My Bare Minimum

 

Everyone has ambitions and dreams. Even when we’re speaking about things of smaller significance to our larger life, there’s the ideal and then there’s reality. How my week unfolds tends to go differently than how I had imagined it Sunday night. Some of us are realistic thinkers who tend to imagine our week much more accurately. Then there are those of us who are dreamers who find it hard to replicate the week we imagined to the week we have. No matter where we sit on this spectrum, the future never goes according to how we imagined it, so when I am having one of those weeks; the kind of week where nothing goes to plan, I default to my bare minimum list.

I want to highlight this is my BARE MINIMUM list! It is therefore not an ambitious list. It is a list which highlights what I consider ESSENTIALS to my week. In other words, these are the things I find as essential as breathing, to keep my head up through a tough week.

#1 - At least two heart heavy workouts per week.

Disclaimer: I am not on a full teaching schedule yet, so I know this will have to adapt once I am on a full teaching schedule.

There are various types and intensities of workouts, but honestly, I can never feel satisfied unless I go through a workout which pushes me to my VO2max range. This is that feeling where I’ve worked so hard I am left gasping for air and unable to talk. Why would I want such a thing? Well, because I want to know I’ve challenged my heart. When I am having an off week and I can’t get to my workouts as regularly as I’d like to, then a moderate to high-intensity cardiovascular exercise (an exercise which increases the heart rate) becomes my priority! Remember, the heart is a muscle!

#2 - Meditate every morning (at least on the weekdays!)

Meditating for 15 minutes in the morning, via the Headspace app, has become a major priority in my life. I do it either first thing after I wake up or right after a morning workout. I also prefer meditating on an empty stomach. It’s one of those simple and life-changing habits which has helped me kick start my day in a positive and productive way.

#3 - EAT LOTS OF CARBS!

This may come as a shock to most reading this, but eating lots of healthy carbs is a top priority throughout my week. I am an active person, so even on an off week, I have more to gain from fueling my body with this essential source of energy than not! I tend to have a lower appetite when I am not at my usual routine and when I am in a lousy mood from a bad week, so I’ve gotten into the habit of consuming lots of complex carbohydrates (grains, legumes, starchy veggies like potatoes) no matter the circumstance or situation.

#4 - Leave the booze for the weekend (unless I have work on the weekends, then I opt out completely)!

The main reason for this has to do with how I sleep. Anytime I drink alcohol, I can’t sleep as soundly as when I don’t. I also wake up much hazier than when I haven’t had any booze, so when I am having a more difficult week I choose to cut the booze. It’s a sure way to set myself up for a better week.

 

Overtraining Is A Real Thing

 

There’s something about exercise I didn’t use to think about too much because I used to think more exercise equals to more gains. I mean everyone is always on and on about how great exercise is for pretty much everything, so the logical belief is more exercise and the harder I work the better it is for me. Here’s the truth I learned through personal experience and my education as a personal trainer, rest, and recovery just as important as the time I put in sweating it out.  

Truthfully, there’s a level of addiction I must admit to training at higher intensities. I live for it! It’s the kind of thing I don’t mind getting up at 7am every day for because I know it’s always a thrill to get the rush of endorphins after each session. On top of my fast paced circuits, I started to incorporate weights into my routine too. This really upped the ante for me because adding weights not only increased the challenge, but also the results. It was an absolute rush! But, after several weeks of training at high intensities 5-6 days a week, things started to take a turn for me.

I no longer left sessions feeling energized, rather I left training sessions feeling sluggish and exhausted. I struggled to keep my energy up throughout the day. I was constantly fatigued and had endured prolonged DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Another very interesting symptom was the change in my appetite. Having a high appetite is the norm for me as I have always been a very active person. I remember feeling confused. Initially, I didn’t think about it because fluctuations in appetite (especially for a woman) isn’t out of the ordinary. What ran through my mind at the time was how unusual my fluctuation was. Typically my appetite ranged from having a high appetite to a monstrous appetite, especially during certain periods of my menstrual cycle.  What raised a red flag for me, was realizing the reverse relationship between my appetite and how much energy I was burning. (Remember: I was training 5-6 days a week at high intensities and on average was completing circuits at about 75-85% of my maximum output for at least 45 minutes each session, and sometimes even scheduling two workouts a day). With this kind of energy output, my body should be screaming for fuel, but the reverse was happening.

