The one about the numbers…

I’ve mentioned on this blog countless times that a lot of what happens when you walk into the gym is not mental, but rather psychological. It’s all a game of numbers and how your mind interprets them.

For example, my workout this morning was triple sets (three exercises done in succession followed by a break). I do six sets of 15 reps per exercise.

You might think that the first set is the easiest and the last the hardest. After all, that would be reasonable given the physical demand on your body. It’s not really the case though. At least, not for me.

Set one: the ‘oh-this-might-actually-be-hard’ set. You feel fresh going into it but your muscles don’t really know what to expect and you quickly realize that things will not be as fun as you had originally expected.

Set two: the ‘I-can-do-this’ set. Now your muscles are warmed up after the first set and you know what to expect so the second set is often one of the easier ones. You’re getting into the swing of it now and feeling pretty strong.

Set three: the ‘this-is-getting-hard’ set, also known as the ‘am-I-really-only-half-way?’ set. Mentally, the third set is my most challenging. At this point it’s starting to get physically tasking, your muscles are getting tired and, even though you know you have to push past the discomfort, it’s damn HARD. At the same time you’re doing the mental math and realizing that after this set there’s still three more JUST LIKE IT still to come.

Set four: the ‘only-two-more-after-this’ set. The third set is out of the way and now the finish line is within view. You’re tired but you have a sudden motivation to power through and get the job done.

Set five: the ‘am-I-done-yet’ set. You used up way too much motivation on set four, now you’re just exhausted. There’s only one more set after this one though so you might as well just get it done.

Set six: the ‘is-that-all?’ set, otherwise known as the ‘I-could-do-another’ set. The sixth set often times feels very similar to the second set. The boost of adrenaline that comes with knowing that you’re almost done, coupled with the fact that you probably didn’t give it 110% in set five, comes with enough power to destroy the final set – like a boss. This set is usually accompanied by overconfidence, luring you into thinking that you could do a seventh set if you wanted to. You can’t though. Really. Just don’t try it. It’s painful.

Ultimately, the lesson to be learned from the numbers game is that we all feel really uncomfortable at times but it’s about pushing past the mental discomfort to find the spot where you start to feel like you’re in total control. In other words, don’t let set three break you because set six feels awesome.

The one with the first week finish…

I’m hungry and it’s awesome.

Most people would be pretty disappointed to be hungry but I find it to be supremely satisfying. Why? Because it’s a sign that my metabolism is starting to chug along again.

I’m coming up on two weeks on my new-and-improved competition diet and I think my body is finally starting to adjust. I found it really hard at first to get all of my food in through the day because I was so full. (TMI alert) I spent more than a week feeling huge, bloated and uncomfortable but yesterday I woke up and could feel a significant difference in my body. I think I could even see it, my stomach wasn’t as distended as it was just hours before and a layer of water had disappeared from under my skin, giving me a peek at definition I hadn’t seen in months! (Oh, hey quads! Nice to see you again!)

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The one about discouragement…

I was going to post a product review today but something has been bugging me and I feel the need to talk about it.

I follow a lot of fitness-minded people on Twitter and Facebook and am acquaintances with a few folks who compete on the fitness circuit and there’s one thing that a good chunk of these people keep doing that pisses me off, quite frankly.

I keep seeing comments similar to this:

“Don’t come in my gym if all you’re going to do is walk on the treadmill!”

“Why bother coming if you’re just going to spend your whole workout on a mat?”

“Either put down the Barbie weights or get out of the weight room!”

I appreciate that a lot of people don’t know what they’re doing in the weight room but a lot of that is a lack of experience and being afraid to ask because of people who mock the inexperienced. I see a lot of gym rats with terrible form and terrible manners in my gym but somehow when they’re doing half of a mediocre squat because they’ve loaded the bar too heavy just so they can throw it on the ground with a slam that’s okay?

You don’t know what it took for that person to get on the treadmill. You don’t why the person on the mat is focusing on building a strong core and back. You don’t know whether the person with the pink 3-lb weights has an injury preventing them from going heavier.

