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You’re a Real Woman & Why Strong is NOT the New Skinny

I’m not sure when exactly it was that I realized that instead of inspiring and motivating me, so called “fitspo” or “fitspiration” was mostly making me feel really bad about myself.

At first, I was so excited that strength was finally cool! When I started lifting weights, being strong was not cool. In fact, I would say most people thought it was a weird and obscure goal to have and even more weird that I was a woman. It was like, “that chick is strange and intense”… (I’m not sure that the assessment is actually wrong, ha). Like, it was okay that I was working out to be hot, but it was strange that I liked and cared about being strong. For me, I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be strong! I went through a phase where I thought once I explained myself, everyone would see the light and join my bandwagon, but they didn’t. They still thought it was a weird and obscure obsession, and questionably worthwhile. So when all this “strong is the new skinny” stuff started trending, I was so happy! Everyone was finally “getting it” and I was really excited… at first.

From the sea of headless ab shots, sexualized, sweaty women with heaving cleavage and perfect round butts, the unrelenting captions telling me to not to stop and that pain was my fat cells dying or whatever BS… somewhere along the way, it became all about being sexy, objectification and defining another narrow and rigid aesthetic for us all to scramble to fit into.

This is also why “strong is the new skinny” is really just another crock of shit being spoonfed to us. Same old wolf, new disguise. The message really seems to be “strong is awesome only if you are small and ripped and, of course, sexy“… after all girls, we have to be sexy! We are nothing and nobody if we are not sexy, are we? And God forbid strong means you have big, powerful muscles. Strong is not sexy if it’s “too bulky” or “too much”… girls, you can only be strong if you stay small and cute, preferably in a push up sports bra with your boobs hiked up to your chin.

The sarcasm is oozing from pretty much the entire above paragraph, in case you missed it!

And that’s never what strength is or should be about. You get strong to be strong. Because strong is awesome. Thats the only reason and justification you need. Being strong literally makes you better at everything else in life that you do. It’ll make you a better runner, a better dancer, better and more powerful in any sport that you play. Better at your household chores and activities, better at just being. No lie. I mean, if you train right, training will improve and correct your posture. So literally, just standing there and “being” you are better. Your strong muscles hold up your bones and spine and pin your shoulders back more efficiently. Hence, you are better “just being”, get it?

You don’t get strong because its sexy, or because its the new cool thing and not because its going to help you fit into a new, oppressive paradigm for how you are supposed to look.

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I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, I think all bodies are beautiful when they’re fit and strong, within a healthy weight range and the individual is happy and enjoying their life. And whatever that looks like for each person, pretty much always looks some shade of great!

Short limbs, long limbs, boxy torso, long torso, naturally lean, naturally curvy, naturally thin… we ALL have our strengths and weaknesses, we don’t have to look exactly alike to look beautiful; and in order to be inspiring, it doesn’t matter how you look. To be inspiring in fitness, athletics and sport you have to have a great attitude, perseverance and the ability to do cool shit, like maybe squat 100kg, or run a marathon in under 3 hours, or do the splits or a backflip! All that stuff is pretty damn cool, but I admire anyone who is healthy and works hard to excel in a particular skill, overcome physical and mental limitations and takes care of their body and mind. People like that are cool. People like that are the real fitspo. Not some headless, nameless chick with abs wearing co-ordinated workout gear. What’s cool about that?

And, another thing: we’re ALL “real” women! Do you have a vagina? Well guess what? You’re a real woman. THE END.

Just because “thin is in” doesn’t mean we get to trash and degrade women who are thin by saying stupid crap like “real women have curves”… Do you know how dumb you sound? Stop saying that. Some women really struggle to gain weight and certainly covet fuller hips and thighs and bums, and it’s no easier for them to attain those than it is for someone significantly overweight to lose fat. Can you imagine how heartbreaking and hurtful it is to be someone who is naturally very thin and doesn’t want to be, to have the message thrown in her face that she is fundamentally inadequate as a woman because of her shape? The bold is wrong no matter what body type we’re talking about. That is a harsh and unkind message to put out there to people, lacking in compassion or understanding. You can’t expect to come out smelling like roses when you’re down in the dirt slinging mud at everyone else.

