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Progress Isn't Linear

Crush-Fitness-Nika-Progress-Linear

 

Progress isn't linear.

 

The saying applies to fitness just as much as it applies to school. It applies to your career, your work place, your relationships, and quite literally anything that you’re trying to progress in.

 

The phrase resonates with me in a few different aspects, but recently it’s applied to my fitness regimen. Some of you may know, others may not, but for the majority of 2016 I took a break from my workout routine. At first, I made the decision to slow down on my workouts because I was exceptionally busy at the start of 2016. I went to school full time and was working on finishing my last semester of college. I worked at two different gyms as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, as well as working with clients online, all which equated to about 50+ hours of work per week. My personal health and workouts declined because of it.

 

As the first few weeks of 2016 went on, I quickly became exhausted, both physically and mentally. When I found free time, which was scarce, the last place I wanted to be was the gym. When I would workout, my workouts were struggling. I had no passion for the gym, I had no energy to workout, and ultimately it felt like I was defeated. Was fitness no longer going to be part of my life? What if I can never regain the motivation I once had to workout?

 

As the weeks rolled by, I decided to take a break from the gym. Part of the reason was due to mentally struggling with depression and anxiety. Another reason was due to injuries. When you lack sleep (which I certainly was at the time) and you’re stressed, you put yourself at a very high risk for getting injured. Alas, it caught up with me. My scoliosis was acting up and causing severe back pain and I ended up tearing my quad when showing a client how to squat. I was out of the gym and I was terrified.

 

In May, I graduated from college with a B.S. in Psychology and I moved to Colorado, a dream of mine that I had since I was 8 years old. Life was looking up! The struggle of the last 6 months was finally coming to an end, right?!

 

Wrong.

 

In Colorado, there were very few gyms available, and the ones that were, were completely out of my price range. I started working out in my garage with little equipment and made the best of it, however I was only lifting once or twice a week, when I ideally wanted to lift 5-6 days a week. This was a mental struggle for me because I felt lost and confused and didn’t really know where I fit into the “fitness world”.

 

I began doing activities outside and enjoying the scenery that was around me. I climbed mountains, went on hikes almost daily, dipped my toe into mountain biking and snow shoeing! I found joy in areas of fitness I never thought I would be fortunate enough to do. I focused on getting outside everyday, and used my lifting to supplement my hikes, rather than hikes to supplement my lifts. For the first time in my life, I was actually enjoying cardio (coming from someone who despises it).

 

By being outdoors, I found my passion for fitness again. I didn’t dread lifting in a garage gym, but rather looked forward to it. I didn’t dread taking my dog on a walk, but was excited about it because I could see the leaves changing colors and the feel of cool wind on my skin. I began approaching fitness with a positive mindset, something that wasn’t forced upon me, but something that I freely chose to do because it brought me joy.

 

Unfortunately, the struggle was not over. My boyfriend at the time and I broke up, which meant I moved back home to Saint Louis. Again, I was lost, confused and didn’t know how to get back into a fitness routine. There aren’t mountains to climb in the Midwest and the closest place to go on a hike is a 30 minutes drive (as opposed to being able to walk into my backyard and start a hike). I started up a gym membership again and I started lifting.

 

This was HARD. My body wasn’t as “fit” as it was this time last year. My muscle mass significantly decreased and my strength was simply not there. It was a real mental struggle trying to be kind to myself when I felt like I had failed. I wanted to add 100 pounds to my dead lift and 50 to my squat by the end of 2016, and here I was struggling to lift my warm up weight from the end of 2015. I felt like I had failed because I did not commit myself to fitness how I did in the past.

 

But progress isn’t linear. Did I regress in terms of strength? Absolutely. Did I lose a lot of the muscle I worked so hard for? Yes. Did I keep moving forward? Yes, I did. Though my progress in the gym had declined, I gained a ton of knowledge from my year “off”. My muscular endurance was better than it had ever been. My cardiovascular endurance, though still lacking compared to most, was the best it had ever been for me personally. I saw some of the most amazing views because my legs carried me up a mountain. I was able to get creative with workouts that required minimal equipment, making me a better coach to those who workout only at home.

