Low Reps Or High Reps?

I believe that reason many people eventually plateau in their training is because they fail to provide their bodies with a continuous challenge. They stick with the same weights, the same exercises, and the same rep ranges for months on end and then eventually give up because they aren’t getting results.

One thing I have found is that most women tend get stuck in the 15 rep zone, even women who have been training for quite some time. I’ve always wondered, why 15 reps? Is that the magic number of reps that will get you “toned” and not bulky? Well, no, but many women seem to think so!

I think another reason is that because they feel their muscles “burning”, they think that they are challenging them enough. But just because you feel a burn, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are challenging the muscles enough to cause them to respond. The “burn” does not cause your muscles to grow stronger or bigger, nor does it mean that you are burning fat.

If you’ve been training for a while and are no longer seeing results, it may be time to get out of the 12-15 rep zone.  Muscles respond to progressive overload, which just means that as your muscles get stronger, you need to challenge them with progressively heavier weights.The key to transforming your physique and losing fat is to build muscle, and the way to build muscle is by continually striving to get stronger over time.

So what’s best? High reps or low reps? Well, I think a mix of both is best. I’m definitely not saying that you should never “feel the burn”, but just that you should make sure to include some heavier sets with lower reps into your training as well. When you lift heavy for lower reps(less than 6), you may not even feel a burn. Instead, your muscles will most likely fatigue before you get to that point. Does that mean you didn’t work the muscles hard enough? NOT at all!

In my training, I like to keep the majority of my lifting in the 5-10 rep range(sometimes as low as 3) for a mix of both strength and hypertrophy. BUT I do like mixing in some higher rep sets in at the end of my workouts as well. I usually do my heavy, low rep stuff first in the workout and then throw in some higher rep isolation exercises at the end, just to get a good “pump” to satisfy the bodybuilder in me!

If you are going to use heavier weights, make sure to progress up to those weights and of course, make sure your form is good. Also, it is important to do what you enjoy. If you love doing lots of reps and are getting results, then by all means continue doing so! But if you aren’t seeing results or you’re just getting bored with your training, give heavier lifting a try.

I think that by changing things up, increasing your weights and lowering your reps, you will see some amazing changes to your physique as a result, AND get stronger, which is an awesome feeling that every woman should experience!

Sample Week of Training

Here is what a week of workouts look like for me. I’m only in the gym for about an hour. I’m focusing on building up my glutes, so I train them three times a week. My “cardio” comes in the form of 1-2 finishers a week after my workouts, usually Farmer’s walks or sled pushes.

Upper Body + Glutes
1)Clean and jerk + push presses: 3-5×3-5
2a)Dumbbell chest press: 3-5 x 6-8
2b)Weighted pullups: 5×5
3a)Face pulls or pull-aparts: 3×12
3b)Hanging leg raises: 3×8-10

Glute circuit:(changes week to week)
Weighted back extensions x10
Pull-throughs x10
Band walks
3-4 rounds minimal rest

Lower Body
1)Box jump: 3×5
2) Front Squat: 3-5×3-5
3) Deadlift: 3-5×3-5
4a) GHR: 4×6-8
4b)Ab wheel or TRX pikes: 3×12
5a)Calf raises: 4×10-20
5b)Band clams: 3×20

Upper Body

1)Bench press: 3-4×3-6
2a)Single arm dumbbell press: 3×8-10
2b)Cable rows: 3×8-10
3a)Face pulls or TRX reverse flyes: 3×15-20
3b)Bicep curls: 2×15
4)Lateral raise: 2×15
Lower Body
1)BB hip thrust: 3×8-10
2)Back squats: 3×8-10
3)RDLs: 3×8-10
4)Bulgairan split squats: 3×8-10
5)Cable or seated abductions: 3×12-15
Finisher-Prowler sprints or sled drags


3 Benefits of Protein Shakes


I often get asked about protein supplements, mostly regarding whether they should be drinking protein shakes, and if so, what kind and when is the best time to have them?

