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Get Fit in Four Months: Month Four

“Hello. It’s me. I’ve been MIA because my head is still in Hawaii.”

That’s essentially the only good reason I have for you. I realize that Month Three of this segment turned into Month Three-and-a-Half. Roll with it. You had to know I’d come back for you. A great trainer knows how to make people hold on a little longer than they’re comfortable. How’s that for justification of my absence?

Judging by how many hits I’ve had lately on the Get Fit in Four post series, you guys are ready. You’re ready for the nitty gritty, detail-intensive, game-changing last month. And what better time to amp yourself up for it than during the holidays, when you know you’re going to be thrown into food and drink remorse. I speak of this judgement-free since I managed to gain more than a few pounds on vacation (I blame only myself…and the market fresh coconut filled with rum…and the margaritas at Fred’s Mexican Café). The fact that I’d lost more than a few pounds beforehand during my own Get Fit in Four journey, however, kind of makes me feel no remorse. See how that worked out for me? It’s a win/win. Your turn!

If you’ve been doing your homework from Month 1, Month 2 and Month 3 then you’ve been logging your food, watching your portions, lifting heavier, interval training and choosing cleansing, less bread-like foods. You’ve also been increasing your protein intake. Well done, team. If this was a basketball game I’d slap you on the butt and fist-pump you. Since this is simply the game of life I feel doing both those things in tandem would be highly inappropriate. So you get a proverbial high five and a get-back-to-work nod of approval. We’re headed into overtime.

Get Fit in 4.jpg

Get Fit in 4: Month Four

*Disclaimer: Please remember I’m giving you my plan for myself, which means you may have to tweak a few things if you’re already doing them/they don’t apply/you have an alternate effective method. I’ll give suggestions for options where I think they are applicable but otherwise try to focus on keeping true to yourself and finding areas you can improve on that are similar to what I’m tackling in this guide. Also, this is meant to escalate in baby steps, meaning each month will become more focused, particularly the last month where I’ll be in small-detail mode. Oof!*

  1.  Limit sugars and alcohol.

You were dreading this moment, I know. If you remember back in Month One I promised I would bring you a doable approach to getting fit that allowed you to still drink your wine. Because Yours Truly here does not give up wine unless I’m having a major surgery. Even then it’s extremely temporary. If you are up for cutting out alcohol altogether for a month, do it. You’ll see even better and quicker results than I did and I will applaud you and cheers you with my Walla Walla Red Blend. Otherwise, you can simply limit yourself to one glass a *fill in the blank.* Maybe it’s one glass a night all week long (back in Month One I only committed to 1 glass/night Sunday through Thursday). Maybe it’s one glass every other night. Maybe it’s one glass a week. Commit to it this month.

Also, really cut back on your sugars now. Sure, I’m talking about all that Halloween candy you’re still sneaking or the pies people haven’t stopped gifting you for the holidays. But I’m also talking about sugar in the form of less-obvious things like beverages, cereals, condiments, baked goods, breads, etc. If you won’t be starting Month Four until after the holidays and the New Year begins, you’ll likely be in sugar coma overload.

2.  H.I.I.T. train more, more, more.

Last month I told you to integrate interval training into your workouts. We’re going to build on that this last month and up the playing level with H.I.I.T. training (High Intensity Interval Training). These are generally shorter workouts done at a higher/as challenging as possible intensity. For a beginner bodyweight H.I.I.T. workout check out this post. If the treadmill is more your go-to torture device, there’s a H.I.I.T. workout here for you, too.

Essentially, the idea behind H.I.I.T. training is that by doing shorter bouts of high intensity work alternated with a fixed period of less-intense activity or even complete rest, the body will be pushed to burn fat more efficiently. You can thank your body’s repair cycle for this, seeing as you’ll actually continue to burn calories for 24 hours after a H.I.I.T. workout. Since the whole point behind Month Four is to shed as much fat as possible, H.I.I.T. training is the ringer you call in to seal the championship trophy at the end of the game.

