It's February, how are you doing with that New Year's Resolution? If your answer is "Amazing Jen!" then great job and feel free to skip this post! If on the other hand you're feeling a little underwhelmed by your progress thus far then read on and hopefully I can help.
I've been at this whole personal training/nutritional coaching thing for a while and I've noticed some patterns. Clients come to me hoping to lose some weight and they tell me their diet is actually "pretty good" or "healthy" however they're not seeing the progress they had hoped to see. I start asking questions about their daily eating habits and clients will admit they eat well "most of the time" but they get too busy on the weekends or maybe they occasionally snack after dinner on weeknights. It can be really hard to get a sense for how often they're actually making choices that move them toward their goals. I don't know what the heck "eating pretty well" means. If you feel like you're doing the right things to lose weight, but you aren't seeing progress it's time to take an HONEST look at your consistency and here's how you're going to do that.
First of all, you'll need to chose some metric for measuring your consistency. It's easiest to chose a specific habit to track so things are crystal clear, you either did it or you didn't. I ate "well" or "healthy" today is too broad. Here are a few ideas of habits to track, chose one that you think you can sustain and track easily.
- Calories - have a calorie goal and allow yourself a little bit of leeway 100cals over or under
- Protein - either protein with every meal or grams of protein per day
- Vegetables - choose a # of servings of vegetables to consume each day
- Eat to 80% Full
- Follow this portion control guide for each meal
These are just a few ideas, but you can apply the method I'm about to explain for any habit that you're trying to practice regularly.
The next step is to get a calendar, a black marker and a red marker. At the end of the day or the next morning put a big red X across the day if you successfully practiced the habit or a black 0 if you didn't. At the end of a month you'll have a clear idea if you've actually been as consistent as you thought you were. Shoot for at least 80% X's. If the month has 30 days, that would mean you'd try to get 24 X's and you'd have room to get six 0's.
Why does this simple method work? It forces you to assess your habits on a daily and monthly basis. If you have 15 0's and you're not seeing results then you know you could improve your consistency. If you're an X champion, maybe it's time to add another habit and track that one for a while. I've also noticed that my clients succumb to an "All or Nothing" mentality. If they can't be perfect then they go completely off the wagon and sabotage any hope of progress. Knowing you can have a few 0's and still be consistent over the course of a month gives you a little room for error without feeling like you've ruined everything.
This method isn't without flaws. Some people may get discouraged if they start wracking up the 0's and then give up. If that's the case then I suggest you try the "Two Day Rule". Regardless of whether you get a 0 try not to get two 0's in a row. That means you'll hit your habit AT LEAST 3 days which may not be perfect but sure as hell is better than nothing. I've got my own calendar going this month for tracking my calories. I hope to hit 90% consistency so here's an example of what that might look like.
I've struggled in the past to be consistent on the weekends. Using a calendar has helped me still have a few days to really indulge if I want to while practicing more moderation the rest of the days. It also allows you to plan around special events so that you can enjoy yourself without worrying about sabotaging your progress.
There are tons of habit calendars available for purchase or you can use a regular wall calendar if you want to get started tracking your consistency. It's the middle of the month but don't be afraid to start now, you can always track over 30 days rather than keeping it within the confines of a specific month. Give it a try and share your thoughts!
Vacation Workout – sounds like an oxymoron and a great way to ruin a good time! It’s probably not surprising that I disagree and believe workouts boost my holiday enjoyment. I’m not talking about hitting the gym for an hour + every day, but I do try to get a few quick workouts in when I’m on the road for several reasons.
It helps me stay consistent
I’m actually not a fanatical exerciser, I am however consistent AF. For the past decade I’ve workout out 3-4 days a week every week, month, year, etc, and vacation is no exception. Have you ever gone away and then struggled to get back in to your routine? Are the first few workouts back full of sweat, tears and regret? I bet you don’t think “I’m so glad I took all that time off” when you’re trying to get back to where you were pre-vacation. Some people don’t end up getting back to it at all after their trip, or it takes months. I work out on vacation, partially so that when I get home it’s a smooth transition back to the gym.
