What I have learned from gym

It’s actually an overdue piece I have wanted to write for my 3 year mark since I started regular exercise, about 2 months overdue. But I am glad I am jogging it down right now. And this is one of the many life rules I have learned from my gym work, ‘It’s better late than never.’ For most of us, it’s never too late to pick up a hobby or make changes to our life. I was once that person who believed it’s only natural to gain additional weight after giving births. But after months of consistent exercise and diet, I see the changes in myself. And I see the same happening in other people as well. Not only have I changed my body shape, also my strength has improved a lot. I was once the person who complained about women cannot do pull-ups, and naturally have a heavier lower body and weaker upper body. I even took effort to look for theoretical articles to support my argument. And, only after the coach kept pushing and consistent exercises, oh god I proved myself wrong by being able to do over 10 strict pull-ups in a row. Also, as I aged, I have never imagined I can gain back the energy level as my teen age. Not to mention better. And then I did it at the age of 34 and better every day. Since then I have gained confidence that if I can do the once my belief of ‘impossible’, with a strong will, laser focus and discipline, I can make other life changes as well.

Lesson number 2, how we live our life is determined by ‘priorities’, or in other words, it’s determined by the choices we made every single day. It is so easy to say, ‘I don’t have time for exercise’, or ‘I don’t have the time and energy to develop a new hobby’ etc. But after all, it is all about ‘how badly we want it’. We in this world all have the same 24 hours every day. It is what we choose to do that makes the difference. Work and kids sometimes can be unpredictably hectic. But most of the time, it follows a routine, and we can prioritize what we like to do around it. For me, staying healthy and active is on the top of my list. No matter how busy the schedule can be, I will try my best to carve out time for exercises. If it’s down to I have to get up early at 5am, I will do it. If I can only squeeze in 20 minutes of free time, I will do a short HIIT session. If I cannot find my alone time for gym/running, I will do some burpees while kids were doing their homework, or I will run around the playground perimeter while kids are playing. Excuses are just excuses. If we can find time to browse internet, or idly looking at our phone screens, we can find time to exercise. It is just a personal preference.

Lesson number 3, changes don’t happen overnight. They only happen gradually. Sudden changes don’t stay. We need to have patience to see the changes, or to let a new habit kick in. So for exercise, we cannot amp up our exercise volume too quickly, otherwise, we will pay a price by either being too fatigue to keep going, or worse, having an injury. For diet, we cannot rush to see the 5 lb difference in 1 week by taking cleansing juices, cause those weight loss (usually water loss anyway) don’t stay. Most of time, it came back, or even worse, brought back more weight after coming back to a normal diet. If such magic exists, everyone in this world will not worry about weight problems. And, in order to see real changes, hard work is a must. For example, in order to change career, we need to invest hundreds of hours of study, if not in thousands, in the new field, talking to people, finding opportunities, establishing contacts, etc. In order to gain master knowledge in any field, 10,000 hours (theory from book ‘Outlier’ authored by Malcom Gladwell) of deliberate practice is needed. And no matter how much passion is there, the process is guaranteed not 100% fun. Patience, a lot of it, is needed for the change to happen.

Lesson number 4, consistency matters. It’s easy to say, but sometimes, it’s so easy to let it slip. Sometimes, letting something slip does not matter that much, and we can probably get by for a lot of life chores. But gym work is different. Diet too. If you miss gym sessions for a week or two, your body will know it. Your strength level will know it. And your energy level will know. All of a sudden, the weight you can lift drops, the arms and legs and abs become soft, and the training volumes drops. For runners, the pace drops, and the distance once considered a bliss now becomes a nightmare. The realization of the reality sucks, but it’s the truth of life. Our body is being so honest with us, and we better make it up for the missed session before it’s too late.

So, life is hard after all, and we only get to live it once. Here are the rules I now live by and try to make the most out of it. I am enjoying the ride so far, and hope you do the same.

 

Upper body day: Sample training plan

Recently, a few friends are asking me about how to improve upper body strength. A lot of women suffered from it, including me three years ago. I remember I could not complete even a knee push up when I first started strength training, and always opted for the lightest dumbbell when possible for any movement. Thanks to my colleague friend back then, who helped me build up my core and upper body strength by a lot of free weight movements. And now I can even complete a few strict form pull-ups which I never imagined three years ago.

Here below is a sample plan for beginner upper body day. I assume you have enough time to add it on top of your core training day and leg day. While doing those upper body movements, make sure you have tight core ALL THE TIME. Do not hyper extend your back which is a very common mistake. Do not swing your arm. Control your arms especially for negative movement. Tight abs, tight back ALL THE TIME (can’t emphasize this point more). Choose weight properly to make sure last 3 reps are hard to finish, but not causing injury.

