So You Made it to the Weight Room, Now What? Exercise Q & A with Body Positive Trainer Nicole Ness

*Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links. If you’d like to learn more about what that means and my standards of recommendations, please read my full Affiliate Disclosure. 
Today is a special day for us (*me) at Wholly Healed. I HAVE A NEW FRIEND. Her name is Nicole Ness. And she is a good one.
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Nicole is a Personal Trainer certified by ACE and earned her Masters in Mental Health Counseling, so she has the mind and body thing down pat. Nicole approaches fitness from a body positive, weight inclusive perspective–which is very hard to find in the fitness industry–and is why I trust her enough to share her answers today!
 
When I posted on Instagram asking for your follow up questions to my last post, I got a HUGE response. This made me 1. do a happy dance because I just love when I get DMs from you precious peeps and 2. write a lengthy( read: VERY LENGTHY) but NECESSARY post today.
It’s not enough to discuss which exercises are safe v unsafe for hormonal health. You also need to know WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE WHEN YOU STEP IN THE GYM.
 
If you still haven’t read my first exercise post detailing how to choose the type of exercise that’s best for your hormonal health, I REALLY recommend popping over HERE real quick before reading this follow up.
 
NOW. No more waiting, ONTO THE QUESTIONS!
p.s. for clarity, I have put Nicole’s answers in blue and mine in purple.

GENERAL KNOW HOW:

1. I feel extremely overwhelmed about where to start. I hate walking into the gym and not knowing what to do. What advice, practical and general, do you have for just getting started? 

N: Hey, I get that. Social media tends to throw at us a million and one different fitness routines from #fitspo Instagrammers claiming that “what worked for me will OBVIOUSLY work for you, too!” *shaking my head* No workout routine is a one-size-fits-all sort of “fix!”
So it’s no wonder that we’re left with confusion and feeling completely overwhelmed before stepping into a gym! My best advice is to first just create a plan for yourself based on how you want to FEEL leaving the gym. Energized? Stronger? Calmer? Then create a plan for yourself based on what helps YOU achieve that feeling. For me, there are days I want to feel like a little badass, and so I’ll intensify my weight training. Other days, I want to feel all zen and whatnot, so I’ll opt for a run or a walk around my neighborhood followed by some yoga in my apartment. 
Also, take time to build awareness about what you actually ENJOY at the gym. No one was ever consistent from doing something they absolutely despised. Getting your body moving is supposed to be a challenge, and it also is supposed to be something that you look forward to. Think about the different ways that you love being active; remember, working on our physical health is not ONLY limited to the gym. 
In the case that you do really enjoy the gym or want to give it a go, let’s break down what to do when you actually get there. Similarly to creating a plan of how you want to feel, create a plan for what the time spent at the gym will look like. Write it down, text yourself it, save it in a note – whatever works for you, just have it WITH you when you enter the gym. This will already ease some of the anxiety upon walking into the gym.
Keep it simple. 3 sets of 8-10 reps is a great approach. What I mean by this is doing the same physical motion (lunges, squats) for 8-10 reps, and repeating this 3 times. Plan ahead to include 3-5 different exercises in your routine. For that first day, consider using a separate and more private area to do these exercises using solely your body weight. At the end of your workout, give yourself a little tour of the gym. Get to know the gym and how it’s laid out. Discover how you can use the same barbell for potentially 3 different exercises (overhead shoulder presses, bicep curls, AND standing back rows). This way, there’s less moving around and wondering “what do I do next?”
If you’re looking for some ideas, please refer to articles from certified sites! Such as ACE, or NASM. While I totally credit a lot of the individuals we see on social media for their hard work, it’s true that many of them may not actually be certified.
J: Jess here, I’m going to link to my favorite resources for workouts, instructions, and exercise advice from safe, reputable people/companies whose work I trust to be both correct and nontriggering (aka not a girl in tight pants squatting down incorrectly with a barbell because it looks sexy…) 
 
When it comes to forming your own workouts. I have found it helps to start answering this question: DO I want a body part specific workout or full body training? Then, you can go from there.
People like body splits because it gives the ability to lift more often without compromising the rest for each muscle group. For example, If you want to do a leg day follow Nicole’s advice and pick 5-7 exercises, and complete 2-3 sets of around 8 reps of a challenging weight. Then allow at least 2 full days of recovery for legs. 
 
