Sunday, September 15, 2013

5 Things You Need to Start Getting Fit

     You've decided to make a change in your lifestyle. You want to get in shape and start eating better. That's great! Now you check Pinterest and some healthy chick blogs, but there is so much out there! Where do you even begin?

1. Find Your Baseline. First you need to know where you are in order to decide where to go. Track your daily eating and activity with either a journal or an online tracker* like My Fitness Pal or SparkPeople. Once you know how many calories you are consuming and burning, you will have a better idea of what needs to change.

*I only suggest using these as a guideline, as they accept user input for calorie counts which are not always accurate. 

2. Have a Goal -- a measurable and reasonable goal! Saying, "I want to lose weight and tone up" is not measurable. Likewise, trying to lose 50lbs in two months is unreasonable and dangerous. A good rule of thumb for weight loss is 1.5-2lbs per week for a beginner. So, a reasonable goal would be working to lose 10-12lbs in 6 weeks.

3. Have a Plan. With a trainer and/or nutritional coach, determine how many calories you need to consume and burn to reach your goal. For example, you may find that you need to engage in 5-7 hours of activity per week. That does not necessarily mean that you need to spend each of those hours in the gym. Be sure to include strength training and cardio into your plan. Cardio can be playing in the park with your kids or jogging around the block with the dog or going for a bike ride. Strength training doesn't have to include weights, but it should.

4. Have the Appropriate Equipment. Ladies! Buy the right sports bra! As a petite woman rocking DDs, I know the trauma of bra shopping. My suggestion? Go to a store that specializes in sports apparel, find the ones that offer the most support for your size and chosen activity, and try it on. Don't look at the price until you find one that fits. $50+ may seem like a lot of money, but consider it an investment. Keeping those puppies in place will help you stay focused on your workout.
Shoes are even more important. When you go into a store to buy a pair, let the salesperson know what activity you will be doing in your new shoes. Walking shoes are not running shoes are not hiking shoes are not lifting shoes, etc. If you plan to run and lift, buy different shoes! Again, this is an investment. They provides different amounts of support in different places depending on the intended purpose.

5. Have patience (and find support.) Lifestyle changes don't come easy. You may fall off the wagon. You may struggle with workouts. You may not lose weight as quickly as you'd like. Stick with it! Remember that you are doing this to be healthy and you are investing in your future. Get people on your side. Let your spose, friends, children, and co-workers know about your plan. They can help encourage you when you are feeling down and get you back on track when you are feeling weak. True story: During my sugar detox, I was eating lunch in our break room and said out loud, "Man, I haven't had a Twix in forever! I really want a Twix." And a co-worker I had been talking to earlier in the day about healthy eating habits just so happened to walk by and without missing a beat, she said, "But think about how it will make you feel after!" And with that, I snapped out of it. When you have a cheering section, you can push through the tough spots with a little bit more grace. :)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Brushing off the dust.

Hey, y'all! It has been quite a while, hasn't it?

I can't guarantee I will be updating with any kind of frequency, but I had the urge to post today. There has been a lot of change here in the MM household.
Baby J is in daycare now since I am working at a local elementary school with the special education department. She is doing amazingly well! She's adjusted to her new sleep schedule and made new friends right away. I am so proud of my baby doll. Two things that haven't changed: We're still breastfeeding at 16 months! (Mostly her idea... lol.) And we're still co-sleeping. I don't mind either.
I am finishing up my Elite Personal Fitness Trainer Certification. I have about a month to complete my exams and then I'll be official! I've learned so much about fitness and nutrition. I can't wait to apply some of this knowledge to real life clients.
I am also giving the 21 Day Sugar Detox a second shot. I have my first week planned out. *Maybe* I'll post my food diary tomorrow night. If I'm not dying from lack of sugar...
We are moving into a new home in November, and now that I'm working outside the home, I don't have a lot of time for exercise. So my plan is to keep up with 3 days a week of P90X strength training DVDs and one cardio DVD until we are moved in and our home gym is usable again.