The fact is, that person woke up that morning and decided to work on themselves by bettering their fitness. Sure, they’re probably not optimizing their time and they may not be getting the most out of what they’re doing but so long as they feel accomplished and satisfied for the job they did while they’re in there why does it matter?

Encourage those people to keep going, to get better, to get stronger, to learn more about the human body and the exercises they can do to better play to their strengths. Encourage them to walk farther, marvel at how long they can hold a plank position or ask a trainer at the gym to suggest a heavier weight for ol’ Barbie weights.

Discouraging people while they’re in the gym just ensures that they’ll never want to come back. Is that better in the end? As healthy active people shouldn’t we want to share the satisfaction this brings to our lives? I would think so.

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The one about Annapolis…

I had to do some research today for my internship. There was a photo in the newspaper of a woman named Marsalie MacKenzie modelling a dress, who happened to be an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy.  I was then tasked with finding out who this woman was so we could include the mention in our regular media monitoring. So, like all good researchers, I hit up Google.

What I ended up finding could not have been more fitting for my particular interests. As it turns out this woman attended the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 2009 as a Canadian exchange student from the Royal Military College. While she was there she wrote up a series of blog posts for the RMC website, one of which was about the stringent fitness requirements all the midshipmen are required to undergo.

Clearly, there is quite a difference between rights and freedoms in the US than there is in Canada because some of the rules they have to adhere to would be considered discrimination under our laws. For example, MacKenzie writes:

“Generally speaking, the average midshipman was leaner and meaner than their RMC counterpart-so much so that it led me to ask my roommates if it was in their constitution to attain (and maintain) rock-hard abs and chiselled pecs. At first they laughed and informed me that their chubbier peers, like bats or raccoons, only came out at night and at meals. As it turns out though, my original assertion was not so far-fetched; as my roommates explained, part of the yearly in-clearance procedure at the Naval Academy requires them to undergo height and weight testing, the results of which determines their eligibility for service.”

After reading this passage I immediately wondered what height and weight testing has to do with anything. When I joined the military in 2005 there was a requirement that before you went to basic training you had to pass your physical fitness test. During the year or so that it took to complete all of my paperwork and wait for my trade to become available that rule changed. At that point you could join the military in any shape and they would make sure that when you left you were fit. When I went to basic training you had to pass your PT test in the first week in order to move on with your platoon. If you didn’t pass your PT test you were moved to RFT (remedial fitness training) where you spent a month having some of the best fitness trainers in the country ‘whip you into shape’. At the end of that month you had to be able to pass your PT test and rarely was there an occasion where someone who stuck it out for that month would not be able to do it.

I won’t deny that I was weighed and measured when I went for my intial medical testing but that wasn’t got me into the military. It was my aptitude, my ability, my smarts that got me in and it was my level of fitness that carried me through until an injury led to my early release. The ultimate question though, was always ‘Can you pass your PT test?’ and you didn’t go anywhere until that answer was yes. I believe that is the way it should be but according to MacKenzie things are slightly different when it comes to the US Navy.

“However, in early October, I was summoned by my lieutenant, who informed me that I would report to the fifth wing gym to be weighed in with the UNSATS (those who had failed to meet their requirements in September). Some veterans of the process took it upon themselves to explain to me the protocol. First, each midshipman is led to a scale where their weight is recorded. Simultaneously, their height is measured by a second individual, while a third does a quick calculation. If they meet requirements, the midshipman is free to leave. If they do not, they are led to a pen where they await further measurement of their neck, waist, arms and calves (this is to ensure that “athletic builds,” specifically wrestlers, are not misidentified as overweight). Those who are UNSAT after this process are then placed on a strict diet, with portions rationed to them at every meal, and forced to attend supplementary morning PT (regardless of whether or not they have passed their physical fitness testing). Ironically, those midshipmen placed on special diets are the only ones allowed to have a fridge in their rooms for personal use.”

