I’ve gotten great responses from this series, and I’m looking forward to sharing how I exercise with all of you. I want to preface this blog by saying, although exercise is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, and a huge component of the weight loss equation, you can never outrun a poor diet. If you exercise and expect to be able to eat whatever you want, wake up! What you eat is one of the most important things when it comes to your health, especially if you want to lose weight. That being said, you can eat super clean and still not be at your healthiest if you fail to incorporate adequate amounts of exercise each week.
Being a personal trainer and working in the fitness industry for nearly a decade now, I have seen many trends in fitness and have dabbled in so many different forms of movement myself. I will be going over my training history, what has worked for me, and what has worked against me for my specific goals. Just because something has worked for me doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you though. The most successful type of workouts are the ones you actually do, after all.
Where I started
I started working out when I was 15 years old. I fell in love with movement even though I wasn’t good at sports and hated gym class. I worked out to Kathy Smith pilates and Claudia Schiffer aerobics on VHS 4-5 times a week. When I was 17 years old, I got my first gym membership in the town I grew up outside of. It cost 20.00 a month and I basically did cardio and abs (because there was hardly any other equipment in the 900 square foot area). I was long, lean and in great shape. When I was 18, I saved up enough money to pay for a real gym membership in the city where there was an abundance of weights, cable machines, squat racks and my favourite of all, cardio equipment. I started getting into weight lifting at that point but also got into running even more. I stayed lean while I started to build muscle.
After a painful stress fracture from overexercising and running my face off, I wasn’t able to run for 6 months. I was completely devastated but didn’t give up on training. I got into weight lifting even more and did spin classes and went on the stairclimber for my cardio. I definitely stayed lean, but I really began putting on muscle. After being off running for so long, I got back into it as best I could but continued to get injured-partly from overdoing it and partly because I had gained quite a bit of muscle (even though I wasn’t activating the appropriate muscles while running). After numerous injuries, I stopped running and just began to lift weights; heavy weights. Long story short, at 22 years old, I was 209lbs and was built like a shit brick house. I had so much muscle, my legs were big, my traps were big, everything about me was big. And because I was carrying around so much muscle, I was extremely inefficient cardiovascular wise. I didn’t feel (or look) feminine and the 7 years I had spent lifting so many weights proved to be counterproductive to my goals.
Then I found barre
Ever heard of barre? If you haven’t, listen up. Barre is a combination of pilates, yoga, and dance. It works on lengthening and leaning out your muscles through light weights, high reps, and isometric contractions. Not only is it a killer workout, but it’s fun. When I got into barre, it reminded me of when I had started my fitness journey in my living room doing aerobics and pilates. I became a barre instructor 3 years ago, stopped lifting heavy weights and my body changed drastically.
Then I started to run again (only differently than I used to)
I have always loved running, but how I used to run hurt my body. My chiro used to tell me that I didn’t have a runners body because my legs were too big from excessive weight lifting. When I first started running at the age of 17, I did intervals-mainly because I couldn’t run for longer than 1 minute at a time. I would walk 1 minute and run 1 minute for half an hour and slowly started to work my way up to running for longer and longer each time, until I was able to run non-stop for 30 minutes. That turned into running for 10km 3-5 times a week on top of heavy weight lifting where I wasn’t actually activating my muscles properly. I was extremely worn out from over exercising and always injured. I got rid of the notion that I needed to run for 10km 5 times a week and went back to interval running. Low and behold, I was able to get back to running continuously while still incorporating intervals in a way that helped lean me out and leave me injury free.
I started by walking 1 minute and running 1 minute for 5km. Then I started jogging 1 minute and running 1 minute for 5km. I now run at varying intervals, but I actually run-not jog. I run slower, then I run fast. I may do a 1:1 ratio, I may do a 1:2, or even a 1:3. In other words, I haul ass for 5km and try to run it in as fast as I can while varying the speed throughout. Not only does this help me keep my form while running, but it is so much more beneficial metabolically.
Why intervals are better at burning fat than steady state cardio
When you run at a steady pace for hours on end, your body becomes extremely efficient to the exercise demand. If you can run at a steady pace for 10 minutes or longer, your heart and lungs aren’t really being challenged. You take in the amount of oxygen you need while you exercise and raise your metabolism at the time, but when you stop, everything returns to normal physiologically-meaning you only burn calories while you’re exercising. When you tax your system through interval training, you make your heart and lungs work harder, while increasing the demand for oxygen. If you work hard enough on the tough intervals, you can raise your metabolism and burn calories long after you stop exercising. This happens through something called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), or oxygen debt. This is where fat loss really takes place. We want to burn calories after we’ve stopped exercising, not just while we’re exercising.
You can essentially do interval training in any capacity of movement. You can do it running, biking, through body weight exercises-you just have to make sure that you are working as hard as you can on the tougher intervals and let yourself recover properly in between. Do this 3 times a week, and you will turn into a calorie burning machine!
Staying lean with interval running and barre
I am a firm believer that in order to stay lean, there has to be 3 components present in our life; healthy eating, cardio and some form of weight bearing exercise. If you lack on one, you will not see the results you want. For me, interval running has made a massive difference to my physique. It keeps me lean and because I’m usually only running 5km at a time, no more than 3 days a week, I don’t injure myself like I used to running 10km steady state 5 days a week. Not only have I become more efficient at running through intervals, but I have also become faster. I started by running 5km in 33 minutes and run it now in just over 23 minutes. The faster you can run in those harder intervals, the more you rev up your metabolism. The key is to run, not jog.
I have also lost a considerable amount of muscle mass, as well as fat mass, through not lifting heavy weights and by doing my weight bearing exercises through barre. All of the small movements have kept my legs strong and lean so I’m able to actually activate my glutes when I run, and I’m not physically weighed down by an excess of muscle. I feel strong, I am leaner than I have ever been and best of all, I’m not injured all the time. The combination of running intervals and barre have transformed my body on the exercise side. How I eat is the other part, which I explain in part 2 of my series. Click here to read.
Below is a typical week of exercise for me:
Monday: Interval run 5km for time, 30 minutes of glute work with bands and pilates style abs/planks
Wednesday: Same as Monday or intervals on the stairclimber for 30 minutes
Friday: Day off
Sunday: Interval run for 5km, abs, stretching and rolling
I also walk my dog as much as I can, so I may even get an extra 30-40 minutes of walking in each day on top of what I do at the gym or at barre. I currently take one day a week off of working out, but if my body needs it, I will take two. Active recovery days can include walking or doing a barre class that has no cardio in it-like a barre core stretch class.
I am really content with my exercise schedule and have found it to be effective, enjoyable, and achievable. I used to kill myself in the gym by working out at least 2 hours every day, but now I workout for no longer than hour. More is not always better-it really is quality over quantity. I am also in a really good head space right now with my body image and have learnt to let a lot of shame, judgment, and criticism about my body go. This has also helped me achieve the goals I have always sought after more with a lot less effort than I expected I would have to put in.
I encourage you to look at what you’re eating, how you’re thinking, and tweak your exercise to make it work for you, not against you. Try to interval train and get a few cardio sessions in per week if fat loss is your goal. If you want to stay long, lean and have that 80’s aerobic instructor body (hello Jane Fonda), then it’s probably best to not lift heavy weights. Try barre classes or other aerobics that combine cardio with bodyweight exercises that challenge all the small muscle groups while keeping your heart rate up.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and can extrapolate some wisdom for yourself from it. Please feel free to leave me a comment and don’t forget to sign up for my blog so you can stay up to date with nutrition and fitness advice.
All my love,