Want a flat belly? Do more squats

Requests seem to come to me in cycles. One person mentioned wanting to do more abs and earn a flatter, thinner midsection and now everyone is mentioning this to me. My latest automatic response is that we should do more squats.

Many have said, “I think I should do more abs, don’t you?”

No. I don’t.

Reason 1: Ab exercises burn very few calories.

In order to burn fat and lose weight – whether it be in your belly, thighs, or butt – you need to burn calories. Traditional ab exercises burn very few calories in essence because they focus on small muscles. If anything, if you only focus on abs, your midsection may grow – because you DO build muscle.

Reason 2: Core conditioning is built into every workout.

At least it is built into every one of my workouts (I cannot say the same of all workouts and trainers out there). If you have every worked with me, you have heard me talk about this. I build core training and conditioning into the workout – more efficient and functional.

Why squats?

Squats are one of the biggest calorie burners – at least for the general exerciser. Squats require your large leg and butt muscles to work – making them a huge calorie burner. And you need to burn calories to burn fat! And because you cannot spot reduce for weight loss, you want to burn more calories to reduce the girth of your midsection.

Truth be told: Abs are made in the kitchen

You may have heard this, and it is true. Abs are made in the kitchen – even moreso for women. A large portion of midsection weight can be attributed to what you put in your mouth. While another portion of this is related to hormones (a woman in a particular time of fertility will have more fat, protecting the womb as a safe home for a fetus), eating what I refer to as CRAP will find itself attached to your midsection (as well as other areas).

Carbonated drinks
Refined grains and sugars
Artificial flavors
Processed foods

The bottomline

Doing more ab exercises will not lead to a flatter belly. I know, this is not necessarily intuitive, but trust me! Have I ever led you wrong?

Eat well and burn more calories – through strength training and effective aerobic exercise.

Doing all the right things and not getting the results you desire? Let’s chat and fine-tune your plan.

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There will be haters

This is one of the most challenging aspects of adopting and retaining a healthy lifestyle: Nay-sayers. Sabotogers. Haters. Insulters. The filterless.

Remember: This is your journey and no one else’s. No one knows what you know about you, has been through what you have, or has to do what you do. We are each our own. haters

More often than not, those who are negative are in the midst of their own struggle – and the negativity towards you actually has absolutely nothing to do with you!

Shouldn’t we want others to succeed?

Yes, we should. But we have cultivated an egocentric and selfish society. Women – particularly – often want to ‘one-up’ each other. Many individuals have the need to be better than those around them – and anything that threatens this perception elicits default behaviors – or defense mechanisms. Yes, putting others down can be and IS a defense mechanism.

Some of your friends and family will want you to continue to overeat, eat poorly, or skip exercise – because then they will feel better about there own unhealthy behaviors. There is comfort in numbers!

Other individuals simply do not understand. Some have been blessed with genetics that do not allow them to put on an extra 20 pounds. Some have always lived active, healthy lives and continue to do so without hiccups. DO NOT let their lack of understanding tear you down. Their comments can make you feel like your concerns are insignificant – ignore them. And know, that more than likely these particular individuals mean no harm – they just do not know any different.

Remove negative, increase positive

It can be difficult, but sometimes you must cut the negative out of your life. At times, this may mean separating yourself from family members or long-time friends. It might mean quitting a job. It may mean moving. Sounds like it could get financially stressful! I would be lying if I said that it will not be. But what is best for you in the long term? And how does this compare to the expense of treating depression, diabetes, heart disease, etc? Surround yourself with the individuals who will be supportive and positive and your journey will be much more pleasurable!

In other situations, you must ignore the negative. This takes practice – and is incredibly difficult. For example, I have had many sabotagers trying to coherce me into eating foods that were unhealthy. I learned to ignore them. I learned to walk away. Practice saying: Thanks, but no thanks.

Above all, the most important positive voice is your own! Your positive voice can be the best defense against the nay-sayers and sabotagers. When you hear negativity or criticism, you immediately know different with thoughts such as, “I am strong.” “I am on the right track.” “I am taking care of my heart, body, and mind.”

The bottomline

I do not have anything impressive or extraordinary to share on the topic. I just know, that I face negativity from those around me on a daily basis – and I know that you do too!