 

Now, I’ve been back on a gym routine for almost three months! My mindset is completely different than it was this time last year. I am energized for my workouts. I look forward to them with excitement and approach them with focus and passion. Something that I’m not sure would have happened had I not stepped back and taken time off.

 

Progress isn’t linear. You will fall down a million times. You will inevitably fail. You are human! But failure does not define you. Progress is not linear, but it does require that you keep moving forward. Take it one step at a time, keep going.

Managing school, work, and working out.

First blog! Woohoo! Let’s talk about managing school, working and working out, since it’s often thought that you can’t do all three, but I’m here to tell you that you can.

 

Since I was 15, I’ve been juggling two jobs and school. I never really thought it to be a big deal, since I primarily worked nights or weekends, and I went to school during the day. In high school, I played 2-3 sports per year, worked, and took all honors/AP classes, but I never really studied or devoted time outside of school to practice sports. When I got to college, I learned the hard way that not studying and not devoting time to working out didn’t end well. I had to learn a few time management skills, which to this day are the reasons I can juggle 3 jobs, working out, and a full course load.

 

  1. Buy an agenda book or a calendar, and use it. This will become your best friend. Write anything and everything in there. Appointment times, homework due dates, test dates, work schedule, meal prep, etc. You need to learn how to plan everything. The days of winging things are over. Then, from there, figure out when you’ll have time to eat (meal prep), workout, and perhaps even socialize.
  2. DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. Procrastination is the absolute biggest “no-no” when you’re trying to juggle a million different things. If you get assigned a project or a paper that’s due in a month, do it as soon as you possibly can.
  3. Learn how precious time is, even the smallest amount of time. If you have an extra 20 minutes between classes that you would otherwise spend on your phone or scrolling through the internet, use those 20 minutes to start an assignment, or outline the assignment, or even just brainstorm what you’re going to do for that assignment. Utilizing these small chunks for time is what is key, in my opinion, when living a busy lifestyle.
  4. Get sleep. Sleeping is often the first thing to be neglected when you’re stressing out or you’ve got too much on your plate, and that should be the LAST thing that you neglect. You may think sleep isn’t as important as cramming for an exam that’s worth half of your grade, but multiple studies show that lack of sleep leads to declined test performance. It also leads to declined performance overall. Your motor skills will be compromised, your cognitive skills will decline, and you probably won’t feel like doing anything the next day besides sleeping. By not procrastinating, you don’t lose sleep, you perform better, and you’re not a crabby human.
  5. Plan a gym workout BEFORE you get to the gym. We’ve all been there when you just walk into the gym and YOLO it, and though it may work at times, it often leads to a crappy workout and you spend more time trying to decide what you’ll do next, and less time actually working out, and when your time is limited, that’s not something that is desired. Train smarter, not longer.
  6. Meal prep. Meal prepping isn’t just for those who are following a strict bro diet of rice, chicken and veggies, or someone in contest prep. If your goal is to be healthier, and your time is limited, MEAL PREP. Meal prepping is essentially cooking food in bulk, measuring it out (either with a scale or eyeballing it), and putting it away for later use. If you’re going to be out of your house from 7am to 8 pm, you’re going to want to take some meals with you, and that’s where pre-measuring and pre-making your meals helps tremendously (side note: Buy a cooler or a bag to take with you to carry your meals. Food-born illness is no joke, and it’s essential to keep cooked food cool). Meal prepping also makes your food choices easy, so you’re not left with the choice of grabbing easy fast food or making food, because you already made the food.
  7. Make time to workout. Anyone who has a busy schedule doesn’t “find” time to workout, they make time. Whether that be early in the morning, late at night, or somewhere in the middle, you need to sit down and figure out when you will make time for working out. Personally, I’ve worked out at 5am, 11pm, and every hour in between, because that’s what my schedule allowed for that day. Remember, everyone has the same 24 hours. What you do with that time is what will set you apart
  8. Don’t forget about yourself. Living la vida loca aka juggling a million things is going to take a toll on your psyche, so every week or month, or whatever works for you, put aside a chunk of time for YOU. Take care of yourself, whatever that may be. Watch Netflix, go shopping, volunteer, play with your dogs, hangout with friends, call your parents, have a glass of wine or a slice (or 5) of pizza or cake or whatever fills your heart with joy. Do not forget about your happiness and do not forget to pause and take in the wonderful world around you.

