Today I’m in the mood to write about something totally non-pandemic related. It’s nice to document thoughts and feelings on COVID-19 and how it’s affecting our lives, but sometimes I just want to forget it about it and focus on something I really find fun and enjoy: exercise and specifically, STRENGTH TRAINING!
Anyone who knows me well probably knows that I do try to exercise regularly and enjoy going to the gym. It has turned into one of my #1 hobbies over the years. I especially love strength training and that is mainly what I do now, but it has been a bit of a road to get here.
I want to share with you all how I got into strength training and how it became one of my all time favorite things to do!
Back in high school, I played volleyball as my primary source of exercise. I played softball before that, and dabbled in track for a few years. One of my favorite things training for volleyball was when we got to start using the weight room. I remember going I think 2 mornings a week during the summer for pre-season training and starting to learn how to use the different machines and how to bench press and squat. I loved it! Of course, it helped that my volleyball friends were there too, but I remember really enjoying the weight room. I liked how it made me feel stronger and I also liked how quickly I noticed the definition in my arms. 😉
Fast forward to college and I didn’t do too much besides run on the track occasionally and do some core work, or maybe hit up a spin class at the college gym. Once I graduated and didn’t need to study all the time, I got a real gym membership. I started doing some more strength training again, but it had been a while since the “free weight” days of high school. I stuck mostly with the circuit machines or dumbbell routines. For a while I got into doing some Jillian Michaels type videos at home too that included strength training on days I had to work early/ long hours and couldn’t go to the gym.
I stayed super active overall in some way or another all through my pregnancies and did a lot of walking, prenatal videos and kept strength training throughout. After I had the boys, I somehow got into running. I actually can’t remember how this even came about, as I never really liked running at all…. Somehow, this turned into a pretty serious interest for several years! I think after spending so much time either pregnant, nursing, or caring for young kids, I was really craving a) some alone time and b) some kind of personal GOAL to work toward that didn’t involve feeding a baby.
I ended up training for my first half-marathon in May of 2011. It was a very exhilarating experience! All the energy, people cheering, the weeks of training that led up to it….It was super cool! I was hooked. I did another in August, and then ran a full marathon in October that year. Asher was getting close to 2 years old at that time.
|My first (and only!) full marathon
It felt amazing to run a marathon (well, it didn’t feel amazing in the moment). But the dedication and training for it, followed by the huge sense of accomplishment was really awesome. Not THAT awesome that I signed up to do another right away, but awesome nevertheless. 😉 I kept running for a while after that and did another half marathon that following spring, but then for some reason I started to lose steam. Maybe I just got bored with it. I’m not sure.
I found myself being more and more drawn back to strength training, which I always did like the best. I was going to the gym and for a long time I would actually write down the routines from home videos and then sort of alter them so that I could do them at the gym, with heavier weights or other equipment. I never really had the nerve to get back in the free weights area of the gym with the squat racks and all of that though. I wasn’t really sure what to do anymore- my only real experience had been those volleyball days.
Jumping ahead, when Ethan was in kindergarten and we had joined a new gym, I started to get more serious about wanting to really incorporate an actual strength training routine in my life. Physically, I was in fine shape and everything with my little routines and still doing a mix of cardio…you know, hopping on the treadmill for 30 minutes or doing the elliptical. But I didn’t really feel like I was getting results for all the work I thought I was doing.
I started doing a lot of research. I had a free consult with a trainer at the gym, but it wasn’t very helpful. She just showed me how to use the circuit machines! I already knew that…I wanted help with a real routine. I wanted to get in the “big boy” weight room, but was intimidated by all the fit looking men (and especially the women!) in there. I felt like I would look silly, like an imposter, and that everyone would be looking at me bumbling around not knowing what I was doing.
Finally, armed with a routine I think I pulled from the internet or maybe a fitness magazine, I went one morning at like 4:30 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. Hahaha. I figured NO ONE would be there then. Guess what? I was right. I used that time to survey the weight room and try some things out, attempting some of the moves from the plan I had printed.
Little by little I gained some confidence in there, and soon I was LOVING it! I was getting stronger and it was the quickest I ever noticed any real changes in my body’s physique.
After I think a year or more of working out on my own, I ran across an online coach named Karey Northington. She is a fitness coach based out of Arizona who has competed in bikini competitions and has worked with top pros in the fitness industry. I ended up working with her (online only) for probably 6 months at least, during which she gave me personalized strength training routines to do at the gym and also taught me a lot about nutrition. (Side note: When I worked with her, her business was just starting out. I think her prices have gone up a lot since I did her program a few years ago…)
I learned that nutrition was probably the biggest factor in having the body composition that I wanted, but that also remains to this day to be the toughest part for me. I can work out all day, but restrict my food intake?….nope. Haha! I learned a ton though and she taught me about macronutrients, how to balance my diet and eat to support my goals.
