Saturday, May 28, 2016

Crockpot Stuffed Pepper Soup

I know what you're thinking: soup in May?! 

Yep! I was that crazy person making soup in the crock pot yesterday when it was incidentally 87 degrees out. I wish I were exaggerating but it was literally nearly that hot in our house too, but luckily we have the ACs up and running today! 

I went to Trader Joe's the other day and they had enormous bell peppers for only 89 cents each so I stocked up on four huge ones. I was planning on making regular stuffed peppers but then I was in the bean aisle to get corn for something else I was making, and I decided to do a soup. I realize that it's a little non-traditional to put beans in stuffed peppers or stuffed peppers soup but when is my cooking ever traditional haha! I personally loved having the beans in the soup as they add more texture and add to the hardiness of the soup. 

In typical fashion, I basically just grabbed whatever I could find in the pantry and lucked out that we had some chicken stock and canned tomatoes! Looking back now I had about zero pre-planning other than grabbing the beans at Trader Joe's, but that pretty much explains me in a nut shell. 

Okay so here's what you'll need: 

2.5lbs ground turkey
32oz chicken stock
1 cup cooked rice
28oz can of diced tomatoes (not drained)
12oz frozen/fresh green beans
1 large red pepper, diced
1 large green pepper, diced
1 15oz can of black beans (drained)
1 15oz can of white kidney beans (drained)
4 beef bouillon cubes (optional)
salt, pepper, oregano, and basil to taste

You don't need to do 2.5 pounds of turkey but we get ours at Sam's Club, and as that's the amount that comes in a pack I just used it all. I also found a bag of frozen green beans when I got out the turkey so they also made their way into this soup. Like I said I was just grabbing things! 

Another thing you'll note is the lack of onion or garlic in this recipe. Amanda can't have either of those so I left them out. Feel free to add them in if you want! The beef bouillon cubes are optional and again weren't planned. About 3/4 of the way through, I decided the soup needed something else so I grabbed them to beef up the flavor. I'm sorry. I tried to resist the urge to make a pun, I really did. But please it's me after all. 

I recruited my mom to help me with the soup! I told her that it counted as her occupational therapy for the day hehe

And of course her seat gets stolen first thing! Her and Cosmo have this continual battle back and forth because her favorite chair is also his favorite chair. As you can see I'm constantly surrounded by animals that are convinced they're "helping"...

To make the soup: 

1. First brown the ground turkey in a pan. You don't have to cook it all the way through but just get some color on it. 

2. Add it to the crockpot along with everything EXCEPT the rice. You don't want to add it in until near the very end. 

3. Cook on high for about 6 hours or low for 8 hours. 

4. With about 30 minutes left, add in your cooked rice. 

And that's it! 

I wish I could give you an exact measurement of what spices I used but I didn't measure them at all. I am also the type of person that seasons as they go so each time I'd check on the soup I might add in a dash of something here or there. That's why I always say add the spices to your taste because I think that is something that varies greatly between people. 

This recipe could also be great if you did a Mexican flavor profile on it! Growing up my mom always made her stuffed peppers with an Italian flavor so I always gravitate towards that with stuffed peppers. However, I think it'd be delicious too if you subbed out the oregano and basil for some spicier spices like chile powder or cumin. I mean the beans are already in there so it's basically halfway there anyway haha! 

It might not be the prettiest meal but it was delicious! I was really happy with how it turned out and I topped mine off with a piece of leftover corn bread that I had made Thursday night. 

And here are the macros! The serving size is 1 cup and this recipe made 18 servings. 

If you try this recipe out, let me know what you think! I'd love to hear your thoughts :)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Upper Body & HIIT Workout

First off, I'd like to point out that this is my sixth post since last Friday which is a big deal haha since I've been terrible at blogging consistently the past couple months! Secondly, I'd like to point out that THE PENS ARE GOING TO THE STANLEY CUP FINALS. Amanda and I were joking around that it was so stressful (but, really, it was ha) that either way, win or lose, we might not be able to sleep since we were pumped up on adrenaline. It's also a big deal that I stayed awake for all of game 7 because I haven't been able to do that for awhile! I think I'd be better if the breaks between the periods weren't 20 minutes or if the games started earlier than 8 because this grandma is usually asleep around 9:30. 

