Don't be left out!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Didn't See That Coming: 10 Surprising Things That Change When You Start Lifting

If you know me, you know I’m a fan of the iron.  Heavy, light, fast, slow, kettlebells, barbells, all the reps or just a few, I love any and all forms of strength training.  

I’ve spent the last few years gushing about the numerous benefits of strength training.  Improve strength, confidence, bone mass, body composition overall badassery and so much more.  What’s not to love?

Like many, I started lifting as a way to improve my body composition but little did I know that I would change more than just my appearance.  In addition to the the anticipated benefits, there were a handful of unexpected changes and pleasant surprises that popped up when I started lifting that no one told me about, and after a quick check with my lady lifting friends, I’m not alone.  

Consider this list the inside scoop on what may happen when you start lifting.  You know, the type of stuff only your best girlfriends will tell you.  I got your back, girl.  

Lean, mean, fighting machine? If you don’t have any actual sparring skills, don’t worry.  It seems that having a muscular build is enough alone for people to assume you could kick their butts.  Despite having a pleasant demeanor and never having been in a physical altercation, I’ve heard, “I wouldn’t want to make you angry.” enough to think I’m the next UFC middleweight champion.  

World record holder and teammate, Janis Finkelman, had a similar experience recently in Target.  I feel you Janis, I feel you.

Your waist is small and your curves are kickin’ A decrease in body fat and an increase in muscle mass may cause things to….well, shift.  As my fitpro friend, Amy Dix notes since lifting heavier, “My waist is smaller but my thighs are thicker.  This makes shopping for jeans, literally a pain in the butt.”

(To which I responded with, “Why are you wearing jeans, anyways?” #leggingsAREpants)

But seriously, if this happens, I’d be willing to bet it also means your squat and/or deadlift are also growing, which is a great thing.  Besides, jeans that fit perfectly off the rack are hard to find no matter what your shape is. So don’t fret.  Find yourself a good tailor (or enjoy spandex everyday like I do) and keep it moving.    

I actually took this selfie to show my friends how hard
I was "working" but I think it highlights the black hole nicely.  
It’s the pits  Lifting isn’t the pits but shaving your pits may become more difficult.  Between more pronounced pectorals and a developing lat, I’ve been left with a bit of a black hole in the underarm area when I raise my hands overhead (see photo to the right).

The only workaround I’ve found effective for shaving is to awkwardly push my elbow into the side of the shower while simultaneously protecting my scapula in an effort to expand the surface area.  I’m totally open to suggestions because at this rate, I may dislocate something or go full blown Euro style.  

Can you open this?  Of course most people don’t start lifting with the sole intent to improve grip strength but thanks to deadlifts and pull ups, pickle jars, jams, or screw top beers are no match for your grip.  Toss out those ugly rubber gripper thingies because you’re a do-it-yourselfer now!  

Forearms Speaking of grip strength, you can also add it’s cohort, jacked forearms to the list of unexpected surprises that arose from lifting.  I never thought I could have such a fond admiration for strong….forearms.  But now I find myself clenching my fist and slowly rotating my wrist to highlight the definition.  While others are mirin big biceps and glutes, I’m checking out forearms veins.  I didn’t see that coming….ever.  Who am I?      

Flex appeal Go ahead and just plan on spending an extra five to ten minutes in the morning in front of the mirror because, muscles.  Even just the slightest definition in a bicep, tricep or quad will have you flexing in the mirror all googly eyed like the first time I saw Ian Ziering as Steve Slater on 90210.  

Don’t worry mom  If your mom is anything like my mom, she’s going to worry about your safety while lifting.  After showing my mom some photos of my male teammates at 22nd Street Barbell lifting she asked, “Do you feel safe down there with those men?”  “Those men” of course had beard and tattoos that would rival some of the best at Sturgis which made her a little uneasy.  I assured her, they were cool and I was fine.  

Teammate and fitpro, Bridget Smith’s mom also expressed concern that she might get injured.  Look, you and I both know that safety, injuries (knock on wood) or accidentally getting too big aren’t anything to stress about, but mom’s worry.  It’s in their nature.  I’ve had great success with slowly dropping lifting nuggets in small doses over the course of a few months.  Before you know it, they’ll be asking you to flex for their friends.  (No really, my mom would ask me to do this.  Totally weird, right?)

