Since I've been getting a lot of workout questions in the last few months, we're gonna test out a new series, Workout Wednesday. This is where I'll talk about what I do to complement my yoga practice. I'm not a certified personal trainer, so this won't be instructional, but rather an opportunity to share what I do that makes me feel great. I'd love to hear what you do to complement your practice down below in the comments along with any questions you have for future workout posts.
I'll start this off by telling you that honestly, I feel a little weird writing about workouts. I'm not a certified personal trainer, although I did take a course, I just wound up never taking the test for certification because I was more interested in learning about it for me rather than to follow on a path of personal training. But recently, a bunch of questions have been coming in about my workouts so I thought I'd answer them here in a blog post. Because I'm not a certified personal trainer, this isn't instructional. If you're looking to do something similar I'd suggest working with a trainer first to ensure proper form.
Past workouts vs Current workouts
One of my first jobs was at a local, family owned gym. I signed people in, gave them a little tour, and then showed them how every machine at our gym worked. I worked out like crazy and loved being around the people there. From the trainers to the staff, everyone was so positive and wonderful to be around. I had friends who were trainers and body builders and they would teach me things here and there and I felt like I knew what I was doing in terms of working out. My workouts consisted of long cardio (45 min+) and a little bit of (light) weight training.
Maybe it was because I was in high school and/or grew up in the time when Fiona Apple's criminal music video played hourly and the CK Be ads were on every billboard - but for a very long time, I equated skinny with being fit. Not too skinny, mind you - just the 'right' amount of skinny. Looking back, it was pretty unhealthy because it was about wanting to look a certain way, not wanting to feel a certain way.
In grad school, my fitness goals had started to change (was it age? Was it J Lo and her booty? Haha, we'll never know) and I started to want to gain a bit of muscle so I could look toned. That might not sound like it makes sense but I was skinny with no muscle. (Again, this was about how I wanted to look, rather than how I wanted to feel.) I continued to work out the same way but I started doing a little heavier weight lifting (i.e. using 20 pound dumbbells instead of 10lbs).
When I got more serious about yoga and was ready to practice more intermediate poses like forearm stand and handstand, I realized I had very little upper body strength and core strength. I looked, as my husband Greg now likes to joke, "like a wet noodle." Hahaha.
Greg was a professional athlete for nine years, so I valued his opinion and asked him what he thought I should do. He worked out with a top trainer and said he'd be happy to get me a session and have him write up a couple workouts for me to follow. So I went.
And almost threw up.
Not kidding. I had been working out my entire life but never like that. Basically, my workouts with this trainer were quick (the entire thing over in 45 - 60 minutes) and I lifted heavier weights than normal but we'd be going so fast through everything that by the end, I felt like I had just run a marathon. There was no need to do the long cardio anymore, because I was getting a similar cardiovascular workout within my strength training.
Greg also explained to me that my long runs were burning my muscle and what I should be aiming to do, if I wanted to achieve my fitness goals, is burn fat. I remember wrinkling my nose.
He laughed and said, "Listen, we all have a body fat percentage - and if you're trying to get lean, you're going to want to build a little muscle and burn a little fat. It's that simple."
Of course, I was terrified of him saying I should build muscle, and I said so. "I do not want to bulk up."
He rolled his eyes, kind of scoffed and said, "Do you know how long and how hard you have to train in order to build mass? There is physically no way that you would bulk up. You'd have train for years with heavy weights, eat a VERY strict diet, follow an extremely regimented program, and then supplement like crazy. There is literally no way you could do it, and I can guarantee you won't do it following these workouts."
So I started following the trainer's workouts, and I did build a little muscle, and I did get a little leaner, but ultimately went back to my long cardio, muscle burning ways because I wasn't able to get the same sweat that I was when I'd been at the trainer's facility. When I tried to implement the workouts at my local gym, I didn't have half the equipment needed. So I was back to square one.
Until last summer. I'd been working out so hard and not seeing any improvement. I was working on handstands and forearm stands and just felt so incredibly weak. I wanted strength and felt so frustrated because in my opinion, I worked out and worked hard, but wasn't seeing any results. I talked with Greg about it and he sat me down and said, "Listen. Why don't you let me train you for six weeks. You have to do it my way, though, no more of this long cardio bs because you're burning your muscle which is not what you want to do if you want to build strength. If you do it my way and at the end of six weeks you hate it or you aren't seeing any progress, you can go back to your old ways or try something else."
His way was heavy, heavy lifting one day, and less weight with complexes the next day. He taught me how to do a hang clean, how to properly squat with a barbell, and more.
Workout from last summer above: "incline bench 5x8, pull downs 4x8, dumbbell bench 4x8, wide rows 4x10, dips 3x8 (not so great at these yet 😩 so when I can't do a full one anymore I push myself up w my legs and then slowly lower down until the set is done)"
There was no more long cardio sessions because the complexes (i.e. a clean into overhead press into four back squats into overhead press into four RDLs) got my heart rate up so much that by the end of the workout I felt like I was dying (in the best way possible). Once or twice a week he'd have me do treadmill sprints at a huge incline as fast as I could for 15 seconds on, 45 seconds off (working up to longer run times and shorter rest times) for a total of 20-30 minutes tops.
I loved this new style of working out. Nothing made me feel like more of a badass than lifting heavy weight. And it felt like overnight my legs transformed from skinny, shapeless stems to legs with substance. I was hooked. Up above, you can see on the left my super skinny stage which was the result of long cardio and light weight workouts and then on the right I'm about a year and a half into my newer style of working out.