My favorite way to do H.I.I.T. is actually equipment-free. I typically do 20 minutes of H.I.I.T once or twice a week. You can Pinterest the hell out of the H.I.I.T. workout world and find yourself a good one, or check out the two links (above) to my own posts to get you started.

3.  Drink LOTS of H2O.

I mean, you should be peeing pretty much every time you blink. Or maybe just really often. Water is super important this time around and if it wasn’t already a BFD to you, congratulations – you just had a baby – we’ll call her Dasani – and we don’t leave the house without the baby, do we?

If you’ve ever said the words “water weight” you probably know you can lose or gain 1-3 pounds of the stuff over the course of a day. Traveling home from Hawaii on the red eye a couple weeks ago, I was overjoyed to discover my cankles later that day. On opposite day. Truth is, water weight is a jerk of a thing. One way to fight back is by moving lots, reducing your sodium intake and drinking more water than a hungover elephant. I know, my husband thinks I’m insanely eloquent, too.

4.  Incorporate pyramid training when weight lifting.

Here’s where it gets technical and also fun. You’ve already been lifting heavier since Month Two, right? Yesssss. You’re used to doing straight sets by now whether you know it or not – they are when you do a fixed number of reps of an exercise no matter how many sets are in your workout. Straight sets are pretty common and while they are a great thing, it’s time to change it up. It’s time to introduce pyramid training.

There are two kinds of pyramid training: Regular pyramid sets and reverse pyramid sets. Let’s start with the good ‘ol fashioned way first.

Pyramid sets are when you increase the weight each set while decreasing the reps. That simple. Here’s a borrowed example:

Photo Credit: cyclingfitness.hubpages.com
Photo Credit: cyclingfitness.hubpages.com

With pyramid sets, you’ll usually do 4 (or more) sets. Four sets is my minimum when I’m doing this type of workout.

The only issue I have with regular pyramid training and what many people in the fitness industry confirm is that doing it this way means your muscles are already fatigued by the time you begin lifting the heaviest weight. Hmm…if only there were something called reverse pyramid training…

Magically, reverse pyramid training, uh, reverses everything. So instead, you’ll start out lifting the heaviest weight you can manage for a lesser number of reps, then each set you’ll lower the weight and increase the reps. Like this:

Photo Credit: anabolicminds.com
Photo Credit: anabolicminds.com

While I do both kinds of pyramid training to mix it up, I’m partial to doing it this way. For the most part I really enjoy that the weights get lighter every set. I like being rewarded for my valiant effort.

To get to work on either of these methods, simply pick out which exercises you’re going to do and pick a weight and number of reps to begin with. You can do each set back-to-back or you can do the entire routine with all exercises once, then move on to the next set. Your first time will be mostly trial and error as you figure out what you’re capable of lifting. Push yourself as much as you can and rest a little longer than usual between sets (unless your usual is long enough to drive across town for a skinny latte).

Also, it’s crucial that you warm up properly before doing either type of pyramid training. Now is not the appropriate time to shave 5 minutes off your schedule.

5.  Listen to your body!

After all that talk about going into overtime and sealing the championship trophy, here is where I tell you to chill the !@#& out. Quite honestly, I gave myself some breaks here and there during this whole process. Crap happens. My life and your life are not perfect. Pretty sure I could’ve been even more fit when I hit the beach. Pretty sure I didn’t care because…I was on the beach. Be kind to yourself and your body and your perception of it. There are enough crazy-obsessive people out there – you’re not one of them (I mean, please tell me you’re not one of them, right?).

P.S. One suggestion: Do not get a spray tan two days before you jump in the beautiful, warm, salty ocean to body surf. Total. Waste. Unless you enjoy looking like a black and tan brownie. 

Get Fit in Four Months: Month Three

“Hey self, how about we wrap up Month Three with a weekend in wine country?”

–“Yeah, that sounds more like it. Wait, will we still see results doing that?”

“Nope! But it’ll make us even more focused in Month Four.”

–“Good plan.”