I know that sometimes the negativity is my misperception of things said – or not said. Knowing this, I can disregard the ‘negative’ and move on.

And yes, YOUR positivity is 10x stronger and more powerful than the negativity of others.

How do YOU manage haters, nay-sayers, or sabotagers?

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The power of size 11 jeans

I only own one pair of non-athletic shorts.

No, this is not me!

I wear a lot of skirts and dresses. They are more comfortable and I enjoy the femininity – to offset the masculinity of my athletic build.

There is another reason that I only have one pair of shorts: They are size 11.

I refuse to buy more double digit sized articles of clothing.

It is just a number

I know, many woman would be thrilled to fit into a size 11 pant. But one look at me – I do NOT look like a size 11. Some would say I am a skinny-minny (inaccurate) but most have guessed me to be a size 6.

I wish I was a size 6 – – –

As a society, we have assigned a value to these numbers.  They signify beauty. They signify worth. Or the opposite – unattractiveness and unworthiness.

Again, just a number

There is more to this story. I have dresses in my closet – ranging from size 4 to size 12. It depends on the designer. It depends on whether it is “junior’s” or “woman’s”. It depends on whether it is sleeved or sleeveless.

I have workout clothes – ranging from sizes small to large. The same factors exist.

The bottomline

I know this. I know that clothing sizes – particularly for women – are arbitrary and just numbers. But they still get to me – just as they get to most women.

Having to try on the double digit shorts keeps me from shopping for them – let alone purchasing them.

But all-in-all, I love my body and I would not want for it to be smaller – and fit into size 6 shorts. But somewhere along the line, society brainwashed that number into my head – – – Even above, I wrote that I do not look like a size 11. What DOES size 11 look like? Again with the brainwashing!

The truth is, it does not matter. Based on the fact that I have such varying sizes, I assume other women do, too. So, numbers shnumbers, I am done with them and I am taking the power back!

P.S. I am not going to buy another pair of shorts. They just are not comfortable and that is all that matters!

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The scale is evil

I advise most of my clients to avoid the scale. The scale RARELY elicits happy feelings. Excitement? Joy? When is the last time you have associated either of these feelings with what you see on the scale?

More often than not the scales leads to thoughts and feelings of disappointment, anger, frustration, depression, etc. So why do we continue to use the scale as a measurement?

Most of us have an unhealthy relationship with the scale – we are drawn to is, as one of the few measurements we know. And it sure is the easiest and most accessible – isn’t it?

The problems with weight

There are numerous problems with weight. It fluctuates. Your body is 70%+ water – so dehydration is a significant factor. What did you eat or not eat yesterday. How did you sleep. What time of day is it. Females, where are you in your cycle. What are the weather conditions. There are countless factors that influence weight – and cause us unnecessary frustration.

The the scientific and physical reasons aside, weighing yourself and having weight goals is psychologically defeating. This is why I emphasize the importance of having weight independent goals on your journey (also known as life).

Real-life story

I try not to weigh myself, because I know that it elicits negative thoughts that lead to negative self-talk.

I weighed myself today. I have been feeling pretty good, but I knew that my pants were getting tight. Since eliminating long runs from my training plan (I do not have any more races coming up), I have not integrated heavy leg days back into my routine. This is the primary cause for my shift. Dietary habits – of course – are a huge factor, although overall my eating has been pretty good.

But where is my mind?

Why didn’t I add leg days?

Why did I eat that ice cream when I wasn’t hungry?

Why don’t I run more? Which becomes, I should have kept my running up.

Getting on the scale is a mental, emotional, and psychological disaster. We are anxious prior to doing it. We are, more often than not, upset or frustrated afterwards. My general rule is to avoid those activities that trigger or elicit negative thoughts and feelings. This means, the scale must go!

Take an afternoon

– and work on yourself. You can follow my guidelines for goal setting. But use the following to give serious thought and consideration to your weight goals:

Please answer the following questions with your desired weight in mind.