So I was up until around 11:30 but it was totally worth it, and I even thought to myself "maybe I'll be able to sleep in tomorrow morning" well wrong! I was up at 7 which just proves to me that I honestly can't sleep in anymore. I'm happy if I can sleep in til 7:30 because usually I'm up around 6:30-7 naturally.

I didn't feel like going to the gym so I did another workout at home this morning. It's also probably safest for me right now because when I head to the gym I'm always tempted to go for heavier weights, and I don't want to risk anything right now with my back. It's definitely better but leave it to me to get carried away and mess it up again! I wanted to do another upper body workout so I added on to my last one since I liked it so much.

UPRDF = upright rear delt flies but you can just substitute regular rear delt flies!

Some quick form tips:

1. During bicep curls, keep those elbows pinned to your side and slightly to the front of your ribs. 

2. Face pulls: keep those elbows high and parallel to the ground or else your lats will take over. 

3. For the band pull aparts, focus on moving your scapulae (shoulder blades) and don't let the motion come from your arms. I love using bands for this because it really enables me to just keep the movement coming from my shoulder blades rather than giving my biceps a second workout. I keep my arms straight, the band loose in my grip, and really concentrate on scapular motion instead of letting my arms do the work.

4. A helpful cue for doing lying chest flyes is imagine like you're hugging a tree. You want to keep your arms slightly bent the whole range of motion. 

I did a quick HIIT circuit at the end and figure I'd try out using a jump rope. I got one super cheap at Five Below for maybe a couple dollars and it's a great investment! I kept forgetting about it but today I wanted to test out a HIIT circuit like I often do with sprinting stairs: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off.

This was KILLER! Jump rope is no joke! I mean it seems like an innocent toy for kids but man it's a workout. I was dripping sweat after only 10 minutes. For the final minute (9-10) I did it for a solid minute just to give myself a good final burnout. It was insane.

I refueled after breakfast with the usual blueberry zoats! 

Also, quick plug-in here but these BCAAs are amazing! I had been debating which ones to get next after my last batch and I was eyeing up PEScience's new mango flavor. Well, Vitamin Shoppe had been having a sale earlier in the week, and I needed to get my fish oil. So I figured I'd look and see what BCAAs they had as they were having a buy one get one half off sale. The flavor is absolutely delicious and I think I might have found my new brand of BCAAs. The price is also nice and reasonable, too!

Stay tuned for a crockpot recipe coming your way soon :) 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Short but Sweaty HIIT Circuit

Happy Thursday all! 

I happen to have an impromptu 6-day weekend ahead of me, which definitely makes it a happy Thursday for me haha! This morning I tested out a HIIT circuit to see if it would flare up my sciatica but I was in the clear. It's all good now and actually helped ease out any stiffness in my lower back. I find that running helps my sciatic pain, too because certain movements will help alleviate your symptoms. Either way I'm happy because it allows me to move and get going! I honestly think I'd have lost my mind if I wasn't able to workout for the past few weeks. 

I also started out my morning with FULL caffeine coffee! I've had to be careful with my caffeine intake for the past 6 months or so because I get horrible heart palpitations if I have too much. So I only do about half caff or less in the mornings. It's like a strange genetic thing that runs in my family that happens all in our early 20's where we get really sensitive to caffeine. No idea how it happens but people in my family don't tolerate caffeine well. 

I had some of the Hawaiian coffee that Rachael sent me for my birthday last year and I've been rationing it ever since haha! It's the best coffee ever and absolutely delicious so I like to make it last. 

Anyway, so on to the workout. I did 3 rounds of some HIIT moves and then finished off with some work on the stairs. All I did was sprint up and down the stairs for 30 seconds then rest for 30 seconds until I hit 15 minutes. It was killer! 

Now I'm off to run some errands, study, and then it's time for hockey tonight! For those of you who don't know, I'm from Pittsburgh and the Penguins have their final game against Tampa Bay tonight so I need to make sure I can stay awake for the whole game haha! Also, for you Bolts fans reading this (if any) please know I still love you but the Pens are the best team.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Random Recap: A THOR-oughly Enjoyable Weekend

I'm just gonna start this post out by saying it will most likely be the biggest compilation of dog photos you will ever see. I would also like to start out by saying that in no way do I apologize for that haha! We watched a friend's puppy this weekend and oh my goodness do I have puppy fever now. I've been saying for about 2 years now that Layla was my first and last puppy butttt.....things have changed since this weekend! Well, for the first ten minutes we had him over I was begging Amanda for another puppy and then after about an hour I remembered why I actually don't want a puppy ever again: they. are. ex. hausting!!