I understand wanting your recruits to be healthy and I understand encouraging them to make healthy selections when they walk into the mess hall. (Perhaps making healthy selections the only ones available would be a better method?) How though, can you expect someone to be able to giving a top performance both mentally a physically when someone else is controlling their calorie intake? Not because they’re ill, not because their body requires it, but because an arbitrary set of numbers has determined that they should eat less. What really irks me is that someone can pass their PT test but if their BMI isn’t ‘ideal’ they still have to take supplementary PT until it is? Your height to weight ratio has nothing to do with your ability to do your duties whether it’s for the military or not. And the reason for why they do this? According to MacKenzie the answer she got was that it was all about appearance. It’s not about doing your job, it’s about looking good in a uniform.

“From what I could deduce,” MacKenzie writes, “the US Navy considers this impossible for anyone wearing above a women’s size 10 or a men’s size 36 pants. Apparently, a lower BMI is a testament to an individual’s leadership potential; as it turns out, looking like ‘an officer’ is just as important as being one.”

Is this really the military we should all be looking up to as a standard for leadership? I have a hard time thinking so. Regardless of your ratio of height to weight if you serve your country, proudly wear the flag on your arm, and do your duties as required to the best of your ability, including passing your PT test, then you’re the one we should be looking up to.

Source

The one about the WBFF…

A couple months ago I had the opportunity to interview Allison Dillett, the Vice President of the World Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation (WBFF) about their very first competition in Halifax.

With the 2012 Atlantic Championships just over a month away I thought I would share the article. Hopefully anyone who lives in the Halifax, N.S. area will be prompted to get themselves a ticket and the rest of you… well, maybe you’ll just find it interesting. 🙂

I’ll post the text article here but you can also take a look at the full magazine layout that I designed! I’m pretty proud of it, it turned out exactly how I wanted.

To view the PDF version click here: Survival of the Fittest by Julia Kirkey

To view the text version read on!

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The one about plyo…

Usually when I meet up with trainer Cathy she asks me what, if anything, I’d like to focus on for that workout.

My answer is always the same – plyometrics.

I absolutely love doing plyo. There’s just something about that ability to use explosive energy to move yourself higher, faster, further that I find strangely satisfying.

Traditional cardio is my biggest downfall so I try to use active rest during my strength training (between sets) as a way to keep my heart rate up and get quality cardio in without the unhappiness that I generally find associated with sitting on a bike for an hour or running 5K. A lot of people are afraid of plyometrics though, or they don’t know where to begin. Most people know of a jump squat and a jump lunge, both effective, but doing them over and over again can get boring. There’s so much more to plyometrics that people can take advantage of to really ramp up their workout! Here’s a little Plyometrics 101 for those who might be curious about taking the leap… literally.

Plyometrics comes from the Greek word “pleythyein” (to augment or increase). American track coach Fred Wilt coined the word in 1975. Based from the Latin root words “plio” (more) and “metric” (to measure). The purpose of plyometrics is to train speed-based power. Almost everyone has done plyometrics at some point in their life, it’s the basis of running, skipping, throwing and jumping. This isn’t to be confused with power training – one single jump onto a high box doesn’t constitute plyometrics. It’s when you jump off the box, immediately load the muscle and go back into the stretch as you jump again that qualifies it. Speed does trump power. It’s a good idea to have a foundation in weight training before trying some of these moves. The cardio-only types might find it a bit too challenging starting out.

Here’s some terminology you might come across when exploring different types of plyo:
Jump – when you land with both feet
Hop – take off and landing on the same foot
Bound – take off on one foot, land on the other
Hurdle – jump up and over an object

Don’t forget your upper body either! Though more challenging, there’s lots of great options for plyometric exercises for your arms and chest. (Clap pushups, anyone?)

Fit Deck cards

I love my FitDeck cards!

I find a great way to always keep your plyometric exercises different is by making a deck of plyo cards or purchasing the plyometrics deck of FitDeck cards.

If you’re going to make your own, make a list of plyo exercises with a mix of speed, agility and footwork, (you can find all sorts of examples on bodybuilding.com, just click plyometrics on the filter) then flip three cards, add them up and do that many.

Plyometrics doesn’t just keep your heart rate up between sets either, it’s also a great fat burner! I often include plyo in the strength and conditioning class I teach and my “students” don’t dread anything more!

