Five Exercises That Are Better Than Crunches

I see people at the gym on a daily basis, doing endless crunches and ab machines in hopes of having a flat stomach. It amazes me that there are so many people out there who still believe in spot reduction-the idea that doing a certain exercise that targets a specific area of your body will burn fat off of that area. I just wish I could tell them: if your goal is fat loss, it’s not going to work. Stop wasting your time! 

I never have my clients do crunches, with the exception of reverse crunches occasionally. Why? Well, because they are not effective, especially when it comes to burning belly fat. NO amount of crunches will give you a flat stomach. It just WON’T work. But what about strengthening the core? Well, in my opinion, there are much more effective exercises to use for that than crunches.

Crunches come in very LAST PLACE in strategies for getting a flat stomach or revealing 6 pack abs. Since you can’t target where you lose fat, it’s simply a matter of losing body fat all over. And losing body fat mostly comes down to your NUTRITION-more specifically, through lowering caloric intake. This should be the number one focus when it comes to losing body fat. With proper nutrition, you can actually achieve a flat stomach without doing a single crunch.

So, if crunches aren’t effective for burning belly fat, they don’t burn a significant amount of calories, and they aren’t the best exercise to strengthen the core, then WHY do them? Yes, you should train your abs to have a strong core and/or if you are seeking to build more defined abs. But if it’s fat you’re trying to get rid of, get your nutrition in check first.  Then, rather than wasting time doing crunches, here are five exercises you should be doing instead:

1)Pushups

What many people don’t realize is that pushups don’t only work the chest, arms, and shoulders, but the core as well. Any exercise that works multiple muscle groups will burn more calories than just isolating the abs.

2)Farmer’s walks

Grab a set of heavy dumbbells, walk for a minute, and see how high your heart rate goes up. Not only are you getting your heart rate up, you’re also highly engaging your core muscles, along with your forearms, shoulders, and upper back. Once again, the more muscles you’re engaging, the better, especially where fat loss is concerned.

3)Goblet squats

These are a great compound movement that basically works your whole body-legs, upper back, and core. Because of where you hold the dumbbell or kettlebell, your abs are forced to engage to hold your body upright.

4)Sprints or prowler pushes.

If fat loss is the goal, you can’t beat sprints or prowler pushes. Not only do you burn calories while doing them, but with short burst, high intensity cardio, your metabolism will continue to be slightly elevated after your workout.

5)Single arm movements(landmine press, single arm dumbbell press, single arm cable row, etc.) Any time you use only one side of your body, your core is activated in order to stabilize your body.

With each of these movements, your core is being worked along with other muscles in the body at the same time, which is best for burning the most calories. These are the type of movements that should make up the majority of your workouts, along with other compound movements, if a flat stomach is your goal. If you MUST, you can add in some ab isolation exercises into your workouts, but only if you have done these exercises first.

If you truly want to transform your body and get a smaller midsection, crunches are not the answer. Utilizing the above exercises, in combination with proper right nutrition will get you much closer to a flat stomach than crunches ever will.

My Favorite Training Splits

I’ve been weight training since I was 13 years old…which means I’ve been at this for a LOOOONGGG time. It also means that I’ve experimented with many different styles of training and training splits. I’ve done bodybuilding workouts, CrossFit, and powerlifting.

If you aren’t familiar with what a training split is, it’s simply how you split up the way  you train your muscle groups throughout the week. The most common splits are the typical “bodybuilder” splits, where you train one or two muscle groups each day, usually training each muscle group once a week.

While this can be fine for “enhanced” bodybuilders, I’m not a huge fan of that type of split for the general population. For one thing, most people don’t have 6-7 days to commit to the gym, and for most people wanting to lose fat and gain some muscle tone, there is no reason to hit just one muscle group with a million different exercises.

Instead, I prefer training splits that hit multiple muscle groups in one workout and a higher frequency, meaning that you train each muscle group multiple times per week.

Here are the training splits that I use most often for myself and for my clients:

Full body (2-3 day split)
This is the split I recommend for people who only have 2-3 days a week to train and is what I use most for my clients. You are training every major muscle group in your body during every workout. To ensure that you’re training everything equally, you want to do a lower body movement, an upper body push, a lower body pull, and a core movement.

Upper body /Lower body/Full body(3 day split)
This is a another great option for someone who can only commit to 3 days in the gym. With this split, you get 2 days to focus a little more on specific muscle groups with a day devoted to just upper and just lower body, and then a full body workout later in the week so that you hit each muscle group 2 times a week.

