There are two areas that don't seem to take center stage in our pursuit of being more fit, although they both play a key role with our progress – developing overall core strength and flexibility. I have definitely been guilty of this, especially when running short on time and saving core work for ‘later' and don't even get me started on how many times I've skipped stretching. While we seek to make gains in our lifting, we should allot time for core strengthening and flexibility activities, which actually assist other goals by improving our performance and reducing the risk of injury. So, this month we're holding everyone, including myself, to task and challenging you to make both a priority!
“It is true that big arms, shoulders, and legs are impressive, and a lot of training must be dedicated to these areas. Yet the trunk is the link between these areas, and the limbs can only be as strong as the trunk.” – Tudor Bompa
Think of your core as a support system. Having a strong core improves strength in other areas of the body and reduces risk of injury. When thinking about your core, remember it encompasses more than just your “abs” or the six-pack area. The core muscles include the rectus abdominus and transverse abdominus, the obliques (external/internal), the muscles surrounding the spine, the hips and glutes, and the pelvic area. Pretty substantial! To build a strong and balanced core you need to use a variety of exercises and this month we'll hit the core from all angles!
Following an intense training session, it's important to restore length to contracted muscles. Regular stretching keeps the muscles elongated, assisting with recovery between workouts. Maintaining good flexibility reduces the risk of injury and improves the mobility of joints and muscles. In addition to post-workout stretching, including 1-2 sessions of restorative yoga each week can also do your body good, activating muscles not often used.
Freedom from the Scale
The scale has wrecked many good fitness journeys. For some, one undesirable reading can make or break your mood for the day and have you second-guessing all the non-scale progress you've made to that point. So, for that reason we hope you will take a break from the scale this month. Lock that bad boy up in the closet or simply take the batteries out. Enjoy a month not focused on how to get the scale to move!
Freedom to Indulge
What's a life without a little indulgence? Keeping some yumminess in your nutrition plan keeps it enjoyable and sustainable. This month we challenge you TO EAT THE CAKE! Seriously, plan to have a treat at least every week, being mindful to balance your macros for the day.
Food prep does not have to be a major event where you spend an entire day cooking food for the week. Believe me when I tell you, a little goes a long way. Whether it's making a batch of slow-cooked oats or an egg-bake for the week's breakfast or cooking a couple pounds of protein for lunches or dinners, every little bit helps you to meet the goals you are pursuing. When things don't go according to plan during the week, it's great to have one less thing to think about and keeping some pre-cooked food on hand can help.
Eat to Fuel
If there is one pet peeve I have it is to see someone working so hard at their fitness, but not reaping the benefits of their labor. This is what happens when you are in the gym day after day, week after week, but yet not nourishing your body with enough food or nutrients. Obviously if you are cutting, you will be eating slightly less than normal, however, this is only short term and is not a substantial amount. Food is fuel for your body so don't cheat it by only filling to half a tank!
Progress in your thinking is equally if not more important to physical progress. Negative thoughts can slip into your mind before you may even realize it. This month we'll challenge you to keep your thoughts positive by reflecting on your journey to this point, highlighting your successes, and finding activities that keep you inspired and motivated.
Are you ready for this challenge? Let's do it!!
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All too often in our fitness endeavors we set our sights on building strength in our lower body, idolizing exercises like squats and deadlifts over all others. While men seem to give adequate (if not disproportionately more) attention to upper body strength, it just doesn't seem to be the case when it comes to women. Building lower body strength is a great goal for everyone and one that should be apart of every program, however, for the ladies, we need to bring some balance to our pursuit of fitness and see the value in developing strength in our upper body as well as our lower body.
Sufficient upper body strength improves every day movements like reaching, pulling, pushing and carrying. Lower body exercises like the deadlift will certainly assist with being able to pick things up from the floor like a child or suitcase. But, how empowering would it be if you could not only lift that suitcase off the floor, but then also be able to stow it in the overhead storage without assistance?