What inspires you towards your fitness goals every day? What is that you most like about your body? I’d love to hear about it n the comments!

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Go Hard or Go Home! Kettlebell Workout.

I love doing “met cons” for fat loss. In conjunction with a solid diet, doing rounds of relatively light, fast and sometimes ballistic resistance and bodyweight movements really gets the ball rolling in the right direction.

“Met Con” is just short for Metabolic Conditioning.

Metabolic conditioning can truthfully be almost anything, however it does take a bit of knowledge and know-how to design an effective one. You can use dumb bells, barbells, kettle bells, medicine balls, your trx, you can use bodyweight only, you can do sprints or other traditional cardio in between. Rests are other variables you can also play with.

Most people are talking about high intensity, interval, anaerobic work when they talk about doing “met cons”, but technically speaking, metabolic conditioning work is really about optimising performance within specific energy pathways. So while most people talk about doing  some type of a “metcon”, a “metabolic finisher” or just plain old HIIT with weights, they’re talking about doing a form of HIIT and they’ll tell you that DUH?!! I’m doing it for fat loss, dummy… why else? Another reason you may be doing some type of metabolic conditioning is to improve performance in a particular energy pathway of the body, whether its your short bursts of all out effort (the phosphagen pathway), intermediate (the glycolyctic pathway) or aerobic/oxidative pathways.

Metabolic conditioning work has a wide scope and versatility depending on how smart your program design is based on your objectives 🙂

Me? I do them primarily for fat loss and because sometimes they make me feel bad ass, haha. (In my opinion, if your workout doesn’t make you feel like you are awesome and can leap tall buildings in a single bound, then it’s no fun and probably not worth doing. This is why you’ll never catch me doing zumba, lol.) This type of training gives you a lot of bang for your buck, you’re finished in under 30 minutes and you get results fast. Adding metcons and HIIT to your program will get the fat off FAST AND GOOD… provided you are eating for fat loss. Remember, there is no fat loss workout without a fat loss DIET. You cannot outtrain a bad diet, EVER! Even with metcons. Metcons are not magic.

I try to program mine so I’m not doing any movements that interfere with my big lifts on subsequent days. So, for example, if the day after my metcon day I’m going to be doing deadlifts, then I’m not going to do glute-ham raises or heavy kettlebell swings the day before. I’ll keep everything a bit lighter and faster. It also may be prudent when writing a metcon circuit to alternate body parts, so if you’ve just done some lower body work, the next exercise you might want to choose would be for the upperbody, like push ups, for example.

Here is a kettlebell workout of mine from last week. I used a 16kg kettlebell and it kicked my butt. I did 3 rounds. This week, I did 4 rounds and also 5 cleans instead of 3 and 12 swings instead of 10.

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You always have to do just a little bit more so you can say that you are better than you were before. Always. That’s one of the workout rules I live by, whether I’m doing traditional lifting, metcons or going for a run outside. Be fundamentally, inarguably better than you were last week. And if I can’t manage even 1 more rep, then I’ll rest… and do a whole extra set.

I hope you try out my kettlebell workout, let me know how you go in the comments!

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How To Look Hot In Your Halloween Costume (on short notice!)

Halloween is upon us and believe it or not, you still have time to trim down a little to look your best in your costume. You could absolutely lose a few pounds (or kilos) in the next 3 weeks and look that little bit better – in let’s be honest – what is usually a skimpy costume for us women!

Whether you eat and exercise meticulously, or if you’ve been slacking on your diet and nutrition, the solution to looking better is both simple and similar.

1. Add in a small amount of cardio.
This is the perfect time to add in some steady state cardio if you haven’t been doing any. Steady state cardio just means cardio that is done at the same pace or tempo for the entire duration. Your body tends to adapt to this quickly and you have to do more and more to see the same result, but our goal date to look hot is about 3 weeks away, so add 15 – 20 minutes of cardio to whatever you’re already doing. You don’t have time to adapt to this adjustment.

2. Adjust your diet.
Maybe you eat a “perfect” diet day in day out. Maybe you have been more relaxed as of late. But making a small adjustment over the next 20 days will give your results a major boost.

If your carbs are already quite low, then you may want to just lower your calories by 200 per day.

Conversely, if your carb intake is over about 175g per day, then lowering them by 50g in the lead up to Halloween will make a big difference.


