What a Difference a Year Makes

Last January, I was lost. 

I was just settling down from a few of life's crazy curve balls, which landed my family clear across the country, while my husband worked 16 hour days. I coped by drinking too much and eating a lot of cheeseburgers. I had neglected myself and my health for over a year and a half at that point and felt like a complete sack of shit on a good day. I had a gut that resembled early pregnancy and my panic and anxiety was growing more and more uncomfortable by the week. 

I knew it had to stop. I had to get up out of that hole before it swallowed me. It's the story of my life: getting up anyway, and then getting up again. And again.

It's not much different than where most people find themselves at a certain age. You may have even been a fit teenager, or at least you weren't overweight. Then add years, a desk job and/or some kids, and what do you know? You turn around after putting all of these responsibilities before yourself to find an extra ten or thirty pounds and an attitude so beaten down, you would rather drown your sorrows in another beer than get up off your ass and save your own life. 

I'm here to tell you to save your own life.

One year completely changed my trajectory and it can change yours, too. This is how I did it:

January - March

The first few months of 2015 were focused on calorie balance and beginning to get serious about my workout routines. I had been lifting sporadically at the gym for a few months, but I'd been letting things get in my way.  To motivate me, I joined Bodybuilding.com's 200K Transformation Challenge. I never thought I would win - and I didn't - but the contest gave me the reason I needed to put myself first for a change. The possibility of winning $80,000 legitimized my health and fitness pursuits, whereas before, it was just a luxury to this stay at home mom. 

I started out by using myfitnesspal to track my calories and used their general calculator to hone in on my food intake. I didn't manage my macros so much as I simply managed my calories. I selected a four-day split program (because I had already broken in with a full body routine before then) and two days in between of steady-state cardio, usually on the elliptical. 

As I got in better shape, I chose a program with supersets and upped my cardio game, to four days a week, moderate intervals, for 25 minutes, total. I wanted to torch as much fat as possible to see my progress. 

At the very end, I experimented with two-a-day cardio sessions and carb-cycling to lean out as much as I could, in the hopes of being "bikini model" ready by the end of the contest. Yes, I saw results, but no, they weren't the results I wanted in the long-run. I was lean, yes, but flat and had little energy to lift as heavy as I wanted to. In fact, I had little energy to lift much at all. I remember one day, not being able to get a 65 pound barbell up over my head to return it to the floor. 65 pounds! Pathetic. But I definitely lost all the weight I thought I needed to (and then some.) 

April - June

After the contest was over, I knew right away I wanted to get stronger and pack on more muscle. At this point, going to the gym was as routine as brushing my teeth. There was no longer the question of "am I going today?" I was going. There was no fighting with the lazy voices in my head (most days.) I had a regular crew I saw every day and it was good to have a "job." It was like going in to the office, except the office was fun.

In order to grow, I upped my calories and carbs with as clean of food as I could. I focused on macronutrients. I made my own six-day split, which had me working each muscle group twice a week in different ways. It was pretty intense and I made sure to fuel my workouts with a lot of good food and some protein supplements. I also relied on HIIT (high intensity interval training) to stay lean. I added Tabata-style kettlebell training, plyometric-style circuits (burpees, lunges, tuck jumps, etc.), MMA cardio class or interval runs on my treadmill a few times a week. 

This was a fun time because of my great "fitfam" (Fit Family) online and at the gym. There was a lot of camaraderie and banter to be had. Just keeping up with everyone's struggles and triumphs motivated me to press on. During this time, I had received quite a few PMs for health advice and workout routines, so I decided to start this blog. It was good to have something to keep me busy and feel like a contributing member of society, something that can get lost when you are a stay at home mom. Hence, IronBeaver Fitness was born. 

July - September

Over the summer, I decided to go a new route. I wanted to bulk up and see how much weight my little frame could push and pull. I chose a simple powerlifting routine, Stronglifts 5x5, and upped my calories to around 2100, as clean as possible... but not always. 

Unfortunately Stronglifts 5x5 had me plateauing pretty quickly, so I moved to Wendler's 5-3-1 and progressed much better on it. I thought it was crazy of me, during prime lean season, to be purposefully gaining weight, but my strength and muscle gains skyrocketed during this time. Goes to show what a lot of fuel and heavy-ass lifting can do for you.

At the end of summer, I took another step forward and started Brazilian jiu jitsu. I was finally at a point where I was ready to take myself to the next level. Joining a sport has not only improved me mentally and physically, but it has given me a team and an entirely new set of goals. It was a turning point. Now I was invested, 100%.  

October - December

The final months of this year found me simply improving, grinding, maintaining and putting in work. Things got hectic with illnesses, vacation time, and holiday schedules. I lost a month of training.These are the times less talked about, but the trials we all go through, where you just have to get back up and start over, a few steps back.  Progress isn't a straight rocket to the top; more often than not, it's simply the refusal to quit. 

I got back up and back into the swing of things. I haven't tracked my food, but I have tried to make good choices. It's been rough going back to the gym, so I am simply doing upper/lower body days to hit everything on the fly. I am going to bjj again. Not every day as I'd like to, but most days - and I know I'll be back completely in January. The good news is since I have been working out all year, I can slip a bit around the holidays with little collateral damage. 

I am ready to go into 2016 with an ambitious lifting and bjj schedule and I am honestly excited about the new year. I have a lot of ideas and inspiration to share with you all. 

One Year Stats

In the beginning of the year, I wanted to look better, then I wanted to lift heavier - now I want to become better at a sport. I went from being an isolated stay at home mom, living in a different state, to having a family of friends online and on the mat. I went from being uncomfortable in my own skin to running around in skin-tight lycra, hair pulled back, and makeup-free. I feel totally comfortable posting pictures of myself and my body - PUBLICLY, no less - looking like a sweaty mess. And guess what? I've not a fuck to give. My worth is in my accomplishments, not my waist size. And that, my friends, was the real transformation this year.  This is what I did, by the numbers:

Weight: 125 to to 120-ish (with a low of 115 post-contest)

Body Fat Percentage: 24% to 18% (with a low of 15% post-contest)

Bench: 55 pounds for 10 rep sets to 95 pounds for 8-10 rep sets. 

Squat: 65 pounds for ten rep sets to 115 for ten rep sets. 

Deadlift: 95x5 to 205x3

Pullups: 0 to 8-10, if I'm fresh. (6-7 if it's at the end of my workout.)

BJJ: Barely surviving the warmups to an entire class with 3-4 five-minute sparring sessions, back to back. 


As you can see, the transformation you seek is not just in looks, but accomplishments. Losing 20 pounds is great, adding 20 pounds to your max is infinitely more satisfying. 

Give it a year. Don't quit. Get back up.  I had a lot of slips over the course of the year. If you accidentally eat a few Oreos, don't eat the whole box, just don't do it again tomorrow. If you screw up and miss the gym for a few days, don't stop going, just go tomorrow. Chase some short term goals, then move the goalpost. Life can be hard, I know. But it's a lot harder when you are out of shape and feel like shit. Get up, get at it. Then share your stats next year!