Feel Your Power: Go Climb That Mountain.

Hillway Avenue is a little street near the UCSF Parnassus campus. It’s a relatively steep hill, based on other streets I would guess it’s grade percentage is in the high teens, maybe low 20s. And it’s the first place that I realized one thing:  I was kind of a badass at sprinting hills.

Our BCSF classes meet in the corner of Golden Gate Park close to UCSF, thus close to Hillway Ave. It has long been a favorite of our trainers to take members to this prime spot on hill days. I can’t tell you much about the day that I realized this was something I *liked* except that it was probably the Spring of 2007, that I remember dodging a few doctors on their way to work and that all I had on my mind was beating my classmates up that damn hill.

Hillwayave

I am not viciously competitive by any means, but I like to win when I feel it’s in my grasp — don’t we all? I’m more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner in terms of my athletic talents. That is to say, I can go hard for a short period of time. And there is nothing that makes you feel more accomplished at 7:30 in the morning that knowing that you’ve conquered a steep hill multiple times.

Hill repeats are one of those beautiful in their simplicity type of workouts as it requires only you, your running shoes and finding a perfect hill. In my neck of the woods this last part is easy-peasy.

The physiological benefits of running hills are impressive:  as long as you’re pushing hard, you’re contributing to a better EPOC — so, it’s a great fat-burning tool, they promote muscular strength and endurance and they also can increase your VO2 max, meaning your cardiovascular system is improving.

And yes, running hills is hard. But that is exactly one thing I love about it. It’s a huge challenge and yet, I can do it. There is an end in sight – I can see the crest and know that I can make it that far.  The first time I ran up Hillway Ave. and beat someone else? It was one of the first times I realized that I can do this. I can be athletic. I have talent. I am kind of a badass. It made me feel powerful in a way that I had not ever felt before.

I would love for you to have that same feeling. To feel powerful. To reap the physiological benefits of this type of workout. So for you willing participants, I have a workout for you to try. It’s simple. If you’re a beginner, you’re going to run shorter sprints.

A few things to keep in mind when running hills:

1. Going downhill is hard on your body as it generates more force on joints, muscles, etc. To combat that, you will either walk down the hill for recovery, or if you run I want you to either go backwards (yes!), or traverse down the hill like you are skiing a slalom, side to side.

2. Warming up your feet and calves are super important on a hill day. Below the workout, you’ll find a video where I give you a run down of things to do to warm-up your lower leg region.

climb that mountain workout

I’m Not Skinny: And That Is Okay

“You’re SO skinny these days!!”

“Of COURSE, YOU’RE not going to eat that…” followed by a sigh.

“What have you been doing?!” while looking me up and down.

“Of course you can wear those shorts, YOU don’t have any cellulite.”

“Oh, you can eat whatever you want because you workout all the time.”

These are things I’ve heard from people that I love. People that I respect. And, while I know they love me and intend to compliment me, well, they are odd things for me to hear. I’m 5’11. My weight usually hovers right around 165 pounds, lately it’s been closer to 169.

There is, honestly, no metric by which I would be considered a small person. Because, let’s be real:   I dwarf most women and many men. And I do have cellulite. And plenty of body fat, too. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m overweight, ugly or that I just don’t deserve to hear people say nice things to me.

Usually when people say these things, I’ve found that there are a few things going on:

  1. Often the person saying this is either providing a very direct comparison to themselves or an implied one. It’s pretty much always a negative one. And, to be honest it doesn’t make me feel good about myself when you cast yourself in a negative light. That does not prop me up. When you say these things, mostly I just want to tell you that you’re amazing just as you are.
  2. We are elevating the idea of skinny as being the ultimate goal. It’s not. It’s not my goal. And I don’t think it should be yours. While I might have training goals from time to time for events and certifications (I’m looking at you SFG), in general my goals are simple:  to be healthy, to be strong, to be fit enough to enjoy the process and do what I love. In that order. Fitness and training happen to be one of the things I love, so I am simply lucky in that regard. But I would honestly rather be 10 pounds overweight and healthy than starve myself to simply be skinny. I don’t think that trainers that have a mentality that elevates “skinny” as the end-goal are doing a service to their clients and they are most definitely doing a disservice to their own health and moreso, mindset.
  3. And let me be frank:  I’m not skinny. There, I said it. I have muscles. I have pretty big muscles, in fact. My frame is not slight in any way shape or form. Women my height that are models weigh 30 pounds LESS than I do. Think about that for a minute:  30 freaking pounds! I don’t want to be skinny. I want to be strong. Muscles make me strong. Let me say it again, I don’t want to be skinny.