It was like the perfect amount. Kind of like when you get to hold a baby but then they cry and you don't have to deal with it so you just give them back to their parents haha! But really, that's what this was. Sometimes I wish I could go back to when Layla was a wee little nugget for like a day because she was so dang cute and so much fun but then I remember what it's like to have a full-grown adult dog that is potty-trained, knows their commands, comes when they're called, doesn't chew everything in sight, and is safe to leave alone for more than 10 seconds. In short, puppies are fun but my goodness are they work. Looking at Layla now, they're totally 100% worth it but you have to be willing to invest a solid two years of your time with a puppy. Layla is 2 and a half now and there are still things I work on with her, mainly her insane excitement for anyone new.

Anyway, this puppy's name is Thor (hence my cheesy title hehe I crack myself up) and he belongs to a lady that goes to our Bible study. She couldn't believe we were so willing and excited to help watch him because he's so young so she kept saying "are you sure? I mean, he's only a puppy!" and I kept assuring her that her rationale of why I wouldn't want to watch him is exactly why I did want to watch him haha! I mean it's a puppy, who doesn't love puppies?!

ESPECIALLY, when the puppy is that stinkin' cute! 

I was also not-so-secretly insanely curious as to how Layla would react to Thor. Now, I was not concerned in the slightest of her hurting him or not getting along with him because I've said it before but Layla's life mission is to be everyone's best friend. I wanted to see how she would handle him because when she was a small puppy basically every single adult dog hated her and that's perfectly normal, puppies are annoying to them! 

Well, I will say that Layla loved him about 95% of the time. She was thrilled to have a new playmate and they played a lot together but there were times where she was done playing and he was not. That was when I made a conscious effort to separate them to give her a break plus to teach him some social manners. I made sure to watch him and when he started to annoy her, I put him in his place because I knew Layla wouldn't. She's too docile and submissive with other dogs to "speak up" as we would think of it. 

Basically, it was a fascinating social experiment to me because dogs are such a cool animal to me. It was also quite the refresher course of what to do with a puppy! I got to re-live potty training, redirection, play-biting, crate-training, all the good stuff haha! Before I even got Layla I remember reading up on training puppies and you wouldn't believe how many people said to hold off training until the puppy is older. They all claimed to enjoy the time while the puppy is so cute and little and I remember thinking to myself "well, that ain't gonna happen!" I planned on disciplining and training Layla from day one, and that's what I did with Thor. Sure, he's not my puppy but there's no way I was going to not train him while he was staying with us. If it was the other way around and Layla had been staying with someone that young, I'd want them to discipline her. There are also some people that claim puppies aren't very trainable young (he's only 9 weeks) and again I have to thoroughly disagree. Thor picked up quickly what I was saying to him and what I wanted him to do. Of course he didn't know any commands yet but that didn't matter, all you have to do is use authoritative energy. 

This picture cracks me up because Layla's face says it all! This was probably approximately 30 minutes before he went home, and she just looks utterly exasperated. He had a thing where he LOVED her tail and would attack it constantly. There were so many times she'd be walking around and he'd be dragging along behind latched onto her tail. Sometimes I was scared he was going to get squished because so often he'd run around beneath her as she was walking or they got too rough playing but he turned out to be a lot hardier than he looked haha! Definitely one of the more stressful things was that he wasn't our puppy so we were concerned about him getting accidentally hurt since Layla is honestly 10x his size. If he were our puppy, though, Amanda and I decided we wouldn't be as worried because it'd have to be one of those times he learned. 

She put herself early to bed Sunday night haha! Usually she doesn't come up until I'm in bed. She'll lay in the hallway while we all get ready to sleep, but she beat me to bed on Sunday. 

Okay, so enough puppy stuff now on to what I was doing the rest of the weekend since this is a general recap after all. Saturday evening Amanda and I headed to church since she still had one more service at our old church Sunday morning. My whole family has been making the switch to a new church that I could not be more excited about! I've been going to our new one every so often with a friend of ours from Bible study, and I've wanted to make the switch for ages but was waiting on God's timing. Well, turns out my whole family wants to switch so it worked out perfectly! 

