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.
And just like that, stage three of NROLFW is done and done. A few of my thoughts, in no particular order:
- I liked that this stage was also short (only eight workouts), mainly because I strongly disliked workout B. The majority of the moves felt awkward and less effective than those from previous workouts, but I did make myself stick to them and try to improve as much as possible. I like that these stages are relatively short: it’s just enough time to get better at each move, but not enough time to get bored.
- I didn’t make a huge amount of progress during this stage which I mostly contribute to the fact that I seem to be hitting my max on a lot of the moves (or close to it). For example, no matter how hard I try, I cannot do a lat pulldown any heavier than 90 lbs, at least not without seriously straining my back or compromising my form (neither of which are safe or effective). That being said, I definitely saw some improvements, even if they were small ones: I’m bench pressing heavier than ever before, holding a plank twice as long as I previously could, and am feeling pretty great about my interval progress. Little victories are still victories!
- The bodyweight matrix at the end of workout A KICKED MY ASS. Basically, you do a series of 12-24 reps of four moves as quickly as possible. You then rest for twice as long as it took you to complete the matrix and do it all over again. I saw some great improvement in my matrix times (dropped down from 2:11 to 1:51), but I swear, those four minutes of getting through the matrix was a more intense cardio workout than I’ve had in a long, long time.
- Least favorite workout in this stage: YTWL. Eff you, YTWL. Seriously. You’re awkward and painful and dumb and I hate you. Please don’t show up in any future workouts. Kthanks.
- Favorite workout in this stage: reverse wood chop or dumbbell incline bench press. Simple, straightforward, effective.
- That being said, it’s clear that I like doing uncomplicated, straightforward moves the best. Give me squats, push presses, planks any day. I just feel like I see progress much faster in these exercises, and I don’t second guess my form.
- I haven’t taken my measurements or weighed myself today, but I will say that I feel like I’m seeing some changes in my body, some for the better and some for the…well, not worse. Just not ideal. On the plus side, my stomach feels tighter, my waist feels and looks smaller, my lovehandles are melting away, and my legs and butt look COMPLETELY different. I swear, my lower body hasn’t looked like this since I was 14 years old and dancing several hours a week. It’s remarkable. On the downside, none of my shorts are really fitting right. My butt and legs aren’t bigger necessarily, but they are stronger and higher—so now my shorts are baggy in the waist and tight in the legs. Again, this isn’t a huge deal, but it’s not ideal!
- I looked ahead in the book, and it seems as though the next few stages look almost EXACTLY like previous stages, just with a different number of sets and reps (and, presumably, the assumption that I will be using heavier weights). I’m not totally thrilled about this—I was hoping each stage would be distinctly different than the last, but I guess it will be a good way to monitor my progress?
All in all, I still like the program. I feel like I’ve stuck with it long enough that I’m seeing some solid results, and I’m excited to see what’s coming up next!
I bought a bikini today.
This isn’t groundbreaking. It isn’t strange or shocking or brave.
But it is unusual for me. And by “unusual” I mean I haven’t worn a bikini since I was…eleven?
I wore a lot of tankinis throughout middle school and high school. At my highest weight in college I got into the habit of wearing one pieces—a habit that I couldn’t bring myself to break, even after I lost over 40 lbs (and maintained that loss for over five years). A few years ago, I bought a black one piece from Target that I wore until it was stretched out beyond what is probably acceptable to wear in public.
But since my initial weight loss, I’ve always put off buying a bikini, thinking I’m just a few pounds away from what I “should” weigh before showing that much skin. Even at my lowest weight (probably a solid 8 lbs lower than where I am now), I felt like I had more to lose. Then I realized that I desperately need a new bathing suit, like, now, and I decided that, if I don’t go for the two piece this year, I probably never will. And that’s just ridiculous. I put so much into taking care of my body, both through exercise and diet. I’m proud of my hard work and dedication, and while there are obviously some things I would like to change, I’m happy with what I have.
I went to Victoria’s Secret today, and I tried on an absurd number of bathing suits. I put this one on, and instead of settling just for the sake of it, I realized that I actually liked what I saw. I tried it on again when I got home, and I liked it even more. I’m hoping that I like it enough to wear it out as much as my black one piece. Talk about a leap in the direction of finally accepting my body for what it is, not for what I wish it was.
