Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Fitness Exploration

A lot of time has passed since I was the girl in the eggplant purple, Abercrombie & Fitch henley, wearing khaki pants and an extra 40+ pounds on my 5'11.5" frame.  I came across this photo, along with some others, in recent years.  Several times I have explored the possibility of sharing them, one day, when I was "ready."  

"Ready" meant on the verge of publishing a memoir of my life story.  "Ready" meant I had established myself as a leader in the industry and was fully prepared for my moments of "fame" as I revealed the progress I have made since that photo was taken, around 1997.  As years passed and social media evolved, I was amazed to observe all of the transformations, success stories, fitness journeys and makeovers.  Before and afters fill my news feeds daily and none of these transformations are to be taken lightly.  Whether your workouts involve holding plank for an endless 15 seconds or bench pressing more than your own body weight, your progress should be recognized and respected.  If you went from ordering a burger, fries and milkshake once a week instead of five times a week, your progress should be recognized and respected.  

As I recognized these accomplishments in others I asked myself, "If these people are willing to expose their struggles and a new six pack, revealing the progress they have made, why haven't I?"  During the past 17 years of my fitness journey, I have dropped the excuses and excess weight while raising my self awareness and confidence.  Now, I am helping others do the same with my online training programs. 

To me, having a fit body is the manifestation of your goals and success, fueled by hard work and commitment.  My goal is to use what I have learned to inspire and motivate others.  

Last summer, I was given the opportunity to be featured in the Rising Stars column of Oxygen Magazine.  I have been a fan of Oxygen  Magazine since it's early stages in the late 1990s.  I vividly remember when a friend of mine introduced me to Oxygen during one of our shifts at the Illinois State Rec Center (little did I know that was the start of my fitness career AND my addiction to such a solid source of information).  My friend was more familiar with the industry and used to point out Adela Garcia when she would come in to use the StepMill.  We were one of the only gyms to feature this piece of equipment!  The machine has since received the attention it deserves, as has Adela.  I have decided to share my fitness journey, as described in the following Q&A article that was submitted to Oxygen Magazine in April of 2014.  A portion of this article was then featured in the Rising Stars column of the August 2014 issue.   

Were you athletic in your youth?  Not at all! Unless having a newspaper route counts! From the time I was about 8 years old until sophomore year of high school, twice a week I walked what felt like MILES.  It probably took about 45-60 minutes and, looking back, I am certain it helped me stay in shape.  Once the paper route officially ended, I gained a lot of weight.  In high school, I ate too much and moved too little, reaching a high of 210 pounds.

Before I began high school, my mom gave me the choice of playing golf or tennis (to encourage me to break out of my shell and become "more social.")  The golf lessons she signed me up for consisted of a bunch of grade school boys and myself!  I didn't mind the tennis lessons, so that is what I pursued in high school.  I rotated between third and fourth doubles.  If you know anything about tennis, that doesn't say much about my ability.  Going into my junior year, the coach ordered a double X t-shirt for me. THAT was a wake up call.

What were some of your athletic accomplishments?  Oh gosh.  I ran the entire 1-mile in gym class my senior year of high school without stopping to walk.  That was the first time I completed it without walking, about a year after I joined the gym.  Also, throughout four years of tennis practice, I despised the drills my coach made us do.  I strongly disliked someone telling me how hard to work.  Now, I find the motivation and discipline within to push myself and stay challenged.

When did you start working out and what inspired you to do so? My mom gave me a membership to Women's Workout World for my 16th birthday.  I was very shy, kept to myself and did not have many friends.  As a result I spent a lot of time at home, eating too much and feeling lonesome.  The gym helped me lose the extra weight I had put on, and helped me gain confidence.  To this day, I hear Gina G's "Ohh Ahh Just a Little Bit" and have flashbacks to my first step aerobics class!  It's a great memory.

Who is your role model? Why? Both of my grandmothers are my role models.  While they have passed away, they stayed active well into their 90s, one riding the stationary bike for 20 minutes a day and the other going to water aerobics class.  The quality of your years is so important, even more so than the quantity.  I'm a firm believer in brain health as well.  So although they may not have gotten their heart rates up very high, among the benefits of their activity was retaining mental awareness and social interaction.  I admire them for taking such good are of themselves and their family.

Are you more of a cardio woman or a weights gal? Why?  I used to be a Cardio Queen!  Every time I went for a run, I felt the need to run the same distance (or more) than the last time.  You can only do that for so long before your body breaks down.  In October of 2010, my back went out and I had a herniated disc.  It was the result of too much working out and not enough rest.  Now, two years post-surgery, running is a thing of the past (except when the weather is good and I need some time outside, jogging usually no more than 30-40 minutes).  In April 2013 I began working with a strength coach at Hard Pressed High Intensity Workouts.  He put me through 30 minutes of butt kicking, sweat dripping routines twice a week.  It changed my perception of what I was capable of, and I do the best I can to reach that intensity level when I train on my own.  They helped me bust through a major fitness plateau--one I didn't even know I had reached!

