What You See vs. What You Don’t [Instagram Edition]

My friend sent me a link to THIS blog post the other day, and I loved it.  The blogger talks about how social media is a highlight reel of our lives.  It’s the rose-colored montage at the end of a 90′s TV special rather than the .  And even if everything you post on social media is authentic, it doesn’t tell the whole story.  (And often, that’s a good thing.  Discretion and privacy are underrated these days.)  For better or worse, social media posts can only give you a glimpse into the lives of others, not a panorama.

But today, I thought it would be fun to widen the lens and give a bit of a more realistic look at my Instagram feed.  I do my best to be pretty authentic on social media – my captions are fairly blunt (if not bordering on oversharing), and I post more than my fair share of “no makeup” and “no filter” photos (although I typically don’t tag them as such because 1) it makes me feel like a major douchenozzle, and 2) you probably don’t need a caption to realize there’s no eyeliner or lipstick on my squinty little face).  Even so, the blog post that inspired this was too good not to replicate my own version.  So lest my Instagram activity give anyone the impression that my life consists solely of fabulous workouts, delicious food, and big hair (ok, the last one is true), here’s a little peek at the panorama behind the pictures.

Before 2

What you see: We are excitedly getting ready to run a 5K-that-turned-into-a-10K (full story on that HERE), because we’re athletic and we’re patriotic and we live in America and that’s just what we do on Memorial Day.  I also have a really rachet-but-effective phone case made out of a sock shoved in my sports bra (more on that HERE).

What you don’t: My grey leggings that most definitely do not hide the crotch-sweat action that would start happening approximately 5 minutes into the race. It’s 93°F and rising at 9:00 and I have no idea who thought it would be a good idea to plan the race course in the middle of a mostly-shadeless wildlife preserve.  You also don’t see all the really inspirational people running, like the man who was a triple-amputee and raced in his wheelchair…and he finished before us, which means he’s clearly a badass and I’m clearly more pathetic than you thought.

 

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What you see: I’m doing yoga in my office, because I’m cool and zen and yoga-y like that.  #namastebitches

What you don’t:  Me scurrying to the window between poses to make sure my boss isn’t walking into the building about to catch me getting my asana on.  You also don’t see me checking twitter and reading PubMed for 20 minutes before deciding to do a little crow pose and some handstand practice because OMGi’msoboredandthisjobsucksthelifeoutofmyverysoul.  So glad I don’t work there anymore.  Otherwise I might have turned into Voldemort by now, from the whole soul-got-sucked-out-thing.

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 What you see: My cute dress and my 12-pack of bro-beer.  I’m just one of the guys, but I’ve still got that cute girl-next-door vibe going on.

What you don’t: My makeup-less face, air-dried hair, and unpainted toes.  Also, the fact that I did not end up drinking any of this beer – I was bringing it to my dad (per the request of my mother, who seems to think all males speak the same love language called “booze and nicotine”…she’s not too far off base, I’d say).  Also, the fact that I had to take four different shots to get one where my hand didn’t look like an old-man-hand clinging to the case of frat boy juice.

 

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What you see: Look at all my goodies for recovery day! I have a foam roller and a yoga DVD and a yoga mat and a croquet ball and a whole book on trigger points and self-myofascial release techniques…I’m recovering so hard, because I’m, like, an athlete or something.

What you don’t: I’m scooching around on that croquet ball like a paraplegic walrus, and swearing like a sailor the whole time.  That sh*t hurts.  Plus, I didn’t even get to the yoga DVD that day.  I did about 10 sun salutations before I got hungry and decided breakfast sounded better than bhujangasana.

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What you see: I’m balancing on my head and forearms like the graceful human that I am, with my toes pointed and legs quite artfully splayed out.

What you don’t:  It took my sister about 2 straight minutes to get a decent photo that wasn’t horribly backlit, didn’t have my dog running through it, and actually caught me doing something that looked like yoga.  My face was redder than a tomato from the bloodrush of being upside down for that long.  Also, I still have a bunch of outtakes on my phone that look like this:

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Moving on…

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What you see: I have big hair, and I clearly like big buns.  And this moment deserved documentation because I was all decked out and actually wearing eyeliner.  Look who’s a grown-up now!

What you don’t:  The enormous fuzzball of hair that I had coerced into a somewhat-spherical shape a few minutes earlier, and the enormous fuzzball of hair that would erupt when I took my hair down later that night.  Also, the part where my hair permanently smells like coffee now.  It’s really cute.

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What you see:  My fake-pregnant belly. No baby inside, just bloat.  This one’s pretty real.  A little too real, according to some.  Yes, beans do make me look fat.

What you don’t:  I was still semi-bloated like on the right for two days after that…and during those next 48 hours, I wore those yoga pants every second I was not at work.  No shame.  (Just another reason yoga pants are man’s best friend!)

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What you see:  I’m up in the (garage) gym just working on my fitness.

What you don’t:  My ghetto attempts to keep my yoga mat wrapped around the bar while I get it up on my hips, or the part where I made the mistake of sitting all the way down with the bar still in my lap.  It took me a full minute to unpin myself from under the bar.  You also don’t see the bruises on my hip bones from where the yoga mat was clearly insufficient padding for such a heavy weight.  Or maybe I’m just hip thrusting too enthusiastically.  I don’t know.  Now this is getting weird (sorry, Dad, if you’re reading this…).

Sorry for the douchenozzle selfie, but this is just for full-disclosure.  Definitely not a bikini model, but I feel damn good in a bikini.  (And at a buffet.)

What you see: My tired little eyeballs blinking under the florescent lighting at 4:00 while I stand there in my skivvies.  Also, serious bedhead that I was too tired to fix, but I’m assuming that’s a forgivable offense.

What you don’t:  I tried about 5 times to get a photo where my hands didn’t look like raccoon claws, and nothing worked.  I gave up and counted myself lucky that this was not a close-up photo, so at least no one will see the pillow lines on my face.  But still, why do I have such large claw-like paws?? This is such an issue for me.

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What you see: A kitchen full of delicious, healthy food for the week, because I am clearly a domestic wizard.  Think Gandalf in an apron, without the beard (or, sadly, the robe), but a bit more sassy.

What you don’t: All the panic beforehand as I tried to decide what I would be eating, and subsequently, pre-cooking, that week.  You also don’t see the sink full of dirty dishes that I would dread cleaning, like always, until I actually started…at which point I would find myself, as always, belting out Broadway tunes and thoroughly enjoying myself.

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What you see: I’m going on vacation and I have bikinis and a boarding pass and even a little straw hat, because I’m just cool like that.  But whatever, it’s no big deal, I travel all the time.  Isn’t everyone this sophisticated?