Upper/lower/upper/lower (4 day split)
This is my favorite split and the one I use most for myself. It’s the perfect balance of working multiple muscle groups, but it’s also split up enough that you can isolate individual muscles if you want a more bodybuilding focus. I also think that it’s the perfect split for the goal of increasing strength and what many powerlifting programs utilize. It also allows for 3 days of rest and recovery, so that you don’t get overtrained or burnt out.

Upper push/lower/upper pull/lower (4 day split)
If you want to further split up your muscle groups you can divide your upper days into “push” and “pull” days. So on the first upper day you would do all the pushing movements, or if you want to think in terms of muscles, you’d be working the chest, shoulders, and triceps. On the pull day, you are working back, rear delts, and biceps. There are still two lower body days as well, and you could even split those days into a hamstring and glute focus the first leg day and a quad focus the second leg day. I switch to this split occasionally just for a change of pace, or if I want to focus a little more on hypertrophy.

Back & chest/Lower body /Back & shoulders/Lower body (4 day split)
Another way to split up the upper body workouts is by having a back and chest focus one day and then a back and shoulder focus the next. I like this split because you can pair movements into opposing muscle group supersets, which I love to incorporate into my workouts. It keeps the intensity high and the workout fast paced.  I also just really like to train back more than once a week, which you don’t get in the push/pull split. You could add arms to either or both days. As in the above example, you could also further split lower body days into glutes/hamstrings and quads.

Upper body heavy/Lower body heavy /Back & shoulders/Lower body hypertrophy/Chest & arms (5 day split)
For those who enjoy focusing on strength but also like to have more bodybuilding/hypertrophy work and more days in the gym, this is a good option. You have 2 days devoted to strength-a heavy upper body day and a heavy lower body day. This is when you would focus on the main lifts in the lower rep range. Then later in the week, you split up the muscle groups a bit more and focus on hypertrophy, with more isolation movements and higher reps. This is about as “bodybuilderish” a split I would recommend for most people who aren’t training for a bodybuilding or fitness competition. It’s something I would use for a month or two out of the year just for a change, but not something I would do year round for myself personally.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas for how to split up your workouts in the gym that you may not have thought of. Remember, there is no “perfect” training split. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to train. The most important thing when coming up with a split that works best for you is, first, what works with your schedule, and then, what you actually enjoy. You’re not going to be excited about going to the gym if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. Like for me, I do NOT enjoy the typical one muscle group per day bodybuilding split, because it is just BORING to me. But other people may love it!

Also, there’s nothing wrong with sticking with the same training split if it’s what you enjoy, what works best for your schedule, and what gets you the best results. But it is a good idea to consider switching it up every now and then. Most of the time I stick with an upper/lower split, but occasionally I will do a push/legs/pull/legs split or even do full body workouts here and there. It’s okay to experiment with different training splits until you find something that works for you!

Tell me, what is your favorite training split? Do you utilize any listed here?

Three Exercise Only Workouts

Let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard to squeeze a workout in, especially around the busy holiday season. But the good thing is, you don’t need to spend hours in the gym to get an effective workout.

Trust me, no matter how busy you are, I’m certain that most anyone can find time to get in a 15-30 minute workout a few times a week. You can make it happen. And if you choose the right movements and watch what you eat, you can most definitely get results with short but intense workouts.

The key to short workouts is to stick to basic, compound lifts that will work multiple muscle groups. And if you have to choose between lifting weights and cardio…always choose the weights! Each of these workouts are set up so that they are working every muscle in your body. There is a lower body movement, an upper body push, and an upper body pull.

Make sure to get in a full body warm-up and then a few warm-up sets of each movement before you get to your working weight. When choosing what weight to use, it should be challenging, but keep the reps 1-2 short of failure. This is not the time to max out on a lift, but you don’t want it to be easy either.

 

Workout 1

As many rounds as possible in 20 minutes:

Barbell or dumbell push press x8

Dumbbell chest supported row x8

Goblet single leg reverse lunge x8/leg

Workout 2

As many rounds as possible in 15 minutes:

Barbell deadlift x5

Pushups x10

Band pull-aparts x15


Workout 3

4 rounds, rest as needed:

Barbell front or back squat x6-8

Dumbbell chest press x6-8

Pullups(or inverted row) x4-6

 

Bonus: 3 exercise “finisher”:

Ball slams x10

Kettlebell swings x12

Squat jumps x15

3 rounds as fast as possible

Next time you’re short on time, give one of these workouts a try!

