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Your Body Is Awesome & You Should Throw a Party!

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What a peaceful and beautiful thought it is, to be content with what you have and rejoice in the way things are? Granted, I understand that for many it might be hard to truly feel this way, and sadly, they may have a legitimate reason to feel that way… but we all have something to be thankful for. All of us. Something, someone, something positive in our lives, something good. In my darkest times, it has always been helpful to remember what I do have, always.

And slowly, steadily I have been lucky enough to come to feel that way about my body. I say “lucky” without a shred of irony, since in our society, with the constant message that you’re flawed, fat, unworthy, you’re lucky if you can shake it all off in any meaningful way and actually begin to feel good about yourself.

Instead of focusing on what you don’t like and what you want to fix, what about if you were content with what you had and you celebrated your amazing body and your good health and all the things your strong healthy body enables you to do?

What about if every day you thanked your body and felt grateful for your health and wrote down 3 things that were awesome about you, how do you think your attitude might change? I bet you’d start to feel happy and inspired and joyful, and learn to love your physical self. You might even throw a party and “rejoice”… (remember to invite me, please! hehe).

Nothing about you is lacking. You are good and you are enough. You have everything you need to be awesome and you already are; every day you get better and better. Each healthy meal, each training session, leads to a better you.

What do you like the most about your body?

What’s your best feature?

Whats the coolest thing you can do? Badass bench press number? Can you do the splits? Feel free to brag a little in the comments! It can be anything. I wanna hear it! Just a reminder, it doesn’t have to remotely be something that would make you “good” competitively, personal goals and triumphs, no matter how humble they may seem, are perfect. Please share!

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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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Goal Setting & Motivation – Making a Vision Board!

Last night, I sat down and created a new vision board.

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I looked back over the one I made at the end of 2011, it was covered in pictures of fitness models, pictures of Rome and Spain and affirmations about being happy, healthy, fit and loving life. Some vague stuff about being a fitness role model. Something else rather vague about finding joy in my work. Blah, blah, blah!

What was awesome is that I pretty much got everything I put on there. I’ve traveled a lot in the last year and a half. I’m happy. I’m fitter than ever. I’m blessed with good health. People in my every day life certainly do look up to me as a fitness role model. I had a job for the last year that in and of itself was quite humdrum, but I worked with a great group of people and we laughed every single day, there was a great energy there. I never dreaded going to work, nor was I ever overworked! It was pretty great.

What was less than awesome is that I realized I didn’t get what I really, really wanted because I didn’t ask for it! I wasn’t specific enough! Doh!!!

So my goal with this new vision board was to be specific. Clear goals that will make me happy and help me create the life I want. Gratitude. Positivity. I put my new vision board up on my dresser and I have to say, it makes me giddy with excitement and deeply content every time I look at it.

Here are my tips in creating your own vision board:

1. Put thought into it. Curate images, words and affirmations that mean a lot to you. The emotion behind it is important. Your vision board should stir positive and heartfelt emotion in you when you look at it.

2. Only use POSITIVE words and images. Don’t write things you don’t want. Don’t write stuff that begins with “I will not…”, “I don’t…”. Frame everything in the present tense and make it positive. Make it an image or statement that expresses the best version of you, your ideal. For example, don’t say “I will lose 10kg”… instead write, I am my ideal bodyweight. Then you might want to find a picture of your ideal body… and maybe even stick your head on top of it! Haha!

3. Make sure you put your finished vision board somewhere you can see it every day. Take time to look over it quietly and imagine, meditate and BELIEVE that all those words and images are true. 

4. Be specific! You’ll be amazed at how what you ask for comes true. Often, we’re too afraid to ask for what we really, really want. We think it can’t come true, or that it’s too much, or that we’re unworthy of that, so we’ll ask for something sort of like it, but lesser instead. I personally struggle with all these things. But be specific. However you believe that affirmations and vision boards and positive thinking actually work, whether you believe that they’re somehow “magical” and make things happen, or you think it helps us set in motion the actions to achieve the things we want (I think it’s mostly the latter and a little of the former personally), the thing is, IT WORKS. So be specific. Believe. And then take action towards your goals.

One step at a time. Every day you get a little closer. 

Have you ever made a vision board before? And did you get the things you wanted?

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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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Pushing Through The Not-So-Stellar Days

No one is a rock star every day in the gym.

Sometimes, we’re weak that day and we miss lifts.

Sometimes, we didn’t sleep well or we had a stressful, tiring day outside of the gym and it makes it hard to do what we set out to do inside the gym.

Sometimes, there’s a twit doing his 8th set of curls in the squat rack and you are frustrated with waiting and your motivation is slipping away by the minute.

It could be any other number of things, really.

First, have you been training hard for more than 4 weeks? I define hard training as training with maximum intensity, 5 – 7 days a week for more than 4 weeks. If you have been doing so for more than 6 weeks, you should absolutely schedule a deload week. A deload week is one where you scale it all back to give your body adequate rest and recovery. You can’t just beat yourself to a pulp week in and week out and expect good results and endless progress and gains. It doesn’t work that way.

So if you’ve earned a rest, take it!

Second, if deloading does’t apply to you, you have to re-assess. Are you being too hard on yourself? Are you really trying your best? Could it be that today is a day you do exercises or work on body parts that you don’t like training? Be honest with yourself. No, really. If it’s one or both of the latter two, suck it up buttercup!!! We all have exercises we might dislike, or that we might feel that we aren’t good at, but that just means that you have to do them more.

Get out of your comfort zone. Get really good at the things you might do poorly now.