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Sticking to this regimen strictly with only one off-plan (i.e: cheat) meal through the week is important. These adjustments only create small deficits which are very easily blown to smithereens by mindless snacking. On the other hand, because they are such minor adjustments, you’re much more likely to stick to them because they aren’t such a huge sacrifice from however you’re accustomed to eating.

3. Drink lots of water!
3 – 4 litres per day is ideal. Water helps flush out toxins and also helps our bodies release their water reserves AND makes our skin look fabulous. Win + win all round.

I have gone as a horror nurse to a recent hospital themed party (pictured at left… I ended up wearing a longer red dress underneath that because I decided it was way too short to leave the house in, the back view was practically naked *blush*) and a belly dancer in years passed. Do you have a costume picked out for this years Halloween already?

Mine is a skeleton costume pictured in the banner below, it’s en route as we speak! Short again, what was I thinking?!! I will probably wear black leggings or at least completely opaque stockings, doh! It’s actually quite challenging to find anything really spunky and fun that isn’t super short. Thems the breaks!

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Ditching the ‘All or Nothing’ Attitude in Fitness

My European adventure is drawing to a close and with 7 days ‘til I arrive in Sydney, I have been contemplating my fitness goals.

Part of that is thinking about how I want to evolve and what things I need to let go of, that may have held me back in the past. One of those is an all-or-nothing attitude.

I used to be like that about dieting.

I still struggle a little with it in training. I hate deload weeks and I have been known to get agitated when things don’t go as planned in the gym. I like intense workouts. I like to struggle and triumph. When the latter doesn’t happen, I can get pissed and take my ball and go home… sometimes funny, but never productive!

True fitness is a lifestyle and life has it’s ups and downs. One of the key qualities to being happy, fulfilled and successful is resilience, and you can’t be resilient when you’re rigid, afraid to make mistakes, or get upset when things don’t go 100% your way.

Don’t strive for perfection. Strive for excellence!

Strive to develop good habits and consistency. Strive to be better than you were yesterday. Strive to challenge yourself in some way, every day. Step outside of your comfort zone. Forgive yourself mistakes. They happen.

Those of us prone to an all-or-nothing attitude often end up with just the latter… nothing.

We’re prone to overtraining, because we try to push hard and train hard every single day, thinking more is more. It certainly isn’t.

We’re prone to struggling with our diets because we expect perfection from ourselves, with nary a calorie or macronutrient out of place. And when we can’t achieve that, we fall right off the wagon and binge… guess what? 100% diet adherence is overrated… and not possible without an adjunct obsessive-compulsive disorder. Certainly, eating well 90% of the time is necessary to looking your best, but perfection is a myth and unnecessary.

We’re prone to being competitive, which personally, I tend to find a friendly competitive streak in a person kind of cute 🙂 HOWEVER, not everything is a competition! Not everything is so serious. And no one said you had to be the best at everything or the most of something. Just be you and strive for constant improvement. Stay humble. Keep your ego in check.

Some of us never even get started because we think we have to be “dedicated” and “disciplined” and “train hard” to make any of it worthwhile and it’s all just too intense and overwhelming. So we do nothing. We sit on the couch instead. Well guess what? MOVING YOUR BODY in some way every single day is certainly worthwhile and good for your health, even if you don’t approach things with the razor focus of a professional athlete. Just move! Pick something you like doing and just go with it.

Do something. Walk for 20 minutes a day. Eat a serving of vegetables at dinner every night. Who told you that you had to eat perfectly and train like an Olympic Athlete for it to be worthwhile? Hey, they lied. Eat your veges and move a little each day. Baby steps. Will you look like a fitness model? No. Will you feel better and look better, and be glad you made those small changes? Yes! You will.

Something always trumps nothing.

The people you admire the most in sports and fitness, they have off-seasons, they have intelligently periodized training protocols (i.e: not pushing at 100% capacity all the time), they have diet slip-ups and off-plan meals. They have bad days at training, days where they feel tired. But guess what? They do things MOSTLY right and properly, and stick to their plans the vast majority of the time.

Getting it right over 90% of the time is what gets results and what is important.

