Another Year, Another Chapter

It’s been one week since my birthday and one year since I started this blog, and every year I reflect on what’s happened since the last one. Have I achieved any of my career goals? Am I any closer to reaching my fitness targets? Is there any marked improvement in my character? Have the heels I’ve been wearing gotten me any closer to God? This past birthday week and the month leading up to my actual day were quite different from previous years, causing me to look within even more than usual. I know this post is a severe departure from my norm, however I was compelled to share some of my thoughts–not all, because then you’d find out my exact level of insanity and that would be unacceptable. Also, these “bare all” kind of diary-like entries give me the creeps when I read them back to myself, so have no fear, this won’t be happening very often and they won’t be Shakespearean monologues either. No, I won’t go to the deep end of the pool; I’ll stay on the shallow end as I’m know to do.

At the end of August I broke my ankle. That might not seem like a big deal to most people, but it struck a nerve with me: I take my strength and my body for granted; I need to slow down and have more patience. I need to appreciate life, my life, and my capabilities more than I realize, especially now that I’m acquiring more tree rings. These were all statements I thought I applied–heaven knows I’ve said them to myself many times. Yet, nothing will slow you down and make you think long and hard about your life like a physical blow, a tangible reminder that you’re not immortal. And even as I write this, I’m shaking my head and “tsk tsk-ing” myself because I’ve been rushing my recovery! The doctor told me me it would take 6-8 weeks until I could walk without crutches–I ditched them in under 3 due to lack of patience. Go figure. He also said I should be able to exercise normally by mid to late October as long as I did some physical therapy on my own. What did I do? I went to the gym with the plan to strengthen my ankle on the recumbent bike for 10-15 minutes and ended up taking a spin class instead! That was almost 4 weeks ago. So in a little over one month, I’m at 85-90% capability, which is mind-blowing to some of my friends and family, who all think I’m crazy of course, and I’m seriously pushing myself to dangerous limits. And I know it sounds like I haven’t learned my lesson. However, I also know that I mentally cringe now whenever I think of stairs, high heels, and possible future injuries; I am more careful and aware with/of my body and better understand its limitation. This injury has forever changed me, trust and know, dear reader. I’ve also come away from this obstacle armed with this little tidbit: It’s one thing to say you’re strong and tough; it’s quite another to know you’re strong and tough, and to prove it to others and to yourself. I did, and I am so fortunate to have gained that knowledge of self.

Another noteworthy event leading up to my personal holiday: a new job! I gave my employers 2-weeks notice of my resignation because I accepted a new position at an amazing global company. I start next week and am really excited about my career again. My new role is a big step in my professional life, one that will propel me toward greater success personally (peace of mind and a positive outlook), professionally (not a dead-end job, but a significant stepping stone on my career path), and financially (no parentheses needed). I’m a little nervous though, hoping that I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I won’t miss my previous job, but I will miss some of the people. Working at that company was exactly what I needed at the right time in my life. I have matured, foraged an unexpected yet remarkable friendship; I have learned a lot about people, human nature, different personalities and how to navigate them. All of my experiences there are what afforded me the ability to maneuver myself into this new role and I will be forever grateful. Knowing that I have the drive to achieve success has helped clear my vision on how I see myself. It’s one thing to say you have inner drive, it’s quite another to get behind the wheel and step on the gas. I might be moving fast, but I’m proud to be driving my own car and upgrading it along the way.

Older, wiser, stronger, tougher. Not bad for a year’s work. Here’s to making the most of this one…carefully, of course… (Here’s my “careful face”, taken on my actual birthday, f.y.i.)

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Getting Creative with Squats

Traditional squats, Sumo squats, weighted squats, jump squats, gorilla squats, one-legged squats… There are so many variations on this dynamic, body-altering, life-changing exercise, and all of them have great cardiovascular and muscular benefits. It’s an essential compound exercise. Call me a jerk when I tell you this, I don’t care: I love leg day and incorporating cardio at the same time, especially when it comes to the almighty squat. Before I get into the meat of my post, I’d like to iterate some of the benefits of doing squats.