Others prefer full body workouts because you can workout less often while hitting the whole body.  Google circuit based workouts, or pair a lower body with an upper body in a superset type format. i.e. 1 set of squats followed by 1 set of overhead press. Rest then repeat 3x. Move onto next superset. With full body, you want to go easier with the weight because you are hitting multiple muscle groups and will fatigue faster.  
It all depends what style you like. And it’s important you give enough rest for each muscle group in between workouts.  
For more ideas for workouts, see the links we both included above!

2. I’m not comfortable in the gym.  How can I build strength with simple, home workouts that don’t require a gym? 

N: I LOVE THIS QUESTION! The automatic assumption for most people is that “in order to get fit” you MUST go to a gym. This isn’t the case! What a limiting assumption this is. If you’re not comfortable initially with the gym, don’t have access to one, or are struggling to find the time – I get it. And yet, there’s no reason to use these things as an excuse to NOT get your body moving. 
Your home has a range of things that you can use to build strength. No dumbbells or weights? No problem. Feel free to use some things around the house: a gallon of milk, liters of soda, heavy produce! Literally, anything can be used to add some extra weight to at home workout programs. Using your own body weight is also a great way to build strength. 
Start with doing 3 sets of 10 repetitions of a specific bodyweight exercise (or with added weight).
Choose 3-4 more different moves to add to your workout, and 3 sets each, and you’ve just completed an at-home workout. 
My go-to moves include: body weight squats, side lunges, step ups using a very sturdy chair/ low-level table, and pushups or dips
J: The first 2 years out of my ED Recovery, I didn’t step foot in the gym–too triggering. I learned a lot about how to set up a home gym that felt safe and also challenging. My advice is to invest in a few resistance bands and a couple pairs of weights. It is DEFINITELY possible to get great workouts in with just body weight, but if you want to resistance train, it helps to have something like dumbells or bands that you can progressively challenge your muscles with over time. 
Here are my favorites That are sitting in my room right now:)
small resistance bands   I literally take one to the gym with me every time!
Large resistance bands super affordable!
 

3. What is your advice for finding a balance between cardio based exercises and weight training?

N: I am the biggest supporter of finding a balance in your workout routines. No one says that just because you LOVE weight training doesn’t mean you also can’t love running, boxing, yoga, etc. You’re allowed to love more than one type of exercise. The best way to find a balance is usually to do a “split” throughout the week. For example, 2-3 days of strength and weight training, and 2 days of cardio and endurance exercises. Splitting up the week, whether that be between cardio and weight training, or just different types of exercises, is a great way to avoid feeling stagnant and bored with the current routine you’re on.
The way I personally implement this balance is by doing HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, at least two times a week. HIIT is a cardiorespiratory training technique that alternates brief speed and recovery intervals to essentially increase the intensity of your workout. It might look something like 40 seconds of intense movement (jump squats, alternating battle ropes, burpees), followed by a recovery period. The majority of cardiorespiratory training (like running) is done at a moderate intensity, while HIIT is done at a higher exertion level (at about a level 7 or higher on a 1-10 scale). The higher the intensity of the intervals, the shorter the speed interval. We’re not looking to kill ourselves, here! What we ARE looking to do is to increase aerobic and anaerobic fitness – which HIIT accomplishes.
Side note: anaerobic activity relies on energy stored in your muscles, while aerobic activity relies on oxygen for energy. 
J: As far as balance is concerned, my advice is actually to favor noncortisol spiking workouts more often than not. ESPECIALLY if you are 
-trying to balance your hormones
-dealing with a chronic illness like autoimmunity, IBS, adrenal fatigue, PCOS, etc.
-are in a stressful period of life
-are not getting optimal sleep (HELLO NEW MAMMAS)
-have a very stressful job  
*to find out what types of exercises are more favorable for cortisol levels, CLICK HERE
If you remember from my post last week, the mistake of hitting the cardio machine 5x a week will result in hormonal imbalances and adrenal burnout. 
I actually want to insert here that it is a common misconception that you NEED to be doing cardio to be healthy. NOT TRUE you guys. I love to sweat, so I’ll do some HIIT sprint work when I feel like I want to do so, but I don’t actually have it as a regular part of my routine right now, partly because I’ve been stressed lately and don’t feel like my body is up for it.
When it comes to longevity and health, my rec is to PRIORITIZE restorative exercise (like yoga and walking) always as often as you want. Then focus on resistance training, as building muscle and stimulating muscle growth is incredibly beneficial for our health (I talk about this HERE). Then, if you want, add HIIT or some cardio. Sprinkle it on like icing! Just don’t make it the basis of your movement every day, that can be overkill for your hormones.
My general recommendation for scheduling (emphasis on GENERAL) is to include restorative movement (like walking and yoga) as often as you like, resistance train 2-3 times per week, and add cardio in UP TO 2-3x per week. My preference being HIIT over steady state cardio because it’s better for your hormonal health
Remember, this general recommendation REALLY is flexible. It will depend on your hormonal health, your stress level, what your body can handle, and even where you are at in your cycle (psst. I talk about that later!)

