So, you can see by this blog that I love the outdoors and adventure.
This post is about my current pursuit of energy, fitness and fat loss.
A little background information first…
I was an athlete in high school and I attended the University of Montana on a basketball scholarship. I was raised in the mountains of Lander, WY, where I live today with my family. From 1986-1992, I was in Missoula, Montana. Both were great places to help satisfy my craving for the outdoors and activities like hiking, mountain biking, snowboarding, snowshoeing and running.
When I married Jerry in August of 1992, I married a distance runner who has the Ironman as a top item on his life list. (He’s also a Physical Education teacher.) So it’s perhaps no surprise that after I got married, I became a little more interested in running.
Donâ€™t get me wrong, except for in high school when I ran the 400m, Iâ€™ve never been more than a jogger. Usually I would jog to maintain some level of fitness over the years. At the time of our wedding, Jerry had ran some road marathons, including Pittsburg, Chicago, Columbus and Couer â€˜d Alene. Over time, I became inspired to try trail running and some slower, long-distance events.
In 1999, we ran a 50-k trail run, the Big Horn, in the Big Horn Range of Wyoming. My goal was simply to finish. I did that, and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and experience â€“ and ultimately the feeling of accomplishment. It was a good enough feeling that I knew thereâ€™d be more events like it in our future.
In the years following, we had our first and second sons, in 2000 and 2002. I ran a couple other trail marathons, as well as attempted the Tahoe 50-mile in 2003, when our youngest at that time was barely more than a year old. I didnâ€™t train hard enough, with two kids under three years old and operating a business. But the lure of seeing a trail and part of the country I hadnâ€™t seen before made up for any lackluster training. Unfortunately, due to heat-related ailments, I completed only about 41.5 miles. Still, it was the furthest I had ever traveled on foot in 9.5 hours so I didnâ€™t view the DNF as a total loss.
Soonafter, we traveled to Hawaii to do the the Run to the Sun, a 37-mile, from-0â€²-to-10,000â€² event up Haleakala Volcano in Maui. That was in 2004. I opted out at the marathon mark, which was enough of a grunt, while Jerry persevered to the end, (exactly 22 months after his lumbar fusion I might add!)
After the Hawaii event, I decided it was time to take a little time off from training for long events.
Problem is, the â€œlittle time offâ€ turned into a â€œlong time offâ€ and the rut of my non-fitness became deeper and deeper. And the deeper it got the more yucky I felt. I had to get out of it. The reality was that for the first time in my life, I was not very active. And this lasted for the last four years.
Sure, we snowboarded hard here and there, and even did some 20-mile day hikes, but they were few and far between. (Iâ€™ve discovered that our bodies and muscles have a memory and that if at one time, especially if it was for a long time, you were very active, then you can still do crazy, long day hikes, running events, etc. Itâ€™s just that theyâ€™re not as pleasant as they could be, and recovery certainly is harder and longer.)
So during the last four years I got kind of lazy. And oh, we had another son in 2007. I was getting soft, and honestly, kinda fat. Although it was one of the happiest times of my life, I became concerned that I would not be the fit mother I had always envisioned being. I want to be able to keep up with our three young boys. Frankly, I want as much energy as they have.
When I turned 40 last June, it was a good time for me to confront the way I was feeling â€“ like a heavy sloth. I vowed to myself that my 40th year would be one of change with respect to getting myself in shape.
At the same time, more and more people that I know in our town of Lander, WY, are looking great, glowing and looking like they are getting younger instead of older â€“ like they are truly reversing aging.
These many acquaintances, ranging in age from 35 to 65, have something in common. They have been going to Elemental Gym, and working with Steve Bechtel, his wife, Ellen, or Jagoe Reid on personal training programs.
I was really impressed that this many people were going to Steveâ€™s gym, and most of all that so many of them were looking and feeling so good. Steve has been a friend for 13 years. Heâ€™s an exercise physiologist, certified personal trainer, hard worker, well-known climber and author. I was glad to hear of his success.
But I wasnâ€™t sold.
I had done some personal training and I lifted weights for many years in my life, and I just couldnâ€™t grasp that a weight training program, even if intense, would help me trim down and increase my fitness as significantly as I wanted. Also, as an aside, I am a fast-twitched fiber person, which basically means Iâ€™m built for speed, and can sprint and jump and build muscle pretty easily. (I bench pressed 185 pounds when I was 20) Being constructed of fast-twitch fibers, I was also skeptical that such a weight-lifting-related program would just beef me up and make me thicker, exactly the opposite of what I wanted.
Soâ€¦ I wasnâ€™t an easy sell. And yet, the proof was in the pudding. All these acquaintances I know and trust couldnâ€™t be lying about the benefits they were experiencing. They looked great and had renewed energy.
So, it was with all of this in mind, that I met with Steve Bechtel at Elemental Gym on March 23.
After some pretty cerebral discussions about exercise physiology and his philosophy when it comes to strength and metabolic training and training for fat loss, etc., I was compelled. It seemed like logical and smart and scientific proof that a training regimen designed by him could do the trick for me. I was sold.
I signed up and asked for a program that would kick my butt. I didnâ€™t want a half-ass program. I had committed and was on board. Give me the toughest you got I was thinking. I wasnâ€™t scared. I was far more scared of continuing the way I was than anything Steve could throw at me.