What you don’t:  The usual panic attack I have anytime I have to pack for more than a weekend.  Trying to cram everything I’d need for 9 days into one medium-sized suitcase was like some kind of high-stakes game of Tetris. My saving grace was that I banked on not wearing more than a bikini most days, and decided to be a carefree hippie and not obsessively pack food for the trip so I’d be guaranteed to have something “healthy.”  This was a good thing because those dinners of chips + salsa + margaritas were pretty wonderful.  Or the part where I had to wear that damn hat through the airport and on the plane so that it wouldn’t get smushed.

 

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What you see: We’re at a Padre’s game because we’re the kind of broads who are into sports.  You can also see that I have weird little hobbit feet that are pretty much like 2×4′s stuck on the ends of my legs, but that’s beside the point.

What you don’t:  I have no idea what’s going on.  How many touchdowns do we have? Where are the cheerleaders? Why the fraaack does a little box of trail mix cost SEVEN DOLLARS?  What good are baseball pants if I can’t even see them from up here? (To be fair, we had good seats, I just had not brought my glasses.)

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What you see:  I have this glorious view and the whole pool to myself.  Luxury is my middle name.  I am like an upper-middle-class land-mermaid.

What you don’t:  My sad attempts at lap swimming.  It was more like lap dog-paddling.  For all my extra fluffiness, I’m surprisingly un-buoyant.  Also, this is not my pool.  It’s the private community pool in my aunt and uncle’s neighborhood (they had generously let us stay two nights at their house).  And also, because I didn’t have a key, I had to hop the fence to get in after I walked out the gate and realized I’d left my sandals behind.

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What you see: Look at this green juice I’m drinking because I’m healthy. Doesn’t it look delicious?  Am I not a cool kid for jumping on the juicing train?  Also look at my cute dress (ignore the goosebumps on my knees, because I’m not the kind of peasant who gets cold from drinking a cold juice in February), let’s pretend I’m fashionable.

What you don’t: My dad treated me to that juice. I’m not one to shell out FIVE BUCKS for a 10 oz. cup of liquefied kale.  Mostly because I don’t have that kind of cash (sidenote: now accepting sugar-daddy applications…), but also it just feels wrong to spend that kind of cash on drinkable vegetables when it could be spend on something like…oh, I don’t know…gas? sports bras? Lindt chocolate? ridiculously expensive German power-steering fluid for my ridiculous German car?  And don’t worry, the cute dress was balanced out by the bright yellow sweater I was wearing on top.  I looked like the lovechild of Mr. Rogers and Big Bird.

 

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What you see: My very clean and very wet hair.  I’m like a shampoo-scented mermaid.  With legs.  And I can’t really sing.  And sadly, I don’t know any talking crabs, drug-using seagulls (what, you really think Scuttle was sober?), sinister gender-flexibile octopi, or dashing princes named Eric.  So mostly you just see that my hair is clean, and, as my caption says, this is the first time in 5 days that it’s been so.

What you don’t see:  What my hair looks like 8 hours later, air dried and finger-combed a bit as I tried to fling it out of my face.  The bangs might be grown out, but my hair is apparently still trying to channel Catherine Hicks circa 1998. Really, it’s like I have panda fur growing out my head.

air dried hair panda fur

 

Well, it’s all in the open now.  Go ahead and judge me.  But let’s still be friends, ok?

 

For more snapshots without the gory details, find me on Instagram (or Twitter)!

 

Oatmeal Cookie Dough Smoothie

There are two kinds of people in this world: those that like cookie dough and cake batter, and those that don’t.  I am strongly encamped in the former category.  I would much prefer to lick cake batter out of a mixing bowl, like the elegant broad that I’m known to be, that sit down to a piece of cake.  Therefore, if you someone who prefers the actual baked good itself, we probably should not be baking buddies…because when I inevitably get food poisoning from the raw eggs in the cake batter/brownie batter/cookie dough that I’ve continually sampled, I’ll need someone to hold my hair back while I’m hurling all day long, and you’ll still be mad that I kept dunking my spoon finger in the mixing bowl.  The fact that I think about these things is probably a sign that I should be committed, so let’s move on.

I realized around age 7 that full-on drinking cake batter would never be a good idea.  (This was also about the time I learned about salmonella.)  The dream never died, though, and this morning, I brought that dream to fruition.  Well, kind of.  I made a smoothie that tastes like oatmeal cookie dough.  It’s not cake batter, but it’s drinkable and it’s definitely a very good idea.  Plus, no raw eggs means no risk of salmonella.  So if you’re like me and looking into a bowl of cookie dough is pretty much a spiritual experience, you should probably make this right away.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

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Oatmeal Cookie Dough Smoothie

(Remember, I tend to work “intuitively” in the kitchen, so I did not actually measure anything while making this.  These are my estimations of the ratios I used, and you should adjust them to fit your preferences!)

Ingredients:

  • frozen banana/s  (Maybe 1 or 1.5? I cut up my bananas before I freeze them, so I’m just threw in a handful of frozen chunks and called it good.)
  • small handful raisins, soaked in equal amount of water for at least 1 hour
  • lots of cinnamon, or at least 1/2 tsp (I vote more.  Lots more.)
  • splash (1/2 tsp?) of vanilla extract
  • smaller splash (1/4 tsp?) of almond extract
  • spoonful (1-2 Tbs?) sunflower seed butter (I bet you could also use almond butter, etc., but I haven’t tried it with anything else.)
  • healthy sprinkle (3 Tbs?) of dry oatmeal
  • vanilla protein powder (I didn’t use this because I don’t have any, but I know it would be an excellent addition.)
  • Toppings: quick-cooking oatmeal (dry), chopped walnuts/almonds, chocolate chips (this should be obvious), chopped dates, etc.

Directions:

  • Blend everything up.  This should take only a few seconds if you have a high-speed blender like my beloved Ninja.  (Seriously, though, the Ninja has proven to be the best gift I’ve ever received.  If you are in the market for a new blender/food processor, I highly recommend it.)
  • Slam some toppings on that bad boy.
  • Drink it or dunk your finger/spoon/face in there. I don’t care. Go wild.

I just hope this empowers you to make your childhood dreams come true.  And if you didn’t dream about cookie dough as a child, then I don’t know what to say besides “I’m sorry,” or maybe “So what was it like growing up in Soviet Russia?”

Kettlebell Workouts

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Kettlebell training is fun.  Part of it is the novelty of using something that’s not a dumbbell or a barbell, and part of it is the fact that many kettlebell exercises feel like (literal) child’s play – swinging and heaving those things every which way.  Of course, if you want to go the more traditional route, you can use kettlebells for most conventional dumbbell/barbell exercises, too.  I enjoy kettlebell training as a fun addition to my usual routine (lifting, bodyweight circuits, a little yoga, and hobbling running when I’m not broken), and wanted to share a couple quick kettlebell workouts in case any of yall have been wanting to give kettlebells a shot.  The first one is a strength focused workout, and the second is more conditioning/cardio focused, but they’ll both give you an quality workout that ends with a puddle of sweat and a big smile. Don’t be intimidated by those funny looking orbs-with-handles – kettlebells pack a surprising punch (and they are often deceptively heavy!), but they make for some truly fun workouts.  Choose a kettlebell that is heavy enough to make the exercises challenging by the final reps of each set, but not so heavy that you risk dropping it on your face during the overhead press/hold portions.  Let me know how you like these workouts!