Anyway, I whipped up a tortizza for dinner which I have been making for about the past five nights haha! They're so easy and versatile, though, that makes them a great dinner on the go. This one I used a Flat Out wrap (makes the best "crust" in my opinion) topped with pesto, spinach, shaved brussel sprouts (found at Trader Joe's), tomatoes, ground turkey, and leftover roasted butternut squash. I just pop it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 8-9 minutes and it's good to go! 

I had Sunday morning off from church since I went with Amanda on Saturday night so I decided to take Layla for an easy run. My sciatic nerve is still bothering me and any sort of lower body lifting can really aggravate it but luckily running doesn't. It's perfect timing because I got the itch to run again which is strange since I usually prefer to take the summer off running but it's all I've wanted to do lately! 

Plus, my foot is feeling fine and I got new running shoes this past Sunday so I'm pretty happy with that! Let's just hope the pain stays away. Layla and I got in 3 easy miles and she was tuckered out for the rest of the day. She could hardly get her post-run nap in because Thor was still insisting on playing! After our run, I sat down to a nice bowl of blueberry zoats

In the afternoon, I headed out to pick out a new pair of running shoes! I was super excited as they FINALLY had a new color of my Asics (I use the gel 2000 series) but since they're a stability shoe (my foot pronates inward) they hardly ever make new colors. Not sure why but that's what the lady at the store told me since she has the same problem. My last three pairs have all looked the same which makes it fun trying to tell them apart haha! I always keep my running shoes once I'm done running with them because they're still good for walking and stuff. I keep about 1-2 old pairs and donate the rest as I get in new ones. 

Yesterday morning I met up with a friend at my gym to help train her. We did a light lower body circuit and 20 minutes after we finished I knew it was no bueno for my back. Any sort of lifting that can put pressure on my lower back seems to make things worse so I have to be careful with certain upper body lifts too especially shoulders and back. I've found that pull-ups or any angled back exercises (like cable lat pull downs) and any shoulder moves that cause me to press the weight overhead are not good. I go back to my doctor soon and she's aware of my sciatica but said as long as I can do things without aggravating it should be fine. She'll also do a full body back exam at that time so in the mean time I just have to babysit it. 

After our workout, I headed to Sam's Club since the good one is on that side of town. I made my favorite overnight oats to hold me over since I knew I'd be starving because it was close to 9 and I hadn't had anything to eat yet besides my coffee that morning. 

After running errands and doing some chores around the house, I headed to Panera around 11 because after a puppy-filled weekend of distractions I had gotten absolutely nothing productive done! I desperately needed to study and catch up on work so when that happens I isolate myself so I can really focus. Otherwise if I'm at home and want to procrastinate I suddenly find myself dying to re-organize my shoe bin haha! That's when I know it's bad...

I was able to get some solid studying and work done, which was a relief! I can't lie and say I wasn't stressing at the fact that I got absolutely nothing done over the weekend but at the same time the break was worth it. I've been studying and working on some projects for close to 6 months so every so often it's great to have a break from everything. Overall, it was a nice low-key weekend, which is just what I needed and wanted!

It's back to the usual today! How was your weekend?! 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Chocolate Rice Cake Cereal

I'm the type of person that when I stumble upon something I like I make it over and over and over again til I either get sick of it or run out of the ingredients. Usually due to the latter haha! Well, this is one of those things where I know I'm gonna eat probably every day until I run out of chocolate rice cakes. Then, I'll go buy more and start the process all over again!

I'm not sure how I quite came up with this but it wasn't planned. I had chocolate rice cakes in my macros for lunch along with some PB fit, which I planned to just spread on top of them. But then the volume eater in me thought how can I make this seem like it's more? And I got a brainwave! 

I decided I would break up the chocolate rice cakes and then make the PB fit a little thinner so it would be a drizzle. I also decided to throw on some sugar free chocolate syrup (basically zero carbs) for good measure! I then poured on a little bit of almond milk to make it like a cereal dish, and it was absolutely delicious! I've already eaten some again for lunch today and you can bet I'll be having this tomorrow, too. It's simple to make, more macro-friendly than regular cereal because it makes so much more than a 3/4-1 cup serving. 

I think this would be tasty with caramel rice cakes, too! 

All you need is: 
2 chocolate rice cakes broken up (or however many you need)
6g PB fit (about 1 tablespoon)
1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
drizzle of chocolate syrup (I use Walden Farms or sugar-free Hershey's)

To make the PB fit a drizzle I just use about 1-2 tsp of extra water than recommended or until the PB is the consistency I want. For those of you wondering, PB fit is basically like PB2 but I prefer the taste better. Plus, it comes in bulk at my local Sam's club so it's cheaper! 