And that is how Yours Truly transitioned between Month Three and Month Four. If you remember from Month One, I am actually a month ahead of you on the plan, in order to be sure it’s going to work give you my honest approach. And honestly, the weekend in wine country was worth it. I’m not going to downplay it: The host at our bed and breakfast cooked up the scones of all scones, making carbs cease to exist in my serotonin-induced coma. I really was not ashamed – the food in Walla Walla was fresh, of practical proportions and everywhere we went menus boasted adorable words like “Our menu changes with the seasons and availability.” – Whitehouse Crawford. Go there. Tonight.

But on that following Monday morning there existed a more familiar reality and I was pinched awake from my red wine cloud by the reminder on my phone chiming: “Begin Get Fit for Maui: Month Four.” Gonna need some coffee.

But dang, those scones and that wine…

Let’s back up a bit though, because before all that there was Month Three in which I began running again after my little forced hiatus. Month Three is possibly the most crucial of the four because it is in Month Three that our loyalty to our body gets tested most. Sure, we can handle two months of lifestyle changes but can we handle three months of giving our bodies consistent, well-rounded exercise, nourishment and fuel that won’t make us sink to the deep end of the “I tried” pool? More importantly, can we then end Month Three with enough gusto to face Month Four? Yeah, we can. Because between goals is that swim meet called life we must participate in. So this month we take any set-backs we might have had in Month One and Two and let Month Three kick them out of the lap pool. For we are past the doggie paddling stage.

First and foremost: Keep up with the last two months’ tips – most importantly keep logging your food, watch your portion sizes, stop eating two hours before bed, continue to do more core work and keep lifting heavier. We’re going to get a bit more technical with these specific things in the next two months.

Get Fit in 4.jpg

Get Fit in 4: Month Three

*Disclaimer: Please remember I’m giving you my plan for myself, which means you may have to tweak a few things if you’re already doing them/they don’t apply/you have an alternate method. I’ll give suggestions for options where I think they might be necessary but otherwise try to focus on keeping true to yourself and finding areas you can improve on that are similar to what I’m tackling in this guide. Also, this is meant to escalate in baby steps, meaning each month will become more focused, particularly the last month where I’ll be in small-detail mode. Oof!*

  1. Chill out on the breads.

For me, this little rule isn’t so much about gluten-free or even the calories. It’s about the fact that my body feels heavy when I eat more bread than I’m used to eating or even just when I eat certain types of bread in any quantity. There are all kinds of theories about this out there and very valid ones at that (simply Google “bread and inflammation” and you’ll see what I mean). Without getting deep into the science of it right now I’m going to simply recommend that if you find your stomach instantly balloons after eating bread then…don’t. Or simply chill out on your consumption of it. I love carbs (see above scone rant) and as my last meal I would request the best breads and cheeses and vino be brought before me for my immediate consumption. But I don’t love the tired, weighed-down, inflamed feeling I sometimes get afterwards. Again, it varies depending on the bread and maybe it is a gluten thing, but I digress. I don’t believe in cutting out certain foods completely unless a person has an actual allergy or intolerance, mostly because personally I don’t do well with being told I cannot have something (Youngest Child Syndrome). So I limit myself instead and I’m encouraging you to do the same this month. This also applies to crackers and chips of all kinds. Unless they are homemade apple chips. In which case don’t mind me raiding your pantry…

  1. Eat more cleansing foods.

This is not me telling you to put yourself on a cleanse. You likely won’t see that suggestion on this blog. I find the fastest and most efficient way to nourish myself while ensuring my system doesn’t feel bogged down is by consuming cleansing foods regularly. Luckily we’re in the perfect season for naturally cleansing produce right now: Tomatoes, all kinds of squash, apples, beets, carrots, cranberries, and Swiss chard. Others available all year round (at least in grocery stores) are avocados, lemons, berries and garlic. Now, whether you get your cleansing foods in by juicing/blending them or throwing them together in a hearty soup or other recipe, it’s all beneficial. Thanks to the chilly evenings that are only getting chillier, the soup’s on at my house. Most recently we devoured the below cleansing soup, but here’s a link to some more delicious, cleansing soups we put in regular rotation all year round. Also, eating these items raw or a few of them together in a salad is a great idea.