After a while, I didn’t really want the nutrition training anymore. Many fitness trainers will encourage “counting macros” (aiming to eat a target amount of protein/carbs/ fat in a day) for at least a while to learn about portion sizes, etc. I agree this was super helpful to learn, and I am very glad I did it temporarily, but it’s not something I wanted to do long term. I still use the knowledge I picked up during that time today though! I just know SO MUCH more about nutrition and eating habits than I ever did before.
Fortunately, Karey and her husband also offered an online group package for only $20/month that included 7-8 different workouts each week! I have been doing these group training workouts for at least 2 years now I think and I really love it. I don’t do all of the workouts they send necessarily, but my current routine (well, prior to COIVD-19) was the following:
-Legs/ Glutes #1
-Legs/ Glutes #2
-(usually) Metabolic Conditioning day (basically a circuit of sorts that involves a mix of weights, body weight moves and often plyometrics- more of a “cardio” day)
-Days 6 and 7 I usually either would rest, do a Body Flow class at the gym, or just go for a walk or maybe a run (though I haven’t run in a long time now)
The routine also includes an optional Chest day and Arms/Abs but I would only do those occasionally.
This is a little snippet of one of the routines from a few months ago- this was a leg day (just so you can see the style):
I have seriously loved these routines! They include a variety of equipment but are never overly complicated. They usually take me between 40- 60 minutes to complete, and they are “real” strength training workouts designed for results. I also really like that I repeat the same 4-5 workouts each week for a month and then get a new plan. It keeps it fresh and I don’t get bored! (When I started and was doing my own workouts, I would do the same routine for like 12 weeks with no changes! It just got very dull, for me).
A big thing in strength training is the concept of “progressive overload”, or basically “doing more over time”. This can include increasing the amount of weight you’re lifting, increasing the number of reps you can do or even small improvements like getting deeper in a squat or maintaining better form the next time. I am a bit of a data nerd, so I always have a notebook with me and record every detail about my sets- how many reps I did, how much weight I lifted, etc. and then the next week when I get to that same workout, I try to beat whatever I did the previous week!
The gym has become one of my favorite places to be. I find it empowering to lift weights! I feel strong and fit when I do it, and compared to all the other types of exercise I have done in the past, strength training is HANDS DOWN the best bang for your buck, no questions asked. So many people I know think they need to just spin their wheels on an elliptical machine or run endless miles. Honestly, this couldn’t be farther from the truth!
|A shot of the main weight room at my gym! I miss it.|
When I strength train consistently (and also eat a relatively healthy foods, but I do NOT diet or count macros or anything anymore), I can be in the best shape of my life with minimal cardio in my routine. Besides my 4-5 strength training days, I usually just walk for cardio and heart health. Sometimes I will throw in a group P90X class at the gym, or a run here or there, but the strength training makes the biggest difference in my body composition for sure. When I lift consistently (and correctly), I get noticeable results within literally a week or two. (Obviously if I start pigging out big time on cakes and nachos the results do not come as easily! But I can still eat a normal, balanced diet without much restriction and get good results from the strength training. Eating a higher protein diet also helps a lot, if I’m wanting to really make some changes since this is key in maintaining or building muscle).
Now, with the gyms all closed, it has been tough! I’m missing my time at the gym. As a temporary replacement, I have been doing Beachbody On Demand workouts for the first time ever! I just finished the 21 Day Fix that I had heard so much about. I was inspired by one of my all time favorite bloggers over at The Shu Box who has been doing Beachbody workouts for a long time. It’s really different from my normal routine, but it has at least given me some activity to do at home and it’s been a fun change. I think I’ll give a more in depth review on my thoughts on Beachbody maybe tomorrow!
There you go! I’ve always wanted to document my personal little journey to strength training, since it has been a hugely formative part of my life now.
If anyone is interested in learning more about it or maybe trying it out yourself, I would say the 3 resources that I have learned the most from are: Karey Northington or Northington Fitness and Nutrition, Sohee Lee (who also has a really great book called Eat. Lift. Thrive that outlines a lot of basics around strength training and nutrition; on Amazon here) and Bret Contreras (aka The Glute Guy- known for his innovative glute exercises which honestly finally gave me a butt after years of having a non-existent one).
All of their websites have a wealth of information and various articles. I learned a lot by following them on Instagram as well as they all put out great content. I still learn from them every week in some way!
Does anyone reading like lifting weights too? Any other “cardio converts” out there? 🙂
If anyone has any questions about getting started in strength training, shoot me an email or leave a comment! I’m not a personal trainer or a coach or anything at all, but I’d be happy to share more about my personal experiences or point you in the right direction if I can at all. Or, if any friends reading want to lift together once the gyms open back up, that would be fun too. 😊
I am grateful that I found strength training! It has been an amazing release for me, has been so good for my health and just a wonderful experience. I am really grateful that I ran across excellent resources and had the opportunity to learn about it the right way. I know so many people that never even try it because it is too intimidating or they don’t know what to do. When I am in the weight room, so many days I literally think, “I am so glad that I learned how to do this!!!” I am grateful for having it in my life and I can’t wait to get back to it eventually….