What I Learned During 13 Years Of Strength Training

February 5th, 2019 by Debbie Martilotta

It all started when I was 18. At the time, I was slowly recovering from an eating disorder known as anorexia nervosa, and my dad was trying to help me get healthy again.

“You know, there’s a way you can eat a lot more and still be skinny!” he said. “Come to the gym and workout with me.”

It’s funny how different my ideal body was back then, 13 years ago. I was judging myself by what I saw online and in magazines. I wanted to be emaciated-looking. I wanted to be small and petite. I wanted to be “less.”

My first trip to the gym was immensely unproductive. My “hardcore workout” consisted of some abdominal machine work, some crunches, and…wait for it…sleeping on the mat. Yup, I fell asleep on a mat about 15 minutes after walking into a gym for the first time in my life.

Despite what happened during that first visit, I’ve been steadily going to the gym for more than 13 years now. In that time, I’ve completed countless numbers of lifting sessions. But it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the process of strength training and how it made me feel. I soon became passionate, determined, and dedicated to making gains, both physically and mentally.

Today, I’d like to share with you 13 lessons I’ve learned along the road to becoming a stronger, more fit, and more confident me.

Lesson 1: Women, You Will Not Look Like Men
No matter how hard you work out at the gym, you will not—I repeat—not look like a man. Women simply do not have enough testosterone in their bodies to increase their muscle mass to the point where they look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The women you see pictured online with huge muscles use steroids.

Without these dangerous drugs, you can still see amazing changes in your body shape and tone. You get there by following a healthy diet and by lifting weights—real weights. Don’t be afraid to go beyond the colored-plastic 5-pounders and grab some iron. It won’t make you bulky, but it will make you strong and lean.

Lesson 2: Strength Training Shapes Your Body Much More Than Cardio Does
There are two components to physique: muscle and the visibility of that muscle. We increase muscle mass when we strength train. We increase muscle visibility when we lower our body fat percentage. To increase muscle visibility, you must strength train. In other words, in order to display your muscles, you have to have them! In contrast, cardio is great for heart and overall health, but won’t do anything for your muscle tone.

Lesson 3: Strength Train The Major Muscle Groups
When most people decide they want to change their physique and improve their health, they tend to focus on the body parts that bother them the most. For women, often this means lower body and stomach. For their part, men often focus on biceps and chest. To improve muscular balance, prevent injuries, improve overall appearance and strength, and increase caloric burn, you must train all the major muscle groups—the ones you see in the mirror and the ones you don’t.

Focus on compound exercises that use large muscle groups—exercises such as squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and rows. Then add accessory, or isolation, exercises that target smaller muscle groups. Such exercises include leg curls, triceps extensions, and rear-delt raises.

Lesson 4: Going For Spot Reduction? If Only!
Newsflash: There is no such thing as spot reduction, meaning no exercise can burn fat in a specific area. Your genetics, not your workouts, determine the areas where you can gain and lose fat. A good diet combined with intensive strength training is what creates an aesthetically pleasing physique.

Lesson 5: Continuous Progress Requires Progressive Overload
The SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) is simple: Your body adapts to stress (in the form of exercise) by gaining muscle mass and strength. To continue building your physique, you must constantly increase what you demand of your body through a concept called progressive overload. One way to achieve this is by adding more weight to the bar. But you can also do it through any combination of increasing your reps per set, increasing your range of motion for a certain exercise, improving your technique, or reducing the rest time between sets. All these techniques give you the freedom to change, monitor, and adjust your program so you can keep challenging yourself.

Lesson 6: Diet Schmiet—Mind Your Calories!
I’ve attempted all kinds of diets—low fat, high fat, zero sugar, only “specific foods” diet, and on and on. None of them worked. About three years into my weight-lifting career, I decided to dive deeper into the science behind body composition changes. I hoped to answer several questions: Why do we get fat? How do we lose fat? Are certain foods fattening? Do some foods burn calories just by digesting them?

Along the way, I realized there are three possible scenarios for an individual’s body weight and caloric intake:

  • The number of calories you consume each day is equivalent to the number of calories your body burns per day. In this scenario, you maintain your weight.
  • The number of calories you consume per day is greater than the number of calories your body burns. In this scenario, you gain weight.
  • The number of calories you consume daily is less than the number of calories your body burns per day. In this scenario, you lose weight.