Wanna wrestle?  Next to fighting (see item #1) it’s also assumed that you’re good at wrestling.  Arm, leg or full contact on the mat style, it doesn’t really matter.  People will want to wrestle you.  I think it’s a compliment and if you can somehow wrangle winning some money out of it, more power to you.  

Just FYI, I am undefeated in leg wrestling so you could say things are getting pretty serious.  

Miss independent  You know all those things you had to wait to do until you had help? Things like carry ice melt, put the jug on the water cooler, or haul luggage downstairs and into the car?  Not anymore. Thanks to increased strength and confidence, those are one woman jobs now. (If you want them to be.  Wink, wink)  

Ride or die chicks  I didn’t start lifting with the intent of meeting new friends but that didn’t stop it from happening.  Some really great connections have sparked from a simple, “Can I work in with you?” and to my pleasant surprise, some of those ladies have become close friends.  They don’t judge you wearing spandex all day, everyday or you constant need for food and water.  They get you.  

Your turn:  What pleasant surprise and unexpected changes have you noticed since you began lifting?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Challenges: Great or Gimmick?

Squat challenge, yoga challenge, push up challenge, core challenge, burpee challenge, running challenge, flossing your teeth challenge.

I'm teasing about the last one, although it's not a bad idea.

Fitness challenges are a series of daily events focusing on improvement a specific movement, typically lasting 30 days and they are H-O-T hot right now.  It doesn't stop at fitness either, popular diet and supplement companies are also jumping on the challenge train.

Social media has provided a wonderful platform for these challenges, utilizing hashtags like #30daysofyoga and #30dayfitnesschallenge to drum up excitement and connect participants for additional support.

Fitness challenges have been a frequent topic of conversation between my colleagues, Jen (Mama Lion Strong) and Lauren (Moms Done Dieting).  Are they just a gimmick or a great way to dip your toe in the fitness waters?  The answer is, just like most things in the fitness world, it depends.

Here are five items to consider before beginning your next challenge.  

Habit forming?  Turns out 21 days to form a habit philosophy is a bit of a myth.  A Study out of London actually concluded that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to turn a task into a habit. In other words, jumping into a 30 day challenge may be a great way to get started with a routine but it may not be long enough to form a habit.  The good news is, you always have the authority to adjust any challenge to meet your needs.  If you feel like you need more time practicing a task for it to become a habit, go for it!

Have a plan for day 31: Arm yourself with a post challenge plan of attack to help ensure that your efforts don't go to waste.  Just like we don't brush our teeth for 30 days, take the next month off, and expect continued dental health, movement and health habits are something to practice consistently, challenge or not.  

Perfect bum in 30 days: Can you expect results upon completion of your challenge?  It depends.  It depends on a lot of factors including, but not limited to:
  • The purpose of the challenge
  • Your strength and conditioning when starting the challenge
  • Your previous experience relevant to the challenge 
  • How consistent you are participating in the challenge
Can you expect to see a shapely bum after 30 days of squats?  Probably not.  Change, especially in body composition, takes time, consistency and lots of patience.  So if you don't look any different post challenge, don't throw in the towel.  Do anything for 30(ish) days and I'm confident you will likely experience important improvements elsewhere, weather it be in mobility, strength or conditioning.  

Mindset matters: If your approach to any challenge is, "I've just gotta get through this." you might want to consider dialing back the task to consist more sustainable actions.  Sure, testing your mental and physical strength with more extreme measures can be fun from time to time.  But if long term, sustainable results are what you're after, you might be better off selecting challenges and activities you can maintain beyond the length of three or four weeks.

One size does not fit all:  Instead of approaching challenges with a "comply or die" attitude, think of them as guides.  Find a move too easy or difficult?  Adjust as needed.  Miss a day?  Pick up where you left off.  You won't end up on fitness challenge jail, I promise.

Are fitness challenges a great idea or a or just a gimmick?  When used appropriately, challenges can be a great way to start or spice up a routine.  In addition to the physical benefits, challenges typically also come with built in community support.  Connect with others following the same challenge to stay accountable and find support.  Just don't be misled into thinking they're an easy cure-all to your fitness challenges.    