It relaxes me
Chilling out isn’t always my strong suit. I get a little “fussy” if I sit around for long periods of time. A morning workout while traveling will help me relax and enjoy the rest of the day. I can be more present and enjoy myself easier. Vacation is all about getting out of the routine, but there’s something soothing about maintaining at least a small semblance of routine in order to delight in the rest of the trip.
It’s an opportunity to try something new
Recently I visited friends in California and I got to try out a bunch of new workout classes. One class was taught by an instructor who had studied with Shaolin Monks, how cool is that? It’s a fun way to get to know a new a new area and try out classes/gyms that might not be available in your hometown. I love joining my friends at their gyms and letting them share what they do to stay fit.
Sometimes when you’re on vacation you don’t want to have to come up with a work out so here’s a quick body weight workout you could do next time you’re out of town.
Try 3-5 rounds of this circuit:
Push-ups x 10
Front to Reverse Lunges x 8 each
Skaters x 10 each
Inchworm with Toe Touch x 4 each
Single Leg Deadlift w/ "Y" x 8 each
Prisoner Get-Ups x 8 each
Would you like more ideas for travel workouts AND some basic nutrition principles to follow? Download my FREE Road Kit here. Stay active and make healthy choices while enjoying your vacation.
I look at that photo and read that quote, and all I can say is FUCK YES! Actually that's not ALL I can say. I have many things to say (surprise, surprise). This is one of my favorite parts of introducing women to strength training. Many women, (myself included) spend most of their adult lives attempting to take up less space. We are constantly trying to weigh less, fit in to smaller clothing, to burn off unwanted parts of ourselves, all for the sake of getting noticed more. We squeeze our flab and pull our sagging skin taught. We cry in the dressing room and we bully ourselves into thinking we're not enough.
I'm shocked and saddened that new/prospective clients continue to worry about getting too big or too muscled if they pick up strength training. I'm probably supposed to say that every woman has a right to pursue whatever physicality they choose, but I really just want them all to choose strength.
Since I've started lifting weights I've been able to focus less on what I'm not and more on what I've built. I'm proud of my legs, glutes, back and shoulders just as Lindsey is proud of her arms. She used to hide them, fearing summer and wearing tank tops, now she's happily standing on a beach showing off her hard work.
Sure, dropping body fat can have a positive impact on one's life, but there are many ways to get there. If you've been trying to lose weight for years, even decades, maybe it's time to take a break from the goal of losing and focus on the goal of building. Put your effort in to getting stronger. Fuel your body and pursue recovery to support that goal. The first time someone notices the curve of your tricep, or you see your quad muscle pop in a photo will be a revelation. Yes, we'll always have aspects of ourselves we critique, but wouldn't it be nice to also have something to admire?
If any of this resonates with you, consider signing up for my weekly emails where I'll provide more no-nonsense information about exercise and nutrition.
It happened last week when I was holding my food prep seminar at my gym. I was talking about my love of pesto when one of the attendees exclaimed:
"but pesto is fattening!"
Is it really? Is any food actually "fattening"?
Hmmm, me thinks not! I will defend my beloved pesto to the grave! We LOVE to demonize certain foods and blame them for weight gain. It's the bread, the sugar, the bacon, the beer. They're to blame. This sounds like victim talk. It wasn't me, it was the donuts that did it!
In reality, it's still about energy in vs. energy out when it comes to gaining or losing fat. Eating one cookie will not cause someone to gain weight, it's going to be a caloric surplus over many days, weeks and months that causes the scale to creep up and those pants to get tighter.
Rather than saying pesto is fattening, you could say it's calorie dense. That means the calories are fairly high for a small amount food consumed. That's because fat contains more calories:
Fat = 9 cal per gram
Protein = 4 cal per gram
Carbohydrates = 4 cal per gram
Does that mean you should avoid fat altogether? No, because that sounds miserable and dietary fat has several health benefits.
Many folks find this annoying. "Can't you just tell me what's BAD and what's GOOD so I can eat that way and get my gosh darned 6-pack already!"
Um no. But IF your goal is to lose fat, I can offer some strategies that will help you hit a calorie deficit.