 

**Before you start, make sure you know how to do a basic kettlebell swing properly.  Jen Sinkler, one of my favorite trainers, has an excellent explanation (includes video) of how to perfect your swing.  She even explains that you have to basically “make it look dirty” to do it right, which is pretty much a great way to get me to do any exercise ever…but really, she’s right.  So get dirty and get swingin’, yall!**

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Kettlebell Strength Circuit

4 Rounds:

  • 20 Kettlebell Swings
  • 10 Kettlebell Goblet Squats (hold kettlebell right in front of your chest)
  • 10 Bent-over Kettlebell Rows (each side)
  • 10 Sit-Ups (hold kettlebell for resistance)
  • 10 Kettlebell Overhead Lunges (each side; hold kettlebell overhead on same side as back leg)
  • 10 Kettlebell Clean + Press (each side)
  • 10 Kneeling Wood Choppers (each side; hold kettlebell for resistance)
  • Rest 2-3 minutes, repeat for 4 rounds total.

 

Kettlebell Conditioning Intervals

Grab your kettlebell.  Set a timer for 20 minutes.  Every minute on the minute, do 15 kettlebell swings.  Once you’ve done those 15, you have the remainder of that minute to rest.  As soon as the next minute hits, start swinging.  Repeat for the full 20 minutes.  To make this more challenging, you can graduate to a heavier kettlebell or increase the number of swings per minute.  Swing hard and swing fast – as long as you can do it with proper form - but make sure that you don’t exceed a 1:1 ratio of work:rest (so you’ll be swining that ‘bell for 30 seconds each minute at most).  As you get stronger and faster, you’ll find you’re able to do more swings in those 30 seconds!  You can also extend the time to make it a 30 minute workout, but I prefer to keep this shorter and sweeter sweatier, and really bust my ass for those 20 minutes.

 

Now go swing some kettlebells around..and don’t forget to make it dirty!

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Do you work out with kettlebells? 

Do you have any favorite kettlebell exercises or workouts?  (Link up in the comments so everyone can join in the fun!)

DIY: Protein “Gummies”

Recently, I kind of “got into” gelatin…as in, I decided I wanted to incorporate more of it into my diet, and not necessarily in the form of those Jello “jigglers” I remember being served in daycare back in my heydey ’93.  But seriously, gelatin has a ton of health benefits.  It’s a fabulous source of dietary collagen, which is necessary to keep your skin and joints healthy (and, coincidentally, your collagen levels can start decreasing as early as age 20), as well as protein.  In particular, gelatin provides an abundance of the amino acids proline and glycine, which are much less plentiful in most other protein sources. Between the glycine and the collagen, gelatin can be a great help in recovering from both typical training (exercise) as well as acute or chronic injuries. You can read more about the benefits of gelatin HERE and HERE.

 

I decided to that I wanted to ride the gelatin train because I needed more protein.  My training had been starting to decline, not for lack of motivation or enthusiasm, but because I wasn’t recovering as quickly as I should have been.  It wasn’t hard to look at what I was eating (remember, I’m generally on the “Eat What I Frackin’ Want” diet), and realize that I wasn’t getting enough protein.  My natural preference is to favor plant foods over animal foods, just because I prefer the taste.  But with the dietary considerations that I take for health reasons (lactose intolerance, soy intolerance, and beans and legumes make me pregnant sick), I was having a really hard time getting enough protein without relying on protein powder supplements or mainlining meat and eggs.  Neither of those options appealed to me, so I decided to give gelatin a shot.  (Obviously, gelatin is not my main source of protein, but it has been a great way to get an extra serving or two of protein without having to choke down chicken breasts or tilapia.)

The problem was, I wasn’t exactly sure what the heck to do with it…until I remembered a recipe I’d seen about a year ago.  This was a recipe for “Homemade Healthy Fruit Snacks” from Wellness Mama.  I already have an ardent affection for “gummy” snacks, so these were a great choice.  If nothing else, it was bound to be better than my small drug problem…aka my addiction to gummy vitamins.  (If someone tells you they actually stick to the suggested dose of 2 “gummies,” they’re lying.  It’s physically impossible to eat just 2.  Trust me, I’ve tested the theory many times.)

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So last week I let my granola freak-flag fly and gave those bad boys a whirl.  In all honesty, the first batch sucked.  I used crappy flavorless frozen blueberries and pineapple juice and not enough honey and didn’t stir fast enough, and it was a mostly-bland pan of jiggly purple protein with lots of chunks of undissolved gelatin sprinkled throughout.  Don’t worry, I gave it another go, and this time they worked out swimmingly.  I did the math, and this recipe filled an 8×8 inch pan (the “gummy” mixture was about 1 inch deep), and the whole deal has about 77 grams of protein (11 packets of gelatin with 7 grams of protein in each packet).  Maybe it’s just me, but it’s not really hard to eat 1/5 of that pan, so to get 15 grams of protein from a little snack like that? Not shabby!

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My best tips would be:

  • If you use a whisk, all the gelatin will clump up inside the wires and you’ll be doomed.  (Not an exaggeration). This isn’t the time to break out your emerald-encrusted rose gold Williams and Sonoma whisk that you bought for the price of a used car.   Just use a spoon like any normal peasant.
  • Don’t skimp on the honey.  This is the time to channel your inner Winnie-the-Pooh and pour that golden goodness in there like it’s going out of style.  If you don’t like honey, then I would suggest using a simple syrup, maple syrup, or some stevia…because trust me, bland gelatin is pretty repulsive.
  • Choose good fruit for the puree.  By good I mean sweet.  I used frozen dark cherries – defrosted and then pureed- this go-round, and it made a big difference over those nasty little blue balls of sadness.  (Just so we’re on the same page, that’s a reference to the blueberries.)
  • Use a juice that is sweet.  Possibly make it extra sweet.  I used half a cup of apple juice concentrate mixed with half a cup of water.  It was like superjuice, and it was way better than the pineapple juice in my first attempt.  I want to say that you could use flavored Smirnoff and make these “grown up gummies,” but I have no idea if that would work or not…but if you give it a shot (see what I did there?), let me know how it goes!
  • You really do have to move quickly for this to turn out.  Have everything measured, poured, and ready to go before you begin mixing the gelatin into the water.
  • The combo that I had success with was cherries + diluted apple juice concentrate + honey.  I think cherries + diluted grape juice concentrate + stevia would work well, too, as would strawberries + cranberry juice + honey.
  • It’s entirely acceptable to simply leave the whole thing in the pan and cut pieces out as you go.  We’re peasants that use spoons instead of whisks, so what else would you expect?