Strength Training Benefits

Whether you are a male or a female or gender non-conforming, whether you are young or old, whether you are an athlete or a self-proclaimed couch potato, whether your goal is to become stronger, faster, or leaner, strength training is something you should do.

Benefits of strength training:

  1. Your bones. We live in a culture where osteoporosis is extremely prevalent, especially in women. Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bone steadily degrades, leaving bones to be thin, weak, and prone to fractures. Strength training increases bone mineral density, meaning it strengthens the bones, and makes them less prone to fractures.
  2. You’ll burn more fat with strength training than you will doing cardio. Strength training burns less calories while performing the task than cardio, which is often why cardio is assumed to be the “end-all-be-all” for fat loss, but that’s not the case. An increased metabolic rate after exercise is crucial for fat loss because it allows for Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) to occur. EPOC takes place because your body needs energy to repair your muscles after you’ve challenged them. Studies show that a well-designed strength training program can elevate your EPOC or metabolism for up to 38 hours after the workout. Cardio does little to nothing to elevate your EPOC. Lifting heavy versus lifting moderate weight is much better for fat loss because it increases EPOC much more because it is a lot more stress on your body. A study from the University of Alabama in Birmingham showed that individuals who dieted and lifted heavy weights lost the same amount of WEIGHT as individuals who dieted and just did cardio. But the weight lost from the weight lifters was primarily fat, while the weight lost by cardio queens was fat AND muscle. 
  3. You’ll get stronger. Everyone starts somewhere, and for me, that level of strength was equivalent to a 10-year-old child. I couldn’t do a single push up on my knees, I couldn’t chest fly 5 lb dumbbells, nor could I use anything but 5lb dumbbells for the first few months of strength training. But, with months of strength training, the body adapts, it gets stronger, and muscle fibers literally transform to adapt to your training. It’s a pretty cool thing.
  4. You’ll be happier and sleep better. Strength training (and most other forms of exercise) increases serotonin output in the brain. Seratonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation, sleep regulation, and appetite regulation. By regulating serotonin levels in the brain, the body reduces mood imbalances, sleep imbalances, and appetite imbalances. If you’re having crazy cravings, trouble sleeping and you’ve been moody, give strength training a shot and see how your body changes.
  5. You’ll strengthen neural connections. The brain communicates with the body via neural connections, which is essentially information being passed on through millions of neurons located not only in your brain, but your whole body. By strength training, your brain is sending signals to that muscle to contract or lengthen. By repeating this process over and over, through many training sessions, the neural connections between your brain and your muscles will strengthen, making you stronger and more powerful.
  6. You’ll improve your posture. With a sedentary lifestyle many of us live (by driving instead of walking, sitting at work instead of standing, and not moving for the majority of the day), our posture is going to suffer, generally resulting in spinal abnormalities and pain. By strength training, specifically the back and rear deltoids, the muscles become stronger and tighter, bringing the posture to a more upright position, alleviating the spinal pain often resulting from poor posture.
  7. You won’t be bulky. This is predominantly aimed at women who are afraid to strength train out of the fear of getting too bulky, and it’s a fear I once had, too. Getting “bulky” is extremely difficult for women, because it requires years and years of consistent training and diet, and the desire to get bulky. Unfortunately, many women who want to get bulky, find it very challenging and turn to steroid use to help them achieve their physique. If your goal is not to be bulky, but rather have a “toned” and lean physique, strength training is something you should definitely do, because women do not have the testosterone levels to become “bulky” and put on the amount of muscle mass men can.
  8. You’ll be more confident. Anytime you invest a solid amount of time in improving yourself, you’re going to be more comfortable in your own skin. Strength training improves health, improves physique, and improves the mental state, which results in increased levels of confidence. The more you do something, the more comfortable you are doing it, the better you get at it.