1) Eat Mostly Whole Foods (including lots of vegetables)
The following dietary experiments have resulted in weight loss:
The Twinkie only diet
The potato only diet
McDonald's only diet
The calorie counters will poo poo eating mostly whole foods but if you're looking to not only drop body fat while also feeling energized and taking in valuable vitamins and minerals, whole foods are your friends. Vegetables in particular contain water and fiber that will help you feel full. Yes, you can gain weight eating all whole foods so consider applying some of the other strategies listed here in order to keep from over eating.
2) Eat Slowly
This is a decidedly unsexy strategy but soooo valuable. Chew your dang food people! I'm guilty of inhaling my food as if it'll be taken away from me. Slowing down is important for a few reasons:
- Chewing releases enzymes that help with digestion.
- You'll be more tuned in to your fullness cues and be less likely to overeat.
- Greater appreciation for you food/being in the moment. This is on the "hippie dippie" end of the spectrum but it helps relieve stress to be more present and have gratitude so why not practice this when we're eating?
3) Don't Snack
I'm not talking about the planned nutritious snack you have between larger meals, especially if you're sitting and eating it mindfully. I'm referring to those drive by's through the kitchen when you mindlessly stuff your face with a few chips or a piece of candy. That shit adds up. Remember #2: eat slowly. This includes trying to sit down and dedicate at least 15 minutes to each meal, including snacks. I've gone so far as to suggest my clients make a rule for themselves: no eating unless you're sitting down. This could help reduce those mindless bites that add up.
Rather than focusing on NOT eating "fattening" foods and fearing certain foods, try these techniques. They can be applied year round regardless of whether you're "on the wagon" or off of it. You can still eat cake, just sit your ass down and enjoy it, and maybe don't finish it if you're full.
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If you're like me and enjoy doing your cardio outside, late winter/early Spring can be a tough time of year. The texture of the snow in Vermont at the moment can best be described as Styrofoam. Typically the alternative to outdoor cardio would slogging along on the treadmill or elliptical in the gym, but that just doesn't do it for me so here are some other ways to get your heart rate up while keeping boredom at bay.
If it's good enough for Rocky, it's good enough for me! Jumping rope burns more calories than running, builds resilient knees/ankles and improves cognitive ability. If you haven't jumped rope since 3rd grade you may find you now suck at it. Be patient, it'll come back to you. Also, on a positive note, as you're trying to get your skills back you'll be inefficient which is frustrating BUT means you'll burn even more calories.
Try some jump rope intervals, starting with 30 secs on, 60 secs of rest. As you get better, up the intervals to 60 secs. You can also include 30-45 secs of jumping rope at the end of a circuit.
It's a deadlift but faster, what's not to like! Kettlebell swings get your heart pumping AND help build a better backside (because glutes are the new abs). Try 20 swings with a 30 sec rest for 10 sets. If you have access to multiple KB's you could do a KB swing ladder. I found this ladder from @ironbodyartemis to be challenging. Adjust the weight depending on skill/strength. I used the following weights:
10 reps w/ 75lb
15 reps w/ 52lb
20 reps w/ 40lb
25 reps w/ 35lb
These workouts are intense and SHORT. Take 10 mins to warm-up, dive in and keep it to no more than 20 mins. If you're doing them for 45 mins then you're probably not working hard enough.
If you found this post helpful, ask to join Swole Sisters Worldwide, a Facebook group I co-manage where you'll find more workouts as well as nutrition information and motivation.
Recently I posted this visual of the Nutritional Hierarchy of Fat Loss on the Swole Sisters Worldwide Facebook page. Meal timing seemed to pique the interest of the community members so I've decided to cover how you can manipulate meal timing in order to change your body composition.
It's not that meal timing is the most important factor in fat loss, in fact it is a ways up the pyramid however it is a topic that ignites debate on many fronts. I'll be covering meal timing as it relates to overall calorie consumption as in when fat loss is the goal. It is important to note that these strategies may or may not work for you. Please don't read this article and think you have to start implementing everything on this list. Instead see if any of these strategies might be EASILY incorporated in to your life, then try it for a while and see if it helps with your results.