Check out the recipe HERE and let me know how it goes for you.  These truly are tasty, and I’ve found it’s a really handy way to get some extra protein and enjoy something sweet (and you don’t have to cook or even heat anything!).

Now go “get jiggy” with it!

Animal or Vegetable?

Vegetarianism is something that has weighed on my mind for many years.  My dad was vegetarian during my early years, and I have vivid memories of seeing our freezer stocked with boxes upon boxes of Boca Burger meatless “burger” patties.  I had my fair share of them, and for a long time, convinced myself that they were actually tasty.  (Turns out they’re not, I just really enjoy them as a vehicle by which to consume excessive barbeque sauce.)  Over the years, I’ve been vegetarian for various seasons, vegan for others, and happily omnivorous the rest of the time.  I have yet to “label” myself as a vegetarian (or a vegan) because I don’t like the idea of closing myself off to research that may, in fact, show that such a diet is not optimal.  In other words, it’s a complicated issue.  On the basis of taste, it’s simple – I prefer plants.  I was never a big fan of meat as a kid, and was often grossed out by it, and I still get the willies when I have to touch a package of chicken at the grocery store. red meat But aside from my personal palate preferences, there are two main reasons I find vegetarianism/veganism compelling:

  • Health
  • Ethics

Health

The Paleo diet is a huge trend these days, and in many ways, it is the antithesis of a vegetarian/vegan diet.  There is no denying that huge numbers of people have experienced great health improvements by eating according to the parameters of a Paleo diet.  Additionally, there are certainly plenty of benefits to be had in eating a Paleo diet when compared to what most Westerners are currently eating.  That being said, the scientific literature from the past 70 years has consistently shown strong negative correlations between dietary intake of meat (and animal foods) and overall health (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, all-cause mortality, and so on).  In other words, vegetarians have consistently been shown to be healthier than meat-eaters.  This does not, of course, mean that they are healthier because they eat a vegetarian diet – someone who is vegetarian is likely taking many other measures to benefit their health, including exercise, regular doctor visits, stress management, abstaining from smoking/excessive drinking, etc.  The correlation remains convicting nonetheless.  I won’t bore you with all the epidemiological studies I’ve scoured, but the bottom line seems to be that among the people and cultures with the best health, there is a trend toward a more plant-based diet (although there are no populations that I know of that exist fully and exclusively on plant foods).  You can read The China Study by Dr. Colin Campbell for more information – it is a book that lays out the results of the China-Cornell-Oxford Project (a 20 year-long epidemiological study, on of the most thorough of the time), which is widely considered to be the most compelling argument for a plant-based diet.  You could also watch Forks Over Knives, the documentary based on The China Study.  I would, as always, suggest doing your own additional research and taking into account some of the equally-compelling criticisms of The China Study, such as that of Denise Minger. For all the weight of the research pointing to the health benefits of a plant-based diet, there are also some highly-convicting scientific reasons to include animal products in the diet.  Vitamin B12 deficiency is nearly an epidemic among vegetarians/vegans (this is a big problem because B12 is absolutely crucial neurological health and cognitive function, among so many other things; see THIS article if you are interested in learning more), and the sufficiency of plant-based B12 supplements remains questionable at best.  Iron, calcium, and fat-soluble vitamins also tend to be lacking in plant-based diets, and they are all vital for good health.  There are many who claim that plants can provide ample amounts of these nutrients, which is true, but they leave out the fact that consuming such nutrients solely from plant sources frequently inhibits the body from properly absorbing the full amount of said nutrients.  It’s actually quite fascinating, and if you’re interested in reading more, I’d suggest THIS article from Chris Kresser.  There is also the issue of protein – although the exact amount of protein that each individual requires is still debated by doctors and nutritionists and scientists alike, my personal experience has shown me that I feel, look, and perform much better with plenty of protein in my diet.  It’s entirely possible to eat a high protein diet without animal foods (not common or necessarily practical, but is you Google “vegan bodybuilders,” you’ll see that it is certainly possible), but with the dietary restrictions I have to make for my health (no dairy, no soy, and no legumes), I have a hard time even meeting the most conservative protein intake guidelines.  So while I see many, many potential health benefits in a vegetarian or vegan diet, I have not yet figured out a way to make a fully plant-based diet work for me in the long-term. fresh vegetables farmers market Ethics

Let me preface this with the fact that I find nothing unethical about humans eating animals or animal products. The ethical dilemma lies in how the animals are treated.  I’ve done my research into the subject from sources on both sides, and it comes down to this: Most animals raised for food are subjected to treatment that is, in my estimation, genuinely inhumane.  For a glimpse into what I’m talking about, read Johnathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals or watch Food Inc., or just do a quick Google search on “CAFOs” (Confined Animal Feeding Operations, where the majority of animals raised for food spend most of their days).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly an “animal lover” – I love dogs, but I don’t talk to animals in baby voices or get too upset when I see a dead bird on the sidewalk or something.  Actually, I hate birds, so that sort of tells you something.  I find human life and welfare (i.e. abortion, slavery, sex trafficking, child abuse, and so on) to be far more concerning than animal rights.  But at the same time, I look at God’s command in Genesis 1:28 for mankind to “…fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on earth,” and I understand that humanity has been tasked with stewardship of creation.  Stewardship entails not just using and maximizing the resources of the natural world, but judiciously caring for it.  The outright cruelty that most agricultural animals are subjected to is not stewardship, it’s abuse, and it’s something I find impossible to reconcile with my conscience. I understand that there are some farms and ranches that raise their animals well, with care for their health during their life and respect for their comfort when the time comes for slaughter.   These are places where cattle are allowed to graze on pastures rather than at a trough full of soy-based feed, and they are not pumped full of hormones and antibiotics daily.  These are places where chickens are not bound in giant henhouses where they are quite literally packed wing-to-wing and sitting in their own filth and the carcasses of those unfortunate ones who have fallen ill or been trampled underfoot by the others.  These are places where animal life is stewarded well, where animals are healthy and cared for, and where slaughtering the animals is something that is accomplished with in a human way that minimizes the animals’ pain and fear.  These are also the places that require quite a bit more money to maintain, which results in products that carry a much higher price than conventionally-raised meat, milk, eggs, and the like.  At the end of the day, those foods agree with my conscience (and often with my body) but not necessarily with my paycheck.  I suppose that’s where things get tricky – if a significant percentage of the animal foods I consume is conventionally raised/grown/produced, will the benefits of those foods be outweighed by the negative effects conferred by conventional agriculture and farming practices?  Additionally, how much benefit would I need to receive from those foods in order to make the trade-off something that sits well with my conscience?  Questions like these make me realize that dietary choices can be incredibly intricate and profoundly personal. I’m still wrestling with these challenges, so I would love to hear what yall think about this.

