The Beginner’s Guide To Going To The Gym

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gym

I didn’t name this a “guide to the gym.” I named it a “guide to going to the gym.” See, it’s nice to want to learn about machines and exercises, about gym etiquette and basic rules. But to wrangle those things we first have to tackle the very real fact that most people never actually set foot in a gym. Imma help with that.

That’s why I came up with this handy-dandy guide intended to help you get your butt out the door and actually in the gym; to finally shut up that jerk of a voice in your head telling you you’ll look ridiculous and out of place, so why bother going at all. Enough of that shit.

And why should you listen to me?

Because this is what I do for work and how I earn a living. I have insider information.

And also because once upon a time I was in your exact same shoes.

Which brings me to The Things You Should Know #1: Every single gym rat, buff guy/girl and fitness enthusiast you may ever come across, has at some point in their lives started off as a newbie. Just like you. We’ve all been there: the uncomfortable feeling of stepping into new territory, the self-consciousness of knowing we’re going to mess up and be ridiculed, the awkwardness of thinking we don’t fit in, so sure that others will see right through our pretending, sorry asses. Actually (and you have my permission to laugh. Because, really.) I want you to know that I was in your shoes just two years ago– and I was already a personal trainer! Even though I was a fitness professional, I had lots of experience, I knew all the ropes… I couldn’t help but feel scared when the time came to start training at my new place of work. You would imagine that with all I knew and the cred that comes from having put your fair amount of time training yourself and others I would be immune to the mental B.S. But I wasn’t. Because when push comes to shove, survival instincts kick in and fear of the unknown is a very real defense mechanism. It took me one week to finally walk down that narrow hall into the weights area, the lonesome girl amidst the lifting guys. And it got better. Real quick, actually.

That fear you feel is normal.

You got that? It’s normal. 

It’s actually kind of natural, expected and even somewhat healthy to feel this way. Back in the days when our survival depended on our awareness and familiarity with our surroundings, our monkey brain evolved to be uncomfortable and hyper-aware in new situations. Although our lives have drastically changed, to this day that part of our brain feels threatened as we experience something new, as though we were in great danger, and is trying to kick us into fight or flight mode. I mean, what if a sable-tooth tiger jumps out from behind the leg press machine, right?

Our logic, conscious mind knows that new can be scary though not necessarily bad or dangerous. But monkey brain didn’t get that memo. And this is why you have to remember that your brain is simply doing its part in keeping you safe from harm when these feelings arise. It’s trying to convince you to stick to what you know, to what’s familiar and comfortable (like staying at home instead of going to the gym.) Thank your brain for taking such good care of you, but don’t let the fear dominate your life experiences. You got this.

A powerful exercise to deal with such thoughts of doom is what is called notice and name. When the uncomfortable thoughts arise, simply notice their presence without judgment or trying to push them away. “Oh, there’s fear.”  “Why hello, self-doubt.” “Hm, I’m thinking thoughts of ridicule.” This simple action strips them of their iron grip over your life. You become an observer, no longer the main character suffering the story these thoughts want to tell. Sure, it takes practice to catch yourself, but trust me, the benefits of noticing and naming cannot be understated.

 

And while we’re in the subject of “thoughts of ridicule,” let me introduce you to The Things You Should Know #2: No one went to the gym today with the sole purpose of judging, criticizing or humiliating you. Really. Our tendency may be to make everything about ourselves, but in this case it’s just not. Most people in the gym are genuinely there to exercise. Shocking, eh? Most don’t have a whole lot of time in their day to stand around pointing fingers and laughing and newbies (and if they do, how sad is their life?) Even though you feel extremely self-conscious and like all eyes are on you (remember: Your brain is in hyper-aware mode) remember other people have their own worries, goals, insecurities, and time frames to even give you or me a second thought.

Some day down the line, once your gym is familiar territory and you’re rocking to your favorite tunes and kicking ass in whatever you’re doing, you will suddenly realize how you truly don’t pay much attention to anyone else around you. You’ll know with all certainty you had nothing to worry about in the first place.

 

I want to make this as easy on you as I can. So here are my easy-peasy pointers to successfully get your rear in gear.

1) Find a gym you like.

Big, impersonal chain gyms aren’t the only option out there. Find a gym or studio that gives you a nice feeling, that reflects values and ideas that are important to you. If being surrounded by bodybuilders isn’t your idea of fun, maybe stay away from Gold’s gym. There are so many quirky, cute, special and unique spaces where there is a sense of community within members– if that’s your thing. If you’re a loner and would rather not share space with many others maybe find a 24/7 gym to which you can have access at odd hours and rock it out alone. This is about you and what you enjoy. You won’t go to the gym if you can’t stand what it looks like, smells like, feels like, and represents. Be true to yourself.

