Unsexy Training Methods Produce Sexy Results
Often I am asked by clients, potential clients, and even strangers how do I stay so lean? How does my weight not fluctuate as the years pass? How did I not start packing on the pounds after I turned 30, or even 35? (I am 37 years old.) How do I do this and how can they do this too?
When I was in my 20’s I used to hear horror stories about what happens to your body and your metabolism after one turns 30. “After you turn 30 it’s all over! Your metabolism starts to slow down, you can’t eat the things you used to eat… and after you turn 35, forget it! You don’t have the abs you once had when you were in your 20’s. There’s no stopping the aging process and your slowing metabolism!”
I was even at a wedding recently and Eric and I overheard two bridesmaids, who could not have been any older then me, looking at pictures from their weddings remarking, “Look how skinny we were back then! Look at our arms, they looked great!” Meanwhile I am thinking “Really people? Really?? I am 37 going on 38 in January and I’m the leanest and strongest I have ever been in my life. Eric even turned to me and said, “What the world?? Do they think it’s all over now?? They hit 30, get married and have children and that’s it?? It’s all downhill from here!”
You do not give up and just roll down the hill with your bat wing triceps after you hit 30, get married, have children and throw in the towel to taking care of yourself. Instead, you love yourself, your body, and your health, and you learn how to (if you do not already) follow a sustainable fitness and nutrition routine that becomes your lifestyle and part of who you are.
I don’t have children, but I know plenty of mothers who do what I do every day and who are healthy and strong and have amazing physiques.
Kendall is a colleague of mine from when I used for work for a commercial gym in the Washington, DC area from 2005 to 2009. She is a Group Fitness Instructor and mother of 2 who follows unsexy methods for sexy results.
This is Kendall before she incorporated “unsexy” methods into her lifestyle:
This is Kendall after she incorporated “unsexy methods” into her lifestyle:
Melinda has been a client of mine since November 2010. She is a mother of 3, dancer, genius in the kitchen, and turning 40 this year. Melinda follows unsexy methods for sexy results. Melinda developed abdominal diastasis during her third pregnancy. As a result she was not able to bounce back to her pre-pregnancy shape the way she did after her first two pregnancies until she began to follow unsexy methods for sexy results. You can read more about Melinda’s story HERE.
This is Melinda before she incorporated “unsexy” methods into her lifestyle:
This is Melinda after she incorporated “unsexy methods” into her lifestyle:
To debunk the “It’s all over after 30” myth, this is what happened to me when I turned 30:
This is me now at age 37:
In my opinion, the best of life BEGINS at 30.
So what are these “Unsexy Methods” I’m talking about? What do I do? I’ll tell you, it’s very simple. I maintain homeostasis through a very unsexy diet and exercise regimen. (Note: I refer to “diet” here as I am not on a diet, but my diet, what I eat every day.) I lift weights and incorporate the proper amount of cardiovascular conditioning. I eat real, whole, nutrient dense foods (I do not eat processed foods!) and I follow the 90/10 (80/20 is ok too!) rule where treat myself 10% of the time so I don’t feel deprived yet I don’t fall out of a healthy eating routine. I drink plenty of water. I get proper sleep… or at least I make it a priority and try to given the schedule I have. Most days I wake up between 4 and 4:30 a.m. to train my first client anywhere from 5:45 a.m. to 6 a.m. and sometimes I don’t finish with my last client until 7 p.m. If I am not training a client until 7 p.m. I am working on business owner tasks to keep Iron Body Studios running. Therefore I make sure to get to bed between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., sometimes as early as 8:30 p.m. Sleep is essential for recovery from exercise and for proper digestion.
“It’s so simple & unsexy few can appreciate it.” Dan John.
What exactly do I mean by “unsexy”? Well, let’s look at an example of “sexy” first. Those sexy fads diets that promise that you will drop 10lbs in a week, and sexy fad exercise methods that will give you six pack abs and for women the “long, lean, toned” muscles they’ve always wanted!
