Love Letter to Exercise

It was the summer before my senior year of college and I had no idea what to pursue in my professional life, but I knew I did not want to present myself to the world in my current condition. I was obese, self-conscious, and overwhelmed. Rather than sink further into this black hole, I decided to pull myself out of it.

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After work, every afternoon, I put in 15 minutes on the clunky elliptical we had in the basement. I blasted music and endured it. As the days and weeks passed, I started putting on episodes of favorite shows, like Friends and Golden Girls, and worked until the end. It wasn’t long before I realized how much I enjoyed the effort, the slick sweat and short of breath feelings grew addictive.

I could go for an hour, playing with speeds and intensities. I was losing weight and I felt good about myself for the first time ever. I was in complete control, pushing my body to limits I thought I would forever detest. My body craved more. After my elliptical session, I would do sets of jumping jacks and started lifting the light weights we had lounging around. By the end of the summer, I was more determined than I had ever been in my life and I knew I would keep going once I was back in school.

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At my college, there were two gyms- one in the main building of campus and the other in the basement of a dorm. I loved both, they became safe spaces of comfort. Lifting weights awakened my body in new ways. I’d feel sore the next day, but it was a result of achievement rather than a painful deterrent. I had no knowledge about how to lift weights, no idea what exercise worked what muscle group, I just tried what I saw other people in the gym doing, or what I read about online.

In these days, I racked up one-two hours every day at the gym. It’s not what I recommend for everyone, nor something that is doable for busy people, but it was my saving grace. Gone was the anxious girl who ate her emotions. I found my strength.

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February of that year, I decided to tackle the treadmill. Growing up, I loved playing sports, but I hated to run. I started at 30 minutes, walking for 4 minutes and running for 1 minute in 5 minute increments. By Red Sox opening day that year, I took my runs to the outdoor track down the street and was running 3-4 miles at a time. I was a runner- and that is not something I offer lightly. To this day, I am not quick or smooth or a model of running perfection by any means, but I can run for miles and I will never forget what that means to the girl in the summer of 2011.

By graduation, approximately one year later, I was 100 pounds down, exercising six days a week and maintaining much healthier (and happier) eating habits. I was sad to be leaving school, but I was excited to see what the future held. That is not to say that I didn’t struggle after. I’m still confused as to what to do in my professional life in many ways, but that is the product of living.

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But this journey that I continue on, allowed me to be okay with putting myself out into the world, to experience and experiment. I tried several different jobs and trusted my instincts enough to walk away from something that wasn’t right for me. I studied to become a personal trainer and help others who struggle like me or just need a little guidance and push. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams and listened to my heart when I knew it was time to come home to my family.

My life is not perfect. I am not perfect. I eat too much, I have a lazy exercise day or choose to gasp- take two days off from the gym sometimes- but mostly, I’ve maintained these healthy habits. Eating is a large part of losing weight and maintaining a healthy life, but exercise was my gateway. Without it, I would not have the strength to endure, two of my favorite words.

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Exercise is my time. No matter what, I will always have that hour in my day that I take for myself. It doesn’t have to be a full hour, it doesn’t have to be a perfect mixture of cardio and strength training, and it doesn’t always have to be crushing and exhausting.

Embrace the messiness of fitness- the sweat, the confusion, the pain, the results. It does wondrous things for the body, physically and mentally.

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Let the Rain Come

Hello Monday and hello to you!

Once again, I can’t believe how fast the weekend flew by. I had a ton of fun in the sun and spent the majority of the weekend relaxing. It might be a rainy week ahead, but at least we’ll all be at work anyway.

My friend/client snapped this shot of me training her on Friday afternoon. We were laughing, but really I was trying to get her to stop talking long enough to actually exercise!

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Lunch was a BLT salad.

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That afternoon, this guy had his annual check-up. He’s doing great! I can’t believe it’s almost been a year since I adopted him. He’s the joy of my life.

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Later, I got to cuddle with the cutest baby I know, little Lily.