4. What are the BIGGEST mistakes you see women making in the gym in general? and also the weight room specifically?

N: Psychologically speaking, comparing themselves to other men (AND women) in the gym, and then allowing those comparisons to keep them stuck, avoiding the gym itself, and then feeling negative about themselves and their abilities. Comparisons CAN be helpful for some added inspiration; however, remind yourself that everyone is on their own journey. Comparisons are not intended to be self-defeating.
Another mistake I see women make is not picking up a heavier weight and challenging themselves. Of course, it’s a progress – there’s no need or reasonable explanation to grab a 50 lb dumbbell the first time you ever walk into the gym. However, there comes the perception from women that lifting heavier will make them “bulky” (don’t worry, we debunk this myth as you keep reading…) And so, they find themselves using a weight that doesn’t actually challenge them. Women: YOU ARE STRONG! The gym is NOT just a male-dominated environment! *Insert Jess Cheering in agreement!
On the other hand, the other mistake that I see women make is sometimes OVERDOING it. This actually is true for males as well. We tend to think that “more more more” is always better. That this is the ONLY way to get results. The reality is: no one saw any sort of results (both physical and mental) from just ONE killer workout. It’s about consistent progress. Destroying our bodies every single time we go to the gym to “quicken up the results” will only end up burning us out. And then NOT going to the gym at all. Consistent progress and consistent workout programming come from actually finding ENJOYMENT in the process. 
J: So YES to everything Nicole said. ESPECIALLY the overdoing it. I will also add that I see a major issue with FORM in the weight room. Especially for women. I think its AMAZING when women go grab a barbell, but if you aren’t educated about weight lifting, then you can really injure yourself. My advice is to follow accounts that consistently give GOOD fitness instruction (not #fitspo accounts…there’s a difference). The websites I linked earlier also have great Instagrams you can follow. I also like @thesquatacademy for all lower body lift education. 
For the longest time, youtube was my best friend. Just plan out your workouts and search each move on youtube so you can see someone walk you through how to complete it with perfect form. Start light on weights until your form is perfect, then progress AS LONG AS FORM ALLOWS. 

5. What is your best advice for women looking to intentionally put on muscle? Exercise, Nutrition, etc?

N: The topic I don’t really see being discussed when it comes to women intentionally looking to build muscle is their body shape. While it’s true that testosterone in men plays a crucial role in muscle development, it’s not the ONLY factor at play here.  Women fall into three different body classifications, and all ARE EQUALLY AS WORTHY. Let me first start off by saying that.
And here we have the three body types:
1. Mesomorphs: tend to be more muscular, and can build more muscle mass than ectomorphs (even if the training programming is identical!)
2. Endomorphs: tend to be more voluptuous in shape
3. Ectomorphs: tend to be more linear in shape, and are less likely to build muscle mass
This is when it becomes important to acknowledge, accept, and embrace the body you exist in, versus attempting to force it into a body or [suffocating] box that it may never be meant to be. By all means, I am all for putting on muscle and getting stronger. However, I’m more so for LOVING your current body in the process.
For example, I’m fully aware that I’m an ectomorph. And yet I spent countless years attempting to force my body into a shape that was curvier, more “womanly” because I believed that would make me happier, and because these were the messages I was hearing over and over again through social media. *Jess here, I’m an Endomorph and used to always wish I was an Ectomorph. The grass is always greener, isn’t it?…OWN YOUR SHAPE GIRLS!
 Truth is: no amount of altering or manipulating our bodies can lead to a sense of long-standing happiness. It’s the peace I’ve found with the body I DO have, the body that has built strength over time, the body that allows me to function daily. 
On the physical side of things, lifting weights is go-to for putting on muscle. The general rule of thumb for putting on muscle mass is fewer reps with a heavier weight. Easy as that. If you overload a muscle with weight, it will increase in size over time and with consistent training.
The other part of this? LADIES, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO INCREASE YOUR FOOD INTAKE. No one built muscle from eating in a calorie deficit. 
Understanding your body type is the NUMBER ONE step to intentionally put on muscle. My favorite guides to this are directly from ACE fitness’ website:
J: As Nicole said, from a nutritional standpoint, in order to build muscle you have to eat at a calorie SURPLUS. Meaning, eating more than you are burning throughout the day. That way, your body has EXTRA materials to build muscle while you sleep as opposed to using them all on daily functioning. 
I recommend making sure you are eating an ABUNDANT amount of Protein and especially carbs if you are trying to build muscle. (psst, while still getting adequate dietary fat for your hormones!!).  If building muscle is your priority, know that YOU NEED TO FEED EM. They are like small children. Feed them and they grow. I always say this, because its true. Working out, especially weight lifting, increases your caloric need. And undereating (whether accidental or not) can end up doing real harm to your hormones and health…not to mention you won’t be rebuilding the muscle you are tearing down every workout.
 