As motivation I often quote fitness great Jamie Eason, “By hitting both fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers, these moves also will stoke your fat-burning furnace. Picture the marbling in a steak. Our bodies have intra-muscular fat like that. Plyometric exercises help “squeeze” the fat from those areas.”

Somehow that always works at getting another couple of reps in spite of the burning muscle pain! 😛

Here are some of my favourite plyometric exercises:
Jump rope
Hurdle jumps (I do them over a bench)
Knee tucks (or knee to chest hop)
Mountain climbers
Medicine ball slam 

Get jumping!

The one with the shins…

I feel like I have been neglecting my blogging duties. I find this most troublesome.

When I realized today that it had been more than a week since my last post I wondered what on earth happened that threw off my schedule so much?! The answer, of course, is life. I’m coming into the home stretch of school, roughly four weeks left before I go on my internship. I’m trying to prep for the real world that will be on the other side, keeping up with volunteer commitments and of course leaving plenty of time for my training.

I was recently given the opportunity to write an article for an upcoming issue of OptiMYz Magazine. It was very exciting, especially once I learned that I would be interviewing an incredibly inspiring marathon runner/triathlete that lives in my city. I met her for coffee and we chatted for an hour, it was awesome. I definitely asked questions far beyond the realm of the article but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity when there was a wealth of knowledge sitting right there in front of me. I won’t go into many more details because I don’t want to spoil the article. (It’ll be in the May/June edition – Goodlife members get the mag for free so there’s no excuse not to read it :P)

Before the interview my running had been less than stellar. Fine, less than existent. My running had been going… okay… back in January/February but I let weights take over and let the cardio fall by the wayside, my own fault. Part of the reason I typically avoid running is that I always get shin splints. I could jog to catch the light at a crosswalk and get them. I dream about running and wake up with sore shins.

Prior to suffering a knee injury in 2007 I had never even heard of shin splints, let alone had them. I’m unsure if perhaps the months of being injured followed by months of recovery had altered my gait or if my shins just decided to hate me but once I started running again it was awful.

When I started looking up causes/preventions there seemed to be a general assumption that if you get shin splints you don’t have strong calves or you’re a beginner. Neither of those things really apply to me. Some people said ‘oh they just go away after a few minutes!’ except they don’t. I’ve had them during and after every single run since 2007.

I finally cracked and saw the doctor. Which, for me, is huge because I hate to complain about my ailments. The doctor sent me to physio, the physio said get new shoes. Got new, expensive, not-supposed-to-lead-to-shin-splits quality footwear and still got shin splints. I then saw a pedorthist (which I still credit for being one of the best things I have ever done!) who discovered that I have one leg that is longer than the other, which may have been the root cause for my knee problems, hip problems and *gasp* shin splints! I got amazing orthotics which have made my knee stronger than ever and corrected the issues with my hip but I’m still getting shin splints!

I’m at a loss at this point. I can’t enjoy running if every time I do it I want to rip my shins off five minutes in. There’s got to be something else I can do, someone else I can see for a different opinion, to try and rectify this problem. Have any of you ever suffered with this annoying curse?

The one about inspiration…

This week I really needed some inspiration and I am thankful to have gotten it.

I haven’t talked much about my training lately because honestly I always have a lingering fear of failure in the back of my mind. I worry that if I’m too vocal about what I’m doing and then fail, I’ll have to be accountable for it. I’ve come to realize though that talking about it just means there are more people there to support and encourage me which makes it easier to succeed. So, upon the suggestion of a peer friend, I will be sure to update more often with my training progress.

I’m one day shy of finishing the fifth week of some fairly intensive strength training and I won’t lie, I’m starting to get tired. I’ve been fighting off a cold for a week and although working out regularly has kept my immune system high enough that I haven’t fallen completely into the grips of illness it’s still left me feeling a bit drained.

This week kicked off with two really terrible workouts. Monday morning I did an hour of lacklustre weights and was about halfway through my cardio when out of nowhere my engine sputtered and stalled. I had totally run out of gas. That would normally be the point where I would push myself to just make it through the rest but I couldn’t. I can’t recall the last time I felt like I had nothing left like that. I left the gym literally sick and tired. I went home, ate, and relaxed for a bit and did manage to have a much better cardio session later in the day.

