Fit After 40: The Pros Weigh In On Thriving and Surviving

rustychain

Have you ever brainstormed an idea that you were sure would be a smashing success, only to find that it was actually terrible? This happened when I created a “fit after 40” class, aimed at women I wanted to attract to a gym where I train.

I could see the appeal of creating a small training group of people who were in “the mid”: roughly our 40’s-60’s, a period that I am coming to find as a sweet spot in life.

We’ve got our groove back: many of us have survived the whirlwind of starting careers and sleepless nights with newborns. Those of us who are parents now pack lunches for our brood and send them off for the day. We’re often settled into a more comfortable pattern with our careers, though often have more responsibility.  In essence, we’re probably busier than ever, but we also are more likely to have our shit together.

There are also changes that happen along the way with both our bodies and our mindset that made me suspect that my class would garner interest. We’d have peers going through the same time of life. Participants could get a great workout that was still mindful of joints that were a little less forgiving. Training would be challenging but smartly designed. So when it went up on the roster, I was full of enthusiasm. I told my friends, and I was sure it would be a hit. Until nobody showed up.

My friend Sarah hit on something when she quipped this remark:

“Nobody our age wants to go to a Fit After 40 class. We want to feel like we’re badasses.”

The more I thought about it, I realized she was right. There’s something about things aimed at middle-aged people that irritates me. Even the term middle aged feels blah. The marketing messaging seems to give women matronly and sexless identities.  We’re painted as sensible, turtleneck-wearing soccer moms. We’re less likely to be portrayed as sexy unless it’s in the ‘milfy’ sense. Middle-aged dudes don’t fare much better: they’re stereotyped as pathetically trying to recapture their youth with sports cars and little blue pills.

No mom jeans here.

No mom jeans please.

Maybe that’s okay. I don’t care if my butt looks artfully perky on Instagram. To me, “Netflix and Chill” means I watch a movie and fall asleep halfway through. Put your pants back on.  But still, In reality, we’re still us inside. While I can’t speak for everyone, my 40-60 something peers are feeling strong and vibrant. We care a lot less about what everyone thinks about us: in short, we have fewer fucks to give about things that aren’t really that important, and that leaves us more time to focus on being awesome. We’re ready to go kill it. It doesn’t surprise me that my clients in their middle years have goals like these:

  • Complete a Half Ironman
  • Bench 100 pounds
  • Improve performance for cycling races
  • Perform a pushup from the floor
  • Do an unassisted pullup

I’m 41 now, and when I’m 50, I hope to still be powerlifting competitively like one of my teammates, Terie. She’s a 51 year old powerlifter who believes age is just a number.

I have always had a competitive edge and power lifting is the perfect fit for me at this stage of my life. It’s just me against myself.

Terie Tishim, 51 year old powerlifter

Terie Tishim, 51 year old powerlifter

Some folks work out to have more energy. Others want to lose weight and feel better naked. But in this age group, I have always had several clients who are motivated by wanting to get better. Classes that point out that we’re aging make us feel like we can’t do something that the young woman next to us can do. And the more that I think about it, I realize that this is a ridiculous notion.

We can and should work hard. Many of us haven’t even reached our peak yet. Especially for those of us who weren’t athletes in our younger years, we are often capable of getting stronger than we ever were in our 20’s. We might even be able to run circles around those young pups around us. We just have to be smarter about it, because some things DO change: our joints might be less forgiving. Strength training becomes even more important. Our needs may shift.

I asked some of my own fitness heroes to share their observations of how their own fitness has changed as they’ve aged as well as their insight into training others in our age group. My overarching question was: “does anything change as we age?” Is there even a thing such as Fit After 40?

Managing Time, Minding Our Bodies

photo credit: Cassandra Forsythe

photo credit: Cassandra Forsythe

Cassandra Forsythe, Ph.D., RD, is the co-author of The New Rules of Lifting for Women and Women’s Health Perfect Body Diet. She’s an expert in fitness and nutrition, but also has personal insight to share about how her own training has changed with age.

In my experiences personally and professionally, once of the biggest things that has changed is the intensity of exercise. Not that an older woman is unable to exercise as intensely, but our joints aren’t as appreciative of it as they once were. For example, “high knees” and “Jumping butt kickers” are two “warmup moves” that I’ve had to tone down for the enjoyment of myself and others. My back and knees don’t love it any more.

Forsythe also mentioned that she takes more recovery than she used to: in earlier years, she regularly lifted 6 days a week. Now, she feels better lifting 4 days each week while incorporating activities like walking and yoga into her routine.

My clients also note that weight management seems more challenging. Women going through menopause have noted more accumulation of fat around their mid section. Forsythe noted that our lifestyle might play a role in the difficulty. She mentions responsibilities like work and children that may make nutrition take a back seat on our list of priorities.

When you’re younger (and when I was younger), it was much easier to cut out calories and exercise all the time. When we age, other responsibilities take the forefront and body comp is a concern, but much less so.

My takeaway: in the mid, time management becomes more critical for incorporating fitness into our days. Additionally, we are more likely to revise what we see as realistic outcomes from our nutrition and fitness in order to manage the bigger picture.

Accepting Less Control in Our Training Outcomes 

photo credit: Lou Schuler

photo credit: Lou Schuler

Lou Schuler is a journalist and author of many of my favorite books, including his new release, Strong. (I had a chance to read this one, by the way, and it’s absolutely outstanding. Nab it for an excellent, approachable guide for strength training, whether you’re a beginner or more experienced.) Schuler also had some thoughts about how his own training has evolved through the years.

His most interesting observation was about progress no longer feeling linear. After making steady progress on a lift, he sometimes experiences a sharp reduction in strength “almost inexplicably”.

I say “almost” because there’s usually something going in the background — cranky knees, or tight hammies, or a shoulder that’s sore for no apparent reason.