Here is my training plan for the next three weeks:
Monday: Chest/Back & Abs
Wednesday: Shoulders/Triceps & Abs
Friday: Legs/Back & Abs
Saturday: Yoga (wk1), Kenpo (wk2), Plyo (wk3)

*I'll probably skip the recovery week for Phase 1 and start Phase 2 on Wk 4.

Hopefully I'll have more useful information in my next post. I have to reinstall the Blogger app on my iPad so I can post whenever the mood strikes again. ;)

Until then, here is a picture of my munchkin at the Mayborn Museum at Baylor today. :D
Obviously, my child can make objects levitate. Doesn't it look like my husband (who is rocking my Ju Ju Be BFF diaper bag, btw. No biggie.) is telling people to check out her magical powers? lol.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

35 Things I Need to Thank My Mom For

Mom, I want you to know just how much I appreciate everything you've done for me. Ever. Plus, it's not really in my SAHM budget to send flowers and chocolate and I don't think all of this would fit on a card. So, just a quick recap. Thank you for:

  1. Changing my diapers. Especially the poopy ones. And cleaning up the messes that somehow made it out of the diaper and onto the crib. And the walls. And my clothes...
  2. Brushing my hair, even when I complained about it being tangled.
  3. Humoring my inner supermodel as a tot and taking hundreds of pictures of me in silly poses and ridiculous outfits.
  4. Taking me to swimming lessons, even though I was always scared to put my head under water.
  5. Putting up with my impatience while you tried to teach me to write my letters (and then algebra, and chemistry, and calculus and physics.)
  6. Laying with me at night until I fell asleep, especially since I'm sure you had Important things to do.
  7. Making me jelly rolls for lunch. On flat bread. With the crusts cut off. 
  8. Keeping up with my constant flip-flopping on the topic of spaghetti sauce.
  9. Taking care of me when I was sick. Even when I had the pukey kind of strep throat in fourth grade.
  10. Not killing me when I finger painted the whole back porch and thought I could clean it up with my Alex Mack super powers. (Note to readers: I do not have Alex Mack super powers.)
  11. While we're on it, thank you for not killing me when I cut my brother's hair or pierced his ear. With scissors. 
  12. Providing the security of a safe and loving childhood home. I never once had to worry about the roof over my head, the clothes on my back, or the food on our table. Even though I'm sure there were times that you did.
  13. Driving me to cheerleading practice and spending all day every Saturday at the football stadium when Jeremy and I both had games.
  14. Coming to all of my awards assemblies and always encouraging to do my best in school.
  15. Understanding when "my best" wasn't perfect.
  16. Taking us to visit our grandparents every summer and Christmas. We always had the best time.
  17. Giving me more experiences than "things" growing up.
  18. Our family vacations to Disney. It really was the most magical place on Earth.
  19. Always loving my father and hugging and kissing in front of us. I learned what a healthy relationship should be like because I always had you two as an example.
  20. Taking me to see *NSYNC in middle school. I have a sneaking suspicion that you didn't share my enthusiasm for their musical talent.
  21. Not killing me when I hit puberty and became a raging drama queen.
  22. Forgiving me for every time I told you I hated you when I really just meant that I was angry about not getting what I wanted. 
  23. Our family road trip to DC and NYC. Getting to see Rent changed my life.
  24. Being supportive when I told you I wanted to be a Broadway superstar instead of getting a "real" degree. 
  25. Giving me your car so I could drive myself to the theatre. And concerts, even the ones in Orlando and Tampa.
  26. Being supportive when I decided journalism was the way to go instead.
  27. Buying me a car in college even though I totaled it three months later. (I still miss that car!)
  28. Taking care of me when I was sick. Even when I got mono at the end of my last Fall semester in college.
  29. Funding my study abroad trip to Europe. That is an experience I will never forget.
  30. Letting me make my own mistakes. And boy did I make some big ones...
  31. Helping me plan my wedding, but letting me make all of my own decisions.
  32. Being supportive of my marriage and loving my husband.
  33. Being in the delivery room when I was in labor with Josie. I couldn't have done it without you.
  34. Changing her diapers in the hospital and helping me with all of those "new mom" things when I had no earthly idea what to do.
  35. Loving my daughter. It means so much to me that she can have a relationship with you even from over 1000 miles away. 
My mom holding Josie minutes after her birth. May 8, 2012.