  1. Origins of your desired weight: 
    1. Why do you want to be this specific weight?
    2. Is there anything particularly special about this weight?
  2. Other weight goals in the past:
    1. Have you had other weight goals in the past?
    2. Why were they different from your present goal?
  3. Achievability of your desired weight:
    1. When were you last at your desired weight?
    2. How hard do you think it would be to stay at this weight?
  4. Importance of reaching your desired weight:
    1. How important to you is reaching your desired weight?
    2. If it is important, why is it important?
  5. Consequences of reaching your desired weight:
    1. How would your life differ if you reached your desired weight?
    2. What could you do that you cannot do now?

Or, if you have previously been this weight, how was your life different when you were at this weight?

When answering the two parts of question 5 consider the following eight aspects of daily life:

Attractiveness (to yourself and others) Clothes size and choice
Leisure activites (e.g., sports) Health and fitness
Work Social life
Self-esteem and self-confidence Personal relationships

6. Consequences of not reaching your desired weight:

  1. How would you feel if you did not reach your desired weight?
  2. What effect would it have on your daily life?

Adapted from Cooper, Fairburn, and Hawker (2003) 

The bottomline

After completing this exercise, you may find that your weight goals are unfounded, inappropriate, or unrealistic. You may find that they are adequate. If your goal is to be the same weight as your 20-year-old self, that may or may not be a good weight at this point in your life. These questions should help you to think critically and make the best goals for YOU.

Lastly, support your journey by settings goals that focus on health, energy, and happiness.

When is the last time the scale left you thinking and feeling positively —? Or even neutral?

Challenge: Strengthen your ‘no’ muscle

Many of us have difficulty saying no. I for one, have GREAT difficulty saying no.

We have difficulty setting relational boundaries – unable to say no to friends and often overcommiting ourselves or doing things we do not want to do..

We have difficulty maintaining work boundaries – unable to say no to our boss’s every request, working long hours and bringing work home.

We have difficulty with food boundaries – unable to say no to food that seem to stare us in the face daily or not knowing when to stop.

Read on to learn how I strengthened my no muscle.

Long-term potentiation

As with anything, saying no can become easier with practice. And the more you do it, the easier it becomes. It is like a muscle, use it and it will become stronger. There is an abundant amount of research out there supporting the notion. We call it willpower. Scientists call it long-term potentiation (LTP).

When you practice saying no, you can strengthen the nerve cell connections in the brain – when the connections are strengthened they are potentiated (Amen, 2010). Practicing over time strengthens these circuits and builds what we know as willpower. LTP occurs whenever these circuits are strengthened and practiced and the associated behaviors become almost automatic (Amen, 2010).

My ‘crazy’ experiment

I tested the LTP theory years ago. I had always felt like I had no willpower – prone to binge drinking and eating. I had begun working with a trainer and saw the weight loss benefits. Wanting to see what results I could truly obtain, I quickly modified my diet – strictly following the guidelines that I provide in my meal and snack creation post. At the time, I was having difficulty with giving up my beloved Snickers candy bars. Having read about LTP and that it is possible to increase willpower. I thought I would test it out.

I took a “Fun Size” Snickers bar to work and placed in in front of my computer monitor. At the time, I worked in publishing and sat in front of the computer for 8-10 hours a day. My goal: I will not eat the Snickers today. I sat there all day with the Snickers in front of me. I practiced saying no. Some might argue this was desensitization (it may have been). I wanted to, but I did not eat it!

I set the same goal for the next day.

And the next.

I would tell myself, I did not eat it yesterday and I do not need to eat it today.

This went on for months. More than a year. Eventually the Snickers bar was so old that it wasn’t appealing (although I am sure it has an absurd shelf life) and I threw it away. I had built willpower and the ability to say no.

It was not easy

This brief summary omits the days of stressful deadlines, when I almost ate that bar. I didn’t mention the emotional days, when I wanted the candy bar, but said no. It doesn’t mention my colleagues – who all thought I was crazy – who were nay-sayers and bullied me to eat it.

The challenge

What do you need to say no to?

For me, it was Snickers. At other times, it has been saying no to clients who want to train with me during periods that I am generally unavailable. There was also a time when I needed to learn to say no to alcohol.

I challenge you to think about what you need to say no to. Starting today, you will practice. It starts with 1 day. Then 1 day becomes 2. And if I can do it — so can you.

So tell us, to what are you going to practice saying NO?

