Guest Post: Getting Started with Strength Training

Hi to all the Fitness and Feta fanatics out there!  I am a loyal F and F reader from its inception and one of Athena’s good gym friends, Ashley.


As a disclaimer, I have no formal training in anything fitness related (I am a Speech-Language Pathologist according to my degrees), but I have made fitness a regular part of my life since around 2005.  However, I didn’t get started in my absolute FAVORITE part of fitness, strength training, until about 2008.  That year I was a senior in college at UMass Amherst and looking to take some “fun” classes for credit.  I found a strength training class in the Five-College Consortium at Hampshire College (right up the street) and signed right up! (side note: I also took SCUBA for credit that year – man do I miss being in college!).  In that class I learned about many different strength machines as well as how to properly use free weights, and I have been using them ever since!  More recently (since around April), I decided I really wanted to challenge myself and go for much heavier weights with bigger, full body movements (deadlifts, squats, pull ups, etc).  This is the journey I will be discussing today…

I have never had any personal training before, but I decided that if I was going to lift heavier, I wanted to make sure my form was correct and I wasn’t going to injure myself.  I decided that getting some proper coaching would be worth the money, at least initially, until I got my form down.  I decided to find a Strength and Conditioning Coach rather than a Personal Trainer.  This link gives a pretty good breakdown of one versus the other.  While they are very similar, I decided a Strength and Conditioning Coach would be better for me since I wanted to focus more on strength training, movement patterns, and injury prevention.  I was referred by a friend to Coach Tad Sayce at Sayco Performance, and I have been seeing him once a week since April.  Tad has helped me improve my movement patterns, increase my flexibility, and increase my overall strength.  He has written me programs to follow while at the facility with him as well as programs to follow when I am training without him during the rest of the week.  Whenever I have pain in certain areas or something doesn’t feel right, he helps me figure out what’s causing the problem, fix it, and re-writes my program if necessary.  These are a few of the exercises I’ve been working on consistently with him:


I have done a few variations of deadlifts – trap bar deadlifts, single leg deadlifts, and sumo deadlifts (pictured below).  Deadlifts work a bunch of muscles, but mostly the hamstrings and glutes.  I loooooove deadlifts! They are dangerous because if not done properly, you could hurt your lower back (and probably other areas as well).

Ashley Deadlift

Chin Ups

Usually chin-ups are done with an underhand grip, while pull-ups are done with an overhand grip.  In the picture below, I am doing them with a neutral grip, which is kind of in-between, but chin-ups are generally the easier of the two exercises, so that’s what I am starting with.  Chin-ups are a great upper body workout because they work your biceps, shoulders, back, and core.  Chin-ups have been the bane of my existence for a while because it is an exercise that I simply can’t do unassisted YET.  Strength ability, like anything else, varies widely from person to person and my good friend Addie said to me a few weeks ago “You encouraged me to try doing chin ups, but I can only do a few.”  Well, I have been working my butt off on them since April and I can’t do any yet!  Pictured below, I am using a resistance band, so I will continue working my way to less resistance until I don’t need anything!  You bet your tushy I will brag for a while on Facebook when that happens, complete with picture and video.

Ashley Chin Up


With Tad, I have been working on goblet squats and front squats (pictured below).  Squats are a great full body exercise, but they mainly work the quads.  I had never done front squats before, and I have learned a lot about technique and squat movement from Tad.  In the picture, you’ll see that I have a wider stance and my toes are pointing outwards a bit.  Because of my hip movement patterns, this allows me to get more depth (squat lower).  I also learned that I was leaning a bit too far forward in my squats, so you’ll see in the picture that my back is pretty straight.

Ashley Squat

Push Ups

I had always done push-ups on the ground, but I realized I was “cheating” and not going as far down as I should, so I have been doing incline push ups with Tad to improve my form.  Push-ups are another great upper body exercise because they work your core, chest, back, shoulders, and triceps.  If you elevate your hand placement (as seen in my picture) on a barbell, bench, step, etc, it makes the push-up easier.  Placing your hands on the ground would make it a regular push-up, and elevating your feet would make it harder. Additionally, you can change your hand placement to work different muscles (wider, narrower, etc).

Ashley Pushup

I enjoy strength training because I would rather focus on adding more weight to my barbells than the number on the scale.  Also, there is no better feeling than being the bad-ass chick with all the men in the weight room.

Amber Rogers at just did a great 3-part series on Taming the Weight Room if you want more information on how to get started with strength training.  I highly recommend hiring a Personal Trainer or Strength and Conditioning Coach to show you the ropes and proper form, but I understand that’s not financially reasonable for a lot of people.  I would recommend doing some more reading on the exercises you want to start and start with very light weight (or just bodyweight!) until you really get the form down!

Good luck and don’t give up!

Thank you, Ashley, for your guest post!  You know I always love hearing about your new strength training adventures.

Let’s chat – Do you strength train with heavier weight?  Have you ever used a personal trainer or a strength and conditioning coach before?

Core Galore? Sore Galore!

Hello again!  It’s Two A Day Tuesday, and I’m teaching both classes tonight.  [I think] I have two really fun playlists, so I hope to see you guys all there!

Two A Day Tuesday can also mean two blog posts.  I want to get right to the CORE!

Core Galore

I mentioned in this morning’s post that I had a personal training client last night, Jen.

I’m already digressing.  This is what I look like when I personal train:

All official in my Y shirt, name tag, and clipboard.