Simply put, we gain fat when we eat too many damn calories, not because we eat or avoid specific foods. I’m a big proponent of the 80/20 rule, whereby 80 percent of your diet consists of highly nutritious, minimally processed foods, and 20 percent consists of low-nutrient, processed foods. The good news is you can still eat those foods you love. Just eat less of them. Maybe a lot less.

Lesson 7: Food Has No Moral Code
Have these thoughts ever crossed your mind?

A cookie is bad for you, while a salad is good for you.
I was bad because I had a piece of chocolate cake. I’d be good if I had broccoli and chicken.
Thinking of foods as “good” and “bad” is called orthorexia, “an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy.” Orthorexia sounds great but, in reality, it undermines your long-term success, both physically and emotionally.

Labeling foods as good or bad only encourage a negative relationship with them. In reality, food is neutral; it’s meant to be used as fuel for the body—and to be enjoyed! A healthy diet isn’t all black or all white—it comes in shades of grey. Yes, it’s rich in nutrients, but if you want your diet to last the long haul, it also needs to include foods that give you pleasure.

Lesson 8: Be Realistic About Your Expectations
You’ve finally decided to start your fitness journey. You’re excited. You’re motivated. You think to yourself, “I’m going to have my dream body in 3-6 months!”

Good for you—but not so fast. For most mortals, it takes way more than three months to achieve that dream body, whatever it may be. With consistency in your exercise and diet program, you will see measurable and noticeable changes in three months—just maybe not the kind of before/after transformation you see so often on social media.

Getting a fit body and adding quality muscle can take years. Get into it for the long term.

Lesson 9: Consistency And Patience Are Keys
Motivation can get you started, but habits keep you going. It won’t always be sunshine and rainbows, but putting in a not-so-great workout beats no workout at all every time. Keep at it and don’t give up. Being consistent will bring you closer to your goals while also helping you develop the grit and work ethic needed to continue despite obstacles. Treat every day as an opportunity to grow and improve, and rely on your discipline—not your motivation—to get you to the gym. If you miss a workout, don’t get down on yourself. Just get right back into it!

Lesson 10: Don’t Be Obsessed With Scale Weight
For years I’ve been attached to a magical number on the scale, a number that would make my life so much easier, fuller, and happier. In reality, there is no such number. Your weight comprises fat mass and fat-free mass (bones, muscles, connective tissue, organs, and water), and it’s a dynamic measurement, one that fluctuates in response to stress, hydration, carb intake, fiber intake, types of foods, time of the day, and sleep.

Lesson 11: Mental And Emotional Strength Gains Are Coming Your Way
Just as muscles grow by repeatedly overcoming resistance, we grow as people the same way. Sometimes life can seem like a daily resistance workout you never signed up for. If you’re lucky, strength training can help you learn how to show up and do the work.

I fell in love with strength training because it has better prepared me for life. Strength training tests your will power. It challenges your patience and dedication as you progress, regress, plateau, and progress again. There’s something empowering about that, especially for us women.

Lesson 12: You Won’t Always Have The Support Of Others
Some people—even those closest to you—may not understand your new fit lifestyle. That’s OK. Not everyone has to agree with you, because the most important person in your life, you, will understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. Take care of your own health and well-being first. Focus on getting stronger, healthier, and fitter. The rest will follow.

Lesson 13: Remember, You’re Much More Than Your Body
Strength training doesn’t guarantee you’ll find happiness once you’re lean. Or that your life will be any more meaningful than it was before. Or that your friends and family will love you more. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll get wiser or become a better person. All your troubles and hardships may not vanish into thin air, but you will feel healthier, stronger, and, hopefully, more confident. And that is huge!

Over the years, I’ve witnessed so many people (mainly women) attaching their self-worth to the number on the scale or the size they wear. Know that you’re so much more than that. No matter what your body is up to on any given day, learn to love it all and treat your body well. After 13 years of strength training, today I am healthy, energized, and strong. I am a capable human being, and I’m much more than just my body. And so are you.

by Sivan Fagan


Is Self-Care Selfish?

November 28th, 2018 by Debbie Martilotta

Self-care is not an indulgence. Self-care is a discipline. It requires tough-mindedness, a deep and personal understanding of your priorities, and a respect for both yourself and the people you choose to spend your life with.

