I’ve re-watched probably a dozen times).

In my defense, Buffy is an amazing show. And chips are crazy addicting. But the real reason I’ve often opted for vampires and snacks over working out is probably one of the top reasons other people struggle: motivation.

It’s a daily struggle having to choose between catching up with Westworld or working on my deadlift. And laziness is actually low on my list on obstacles; the most common reasons I skip a workout:

  1. No Time: I get busy. We all do.
  2. No Energy: After a long day at work, doing chores, doing homework, etc etc, all I want is having nothing “to do.”
  3. Insecurity/Self-Doubt: I never realized how big of an obstacle my own insecurities were. It’s probably something that we all struggle with, especially when social media is there to constantly remind us of our inadequacies.
  4. Hunger: OMG! If I am hungry, there is NOTHING getting in my way of finding some food.
  5. Injury: As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been dealing with back pain for several years and nothing sounds worse than exercise when my back/hip/glute is in serious pain (Side note: Don’t workout if what you’re doing will make an injury worse).
  6. Anxiety: Like I talked about in great length in my last post, I struggle with anxiety and that presents itself as an obstacle in a myriad of ways.

In my mind these are all valid excuses. But that’s the thing — they’re excuses. If I’m making my health a priority in my life — better yet, if I’m making myself a priority in my life — I have to do just that, prioritize time for being active. It can feel like self-care to indulge in a day-long Harry Potter marathon (OK bad example- HP is the best), but your body isn’t going to feel the love after Snape dies and you morph into the couch.

So how do I motivate myself off the couch and to the gym? Here’s some motivational tricks that have worked for me:

Set a Workout Goal, But Focus on Mini Goals

I mentioned in my first post I want to eventually compete in a powerlifting competition. For me, that’s a big hairy audacious goal. It looks awesome when I get there, but being a lifting novice it’s going to be awhile before I get there. If I focus on this one lofty goal, I’ll be disappointed and lose motivation if I don’t reach it in a month. I think that’s a problem a lot of us face; we expect to go from couch to marathon in a week and give up right away when it doesn’t go as planned. So I set mini goals just for myself and focus on those on the way to my big goal! Like I wanted to graduate from using the lighter “female” bar on my bench press to the heavier “male bar.” And I did it this week! Goal met and sexism vanquished (not really…)!

Schedule in Your Workouts

If you work 9-5 with a commute, there’s no food in the fridge, and/or your kids/dog/parents/significant other is demanding your attention, I sympathize. But those aspects of your life will probably always be an obstacle. So pencil it in to when you reasonably know you might have an hour, 30 minutes, 10 minutes of free time you probably otherwise spend scrolling Facebook. And plan it well in advance so that when your friend, boss, spouse or whatever demands your attention, you can tell them your schedule is already “booked.”

Side note: Don’t pick a time you know doesn’t work for you. If you hate mornings (as I do) why on earth are you trying to get up early?

Ease into it

I mentioned above that you are going to be to be sorely (literally) disappointed when you shoot for the stars right away and crash back to Earth. Set those mini goals and ease into it. If you have not worked out at all in a year, don’t go to the gym for 5 days a week lifting the heaviest weights and run 5 miles. You’ll be so unbelievably exhausted, sore, and defeated you’ll never go back again.  Also, just because you’re not immediately feeling #swole doesn’t mean you’re not getting stronger and healthier. I think instant results are a total farce. Remind yourself that with anything, progress takes time.

Seriously, Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Oh man I am SO frequently guilty of this. If I go to gym and see a girl lifting heavier than me, I get jealous. If I’m doing a workout video and can’t keep up with the trainer, I get disappointed. If I go on Instagram… ya, everyone on Instagram makes me envious. I have to remind myself daily that I can only compare myself to myself. I’m probably not going to be stronger than that girl at the gym because she’s taller and bigger than me. I’m not a personal trainer for a living so I don’t have to be as fit as one. And Instagram, seriously it’s all faked. Good lighting, angles, and some Photoshop and anyone can be a model.

