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You Are Special & Why Cookie Cutter Plans Don’t Work

When we wanna get fit, often it seems like the most obvious thing is emulate the person whose results we want, the person we want to look like.

We want to know what they eat and how they train, and we want to do exactly whatever “secret” it is they do, so we can look like them too.

So you follow their Facebook page or Instagram and read everything they say, maybe you buy their workout plan or diet and you copy what it is they do, or what they say they do.

But you don’t get the same result. Often, you don’t even get a similar result.

The reason is that cookiecutter plans don’t work. One-size-fits-all fitness is a myth. Let me explain. The foundations of being fit, strong and looking amazing are more or less the same for everyone, that is true. But we each have unique genetics that give us unique strengths, weaknesses, individual biochemistry, individual anthropometry, muscle belly size, length, etc.

Guess what? It means we’re all unique! Your mum was right, you ARE a special little snowflake after all!

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Well, OK.. you are and you aren’t! Because you’re a special snowflake, you can’t just take some random workout and expect it to transform you into someone else who also just happens to do that work, i.e: your favourite fitness model. She probably doesn’t even do that workout at all, hate to say it. You need something designed for you to get you to greatness. On the otherhand, because you are NOT a special snowflake, you you can ditch all the gimmicks, magic bullets and quick fixes, because if you haven’t realized, they don’t work. The basics work. Ignore the ads, propaganda and shameless self-promotion. Do what has been proven to work, and that is:

1. Lift weights at least 2x per week, 3 – 4 days a week of lifting is ideal. Focus on multi-joint movements, preferably with freeweights. Lift “heavy” for no more than 10 reps per set. Things like squats, deadlifts & lunges for the lower body and overhead presses, rows and push ups for the upper body. Use single joint/isolation exercises and machines only for parts of your body you want to pay a little extra attention to, and do so AFTER your squats, lunges and presses, etc.

2. Clean up your diet. Looking “toned” is a function of muscular development and optimized body fat levels. You can’t lose body fat with a crappy diet, so clean up your diet! Focus on lean proteins and vegetables at every meal and watch your carb intake. Don’t eat too much. It isn’t much more complicated than that.

3. Do a bit of cardio, not too much. Keep it to under 1 hour per day, at a maximum! If you’re doing more cardio than this, you need to re-examine your diet. You cannot out train a poor diet. Personally, I start out clients with 15 minutes of cardio per day and I don’t increase it unless we stop getting results. I never prescribe more than 30 minutes a day. If we hit a plateau we re-examine the diet and change up the cardio protocol. Use cardio as a tool for weightloss wisely. More is not “more”.

The above should be the foundation of any training and nutrition plan. Beyond this, your individual goals, preferences, genetics and athletic background need to be considered in order to customise a plan to help get you to your best, your pinnacle. So there may be tweaks to your diet, there may be a certain focus on a part of your body you want to work on, certain movements, you may have injuries you need to work around – it all depends on your individual needs, and what you need to get you to the pinnacle of fitness.

It’s going to be something different than what I need.

It’s going to be different again to what the guy two treadmills over from you needs.

It’s going to probably be different than your training buddy and your favourite fitness model.

You can not all follow the same training and diet plan and get the same result. It doesn’t work that way.

What program has gotten you the best results?

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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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Fit Glam Weekly Reading

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Tried to go chestnut brown with highlights around the face… my hairdresser clearly got a little overexcited with the highlighting. Follow me on Instagram!

There have been a lot of good articles on the web this week, well… new and just “new to me”. I’ve got a few new pieces just about ready to go myself. How has my week been? KICK ASS. Well, training-wise it’s been great. Very focused, eating right, knocking out workouts, my deadlift is coming back. I had a hair disaster! See above. Next week, the Christmas parties start, so it’s going to be a good test of my “1 or 2 glasses of wine*” only policy on social drinking. No more cocktails! I think cocktails are a fat loss (and wallet!) killer. BOO.

Now, one of the pieces I’m working on is about role models. It’ll likely be a multipart series. One of the fitness models I’ll include is Ava Cowan. I absolutely love this woman! What is cool about Ava Cowan is that she’s real. I think she’s the first, and maybe only big name fitness model I ever heard say in any real way that dieting for competition is hard and she isn’t perfect. Unfortunately, she had an accident earlier this year which resulted in a serious neck injury. During her recovery, she gained a lot of weight and she’s documenting her Journey Back to Strength. I’ve loved reading every instalment! I wish Ava all the very best and look forward to seeing her back on the pro figure stage.

