Temporary Shutdown

This weekend was certainly a whirlwind, with the first half moving at hyper-speed, filled with driving back and forth across the state, some last minute cramming for my exam, and a few errands sprinkled in.  Luckily, the second half was spent in a state of total relaxation, doing all kinds of fun things with some of my favorite people.

My mom is wonderful and came with me to Massachusetts for my exam, and I loved having the moral support.  After I passed (!!), we celebrated by hitting up Trader Joe’s (what else would we want to do?) and spent the afternoon relaxing.  My brain needed a serious break, and it was nice to not have to think about much for a little while.

When I was ready to head back home, I snacked my way through the car wash and then hit the road.

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I baked up these delicious little babies for dinner, and although I generally don’t like stuffing, TJ’s does stuffing right.  The cranberries were an awesome addition, and alongside some green beans, this chicken made an absolutely delicious celebratory meal. 

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I planned on spending Sunday laying low, and that’s exactly what I did.  In general, I love having things to do and a to-do list to focus on, but now that my exam’s over, I’m definitely going to enjoy a little downtime.  For breakfast, I had a TJ’s cinnamon raisin bagel with whipped cream cheese and grapes before parking myself on the couch for a movie. 

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And then: this happened. 

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My friend just built a gym in his new house, and I have a feeling I am going to develop a love-hate relationship with it very quickly.  We did a (seemingly simple but really not) workout that consisted of a warm up (running, stretching, and some light squats), five rounds of {5 thrusters @ 65lbs, 10 med ball slams @ 30lbs, and 25 jump ropes}, plus some pull-up work at the end.  I really struggle with pull-ups (like, really), so getting better at those is a serious goal of mine and luckily he’s willing to help. 

After the workout, we hit up Panera for a light lunch.  Their chicken noodle soup is pretty good, but their bread is where it’s at

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The rest of the afternoon was spent riding bikes around the lake and just relaxing, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  I’m one of those people who’s brain in constantly on overdrive – brainstorming my next blog post, compiling my to-do list, studying, planning, thinking random and totally unnecessary thoughts, etc. – so it’s nice to just shut it off and enjoy life from time to time.  I’m sure I’ll be bored within a couple of weeks and start thinking about the next project I want to tackle, but for right now, I’m going to just sit back and enjoy it!

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Dinner came in the form of this frozen pizza; I’d never had this version at all, but I haven’t had frozen pizza in general in longer than I can remember.  Surprisingly though, the ingredients list wasn’t all that bad, and the taste was pretty great. 

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Salad on the side rounded things out, nutritionally. 

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And for dessert: one of my all-time favorite flavors of ice cream.  What better to celebrate an accomplishment with?!

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Finally, when it was time to refocus and get back into work-week mode, I decided to do a bit of meal prep for the week.  I cooked red and green peppers with chicken, olive oil, cumin, crushed red pepper, chili powder, and cilantro on the stove top and let it simmer for a bit. 

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And I baked up chicken and sliced zucchini and roma tomatoes with Italian seasonings and crushed red pepper for about 30-40 minutes. 

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It only took me about a half hour to prepare everything (minus cooking time) but now I’ve got four out of five lunches done for the week! 

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It was definitely a fabulous weekend all around! 


NASM Certified Personal Trainer

This weekend was a big one for me. 

After six long months of studying, I’ve finally reached one of the goals I set for myself.

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I spent the last month or so cramming for the exam, and I felt really prepared going in.  I was still nervous, as I always am before tests, but I felt confident, and all that hard work paid off when I received this result at the end. 

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And with that, I am now officially a NASM certified personal trainer! 

I set this goal for myself without a whole lot of expectations in mind, and I still don’t have that many now.  I don’t see myself trying to get a job in a gym anytime soon (if ever), but I do want to use my certification as a credential for knowing what I’m talking about a little more.  I really enjoy writing and sharing my thoughts and knowledge here on the blog, and I’ve been giving tips to friends and family where I can.  I want to continue to better myself, help others, learn more about fitness, and expand my outlook and knowledge base, and I think that this certification is a huge step in the right direction.

In the next few months, I want to focus more on my blog, my career, my own personal fitness level, and my personal life, and now that I won’t have to spend all my free time studying, I think I am in a great position to do all of those things.  I really want to expand the framework of my blog, try to write for other publications, and incorporate more of my health and fitness knowledge in my writing when I can.  I want to continue to grow and challenge myself in my career, setting myself up for a professional future where I can excel and which I actually enjoy.  I want to focus more on training my own body, learning new moves, trying new things, and increasing my overall fitness level to one I’ve never reached before.  But besides all that, I also want to get outside more, spend more time relaxing, meet more people, and strengthen the relationships I already have. 

It seems like a lot, but now that this chapter is closed, I’m ready and excited to start a new one – with this certification tucked securely in my pocket.  I’m proud of myself for going through with the work and succeeding, and I’m so thankful to all of the wonderful people in my life who have supported me along the way.  I’m sure I’ve been annoying my family and friends with my studying, complaining about the work, and using them as human study tools, naming each of their muscles and body parts and telling them random facts that they probably couldn’t care less about.  But still, they never told me to buzz off… and that’s when you know you’ve got great people in your life. 