Developing upper body strength has a ripple effect which can enhance all your lifts, improving posture, stability, alignment and strength. From a physique point-of-view, women who are pear shaped can bring more balance to their appearance by building out their upper body, giving the illusion of a smaller waste. Hourglass figure…I'll take it!
Medicine ball push up
In this first challenge of 2015, we are showing our upper body some well-deserved attention! Each week we hope to introduce you to a new move that will challenge your normal way of doing things and move you just a bit beyond your comfort zone. Typically do military or front presses? Get ready to be introduced to the landmine press and more!
Each week will also feature a complete upper body workout that will stimulate muscle growth and have your muscle fibers twitching! Each workout will use only one type of equipment (i.e. medicine ball, kettlebell, etc.) or just your body for resistance. If you don't have the equipment prescribed, sub with another implement or repeat a challenge from a different week.
If you have your eye on being able to do your first unassisted pull up, we have dedicated a day to helping you get there. Practice these moves each week and beyond, working them into your normal workout regimen once the challenge is over. If push ups have your attention, we've got you covered there as well!
As with all EM2WL challenges, take time to relax and recover. Treat yourself like the queen that you are and relish the self care! Likewise, we have included important nutrition tidbits that are great reminders to keep your eating on track.
Check in with us! We would love to see you working hard and hear how this challenge is impacting you! Happy lifting!
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For many years we were told to avoid eating fat if we didn't want to get fat. We turned to foods brandishing the “low fat” label and gobbled up more and more processed foods which actually contributed to weight gain. Recent studies have debunked the eat-fat-get-fat myth and have shown that all fat varieties (sans trans fat) can and should have a place in your diet!
Fats play a major role in our bodies, forming our brains, nervous systems and cell membranes. It helps to manufacture and balance hormones and transport fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K. “Healthy” fats help to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, as well as lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (good cholesterol). Fats also provide energy to the body.
This month focuses on increasing unsaturated fats like omega-3 fatty acids, in our diet You will be challenged to plan where your fats will come from each week, and then, armed with your fats list, you'll hit the store to stock up. On action days we will try easy ways to boost our fat intake or swap one fat for another.
Flex your intuitive eating muscle by not logging one day each week. At the end of the day, look back and see how you did. As always, check in with us on social media – show us your macro charts, nutrient breakdown or what you're eating that day.
No challenge would be complete without some movement, so we've included finishers that you can do following a strength workout or for when you are short on time. They are short, but intense!
It's pretty easy to find ways to indulge when it comes to fats! On this day, indulge mindfully with a new snack choice like chia seed pudding or an apple and nut butter sandwich.
Lastly, keep celebrating your NSVs and sharing them with the community! Your story may be just what someone needs to hear to keep them committed!
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Last month the team challenged you to increase your protein by gradually increasing the amount and frequency that you ate throughout the month. In November we are taking a similar approach with fiber, another important, but often overlooked nutrient. I bet you're wondering “what's so great about fiber and how can it help me when my fitness goals are to a) gain muscle b) lose weight or c) somewhere in the middle?”
For starters, high fiber foods are generally packed with nutrients, but are also lower in calories. In other words, they are filling without being a calorie hog. The body doesn't absorb or digest fiber well, so much of it passes through the body, removing waste – even metabolic waste resulting from those intense workouts. Other benefits include reducing the risk for certain types of cancer, maintaining heart health by reducing blood cholesterol and controlling blood sugar levels. So, now that you see the benefits, on to the challenge.
If you're a list maker, this is the day made for you. On planning days you will think about where your fiber will come from for the upcoming week. Think about fruits and vegetables, whole grains or legumes just to name a few. There are lots of options to choose from, so be sure to add in variety.
Of course after all that planning you will now need to stock up, so a shopping we will go! Take your planning list with you to the grocery store and get all the items you will need to meet the week's challenge.
Mondays are when we start executing our plans! We've suggested some great sources of fiber for you to incorporate on this day. If you always eat strawberries, try a new berry like raspberries or blueberries. These days are meant to take some of the guess work out of eating fiber and show you a few simple options that will boost your intake.
