Tag Archives: fitness



I hate being corrected.

I hate being observed.

I hate being criticized.

All of which makes me wonder why on God’s great Earth I chose to move to Italy, and to Rome, a place where being told what to do, being corrected, being observed and being criticized, or at least being a party to everyone’s opinion about everything to do with you, is freely expressed ALL THE TIME.

Cultural? Partly, I think. There is, I believe, an American cultural tendency to want to tell people to mind their own effing business. “Who asked you?” and “We do it ourselves.” That whole independence thing.

Personality? Yes, definitely. I was raised in an environment of perfectionism and judgement that probably bordered on pathological. Not that I’m saying it was anything bad, in and of itself, but I’m sure that having felt under the microscope most of the time in my upbringing, and being an overachiever and a subsequent type A perfectionist, all definitely shaped my (in)ability to accept constructive criticism and be open to being told I’m not doing it right.

Usually when I go to the gym early in the morning, there’s no trainer. So I’ve been basically teaching myself how to lift weights, by learning things from books and online, and very rarely being observed by my own coach. I suppose this has led to some false sense of security that I knew what I was doing.

Today, Sunday, is a day I almost never go to the gym, but I had a sitter and decided to go and get a workout in since I probably won’t have time tomorrow.

I had written up a plan that turned out to be like a skinny, hungry person at an all-you-can-eat buffet. They load up their plate with a million delicious-looking things, and find they can’t even eat half of it. At that point, you either throw the food away or make some meager attempts to hide the fact that your eyes were bigger than your stomach.

Um, yeah, so, that was me at the gym today.

I realized, once again, that my journey in the weight room, without trying to sound too philosophical, is often a microcosm of my journey in life in general.

I started doing this one exercise that I really love because it’s badass and you get to fling a dumbbell over your head. I’ve become kind of obsessed with the idea that I want to keep increasing my weight and I ended up getting in literally over my head.

The trainer was staring me down, watching me. I felt totally observed. He had already given me an earful about how the barbell I chose for my barbell squats was “too heavy” for me because it was for adding a ton of weight plates. I didn’t know that. I just chose it because it was the one that was there. I didn’t know why there were so many notches on it. It seemed kind of weird but I just went with it.

No one has ever really taught me anything about anything at the gym. Most of the trainers are idiots who don’t do anything so I’ve always ignored them and they’ve ignored me. Like so many things in my life that I’ve accomplished, I taught myself and just worked my ass off and studied harder than the average person until I mastered it. That’s always been my M.O. for everything, because I have a really, really hard time asking for help. I’m like the typical man who never asks for directions. That is so me. I’ll wander for an hour before I admit that I have no idea where I’m going.

So I look over, and I go, “You’re making me feel observed.”

And he comes over and tells me how my form is all wrong, and who taught me this exercise, and why am I even doing it, and what muscles am I trying to build, and I was like a deer caught in the headlights. He was pushing ALL of my buttons. Putting me on the spot, making me feel criticized, telling me what to do, making me feel judged and inadequate. Holy crap man, I was speechless, which for me is RARE. ARGH.

So instead of being HUMBLE and being like, yeah, I admit it, I’ve done most of this myself and tried to teach myself things, and I’m the kind of person who rushes into things and doesn’t have patience for slow progress, and I’m probably trying to lift too much weight before I’m ready for it, etc. No. I just go on my merry way and change exercises.

Then he comes back over to criticize me again. “You know, when you’re doing those presses, you really shouldn’t let your elbows drop down so much.” Then he used some fancy words I don’t even understand to describe some muscular process and my eyes started to glaze over.

Change exercise.

Actually what did I do? I moved to the OTHER SIDE of the weight room and started doing only body weight exercises. I started ripping out burpees, push ups, mountain climbers, planks. I went straight for what I know, for what I am sure I do with good form, for things I do well.

“Can’t criticize me on this, bastard!” I thought.