Congratulatory flowers came from some of the most special people in my life, and the texts, Facebook messages, Instagram responses, and tweets this weekend were all very much appreciated.  I feel lucky to have so much support, and it’s amazing to know that I’m surrounded by wonderful people.

So with all that said, here’s to the next chapter!

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Study Tips (Nerd Alert)

I found an awesome new way to fall asleep at night.  All you have to do is lay there and try to name all of the muscles in the body, from one end to the other. 

The other night, I couldn’t sleep, and I tossed and turned for quite a while before I decided I might as well be somewhat productive while laying there.  I began at my feet and started moving upward, naming off all of the muscles that might appear on my NASM exam. 

Anterior tibialis, posterior tibialis, gastrocnemius, soleus, rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, biceps femoris…

That’s all it took… out like a light. 

I don’t remember getting past my hips. 

Not only do you get a little extra practice in studying this way, but I also read once that if you study right before bed, you retain the information better.  I have no idea if that’s actually true or or just some urban legend, but all through college, I always made sure to at least go through my notes one more time right before I went to bed on the night before a test.  Maybe it was just superstition, but I really thought it worked! 

Something I didn’t know about in college that I seriously wish I had is Quizlet.  I’m not even sure how I came across the site, but I sure am glad I did because it has lent a whole new dimension to my studying. 

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Quizlet is a free online learning site that helps you generate flashcards and other study tools.  (You can pay extra if you want to upgrade, but I’m not sure what features that includes.)  I had initially written out all of my terms both on flashcards and in Microsoft Word, but that quickly became both boring and ineffective.  I then put the terms into Excel to try something different (I’m crazy, I know), but that’s when I found Quizlet. 

It took me all of five minutes to upload twenty chapters worth of terms using the site’s easy upload feature, and then I had twenty beautiful sets of electronic flashcards to work with. 

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Ahh…the joys of the Internet.

There are so many different way you can use the flashcards alone, like seeing the term, seeing the definition, or seeing both at once.

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And in addition to that, there are all kinds of other features which take your terms and build them into all sorts of different tests and games.   You can even browse by topic and use other people’s sets if you want to. 

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I mean really, why didn’t I know about this years ago?!  Learning every muscle in the body can be a little boring and repetitive, but playing a game using the muscles of the body?  There we go. 

(Gosh, I am such a nerd.)

Anyway, the important thing is that I know about it now because it has made my studying a breeze.  So for any of you out there who find yourself needing to do some studying of your own, I highly recommend it!

Questions:

Are you studying for anything right now?

What are you favorite study tips and techniques?  I used to build these massive, color-coded study guides in college.  Those things were a work of art.  But seriously, my favorite way to study is to use what you’re learning in your everyday life.  It might annoy people to hear you interject bits of political science history into your dinner conversation or point at and name their different body parts, but at least it helps you remember things! 


Priorities

Monday morning I woke up feeling tired and cranky, so I decided it was probably in everyone’s best interest if I just stayed in bed.  No one likes a grump.

I have a big week this week – outside of the gym – so I tried not to be too hard on myself for skipping.  I told myself that if I felt well enough after work, I’d go, but when it came time to decide, I stayed home.  It’s one thing when I don’t have an excuse for not wanting to go, but sometimes, when your plate is full, you just have to focus your energy where it’s needed most.  My allergies are in full swing and all of my energy outside work is being spent on studying this week, so I really didn’t feel that bad for taking a day off.  It’s about priorities, and this week, the gym just isn’t first on my list.

That said, I got to bed early on Monday night, and I woke up feeling ready to go on Tuesday.  I’m taking this week one day at a time, but with Tuesday already off to a better start, I decided to begin my day with a workout.   Here’s what it ended up looking like:

  1. Warm up: 10 minute walk on treadmill
  2. Back Squats:
    1. 15 @ 45lbs
    2. 12 @ 95lbs
    3. 10 @ 135lbs
    4. {8 @ 155lbs} x6
  3. Workout (4x):
    1. Row 250 M
    2. 10 Burpees
    3. 15 Dumbbell swings @ 20lbs
  4. Core (4x):
  5. 20 Swiss ball sit-ups
  6. 15 Med ball oblique twists (each side)
  7. 10 Med ball vertical lifts
  8. 5 Box jumps
  9. Bis/Tris (4x):
    1. 12 Cable curls @ 35lbs
    2. 12 Cable push downs @ 35lbs
    3. 12 Hanging knee lifts
  10. {25 Back squats @ 45lbs} x4
  11. Cool down: 5 minute walk

For breakfast, I brought a batch of non-overnight overnight oats, meaning that I made them right before I ran out the door on Tuesday morning.  Into the container went plain Chobani, oats, cinnamon, and a splash of almond milk.  By the time I got to work and topped them with strawberries, they were already getting that overnight oats consistency that I love.