References

Amen, D. G. (2010). Change Your Brain, Change Your Body. Three Rivers Press: New York.

A no-quit circuit workout

We played with video today. I have said before that I do not intend to share too many workouts, but it was on my heart to share this one.

A simple – but not easy – workout, comprised of 4 circuits. Rest 1 to 2 minutes between circuits.

Circuit 1 (3 sets, 15 repetitions, no rest)
Spiderman Pushups (each side)
Dumbbell Squat to Press
Chinups (or assisted Chinups)

Circuit 2 (3 sets, 15 repetitions, no rest)
Jump Lunge
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Goblet Squat

Circuit 3 (3 sets, 15 repetitions, no rest)
Dumbbell Reverse Fly
DB Jump Squat
Superman Pushup

Circuit 4 (3 sets, 15 repetitions, no rest)
Dumbbell Step Up
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Dumbbell Squat

You can view a video tutorial on this workout on my Facebook page.

Muscles = You must be a bodybuilder?

It is really funny actually. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked if I am a bodybuilder. I have been asked by roommates. I have been asked by strangers at the mall. I have been asked by strangers at gyms where I workout. I have been asked by strangers at gyms where I work. I have been asked by men, women, boys, and girls.

My friend Emily gets asked this as well. Neither of us looks like a bodybuilder. It has become a bit of a joke between us.

You must be a bodybuilder

I have narrowed it down to the fact that we are women, with muscle, who look like we know what we are doing in the gym. This accounts for the comments in the gym. And more than knowing what we are doing, we are not afraid of the heavy weights and are actually drawn to them – I would much rather do 4-6 reps of heavier weight than 12-15 reps of less weight. And for some reason, people associate heavy weights with bodybuilding – when bodybuilders actually use lighter weights for the bulk of their training.

I have determined that the everyday individual’s logic is:

If you know what you are doing in the weight room and you lift heavy weights, then you are a body builder.

Can you offer me any insight?

I am not a bodybuilder

When I let myself dwell on the comments, I can get down on myself. I have shared much about my battles with body image, and comments can trigger rampant thoughts. Out of season, bodybuilders often carry a significant amount of subcutaneous fat – a result of the considerable amount of calories required to build muscle and support the training regimen. I think, I know my body carries some subcutaneous fat, and I am okay with that – but how big do I look? 

There was a period in my life when I thought I would train for a competition. That season of thought has long since passed – there is no need for me to purposefully harm my body and risk significant metabolic damage. For what result? To stand mostly naked, in insanely high heels, and holding uncomfortable poses on a stage in front of individuals who are judging me? I will pass. While I like goals, and my body would likely adapt well to the physical training, I have no desire to put myself in the position of being judged based SOLELY on my appearance.

Thanks, but no thanks.

I am an athlete – I compete in the game called life

Opposed to bodybuilders, I train for life. I train for getting in and out of the car, impromptu hula hooping contests, unexpected basement demolitions, and so forth. While a bodybuilder may appear strong, most individuals would be surprised by their lack of functional movement and use of those big muscles (this is a broad statement and is not representative of ALL bodybuilders). This falls along the lines that models cannot do pushups – there is an overall disconnect between appearance and reality.

Compliment or insult?

When I have been asked if I am a bodybuilder, sometimes it comes across as a compliment and other times as an insult. The first few times, I let it get to me. Now, I just shake it off. Sometimes, individuals just do not know what to say and that is what comes out.

I love being strong and muscular, so I chose to take it as a compliment every time. And now every time either Emily or I hear it, we laugh and it causes a day’s worth of amusement.

The bottomline

I am not a bodybuilder. None of my friends are bodybuilders. I trained a friend for a figure competition – she is not a bodybuilder. We are strong – and have trained for life and the many obstacles it throws our way.

Further, I am not opposed to bodybuilding or figure training, it is just not for me.

The point is this: not all muscular individuals are bodybuilders. So stop asking us that! (You may give us a complex.)

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Attacking life as an obstacles course

Last week, some friends, strangers, and I completed an obstacle course workout at TNT Fitness. Amazing! Looking at the obstacles from a distance was a bit daunting. My heart raced. I was concerned that my knee, hip, and shoulder would inhibit my ability to successfully complete some of the obstacles. I worried that I was not strong enough to conquer the obstacles ahead.

photo (37)

Strong – there is no other choice

I did not feel strong enough for the obstacles laid out before me. I did not feel equipped.