Lally, Phillippa, Cornelia H. M. Van Jaarsveld, Henry W. W. Potts, and Jane Wardle. "How Are Habits Formed: Modelling Habit Formation in the Real World." Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. European Journal of Social Psychology 40.6 (2009): 998-1009. Web.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Are You Swimsuit Ready?

Summer is here and with a rise in temperature comes weekends on the water, nights at the ball field, and tan lines. A season typically known for its carefree vibe, the warm summer sunshine has a way of lifting spirits even after the gloomiest winters.

The increase in heat also means a decrease in clothing. Shorts, tank-tops, and swimsuits are commonplace come summertime, and while they are a great way to keep cool, baring even modest amounts of skin can leave some feeling overexposed, anxious, and self conscious.

Quickly scan any newsstand and you are sure to read headlines appealing to the readers’ insecurities by promising new diets to get you “ready for summer” and exercises aimed at helping you get a “perfect swimsuit body”. Not only are those headlines often totally bogus but many (although, not all) are also full of intense and restrictive regimes which often yield unsustainable results. Not to mention, if you have a body (you do), and you wish to wear a swimsuit, you are swimsuit ready right now, as is.
Despite what the magazine and retail industries want you to think, approval or permission from the media and/or general public is not needed to wear one. Simply put, if you want to wear one, do. If not, that is cool too. 

Before you drop your next paycheck on a insta-fix claiming to cure your “imperfections”, consider that cure may not be about changing your body but more about changing your mindset.  

I've owned one bikini in my life and can distinctly remember the two times I wore it.  I wore it once on a girls trip to Mexico because of tan lines.  The other time was on my honeymoon because I knew I wouldn't run in to anyone I knew.  

I remember driving in the car years ago with my husband and he inquired about why I wouldn't consider wearing a bikini again.  My list of reasons included reasons like... I was approaching "that age" where a woman probably shouldn't wear one, I have cellulite, varicose veins, stretch marks, and of course, no six pack.  Clearly my body wasn't bikini ready.  

Or was it?

That was eight years ago.  

Fast forward to today.  At 32, I'm still approaching "that age" where a woman shouldn't wear a bikini (whatever the f*** that means?), I still have cellulite, varicose veins, stretch marks and no six pack. 

But I today I also have something else.........

A two piece.  

That's right.  I'm giving a big 'ole double bird to my so-called imperfections feels fantastic!  

 Ross' "secret language"
If I had chosen to wait until I had a body that met my former expectations, I'd still be waiting...possibly forever.  At almost a quarter of my life, eight years is just way too long to spend feeling limited by my expectations.  
Yea, all the stuff I'm not crazy about is still there but I've chosen to shine the spot light on what I love about my body and, maybe more importantly, what my body can do. Today, all those "flaws" don't ruffle my feathers anymore than a chipped nail or curls that fall flat.  It's just  

This mindset shift didn't exactly happen over night but I've realized that sometimes it's necessary to change how we see before we can change how we look.  


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Exercise Is About More Than A Pretty Body

My husband was out for the night and I always have trouble sleeping when he’s gone.  It was approaching 12am, well past my regular bedtime of 10pm,  when I caught myself mesmerized by an infomercial for a fitness program.  

With highly energetic speakers, flashy graphics, and enticing claims, I could totally see why one would be interested in their product.  I was interested too, but a recurring message really turned me off.  That message was that exercises’ primary intended purpose is to change the way you look.

Phrases like, “...fat-burning exercises help carve out a leaner, stronger physique.” and “Do it during the last 3 days of (enter product name here) for mind-blowing "after" pictures.” plagued the infomercial.  Never mind the other million benefits of exercise.

Wouldn't it be great to read headlines like these too?
This appearance focused marketing approach is all over the fitness industry.  A quick online search of popular women’s health and fitness magazines article titles rendered results like, “The Surfer Body Workout” and “This Move Will Make Your Legs Look Sexier In Skirts”.  The actual content of each article had great share worthy information but the underlying message, similar to the infomercial, suggested yet again that the primary intended purpose of exercise is to change the way you look.    

