My Fitness Journey Part 1: WEIGHT LIFTING

My Fitness Journey - Weight Lifting

This past year has been a whirlwind of changes for our family, and along with that, lots of changes to my body! In 2015 I was pregnant for the second time, experienced surgery during pregnancy (appendectomy), and a painful third trimester, thanks to the stretching scar tissue from my surgery. I wasn’t complaining, because I was just happy my baby made it through the trauma, but the pain from the scar tissue left me able to do very little during most of my pregnancy, so I was eager to get back into an exercise regimen to shed some fat and start to feel more like myself postpartum. Of course, beginning with a first trimester where the only food I could keep down consisted of carbs and only carbs, I developed a lot of bad eating habits throughout my pregnancy as well. I suppose that’s pretty common with a lot of pregnant women. But at the end of it all, I was faced once again with a reshaped body and a closet full of clothes that didn’t fit me, and didn’t look like they’d fit me for a very, very long time. If ever.

I wasn’t happy about how I felt or looked, and I guess the best way to describe it would be that I just didn’t feel like myself. And the weight wasn’t coming off as easily as it had the first time. Plus— I had entered my thirties, when they say your metabolism is, well, OVER IT, I guess. I knew it was going to be a challenge to get where I wanted to be, and I sort of tried a bit at first, but then came the holiday season, busyness, some family crises, and sort of an apathetic approach to my health and fitness. But January came and I became so inspired by everyone else’s goals, plus a few local friends who had transformed their bodies and were really excited about their health reports from their doctors, proving that they were doing good things for their bodies, as well as their minds.

So I set a goal for myself and armed with a lot of lessons from the past about how to set myself up for both failure and success, I went at it, and gosh darn it, guys, I’m really happy with how things have been going! I had to share it with you.

before weightloss photo

overcoming-past-failures-and-excuses 
There’s a lot to say about how to set yourself up for success when it comes to body transformations, and I’ve given up and failed in the past because of a few reasons.

my-goals-were-too-overwhelming
In the past, I had made my goals about weight loss, and the number was usually pretty intimidating. When you’re gaining muscle along the way, the scale will definitely play with your mind, because you feel like, “Man, I’m doing all this work, but the scale isn’t moving very much.” It makes you feel like progress is slower than it actually is, and it also can make you feel like giving up. I’ve learned that the goals that really inspire me when reached are about other things besides weight: taking measurements each month; taking progress photos each month; charting each weight lifting session to see my strength gains; fitting into a smaller dress size.

So what is my goal this time around? My specific goal is to be a size 8. I’ve fluctuated between a size 10/12 for the past few years, and am really excited about getting to a size 8 and staying there. It’s a reasonable, healthy goal, and I’m close to getting there! I also have some general goals, like getting stronger (there’s no limit or end goal here), and faster. I’ve gotten into road running and running hills, which had always intimidated me in the past.

process-was-too-tedious
In the past, I had great success with losing weight through watching my portions and caloric intake. I tracked my eating each day with the My Fitness Pal app, and it really helped me stay on track. When I added my exercise sessions to the app, it was very motivating to see how sweating it out greatly impacted my estimated weight loss for the month. It made me want to work out harder and as frequently as much as possible. It was really all-consuming, and I found that I would avoid certain social situations if there was food I couldn’t measure/weigh and accurately log into the app. Food was controling my life and quite frankly, wasn’t as enjoyable anymore. This is just a lot to manage, along with everything else in life, and I think it was too much, factoring into why I quit caring about my intake a couple of years ago.