For example, self-care is:

  • Turning off the TV instead of watching another episode of “The Crown” because the alarm is going off at 5 am so you can get to the gym.
  • Declining the second drink at the office holiday party. It might even be declining the first drink.
  • Choosing organic food and cooking for the health of your body.
  • Saying “no” to the thing you don’t want to do even if someone is going to be angry at you.
  • Maintaining financial independence.
  • Doing work that matters.
  • Moving your body and maintaining your physical strength and health.
  • Letting other people take care of themselves.

If we are being honest, self-care is actually kind of boring. This is why self-care is a discipline. It takes discipline to do the things that are good for us instead of what feels good in the moment. It takes even more discipline to refuse to take responsibility for other people’s emotional well-being. And it takes discipline to take full and complete responsibility for our own well-being.

Self-care is also a discipline because it’s not something you do once in a while when the world gets crazy. It’s what you do every day, every week, month in and month out. It’s taking care of yourself in a way that doesn’t require you to “indulge” in order to restore balance.

It’s making the commitment to stay healthy and balanced as a regular practice.


Posture

March 6th, 2018 by Debbie Martilotta

Every moment is an opportunity to be mindful and carry yourself with good posture. Don’t be a slouch and allow stress, gravity, or your job to pull you down. Be more aware of how you carry yourself and fight to keep yourself in proper alignment.

Slouching can make you look older and FATTER. Don’t hide your gains beneath bad posture!

  • Have constant body awareness and stop rounding your shoulders
  • Keep your midsection tight
  • Pull your shoulders back
  • Keep your ribcage high, with belly button pulled to spine

Be proud of your temple…you’ve worked hard to sculpt it, now display it proudly!


Doctors Reveal Which Everyday Habits Trigger Aging And Inflammation

December 12th, 2017 by Debbie Martilotta

The visible effects of aging are different for everyone, which is super unfair if you ask us.

“Aging affects us on a genetic level.”

This article is from our friends at HealthyWay

But rather than lament early crow’s feet or thinning hair, we decided to ask doctors what aging really is—what causes declining health over time—in the hopes of learning how we can slow down the unpleasant bits of growing older while enjoying the wisdom and greater clarity that often show up at the same time as your first gray hairs.

What we found out suggests that our lifestyles need to seriously change if we plan to keep a youthful look well into our golden years.

1. Your Contemporary Job

The sedentary lifestyle is literally killing us. Studies suggest that women who spend at least six hours a day in a chair are 34 percent more likely to die early, and their cancer risk increases by 10 percent. The risk of early death for similarly sedentary men is 17 percent.

“One study even indicated that standing up every 30 minutes throughout the day can have similar health benefits as quitting smoking.”

Either way, the picture is bleak. And the problem goes deeper than a simple lack of exercise, says Heather Hamilton, MD, a family medicine physician at Memorial Hermann Convenient Care Center in Houston.

“This is not just about getting regular exercise, but also pertains to prolonged periods of sitting,” Hamilton tells HealthyWay. “Recent studies show that sitting too long can lead to higher mortality and early death.

Maybe you’ve heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” That’s pretty much what this study says, just with a lot more data and hard-to-read scientific lingo. There’s no shortage of studies showing how important it is to get off of our heinies every once in a while.

But it’s not that simple. So many of our jobs require us to sit at computers for eight hours a day. What can we do to mitigate the damage our careers are doing to our bodies?

Reporting by the Washington Post that included interviews with doctors, researchers, and biomechanists offer a few solutions. Sit on an exercise ball at work, they say. When you’re watching TV, get up and walk around every time there’s a commercial.

“This is applicable to many people with sedentary jobs,” Hamilton says. “People can simply stand and move at [their] workstation, walk down the hall, or take a bathroom break.” These are small things, but they add up over a lifetime—which may be considerably longer if you follow these suggestions.

2. Skipping the Cheese

You’ve probably heard that the “sunshine vitamin” helps our bodies build calcium into bone. In fact, vitamin D is crucial for preventing inflammation-related disorders that come with age.

Registered dietitian Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen reviewed and approved a list of the risks of a vitamin D deficiency that was published on WebMD, and they’re pretty scary.

The hazards of low levels of this crucial nutrient include aging-related dementia, cancer, and an increased risk of fatal cardiovascular disease. Ideal vitamin D levels differ from patient to patient, so ask your doctor if you’re getting enough through diet and time in the sun.

