Seven stages. Six months.
And just like that, I’m done!
Last week, I finished the final workout for the NROLFW program, and I feel pretty awesome. I’m proud of myself for sticking with the program, even when it got really difficult or really repetitive and boring. I’m proud of myself for committing to the challenge to steadily increase the weight for all of the exercises and (safely) pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. Mostly I’m proud of myself for completing an entire lifting plan and for proving that I’m stronger than I give myself credit for.
I went into NROLFW figuring that, if I could commit to a length half-marathon training plan, this should be no different. I was right—I love the structure and ease of a pre-planned workout which made it easy to stick with. I also loved seeing my strength increase over time; I’m not a competitive person, but I did find myself getting competitive…with myself! It was great motivation to keep pushing past my preconceived notions of what I thought I could do, and with motivation comes results.
- I’m happy with my results, but as I previously mentioned, I know I would have seen even more dramatic changes had I followed the nutrition plan to a T. That being said, my arms, back, legs, shoulders, and butt are much stronger and much more defined, and I can even see a peek of my abs. My weight has stayed relatively the same, and my pants are quite a bit looser in the waist (but tighter in the butt and thighs! Helloooo squats!)
- I am so, so out of running shape. Like, embarrassingly so. Like I’ve said before, the plan focuses on interval training, but very strongly discourages steady state endurance cardio. As a result, going for a 5k run feels like torture right now. I’d like to build my running base up at least a little bit in the next couple of months, but mainly as an obnoxious point of pride more than anything else.
- I’m not quite sure what to do now that the plan is over! I think I might start it from the beginning, but follow it a bit more loosely. I definitely want to continue the functional movements/heavy weights aspect of the plan because I saw how effective that combination was for me.
- I would definitely recommend the plan to anyone who was already comfortable in the weight room, especially if they were thinking of switching things up and trying something new. It’s easy to follow and effective, even more so if you stick with the nutrition plan.
So what’s next? NO CLUE. Anyone have any ideas?
And six months after I started, I finally finished all seven stages of the NROLFW program.
(Note: this doesn’t mean I’m actually done with the program. I still have the six “Final Cut” workouts to get through, but those are considered “optional”!)
Stage 7 was one of my favorite stages, if only because it focused on those functional movements I seem to love so much, and the workouts themselves were fairly short, simple, and to the point. I also LOVED that the last of both the A and B workouts called for AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of the exercises: for me, there really is no better way to see my progress than to see how many reps I can complete until “failure.” I also love the challenge of seeing how far I can go!
So here are my thoughts on stage 7 and my progress in the program, in no particular order:
- I am definitely stronger, something I can tell not just by my progress in the program, but in the way I look. I am lifting heavier than ever (although, when it comes to certain exercises like lat pull downs, I think I’ve hit my limit—at least for now!) which feels incredible. And the physical results are great, too: my upper body especially looks different. My arms, shoulders, and back have never, ever looked this toned. I tried my wedding dress on a few weeks ago and was SHOCKED at how different my back looked in it now as compared to when I bought it in March (about two weeks after starting the program).
- I know my results would be more dramatic had I really stuck with the nutrition plan. I definitely paid closer attention to my protein intake over the last six months and cut down on the amount of carbs I was eating, but I also had plenty of ice cream and other treats this summer. I’m not upset or disappointed at all, but I do know for certain that I would have had much more visible results if I had be more “strict” with my nutrition.
- Functional movements are here to stay. I have never seen results like I have from doing moves like squats, pull ups, planks, deadlifts, etc. These will become the foundation of any plan I set for myself in the future, for sure!
- Intervals are here to stay, too! There’s a time and a place for long, steady cardio (usually when I just want to zone out or relieve stress), but I have kind of fallen in love with the feeling I get after a 20 minutes set of really intense sprints. I know I’ll continue to do these, too.
- I am so, so glad I am not training for a race right now. SO GLAD. The thought of running more than a 5k makes me want to puke. My, my—how things have changed!
- I started the “Final Cut” on Saturday and GOOD LORD it’s a doozy. I was so sore yesterday I could barely climb up the stairs. Oddly enough, I LOVE that feeling after a workout (must mean that it’s working, right?!) and am really psyched to finish the last five workouts.
It’s weird to think I’ll be done with the entire plan in another two weeks or so, but I actually think I might start from the beginning (or modify it to focus on the workouts I really loved). If nothing else, the plan has made me realize that I’m stronger than I thought I was—and that I have the potential to get even stronger if I work at it!
Sometimes, you just get a craving. Usually my cravings are fairly predictable: ice cream. Chocolate. Peanut butter.
