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Why Aren't My Arms Getting Stronger?!

I often field questions from people wondering why they can't seem to add strength to certain movements. It's usually involving exercises for biceps, triceps, or delts, such as curls, skull crushers, or DB laterals. Pretty much any lift for smaller muscle groups.

This ends up being a huge source of frustration for people because while they are piling the pounds onto their squats and deadlifts, nothing is happening on these other moves. It's also devastating for those that are primarily "results motivated". This often leads a lot of people to fall out of training completely or just putting forth lackluster effort for a while.

A lot of this stems from the mentality of viewing every training session as either a success or a failure. People fall into the trap of only viewing a training session as effective if they add strength, and if they don't add strength, then they have failed. This is setting yourself up for trouble because by these standards you will fail WAY more than you succeed.

There are 3 main things to consider when looking at why you'll add strength more slowly to lifts such as curls and laterals than you will to lifts like squats and deadlifts. 

1. STRENGTH POTENTIAL- Exercises involving smaller and fewer muscle groups are going to have less strength potential. For example, if I want to add 5 lbs to my squat, I only need to get a tiny bit stronger in several areas such as my quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, and back. They will work by committee to execute the lift. However, if I want to add 5lbs to my curls, I must get massively stronger in my biceps because this will be the primary muscle group performing the lift. A bigger muscle will be a stronger muscle and the growth potential in your biceps can't match the growth potential of your quads, glutes, and hamstrings combined.

2. IMPROVED TECHNIQUE AND NEURAL COORDINATION - Compound movements involving movement at multiple joints will have greater potential for form improvement and increases in neural coordination. In other words you'll become more efficient at performing the squat as it takes time to learn, whereas most people know how to perform a curl because bending at the elbow is not a complex movement. The more complex the movement, the more potential there is for enhancing the efficiency of the movement.

3. % OF INCREASE - If someone can curl 50lbs and they add 10lbs to that number it is HUGE. This constitutes a 20% increase in strength. How huge is this? If you can deadlift 400lbs, you would have to increase your lift by 80lbs to equal the same percentage increase in your curls.

REPS PERFORMED/VOLUME INCREASE - My previous point of % of increase becomes compounded when you consider that people will regularly perform a 1-rep max for deadlifts but very few people are going to perform a 1-rep max for curls. When we can add 5lbs to the bar on our squat and eek out a single rep we rejoice! Yet for some reason we add 5lbs to the curl bar and rather than expecting to get a single rep, we expect 6-10 reps. So you will have to lift that extra 5lbs on each of those reps. That's not really being fair to our biceps. 

Taking all of this into consideration, the reason I say you shouldn't view every training session as a success or failure is because you are going to fail WAY more often than you succeed. Most people make huge strength gains their first few years and then things slow down dramatically. If you think you will be able to add 5lbs to the bar every training session, you are sorely mistaken. How about every month? Also not going to happen. So how much can you expect?

Well, let's say that from the time you pick up a weight that you increase a particular lift by 150lbs. over the course of your career. For some lifts you will increase more (like squats and deadlifts), but some lifts you will increase less (like DB laterals and DB kickbacks), this is particularly true for the female lifters. 

Now let's say that you train for 17 years to add that 150lbs to the bar. How many pounds will you be able to add to the bar each month on average? 0.73 lbs.

That's less that 9lbs for the entire year! Also, keep in mind that most of this progress will likely come in the first few years of training. So while you'll far exceed this pace in the first few years of training, after 3-4 years your pace will even be significantly slower than 9lbs per year.

So with this knowledge, there are a few takeaways. First is that you should manage training variables appropriately with the knowledge that progressive overload isn't the only mechanism by which you can build muscle. 

Secondly, and most importantly, you need to enjoy the actual act of training. If you only enjoy training sessions where you get stronger, you will never last.

 

 

 

Prepared to Prep

So it Begins
As mentioned in my first post, the primary purpose of this blog is to be as open as possible in documenting my contest prep over the next few months. Although the competitive fitness industry is growing like crazy, I think there is an overall lack of knowledge about what it truly takes to be a competitive athlete.


Many females in particular are uncomfortable sharing the details of their contest prep and the extreme measures they have to take their bodies to. I hope my openness during this time helps break that barrier and allows others to better understand what all goes into preparation for a figure show.

