Wednesday Workouts + #WhatIAteWednesday

A little peak into my fitness and food routine!

This post is another inspired by Juli Bauer’s weekly posts on her weekly workouts and what she ate in a day over at paleOMG.com! If you are starting out the new year with a lot of good intentions but need some more concrete direction about how to get in shape or eat better, I thought this might be a fun series to write for a month or so to kick off the new year.

I am no expert (literally no certifications of any sort in fitness or nutrition), so take everything I say with a giant grain of salt. That said, I know for me personally, I find people like Juli at PaleOMG who is just normal person working hard and getting results, while loving her life, to be super inspiring and helpful for my own motivation, so I figured maybe by sharing my own routines that are working for me someone else might benefit!

Today is a lot of peoples’ first day back to “reality” after the holidays. Oof. Always a tough wake-up call after what can sometimes be days, weeks, or even months of eating off-plan and moving less than usual (we have HallowThanksMas to blame for that whole season of fun). So, we often begin the New Year unrealistically, with sky-high aspirations of how we’re going to “get back on track” and “get toned” and “eat clean” when in fact, on that first day back to work, it’s incredibly stressful. That cascade of stress drives our cortisol through the roof which results in our blood sugar (glucose) rising. That blood sugar spike signals our brains and bodies to look for quick energy in the form of glucose (sugar) and the 3 PM chocolate craving hits with a vengance. We start arguing and negotiating with ourselves : After all, it is the first day back to work and it’s been a long, stressful day. I deserve a little treat. Plus, shouldn’t I learn moderation, and not just cut full things from my diet?!” This line of thinking just stresses us out more, as does the rush hour commute home and even if we manage to resist our impulses to eat crap, we arrive home physically exhausted, emotionally overextended, and irritable from sugar-withdrawal.

Sound familiar? This might be your back-to-work routine following the weekend or a holiday, and it flat STINKS. It hurts you, and it has a negative ripple impact on those around you. What if things could be different?

Lifestyle matters as much as Food and Fitness

They can be. It might take a long time to get there, and today won’t fix everything. But, you can take a baby step in the right direction. Here are some ideas for hitting the brakes on that negative cycle of stress and approaching your days in a different way in the new year:

  • Forgive yourself if you kind of messed up today. You’re human, and you’re doing your best. Tomorrow will be better.
  • Set an alarm for TONIGHT to wind down earlier than usual. Winding down earlier, getting off of screens, and relaxing will lead to better sleep, and better sleep will help you wake up with more energy tomorrow — set yourself up for success tomorrow by starting today! After all, as time-management expert Laura Vanderkam says, going to bed early is how grown-ups sleep in”.
  • When your alarm goes off in the morning, get out of bed immediately without thinking about it. Over time, if you go to bed and wake up at a regular time, your body will adjust and you might even find yourself waking naturally.
  • Ideally, spend some time on yourself first thing each day before hopping on a screen — this could be a slow cup of coffee, a morning meditation, reading a book, writing in a journal, taking your dog for a walk, or getting a great workout in.
  • Congratulate yourself for how great your day is going so far. No really, go look in the mirror and at least think to yourself, and maybe even say out loud, “you’re doing it! you’re killing this day! great job so far, and let’s keep it going!” — This will be awkward at first, but just keep giving yourself self-compliments every day and it gets easier and you start believing yourself, I promise! Plus, there is no guarantee anybody else will notice or care that you’re trying to improve yourself, so go ahead and compliment yourself for your hard work!
  • Don’t think too much about all you have to do; just do it. Find an app like things or some other to-do app, train yourself to really use it and trust your system, and then simply get to work each day by checking your list of to do’s and knocking them out one by one. We often think we don’t want to work but avoiding work feels a lot worse than productivity. I think what we really don’t like is uncertainty and a lack of structure — but, if we impose our own systems, routines, and structures on ourselves and own them, we open a virtuous cycle of productivity!
  • Take breaks. Mid-morning go make some tea or coffee for yourself and read a news story on your phone or text your spouse, a family member, or friend. Reconnect with the world outside your own individual work. At lunch, go for a walk to get some fresh air and listen to a podcast. Mid-afternoon go chat with a colleague or make another cup of tea (avoid caffeine after noon) or grab a bottle of sparkling water. Check your to-do list and see how far you’ve gotten and start to move things that aren’t done to tomorrow’s list.
  • Leave work on time. I remember that despite being stressed and anxious as a teacher, often when my contract ended at 4 PM, I stuck around for another hour or two to anxiously plan or grade or just unproductively putz around. That time would have been much better used to leave promptly, get home, and plan a nice dinner, read a book, or get a workout in instead.
  • Leave work at work. Especially if you’re a teacher, but increasingly, in any profession, there’s a tendency to bring home some grading or planning in the hopes of getting ahead for tomorrow. What actually happens is you have a mental load of what you should do but know you won’t, and then you feel bad about yourself when you don’t do what you knew you wouldn’t do anyway. But here’s the thing: you already worked for at least 8 hours. You don’t need to do any more work. If your work isn’t done you need to either be more productive at work (remember the things app?), lower your expectations for yourself or others, or find ways to delegate or minimize some of your commitments or responsibilities. Regardless of what you do, don’t give yourself the option of catching up on work at home. Work is for work, and after work is for you, your family, your friends. You need time to re-energize and relax. Take rest and enjoyment just as seriously as your work and improvement.