Most of all, thank you for giving me life and being the best mother, teacher, nurse, therapist, and friend I could ever ask for.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Happy First Birthday, Baby Girl!

Josephine Lily,

My beautiful baby girl. You are a whole year old today, and my how you’ve grown! (I mean it; you’ve more than tripled your birth weight!) There were so many days when I didn’t know how we would get this far, but we did it. And I am so happy that this is the first of many years I get to spend with you as your mommy. 

You are strong and fearless. You walk, climb, and run anywhere you can without hesitation, and if you fall and scrape your knee on uneven ground, you get right back up without so much as a whimper. You love when I chase you in circles around the kitchen and dining room, always laughing hysterically as you run away from me. Instead of carrying you, now we walk together down the street to the mailbox. You still enjoy your piggyback rides in the Beco, though, and I am so grateful for that. I love having you close to me, even if you pull my hair and pinch my armpits sometimes.

You are smart and beautiful. You have your daddy’s rhythm (thank goodness!) and such a contagious smile. Everywhere we go, you make someone’s day just by looking at them. How special is that? Please don’t ever lose that brightness in your eyes. Or your sense of adventure. Or your enthusiasm for making new friends. Life can be quite lonely without friends.

This is a big day for me, too. We’ve reached my personal goal of breastfeeding for 12 months, and we’re still going! We’ve had our share of issues from the beginning but have also reaped so many benefits, and although there were times I swore I would quit, I am so happy that we didn’t. There is a special bond a nursing mom has with her baby which you can never replicate and that has made it all worth it.
I know I am far from a perfect mom. I may not have made all your baby food or taught you sign language or read to you every single day. We push the limits with bath time, I let you watch TV and stay up late, and sometimes I raise my voice when I’m upset. But please know that for the rest of your life, I will love you with my whole heart and you are the best thing that has ever happened to me. Some days, when I feel sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, and under-qualified for this job, the only thing that keeps me going is watching you grow.

I'll spare you the birth story until you are a little bit older, but just know that you were surrounded by people who love you on that day, just like you are now. Did you know that today is also Mommy and Daddy's wedding anniversary? Isn't that special? I’ll say it over and over until I can’t say it anymore. I love you!

Happy birthday, sweet girl. You are the best anniversary present ever!

<3 Mama

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Sox Box ***GIVEAWAY***

I had to return from my hiatus, however briefly, to share this AWESOME shop with you! When we left off, I was educating you ladies on gym equipment. The Sox Box has the perfect accessories for your deadlift day! (For me, they are an absolute necessity as I don't enjoy bloody shins no matter how badass they look.) Obviously, you can wear them whenever the heck you'd like, though. ;)

Here are my socks, which I ordered about a month ago. These are so my style on two levels. 1. I honestly still have trouble remembering left and right. (Laugh if you like.) 2. They're orange and blue. GO GATORS!

The Sox Box has an awesome variety of socks (one would hope, right?) including a few of my favorites: Zombie Killa, Beauty/Beast, Tough Tatas, and Thick Chick.

One of my favorite things about this shop is that they donate 20% of all profits to the Independence Fund, which is a non-profit organization which seeks to provide tools and services for wounded military veterans. Being married to an active duty soldier and raised in a family full of veterans, this cause is dear to my heart.

Athena from The Sox Box has agreed to let me give away a pair of her awesome socks, so without further ado:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 8, 2013

Where did my tiny newborn go?