Meanwhile I took my headphones out and heard him talking to other guys and a woman on the other side of the weight room, about ME. WHAAA? “Yeah, that girl over there was trying to do presses on an incline, which is even harder than what you’re doing, blah blah blah” I don’t know what he was saying. But it was really annoying me. Annoying me that he thought he was a frickin know it all. He was butting into everyone’s workout, trying to give them tips, pointers, corrections, information.

And then I watched how the other people in the gym were reacting. A skinny boy who loaded too much weight on the lat pulldown machine? Trainer says, bluntly, “You’re too small for this much weight! Don’t do it full out! Just do it halfway until you build strength.” And the kid didn’t get offended. He just listened and did it differently.

Hot guy with fairly decent muscles working on dumbbell presses? Trainer: “I was watching you, and you weren’t doing it right. You need to do this, and that.” Guy listens, does another set, and trainer says, “See? That was great. You just improved your output 100%.” Then the guy not only ended up chatting with the trainer for a few minutes, he was open to letting the trainer show him a new exercise and admitting that he didn’t know much yet about weightlifting.



It is a very, very valuable quality both in the weight room, and in life.

I am sure that it was for my benefit that the trainer, having seen me beeline away from him as soon as he started trying to give me tips, kept repeating in a stage whisper to the others in the gym, “It’s not about how MUCH weight you’re lifting. It’s about good form. The weight will eventually increase, piano piano, but if you’re doing it all wrong from the beginning, you’re only going to end up hurting yourself.”

Oh man.

Damn straight.

Thank you, super obnoxious trainer. You taught me a very valuable lesson today. Not being an expert is nothing to be ashamed of. Not doing things perfectly the first time is nothing to hide.

Being able to open up to others and accept their observations, their critiques, and above all their expertise, wisdom, life experience and knowledge, especially when they have more in an area in which you are lacking, is an authentic sign of strength.

Lesson learned.

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No One Can Do It For You

photo: Marius Romila

Those of you who know me, know that my life is–for lack of a better word–totally nuts.

There are days, like today, when I promise you the only thing I can think of is the tempting idea of going back to bed, pulling the covers over my head, and not coming out until I feel like it. Which would be a very, very long time.

I am a single mom raising three children under age 5. I don’t have a house cleaner. I’m the cook around here, too. I do the grocery shopping, and the laundry. Dishes pile up, too, if I don’t wash them. Kids need baths and have to have clothes to go out of the house. Socks get lost constantly and shoes always seem to be getting a bit too snug.

I care deeply about my true friends, many of whom I consider my adopted family abroad, and cultivating my relationships with them is very important to me. Email is also my life line to so many of my soulmates in this world.

I work a full-time job, and I’m so hard on myself that I never think I’m doing anything well enough. Days like today, I feel like I’m not going anywhere, and even if I got somewhere, I feel like I wouldn’t know it if it hit me over the head.

I’m trying to recover from my broken heart, shards of which are still scattered all about, like those annoying little invisible pieces that stay on the kitchen floor after a wine glass breaks and for which your mom always said, “Don’t come in here without shoes on!”

I walk around my house and my life without shoes all the time, and yet I’m still afraid of getting cut. I’ve dipped my toe in the dating pool to see how the water felt, and it burned. I imagine myself diving in head first, and letting the water flow all around me without a care in the world, and then I look around at the toy soldiers lined up on the floor and the Cheerio crumbs all over the table, and piles of clean clothes folded but never making it to the closet to be put away, and I think: good God, who would willingly choose to hold my hand through this chaos, through this mess?

And, I am trying to do this fitness journey alongside everything else. Weight lifting came to me like a life preserver in the storm, but that too takes time, dedication, patience, commitment, vision, and concentration: all of which I feel are sorely lacking after everything else above. I enjoy teaching my boot camp class for Coach G Fitness and I dearly care for my coach Gerard, and hope to see his company grow and flourish here in Rome, where I believe there is a real market for his holistic approach to fitness and well-being. I really believe in his mission and his goals and I am proud to be a part of his team here in Rome. But even the things I care about so profoundly take pieces of me that on some days, I feel I barely have left to give.