Why I’m Not a Fan of Meal Plans

Being on a “diet” or a meal plan is easy. You eat what foods you’re told to eat, and you don’t eat foods you’re not “allowed” to eat.

The problem is, you don’t ever learn how to eat when you AREN’T on a diet or meal plan. When it comes to dieting and nutrition, so many people end up with the “all or nothing” mentality of either eating super “clean” or eating like crap; there is no in-between. And those are the people who are always “on again, off again”, never able to get results and actually keep them. 

See, extremes are easy. Finding balance and moderation to eat well consistently is actually the hard part, but it’s what brings
long term success.
 

Now, I’m not saying that following a meal plan or a diet is EASY, what I’m saying is what’s actually harder is being able to know how to eat when you’re NOT on a meal plan or diet. What’s harder is finding balance and consistency with a nutrition style that is sustainable for you.

Yes, a strict meal plan will get you results. But are you able to maintain those results when you’re no longer following the meal plan? When you’re tired of eating the same foods over and over again? When you give in and eat something that’s not “allowed” on your plan? If you gain back all the weight you lost afterwards, did it really work?

As you all probably know, I’m a big fan of flexible eating. Does it work for everyone? No, maybe not. But the main reason I’m a fan is because it changes your mindset. The thing with most meal plans and diets is that there are certain foods you “can’t” have. And what usually happens when you “can’t” have something, is that it’s all you want. So as soon as you are off your plan, you have no self-control over those once forbidden foods and end up bingeing or going on a “free-for-all” and eating everything you couldn’t have while on your meal plan.

I don’t meticulously track macros, but I do practice flexible eating in the sense that I don’t restrict any foods from my diet. It has been a lifesaver for me. Now, some people may look at me and just think, “Oh, she has good genetics”. What they probably don’t realize is I am actually very structured with my meals and that I don’t just eat whatever I want all the time. So when I say that I include things like pizza, donuts, brownies and ice cream in my diet, it DOESN’T mean that I’m eating those things every day. It’s just that I know that I CAN have those foods if I want them, and I do include them in my diet in moderation.

Having no foods off limits and knowing that there are no foods that are inherently “bad” or “fattening” makes ALL the difference. That mindset is the reason I am able to sustain this lifestyle and stay lean year round without “falling off the wagon”, or being on and off of a meal plan or diet all time time. I have found a healthy form of balance and moderation that works for ME, and that will look different for everyone.

 I know it’s still hard for some people to accept the fact that you can actually include some “junk” foods into your diet and still get results, even when fat loss is your goal. Some people will never accept that anything besides super strict “clean” eating can work for weight management and/or fat loss goals. But it IS possible and it DOES work for so many people.

No,flexible eating is not an excuse to eat junk all the time, as many people mistakenly believe. Most people who follow flexible dieting or IIFYM actually do eat lots of veggies, lean proteins, healthy carbs, etc., but they just know that they can fit treats into their diet here and there without it negatively affecting their physique goals. Eating flexibly is all about having a healthy relationship with food. It’s about being able to eat foods you enjoy in moderation so that it’s not just a short term fix but something that you can continue with forever.

5 Reasons Why Abs Are Overrated

Oh, 6 pack abs…the desire of every man and woman in the fitness world. All  you have to do is scroll through Instagram fitness accounts to see that it is inundated with ab selfies. And usually, the better abs, the more followers, and the more people who idolize and worship you.

But are 6 pack abs really all they’re cracked up to be? I think not.

There was a time when all I wanted was to get 6 packs abs, but when I realized the cost…for me, it just wasn’t worth it. For myself and most(not all) women, having visible abs requires an unhealthy and unsustainable body fat percentage. Yes, they look cool and are the result of extreme dedication and hard work, but as someone who has been leaner with more visible abs, I can say that for me, they are overrated.

Here’s why:

1. They have nothing to do with health.

Having 6 pack abs can actually be detrimental to your health. Being at an extremely low body fat percentage for an extended amount of time can have many damaging side effects, such as hormonal imbalances, low energy levels, loss of menstruation, osteoperosis, low libido, and heart problems. Making healthy food choices is one thing, but damaging your health in the quest for 6 pack abs is a whole different thing.

2. They have nothing to do with strength. 

6 pack abs are purely for show. Yes, a strong core is important for lifting, but visible abs do NOT mean you are strong. Fueling your body with more food and having a little more body fat is much more conducive to being strong than having shredded abs. And being strong is awesome.