I can relate to him: as I approached 40, the accumulation of events in my life began to reveal themselves as I trained. My labrum tore in my hip. My shoulders protest loudly if I ask too much of them. Schuler noted something similar:

After all these years of feeling like I’m in charge of my body, my body has suddenly discovered checks and balances… I miss my days as a dictator!

So what do we do? Hang it up and go to senior aerobics? Hell no. Not for Schuler, who believes that a lifetime of movement with some aches and pains trumps years of inactivity.

“Rust out or wear out”.

 

photo credit: Nick Tumminello

photo credit: Nick Tumminello

This sentiment was also echoed by the trainer of trainers, Nick Tumminello, who is the author of one of my staple training manuals, Strength Training for Fat Loss. Tumminello is still a young lad in his 30’s but has worked with countless folks in the most popular demographic for personal training: ages 35-50.

I chatted with him about this not only for his experience but because he posted the following on his Facebook wall recently:

When it comes to working with adults, I don’t train them by their age. I train them by their ability.

Tumminello points to the great amount of diversity among us: genetics, lifestyle, and personal history play a much greater role in how our bodies respond to training than how many birthday candles we’ve lit. Just like younger counterparts, we need to base our programs on general guidelines for safety and progression.

Still, Tumminello acknowledges that there are common issues that arise as our bodies age. We are more likely to have previous injuries that may affect the exercises and training strategies that we choose. Many of the common exercises we chose for years may no longer feel so comfortable.

Tumminello’s overarching point is that we need to get creative and, like everyone else, adjust exercises to our bodies. His points make sense to me: does it really matter if you do a conventional deadlift off the floor if it bugs your body? Can you find another hinging movement that creates a similar training effect yet feels good?

I asked him if listening to our bodies is the wisest course of action, but he challenged this phrase: is it really very useful? What does it actually mean? For Tumminello, the idea of listening to your body means finding tolerable movements that you can do, while progressing very gradually. Don’t be afraid to modify exercises and you’ll be able to get (and stay) fit with less risk of injury.

Don’t Train To Be a Hero

photo credit: Bryan Krahn

photo credit: Bryan Krahn

Bryan Krahn knows a little something about getting people fit in our age group: along with fitness writing, he specializes in improving physique and strength for men over 35. Like Tumminello, Krahn also emphasizes the importance of training intelligently.

Everyone suffers joint breakdown as they age. Those who accept that and don’t train to be heroes can avoid most problems. Those who try to bench like they’re 19 again are setting themselves up for a world of hurt.

As I spoke with fit pros, a common thread began to emerge: continue to train, because it’s more important than ever. Don’t be an idiot. Respect what your body needs.

Along with these common themes, fitness after 40 should bring with it the wisdom to appreciate the bigger picture. We are less likely to be chasing six-packs. We’re much more likely to begin to appreciate what fitness can bring us in terms of longevity. As we see our parents age and our more sedentary peers begin to reveal the markers of time, getting and staying fit takes on a new urgency.

Even though my “Fit After 40” class flopped, another women’s strength training group I instruct for a community ed program is flourishing. The only description for the program flyer was “women’s strength training”. And it just happens to be completely populated by women in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. I asked them why they pursue fitness. Aesthetic goals were voiced here and there, but overwhelmingly, women wanted to get strong in order to be able to do all the things we hope for as we age:

  • We want to continue to move well and be able to be active on vacations. 
  • We want to feel strong.
  • We want to live longer. 
  • We want to not only live longer, we want to live better.

The last bullet point is really the rub, isn’t it? Dan John differentiates between “carp level survival”, which sounds pretty grim, and thriving as we pursue longevity.

John is a legendary strength coach, record holding athlete, academic, and author of multiple books, including Can You Go?. He’s the total package of wisdom and experience when it comes to understanding how aging impacts us, and I was lucky enough to chat with him about it.

The Most Dangerous Part Of Dan John’s Day: Statistics, Survival, and Moving Beyond

photo credit: Dan John

photo credit: Dan John

Coach John is a captivating person to speak with: right off the bat, he shook up the way I’d been thinking about staying fit.

Dan John: What do you think the most dangerous part of my day is? 
Me: Uhhhhhhhh…
Dan John: The most dangerous part of my day is when I get into the shower. After that, it’s when I ride my bike to work.

A gifted storyteller, Dan John often makes us consider things differently. If we want to consider purely surviving, our bacon abstinence isn’t really a big deal. For people over the age of 55, the biggest risk faced is breaking a joint like our hip.

We have a statistically better chance of surviving cancer than we do of surviving a break of the hip.

Along with advice like flossing our teeth for better heart health, using movement as preventative medicine is often overlooked as a way to survive. And beyond survival, maintaining a healthy foundation of movement is critical for feeling good too.

Dan John breaks down movement into six categories:

1. Push
2. Pull
3. Squat
4. Hinge
5. Loaded Carry
6. Tumbling

Tumbling? According to him, the sixth movement  is one of the most important things that someone new to exercise should pursue. By tumbling, John means work that teaches us to fall safely. We do Turkish Get Ups, practice safely tumbling (John uses techniques learned from Judo) and balance drills that teach us to safely stumble. Here’s one he showed me:

stumbling

It may seem like an unnecessary exercise if it felt easy, but I can tell you that I get people on the ground and make them get back up. They are often surprised by how challenging it is. One of my long-time clients remarked “how is it that suddenly one day it’s a pain in the ass to get off the floor?”

It creeps up on us. If we keep training this all along, we won’t face unpleasant surprises.

Along with urging us to get down onto the floor more, John puts a high priority on the 5th category: doing loaded carries. Getting good at carrying heavy things doesn’t just make it easier to haul in our groceries. It also increases our work capacity, which in turn, according to John, equals a thriving life.

