Improving performance is an essential part of any strength training program if you want to reap the results of your efforts. But recently I decided to think about not only the physical improvements that I have made over the years, but the mental improvements too.
There is a stark contrast between how I saw food and fitness over a decade ago in my early 20s, and how I see them today in my 30s. Without forgetting how I see myself. The improvements, I noticed, were astounding: food and fitness no longer dominate my life as it once did. And no, my results did not suffer.
Perhaps the most distinct change is the way I view food today compared to then.
My view was dichotomous, with no room for maneuver. Some foods were "good" and some "bad". Lean meats, fish, egg whites, oats and vegetables were “good”, so I was “good” when I stuck to those foods. My favorite dessert, whatever the quantity, was definitely “bad”; I would be riddled with guilt after eating it. This black and white mentality eventually led to messy eating habits and then to overeating. It escalated to the point where I fought these self-defeating habits on a daily basis.
During this time I tried many diets (and felt compelled to give every meal a "healthy makeover"), calories obsessively counted, macros tracked. Each new attempt at dieting amplified the messy and frantic eating habits.
I saw food as something to be earned. The hard workouts were the currency I needed to eat, and so was the penance for the times I ate something “bad” or bing.
My relationship with food at the time was not only unhealthy, but suffocating and demoralizing. Thoughts of food dominated my mind, literally all day.
I am concentrating on durable habits that allow me to reach and maintain my health and fitness goals. Above all, I chose to adopt pleasant habits that I could adhere to in the long term. I want a lifestyle… not a temporary diet. (Refer to the article The simple guide that shows you how to eat healthy.)
This means that I follow a few tips: eat lots of protein and fiber, fruits and vegetables, and eat a mostly plant-based diet. Not only do I like this style of eating, it has also helped improve my health. Specifically, by reducing my total cholesterol level from 400 to less than 200.
There are no “bad” or “forbidden” foods. Not even the guilty pleasure foods. I enjoy my favorite foods that are not very healthy on occasion, in reasonable amounts (i.e. eat in moderation). They should not be "won" and neither should I punish myself with additional training for eating them.
And perhaps the biggest result of my current eating style: I don't spend more time than I need to think about food. I am not obsessed. I'm not panicking. I focus most of the time on following my chosen directions, as what I do most of the time is what determines the effects.
Most importantly, I am free. Free from obsessive eating habits.
I started weight training as a teenager and instantly fell in love with it. But what started out as an enjoyable activity underwent a nasty transformation once the messy eating took hold of me.
Once firmly in the grip of messy eating habits, my outlook on fitness also changed for the worse. All forms of exercise has become a tool of punishment. Punishment for overeating, of course, but also for "fixing" parts of the body that I didn't like and a futile attempt to reach standards that I assumed others would approve of and applaud. (This was the result of allowing negative comments from others about my body to affect me.)
The workouts were something I "had to" do to earn the right to eat my favorite foods or as a punishment for "shedding" calories from a previous binge. No matter how exhausted I was, I never allowed myself to do an easy workout and I could never skip one. Each training had to be complete; I must have been exhausted at the end. And I had to improve myself. If I didn't improve my performance or worse, regress, I would declare myself a failure.
I was obsessed with doing the number on the scale decreases, and each workout consisted of burning as many calories as possible, due to the continuous fat gain associated with binge eating.
Strength training is a stimulating activity. I love find out what my body can doand eagerly trying to do even more. Finish a workout and say, "Damn, yeah, I did that!" is a rewarding experience, and I have it several times a week.
Here is a recent example of a modified sumo deadlift when I pulled 255 pounds for 11 reps.
I appreciate what my body can make, and respect its limits every day. My performance can fluctuate on a daily and weekly basis, and fluctuate with other things in real life. When I go through stretches where my performance is not moving, I don't mind; it's part of the journey. I don't value myself on the basis of a single workout, or even a block of them.
When I was trying to hate my way to a better body in my early twenties, cardio was above all a tool of punishment. Its sole purpose was to burn calories. Now I do this regularly to keep my heart and lungs strong, to keep me in shape for hiking, and to promote overall health.
Fitness is also an essential part of my personal care regimen - a pain reliever. Everyone has their own ways of relaxing and gaining mental clarity; a tough workout is my personal preference.
And, finally, fitness is fun. Having goals is fun. When I pursue performance-based goals - like deadlifting twice my bodyweight for progressively more reps - it's because I love the challenge. And, more recently, I've also set myself some goals to change the physique, like adding muscle to my thighs and calves. Again, the challenge to achieve these results is motivating. I'm not doing this to "fix" anything or because it will make me more like myself: I want something to strive for. Something that I owe to win with effort and consistency.
Should I compromise the results?
Some people will assume that I have to compromise my physique or my strength goals because food and fitness no longer dominate my life. But I did not do it. In fact, my results are better. I'm stronger than ever, leaner and more muscle.