Other times, my cravings take even me by surprise. Tonight was one of those nights, when suddenly I had a craving for bacon.
Then I got to the store and saw Brussels sprouts. And suddenly I had a craving for those, too.
Luckily for me, all of these things sounded like they could make a potentially delicious meal. Even more luckily for me, they not only turned into a delicious meal, but the meal took fewer than 30 minutes to make.
Add this one to the rotation, friends. It’s a keeper!
“BLT” Pasta Salad
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
- 8 ounces short whole wheat pasta (we used elbows)
- 1 avocado halved, seeded, peeled, and chopped
- 7 slices turkey bacon
- about 3 cups shredded Brussels sprouts
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup feta cheese
1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, cook bacon according to package directions until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and crumble. Add 1 tablespoon oil and Brussels sprouts to pan. Saute sprouts in bacon grease until tender and slightly wilted.
3. In a large bowl combine the avocados, lemon juice, bacon, sprouts, remainder of the olive oil, garlic, pepper, and salt. Add the hot pasta and toss to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with cheese. Makes 4-5 servings.
Five stages down, two to go.
And, I hate to say, this was by far the worst stage yet.
I don’t quite know what to attribute this to. Am I losing motivation after four months on the plan? Did the laziness of summer vacation start seeping into my workouts? I guess both of these things are likely. But I think the answer is even more simple: stage five is a total repeat of stage three, which I loathed completing.
I don’t know what it was about the exercises in the two workouts in these stages—they felt more awkward, less natural, more difficult (and not in a “I feel like I’m challenging myself” way, but more of a “This feels uncomfortable and not like it’s effective” way) than most of the other exercises in other stages. The only things I liked about the workouts were the interval and body weight matrix cardio exercises and the occasional functional exercises that I’ve found to be really effective in the past (planks, squats, chest presses, cable wood chops). That being said, I did complete all eight workouts, but I am THRILLED to move on to stage six (the last “real” stage before something the book refers to as “The Final Cut.” Hey, now!)
Some random thoughts:
- The plan’s emphasis on cardio intervals is definitely helping me increase my speed, but it is demolishing my endurance (which I guess is to be expected?) I can easily get through 2 miles of sprint intervals on the treadmill, but a 5k steady-state run feels like torture right now.
- Kind of unrelated to the plan, but Nick has been teaching me how to properly do pull ups on a bar we have attached to the door on our guest room. Progress there is slow, but definitely steady! It’s incredible how quickly your strength increases when you consistently challenge yourself.
- I can finally hold a plank for 90 seconds: a huge, huge accomplishment for me. When I started the plan, 30 seconds was my max. I’m loving these clear, obvious indicators of improvement!
- I actually started stage six today, and I LOVE it. It looks so short and simple on paper, but it is an absolute killer (one exercise alone called for 10 sets of 2 reps—and took me over 15 minutes to complete with rest breaks. OOF). It completely focuses on functional movements, which I love. It feels good to be back in a stage that I look forward to completing!
- I’ll be on vacation in Rhode Island for the first week of August, so I’ll have a weird break in the middle of this stage. No biggie; I’ll pick it right back up when I get back to Maryland!
I love summer for so many reasons: longer days, warmer weather, time off from school to catch up on my running list of books to read (and, yes, also to catch up on my sleep!)
I also love that I have a little extra time on my hands, not just to run errands or catch up on my doctor’s appointments or even sit by the pool, but also because, with that extra time in my day, cooking dinner no longer feels like a hassle. As much as I love cooking and experimenting with new foods and recipes, during the school year I tend to fly on autopilot when it comes to getting dinner on the table. I find three or four meals that I know I can cook in under thirty minutes, and I keep them in rotation until the thought of eating [insert standard meal here] is repulsive.
Living with Nick has also been good motivation for me to try new meals. Although I could probably survive on the same chicken stir fry for three weeks straight, I know he probably couldn’t (or wouldn’t!) It’s been fun to brainstorm meal ideas together, or to go grocery shopping and just totally wing it with whatever looks good.
Which is exactly what we did with dinner last night:
When we were at Wegmans over the weekend, we picked up some tilapia on sale, figuring we needed a break from chicken for a week. I also picked up some asparagus, figuring we’d just bake it with oil, salt, and pepper like we usually do. But I was famished while I was making dinner last night and knew that a piece of fish and some asparagus was not going to hold me over. I needed something with a little more staying power, so I poked around in the kitchen and figured some carbs and healthy fats would do the trick.