Let's be honest. It looks like the baby on the right ate the baby on the left.

Holy guacamole!

     It's been 11 months since I first held you in my arms. You were so tiny! 6lb 14oz, 19.25 inches. I don't think anyone believes me when I tell them you were ever that small. Needless to say, you have thrived on the super nutritious boob juice, and recently a few bites of Mommy's food. You seem to like yogurt, rice cakes, and chicken. And, hey! You're finally getting the hang of the sippy cup! I bet you were a little surprised to learn that you could do more than just chew on the handles. ;)
     We flew together for the first time a couple weeks ago to visit family in Florida. That in itself was, uh, a learning experience. Like, I learned that next time I'll buy out the whole row so you have enough room to nurse and move around. It was great seeing family, though! You just love being around people (or, as I call them, your "adoring fans") and seeing new things.
     We went to Seaworld with Grandma & Grandpa U, Auntie Jen, Kim, and Capri. You slept through the Clyde and Seamore show, but LOVED the manta rays! Even though it was exceptionally windy and cold for spring in Central Florida, you were a trooper. You rode around on my back all day long without a single complaint.
     Grandma W took us to Uncle Donald's Farm, a tradition on both sides of the family. We saw chickens, bunnies, sheep, and lots of other animals. The goats were you favorite. I'm guessing it's because they had as much energy as you do! We also went on a hay ride and fed some cows. I thought you would be afraid of their massive size, but instead... you MOOED at them!
     You spent the rest of the trip chasing around Slick, the "kitty kitty" at Grandma and Grandpa's house. You said your first legit sentence, "Hi, kitty!" last week. In the meantime, you also sprouted two new teeth and learned a few new tricks. Grandpa U taught you how to clap on demand by saying, "One, two, three... YAY, JOSIE!" Now you start clapping on "One..." Grandpa W taught you to say "boom" when you knock over the stacking cups or fall on your butt. You did a lot of growing this past month and I have a feeling it won't slow down any time soon.
     I can't believe I'm already crunched for time to plan your birthday party. Your BIRTHDAY! This craziness needs to stop, kiddo. ;)

Love you X a million,

Friday, March 8, 2013

Creeping closer toward ONE YEAR!


     Today, you are ten months old. The amount of growth you show every day continues to amaze me. A few weeks ago, you hit possibly the biggest milestone of your little life so far. You started walking! I couldn't believe my eyes as I watched you walk across the living room to Daddy's recliner completely unassisted. You've been following me around the house like a little duckling ever since, helping me with my chores and staring in awe at all the things you've never seen before, like the open refrigerator. I'm pretty sure you think there is a magical land back there. I hate to disappoint you, but it's just a bunch of apples and coconut milk.
     Grandma told me (way back when all you did was cry) that you would be a lot of fun one day. She was right! You made up this really cute game to play with me while I'm studying. You run behind the side of the couch and peek your head out around the corner. When I see you, I make a silly face and you duck away again, giggling. This goes on and on, sometimes for 15-20 minutes. Sometimes not very long because I can't resist chasing after you and squeezing your chunky little legs and kissing you all over.
     We have gotten to play together a lot lately. Yesterday, we went to something called Kindermusik and sang songs with other little kids. Then we went to the mall and I took you out of the Beco to nurse, but you just wanted to run around. Luckily, I'm still bigger and faster than you, so I let you run. And I chased you and scooped you up when you got too close to other people (or the tile). You laughed the whole time until we had to go home. I couldn't sleep last night because I just kept thinking about what a great time we had.
     Yo Gabba Gabba is still your favorite show. Apparently nothing is quite as amusing as dancing monsters and a guy in a silly orange hat. Whatever floats your boat, kiddo! (I won't judge. I like shows about teenaged vampires and time-traveling aliens.) You also like any toys that you can crinkle, shake, or chew on. And I've all but given up trying to keep you from eating paper and dead leaves. They won't kill you, but I really can't imagine the appeal.
     In a couple weeks, you and I will take our first plane ride to Florida to visit our family (those people you see in the little rectangular box during FaceTime every week) and I'm pretty nervous about flying with you! It will be a short trip, so hopefully you won't be too uncomfortable. We are also going to Seaworld together, and I'm excited! It will be my first time there, too!