Starting Point and Background Information
I started dieting in June, with the goal of being ready for shows in late September and early October. However, July was a month full of surprises and with that came a few bumps in the road. After being flooded out of my apartment during finals week and forced to move with a week’s notice, contest prep got pushed back as life situations took precedent. Although I kept training a priority, I took a few weeks off from intense dieting in order to maintain my mental health. Moving into August, life finally started to settle down. With that came the decision to get aggressive with my prep and push through the next few months in order to step on stage this fall.

Current Weight and Macronutrients
I know many females are uncomfortable sharing their weight, but it is a very easy measure to monitor and share throughout my prep. Like the majority of females, my weight fluctuates anywhere from 1-3 pounds on a given day. Early on in my diet, I made it a goal to disconnect any type of emotions from whatever the scale says. That being said, there are still days I step on the scale and get thrown off by the number I see.

I’ve learned that rather than wasting my time and energy overthinking each individual weigh-in, it’s more important to monitor weekly trends. To gauge my progress I record my daily weights and average them out at the end of the week. More often than not there is a downward trend, but there are still periods of time my weight stays stagnant. As frustrating as this can be, I try to remain as objective as possible and remind myself that losing body fat is never a linear process.  

Before providing any numbers I will say that my body gets very comfortable at certain weights.  In order to push past these points (whether that be in my offseason or while dieting) I’ve found that I have to get quite aggressive when adjusting calories.

At the height of my offseason I was sitting comfortably between 141-143 lbs. The lowest weight I reached prior to everything happening in July was 137.3 lbs. I did not weigh myself the first week of August (because I knew the scale would be up) and hoped my weight would level out throughout the week. Below are the changes that have taken place since.

 

 

 

Fit & Pregnant - How to Have a Fit Pregnancy

It has been a while since my last blog. I was going through a very long recovery from health issues I faced after a car accident in 2013. But when my Core Nutritionals asked me if I would like to start writing about my journey as a newly pregnant physique competitor/fitness model, I was very excited to share this unique and crazy time with you all!

So let me catch you up a bit. First trimester I was definitely very tired and fatigued. I was unsure how my body would react due to my health issues- being diagnosed with hypothyroidism and adrenal issues two years ago triggered by a neck injury and stress from the car accident (among other stressors in my life). I was almost feeling back to my old self when my husband Jordan and I found out we were pregnant in January. It was a beautiful surprise and our little girl, Arabella Jeanne, is due in September!

I didn't know what to expect as the crazy symptoms appeared out of nowhere one after another. I was nauseous when I ate and nauseous when I didn't eat, which was a no win situation. I was also falling asleep after each meal. Now in the second trimester I'm feeling a lot better and working out even more then I did in the first trimester. To be honest, even though I have a good amount of time left (I'm about half way through the entire 9 months) before delivery, I'm still anxious about it and the possible complications that may arise. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate doctors and despise needles so maybe that is part of it. As a fitness model I definitely feel, like most other athletes or fitness enthusiasts probably do, a little uneasy about the changes in the body that have to come; fears of not being able to lose the baby weight, and the dreaded stretch marks.

As isolating as that already feels I think a lot of people shame mothers that want to be fit and not gain excess weight during this time. They are often shushed to not to even talk about it and told to "not worry about it" or  that it is “unhealthy to workout a lot during pregnancy.” The truth is it's very normal (and okay) to not feel super great about our bodies during this time.  It is very understandable for individuals that took pride in staying healthy and fit all their lives to feel anxious about the weight gain.

The biggest challenge I feel I've encountered is to have self-love and positive self-talk during this time. This is especially important for me because I spent the time to really recover in terms of my adrenals and non-functioning thyroid with medication, time, and praying. It has taken a very long time and been a rough road back to normal health because I was unable to look and feel like the person I once was. My go-go-go personality and type-A dedication was tested by the back seat they had to take by my health. Not being able to do what I love to the intensity I once was doing was now in past. I am so looking forward to seeing her sweet little face but I'm not one of those women that LOVE being pregnant. That being said there is lots of things you can do to help ease the symptoms of pregnancy and make as enjoyable a possible.