Are you, or have you been, vegetarian/vegan?  What about Paleo?

Do you prefer a plant-based diet or one that includes plenty of animal foods?

What do you think about the ethical implications of eating animal foods?

Have you read The China Study or any similar works? Do you think the research truly supports a fully plant-based diet?

Making Fitness Fun

My cousin shared a link on twitter yesterday, which led to a short feature on Kacy Catanzaro, the first female to complete the final course of American Ninja Warrior.  ANJ is a reality television show in which contestants attempt to complete challenging obstacle courses – “attempt” is the operative word here, as many do not even finish the course in the qualifying round – for the best time.  I would say that I was impressed by Catanzaro, but that would be an understatement.  Her performance knocked my socks off and lit a fire under me.

If you’re like me, and typically don’t watch video clips (reading is faster and more efficient, right??), do yourself a favor and watch this one.  There’s no question that this girl is strong, but it was not just her strength (and agility and stamina and so on) that left an impression on me, but her determination to finish the course and her clear delight in the process.  Fitness should make life more fulfilling.  Training is meant to have a purpose, not to be done to merely to “tone up” or “slim down” or atone for dietary indulgences.  [Sidenote: Exercise is wonderful, everyone should do it often and in whatever capacities they're able to, but the benefits of exercise go far beyond weight maintenance.  Furthermore, exercise is not a panacea for weight loss.  That's a topic I plan to cover in its own post soon, but in the meantime, check out any of these  articles for further reading.] The point is, Catanzaro was clearly having fun.  She was competing, sure, but there was a spirit of joy in the whole process.  And that made me think about my own training and how much fun I have with it.  Working around an injury these days has made things a little frustrating at times, but even before that I was at a point where something needed to change.  I was doing too much of everything and not having nearly enough fun with any of it.  I was lifting, but not training for a strongman competition or in prep for a bikini/figure contest (God knows I’m not cut out for that life!).  I was running, but not training for any races (which may be why the race I did without training ended so disappointingly).  I was doing yoga (ok, I still am), but not practicing at a studio or really progressing much.  So I got to thinking about how to make my training something that I truly delight in…kind of a fitness-bucket-list, if you will…because life is way to short to do anything half-assed.

Here are a few things from my list:

  • Complete an obstacle race.  I volunteered at a Tough Mudder in the San Bernadino mountains two summers ago when my brother and one of my best friends were doing it, and it looked incredibly fun.  Hard, but fun.  The Warrior Dash looks like a greater starter-race (it’s a 5K plus obstacles and mud and, God willing, some shirtless firefighters…although that might just be wishful thinking), and the Spartan Race is supposed to be incredibly tough.  The Alpha Warrior looks incredible, and it’s different because there is no running.  It’s purely an obstacle course, and it looks pretty damn fun. (Sadly, the website doesn’t have any upcoming event dates listed, so it may not exist anymore.)
  • Run in a RAGNAR relay.  I heard about RAGNAR relays about a year ago, but it wasn’t until a month ago that I actually figured out what it is – an overnight relay race of roughly 200 miles.  You do it in teams of 12, so each person runs 3 legs of the relay, and each leg is 3-8 miles long.  It sounds like a big sweaty nomadic sleepover, filled with lots of endorphins and spandex and Gatorade.  The locations are amazing, as well.  I’d love to do the Northwest Passage (goes from inland Washington all the way to the coast), the Washington DC (you go by the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial), or the Colorado (you run across the Rockies!) course.
  • Try my hand at strongman.  Tara, the blogger at Sweat Like a Pig, is the first person who made me think  training for strongman.  She’s a total stud and has fallen in love with the sport, and reading about her training and competitions has me itching to give it a shot.  Admittedly, a big part of this might just be my desire to find out if I can successfully flip a tire or do a log press.  I would love to take a strongman training class and dip my toes in the water!
  • Take an aerial silks class.  I fully admit that I have fantasies of being a Cirque de Soliel performer, which have their roots in my childhood fascination with trapeze artists.  It was practically a spiritual experience when I first saw P!nk’s performance from the 2010 Grammy’s (watch it HERE), and I still get chills every time I watch it.  If I can’t sing and dance like her, then you can damn well bet that I’ll just swing myself around in some silk wraps and pretend.  It may end up looking like 50 Shades of Gray-meets-The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar, but all art comes with a price.
  • Climb Mount Whitney.  It’s the highest point in the lower 48 states, and the elevation increases by more than 6,000 feet in 10 miles.  Some people might not consider hiking to be as much fitness related as it is outdoorsy/adventure-y, but this is a big climb that would require plenty of physical preparation and training.  Also, it sounds like an amazing adventure that does not involve jumping off of/out of a bridge or airplane (I get hives at the mere thought or skydiving or bungee jumping), but would require the mental fitness to get over my irrational fear of bears, mountain lions, and various other creatures that might want to eat me.  I’ve already made plans to pre-game by hiking Mount Shasta with my dad within the year.
  • Learn to dance.  I only took a couple years of dance lessons as a kid, but I wish I had enjoyed it enough to stick with it.  At the time, I just found it patronizing that they made us 6 year-olds skip around the room in circles for most of ballet class.  I wanted to be learning how to do a grand jete, for Pete’s sake.  Anyway, once I was in high school, I started to wish I could pick up dance once again, but I was convinced that I was “too fat” and “not fit enough” to dance.  These days IDGAF if I’m a littlesquishier than the stereotypical dancer, and I know that my strength would be an asset in my practice.  Dance combines so many things I love – art and storytelling and movement – into one form, and I would love to find a studio to take classes in tap, contemporary, hip hop, and whatever else I can get my paws on.

Discuss:

Do you have fun with your training?

What’s on your fitness bucket list?

Who wants to join me for the Warrior Dash/RAGNAR/aerial class/any of the above???

Eat What You Want

The other night, I was talking with a friend who tends to be very concerned about what she eats and how she exercises.  She is perfectly healthy and has no history of being overweight, but she lives in fear of “getting fat.”  I was attempting to explain to her that the human body is a wonderfully self-regulatory machine, and that she needn’t count every single calorie or gram or even worry that much about what she eats.  At one point, she asked me, “I just don’t know how you can eat like that and still be in such good shape!”  (I was chomping down on a handful of marshmallows and a green tea latte while we talked.) First of all, let’s clarify that although I’m certainly “in shape,” I won’t be mistaken for a bikini competitor or one of the women from the CrossFit games anytime soon.  I do, however, have a stronger, leaner, and healthier body than I ever have before. (Keep in mind that strength, leanness, and health are all separate qualifiers here…they are not necessarily dependent on one another, i.e. you don’t have to be lean to be healthy, you don’t have to be healthy to be strong, etc.)  Because of that, it’s probably no surprise that I’m happier with my body than ever before.