I’ve always instilled in my clients how important it is to be strong, that it’s one of the most important indicators of physical resilience and longevity. This article by Dr Michael Joyner, puts together a lot of the research (and there is tons) – Why You Need To Be Doing Burpees.

And if you haven’t seen this yet, then you really should, because it never gets old, Howard Schatz’s images of female athletes. Throw away your scales. Fit, strong & awesome really comes in all shapes and sizes.

Lastly, an oldie, but a goodie – Nia Shanks on how to start lifting singles and triples if you have never done so before.

What have you been reading on the web this week?

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I should probably call this a “monthly” round up…

This round of great fitness reads I’m going to pop off with some opposing views about RUNNING. In fitness circles, cardio has had a bad rap. In fact, I even wrote up an article about how cardio isn’t the greatest single tool for changing your body.

Disclaimer: I do “run” 1 – 3 times per week. I love sprinting, but for any steady-state work, I am super sloowwww. Hence the quotes around the word run in the previous sentence, haha. I do the steady state work because it isn’t ever easy for me and I enjoy the challenge. I don’t believe in only doing things that validate you and that you’re good at. My stance on the whole running debate is in the middle. Use it as a tool in a reasonable manner for weight loss and physique transformation goals, and otherwise only do it if you LOVE it. If you’re an endurance athlete, eat to support your activity. Run a marathon to run a marathon – it’s a huge accomplishment. A physical and mental test of grit and stamina. Do not run a marathon because you think the training will help you lose weight and you plan to diet (i.e. eat in a caloric deficit) throughout your training. Ineffective and BIG mistake!

Wow, off my soapbox! Hehe.

John Kiefer blew up the fitness blogosphere recently with Why Women Should Not Run. It should be noted, the intended audience of this article is the female physique competitor and to a lesser extent, the average woman using running as a tool to lose weight and transform her body. In that context, the article has a lot of valid points.

In an examination and retort of this and a few other anti-running articles like it, Gokaleo has deconstructed the science behind it and defended running. I think it offers a sound perspective on the whole anti-cardio hysteria, which I believe is wrong. I believe in being physically well-rounded and at least capable, in all modalities.

(Another disclaimer: I am totally fangirl ga-ga about Amber and her GoKaleo blog! So many great reads there!)

Moving along!

On a lighter note, over at Mohrresults.com, they have a rundown of the best vegetarian protein sources. Good info!

And something that spoke to me deeply, female olympic weightlifters Sarah & Jessica lament the portrayal of women in fitness. I have to say, I share the same disdain and lament. 

In a similar vein Carrie, over at This Fit Chick talks about how you should stop following her and other fitness girls. I have totally been THAT girl she is talking about in the article. She has been THAT girl. You probably have been or ARE that girl. Let’s stop the madness with all this so called “fitspo” and BS. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, choose your role models very carefully. 

And for a laugh, over at Deadspin, one of their reporters attended the Toronto Pro Supershow and wrote up a piece called Health Is Bad For You… Great read and a good laugh. I have to admit, his write up more or less mirrors my experience of the 2009 Olympia in Las Vegas. Except I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. Haha!

Train hard, live fit & be glamorous all!

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The One About How You Can’t Copy Some Random Fitness Model’s Diet & Training Plan

To my long lost trainer Zvez,

Hey lady! New York misses you!  I have a question. I remember when I trained with you, you always told me to keep my calories at about 1700, and you were adamant that I needed to eat “enough”. I got great results and felt like I learned a lot about how to eat healthy and live a balanced lifestyle, but now I’m confused.

Lately, I’ve been reading all these fitness magazines and the sample diets these girls provide has their calories at about 1200, 1300 or 1400 max?!! Some of these girls carry a lot of muscle too and do tons of cardio. I don’t get it. A lot of the things I’m reading are exactly what you told me NOT to do. 1200 calorie diets, double cardio sessions (you always said no more than an hour max!). I’m in great shape now, but not ripped. Is this what I have to do to get ripped and look like a fitness model? You know I always wanted to look like that Zuzanna chick from the youtube videos! I miss my kick ass Aussie trainer, xxx.

– Bethany, New York City, NY.

Hi Bethany! I miss you too! Come to Sydney for a workout, hehe. I’m not kidding!

You know I will always tell you the cold hard truth and the cold hard truth is that eating 1200 calories comprised of nothing but chicken and broccoli and double cardio sessions might be one way to look like a fitness model. Temporarily.