When I first started working out regularly (about 10 years ago!), I hated doing any upper body work. I didn’t dislike the way my upperbody looked, so to my infantile training mind of the time, that meant I didn’t need to do anything. Sometimes I did lat pulldowns, and I liked tricep exercises, but anything involving a curl or an overhead press felt like hell to me! Even with the lightest weights.

Once I realised how important it was to train your body evenly (should be a blog post of its own), my answer to push through all these exercises I truly hated was to tell myself I loved them and I was great at them.

Sounds wanky, but guess what? It’s not wanky at all. It works. If you repeatedly tell yourself something, you start to believe it and it sort of comes true. These days, I still hate bicep curls, but I LOVE any and all kinds of overhead pressing. Dumb bells, barbells, push presses, strict military presses, snatches and thrusters and everything in between. My bicep curl is not too shabby either, for a chick that never “trains”  biceps, haha!

So if your workout is sucking because your attitude sucks, adjust your attitude. Tell yourself you are going to do it and you’re going to love it and you’re great at it. Greatness lies outside the borders of your comfort zone and the best bodies and the greatest athletes are built with mental discipline.

And sometimes we just have to fake it til we make it.

Third, sometimes shit happens and you have a shitty workout. There could be a number of reasons for it or no reason at all. Push through it as best you can, get some sleep and get in the gym the next day and hit it hard. Being resilient also means taking the bad days in your stride, not beating yourself up too much or over analyzing (paralyzing!) yourself. So maybe this workout sucked, but in the grand scheme of things you’re killing it. And lapping everyone on the couch. Remember that!

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New Years Resolutions Part II, Staying Motivated!

Yesterday, we talked about how important it is to “pick up the ball and keep playing”, even after we lose focus and get sidetracked in some way from our primary goals. Then I gave you guys a few simple strategies to remind yourself of what you really want and who you really want to be.

If you’re reading my blog, you probably want to be “fitter” – this usually means being physically capable, faster, stronger, more endurance, better general health and whether you want to admit it or not, you probably want to look better naked!

So let’s focus on that.

You have to adopt the mindset of a physically fit person.

The strategies out lined in my previous post all serve to help you develop that – visual and verbal cues that keep the person you want to become fresh in your mind.

The mind is your most powerful muscle.

What usually happens when we set out on a diet or fitness regime is that we are all fired up and motivated for the first week or two and then we fizzle out and revert back to our old, self-defeating habits.

It’s beyond the scope of this post to go into “why” in great detail, but very basically, you’re going to default back very quickly to whatever it is that you believe and think about yourself.

Please re-read that paragraph. Let it sink in.

So what we’re doing with our visual and verbal cues, our affirmations and vision boards is changing what you think about yourself.

It isn’t new age, airy fairy fluff – it is science. It is how our minds work.

I am a very positive and happy person, but sometimes I still struggle with being kind to myself and believing nice things about myself; it’s a work in progress for all of us. But it truly is the first step you can take to changing your mindset and changing your behaviour and it’s as crucial to your success as getting in your training and eating correctly.

To help you get started, here are a few gems I have used in the past to set my goals for the day and keep me focused on eating right, training hard and staying positive:

I am fit, healthy, happy and strong.

Each day, I eat the correct foods to fuel my body, I drink all my water and I train hard to build my best body ever!

I love eating healthy food. Eating good food makes me feel great.

You have to start thinking like a fit and healthy person. Fake it til you make it! Act as if! When you think like a fit and healthy person, you will start acting like a fit and healthy person… and it will be your default response. Meaning, you aren’t going to have to consciously think and force yourself to make the right choices at lunch… and then pat yourself on the back for being good on your diet. That’s what an unhealthy person who is on a temprorary diet does. A truly fit and healthy person chooses the right foods to eat because that is just how they eat, and furthermore, they enjoy it.

It’s a process and a huge part of that process is changing your thinking and changing what you believe about yourself. One supports the other. You make a small effort, work on changing your thoughts, your mindset shifts into more positive territory, another small effort re-inforces all the positive changes you are making, you think happy thoughts, more mindset shift… The sum total is a new you.

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New Years Resolutions… Make Them & Stick To Them!

It’s that time again, where the year is young and we have a fresh slate with which we can start anew!

It is exciting! 2013 is here, what are your plans?

Mine include smashing my strength goals, hitting new PR’s, continuous improvement in all things health and fitness, as well as becoming conversational and confident in speaking Italian and maintaining my blogs. They’re all doable, but they are also things that require focus, consistency and for me to make them each a priority week in and week out.

This is what it takes to make things happen. Action. Focus. Doing your best, and doing it all consistently.

Don’t drop the ball! And if you do, pick it back up and keep playing!

The biggest thing is, whether it’s a diet, or an exercise program, or learning a language is that if you fall off the wagon, don’t give up. Just get back on the path. Refocus. Don’t dwell on the mistake you made or how you “weren’t good”, just restart by taking a small step and doing that small action each day that you may have let go of and get back on the path towards your goal.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe

Things That Help:

1. Pictures of your goal. Words of affirmation on your desk or fridge. Remind yourself of what you want and what you’re working to achieve, remind yourself WHY you want to achieve it.

2. Create a Vision Board. This is similar to Step 1, but on a much grander scale. This is lots of fun.

3. Write down your 3 or 4 of your most important goals in a positive format EVERY NIGHT in a little notebook you keep beside your bed. Review what you write down and think about it and visualize it as reality. This will take you maybe 5 minutes each night. Then go to bed. Repeat the review process in the morning and go about your day. This is a really powerful exercise that will get you focused on what you want to achieve.

Tomorrow, I’ll elaborate on these 4 important and helpful strategies to help you go after and achieve your fitness goals, but really, you can apply them towards ANYTHING.

I hope you each get everything you dream of in 2013 and so much more!