1. Squats build muscle all over, including core muscles
Squats build muscle and strength in the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves and entire posterior chain. They also contract the abdominal area. Studies have shown that contractions while squatting are more intense than a traditional crunch. Another factotum most people don’t know is that squats provide a highly anabolic environment for all other areas to grow when trained, due to the release of testosterone and growth hormone. This increases muscle mass and strength in all areas of your body.

2. Squats burn more fat
Another bit of information many people don’t know is that muscle burns fat. Because of #1 above, squats are a highly effective way to burn more fat. The more muscle you have on your frame, the more calories you will burn during training and post-workout. If you want to get lean, this is the move for you.

3. Squats are functional, help maintain mobility and balance
Squats are one of the most applicable exercises of all in the real world. They translate across myriad daily activities, help to avoid injury, and increases efficiency in everyday life.

4. Squats boost performance and increase power
Squats increase performance by helping you jump higher and run faster. So along with balance and mobility, add agility to the list of benefits. It takes a lot of effort to rise from the bottom of a squat. Having various points of load along the range of motion, the rise generates power and strength which translates to other movements in the gym, in sports, and in daily life. Squats are truly a universal exercise.

So why do jump squats? We do them to build strength-speed, increase power, improve rate of force development, and of course build up plyometric capacities (plyometrics: a.k.a. “plyos” in gym speak, are exercises based around having muscles exert maximum force in as short a time as possible, with the goal of increasing both speed and power). Standard squats help you build static strength while jump squats develop explosive power. Explosive power is the ability to generate force quickly (as previously stated at the beginning of this paragraph). Also, squat jumps rev up your heart rate. If you do a set of squat jumps between each strength move, you’ll burn more calories and build strength and power at the same time. Incorporating squat jumps will add a dynamic cardio component to any training session.

Now let’s jump into the fun!

The other night after a killer full body kettlebell workout that had me sweating buckets (I’ll post something about it in the near future), Shawn and I had a little fun in the gym’s empty studio before going home. People have been asking me to post workout videos again, so I felt it was only right to acquiesce to those demands. Below is a clip of forward and backward squat jumps on a punching bag.

Not only does this move do everything listed above, it further improves, balance/stability, agility, enhanced motor skill function, and gives that extra boost to the hamstrings, core and glutes; it’s an overall more explosive variation. My heart was pumping hard after doing only a few repetitions for this video clip, proving the intensity of the cardio benefits is strong. Add this to your strength training routine and you’ve got a great interval session in your repertoire. Always remember to practice proper form. With great form comes an even greater result. The better you get, the more variations you can incorporate.

Who said workouts couldn’t be fun?!  😉

I Am a Spartan

By no means am I wuss, a princess, or a diva; I have no problems getting my hands dirty and sweating. However, I’m not a tomboy and I’m not into the outdoors. I’ve never camped, hiked or whatever it is people think is fun to do in the woods—I dropped out of the Girl Scouts after one week and I avoid sitting outside for brunch in the summer when it’s too hot. I abhor humidity and can’t sleep if I know there’s a mosquito flying around in my apartment.

All that being said, I also like pushing my body to its limits, getting stronger and working out in any way that will get me my desired results; I want to be a physical beast (while still looking feminine). I want to know that if I have to run for my life, that if I have to scale walls or do whatever it takes to stay alive in a dire situation, my chances of survival are as high as possible. So when a fellow worker-outer started mentioning the Reebok Spartan Race I initially balked, but as everyone else signed up and grew increasingly excited, my boyfriend and I seriously began to consider it as well. And being the impulsive person that I am, I signed us both up two days before the event…then inwardly cringed. Not only did I feel physically unprepared and incapable, I didn’t even know how I could be mentally prepared for something as daunting as 4.5 miles of rocky hills and 15 grueling obstacles interspersed along the trail. Let’s just say I felt numb for those two days leading up to the race.

What exactly is the Spartan Race, you ask? Here’s the website’s description:  “Simply, Spartan Race is the world’s leading obstacle race series. It’s an event of pure primitive craziness that you’ll never forget! Spartan Race has:
· Races all over the globe
· Different distances for different levels and styles or racing.
· A unique culture and community of athletes striving together to overcome any and everything.”