3. They can lead to disordered eating and body image issues. 

To be lean enough to have 6 pack abs, you have to be extremely meticulous about your eating, which can often lead to disordered eating or actual full blown eating disorders. It all starts when you begin to fear and restrict certain foods. Then you start to constantly stress about your meals and what you “can” or “can’t” eat. Your life basically begins to revolve around your meals and workouts. It can also really mess with your mind when it comes to body image. No matter how lean you get, it’s never enough. You’ll begin critique your body in the mirror and be disgusted by any ounce of fat or “flaws” that you see on your body. And once you’ve gotten lean enough to see your abs, it can be really hard to give them up, even when you know you need to for health reasons. Gaining body fat after being that lean can be a very hard thing mentally.

4. They limit your ability to gain muscle and strength.

Trying to always be at a very low body fat with visible abs will make it hard to gain muscle and get stronger. To be strong, you need to fuel your body with lots of food, and to build muscle, your body needs more calories than it burns.The opposite is true when trying to lose fat or maintain visible abs-you need to consume less calories than you burn, which makes it very hard to build muscle and increase strength.

5. They don’t allow you to live the fullest, healthiest life. 

Being extremely lean often requires very strict dieting. In order to adhere to your diet, you may begin to have anxiety about going to social events. You will have to pack all your pre-prepared and portioned out meals in tupperware containers and haul a food scale around with you everywhere you go. I’ve heard of people eating cold fish or chicken out of baggies(gag me), or just avoiding social situations entirely…all for the sake of being super lean. To me, that’s no way to live life. To me, that is not living life to the fullest. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to eat and be healthy, but living a healthy lifestyle is supposed to ENHANCE your life. When it’s taken to the extreme, I believe that it detracts from your quality of life.

Now, I know all of these are not true for everyone, but for me, and for countless others, they are. If you have 6 pack abs, and you’re happy and healthy, then that is awesome. We all have different genetics, we all hold fat in different places, and we all have different metabolisms. Some people will be able to maintain visible abs in a healthy, balanced way, while others simply can’t. And that’s okay! There should be no judging anyone based on how lean or not lean they are.

But to those of you who don’t have visible abs, just know that you’re not missing out on anything. And you know what? Your abs will always be there, if you so choose to reveal them at some point. But to me, there are so many other things to think about and pursue in life than 6 pack abs.

Ladies: 7 Reasons Why You’re Not Building Muscle

Gaining muscle as a woman is NOT easy, but there are many mistakes that I commonly see women make that make it even harder. 

The fact is, most women(there are exceptions, as always) need to work WAY harder than men to build muscle due to our lower testosterone. It takes years and years of concentrated focus and consistent training and eating with the sole intention of building muscle to ever achieve a muscular physique. 

And remember, if your goal is to be “toned”, then your goal is to build muscle. Without muscle, you will either be skinny, fat, or skinny fat…but you will not be toned.

Here are a few reasons why you may not be gaining muscle: 

1. You’re doing too much cardio(seriously, cut it back and focus on lifting). 

Women often make cardio the focus of their training. They mistakenly think that they need to be dripping in sweat or keeping their heart rate elevated throughout their whole workout for it to be effective. Cardio is NOT bad, but it should be secondary to weight lifting if muscle building is the goal. I think most women would be amazed at what would happen if they cut back on the hours of running, or spin classes, or elliptical workouts they’re doing and instead put their focus and effort into lifting weights and building muscle.  A few days of cardio or short HIIT workouts won’t hurt you, but excessive cardio will definitely hinder muscle building.

2. You’re not lifting heavy enough and getting STRONGER on the basic, compound lifts.

Many women just don’t train heavy enough with the right exercises to force the muscles to grow. Muscles need progressive overload, meaning as you get stronger, you must challenge them in new ways. Over time, you should be getting stronger and adding more weight to the bar, little by little. No, you may not be able to go up in weight every week, especially the more advanced you are, but if you’re getting stronger on the compound lifts over time, you’re going to be much more successful at building muscle than if all you focus on is feeling the “burn”. 

3.You never train with lower reps.

Have you been training in the 12-15 rep range for as long as you can remember? That seems to be the rep range most women get “stuck” in, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s a fear of getting injured with heavier weights, or it’s just what they’ve been told is the best rep range for “toning”. Regardless, by never training with heavier weights in the lower rep range, you are definitely holding yourself back from making progress. I’ve found some of my greatest muscle gains were made in the 5-8 rep range with heavy weights. Higher reps most definitely can be effective, but you should make sure to include some lower rep training into your workouts as well.