Let's Get Social
Social days are all about sharing the love, or in this case, the fiber. Found a delicious way to get in some fiber? Share it! Heck, even if you hated it, we want to see it. Yes, we're that nosy, plus when we share we give others ideas on what they might try (or avoid).
Move & Hydrate
Along with increasing your fiber intake, make sure you are consuming adequate amounts of water. Increasing your fiber alone might stop up the pipes, if you kwim! So, as you think about adding a serving of fiber, have a glass of water as well. We don't want the month to go by without a movement challenge so on this day we're also challenging you to do a little exercise. Let's just call it a bonus. You're welcome!
Gratitude & Celebration
In keeping with the spirit of the season, we are asking you to reflect back on the things that you are thankful for and focus just a little bit less on where you're trying to go. Share your NSVs with the family, even the ones that you might think are small. Celebrate them! We're also sharpening our intuitive eating skills a bit as well.
We simply can not have a challenge without a little indulgence. Like protein, there are limitless ways to indulge and get in a little fiber at the same time. On this day, enjoy a high fiber treat.
Now, I know you are as excited as I am to start wolfing down some good-for-you fiber. Are you familiar with the old saying ‘having too much of a good thing'? Well, that can certainly be the case when it comes to fiber. If you are starting from ground zero with your fiber, be sure to increase your intake slowly to reduce the likelihood of excess gas and bloating. Your GI tract will need time to adjust. And be sure to drink up your water as well!
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This month's challenge focuses on meeting our protein goals. You've heard us harp on eating sufficient protein enough to know how we feel about it. When it comes to your fitness goals, whether that includes packing on muscle, increasing strength, power or endurance, shedding fat or maybe even a little bit of each, protein plays an important role.
Including enough protein in your diet helps to maintain, build and repair muscle which is important for all goals. When you fall short your progress may also suffer. Of course all macronutrients play an important role, but it seems many struggle specifically with consuming enough protein. So, with that said, here's what you can expect with this month's challenge:
On your planning days you will decide what your protein sources will be for the upcoming week. Don't worry – you won't start off planning every meal in your day. We'll take it slow, starting with breakfast and work our way up from there. The great thing about planning out the week is that you'll reduce the stress of trying to figure it out as you go. Once you've established the habit of consuming protein with each meal, you will be able to wing it a bit more. Until then, we plan!
Shop & Prep
Once you have your protein sources identified, it's time to hit the store and get stocked up. When possible make things easy by prepping your protein by either cleaning/seasoning it ahead of time or even cooking it and storing in the fridge.
This is when the rubber meets the road by putting your plan into action! You'll be swapping out low protein snacks with ones that offer higher protein, progressively increasing the amount as the month goes by. Set yourself up for success by completing your MFP diary the night before.
Check in with us
This is a fun one! You'll look over your MFP chart (or Lose It! or whatever meal tracking app you use) midday to see how you're doing, and then share it with us on one of our social media sites.* Are you on track to meet your overall protein goal for that day? Are you spreading your protein throughout the day? Very often we will leave the bulk of our protein for the end of the day. No bueno! Protein is easier for most ladies to fit in, and better absorbed by the muscles in smaller amounts of 20-30g.
On this day you'll relax things a bit and see how you manage without tracking. Keep calm! Take note of different serving sizes of proteins so that, in the future, you can eyeball portions. At the end of intuitive eating days evaluate how you fared. Treat these days as a learning experience, not a pass or fail!
Sharing is Caring
Once again you'll check in on one of our social sites,* but this time we want to see pics of your food! We want you to move beyond chicken (although chicken is fine, too!) and be a little bit adventurous. Protein can be found in many foods other than the obvious meat, poultry and fish. Go outside your comfort zone and look to other sources such as seeds, nuts, beans and even vegetables. Let us see how you're mixing things up, and making it work for YOUR lifestyle! The fam is all about paying it forward. Whether you're struggling to get in the protein, or you've made crazy strides with your protein goals, share with the fam. You might even inspire someone or get inspired. #em2wlproteinchallenge
Indulgence with Benefits
On this day you'll explore treats that also offer a good serving of protein. Ice cream, muffins, brownies are all on the menu! Although they offer protein they are treats so you should still enjoy them in moderation.