2) Get at least a one-hour session with a personal trainer.

Many new gym-goers skip on this because of financial reasons, but you have no idea what even one hour alone with a trainer can do for your gym life. You have one hour to ask all the questions you want, they will tell you about the gym rules (the stipulated ones and the unspoken ones), they will teach you how to use the machines and equipment. This can give you all the confidence you need. Plus, it allows you to solidly meet one staff member. Bonus: Have them introduce you to other staff members! They’re you allies, your spotters, your guides. They want to see you succeed and keep coming back. Use them.

3) Do what you like.

If you hate cardio please don’t spend endless hours on the treadmill or elliptical. If you hate cycling don’t join a spinning class. At least in the beginning focus on what you like. Remember we’re in the process of making the gym a familiar place where you feel comfortable. You’ll have time to tackle more new things soon enough. In your first few tries, be kind and patient with yourself.

4) Prep. Practice. Mentalize.

Prepare your gym bag (shoes, water bottle, iPod and ear buds, wallet with gym membership card) the night before. Leave your gym clothes laid out, too. Choose a training program you’re excited about following and (trick of the trade) PRACTICE. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the equipment, simply practice the motions when you’re alone at home in front of the mirror until your body feels comfortable with the movements. Make it easy to succeed! Find YouTube videos explaining proper form for each exercise and practice the shit out of ‘em. Mentalize yourself doing the exercises at the gym– this adds to the feeling of familiarity, since your brain can’t tell the difference between what you imagined and what you have in reality experienced. So, as far as your brain knows, you have been in this gym doing these exercises before. Less stress, yay!

 

This should be enough to set you up in the path of being an avid gym-goer. Welcome to the dark side, rockstar.

 

The Piece Of Advice I Never Imagined I Would Receive From a Fitness Professional

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A few weeks back I attended the largest fitness conference in Canada, and, as you can imagine, I was in my bliss. 

Previous to the event I had my own mental bucket list of things I wanted to do and people I wanted to see. One of those people was Dr. John Berardi, co-founder of Precision Nutrition

Yours truly with Dr. John Berardi

Yours truly with Dr. John Berardi, Canfitpro 2014

There are many reasons why I have felt a pull towards this company from the first time I heard about their coaching techniques and ideology, but to make a long story short you need to know that it was mainly because it makes sense. Their no bullshit, direct, common sense approach just felt right to me, and I have felt compelled to learn from them all that I can ever since. 

So when I found out Dr. B. would be presenting at the Canfitpro cleared my schedule and made sure I was there early. 

 

I approached the conference room and saw him standing by the door, greeting attendees. Never mind that he recognized me right away from reviewing my pictures from the photo shoot I did for his company last month (that alone was super cool, obviously!), but he was attentive and kind. He has a very gentle nature that shines through as he looks people in the eye and genuinely engages. 

 

My first appearance in the Precision Nutrition website.

My first appearance in the Precision Nutrition website.

 

At the end of his talk and as the room emptied, a few of us huddled at the front for a more personal round of questions with Dr. B. My turn came, and this is where I heard the unthinkable. 

 

You see, I had a question about my own physique. I wanted to solve a mystery about my own body composition, but I also had –unknowingly– already created a pre-conceived idea of what this uber successful fitness pro was going to tell me. I was sure he would prescribe me a specific macro ratio formula. He would certainly mention the ultimate research regarding effective exercise to achieve my goal. For good measure, he would surely finish off with some wise guru-ish comment about how it is all in me, and my ability to change is powerful. 

 

But what I got is, I got schooled in the most beautiful way. 

 

“I’m in the process of weaning my baby,” I began my story. “And lately it feels like almost overnight a very slight but noticeable to me layer of fat has appeared on my abdomen. Is it hormone changes? Is it stress and cortisol? Why is it there? And is there something I can do to get rid of it?” 

In my head I was ready to mentally record the complicated formulas and prescriptions I was sure he would throw at me. I had to pay attention and not let a detail escape me!

But… 

“Well… you don’t have to do anything,” he responded calmly.

I must have looked at least half as confused as I felt. But, the formulas! The supplements! The complicated advice!

None of that came out of his mouth.

What he did say, however, has forever re-arranged my views on myself and even on my coaching practice. 

“Of course there are things you could do if you really wanted to, but is it necessary? Instead, you could take a moment to trust your body and understand that your body knows what it is doing. It knows how to sort itself out. You exercise. You know how to eat. You can trust your body will get itself where it needs to be. Because it knows how.”

 

Trust the process.

Trust your body. 

 

And while I’m at it, stop assuming that everything requires a fix, a change, an improvement. It is so true, my body does know what it’s doing, and it’s about time I give it proper credit. 

 

Thanks Dr. B. 

