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?
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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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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.
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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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I've been a privately contracted personal trainer for almost 10 years, but this is the first year that I've called myself an entrepreneur. What changed? Words. I simply changed the words I used to describe myself. I did this in my head, I did it with my friends, family and clients. Initially nothing else was different. I started calling myself an entrepreneur.
But then a funny thing started happening. I began to do entrepreneurial type things like invest in my business. I'd been talking about becoming an online trainer for AT LEAST 5 years but I had done nothing to move toward getting online clients. As a personal trainer I wasn't taking any action. As a business owner I hired a business coach and all of a sudden shit was getting done!
I had wanted to be an online coach but I never actually asked anyone if they'd like to train with me. It's not the greatest business model "If you whisper about it they will come". I finally let the world know what I did and guess what? I got my first online clients!
It's been less than a year since I made this change and I wish I'd made it years ago. This past weekend I attended a women's online business summit and it was empowering, scary, and overwhelming. I am also certain that it will inspire me to continue to take action and develop as an entrepreneur.
If you're thinking "Good for you Jen, but what does this have to do with me and my fitness journey?" Actually, it has everything to do with your fitness journey.
Have you ever called yourself fat or out of shape? Do you look at your friend/acquaintance who seems to have her shit together and think that'll never be you? You know the person. She walks in to a party wearing her clothes with confidence, eating slowly and purposely as she chats up the rest of the guests. She prioritizes her workouts but she doesn't stress if she misses one. She's a fit, healthy confident person. You may secretly (or not so secretly) despise her because she reminds you of what you are not.
I'll let you in on a secret. You're that woman too. She's in there but if you keep referring yourself as fat and out of shape that's how you'll continue to feel. How do you get fit? Act like you already are!
Do you run? You're no longer run, you are a runner.
Do you lift weights? You don't just lift weights, you now train.
Do you do Zumba? You're now a dancer.
It doesn't matter if you're a beginner or if you only do it once a week. Start thinking like someone who does these things all the time. Start practicing some of the habits they might practice. Get the clothes, read the books, hire a trainer or go to a class. It's a classic case of "fake it until you make it" and it works. The transformation might go slowly and there could be times when you don't feel like you belong in this new group that you've decided to identify with. That's okay. Take a look back at where you started.
Have you taken more action since you changed your mindset?
Have you gotten a few extra workouts in?
Have you learned something about nutrition?
Have you made a new friend?
You probably have so let's call that a win!
Not sure where to start? Share your change in the comments and I'll help keep you accountable and don't forget to sign up for my weekly emails where I'll help keep you motivated.
I have to admit, sometimes I'm embarrassed to work in the fitness world. Many of the messages put out there by other fitness professionals although well intended are quite frankly fucking with people. It's a slippery slope because we're here to help people and in order to let them know we can help, we point out their flaws and play to their fears. Often we make the mistake of assuming that clients want/need to lose weight. As I've trained more and more people and reflected on my own struggles I've come to realize most people want to FEEL better and that may or may not mean dropping body fat. Recently I saw an Instagram post from a local gym that got me all fired up.
It was an infographic titled "WHY DROP 10-15 POUNDS". Reasons included:
1. You'll move better
2. You'll feel more confident about yourself
3. You'll have more energy to do the things you like
4. It's better for your joints and bones
5. You'll have better skin
6. You'll sleep better
7. Lower the risk of getting sick
8. It reduces stress and anxiety
9. It improves creativity and productivity
10. You might live longer
Perhaps at first glance this all makes great sense and maybe you agree with all of these statements.
I see it and I want to go all Xena Warrior Princess on whoever thought this was a productive message to put out into the world.
So many of the women I know and clients I train are in a CONSTANT struggle to lose 10-15 lbs. They get on the scale every week if not every day in the hopes of getting to a magical number that they have deemed low enough. They cry, they stress, they grab the rolls of their stomachs and dismay at the back fat folding over the top of their bras. They kill themselves in the gym, fight hunger all day, and spend hours if not days feeling guilty if they miss a gym session or overeat.
