In this post, I speak about my fitness journey and what has changed over the last couple of years. I share numbers, so if that is something that you are not comfortable hearing about, feel free to skip this post. I first explain WHY I set my goal of building muscle and body recomposition. I share how my body changed with numbers from my DEXA scans. I share where I was before this year and what I learned this year that produced my results.
My goal is that you learn from me – what I’ve discovered, what I’ve researched, and what I’ve learned NOT to do. The goal is NOT to emulate me exactly but to take this as guidance for you to formulate your own path to success because it will likely look a bit different for you.
To complement what I’ve learned this year, we created a free workshop that will be live on January 2nd, 2023. This is one of the most comprehensive resources we’ve ever created.
It merges the current science of body composition and hypertrophy with our understanding of how to create a routine without burning out.
The goal is to give you a roadmap for fitness and nutrition for 2023 to be successful without overworking.
I have a lot of mixed emotions sharing this post.
On one hand, I feel empowered and proud of myself and fueled to keep going. This process has been so fun for me, and I truly feel like I can sustain this lifestyle.
On the other hand, I’m apprehensive about sharing this because I think there is a stigma with sharing numbers.
The primary reason I’m sharing these numbers is because I want to lift this fear around building muscle. If more women were focused on muscle, they would be healthier, have improved metabolic and hormone health, and reach their aesthetic goals more easily.
People think that they will “bulk up” if they have the goal of building muscle. Or they think that building muscle means they have to do a bunch of super heavy lifting and power lifts and workouts that they don’t have any interest in doing. Or ones that hurt their bodies.
But none of that needs to be true. Muscle doesn’t appear overnight, and you don’t have to torture yourself to see results. I haven’t done squats or overhead presses or power lifts in years. I don’t even really do compound lifts. I do minimal HIIT (approx. 15 min/week).
And STILL I have seen body composition changes this year.
Women tend to struggle with fitness because we’ve been conditioned to be small instead of focusing on building muscle. So they focus on burning calories and cardio that leads to burnout, potential hormonal issues, and weight loss resistance, muscle wasting, declining metabolism, and joint pain.
Unless we are intentionally strength training, we are losing muscle. Building muscle takes work and consistency. It’s not easy for most women.
But if someone wants to lose fat, they tend to focus on more cardio while cutting calories.
And this might work in the short term.
But when you are just dieting and not resistance training with a focus on building, you will lose both fat AND muscle.
This means over the years, you are naturally losing muscle due to aging and accelerating that lean mass loss by whittling down muscle with too much cardio and calorie cutting.
A decade passes, and you have significantly less lean mass. But you notice you have to be even MORE careful with your diet and add more cardio than you did ten years ago. WHY?
Studies have shown that your metabolism stays stable from the ages of 20-60 when you equate for lean mass.
So the women in their 40s and 50s who grew up in the era of spin and cardio with overly-restrictive eating habits are starting to be frustrated as they struggle with weight gain even though they are killing themselves with cardio and potentially eating even less than ever.
It will improve your metabolism, give you more freedom with food, improve longevity, improve hormone balance, AND your joints will feel better because of the subtraction of all the highly repetitive cardio.
So I’m sharing these numbers because I don’t want you to be afraid of muscle.
I’ve been training for years. Although I haven’t changed my training routine, I started from a baseline body awareness and strength. Many times beginners will see faster results, but not always.
My results were not perfectly linear. I had ups and downs, and that’s normal.
I intentionally gave myself a long runway and expected slow progress. When you expect fast results without tinkering, you’re going to get frustrated and give up.
Sometimes you aren’t in a season where body recomposition should be the goal. Sometimes you’re just not ready for that. I’m going to talk about how I wasn’t in that season for almost 2 years, and how I really think stepping back sometimes is crucial to move forward
All of this happened because I set a goal to build muscle this year through gentle consistency.
Although I was consistent with my workouts, I also:
I do not do extra workouts because I want to have integrity in our marketing and be an example of this method. Although many people think I workout all day because it’s my “job,” I just do not. I actually consider myself more of an educator than just a “fitness trainer,” working out for less than 4 hours a week by following the Evlo 5x/week with cardio track.
So I am stronger, I fit better in my clothes, my body doesn’t hurt, I take two recovery days every week, I LOVE being able to see muscle definition, and I truly feel like this is just the beginning.
I wanted to make sure that I was never working against myself throughout this process. It’s important for me to have a social life. And with that (for me) comes drinking alcohol and traveling and fun foods. I was not willing to go through this process by making myself miserable and starving and restricted.
Could I be “more cut” if I removed alcohol completely and didn’t ever have pizza and ice cream? Of course. Am I choosing to live my life that way? No.
I actually want to start this journey before this year and give you a bit of back story.
Because this actually wasn’t just a year-long journey. It was really more like a three-year journey that started with first changing my lifestyle and mindset, allowing my body to heal, then starting to work on body recomposition.
I will briefly give a background for those that are new around here, but I won’t get into all the details of my past so I can discuss what happened this year.
I have a history of overexercise, undereating, and obsessing over calories.
This approach gave me all sorts of undesirable effects: chronic joint pain at the age of 24, horrible brain fog where I couldn’t focus and was always concerned about my next nap, and night terrors. I was truly running on empty. I required constant bodywork all while thinking that these symptoms were a “normal part of being fit”.
