Happy Monday! I wrote this post on Friday…and since then I’ve been stuck in bed with the flu. I was so exhausted that, when my laptop died before I published the post, I literally could not fathom getting up, finding my cord, and plugging in my computer! It has not been at all fun, but I’ve had Sean to take care of me, and I’m finally feeling better today!
I’ve been thinking lately about the fitness gains I’ve made throughout the year. Did I come through with a six pack, like I wanted last January? Well, I snagged it around June, but once I was deep into marathon training, it started to disappear. I’m okay with that; I was training for endurance, not maximum muscle tone, and although I prefer to have more muscle, there was a purpose in my changing physique. I’m proud of running nearly 40 miles-worth of races in two weeks.
This year I’m aiming to keep more of a balance in my fitness: I want to run a lot without forgetting the importance of lifting. I’m also a lot more interested in what my body can do, more than how my body looks. The concept is still tough for me sometimes, having come from the ballet world, but I want it to be my fitness theme for the year. Besides, looking fit should be the product of fitness – not the other way around. Since the advent of Crossfit, the trend is leaning towards strength and skill. Lots of explosive power, heavy lifting, agility, flexibility, endurance. Looking bone-thin is weak, not beautiful.
Incidentally, dancing for El Monstero over the last few weeks really tested this idea for me. Going into the show, I was nervous that my once-ballerina-body plus 15+ pounds of hard-earned muscle and healthy weight wouldn’t receive a warm welcome. I might be happy, but how would the rest of cast and crew feel? Would the audience approve?
The first test was passed when I fit into the same (unforgiving, zero stretch) tutu and rather revealing leotard. In fact, nobody said anything negative, and nobody looked at me strangely. And once I got loud approval from the crowds, I realized that healthier, stronger me was doing just fine. On the last night of the show, I few of us discussed healthy living – eating clean and exercising. My new look was finally brought up, but it turns out that every one was happy with my new look! I suddenly realized that last year, my thinness garnered jealousy and made people look down on their own bodies. Now, I could see that they were genuinely happy for me, and maybe even inspired to live healthier. (Ha, there was some random guy – a cast member who I’d seen but never spoken to – in the room when we were talking, and he turned to me and said, "Yeah, you look amazing. I can vouch for that 100%")
The point of this story is not to brag or to call myself perfect. Not at all. I still have some physique goals and I definitely still have my dark days. The point is to illustrate that fitness should be about staying healthy, happy, and strong. Do we want to look good? Of course! But I’d rather think of what fitness helps me gain (muscle, skill, joy) than the pounds to lose.
Anyway, since the marathon, I’ve already seen a lot of changes in my physique.I feel firmer. This week I’ve continued the 100 rep challenge I’ve been working on (I’m in week 2 of 6) – it was chest/back/abs day. I didn’t think I could do it, but after 100 reps of bench pressing a lower weight of 40 pounds, I benched 3 sets of 10 reps at 85 pounds! I’ve never benched that much before. It was actually a mistake, because Sean meant to load the bar with just 60 pounds, and forgot that the bar already weight 25. I did the first set and said, "Wow, that felt harder than usual!" Sean went blank-faced for a moment and said, "Uh, I think I did that math wrong." But he encouraged me to finish out the sets at 85, and I’m glad I did!
I’m sorry, did you use the phrase ‘100 reps?’
That is the direct quote of one of my customers yesterday, when a coworker and I were discussing weight training and I mentioned my current plan.
I have a feeling his reaction is not uncommon. I thought it was crazy, too. The rep-to-weight ratio is important in weight training, as different ratios lead to different results. Low rep, high weight programs lead to muscle gains and an increase in size. (It is also often connected with fat loss, although this is because more muscle = higher thermogenic rate and more calories burned) High rep, low weight develops more muscular stamina without really affecting size. It’s important to do both, as more muscle endurance will help you to lift heavier, which well help you get stronger and look stronger.
Generally speaking, 4 sets of 8 reps for each exercise is a pretty normal, standard workout.
Sometimes I get tired of normal and standard.
I came across this article on Bodybuilding.com, from which I take my current lifting plan, and I highly recommend reading it. It combines 100 reps with HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) to attack fat stores and challenge your muscles. Breaking out so strongly from the routine your body is used to is a good way to unlock progress, ramp up your endurance, and increases capillary density (read: more room for nutrients and oxygen to flow and feed your muscles). Another benefit of this plan is that you finish 10 sets of 10 reps with 3 sets at a much heavier weight. This means you have to lift you normal, everyday weight…but after you’ve already done 100 reps. Talk about busting through plateaus, huh? I do want to warn that this is not a beginner workout, but if you’ve know the weight room fairly well and you’re looking to try something new, I definitely recommend trying this method.