After focusing on those two movement types initially, we get our squat back. We might start down on the ground on hands and knees, and then progress to the goblet squat, a movement that John popularized and has cleaned up the squatting movement of just about every client I’ve trained. After that, he looks at what we can do and combines the movements. Like other pros suggest, we find what fits us and attempt to get better at it.

Patience is a Virtue

photo credit: James Fell

photo credit: James Fell

I was curious about what James Fell had to say. Fell, a syndicated columnist and author of Lose It Right is a straight shooter who has unique insights into fitness. He’s also ridiculously witty; definitely read his articles on his website, Body for Wife.

Fell believes that the greatest virtue for the over 40 crowd is patience. Lack of patience has long been my achilles heel: it’s brought me not only frustration but injuries that could easily have been avoided if I’d respected my body’s needs. Perhaps the training considerations that we need to put in place as we age aren’t so much a factor of the aging process as they are a consequence of all the dumb shit we did when we were younger: the 15-mile runs I limped through preparing for a marathon at age 21, or the day I decided to do a max rep bench at a blindly optimistic weight, despite having only trained the bench press for about a month. Those were not super ideas.

Regardless, Fell doesn’t take a doom and gloom approach: he points to the benefit of being over 40, when we often have more dedication and focus than we did in our younger years.

The tortoise approach can take someone a long way when they are persistent and keep going towards their goal at a rational pace.

Fell nails it on the head, I think. He sees his fitness goals as not being terribly different than when he was a younger guy: he’s a little less focused on vanity, yet he still wants to look good. Just like most of us. We’re less fixated on our bodies, but we still appreciate what they look like and what they can do. We want to pursue performance, but not at the cost of our well being.

In short, we are badasses. We may have some extra aches and pains but we’re smarter now. We don’t define ourselves by our age, but we can respect the changes that come. When we see the long game, we can win.

Did you dig this article? Sign up and download my FREE book, Fat Loss on a Budget, for a complete nutrition, fitness, and planning guide to losing fat without breaking the bank. 

$0 Fitness: The At Home Strength Workout That Doesn’t Cost a Thing.

$ Workout collage

Hey guys!

I’m celebrating the launch of my new book, Fat Loss on a Budget,this week and I’ve got saving money on the brain. When we start working out, it can be a little discouraging to get ideas only to find that we have to go out and buy 5 expensive pieces of equipment to get going.

Over time, if you decide to work out at home, investing in basic equipment can be money well spent. However, it takes time and bargain hunting to do it on the cheap.  I love scanning local Buy and Sell boards on Facebook as well as Craigslist to get crazy good deals.

But you can do plenty with nothing more than your own bodyweight. If you have gallons of water, heavy toddlers, or anything else to add load once bodyweight exercises become easy, use your imagination and keep challenging yourself.

Today’s strength workout  works well at home or for travel. All you need is your fine self. Ready to do this? Ok let’s go:

0workout

Exercises are paired as alternating sets. This way you can get a little more done in less time. If it feels too hard to complete all of your sets, start small: 1-2 sets of each exercise is cool too. Work up to getting through the entire workout as written.

Watch the Video First. Details Follow.

 

Alternating Set A – 3 Sets
1) Bodyweight Bulgarian Split Squat – 8-12 reps per leg, or as many as it takes to challenge you.
If this is too hard, lower your back to the floor and perform a reverse lunge or a static lunge for as many reps as you can on each leg.

2) Pushup – 6- 10 reps. Pick the variation that suits you best. Either do them from the floor or at an incline. Pushup superstars can play with more difficult variations too like spider pushups or decline pushups. 

Alternating Set B – 3 Sets 
1) Single Leg Hip Thrust – 6-12 reps per leg. New hip thrusters may find that these are really hard! You need to be able to lock out at the top and really feel your butt squeeze. Do them 2 legs at a time, or try doing one leg at a time from a bridge position on the floor. 

2) Towel rows – 8-15 reps. These are wild but they work! Back exercises are the one thing that seem really tough to do without a chin-up bar at home (though creativity fixes many woes!)
I’ve also done inverted rows under my kitchen table, but try this at your own risk. I didn’t smash my face pulling the table onto myself, but it could happen. Oops.

Alternating Set C – 3 Sets 
1) Slow Step Ups onto a chair or bench – 8-15 reps per side, whatever challenges you most appropriately. Keep these slow and controlled. You’ll be surprised at how much harder they become when we don’t cheat our way up with momentum!

2) Pike Pushups – 6-10 reps. A slightly easier variation, in my opinion, is the Hindu pushup, where you can glide back into starting position instead of having to push yourself back to starting.

Bonus Burn: The 8 x 4
Still have a little spring in your step and are itching to do a bit more? Perform this quick finisher for some breathless, sweaty fun:

Do As Many Rounds As Possible for 8 minutes. 8 too much? Start with 5. Work your way up as you get fit.

8 jump squats (regular squats if your knees aren’t feeling jumpy)
8 straight leg situps
8 lateral lunges per leg
8 mountain climbers per leg

Video with my 7-year-old workout partner. He’s a boss.

Give this one a whirl and let me know how it went!

If you want more workouts, nutrition help, and my favorite ways to save money while getting fit, sign up for my insider list and you’ll get it for free! Check it out below:

 

A Peek Inside a Week of Healthy Meal Planning

yummy snack

Hi guys! As part of the launch of Fat Loss on a Budget I want to walk you through what my own grocery shopping and meal prep looks like for my family.  Preparation is everything when it comes to optimizing your nutrition on a budget. Here’s what my weekend planning looked like last week:

Saturday Morning Prep
I wake up, pour some coffee, and gaze at my yarn. I really want to have a knitting and Hulu marathon instead of planning my shopping list. However, when Monday rolls around, I know that I’ll be way less stressed out if everything is in place. So I grudgingly get going and open up the grocery ads – I usually have print ads as well as access to digital ads on my computer.

hyvee ad

I then peek into my chest freezer to see how much meat and frozen veggies I still have on hand. My prepared freezer meals are down to nothing so this week I have to begin stocking up again here and there and try to make a few double batches of recipes to have on hand for busy days.