When I read over what I’ve just wrote, it’s no wonder that I have days like this where I feel almost desperate for someone, anyone, to throw me a rope. Just light the emergency flare, the smoke signal, that tells everyone I’m treading water and to send in the reserves.

In life, I think it’s human nature for us to want help when we feel overwhelmed, lost, sad, confused, lonely. I feel all of those things. I also feel joy, gratitude, peace, lightheartedness, and blessings. But sometimes the negative feelings take hold and overpower, and those are the times when I keep thinking: “Can’t someone just do this for me?” I mean, maybe I don’t literally think that consciously, but I definitely feel it. There are often times when I want a day “off” of the job of my life.

How does this relate to fitness on a fit blog? Because, just like I’m starting to realize that in life, there are no perfect “saviors,” so it is in fitness as well.

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that I thought finding the perfect man would “save me.” Again not consciously, but somewhere in my heart, I thought that would be the missing piece to the puzzle. Then I found out, nope, not by a long shot!

For you, maybe that perfect puzzle piece was going to be comfort from food, or living vicariously through your children’s accomplishments, or once you made “X” amount of money, or who knows what.

Point being: when you’re faced with those icky and uncomfortable feelings, and really tough life situations, you can try to make those feelings go away by projecting happiness onto some external factor, and you can always get some outside help, but in the end, the only one who can really pull you through 100% is your own self. Your own will, your own unique determination, your own inner strength, and your own hard-earned confidence.

My coach always tells me “fake it ’til you make it.” It’s good advice. You have to be convinced mentally that something is true, even before it’s true in the physical world.

So, with your fitness goals, as in life in general, don’t give in or give up just because you have those thoughts of wanting to crawl back into bed and pull up the covers. No one can do the fitness and well-being job but you. No one is going to lift those weights for you, no one is going to run that last kilometer for you, and no one but you can get in there, in the ring, on the spot, and show yourself and the world what you’re capable of.

In the end, you have to find it in yourself to be your own best coach, your own best motivator. Reading, and listening, and watching, are all good. But sooner or later, you have to just dive in and take the plunge.

Then, enjoy the results. Be proud of what you’ve done for yourself. Now you have it to give to others. You’re not alone in this game! Get out there and make it happen.

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And then there was food

Just came across the ol’ Twittersphere, this here kettlebellissima photo, courtesy of two fabulous fitness gurus and professional male models (Stefan Pinto and Shaka Smith), people for whom neglecting the gym is a serious occupational hazard. When they speak, we can listen!

And in the process, discovered this website as well! Bonus!

One of the most frequent questions that people ask me regarding fitness doesn’t actually have anything to do with the gym! Inevitably the conversation starts off with food. “What should I eat?” “When should I eat it?” and on, and on, and on.

Diet and nutrition are HUGE topics to cover. So I’ll be tackling them little by little.

For today, let’s just start with the sentence in this photo: “Work as hard on your diet as you do in the gym.”

It’s the truth. You can’t kill it in the gym and then slack on what you’re eating. Nutrition for strength training goes hand in hand with a specific workout plan–and both require discipline, commitment, and sacrifice. There’s no shortcut, lazy-man’s trick, or easy way around it. But there are ways to make both enjoyable and rewarding.

Start with this mentality; tell yourself daily that you’ll work your diet like you work in the gym.

Then we’ll talk about food.

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Strapping in for Work

When I first starting working out, I had absolutely no gear whatsoever. I’d always just worn “whatever” to the gym. Baggy cut off sweats, old ill-fitting t-shirts. The equivalent of pajamas, now that I think about it. It almost makes me laugh to think back on.

