I’ve written a lot about food on this blog, and only a little about fitness and my workouts. But working out and getting exercise is another hugely important part of my life. I had my quarterly fitness assessment today, and I’m thrilled with how far I’ve come! So in this post I want to share a little about my fitness progress and goals.
For years, my fitness routine hasn’t changed much: 30-60 minutes of cardio, coupled with some strength exercises — usually lower weight, higher rep. I was in decent shape, but it seemed that no matter how much cardio I did, I didn’t see any drastic changes in my body. When I moved to Toronto about a year ago to start law school, I started making a concerted effort to work out more frequently. I went through periods of meticulously tracking my food/calorie/nutrient intake since, as they say, 80% of getting in shape is what you eat. I was eating only 1200-1400 calories per day. I felt that I was making okay progress throughout the year, but not outstanding.
In April, my campus gym membership expired, and I joined a new gym that’s closer to home and actually a lot more convenient to get to while school is out for the summer. As part of my membership, I get a fitness assessment done every three months by a trainer at the gym. I did my first assessment at the beginning of April, and at the time I was pretty proud of the results. Since I’ve been working 9-5 over the summer, I had more time to hit the weights, and I made good use of that time. I started lifting heavy, and I started eating more.
First, I started working extra hard to increase the weight I was lifting, and I found myself becoming a lot stronger. I select heavier weights, and do lower reps and more sets (5 sets with 8-10 reps). I do a three day split: legs/abs, chest/back, and arms/shoulders. Second, I started eating far more calories (closer to 1800-1900). And most recently, I ditched the cardio portion of my routine altogether, and focus more on lifting heavy things. I’ve cut down my cardio to only 10 minutes on the stairmaster for warm-up, and it feels great. I’ve always hated doing cardio (boring!), and to be seeing such great results with very little cardio makes me happy. For years, I felt that cardio was the most important part of my fitness routine, and that I would put on weight if I stopped doing it. Now I know that excessive cardio prevents me from gaining muscle and getting stronger, and I’ll never return to my days as a cardio queen. Plus, it’s so much easier to motivate myself to get to the gym when I know I don’t have to do repetitive and boring cardio exercise.
I knew I would show good progress at yesterday’s fitness assessment, but I surprised even myself. I gained 8 lb of muscle in only a few months! My trainer was majorly impressed, and agreed that my strategy of lifting heavy with lower reps was the key to packing on muscle. He also liked with my decision to cut way back on cardio, and suggested 20 minutes once per week would suffice. Otherwise, he agreed that I’m just burning away calories that my body could be using to build muscle mass. This is also why I eat a lot more now — my body needs the calories to build muscle!
Here are my results, by the numbers:
Weight – 100 lb in April, 108.4 lb in July
Bodyfat – Same
Measurements – I forget the numbers, but I gained some inches around my hips, my legs and my arms.
Push-ups (to failure) – 17 in April, 31 in July
Sit-ups (in 1 minute) – 25 (all assisted) in April, 27 (10 unassisted) in July
Plank – I forget the numbers, but I held the plank a lot longer this time
Squatting against the wall – I maxed out the three minute timer in April and again in July
Cardio capacity – Down slightly since April — my heart rate is higher now when working at various intensities than it was in April.
So, what’s the moral of this story?
1. Lift heavy weights. I can’t tell you how many women I know stick to the tiny dumbbells, because they’re afraid that lifting the heavier ones will make them bulky. Let me assure you, this is a myth. It takes years of very hard work to build up enough muscle mass to appear “bulky” (whatever that means). Lifting weight will do the opposite of add “bulk” — it will help you burn fat, and it will help you get a strong, shapely body. Although I weigh more now than I did in April, I look way better.
2. Cut back on cardio, do more strength training. If you have a long way to go before you get to where you want to be, fitness-wise, you’ll probably be looking to burn a lot of calories to shed some pounds. So cardio will be important, initially. But so is weight training — it burns the same amount of calories, and leaves you wish muscle, which also helps your body burn through calories. Now, if you’re not trying to lose fat, but are more focused on gaining muscle, excessive cardio will impeded your progress. So ditch it, and lift heavy.
3. Eat lots of healthy food. It’s important to eat enough calories so that your body can covert the energy into muscle mass. My metabolism has shot way up since I started lifting heavy and eating more — I was simply maintaining my weight on 1200-1400 calories, and now I’m packing on shapely muscle with 1800-1900 calories, without gaining fat. So don’t be afraid of eating more, as long as you’re eating well.
And how does my diet help me build muscle? It definitely does, but seeing as how this post is already super long, I’ll save for another day how eating mostly raw plants fuels me for maximum results at the gym. Thanks for bearing with me today while I rambled about something that’s a little off topic for my blog, but very important to who I am. I’d love to hear stories about how you stay healthy and in shape, and what kind of workouts give you the best results!