4. You don’t take rest days.

Here’s the thing: you’re not actually building muscle in the gym. Your muscles grow OUTSIDE of the gym with adequate sleep, food, rest and recovery. Taking a few days off from the gym to allow the muscles to repair themselves will NOT hinder your progress, but most likely will enhance it. I’ve found 4-5 days in the gym to be plenty for most women. Don’t fear rest days!

5. You’re not eating enough CARBS. 

For so many women, it is ingrained in their minds that carbs are bad and will make them fat. Ladies, it is NOT true! Repeat after me: “Carbs are not bad. They will not make me fat.” Yes, you need to balance your caloric intake between protein, carbs, and fats, but CARBS are the muscle’s best friend! You will only be spinning your wheels if you are trying to gain muscle while only eating protein, fats and vegetables. If you want to gain muscle, start by adding in some carbs before and after a workout. Then slowly work up from there, and watch the gains commence.

6. You don’t eat before and after workouts.

If you want to build muscle, you need to fuel your body properly before and after workouts. Training fasted may be okay for low intensity exercise, or for fat loss, but it is NOT ideal for muscle building. Muscles use glucose(stored carbohydrates) as energy to contract when lifting weights. Having a carbohydrate and protein based meal will give you the energy your body needs to push harder during your workouts. Also, because weight training depletes muscle glycogen, you want to make sure that you replenish those glycogen stores after a workout with another protein and carbohydrate based meal soon after working out. Feel the muscles!

7. You’re scared of gaining body fat. 

This is a big one. It’s extremely hard to build muscle while trying to stay super lean. Many women make the mistake of constantly trying to diet for fat loss but build muscle at the same time. Men may be able to get away with this, but for most women, it’s next to impossible. I know, I know, you want abs, but look-they aren’t going anywhere. Your abs will always be there to be revealed at a later time if you so choose to. The thing is, anyone can lean down. But it takes HARD WORK to build your body UP and to create a solid, muscular physique. If you want fuller glutes, rounder shoulders, and bigger biceps, you may have to sacrifice those 6 pack abs for a while.

A Day Of Eating

This is what a day of eating normally looks like for me on a training day. I no longer meticulously track macros, but from doing so in the past, I do have an idea of what I’m taking in and how many calories I’m getting. The main guidelines I follow are to include a protein, carb and fat source at almost every meal, and consuming the highest amount of carbs post workout.
8:00 Meal 1(pre workout):
12178999_982741088414973_1400848222_n
1/2-3/4 cup oats, 1/2 banana, 1 spoonful of peanut butter, 1 scoop MuscleTech platinum whey protein, coffee with half &half
 11:30-ish Meal 2(post workout)
14202734_1161743350514745_2890769773239198766_n
Platinum Iso-whey protein with almond milk and either 2 cups of cereal, English muffin topped with banana, or a fruit smoothie
 1:30 Meal 3
2 eggs, 2 egg whites scrambled with mushrooms and sprinkled with mozzarella cheese, 6 oz(ish?) red potatoes roasted in olive oil
4:30 Meal 4
3-4 oz chicken (sometimes on a small salad of romaine lettuce with lite Italian or Bolthouse Ranch dressing) serving of fruit on the side
11165935_894157970606619_657766688_n
7:30 Meal 5
1 cup Basmati rice mixed with about 4 oz ground turkey(mix of 93/99%) and 2 spoonfuls of salsa OR 1 cup whole wheat pasta and no added sugar pasta sauce mixed with ground turkey or lean beef
12713990_1037074762981605_535356667_n
10:30 Meal 6
1/2-1 cup of cottage cheese, 2 spoonfuls peanut butter, one rice cake
915710_1496676683920619_1525526917_n

From Rice Cakes to Cupcakes: A Bikini Competitor’s Journey to Food Freedom

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: fitness and nutrition should not make you miserable.

I am NOT against clean eating. I’m NOT against tracking macros. I’mNOT against losing fat or wanting to improve your physique. I’m NOTagainst competing in fitness competitions.

What I AM against is when any of these things begin to take over your life and CONSUMEyou.

What I’m against is when it gets to the point where your eating and training adds MOREstress to your life, rather than enhancing your life.

What I’m against is being a slave to food and workouts.