Another thing I noticed was the fact that I felt my workouts were getting harder (when I was essentially doing similar things at similar intensities). I found it more difficult to complete some of the same exercises. It didn’t make any sense at all. How can I find these exercises more difficult when I’ve been training harder? How can my fitness level drop when I have been training harder? These were the questions which ran through my mind. Until I came across the subject of overtraining syndrome in my education as a personal trainer.

The known symptoms of overtraining are varied in people. It ranges from physiological to emotional changes, and therefore is very specific to the individual who are experiencing the symptoms. The symptoms I endured may be shared with others experiencing overtraining, but the symptoms aren’t mandatory.

For reference, here are the known symptoms:

  • A decline in physical performance with continued training

  • Elevated heart rate and blood lactate levels at a fixed submaximal work rate

  • Change in appetite

  • Weight loss

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Multiple colds or sore throats

  • Irritability, restlessness, excitability, and/or anxiousness

  • Loss of motivation and vigor

  • Lack of mental concentration and focus

  • Lack of appreciation for things that are normally enjoyable

What I learnt is how important it is to dedicate proper attention towards rest and recovery. I need to be realistic about my level of fitness and allow a realistic progression versus an everyday burnout. I need to accept that my body is not made to go at 100% everyday. It’s about embracing the cycle of work and recovery.

Source:

Bryant, Cedric X., and Daniel J. Green. ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals. 5th ed. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise, n.d. Print.

 

Why I Said Sayonara To Coffee

 

Truth is I love coffee! I love the bold smell of fresh grounded coffee beans, the silky froth of a cappuccino, and that bitter but oh so satisfying taste after my first sip. Despite its sultry allure, I decided to say sayonara and quit my daily coffee routine. The saving grace is I still have the occasional cup of coffee, but I drink it as a treat (like how I think of dessert) versus succumbing to a daily dependency.  

I am someone who  is very sensitive to caffeine. A little bit of caffeine seriously goes a long way. I admit, by most standards, my past coffee ‘habit’ sounds like a joke. I’d only drank coffee everyday for about a week or two week bouts at a time, so I wasn’t highly addicted when I decided to quit. When I kicked off my daily dependency, I did notice some great victories. Let me share some of my coffee wisdom for those of you considering to ditch the beans forever.

Reason #1: YAY! I can finally SLEEP!

If I had coffee free days sandwiched between coffee induced days, I can guarantee on those days I drank coffee I will spend a few extra minutes laying wide awake staring into the dark before I was able to fall asleep at night. Restlessness, irritation, and sometimes just so alarmed at how long the alertness of coffee lasts in my body. I became eager to take action. What became clearer was how much quicker I fell asleep on the days I didn’t drink coffee. I literally would lay down and in less than 5-8 minutes I’m already in dreamland. That alone was enough to convince me to quit coffee!

Reason #2: Say goodbye to discomfort.

I can’t speak on behalf of everyone here, as this might be something to do with how sensitive I am to caffeine. Whenever I had a cup of coffee there’s an intense rush of energy which after a few minutes translates into pressure I feel around where my forehead is. The way I explain it to myself, it’s as if the rush of energy is causing my blood to pump so fast through my body that it’s creating slight pressure in my brain. It starts out feeling like a headrush, but after a few minutes this pressure turns into a mild headache. This tends to happen more when I drink a cup of coffee after a few days without it, but nevertheless it is frustrating when a cup of coffee (I could have avoided) is why I am experiencing such discomfort. This feeling is also usually coupled with anxiety which tends to distract me for the better half of a few hours.

Reason #3: No more midday crashes.

The crashes I got from coffee were troubling to my productivity the rest of the day. I would feel awesome at first, then after a few hours, sluggish and very sleepy. Also, without the caffeine my concentration lagged a lot more than if I had gone through the day without any coffee. At this point in the day is when I get tempted to refuel with another cup of coffee midday, but I would have guaranteed myself a sleepless, or at the very least, a restless night. Note: Drinking coffee past 11am impacted my sleep patterns too much. If you have difficulty in the sleep department, try  to limit yourself to one cup of coffee a day and give yourself a cut off time before noon. Then see how this impacts your ability to fall asleep and the quality of your sleep.

Reason #4: The liberty of rejecting the addiction. 

My mom is a coffee addict (sorry mom!). She can’t go a day without coffee because if she doesn’t have her coffee, headaches will creep up. Witnessing this I wanted to be able to say I wasn’t dependent on this substance to get through my day. Ditching coffee was liberating! Coffee is such a regular ingredient that I think a lot of us forget the addictive aspects to coffee. I can’t speak for everyone, but it is incredibly liberating to reject a dependency to something and refuse an addiction (even if it’s something as common as coffee)!