First of all I have to say, you don’t HAVE to supplement your diet with protein powder. Protein shakes are just to be used as a supplement to a healthy diet that consists mostly of of real, whole foods. Chicken, turkey, eggs, dairy, and fish should be your main sources of protein.

With that being said, I am a big fan of protein shakes. I usually have 2 (and even sometimes three) shakes a day. Here are just a few reasons why I think it can be beneficial to include protein shakes into your diet:

*Help meet your daily Protein Requirements
Whether your goal is to build muscle or lose fat, protein is key. I try to get my clients to make all of their meals revolve around a protein source. The thing is, some people just have a hard time eating the amount of meat it requires to reach their daily protein goal, and that’s where protein shakes come in.

I usually suggest having 2-3 real food meals that include 20-30 grams of protein, and then having 1-2 protein shakes between meals. For me personally, I really enjoy and look forward to having a scoop of protein in my oats in the morning, or as a pudding at night, when meat or eggs just doesn’t appeal to me. However, that is in addition to the two to three “real food” meals I have that consist of chicken, turkey, beef, and eggs/egg whites.

When you need a quick meal or snack on the go, protein powder is a great option. All you need is a shaker cup and water, and you’re good to go. I often bring a shaker cup with a scoop of protein powder in it with me when I’m travelling, then I just add water and shake when I need a quick snack. They’re also a great choice for breakfast when you’re in a rush-just blend up a shake and grab a fruit or some nuts, and you have a fast, healthy breakfast.

*Satisfy your sweet tooth
There are some really yummy things you can create with protein powder for when a sweet craving hits. You can bake with it and use it in place of flour to make things like muffins, brownies, and pancakes. You can also make things like mug cakes and protein pudding(my fave!), as well as yummy fruit smoothies and peanut butter milkshakes. 😉

Check out my article here for some of my favorite protein shake recipes:

So, that leaves us with the question of what to look for in a protein powder. Whey protein, either concentrate or isolate, is usually the best option for post people, with the exception of those who are lactose intolerant. In that case, there are protein powders made from other sources, such as egg whites, beef, and rice. Unless you are looking for something as a meal replacement or to aid in gaining weight, most people would benefit from choosing a protein powder that is low in carbs and fat(under 5 grams).

The next question is, when is the best time to drink a protein shake? Really, anytime! As I said above, they are a great choice as a snack between meals(definitely better than grabbing a candy bar or chips!), after a workout to help in replenishing the muscles, or as a bedtime snack. Just remember, if your goal is fat loss, keeping your protein high but staying in a calorie deficit is really the most important thing. As long as you are within your calorie goal for the day, simply have a protein shake whenever it is most convenient for you.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you ADD in a couple of protein shakes a day in addition to what you’re currently eating, you will be increasing calories, which could result in weight gain. If that is not what you’re going for, just make sure to make some adjustments somewhere else in your diet to account for the extra calories coming from the protein powder. On the flip side, if your goal is to gain weight(muscle mass), adding in a couple of protein shakes a day in addition to what you’re currently eating is an easy, convenient way to add in some calories.

Time Efficient Workouts

Many people use the “no time” excuse as the reason why they don’t exercise. Most people assume that they need at least an hour in the gym to get anything out of it and that anything less than that is pointless.

Well, the thing is you DON’T really need an hour in the gym. If you are choosing the right exercises and using the right techniques, you can get in a workout in 30-45 minutes. In fact, my client’s workouts are only 30 minutes. If  you are extremely short on time, you can even get in a decent workout in just 15 minutes!

For example, here’s what you could do in 15 minutes: 3-5 minute warmup of jumping jacks, squats, lunges, mountain climbers.  Then just pick 3 exercises to do in a circuit that would work your entire body, such as squats, dumbbell rows and overhead shoulder presses. Go through a warmup set of each one, then 2-3 working sets of 8-10 reps.  You could also throw some type of cardio in there, like jump rope or burpees to really keep your heart rate going. So there ya go. 10-15 minutes, and you have a full body workout!