Granted, the above are all lifestyle hacks more so than fitness and food. But, they go a long way to helping us lower our cortisol levels, feeling less stressed and having fewer cravings, which in turn leads to better decision making surrounding food. Once we eat better, we have more balanced energy and that energy can be put into a great, energizing workout!

You need BOTH a solid food and fitness approach AND lifestyle hacks to make your life more enjoyable and productive. It’s a lot to juggle. But don’t stress, you can do it. You can make whatever life you want for yourself with constant baby steps in the direction of your goals. Hopefully some of the tips above give you at least one idea of something you could start with this week. Maybe it’s a bedtime routine to prioritize sleep (lifestyle). I would pick one thing and work at it for 2–4 weeks until it becomes integrated into your daily life. Then it will feel natural to add something else (e.g. once you are getting better sleep, it might be easy to tack on a morning workout 3 times a week-fitness). Eventually everything becomes an interrelated positive cascade of forward momentum!

My Workouts — Overview

I am currently using a strength training program called Booty by Bret (BBB) for my main workouts. I love it and couldn’t recommend it more highly. Out of respect for the time and effort Bret Contreras, takes to create this high-quality lifting program every month, I won’t post the full workouts here.

As an overview for those interested, BBB includes 3 full-body lifting workouts per week with an emphasis on glute development and also provides 2 supplemental glute workouts for those wanting or needing them. There are 6–7 moves in the full-body workouts and 3–4 moves in the shorter glute workouts. The workouts hit all the major muscle groups through compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench press, and hip thrusts but in all kinds of different variations (e.g. stiff leg deadlifts one day and sumos another; banded body weight hip thrusts one day and barbell hip thrusts another, etc). These different variations of the same moves target all parts of the muscle, while progressively overloading by adding weight each week encourages gains in strength and aesthetic improvement over time. Your new program arrives in your email inbox each month with instructional videos, workout guides and written directions. You deload Week 1 of the new month, as you learn the new lifts, then add weight each week for the next 3 weeks (progressively overload) until you attempt to set personal records (PR) week 4. And so on.

To give you some idea of how BBB programming has impacted my strength: When I started BBB in July, I could back squat 33lb with difficulty; now I easily squat 43lb on a deload week and work up from there over the month to set new PRs (last month 73lb). When I began BBB, I was deadlifting 33lb; now on a deload week I’m at 53lb and usually go up to about 73+over the course of the month. Most impressively, when I started hip thrusting I could manage about 63lb at my max effort; last month I PR’d at 153lb!