Score! I have a ridiculous amount of chicken that I nabbed for only $1.88 per pound. I also have at least 3 pounds of ground beef, wrapped into 1 pound packages. Unless we can find great sales on beef, we buy it in bulk at Costco and then divvy it up at home. When I say “we”, I mean my husband, because I always end up asking him to do it. THANKS BABEH.

Back to the ads. I have some familiar favorite meals that I can make based on what I have on hand. I compare prices of fruit between Aldi and my local grocery store, Hy-Vee. We have 2 other major supermarkets but my time is severely crunched this week, so I’m going to have to make it work going to only these stores. It’ll be fine.

After browsing recipes that I have on hand or online from favorite sites and thinking of the recipes that best match what I already have or can get for a low cost, I finally write my grocery shopping list and plan my menu for the week. You’ll see that in some cases, I’m making extra batches to have more meals. This lets me save time in the long run and also save money so that no ingredients go to waste.

The cost per meal isn’t what I actually have to spend each week. This is important to consider. I’ve estimated the cost of ingredients to give you a ballpark idea of what it costs to make a meal if you shop strategically.  Your total bill at the store will vary depending on what you already have on hand as well as how you and your family eat. Because I buy food when it hits very low prices, my costs are often even lower than those listed here because I nab ingredients when they’re at a deep discount. You can learn to do this too in my book. Ready for some meal ideas? Here we go!

The Meals

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.

Breakfasts:

  • Monday: Egg white/whole egg scramble with scraps of garden veggies I have on hand, a sprinkle of reduced fat cheese. Fruit on the side. Sometimes made with pizza sauce because pizza, or salsa.
    Total cost per serving: less than a dollar.
  • Tuesday: Protein pumpkin pancakes for me. Greek yogurt with cereal or oatmeal for the kids.
    Total cost per serving: around 40 cents. 
  • Wednesday : Overnight protein oats: Dashing Dish has a zillion variations. Usually the recipe is too filling to eat at once, so I save some for a snack. Here’s one I’m going to try this week: https://dashingdish.com/recipe/brownie-batter-overnight-protein-oatmeal/
    T
    otal cost per serving: $2.54 
  • Thursday: Old fashioned oats with 2 egg whites stirred in as they just finish cooking – you can’t even taste them and it makes them creamy. I like to sprinkle in blueberries, a half banana, and sometimes just a tablespoon of granola for crunch.
    Total cost per serving: 82 cents. 
  • Friday: Egg fried in pam with turkey sausage on a Thomas High Fiber English muffin and slice of Sargento ultra-thin cheese.
    Total cost per serving:  $1.17
  • Saturday: Steel cut oatmeal for family – made with apples, a bit of brown sugar, and for me, scrambled eggs with just a little oatmeal.
    Total cost for serving the family: $2.38
  • Sunday: Family fun breakfast: I double this recipe because I have hungry boys. This classic pancake recipe is still our go to.   I might add an apple topping if we have extra fruit. Serving with bacon.
    Total cost for a doubled recipe of pancakes and pound of bacon: $6.00 

Lunches

lunchschool

My lunches aren’t all that exciting. I don’t take time during the day to do much cooking. If I don’t have fun leftovers to munch, I’ll have my go-to “cheaper than Chipotle” salsa chicken to use for my own salad bowls. They’re just a combo of spinach or mixed greens, chicken,  and black beans mixed with a sprinkle of cheese and extra salsa. Sometimes I dice some onion on top too.

My kids need lunches too – they are way less adventurous than all the people pinning lunch ideas for kids seem to think. It’s typically homemade “lunchables”, turkey and cheese sandwiches, or PB&J with sides of yogurt, fruit, and whatever other random thing we might have sitting around that they’ll eat. Their drink is always water.

My husband just scavenges for leftovers or eats what I’m eating. Heh!
Total cost per lunches: Hard to say. The kids are probably less than $1 each per week day for lunch. My cost per meal is probably $1-$2 considering I’m using leftovers from other meals. Weekend lunches are usually leftovers or frozen. Costco tilapia/chicken is an emergency backup. I’ll estimate around $30 per week on lunches to feed everyone. 

Dinners

  • Saturday: Cincinnati Chili  – 3 batches so that we can have 2 in the freezer to just add spaghetti to later. My recipe adaptation is from Cooking Light.
    Total cost per single recipe for 6 servings: $7.73
  • Sunday: Crockpot salsa chicken – great recipe from the Eating on a Dime blog. I’ll do a double batch so that I have chicken to make “Chipotle Bowls” out of for several days. Serving over rice for the kids, over spinach for me. Adding in a bit of cheese.
    Total cost for 1 batch using a package of chicken: $5.32
  • Monday: Pork steaks grilled with a spice rub, butternut squash, and sauteed apples. I’m doing these because pork steak is only $1.99 per pound at the grocery store this week. Apples and squash are cheap right now too. Yay, fall!
    Total cost for feeding 2 adults and 3 boys (1.5 lbs meat): $7.00
  • Tuesday: Crockpot White Chicken Chili from New Leaf Wellness. I’ll make enough for  2 meals if possible so i don’t waste the other half bag of corn.
    Total cost for 1 recipe: $4.80
  • Wednesday: Fish Cakes from Bon Appetit. Hopefully my kids won’t hate this one.  A friend said her kid loved it. Eat it up, punks! I’m subbing in tilapia because we have some frozen that we need to use. I’ll serve some frozen veggies on the side.
    Total cost of cakes and veggies: $8.67
  • Thursday: Leftover salsa chicken made into high protein quesadillas with Flatout Protein wraps that I have on hand and reduced fat cheese leftover from chili recipe. Spinach salad will by my side with whatever fruit I have sitting around and homemade balsamic vinaigrette.
    Total cost for salad plus 5 quesadillas not including chicken because I already accounted for it: $6.53
  • Friday: Random leftovers night. Occasionally popcorn for dinner night or pizza night. Likely there will be some leftover chili of some sort. Friday night is “I will die if I have to cook dinner” night because we’re all usually burned out by then and need a break.
  • Saturday: Grilled chicken thighs or drumsticks that were spice rubbed.  I chose these because bone-in thighs and drumsticks are on sale at the store for 99 cents per pound. Also, my 8 year old loves them. I’ll serve them with whatever frozen veggies I find on sale if I didn’t already have a bag of frozen asparagus. I’ll also make homemade bread for little money and just a little bit more time because I have a bread machine.
    Total cost of meal for 5: $3.61
  • Sunday: Turkey tacos. I’ll cook 3 batches of lean ground turkey with homemade taco seasoning . I’ll stash 2 extra batches into the freezer for busy days.  For some bizarre reason I have 3 packages of flour tortillas sitting in my pantry. It’s a taco conspiracy, but I’ll go with it because tacos are freaking good. We’ll cut up the last of the garden tomatoes if we still have any, use up bits of extra greens that my 10 year old will claim ruin his tacos, and some cheese to round out Taco Sunday.
    Total price for a pound of meat plus tortillas, salsa and cheese: $5.94

