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 about gym folk…

My favourite time to go to the gym is early in the morning. Sure, it means getting up at 4:45 a.m. but it means that by the time I go to work I’ve already got my strength training and half of my cardio for the day completed. The other reason I like to go early (I’d go earlier if the gym was open, to be honest) is because of the gym folk.

Getting to the gym that early requires a certain amount of dedication and planning. Most people need to be at work so they don’t have time to mess around in the gym. They get in, they get out and they don’t get in my way. That’s the way I like it.

Recently though, I’ve been going to the gym at odd times (for me) and I’ve encountered people that are very different from my regular early morning crew. I’ll preface by saying I know it’s not nice to judge but there’s less than 13 weeks until I (hopefully) hit the WBFF stage and I just don’t have time to waste when I get into the gym. The following types of people have found their way onto my list of pet peeves:

The Meathead : Okay, you have huge muscles. Good for you. That doesn’t mean you get to hog the mirror while you check yourself out. Also, lifting super heavy while sacrificing any semblance of form does not make you look cool … quite the opposite, in fact. The worst habit that I notice with The Meathead? They pile plates onto bars then walk away from them and leave someone else to clean up their mess. Thanks, guys.

The Barbie-Weight Aficionado : The female opposite of The Meathead. A good example would be on Saturday when a woman expressed to me that she found it frustrating that all the mirrors are in the “men’s section”. I asked what she meant and she explained that the “men’s weights” (i.e. dumbbells over 10-pounds) were all over by the mirror, while the “women’s weights” (i.e. dumbbells under 10-pounds) were not. Surely, the reason for this couldn’t be that the smaller weights are more mobile and therefore easier to carry over to the mirror/benches? Women are not restricted to the Barbie weights, ladies.

The Chatters : There are a few different types of Chatters, all of them are equally as annoying. There seems to be a trend for young people to go to the gym, sit down on some mats (in the most inconvenient spot possible), play with their phones and chat. These people also come in a middle-aged variety and will typically be found standing in front of machines or dumbbell racks catching up.

The Crowders : There’s 25-feet of available space, why do you have to be 2-feet away from me? It seems that every time I find a nice, quiet, open space and set up my stuff in it other people get jealous of my super cool area and want to be in it, too. My gym has windows that overlook the pool area and quite often people will just stand and look out the windows. Tonight I found my little area, a cozy little corner to myself, and suddenly a guy walked over, stood ON my mat (where my head had just been) so he could lean against the window and watch his kids in swimming lessons. Why you gotta be in my space, bro?

The Creeper : If any man wonders why women’s gyms exist – it’s this guy. There’s a fellow at my gym (for the sake of this story let’s call him Ben) who latches on to every woman in decent shape. Ben lurks around while you’re doing squats to give you “tips” about form, stands next to the glute kickback machine to tell you about how much he lifts, goes to great lengths to convince you to go down to the sauna with him, whines if you don’t do cardio on the machine next to him and just makes everyone feel uncomfortable. Ben once came up behind me while I was doing deadlifts and tried to rest his water bottle on my ass because he “thought it was a shelf”. I’m not laughing, Ben. You’re 15 years older than me and I wouldn’t be caught dead in the sauna with you. Go away.

I could most definitely add to this list, but these encompass my most loathed gym folk. I’m sure they’re all great people when they’re at home (except for Ben maybe…) but they’re not the most courteous when they step into the gym. I have a plan when I walk in those doors and no one is going to slow me down! (Sorry.)

The one where fatty had a birthday…

I can’t believe I forgot about the blog’s birthday! Shame on me.

New Years resolutions aren’t really my thing (I don’t feel compelled to wait for a certain date to set a goal) but in 2011 I decided that I was going to start up a blog and write about the things that interest me the most – fitness, nutrition, health, bodybuilding and my personal journey from keen observer to active participant.

I feel like I’ve come a long way since this blog started. I’ve gone through a lot of changes in my personal life and just as many changes in my “fitness life”. As far as body composition, I’m actually not too far off from where I was last year but I have learned more than I ever expected I would. I’m so much more knowledgeable about my own health, the way I eat, the things I do when I walk into the gym. I feel stronger and more empowered overall. I also made a tough decision last year to switch trainers. I left a trainer that I had been with since I was 21 years old, which wasn’t easy. I miss seeing Cathy but I have loved my experience with Krissy so far and can see sticking with her for a long time to come (so long as she’ll have me.)

Time for a little reflection…

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The one when week three ended…

The past three weeks have absolutely flown by. I’ve gone from the week one baby giraffe to the week three fierce lioness and I can’t believe how super pumped I am every day I wake up to be working towards such an awesome goal. In some ways I feel privileged to have such a powerful motivator in my life as being able to watch my physique change from week to week. Seeing real results makes me want to push a little bit harder every day.

I definitely am starting to see some results, too. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I hate scales. I hate how the numbers, although mostly arbitrary and not at all indicative of body composition, have a negative stigma but mostly I hate the discouraging feeling I get when I don’t see the results in the numbers that I feel. I’ve been feeling really great over the last week and knew I wanted to take my body fat percentage before I have my “official” check-in next week and that meant hopping on the scale.

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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 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 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 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 with the dream…

I see chiseled muscles in my dreams.

You might think I’m talking about some fellow worthy of a romance novel cover but I’m actually talking about my own.

We had a guest speaker in one of my classes this week that said something that  has really stuck with me. She said before setting out to try something new ask yourself, “What does success look like?”. She was referring more to how one might evaluate the success of a strategic event plan but to me it meant so much more.

I realized then that my dreams were just my own personal manifestation of what success looks like. Now when I ask myself, “What does success look like?”, I know. Success looks like Jamie Eason, Emily Stirling, Lauren Fazio and Julie Bonnett to name just a few of the beautiful, successful, women I have seen strut their stuff on the stages of fitness competitions.

Realistically I know that being at that level is a lofty goal to achieve (not impossible – nothing is impossible) but I would be happy to have a sliver of what they have. It’s not a matter of wanting to be someone I’m not, it’s being inspired by others. You need someone there, even if you don’t know them, to keep you going when all you want to do is quit.

I’ve weight trained for years and although I have been serious about it I’ve always sort of stayed within my comfort zone, never being bold enough to really jump into the unknown. The past little while though I realized I’m ready and I’ve undertaken some huge changes to my weight routine. I feel strong and empowered and ready to take on the world. Now I’m just patiently waiting for my body to start showing me the fruits of my labour. I am not all that patient but I will try to hang on and do one more rep even though it burns because four weeks down the road I might finally get to see the outcome.

Until then, I guess I’ll just keep dreaming of my own success.