Also, it is important to note that adequate body fat is needed for the body to build muscle. So trying to build muscle while also being at a very low body fat percentage is not wise for your hormones and more often than not doesn’t work.

6. How often is too often to lift weights and/or workout in general? How do I know if I’m doing too much?

N: The recommended amount per week to MAINTAIN physical health is 150 minutes of moderate to intense exercise. Which breaks down to about 30 minutes, 5 times a week. My guess is that sounds like a lot less than most of us assume we need. My personal advice that isn’t reliant on anything I’ve learned while getting certified? 
Working out too often is when you begin to question if it’s too often. 
When it starts to feel like an obligation, versus something you enjoy. When it’s no longer something that gives you mental and physical strength. When it becomes an obsession or something that determines your worth. When it starts to become a priority over things you used to value more (friends, family, loved ones). When it is no longer being done out of love and respect for yourself, but out of solely a way to change the things you believe you should hate about yourself. 
J: Such a great answer Nicole!
Here are physical signs that you are overtraining and stressing your body too much:
-loss of appetite
hypothyroidism
-dreading your workouts
-constant soreness
-loss of period
-hormonal acne
-frequent injuries 
-constant fatigue/overtired
-insomnia
-hair loss
-you hit a strength plateau (these are normal, but if it’s extended and you aren’t progressing, this is a sign you need more rest)
 
A lot of people forget that muscle is REPAIRED and GROWN in rest. So if you are training every day and tearing your muscle tissue down without giving adequate rest, you are not only stopping your strength gains, but you are overloading your system and throwing your endocrine system off big time. 
REST DAYS ARE NOT OPTIONAL.  
 

7. If I lift weights, will I get bulky?

N: No. Simple as that. 
First and foremost, let’s refer to the testosterone in males vs females. Women have about 15-20% LESS testosterone than men, meaning men are actually much more equipped to gain muscle. And much like we are exposed to photoshopped images of women daily, we also may likely be exposed to altered images of women in the bodybuilding industry. However, these alterations aren’t accomplished through photoshop, but in many cases, it could be the use of steroids and/or performance-enhancing substances.
Side note: this is not disclaiming the hard work that many women do put in their training and body build. Not EVERY woman we see who is muscular uses steroids. We do not know their genetic makeup, their history with working out, and also what they eat to help increase their muscle size. 
It also comes down to nutrition and how MUCH you’re eating. Bodybuilders literally structure their days around when their next meal is because the goal IS to get “bulky.” My guess is that most women who are entering the fitness world aren’t eating at the same frequency and quantity as bodybuilders or elite athletes are.
What weight lifting WILL do, however, is change your overall body composition. There is no such thing as “toning up” or “getting bulky” for women. Rather, what weight lifting does is increase strength, increased bone density, and decreasing fat cell size (no, there’s no such thing as “burning off fat”. And ladies – we SHOULD have fat!)
Keep in mind that a lot of what we THINK is happening (getting “bulky”) is actually a result of how we feel emotionally rather than a physical reality. Our bodies are going through changes as we begin to weight lift. However, that perception of these changes internally can cause us to believe we are getting bulky. Really, the muscle mass we think we’re gaining immediately may very possibly be fluid retention due to your muscles bringing in glycogen and water during those initial stages of training! And realistically speaking, usually, the maximum amount of muscle mass we can gain in a month is about 1-2 lbs. This isn’t meant to discourage you, but just to do some reality testing here. Sometimes our mind plays tricks on us, and it’s up to us to build self-awareness around our bodies and how we really feel within it.
J:  So, NO, lifting weights (even heavyweights) won’t automatically make you bulky. That’s a vast oversimplification of different body shapes, genetics, and hormone levels. Also, this question inherently comes from the belief that WE AS WOMEN NEED TO BE SMALL. And we are afraid of taking up space. If a woman wants to build mass on her body, that’s awesome. If she doesn’t? That’s awesome too.
Guess what? WE CAN TAKE UP HOWEVER MUCH SPACE WE WANT. However we want. End of story. 