What I’m against is punishing yourself for eating “bad”, or feeling guilt over having a piece of cake at a birthday party.

What I’m against is when your abs, or your muscles, or your weight, or your body fat percentage, or the way you eat, or how much you can lift becomes where your find your identity and fulfillment.

It’s because I’ve been there myself that I feel so passionate about helping others realize that there is MORE TO LIFE. Fitness is and always will be a big part of my life; it’s just something that I LOVE. But there is a difference between wanting to be fit and strong and healthy and being obsessed and consumed by it. What I want to show is that you absolutely CAN enjoy life, not stress and obsess about training and nutrition, and eat LOTS of yummy foods, all the while still reaching your goals AND having the physique you desire.

As I’ve mentioned before, I frequently receive E-mails and Facebook messages from women asking me for advice, or just thanking me for the things I post about finding balance when it comes to fitness and nutrition. One such person contacted me a few years ago because she found my blog and related to my story. I can’t tell you how many women have contacted me over the years asking for advice, and I’m always happy to help and to respond. Usually they thank me for the response, and that’s that. But for some reason, Kristen and I just clicked, and we have since then become good friends and still talk to this day.

In the past few years, I’ve learned about her story and her history with competing, her struggles and issues with food and “clean” eating, and I asked if she would like to share some of that with my blog readers. I thought it would be helpful to others who have been through or are currently going through a similar situation, to show that you CAN find balance, and that you CAN find freedom.

Here is Kristen’s story:

I first became interested in fitness when I saw Alicia Marie on the cover of Oxygen magazine. I was amazed at her sculpted arms and chiseled abs and decided right then and there that I wanted to achieve that physique.
Even at 18, I had a body that resembled a 12 year old boy with scrawny arms and legs and no hips or butt, and I had been teased about my small stature on several occasions. I immediately bought a gym membership and followed the workouts that were posted in Oxygen magazine religiously.
Not too long after I started working out did I receive several compliments from other gym goers on how good I looked. I was even told that I should compete in bodybuilding. At the time I had no clue what competing entailed or what these competitors even looked like, so I did my research and fell in love with the idea of stepping on stage in a sparkly bikini and flexing my hard earned muscles.
However, I still thought I looked so small compared to these girls! And it was then that I started my first “bulk.” I successfully gained 10 pounds in the matter of three months. I had definitely put on a lot of muscle, but also some fat as well, although I didn’t view myself as fat at all since I had only received positive comments thus far. I felt ready to compete!
I contacted the guy who ran a local NPC bodybuilding competition near me and made an appointment to meet with him. During the meeting he said I looked incredible, and after assessing my physique, determined that I should start out in the bikini division.
My first competition turned out great! I had an amazing time and placed third. The judges said that I looked incredible, and I was immediately hooked and decided to do another competition the weekend after.
It was at that competition that my self-image turned for the worst. I received positive feedback from these judges as well about my physique, except for one. He said I carried way too much fat in my glutes and thighs. Even though the majority of the judges said I looked good, that negative comment was what stuck with me.
From that point on my life revolved around clean eating and training. My diet consisted of chicken, turkey, beef, eggs and egg whites, whey protein, oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes, nuts, olive oil, peanut butter, fruits, and veggies. And that was it. Everything was weighed and measured and logged into My Fitness Pal. I refused to eat out at restaurants and packed my food in Tupperware to family events. I lifted 6 days a week and did conditioning every day, sometimes twice a day if the number on the scale was not where I wanted it to be.
I was still not satisfied with my progress and decided to hire a coach, who got me more shredded than I could ever imagine. My diet became even more limited, with grapefruit being my only fruit source. At 4 weeks out my whey protein and peanut butter were cut and I subsisted on 1000 calories a day in addition to my intense training. I was extremely tired and hungry all the time, but being lean was more important to me than my health. Plus, isn’t this what it took? Everything I had read even told me that it is normal to feel this way during contest prep.
No matter how much I wanted to quit I stuck to my diet and training. The most I ever “cheated” was after eating my rice cake, eating the crumbs that were left at the bottom of the package and crying hysterically because I thought I was a failure for eating more than my allotted rice cake. The ironic thing was, I placed third in that competition as well.
After the final judging, I was craving sugar like crazy but settled for an apple until the competition was over and I could go out to eat. I immediately felt nauseous because my body was not used to the sugar and I ended up going straight home. It took a while for my body to get used to eating a normal amount again as well as getting my strength to return, yet competing had become such a huge part of my life that I didn’t know any other way to live. I was so used to following a meal plan and strict training program.
I decided I wanted to start prepping for another competition. My former coach no longer worked at my gym, but one of the other members at my gym offered to be my coach. However, the relationship turned into more than a coach/client one. We ended up dating until he suddenly found someone he was more interested in. Needless to say he also no longer wanted to be my coach.
Even though we only dated briefly I was devastated. While many girls handle a broken heart by drowning their sorrows in a carton of Ben and Jerrys, I used the gym as a means of coping. My usual one hour workouts turned into 4. I was addicted to sprinting until my legs burned and lifting until my muscles felt like they were going to explode. I felt the need to punish myself for not being “good enough” for that guy.
One day when I was on Facebook, I came across an article that featured Lindsay, with a link to her blog. Her blog featured her workouts and what she ate, and I was intrigued. I didn’t understand how she could look so great while only lifting a few days a week and eating foods like cereal and ice cream!
Even more importantly, she looked HAPPY. Whereas I, on the other hand, was miserable choking down tilapia and asparagus and spending all of my spare time in the gym. So I decided to reach out to her and soon enough, we became friends and were communicating on a regular basis.
She helped me transition from working out 4 hours a day to 4 hours a week and slowly introduce foods into my diet that I hadn’t eaten in 3 years, such as bread and yogurt (and later on, cereal and ice cream). I cannot begin to thank her enough as to how much she has helped me these past 3 years.
I actually look forward to going to the gym. I no longer dread my workouts, and sure, the workouts are challenging, but not near to the point where I feel like I am going to die! I also enjoy all of my meals and include way more variety than I ever imagined possible. I am now able to go out to eat and take days off from the gym.
I am slowly learning that there is more to life than fitness. I am currently dating someone whose life does not revolve around meal prepping and lifting, and I admire him for this. He loves to travel and try new foods, and I look forward to learning more about life outside of the gym.