1. Eat Breakfast or Don't
Here we have our first example of how 2 totally opposing strategies can work for different people. Initially we were told that we should eat breakfast because it would start "stoking" the supposed fire of our metabolism. Eating first thing in the morning won't do anything magical to your metabolism unfortunately, but it can be helpful if you're trying to lose weight. Eating a protein rich breakfast in the morning could help prevent overeating later in the day. Do you find yourself snacking in the late afternoon or overeating after work? Maybe a more consistent breakfast is the key to feeling more sated. The caveat to this is that you include protein with this meal. A giant bowl of fruit loops does not a nutritious breakfast make, even if the box claims they're "Whole Grain".
On the other end of the spectrum is Intermittent Fasting where you keep your eating within a "feeding window". For example if you have your last meal at 7pm and you fast for 16 hours before eating again, your first meal the next meal would be at 11am the next day. By skipping breakfast you're basically removing one meal from your day and by default cutting some calories UNLESS you gorge yourself 11am - 7pm. There are many different protocols for Intermittent Fasting and it would take some experimentation to see if it was a good fit for you. I have seen it suggested many times that women keep their fasting window a little shorter (12-14 hours) versus some of the longer fasting windows that men respond well to.
2. Don't Eat 1-2 Hours Before Bed
I am often asked if people NEED to stop eating 2 hours before bed. Honestly there's nothing magical about finishing your last meal by 6pm and if your lifestyle doesn't allow for it, then don't worry too much about when you eat dinner. The only cause for concern will be when you overeat late at night and then that messes with your sleep. I also find it challenging to fall asleep when I'm hungry so I'd rather have a later meal than try to fall asleep hungry. Putting a cap on how late you eat can be most beneficial for people who find themselves snacking at night. You're probably not eating a pint of ice cream because you're hungry, there's something else going on there. You're most likely bored and/or anxious. Deciding to stop eating by a certain time might help curb late night snacking and therefore help you reduce your overall calorie intake.
3. Work Out Fasted or Don't
Once again you have a few options here. Some people swear by fasted morning workouts. This means you'd wake up, work out and wait to eat your first meal until after your workout. Particularly if you work out early in the morning, there may not be time to digest a breakfast before hand so you may want to try a fasted workout. Is there any fat burning magic to working out fasted? I doubt it, but if it helps you get your work out in because you don't have to spend time preparing/eating before hand than it could be a good strategy.
I know other people who get dizzy and light headed in the morning so they need to have at least a little something first thing or it will be a very unpleasant workout. Personally I could do a little cardio or an upper body workout without breakfast but if I hit my legs I'll fuel up first. I'd rather eat and perform better in the gym than skip breakfast and have a weak work out.
4. Find Your Meal # Sweet Spot
As breakfast used to be considered necessary to stoke your metabolism, it was once thought that eating every 2-3 hours was important to keep that sucker fired up. Once again, overall calorie intake is the biggest factor in fat loss so you should figure out what your sweet spot is. Eating every 2-3 hours may be great for you. It could keep hunger low so that you're less likely to overeat. On the other hand your job may not allow for constant grazing so you could go with the traditional 3 meals. Personally I like larger meals so the 5-6 small meal approach is unsatisfying. Instead I eat 4 meals of relatively equal size.
It may seem frustrating that there's no set answer here. What if there were a "right" answer but it didn't work at all with your schedule? Wouldn't that be more of a bummer? This way you get to find what helps you feel the most energetic and what works with your lifestyle. It gives you a chance to be in tune with your own body rather than at the mercy of the latest diet trend.
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I admit that I often have an inner conflict. I preach the benefits of moderation as well as simple habits and how they can lead to big results. However sometimes I want to say fuck it and go all in on SOMETHING. I want to drop the moderation and attack a goal with everything I have.
Is there a right time to go all in or is moderation always the answer?