This time around, I’ll occasionally log into My Fitness Pal to make sure I’m getting enough protein and meeting my macro goals (more on that later). But in general I’m a pretty habitual eater, and I have a general idea when I eat certain foods and portions that I’m on the right track. And because I’m exercising pretty hard, and increasing my metabolism with weight lifting, I have grace with myself and indulge with treats here and there, and one “cheat day” each weekend. Sometimes cheat days spill into the week, and I shrug it off, enjoy my food, and then focus in on my goals again. I feel like I have a much healthier approach to eating this time around, and certainly enjoy my food, but have good habits through the week that make eating healthy during the day a pretty easy decision.

setbacks
The last time I was making good headway towards healthier habits and a size I felt more comfortable in, I was stopped short when I threw out my back in the summer of 2014. I couldn’t exercise for a couple of months, which halted all of my progress and took away a lot of my daily motivation to make wise choices with my eating. So I fell back into old habits, and theeeeen I got pregnant again. So I figured I’d worry about it later. Here I am worrying about it!

I have been stopped because of injuries in the past, and am very, very careful now to be smart about how I exercise. I rest frequently, order my exercises around resting each muscle group, and I train for the exercises I want to do, so I’m strong enough and can avoid injury. If I feel a pain, I don’t work/run through it. I stop and see a trained professional for help. For instance, I was experiencing plantar fasciitis for the first time in my life when I started running again this past February. I completely quit running for a while and received therapy from my chiropractor, as well custom-made orthotics which have helped prevent this happening again after I returned to running. I also don’t do plyometric exercises any more, because it led to my 2014 back injury, as I found I didn’t focus on form and was working while too physically exhausted during plyometric workouts. When embarking on new exercises I’m unfamiliar with, I always take it slow and make sure I’m using the proper form and technique.

Sometimes injuries happen regardless of how much you prepare and try to prevent them, though, and if it happens to me again, I hope I can be of the mindset to at least continue my better food choices throughout my recovery.

children-were-an-excuse-not-to-exercise
It takes a lot of planning when kids are thrown into the mix. Who’s napped when, who will watch them, do they need watched, fed, diapered…. etc. I found that working out at home just doesn’t happen very well when kids are here. And even if they’re not around, I get distracted too easily by other tasks and keep putting off exercise, which meant it rarely happened. I have to get to the gym away from the kids and the house to be focused, and as I spend time alone exercising, I’m also refreshed. (Exhausted, but refreshed!) I found a facility with very flexible childcare hours and an amazing childcare staff. For me, that was my local YMCA. At first, Juniper cried a lot, and I would have to take breaks to go sit with her. But I didn’t give up, and eventually she got used to being there. Victory!

Now the girls both love trips to the Y, and their love for being there helps motivate me to go. Besides, why wouldn’t I take advantage of time alone while someone else watches my kids and I improve my body and health? It’s a great situation, especially for someone like me who spends all day alone with the kids!

the-transforming-power-of-weights
Another change I’ve made this time around is focusing heavily (pun!) on weight lifting. Weight lifting has dramatically increased my metabolism, it’s reshaping my body, and it has helped increase my self esteem, making me feel more empowered in other areas of my life as well. I can look at photos of myself from 2014 when I was the same weight I am now, but my body is shaping up much more nicely now because of lifting heavy weights in the gym. I know some people say during a weight loss journey to focus first on losing fat, and then sculpting with weights and whatnot, but I think it’s much smarter to work on both weight loss and muscle growth/toning at the same time. Why? Well, growing muscle will increase your metabolism and help burn fat even when you aren’t at the gym. Doing cardio will help burn fat in the moment and for a while afterwards, but building muscle turns your body into a fat-burning machine. And once the fat starts going away, it’ll reveal sculpted muscle beneath. Because muscle weighs more than fat, it can be discouraging to monitor your weight as you are also building muscle. While your body is shrinking, it isn’t weighing much less because it is amassing heavy, though compact muscle. This can be a big mental battle to overcome, so I recommend not looking at the scale but once a month.