Total dollars estimated on dinners for the week for a family of 5: $49.60

Snacks and treats:

Photo credit: Christopher Cornelius

Photo credit: Christopher Cornelius

Typically I make a homemade dessert once or twice per week. I try to use low cost things that I have on hand, often using up fruit that may go bad (hello, banana bread).  I leave money in my budget for little indulgences like ice cream and really good chocolate. A few bites of something sweet before bed is an almost daily event.

For daytime snacks, I sometimes have nearly nothing and other days I feel snacky and need munchies. I also need small meals or snacks to fuel my workouts if they fall at a time that isn’t near meal time.  I’ll eat Greek yogurt with a bit of fruit or PB2 in it, protein shakes, rice cakes with a bit of peanut butter, or string cheese. The remainder of my grocery budget usually goes to snacks. The kids also like granola bars, homemade popcorn with the Whirley Pop, and fruit. Who am I kidding, they like to eat whatever tasty thing is in the house. They are ALWAYS hungry!

Weekly snacks/treats budget: $10-$15. 

So that’s the food – now I have to actually cook it. For the double or triple batch items, I don’t have to do any extra work – just allocate a freezer bag to stick in the extra recipe for another meal. When I do this consistently, I can count on a few already prepped meals each week. These are lifesavers for the evenings when I work or for when I am too tired and lazy to think about dinner. It beats the drive through for staying on my nutrition plan too.

How I Chose My Meals
I made a point of choosing meals with a relatively high protein count and smaller amounts of carbohydrate and fat. Protein is the macronutrient target that I find the hardest to hit, but as I detail in my book, it’s a powerhouse for helping my body composition as well as helping me feel full.

What I Actually Spent
I meant to take an artful picture of my receipts and make it look glorious. Except then I cleaned out my purse and accidentally tossed the receipts. UGH! I ended up spending about $90 this week, which included not only things I needed for my meals for this week: I also stocked up on a few things for future meals. We made it work on $75-$80 a week when we had to. I know of families who have tighter budgets and make it work on even less.  Your available time to really work deals will play a role too. I managed to get my stuff without any couponing this week and I feel good about how we did.

What’s your meal plan? My challenge to you is to create one and post it here or on the thread I’ve created on my Facebook page. I can’t wait to see it! (Plus new ideas for meals rock. Thanks!)

Want to read more articles that help you create healthy habits?

You can join my Insider Newsletter for free and have my latest articles, workouts, and tips delivered to your inbox weekly. Just fill out the form below and you’ll be all set: you’ll also get my new e-book, Fat Loss on a Budget!

 

Think It’s Too Expensive to Get Fit? 3 Tips for Losing Fat on a Budget

Slick ads with pretty gyms that look like country clubs might lead you to believe that a gym membership is completely out of reach if you don’t have a lot of spare cash. The health food section at the store can seem almost comical.  $9 a pound for free range chicken and $4 for a mysterious bottle of juice promising a vague assortment of health benefits? Ain’t nobody got time (or cash) for that. Obviously someone does, but many of us see all of these things and it makes it feel like better health is for other people – people who have more disposable income.

Eating healthier can be very costly if you don't have some tricks up your sleeve.

Eating healthier can be very costly — if you don’t have some tricks up your sleeve.

The reality is that you need none of those things. What you do need are strategies for making healthy choices, a little education on how to make them, and support for your foray into the wild world of getting fit and losing fat. It really is like the Wild West in Fitness Land, and on every corner someone is trying to sell us an expensive solution. Most of them are bogus. The good news is that you’ve come to the right place if you want to get back into the saddle.

You absolutely can reach your fat loss goals without spending a fortune.

Why I’m Writing About Fat Loss on a Budget
I’ve got 4 dudes living under my roof — one husband and three constantly hungry, growing boys. They eat so much food – holy cow! Like most of you, we have many expenses. I don’t remember a time when I could just throw caution to the wind with my spending. That’s a nice fantasy…

dolla dolla bills

dolla dolla bills, y’all

But That’s Not Reality
I was no finance wizard. In fact, I really sucked at managing my money, but we had never been forced to so closely examine our finances. I had to quickly learn to stop spending cash like it was Monopoly money when we found ourselves in a very difficult place. My husband lost his job, I had 3 young kids at home, and our lives were turned upside down.

How I Used My Skills to Pay the Bills… And Get Fit
The funny thing is, the exact strategies that I had to develop to survive the recession ended up helping me get fit.  In fact, I’ll share my top 3 tips here that helped me get fit on a shoestring budget.