Let’s look at the “Sexy” vs. the “Unsexy” Diet first…
The Sexy (Unsustainable) Diet
If this Xenadrine advertisement doesn’t exude sex and sexy with models in white spandex (there used to be a video of the commercial available that included club music) then I do not know what does:
Xenadrine is a sexy, yet unsustainable weight loss solution. Xenadrine is just as unsustainable as a diet comprised of shakes and other factory made products that have a million ingredients that you cannot understand, such as Isagenix products.
MYTH: Drinking shakes for your meals will help you to lose weight and achieve the body you want.
FACT: Eating real, whole, unprocessed, nutrient dense foods will help you to achieve the body you want. Abs are made in the kitchen.
The Unsexy (Sustainable) Diet
I eat real food. Meaning, I go grocery shopping, purchase fruits and vegetables from a local farm share, purchase my meat from a local butcher, and buy food that does not come in a box and prepare all of my meals. I eat when I am hungry, I stop when I am full – I listen to my body. I do not count calories and instead I focus on eating nutrient dense foods that make me feel satiated and give me energy. I take time to prepare my meals whether it’s for one day or a few subsequent days. For example, I will hard boil eggs to have for a few days or make an extra few servings of dinner so that there are leftovers for the next day; it’s not hard, it just takes planning. I also don’t deprive myself; as I mentioned earlier I follow the 90/10 rule (or 80/20 works as well) where I treat myself 10% of the time – I have chocolate or ice cream or a Hail Merry dessert if I want to… or if I go out to dinner I will have a beer or wine or dessert. You can stay in a good routine and not deprive yourself. It IS possible.
“The truth is, you really can eat yourself sexy. Because physical beauty is an outward manifestation of inner cleanliness.” Hungry for Change, by James Colquhoun, Laurentine ten Bosch, Mark Hyman
It’s simple and unsexy, but it works, it is sustainable.
People tend to fail at nutrition because they focus on counting calories and not eating nutrient dense foods and they lack food preparation. When people do not have healthy food prepared in advance, they want something quick and easy and resort to unhealthy options. For example, I had a new client tell me recently that he drinks Carnation Instant Breakfast and eats Lean Cuisine!! There is nothing nutrient dense in either of those items. In addition, when people are trying to get into a healthy eating routine, if they have a bad food day or slip up they tend to just give up and throw in the towel. “That’s it! It’s all over now! I had a piece of cake!”
Just because you have a bad food day doesn’t mean it’s all over. Finish your piece of cake, then let that be your 10-20%, and wake up the next day and have a good day, 100%. What’s one of the things that makes a healthy eating lifestyle sustainable? The 90/10 or 80/20 rule.
Why don’t people want the unsexy and why do they resort to the sexy? Because the unsexy takes some effort and planning; it’s so much easier to take a diet pill or make a shake (even if it doesn’t work in the long run!) instead of to prepare a healthy meal with real foods. People say they “don’t have time”, and don’t want to put forth the effort. The reality is that if they don’t make some lifestyle changes and put forth the effort then they will not see changes in their fitness levels, body, and overall health.
It takes time to find the diet that fits YOUR body and it is always evolving. For example, I am fueled best by animal protein, including fatty meats like bacon, pepperoni and salami, and healthy fats like avocado, almond butter and coconut. This does not work for everyone. For example, Eric is better fueled by a more plant based diet, more grains and less fats. Every 3-6 months I find that I make changes based upon trial and error and by listening to my body. If something I eat doesn’t make me feel good, I change it! For example, last summer I decided to cut out processed grains and all dairy products except for cheese. I used to eat sprouted grain bread like Ezekiel bread, and Greek yogurt and put goat’s milk in my coffee. I replaced the goat’s milk with almond milk and cut out the Greek yogurt and grains completely. For the first 10 days I didn’t think I was going to make it, but then I stopped craving bread and grains. When I tried to eat Greek yogurt, it made me feel bloated, so I completely stopped eating it and now I don’t even want it. Other things that I have discovered over the past year, my body can handle digesting a ½ sweet potato at one meal but a whole one is too much and same thing for an avocado. I can eat a whole sweet potato and a whole avocado over the course of the day but not in one sitting. You can read more about how I used to eat over a year and a half ago before I made these changes in my post Eat to Train and Train to Eat for the Game that is Life.