kbracklookaway

But, I get it. People mean this as a compliment and skinny has just become a cultural norm in the way we speak. It’s shorthand for “Hey, you look good!”, or “I notice you’ve been working out!”. It’s similar to how we use, “like”:  we just say it without thinking. It is basically, semantics.

Skinny Defined

 

But take a gander at how Merriam Websters defines “skinny” above ^. I don’t know about you, but none of those are qualities I want to be or exhibit.

Because I want to have sufficient flesh and I don’t want to have a lack of desirable bulk. I want to be significant.

And I want those things for you too.

Some of the “compliments” I’ve been hearing from people probably have to do with the sheer fact that, yes, my body has changed and they have noticed. That is fair:  when I graduated from college, about 10,  um, 12 years ago I weighed just shy of 200 pounds. I lost most of that weight after moving to San Francisco. I then hovered in the 170s and perhaps 180s at times for most of my 20s. I was working out for most of this time, yet I rarely counted a calorie and I was inconsistent with my workouts…for large swaths of time I only ran and barely did any strength training. I was generally okay with where I was, but I didn’t have defined muscles and had higher body fat than I do now.

But, in 2010 I started taking weight lifting a little more seriously. And at some point I  started to lift heavy and get really into kettlebell work. And I decided that I did want to lose some body fat. So I did. For a brief period of time, I counted calories and weighed my food on a scale for the first time in my life. Which, for the record, I’m not sure I will ever do again, but am grateful for the learning experience.

And I actually enjoy healthy foods like kale salads and chicken breasts that encourage leanness and muscle building.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my body a lot, but to me the aesthetic effects of my hard work are just that:  merely a very pleasant side effect. It is not my end-game. Because the lure of a six-pack truly does NOT motivate me to workout on days when I just don’t wanna. What gets me to do it is both the habit and reminding myself about my goals:  to stay healthy both mentally and physically, to have strength and to honor the commitment I’ve made to this path. The fact I know I’ll have fun once I start my workout, is the cherry on top.

And, yes, it’s nice to have your hard work acknowledged by the people you love. Of course it is. But I am sorry to break it to you, but I am not skinny. And that’s okay. Because, I’m healthy as a horse (knock on wood), I’m as strong as I’ve ever been and I’m enjoying the hell out of the process.

The Path to Badassery Starts Somewhere: Here.

Recently I was chatting with one of my new BootCamp clients and she joked about about how I must have been great at sports when I was a kid, etc. I giggled a little because no, I really was not! I was terrible! This was surprising for her and she said, “Well, it’s not like I could just decide one day to become a trainer!” Since, of course, one can’t shouldn’t just become a trainer overnight.

She’s right. It did take me time to get where I am. But my path wasn’t all that linear, clearcut or what you might think it would take to become someone that teaches fitness for a living.

I did participate in sports when I was a kid. A lot: basketball, softball, soccer, tennis, track and volleyball. But I never practiced outside of formal practices. I never got super invested in one sport. I just didn’t care enough in that way. I did care about showing up, though. I cared about being part of a team. I cared about having fun. And these are good lessons to learn as a kid, I think. It’s not always about being the best on the team. It’s about being a part of the team, right?

When I went off to college, I dabbled in a few things. I tried intramural rowing, which I loved and is probably the one sport I regret not taking further. My college boyfriend tried to take me on “runs”. Which…I thought were basically ways to punish me for being sassy. I went to the gym…a few times. I had my first experience with yoga via a quarter long class at the campus gym.

But I wasn’t consistent with anything. And I was about 25 pounds heavier than I am now.