Once I started getting serious, I realized how ill-equipped I was to enjoy a really hard workout in that kind of get-up. Ew. The technology that goes into athletic apparel, like Nike’s Dri-Fit, serves a real purpose if you’re training like an athlete.

I used to think that buying brand-name stuff was just an overpriced marketing scheme, or way to show labels off. Now I realize that it’s necessary.

My beloved Coach even goes so far as to say that you should always wear name-brand matching top and bottom. “What’s the point of that?” I asked him.

“Shell, when you look good, you feel good, and you can do good work. It matters, trust me.”

And he’s right. I might not always match brand names (that’s still a little expensive for me) but I definitely buy the best I can afford and don’t scrimp any more. As G always says, “Quality over quantity.” Good life philosophy, and great philosophy for fitness.

So once I started seriously weightlifting, my hands were getting really calloused! Honestly I had never even thought about this. At first it was cool. Like this sign that, yeah, I’m lifting heavy shit so often that my hands are kind of getting torn up.

But then it just got to be annoying. My hands were rough and sore, and lifting was becoming kind of uncomfortable.

Hence that picture above. My Everlast weight lifting gloves, my virgin pair. Wow.

G had told me to get gloves. He said, “The cool side benefit is that when you’re in the gym and you put them on, it kind of makes you feel like you’re strapping in to work.”

Yeah, it kind of does. And, now when I’m doing burpees, I get some traction on the floor too.

Going to strap in for work now. Get out there and get your training in today.

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I Never See Results

That’s what I hear a lot, from people who have thrown in the towel and given up on their fitness routine. “I didn’t see any results. It’s just not worth it.”

Have you ever said this? Can we unpack this loaded statement for a moment?

Here are, in my experience, some of the most common reasons that people don’t “see results”

1) They’re focused on results.

Sorry to sound tongue-in-cheek, but frankly people, if you are into fitness just for the “results,” and by results I’m assuming you mean something related to a visibly changed body, increased muscle tone, weight loss, and the like, then I’m here to rain on your parade. It’s like when you shoot for a particular number on a scale, and keep telling yourself that once you hit “that number,” everything will be nice and peachy.

Focusing on results can be useful as a motivating tool, but it shouldn’t be the reason you’re investing your time and energy in a fitness regimen.

Fitness at its best is a lifestyle. That means that results will come, because you are going to be engaging in your fitness routine on a consistent and regular basis with forceful effort. Bringing me to:

2) They give up too soon.

Once again, fitness should be a lifestyle. Any lifestyle choice means it is a part of your daily/weekly routine, and doesn’t come and go with the seasons, weather, moods, etc. Just like eating or getting dressed, or going to work or making time for the things you enjoy doing, your fitness routine needs to be a regular and steady part of your life. That means you aren’t working out until you hit “X” size or “X” weight. Get those markers out of your head. You are working out because this is now part of what you do, every day or at least every other day or throughout the week.

3) They don’t modify their diet.

Let’s be honest here. You can lift weights and do burpees until the cows come home, but if you’re eating Krispy Kremes and drinking margaritas, your body won’t respond to your physical activity. Diet and exercise go hand in hand. You already know that. But it takes dedication to eating healthy in order to see consistent and visible results. When I started training I cut out all bread, pasta, non-water drinks, and sugar. For me personally, that strictness wasn’t sustainable long-term (for example I have re-incorporated bread in a limited amount and I do have more than one glass of wine a week), but for my own personal “results,” it took some major, life-altering sacrifices. So if you’re really hung up on results, you have to make drastic changes.

4) They don’t have a clue what they’re doing in the gym.