TOP THREE TIPS FOR LOSING FAT ON A BUDGET

Tip 1. Be Prepared.
Preparation is everything. Every dinner that you don’t have ready to eat in your house usually means you either:

a) Head through the drive-through (do this often and it’ll likely derail your fat loss goals, not to mention rob you of some nutrients that feed your mojo).

b) Go to the store for a last minute shopping trip, where you’ll not only have to pay whatever asking price the store offers for the ingredients you need; you’ll also probably pick up 5 extra things you don’t really need. I mean, at 5 pm after work, if I see some Oreos as I’m on my way to the meat counter, those babies are probably going into my cart.  

Then this spirals because I’m not only paying too much for dinner, I’m opening a bag of freaking Oreos in the car on the way home. Because I got hangry. Gah! 

c) Say ‘screw it’ and eat the last bit of Lucky Charms. And that’s just sad. Lucky Charms really are magically delicious, but they aren’t a great dinner option on a regular basis. 

Learning to shop strategically and have pre-planned menus will save you a ton of money and help you get lean: but what you’ll also gain is freedom around dinner time. That’s the time of day when most of us would pay good money to be in our house, take our pants off, and relax.

cats never have to wear pants

cats never have to wear pants

Tip 2. Being Frugal is different from being cheap. 
I’m not telling you to never spend money again. In fact, sometimes I spend more for a premium version of a product that really is worth the money. Knowing where to save and where to spend more is a skill to hone. This is true from everything from gym memberships to tennis shoes.

I used to shy away from purchasing certain healthy foods because initially the price tag seemed higher than I was used to paying. Buying more fresh produce seemed like it would wreck my budget.

But in reality, before I shifted my grocery purchases to healthier items, I wasted a lot of money on crackers, chips, soda, and other items that contributed little to my nutritional needs. Reigning in those purchases made more cash available for some more expensive but nutritionally powerful items.

This isn’t an all or nothing proposition, by the way. You don’t need to panic that you’ll lose all your goodies. You will just find that you naturally eat fewer treats when you’re eating for fat loss. You’ll have more available cash for healthy stuff that nutures your nutrition goals when you eat less of the stuff that you used to buy.

Tip 3. Don’t become a potato because you can’t be a ninja.
I lost a lot of my strength and conditioning after I had hip surgery, simply because I was so damn stubborn. I became a couch potato for way too long because I couldn’t do what I considered to be a “real” workout.

potatocat

I also avoided joining a gym for ages because they looked expensive. Yes, the gyms with juice bars, fancy locker rooms, and hot tubs are pretty. But they’re not any better for getting fit than cheaper options.

Home gyms are also completely doable for little cash, and there are many exercises you can do with no equipment at all. Once we stop chasing the idealized vision of a workout, we can begin to make progress.

Have you ever felt like fitness programs were out of reach? We see people on tv or bragging on Facebook about some routine that looks like a hybrid Navy Seal/Circus Performer/Ninja Acrobat workout. It looks a little amazing. But you know you couldn’t possibly do that.

Or maybe you’ve received so much information on what constitutes a “good” workout that you feel paralyzed. While avoiding the workouts we know we aren’t ready for, we give up on movement all together. Yet, if we’d just done something our bodies would thank us.

If you’re currently inactive, forget worrying about the perfect strength routine or completing a 5k. Those are laudable goals. I share beginner-friendly fitness routines here and on my Facebook page. Chances are, you will be ready to kick things up sooner than you imagine. Just remember that when you’re just beginning, it really doesn’t matter what you do. Only that you move.

Even this counts - who remembers how freaking awesome these were?

Even this counts – who remembers how freaking awesome these were?

Dance in the kitchen while you wash dishes. Go for a walk around the block. Sit down on the floor and then get back up. Move your body. It wants you to move it, and the feeling you get from movement will energize you to try more.

Are you into these ideas? I feel so passionately about better health being available to everyone that I wrote a book about it – and I’m giving it away for FREE! I go way more in depth and you can learn all you need to know about losing fat without busting your bank account. 

amydix_cover

Want a complete guide to making this all work?
I’ve been quietly working on my first book like a sneaky squirrel but now I am thrilled that it’s ready to share with all of you! I’ve compiled all the lessons I’ve learned over the years about getting healthier when my bank account is a lot slimmer than my waist line.

If you have found that every attempt to get fit has made a big dent in your wallet, this book will have help for you. 

If you feel like you can’t afford to eat well or lack what you need to get fit, this book  is for you. 

If you have nailed your budgeting but still struggle with successful fat loss, this book will help you find success. 

If you have unlimited amounts of money and don’t have to worry about saving at all, then this book might not be for you. But send me an email and tell me your secret! 😉 

Grab my book today  – it’s FREE! (That definitely fits your budget!) Inside you’ll find all the information to guide you every step of the way, including:

  • An easy-to-understand nutrition manual that will teach you how fat loss works with strategies that will help you learn to eat for your fat loss goals. No crazy diet plans or banned foods!
  • Chapters devoted to my best secrets for shopping and cooking on a shoestring budget – I used to feed 5 people on $75 a week!
  • A complete strength and conditioning program that includes pictures, videos, and tutorials to teach you the basics for using fitness for fat loss.
  • My favorite tips for where to splurge and where to save when shopping for health and fitness items. 

Ready to lose fat and save cash? Register below and your free book will arrive to your inbox shortly.

How To Get Your First Chin Up

birdpullup

You can do a chin up. Yes, you! The road to get there may be a little twisty, but buckle up and hang on because you will eventually arrive at this spectacular feat of fitness: performing your first chin up.