I’ll admit is, yes, coffee does help to create this boost of energy and concentration that amps up my productivity for a period of time. But, after weighing the pros and cons, I see that coffee is an addiction I’d rather give up.

 

 

 

Smash That Scale!!

 

The truth about my relationship with the scale. There's no denying the raw reaction to the somewhat arbitrary number on that screen, but what matters more when it comes to body weight is understanding body composition (i.e. total and ratio of fat and muscle mass).

Body weight is composed of various variables, two important factors to consider and what most average scales do not factor in is lean muscle mass! Let's also not forget that muscle weighs more than fat, so someone who may appear smaller but is heavier may in fact just be someone with a greater percentage of lean body mass.

"Now I cared more about how I feel versus wasting my energy on worrying about an arbitrary number." 

The day I decided to ignore the number on that scale was a game changing moment. The simple shift was what helped me focus on what’s important. Instead of going by how much I weighed, my progress became more about how I felt. Do I feel energized? Do I feel athletic? Am I happy with how my clothes fit? Am I happy with my bootay? (Let’s be real that was on everyone’s minds! HA!) Now I cared more about how I feel versus wasting my energy on worrying about an arbitrary number. We all know what skinny-fat is right? I remind myself everyday the number on the scale is meaningless to my actual progress. Health and wellness is not about how much I weigh!

When I was at university in the U.S., like many first years I had gained some weight. I admit, weighing myself and worrying about weight was never much of an issue growing up because I was an athlete and always active. I was only ever chubby through puberty (might also be due to the fact that I had yummy cheesy Cheetos almost everyday). Gaining 9kg (about 19 pounds) my first year in university was an absolute shock. It pushed me towards a very frantic weight loss journey for the years which followed.

The number on that scale was my enemy! I was so focused on the number that even small fluctuations upwards or lack of change downwards had the sway to ruin my whole day. What I didn’t take into consideration at the time was my ratio of lean muscle mass to fat or how healthy I actually was. It was frustrating, especially because I spent weeks committed to a very restrictive diet and to a tough workout regiment.

It took me a few years to understand a few things:

  1. Focusing on the number on the scale was counterintuitive to a measure of my progress, because in fact I was more in shape than ever before. I was running 9km (about 6 miles) at least three times a week, on top of kick-boxing and indoor spinning classes. I worked out for a total of 6-7 days a week, sometimes twice a day.

  2. Muscle weighs more than fat, so the number on the scale didn’t drop much even if I was doing more because in fact I was putting on a lot more muscle.

  3. Health and wellness has a lot more to do with how I feel. It is not about a number. It is about a lifestyle.

What I realize now is that health and wellness  is about my journey. It’s about finding what works for me. It is about how I feel. It is a way to enhance my life, so it shouldn’t add more stress. Being kind and honest to myself about my journey was the best gift I gave myself. Fitness and health shouldn’t be a chore, it’s a means to better my life.

 

Healthy Eating Is More Than Eating Salads

 

When the desire to lose weight comes about, there seems to be a common misbelief which follows. The idea that to lose weight I need to eat more salads (or just salads) is common. I wasn’t immune to this either. Back when I had gained a lot of weight at university, I thought eating just salads were the way forward and that carbs (and basically everything else) was the enemy. Here are truths I have learnt since:

Problem 1: Eating just salads only covers one food group, but our body needs a variety to sustain itself, especially for people who are active.

What I was in denial about and what I needed to be awoken to was the realization that my body needs a whole lot more nutrients than just vegetables to sustain itself, especially considering how active I am as a person. Protein and carbohydrates, amongst others, are so important in my diet! At the very basic understanding, protein helps repair and build the muscles worked and carbohydrates helps to give energy to my body. What becomes important is the type and quality of food I am eating. Eating red rice versus white rice, is the kind of simple switch that will make a major difference. In the end, it all goes back to the idea of quality over quantity.

Problem 2: Eating exclusively salads causes more cravings.

When I started to restrict my diet to mainly vegetables, a few things happened to me. One, I was feeling sluggish and tired most of the time. Two, I was constantly hungry even after consuming my meals. (Note: Even vegetarians and vegans consume more than just vegetables!) Lastly, the most unexpected result was the strength of my cravings, which grew disproportionately harder to ignore. What was happening?