GIVE ME THE SPECIFICS!

1. Is stretching necessary before every workout? 

N: Depends on the TYPE of stretching.
Let’s start off by breaking down the two main different types of stretching: static and dynamic stretching. 
Static stretching is essentially just holding a stretch in one position without moving (for 10 or more seconds), such as an overhead triceps stretch, or reaching down to your toes.
Dynamic stretching includes a larger range of motion, which actually includes moving WHILE you stretch.
Studies actually show that static stretching is NOT ideal before a workout. It’s actually counterproductive: it reduces strength in the stretched muscles by about 5.5% when the stretch position is held for 90 seconds or longer! It also decreases the muscle’s ability to produce force by about 2%. In other words: it may decrease your workout performance itself. Of course, it has its benefits, but it’s best to be performed at the end of your workout. At this time, your muscles are already warmed up, and therefore more pliable and flexible.
By no means am I saying that you SHOULDN’T be stretching prior to a workout! However, it’s in the form of dynamic stretching. This kind includes a range of motions that lengthen the connective tissue around your muscles (AKA the fascia), increases your body temperature, and better prepares your body for physical activity. Examples: jump squats, high kicks, bear crawls (don’t worry about feeling ridiculous doing this, your muscles will thank you later.)
Stretching and flexibility training is 100% NECESSARY for physical health! There are a number of short- and long-term benefits of stretching. Stretching actually has been shown to reduce mental tension and also help decrease anxiety and depression (yoga-lovers, keep doing what you’re doing!) Stretching can reduce stiffness and pain, help decrease muscular tension, improve range of motion, and can help reduce the risk for injury. 
J: Nicole killed that. All I’m going to say NEVER ABANDON YOUR WARM UP AND COOL DOWN. Warm up properly, and end with a stretch and foam roll…Hurts. so. good.

2. Best ways to prevent soreness? 

N: NO PAIN NO GAIN has got to be one of the most ridiculous quotes I’ve ever heard. And I’m sure you all have heard it before! Too much soreness serves no positive purpose. It only may keep you away from any physical activity for a longer period of time. A “good workout” is also NOT measured by how sore you are! That being said, there are some different ways to help prevent soreness.
If you are just beginning a workout program, use light weights or body weights FIRST and at a frequency of 2-3 times per week for up to two months. Gradually increase the weight. The point is to not overdo it or move too quickly. Also, consider gradually building in any sort of weight resistance training in the beginning of your workout programming. This can cause a great deal of stress on your muscles if your body isn’t sufficiently prepared.
And if you ARE feeling soreness, it’s one of two types. Immediate muscle soreness is short-lived and is the pain you feel during or immediately following your workout. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) results after 24-48 hours after your workout. It can sometimes take up to 72 hours to decrease or dissipate completely. We more often experience DOMS when we increase the frequency or intensity of our workouts too quickly, begin a new workout program after a long delay of NO physical activity, or even when we decide to switch things up with a new type of exercise. What exactly happens during this type of soreness? It most likely is a tear in the connective tissues surrounding your muscles. And it ain’t fun. 
J: NON-food wise, 1. Not overdoing it and 2. adequate warm up and stretching are critical to minimizing soreness. 
Nutritionally speaking, there are foods/supplements that can reduce DOMS pain and help with/prevent soreness:
-tart cherries/ 100% tart cherry juice 
-antioxidant-rich berries
-*Magnesium (my favorite). I take THIS supplement every day and rub THIS spray mixed with peppermint essential oils on my muscles after a good workout and it is a lifesaver. 
-omega 3 rich fish 
-green leafy veggies
– getting ADEQUATE PROTEIN AND CARBS (undereating will not allow your muscles to repair and can prolong soreness)
-turmeric & ginger (psst. I show you my fav ways to eat both of these on my Instagram)
-LOTSSS of water