Warm up, especially have upper body joints warm up (Row machine cardio can be a good warm up): 5-10 min

Wide grip Lateral Pull down 3 sets x 15

Feet elevated Push-up 3 sets x 15
Seated Row 3 sets x 15 (or single arm dumbbell row)
Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 sets x 15
Dumbbell Bicep-curl 3 sets x 15
Dumbbell Triceps kick-back 3 sets x 15
This 6 movements should keep you busy for 45 minutes, depending on your rest time in between.
Stretch and cool down : 5 min

Gym diary before travel

It has been a few days since my last blog entry. Life and work has become a bit hectic recently, especially work. Lack of sleep last week caused a big drag for the gym activities. I still made it a few times, but the training volume is miserable in my own standard. I guess there are good and bad days, just like life itself.

Flash to this week, knowing I will travel for a few days for the Independence day weekend (mostly likely will miss the gym), and with more shut-eye hours logged, I was able to keep up with the plan. So, sleep is the key! Also, pre-workout packed with caffeine helped especially for the early morning workout. Oh, and additional carbs helped too. My dad brought back some of my favorites snacks from China and I just can’t stop eating them. Eventually, I guess I made good use of them in the gym. =D Here below is my training log for the past few days.

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Monday: (night)
No time for gym during the day. So only before sleep, I was able to do a ladder upper body workout, which comprised of:
1 pull-up, 5 push-ups
2 pull-up, 10 push-ups
3 pull-up, 15 push-ups
4 pull-up, 20 push-ups
5 pull-up, 25 push-ups
6 pull-up, 30 push-ups
7 pull-up, 35 push-ups
8 pull-up, 40 push-ups, 100 abs (Crunches, flutter kicks, scissors, bridges), 15 side hip raise each side
9 pull-up, 45 push-ups, 100 abs (Crunches, flutter kicks, scissors, bridges), 15 side hip raise each side
I have to note that, pull-ups after 3 counts are all assisted, and most of the push-ups after first 3 rounds are knee-push-ups. I found this exercise very interesting and easy to do at home. And I can variate my push-ups between wide, narrow, military, diamond, and pike forms, which adds more spices into the workout.

Tuesday: Leg/Glutes day. (Early evening)
Barbell Squats: 5 sets x 11 (95lb for 3 sets, 115 for 1), Jump Squats 4 sets x 30 seconds
Dumbbell Swing Lunges 4 sets x10 (12lb each), Jump Lunges 4 sets x 30 seconds
Cable Deadlifts: 5 setsx12 (140lb), High Knees 4 sets x 30 seconds
Dumbbell Curtsey Lunges 2 sets x10 (15lb each)
15 min inclined walk

Wednesday: Upper body (5am)
Straight Arm Lat pull with ropes (25lb), Dumbbell Pull Overs (10lb each), 4 sets x 25
Cable Curls (15lb), Dumbbell Tricep kick backs (10lb each), 4 sets x 25
Seated Wide Grip Row (40lb x1, 45lb x3), Tricep rope extension (25lb x2, 30lbx2) 4 sets x 25
Dumbbell Hammer Curls to Shoulder Press (10lb each), T-Bar high rows 4 sets x25 (machine only, 45lb? no additional weight added)
12.5min Stair Mill, 5 min of Row

Thursday: Leg/Glutes (6:30am)
Barbell Squats (115lb) 5 sets x10, Hip Thrust (135lb) 4 sets x20
Glute flutter kicks with ankle weights (2lb each) 4 sets x 1min, Hip Thrust (135lb) 4 sets x 20
Barbell Deadlifts (135lb) 5 sets of 8, Straight leg donkey kicks with ankle weights (2lb each) 4 sets x 25
11 min Stair Mill

How to resist summer food temptation – Plan ahead!

As San Jose just embraced an extremely hot summer day at 90F, and July 4th in the corner, I smelled lots of BBQ and Pool party in the air. It also meant lots of chips, beer, alcohol, soda, and cakes are on the way. Facing with all these temptations, and all the peer pressure from friends’ great appetite, it will be so hard to just resort to salad every time for the get-together. After all, we spent all these time in gym and hills not only for the look, but for a great lifestyle. And lifestyle should not limit our happy hours to salads only. So, how to keep the look (yup, it is still important! LOL) we like, and still enjoy (to some extent) the party food?