I was desperately in need of some motivation and it came in the form of a simple Twitter notification.

If you remember from this post, she is one of my biggest fitness idols. I randomly replied to one of her tweets and she started following me because she thought the name of my blog is funny. It might seem silly but her follow on Twitter reminded me of what I’m trying to accomplish. Some day I want to be as inspiring to others as she is to me and I don’t think she would let a couple of bad workouts or some sore muscles stop her from reaching her goals. She is to me what Sidney Crosby is to every TimBit hockey player in Canada.

I kept those women that I mentioned weeks ago in the back of my mind as my alarm went off at oh-dark-thirty the next day and I powered through my workout. By Wednesday I was feeling better (albeit still trying to kick some chest congestion) and Thursday I felt more like myself again.

I workout alone most of the time so I don’t have another person driving and motivating me from five feet away. For me, I need to surround myself with strong, positive influences while I’m not in the gym and use them as my inspiration. I might not know Emily Stirling beyond Twitter (though maybe one day I will, I don’t want to speak too soon! lol) but she inspires me to push through one more rep the same way that trainer Cathy does for me when we are able to find time together.

I followed up that excitement by meeting with that friend I mentioned up at the top who told me I need to talk more about my training. She gave me some really great advice that I am definitely going to take, and likely blog about later. 🙂 I thought I would kick off my new trend by listing my current goals. Maybe getting them out there will help me make them reality.

Goals (as of March 2012)

In the next six months:
1. Finish my advanced diploma in public relations (five projects and one internship remain!)
2. Work out six times a week (six strength – three cardio)
3. Eat clean
4. Be able to finally give trainer Cathy that chin up she’s been demanding for years

In the next year:
1. Get a communications job in a health/fitness focused organization
2. Earn my personal training certification from CanFitPro
3. Compete in a fitness competition

Wish me luck!

The one about understanding…

I sometimes wonder if people wouldn’t understand me better if my passion was reading or baking or making model airplanes.

There seems to be some kind of stigma that comes along with saying that you’re interested in body building and clean eating. There have been times where I’ve had people say to me, “That’s stupid. You should be able to eat what you want.” Here’s the thing – I do eat what I want. I want healthy food, I want to eat to fuel my body, I don’t want your cookies though I’m sure they are delicious and kudos to you for your talent in the kitchen. I’ve gotten to be pretty good in the kitchen myself and the food I make is delicious, if I do say so myself. It just happens to be healthy at the same time.

People’s reaction to the gym is another story entirely. There’s an assumption that wanting to build lean muscle means you’re going to go from zero to the Incredible Hulk in 0.68 seconds and will spend your time popping steroids. I made a comment on Twitter the other day about how there was nothing I would rather do at 5:30 a.m. than go to the gym and someone jokingly replied, “Sleeping?” I do sleep, for at least 7 hours a night (more than most TV watchers who stay up to get all their shows in, mind you.) I feel rested when my alarm goes off and for me the alternative to being at the gym at 5:30 a.m. is usually being at work, which just isn’t as fun! I crave my workout the way some people crave chocolate ice cream. Once I’m done I am already craving the next one. The word “obsession” has been thrown at me before but I’m not obsessed, I’m dedicated and I’m doing what I love.

To clear it up for good, I eat clean so that when I get into the gym (at 5:30 a.m.) I feel strong and can get through my workout feeling positive then make it through the day full of energy. I don’t put unnatural things into my body and that’s just my thing. I have no expectations of myself, I know there will be times when I am going to eat a deliciously greasy cheeseburger and no, I won’t feel like a “cheater” for doing it.

The other thing I notice people do is apologize for eating “bad” things in front of me. I don’t judge anyone for what they eat (or don’t eat) so don’t feel bad eating a piece of pizza in front of me, don’t apologize. I’m not on a restrictive diet, I’m not hungry and looking at your pizza longingly wanting to snatch it out of your hands. I’m not interested in eating it because I know how I feel afterwards (usually not good). Please, eat your nachos, eat your pizza, eat your cake, eat your Jello and if you want you can eat an extra piece for me because I’m happy with what I have. 🙂