What inevitably happens to people who try to starve themselves lean is that they hit a wall. Hours of cardio a day and eating nothing but chicken and broccoli will make you a neurotic, batty mess with no social life. Even if in theory you could grit your teeth and push through  a protocol like this, day in and day out for the rest of your life (which is called an eating disorder), eventually you will get sick, you will get injured and your metabolism, which is designed to keep you healthy, alive and thriving – will shut down. Because you’re starving your body and beating it to a pulp. Your body thinks it’s dying. Having your metabolism shut down on your because you exercise too much and don’t eat enough is not cute. You will be very, very sick if this happens to you. And you won’t look lean and cute with ripped abs if you get to this point, trust me. I’m not scaremongering, this is a very real outcome and consequence and you can find yourself fatter than you ever imagined and on a cocktail of thyroid meds for the rest of your life if you insist upon this road.

When these cookie cutter diet and workout plans are provided in magazines and online (!), you can never, ever take those things on face value. Everyone is different, we each have different genetics, different body chemistry, different activity history and different assets and challenges to getting into the best shape of our lives. So even if we assume that the diet and exercise plans provided actually ARE what your favourite celebrity/competitor/fitness model follows, it’s probably NOT going to work for you the same way that it works for them. This is for a variety of reasons, but primarily:

1) You have to look at each individual’s personal stats… if your favourite fitness model is 118lbs (53.6kg) and eating about 1300 – 1400 cals to drop a few body fat percentage points? That’s not too low for someone of her size as long as her diet is balanced, meaning, carbohydrates ARE included. FYI, using Bethany as an example, she is a tall drink of water at 5’11 and weights about 150lbs (68kg). 1300 calories would be way too low for her.

2) Her goals are different to yours. A fitness model who stays in shape year round and may need to diet for a few weeks to tighten up for a photoshoot is very different to someone who is sedentary and needs to lose 20kg and just get active each day. You can’t take her diet and apply to yourself and then wonder why you don’t look like her or why you aren’t getting any result at all. And whatever you do, it has to be sustainable and something you can do long-term. If it’s so restrictive that you won’t be able to do it for more than a month before you quit your plan in frustration and can’t look at another piece of broccoli again in your life, then you were just spinning your wheels and may have just set yourself way back. It has to be something sustainable for great results you will keep.

Sadly for people who look up to them and follow them, some fitness models and celebrities and people in general with enviable physiques have such great bodies in SPITE of what they do, NOT because of what they do!

Read that again! It is so important!

Some people have great results in spite of what they do, not because of what they do!

What that means is that they hit the genetic jackpot and they would look amazing no matter what. Some of these people look even better with a tiny fraction of the effort that you or I put in. Sometimes they do the goofiest things that make no scientific sense whatsoever, but everyone jumps on the bandwagon because they all want to look like this person. Then articles get written and printed about what their diet plan is and what it is they do for those great abs or great ass or great legs or whatever it is they’re famous for, but the protocol doesn’t work for you or me, because we didn’t have that exceptional base to begin with!

So this is why it is crucial to take everything you read in the fitness magazines with a huge grain of salt. We haven’t even touched on the topics of pharmaceutical help to achieve certain looks and also, cosmetic surgery. The fitness industry is just as bad as the fashion industry in providing unattainable and unrealistic images for us normal people to aspire to, often in extraordinary frustration.

This is why it’s so important to educate ourselves, ask questions and to always be discerning when choosing who our role models will be and who we will choose to listen to. Sometimes the plethora of information available can be overwhelming. I suggest you apply the principles of critical thinking and common sense to all that you do, but especially where your health and your body are involved.

You can achieve a fitness model’s physique in a healthy manner. However, it means making health and fitness a lifestyle, not just dieting and training and racing to achieve “a look” in the shortest possible amount of time.

It’s not a look, it’s a lifestyle.

We can all make great changes by being consistent for 3 – 6 months (note: consistent, NOT extreme). But it also has to be said that, jackpot genetics aside, it takes YEARS to build an extraordinary, eye-popping physique. It takes YEARS to really, fundamentally CHANGE and develop your body. A lot of these fitness models are lifelong athletes. They haven’t been at it for 6 months or a year, but over many, many years of sports and performance based training. That is not said to discourage anybody, no, in fact I hope it inspires you. This is the kind of stuff that inspires me. This is one of the main reasons I push performance based goals on my clients and on this blog. When your body adapts to stimuli and gets faster, stronger, more agile… it changes. It looks different. It looks better. It looks more and more awesome every day! That’s the stuff results are made of!

Again, it’s not a look, it’s a lifestyle.

You have to look at the long term view.