This is attributed to the habits I have forged. I've replaced not-so-good habits (obsessing over food, punishing myself with workouts) with ones that serve me and allow me to live the life I want. I have learned to be flexible with my fitness program and to work with what I am given (time constraints, fatigue, real stress) every day.
The contrast in how I viewed food and fitness between yesterday and today is stark and can be summed up as follows:
Food and fitness then:
- Stress inducer
- Dominated my life
Food and Fitness Now:
- Anti stress
- Complete my life
There are countless women who will recount my experience “then”, and many are still stuck in a similar story.
It has been my mission over the years to prevent women from following a similar path, or at least to help them get out of it. If you are currently using food and fitness as punishment, it feels like you are constantly fighting your body, or that food and fitness are controlling your life, know that it can get better.
I have written two books filled with every useful detail I could think of, and the reviews over the years have been remarkable:
Lift like a girl: be more, not less
Click here to get your copy on Amazon. (Paid link.)
The 100-Day Reclaim: Daily Reads To Make Health And Fitness As Uplifting As It Should Be
Click here to get your copy on Amazon. (Paid link.)
More recently, I opened the Lift Like a Girl Monthly Coaching Group for women who want effective, performance-based workouts that allow them to focus on the amazing things their bodies can do, and find out why it's the ultimate way to get the results they want. (You can get the first 7 days for free.)
If you want a better "now", or if you are just start your bodybuilding journey and want the best possible start, then start by making (or embracing) the necessary and enabling changes today.
Food and fitness should help you become the best version of yourself. It must be a sustainable lifestyle that you enjoy. Do whatever you need to do to make it happen.
All plyo movements require your groupes musculaires to stretch and contract at a rapid pace, which helps them become more explosive. So, unsurprisingly, they’re considered a intensity workout. The benefit of firing up your groupes musculaires this way, though : It spikes your heart rate ( oh hey, cardio ) and burns *all* the kcal.
Before you jump into plyo training, you want to feel solid when it comes to stability, balance, and core strength. But aside from that, the beauty of it is that you can scale plyo to your fitness level and that it is totally beginner-friendly. Can’t jump up onto a three-foot-tall box ? Start small ! The most important thing is that your movements are quick; they don’t have to be BIG. As you feel more ne change pas and powerful, amp it up !
I like to incorporate two or three plyometric exercises into the beginning of my workouts after my warm-up. Since they demand so much of your bod, you don’t want to go into them already fatigued from a bunch of other moves. Want your entire workout to have plyometric vibes ? You can do that, too. Just be ready to feel the burn in ways you’ve never felt it before.
Start standing facing a plyo box ( about two-feet away from it ). Rise up onto balls of feet and swing straight arms over head, then bend knees and push hips back into a hinge place and swing arms back behind body to gain momentum to explode up off floor and jump up onto the box. Land in a squat position, with knees bent, feet flat, and hands in front of chest. Then stand up straight and step back down to starting place. That’s one rep.
Start in a plank position, then jump feet forward outside of hands. Drop butt below knees, lift torso up, and raise hands to chest level. Reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.
Start standing with feet under hips next to a plyo box, bent forward to place both hands flat on the top of it. Press through hands, brace core, and kick feet up and back towards glutes to hop body over to opposite side of box. Reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.
Start standing with hands at sides. Hop up into the air. Upon landing, squat down, press hands into floor, and kick feet up into air higher than shoulder height. Let feet land directly under body, then hop back up. That’s one rep.
Start standing with feet under hips to the right of a plyo box. Rise up onto balls of feet and lift arms overhead, then with momentum, push hips back into a hinge position and swing arms back. Use this oomph to press through feet while swinging arms forward to explode up off floor. In mid-air, rotate entire body 90 degrees to the left and land in a slight squat place with hands in front of chest on top of the box, knees bent and feet flat. Stand up straight, then step back down to starting place. That’s one rep.
Start in a plank place with shoulders stacked over wrists and core engaged. Drive right knee toward chest, then return to plank and quickly repeat with the left. Keep alternating sides as quickly as possible. That’s one rep.
Start standing on right foot at far right end of mat or workout space with left leg bent, left foot lifted and crossed behind right leg, left arm bent and crossed in front of body, right arm behind back, and torso tilted slightly forward. Take a big hop to left switching arms and legs to mirror move on opposite side. Jump back to start. That’s one rep.
tera start, stand with feet together and hands at sides. Then, lift arms out and overhead while jumping feet out past shoulders. Without pausing, quickly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.
Start standing with feet just outside of shoulders holding one dumbbell with both hands in front of body, arms extended straight toward floor. Lift right foot up off mat and behind body while bending at elbows to swing weight over left shoulder. Quickly hop from left foot to right while straightening arms and drawing dumbbell diagonally across chest toward right hip, torso and gaze follow weight. That’s one rep. ( Make sure to switch your starting foot for the second round. )
Get into a plank position, with shoulders stacked on top of wrists. Keeping core engaged, tap right shoulder with left hand while jumping both feet out wide to sides. Return to start, then repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.