Sorry for the douchenozzle selfie, but this is just for full-disclosure.  Definitely not a bikini model, but I feel damn good in a bikini.  (And at a buffet.)

Sorry for the douchenozzle selfie from 0400 today, but this is just for full-disclosure. Definitely not a bikini model, but I feel damn good in a bikini. (And at a buffet.)

 

The secret is that I have no secret - I eat what I want when I want it, and I get on with my life.  I don’t weigh my food or count calories or track macronutrients.  It’s no different for anyone else.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be aware of what we eat and the impact it will have on our bodies, but we also need to remember that it’s just food.

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All of it was delicious.

We follow diets and count macronutrients and seek out obscure superfoods, all in the pursuit of health, beauty, even happiness.  To a certain extent, that can be a good thing.  It is so cool that we as a society are learning more about nutrition and the tremendous impact our diet can have on our health.  But there’s a downside, from my perspective, to this emerging field of nutrition science, and that’s the neurotic focus on calories and various nutrients.  Don’t get me wrong here, I am enormously nerdy when it comes to nutrition, and I love figuring out how to improve my healthy by what I eat.  I still have tastebuds, though, sod I have a little personal rule: I don’t eat any food that I don’t enjoy.  If something is good for my health, but I can’t stand it, I won’t eat it.  Sometimes I find ways to enjoy those foods (like blending spinach up into a smoothie so that I can’t taste it), but if not, I don’t worry.  And if something is not good for my health but I love it, I’ll eat it anyway.  Sometimes I find ways to make those foods a little healthier (like throwing those chocolate chips on top of a smoothie to mask the taste of spinach and death), but if not, I don’t worry.  Barring any kind of food allergy or specific illness, you can eat just about any food at a given meal without lasting repercussions.  I’m not saying you should just throw back McDonald’s for every meal, but there’s also nothing wrong with eating things outside the rather limited list of “clean” foods (or paleo/raw/pescatarian/etc.) that you may feel indebted to.  Sometimes it seems like people have forgotten how to just eat!  Meals should not be a source of anxiety, confusion, or guilt.  It took me quite a long time to come to this place where I can just eat, without worrying or feeling like I’m going to somehow damage my health or my figure.  I probably haven’t been this relaxed about food and my diet since I was 12…And what do you know, I’m healthier than ever before, and my body reflects that.  It’s a hell of a lot happier way to live than obsessing over food, I can tell you that much.  So for those of you who may be at a point where food is a source of stress or confusion or anxiety, I want to challenge you with two questions to ask yourself next time you are deciding what to eat:

Do I like this food?

If the answer is no, then find something else to eat. If the answer is yes, that’s great!  Time for the second question:

Does this food support my goals?

If the answer to that is also yes, then chow down.  If the answer is no, then think about eating something else – something that you enjoy and which supports your goals. Remember, though, “goals” are a broad concept, and health is holistic.  For example, I’m not about those crash diets and “double days” just so I can look good for a photoshoot or an event or a swimsuit season…and I definitely believe that health encompasses more than the physical.  Mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health are all critical parts of the equation.  There are plenty of times when I choose to eat foods because I like them and they support my goal of sustainable health in terms of encouraging my social health (i.e. burgers at a barbeque with friends), mental health (i.e. coffee, all the coffee), or emotional health (looking at you, Lindt 92% dark chocolate…we have a real good time together). Here’s an example: I don’t eat spinach. It’s not because of any kind of food sensitivity or particularity about pesticides or GMOs. It’s just because it tastes like dirt and celibacy and sadness and dirt.  I don’t like it, so I don’t eat it. We are so fortunate to live in a world where we have abundant food and a myriad of choices about what we eat.   It’s incredible that we have the blessing of being able to enjoy the  food that fuels our bodies.  Life is too short and too good to live shackled by diet-obsession, food-guilt, macro-counting, and  micromanaging your nutrition.  Eat foods you enjoy. Eat foods that support your goals – all of your goals.  (The same goes for physical movement – be active in ways you enjoy and that support your goals.)  And then get on with your life.  You are more than just a body, and you are certainly more than what you eat.

Discuss:

Do you enjoy what you eat?

Do you worry about what you eat?

What’s your personal approach to nutrition? 

To Squat…Or NOT?

Everyone knows that friends don’t let friends skip leg day.  After all, the ultimate display of bromance in any commercial gym is one guy standing behind his bro, acting as  a spotter as the bro in question attempts sets of 5 at 1.5x bodyweight.  Bromantic moments aside, squats are known for being one of the most critical exercises for an individual to master.  Squats engage the entire lower body musculature and much of the upper body (trunk and upper back for stabilization, etc.), thus targeting the largest muscles in the body and creating one of, if not the, greatest metabolic effect of any traditional lift.  I’ve been squatting since I first starting weight training seriously about 7 years ago…except for the one year that I went to a gym that had only one squat rack that was occupied every single time I was there, and by a bro doing bicep curls, no less (I kid you not).  I’ve written HERE on the blog about the importance of doing squats with intensity and proper form.  Of course, I have some knee problems that can make squatting difficult sometimes, but my usual response has been to simply scale back on the weight (and sometimes volume) and really focus on checking my form.  Sometimes it takes a few weeks of squatting with nothing more than an olympic bar, or even just my bodyweight, in order for my knees to feel comfortable again, but I always find my way back to the squat rack eventually.

SQUATS

About the same time I injured my ankle in May, my knees started acting up again.  This time, I took a break from squatting with anything more than my own bodyweight, since my pathetic ankle stability made me nervous about potentially compromising my form and further injuring myself.  I’ve also been working on strengthening my vastus medialis (my lateralis is very dominant) and abductors on both sides, per my physical therapist’s instructions, to help with my knee stability.  I’ve found that my knees aren’t improving, even though it’s been over a month, and that has been worrying me.  After a bit of research, I’ve found mixed results.  Some sources suggest continuing to squat until the pain is absolutely unbearable, others suggest continuing to scale back the load/volume, and still others recommend implementing different leg exercises and reintroducing squats with a more diverse approach to lower-body training.

But then I came across THIS article.

Spoiler alert: He doesn’t squat, and he suggests that maybe no one else should either.

The article goes into much more detail, and includes links to further detailed pieces from other sources, but his basic point is this: barbell squats are a high-risk exercise with only moderate rewards, which are quickly diminishing to boot.   He addresses the issue of loading through the spine – which has its own inherent risks – and particularly the problems that arise from lower body strength increasing so much more quickly than that of the muscles surrounding/protecting the spine.  This discrepancy between the amount of loading that can be handled by the lower body versus the spine only grows as a squatter becomes more experienced (bro-speak translation: “all the gainzz”) and squats heavier and heavier weights.  Confounding the problem is the issue that squat safety is so desperately dependent on the squatter having perfect form with every repetition, which will obviously be more difficult to maintain as the lifter moves through a training session and is battling fatigue.  (This would obviously be more of a problem for someone with a particularly high training volume or particularly heavy load on the bar, and the same problem could be said in varying degrees of many other exercises.)

