With a mantra like #Daretomove, you can safely assume that I don’t discriminate when it comes to movement. I’m sure that the 1,000 lifting videos of me powerlifting on the internet would make you think I’m biased to powerlifting….. But, if you’ve followed me long enough, you know that I teach exercise classes at Cyc Fitness and Barry’s Bootcamp. So it gets confusing…
What is the best way to train? What works better for fat loss?
Before you go any further, please read this article, so that you fully understand there are various ways people can approach exercise as a tool depending on their skill-level, lifestyle and goals. I love lifting, but I’ll never tell you “it’s my way or the highway;” there’s no “perfect” exercise to stay fit for life or general well-being.
But what does make for “perfect training” is finding something that you love and a schedule that is sustainable. For almost two years I’ve been powerlifting with the same training schedule week after week:
- bench/upper body day
- squat/lower-body day,
- deadlift/total body day
- and an “odd-and-ends” training day that usually includes one or two of the following: front squats, push-presses or push-ups, chin-ups and core work.
I’m thankful to have found what works for me. My schedule is sustainable, healthy (as in, it hasn’t lead to injury) and enjoyable… and oh yes, I write my own programs too. I plan on following my training schedule for as long as I physically can, however, in order to make sure that I’m absolutely OK with my programming and not missing out on anything else, I took a month to stray from my training (as much as I could) to branch out and see what it’s like to only do group classes, and become more of a hybrid Type B/A exercise personality (again, see this article for clarification).
I love trying things with curious wonderment to see what other methods are all about before I make assumptions that anything is supreme or “the way.”
Without further pause, here is my “September Experiment:”
Take three group fitness classes a week and/or go on a run for enjoyment. Stop lifting maximal loads (generally speaking) and remain athletic with intense training, but not maximal load lifting.
- Will my hunger be elevated?
- How will my recovery feel? Will I be recovered enough after each workout to be able to go again the next day without pain or injury?
- How will my strength react/change/suffer?
- Will I like taking others’ classes?
This time last year I was about two and a half weeks away from my first bikini competition. I was stressed out and nervous because I was my own coach and I had no idea what I was doing. However, approaching the contest with curiosity allowed me the strength and courage to get through the tough parts of it because I truly wanted to gain knowledge from the experience.
Last winter I coached myself through my own powerlifting meet and hit all the numbers I wanted to hit and them some. What’ I’m saying is that as a coach, I like to walk the walk and experience first hand, the things I help other with– fat loss and strength training.
It’s important to know that the majority of my clients however, are not powerlifters, nor are the bikini competitors. They are normal people who want to get stronger and/or lose fat. By learning both of those things to the extreme, I have a lot of tools in my toolbox with which I can work to better coach others. And people test me! They challenge me all the time.
My “why” for the experiment:
Since beginning my powerlifting training, I’ve been obsessed. Nothing else has caught my eye or made me want to veer away from lifting heavy. As mentioned, I powerlifted all the way through my bikini prep and powerlifting prep, all the while doing some serious damage to my muscles with every session. I’d be sore for two days after each squat, bench or deadlift day and I needed rest days like baby needs a bottle. Lifting heavy on a big calorie deficit and lifting even heavier on a moderate deficit in the weeks right before my meet (when I had to cut weight) were equally taxing.
I trained myself to go heavy AF every session, however, over the summer something kind of got lost in translation. I was proud to have achieved a certain level of strength and also to have maintained it, but I began to stall out. I was doing the bare minimum in the gym with lifts and moderate weights felt heavy and I felt weaker. The stresses of life were getting to me. My heavy training days were growing shorter and my motivation was waning towards the end of August.
Call it stress, call it fatigue of life, either way I got to a point where for the first time in a LONG time, I didn’t feel motivated to push myself.
Wanting to still stay physically fit, I decided to take pressure off of my body and mind from doing heavy powerlifts. I vowed to take my own advice and try something else since I am all about #daretomove and not going stagnant nor settling for an unhappy fitness lifestyle.