For myself, the key is to plan the meals ahead. Usually, party doesn’t happen in the last minute. With the date of party in knowledge, we can ‘save’ the calories ahead of time. (Saving calories afterwards is usually harder…) The easiest exercise is to skip breakfast on the party day. And a usual practice for me is to skip carbs (and fat if possible) on the lunch as well. If I went too crazy (or the party food is too good to resist), I will practice the same for the next day. I definitely would not take snacks around the days of party. Snacks usually have a serving of around 100 calories to 200, which translates to 10-20 minutes of cardio. So, every small bites counts and can go a long way. Saving the quota ahead of time definitely helps with the damage from the party. And that is how I enjoyed the food at the same time trying to stay lean.

 

So far so good: Portion control

As I mentioned earlier, this shredding for me mainly is to cure my ‘overeating’ habit. Most of my weight gain since last September is due to overeating. It is not only about overeating the yummy gourmet food, but anything. There were some worst episodes that I ate almost every variety of snack available in the pantry after dinner till I sleep.  It felt like an eating marathon. I would eat rounds of nuts for each flavor I have, each type I have, including almond, pistachio, macadamia, pecan, pumpkin seeds, cashews, etc., Chinese pastries, Macro friendly ice cream (Halo Top, Enlighten), Beef jerkey, Protein mix, Fruits, Dates, Waffles, etc. I remember there’s one time I finished half bag of creme filled waffle snacks within one night. It’s not like I don’t know what I was eating and how damaging it can be. I know it’s sugar and fat and all that chemical junk, but it’s just difficult to stop until I got my satisfaction or too full to stuff more in.

Sometimes, I will feel terrible afterwards and the guilt will drive me to do multiple sets of Burpees. At least I felt it got compensated a little bit. But the next day, the same episodes repeats… Diet is the hardest part and it’s a daily struggle.

Ever since I decided to start this 8 week program, with a set goal in mind, my mental set seems to change immediately. I started to exercise portion control again especially for sweets/desserts which had been the hardest for me (another weak point being nuts clusters). I can stop after a few bites for the taste now. I won’t say it’s ‘cured’ since it’s only two weeks. But it’s promising. And the weight is coming down. Keep fingers crossed…

Gym day: 6/12/2017

With a Sunday’s feast (yeah, I did a big cheat meal completed with a big bowl of fries and a slice of chocolate cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory. I know that’s a LOT of calories… No need to be informed. But I enjoyed every bite of them. =D) after 48xxx steps for a 11+7miles hike day, I figured a gym day is due despite of tiredness of legs. After waking up at 5:45am, I hit gym for a upper body day with a water bottle loaded with pre-workout caffeine.

So, here is today’s arms and back training log. When comparing with last week’s record, either the reps or the weight was improved, probably thanks to the caffeine.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press, Wide Grip Lateral Pulls: 4 sets of 10: 25, 90 for 2.5 sets, 20, 90 for 1.5 sets
Cable Straight Bar Underhand Front Raise, Straight Arm Lat Pulls with ropes: (RS gym) 20×15, 32.5×12
Dumbbell Arnold Press, Dumbbell Pull overs: 15×10-12, 15×10-14  for 4sets
Dumbbell Upright Rows, Standing High Row with Rope: (RS gym) 20×10-11, 45×10-11 for 4 sets
Lat Pull down: 3 sets drop sets of 6-8 reps from 90lb

Cardio: 15 mins Stair Master (with back kick) as warm up, 6 mins Stairs in the end

Motivation for exercise

I have to admit, I don’t have motivation for gym every day. Sometimes, for various random reasons, I would rather browsing web mindlessly than pulling myself to the gym entrance. Usually, I prefer a block of at least 1.5hr for gym. But it may not happen every day, with life’s requirement of kids and work. And when that’s the case, I have less motivation to move. And the only choice left for me is to do light weight or body weight exercise at home, which made it even harder.

But deep down I know I need to do it. It’s for my own good and I cannot fool anyone. I need to think less and just start moving. Motivation is not achieved by talking but doing. Having all the ideas without actions is meaningless. So, for me, I just need to put it on my calendar, and stand up from my chair. Once I started my first exercise, everything else just flows. The grind and routine just follows. And I know I will be happy, because I am in the ‘zone’, focusing only on the exercises, without distractions from work, family or stress. And I guess that is the major drive that prompted me to leave the chair anyway.