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For lunch, I brought a batch of chicken, zucchini, and tomatoes that I prepped the night before, baking it with olive oil, crushed red pepper, and Italian seasonings.  I haven’t had this meal in quite a while, so it was nice to bring it back!

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(I have also upgraded to dumping my lunches out onto paper plates.  Fancy, right?  I know, you’re so impressed.)

Dessert was a banana.  I’m calling it dessert to brainwash myself into believing it.  Bananas actually really are super sweet (especially when they’re near-death), so I think it’s working.

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My afternoon snack was pretty standard: cantaloupe and cashews.  I like to get at least one or two servings of healthy fats per day, and that’s why my afternoon snacks always often include either nuts or nut butters.  I don’t have many ways that I like to include nuts/nut butters into my actual meals, but I feel that they make for great snacks.  And, in addition to the fat they provide, they also make a great source of protein!

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Speaking of nut butters, all day at work, all I wanted was a nut butter sandwich.  I literally have no idea where it came from because I haven’t had a nut butter sandwich in months (and I haven’t bought bread in even longer than that), but I went with it.  After work I stopped at the grocery store to pick up what I needed, including this new-to-me jar of almond butter.  I’ve heard a lot about Barney Butter, but my cousin found it at our grocery store last week, so I finally decided to try it out for myself.  I got the crunchy variety, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.

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I made my PAB&J on whole wheat bread with the Barney Butter and Polaner strawberry fruit spread, plus a whole bunch of strawberries on the side.  Curled up on the couch while I ate, this meal definitely made me feel like an adult, that’s for sure…

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Have a great day! Smile


Muscle Imbalances

Now that the test date for my CPT exam is getting closer, I’ve really been focusing a lot on studying.  For the past couple of months, the actual exam seemed like such a distant event, but now it’s crunch time and it’s forcing me to really immerse myself in the material.  I’ve been spending at least an hour or two per day studying, and even though it’s a little stressful, I have to say that I’m really enjoying it. 

I’ve made flashcards and study guides and drawn diagrams, but the best form of studying for me has been actually putting the material into practice.  When I’m at the gym, I’m thinking about what I’ve learned, focusing on which muscles are being used, which physiological systems are firing, and which planes of motion I’m working in.  If anyone could read my mind, they’d probably think I was a little looney, thinking about things like how I’m moving in the sagittal plane doing bicep curls and the frontal plane doing side lunges, but it’s definitely helping me a lot!

One of the topics that has really struck me lately is that of muscle imbalances.  Muscle imbalances are technically known as alterations of muscle lengths surrounding a joint, meaning that some of your muscles may be overactive and others may be underactive.  A related concept, relative flexibility, says that the body has a tendency to seek the path of least resistance during movement, so when one muscle is working too hard and/or another is not working hard enough, you are going to make compensations for those imbalances.  This can lead to a whole host of negative impacts on your body, including decreased flexibility, bad exercise form and posture, and even serious injuries.

As an example, think of a person who has a tight latissimus dorsi muscle – the large muscles in your back, more commonly known as “lats” – who is trying to do a shoulder press.   

When this muscle is tight (or overactive), a person will have decreased sagittal plane shoulder flexion, meaning that he or she will be unable to lift their arms overhead.  They will compensate for this lack of range of motion in their shoulders by arching their lower back in order to press the weight upward.  (Go ahead, try it.)  The body is a highly adaptive mechanism, so if a person keeps performing the shoulder press with this improper form, their body will get used to this relative flexibility, or faulty movement pattern, and it could lead to injuries. 

Muscular imbalances are very prevalent in today’s society, for a variety of reasons.  Poor knowledge of technique, lack of stretching, and pattern overload are all common factors leading to muscle imbalances.  Pattern overload, or consistently repeating the same motions over and over, places abnormal stress on the body.  Training the same routine day after day at the gym, or in sports, things like pitching a baseball, long-distance running, and cycling, can all lead to pattern overload.  But what you may not realize is that even sitting, standing, or repetitively lifting and lowering things as part of your job every day can all lead to pattern overload as well.   (Here’s a not-so-fun fact: It is estimated that up to 80% of Americans have chronic low-back pain.  Are you one of them?)

I am definitely guilty of falling into the trap of repeating the same workout routine over and over again for weeks on end, but learning about muscle imbalances really opened my eyes to the importance of switching things up.  It’s easy to get tunnel vision in the gym, doing the same thing over and over because you don’t want to have to think about it, but when this happens, it’s also easy to forget what’s really important.  Your form slowly (and without you probably even realizing it) begins to suffer, and lose the true benefit of the moves you’re doing every day. 

All of this is just another reason why it’s good to switch up your routine from time to time.  With the workouts I’ve been doing lately, I switch things up pretty much every single day, and I can feel the positive effects it has been having on my body.  Not only do I feel stronger and more flexible already, but I also haven’t had nearly as many problems with things that I used to – like shin splints. 

When I started this whole fitness journey, I’ll admit: I knew pretty much nothing (even if I thought I did).  But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning as much as I have thus far, and I’m eager to learn more every day.  When you know better, you do better… and doing better every day is my goal. 


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