Why Pushing Yourself Beyond Your Comfort Level Makes ALL the Difference

woman crossfit

Doing pull-ups will definitely increase your fitness levels. (Courtesy of Lululemon Athletica)

So the first four  and half months of 2014 will not be remembered as the year I ate the way my clients imagine—super healthy and like a bird. It was the other way around, like a pig way more often than I should. Like every other day or more. Yet, I didn’t gain any weight and it turns out my cardio fitness levels are higher than ever, and I certainly haven’t lost any strength even though I don’t lift weights more than once a week. So how did I manage this? The answer: The few times I did work out, I worked out VERY HARD. Pretty much all my workouts included high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Being a writer—check out my books here—as well as a trainer, my life often goes through cycles during which I focus more on one or the other. This year it has been my writing, which was the reason I stopped thinking about what I ate and how much I ate and made sure I worked out at least five times a week. That’s the way I live when I want to make sure I look and feel the best way possible. It turns out that I don’t need to work out quite as often and I can get away with eating more AS LONG AS I WORK OUT VERY HARD.

This is what I have learned (or gotten reinforced):

1. Very intense workouts are even more effective than I had previously thought when it comes to burning calories and increasing your fitness level. For everyone. People often blame their genetics if they have a hard time losing weight or building muscle. It’s true that genes play a role, but what seems to play a bigger role is how much you let your circumstances—bad genes, having had a couple of kids, being post-menopause—control the way you see yourself. Yes, it is slightly easier for some people to lose weight/get in shape, but your circumstances don’t make THAT much of a difference. People instead use their circumstances as an excuse not to try at all, which is so sad. To give you an example: English is not my first language. Does that mean I can not become as good a writer using the English language as a native English speaker? Of course not, it’ll just take more work for me to get there. (I sincerely hope this post is not filled with grammar problems/typos/generally awkward use of English:)

2. Spinning has not made my thighs huge (and it’s unlikely they’ll make yours huge, either). While you cannot spot reduce body fat,

My friend Martha and I after 40 mile bike ride in New Jersey.

My friend Martha and I after 40 mile bike ride in New Jersey.

a couple of studies suggest that you may retain body fat on your thighs if you do a lot of spinning. These random studies made me avoid spinning for fear of my thighs getting huge, as I do have the type of body that stores fat in the thighs. Well, I have been doing LOTS of spinning lately—and Crossfit with heavy weights—and the only thing that have changed is that my thighs are even stronger than they used to be. But they’re not bigger. You may think now, “Okay, Julia, but you are only one person.” True, but if you know me, you’d know that I’m a very inquisitive person. So I have been asking tons of people I either spin or bike with—women primarily—if they feel their thighs have gotten bigger from spinning alone. No one thought so. Of course, if your goal is to have extremely slender legs, you may not want to do spinning (or run or work out your legs with weights either, for that matter) and stick to power walking. It is true that by working out your legs, you will develop some muscle. Still, if you feel your legs are big, I can almost guarantee you this is because you have lots of fat on your legs, not muscle (at least not only muscle).

3. Doing spinning and high-intensity workouts such as Crossfit have increased my fitness levels significantly. Getting back into running is not as painful because my cardio fitness is higher than ever. You may be under the impression I’m saying that spinning and crossfit are what made me increase my fitness levels and burn more calories. That’s not my point. Anytime you’re in a setting that makes you push yourself very hard, you will get these kinds of results. For me, when I’m in a spinning or Crossfit class with a drill sergeant type instructor, I generally push myself way more than when I work out on my own. When I’m done, I’m drenched in sweat. If you want to get quick and drastic results, this is the way you need to be when you finish your workouts, too.  Of course, if your goal is to lose weight, you need to cut your calories too, not eat like a pig like yours truly. The only good thing with eating too much is that once my focus switches back to being as slim as I can be—right now I’m somewhere in the middle on that scale—it will be easy for me to lose weight as my body is used to metabolizing huge amounts of calories per day. So all I need to do is cut my calories by 500 per day and the weight will quickly come off. Something to keep in mind:)



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