So, here is today’s leg exercise after some struggles at first:

Glutes/Hamstring Raise 4 sets x10, Fire Hydrant on floor 4 sets x 1min

DB Single Leg Deadlifts 4 sets x 10, Reverse Hip Thrust with Ankle weight 4 sets x 20: 40, 2lb; 40, 2lb; 40×12, 2lb; 45×10, 2lb

DB Single Leg Squats 4 sets of 10, Lateral Donkey Kicks with Ankle Weights 4 sets of 20 (2lb)

Cardio: 20min inclined walk as warm up, 5 mins as cool down

(Kettlebell swing 45×10/12 x 4 sets; Bulgarian Split Squats 15lb x`12 x 4 sets; in the morning for a 10 min session, along with some glutes activation moves)

HIIT day – and the struggle to workout

It’s been a while since I last did HIIT  (high intensity interval training). It was my best friend when I first started to shred weight 3 years ago. Those 20-30 minutes crazy all-in workout works like magic for me, boosting my metabolism, and crazily efficient in burning calories and post-workout-burn.

This morning, after waking up at 6:20am, I struggled in bed for quite a while, debating if I should get up and do it. I know I should since I skipped gym for a few days recovering from the cold, feeling weak. But even after I dragged myself up and tuned to fitness blender channel to find the HIIT program I want to do, dreadful of the ‘cruelness’ of the HIIT workout, I lay down again… Giving myself all these excuses not to proceed…

Anyway, after 20 minutes of mental struggle, thinking about the friends who have been keep up at my weight loss program, thinking about my promise of change after 8 weeks, I finally pushed the ‘start’ button for the youtube HIIT program.

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Oh boy, it’s not easy. The  20 minutes seemed like forever… But I managed it. Afterwards, the familiar feeling of accomplishment after stepping out of shower overwhelmed me. The feeling of getting something done even before the family waking up made me happy (despite the struggle at the beginning). No one says the journey of exercise is easy, but it’s the rewards, the improvement of life quality, the improved capability, the increased energy level, and the gratitude for a healthy body that keeps us going.

My usual meals

Quite a few friends were asking me to post my meals. It’s actually a bit embarrassing for me to do so. Cause although I know a lot of what to eat, what are the right food, how much I should eat, and what macros I should be eating, I don’t usually do that in reality…

First of all, I do not count my calories. Not during my 1st transformation, not for this one. I should say, I know macro nutrients distribution in the food more than average people. I can estimate food portion and calories 70-80% accurate. When I look at what I eat, what I thought is not its tastiness but calories and macronutrients, subconsciously. So, even though I don’t count, I usually have a rough idea of how much I  have put into my body. And since most of my meals consist of whole food, I used my fullness as the guideline.

But for newbies in fat loss, without the knowledge of food, I highly recommend to record your food for at least a week. After one week, you should have a pretty good idea of how much we usually eat, and adjustment can be made from there. One month of food log would be even better. We are what we eat. The more we know about what we put into our body, the better.

2nd of all, not all my food is healthy. I eat junk snacks as well. I eat out, have desserts once in a while, and like to have a drink sometimes. I enjoy fat pork bellies and Peking ducks. But most of the time, I ate consciously, and compensate in other meals accordingly. And that is basically how I maintained my body fat low for an extended period of time, while still enjoying the good food I like.

3rd, I usually just eat the same food with the family. It’s just I eat more of the healthy choices (like lean meat, leafy veggies, etc.) and less of the non-macro-friendly ones (like pork bellies, Pizza, etc.) if not all the plates are ‘clean whole foods’ to my standards. And the other family members needs to be fed with some more delicious food than my prep after all. In that case, I don’t need to spend extra time for a separate meal which is definitely not affordable for working families.

Food is fuel. And eat mindfully. That is what we are trying for…

 

 

It’s Friday! (Gym diary 6/2/2017)

So far, the program has started for a week (counting the long hike day as the 1st)! Hooray! The weight has been under control (actually hitting 3 months low under the influence of a combination of clean diet, long hike, and portion control). And the volume of the weight training has slowly been picked up. If the weight keeps dropping for next week, I think I need to switch gear to lean muscle build instead of shredding then. =D

Since my legs and glutes are still sore from yesterday’s plyometrics training, it’s upper body day again. And here are the shoulder and arms moves for today:

DB Shoulder Press, Straight Bar Curls: 20×10, 45 bar x6; 20×10, cable 30×8; 20×9, 30×8; 20×9, 30×8
DB Reverse Fly, DB Tricep Kick Backs: 12×10, 12×12; 12×12, 12×15; 12×12, 15×11; 12×12, 15×12
Straight Bar upright row, Preacher Curls: 45×10, 30×4 + 20×6; 45×10, 20×10; 45, 20; 45, 20
DB Lateral Raise, Bodyweight Dips: 12×10, 8; 12, 10; 12, 10; 12, 10