This isn’t really a recipe, so much as it was a “throw whatever you have on hand together and hope for the best” kind of situation. But the steps were basic:
- Cut asparagus stalks into bite-size piece and saute in olive oil 8-10 min or until tender (I should have added garlic!) Season with salt and pepper.
- Scoop out avocado and dice into 1/2 in. cubes.
- Toss asparagus and avocado with cooked brown rice (preferably still warm). Season with S&P plus the juice of 1/2 lemon. Stir, stir, stir! (Because the rice and asparagus was still warm, the avocado melted a little bit, making the consistency almost like a risotto). Toss in some feta cheese if you’d like (we did. And we liked!)
- We served with some very simple baked tilapia (just seasoned with S&P and some red chili flakes and lemon juice, baked at 350* for 15 minutes).
A fresh, simple, healthy, and delicious dinner? Just another added summer perk!
And another stage bites the dust!
So I’ll be honest: this was the stage where I hit my “wall,” in so many different ways. First and foremost, this stage was essentially the exact same thing as stage two, but with the expectation that you will use heavier weights and, therefore, will do fewer reps (and potentially fewer sets: 2-3 instead of the firm 3 in stage two). While part of me liked the idea of repeating the exact same exercises as a few weeks ago, if only to see my progress, the other (much bigger) part of me was so, so bored with the idea of essentially repeating the stage for another eight workouts. But I stuck with it, tried to push myself, and did see some solid progress (anywhere from a 2.5 lb weight increase on awkward/difficult exercises like the dumbbell cuban prone snatch to a 10-20 lb weight increase on others like Bulgarian split squats and deadlifts).
Here are some other random “end of stage four” thoughts:
- This stage took me a full week and a half longer than I expected, largely due in part to the random (miserable) cold/cough I developed on the last day of school (great timing, right?) I still worked out for most of the five or so days I felt sick, but I took it *really* easy—like, slow walks or pedaling on the elliptical easy. Not a huge deal, but definitely a bit of a setback.
- Not sure if I was getting bored with the program or just the repetition of the stage, but I found myself wanting to opt out of strength/lifting days more during this stage than ever before. For the last three or so months, I’ve looked forward to the break from steady state cardio, but these last two weeks, I’ve been craving some mindless running/elliptical/stairmaster time.
- Still loving the cardio speed intervals (in a love-hate kinda way). I like pushing myself to see how much faster I can go, which is usually a lot faster than I ever give myself credit for.
- One pair of my shorts fit me. The others are too tight in the legs and way too big in the waist. I think this is supposed to be a relatively good sign, but it’s kind of a pain in the ass (no pun intended). It’s almost July, and suddenly none of my shorts fit!
- Nick has a pull-up bar attached to the door frame in our guest bedroom/office and has been helping me with some assisted pull ups every few days. Those things are HARD, but I’m happy to get the practice in before the program actually calls for them!
- Still hating step ups (and Bulgarian split squats). Still loving horizontal wood chops.
- 120 seconds of planks is NO JOKE. But so, so effective. People need to stop doing crunches and start doing planks.
- I haven’t weighed myself in over a month. That’s probably an entirely different post for a different day, but right now, I have no desire to get on the scale, so I’m not.
Four stages down, three to go!
The last few years have been such a whirlwind. While I definitely made time for fun, I hate to admit that so much of my time was spent just slogging along, my head down, trying to get through the other side of these huge mountains in my personal and professional life. Honestly, there was no way for me to get through a long distance relationship or my Master’s program other than just pushing along from one week then month then year to the next.
And I (we!) did it. I graduated with my Master’s degree a few weeks ago, and last weekend, after nearly SIX YEARS apart, Nick and I moved into our first shared apartment. Four days later, I turned 28. And while a small part of me is freaked out that I’m only two years away from turning 30, the much greater part of me is so content…no, so thrilled…with my life exactly as it is in this moment.
Nick and I went out for my birthday last night, and at dinner he asked me what I think 28 has in store for me. Besides the obvious (um…getting married!), I found myself pretty speechless. I have gotten so used to having these huge, lofty goals I want or need to accomplish each year that it seems bizarre to have come to a resting spot. But it also feels so, so wonderful.
So what do I want my 28th year to look like? What do I want to do?
I want to take my time making a new home with Nick, and I want to take time to just enjoy it. I want to enjoy the process of planning our wedding (and the wedding and marriage themselves!) I want to apply the skills I learned in my Master’s program and improve my teaching. I want to make more time for fun and exploration and travel and excitement, things that I put on the back burner for much of the last two and a half years. And more than anything else, I want to be healthy and happy.
There hasn’t been a year in recent memory that has held as much excitement or promise than this one, and I am so excited for everything in store.