As usual, I put my game face on and I prepared for the obstacles. Do not think, just DO IT!

Those who know me personally, know that I overthink. I was thinking about the hip that was sore. I was thinking about the calluses that I had recently ripped off my palms. I had to center myself and stop thinking. When I find this space of not thinking is when I find my strong. photo (38)

Not traversing the wall was not a choice. Not flipping the tire was not an option. Skipping or avoiding obstacles was not an option. Digging deep and being strong was the only choice. And we worked as a team to help others get up and over – sometimes lending a helping hand and often cheering and encouraging one another. My strength came not only from digging deep within myself, but also from trusting others.

“Mini Mt. Everest” was a mental challenge for me. I was afraid that I could not do it. My friend Mo went first – and he stood at the top waiting for me to come. I was confident that if I did not make it, he could reach for my arm and help to pull me up and over. The best part, this gave me the confidence to do it.

With my physical strength, I managed to overcome that obstacle alone. But I drew my confidence and mental strength from others.

Translating this strength onto life’s obstacles

My life has changed pretty significantly these last few weeks – in positive ways. But there have been numerous obstacles. One after the other. And there will continue to be one after another.

Just like last week’s obstacle course workout, not attacking those obstacles is not an option.

I have a vision for my life – my personal and professional endeavors. I have a rough timeline for where I would like to see myself in 5 or 10 years. There are education and experiences I desire to obtain. But God and friends have a different plan and timeline for me. The vision, the same, but put on fast forward.

I do not feel strong enough. I do not feel equipped. These are the same thoughts I experienced prior to the obstacle course workout.

The bottomline

Life is an obstacle course – and I need to learn to treat it like the one that I recently conquered. I conquer fears one at a time, and I suppose obstacles in life are to be overcome in much the same manner.

Much like the obstacle course workout, I have friends who are reaching out to grab my hand – ensuring that I do not fall or hit my face. The faith others have in me today, helps me to build my confidence and push forward with determination. The obstacles are inevitable, but I know that the hands are there to grab onto.

I am ready to attack this life as the obstacle course that it is!

Are you with me?

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How much can you improve your fitness in 6 months?

My 2013 six-month fitness check-in. With many fitness goals, I am using the bodyweight baseline workout to assess where I am at.  I did not review my previous performance before heading off to the gym – I had no idea what I was trying to beat and I did not want to psyche myself out. I just wanted to do it. I put my game face on and I went.

It is done.

It was relatively brutal.

I did not go into the workout with confidence. Honestly, I had forgotten about my assessment workout, until I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized it was July. My workouts have been on the back burner lately – lacking focus, intent, and energy. This made me nervous, but I knew that I needed to complete the assessment and know the results – the good and the bad.

The results

Exercise

Jan. 2

Apr. 1

Jun 2

Percent Improvement

Pushups

55

63

68

23.64%

Squats

206

219

233

13.11%

Pullups

11

18

20

81.82%

Burpees

25

39

36

44.00%

Traveling Lunges

98

112

122

24.49%

BB Inverted Row

42

44

59

40.48%

SB Plank

:35 sec

:55 sec

1:10

100.00%

KB Swings (20kg)

81

90

98

20.99%

Following this workout, I completed my 1-mile run in 8:53 minutes, improving from 9:18 in April (and having not completed the mile in January).

Lastly, I weighed myself for the first time in a very long time – I am up 4 pounds from April and back to the same weight I started at January 1 – still within my body’s happy range. (And unfortunately I have not had a trustworthy body fat analysis to determine any changes in body composition.)

The response

I am surprised with my improvements. I am not surprised with my decrease in burpees since April, as I have been experiencing more back pain these last few weeks (no more Insanity experiments). 

The 3 minutes of pullups were frustrating, as I was only able to perform one at a time. All I could think about was my goal to perform 10 consecutive and the fact that I have not been training for it as diligently as I should be and that is why it was so hard. Mind games!

All in all, I am pleased. 

The bottomline

I did better than I thought I would. A lesson to be kind to myself.