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Kristen's Story: Strength Training Trumps Cardio

2011 – The beginning of my fitness journey

I began my fitness journey in 2011 when I finished graduate school, weighing in at 162 lb and a size 12. I felt absolutely awful about my body. I had maintained the typical student diet of alcohol, processed foods and very little protein since 2004, and it showed. During my university life I dabbled in the gym, but it was mostly doing bicep curls with pink dumbbells and the 30 minutes on the elliptical. I was not consistent, I definitely did not eat to support my training, and I did not lift heavy. In April 2011 I started with a trainer at my local gym, lost a couple of pounds, but nothing drastic.

Kristen Story

End of 2012 – Excessive cardio and carb restriction

Near the end of 2012 I discovered HIIT and began doing a combination of HIIT workouts, kettlebell workouts, spinning classes, Bikram yoga, and running 5 – 10 km 6 – 7 days a week. I was determined to lose weight/body fat and I would do multiple workouts a day and take 1 rest day a week maximum, which usually involved Bikram yoga, so I wasn’t really resting. This was total overkill and my body was hurting – I suffered from joint problems, ganglion cysts on my feet, nerve issues and constant numbness in my toes, sore wrists from an excess number of burpees – I was always in pain from exercise. At the same time I was eating extremely low carb and low fat (all whole foods, but just protein and ultra-low carb veggies) and binge-eating on crap on Saturday, and often Sunday too. I could easily put away 3000-4000 calories a day on the weekends since I felt so deprived during the week. It was like the weekend would arrive and I thought I’d never be able to eat again, so I would just eat ALL the food, and then shame myself for eating so much.

It was a mentally exhausting process and at the time I didn’t really understand that I was suffering from disordered eating and that this was drastically changing my relationship with food. Although I was binge-eating, I did lose weight during this time, but not many inches, so my clothing size didn’t change much and I didn’t look much different. I had lost a lot of muscle and my ass got really flat, and I was still “skinny-fat” despite working so hard doing a ton of exercise. I was frustrated and confused as to why these methods weren’t yielding the results I desired. In December 2012, I started reading about women lifting heavy weights, and I came across articles by Bret, about “advanced programming for glutes” – I dabbled in the prescribed exercises, but really didn’t have a clue what I was doing in terms of setting up a program.

Jan 2013 – start of Get Glutes

In January 2013 I found Get Glutes through Marianne Kane. I joined when it launched and started the workouts to get in shape for my wedding in September, 2013. At this point, I weighed 132 lb and was a size 8-10. I immediately fell in love with heavy lifting and increased my protein intake (I thought this was “eating to support my training”), although I still struggled with being afraid of carbs and fats. I continued to suffer from disordered eating patterns and was obsessed about what foods I couldn’t eat. Literally there were days when I would walk down the street and I remember hallucinating cheeseburgers for heads on people walking by. The deprivation during the week necessitated a binge day on Saturday, which while not as excessive as in the past, was not conducive to my fat loss goals or more importantly having a healthy relationship with food. I was always hangry and food-obsessed during the week, and shamed myself for being a glutton who couldn’t control her food intake on the weekend – I was not in a good place. I was also still clinging to my obsession with HIIT and excessive amounts of conditioning as I thought this was how to “tone” and lose fat, not to mention I felt very guilty about binge-eating and that I had to “work off” those calories. For the first 5-6 months on the Get Glutes program I didn’t see major strength or shape gains since I was still doing at least 30 minutes of HIIT before or after (often both) nearly every strength workout.

It was exhausting and my body was tired, but I was convinced that I needed to do this. Bret would always give me shit about it, but I really didn’t understand at this point that what I REALLY needed was just heavy lifting, more resting, and not trying to make up for binge calories with exercise, and that just not binge-eating in the first place was far easier. After many frequent big kicks by Bret, Kellie Davis and Marianne Kane, I dropped all conditioning work and maintained extreme consistency in the gym, getting 4 – 5 strength sessions in a week. To my complete surprise the magic started happening! (This is when I had to admit, that of course, The Glute Guy knows better than me). I quickly put 3 inches onto my butt, I got up to 3 x 225 x 10 my BBHT, did my first unassisted pull up with proper form, and I was gaining strength like a boss. I was losing dress sizes and bodyfat, although my weight was stable at 132 lb.