slim-down-with-heavy-weights

Another piece of advice I’ve found to be flawed is that women who wish to be slim shouldn’t lift heavy weights or they will get bulky. In the past, I would lift lighter weights with higher reps. But I’ve been extremely challenging myself in the weight room, to failure and exhaustion each time with heavy weights. I do fewer reps (8-12 reps in sets of 3), and all that’s been happening is that I’ve begun to shrink and grow stronger! If I reach three sets of twelve reps, I know it’s time to increase the weight next time and challenge myself more. The magic of staying lean and not bulking happens in the kitchen. I’ve been eating food targeted towards lean muscle growth (lean sources of protein and complex carbohydrates), focusing on staying in a certain caloric range, and really making it a goal to stick to a 40/40/20 macro ratio for fat loss. My Fitness Pal helps me track my macros, and since I’m a habitual eater, I pretty much eat the same rotation of food during the week. Read more about macro nutrients and how they impact your fitness and weight loss goals here.

There’s a lot more to say about eating when weight lifting, and I’m not qualified to give advice on the matter, but I recommend checking out BodyBuilding.com for lots of great information. That website has been a great resource for me. I’ll also share more about my eating habits and regular meals in a later post.

weight lifting routine overcoming-fear-of-the-weightroom
It can be intimidating to get into the weight room when it’s filled with cocky muscle heads and fit women who absolutely amaze and intimidate just from their physical appearance. At least, that’s how I felt. But I made a plan for myself, using BodyBuilding.com, and looked up the exercises online before (and sometimes after) I got to the gym. Sometimes I’d ask someone around me a question about machinery and whatnot, and they are always happy to help. If you want to use a machine someone else is on, and they’re hanging around on it, you can ask to work in with them, or ask how long they will be. Being flexible with your plan is key when you’re at the gym. Be bold, though, and remember, everyone is there to better themselves, so don’t feel bad that you’re not where you feel you should be, or even close to as fit as those around you. Focus on you and becoming better than you were yesterday!

Here is my spreadsheet that I use when I got to the gym. Lately I’ve been going 6 days a week, but I plan to slow down after I’ve reached my size 8 goal. I use a three-day-split, which means I work three different body parts on three different days, instead of doing a full body workout each day. This allows my body to rest and my muscles to regenerate (GROW!) while that part of my body rests. I do 25 minutes on the elliptical to warm up my body before hitting the weight room, and then I spent about 30 minutes on my weight lifting plan. Leg days take a bit longer. I don’t always stick to the order and exercises shown in my chart, as it’s great to mix things up and keep your body guessing and developing differently. I’ll change grip, stances, or even orders to switch things up, or I’ll incorporate exercises I’ve seen other people doing that intrigue me. I usually do supersets for most exercises shown in my chart, and if you’re not sure what that is, check out this post on supersets to see what they’re all about.

Diet is so important when weight lifting. The goal is to have protein several times a day, so your muscles constantly have a stream of fuel for their regrowth, but not too much at once or your body won’t be able to utilize it and it will instead be stored as fat. I have up to 25 grams of protein about 6 times a day with meals and snacks. It’s also said to be important to have protein within 30 minutes of a weight lifting session, so I bring my protein drink with me to the gym to have immediately after lifting weights and before doing any additional cardio work, because I don’t want my body to draw from my muscle growth for energy during any additional exercises. I mix a vegan protein powder with almond milk and mix it together in a blender bottle to take to the gym. It’s easier on my system than whey protein, and I love the creaminess that the almond milk adds for very few calories.

My Fitness Journey - Weight Lifting

MY-WEIGHT-LIFTING-MUST-HAVES
Here are some of my basics that I have come to rely on for weight lifting, and a bit about why I love each item!