“Physicians recommend getting at least 10 minutes of sunlight (with sunscreen) every day and a balanced diet rich in vitamin D,” Hamilton says. “Some people may need to take…vitamin D supplements.”

There’s some good news for people who need to get more vitamin D into their diets, at least. Cheese is packed with the stuff. Not as much as cod liver oil, maybe, but which would you rather eat?

3. Laser-Focusing on Cardio

It’s hard enough to get to the gym in the first place. Once you’re there, it can be tempting to zone out on the bikes or the treadmill. Although cardio is great, there are real risks related to a lack of strength training.

“The aging process is associated with changes in muscle mass and strength with the decline of muscle strength after the 30th year,” write Karsten Keller and Martin Engelhardt in the journal Muscles, Ligaments, and Tendons.

While your muscles are wasting away, your metabolism slows down. This combination of factors can lead to unhealthy weight gain, which carries its own list of horrors. The point is, arm day may be more important than you think. Don’t neglect the weights.

4. Trying to Wring Even More Hours Out of the Day

We have a very sad fact to share. Brace yourself: Coffee cannot replace sleep. We know, we know. We’re grieving too.

The truth is that doctors are serious when they tell you to get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, every night, at least between the ages of 18 and 64. Less than that could affect your productivity and, worse, encourage your arteries to harden. The importance of sleep cannot be stressed enough.

An article in the Harvard Business Review written by Harvard Medical School professor Charles Czeisler warns us that people who sleep less than five hours a night for five years in a row are three times more likely to develop hardened arteries.

“The importance of sleep cannot be stressed enough,” says Hamilton. “Sleep allows your body to process nutrients
taken in during the day and allows your mind to process events of the day.”
There isn’t really a problem that insufficient sleep doesn’t make worse. “Memory loss and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression have also been linked to sleep deprivation,” Hamilton says.

Even worse, skimping on your Zs can wreak havoc on your genes themselves, leading to DNA damage that raises your risk of cancer. We don’t know how to get more hours in the week either, but it’s clear that skipping sleep is not the way to do it.

5. Hating Your Job

If you want to live a long, happy life, free from the damaging effects of growing inflammation, you need to follow your passion. That’s not just a feel-good platitude; it’s medical science.

A systematic literature review published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine found that “job satisfaction level is an important factor influencing the health of workers.”

Hating your job can even spark or exacerbate mental health issues, explains Hamilton.

“Mood disorders such as depression or anxiety can be linked to job dissatisfaction,” she says. “There is an intricate interplay between health and job satisfaction in which both affect each other. When dealing with mental health, it is important to assess outlook on work as well as work-life balance.”

This all makes perfect sense when you think about it. When you hate your job, you spend every day stressed out and angry. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress makes existing health problems worse. It encourages the formation of bad habits, such as smoking and overeating. It can even increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

According to the latest report from the Pew Research Center, a discouraging 15 percent of working adults say they are “somewhat” or “very dissatisfied” with their jobs. But it’s important to remember that many of us do have other options. No matter how restricted you may feel, there’s always another job (or career!) out there, and remaining stuck in an unpleasant environment can actually speed up the aging process.

Tying It All Together

Okay, so what have we learned? Sleep enough, get off your behind, find a job you like, and work out. But no one of these things alone is enough to stop the hands of the clock entirely.

To hold off the visible signs of aging as long as possible, you need to adopt a holistic approach to health, says Ellie Cobb, PhD, a psychologist who focuses on the mind-body connection in wellness.

Aging affects us on a genetic level, Cobb tells HealthyWay, citing research by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel that suggests the telomeres at the ends of our chromosomes actually shorten as we age. And these shorter telomeres that cause the negative health effects of aging. That’s because when these DNA caps reach a certain reduced length, the cells that contain them stop replicating. They die.

“The positive news is that scientific research also shows that we can change our telomere length by what situations we experience in life and how we chose to react to those experiences,” Cobb tells us.

So, like, how?

“Some positive ways to reduce inflammation (and therefore reduce negative aging effects) are [to] aim to get regular sufficient sleep, adopt a consistent meditation practice, be conscious of eating healthy fats and vegetables like avocados and leafy greens instead of refined sugars, exercise moderately, and find joy and thankfulness in the little things in life,” Cobb says.

So that’s it! Mindfulness is like calisthenics for your telomeres. We’ll see you and your lanky telomeres on the dance floor in many, many decades.