So what about cleanses and fasting?
This excerpt from, the post Surviving Whole Foods by Kelly MacLean, is how I feel about cleanses:
“I pass the table where the guy invites me to join a group cleanse he’s leading. For $179.99 I can not-eat not-alone… not-gonna-happen. They’re doing the cleanse where you consume nothing but lemon juice, cayenne pepper and fiber pills for 10 days, what’s that one called again? Oh, yeah…anorexia. I went on a cleanse once; it was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I detoxified, I purified, I lost weight. On the other hand, I fell asleep on the highway, fantasized about eating a pigeon, and crapped my pants. I think I’ll stick with the whole eating thing.”
I do not do cleanses and I do not fast – not even intermittent fasting. Our bodies will cleanse themselves if you’re fueling and hydrating properly. In my eyes cleanses and fasting fall into the “sexy” category.
I do have a few colleagues and friends who train “fasted” or participate in intermittent fasting, but it doesn’t work for me and nor do I think it’s a sustainable “diet” solution. Lauren Brooks, SFG (StrongFirst) Team Lead and Owner of On the Edge of Fitness wrote a good post about fasting. She interviewed a few women about their experiences with fasting. You can read this post HERE.
Personally, I do not support fasting because as women we have enough battles to face when it comes to body image and eating disorders. Subsequently I do not think that Intermittent Fasting is a healthy approach to a sustainable eating plan and healthy attitude towards food. Women are “afraid to eat” and “don’t know how to eat” enough as it is and I believe that Intermittent Fasting contributes to confusion about how to eat properly. As a former ballet dancer who not only saw plenty of women wither away and destroyed by eating disorders and battled with my own eating disorder as a teenager and a bit into my early 20’s, I do not engage in, recommend or encourage Intermittent Fasting. People need to learn how to eat first before they try to practice NOT eating. Once they learn how to eat properly they likely will not feel the need to engage in NOT eating.
Now let’s look at the “Sexy” vs. the “Unsexy” Exercise Regimen…
The Sexy Exercise Fad
The Thigh Master
The Shake Weight
Or what in the world is this??? It looks like fun, but it’s not going to build you much strength or functionality…
For women in general it’s any exercise method that tells you that you’re going to get “long, lean, sculpted, toned, muscles”, is masked by a cute name with possible sex appeal (see above video) and involves Pole Dancing or the Barre Method (yes, I said it, the Barre Method is a sexy exercise fad! My colleague Emily Socolinsky, a former Barre Class Instructor, wrote a FANTASTIC post about the myths of Barre Classes. You can read it HERE). Or of course, anything Tracy Anderson.
Tony Gentilcore’s girlfriend Dr. Lisa Lewis wrote an awesome post, “Unplugged from the Matrix” about how absurd it is that the fitness industry fools women to think that they need to do anything different from what men do in order to get fit. You can read this post HERE.
MYTH: Lifting weights will make women’s bodies big and bulky.
FACT: Lifting weights will make women’s bodies strong, fit and beautiful, and increases a woman’s lean body mass (muscle) to fat ratio thereby increasing metabolism, and thereby makes women’s bodies more lean, muscular, and shapely.
The Unsexy Exercise Regimen
MYTH: 700 minutes of cardio per week will help you to achieve the body you want.
FACT: Moving around 7,000 pounds during your daily training session will give you the body you want.
In the book Intervention Dan John writes about how the woman who can do 10 bodyweight pull-ups and military press half her bodyweight overhead has a very big “strength glass” and therefore can treat herself once in a while with dessert and cocktails without worrying about it reversing her hard work in her training (90/10 – 80/20 rule!)… “her entire system has to gather up resources, and then adapt and recover from the effort.” While Edna who thinks a 5lb dumbbell is heavy [insert Tracy Anderson joke HERE], isn’t going to tax her body very hard. Edna can’t eat cake.