3. How to minimize joint pain when lifting

The good thing is that weight lifting actually can help DECREASE joint pain! The first step before ANY workout is to warm up: take about 5-10 minutes to stretch, and slowly ease into your workout. The same holds true for remembering to cool down at the end of your workout. 
I would highly recommend beginning your workout routine using solely your body weight. Get a feel for your body, and when the pain begins to surface. Also consider supplementing any sort of free weight or body weight exercises with low-impact aerobic activities (swimming, walking, cycling) or flexibility training. This will give your joints the break they may need, while ALSO still getting your body moving in other ways.
Think about when you have the least amount of joint pain, and schedule your workout around this time. Choosing the right shoes is also SO crucial; you’ll want to wear shoes that have a good shock absorption. Build some self-awareness between your mind and body: keep track of your symptoms. If you’re feeling discomfort during your workout, it doesn’t necessarily mean your joints are getting worse. Be aware of when there is a NEW sensation, and definitely see a healthcare professional. Listen to your body and scale back when you’re experiencing a flare-up. There is no need to overdo it.
J: Jess coming at you from the nutritional standpoint again. *It’s important to note that joint pain can be coming from a variety of sources. It can actually be from high levels of inflammation in the body, which will interfere with your workout. If you regularly experience joint point, see the way I recommend eating in general for inflammation HERE.* 
 
1. COLLAGEN and BONE BROTH–> These are going to be the MOST important for joint health. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is what builds the tissue between joints that deteriorates as we get older. Bone broth is a rich source of collagen as well as amino acids and minerals that are very anti-inflammatory. Great Lakes, Vital Proteins, and Organisource are all Jess approved collagen products. For Bone broth, you can buy pre-made bone broth HERE. Or take it in the form of Bone Broth Protein (aka what Jess drinks after every workout). I use THIS BRAND.  *psst, I’m currently testing different bone broth proteins so I can find one that is just as high quality but more affordable. Follow me on Insta to learn more!
 
2. Omega 3 Rich foods–> most Omega 3 supplements on the market are crap. They are made with fillers or very low-quality fish oil to actually make a difference. This is why my rec is to eat wild-caught seafood REGULARLY. Wild Planet has amazing BPA free canned seafood that is really convenient.  
 
3. Avoid Omega 6 fats–> these are the leading cause of inflammation and include things like canola oil, soy oil, safflower oil, etc. Read more about them HERE.

4. Natural ways of boosting energy for night workouts that won’t interfere with sleep?

N: MOTIVATION! What is it that you want your workout to do for you? Increase your energy for the next day? Get more connected with your body? Increase strength? Use these likely results as a way to motivate you and give you that much-needed energy boost at night.
Listen to a favorite soundtrack! Let me tell ya, my music choices get a little crazy when I’m working out at night. All of a sudden I become this straight up EDM loving techno-crazed human as I walk into the gym. But hey, it gives me the energy I need. Build a soundtrack that MAKES you want to get moving.
Nutritionally speaking, fruit is my go-to. It’s packed with natural sugars that give me the extra little burst of energy that is needed. Oh, and always add peanut butter. Did I even need to mention that? 
J: Unfortunately, anything with caffeine will most likely disrupt your sleep. So my go-to is CARBS. Get some high-quality cars from fruit or starchy veggies and hit the gym…. And I’m with Nicole: Nut Butter for the win.

5. Is there a ‘better’ time of the day to workout? To lift? etc

N: The simple answer: no. Why? Because this is such an individualized preference. For me, my “best” time to work out is in the morning because this is when I have the most energy, and I really value my evenings to relax and unwind. However, this isn’t true for everyone! So the “better” time to work out is the time that works with YOUR schedule and YOUR energy levels.
 
This is what we call: figuring out your “chronotype.” There are 3 types: early chronotypes (early risers), normal chronotypes (usually wake up at sunrise or within 2 hours of it), and late chronotypes (late risers, waking up several hours after sunrise). So that’s ONE piece we can look at here. The other is determining if exercise stimulates you. Of course, if you are an early chronotype AND exercise stimulates you, you probably don’t want to workout at night.
J: I want to add in that your hormones WILL play a part in this.
If you like to workout in the morning, just make sure you have FOOD in your stomach. Most women workout in the morning on an empty stomach and that spikes your cortisol BIG TIME. Some yoga or walking is fine, but anything more than that requires fuel. Not to mention lifting on an empty stomach almost always results in crappy lifts. Fuel your training ladies.
 
If you struggle with sleep issues, it would be a good idea to workout in the morning to set your circadian rhythms up nicely. Just make sure you are active in the first half of the day.  For many, night workouts interfere with sleep and the production of melatonin (our sleep hormone), so I recommend avoiding late night workouts for most women. 