Here are some ways to make your workouts in the gym more time efficient:

-Focus on compound lifts that work your biggest muscle groups(such as squats, deadlifts, presses, pushups and rows) over isolation exercises.

Trisets: Pick 3 exercises for non-opposing muscle groups and perform them back to back. For example, you could choose squats, rows and overhead presses for the first triset, and then lunges, pushups and a plank hold for the second triset.

Supersets: I really like to use these in my workouts. For an upper body superset you would choose two exercises for opposite muscle groups, such as the dumbbell bench press and some type of a row or pullup. Perform the two exercises back to back, resting between each superset if needed.

-Trying incorporating cardio into your weight training, rather than doing them separately on the days you are short on time. For example, add in jump squats, mountain climbers or jumping rope in between sets.

-Instead of doing your normal 30 minutes of steady-state cardio, do a bodyweight cardio circuit for just 10 minutes after the weights. Choose 3-5 exercises such as pushups, squats or squat jumps, lunges, mountain climbers, burpees, high knees or jumping jacks, and do each one for 20-30 seconds, 3-5 rounds.

Hopefully incorporating some of these tips will help you get in and out of the gym in a shorter amount of time. Don’t ever think you can’t get in a great workout in under 30 minutes. Sometimes the shortest workouts are the most intense!

Another tip: on the days when you just don’t feel like working out, tell yourself you’ll just go to the gym for TEN minutes. You can at least do something for TEN minutes. When you get there, you’ll probably end up staying longer, but even if you don’t, just do what you can for those 10 minutes.

When Discouragement Sets In…

I have days when I feel small and puny.
I have days when I think that my legs will never grow.
I have days when I think that I’ve gained all the muscle I’ll ever gain.
I have days when I feel skinny fat.
I have days when I feel weak.
I have days when my mind is filled with self doubt and negativity.

So what do I do when discouragement sets in?

I remind myself how far I’ve come-how my shoulders are rounder, my back is thicker, my abs are leaner, and my legs are fuller than they were 2 years ago. I think about how strong I am- how I can bust out pullups and throw my bodyweight up over my head.
I think about how awesome it makes me feel to train hard-seeing what my body is capable of, pushing myself to the limit, feeling my heart racing, my muscles burning, the sweat dripping from my face.
I dismiss all negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts. I visualize myself where I want to be. I make myself go in and put in the work day after day, knowing that it HAS and will continue to pay off.
I focus on my performance and setting goals, always striving to be better. I remind myself why I  train-for my health, my quality of life, to be strong, and to feel good. I remind myself to have fun and enjoy the journey.

So moral of the story is, you can either let discouragement bring you down, wallow in your misery, give up, quit, and let the negativity win. OR you can let discouragement fuel you to keep going, to to keep working hard, to focus on the positive and to believe in yourself.

My Favorite Ways To Spice Up Healthy Food

Many people equate eating healthy to bland food and being miserable. But guess what? Healthy food doesn’t have to be bland and boring. I’m NOT a great cook whatsoever, but since eating healthier and eating more fresh, non-processed foods, I’ve at least learned the basics and have found some easy ways to add flavor to my food without the excessive calories.

Here are a few simple ways you can spice up your foods, especially meats:

*Herbs and spices (my favorites are sea salt, garlic, onion powder, pepper, and oregano)
*Pre-made seasonings(Mrsh. Dash, taco packets, etc.)
*Marinades (using vinegar, oil, lime juice, etc.)
*Low sugar/calorie condiments:
-low sugar ketchup
-siracha sauce
-hot sauce
-sugar free bbq sauce

My personal favorites:

For burgers-
Weber’s Blazin’ burger. We use this every week for Friday night burger night. Just  use about a teaspoon for a pound of beef and mix it in.

For chicken-
My favorite way to cook chicken is to marinate and grill it. I usually use a marinade of vinegar, olive oil, garlic powder, and low sodium soy or teriyaki sauce.

I also love using pre-made seasonings for when I cook it on the skillet or the oven, like this one:

Or using a home made seasoning mix like this one, which is one of my faves:

4 tbsp olive oil

4 tsp chili powder

4 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp salt

Check out my Pinterest board for some more great chicken recipes!