My body was used to nutrients from a variety of foods, but my new restrictive diet lacked the nutrients and energy I needed. Yes, vegetables are great for you, but my body needs more than just vegetables! I was essentially starving myself of what my body needed because I didn’t understand how essential it is to sustain my body with more than just vegetables. I thought, “vegetables are healthy, so what I am doing is correct.” Also, what I didn’t know before was that when my body craves something it tends to be an indication of what my body is eagerly alarming you it’s lacking. My new diet was so restrictive that my body tried to alert me with cravings. It became a real distraction at times.

Problem 3: I was constantly hungry.

Eating two meals of salads and maybe eggs in the morning didn’t seem enough anymore. After a few hours after my meal, I would feel hungry again. I told myself it’s the fat girl in me that’s trying to sabotage my weight loss. This is not only detrimental to my physical wellbeing, but also to my mental wellbeing. If I feel hungry, there’s usually a good reason why. My body was telling me something, but I kept trying to ignore it!

Problem 4: Eating salads may help to lose weight initially, but gaining the weight back will be much quicker.

Although eating salads did eventually help me lose one or two kilos initially, soon after I started to eat other foods again I gained the weight back very quickly. What happened was most of what I lost was water weight, so by eating normally again, it didn’t take long to gain the weight back. What’s critical when trying to lose weight is to create a caloric deficit but maintaining a balanced diet which consists of all the essential food groups.

Share your thoughts with me! I wonder if others share similar experiences to me when trying to lose weight, because realizing how important eating a balanced meal was life changing and best of all, my workouts were a lot more fueled!

 

What Happened When I Added Weights

 

Circuits have always been my go to because there’s a level of satisfaction to completing a circuit. The speed of circuits keeps me engaged, the level of exertion required is addictive, and the versatility keeps me entertained time and time again. What changed everything for me was when I started to incorporate heavier weights into my circuits.

I remember my first day using weights. It was in a circuited class format, at a studio called F45 (where I've recently joined their team of trainers). At first I was intimidated because my preference is for a lean body and not a bulky body. My fear was grounded in my past of being pretty bulky (I wish I had a picture to show, but I didn’t really take that many back then). Having to buy a size up because my arms or thighs couldn’t fit in wasn’t fun, , so my solution was to avoid heavy weights. (Don’t get me wrong, some women prefer a more muscular physique, but as it comes down to preference, my preference is for a leaner body build).

In the beginning, what kept me coming back to F45 was the fact that this was circuited group training, which means I’m able to continue to do circuits but with friends and other people around me. I remember how hesitant I was to grab the heavy weights in the beginning, but what happened a few weeks after is something I continue to testify about today. Weighted circuits is what transformed my physique and I am forever an advocate for using weights. (I am not about piling on heavy weights just to prove the number I can hold, but what I am talking about is a gradual increase in the weights I use in order to constantly challenge myself and increase my athletic performance).

A bit of background on me, I’ve always been an athletic individual. Playing sports and staying active throughout my life has always been part of my lifestyle. Having an athletic physique is not something new. What F45 helped me achieve is a stronger but leaner figure. (Of course diet plays a role, but I’ve always been a relatively healthy eater, so in my case I know diet wasn’t the differentiator).

In all the years I’ve been training, I always had a problem with looking bulky. In part because I am what most will call a petite figure. Any gain in mass or muscle is therefore quite evident on my figure. I was impressed because in the past, the more I trained the bulkier I looked and the bulkier I became the more awkward my clothes fitted (I don’t know how anyone else feels about this, but having to buy a size up just because my arms or thighs couldn’t fit in the clothes was a personal fashion nightmare). Another gain from training at F45 was seeing changes! I had hit a plateau in my training before joining F45, where results in my physique stagnated and improvements slowed. It was to my delight to find something which actually transformed my body in a new way!

What made the difference at F45 was the combination of moderate to high heart rates, the continuity of the work to rest periods, and the consistent use of weights and resistance (of course). Circuits are about sustaining a level of intensity throughout. Resistance and weights is what helps to increase the challenge of the movements, which otherwise would be hard to achieve without.

What I hadn’t thought about before was how weights and resistance used in a circuit format equates to training for muscle endurance versus muscle hypertrophy. Training for muscle hypertrophy (or bulking) is what I had previously done when using weights. It involved low repetitions, longer rest periods, and therefore relatively low heart rates. I finally realize it wasn’t about the weights, rather it was about how I was using the weights which left me bulky before. The combination I am accustomed to now is where the magic happens! Circuited weight and functional training is where it’s at!

Read more about F45 and about its rapid growth as one of the world’s leading fitness franchises.