I feel more comfortable when I teach my classes looking like this:

But maybe that’s just me.

Jen emailed me last week and requested a workout that truly focused on her core.  Of course I got all excited when I heard that.  I love core work!  Some benefits of core conditioning include but are not limited to:

  • Improved posture
  • Improved balance
  • Trimmer appearance
  • More effective workouts
  • Decreased injury risk
  • Decreased lower back pain
  • Stabilized spine and firmer base of support for all movement

It is a common exercise misconception that a core workout focuses solely on your abdominal muscles.  While of course a solid core routine incorporates a lot of ab work, it should also focus on the back  so that you don’t end up with any muscular imbalances.  It should also focus on the pelvic muscles that lie between your rib cage and hips.  Some will even argue that a true “core” workout will target all muscles that hit your body’s “trunk” — shoulders, chest, upper back, lower back, abs, glutes.

That being said, if you are doing only crunches for your core workout it’s time to switch things up a bit!  You should develop a workout plan that targets all muscles from your hips to shoulders.  This is what I did for Jen last night, and I dubbed it “Core Galore.”  She said it would be okay to share with all of you, so here is the workout:

If you have any questions regarding any of these moves or how to move through this workout, please let me know!  I’m happy to help!

Disclaimer:  As my client who was actually DOING the workout, Jen renamed this “Sore Galore.” 

Just a warning.  🙂

How do you like to focus on full core conditioning?

Off to bust a move teach!

Randomness from the week…

Hello, everyone.  I’m back to share some tidbits from my week that I haven’t had the chance to post about yet.


—>  My workout playlist for this week, some good new songs on here, at least new to me!  I really love Adele’s “Right as Rain” for a catchy cooldown / leave in a good mood song.

—>  My parents’ 35th wedding anniversary.  Happy 35 to Chuck and Georgia!

—> I signed up for Tina’s Best Body Bootcamp.  It starts on Monday and runs for 8 weeks.  That’s 8 week’s of workout material and a chance to get to know new people in the healthy living community.  I really loved the personalized training plan I won from Tina a while ago, so I’m excited to get some new ideas and be challenged!  Not sure if I’ll be able to do every single workout religiously with my current teaching schedule, but I’m sure I can get creative!  Plus, Jen signed up too.  🙂


—> Tuesday night?  Not my best Two A Day in the world.  First of all, Christine kicked my bee-hind in Kickboxing.  Holy cardio focused playlist.  I was sweating so bad.  Then the Circuit workout I planned wasn’t the best I’ve ever done, and you could just tell I was tired and coming out of vacation mode.  Sorry guys, they can’t all be winners.  How I felt after class:

—> Thursday morning?  A better Circuit class…. station themed!!  We did three different rounds of 5 stations each.  1 minute at each station.  As you can see, the five stations I set up were:  Steps, Bosus, Bands, Medicine Balls, Stability Balls.

In between each round (not in between each station) we did cardio blasts.  Had about 15 mins remaining at the end, asked the class what they wanted to work extra on.  Someone yelled butt, someone yelled abs.  Ensue:  Ab & Butt Tabata work.

—> Had my first *real* personal training client at the gym last night.  Super fun!  She worked hard and sweat hard.  Throwing a question out there.  If I were to offer personalized/customized workout plans for a very cheap rate via Fitness & Feta, would any of you be interested?  I’m considering.

—> Thursday night I came home to my roomie Slesh cooking moussaka!  If you guys are like what?  Moose caca?  (My Big Fat Greek Wedding anyone?) just know that moussaka is one of my all time favorite Greek dishes!  This is great timing because a Y member approached me the other night and told me she reads my blog but is wondering why I don’t post more Greek recipes.  Well, generally they are not the healthiest of meals, but also they take HOURS to make.  Well last night Slesh used a recipe from Mark’s Daily Apple for a primal moussaka.  (If you missed Slesh’s guest post on her experiences with primal eating, check it out here!)  Anyways, she let me have a piece for dinner and it did NOT disappoint.  Hooray for a healthier made Greek dish, and double hooray for not having to throw together dinner at 9:30 last night.  Thanks, Slesh!

—>  My sweet treat of the week?  A handful of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered almonds.  Yummah.

—> Started some new reading material.  “The Condition” is about a girl who has Turner’s syndrome and how it affects the entire family.  Only read a couple of chapters last night before bed…. so far, so good.

—>  One of my health and fitness goals this week was to try a new recipe.  Not sure how many of you read Fitnessista, but if you do you are probably familiar with her infamous breakfast cookie.  Like I tweeted this morning, I am pretty sure I am the only healthy living blogger out there that HADN’T tried her breakfast cookie recipe yet.  Well last night I put it together, let it sit in the fridge overnight, and this morning I got to enjoy quite the nice treat for breakfast!  Like Gina says, it’s definitely “something worth waking up for!”  My mix-ins?  Mashed banana, shredded coconut, and raisins.  Seriously guys, you must click on the link and try this out.  I had with a scoop of plain Greek yogurt with blueberries and strawberries and I stayed full ALL morning.

That’s about it!!!  Oh yeah, and I’m finally cleared to talk about career changes since I got an official transfer date yesterday.  Separate post on that coming soon!

Any randomness you’d like to share from your weeks?  What’s up for the weekend?

Tonight we’re having a belated bday celebration for Bridget, and tomorrow night is a belated bday for Tim’s sister.  Lots of belated bday stuff!  My days are open and free though, which is thrilling.  Have a great weekend, all!