If you try this combination out, let me know what you think! 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Upper Body Circuit

Good morning everyone! 

I've still been experiencing extremely frustrating sciactic nerve pain but I have 2 saving graces: I can run and at least do some upper body work! If it weren't for that I'd probably have gone insane over the past couple of weeks. 

Anyway, I threw together this upper body circuit to do yesterday morning. It can all be done at home if you have some dumbbells! 

12 inside curls
10 front raises
15 lying chest flyes
20 shoulder taps
15 upright rows
21 bicep curls (7 half reps @ top, 7 half reps @ bottom, 7 full reps)
15 hex press
20 rear delt flyes
10 push-ups

Complete the circuit for a total of 4 times through. I didn't really rest between rounds and it took me a little over 30 minutes. 


Friday, May 20, 2016

Are Supplements Really Necessary?

I'm going to start out this post with a massive disclaimer: I am not sponsored by any supplement companies, I am not a professional, and this post is simply my personal opinion, experience, and research. I wanted to address this question because in the fitness industry supplements are pushed ALL THE TIME, and this is an extremely common question of how necessary are they really. 

The first and foremost answer to that question is: no. Supplements are not necessary for a diet because well they are just that, a supplement i.e. extra, an addition, etc. Supplements can be used to enhance a training regimen, diet, or a combination of those BUT you can get results without them. 

I personally do not take very many supplements. If it's something I can get via my diet then chances are I won't seek out a supplement for it. Now, I am not saying supplements are bad at all but the fact of the matter is many of these products do not have long-term research done on them because frankly they haven't been around long enough for us to even study the long-term effects. I don't take that fact lightly and for that reason it will often deter me from trying out a supplement. 

I take two supplements on a regular basis: protein powder and BCAAs. Yes, I consider protein powder to be a supplement because when I take it, it's meant as a way to complete my protein intake for the day so it's supplemental. I don't take protein powder every day but maybe every other or every couple days. It varies and I don't intentionally not take it every day but like I said if it's something I can get through my diet then I will take a more natural way (bump up my chicken, add in egg whites, etc.). The other supplement I take are BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) but again I don't even take these every day. I would say almost every day I workout I will have them to promote recovery and preserve muscle mass because I do workout fasted. 

Again, you don't even need BCAAs because you can achieve both of those things through proper training and nutrition. One of the main things I notice with BCAAs is that they do help with making me less sore the next day but honestly that's something I can live through if I don't take them. I didn't notice any drastic changes in my muscles or physique while using them so it's not a magic supplement to help you build muscle overnight and get jacked. It's meant to help preserve your current muscle mass and promote muscle synthesis over time (not overnight). I simply just like to give my body a little boost every now and then to make sure I'm recovering properly. Also, a quick side note but I do count my BCAAs towards my overall protein intake for the day. They are amino acids and therefore your body treats them as it does a regular protein molecule. So, it can count towards your protein intake for the day. All I do is measure it out by the gram and then plug in however many grams I used for that day and count it as a protein gram. 

Preworkout is probably one of the biggest supplements on the market right now but I will go ahead and say that I have tried different brands of it, and I hate them all haha! I find that I do nottttt like the feeling of preworkout at all, and often times it was so strong that it would make me sick. I workout fasted, usually around 6am, and I find that I don't need an extra boost at all. I make sure to get a good night's sleep, fuel properly each day, and my body is able to handle early morning workouts fasted. I do have a small cup of coffee (half caff) while reading my Bible in the morning but that's all I have before working out.

I'm not saying that preworkout is bad or that you shouldn't take it, but I find that it's not necessary for me and I prefer not to take it. I have found that controlling my caffeine intake is better and the ironic thing is that less coffee helps me feel more energized over time. If I have too much caffeine during the day then my sleep suffers and I don't have as good as sleep compared to when I have less caffeine. I used to get stuck in viscous cycles of being so tired so I'd have more caffeine but that would make my sleep worse so then I'd need even more caffeine and you get the idea. I cut back and, honestly, yes it was horrible for the first couple of weeks but I stick with 1 cup of half caff coffee in the morning (out of habit because I love coffee haha!) and I'm good to go. My sleep is truly so much better and I wake up feeling so much more refreshed in the morning and my energy levels are great throughout the day. 