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On Saturday, I woke up and had a breakfast of an egg on toast with a sprinkling of cheese.

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It fueled me through a 2.25 mile run, including a massive hill at the end. Woo.

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My reward was an afternoon on the beach with my BFF!

It was a blast soaking up the sun and diving into waves. We headed into the city after for a drink and to walk around. It was such a lovely night outside and it was great walking around our old college neighborhood.

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Sunday morning included what I’m branding the BELT- bacon, egg, lettuce, and tomato. Delicious! We attended mass in the morning in honor of the anniversary of my grandfather’s passing.

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It was a nice moment to celebrate with family and we all went out to eat after.

That night, I went on a long walk with my parents, made these Skinnytaste bagels, and got some Sunday night things done.

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Anything great happen this weekend?

Daily Things

I thought I’d give a- probably mundane- rundown of my daily routine. Three days a week, I open up at the gym, so my alarm clock blares at 4:35am. When it’s being unkind, I’ll roll over and see I only have three minutes left to sleep. There is no kind when you have to wake up before 5am, although I have gotten used to it to an extent.

On these days, I get ready very quickly, really just feeding Simba and throwing my breakfast together. I typically work until 1pm and fit in my own workout. If I time my coffee and snacks appropriately, and slept well the night before, I will be motivated to complete an intense workout. If none of the aforementioned happens, then I will go through the motions. Most days, I’m awake enough to put myself through a tough workout, even though my first thought in the morning is I will definitely nap. (I never nap).

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My workouts on MWF are strength training based, sometimes total body, other days split by muscle group- functional and heavy lifting depending on my mood. This part, core included, will take 45-50 minutes. After, I fit in 15-25 minutes of cardio- cycling, arc trainer, and/or jump roping with intervals included.

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Once I leave, it’s lunch time! I try to stick to lean proteins and veggie-heavy dishes, including salads and stir fries, but other times, I’ll have leftovers. Being back on Weight Watchers means my lunches main source of carbs are veggies and fruits.

Before I shower, I spend some quality time with Simba. He’s still only one and loves being chased, so I try to do this as often as possible. The dude loves his friskies, so he can use the exercise too. Although, half the time when I run at him, he throws himself down and demands pats.

He demands pats most of the day and will follow me around, but when I settle down at my computer for writing time, he does settle down to sit in front of the window or under my desk. Right now, he’s actually yelling at me for attention.

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The rest of the night is spent meal prepping, reading, and watching TV or the Red Sox. Of course, Fridays are a little different.

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I get to sleep in a little longer. I never thought a 6:45am wake-up time would be indulging in sleep. These mornings, I hop out of bed, chug water, and hit the pavement for a run. Sometimes I’ll run straight through for about 3 miles, other times I’ll alternate between running and walking. I get to have a nice, leisurely breakfast before heading to work.

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On Tuesdays, I’m done early, so I follow a similar routine to Mondays and Wednesdays. I work a split shift on Thursdays, so in-between, I’ll meal prep, play with Simba, and write.

For Saturday and Sunday, I choose one day to run and the other to rest, depending on my schedule.

What’s your daily routine look like?

All About Stretching

One part of exercise that is not my expertise is stretching. I do not do it enough. I’m big enough of a woman and personal trainer to admit this. I do urge my clients to do this, especially when they come in talking about lower back pain and other various aches. Stretching is important to keeping the body limber because whether you’re sitting, standing, or a mixture of both all day, odds are, your body is feeling some kind of pain. This appears only to worsen as you age.

When to Stretch?

At the end of your workout! The best way to warm-up the body to prepare for an exercise routine is to start moving. I’ll dive further into this in another post, but take 5-10 minutes at the beginning to jump on the treadmill, a bike, or loosen up with some jumping jacks or squats. Get that body moving through a dynamic- movement- stretching period.

Once you’ve made your way through your cardio and/or your strength training, take another 5-15 minutes and stretch. The body will be nice and warmed up and ready to relax after all it just endured.

