“I ditched HIIT for strength training and squatted 135 pounds in my third trimester”

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I have always been very active, played sports and exercised. I have worked in the fitness industry for 10 years teaching group classes, personal training and managing a gym. I earned my first personal training certification at age 22 and continued to rack up more certifications at ages 25 and 26.

However, I was kind of stuck in my 20s, feeling like I needed to do tons of HIIT, all circuit-based weight training, and cardio to lose weight. I would also go for a run after doing a super intense class or HIIT workout. My main goal was to burn calories.

My expectation: If you exercise, you should be super lean, lean and toned. My body just didn’t look or feel like I expected. I was preaching the right things to people, but I was still struggling with my perception of myself. I felt like I needed to be smaller to be viable as a fitness instructor and as a woman.

I overloaded my body and felt inflamed.

I felt sluggish and sluggish when hiking, which is my main passion outside of the gym. Also, I was at my heaviest weight and felt uncomfortable in my body despite working out constantly and thinking I was doing all the right things.

I was not taught the consequences of overworking in training. While studying for my certifications, I learned how to implement rest, but I don’t think there is enough information out there about each person’s individual stress threshold. What works for one person is totally different for someone else. At some point, it is no longer effective and can cause more damage.

I’ve realized that my body doesn’t respond well to tons of high-intensity exercise.

I made an intentional change about three years ago when the pandemic started. It was a natural time for a reset. I stopped doing so many high-intensity classes with little rest time and stopped running because it only increased the stress on my body.

I switched to a hybrid training style: I lifted heavy loads and implemented progressive overload instead of just trying to burn calories in my workouts. I focused on getting stronger, to be able to crush big hikes and mountain peaks.

I added more movement throughout the day outside of official workouts. I just tried to move my body in a way that felt good. I was already active with walks and hikes but stepped it up even more to try and go every weekend.

At the same time, I changed the way I ate and embraced moderation. For years, I’ve been so obsessed with being small, eating very low calories, and avoiding foods I thought were off limits. I broke that cycle and all or nothing mentality. I allowed myself to have chocolate every day and a glass of wine midweek.

My transformation wasn’t an overnight change, but in just a few years of following a smarter training plan and diet, my physique and strength have changed so much.

Three changes that helped me achieve my goals.

1. I learned to exercise without focusing on burning calories.

I used to perceive a good workout as being drenched in sweat or feeling like I was going to puke by the end. But that’s not always the case: things that seem harsh may not actually put too much mechanical load on the muscles to bring about a change.

I shifted focus away from that and onto slower lifts and doing compound movements like squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses and pulls progressively. I’ve tried increasing week by week or month by month instead of just doing random sweaty workouts every day.

2. I set non-aesthetic goals that I was passionate about.

Now I focus on training how I can perform in the environment I love: the mountains. The fun has to be there for me or else it will be hard to keep it long term.

Having that external focus of how my workouts would affect my hikes was huge for me in shifting the emphasis on training for my looks.

3. I learned Some movement is better than nothing.

We can get very engaged seeing people on Instagram who have beautiful matching workout sets and hit the gym every day and are apparently doing everything perfectly. When I removed the need for perfection and learned to incorporate realistic fitness and healthy habits that fit my lifestyle, everything changed.

I thought, if I can’t do it perfectly, then I won’t show up at all. Now I’m going to do a 10 minute workout because that’s all the time I have and it’s still counting. That all-or-nothing mentality, whether it’s with food or exercise, can be so damaging.

There is no such thing as a perfect month or week, but I’ve learned to move forward and build sustainable habits that fit into my life even when it’s busy and to keep showing up.

Now, I aim for three to four full-body strength workouts each week.

Today I am the owner of Fit For Hiking and a holistic health coach with certifications in sports nutrition and pain-free performance. I usually get up three or four times during the week for 40 minutes to an hour. Now that I’m a working mom, I hit the gym once or twice a week and do compound lifts with weights I don’t have at home.

Some days, I focus on heavy strength with compound lifts. For each exercise, I’ll do four sets of six to eight reps. One or two days a week, I do dumbbell workouts at home, which are less heavy and more reps. I’ll do three to four sets of 10 to 12 reps with a lighter weight.

My favorite moves are deadlifts, hip thrusts, squats and step-ups, because they mimic the motion of hiking. I’m also a big fan of the lat pull downs, pullups, and rows back exercises because, of course, we’re very advanced as a society, sitting in chairs and working on laptops all day.

I also try to walk every day, taking 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day. I walk between three and eight miles every weekend. I recently started implementing some running again because I’m training for a half marathon. In general though, I’m a big believer in a minimal effective dose of cardio, I don’t want to overdo it and shrink my body.

I take great pride in reaching major mountain peaks and squatting 135 pounds during my third trimester.

First, a few years ago I climbed the highest point in the Rockies, Mount Elbert. I’ve also summited three volcanoes: Volcan Tajumulco, the highest point in Central America, in 2020, Volcan Pacaya in 2022 while pregnant, and Volcan Acatenango in 2023. Personally, I like to see what my strength can translate into outdoors because that’s where my passion lies.

I implemented a hybrid of heavy strength training and some steady-state cardio and muscular endurance for these endeavours. By doing this, I hit all the different energy systems that I use while hiking. You need some strength and power, especially in single-leg exercises and back strength to hold your pack. But then you also need the muscular endurance to increase a million times with the weight on your back. Beyond that is aerobic endurance or what your lung capacity is, especially if you’re climbing to a higher altitude.

My second more traditional weightlifting feat is that I was still squatting plates weighing 135 pounds in my third trimester. I continued to strength train throughout my pregnancy so I wouldn’t waste too much time postpartum.

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