A lot of people I know swear by PEScience and their pre-workout products plus that company does a lot of research on their products so I do have trust in them. Again, I'm wary in general because long-term research is difficult but I do stand by a lot of their products. I have personally tried out most of their supplements and even though I'm not a fan of pre-workout in general, I was able to handle their Alphamine. I used to order their protein powders all the time (until I found out I can't have whey or casein) and they send you tons of free samples so that's how I was able to try both the Alphamine and High Volume.

Since I've been decreasing my caffeine intake, though, I haven't taken the Alphamine in months. Their BCAAs are my favorite, and I can't wait until I'm out of my current stack to order the new Mango flavor! Right now, I have Slap Nutrition's salted caramel BCAAs and I like them but they're not my favorite. Word of advice: do NOT put them in plain water. I did not like that at all but it's great as a little post-workout drink! The only reason I am switching back to PEScience when I'm done is I like the fruity flavors that I can drink as I workout. I couldn't stomach the taste of the salted caramel mixed with just water because it kind of tasted like watered down coffee. But like I said I mix it up with almond milk, some PB fit, Walden farms chocolate syrup, and it's delicious that way!

Another big supplement that you will hear about is creatine, and usually that word alone is enough to strike fear in the hearts of many women haha! I think that outside of the industry creatine gets this reputation as some magical-manly-muscle-building pill that will turn women into men if they use it. Well, that's not true because a) a woman will literally never just turn into a man because a woman's body is designed to be just that-- a woman and b) all it's meant to do is promote muscle building in your body. Ladies, if you lift and take creatine do not worry about getting "manly", our bodies literally WILL NOT turn into a man's body because we are not designed that way. There are soooo many other factors such as genetics, hormones, plus the fact that our bodies can freaking tell if we are male or female. Creatine is not like a kick start to flip some switch in our body to go from woman to man. All it does is promote muscle growth in your body, which means if you are a woman all it will do is help you grow your womanly muscles. We don't even have a fraction of the testosterone that men do in order to get insanely "manly" muscles like them. It's just not going to happen so if that's your biggest worry then you honestly have nothing to worry about. 

I personally have never taken creatine but I know plenty of women and men that do. There is meant to be a deadline of usage, though, which I'm not sure if that is pushed a lot because obviously companies want you to buy their products. When you first start taking creatine, you can do a sort of "boost" dose where you take a certain number of grams over maintenance (this is called the loading phase). So starting out you could do up to 20-30g for the first 5-7 days then cut back to a maintenance dose of anywhere from 2-5g for about 5 years. It's recommended that you only take it for up to 5 years but there are still plenty of people who use it beyond that time frame. The research goes both ways but I think it would have to depend on the individual and their body. One of the main things would be to watch how your kidneys are functioning and keep an eye out for any potential adverse side effects.

So there you have it! Just some basic points about common supplements out there on the market. I know I didn't even touch on certain ones like sleep aids, joint supplements, fat burners, or any of the other numerous products available. I'll give my honest opinion and say that I doubt they're really worth the money or the effort in taking them because I know that I personally have been able to achieve all of my goals in the past few years without them. So, I'm not too concerned about my current lack of supplements because as long as you tap into your body's natural functioning and manipulate your diet/exercise that way then I don't really see a need for so many supplements. Again, not saying if you take any of these supplements then that's bad, but I'm just always in the mindset of "if I've achieved everything this far without them do I really need them down the road?".

Besides, I'd much rather spend my money on peanut butter and ice cream haha! The real MVPs of how I've built my muscles :)

Totally kidding (sort of ) but seriously, though, carbs are your muscles' best friend. I'm definitely a big believer in doing things the natural way and achieving my results through tweaks in nutrition and training regimen. That's simply my personal opinion, and I get that not everyone shares that but this post is just meant to be my take on supplements! If you are thinking about venturing with certain supplements my biggest piece of advice is this: please do your research. Don't just take it because a friend told you about it or there's a huge hype about it in the fitness industry. We have to be smart for our bodies and make good decisions so if there seems to be reliable and valid research on the product then by all means make the decision you think is best for you! 