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Our team ran the Spartan Sprint. After my initial shock of pressing “JOIN” wore off, I immediately started my own recon to find out everything I could about the course and how to prepare. The race is different every year, however I needed to see what kind of obstacles were probable so as not to go into this completely blind. The videos of races past, accounts from those who’ve participated in years prior, and pictures of men and women scratched up, tired and battered, had me at a total loss. Yet even all of that couldn’t prepare me for the actual experience of hurdles like scaling walls, rope climbs, barbed wire crawls over rocks, log, boulder and sandbag carries, monkey bars and nets, rock climbing, and jumping over fire. Hell, we had to scale a wall just to get to the starting line! I was ready to turn around and go back home as soon as I saw that craziness. Conversely, my mind completely changed when I saw one of the morbidly obese, out of shape contestants from NBC’s television show, The Biggest Loser, heave herself up and over that first wall: NO EXCUSES, BEAST MODE, FINISH THIS. There was no going back and I knew I had to test myself, body and mind. No more mental blocks were allowed to reside in my brain. If the man with one arm that was smiling a few feet away from me could do it, if the TV contestant could do it, then I could do it, too. I used to be that woman.

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Thank the gods on Mount Olympus that I stuck with it! While it felt like hell on earth at certain points (the barbed wire crawl was a big one), it was insanely awesome at the same time! Reebok has some smart people in their company; they design and engineer these races flawlessly. The courses truly show you what you’re made of in every aspect of human nature: fear, competitiveness, determination, strategy and ambition; physical and mental prowess, strength, capability and overall confidence. I regret nothing about joining this race. Self-doubt, fear of failure, and thoughts of defeat are now out of the proverbial window.

Right now as I type this post, the feeling of accomplishment is almost overwhelming. From being morbidly obese at 230 lbs with no muscle strength; from not being about to run one city block without losing my breath; from having joint pain because I couldn’t carry my own weight; I made it to the Tri-State Spartan Race in Tuxedo, NY on Saturday, June 7th, 2014. Every ache, scratch and bruise makes me smile and my eyes well with tears unshed. I went into this experience thinking this would be a bucket list item, but I already know this has now become an annual test for me—I’m hooked. Even my workouts will be geared toward preparation for future races. I am determined, I am focused, I am a finisher. I am a Spartan.

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PS: Yes, I sure did give myself a fresh manicure when I got home. You bet I did!

Sledding for Summer

As anyone that knows me knows, I am always trying to push my body with different workout routines, classes and exercises. This is necessary if I’m to reach my health and fitness goals sooner rather than later in life, and as summer quickly approaches, it’s time to step up my game once again.

Last week I revisited an old friend, the push sled (a.k.a. prowler). I haven’t visited him in a while because too many people warned against it because of my faulty knee, saying it would do more harm than good. Can I say that how wrong they were was an understatement? Not only did it feel great, it strengthened my knee and will continue to do so over time. Before I show you my test run, I’ll explain the workout and its benefits.

Besides providing an intense way to blast the legs—which I love—a weight sled puts your whole body under [good] stress and drives your heart rate through the roof, making it a fantastic way to rev up your metabolism. It increases your work capacity, helps in developing anaerobic power, and is great recovery after heavy training sessions. Sled training delivers overall strength, body composition improvement, and if used with the appropriate training protocols, can also make you faster (think sprinter) àall of my goals. Push sled workouts are one of the best ways to decrease body fat, especially *visceral fat, is with high-intensity work using a relatively larger volume. So how do you perform this incredible, do-all exercise, you ask? Keep reading.

Push sleds allow you to push either from a low position (making you more parallel to the ground) or from a high position. The lower position focuses more on your quads and makes for a more difficult workout. Most people tend to load up their sleds, too, but you shouldn’t start with a lot of weight, explains. Try loading the sled with one, 45-pound plate in the beginning, or even nothing until you get the gist of the movement and achieve proper form. Once you have the form correct, only then should you use a 45-pound plate and then add-load weight in increments according to your strength.

