Fitness, Life
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How I Took My Fitness Routine to the Next Level

I’ve seen more gains in the last six months than I have in the last *eight years* of my fitness journey. Here’s why.

When I started going to the gym in college—the first time in my life that I exercised voluntarily—I shed at least 15 pounds and uncovered baby biceps that I flaunted with pride. More importantly, my confidence blossomed, as I pushed the boundaries of what I thought I was capable of, bit by bit.

Left: Me, circa 2013. Right: Me, circa 2015. As you can see, I went through a teal phase.

Ever since I started my fitness journey, consistency has been my strength. Incorporating movement into each day has helped me maintain a healthy mind, body, and spirit overall. For some, maybe most people, that would be enough.

However, over the last year, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to be in maintenance mode for the rest of my life. I wanted to GROW. I knew that I could be stronger and faster; I knew that I could build more endurance and resilience.

So, I “rebooted” my fitness journey with a whole new strategy and mindset. I’m not a trainer, and I’m still learning. That said, this is what has worked for me so far — and I hope it’ll work for you, too!

4 Tips for Leveling Up Your Fitness Routine

Six month transformation. Left: Me, in June 2021. Right: Me, in December 2021.

1. First, shadow a more experienced fitness buddy to learn proper form and equipment usage.

I used to avoid a lot of machines and equipment, because I didn’t want to figure them out in front of an audience of gym rats. I cheated myself out of gains because of it!

For the first few gym sessions in 2021, I tagged along with a friend. He showed me how to do a proper squat with an Olympic barbell; how to bench press; how to perform a lat pulldown. It helped to have someone check my form along the way, to avoid injury and boost effectiveness.

After I gained basic familiarity with the tools available to me, I walked through the gym with more confidence.

You could also hire a personal trainer, if you’re willing to pay the rate.

2. Follow a workout schedule and plan.

Previously, I would hit the same full body circuit everyday. Not only is this ineffective; it’s boring!

Now, I break up my weekly fitness schedule by muscle group. This allows me to push each muscle harder, while allowing enough time for recovery.

A typical week looks something like this:

  • Monday: Legs
  • Tuesday: Chest, Triceps, and Shoulders
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Back and Biceps
  • Friday: Full Body
  • Saturday: Legs
  • Sunday: Rest

I sprinkle abs and cardio throughout. As you can see, I’m prioritizing legs…after neglecting them for years. 🙃

For each day, I follow a plan using fitness apps like Alive by Whitney Simmons and The Sculpt You by Katrina Wright. Apps like these are super helpful, because they include programs and tutorial videos.

3. Don’t allow yourself to get too comfortable.

In the past, I would select weight (i.e. dumbbells, machine settings) based on what I knew I could lift, push, or pull for all of my sets without fail.

I didn’t realize that failing is kind of the goal. In order to build muscle, you need to gradually increase the weight until you can’t go any further—without sacrificing proper form, that is. This is often referred to as “progressive overload.”

When I first started squatting, the barbell alone (45 lbs) felt incredibly heavy. However, after implementing progressive overload, I’ve worked up to squatting my bodyweight.

4. Treat food as fuel, not as a reward.

For most of my life, I’ve had a troubled relationship with food. As a teenager, I would binge on junk food, feel horrible about myself, and then binge more to cope with the shame. Then, when I started going to the gym in college, I’d treat exercise and food as part of an ongoing exchange: I ate X amount of food, so I need to burn it off with Y amount of exercise.

I’ve finally begun to heal my relationship with food. I used to associate healthy eating with deprivation (because, you know, the diet industry). These days, I link healthy eating with nourishment: the proteins, carbs, and fats on my plate are essential to my muscle growth and performance.

While I’ve made some changes to my diet, such as increasing my protein intake, I’ve decided against tracking calories and macros for the sake of my mental health. My approach is more intuitive; I pay special attention to how various foods make me feel physically, favoring those that energize me and digest easily.

Instead of trying to control my body, I listen to it.

I plan to document and share more of my journey, so stay tuned! I wish you all the best of luck as you go after your own goals. If you have any tips to add, share them in the comments below.

Till next time,

– Jo


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