I do still struggle with body image, but I am also slowly learning that being healthy is more important than having shredded abs. I hope that by sharing my story I can help others to come to these realizations as well.

I think it’s so awesome that Kristen went from eating a very low carb, low calorie, super strict “clean eating” meal plan, to now eating bread, cereal, and many other previously “forbidden” foods. She now eats enough to fuel her heavy lifting and is no longer a slave to her food scale or MyFitnessPal. She is healthier, stronger, and much happier now, and I am just glad to have been able to help her in some way to reach this point. I’m so proud of her for how far she has come.

I truly hope that the days of coaches giving out cookie cutter, 1000 calorie meals plans consisting of egg whites, fish, asparagus, and grapefruit are over. If you are thinking about hiring a nutrition coach or doing a show, please do your research. If the meal plan looks like that, say “Thanks, but no thanks,” and run far, far away. Losing fat and getting shredded is NOT worth damaging your health and/or ruining your relationship with food in the long run.

5 Exercises To Do Instead Of Crunches

It amazes me how many people still believe in spot reduction. I daily see people at the gym doing endless crunches and ab machines in hopes of having a flat belly. Here’s the thing I just wish I could tell them: if your goal is fat loss, it’s not going to work. Stop wasting your time.

I never have my clients do crunches, with the exception of reverse crunches occasionally. Why? Well, because they are not effective, especially when it comes to burning belly fat. NO amount of crunches will give you a flat stomach. It just WON’T work. But what about strengthening the core? Well, in my opinion, there are much more effective exercises to use for that than crunches.

Crunches come in very LAST PLACE in strategies for getting a flat stomach or revealing 6 pack abs. Since you can’t target where you lose fat, it’s simply a matter of losing body fat all over. And losing body fat mostly comes down to your NUTRITION-more specifically, through lowering caloric intake. This should be the number one focus when it comes to losing body fat. With proper nutrition, you can actually achieve a flat stomach without doing a single crunch.

So, if crunches aren’t effective for burning belly fat, they don’t burn a significant amount of calories, and they aren’t the best exercise to strengthen the core, then WHY do them? Yes, you should train your abs to have a strong core and/or if you are seeking to build more defined abs. But if it’s fat you’re trying to get rid of, get your nutrition in check first.  Then, rather than wasting time doing crunches, here are five exercises you should be doing instead:

1)Pushups

What many people don’t realize is that pushups not only work the chest, arms, and shoulders, but the core as well. Any exercise that works multiple muscle groups will burn more calories than just isolating the abs alone.