What really woke me up to the fact that my routine was wearing me down was when I moved from KC to NC and fell out of my workout routine. I noticed how good I felt almost 2 weeks in. My joint pain was gone.
This woke me up to the idea that maybe it’s not my body’s fault, but that it might be my workout’s fault.
The idea for Evlo (then Levo) started brewing in my head around that time. As a physical therapist, it seemed like all of my patients were in similar situations. Their workout programs were wearing down their bodies. I had nothing I could recommend for my patients when they asked me what fitness program was both safe and effective.
Almost a year later in March of 2020, I started Evlo (then Levo) and began exercising exclusively in this way. I also started fueling better and taking better care of my mental health. I was eating a lot more, but honestly drinking more because of COVID. But my joint pain and brain fog were gone. I knew I would never go back.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, I rode that wave. I prioritized eating whole foods, but did not pay attention to my macros or protein intake. I was honestly just happy to feel so much better mentally, have a healthier mindset around food and exercise, and not be in pain all the time.
I reflect back on that time as a season of pulling back and healing that I would never, ever take back. I needed that time to prove to myself that there was another way. To know that I didn’t need to torture myself mentally and physically. To realize that I could sleep better and be more present and alert at work with more mental clarity. This season of healing took about 1.5 years, which I think was crucial for laying the foundation for sustainable body recomposition.
It wasn’t until this year thatI decided I wanted to set a new goal: to gain 5lbs of muscle in one year.
I decided to give myself the full year so:
I planned to measure my progress each month via a DEXA scan so that I could see what was working and what wasn’t. I gained 8 lbs of muscle this year and lost about 5 lbs of fat. But it definitely varied and wasn’t a completely linear progression throughout the whole year.
I’ve talked about this on Episode #77 of Fit Body, Happy Joints, but I did not change my workouts this year. I’ve done the 5x/week track with cardio the entire year with 2 recovery days on Saturday and Sunday.
I also walk 10-30 minutes per day. I looked at my average steps per day and it was about 3,600. This was not a ton of walking, but kept me active and moving every day.
I did change my nutrition at the start of 2022. I started tracking my protein and making sure that I was getting 100-120g/day. I was eating about my maintenance calories on a day-to-day basis, and probably higher on the weekends.
Without changing my workouts, I noticed body recomposition changes within the first three months.
My results throughout the year varied depending on how I was eating and my stress levels. It wasn’t completely linear.
It’s funny because this last month has actually been the month in which I’ve gained the most muscle. Right around Thanksgiving, I started feeling stronger. I was eating more at this time just because of the Holiday and noticed that I could lift heavier in classes. I decided to run with this to see what happened.
So I continued to eat more than I usually had. I prioritized getting enough protein without being super rigid with my calories and I had my best month yet. So much so that I had a second DEXA scan performed just to make sure that these results were not an error.
How much of that was that I set the foundation for myself all year long? I was slowly building up my strength and muscle mass and maybe I finally hit a critical mass where I could add more resistance. Maybe my insulin sensitivity had improved and I was able to see quicker gains?
It’s really hard to tell for sure, but it’s possible that I had even been undereating this whole year and that I could have gained muscle faster if I had eaten more.
Overall, here is what I learned this year about food. PLEASE know this is not nutrition advice. This is what I have found from doing the work on myself. Your results may vary which means you need to do the work for yourself to figure out your own routine:
7. Lastly, I cut down on how much I drink.
Although I didn’t change anything about my workouts, I really focused on:
My goal next year is to continue to gain muscle, but it will also depend on what happens a bit in my personal life.
But from here on out, I’d like to have the goal of gaining 1-2 lbs of muscle/year. I don’t plan to get DEXAs all the time now that I’ve figured out what works. I might get one once or twice a year, but will likely just go off my strength and how I feel.
I think that if I have the goal of slowly building muscle, I will give myself some flexibility in case I run into periods of stress where I’m not sleeping (like what happened to me this fall). If I can slowly invest in my body and prioritize muscle building, I can meet life’s inevitable challenges from a more stable place and will hopefully be more resilient.
Even if something happens in my life and I’m knocked all the way back to “square one,” I am so glad that I spent this year learning.
Because now I have so much information and data about what works for me. I feel so confident and empowered that I can use these tools to improve my health without costing my health.
If this resonated with you, I want to encourage you to spend the year tinkering and learning and gathering data. You don’t necessarily have to get DEXAs scans to do so. You can see how you feel, measure your strength, take notes of your joint aches and pains, monitor your energy changes, and notice your ability to sleep.
If you are someone who loves a roadmap and data like I do, I am hosting a FREE workshop on January 2nd, 2023 to help teach you what to focus on and what not to focus on.
This is not for beginners, but for people who are already working out and want to use their time more wisely and see better results this year without overworking. We will also help you set up a plan for your whole year and give you a tracker to measure your progress.
This workshop is free, but live only. If you are an Evlo member, you will be able to ask questions and have access to the replay. The workshop will last about an hour. It will hopefully inspire, motivate, and give you tools to do what I did this year for yourself.
Listen to Dr. Shannon Ritchey, PT, DPT as she integrates the most current literature with her experience as a fitness trainer to give you tangible takeaways to improve your fitness.
Check out the pod