Well, Little Duck. You are growing up too fast, and I'm sure I will say that over and over again for the rest of my life. I truly do love you a little more each day.

<3 Mama

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Self-Imposed Time Out

After this giveaway, I will be taking about a week off from blogging, the internet, and my computer in general. I know I've been in and out, and I guess it's because I am kind of ambivalent about the blogging world right now. I want to write, I want to share, but the games get so exhausting and overwhelming that it stops being fun. The frustrating part is that I have SO MUCH to write about and I am too busy to do it! I need to be able to clear my plate a little before I can take the time to do any quality writing. (Which sucks, because I am so excited to have new readers!) I keep saying, "One day, this will be running like a legitimate blog. One day..." But I can't keep up!

I also live with anxiety and depression and my symptoms have been worse since our big move. I feel the constant pressure to be a good mom and wife and I feel like I can't do everything I need to do, which makes me feel inadequate and worthless (as long as we're being honest...) So, what happens instead is I pretend my daily responsibilities don't exist and drown myself in stupid tasks (like playing Candy Crush or watching Season 2 of The Walking Dead for the fourth time.) Of course, that's counter-productive and makes everything worse. The dishes and laundry won't do themselves, and obviously my daughter needs me. I need to dig back in my memory to my early therapy sessions and do what I know will HELP:

1. Make lists. My "wiring" makes it difficult for me to prioritize, so in my head, getting the mail is just as important as showering and checking Facebook is right up there with showering. The only way for me to fix this is to physically write out a list and put things in order of importance from 1 to whatever. This forces me to see what needs to be done FIRST and what can wait. If I don't do this, I get overwhelmed by EVERYTHING that needs to be done and end up doing nothing.

2. Work out. It's tough to get motivated when you are dealing with even a small bout of depression, but medical studies have shown that exercise is proven to help with depression and anxiety. There are both physiological (releasing endorphins, lowering blood pressure) and psychological (gaining confidence, feeling healthier) benefits of exercise.

3. Eat cleaner and healthier foods. I haven't even looked at a Paleo recipe in MONTHS. When I start getting depressed, I tend to eat foods that appease my need for instant gratification. For me, that's anything sweet. A box of cherry cordials from Valentine's Day, cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, etc. And because of my addiction to sugar, it just snowballs out of control from there. To the point where I NEED to eat at least one sugary food a day or I get a miserable headache.
4. Drink more water. In addition to cleaning up my eating habits, I need to drink more water. This will help me feel full when I am only craving sweets and not actually hungry as well as fighting off fatigue and those nasty headaches.

5. Meditate and play with my baby. Instead of turning to TV and games, I need to work on my breathing (which will help keep my anxiety in check) and PLAY. Nothing in the world makes me happier than hearing my little girl laugh. Getting on the floor and making silly faces, or making a fool out of myself by singing and dancing for her, is truly the best therapy for me right now. So instead of wasting my days on time suckers, I will live in the REAL world for a while. The internet can wait.

Here is what I am working on right now:
Reviewing products for Mami's and Papi's (my awesome local cloth diaper store/baby boutique.)
Becoming certified as an Elite Personal Trainer with ISSA.
Custom orders for my Etsy store.
Organizing and keeping my home.
Watching my baby girl grow up.

So, there is the top of my "Priorities" list. I love to write, but the blog will have to wait until I have a few things figured out. Thank you for understanding! <3

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Handmade from the Heart *GIVEAWAY*

Happy Valentine's Day!
To celebrate Valentine's Day, I've joined the Blogging Mamas Network in the Handmade from the Heart Giveaway Hop!  This Event is all about the Love for Handmade things - each blogger involved, including me, has a great prize for you to enter to win!  

