I did dance and softball growing up, but I wasn’t active at all in high school. I didn’t enjoy PE class and got involved in other types of activities.
I started working out in college when going to the gym was the cool thing to do. I would use the Stairmaster, treadmill, or elliptical for an hour or take group fitness classes. It was fun with my girlfriends. After graduating, I worked my way up to teaching at my smaller gym, then eventually at Equinox.
My weight was a roller coaster, gaining and losing 10 to 20 pounds a few times. I had an unhealthy mindset around food and exercise. I was overexercising, just trying to burn calories. I either ate too little or binged. It was always one extreme or the other. Most of my life I spent chasing skinny as my fitness goal.
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After I had my first son in 2014, I was still a cardio lover, running and doing kickboxing. My real strength transformation began a few years ago in my 40s.
It wasn’t until I started strength training with a coach that I learned what my body was truly capable of. It changed my life.
I had a more difficult time losing the baby weight with my second son. I was frustrated and couldn’t understand why my cardio routine wasn’t working.
So, I started working with a trainer. I did small group training with Lauren Kanski, CPT, who was a trainer at Equinox at the time (Kanski is a now Women’s Health advisory board member and founder of Body & Bell on the Ladder app). Her program included five days of workouts a week. My goal was simply to lose the rest of my baby weight, but it kickstarted a whole new strength journey.
COVID-19 hit shortly after and I was stuck at home. I had some dumbbells and kettlebells, and I continued following Lauren’s new program with three days of at-home workouts with my bodyweight via Zoom. I looked forward to it every day. Those daily workouts were my savior. I really enjoyed the kettlebell, and I played with it in my free time.
It sparked my passion for strength training. When I had access to a gym again, I started lifting heavy weights and kettlebells, while still following Lauren’s programming.
It was such a fun mental game for me. I could feel myself getting stronger and moving better. For the first time, I wasn’t focused on being skinny anymore. There was a natural energy and mind shift in me.
When I added nutrition coaching, the gains finally clicked.
I reached out to Lauren to start nutrition coaching when I felt like I had the movements down but I couldn’t lose the last post-baby 15 pounds.
Tracking with pro guidance was a game changer for me. I realized I was not eating enough protein (fuel for my muscles), and I was eating too many carbs and fat.
I focused on adding more protein and eating it after I worked out. I started to eat bigger meals with protein, carbs, and fat, instead of granola and protein bar snacks all day long. I felt full at the end of my meal and for hours after.
These changes helped me achieve my strength goals.
1. I worked out as consistently as possible.
My workouts are non-negotiable, but I don’t go to extremes anymore. Whether I have 20 or 60 minutes, I get it in. Skipping a workout is not an option for me. I have days where I’m so busy at work, I don’t know if I have time to do it, but I get it done. I feel better mentally and physically—it’s as much a part of my day is washing my face or brushing my teeth.
For me, committing to my workouts is a commitment to my mental health, taking care of myself, and carving out me-time.
2. I embraced lifting heavy weights.
I wish more women were not so afraid to lift heavy. When I started lifting heavy weights is when I finally achieved that toned look. It didn’t come from cardio or waving around two-pound dumbbells.
I always try to lift as heavy as I possibly can with purpose. I try to do one percent better than I did the week before, whether it’s a heavier weight or more reps or sets. I look back at how far I’ve come in six months, 12 months, and 24 months. I see that patience and consistency pays off.
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3. I realized how important recovery is for achieving fitness goals.
I am a person who lives at a stress level of a 10 out of 10, 24/7. I am either on a thousand percent as the mom or a thousand percent as an Equinox manager—I don’t have any downtime, but I thrive in chaos.
Now, I take time to stretch, foam roll, and sleep. That habit change has been a game changer. Solid sleep has also been important in the recovery process for my body, muscles, and brain. I put my phone down an hour before I go to bed and I try to be in bed for a solid eight hours every night.
Now, my main goal is getting stronger and lifting heavier.
It lights me up to lift heavier weights. In 2021, I started working with a new personal trainer at Equinox, who also taught me how to move well. I have somebody to push me and lift heavier weights with progressive overload. I view it as a big investment in my education and physical transformation.
Sometimes I look around and I’m lifting heavier weights than the men on the strength floor. I’m proud of myself at 45 years old. I thought I was stuck with my body, but I made teeny, tiny changes month over month. The scale would hardly move, but if I looked back six months, that was a bigger jump.
I do four days of strength training, two days of kettlebells, and one recovery day each week.
- Monday is my pull day. My main lift is a deadlift, but I also do include pullups, back exercises, glute moves, and upper body. I pick four or five exercises and make it count.
- Tuesday is push day with squats, lunges, upper body, chest, and shoulders. I also teach a lower body sculpting class.
- Wednesday I use as a play day. In the summer, I run on the lakefront in Chicago for 20 to 30 minutes or up to 60 minutes because I love being out there. I also do a Ladder kettlebell workout with Lauren. I love using kettlebells because it combines everything—cardio, strength, power, and a killer core workout.
- Thursday I do a quick lower body strength workout.
- Friday is a recovery/play day for me, too. I might do a 20-minute treadmill interval run, play with kettlebells, or do a Pilates class. I see how my body feels and follow its lead.
- Saturday is an upper body strength training day and a kickboxing cardio class. I look forward to the class every single week.
- Sunday is a true recovery day. If my body feels beat up, I rest. If I’m feeling good, I go for a run, swing kettlebells in my basement, or I do my favorite Pilates mat class at home.
I’m most proud of doing 16 pullups—my latest PR.
I’m obsessed with pullups. When I started strength training seriously, my goal was to do one unassisted pullup. When I got one, then I upped my goal to five, then 10. I’m always trying to see how many pullups I can do. I do pullups three times a week.
Last December, I had a surgery done and I couldn’t put my arms over my head for a good six weeks. I built all this strength for a year and a half, and I worried I’d never be able to do a pull-up again.
I let my body recover and did rehab. Fast forward, and I’m even stronger than I was before. I’m doing more pullups now than I ever have. My goal was to do 15 by my 45th birthday last month, and I did it. A few weeks ago, I did 16. My next goal is to do 20.
I’m also five pounds away from deadlifting two and a half times my bodyweight. The deadlift for me is a really big deal, so hopefully I can reach my new goal this summer.
I’m stronger than I was before I had kids. I’m physically in the best shape of my life at 45 years old. I’m mentally in a great place with food and exercise. It was a long transformation for me, but I’m loving it, and I’m not done. I’m going to keep going and see how much stronger I can get.