Fitness test

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,Β  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!


12 Comments to “Fitness test”

  1. Thank you for this fantastic post! I’m very new to the raw vegan world but incredibly passionate that this is the right choice for myself and my family (BF is a type 1 diabetic and on board with our new lifestyle). But because I’m very active and have fitness goals in mind, I’ve been really nervous about how this new “diet” will effect my workouts.

    It’s so reassuring and comforting to know that I can still get the desired results I’m looking for without having to give up a raw lifestyle!

    Can’t wait to read your post on nutrition!

  2. Great post! I always encourage everyone, especially women, to do weight lifting. Cardio alone won’t provide anyone with sufficient fat burning benefits. In addition to great calorie burn, muscle building will also preserve your bones! [esp women!!!]

  3. This is a great post! I’ve been hearing a lot about this recently – how weight lifting can be more effective than cardio. I definitely want to start trying this myself soon, as I currently do way too much cardio and definitely not enough weights. Looks like it’s time for a change! Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. Nice post…being a 56 year old woman…I have kind of let it slide in the last year.

    I was actually the first female power-lifter in New Brunswick Canada….and went on to own and operate a fitness facility in the 80’s. Well…that has changed..,,,I continue to go to the Y…but I was hit but a truck about a month ago….physlcally hit…my body…when he was backing up.

    I continue to try and walk with my dog…but I miss the weights at the gym…soon come..

    Anyways..thanks for your story and the pics of motivation πŸ™‚

  5. Love hearing about your fitness journey! I agree with cutting back on cardio. Michelle and I would over do our cardio alot and never saw much improvement, but now that we do more strength building exercises mixed in with a little cardio we love it! And so far our bodies love it too πŸ˜‰

  6. Congrats on your results!! Hard work truly does pay off. πŸ™‚ I loved reading this because I plan on starting some serious strength training. After running a marathon I am cardio-ed out!! I am slightly anxious about cutting back on the cardio, but I know it will definitely pay off.

  7. interesting! i can’t do as much cardio as I want due to physical limitations but I do find that I need a brisk walk daily. i miss running though! i just recently started lifting some weights and feel a difference already–even in small amounts.

  8. Hi
    I like your site and would like to ask more questions. Can you send me an email? Thanks!

  9. Love your fitness journey! In June I competed in my 1st ever bodybuilding competition after not really training for it for very long at all…Have been a yoga teacher for 10 years! but only lifting for not even 6 mos. I took 2nd in my show (bikini class) and as a vegan bodybuilder, I was happy. I lift HEAVY. For years, well, my entire life, I was scared of the gym, scared of weights, didnt want to get big but realize now I was missing out for so long. I love lifting and am excited to see where it all takes me…btw I have read about your meetups with heathy, nelly, kelli and gang and am so jealz!

  10. Hi all, thanks for the feedback!

    Stephanie — so awesome to hear you’re trying to move toward raw vegan. From my experience, it should be no problem accomplishing your fitness goals on this kind of diet!

    Elena, Hilary & Pure2Raw Twins – Yay! Glad that you also love lifting and see great results πŸ™‚

    Sprat — Wow, I’m so sorry to hear about the accident. I hope your recovery is speedy and you’re able to get back to the weights ASAP. It’s so cool that you were a power lifter!

    Jackie — I was also nervous about cutting out cardio. I thought I’d put on fat if I wasn’t burning enough calories by sweating it out on the elliptical. But it soon became apparently I was simply putting on muscle, since my body fat stayed the same, and I managed to get over the fear. I’m sure you’ll have similar results if you give it a go.

    Bitt — How great to hear that you’re feeling a difference already by lifting weights! I can’t wait to hear about your progress.

    Averie — Lifting HEAVY is where it’s at πŸ™‚ And I wish you were here in Toronto for our meet-ups πŸ™‚

  11. Thanks for sharing this. I love hearing about how people keep fit and congrats on your improvements! I’m starting to add more strength training to my regime but I love a good 30 mins on the treadmill too. x

  12. I love this post! You should write about your fitness adventures more often! I love reading about what others are doing. I am just now getting into heavy lifting (with CrossFit) and LOVING it. I’m stronger but want to see a big difference- heavy lifting is where it’s at! πŸ™‚

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