Even a group exercise class I used to teach had a name that implied this same message. “Body Sculpt”.  Where members come to sculpt their body, yea?  I suppose “Resistance training for people who want to prevent osteoporosis and improve mood” doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely, although that’s what it was.  Nonetheless, it was a great class.  (Of course it was, I taught it. Wink, wink.)    

Aspiring to change your appearance is what often drives many individuals to partake in a routine in the first place. In fact, that’s exactly what drove me back into the gym after a year long hiatus.   I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with using exercise to chase sculpted shoulders, or drop weight so you can fit into a favorite pair of jeans as I too once wanted to lose weight and improve my body composition.  But the hugely disproportionate manner in which the fitness industry and media values exercises’ ability to change our appearance as opposed to our health, leaves me unsettled.    

The message seems to be that exercise, is intended to make you look like (enter preferred body type here). Whether you’re an aspiring bodybuilder or someone who just wants thinner thighs, there is an exercise program out there promising they can change your body.  In fact, you might be hard pressed to find an exercise program that doesn’t use an idealized body type as a cornerstone of their marketing.  After all, fit looking, toned bodies seem to be what sells.  

I can't help but feel that where we place value is out of balance.
What happens if you take up exercising and don’t see any physical changes? Or if an individual never reaches similar proportions of the idealized body? That’s typically when disappointment sets in, as many individuals often feel like their efforts in the gym have been for nothing thus leaving them feeling like a failure.  

But it’s not for nothing as change and progress aren’t always visible to the eye.  

When we only value exercises’ ability to change how we look and use appearance as the measuring stick we do a huge disservice to the other numerous health benefits exercise offers. The benefits of exercise shouldn't play second fiddle to appearance, especially in a country where diseases like Type II diabetes, depression and high blood pressure are commonplace.

Regular exercise helps improves the quality and quantity of life, decreases likelihood of developing various diseases, and aids in supporting mental health.  Chances are if you’ve been participating in regular activity, of any kind, for awhile you’ve likely experienced one or more of the many benefits of exercise listed below.  (Note NONE of these have anything to do with physical appearance)  

  • Improves your chances of living longer and living healthier
  • Helps protect you from developing heart disease and stroke or its precursors, high blood pressure and undesirable blood lipid patterns
  • Helps protect you from developing certain cancers, including colon and breast cancer, and possibly lung and endometrial (uterine lining) cancer
  • Helps prevent type 2 diabetes
  • Helps prevent osteoporosis
  • Reduces the risk of falling among older adults
  • improves cognitive function among older adults
  • Relieves symptoms of depression and
  • Relieves symptoms of anxiety
  • Improves mood
  • Improves heart-lung and muscle fitness
  • Improves sleep

Bragging about improved sleep and lowered blood pressure may not be perceived as sexy of a tag line as a photo of someone who dropped 10% body fat, but it should be.  Before and after photos highlighting defined muscles and lean limbs is fine but I would be more impressed with a before and after of improved blood lab results or photo showing how increased activity has elevated their quality of life.  That’s the stuff that really matters.  Isn’t it?

Wouldn’t it be great to live in a culture where improvements in health were celebrated as much, if not more than improvements in appearance?

Regardless if it's a six pack, better sleep (or both) that's motivating you to move, remember there is more to health than what meets the eye.    

I don’t expect to see magazine headlines and infomercials ceasing all mention of appearances completely, although that would be totally awesome.  But, I would love to hear about how you have benefited from exercise in ways that have nothing to do with your looks.    Leave a comment below!


  1. "The Benefits of Physical Activity." The Nutrition Source. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2015. <>.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

More Than A Mother?

I spent the past weekend in Kansas City at the Fitness Summit mingling with some of the top fitness experts in the industry.  I picked the brains of my favorite trainers, made new connections with people all over the world, and even learned some new movements to try with clients.  It was Heaven.  

Before the trip, I had daydreams of how much fun the networking opportunity would be.  But as a stay-at-home-mom who has been away from the professional atmosphere for the last six years, I couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable introducing myself to others. And come game time, when people inquired about “what I do”, I came back to one phrase over and over again.

“I’m a stay-at-home-mom.”