I went through a divorce 3 years ago. I remember telling my therapist that I was often disappointed that I wasn't doing more to challenge myself in my business and in my personal life. She pointed out that I was in fact tackling one big challenge (healing from the divorce) and maybe I should cut myself some slack. And that has been my life for 3 years. I've given myself space, time and compassion to work through the pain and discomfort. I didn't have time or energy to throw myself in to any major protect so I marched through those years steadily. I continued to exercise (of course), I slowly improved my business, I ate my veggies and protein as well as indulging in mac and cheese, wine and pizza when I wanted it. I set no ambitious goals for myself, just the simple goal of consistency.
The the holidays came around this year and although I approached them with apprehension having struggled the previous 2 years, something was different. There was no undercurrent of sadness. I didn't mind that I was heading to visit friends and family without a partner, in fact I truly appreciated the freedom of being single for the first time! I realized that things were not so much of a struggle as they used to be. All those people that told me "It will get better with time", as much as I wanted to punch them in the face while I was in the thick of it, I realized they were right.
I'm feeling the itch to challenge myself and turn up the intensity. Sometimes life is hard and we don't need to create extra challenges. We only have energy for the bare minimum. In this case, moderation and small goals make perfect sense. Other times we're cruising along, maybe a little too comfortably and we have the time/energy to create some self imposed challenges.
For me, this year is going to be a year of productivity. I started in mid December with a 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge. I had been trying to drink moderately but it just wasn't working. I wanted to know what it would feel like to have no alcohol in my system. I wanted better sleep, a clearer mind and more productive days. I'm about halfway through and so far I'm really loving the results, especially better sleep.
In fact, when I finish I'm going to roll right in to another 30 Day Challenge: No TV/Netflix. The thought of it scares me, which makes me think I definitely need to do it!
The 30 Day No TV/Netflix starts January 21st.
Are you in?
Send me an email or dm and we can encourage each other along! I'll post progress updates on my Iron Bunny Fitness Facebook page. Also, you can join me for the last 2 weeks of my No Alcohol Challenge if you want to take a short break to start off 2019.
This post was initially an email I sent out to my subscribers. Did you find this post helpful? If you sign up for my email list you'll get motivational bites like this one delivered to your inbox every week! Sign up below.
One subscriber to my email list shared that her greatest struggle this time of year is finding ways to incorporate indoor cardio sessions. During warmer less icy months she enjoys running and biking but struggles to get those cardio sessions in once winter arrives.
I couldn't agree more. In the summer my walks are longer and I frequently head to the mountains for hikes/backpacking trips. Although I plan on more winter hikes this year, some days are like today, rainy, cold and gross. The texture of the snow right now can best be described as Styrofoam (yuck). I also despise traditional cardio. I look in awe at folks sitting on the recumbent bike reading a book or swishing away on the elliptical for 45 minutes. If they enjoy it, more power to them! but it is not for me.
Here are a few non-traditional work out ideas to get your heart rate up without boring you to death.
Rocky did it so you should do it to! Jumping rope will increase your cardiovascular fitness, coordination, and even cognitive function. It can decrease risk of knee/ankle injuries and per hour burns more calories then running. The only issue with that last one is that you probably won't jump rope for an hour, especially in the beginning. If you haven't jumped rope since 3rd grade, have some patience with yourself, it'll take some practice to get back to it. Try jump rope intervals such as 10 sets of 30 secs on 30 secs off to start and up it to 60 secs as you get more proficient. You can also incorporate jumping rope in to a circuit to increase your heart rate. Perform 3-4 strength exercise and then 45 secs of jump rope.
A vigorous KB workout is no joke! In particular the kettle bell swing will get your heart pumping WHILE helping you build a stronger more defined backside. I'm in! You can use the swing for intervals which I really enjoy doing as a finisher after a strength workout. Try 10 sets of 20 swings with 30 secs of rest. If you have access to a variety of KB's try this ladder. I first saw it on @ironbodyartemis's Instagram and had to give it a try. These are the weights I used (for 3 rounds) but this can vary depending on your own strength/familiarity:
10 reps w/ 75lb
15 reps w/ 52lb
20 reps w/ 40lb
25 reps w/ 35lb
The Treadmill Workout I Don't Hate
Jogging on the treadmill or even worse the dreaded Eliptical do NOT appeal to me personally. if you'd rather chew on tinfoil than jog for 30 + mins on the treadmill you might enjoy this workout. It's based on the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale or if you wear a heart rate monitor than you can use percentage of your max HR. I've attached a spreadsheet you can put right on the treadmill console to follow along. Basically every 1-2 mins you'll be adjusting the incline or speed of the treadmill to adjust your effort level. It breaks a 25 min treadmill workout in to small increments making it go by so much faster and it feels ALMOST game like.