I was ready to change my life. There was â€“ and is â€“ no turning back. Itâ€™s that important to me. If youâ€™re looking for a walk in the park, Elemental Gym is the wrong place. But if youâ€™re looking for a new lease on life (sorry to steal Slimfastâ€™s slogan), it could be the right place. It has taken a lot of courage for me to do this. Itâ€™s not easy. Itâ€™s been humbling. Iâ€™m held accountable, I sweat, and he has me working my adiposity (fat) off.
But Iâ€™ll tell you something: when my heart is pumping like it never has before, and I canâ€™t lift my feet off the ground, or raise my arms in the air, and Iâ€™m breathing too hard to get a word out, I feel very alive, and thatâ€™s got to be a good thing, right?
Iâ€™m on a custom program with Steve. Basically he lines out a 5-week program for me in advance. Four days a week Iâ€™m on my own, working out at the gym or outdoors, according to the workouts heâ€™s prescribed on my calendar. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Iâ€™m working out with him in the gym for approximately 45 minutes.
Whatâ€™s fascinating to me is the philosophy that is employed. Steve says just 16 minutes of very hard exercise a day goes a long way to building strength and amping up your metabolism, which more easily leads to fat loss. You donâ€™t have to endure 45 minutes on a treadmill several times a week to enjoy significant fat loss.
He explains that if you hit it hard and engage in high intensity exercise with little rest in between on a regular basis, your resting metabolic rate will increase and remain at an elevated level for longer. What this means is greater fat loss. Your furnace, if you will, will always be burning and burning hotter. Steve refers to this process/outcome as EPOC (excess postexercise oxygen consumption). This is basically oxygen debt â€“ your bodyâ€™s need to consume oxygen at a higher rate as a result of intense exercise, all of which burns more calories in the process, which leads to fat/weight loss.
This seems profound to me. Maybe the mountain air has gone to my head or my headâ€™s been in the scree â€“ but the aforementioned is news to me. Iâ€™ve always been into fitness and lifted weights for years. I always believed, if you really want to lose weight you need to run or get on the treadmill, several times a week for several minutes. I asked Steve if the aforementioned shorter duration but higher intensity philosophy is a new one, or why had I never heard of it or known about it. He said actually itâ€™s been known for a long time but perhaps people didnâ€™t know how to put it to practice.
He cited a study that was done back in 1994 (thatâ€™s right, 15 years ago) authored by A. Tremblay. Basically it was a small study that evaluated and compared the impact of two different modes of training on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism in young adults. There were two groups; one group of men and women were subjected to a 20-week â€œendurance-trainingâ€ (ET) program and the other group of men and women were subjected to a 15-week, â€œhigh intensity intermittent trainingâ€ (HIIT) program. Despite the fact the energy cost of the high intensity program was significantly lower than the ET program, members of the HIIT experienced a rate of fat loss that was nine times greater than the ET group.
There are many more similar studies.
Most of the workout days involve at least some high intensity, but the workouts with Steve on Tuesday and Thursday are the killers. This is when I get my moneyâ€™s worth, and feel a little humored that I would sign up and pay for such butt-kicking. The joke between me and my husband is I say â€œIâ€™m going to talk to a guy about a sandbag.â€ (Disclaimer: I say these sessions are killers, but I keep going back for more, and feel good about the way Iâ€™m feeling. It doesnâ€™t hurt that Steve is a personable, knowledgeable and encouraging â€œcoach.â€)
Steve likes to say to me, and his other clients I’m sure, “If you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you always got.” This makes sense. If a person reads the same story over and over again or skis the same blue runs over and over again, they’ll get really good at that particular story or ski run. To improve, Steve says we need to go beyond what we already know and are good at, and beyond what we’re accustomed to doing.
For that reason, Steve is always mixing up my programs, and no Tuesday or Thursday session is ever the same.
He is also fond of saying “Everything works. Nothing Works forever.” In other words, only by changing up the routine will our bodies be tested, and as a result, take us further.
Basically I skip into the gym, and 45 minutes later, I crawl out. The sessions are intense, emphasizing mostly strength and resistance exercises with very little rest in between. Most of the work is done not on machines but with free weights, barbells, body weight, kettleballs, medicine balls, big rubber balls, and let me not forget to mention â€“ sandbags. Every exercise works a great many muscles and my bodyâ€™s core is at the core of all the workouts.
Nutrition is also a focus. As Steve explains it, protein digestion is 30% inefficient. In layman’s terms, when you eat 1,000 calories of protein, it’s a net consumption of only 700 calories. Protein is harder (read: slower) to digest than carbs, thus requiring more energy/calories to do so, and therefore making us feel full longer.
The general nutrition plan I’m following under Steve’s training is to consume 10% x my bodyweight in calories, and to consume approx. 50% good carbs and 50% protein, with some good fat sprinkled in, such as egg yolks in the eggs I eat, nuts, etc.
An additional important benefit is that because I’m following a high intensity training program, I’m elevating my resting metabolic rate, which means I’m burning more calories while sleeping or sitting back in a recliner.
Let me add, the above doesn’t feel like a diet. I’m eating eggs (with yolks in them!), lean meats, great tasty salads and lots of fruits and vegies. I’m not starving and I’m not deprived.
I want to emphasize, although mine is a particularly intense program, not all training programs at Elemental Gym are as intense. The programs are tailored to the individual’s goals in life. The commonality, though, is one must experience some discomfort and want to become more fit.
That first day when I had my consult at the gym, before signing onto my training program, Steve said his (and Elemental Gymâ€™s) goal is to get athletes, and anyone wanting to get fit, to work beyond their comfort zone.
Um, about that…Good job. I think it’s safe to say you’re achieving your goal…