I couldn’t help myself.  Each time I opened my mouth those words just escaped like a preschooler in Target when they see the toy aisle (which should be avoided at all costs to reduce the likelihood of a tantrum, by the way).  Here I was at a professional event and I’m struggling to lead with my profession.  

A few weeks ago, I was at a powerlifting meet chatting with the owner of 22nd Street barbell, Wes Keith.  Wes was discussing two contrasting gyms in the area.  One of which was a powerlifting gym, the other was a commercial gym where, “moms” go.   

Immediately, I responded with, “Hey!  What are you saying about moms?”.  

Straight faced, Wes looked at me and said, “You’re not a mom, you’re a powerlifter.”  

As odd as it may sound, I took that as an outstanding compliment.   

I have an identity beyond motherhood?  My mind was blown.  

I am first and foremost a mother.  I wear that badge with pride. I’m grateful to stay at home with my children, and my family comes before anything else, but that’s only a part of my story.  I’m also a personal trainer and a powerlifter (among many other things). And while the amount of hours I work as a personal trainer may only add up to a part time job, it’s definitely not a part time passion.  

Regardless of your parental status, activity preference, hobby selection, or profession of choice, everyone deserves to find an outlet that feeds your soul.  Lifting, training, and helping others have done just that for me, in a way folding laundry and blowing bubbles doesn’t.  Which is why you’ll find my social media channels hoppin’ but my laundry room a disaster.  

Being a powerlifter and trainer has become an alter ego of sorts.  And this alter ego has allowed me to channel characteristics that have completely spilled over into other areas of my life, benefiting myself and my family greatly.  

When I’m in the gym, I’m not a powerlifting mom.  I’m a powerlifter.  I’m not strong for a mom.  I’m just strong.  I’m not committed for woman with a family.  I’m just committed.  I don’t use motherhood as a justification for failures, shortcoming or the reason for my success.  Besides, my family and teammates wouldn’t allow that anyways.  

Somewhere in the midst of popping out babies I began to hang my hat solely on being a mother. Clearly, I have some work to do in dropping the motherhood crutch at professional events as
being a mother is a part of me, albeit a big part of me, but it’s not all of me.  The balance between motherhood and fitness has brought out the best in me that one alone, can not.  

So, do I consider myself more than a mother? I’d like to think I am a mother and more.  

Have you ever felt like you lost your identity in motherhood? How did you get it back?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Inspiring Change In Others

People often inquire about how they can encourage their spouse, parent, sibling or friend to make some changes.  

When individuals experience success working towards goals it's not uncommon for them to want to share the benefits of their new found lifestyle by motivating others.  

While this desire to inspire others is honorable and usually stemming from a place full of good intentions, it's also important to remember that the process of change has many stages. Furthermore, some people may not be interested or ready for change.  And that's totally A-o.k..  

The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (TTM) was developed by James O. Prochaska in 1977 and I love the way Habitry​ founder, Coach Stevo​, describes the various stages of change behavior in his article, “No Excuses”.  

1. Pre-contemplation - “Shut up, I’m all good.”
2. Contemplation - “OK, maybe I’m not all good.”
3. Preparation - “Yeah, I’m thinking about getting better.”
4. Action - “I’m doing what I need to do to get better, dammit.”
5. Maintenance - “I’m better, but still working at it.”
6. Termination - “I’m pretty good and man, was I fooling myself back then.”

So while you may be working on stage five or six.  Your friend/spouse/sibling maybe hanging out in stage one, two or three.  But behavior doesn't actually change until stage four.  

Jumping in to help someone before they're ready can sometimes feel like a proposal on the first date. Totally overwhelming and usually unwelcomed.  Slow down, Killer.  Slow down.  

You and I both know that forcing someone into behavior change is a sure fire ride in the fast lane to broken commitments, lack luster results, hurt feelings and sometimes even damaged relationships.  (From personal experience, I’d recommend that spouses tread lightly.  Very, very lightly.  Wink, wink.)  

So what’s a well-intentioned friend to do when you want to help foster change in someone else?  Be the change you wish to see in others.  Be patient.  Be positive.  And should that stage four day come, be there with open arms to help.  