“Absolute strength is the glass. Everything else is the liquid inside the glass. The bigger the glass, the more of everything else you can do.” ~Dan John, Intervention
What’s my “Unsexy” training secret? I lift weights and do an appropriate amount of cardiovascular conditioning 5 days per week, I go to yoga once per week and I take one full rest day of absolutely no exercise once per week. My glass is huge. Why? Because I spend 80-90% of my training time moving around heavy loads. Was it always like this? No. I worked up to it. Do I enjoy being strong? Absolutely. I train for strength. My goals are to be strong and move well. I am not afraid to lift heavy weights. Strength Trumps the Scale ANY DAY.
What do I mean I lift weights and move around heavy loads?
I hinge (dead-lift)
212lb Double Kettlebell Dead-lift
53lb Pistol Squat Right and Left
I push (press or push-ups)
96.8lbs Double Kettlebell Press
One-Arm Push-Ups 3 Right and Left Sides
I pull (pull-ups)
24kg (53lbs) Pull-up
One set of 14 Bodyweight Pull-ups
I train my core properly (and not by doing crunches!) ab roll outs, suitcase or racked carries, hanging leg raises, planks.
Standing Ab Wheel Rollout
Kettlebell Suitcase Carry & Seal Walk
Hanging Leg Raises
I also always train Turkish Get-ups because the movement carries over to many other movements in my training. Dan John would call this a “plus one” movement. You can read more about how awesome Turkish get-ups are in my post Back to Basics.
28kg (62lbs) Turkish Get-up
What do I mean that I do an appropriate amount of cardiovascular conditioning? I spend anywhere from 10 minutes to 20 minutes on non-traditional conditioning; Non-traditional being something like kettlebell swings, snatches, or complexes. You mean I don’t spend 60-120 minutes on the stepmill or running 12 miles??? No. It’s not necessary when you do 200 swings with a 20kg (44lb) kettlebell in 10 minutes (YES 10 MINUTES! 30 seconds of work/30 seconds of rest x10) which equates to moving around 8,800lbs (or MORE depending on the amount force applied to swing the 20kg kettlebell) in 10 minutes. I think that will do it.
Non-Traditional Conditioning/Cardiovascular Conditioning: Swing, High-Pull Snatch Chains with Double 12kg (53lbs) Kettlebells
It’s so simple it’s hard to believe and I think that’s why people have a hard time believing that this is all it takes. Therefore people choose the “sexy”, “quick fix” solution over the “unsexy” sustainable, overall lifestyle change.
There is no magic pill – it’s not the “sexy” diet trend… it’s the “unsexy” of eating real food & lifting heavy weights that gets you to “sexy” & helps you to sustain it. However, I think these “unsexy” methods are quite sexy and produce smokin’ hot results! 🙂
Choose the unsexy and you will achieve YOUR sexiest self.
This is so inspiring to me! Thank-you for writing it up! I absolutely love Dan John and then to have your feminine strength added in is really wonderful! My goals include a certain number of consecutive pushups and pull-ups – and I read the numbers you hit and think… hell yeah! Followed by wondering why my goal numbers are so low… grin. I know I know – you gotta start somewhere. At the same time it’s refreshing to see that really my only limits are what I put on myself… once I hit my current goals I can keep adding #s…with consistant “unsexy” homework, you CAN do impressive things…. Thanks again!
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Thank you Shannon! Keep doing what you are doing, it takes patience and persistence to see progress. You will reach your goals soon enough 🙂
It’s also just nice to see thinking outside the box… like I read Dan John and am working on 10 strict pull ups… but now I think ..heck yeah, why NOT 53?
once I reach 10… move to 15… then to 20…then to…. so yes, thank-you for posting cuz it helps me see that things I didn’t even *think* of ARE possible! 🙂
Excellent article Artemis! Do you mind if I print it and hand it out to my students? This would be very beneficial to them.
Thanks for writing it!
Reneta, Thank you!! and Of course!! That is what it is for 🙂