  1. Pea Protein Powder– My stomach as trouble digesting whey protein, and after a vigorous workout, I’ve been known to actually throw it up! Yikes! This is a delicious, low-carb vegan protein powder that I use every day after my workouts to fuel my muscles for repairing and growing.
  2. Blender Bottle– This is the perfect size for my protein drinks. I use the protein powder above mixed with 12 ounces of almond milk, which is easily measured using the lines on the cup. The ball whisk inside makes the powder blend easily with liquid so there are no chunks or clumps.
  3. Binder with spreadsheet- I always chart my weight, reps, and sets during every workout. Click here to download it for your personal use. This chart helps me see progress, but also it’s easy to forget what weight to use for each exercise. If I can get in 3 sets of 12 reps for an exercise, I’ll make a note to increase the weight next time, which will usually put me at 8 reps, instead of 12. Then when I get strong enough to do 12 reps of the higher weight, I increase it again. It’s great to look back on my old charts and see how much stronger I’ve become!
  4. Wireless Headphones– First of all— listening to a great music mix will help you bust out that last rep, and stay focused when in the weight room. But whether you’re wearing an armband or not, when you’re lifting weights and moving your arms around a lot, it can be SO hard when a wire is involved. I’ve ripped my earbuds out of my ears so many times, which is very annoying. These pink Sudio wireless earbuds are not only cute, they’re a sanity saver in the weight room.
  5. Racerback Singlet– When I’m moving around a lot, I want something without sleeves that will keep me cool and let my arms move about freely. I also want something somewhat fitted, so it doesn’t shift around or pull up if I’m in an inverted position. This is my favorite lightweight exercise top— I bought a bunch of them and wear them pretty much during every workout!
  6. Backpack– I carry everything I need to the gym in a backpack that fits my binder, a jacket, a water bottle, blender bottle, and little extras (like bandaids for blisters). I don’t need a large duffle bag, so this size is perfect and I appreciate being able to wear it on my back while managing two kiddos in the parking lot.
  7. Converse– On leg days especially, it’s good to not have cushion under your feet, or anything shifting your weight to your toes or heels. You want to control that yourself. So I wear the flattest shoes I have— these converse sneakers. I got them in leather so they’ll hold up well over time.
  8. Yoga Pants or Bike Shorts- This is my personal preference, but I prefer lifting in fitted clothes that are comfortable, easy to move in, and don’t shift up or down.
  9. High Neck Sports Bra– I like to keep the girls safe, secure, and out of sight. This sports bra fits the bill! I bought three of them.

I hope this post was helpful! I feel like there’s a lot more I could’ve said, but then this post would’ve been too long. If you have questions or want to talk about weight lifting or body transformation, I’d love to chat in the comments below!

20 Responses

  1. Nikki says:

    You look AMAZING! I too have been lifting weights (for the last 4 months actually) and I love the change I’ve noticed in my body. For the first time in my life I can feel the muscle under my “squishy” layers. I still have roughly 15 more pounds to lose before I can be back at my comfortable weight, but I’m loving the results I’m getting from seriously weight training for the first time in my life.

    Thanks for all your tips, I’m definitely going to check out that sports bra as all my current ones bounce a little too much for my comfort.

    • Mandi says:

      Isn’t it so gratifying? It can be a little frustrating, though, because it takes SO long to see gains and notice changes. But it’s so worth it, especially in the long run. I’m excited about the boost in my metabolism and how it’s restructuring my body that I thought was a hopeless cause. :) The fat loss is slow, but steady. We got this!

  2. Becky says:

    You look great! And just as importantly, you seem so happy! I’m looking forward to seeing what you’re eating. For me, it’s always a struggle to get enough protein, without too much fat. Any tips? — Becky

    • Mandi says:

      Thanks! I do feel so good. I have LOTS of tips for protein intake and will write all about it in my food post. But for now, I’ll tell you things I do on the regular. I have low-fat greek yogurt with fruit and muesli frequently, as well as green smoothies with 1/3 C of egg white powder added at the end, egg white omelets topped with salsa, pea protein powder mixed with almond milk (I mentioned that above), and chicken. Those are my go-to low fat sources of protein. If I don’t have enough protein in a day, I’ll make another egg white omelet because it’s so low cal/fat but packs a big protein punch.

    • Mandi says:

      Also, I should add— I actually hate eggs but don’t mind eating egg white omelets when topped with salsa. :)

  3. Caitlin says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post!!! I’m an avid yogi but I’ve been wanting to incorporate weight lifting into my fitness routine for a while now. The only problem is that I feel completely overwhelmed about where to start. Your post is exactly the information and encouragement I needed to just get out there and give it a go. You look amazing and I’m so inspired by your journey. Can’t wait to read the next posts in this series!

