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.
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!