I’ve been all over the map with regard to fitness.
Growing up and thoughout most of my teenage years I was never overweight - if anything I hedged toward thin - but I was, as the saying goes, skinny fat. Starting at about age 20, I decided I wanted to get in shape and I think I’ve touched on every modality of fitness since then.
I began where most girls do: with yoga, running, and fitness DVDs. I made progress with my cardio slowly and steadily, I got more flexible, but I felt like I wasn’t being challenged enough and more disappointingly, I couldn’t see much of a difference in my body after several months of work. I didn’t have any tone for all my effort. I had a friend - a guy - who encouraged me to take up interval training with weights. So, for the first time in my life, on his advice, I braved the student gym at my university.
I did my rounds on every imaginable weight machine (the more, the better, right?), the elliptical, and the stair-stepper. I elaborated on my workout, adding sets upon sets of excruciatingly specific movements, and eventually - because you can never have fine enough control - I started counting calories, too, weighing and measuring portions, over-analyzing macronutrient ratios, and generally edging into the territory of orthorexia. I developed a fascination with fitness and figure competition, which was a boon and a burden. It reinforced my (slightly unhealthy) obsession with calorie-counting but it also impressed upon me the value of free weights and of muscle mass in general.
I graduated from Hammer Strength machines to back squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses shortly thereafter. They were harder, they made me feel self-conscious and weak and uncoordinated and unsure of myself, but I stuck with them, because they were harder. I got better and I got stronger. I took up martial arts because I was insatiable. I got lean. Way too lean. Eating rice cakes, carrots, and single-spoon serving sizes of peanut butter, I got the six pack I wanted but at that level of bodyfat, I also developed amenorrhea. That was a wakeup call. I stopped the calorie restriction and I cut back on the volume of my workouts since my progress had begun to stall. It was an easy sacrifice to make. I felt better right away. I was moving to another state at the time, and it really was a welcome break from routine.
I found a new gym in my new city and with it a new circle of gym rat friends: virtually all male and virtually all following their own homemade bodypart-split routines. They were, more often than not, a good influence on me. None of them was overly interested in leanness. Strength was king and it was all about the numbers you racked up. I started doing something that resembled a bodybuilder’s workout; Monday was chest and tri’s, Tuesday was squat-centric, Wednesday was intense cardio, Thursday - abs, shoulders, and biceps, and Friday was a mixture of deadlifts and a few accessory exercises. I took spinning and dance classes. I ate well. I made a lot of progress, for a while, and then I moved again.
Still not yet having discovered the value of deloading, my workouts stalled again and eventually, after grinding away for long enough, I majorly tweaked something in my back. It took 6 long months to recover fully but I was scrupulous about taking the time off.
Ready for a change again, it was on to Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program on the advice of a powerlifting friend.
Starting fresh on my newly-mended back, almost from scratch, I made great strides in my main lifts - the deadlift, the squat, the bench press, the overhead press - but, out of laziness, I neglected the conditioning portion of my workouts. I got stronger quickly, I built muscle, but I put on fat, too, and got slower and more sluggish.
After another minor injury (induced by my terrible, terrible clean form) I decided to take on what I had been mulling over in my head for several months: Crossfit.
I’ve been doing Crossfit now (with the modifications I need) for a year and I’m a pretty big fan of it. I alternate daily between low-rep heavy compound lifts with short conditioning workouts afterwards and true Crossfit WODs with tons of volume. I’ve made steady progress and the workouts are varied and challenging enough that my motivation hasn’t flagged yet. I’m too cheap and lazy to join a Crossfit gym (although it might do me some motivational good), so I work out mostly in my basement weight room, my garage jungle gym, or at my local gym, following primarily the main site WODs and making up my own when the mood strikes.
I eat mostly a Paleo diet plus some dairy, rice, and oatmeal - it’s primarily meat, fat (much of it saturated or monounsaturated), vegetables, and fruit. I’m mostly grain-, vegetable oil-, and added sugar-free and it has served me well, although the changes I’ve noticed in the overall health and wellbeing department have been more subtle than some folks have attributed to the diet. What can I say? Maybe I’ve got good genes with regard to bad food. For that reason, after about two years of strict dairy-less, grain-less Paleo, I started incorporating milk, cheese, rice, and oatmeal back into my meals in modest amounts with no ill effects.