I decided to spend a month being coached by others in this amazing city full of rockstar coaches. Due to stress and fatigue I knew they I’d work harder if coached by my colleagues than I would push myself on my own.
I began the experiment in the second week of my hormonal cycle–the week I like to call “beast-mode week” where I need less sleep, fewer calories and can exercise more without becoming ravenously hungry, due to my estrogen levels.
Rules for my experiment:
- take three to four group fitness classes a week, and/or run
- continue to do gymnastics and cheerleading activities for fun
- in powerlifting, do not go above 210-215 on DL, 155 on squat or 90 on bench…. do not do fewer than 5 reps unless it’s speed deadlifts
- don’t take class if I feel pain or like I’m not recovered, but otherwise strive for a tough “workout” (unspecified since I didn’t know what the instruct would teach) every day.
I actually did a lot of gymnastics and Cheerleading!
Worries/Concerns for the experiment:
- Will I lose a lot of strength from not practicing maximal loads + accessory work 3x a week?
- Will doing the bare minimum of moderate strength training be too much to do on top of group fitness classes?
- Will my old hip pain + sciatica return from running often and teaching classes?
Stats from the experiment:
- Total number of group fitness classes taken: 13 (does not include the 2-4 spin classes I teach a week)
- Breakdown of classes: Barry’s Bootcamp: 8 classes and three and a half weeks Cyc Fitness: 2 classes on top of the 2-4 I teach weekly Kettlebell class: 1 class at Rebell conditioning in Chicago Boxing class: 2 (one in Cincinnati and one in Boston) I must say it was a treat to be a student in these classes and not the teacher. To let my guard down and just work… and sweat!
- Bodyweight increased 1.5 pounds, but that can only be taken at face value because I wasn’t as diligent about my nutrition as I could’ve been. I let myself eat a little more when I was hungry and I was also traveling and eating out more than normal.
- No injuries occurred
Going into this experiment I was tired and my training was in a weird spot. You see, I’d followed the same plan for over a year and I truly loved it. However, I’d lost motivation to really attack each training session like I did in powerlifting prep mode and bikini mode. After spending more than a few months training on a caloric deficit (to be bikini ready in November, weigh-in ready in january and bikini ready in April) I’d developed lazy habits.
What I mean is this: when you train on a caloric deficit you learn how to power through anything, however, you learn how to do the bare minimum… for example, I’d do 3×3 of a moderately heavy lift, maybe a drop set and call it a day in the gym. And in all fairness, when juggling a new real estate job, running and online business, building a social life, traveling for fun AND running trying to stay strong, I was proud to at least keep up with my training instead of ditching it. However, I wasn’t in a calorie deficit anymore and I had the energy and the time, to push it, yet, I wasn’t. I was feeling stuck in the rut and I wanted to try something different.
Enter this experiment.
I wanted to be pushed by other coaches. I wanted to feel like a beast in my workout, so I didn’t look further than my own place of work, Barry’s Bootcamp and Cyc Fitness! The trainers are colleagues and even more they are friends who coach GREAT workouts. I figured training with my peers would make me a better coach, give me some new ideas as a coach and allow me to interact with my clients too, in class!
As noted in the “Stats” section, I went to about 8 Barry’s Bootcamp classes. Eight classes in three and a half weeks is about five more classes than I typically do. With all the spin classes I teach, fitting Barry’s into my schedule just once a week is ideal for me.
I had a blast. I sprinted fast and was surprised to hit 13.0 speeds for several 30 second sprints, not give up on Derek’s hill runs and realized I still need to work on my back peddle… Barry’s Bootcamp was a no doubt an awesome time.
At Cyc Fitness I was able to practice what I preach and push it harder as a student than I do when I teach, since I didn’t have to talk on a microphone.
But here’s what happened outside of fun….
My body is used to the energy demands of lifting heavy and teaching two spin classes a week. It’s not used to running for pleasure, sprinting 3x a week and doing moderate load lifts with dumbbells after sprinting. I constantly felt tired and I constantly felt hungry. In the past however, I would be in physical pain after running or too sore to keep going. I was tired, but not spent. I was able to still handle heavy weights and get through classes, sprints and all.