6. Whats the deal with protein? Is it better to take before or after your workout? is the 30-minute rule really necessary? HELP

N: Ya know, all this talk about protein seems to ignore the macronutrient that is even more crucial for working out and getting results. CARBS.
Yep, the macronutrient that is often feared and avoided by many women (because the diet industry says so). Truth is, your body actually relies more so on the energy of carbohydrates versus protein. One of my favorite parts about getting certified as a personal trainer was also my fitness nutrition specialist training. I wasn’t all that good with biology in high school or college, but I like to think this specialty gave me a second chance at it 😉
Long-duration or high-intensity exercise decreases muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrate) and also begins to break down muscle tissue, or protein. The whole goal of fueling your body AFTER working out is to replace muscle glycogen and then also to begin to rebuild the muscle tissue that was broken down. The COMBINATION of a protein and carb both pre and post workout is ideal. Adding a protein actually helps to increase insulin production. This hormone helps facilitate the uptake and storage of carbs. What does this mean? Essentially, you’ll be able to restore glycogen at a faster rate and prepare for your next workout faster as well.
That being said, you don’t need equal amounts of protein and carbs. The pre and post workout meal ideally includes a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Or, rather 70-75% of the meal should be from carbs, and 20-25% should be from easily digestible protein. Yes, ladies, carbs actually matter MORE – contrary to popular belief! What does this actually look like? My go-to before my workout usually includes oatmeal with peanut butter and some coconut sugar. Post workout varies a lot, but I love me some salmon + rice + asparagus bowls with greek yogurt sauce and hummus. Your food is meant to fuel you – changing your body composition doesn’t JUST come from working out. It more so comes from the fuel you decide to give your body and nourish it with.
The 30-minute rule comes from the idea that it is the “window of opportunity” for your muscles to undergo muscle repair. At this time, it IS true that your muscles are ready to accept nutrients and to begin the rebuilding process. At this point, the greatest amount of glycogen can be driven into your cells, while protein is delivered to your muscles. Personally? There are days I just simply don’t have the time following a workout to listen to the 30-minute rule. It happens. And it’s okay. Don’t kill yourself trying to fit into a regimen that sometimes isn’t convenient or accessible for you. Aim for 30 minutes to an hour after your workout, but so long as your daily intake is sufficient with carbohydrates and protein and fat, you’re set. Life isn’t meant to be lived according to rigid fitness rules. 
J: KILLIN IT NICOLE.  TEAM CARBS FOR LIFE. The only thing I will add is the importance of EATING after your workout. For your hormone’s sake, I recommend getting something in your body within an hour of working out. This is because your testosterone stays elevated after you workout UNTIL you eat. Sustained elevated testosterone levels are problematic for women with hormone imbalances like PCOS, or those recovering from eating disorders. Even in hormonally balanced women, fasting after workouts can disrupt menstrual cycles and contribute to hormonal acne and hirsutism. EAT GUYS. If you can’t go home to make a meal, have snacks on hand at all time with carbs and protein (and hopefully fat!) in them. #teamsnacks

7. When should I NOT workout?

By all means, do NOT work out when you have a fever, a chest cold, or the flu. Your body NEEDS all the extra energy that it can get at this time. Pushing yourself to go to the gym at this time only results with one thing: weakening an already weak immune system.  Part of respecting ourselves and our health comes from giving our body a break when it truly needs it.
If you are injured, or healing from a broken bone, fracture, or surgery, refrain from going to the gym. 
If you feel you are becoming consumed by the gym, this may be a good time to give yourself time away. It’s great to love the gym and to love benefitting your physical health. However, I also stress the importance of the OTHER aspects of your life that you value. Friends, family, loved ones, holiday plans, happy hours, whatever it may be; think about what YOU value, and if the gym is really worth missing something of greater importance. I’ve definitely been the person who canceled plans with loved ones just to get a workout in. The gym can wait; however, meaningful memories and experiences aren’t always able to.
J: If you really don’t want to go to the gym…Don’t go. Go for a walk. Do some yoga. OR JUST LAY DOWN. Honestly, rest if you want to rest. Fitness is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a lifelong journey of inhabiting your body well and involves listening to your desires and backing off when you need a break