“Guys try to move the sled as fast as possible, and in the process they round their back and push through their arms,” says Mack from Men’s Health Magazine. “Instead, you should move deliberately and treat the exercise as if it’s a walking plank. As you move forward, you should maintain a straight line from your head to your ankles the entire time. Your power comes from your legs and hips, so drive your feet diagonally into the ground with each step.”

Since I’ve done this exercise before and I know I can add weight to the sled, I performed my test run with one 45-pound plate. I figured that if this was successful, I can stay at this weight until I become faster without sacrificing form, then add weight in 25-pound increments. Having a video of this is not for vanity’s sake, mind you, but to critique myself and to document my progress. Additionally, I’d like to help others in their journeys as much as I possibly can through any avenue with which I create or am provided. Let’s take a look:

Not half bad, right? I’ll definitely be doing this more and work on improving each time.

*Visceral fat, or abdominal fat, is a type of body fat that exists in the abdomen and surrounds the internal organs. Everyone has some, especially those who are sedentary, chronically stressed, or maintain unhealthy diets. Excessive deposits of visceral fat are associated with many serious health problems including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and increased blood pressure. Though it is possible to lose, it requires a larger commitment than spot exercises, like sit ups or crunches; a combination of cardiovascular activity and a lean diet is typically required. Hellooo push sled!

Holiday Training

You don’t need to wait till New Year’s Day to make resolutions or changes in your life. Set your goals and work then into your lifestyle so that you won’t fall off the “wagon” within a matter of days or months.

Just resolve to be a better you every morning.

Motivated Monday

Several years ago when I first started getting into fitness, I had no idea what I was doing or should be doing in order to lose weight and get in shape. I threw myself into a bunch of cardio classes and got a personal trainer that didn’t properly create a plan that suited my body type or goals. Yes, I lost weight, but I also bulked up like a man because I wasn’t doing the right workouts for my body and my diet was neither practical nor conducive to my goals. After suffering from an injury due to over-training, bulking up (which everyone says is impossible for women to do—au contraire) and having to undo that damage while still on a weight-loss/fat-loss mission, I was forced to understand the science of everything: diet, fitness, nutrition and health. Basically, I have and am still learning how the body works as a whole.

After much research, trial and error, I now know what works for me. My body composition has changed due my mix of cardio and strength training paired with cleaner, more practical eating habits. Even though I’m back to lifting weights, my execution is different now; my body and muscles are not getting bigger, they’re getting leaner. I truly understand what bodybuilding means now and I’m applying it literally by building my body piece by piece.

Also, my mentality has completely changed. No matter how many times I tried to convince myself that it was ok that the numbers on the scale weren’t budging because of the muscle/fat equation, I didn’t believe my own thoughts or the science behind it; I was stuck on societal charts/graphs/”standards”/”norms.” I’ve finally broken away from my weight on the scale, understanding and truly embracing the fact that I am sculpting my body to fit my “norm,” my standards. This keeps me motivated and makes me want to help others understand their bodies more fully.

Am I completely satisfied with where I am right now? No, however I’m not finished; my journey will never end. Yet, please understand that I’m happier with myself and my body than I have ever been, even when I was at my skinniest, because now I’m at my healthiest. When I post pictures or videos of myself or my workouts, it’s not for vanity purposes. They are to keep pushing myself further and whoever else is on a similar mission or is thinking about starting. The more I learn and change, the more I will share my message to those who want to hear it. I’m here to inspire and motivate, while I reap inspiration and motivation from your journeys in turn.
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From Ab to Fab: Part Deux

So, on to the second portion of our workout.

I didn’t do legs this time around because they were already given a good going-over during JAB. So we finished the evening with abs. WordPress won’t let me upload my abs video, so here I am after my first set on the incline bench:

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After two more grueling sets, we were finished and famished.

It’s great having a workout partner; you motivate each other, challenge and push one another and make the time pass quicker. Your partner’s energy feeds you and vice versa. Not only that, it creates an even stronger bond than the one you may already share; it gives you something else in common and you are able to help each other reach your health and fitness goals.

Stay inspired and keep inspiring!