Most women are confused about what to eat and what fitness plan to follow while they are pregnant. They also wonder what exercises they can or cannot do and what modifications you need to make in order to be safe. I know as an athlete who worked out pretty hard and intense, I was nervous about doing something wrong that could hurt the baby. I have been researching how to produce a lot of milk for breast-feeding while still working out and eating to lose any weight that was put on during pregnancy; as that was a big question on my mind. I will continue to go into subjects like what to eat, supplements and vitamins to take while pregnant, body-image, breast-feeding, what clothes to wear without having to buy an entire wardrobe of maternity clothes, and what to do post-labor to enhance recovery and get back into your normal fitness routine. Each blog will also include a pregnancy workout or healthy recipe that can be used during your pregnancy!

Prenatal Exercise
Let’s go into why we should workout while pregnant. If you haven't been active before pregnancy this is the time to definitely get some walks in and become more active for you and your baby. The common recommendation is to not make any drastic changes to your activity level if you've never worked out before- and instead develop a moderate, consistent workout routine. If you were pretty active before getting pregnant then you can be just as active, as long as your doctor sees no contraindications to you or the baby.

Various studies have shown that vigorous exercise does not hurt your baby.It actually helps improve blood and nutrient supply to the placenta at rest therefore enhancing fetal growth. Signs of when to slow down or reduce intensity during exercise, whether you were active before or not, are: shortness of breath, dizziness, pain, bleeding, swelling of the ankles, calves, feet, hands, or face, contractions, or cramping.

I was happy to hear that my OB/GYN suggested it was safe for me to be as active and train as intense as I was before getting pregnant. Make sure to stay conscious of your breathing and to not get very out of breath often, because once you are short of oxygen, so is the baby. Basically, you want to make sure you are listening to your body and always carry water to prevent dehydration and overheating, as it can be very dangerous for the baby. It's possible that you may need to slow down a little as your body and belly get larger.

Preventing Excess Weight Gain
Why is it important not to gain excess weight? While the body is always going to be changing throughout the pregnancy, too much weight can cause a plethora of problems. Here are some reasons why you would want to make it a priority to have a consistent workout program for you and your baby.

Excess weight gain can:

  • Make it harder to sleep well.
  • Leave you feeling overly fatigued.
  • Often said to make labor harder and longer.
  • Lead to feeling more self-conscious.
  • Increase chances for pregnancy induced diseases like diabetes and thyroid disorders.
  • Lead to more challenging post-pregnancy weight loss.
  • Increase your chances for permanent stretch marks.
  • Increases cellulite.
  • Increases aches and pains.

By gaining only a healthy amount of weight you will most likely have a more comfortable pregnancy and delivery. Exercise also helps strengthen your heart and lungs so you don't get as tired as easily and also helps you get ready for the baby's birth. It reduces the risk of getting gestational diabetes and a cesarean delivery. Not to mention it helps with sleep quality. I definitely feel that exercise and eating healthy also helps improve self-image and helps to prevent depression while pregnant which is really important. Your mental health affects the baby more than you realize.

So what is this healthy amount of weight that everyone recommends? It's so hard to know because everyone is different but the current recommendation based on your pre-pregnancy weight is:

If you were "underweight" pre-pregnancy and your BMI was below 18.5, the suggestion is between 28-40 pounds.

If you are of an  "average weight" with a BMI of 18.5–24.9, then it’s suggested to gain between 25–35 pounds.
Individuals that are "overweight" with a BMI between 25–29.9 are recommended to gain 15 to 25 pounds.

Individuals that are over BMI 30 are suggested to only gain between 11-20 pounds.

Since I was I was considered "normal BMI" based on my height and weight (remember BMI doesn't consider muscle mass of the individual) I have been told to aim for a weight gain of around 25-35lbs during my pregnancy.

Remember much of all that weight is from the baby and body fluids. Let's break down a few main aspects and their contribution to additional body weight:

  • 3-4lbs - Increased blood &body fluids
  • 2-3lbs - Amniotic fluid
  • 6-8lbs - Average weight of the baby near the end of the pregnancy
  • 1-2lbs - Breast
  • 1-2lbs - Uterus
  • 1.5lbs - Placenta

As I continue to write these monthly blogs I want to pass on to you some things I've learned along the way and some of my experiences thus far. My hope is to help new mothers who want to stay fit and healthy during this time and leave excuses behind. It's important to have a pregnancy where we can be active and fit for not only the mother but for the baby.

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