This is not an idea that I had ever encountered before.  I found it particularly interesting not only because it was counter to most everything I’ve ever heard about fitness, but because it resonated with my own experience with squats.  I get stronger and am able to squat progressively more weight until I am inevitably derailed by the same injuries or chronic pain…lather, rinse, repeat.  Obviously, that’s just anecdotal and certainly not enough to say anything definitive about the merits of the might squat, but it reminds me that my goal in all my fitness endeavors is longevity.  I want to be healthy throughout my whole life, and I value enduring fitness over my performance (i.e. squat PR’s, etc.) at any given moment.   If that means no squatting, then I’d not squat.  Simple as that.

Of course, there are thousands of other sources that will attest to the wonderful benefits of squatting regularly and with heavy loads, and in spite of the injuries/chronic pain (which is surely at least in part due to my unique I’ve experienced some fantastic benefits from squats over the years.  I’m not writing off squats because of this article and a few others to which it linked.  But it made me think more about why we do the exercises we do, and whether my training is more in line with my goals or my pride.  For instance, do I train the way I do because I enjoy it and am reaping the benefits I desire? Or am I training this way because I want to be able to keep up with the bros and be able to say that I’ve squatted so-many pounds, or demonstrated any other kind of performance?  I don’t think either motive is right or wrong, they just reflect different values.

Since I’ve got at least a few weeks left before my ankle is ready for real squats (and that timeline may be wishful thinking), I’ll be doing quite a bit more research and re-evaluating my training.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear what yall have to think:

 Do you squat?  

What do you think of the article I shared?

What are you motives for training the way you do?

Best Reading From the Week

Not sure about you, but I find it can be difficult at times to wade through the mire of “bro-science,” Paleo/vegan zealots, and “fitspo” online when I’m looking for real science and articles with honest,  practical information about health.   In case you have the same struggle, I thought I would share some of the best articles that I’ve found lately concerning fitness, nutrition, and holistic health.  Your brain may not be a muscle, but you’ve still got to exercise it…so read up!

geek reading

Pop Tarts and Beauty Queens: It’s Time For a Reality Check Concerning Fitness Selfies and Food Porn Shared Across Social Media

This was an excellent piece about the realities behind what people present on social media, especially in terms of fitness.  As someone who has unfollowed/deleted quite a few people from my social media feeds due to the disordered thinking/habits they promote (or just generally intolerable levels of douchbaggery), I was cheering in my head the whole time I was reading.

Butt Wink Is Not About the Hamstrings

If you’ve ever been told that you have a “butt wink” (a posterior tilt, where your tailbone tucks in/under, at the bottom of your squat movement), get your geek on and find out why.  I have never been able to squat deeper than slightly past parallel without a butt wink, and seeing this explanation of the anatomical factors at play was fascinating.  Now I know that my coxa valgra femoral neck, retroverted acetabulum, and deep hip sockets are the reason that my squat will never be “ass to the grass” without a butt wink.  And that’s fine, because it means I have some really badass hip extensions.  (Hip thrusters, we were made for each other.)

The Not-So-Ugly Truth About Gluten

For all you cynics out there…well, you may be right.  Gluten-free is trendy, but if you don’t have Celiac disease, the evidence does not actually indicate that you’re health will benefit at all by removing gluten from your diet.  I  found the FODMAPS connection particularly interesting, as FODMAPS is something that’s come up in my research on my quest to fix my baby bump digestive issues.

Knowing What to Eat, Refusing to Swallow It

Dr. Katz is really one of my favorites, and this piece is so well-written that I can even forgive him for the Michael Pollan quote.  The man has a delightfully balanced and objective perspective in the field of nutrition, which is all too often often flooded with faulty logic, conspiracy theories, and emotionally-driven rhetoric with no scientific backing (sounds eerily like the presidential debates…).  There is so much yet to be learned about the nuances of human nutrition, but in spite of the bickering between the zealots of various diet ideologies, decades of research and observational studies have shown that we know quite a bit about what makes a healthy diet.

7 Recent Food Epiphanies That Set Me Free

I only recently discovered Molly Galbraith’s website, and I am really enjoying what I’ve read so far.  This post was particularly compelling, as I have found by my own experiences that my neuroses over what I eat have never seemed to have the desired result.  Ironically, it is when I am least concerned (i.e. worried, anxious, obsessive-compulsive) about my diet that I am all-around healthiest.  Orthorexia (obsessive neurosis about the healthfulness of one’s diet) is an enormous problem in the fitness world, although whether anyone will admit that is an entirely different discussion, and I believe most fitness-minded folks will find some great takeaways from what Molly has to say here.

Success versus Failure: A Stark Juxtaposition

Dr. Attia is brilliant.  I’ve been reading his blog for years, and am continually impressed by his rigorous research and meticulous thoughtfulness.  This post – in which he examines the proposed solutions to the American obesity epidemic and their results (or lack thereof), as well as how we can more effectively examine and address the problem, both corporately and individually – was no exception.

 

What do yall think? Did any of these articles strike a chord with you? I’d love to discuss them with you in the comments!

 

The Beginner’s Guide to Pull Ups

Pull ups are an amazing exercise.  They work a huge amount of your upper body musculature, they’re low maintenance (all you need is a bar!), and they’re badass.  They’re also hard. Pull ups can be a very difficult exercise to learn to do, not necessarily in terms of biomechanics (although if you’re “kipping,” you’re doing it wrong…sorry CrossFit friends, it’s true) but because of the sheer strength they require.  Pulling one’s own bodyweight is not something that the average Joe does often, if ever, in his daily life.  It’s a shame that so many folks miss out on the benefits of such a great exercise.  Ladies, I’m talking to you in particular.  Don’t be intimidated by pull ups!  They are difficult, don’t get me wrong, and even more so for women because our bodies are naturally built with less upper body strength than men…but you’re stronger than you think you are, and you can become even stronger than you think you can be.

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Feel free to pin this guide for easy reference as you work your way through the progressions!

I want to share a simple progression you can use to work your way into doing pull ups.  This progressive sequence is for anyone, male or female, who wants to work their way to doing pull ups.   The exercises outlined below build upon each other in the order listed, so as you progress through each level, you can utilize the exercises from earlier in the progression to continue building your strength and increasing your pull-up badassery.  I would suggest training each of the given exercises 2-3 times per week, for 2-3 weeks or however long it takes to build up the strength to move to the next level.  Once you’re at the next level, train that exercise 2-3 times per week, and incorporate the previous exercises once per week (if you choose to do so).

Give it a shot, enjoy my horribly awkward video demos, and let me know when you’re able to knock out your first pull-up!