In addition to lifting, I practice hot power vinyasa yoga, usually once, sometimes twice a week. Finally, for the last several months, I’ve set a personal fitness goal each month to improve on and measure every day. In October, I did a #goblinsquats challenge; November was for pull-ups (though I now realize I didn’t do it very well). In December, I worked on push-ups and finally learned proper form and got 10 on my toes pain-free! Now I hope to transfer that form over to my bench press. In January, I’m cycling back to pull-ups but in a more thoughtful way.

Notice that my monthly goals are a combination of fitness AND lifestyle. You need BOTH!

My workouts this week

My warmups for BBB vary: sometimes I do an incline walk on the treadmill, or jog or do interval sprints on the treadmill, cycling intervals, or I use the Aaptiv app for a quick warmup. Then I do the BBB lifting routine and then my personal fitness goal as a wrap-up. Usually some stretching, too, at the end.

Wednesday the 26th: Rest Day*

Thursday the 27th:

  • Warmup: 10 min. cycling intervals + scapular pulls
  • Booty by Bret (BBB) Month 4, Week 4, Day 2 Workout — for details sign up at Bret’s website or follow Bret’s instagram for a while to get a feel for his programming. It’s truly worth $30/month, and great to know he has a Ph.D. and knows more than anyone in the world about this part of human anatomy and physiology! He also recently added a FB group for BBB subscribers and he and his team are providing form checks and feedback which is super helpful, plus the community over there is full of positive women who are encouraging and have like-minded goals!
Above Left to Right: Deficit Curtsy Lunge, 45-degree hyperextensions (Click here for a video for how to modify for at home!), and lateral raise
  • Ended with 20 push-ups with good form on toes (monthly goal was to do 20 pushups with good form daily, with hopes of doing 10 on toes by end of month. I got there!!)

Friday the 28th:

  • Warmup: 11 min. interval sprints on treadmill
  • Booty by Bret (BBB) Month 4, Week 4, Day 3 Workout — hip thrust specialization month
  • Ended with 20 push-ups with good form on toes + ab sequence (10 walking ab extension crunches on a bosu ball,10 bird dogs, 30 second plank, stretch).

Saturday the 29th: Advanced Power Vinyasa Flow at Harbor Yoga

Sunday the 30th: Rest Day*

Monday the 31st:

  • Warmup: 12 min. incline walk on treadmill
  • Booty by Bret (BBB) Month 5, Week 1, Day 1 Workout — deadlift specialization month
  • Ended with 20 push-ups with good form on toes

Tuesday the 1st:

Wednesday the 2nd — today I did the following:

  • Warmup: 13 min. incline walk on treadmill
  • Booty by Bret (BBB) Month 5, Week 1, Day 3 Workout — deadlift specialization month
  • Ended with 20 scap pulls and Day 2 of the pull-up progression above (My monthly goal in January is to do 20 scap pulls + 3 eccentric chin-ups daily, or to follow the sample pull-up routine above from Bret Contreras, to work up to unassisted pull-ups eventually this year!)
Getting stronger with every workout!

Rest Matters, too!

New to me, and also attributable to Juli Bauer, is taking actual rest days. Not “active rest days” where I still run 3 miles or go to yoga or barre, but real honest to goodness rest days where I don’t work out at all. I might go for a walk outside (because that’s a part of my daily routine), but that’s it. No sweating, lots of relaxing.

For many years, I worked out every single day or maybe with one rest every couple of weeks or monthly when I felt totally spent. Even then I would feel guilty or lazy for skipping a workout. This was silly since, over time, I was burning myself out. I wasn’t recovering well, always felt exhausted and had lower energy during my workouts, was more prone to injury, and wasn’t even really seeing any physical progress from my (mostly cardio-based) workouts.

So, I decided to take a risk, mix up my routine to incorporate strength training, and give rest days a try. Sure enough, my body started to respond and change. Rest is essential to your workout routine, especially if you’re trying to build muscle. I now take a rest day for every 3 days of hard workouts, which usually ends up meaning I work out 5 days a week (3–4 BBB workouts and 1–2 yoga classes currently, though this changes month to month), and take 2 rest days every week. This rhythm encourages me to really work hard on the 3 days I’m working out, to “earn” that rest day, and then, come rest day, I can really enjoy it without guilt or fear of losing my gains. My rest day, in turn, rejuvenates me, and then I’m excited to get back to my workouts the next day! Positive cycle!