Why Stretch?

Stretching helps alleviate all those aches and pains. The body, as does the mind, tackles a multitude of obstacles during the day that leads to soreness and strain, especially if you add a workout on top of it. The muscle is tight and needs to unclench. Another excellent way to do this is by foam rolling, which I can get into further at another time.

Stretching also helps the body get better. The way strength training works is the effort breaks down the muscle and rest helps it repair, allowing the muscles to strengthen. It helps the blood to flow better and prevents injuries.

My Favorite Stretches

As you can see, I was able to complete these stretches in the comfort of my own home, crazy cat and dog included!

Biceps and Triceps

Back and Chest

Shoulders

Quads

Hamstrings

Hips

Fun Weekend Things

Welcome back from the weekend! I hope it treated you right and that Monday is doing the same.

My weekend started early Friday afternoon when I got off work and headed to a local amusement park with my mom. I’m not a huge daredevil in real life, but I do love a thrilling roller coaster!

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On Saturday, I started my day with this egg roll-up stuffed with scrambled eggs, bell peppers, mozzarella, and turkey pepperoni for a total of 3 points.

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I spent a good chunk of the day reading a mystery I couldn’t put down! For once, I wasn’t disappointed by the ending and it was a solid page-turner. I did tear myself away to fit in a great workout I was really feeling.

Doing a lot of barbell work, I focused on heavy weights 3 sets of 10 reps and did 100 jumps on the jump rope after each exercise. 5 upper body exercises, 5 lower body, and 2 core, which totaled to 1200 jumps! I enjoyed mixing the strength and cardio because it kept things moving and didn’t feel tedious. I also worked up a good sweat.

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For lunch, I heated up some chicken and veggie potstickers with lots of veggies- bell peppers, broccoli slaw, and bok choy- with a touch of hoisin sauce. Altogether, the meal was 7 points.

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I headed down to the park to meet up with my sister and her family and spent some quality baby time. She was feeling the not-so-hot weather and promptly napped.

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By dinner time, I was hungry! I grilled up chicken and veggies and splurged with some whole wheat pasta. I mixed everything with a lighter alfredo sauce and a sprinkling of cheese for a total of 13 points!

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Since it’s the weekend and I had most of my weekly points remaining, I very much savored some ice cream, while watching a movie- Table 19- which didn’t get great reviews but was free on HBO. I actually thought it was cute.

Sunday morning started with a cheese omelette, piece of toast, and raspberries.

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Then it was time for a muggy run! 3.1 solid miles of sweat.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent celebrating my Grandma’s birthday. It was nice to spend time with family and celebrate the day.

Happy birthday, Grandma!

Guest Perspective: Shonna

Every so often, I’m going to incorporate stories of friends and colleagues and whoever wants to be included to share on the blog. While I like to think my own 100-pound weight loss can be inspiring to many, it’s so important to hear from different voices, as everyone faces unique obstacles and challenges throughout their lives.

I met my friend Shonna working at my current gym where I do personal training. She is a group exercise instructor of several different classes- hello Zumba and strength training- a passionate exerciser, and has a great fitness backstory she agreed to share.

Thank you, Shonna, for visiting GMMCA!