    • Mandi says:

      It can be SO overwhelming! Just dipping your toes in the water, so to speak, and figuring out movements and routines can be a good start. It took me a couple of weeks to get into a groove I liked, and I’d always end up coming home, getting on the computer, and reading about specific exercise techniques or different exercises to get a well-rounded workout for body groups. I hope you get out there and give it a try! It’s so empowering. :)

  4. Jessica says:

    Great post! I’m so interested! In the past I did T25 workouts by Shaun T (tons of plyometrics) but lately Ive been going to the gym too to try to get my steps in on the treadmill for my fitbit stats. Then I’ll do some weight lifting too. I have a question. When it is 3 sets of 8 reps does that mean you do a set of say 8 dumbbell curls, move onto something else and then come back to the curls or do you do a set, rest and then do the other 2 sets right after?

    • Mandi says:

      Awesome! Yeah, I hate plyometrics because I become so fatigued but keep going, sacrifice form, and end up getting injured. :\ So for my weight lifting routine I’ll do, for instance, one set of 10 barbell curls, then take 20-30 seconds of rest for my heart rate to go down a bit, then do a set of 10 one-arm tricep kickbacks. Then take 20-30 seconds and do another set of barbell curls. Those are supersets, where you alternate activities, but are still working similar muscle groups. Similar, as in both on the arms, but different, meaning one is biceps and the other is triceps. So your biceps can recover slightly to work hard again in the second and third set. You can look into dropsets and pyramid/upside-down pyramid sets too, where you either max out at the beginning or end. I always try to fail at the end, and stick with the same weight for each set I do. There’s a lot of set/rep styles, which are great to look into after you’re bored or have been doing the same thing for a couple of months and are ready to mix things up. :) Also— side note about resting between sets— I wear a heart rate monitor and when I’m lifting heavy or doing major muscle movements (like squats or deadlifts), my heart rate is sky high at the end of a set. I’m talking like 180 after a set of deadlifts! So I read on bodybuilding.com that it’s good to get it back down a bit and something about the blood flow helping your muscles be able to do another set after that. So much to learn, eh?! I’m still not 100% on what I’m talking about, but I remember the gist of it all. :)

  5. Alice says:

    You look great, glowing from the inside out! I have actually followed your mandi makes progress for a long time and you always help inspire me when I am exercising too. I become a mama last year and definitely had a hard time recognising my body afterward. I am proud of how far I have come, and like you, have learnt from my past mistakes in moving forward in my health journey. For me a huge thing was developing a healthy relationship with food, and not loathing myself when I ate certain things. For the first time EVER I am learning to eat a wholesome balanced diet without being super restrictive – which just bought on more guilt for me. While I can’t see massive physical differences yet with my current exercise plan – I feel stronger, fitter and more confident – THAT is the best feeling. Well done with your progress so far, and for juggling it with kiddos. I have found that when I want something bad enough, I will always find the time somewhere!

    x

    • Mandi says:

      Good for you! Developing a healthy mindset about food is SO tricky because I feel like everywhere around me I’m made to feel guilty for certain foods, and there are just SO many messages about food that get in your head. I’m still working on it, but I will indulge and I don’t feel too guilty, but I find that it’s easy for me to get into back habits easily if I do it too frequently, but I don’t want to be too strict about it. Such a difficult time striking a good balance there!

      • alice says:

        Definitely agree there! I find it hard as I am a chef/foodie but also studying to be a clinical nutritionist! Ha! So often those two things are in conflict within me, but hey at least I know how to make yum nutritious food. I think a big part of it is learning to listen to your body to what it really needs and to understand why we make certain choices. But heck if we didn’t indulge every now and then life would be pretty darn boring. Look forward to your next post!