My sponsor, Unique and Chic Creations, is offering a tutu wreath like the one below to one lucky winner!

After you enter my giveaway, be sure to hop around to all the others.
And you definitely don't want to miss the Grand Prize...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Fine print: Open to US only. Winner chooses any two colors and letter initial they'd like. According to Jenny, So Easy Being Green, and the Handmade from the Heart participating bloggers are not responsible for sponsors who do not fulfill prize obligations. Anyone found to have fraudulently claimed an entry will be reported. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

SPONSOR SPOTLIGHT: Unique and Chic Creations

Megan Hamer (KraftinMommy on Etsy) is a former elementary school teacher who now stays home with her baby girl and managed to turn her dream hobby into a business. Full disclosure: She's the sister of an old friend and she specializes in LOVELY custom decor for kids' rooms and events. I super-heart (go ahead and cringe, people, but I mean it!) her work and she has agreed to sponsor me for the Handmade from the Heart giveaway event which begins on TOMORROW!

Her shop features an array of adorable and attentively handcrafted gifts for the littles in your life. She makes name plaques and personalized letters to hang in a nursery or child's room, unique diaper bikes (as opposed to diaper cakes), and ribbon wreaths and banners for any celebration-worthy occasion!

Megan has offered a small tutu wreath, similar to the one above, to the lucky winner of our Handmade from the Heart giveaway!

Quite literally, a rainbow of colors to choose from. You can match ANY decor!
Something about theses wreaths just makes me so happy! I personally plan to order one in orange and blue so I can represent my Florida Gators out here in Texas. ;)

In addition to shopping her Etsy store, check out her blog and follow Unique and Chic Creations on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with sales and giveaways she has going on!

Friday, February 8, 2013

It has been 9 short, incredible months.

Oh, Little Monkey...

I'm typing this in bed from my iPad and you are sleeping right next to me. Funny how I was scared for so long about letting you share my bed and now I can't imagine putting you anywhere else. You are spending more and more time in your own crib, it is attached (sidecar) to ours, which is great because it means more room for everybody!

I know I can never describe you as calm, laid-back, or quiet. You are loud and crazy (just like your mommy!) and such an awesome person. I wouldn't trade a single thing about you. Not even the number of times you (still) wake me up at night, because I know not to long from now, I am going to miss our o'-dark-thirty nursing sessions. You still cry most of the time if I leave your sight for even a second, but I think you're falling in love with your daddy because as soon as he comes home, you smile and squeal and crawl toward him at an impressive speed and suddenly I don't exist. It's fine, I don't blame you. He's a handsome fella. ;)

You are growing so fast, I have to remind myself that soon these moments will all be memories. They aren't ALL fun, sweet memories. For instance, I would love to make a sandwich with two hands again or shower with the curtain closed. But I know I have to take advantage of you wanting to spend so much time with me before it becomes "uncool" or whatever you kids will call it 10 years from now.

You have been doing the most awesome things lately! In the past couple weeks, you've gone from pulling yourself up onto your feet, to standing by yourself, to taking legitimate BABY STEPS! I can't believe the girl who wouldn't roll over until three months ago is going to be walking soon. That's crazy! You also keep stealing my food. You have officially shown disinterest in purées and you made your point very clearly when you ate half of my banana yesterday and then stole my apple from my lunch this afternoon toting it around the living room and gnawing on it like a little squirrel. I get it, you're a big girl. Time for big girl food. *sniffle*

Nakie baby chewing on my apple.
Every day I think, "There is no possible way I could love her any more than I do right now." But then the next day, I do.