Photo Credit: Insockmonkeyslippers.com
Photo Credit: Insockmonkeyslippers.com

Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Soup Recipe

Ingredients:

3 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks (about 8 cups)
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 apples, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. black pepper
4 cups low sodium, organic chicken broth
½ tsp. curry powder (I actually used 1/4 tsp. paprika and 1/4 tsp. cayenne in lieu of curry powder, it gave the soup a kick of heat!)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425.

Divide squash, onions and apples in two rimmed baking sheets.

Drizzle one tablespoon of olive oil over each tray of fruit and veggies and seasons with salt and pepper. Gently toss all the ingredients together until they all have a light coating of olive oil and seasonings.

Roast for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Once the ingredients cool to room temperature, put them in the blender (one tray at a time) and add two cups of chicken broth and ¼ tsp. curry powder or other seasonings. Blend for 30-60 seconds or until the soup is rich and creamy.

Pour into a large pot and repeat with the second tray. Listen to your kids scold you for being too loud. Warm the soup over a medium-high heat until heated through.

Adjust the seasonings and enjoy!

Makes 6 cups (4-6 servings)

  1. Introduce interval training into your workout regimen.

If you’ve stuck to your guns and have been getting in more cardio these past couple months, now’s the time to shake it up again. I want you to introduce interval training into your sweat sessions. Interval training can be adapted for all kinds of exercise but generally speaking:

If you are walking/jogging/running/biking/rowing/using the elliptical – Begin pushing yourself faster for a set amount of time, say 2 minutes. Slow it back down to normal pace for 60 seconds. Repeat that combo until you’ve reached the end of your workout session. Each week, increase your faster intervals by time (try 3 minutes instead of 2). You can play with both the faster and slower interval lengths as much as you’d like but be sure to make it challenging every time. If speed isn’t your thing, you can also use the incline option for your harder interval bouts.

Another alternative: You can break your session up into segments – 5 minutes of walking followed by 5 minutes of jogging followed by 60 seconds of sprinting followed by 5 minutes of walking again, for example.

It’s your workout, your choice. I enjoy interval training because it’s a boredom buster, especially on the treadmill. Check out this beginner runner treadmill workout for an example.

  1. Increase your protein intake.

Remember how back in Month One you began logging your food? If you’re using an app such as My Fitness Pal or any food entry program that allows you to track your macronutrients (carbs/fat/protein), start paying attention to your protein intake. More specifically, make protein 30% of your diet. To put this another way, 30% of your daily calories should come from protein. This will be different for everyone depending on gender and goals, but for the intent of this post series I’m guiding you to hit that 30% mark. This means more chicken, turkey, fish, lean red meat if you’re a fan, eggs, Greek yogurt, etc. I currently aim to get 150 grams of protein every day. I don’t always hit that mark, but that’s not so much my concern as it is watching to be sure I’m getting enough protein to help recover, restore and rebuild muscle as well as to feel full longer. As far as the rest of my calories go, I aim for 40% to come from carbohydrates and 30% to come from fat. My Fitness Pal is super helpful to keep me on track…as long as I’m diligent about logging everything!

Screenshot of my own macro percentages in My Fitness Pal
Screenshot of my own macro percentages in My Fitness Pal

Believe me, I’m no angel when it comes to regularly logging my food but I consider it one of the top five most important things you can do to see progress. Remember the last time you conveniently didn’t count the half cookie you ate because your kid didn’t want it anymore? Been there.

***

That’s it for Month Three, but as you can see I think it’s enough to keep you on your toes. Comment below with how you’re doing, what helps you the most, or what you think is the most challenging about sticking with this whole situation!

Get Fit in 4 Months: Month Two

Did you hear that? I’m talking about that shrill screeching-halt sound that was life a few weeks back. No? Just me? That’s encouraging, actually. Hopefully if you didn’t hear that sound it means you’re still spinning the wheels of Month One, waiting for me to get my arse back in gear and post Month Two because it’s been sliiiightly longer than I promised it would be. And that’s why we don’t make promises around here, folks!