How I felt: On the left I felt weak, skinny and lethargic. And whoever said 'Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels' has never felt skinny because to me? Feeling skinny sucked. My heart kind of raced all the time, I felt anxious and didn't have a ton of energy. On the right, I felt strong, energized and unstoppable (I know that sounds so cheesy, but it's true. I felt like I could do anything).
Sunday sweat sesh included power/hang/full cleans at higher weight than I normally do just to switch things up. Prob could've gotten under that last one if I hadn't chickened out but I am super tired & didn't wanna push it. I'm a big believer in working hard but being smart. When I need a break, I'll give myself one. Have a fabulous Sunday! 💜 #Fitfam #instagood #girlsthatlift
From there, I kind of moved on to more interval weight training workouts and that's where I'm at now. In the past year since I started working out this way, I feel I have build a good amount of muscle (but have not bulked up!), and most importantly, have felt a total transformation in how my body feels doing certain things. Like, ok don't laugh, but here's a funny story (actually, it's ok, go ahead and laugh at me - it's pretty funny). When I first started working out this way, about a year ago - our gym in LA was on the top floor of this plaza (shoutout to Crunch in West Hollywood!), and so we had to walk a million stairs up or wait for the slow as molasses elevator. Since we were there to workout, we kind of thought of the stairs as our warm up. So we'd both start up the stairs, but by the 20th stair, my posture would go to shit, and I'd have to round my back and all but drag my arms, my legs burning. At one point Greg stopped and looked back at me and goes, "Are you kidding? What are you doing? You look like an orangutang!"
Hahaha it's really funny now but at the time I just could not, for the life of me, get up these stupid stairs any other way. I had zero strength! He couldn't believe it and said we needed to work on my core and leg strength because that was embarrassing. (I realize this makes him sound like a jerk, but we were laughing about it and he was being light-hearted and funny.)
So now? Just walking up stairs I feel a strength I've never felt before. Simple things, like twisting to grab the seatbelt? I feel my core strength. Or, you know those heavy duty doors at businesses? I used to really have to put my entire body into opening the door and now my core stabilizes and I open those heavy doors easily. Or, when we get Mantra Box deliveries and I need to transport these huge boxes of goods from the mail room to my office, I can carry them with ease because my entire body - my legs, my core, my back, my arms - feels so strong. These are little things, but they feel so good.
And the strength has impacted my practice in the most positive way. My inversion practice has made so much progress in such little time. All of the sudden, I found myself able to do things like the above, shot in London at the Marylebone Hotel and below, in Germany in November, 2014.
My strength has never felt more obvious than when I was in Morocco. I gave the above transition a try for the first time ever. I could've stood up and danced a jig in celebration. I felt so freaking strong.
I remember looking at the picture (taken in Feb 2015) above and thinking, "Woah, is that a little definition in my arms?" I couldn't believe that finally I was starting to see and feel results.
So overall, I feel really great.
I want to be sure to say that this is in no way about a "right" or "wrong" way to work out. For the most part, I don't believe in right/wrong when it comes to a workout style - but what I'm saying is that it depends on your fitness goals. In no way do I think my way is better than someone who enjoys doing the long cardio and light weight style of working out, or zumba or whatever else. It all depends on the person's fitness goals. If the goal is to be skinny minny, then my old way is the way to go, in my opinion. But if the goal is to have more muscle, I think my new way might be something to look into because it's worked for me. Do what makes you feel great, and you can't go wrong.
Questions about working out
1. What kind of workouts do you do?
Interval strength training with olympic weightlifting. I spent about 20 minutes working on an olympic lift like deadlifts, snatch, clean, and then do a fast paced workout. I do that around 5 times per week and then once a week I'll do an active recovery workout like an easy row or stair master (now that I can actually walk up the stairs haha). I take one day off.
2. How do you create or find workouts?
I will usually just make one up of my own if I'm craving a particular thing. Some days I wake up just wanting to work on x, y, or z, so I'll do incorporate that into my workout. For inspiration, I follow a few of gyms on instagram like this one that post their workouts and then I tweak the workout so I can do it at my local gym.
3. Do you feel comfortable in your body?
Overall, yes. Don't get me wrong, there are things I want to work on - namely, more upper body strength, hamstring strength and lower ab strength, but overall, yes, I am really comfortable in my body right now. And that makes me really happy to hear myself say because for years I was quite uncomfortable in my own skin and now I just feel really at ease.
4. What kind of workouts would you recommend to complement the yoga practice?
It depends on your goals. Are you looking to build strength? Then I suggest weight lifting. Are you looking to build endurance? Low weights with higher reps. Are you looking to improve your cardiovascular system? Sprint intervals. But that's just me - someone who has worked out for ages and knows a bit about it, but is not a certified personal trainer. :)
5. How do you balance weights and yoga? Like what days do you do both? I'm trying to do both as well but I'm finding it hard to program myself! It seems like one hinders the other for me but I need one to do other! Thoughts on a schedule I could do?
See this is where it's tough and I feel I have an advantage because I literally do yoga and work out for a living. I always put in a little yoga at the beginning and end of my weightlifting sessions but I also film, shoot or do my own yoga practice at least 5 - 6 days per week which I find really loosens me up. That might not be feasible for you because you likely have a job that's, well, not filming yourself practicing yoga, haha. So I would just suggest incorporating yoga poses as much as you can - even if it's five mins at the beginning and end of your weightlifting sessions because every little bit helps - and then trying for at least two full classes per week just to give yourself a total body once over with the yoga.
Let's talk What kinds of topics would you like to see covered in Workout Wednesday? Or are you not into this series? Any questions for future posts? How have your workouts changed over the years?