For additional (and amazing) reading on behavior change and motivating others, check out

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Life Lessons Learned Through Lifting

I spent this past weekend at an amazing powerlifting meet hosted by my team, 22nd Street Barbell. The venue, Elite Edge in Ankeny, was a perfect space, providing enough room for both lifters and spectators, jamming tunes, and two platforms allowed the meet to run smoothly and quickly.

There is nothing better than watching your teammates hard work pay off and result in PR’s and pure happiness. This meet marked the first competition for many lifters and as expected many of them “caught the bug” noting that they can’t wait to do it all over again.
Ashley giving hell on bench.  Photo by Ted Sandeen.

With just two years of powerlifting training under my belt and only a few competitions, I’m still very, very new to it all. But the parallels between life and lifting continue to amaze me.

Spending time watching lifters compete this weekend reminded me of a few recurring lessons I've picked up through lifting that are completely applicable to everyday life. And since applying these "lessons" to my own life I've found more contentment and happiness.

It’s you vs. you. I know that sounds like one of those cheesy lines your trainer feeds you in attempts to enter a meet but it is absolutely spot on. There is no minimum strength requirement for powerlifting meets. So that “I’m not strong enough” crap won’t cut it. Unless a qualifying total is required, at any given meet you’ll find novices and experienced lifters alike sharing the platform, some lifting 100 pounds, some lifting 600.

Sure, there are talented lifters who enter meets with the intent of winning their weight class and/or best lifter, but the majority of the lifters are simply trying to do their best and break their own personal records, winning is a bonus. 

As counterintuitive as it sounds competing in powerlifting has helped me to let go of the constant competition I was having in my head with other women.  No more sizing ladies up to evaluate who's stronger, prettier, leaner, more successful, or happier.  I managed to turn my focus inward and over time, what would have been jealousy for a stronger female has transformed into sincere happiness for their success.  

I have realized there will always be someone stronger, faster, leaner with better technique. That's not an excuse to stop striving for improvement but I did give myself permission to stop comparing.  At the end of the day, what others are doing is out of our control. Spend your time focused on progressing your own lifts and not how they stack up against everyone else's.

My amazing teammate, Janis attempted a world record deadlift of 460.  Photography by Ted Sandeen
Effort is respected: While talented and successful lifters get most of the spotlight, effort put in by beginners or weaker lifters
(comparatively speaking, of course) does not go unnoticed. At the gym I train at, 22nd Street Barbell, a stay-at-home-mom focused on gaining strength (like me) is supported the same as elite level lifters with over a decade of experience. Of course the outcome of said effort will vary from person to person but ultimately respect can be gained not just by the amount of weight you can lift but also by amount of effort you put in.

It’s not about what your body looks like but what it can do. Short, tall, lean, thick, straight, curvy, broad, narrow, small, and big. While certain bodily portions may bode well for particular lifts, you will find a variety of body types at a powerlifting meet. But more important that how your body looks, is what you can do with that body. How much power, force and strength can it produce? I have yet to watch someone hit a big deadlift personal record only to bitch about cellulite on their thighs.

22nd Street barbell photo.  Photo by Ted Sandeen
Pass it on. Competing in powerlifting may be (mostly) an individual sport but the preparation to get there takes a village. Hand offs, spotters, encouragement, and accountability are all ingredients to success. As a whole, powerlifters are some of the most helpful people I’ve ever meet. Regardless if you’ve just met them or known them for years lifters help other lifters. Need a spot? No problem! Have a question? They’ll offer help. Squats aren’t deep enough? They’ll tell you because they want you to succeed. (Even though that last one bites a bit).

See, a lot of the knowledge powerlifters have attained is from years of training, trial and error, and learning from other lifters. That’s valuable knowledge, right there. When you get a chance to absorb some of that knowledge, you take it! And months/years down the road when someone else needs it, you pass it on.

Last year, I bombed out of my first full power meet because I didn’t hit depth in any of my squat attempts. I was heartbroken but it wasn’t long before not one but two highly respected lifters approached me with words of wisdom I’ll never forget that encouraged me to keep going. Others have done that for them, they did it for me and you bet your bottom dollar if/when I see someone in need of the support, I’ll be there to pass it on.

What lessons have you learned from competition that apply to life?