Kristen Story

October 2013 to April 2014

I slowly began to incorporate one conditioning finisher a week back into my training in October, 2013, after not doing any conditioning for nearly 5 months. I cleared it with Bret first, and he assured me he “trusted me now” as I had finally seen the benefits of prioritizing strength training. Now when I do conditioning, although infrequent, I do it right – keep it short (< 10 minutes) and keep it heavy (kettlebell swing ladders, barbell complexes). I also avoid anything that will make me overly sore and interfere with my next lifting session, unlike before when my goal was get as sore as possible. Shortly after this time, with much encouragement from my friends on the Get Glutes forum, I decided to let go of my carb- and fat-phobia and started to eat like an athlete. I started tracking my calories and macros to make sure I was getting enough but not too much of the right foods to support my training. Eating this way restored my sanity and completely resolved my disordered eating – I no longer had the urge to binge since I was happy with my regular food – I stuck to 2 off plan meals each week, or one off plan meal and a bottle of wine with my husband. Improving my macros also resulted in all sorts of gains in the gym – my BBHT was stuck at 3 x 10 x 225 for months prior, and it jumped to 3 x 10 x 255 and 3 x 3 x 315 out of nowhere. My deadlift hit 200 lbs. I finally got 4 unassisted pull ups for sets and did 12 singles. Basically my strength increased across the board! I started losing more body fat, adding more muscle on my upper body and my ass started changing again. While the inches didn’t change on my glutes, their shape changed a lot during this time – they became much rounder and higher. My clothes were fitting looser everywhere, except in the butt, and I was now wearing a size 4, although I was still weighing in at 132 lb. While I am closer to my “ideal”, what that means keeps changing for me, so it will be a never ending project of getting strong as hell and putting on more muscle. I look forward to this journey since I love training!

Kristen Story

What I’ve learned

My main focus now is building strength, and this definitely takes priority over conditioning. While I still add some accessory work (isolation work for upper body) a few times per week, or a short conditioning finisher (< 10 minutes), I do not go overboard on either because if I do it will impact the compound movements in my next workout – I’ve tried the overboard approach and it fails. Every. Time.

I have learned to taper myself in the gym in order to ensure my next training session is a productive one, and to listen to my body when it needs to rest – why go for a workout when I’m really sore and tired if it’s just going to suck? That’s not to say I don’t push it and train hard, because I do. I grunt sometimes and make faces, and they’d probably ring the lunk alarm on me for grunting too much if I trained at Planet Fitness. I still get sore, and I train if I’m a bit sore, but now I know the difference between slightly sore and able to train with good form vs. exhausted sore and needing rest. I know the value of being consistent with heavy lifting, the value of rest, and that my body requires both in order to build the muscle mass I desire. I know now that if I beat the crap out of my body every session it won’t perform optimally and this will impact my strength and physique gains. I know that to perform well in the gym, utilize progressive overload and get stronger, and not to mention maintain a sane relationship with food, I need to feed my body well and not restrict entire macro groups. I have learned too that like everyone, while I have my trouble spots, I also have things about my body that I love! Although my abs may never be 6-pack ripped, as this seems to be where I am genetically predisposed to hold on to fat, you could bounce a quarter off my ass and I can BBHT and BBGB more than any of the men at my gym.

So, with that, any ladies reading this who aren’t sure that heavy lifting is for you… well… heavy lifting is for everyone! Get Glutes style workouts will give you the body you only dreamed conditioning would give you – b/c conditioning won’t give you that coveted curvaceous, “toned” look, and it definitely won’t give you a sweet butt. You need muscle for that and you need to be strong.

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