I attribute my ability to keep up in all the classes with heavy weights and fast speeds to the fact that I’m pretty freaking strong from powerlifting. And, that strength I’ve built over two years makes everything easier– even conditioning. Before powerlifting all I did were Barry’s style classes and a few kettlebell workouts a week, nothing with maximal loads, and every Shred415 or Barry’s class was hard. But I felt more capable now.I’m not trying to brag at all, but I was very impressed with my athleticism in Barry’s classes especially, since I haven’t done them very often in the past year.
One struggle for me in the three and a half weeks was that I never really knew what to train (muscle groups/body parts or specific lifts) if I did have time to lift on my own, because I wasn’t really sure what muscles I’d truly stressed the most in each class. Therefore I just tried to get in moderate loads of squats, bench presses and deadlifts, to practice form; practice is crucial for muscle memory.
My shoulders and biceps felt strong because I never train biceps on my own. One really interesting fact is that I never felt as sore as I do from my powerlifting, most likely due to the theory of progressive overload– no new demands were placed on my body.
Near the end of my experiment (last week of September-ish) I tested my squat and was surprised to hit 185 for 3×3. I’d at least maintained my 3×3 max.
It's not 200, but hitting 185 for 3×3 after teaching 4 spin classes and taking 3 Barry's classes this week was pretty awesome. I've been up to a little experiment with strength and maximal loads versus conditioning and high frequency/ moderate loads and I'm about halfway through it. The results (and little experiment itself) will be revealed in October. I chose to skip my regular powerlfiting schedule this week and just hit all Big Three today for 3×3. Next up is bench! Woo! #daretomove #powerlifting #conditioning Also! Thanks to @rebellstrength for this awesome "lift heavy shit" tank top! Miss you all!
My deadlift and bench, however, were not so strong. 225 felt hella hard and my bench press felt nearly impossible. It was still there, but felt like crap!
I’m a firm believer in thee idea that women need to do more volume and practice when it comes to upper body strength, and I simply hadn’t given myself the time under tension nor practice in that lift for it to feel awesome.
By the last week of the experiment my body was starting to feel achy in my hip and left groin/hamstring area, an area thats always been a problem for me when I push it too hard or run too often. It made me consider taking a yoga class and go easy at Cyc. In the end I just took one lazy rest day and did nothing.
This experiment gave me new perspective. It took pressure off of myself– I didn’t have to program for myself for almost a month! But distance does make the heart grow fonder and the experiment motivated me to go back to my scientific, programmed training. For me, it’s fun, it works for the aesthetic I’m seeking and the feeling that makes me feel alive– feeling strong as hell.
Practice is crucial when it comes to keeping a skill and if you know me well, you know that I consider strength a skill. The one thing I didn’t like about bopping around town and taking various classes was that I never knew exactly what I was training.
I loved the way the trainers in Boston and else where made me feel. I loved the novelty of different exercises and exercise combinations, but at the end of the day I love my simple front squat, back squat, bench press and deadlifting training days more.
I learned that the little drills DO matter when it comes to the accesory lifts after my big lifts each day and I’m pumped to get back into them again.
I learned that it’s OK to not feel 100% motivated 365 days a year.
I learned that I’m surrounded by very motivational, smart and fun trainers in Boston.
I became more motivated than ever to spend an entire 40-45 minutes in the gym dong ALL of my accessory lifts. In fact, I went back to the same program I started 16 weeks out from my first ever bikini competition and I’m currently in week three of that and I love it. Last week I was able to squat 200 pounds so all in all it’s safe to say that 1) Barry’s Bootcamp has got your backside 2) without practicing the deadlift and bench and weighted chin they WILL suffer slightly.
Why should you care?
You all know that my goal is to inspire others to believe in themselves. Your biggest takeaway from this article should be: don’t go stagnant. Don’t settle. Don’t waste time feeling frustrated. Go out and make a change. Approach it with curiosity and not as punishment when it comes to training or nutrition.
If you are unsure of what works best for you, check out this piece on what type of exerciser you are 😉