I remember coming to San Francisco in 2004 and standing in front of my mirror in my Fell Street apartment and thinking to myself “I’m just not the kind of person that will ever be thin. I’m just this way. I’m not someone that can get into shape.”

Xmas party 016

{about 2 months before I started @ BCSF}

And then suddenly my brother needed admin help with his burgeoning little fitness company, BootCampSF. And once I said “okay” he mentioned that his one requirement was that I actually participate in classes. To say my first day of BCSF (February 13, 2006) was hard would be an understatement. The entire first 6-week session was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done physically. I have clear memories of just standing in my shower after class and holding myself up against the wall with my hands to keep from falling over on my Bambi-eque legs! I remember moms in my class beating me at sprints and doing far more push-ups than I personally thought was necessary.

The program worked, though. It helped me to see how much I was capable of. It made me see that a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other plod, is more important than fancy footwork.

Nine years later (to the week!) here I am.  Someone that seems like someone that has been up to these tricks for a long time. And, well, I guess at this point I have. It’s been nine years. But, I would be lying if I said that I felt like I am the cultural ideal of what a trainer is “supposed to be”. I would be lying if I said that every day is easy, every rep is easy and that every workout is easy.

kbrackphoto1

I’m fitter than I was that day in 2006. In fact, I am probably the fittest I have ever been. But there are days where I still feel like the girl that looked in her mirror at 22 and thought she’d be chubby forever. At the beginning of this journey, I was someone that went to BootCamp only as my workout. And then I was someone that ran on my own. For fun! And then I was someone that went to the gym alone.

And then for awhile in 2009 I relapsed into a depression where I did barely any exercise. And once again it seemed like an impossibility to ever, ever, ever get back into shape. And I will never quite know how to express the kind of shame I felt when doing my job for BootCamp — a job where I talked to people on the phone and over email about our awesome workouts when I could barely get myself to do 20 minutes on the elliptical at the gym. It was a terrible hole. But after a summer in Europe and some serious soul-searching, I worked my way out of that terrible place and became someone that ran again. Someone that did a half-marathon. Someone that road biked. Someone that did duathlons. Someone that lifted weights at the gym. Someone that taught BootCamp classes.

You see, fitness is never a linear path. Yes, progressions and workout programs want you to believe it is. They will tell you that this muscle will grow, you will lose body fat, if you just follow this plan to the “t” and don’t have a day where you just need a slice of pizza…then, the plan will work.

They aren’t wrong. Plans work. We’ve done tons of research on exercise. We know this.

But you? You are a complex human just like me. And just like me, it’s a struggle. And, no, just getting started isn’t always the hardest part. Showing up to BCSF that first day in 2006 wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The hardest part is to be in the middle of the road and to realize you have to keep going. The hard part is realizing that one workout doesn’t save you, but many workouts in a row will save your life. The hardest part is that each day starts over and you are presented with all the same choices:  to burpee or sit on the couch? to have a donut or to have a kale salad?

The thing is, is that you have to keep going. You have to realize that a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other plod, is more important than fancy footwork.

But yes, maybe you need to get started with your fitness. Or re-started.

And that is all, just fine. And I have for you, a workout that will help you do just that. It will help re-hone your Inner Badass. Because you are a badass and maybe you just needed a reminder. The workout below is a place to start. Maybe you are thinking that it’s simple and silly and why are you even bothering to let some trainer on the internet tell you to do such simple exercises? Like, hello, Captain Obvious. But you know what? You have to start somewhere. You have to start with one day, one workout. And then get up and do another workout the next day. And if you have many days in a row  of these kinds of days I promise you will look at yourself in the mirror one day and think:   “I am a badass”.

And if that thought doesn’t come to you naturally, I’m gonna need you to say it out loud and fake it until you make it.

Because trust me, you are indeed a badass.

10 to 20 Plank-Up Push-Ups

20 Glute Bridges

10 Single Leg Bridges (each side)

30-Second Plank

10 to 20 Squats

Run 1 lap (.25 miles, standard city block or one lap around a track)

Complete 2 to 4 rounds of this routine.