The mere mention of chin ups to the women I train often brings back memories of the Presidential Fitness Challenge, along with the recollection that many of us couldn’t do a single rep. I was that kid, and for years i just assumed that chin ups and pull ups  were reserved for dudes, women like G.I. Jane, and serious athletes.

gijane

But somewhere along my fitness journey, I began to entertain the possibility of performing a chin up.  There’s something innately badass about being able to leverage your own bodyweight above that bar. To me, it signals a masterpiece of coordination and command of my body that makes me feel powerful. Rawr. Plus I thought it would be the best party trick ever. So I set out to get my first chin up. The process was bumpier than I anticipated, but I got it. My 60 year-old client got one, and you can too!

Chin Ups Vs. Pull Ups
I’m focusing on the chin up for today, as I have found that it’s a more quickly attainable initial goal than a pull up. Both exercises are excellent, multi-joint, upper-body builders . The pull up is typically done with a slightly wider grip that requires us to more heavily draw upon our lat muscles. When you do chin ups, you place your hands roughly shoulder-width apart with your palms facing you. You’ll be able to use your biceps more in this position and they will help get yourself to the bar.

Like so many other gym goers, we may begin by attempting a chin up only to find that we go absolutely nowhere on the bar. I could barely hang on to the bar when I began training. I saw other ladies over on the assisted chin-up machine and they looked so smooth and successful. So I headed over to that instead and began with heavily assisted chin-ups. Ultimately, I think I mostly wasted my time.

chinmachine

The assisted chin-up machine isn’t terrible. It has its place, and will help us build upper body strength. However, as you get closer to becoming strong enough to attempt your first chin up, it doesn’t closely replicate the position that you’ll need to hold.

What Your Body Does During a Chin Up
When you do chin ups, you learn pretty quickly that positioning is an important player. Here are some tips to make your chin up progress prettier:

  • Squeeze your butt and brace your abs. A stiff body is a more stable body that is easier to pull. My clients get so much better after they get tight.
  • Your shoulder blades need to be able to rotate downward as you pull yourself up to the bar. I have found that the cue to keep your shoulders down and back locks me down too much.  Instead of forcefully pinching your shoulder blades together, think about your shoulders staying away from your ears as you pull up.
  • Think beyond pulling with your hands: keep your elbows close to your body and think about driving them down as you pull up to the bar.
  • Aim your chest to the bar, not your head. It will help with your positioning too.
    latz
  • Learn how to turn on your lats. Your latissimus dorsi are big muscles that run down the sides of your back and attach at different points along your spine, shoulder, ribcage, and pelvis. Yeah, they’re sort of a big deal. Learning how to use these bad boys will help you with all kinds of strength feats. For your chin ups, they’ll help pull you up to the bar. Two cues I like for activating my lats are “squeeze oranges with your armpits” and “put your armpits in your back pockets”. These sound silly but they work!

What To Do When You Can’t Do a Chin Up Yet
When I began training to do a chin up I already had a decent foundation of strength. Depending on your current situation, you’ll start in a different place. And that’s totally o.k. – there’s no one right place to begin. Play with these movements and find out what you’re ready to try.  Here’s what worked for me:

  • Practicing Position
    I chose exercises that would help me with components of the pull. At first I just practiced hanging from the bar, focusing on keeping my shoulders away from my ears and keeping my core engaged. I started with a dead hang, maintaining my position:

    Hanging from the bar helps build strength but also gives you time to practice your body positioning.

    Hanging from the bar helps build strength but also gives you time to practice your body positioning.

    I also hung out at the top of the movement, just trying to hold on there:
    Chin top_6168

    Around the same time, I implemented negative chin-ups, where you jump up to the bar and slowly lower yourself, attempting to control your movement as much as possible. At first I’d hold it about a half second. However, I quickly saw my times improve, and this was very motivating.  Huzzah.

    Negatives and hanging from the bar helped me practice positioning and control at each end point of the chin up. I mixed these up into my training, usually doing 3-5 sets a few days a week.

    • Body Fat
      Compared to my lean body mass, I had a sizable percentage of body fat when I started. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just a factor that plays a role. It’s unfair, but it is what it is. Chin ups became significantly easier as I got leaner. It’s not just a matter of being lean: I have friends who weigh a lot more than I do and do more chin ups than I do, too. But their body fat percentage is similar to mine – they just pack more muscle. It’s not all about the weight on the scale. If you have a significant amount of weight to lose and you’re not packing serious muscle, don’t give up on your chin up dreams. Keep working on the variations that work for your body and just know it may take some extra time and muscle building to get your first rep.
    • Continue getting stronger.  I kept doing heavy lat pulldowns as I worked on my chin up form. I also continued to do plenty of rowing variations: inverted rows, TRX hinge rows, bent over dumbbell and barbell rows as well as batwing rows.

       

      On their own, I found that contrary to what some say, lat pulldowns didn’t progress me in the chin up, but I figured that some extra overall back strength wouldn’t hurt. Rowing variations are useful too for people starting out in strength training and not yet able to hang from a bar. Plus they are good for us anyway, so I kept doing pulling work of some kind 2-3 days per week.

    • Curls, bruh. There are some times when isolation exercises are pretty useful, no matter what anyone else says. As I got really close to my first chin up, where I was able to pull myself half way up, I decided to start adding some sets of biceps curls to the end of my upper body workouts. My guns started looking swole too. #Flex.
    • Cheaty, jumpy chinups: yes, a “real” chin up means that you hold your body with control. No swinging legs or jumping up to the bar. Also, don’t do that kipping pullup baloney where it looks like you’re humping the bar and/or having a seizure. I didn’t keep completely strict form but initially, a tiny jump gave me just a smidgen of momentum that helped me practice my pull. It took me a bit longer to be able to do them from a dead hang.
    • Greasing the Groove. I heard about this idea from Pavel Tsatsouline, a Russian strength expert who believes that doing something frequently and with intensity strengthens the nerve impulse to the working muscles. Regardless of the responsible mechanism, I can say anecdotally that frequency of chinups seems to really improve my performance.
      Frequent practice not only helps us get to a first chin up: it’ll make it easier to continue to get more repetitions. Trainer Annie Brees turned to the trapeze on her kids’ swing set in an attempt to grease the groove. She was hoping that doing frequent chin ups would actually help her pull ups. Every time she went to her car she had to pass by the swing set, so she stopped and banged out a few reps.  The result? Better chin ups and pull ups!