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When did you start exercising? Why? What did you do?
I remember doing tapes and television workouts when I was a little kid (Mousercise and Sweating to the Oldies were my favorites). I played sports a little and took dance lessons, but it was all pretty casual. After high school, I would join a gym and maybe walk on the treadmill or use the elliptical and machines, but I didn’t really have a plan or know what I was doing. I got way more into fitness around 2005 when I worked in the corporate world with a team that was really physically fit. We had a gym in our building and after a lot of convincing, I went to my first Spin class with my coworkers. I was surprised to see that it wasn’t scary at all! From there, I started running, worked with a trainer, and went to more classes.  In 2007, I became a Spin instructor and after being laid off from that corporate job, learned to teach more classes.
How has your routine and philosophy changed over the years?
I’ve become more comfortable with taking risks and trying new things! I really feel like you need to step out of your comfort zone because you never know how much you can do. I’ve also learned that while I love teaching, I need to set aside time for my own personal workouts and goals.
What does healthy living mean to you?
It’s an investment in my future. I have been through some health scares that were out of my control.  I want to be in control of everything I can to keep myself mobile and healthy and living a full life for as long as possible!
Are their any words of advice you’d offer to your younger self starting out on your journey?
Don’t be afraid! The gym, classes, trainers, running groups… they are not as scary as you think. You just need to find what works for you. I feel like some classes or organizations really have a bad reputation, but we are honestly here to help you. I know I try to make my classes as welcoming as possible for all levels and most instructors I know do the same. We all started somewhere!
What inspired you to become a fitness instructor? What do you love/hate most about it?
I was taking Spin twice a week in the gym at my office. They were looking for another instructor and I figured I was going anyhow, might be some good extra money.
I love seeing people achieve things they didn’t think they could. That could be anything from getting in the door in the first place to lifting a heavier weight than they thought possible.
I don’t really hate anything about it in general- but I don’t love when people come in with a closed mind or a negative attitude. It doesn’t happen that often, though!
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone starting out?
Find something you love to do and it won’t be a chore! If you are a social person, go to a class or join a group. If you like to keep to yourself, find a trainer to design a program just for you.
What’s your favorite exercise?
Right now, I love my CrossFit class because it’s different every day. I’m really lucky to have excellent coaches and a dedicated class full of really supportive people at many levels.
You only have half an hour to exercise, what do you do?
Ah! Some HIIT training! A good mix of cardio and strength.
What are you most proud of in regards to your health journey?
I’ve been up and down in weight over the years. Right now, I’m up more than I would like, but I still get out there and work hard. Sometimes I don’t give myself enough credit for that.
What are some challenges you’ve faced over the years?
It’s always the “diet” for me. I got to my goal weight in 2012 and was a vegan. It worked so well for me until I suddenly started experiencing  some frustrating things like gaining back weight and feeling exhausted all of the time. The next year, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and later with thyroid cancer. After a complete thryoidectomy and radioactive iodine treatment (and a full recovery!!!) the vegan diet didn’t work for me anymore. I’m still struggling to figure out what works for me after all of this.
Any healthy eating tips you want to share?
It’s not a one size fits all situation! I feel like the one thing we can all agree on is eat whole foods as much as possible, but after that, it’s so individual!

Compound Exercises- Efficient & Effective

We’re back with another edition of Workout Wednesday!

Today, I want to discuss compound movements and the benefits of lifting heavy weights.

Compound movements work two or more major muscle groups at the same time, essentially meaning, getting more for your buck. Everyone wants their workout to be efficient and effective, so selecting moves to make optimal progress is vital.

Thanks to my friend Eva for the pics!

  1. Thrusters [quads & shoulders]- with the barbell (or dumbbells) in front, squat down and do an overhead press as you come back to standing
  1. Stiff-Leg Deadlifts [hamstrings & back]- with the barbell (or any piece of equipment really), thrust out your butt and hips and lower your upper body parallel to the ground, keeping a slight bend in your knees
  1. KB Swings [all over]- with the kettle bell, stand about shoulder-length about, bend your knees and snap up your hips to swing the kettle bell just above shoulder level
  1. Push-ups [chest, shoulders, triceps, core]- against the wall, on your knees, or in the full position, keep your neck stable as you lean down and bend your arms at a slight angle
  1. Box Jumps [quads, hamstrings, and glutes]- with added elevation or not, bend your knees and drive up and forward and as you land on the platform, squat down for a quiet and steady landing
  1. Hanging Leg Raises [all over core]- hanging from the bar or using the captain’s chair, bring your knees to your chest

In six moves, you get a solid total body workout. Try out these exercises completing 4 sets of 8 reps at a heavy, but manageable weight.

Finish with a round of HIIT cardio, such as jump roping- my current favorite- or sprints on the bike.