8. How can I go about getting back into fitness after recovering from an eating disorder?

N: Take it slow. What I’ve seen happen a lot is individuals shifting the focus from food obsession, to exercise obsession. It just so happens to be that exercise is more “normalized” in society, and viewed as something necessary and healthy. Exercise IS of course so beneficial for us, however, there’s a point when it really isn’t anymore. If you are fresh out of recovery, I definitely encourage seeking out a personal trainer in combination with a therapist and nutritionist. See if your support team can work in collaboration to make sure you’re getting the most support you need.
Self-awareness will be your best friend here. You know yourself the best at this point in recovery, and you may have built a greater awareness of your triggers, and your green/yellow/red light warning signs of relapse. Use this awareness to pay attention to when exercise is no longer serving the purpose it is intended for.
I would also suggest making it a plan and a commitment to include rest days throughout your week. Working out 7 days a week tends to not be realistic for MANY individuals, specifically if you have just recently recovered from an eating disorder. Continue to also reframe what working out means to you. Perhaps during your deepest state in your eating disorder, exercise was a way to burn calories. However, what can exercise mean for you at this point? Perhaps a way to get better connected to your body. To feel a sense of respect for yourself and the skin you live within. To feel stronger. To feel a sense of energy you may not have felt while you were going through recovery. Continue to separate yourself from the messages you have held onto about the purpose of working out, as you build a new definition for yourself.
J: I’m going to go ahead and say that taking a break from the gym COMPLETELY is going to be beneficial for many that are newly recovering from an eating disorder. If you know exercise was an obsessive way for you to burn calories, then taking a break (as hard as it’s going to be) could be exactly what you AND YOUR BODY/HORMONES need.  
Focus on restorative movement first like walking and light yoga. Then, as time goes on and your recovery strengthens, add more intense exercise. This is not only for your mind but for your hormones as well. You COULD workout while in recovery, totally, but IT COMPLETELY DEPENDS ON YOUR HORMONAL HEALTH. 
Many women with a history of restrictive eating and/or an eating disorder have lost their periods and their estrogen is in the tank, to which I say NO don’t hop on the treadmill. It may be a harsher technique, but I see their hormone levels return faster than normal, and that break more often than not tends to be exactly what they need mentally and physically. HOWEVER, everyone is different. Some respond to the cold turkey and others need to wean off to find a balance. You know you best. Respond likewise. 
 
When I was recovering, the gym was triggering for me. So when I eventually got back into resistance training, I set up a little home gym (see which equipment I used in the earlier question) and worked out in my apartment until I felt ready to lift around others. Best decision I made. 

9. How can I train according to my menstrual cycle? 

J: MAN do I love this question. I’ll keep it simple and easy for you. Your cycle is broken up into 2 parts: the Follicular phase and the Luteal phase. 

  1. Follicular Phase: the first day of menstruation until the day you ovulate–> ESTROGEN is on the rise in this phase
  2. Luteal Phase: the day of ovulation until right before menstruation–> Progesterone mostly peaks and to a lesser extent estrogen comes back up. Then they both taper down right before menstruation if the egg wasn’t fertilized.  

BUT, for the sake of training, there are 2 more important times to note: 

3. Menstruation–the 5 days or so you are shedding uterine lining.

4. Ovulation– the day your ovary releases its egg and YOU ARE A FERTILE MYRTLE. 

Follicular phase: In general, because your estrogen is ramping up in the Follicular phase, and your body is more insulin sensitive (meaning it utilizes carbohydrates more efficiently), That is the time to ramp up the intensity if you so choose. HIIT, add some cardio, up your weights, etc. 

Ovulation: this is the BIG GUY here when it comes to training. Your testosterone PEAKS during ovulation, meaning now is the time to try to hit that PR you’ve been wanting. I actually progressively up my weight the week I’m ovulating every month because I have more energy and my strength is noticeably higher. 

Luteal: Because Progesterone is highest here, pushing it to the max is not the best idea. Firstly, because your strength dips a bit and your body temperature is higher, meaning most fatigue sooner. Also, if you are struggling with low progesterone OR trying to get pregnant, doing heavy strength lifts or really intense cardio sessions can cause dips that aren’t beneficial to your cause. Obviously, you can work out, just know that your body isn’t as equipped to be hitting PRs in this phase. 

PMS & beginning menstruation: You are definitely fatiguing faster, probably in pain, have less energy, AND less balance (I’ve definitely fallen over doing single leg deadlifts on my period….and yes it was embarrassing). Now is the time to take it easy, and focus on what helps you FEEL good as far as symptoms go. If you are struggling with cramps, some MODERATE cardio can help here. I love yoga and walks, tapering down my strength workouts during this time, and hopping on the stair climber for a bit. 

 

WHEW. My goodness, that was a lot. The aim of this post was to be INFORMATIVE to the max, and I think we got that covered. If you have any more questions, you can contact Nicole at Nicoleness.com and me, well….Here. 

Live Whole, 

JESS

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