What is your favorite training move? Why? I am a huge fan of the split lunge and the single leg-leg press.  It's so important to focus on unilateral training to help correct and prevent imbalances.  My right leg is still weaker than the left due to nerve damage from the herniated disc.  I like explaining to clients how unilateral movements will help activate stabilizing muscles as well.  When you are not using as much muscle to move through a range of motion, you have no other choice but to focus on form and quality.

What is your workout plan like? I strength train for about 30 minutes, 5 times a week.  There are days the leg press feels like a concrete wall during the last couple of reps, and there are other days when my legs are shaking from muscle overload due to high repetition with my own body weight.  The variety is what keeps my body (and mind) stimulated.  I love seeing all of these concepts incorporated throughout Oxygen.  If you are constantly using the same training methods and principles, your body will adapt and progress will slow.  This variety also helps to prevent injury from overuse.  For cardio, my favorite machine is the StepMill.  When I'm not on the StepMill, I blast through sets of my cardio/strength circuits, usually incorporating the XBAR.   

What do you love most about Oxygen?  
I love the sense of community that Oxygen creates.  It amazes me to see so many women of different backgrounds, careers, life challenges, and life accomplishments come together with the common bond of fitness.  Before there were Pinterest boards, I used to cut out pictures from Oxygen Magazine and tape them into a notebook as inspiration.  The notebook still exists.  Via social media, it has become easier to establish connections with these women and contributors.  Two of my favorite fitness role models are Kim Dolan Leo and Emily Skye.  As leaders in the industry, it makes me happy to interact with them.  I'm working hard to influence others in my own unique way.

What's your favorite type of cardio? I write up my own routines and take over any open space with my music, notes, weights and a clock!  Using combos of cardio and strength exercises, I create about 7 "pairs" and run through the entire set 3 times.  For example, one pair might be 30 seconds of burpees (cardio) followed by 30 seconds of pushups (strength).  Another would be jumping rope and alternating lunges.  It's a great way to get the heart rate up during the cardio segments and then bring the heart rate down during the strength.  It's full body, efficient and keeps me from getting bored!

What gets you pumped up the most right before a workout? Reminding myself of my goals.  If you don't have a destination, you're more likely to go in circles!  Or pull over! And once you pull over, who knows when you'll get back "on track."  Having a competition to train for motivates me to plan my workouts, record my sets, reps, and weights and make sure that my actions and decisions today are directing me to where I want to be in the future.

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?  
“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not people or things.” -Albert Einstein  

Have you ever competed and if so, how long have you been competing? I have!  I competed in my first show in November 2013.  A friend in the industry told me I was doing it and started talking to me as though I had already signed up.  I went along with it, unsure if I would follow through.  About two months out from the show, when I ordered the suit, reality hit!  It took me some time to believe in myself and to build the confidence. This was a great example of showing how important it is to have a support system and establish relationships with people who believe in you.

Who has supported you the most throughout your fitness journey? My family.  They have dealt with my moodiness, peculiar eating habits, physical and emotional setbacks and more.  As you become more committed to a specific goal (of any kind), your lifestyle changes.  That sometimes means a shift in your support system as well.  When it comes to family, they're there regardless.

What are your big plans for the future? I enjoy creating a strong community of like-minded individuals through my blog and on social media.  It is a long term goal of mine to enhance my online training services and publish a fitness ebook, team up with Vitamin Shoppe, and lead the very first XBAR Fitness class.  The support system through social media is amazing and I would love to continue educating others and providing resources to help them achieve their goals. 

What piece of advice would you give to a newbie in the gym? Make sure your goals are based on your current fitness level and what is achievable for YOU.  There are so many program, methods, and specialty studios, that you can feel "lost" not only in the gym, but in the industry as a whole.  Always take into account what your current fitness level is so you can assess what a reasonable goal looks like.  Enlist the help of a trainer or knowledgeable friend if you are unsure.  From there, map a course based on your abilities and resources so you can reach that destination.  Also, I encourage you to track your progress with photos and measurements.  Even if you are not training for a specific event, this type of goal will hold you accountable and remind you to work hard and stay committed.

What's your best fitness tip (This could be related to training, nutrition, personal attitude, fitness gear, etc.)? The only person you should do this for is for yourself.  Along the way, you will likely inspire and motivate others.  This creates a positive cycle--motivating individuals who, as a result, then motivate you.  The healthier you are, the more equipped you will be to help those you care about. 

Megan is certified as an AFAA Personal Trainer and has competed in two NPC Bikini Competitions.  Upon graduating from Illinois State University with two degrees (Commercial Recreation and Program Management) along with an Exercise Science minor, Megan continued to work in the fitness industry.  Her experiences range from commercial to corporate to governmental fitness programming. When working with clients and participants, Megan’s approach features bodyweight movements and plyometrics, while incorporating free weights and resistance equipment. She has worked with athletes, beginners, prenatal clients, and more. Click here for more information about personal training and online training.

For more fitness inspiration, visit Tod at Meisner Musings.  Tod was featured as my first guest blogger and shared an introduction to his fitness journey. 

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