Maybe the author of this infographic ASSUMED that the people that didn't need to lose 10-15lbs would realize this message wasn't meant for them. He/she must've assumed that whoever they were speaking to would pursue weight loss in a healthy fashion. The reality is, if done without overall healthy and wellness in mind, weight loss isn't always positive. This message says to EVERYONE "You should lose 10-15 lbs" and then it doesn't provide any productive advice for how that is to be done. If you starve yourself, over exercise, deprive yourself of rest you may lose weight but you will not reap the benefits promised.
I have one suggestion that can unfuck the infographic: change the title.
"Why Prioritize Your Health"
This way we can focus on the actions that will help people thrive. Let's put our attention to practices that have a positive effect on our lives such as moving our bodies, sleeping, eating nourishing foods and doing things that bring us joy. Let's stop pushing fat loss as a solution to our problems and instead help people care for themselves.
Agree? Disagree? Please contribute to the discussion and post in the comments.
Several years ago I was in love with running. Half marathons were my jam! I loved plotting out winding 10 mile long runs through the White Mountains of NH and spending my Sundays running for a few hours followed by an epic brunch. I enjoyed the time outside, the satisfaction of finishing a particularly challenging run and the thrill of chasing a PR. There was just one problem:
I felt like a runner but I didn't look like one.
Through several half marathons and hours of training, my body didn't seem to change much. I've always held on to weight in my midsection and no matter how much I ran, that didn't seem to change. I noticed other runners around me looking lean and fast meanwhile I felt as if I looked like a pregnant spider, spindly limbs with a bulging middle.
I didn't know it at the time, but I was falling victim to a common misconception: participating in a certain sport will help you achieve a body type similar to other athletes in that sport. Under this assumption many of us chase certain types of activities while avoiding others all based on the appearance of the more elite participants. What I didn't realize is that some bodies are more predisposed to perform certain activities and people with those bodies will be drawn to what they're good at because being good at stuff feels awesome. Many of those runners that I was envying didn't run their way into those lean bodies. They didn't find running, running found them.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that although I loved running, it was not loving me back. Despite efforts to lose weight my body was not changing and I was plagued with back and hip injuries. I was at the chiropractor or getting a massage weekly. I was spending time and money in the pursuit of something that was constantly hurting me while not helping me achieve my goals.
The last half marathon I raced in left me hobbled for weeks. It was a heartbreaking choice but I decided to take a break from running. I was terrified that I'd gain weight and worried that I wouldn't find another way to get that "runner's high".
I turned to strength training because I missed how running made me feel and I was worried when I stopped running I'd gain weight
Strength training ended up changing my life.
Just as I had enjoyed improving my 5k time, I loved working to increase my weights. When I did my first chin-up I was ecstatic. Anyone can hobble their way through a road race, it took me a year to be able to pull my chest to that bar.
I went from near constant back/hip pain to an occasional flare up once a year (or not at all).
My legs which had always been lean, gained muscle and shape and for the first time in my life I had a booty. Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing all of my flaws, I had pride in what I was building.
When you think about it, it's odd that we somehow assume that performing a sport/activity at a novice level could get us the physique of an elite athlete in that sport. We hope that a few hours of Barre class a week will give us those "long, lean" muscles of dancers and we shy away from lifting weights because we don't want to look like a body builder. In both cases these athletes have devoted their lives to their sport. When you're considering how to exercise I encourage you to worry less about what people in the top 1% of that sport look like and instead ask yourself a few questions:
Do I enjoy this workout?
Does it cause me pain beyond some muscle soreness?
Is it moving me toward my goals?
Is it sustainable?
We get caught up in what we think we should be doing and what other people are doing, forgetting that each body responds differently to different exercises. Don't let the stereotypical body type of a sport/workout draw you in or deter you, give it a try for yourself.
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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."