TLDR version of this post: I bought my first bikini in seventeen years. Not a big deal for anyone else, but kind of a big step for me.
A few days ago, I finished stage two of the NROLFW program. This stage took half as long as stage one, which had its pros and its cons: while I never got a chance to get bored necessarily, I definitely stalled in terms of my progress on a few exercises. The book attributes this to a couple of possible issues, but I think my major “problem” was that I started out with weights that were a little on the heavy side, and my strength could not increase fast enough to make significant progress. That aside, I did walk away from stage two with a few key insights:
- I hate (HATE) step ups. Like, I never ever want to do another step up again for the rest of my life. This is where I stalled the most in this stage; for the life of me, I could not advance past 50 lbs on a medium-high step. I could do higher weights on a lower step, but I didn’t feel as though that was as effective (is it?) so I stuck with my 50 lbs for the entire stage. And it was hard for every single workout. And I hated it. Did I already mention that?
- I am officially becoming the obnoxious person who grunts in the weight room. Especially during my last few reps of step ups. I’ll occasionally drop the F-bomb if I’m feeling particularly exhausted. It’s not cute, and it’s not something I’m proud of, but it doesn’t seem to be going away. Sorry, fellow gym-goers.
- Where has the reverse wood chop been all my life? This is an ab exercise that actually feels like it is working my abs, in a good way. I’m happy it carries over into stage 3 because I enjoy doing it and feel like it’s actually effective.
- All this focus on interval training (which I am LOVING) has made me marvel at the fact that I trained for two half marathons. This interval method is the complete opposite of the method you follow when training for an endurance event, and while I think both have their benefits, interval training is the right thing for me right now. It’s fast, it’s intense, and it’s definitely effective. I do not miss slogging through two hour runs right now, but I’ll also never say that I’ll never do it again!
- The workouts are still taking between 25-40 minutes, depending on the rest I need between sets (I’m going more by how I feel and not as much by the prescribed rest periods the book recommends). This is perfect for me—I can still fit in an interval session before the workouts and still be out of the gym in about an hour.
- I’m feeling more confident in the weight room in general. There are a few scary exercises coming up in upcoming stages that I know will make me feel timid all over again, but right now I feel like I know what I’m doing. After six or seven years of lifting weights, this is the first time I’ve had this much weight-room confidence, and it’s pretty fantastic.
- Why did I ever stop doing squats and lunges? I used to love working out my lower body—I think it took me back to my strong-leg dancer days or something—and then I just kind of dropped off on my lower body workouts. But holy hell, squats and lunges do incredible things for everything below your hips. I am so motivated to increase my weights in these exercises because I feel like they are the ones giving me the most pay off.
- My weight hasn’t changed much since the end of stage one, but I attribute that mostly to my eating habits. I know if I was eating “cleaner,” I’d be seeing more results. Plain and simple. Something to work on in stage three!
- I’ve seen another small drop in my hip measurement after this stage (about 1/2 inch) and a small increase in my thigh measurement—all those squats, I guess!
Overall, I’m enjoying the program as a whole. I love the structure of any program—I’m just the kind of person who enjoys walking into the gym with a plan! I’ve already started stage three, and so far, it is HARD. I’m looking forward to continuing and seeing what kind of results I get as I go forward!
This past Wednesday, I finally completed stage one of the New Rules of Lifting for Women program! It took me about eight weeks, a week or so longer than the book suggests (only because I spent a week visiting Nick in NC for my spring break and had no access to the heavy weights that I needed). I move on to stage two this week, but before I start the new stage, I thought I’d take a minute to recap my thoughts on stage one, and a glimpse into my results.
- Stage one is longer than any other stage in the program (16 workouts as compared to the 8 in stage two, for instance). For that reason, a lot of the reviews of the program suggested that stage one is tedious and boring. I actually didn’t feel this way at all. I appreciated the time that it gave me to get comfortable with the exercises and to see steady growth over the course of the eight weeks. If there had to be a stage that was longer than the others, I think stage one was the best choice. It gets you acclimated to the program and comfortable with the weights and your own strengths and weaknesses.
- That being said, I am definitely ready to move on to stage two! I’m a little nervous because some of the exercises are unfamiliar to me, but if I learned anything from stage one it was to be confident in my abilities and to take it slow and steady until I’m comfortable with the movements.