 

Got it. 

 

Cottage Cheese Pancakes With Berry Reduction Sauce– ALL SUGAR-FREE!

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Move over Aunt Jemima. I got this.

I don’t often eat “normal” breakfast food (like sugary cereals, waffles,  muffins, toast, etc.), but today I had a particular craving for pancakes. If you know anything about me by now you’ll know I’m not one to forbid myself any foods (because, really, who wants to live life like that?) and so I set out to try a better option to the traditional breakfast food.

Regular pancakes are such a trap. Not only are you downing a helluva lot o’ flour, chemicals and sugar in the pancake mix itself, but then add to it the gross amounts of high-fructose corn syrup, more chemicals and even more sugar in the syrup and you have me weeping for humanity. No thank you.

So I made a sugar-free syrup to go with it. And it was good.

 

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I really liked them. Twenty-two month old Era really liked them. Like… really, really liked them (I may have fought her for the last bite). But my hubby wasn’t too impressed. He thought the texture was too mushy, so feel free to play around with the quantities of each ingredient until you find what tickles your taste buds.

Cottage Cheese Pancakes 

2/3 C rolled oats (no instant or 1-minute things. Just regular rolled oats. Use gluten free oats if necessary for you.)

1/3 cottage cheese

2 eggs

1/2 banana

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 Tbs. almond milk, or any milk of your preference

Put all ingredients in the blender and blend until well mixed, about half a minute. Seriously, that’s all. Lightly butter a pan and cook as regular pancakes.

 

Berry Reduction Sauce

1/2 C of frozen berries. I used strawberries and blueberries

1 Tbs. raw honey

Place in a saucepan in medium-low heat. Berries will become mushy, the honey will melt, and everything will simmer together. The berries will release water from having been frozen. Let the mixture reduce until it’s syrupy and as thick or runny as you like it. And yes, I’m aware of the irony in heating up raw honey, but it’s the only type I buy, use and recommend, even if I’m going to end up heating it for some recipes.

 

For those times when pancakes are a must this high protein, sugar free and fiber-rich recipe will do!

 

Lentil Sunflower Dip

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A nice mid-day snack full of fiber, protein, with no added fats, and offering the perfect chance to get in some more veggies. This is my version of the health.com recipe.

You’ll probably want to make it easy on yourself and grab a can of lentils. But, in full disclosure, I’ll have you know that as a Certified Mexican™ I’m a total bean snob and always cook my own from scratch. (Note: Just now in that last sentence I accidentally typed cock instead of cook. I thought you should know.)

But yeah, I totally get it that cooking beans can be daunting and intimidating*

So, fresh from the stove or straight from a can, have your lentils ready and give this dip a try.

 

*No I don’t. It’s easy.

 

Lentil Sunflower Dip

 

 

Lentil Sunflower Dip

-1 can (or 1 C fresh) brown lentils

-1 Tbs. lime juice

-Sea salt and pepper, to taste

-1 to 2 Tbs. sunflower seeds

-Chives

 

If using canned lentils, drain and rinse well. Blend everything together except the sunflower seeds and chives. Mix them in at the end. Can’t get any easier!

 

Now don’t go ruining this shit by downing along a bag of pita chips or some other similar crap. Eat your damn veggies, alright?

 

Curried Coconut Chicken

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Creamy, hearty, thick, delicious, and seriously easy to make. Too good not to share.

curry coconut chicken

 

Ingredients:

3 skinless chicken breasts, cubed

3 diced tomatoes

1 can coconut milk

1 minced onion

1 minced garlic clove

2 Tbs tomato paste

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

curry powder, to taste

sea salt to taste

pepper, to taste

 

Warm the olive oil in a saucepan at medium heat. Once it’s warm sautee the onion and garlic, about 2 minutes. Add the curry powder (I used about 1/2 Tbs) and cook it for about 1 minute. Once it’s done add the cubed chicken and cook until no longer pink. Add the coconut milk and dissolve the tomato paste in it. Bring to a boil, throw in the diced tomatoes, and bring temperature down to low. Let it simmer to reduce the liquid, add salt and pepper to taste.

 

 

The No-Human-Power-Can-Make-Me-Leave-The-House-Today Workout

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-20 Celsius. Enough said.

Here’s what to do when the prospect of stepping out and having your nose fall off is just too much to bear.

 

Warmup:

50 jumping jacks

Active stretching

 

Workout:

1st Set:

-5 burpees

-10 squats (I went for full range of motion variation, or Ass to Grass, as they’re commonly known)

Rest 30 seconds

 

2nd Set:

-8 burpees

-15 squats

Rest 45 sec.

 

3rd Set:

-10 burpees

-20 squats

Rest 1 min.