For ground turkey-

I love taco seasoning for turkey. I sometimes use a lower sodium taco seasoning, but most of the time I just use a homemade taco seasoning. I don’t measure, just throw in a bunch of onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, and paprika. This is my favorite for when I’m lazy or for when I make crockpot chicken, since it’s pretty much all natural ingredients:

As far as condiments go for me, I pretty much use ketchup ALL the time(yes, it can be high in sugar if you’re really being strict, but for me, it’s not a big deal). And for when my chicken turns out bland, all I do is add a bit of this bbq sauce for some flavor. It’s sooo good!

What are you favorite ways to add flavor to food?

It Takes TIME

I’ve been lifting weights for a LONG time. 10 years ago I honestly never thought that scrawny little me would look the way I do today. Not that I think I look amazing or anything(and I still feel scrawny most of the time!), but I have come a long way in all those years.

The changes in my body were not drastic. They sure didn’t happen overnight. I never had huge weight fluctuations or measurement changes, just very minimal changes from year to year to year.  There were many times when I felt like I wasn’t really seeing any change at all, but I kept on, and now looking back at photos throughout the years, I can see the progress I’ve made.

                                     The last 2 1/2 year’s progresss 2010-2013

It’s much harder and takes longer to build UP than to diet down. Especially while staying relatively lean. And the longer you’ve been training, the slower your progress will be. 2010 was the year I really “cleaned up” my nutrition. I got leaner but somehow still managed to gain muscle and actually weigh about 5lbs more now than I did in the first photo from 2010. In the last 5-6 years, I’ve gained about 8lbs.

The results that I achieved are simply the result of training HARD consistently and eating right for a LOT of years, always knowing that there was no “end” in sight. I just loved lifting weights and the feeling of accomplishing a goal and being strong and fit. I focused on getting better and stronger over time; I pushed and challenged myself continually by setting new goals and learning new things; I began to make better nutrition choices, a little at a time. As a side effect of those things, my body has changed and evolved over time.

I never did really did the “bulking” thing, but I did make sure to eat a lot because you do have to EAT to build. You will not gain a good amount of muscle if you are trying to stay super shredded with 6 pack abs. One bit of advice someone told me a while back that stuck with me was don’t try to get abs before you’ve built the muscle you want first! Makes sense.When I started eating real, quality food and more calories was when I really started seeing results. But I DO think you can build muscle without doing a major bulk(as in eating whatever you want and gaining 20+ lbs of what will mostly be fat), as I have done for the last 3 years. I’ve just trained hard consistently, lifted progressively heavier weights and ate a lot of healthy food without going overboard.

So what has my nutrition been like the last few years? Well, I have never followed a diet plan, or obsessively tracked calories, or weighed and measured my food. I do watch what I eat, but I’m not super strict 100% of the time, and my goal is to never get into the “dieting” mindset. I do, however, have a few guidelines that I follow that help me stay on track: eat every 3 hours, protein at every meal, adequate carbs, especially around training, eat mostly real foods, and 1-2 treat meals per week. This is what has worked for ME.

Now I’m at the point where I just want to maintain where I’m at as far as my bodyfat, and continue slowly adding a little more muscle, just as I’ve been doing for the last few years.I’m not striving for a 6 pack, and I’m no longer trying to have the perfect physique. I just want to enjoy my training and enjoy my food and not obsess over getting bigger or leaner. I want to stay in relatively good shape without being obsessive or super restrictive. Of course, I’m going to continue training hard and lifting heavy, and if changes happen, they happen! My journey isn’t over-I’ll never stop, but I’m content with being content where I’m at right now.

My body has transformed at a very slow but steady rate. And that’s the key: you will get the results if you’re doing the right things consistently over time. I’ve been training hard for the last 12 years, and it’s taken me that long to get to where I am. If you’re in this just for the physical results, you’re not gonna last. Because when you don’t see results fast enough, you’ll quit. When you feel like your body isn’t changing, you’ll give up. If  you’re not willing to be in this for the long haul and willing to accept that the results will come with time-lots of time-only then you will succeed.