Friday, May 13, 2016

How to Design a Workout

Since I'm in charge of my own workout programming and design, I've gotten asked a lot of questions of how I do this. What workouts to do, how to progress, etc. Now, you guys know me by now hehe so of course the first thing I'm going to tell you is: 


But really, I've been lifting weights for almost 2 years now and between the stalking on Instagram (y'all know you do it too), following blogs, looking up lifting sites/forums, research articles and studies, watching videos etc I have learned A LOT. Lifting is my passion, hobby, interest whatever you want to call it but my point is I actively pursue more information about it. I love learning new things about lifting and strive to always continue my education.

It takes a lot of time to learn the ropes but my advice is just continue researching more about it, reaching out to people in the fitness industry, and trying things out for yourself. 

I already know I'll get asked this question so I'll go ahead and share some of my favorite fitness people that I learn from: Layne Norton, Bret Contreras, Strong LiftsSohee Lee, Emily Duncan, Erin Dimond, and Katiesfitscript are some of my favorites. They post great content including exercise ideas, form tips, and nutrition.

My second piece of advice when designing your workout is very straightforward: know your goals. A lot of people might think well you go to the gym and start lifting and that's how you'll get stronger, lose weight etc. Well, they're not drastically off the mark but I beg to differ a little bit because there's a difference between training hard and training smart. Also, different styles of lifting like rep schemes, sets, volume, intensity and rest intervals will get you different results. So today I'm going to give a brief outline of what that looks like.

There are essentially 3 categories that a lift can fall into: hypertrophy, strength, and endurance. Hypertrophy sounds like a big fancy word but it just means muscle growth. A lot of the time (not always) but a majority of people who are lifting weights in order to lose weight or "tone" (I hate that word haha!), they are doing hypertrophy lifts. When you think of the traditional bodybuilding-type lifts like 4x8 that is training for hypertrophy. Supersets are also common for hypertrophy lifts.

So if you want muscle growth (hypertrophy) then you want to do a moderate number of sets like 3-5 and stick with the 6-12 range for reps with about 45-60 seconds for rest. Or just go ahead and do supersets instead of doing rest intervals.

Strength is usually what I end up training a lot because personally that's how I like to train. Again, I don't have any specific goals....yet hehe but I have some ideas in the works so strength is my main focus right now. I'm pretty happy with all the muscle I've built over the past two years so I'm working on strength.

Strength is lower reps with higher sets than hypertrophy. I usually do about 5-8 sets of anywhere from 1-5 reps depending on what percentage of my max that I'm using. The higher the weight, the lower the reps. Usually, the number of sets and reps are inversely related in order to control for volume. It honestly just depends on how much I need to lift that day and the way I break down my reps. What I usually do is have a set volume of weight that I need to move that day like say for deadlifts so I'll know that I need to do x amount of total weight so I'll break that down into x amount of sets with x reps per set.

I track my total volume for each workout for each week so that I can make comparisons from week to week. Ideally, you want your volume to increase each week because that means you're gaining strength and able to move more weight each workout. It can also show me my weaker lifts, and where I need to improve most. Obviously I'm not going to compare my lifting volume for deadlifts to bench press because I can work with thousands of pounds (total) during a deadlift workout than benching.

Calculating volume is super simple! The equation is this: # sets x #reps x #weight used = volume. Here's an example from my deadlifts:
5x5 @ 165lbs
5 x 5 x 165= 4,125

Keeping track of volume enables me to compare what sets and reps I used the week before and how much I should bump up each week. I also know that when I can get to a certain volume then it's time to try for a PR. I don't have this down to an exact science yet but I'm fairly familiar with my own personal window of strength. For example, once I got to being able to do 155 for 5 sets of 5 reps, I was fairly certain that I could get over 200lbs for my 1 RM (rep max). I compared my volume, strength gains, and rep schemes from previous weeks in order to determine what max I should try for. It's all about training smart for your goals and planning out the science. I know that I'm such a huge nerd but this is honestly so fun for me! I love playing around with my own programming and learning more about my body.

The third category a lift can fall into is endurance. It basically means what it sounds like: increasing your muscle's endurance (their ability to produce force over longer periods of time). Just like with endurance running, you have to lift longer in order to gain endurance. I don't mean longer as in you don't gain endurance unless you've been lifting for a long time but the number of reps per set. Endurance is usually a rep scheme of 12-20 with a moderate number of sets like 1-3. Again, you have to make sure you control for volume so you don't want to do 8 sets of 20 because that might result in overtraining. Intensity and volume should always be inversely related.