- Ok, I revise that. If there’s anything I learned from stage one, it’s that I definitely underestimated my own strength and abilities in the weight room for the last, um, eight years or so that I’ve been “lifting” (and yes, I use that term lightly). Once I started challenging myself (which the program insists you do—it’s the entire point!), I realized I was stronger than I ever gave myself credit for.
- The best example of this was the optional “special workout” that came at the end of stage one, in which you complete as many reps as possible (AMRAP) of each exercise, using the amount of weight you used in your very first workout. Where I used to max out at, say, 20 reps of squats, I realized during the special workout that I am capable of doing at least 40-45. Yes, I gained strength as the program went on (more on that in a second), but my endurance seems to have increased as well.
- I definitely gained strength, without question. I’ve been able to steadily and comfortably increase my weight almost across the board, and I’m seeing physical results as well. My biceps are more defined, and my legs and butt look completely different than they did eight weeks ago. My measurements have stayed relatively steady (minus a one inch loss from my waist, half inch loss from my bust, and half inch loss from my thighs), and I’ve lost nearly three pounds (which I’m also attributing to extra movement–like walks after dinner–and cleaner eating, in addition to the program).
- I haven’t completely given up cardio, but I have tried to switch over to more of an interval-based approach (which the book recommends). At this point, I’m generally only completing one or two steady-state cardio session each week (and never on days when I lift). All other cardio workouts are intervals, which are definitely harder—but over faster!
- One of my major concerns was that lifting workouts wouldn’t be enough of a workout for me. Um. WRONG. So, so wrong. By the end of the stage, my lifting workouts were taking about 30 minutes, and I was a sweaty, exhausted mess afterwards. Fitting in intervals was sometimes really difficult, and the most I could get myself to do was walk on an incline. That was a great wake up call for me: lifting can be an incredibly effective workout—if you actually CHALLENGE YOURSELF. Duh.
- I’m still trying to fit in more protein, but it seems like I can never get in enough! I don’t like to rely on powders, but I definitely try to fit in some whey protein on lifting days. Otherwise I’m relying on Greek yogurt, chicken, tuna, turkey, eggs, etc. I try to eat a serving of protein at every meal, and even in most snacks. I’m taking the whole “protein after lifting” thing very seriously, and I do think that it makes a huge difference.
So that’s where I stand right now: about eight weeks in, seeing results, and feeling confident–albeit a little intimidated about the new stage of the program. I’m excited to see where I’ll be in another month or so!
Or “a rambling mess of thoughts related to my decision to begin a legitimate strength training program.”
Hang on, kids. This is going to be a wild one.
So remember when, about a year ago, I said I was going to order The New Rules of Lifting for Women (NROLFW)? I didn’t.
Remember when I said I was going to incorporate strength training more seriously and frequently into my workout regimen? I guess I incorporated it more frequently, but definitely not more seriously. As in, none of my strength workouts left me sweaty. Or sore. Which I’m pretty sure is what is supposed to happen when you are lifting heavy things.
Part of the problem was the fact that I am a fully self-declared cardio lover. I love the stress relief and therapeutic effects of a good run or kickboxing class. I like feeling really disgusting and sweaty after a workout, as proof that I kicked my own ass. And yes, I love knowing that I am burning calories. Lots of ‘em.
So my usual routine is to go to the gym and focus COMPLETELY on cardio. Endurance, intervals, whatever. And then, two or three times a week, I’ll do some squats, a few chest presses, and a couple of planks and call it a day. Is this better than nothing? Sure, I think so. Is it truly effective? NO. Not even close. I’m not getting any stronger or firmer, at least not that I can tell.
I’ve also put on every single pound I lost this summer. This is a pretty common and vicious cycle for me: lose a few lbs in the summer (thanks to walks after dinner, a LOT less stress, and a huge focus on fruit, salads, and smoothies) and put them back on in the winter (thanks to shorter days/less activity, a LOT of stress, and a huge focus on carbs and anything else that resembles comfort food). I’m really pissed with myself because I know this cycle is not inevitable, but I continue to allow it to happen pretty much every year.
So basically, something needed to change. Or rather, a lot of things needed to change—but the change itself was what was important to me. Even as someone who is so attached to my routine, I’ll actually be the first to admit that it’s probably my routine that’s keeping me stuck. If I want anything to change, whether it’s to get stronger or lose those winter pounds (or, ideally, both), I can’t keep doing what I’m doing and expect anything different as a result.