Remember, protein is your friend regardless of your fitness goals. It helps you to maintain or increase your muscle mass as well as provide other benefits like increased satiety and slowing the digestion of carbohydrates which helps stabilize blood sugar levels. As a general guide we recommend that 30% of your diet be from a protein source. If you're new to all of this you may want to start with just hitting 100g/day and increasing from there. You can also evaluate your body type to help you choose a starting point.
As you can imagine trying to choke down 100g or more of protein over a couple of meals would be very hard. So aim to eat some protein with each of your meals. You will make hitting your protein goal much more attainable and will improve the absorption by your muscles. Enjoy the challenge!
*Social Sites for Sharing the challenge: (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or the Forum. Be sure to tag us on your chosen network, and hashtag #em2wlproteinchallenge so that others can get ideas!
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Challenge Yourself to Create Healthy Habits
Downtime is important to building a lifestyle of healthy habits.
For most of us, summer is now behind us and we are settling into a new routine. Last month's calendar challenged you to establish healthy habits and routines. This month, that theme continues with challenges in the following areas:
Relax and Unwind
As important as it is to put in the hard work towards your goals, it's equally important to make sure you give yourself a chance to rest and recover so that you can keep moving forward. These weekly challenges encourage you to take a step back and do just that.
Reflect on the Journey
The scale can be one indicator of progress, but far too often, women especially get too wrapped up in that number. These challenges will help you to look for other measures of progress including gym performance, building healthy habits, and pictures. Day to day, as you are consistently plugging along on your journey, it may seem like you are not making much progress, but as you take a look back, you will often find that quite a bit has changed. Occasional reflection on the journey will help you see how far you've come!
Move with Purpose
Staying active is a critical part of the EM2WL lifestyle. We encourage you to incorporate several strength training sessions each week to see best results. These challenges will give you ideas for how to vary your workouts and keep you moving so that you become a more awesome version of yourself.
Eat to Fuel
At EM2WL, we believe that food is fuel for your healthy lifestyle. These challenges will help you to pay attention to the type of fuel you are putting into your body, encourage you to make healthy substitutions, and try new variations of your family's favorite foods. Eating for your goals should not be boring!
Eat to fuel and for enjoyment!
Planning ahead is an important way to make sure that you are staying on track with eating according to your goals. Having meals planned ahead and keeping a few staples on hand can make all the difference between sticking to your plan or ordering out for pizza. These challenges will help you to think ahead and ensure that you are prepared for success, even on the nights when things get hectic.
Allowing yourself to indulge in moderation can help you to remain consistent in eating according to your goals over the long-term. It is important to allow yourself to be slightly imperfect as you approach your eating plan. If you feel like you can never go out to eat or have some dessert, chances are that you will frequently struggle with consistency and falling on and off the wagon. A slightly imperfect but consistent approach to eating will yield more long-term success than a very strict plan that you struggle to adhere to. Learning to indulge intuitively and mindfully is an important part of any healthy lifestyle. These once-a-week challenges will encourage you to listen to your body as you enjoy some flexibility in your approach to eating.
Mix it Up
Healthy habits and routines are important parts of a healthy lifestyle journey, but to keep things from feeling too mundane, these weekly challenges encourage you to think about fitness outside of the box, try new experiences, and invite your friends and family to join you in becoming a more awesome version of yourself. Encourage others to join you on your fitness journey! Having those around you who are supportive of your goals helps you just as much as it helps them!
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Photo credit:imagerymajestic, Serge Bertasius Photography of freedigitalphotos.net
Becca is a busy wife and homeschooling mother to five children ages 5 to 13. About three years ago, she embarked on a journey to health and fitness that resulted in the loss of approximately 100 pounds. Today, she is a competitive powerlifter and strongwoman who loves ice cream and deadlifts. As an ISSA certified personal trainer, she is passionate about helping women to get started on a lifestyle of strength and fitness.