    When You’re Nearly There
    Here’s the fun part! I nabbed friends, my husband, or in a few cases, random strangers at the gym to assist my chin ups. Once I was getting close to being able to chin up, these seemed to put me over the edge to my first rep.

    How to do these: I got myself into position and had my helper just barely push on the bottom of my shoe. It seems odd, but just that little bit of assistance makes them easier while still allowing us to keep our positoning.

    Alternatives: If you work out at home or without friends/strangers to accost, you can use Superbands. I prefer to loop one around the bar and pull it down, where I stick my knee into the band and go. This is a useful way to work on building up more reps of your chinups when you’re just getting started.

    Superband chinup_23203

     

    Ready to get started? Pick a movement to try and you’ll be on your way. Practice, practice, and practice some more. You’ll get there.  Today I did 5. About a year ago I could barely do 1. A year before that, I couldn’t hold on to the bar. Keep working, and know that better is just around the corner.

     

11 Things I Learned At My First Powerlifting Meet

I finally bit the bullet and decided to enter a powerlifting meet. I have a solid base in strength and conditioning, but powerlifting is a sport. In the sport of powerlifting, I’m a scrub.

#noscrub

#noscrub

I trained hard under the guidance of my wise and wonderful coach, Jordan Syatt. Jordan got my butt ready to smash some weights and gave me the last minute pep talks I needed to stop freaking out long enough to drive to Omaha for the meet.  Once I saw my teammates at weigh-in, I began to get pumped up to participate. I asked a million questions. Then I finally felt ready.

Still, even if you grill your coach and teammates like I did, there are some things you might not know before you show up on meet day. Here are my biggest takeaways that can help you feel more confident at your first meet.

11 Things I Learned At My First Powerlifting Meet

1. Getting PRs and big lifts is cool. Exhilarating, even. But being surrounded by people who share your love of lifting and really want you to succeed more than anything will make your heart grow. I was so lucky to be at mine with teammates from 22nd Street Barbell who served as cheerleaders, mentors, and handlers all day. Even complete strangers will walk up to you and encourage you. Powerlifters are really special people. I love this community.

lady bros

lady bros

2. If you decide to hyper hydrate, make sure there’s a bathroom nearby and plan to use it allllllll dammmmnnn day.

3. Maybe it’s because I’m a 41-year-old female who’s birthed three giant babies. Or maybe it’s just incredible exertion. But it’s very possible that you may pee while you squat and deadlift. Bring extra underwear, I beg you. I’m glad I did, because during my final squat, I PEED DOWN MY LEG! One of the judges kindly and quietly handed me a towel. The bonus of being a 41-year-old female is that you may have lost your ability to become fully embarrassed. I laughed a little and changed my panties. OMG! Luckily this didn’t make it into the video.

4. Bring food that you normally eat, and plan to strategize your eating around your lifts to keep a constant stream of energy. I need to keep working on this – I felt kind of gross as the day went on, full of water, energy drinks, preworkout before events, and rice krispie treats. It’s not how I normally eat. Blech.

5. I have new respect for big deadlifts at the end of a very long day. We arrived at 7 a.m. They didn’t actually start the rules meeting until 8:30 a.m. We were supposed to begin at 9:30 but we didn’t really get going until nearly an hour later. The meet had 3 flights of lifters but only one went at a time. Also, one flight was equipped, which takes even longer. It made for a day that seemed to go on forever. Knowing when to take down time, when to rest, when to amp yourself back up is a skill that you probably won’t nail the first time but is one to keep working on.

6. Practice the commands so you’re not stressed out about them when you get ready to lift. I did not do this. I ended up being fine, but doing a “mock meet” set or two would have made me less anxious.

7. Once you get out there to do your attempts it goes by like a whirlwind. I felt like I had tunnel vision, and all I heard and saw was the judge (or in bench, my guy giving me a lift off.) And that was good.

8. Once you get your first squat attempt done, 95% of the crazy in your head will probably melt away as you realize a meet is mostly a really cool chance to test yourself. Nobody in the crowd is thinking poorly of you, regardless of how your lift went. Everyone wants you to have a great day.

9. Choose openers that you can do at 2 a.m. for your first meet. I low balled mine, and I’m glad I did because it built confidence. It also ensured that I could move on to the next event and have the experience of completing the meet. Plus totals in the books!

10. Ask someone to video you and take pictures. We had a professional photographer so I’ll have meet photos soon. However, if my teammate hadn’t decided to film one of my attempts on a whim, I’d have nothing to look back on from the day. I’m kicking myself for not having more. Not only are they helpful for assessing how you performed in your events, they’re a memory. Someday you can look back on this experience and realize how far you’ve come.

Hardcore powerlifters waiting to warm up: smashin' weights, knittin' sweaters.

I’m a hardcore powerlifter waiting to warm up: smashin’ weights, knittin’ sweaters.

11. Drink it all in. Learn more stuff. Have fun. No matter how it goes, you gain knowledge and excitement that you can pour into your training once you return home.

As for how I did in the meet, it was a wild, wonderful day and I want to compete again. I made 8 out of 9 lifts, and hit new PRs in all 3 events.  My  goal for the meet was to not get disqualified and hopefully get hooked on powerlifting. I can check those both off my list. Most importantly, I am excited to get back into the gym and get better! If you’ve been considering a meet, just go for it! It’s a great way to test yourself and get reinvigorated about your training.

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