 

THE ASS TO GRASS SQUAT:

Baby squats

Squat, baby, squat. No baby required, though.

 

... and come back up strong, engaging glutes and core.

… and come back up strong, engaging glutes and core.

 

2 sets each of:

-30 side lunges (15 reps each side)

-20 glute bridge

Rest 30 sec. in between

 

THE SIDE LUNGE:

Side lunge: Feet about shoulder width apart.

Side lunge: Feet about shoulder width apart.

Bend one knee and come down pushing your butt back. Keep your spine neutral, don't allow it to round. With a strong push through the heel, use your bent leg to push yourself back to standing position.

… then bend one knee and come down pushing your butt back. Keep your spine neutral, don’t allow it to round. With a strong push through the heel, use your bent leg to push yourself back to standing position. Repeat 15x with the same leg, then switch.

 

THE GLUTE BRIDGE:

Glute bridge: Start laying on the floor, with your heels close to your butt.

Glute bridge: Start laying on the floor, with your heels close to your butt.

 

 

... then push your hips up. Way up. Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can, then slowly bring down and repeat. Note the hips do not rest entirely on the floor again in between reps-- it's just a dynamic up-and-down.

… then push your hips up. Way up. Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can, then slowly bring down and repeat. Note the hips do not rest entirely on the floor again in between reps– it’s just a dynamic up-and-down.

To finish:

- 3 sets of 1 minute planks.

Rest 30 sec. in between each

 

Plank: Don't arch your back or allow your hips to collapse down.

Plank: Don’t arch your back or allow your hips to collapse down.

 

Stretch.

 

And there you have a full body exercise (albeit with a bit more emphasis on lower body, which is the way I like it) that doesn’t even require any equipment. This works endurance and strength. Extra points if you use your baby, your fat cat, or any other creative prop for additional resistance.

I really don’t want to say this but I have to say it because YEAH. If you’re exercising with your baby (or your cat for that matter) use common sense and if something feels unsafe/off/too tough put the child down. Put. the child. down. But you’re smart peeps and you know this already, right? Right.

Humble Hummus– The All-Natural Way

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Ah, simple, docile, gentle hummus.

Even in all its modesty there is a reason why this Middle Eastern mix of mashed chickpeas is so famous worldwide. See, this extremely easy and dirt cheap dip is crammed protein, dietary fiber, iron and Vitamin C.

Hummus is very versatile and can be used in a number of ways: as an appetizer, a dip for veggies and flat bread, a spread on sandwiches and wraps, and on top of salads.

I’m a huge supporter of hummus being used as a staple in kids’ diets as well… it is so much better than any ranch dip they could smother their baby carrots in, my god.

This is the most basic, easy, no-nonsense all natural hummus recipe you could hope for. Of course you could use canned chickpeas, and darling, if that helps you  actually make hummus and eat it instead of a package of Oreos, then go for it! I chose to showcase here how I make it myself while cooking my own chickpeas to clear up any confusion people may have about that process. Hint: It’s actually super easy ;) Besides, like any Certified Mexican™ can tell you, there is no comparing the flavor of canned beans to that of a delicious pot of freshly cooked ones. Dreamy.

Ideally you will begin the process the night before by leaving the chickpeas to soak, though I sometimes skip this step if I happen to forget.

Also, be warned I like to cook chickpeas in big batches because once cooked they freeze beautifully and can be used in the future for new hummus batches, or soups and stews, side dishes, on salads, etc. WIN.

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All-Natural Hummus

-3 C dry chickpeas

-1 Tbs. Tahini (sesame seed butter, available in most supermarkets or health food stores)

-1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

-1/2 lime

-1 garlic clove

-sea salt, to taste

Chickpea cooking instructions:

Place the 3 C uncooked chickpeas in a large bowl and add water making sure the water covers them over by one inch, and leave soaking overnight. The following day drain the soaking water and rinse the chickpeas. Pass them to a saucepan and cover in water. Bring water to a boil.

Once it begins boiling, cover the saucepan and bring the heat down to low. Leave them cooking for about 20 minutes, always making sure the water doesn’t completely evaporate (add more if needed). Chickpeas will be cooked when they’re tender but firm, with no indications of tough or gritty centers.

There! Now you have fresh chickpeas, free of preservatives or chemicals. Yeah! Freeze the leftovers in 1 cup batches and they will be ready for next time.

To make the hummus:

Place 1 C of cooked chickpeas in the blender. Add 1 Tbs of Tahini, the juice of 1/2 lime, 1 Tbs of olive oil, 1 small garlic clove, and sea salt to taste. Blend it all into the desired consistency (add more olive oil or water from where you cooked the chickpeas if you need to make it less dense) and that. is. all.  See? Blend. Wham. You’re done.

Take a bow, baby. You did it.