Earnest effort is everything. Perfection is a myth. A fitness unicorn! You wanna go chasing unicorns? Be my guest. Have fun with that. Getting great results and maintaining them is a balance between consistent, intelligent training, good nutrition and incorporating all of that into your every day, real life.

Have you had an all or nothing attitude to your fitness? Have you been far too intense in the past or has your attitude kept you on the couch? How have you managed to find YOUR balance?

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Fit & Glam Training Update #2

Today is exactly 2 weeks til I fly out to Paris, and I’m on track with my fitness goals, though to be honest, while I am “getting it done”, I am struggling a bit mentally. I guess I go through what I jokingly refer to as a “fitness existential crisis” every few months and I’m having a mini one of those now!

So what do I mean by a “fitness existential crisis”? I mean I get into this mood where I question the WHY of everything. WHY should I do what I do? WHY do I care about my fitness? WHY can’t I be like other girls and just do yoga and jump on the elliptical and call it a day? WHY do I care about my strength? Why is this important to me? What’s the freaking meaning of life?

WHY WHY WHY?!!!

And the answers are always the same. Because I love lifting. Because I know better. Because I can. Because pushing myself exhilarates me and makes me feel alive. Because I want to be better. Because it’s awesome. Because I’m awesome.

And because why not?

So, this week I am hitting 100kg deads for reps, but struggling with my crappy attitude and wondering WHY. Why why why. Although, I think from time to time, it’s important to ask yourself why you do the things you do and to assess your motivations. What’s that old adage about an unexamined life is not worth living? Yeah, that. Plus I already feel better having answered myself above. I feel like ‘yeah man! that is why!!!”…

Some pics of me in my beautiful home city from the last week or so. And "that" quote from Socrates :)

Some pics of me in my beautiful home city from the last week or so. And “that” quote from Socrates 🙂

A note on cardio. I am up to an hour a day which is my self-imposed maximum. I started about 2 weeks ago with 40 minutes, 6 days a week, bumped it up to 45 minutes last week and now I’m doing 60 minutes until I leave (exactly 2 weeks from today).

My usual level of cardio activity is 2 – 3 HIIT sessions and 1 – 2 run/jogs for x amount of time. Meaning, if I’m enjoying my run that day, I might stay out for an hour. If it’s really sucking and I’m hating it, I’ll stick it out for 20 miinutes. I don’t torture myself with any of it. My main tool for maintaining or changing my appearance is my diet. The cardio is always, whether I’m doing more or less of it, incidental.

My thought process behind an hour of cardio per day is that it’s a shock to my body, it’s a lot of activity that I don’t usually partake in for a short period of time (one month). So results and little to no adaptation. When your body adapts to your current activity, it means you’ve gotten fitter. If your goal is, for example to become a better runner, that’s great! Bazinga! But if your goal is to burn calories and trim down, then adaptation is not what you want. To overcome adaptation, you have to increase either time or intensity to get the same bang for your buck.

You should read my post about how you get more bang for your buck lifting weights from a few weeks back to get a better understanding of how and why steady state cardio is far from the most efficient tool for changing your body. But it is a tool, and an effective one if used thoughtfully.

Why do you do what you do? Why do you lift?

How much cardio do you do every week?

Tell me in the comments!

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Life Lessons Learned From Weightlifting

My favourite is that all things are possible. Yes, that is what weightlifting has taught me. Things you may think are unimaginable now, are in fact, possible.

I am a dreamer and a die-hard romantic. Some will say I have my head in the clouds (or shoved somewhere else!), but I say, those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. That’s a Roald Dahl-ism for you. What does this have to do with weightlifting? Well, I also used to be an extremely negative person. I have done a lot of work on myself over the years to change that mindset and change how I think about myself and the world. Weightlifting has been intrinsic to that.

I started lifting with my ex-husband who was a US Marine, on a military base in Southern Maryland. It was 2002. Before that I had done random BodyPump classes and lots and lots of cardio. As much as I could stand, really! I just didn’t know any better. Lifting with my ex-husband was the turning point. The gym on base was easily 95% male and I used to just follow him around the weight room like a scared little mouse, and he would hand me weights and say “do this!” and I would do it, sometimes asking “whats this for?”… truthfully we used to squabble a lot because i thought he made me do too much upperbody, hehe. I just wanted to “tone up” my legs! We did lots of isolation work and machines and we did squats on the Smith Machine. Which I absolutely do not recommend at all. But again, it’s a progression and a learning process and neither one of us knew any better back then. He’s the one that put the idea in my head in those very first lifting sessions that I needed to be able to squat my bodyweight at a bare minimum. And I would like to thank him for that! So that was always a clear goal for me from day dot. Squatting my own body weight seemed like a lot, but I figured if that was just considered “good” and not “awesome”, I could probably get there with a bit of work.