If you’re going to the gym, I commend you, as that’s more than a lot of people out there. However, what are you doing once you get there? Do you have a plan? Are you working towards specific goals? No? Then don’t complain about not getting results! You have no specific goals, so you wouldn’t even know results if they knocked you over the head, because you don’t know what results you want! Wait, you do? Ok, good. Start with that as a goal. What do you want to achieve? Then, like you would with any other goal in your life, start doing research about how to get there. Maybe you need to hire a personal trainer to get you going. Maybe you can read up and research on the Internet. Maybe a good book will give you the information and workout plans that you need (I really love this one, which I’ve probably mentioned before.) All that to say: don’t just go to the gym so you can catch up on reading a magazine while you mindlessly put one foot in front of the other on a zero-speed treadmill or bike. Going to the gym is work time. Focus, pay attention, concentrate, push yourself. If you aren’t nearly dying and soaking wet with sweat every time you finish your workout, then don’t you dare come to me complaining that you never see results.

5) No one is going to do it for you.

What is this? People often times don’t take responsibility for their lack of seeing results. Honestly. If you are saying “I didn’t see any results,” ask yourself why. Were you in the gym at least 3 times a week doing a structured training regimen with specific goals? Were you closely monitoring your diet to make sure that you were eating foods to support your fitness goals? Results won’t come to you. You have to work for them. That takes time, effort, and dedication.

No one is going to do this for you. You aren’t entitled to results. But if you work for them, you’ll get them, because at the same time, results aren’t only for “special” people. They are for anyone and for everyone — those who are willing to put in the effort, time, and dedication to making fitness their lifestyle and not just a passing fad.

What has been your biggest challenge regarding seeing results in your fitness regimen?

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Body fat percentages

image from Builtlean.com

I didn’t measure my body fat percentage when I started my hard-core training. When I refer to “when I started,” what I mean is, when I finally decided to dedicate myself to a very serious training program and not give in to any excuses before seeing real results. I gave myself six weeks as a goal, to really push it and work the diet and be in the gym training very hard for about an hour 4 to 5 times a week.

That is in fact what I did (and you can read my thoughts on the process if you go back to my first few weeks of posts, from last June/July). And, judging from the photo below of me flexing my little guns, I think that results have been good so far!

So a couple weeks ago I was learning how to measure body fat with skin-fold tests using a caliper. (As a funny aside, the measurement I used is called the “Jackson-Pollock” measurement, which is amusing to me. How is it possible that a Jackson and a Pollock got together to measure body fat? Shouldn’t they have been splattering paint on canvases together?)

I was excited to find out what my body fat percentage was, given my training regimen and modified diet which cuts out a lot of bread, pasta, sugary drinks, and adds a lot of protein.

My percentage was 14%. On a chart, this comes out as “lean” or in the lower range of athletic percentage of body fat. (I’m 35 years old.)

People! In just a matter of like four months, I became an official athlete! Is that cool or what??! Yes. It is.

Coolest part too is like my beloved Coach always said (I sound like an old granny reminiscing on my youth) “Shel, remember. It’s a lot harder to make change than it is to maintain change.”

And he was right. It was damn hard those first couple months to kick ass so constantly. But now that I’ve broken through, it’s a matter of maintaining that change and making continual progress. And as I mentioned in my last post, one of the great satisfactions about fitness, besides the stress relief and overall well-being, is seeing the physical results. That motivates me every time I’m in the gym to keep at it. Once you get it, after such hard work, you sure as hell don’t want to lose it!

Here’s another article about recommended body fat from Livestrong, a great wellness website.

One last thought: it can be very useful to use numbers to gauge your progress. But truly, if you’re going to make fitness a LIFESTYLE, which is what the ultimate goal should be, then just use numbers as occasional baselines to see where you’re at. Perhaps getting a body fat analysis and weighing yourself once in the beginning of your training program, and then maybe every 6 weeks or so after that for the weight, and maybe after 6 months for the body fat. Numbers don’t tell the whole story! Watch how your clothes fit, how you feel, and what people tell you about your mood and your body.

Today’s challenge: What’s one step you can take today to cut down on the sugar in your diet? Maybe give up one can of soda, or skip adding sugar to your coffee?

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