In a nutshell, I had a teeny-tiny set-back this past month. Let’s just say even smart phones can’t do what this thing does for humans and let’s just say it’s implanted in my rib cage (In other news: Side boob is the new black). I’ll blog about it another day but let’s also just say I’m doing A-OK and there is no emergency. There was no emergency in the first place. This is all a bunch of fanfare in order to make sure my heart doesn’t pull a big fat Montell Jordan disappearing act. In fact I’m back on track, working out again and enjoying a mostly adequate degree of normalness in my life (Translation: Usual chaos; See also: WTF?).

At any rate, I’m a bit behind on my prep for Maui but in all honesty I’m not entirely concerned. Part of what I enjoy about what I do is being able to make health and fitness work for myself and others long-term and being realistic about goals. So yes, while my goal is still to look great in a bikini I also feel like right now my goal is just to rock some scars on the sands. And to drink pineapple wine.

With all that said, here’s how Month Two is gonna work: You’ll still do everything you’ve been doing in Month One to the best of your ability, then you’ll add in the below things to mix it up even more. At the speed we’re working you’ll be more fit just in time for the holidays. Please realize this means that you will have to hunt a bit harder for a more hideous outfit for the ugly Christmas sweater party you may inevitably attend. Don’t show up looking fantastic and expect people not to roll their eyes at you and invite you next year.

Get Fit in 4.jpg

Get Fit in 4: Month Two

*Disclaimer: Please remember I’m giving you MY plan for MYSELF, which means you may have to tweak a few things if you’re already doing them/they don’t apply/you have an alternate method. I’ll give suggestions for options where I think they might be necessary but otherwise try to focus on keeping true to yourself and finding areas you can improve on that are similar to what I’m tackling in this guide. Also, this is meant to escalate in baby steps, meaning each month will become more focused, particularly the last month where I’ll be in small-detail mode. Oof!*

  1. Lift heavier.

Now I could give you the scientific way of doing this, based on percentages of the amount of weight you currently lift. Or I could do what people who live in the real world do and tell you to pick up a weight that is 3-5 pounds heavier than what you’re currently lifting. So for example, in Month One I was doing bicep curls with 12lb dumbbells. In Month Two I picked up 15lbs instead. Whatever the exercise, you should feel like the last 2-3 reps are challenging enough that you can’t do any more. Just doing basic squats without weights? Then now’s the time to do weighted squats. Want to make jumping jacks more challenging? Add some 5lb dumbbells and do overhead presses while you jack your feet in and out. See where I’m going with this? Go there.

2.  Add in some yoga.

You might skip over this paragraph because you think yoga is too simple and it’s not going to make a difference to your body. Listen, stubborn face! Yoga can give your body the balance it needs between sweaty workout sessions. It can help your muscles recover faster, train your body in different ways and all those downward dogs and planks do some nice shoulder sculpting. I admittedly don’t do yoga on a regular basis but I like to add it in when I’m really trying to shock my muscles. Try doing yoga once a week in Month Two. And avid runners: This is pretty much a must for you.

A great resource to try: Yoga with Adriene

3.  More core. I repeat: More core.

Are you feeling a bit lighter and stronger after Month One? Now’s the time to start waking up the abs. Reducing belly fat is the first step in uncovering abs, which is mostly done through diet. But after adding more cardio and watching your diet more carefully the first month you should be noticing some smaller belly benefits right about now. Try to do some ab work at every workout (some forms of yoga are good for this as well). If you’re going out for a run, finish it up with 5-10 minutes of core moves. Make your stomach and back work harder during your strength and HIIT sessions. Some oldie but goodie moves to incorporate are supermans, bicycle crunches, reverse crunches, leg lifts, crunches on a stability ball, and planks.

Sick of planking? I guarantee you haven’t done them all. Just check out 25 Plank Variations You Absolutely Have to Try.

That’s it! There are only three things to add in this month but compounded with last month I think you’ll find this makes sense. Month Three will be a bit more challenging as we reel things in even more and I give you even more specific goals to hit.

If you are following along and would like to “weigh in” on how you’re doing, I’d love to hear about it!