A million hugs and kisses,

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

REVIEW: Sew Silly Designs

I know I said I was moving away from cloth diaper-related posts, but I saw Kammie, the mama behind Sew Silly Designs at a local community fair and I caught myself drooling over her diapers. I am such a sucker for cute prints, and I kept going back to stalk her table even though I didn't have any money. I contacted her a few weeks ago about possibly reviewing a diaper of hers and she sent me one! *yay*

The first thing I noticed was how lush and soft the inside of the diaper was. And the insert is made with the same cotton velour material as well. [I hate when a cover or AI2 is minky inside and then it gets covered by a less luxurious diaper or insert, so this made me happy!] According to the Sew Silly Designs Etsy store, "The insert is made with 2 layers of matching CV and 6 layers of absorbent, all natural fiber, pre-washed bamboo fleece."

Another thing I love is that this particular diaper is an AI2 with a cotton outer layer and a hidden layer of PUL, which means it looks like an adorable fitted, but doesn't need a cover!

This is a one-size diaper, which means it has three different rise snap settings, and they run a bit larger than typical OS diapers, so they should fit babies from 10lbs. through potty training. You can even use the shell as undies while potty training!

At first I had issues with gaping at the legs, but I am certain it was user error, because the next time I put it OTB, it didn't seem quite as bad. If the insert seems a little thick, you can always switch it out for a trimmer one in your stash. (I used a BabyKicks hemp insert the second time just for comparison's sake and it worked just fine.) The only change I would make to this diaper is adding an extra row of waist/hip snaps to reduce "wing droop." It's purely aesthetic, as it doesn't affect the function of the diaper at all. Lucky for you, if you want a double row of snaps, you can request one for $1.50 extra.

All in all, I LOVE this diaper. I honestly do. It fits my chunkster around the thighs, which is a feat! The print is one of MANY adorable prints she has available. It also fits around the waist with room to grow. If you have a small or thin, lanky baby, the waist snaps cross over for a tighter fit.

Where can you get a Sew Silly Designs cloth diaper?
You can find OS AI2s, newborn AI2s, and OS fitteds in the Sew Silly Designs store on Etsy. She also does custom orders!

If you want to see what prints she has in stock, LIKE the Sew Silly Designs Facebook page! Stalk away, I know I do!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mastering the SQUAT

[This guest post was written by my amazingly smart and talented husband. He taught me everything I know about lifting. Please take the time to read what he has to say. It is a bit long, but provides important safety information that could not be omitted.]     

     When it comes to getting the most bang for your training buck, it doesn't get better than squats.  People have been scared away from the squat rack for years because of misinformation, either regarding possible health concerns from squats, or confusion and conflicting information about form.   

     This confusion makes sense on a certain level, because the squat can be a complex movement to perform, and if performed wrong there is in fact the potential for injury. But with the right resources you can use squats to SAFELY improve your strength.

                Many have argued that the squat is not a safe or natural movement. If you are concerned, simply watch any young child pick something up off the ground. Perfect squat form! 

Photo by of willsansbury via Flickr

Photo by CrossFit Chicago, via Flickr

     You may have trouble with squats at first. Humans are meant to be able to squat down to the ground. Instead we spend all day sitting in chairs and never walking more than 10 feet without requiring some form of transportation. The result is that our hips and hamstrings tighten up as we age, to a point where squatting seems as foreign to us as, well, running.  Or jumping. Or anything we're supposed to be able to do but can't anymore because we're lazy.

     If you watch an Olympic weightlifter and a powerlifter squat next to each other you'll probably notice a lot of differences. Some prefer to keep their stance at shoulder width, while others prefer to place their feet much wider apart. Some hold the bar a little higher on their back, while others hold the bar a bit lower. 
     The only real limitation as far as where you hold the bar on your back is that if you get too high, you'll find that the bar starts to sit on your spine, which is definitely something to avoid.  The bar should always be on muscle as you hold it.