I very clearly remember ending a lifting session with him with tons of dumb bells strewn all over the floor. We had to pick them up, which we did. The ones left over were his “big” ones. He would do overhead presses with 40lbs dumb bells (about 20kg), he asked me if that was too big for me to help put back in the rack. I decided to give it a go.

I could barely pick the damn thing up with both hands! My back was all bent out of shape trying to haul this thing to the rack and there was no way in hell I could get it high enough to actually stick in the rack! My husband came to save me and took it off my hands and re-racked it.

In my head, since that day, 40lbs was the beginning of the “off-limits” dumb bells. In the States anyway, everything smaller than 40lbs is also physically a lot smaller. The 40-pounders are the first set of “really big” heavy weights. The ones that for a long time I just thought I would never, ever have a use for. Not for upperbody work, anyway. The ones that are exclusively the domain of the boys.

Fast forward to 2009 and I have been divorced for 2 years and lifting on my own for 5, working as a personal trainer full time in San Francisco for about a year and a half. I discovered lifting purely for strength in 2007 and I LOVED IT! I read the training log of an IFBB Pro, and saw a video where she did dumb bell chest presses with 80lb in each hand. Yes, I fully understood that this woman was almost certainly using male hormones which will greatly increase your strength, but it still blew my mind. It never occurred to me that anything like that was even possible. I decided to focus on my chest presses to see what I could do.

I was so impressed with myself when I graduated to the 30lb dumb bells. I almost never even saw other girls using 15’s. Even more ecstatic when I got to the 35’s. I stayed with those for a long, long time, the barrier in my mind unquestioned. When I got to 10 reps and realized I could definitely do one or two more… I realized there was nowhere to go but the big, bad, manly 40’s!!!

One dude in the gym that day stopped dead in his tracks to see what the hell I was gonna do with those 40’s (because girls don’t use 40’s for anything! duh!) and when he saw me press them, he looked stone-cold flabbergasted. One of the regulars applauded me and called me a bad ass. I felt like a bad ass! I felt indescribably fucking awesome! To this day, definitely one of my favourite and most profound moments in the gym, ever.

Those same weights where once had almost pinned me to the floor in an upside down U-shape… I was gonna press one in each hand, for at least 5 or 6 reps! I cannot emphasise enough how much, for so many years, the 40lbs dumb bells were a marker of my physical limits for me. This was a really big deal.

And that my friends is just the beginning of how weightlifting proved to me that anything is possible.

I love how when you learn a new movement, sometimes you can’t even remotely do it correctly, and then you slowly coax your body into optimal flexibility and motor control until you can execute it with competence, and hey, maybe even textbook precision. This process can take as little as a week, or maybe it takes many months or even years. But you chip away at it, with discipline and consistency and passion then, over time, you get there and you can do this cool feat of physical excellence that once upon a time WAS impossible for you.

And you’re fundamentally BETTER for it. Your body is stronger, you’re more controlled, co-ordinated, you’re more flexible, focused. There is a beautiful zen to weightlifting that I have not found anywhere else. It feels powerful and peaceful all at once.

The weights also never lie to you. You can either lift them, or you cannot. The deadlift is probably the best example of this, because you cannot fake it in any way. You either got the bar off the floor that day, or you did not. No bullshit. I love it. .