  6. Kyla Roma says:

    MANDI!! Thank you so, so much for this post. I’ve been wanting to get into lifting weights, but I haven’t known how to get started. I joined my local Y last year and love it, but I feel super intimated in the weight area because I’m so new, so I don’t work out in it. This post is literally exactly what I needed to get started. Thank you so much for the great introduction & resources, I can’t wait to make a plan for myself now that I have this as a foothold <333

  7. Carrie says:

    Good job Mandi!! You should be very proud of yourself. I’m still working on my next fitness goals (like you, not wanting to set myself up for failure- I’m a perfectionist, so all or nothing). You do look wonderful, healthy and happy! :)

    • Carrie says:

      Alos, sorry I should’ve asked, have you worked with a trainer at all? And/or do you work out with a friend? I feel like there are pro’s and cons to working with someone, but accountability would be a huge pro (for me). Just curious. :)

      • Mandi says:

        I’ve never worked with a trainer. I started lifting weights every now and then in highschool, but not as part of a regimine or with goals. My brother’s been into weight lifting for the past 15 years, so I would occasionally go with him, but he’d have me do light weight/high reps. Then in college I was trained more properly, because I played college volleyball and trained in the spring. But I never wanted to go as heavy as they said I could, because I was afraid to get bulky! Nonsense. Oh well! I’m doing it up right now! :)

  8. Sallie says:

    I loved reading this today!! I began really making fitness a priority in my life about 18 months ago, and I think your comment about setting small attainable goals really rings true for me! When I began I really told myself that this wasn’t about my physical appearance, but my long term health and so when I’d reach those points when I felt like my body just wasn’t changing fast enough for my liking, or even when I felt bigger, I’d just ignore the panicked voices in my head (the ones that always derailed every attempt at an exercise regime before) remind myself that it’s not about that, and get in the next workout. Slowly I started dropping cardio and increasing my weightlifting, and in January I joined a gym where I pretty much solely focus on weightlifting (I only do traditional cardio -because you’re right, lifting heavy IS cardiovascularly challenging – 3xs a week for about 20 min) And like you, the changes I have seen in my body have been the most dramatic in my entire life!! I also think your comment about everyone in the weight room just being there to better themselves is important too. So many people get intimidated by weights, and I know I felt silly and stupid taking my turn at the squat rack when I was barely able to squat just the bar at first and I knew there were a bunch of huge dudes behind me who wanted to get on, but beginners have every right, even more of a right, to be there as advanced lifters. We are all beginners at some point, and that’s what I tell myself.

    Sorry for the long comment, just a fellow lover of weightlifting geeking out over here! Strong girls unite! You look fantastic!! Keep it up!!

    • Mandi says:

      This is all so good to read! It can feel silly taking a turn, like on the smith machine, while other buff dudes are waiting. But everyone has a right! :)

  9. I’ve gained weight and have always had a very fast metabolism and have always been the skinny girl, so it has been hard for me to be someone I am not used to especially when I never weighed myself ever or cared….and I still don’t have a scale but have decided to weigh myself at my parents’ house. I have gained a good 15 pounds in the past three months or so I presume. I weighed 120 when I was married (at 5 foot 9) and to see 140 on the scale (I have lost 5 pounds in three weeks from eating better)….it is weird to me. I only ever was “big” while having babies and in between.

    THerefore you have inspired me a lot because I totally see a huge difference in your appearance. Your face looks more like from the pictures you have shown of yourself from high school to me. I am impressed. I need to get on the work out force and use my kids as an excuse a lot too because they tire me out and are ALWAYS with me since I homeschool them. Thanks for being an inspiration and helping me know I need to do it.

  10. Jen says:

    Congrats Mandi! I’ve just started a new gym routine, this time with a trainer (because I need the kickstart ;-)). I had forgotten how much better I feel–mentally and physically–after I work out! I’ve been in a bit of a funk with work, and taking some time to focus on exercise and my health has helped tremendously.

    Looking forward to your nutrition tips–