Olympic lifters:
Photo: CrossFit Chicago via Flickr.
Photo: Maloney Performance

Photo: Ironman Magazine

Photo: CrossFit Oakland

     Now let's look at what all of these strong people are doing the same. They all push their knees OUT to the sides as they squat down. You may find while squatting that as you start to push yourself back up your knees start to come in towards each other. This is a big no-no. Push your knees out hard as you complete the entire lift. It may help to think of trying to push the floor apart under you with your feet.  As your hips get stronger, your knees will stay out on their own.
     Another thing you'll see in the pictures is that the back is arched and the butt sticks out. A slightly arched back can hold more weight than one without an arch, and keeping an arch in your back will also tighten your core muscles and protect you as you begin to lift heavier weights.
     In the end, there are 2 simple thoughts that you need to keep in mind while squatting -- butt back, knees out. Start the lift by sticking your butt back like you’re trying to sit on the toilet, then push your knees out as if you have a gut and you need to make "room" for it between your legs as you squat down.

     One thing is for sure; almost everyone you see squatting at your local gym isn't going deep enough. The general rule for good depth is that you should go down to parallel. For our purposes, parallel means that the hip is at the same height as the top of the knee, resulting in the upper thigh being parallel to the ground. Focus on stretching every day, as well as keeping your knees out and butt back, and go as deep as you can. Eventually you'll find that you can reach parallel with no problems. If you want to get the most out of squats, there's nothing wrong with going even deeper than parallel.
      So, if our goal is to go as deep as possible, when do we know that we are going too far? Well, as you descend, eventually you'll reach a point where you lose the arch in your lower back and your butt begins to tuck under. This is known as "butt wink" in the lifting world, and it should be avoided. Do your best to stop just shy of this point, and you should be getting great depth in your squats.

                 DON'T be afraid to go deep. It's more effective to take a lighter weight and squat it deep with good form than to throw a ton of weight on your back and do half reps. In fact, this tendency to do super heavy half-squats is the main reason why squats got such a horrible reputation. When you stop half way down all of the pressure is put on the tendons on the front of the knee as you stop and change direction. If, on the other hand, you descend as far as possible, the pressure is evenly distributed throughout the entire structure of the knee. This leads to a healthy, strong knee that will allow you to be more active throughout your life.

 HOW MANY REPS SHOULD I DO?               
     So now that we know how to perform a squat, the only thing left to figure out is just how many squats we need to do. My suggestion to you is the keep your sets of squats at 3-8 reps. I know, this goes against most advice you'll get. Magazines will all tell you to do higher reps for "toning". Let’s talk about toning; it doesn't exist. 

4 things can happen when you exercise:

1. Your muscles get bigger.

2. Your muscles get smaller.

3. You lose fat.

4. You gain fat.

     I understand that it probably isn't your goal to get "big". Don't worry. Getting huge muscles doesn't happen accidentally. It takes years of effort with a focus on gaining size to get huge muscles, if it happens at all. Instead, what people usually refer to as "toning" is a combination of gaining a little muscle size while losing some fat. So don't be afraid to gain a little muscle size. This is part of the reason why I suggest lower reps per set compared with most conventional, fitness magazine-style advice. 

     Another reason to keep your reps lower per set is that you should NOT be going to failure with squats. This will lead to a severe breakdown in form that could lead to injury. The third, final, and most important reason I suggest lower reps is that it is MUCH easier to keep good form if you keep your reps under 10. You're going to get better results from 6 sets of 5 than you will from 3 sets of 10, because you'll be able to use a little more weight with better form, even though you'll end up doing the same number of reps.

Take Home Points

  • Keep the bar on muscle, not bone.
  • Start the squat by sticking out your butt, then descend by pushing your knees out to the side.
  • Go deep, but not so deep that your butt tucks under.
  • Keep your reps at 3-8 per set. 
  • Keep your form tight.
  • Don't push yourself to failure.

                Squats can be the biggest weapon in your exercise arsenal. They can reshape your butt and thighs into statuesque hunks of gorgeous Greek granite, and make your joints so healthy that you may be able to do super human feats, such as picking up a pen from the ground without having to hold onto a chair or table. Do you really need any more coaxing? Get to it!