So the moral of the story is: don’t rush things and just enjoy the process! You’ll get there.Don’t compare where you’re at in YOUR journey to where someone else is on their journey. Don’t become obsessed and so focused on just the physical results that you forget to have fun along the way!

Train hard. Be strong. Be patient. And most of all, have fun.

Tips For a More Effective Workout


The majority of people I see at the gym are doing ineffective workouts, using all the wrong exercises, and consequently, not getting results. One thing I see so many people in the gym doing wrong is only working certain muscles while neglecting others. For women, it’s usually tricep kickbacks and the inner/outer thigh machine that they focus on, and for men, it’s usually abdominal machines and chest exercises.

Most women’s workouts I see at a typical gym consist of cardio, the inner/outer thigh machine, a few ab exercises, and then maybe some bicep curls and tricep kickbacks. Very rarely do I see women doing pushups (one of the best exercises you can do!), and almost never do I see women squatting with any significant amount of weight, and definitely NOT with a barbell on their back.

Even though most of us know that you can’t spot reduce and that lifting heavy weights won’t cause women to get all huge and bulky, I think that most of the general population still believe those myths. Based on what I see on a daily basis at the gym, people still believe that crunches and ab machines burn fat from their waistlines and that light weights will “tone and sculpt” your arms.

Rather than focusing only on trouble areas like the midsection or inner/outer thighs, a good exercise routine will work every muscle in your body with a focus on compound, multi-joint exercises. Why? Because not only will  you be working those trouble areas, but you will also be involving other muscles as well. This will allow you to lift heavier, hit more muscle groups in one movement(more bang for your buck!) and burn more calories.

Here are a few tips for a more effective workout:

*Always warm up! You would think this shouldn’t even have to be mentioned, but so many people skip this part of the workout, and I am even guilty of doing so in the past! It is SO important to get the muscles warmed up and to make sure to do some dynamic stretching and mobility exercises before you jump right in to your workout.
*Focus on the basic, compound exercises first(these are exercises that involve multiple joints and muscles). For example, pushups are better than tricep kickbacks, pullups are better than bicep curls, and squats are better than the inner/outer thigh machine.
*Make sure to pick an exercise for every muscle group. This would include one exercise each for: back, chest, shoulders, legs, and core. With those exercises, you will also be working your biceps and triceps as well.
*Start with the biggest muscle groups first(legs, back, chest) and work your way to the smaller muscles(shoulders, arms, calves).
*Use mostly free weights(dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells). Machines have their place, but free weights allow for a more natural movement, are more functional , meaning they translate better to real life activities, and they require you to use more stabilizer muscles.

*Use a weight that is challenging, meaning that the last few reps should be hard to squeeze out, without losing form or control. Aim for 8-12 reps. If you can’t get 8, it’s too heavy, but if you can do more than 12, it’s too light.

*Decide how you are going to set up your workout. There are many ways to do this, but one of my favorite is to “superset” exercises. This just means going back and forth between two exercises that work non-opposing muscle groups(such as chest and back, or upper body with lower body). If you don’t have a lot of time to spend in the gym, this is the way to go, as you are able to get more work done is less time this way. You can also choose 3-4 exercises to do in a circuit, with no rest until after the last exercise.
*Go in with a plan of what exercises you are going to do, and I would even suggest to keep a training log to track your weights and reps from week to week. This will ensure that you are progressing as you get stronger, not just using the same weights and reps over and over again.
*If you absolutely feel the need to isolate your biceps and triceps, do those exercises onlyafter you have worked your bigger muscle groups with the compound lifts. So after you have done your presses and rows, then you can do a few sets of bicep curls and tricep pushdowns if you have the time.
*Finish your workout with some core work, such as plank holds and woodchops, but don’t waste your time doing hundreds of crunches or using abdominal machines.