I love working on a lift over many, many months and some days, the only progress you can count is just ONE EXTRA REP in the entire set for that week, or maybe you didn’t progress at all and you had a really shit session and only did the same or LESS than what you managed last week, and you gotta suck it up and eat humble pie and kick rocks til next week… and you persevere. You come back the next week, humbled, but ready to give it another go. weightlifting also teaches you to think outside the box. Because what serious weightlifter hasn’t hit a plateau at some point when following a tried and true program and had to think of a new plan of action, or maybe even take the weight back down for a week or two, work in a different rep range, choose a different strategy and bounce back? Yep, there’s that humble pie again. It’s character building. It’s taught me to be methodical. It’s taught me to try, try and try again. It’s taught me not to care what other people think. I don’t give a flying fuck if you don’t know what I’m doing or you think I don’t know what I’m doing. I certainly do know what I’m doing, and even if I’m lam at it today, I’ll be awesome at it tomorrow! And I definitely don’t give two shits if you think it’s “weird” that a girl lifts or cares about her strength. I care so little that I am not even going to formulate a response to it. Hows that?

Weightlifting has taught me all the best lessons I’ve learnt in life. It certainly isn’t just picking up heavy things, putting them down and counting the reps. Nope. No. Not at all.

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Time poor? Lift weights!

Most of the time, when women decide they want to lose weight, they decide they’re going to start a cardio program of some sort. That usually  means going to the gym to jump on the elliptical for 30 minutes a day, or hitting the pavement and running a few kilometers.

Traditional, steady-state cardiovascular training for weight loss and physique transformation is an exercise of diminishing returns for a variety of reasons.

The simplest, most concise way to explain why, is that to continue seeing results, you need to continually increase the time you’re putting in to get the same effect.

Who has time for ever more exercise in this day and age? We are all so freaking busy! I love exercising and I struggle to find the time to do everything, so I can’t imagine how this would work for me if I didn’t love it so much, or if I just had to continually increase my time commitment to keep getting results. That would suck.

If that were the case, I might decide it wasn’t worth it, I didn’t have enough time and that it was too hard…

Our bodies are designed to adapt to the stresses we place upon them. It’s how we have survived through the ages and the mechanism under which in modern life we improve our “fitness”. We subject our bodies to a measure of controlled stress, making an activity “challenging”, and your body adapts to meet that stress, thusly making it “fitter” for the activity at hand. Right? That’s essentially what “fitness” and “getting fitter” entails.

And our bodies and metabolic systems adapt frighteningly well to steady state cardiovascular activities. Meaning that within a few weeks, your body will burn fewer calories doing the same cardio workout, because it has adapted and become more efficient at completing the task at hand. This is why the same workout gets easier and easier after a few weeks — it actually is easier, your body is more efficient at it.

So what happens when you get to upwards of 45 minutes of cardio activity daily? Where do you go from there? 1 hour every day? 2 hours? What next?

This is where lifting weights comes in to shake things up!

Lifting weights is a much sounder foundation upon which to base your fitness and weight loss program.

Lifting weights builds metabolically active tissue, which helps you burn more fat and improve metabolism, even at rest.

Lifting weights will help shape a killer bikini bod. Especially if you include movements like squats and lunges and deadlifts of all variations. Cardio alone cannot do this. Cardio alone will make you a smaller version of the shape you already are.

Lifting weights circuit style can give you the double whammy of an anaerobic and aerobic workout – in plain language, you can reap the benefits of lifting weights and cardio in one super efficient work out.

You can always increase the intensity of your lifting program in variety of ways (thereby avoiding plateaus), that don’t increase your time commitment to your program. You can lift heavier weights, change your rep scheme, use super and giant sets (i:e doing exercises back to back), change the exercises you are doing… and that’s just scratching the surface of possibilities.

There is always the humorous adage in the weightlifting community about cardio that goes:
do you do cardio no i lift weights faster

As you can see, for the time poor woman who works out with weightloss and/or other aesthetic goals in mind, lifting weights is the clear winner for reaping virtually limitless results.

Don’t get me wrong, cardiovascular exercise is not the worst thing in the world by any stretch, in fact, cardiovascular exercise is great when used properly and not excessively as a tool for yes, weight loss, better health, or heck just enjoyment! If you love running or you love doing your spin class 2 times a week, keep doing it! Just make sure you continue to have ways in which you can keep the workout challenging and never, ever overdo your cardio training because you think it’s the key to unlock your best physique. It isn’t.

Your best physique = sound diet + good lifting routine + consistency!

And yes, a little cardio, always challenging, never, ever overdone or excessive in any way.

Are you more of a weights or a cardio girl? How much cardio do you do each week?