Do Something You Like

I know that running is a great exercise but I hate it. And I am for whatever reason terrible at it. So when I tried to make running my main workout, I worked out probably once a month. So I’ve learned: If you hate something, don’t do it! Find something you like, better yet love. Because at the end (or beginning) or the day are you gonna be motivated to workout when it sounds like torture? Probably not. I’ve found I love weightlifting, Pilates, ballet, barre, and hiking. I still hate running but if it’s nice enough out, I’ll torture myself on a run to get a little sun.

 

Body Image · Mental Health · Workouts

When life gets in the way

At the start of last week, I had ambitiously set a plan for my workouts for the month ahead. Writing a blog, I figured, would be a great way to hold me accountable and keep me motivated.

The plan for week one was ambitious, for me anyway: 5 days a week of combination strength training and cardio, with two “active” rest days incorporating some kind of low intensity activity like ballet or yoga.

And then life got in the way.

An often busy schedule and the hectic life lead is probably the #1 reason I fall out of my routine; after long, crazy days I’m much more inclined to skip the gym, skip a dance class, drive to the store when I planned to walk. But this week I faced a very different challenge, one that I couldn’t plan around.

I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for several years now. While I have made many personal strides in managing it and becoming an overall happier person, I still struggle from time to time. This past week was hard for me and I skipped 3 planned workouts/activities. The situation was sort of a Catch-22: I was too overwhelmed by my anxiety to workout as planned and yet I was mad at myself for not following my plan thus making myself feel worse and more depressed. Saturday was a particularly hard day for me as I had a long to-do list prepared and accomplished none of it. I felt ready to give up on this challenge.

But I didn’t. I tried again on Sunday and went to the gym, went on a hike, enjoyed the sunshine, and moved forward.

The key for me in moving on and moving forward has always been forgiveness. I am my own worst critic and when things don’t go according to plan, I’m easily disappointed. As corny as it sounds, countering negative thoughts with positive ones and disappointment with forgiveness is key in any personal journey and especially true for me.

And in case you’re curious, yes I did workout this week! Here’s some of what I did this Sunday:

  • Bench Press: 35 x 10, 3 x 8 @ 40, 35 x 12
  • Back squat: 45 x 10,  65 x 10, 75 x 8, 85 x 5, 65 x 10, 45 x 10
  • One-arm rows
  • Lunges
  • Plank with shoulder taps

 

 

Body Image · Mental Health · Nerd Stuff · Nutrition · Workouts

Why am I doing this?

Everybody nowadays, it seems, is busy. Like scheduling every little task, outing, chore down to the minute busy.

All the “experts” say you should start creating healthy habits when you’re in your twenties. When I was in my senior year of college, I was way too busy to think about being “healthy.” I was trying finish a four-year degree in three years, writing for three campus publications, interning for two magazines and applying furiously to jobs all the while living off a limited food budget that could afford me spaghetti and rice and beans (though there was plenty money for beer, oddly enough).

Then at the ripe old age of 20, it was as if my future self came back to warn me If you don’t take care of your body now, you are so gonna feel later. That warning sign came in the form on debilitating back pain. It started as a sharp pain in my low back that traveled through my glutes down my leg.It lasted anywhere from a week to a month at a time.

Several years and dozens of trips to physical therapy later, I am finally not too busy to take care of my body. It took several years coping with the pain to realize that taking care of my body is just as important as my career, my social life, or binge-watching the last season of Game of Thrones before the new season starts.

But I’m not any less busy than I was in college. It has been a struggle to stay active when I, like many others, have so many competing priorities. That’s why I started this blog — to have a goal to work towards to keep me motivated and keep my health a priority in life.

The goal: attend my first powerlifting competition within a year. I’ll be working out 3-4 days a week doing mainly strength training and cardio (though I also do Pilates and ballet for fun). I’ll be filling in all you lovely readers with my progress (and inevitable challenges) each week and what I’ve learned along the way!

Want to know more about me and why you should follow my blog? Read this!