How I Train Legs

nika Crush fit leg day

Leg day! 

The way I train legs differs with my goals at the moment.


When I train for strongman competitions, I train for strength so my leg workouts focus on low rep and high weight, and I also do a lot of sprints and work with pulling or pushing heavy weight like the prowler and sled. With strongman training, sometimes the workouts will differ depending on what the event includes in terms of legs. Sometimes the only leg intensive event at the competition is the car deadlift, so I focus on a lot of deadlifts, hack squats and trap-bar deadlifts if that’s the case. In the last competition I did, the leg-intensive event was a yolk squat, so my workouts really focused on doing high box squats and practicing squats with the yolk.

When I train for bodybuilding or just for fun, I focus my workouts around hypertrophy training, which is usually a lower weight, but much higher reps! When doing this type of training, it’s very important to develop a muscle-mind connection, which is essentially solely focusing on that particular muscle throughout its entire movement. It’s also important to be slow and controlled in the movement, because muscle is built with time under tension, and rushing through an exercise isn’t going to yield as great of a result as keeping the exercise slow and controlled.

An example of my strongman leg workout:

  • Front squats 5-3-1 @ 55/65/75% of my 1 RM
  • Back squats 3x8 @ 75% of my 1 RM
  • Heavy weighted walking lunges 3x10 each leg
  • Glute-ham raises supersetted with ab roll outs 3x15
  • Prowler push 4x100 ft in under 12 seconds
    An example of my bodybuilding leg workout:
    • Front squats 3x8
    • Back squats 20-15-12-10-8-6
    • Weighted walking lunges supersetted with hamstring curls 4x15
    • Leg press with legs a bit wider than shoulder width apart 5x15
    • Hip abduction supersetted with hip adduction 3x20
    • Leg extensions 4x20 with 3 second pause at the top

      When training for legs, there are so many ways to work each muscle group, so sometimes I split up my leg workout to focus on hamstrings and quads one day, and have a glute intensive day later in the week. Having 2 leg days a week isn’t necessary to grow legs, but my glutes are one of my weaker body parts because I’m very quad dominant and I like to have one day where I solely focus on them. This concept can be applied to training any body part, and having one day to really focus on your weakness!

      The Benefits of Stretching

      We’ve all been there, it’s the end of your workout and all you want to do is go home...not spend the extra 5-10 minutes stretching. Or maybe you walk into the gym and the squat rank is open for once and you run to it to make sure you get it before anyone snags it, and you neglect your warm up.

      Making excuses to avoid stretching is very easy, after all, stretching can’t be that important, right? Wrong. Stretching is very important not just to improve flexibility, but to increase your range of motion, to prevent injury, helps your joints stay strong and healthy, and it increases blood flow to your muscles.

      What stretches should you do? Stretching is going to be slightly different at the beginning of your workouts versus the end of it. When you stretch at the beginning of your workout, you want to avoid static stretching. Static stretching is often times what comes to mind when you think of “stretching” (ex: touching your toes, holding your arm across your chest, etc.) The reason you want to avoid this type of stretching pre-workout is to avoid injury. You want your muscles to be warmed up before you do any type of static stretching, so how do you warm up?