So here’s what I’m doing, in no particular order:
- I finally ordered NROLFW, and I read it cover to cover in a few days.
I appreciated the author’s writing style, and I found the book to be very clear, concise, and logical. I don’t love everything about the meal plan (way too much focus on dairy and protein powders, IMO), and I think stage 1 of the lifting plan might actually be too “beginner” for me, but I am committing to the six month program. I’m “signing on” for this just as I “signed on” to train for two half marathons. It’s the same mentality, just with a different focus, and I know if I approach it that way, I’ll probably stick to it (considering I stuck with my HM training plans like the type-A psychopath that I am). I haven’t started the program officially yet, but I have been doing some older weight routines with heavy weights this week to prepare myself.
- I’m accepting that, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, I need to eat more to weigh less. I’ve been tracking my calories and exercise with the Lose It app since this summer, so I know that I’ve been under eating. So how have I been gaining weight? Well, from what I can tell, I’m eating too few calories at meal time and am making up for it in snacks at the end of the day. Lose It allows you to break your day up into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, and according to my calculations, I’m eating nearly twice as many calories for “snacks” than I am at breakfast. That’s CRAZY. This week, I’ve been playing around with my routine meals—eating more at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and my pre-gym snack, and realizing that I’m much more satisfied at the end of the night. I’m not mindlessly eating peanut butter/cereal/cookies/blahblahblah because I’m comfortably full. As a result, I’m not taking in these crappy, useless calories before bed. It’s such a duh moment I feel silly admitting it, but it’s the truth.
- NROLFW recommends 1,700 calories a day for a woman who is lifting on their program and trying to maintain or even lose some weight. That’s a solid 400 calories more than I usually eat in a day. The logic in the book is that you need those calories to keep your metabolism up, especially on a heavy lifting plan, which makes sense. I do have to admit, however, that it’s going to be hard to get myself to swallow that advice (pun intended). After so many years of thinking that weight loss = eat less + move more, the idea of eating more to weigh less IS a mental block I need to get over. Slowly but surely, I guess.
- I‘m eating a LOT more protein.
I bought my first tub of protein powder, and I’m going to experiment with making my own protein bars (because those things are EXPENSIVE). I’ve been eating half of a Think Thin bar before my weight workouts this week, and the other half at the end of the workout (don’t let the name of the bar put you off: they have 20 grams of protein and zero grams of sugar. And they taste amazing). I’m still eating Greek yogurt and eggs and lean protein like chicken. I’m still not even close to the amount of protein NROLFW recommends, but I’m getting there!
- I’m eating better in general. I’m finding that the more I focus on my goal, the less desire I have to eat crap all day. So that’s a happy side effect, I guess.
- I’m changing up my cardio. NROLFW really emphasizes giving up endurance cardio for the sake of endurance cardio (for a whole bunch of reasons). The author does provide alternatives, mostly as interval workouts. Again, for someone who has spent the last few years in the “eat less, move more” mentality, it’s hard to give up cardio as I’ve done it for so long. But I’ve started focusing on quality over quantity and realized that I can actually get a MUCH better workout during a 20 or 25 minute interval session than I do with 45-60 easy minutes on the elliptical. And saving some time doesn’t hurt either.
- I’m finding that I can lift more than I thought I could. I challenged myself to lift heavier this week, and I could. Actually, I could with a fairly small amount of extra effort. That’s a confidence booster.
- I’m figuring out how to rearrange my schedule. Not just for the workouts, but for my meals too. Just for example: protein bars before and after my workout mean that I’m not hungry for dinner at my normal time…so I eat later. Easy swap. Less easy for me to give up is my time in the gym. I know that sounds psychotic, but I genuinely look forward to my workouts most days. It’s time for me to be alone, to relax, and to re-energize after a long day at work. The NROLFW plan suggests you’re only in the gym 2-3 days a week, which some people love. They do offer alternatives for crazy people like me who actually want MORE workouts, so I’ll give that schedule a try.
So that’s where I’m at right now. I’m going to start the program “for real” either this weekend or Monday (meaning take my body measurements, track my workouts, follow the schedule, etc.) I’ll be posting here occasionally to update my progress, mainly to hold myself accountable to someone other than myself! And if any of you have done a program like this, I’d love to hear your experiences/advice/etc.