Now, you do not have to simply pick one of these options and just stick with it because you think that you can't do both strength and hypertrophy lifts in one week. Heck, I do them in the same workout haha! I usually focus on 1 strength lift (usually squats, deadlifts, bench, cleans, hip thrusts) per workout and then build my accessory work around it. My accessory work is usually hypertrophy, endurance-based, or even just with my bodyweight. Since my strength-based lifts are higher in intensity I steadily decrease the intensity of my workout as I get to the end. I always do my heaviest lift first so that I have the most energy for it, and then I do my accessory work so that by the time I get to my last set of exercises it's usually with either light weight or my bodyweight.

An example is one of my lower body days (quad focus):
5x5 front squats
5x12, 10, 8, 6, 2 leg press (warm-up set of 15 reps)
4x8 smith machine lunges
3x7-7-7-7 leg extensions (7 regular reps, 7 reps w/ iso pause, 7 half reps at the bottom, 7 half reps at the top)
3x20 jumping leg press (very light weight 20-30lbs)
circuit (3x): 20 box jumps, 20 pulsing goblet squats, 20 walking lunges, 20 step-ups

As you can see I start out with my heavier sets first and then work my way down with moderate hypertrophy work until I get to the circuit at the end where I use maybe a 10 lb plate max. I design most of my workouts this way and it's what works for me! I find that it allows me to keep strength high throughout the workout and that allows me to keep good form.

I also want to point out that lifting cannot be entirely contained in neat little boxes. What I mean by that is if you're concerned that strength lifts won't help you build muscle or that hypertrophy lifts won't help you get stronger then that's not the case. You can in fact get stronger each week doing hypertrophy lifts because our bodies are designed to adapt to the stress we place on them (resistance lifting is a form of stress but can be a good form). Meaning, if you lift a certain amount each week then your body will learn to recruit more muscle fibers in order to increase its ability to adapt to the weight you are lifting. The same can be said for strength and muscle growth. Your muscles can still grow while doing strength-based lifts but it's simply that it might not occur as quickly as if you were to focus on hypertrophy lifts. There's no magic number of reps or sets that anyone can figure out to tell you this is how you'll definitely grow muscles, gain strength, etc. Like everything else with our bodies, it's all trial and error and extremely variable upon the individual.

My biggest piece of advice is this: do what you love. I didn't intentionally step away from the traditional bodybuilding lifting regimen with different splits each day and the standard super sets of hypertrophy rep schemes but over time I slowly drifted into my current lifting splits. I joke around and call myself an OlyPowerBuilder but that's basically what I am haha! I began planning my workouts based on my favorite lifts, my chosen rep schemes, and I ran with it from there. I love, love, love squats and deadlifts so I work those into my lifts about 3x a week and bench press has grown on me, too. I hate working biceps and triceps so I don't #nobisfortheguys #sorryimnotsorry but I do a lot of upper body work including back and shoulders. I have also begun to fall in love with Olympic lifting so I work on my cleans and cleans and presses along with my accessory work which is what I would say is the closest thing to bodybuilding lifting that I do now.

My point is that none of this ever happened intentionally but I realized that if I didn't like to do a certain lift or body part then I really had no obligation to focus on it. I mean, duh, but at the same time I thought that was how it was "supposed to be". So many people on social media would talk about how this certain body part was their least favorite to work or that this workout was their least favorite to look forward to each week or that it was a struggle to push through. And then I realized that I didn't have to set up all my lifts to look like that. I learned more about compound lifts, which I had always found intimidating, but I quickly learned that I thrived on them. I also quickly learned that my body best responds to them.

I am not saying by any means that people who like to do isolation work are wrong or that it's the wrong way to go but all I'm saying is that I found it wasn't for me. I like doing squats multiple times per week with accessory work thrown in. I typically do my deadlifts and follow it up with hamstring and back accessory work, and my cleans and presses are on the days I do some shoulder/upper body work.

I'll do a separate post explaining my current workout splits, but I simply want to get the message out that it's okay to train differently and experiment. Do what you love and I promise the workouts will all fall into place. I could not be happier with my current program design and every day I look forward to my workouts. I love training more as an athlete and to mix in a little bit of everything.

So. This was extremely long-winded but my take-home points are:
1. Keep on doing research. You can never learn too much!
2. Know your goals
3. Plan accordingly to your goals
4. Don't be afraid to experiment and try out different lifting styles
5. Above all, make sure it's what you want to do

I hope this was informative and that you enjoyed reading it! Have a wonderful weekend :)