2)Farmer’s walks

Grab a set of heavy dumbbells, walk for a minute, and see how high your heart rate goes up. Not only are you getting your heart rate up, you’re also highly engaging your core muscles, along with your forearms, shoulders, and upper back. Once again, the more muscles you’re engaging, the better, especially when fat loss is concerned.

3)Goblet squats

These are a great compound movement that basically works your whole body-legs, upper back, and core. Because of where you hold the dumbbell or kettlebell, your abs are forced to engage to hold your body upright.

4)Sprints or prowler pushes.

If fat loss is the goal, you can’t beat sprints or prowler pushes. Not only do you burn calories while doing them, but with short burst, high intensity cardio, your metabolism will continue to be elevated hours after you finish your workout.

5)Single arm movements(landmine press, single arm dumbbell press, single arm cable row, etc.) Any time you use only one side of your body, your core is activated in order to stabilize your body.

If fat loss is your goal, make sure that these movements make up the majority of your workouts, along with other compound movements. Then, if you really want to, you can add in some ab isolation exercises into your workouts, but only if you have done these exercises first. If you truly want to transform your body and get a smaller midsection, crunches are not the answer. All of the above exercises, combined with the right nutrition, will get you much closer to getting a flat stomach than crunches ever will.

My Favorite Sweet Snacks

I love sweets. I could go the rest of my life without eating chips/salty snacks, but I could never ever ever give up my sweets. Ain’t gonna happen.

With that being said, I actually very rarely have intense sugar or sweet cravings, but that’s simply because the foods I eat are so delicious and satisfying…and because I DON’T completely eliminate sugar or sweets from my diet. I believe that the first way to help decrease food cravings is by eating ENOUGH food and by eating foods that you ENJOY, not restricting any foods or food groups.

I do indulge in a weekly dessert, but I also have ways to “treat” myself daily with healthier options, which definitely help to keep my sweet tooth at bay. Here are a few of my faves:

Protein oats:

I know I talk about these all the time, but I’ve looked forward to waking up and eating my protein oats every morning for the past 6 years now! I cook the oats, then add peanut butter and chocolate protein powder, and it tastes like a big bowl of gooey, Reese’s goodness.You can also add in bananas, blueberries, chocolate chips, or sugar free syrup-the possibilities are endless!

Triple Zero Greek Yogurt

I’ve always LOVED yogurt, but I stopped eating it years ago because most of them have insane amounts of added sugar. Sadly, I do NOT like plain Greek yogurt, so I basically just gave up on yogurt. Occasionally I do love the Carbmaster yogurts from Kroger, but right now I’m loving Oikos Triple Zero greek yogurt. It is perfect for satisfying a sweet craving! Best thing is, it has no added sugar and no artificial sweeteners. But if you do like plain Greek yogurt, you could always just have that and add blueberries or strawberries, or even protein powder, sugar free pudding, and chocolate chips!

“Sludge”:

Another delicious protein powder creation I love is protein “sludge”. It’s basically just a really thick pudding made with protein powder, peanut butter, and a little water, mixed until it’s a pudding consistency. I usually freeze it to get it really thick. This tastes awesome as is, but you could also add in chocolate chips, sugar free syrup, blueberries, candy pieces, etc. There are  some great ideas here: http://suppz.com/blog/6-protein-sludge-recipes-the-best-munchie-food/

BCAA popsicles:

These are a perfect treat for hot, summer days! They hit the spot when I’m craving something a little sweet and refreshing. All you need is some flavored amino acids-I like fruit punch. Mix 1-2 scoops with about 8-10 ounces of water, then pour into popsicle molds and freeze. Super easy and delicious!

Mission1 bars:

Not only are these a good option when you just need a snack on the go, they also are one of the things that help if I’m wanting something sweet. They’re sweetened with Stevia, no sugar alcohols, and have 20 grams of protein. I also love to snack on Lara bars and Kind bars. MUCH better options than reaching for a candy bar.

FRUIT!

When it comes to fat loss, many people still have an irrational fear of fruit. But rest assured, fruit will NOT make you fat. Trying to avoid fruit, especially if you love it like me, is just another thing that will most likely cause you to have even worse cravings. It’s OKAY to want something sweet, and it’s OKAY to eat something to satisfy it! If you want a banana, just eat a darn banana. I recently discovered how delicious frozen blueberries are, and now I eat them ALL the time. Plus, they’re full of antioxidants and low in calories. I just eat them right out of the freezer after letting them thaw for a few minutes. So good!