Spring will be here soon, but why wait until you can get outside to get your heart and lungs prepared for all those fun summertime activities! Give these workouts a try and let me know how it goes!
If you've been lifting for a while, you know that to get stronger and/or gain muscle you'll need to increase the weight of your lifts. Your body will adapt to a weight/rep range and in order to make progress something has to change.
This is all well and good however sometimes you can get "stuck" at certain weight. In particular many of my female clients struggle to increase their weight with the dumbbell chest press. They'll initially make some progress and then get stuck somewhere 25lbs-35lbs and the next weight up can feel IMPOSSIBLE. Also, some people work out at home and don't have a wide variety of weights to choose from. Never fear! I have a few ways to make that lighter weight feel a little heavier and help get you stronger in the process.
Option 1: Alternating Chest Press (w/ opposite arm extended)
Set up w/ both arms extended, lower your right arm into a chest press while keeping the left straight. Switch sides. This lift is a little more challenging for a few reasons. The whole set will take longer and there will be more time under tension for your muscles. You'll also notice you'll need to stabilize yourself with your core as one arm drops so there's a bonus!
Option 2: Alternating Chest Press (w/ opposite arm flexed)
Bring both arms to the bottom of the chest press, extend your right arm and lower it back down before extending the left. This version is significantly harder than the extended arm version because you'll be pausing at the hardest part of the lift, really firing the chest/shoulder and triceps muscles.
Option 3: Paused and/or Slow Negative Reps
Slow down the negative part of the movement taking 2-3 secs to get to the bottom position, then pause another 2-3 seconds at the bottom. These are BRUTAL. Don't feel bad if you have to lower the weight you use significantly. The time under tension will increase the challenge of this lift without very much weight.
Option 4: Kettlebell Press (1 arm or 2)
Hold the handle of the kettlebell making sure your wrist is straight and perform a chest press. The weight is to the side creating a great challenge for the shoulders to stabilize it. You may want to get a wrist band to because sometimes these can be uncomfortable.
If you've been stuck with your flat or incline chest press give a few of these a try. Or maybe you're just a little bored and want to change things up. I see many folks at the gym lifting the same weight for the same number of reps/sets for weeks, months even years. First of all, it's great that they've established a solid habit of coming to the gym but they're not going to make many changes in their physique or strength without changing their workouts.
Have you been "stuck" for a while? Need a little motivation to change things up? Subscribe to my weekly email list for more workouts, recipes and tips to get "unstuck".
Earlier this week I sent an email out to my subscribers discussing the topic of consistency. I posited that often we say we're struggling with consistency because of time constraints, when in reality we're letting perfectionism and our idea of what is "enough" limit us. If we lower our expectations we may find we actually do have time to do a little and that is way better than doing nothing.
My workout today took about 15 minutes. It was challenging, got my heart rate up and some endorphins flowing. I left feeling energized (not exhausted) and ready to power through the rest of my day.
Reverse Lunge w/ Bicep Curl x 8
Slider Knee Tucks to Push-Up x 8 (you can do the push-ups from your knees)
KB Swing x 15 (you can use a dumbbell if you don't have a kettlebell)
Alt KB Snatches x 8 each side (you can use a dumbbell if you don't have a kettlebell or do a dumbbell clean and press)
I did 4 rounds but you could add another round or two to make the workout a little longer. It would also make a great finisher to your strength workout.
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Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
What my clients are saying about me:
"Now that I've worked with Jen I see the value of having a trainer. She helps keep me on track and focused. I'm a busy mom and it's nice to have someone I trust give me my work outs. No more researching workouts in magazines or instagram. I get my own personalized program that works with my schedule and helps me achieve my goals faster."