*Of course, everyone wants to make cardio the priority of their exercise plan because most people have fat loss as their goal, but I would challenge you to make weight training your priority(along with good nutrition) and cardio secondary, no matter what your goals are.  If you have time, do 15-20 minutes of the cardio of your choosing after your weight training workout, or on off days, or just go for a walk a few times a week!

If you’re not getting results with your current workout routine it may be time to challenge yourself a little more and venture out of your comfort zone! Don’t be afraid to lift a little heavier or to try something you’ve never done before!

Changes For A Better Mindset

There was a time when I was consumed by workouts, eating, and transforming my physique. It was literally like my number one priority  in life and what I thought about ALL the time. In the past few years, things have definitely changed for me. My priorities are a little different now, and I am no longer completely obsessed with my training and physique. I wanted to share some of the things that helped me get to a better, healthier mindset.

For one, I stopped weighing myself obsessively. A few years ago I was set on getting to a certain weight(as in gaining weight), and I would sometimes weigh myself 2-3 times a day, every day. I would actually get frustrated if my weight was down.

In a way, it was good because it was a way for me to adjust how much I needed to be eating. If my weight was staying the same or going down, I knew I needed to eat more. However, just as I tell my clients that the scale doesn’t really tell you much about your progress, I didn’t realize that those words also applied to me!

Just because I was up a pound or two, that didn’t mean that I had gained pounds of muscle overnight! So what was it really telling me? Probably not much. What it was doing was just getting me discouraged.  Just like I get on people for wanting to lose weight as fast as possible, I was doing the same with wanting to gain weight! So I just stopped weighing myself. Now I weigh myself every now and then just to make sure I’m not losing weight.

I also took a break from focusing on strength as much in my training. I stopped trying to set a PR every workout and obsessively logging everything I did in the gym, and I think it was good for me, mentally and physically. I went back to training just for the fun of it, doing what I felt like doing from day to day, and not to trying to outdo myself every single workout. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was still training hard and lifting heavy!

Sometimes it’s okay just to go the gym, train hard, and get a good pump, even if you didn’t do a single extra rep or go pound heavier than last week. I think it’s good to go through training phases, where you put your focus on a different things, whether it’s gaining strength, building muscle, losing fat, or just having fun! Soon I will be going back to a variation of Wendler’s 5-3-1 powerlifting program because now I’m missing that type of lifting, and I can’t wait to get back into it.

Another thing I stopped doing is obsessively looking at pictures of fitness models. For a while, especially in the beginning of my muscle building journey, looking at those pictures really helped me to stay motivated and inspired to one day be able to look like that. I think that those “fitspiration” photos can be a good thing for some people, because it really does make you want to train harder, not skip the gym, and eat right. Because if you want a body like that, you know you have to work for it!

But there does come a point when those photos don’t help you in a positive way anymore, as least it did for me. For someone like me who has put in the time at the gym, who has trained their butt off for the past 10 years, who has eaten healthy consistently and has seen my body change and transform over the years, those photos now just seem to get me down more than lift me up. Instead of being proud of the body I have created and liking the way I look, it causes me to compare myself to others, to focus on my flaws, to wish that I had a different body type, to never be satisfied.

Sometimes I would stare at myself in the bathroom mirror, flex and pose and twist my stomach to see how good I could make it look. I would be disgusted with myself if my stomach was looking “fat” one day. I was constantly focusing on my flaws and what I didn’t like about myself instead of just looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, “Dang, I look pretty good, look at all those muscles you got!

Does that mean that I’m not going to continue to strive for improvement in my physique? Not at all. I’m still working towards making my butt bigger and getting rounder shoulders. Does it mean I’ll never post another “fitspirational” Erin Stern photo? Definitely not! I admire beautiful physiques and love motivational quotes and pictures. It’s just that I’m not going to compare my body to others constantly or wish for something I don’t have, but rather compare myself to myself and be happy with the progress I’ve made and continue to make. I’m not going to obsess about how I look, but be proud of the muscles that I’ve earned and just be happy that I am fit and healthy!