      Warm up:

      • 5 min warm up on a piece of cardio equipment
      • Myofascial massage (Aka foam rolling – I’ll write an entire blog post about this because it’s that important) – time frame doesn’t necessarily matter. I personally foam roll for 3-5 minutes for my warm up. I roll out my upper back, lower back, glutes, hamstrings and quads.
      • The following is dependent of which muscle group you work
        • If you’re working shoulders or arms, you want to make sure your shoulders are open and not tight. To help this, stand in between a doorway with your hands placed about shoulder height holding onto the doorway. Slowly put bodyweight into the stretch to really open up your chest and shoulders. Move your hands up higher and do that same stretch. Afterwards, I also use a PVC pipe to help open up my shoulders. I hold onto it wider than shoulder width, bring it above my head and bring it around to my hips and then I bring it back around. I do this 5-10 times.
        • If you’re working legs or back (specifically dead lifts), it’s important to open up your hips if you’re not naturally very mobile. Do high kicks to open up your hips (left leg kicks to right hand) and do about 10 per side. Then, take a resistance band and place it around your knees. Stand straight and kick up and out, do about 5 per side. Then, go into a squat-like position and take 10 steps each way. All of these exercises help open up the hips and improve squatting and dead lifting form.
      Post workout stretching:
      • This is the type of stretching that comes to mind when you think of stretching. Foam rolling post-workout is also wonderful!
      • My personal stretch routine (you should use a yoga mat):
        • Stand at the top of your mat with your arms stretched up above you and really reach (hold for 15-30 seconds)
        • Take a deep breathe in, and when you exhale, come down and touch your toes (hold for 30-60 seconds)
        • Walk your hands out to a plank position and hold
        • Slowly lower yourself down with your arms extended out in front of you and reach (hold for 30 seconds)
        • Bring your palms to your chest and press up into a “cobra” pose. Make sure your shoulders are away from your ears (hold for 30-60 seconds)
        • Push back to child’s pose (hold for 60 seconds)
        • Come up to your knees and put one leg in front of the other and really go into the stretch (15-30 seconds)
        • Extend the forward leg until it is straight while keeping the other knee on the ground and with the leg that is extended, point your toes towards the ceiling (hold for 20 seconds) – do the same thing with the other leg
        • Sit in a comfortable position and reach up towards the sky, then bring your arms behind your back and open up your chest (hold for 10-20 seconds)
        • Bring one arm across your chest to stretch your shoulders and arms, try to not hold your arm at your elbow, but rather at your forearm or arm, do the same thing with the other arm (hold for 15-20 seconds)
        • Bring your hand above your head to stretch your tricep, repeat on the other arm (hold for 15-20 seconds)

      Foam Rolling

      Crush-Fitness-Foam-Rolling-Nika

      Myofascial release, or better known as foam rolling, is something EVERYONE should be doing. Here are some of the benefits:

      • Increases blood flow to the target area, which decreases recovery time between your workouts (in the vernacular, it can significantly help alleviate muscle soreness)
      • Loosens up the muscles in the target area and can help alleviate muscular and skeletal pain
      • Can assist in adjusting your back
      • Increases your range of motion
      When should you do it?
      • You should foam roll both before and after your workouts, for it can be used to stretch, increase blood flow, warm you up and cool you down.
      • Foam rolling in the morning can be beneficial to waking you up and increasing alertness throughout the day, it also helps with muscle stiffness.
      How should you foam roll?
      • If you google “foam rolling”, you can see with what exact you foam roll with. It’s a cylindrical shape, but the degrees of stiffness vary dependent on which kind of foam roller you go with. There are very stiff rollers made from PVC pipes, and they can really get to the tough spots, but they can be painful, especially for beginners or boney individuals. There are also very soft rollers for those who are very stiff or are a bit older. Personally, I like a stiff-ness that is somewhere in the middle.
      Where should I foam roll?
      • Upper back: Lift your hands above your head and slowly roll your body up and down, it’s essentially giving yourself a massage! Move your hands down toward your sides and continue the rolling.
      • Glutes: If you’re having lower back stiffness, it’s probably stemming from tight hips/glutes, and rolling out your glutes will help loosen it up.
      • Hamstrings: You can do single leg rolling or you can do both legs at the same time, or you could do both and really get into your hamstrings
      • Your IT band: This is pretty painful, so be careful. Lay on your side with one leg on the roller and the other propped on the ground to give you leverage for the rolling
      • Quads: This can also be painful if you have tight quads, again you want to use one leg as leverage and the other as the roller.