While I’m sold on the idea of the negative effects (in large quantities) of seed oils, soy, and sugar, I’m still skeptical about the Paleo claim that wheat is toxic to individuals who don’t explicitly have an allergy to it. I still avoid wheat almost entirely, more out of a hedging-of-bets and a belief that, nutrient-wise, there are plenty of better things to eat anyway. I’m still on the lookout for a slam dunk study that would demonstrate a conclusive link between wheat proteins and inflammation in folks who don’t already have a diet-mediated pathology. Unless I’m missing something, I’m still waiting.
If I’ve learned a few things over the years on my aimless journey that I would like to humbly pass on, they are these:
- Deload. Light days are crucial, as are rest days. If you feel too beat up to work out, take some time off. It’s far better to miss a single workout than overwork and injure yourself.
- Muscles can take a beating but be kind to your connective tissue. I’ve found that muscle soreness is something you can work through, if you’re so inclined. Tendonitis, sprains, and sore joints are something that you just have to rest. If a movement causes something to flare up, you’ve got to avoid it. No exceptions.
- Take it one step at a time.
Be careful about volume, especially if you’re a Crossfitter. Most of the injuries I’ve sustained while doing Crossfit have come because I did too much volume too soon. If you can do 30 pull-ups in a single workout, aim for 35 next week, not 50. If you just got your first couple of reps on a ring dip, don’t try to bang out 25 in your next workout.
- Weights are wonderful. But we all know this. See also, interval training. Most girls gravitate towards yoga and long, slow cardio sessions but if you want to firm up your body, you need muscle! Muscle gives your body shape! Learn to love the weights!
- Progress is slow and it isn’t always linear. You’ll have good days - when you suddenly smash your PRs - and you’ll have bad days - when you struggle to keep your head above water - but on the average, if you’re resting and eating well, you will make progress.
- Don’t be afraid to change your routine. If you’ve given something an honest shot and haven’t seen results, move on to something else. Your body won’t change overnight but it shouldn’t take long to see concrete results either.
- Be proud of what your body can do. Don’t get too hung up on how individual parts of it look. Everyone is built differently. You might not be able to build muscle as easily as you want. You might not be able to lose fat as easily or stay as lean as someone else. You might hold your weight disproportionally on one part of your body. No big deal. How many push-ups can you do? How fast can you sprint up that hill? Are you better, stronger, faster now than you were six months ago? That’s the stuff you can control. Focus on that.
- If you don’t have equipment, you can still get a heck of a workout with your bodyweight. Push-ups, pull-ups, dips, squats, lunges… Gymnastics! An added bonus: bodyweight exercises level the playing field between girls and guys. I might never be able to deadlift 500 lbs. But I can do more pull-ups than most of the guys in my gym!
- It can’t be repeated often enough: You can’t spot reduce fat. (See #6.) You’ll lose weight and fat in whichever way your body prefers to lose it. You might lose your boobs before you lose your belly (ladies). Take it in stride. Short of surgery, what can you do?
- Lastly, and maybe most importantly, you’re going to have to work hard and be consistent. Nothing worthwhile comes without a fight. If you want a bikini model’s body, chatting with your friends at a vinyasa yoga class and taking a walk around the block twice a week aren’t going to make it happen. You’ll have to make sacrifices in your schedule. You’ll have to push yourself to sweat and strain some days when you’re just not in the mood. You’ll have to give up most ready-to-eat foods and learn to cook your own hearty, healthy meals. I’m up at 5:00 a.m. most mornings, working out before work. I pack my lunch and snacks most days. It’s all about eschewing convenience to put in the extra effort every single day. But it’s worth it.
This is (obviously) my fitspo blog and a place to log my progress but one of my best friends and I have another blog for, well, everything else.