Lat Pull-downs

Pull-downs are a great way to build up your lat strength as you work your way into pull ups.  You want to be training in a strength or hypertrophy rep range (1-5 reps and 6-12, respectively), using heavier weights so as to gradually build up to lifting (or more accurately, pulling) your bodyweight.  As you go through the movement, make sure to use maintain good form and pull the bar down to/past your chin (if you can pull it all the way to your chest, you should probably be lifting more weight…), focusing on contracting your back and bringing your shoulder blades together to pull the bar down.  Make sure to move the bar back to overhead at a steady, controlled pace – still maintaining your form! – so as not to miss out on the eccentric part of the movement (more on eccentric strength below…).  If you don’t have a gym membership or a home gym with a lat pull machine, feel free to jump right in with negative pull ups (next progression, see below) – it will be slightly more difficult than if you’d worked up from lat pull downs, but if you have a solid fitness base already, you’ll be fine.

Negative Pull Ups

Time to hit “the bar!”If you don’t have access to a pull up bar, THIS is the one I used in college and I would highly recommend it.

Once you’ve built up your lat strength with pull-downs, try incorporating negative pull ups.  If you already have a solid strength base, you might want to incorporate negatives right off the bat while also training pull-downs for strength/hypertrophy as described above.  It’s not an exact science, but I would say that once you’re able to pull-down 70% of your bodyweight for at least 3 reps, you’re ready to give negatives a shot.  A negative pull-up is simply the eccentric (or “lowering”) portion of the movement.  Your muscles’ eccentric strength is greater than their concentric (or “lifting) strength, so by training negatives you will play to your strengths.  You’ll be strong enough to perform the eccentric portion of a pull-up (the negative) before you are strong enough for the concentric (lifting, or pulling up) portion.  In short, negatives will get you to full pull ups in less time than if you went straight to attempting full pull ups.  To do the negative portion of a pull up, you will need to stand on a box/bench/chair that puts the bar at about the same height as your face.  Grab onto the bar, engage your upper body as you transfer your weight from your feet to your hands, and step off your bench.  Slowly and with great control (focus on allowing your shoulder blades to move outward, just as you focused on bringing them together when doing pull-downs), lower yourself until your arms fully extend but do not lock out.  You must maintain control throughout the movement for it to be of any value.  Step back up on your bench and repeat for 5-12 reps.

Partial ROM Pull Ups

Once you’ve mastered negatives, it’s time to attempt pull ups with one small modification – you’ll be using a modified range of motion.  This means you will essentially be doing half pull ups.  You will once again start off standing on a box/bench/chair and grab the bar while it is in front of your chin.  Transfer your weight to your hands, step off the bench, and lower yourself until your elbows are at about 90°, then pull yourself back up so that your chin is at/above the bar.  Continue lowering yourself halfway and then pulling yourself back up, maintaining proper form all the while.  Try not to let your body swing too much – the assistance of momentum might feel like a relief, but it will prevent you from gaining the strength you need for full pull ups.   As with all these exercises, focus on contracting your back and bringing your shoulder blades together during the concentric portion of the movement, and keeping control as your lower yourself.  You can increase the ROM as you get stronger, eventually lowering yourself completely (arms extended but not locked out) and doing full pull ups.

The Full Monty…Bodyweight Pull ups

When you are regularly able to string together 5 or more partial ROM pull ups (again, it’s not a science…you know your body, so if you feel strong enough earlier than that, go for it!), you should be ready to try cranking out full pull ups.  Congratulations!   Just make sure to keep good form…no “kipping” allowed!

 

A Few Important Notes…

  • When doing any of these exercises, you can change up your grip - pronated/palms forward, supenated/palms facing you, or neutral/palms facing each other – to engage slightly different accessory muscles.  You will probably find that you are stronger with one grip than with the other two.  That’s normal, but remember to train with the other grips regularly to prevent imbalances or grip-related weaknesses.
  • Warm up well!!!  This does not mean a 10 minute cardiovascular warm up on the treadmill, but an actual resistance-based warm up for the muscles involved in a pull-up.  It could be lat pull-downs, pull-overs, rows, etc., or a combination (don’t max out on those, obviously; just work your way up to your working weight for a few sets). It will surprise you how much more your are able to do properly warmed up vs. starting out cold or after a halfhearted warm-up.
  • On the other hand, don’t leave pull ups until the end of your workout when your muscles are most fatigued.
  • Do NOT use pull ups as part of a superset when you are just starting out.  Give yourself adequate time to recover between sets so that you have more “gas in the tank” left for what is probably the most challenging exercise in your work out.
  • Once you are able to at least do partial ROM pull ups, you can incorporate accessory/alternative exercises such as bicep curls, rows, lat pullovers, etc.  By performing these exercises, you are working many of the same muscles required for pull ups without actually doing pull ups.  This can be really helpful if you are feeling burnt out and need to switch things up for a mental break, or if you have been stuck and unable to progress beyond a certain number of partial or full ROM pull ups.  I’ve often turned to these alternative exercises for a couple weeks and come back to pull ups only to find that I’m able to crank out 1-2 more reps per set than before.  (For more on increasing your pull-up abilities, see below.)
  • A word on assisted pull-up machines: Obviously, assisted pull-up machines are created to do everything the above progression is for – to help the user build up enough strength to do unassisted pull ups.  The problem I’ve found with assisted pull-up machines is that they simply are not sufficiently congruent with the movement of a bodyweight pull-up to be of much practical use.  Now, if you are brand new to strength training, the assisted pull-up machine could be useful in helping you develop more upper-body strength.  However, it will be very difficult to transition directly from doing assisted pull ups to doing bodyweight pull ups.  It is far preferable to learn “at the bar,” and develop your pull-up strength by practicing negatives, banded pull ups, and decreased ROM pull ups as outlined above.

 

And lastly, for those that are already doing pull ups and want to step up their game:  

  • If you’re not already, change your grip position (pronated vs. supenated vs. neutral) every so often.
  • Increase reps by doing more sets of less reps (i.e. go from 3×8 to 5×6).
  • As described above, use alternative exercises for the same muscle groups (i.e. rows, pullovers, curls, etc.) and train those exercises for strength (heavier weights and lower reps, such as a 5×5).
  • Incorporate weighted pull ups (you will have to decrease your reps significantly at first…for example, if you normally do sets of 8, you might be able to do sets of 3 or 4 with 15-20 lbs added).

 

That about covers it…so start practicing, and I hope to see yall at “the bar!”

 

Just a reminder – if you don’t already have a pull up bar, this one is a great choice and very reasonably priced.

If you have any questions or would like more guidance on working into doing full pull ups, just let me know!  

 

[PS: Big "thank you" to my wonderful sister, Claire, who did all the filming for me.  She has her own blog over HERE, where she chronicles her adventures in short-term mission work and shares some of her photography.  She's got a heart of gold and a lot of talent, so check her out!]