What matters more: Diet or Exercise?

Movement is super important, and finding exercise you enjoy is the key to making it a routine you want to do. Equally or maybe even more important than your workouts, however, is your food. In fact, after years of trying to out-exercise a bad diet (see: the decade or so of overly aggressive P90X / Insanity style workouts that have left me with the few nagging injuries or pains I still unfortunately have to deal with today), I’ve come around to acknowledge the truth: if you had to pick between exercise and diet, you should absolutely focus on your diet both for your health and for your aesthetic appearance.

While exercise will allow you to take things to the next level, honing your physique, toning your body, and building your confidence (all great things), the foundation of good health (not to mention the fuel for those workouts) is the food you are eating. To give you ideas and show some examples of both portion sizes and delicious yet healthy food, I’ll share a day of eating in each of these Workout Wednesday/#WhatIAteWednesday posts!

What I ate in a Day

This week, we had dinner at our favorite French restaurant, The Refectory, to celebrate New Year’s Eve! I’ll show you what I ate this day even if it is a little unusual because I think it demonstrates how you can modify/adjust/enjoy a special occasion without going overboard and then get right back to your normal routine and feel great!

I started my day with 2 cups of black coffee. I usually fast until after my workouts (both because I prefer working out on an empty stomach and because I don’t tend to get hungry until 11AM–1 PM at the earliest. My “lunch” was a little snack today — a half pickle spear, a deviled egg with mayo-ate both halves even though you only see one — a meat stick, and a mozzarella cheese stick — This satisfied my hunger post-workout but also allowed me to save room for our epic NYE dinner out below)
We went to our favorite restaurant in Columbus, The Refectory, for NYE! Here is what I ate: a blini with herring caviar ( amuse bouche, not on menu)
Above Left: Pheasant & Foie Gras Terrine; Above Middle: Scallop; Above Right: I had a glass of prosecco and a class of dry red cab sauv — both very unusual for me, but, it was nice to celebrate the special holiday with a little alcohol!
Above Left: the Duck with pancetta wrapped asparagus and other small veggies; Above Right: Fancy goat cheese and arugula salad
Above Left: Justin’s dessert (I had 1 bite), Above Right: My dessert (a cappuccino made with half n half)
Back home we shared some air-popped popcorn with butter and salt while we watched a NYE show (not pictured, also very unusual for me, but again, special occasion!) and then, I followed my usual wind-down/bedtime routine: a fatty tea (made with 1 Tbs Whipping Cream and 1 Tbs butter blended), a chocolate peanut butter fat bomb, and reading Harry Potter during my nightly bath. Was in bed by 10, even on New Year’s :)

I specifically chose this unusual day to share for a couple of reasons:

  • I wanted to show how it is okay to have a special day and eat (or drink) some special things now and then. Remember what Happiness Expert Gretchen Rubin says: “what you do every day, matters more than what you do every once in a while!
  • I also wanted to show how I still had balance, both with food AND lifestyle, even on a special holiday (I had a smaller meal earlier in the day; I tried dessert but then had a fatty drink instead to minimize my sugar intake because I know that is what will make me feel my best both in the moment and a couple hours later / the next day; I went with the flow to have the blini amuse bouche, popcorn, plus some alcohol, and let myself fully enjoy them guilt-free. Then, I got back to my routine, winding down with my normal tea, fat bomb, and bath, got enough sleep, and the next morning, I woke up naturally around 6 AM with plenty energy to work out!)

I hope the above gives you a couple ideas for tiny tweaks you might want to make today or moving into the New Year! I will be back next week with another Wednesday Workouts / #WhatIAteWednesday post to give you more ideas on healthy food, fitness, and lifestyle! Future posts will be shorter — I promise! 😉


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