Last fall I became frustrated with myself. I had gained the COVID pounds and was not feeling quite right. In the midst of virtual/hybrid school and an increased caseload at the office, taking care of my body was the last thing on my mind. I was too exhausted and my normal workout routine became chaotic. I didn’t feel comfortable going back into the gym and my fitness routine lacked a clear goal. What upset me the most was that I emphasize the importance of exercise and consistency to my clients everyday, but I was not prioritizing it for myself.
After much internal discussion, I chose to flip the switch. I needed a change, and that meant that I first needed a coach to keep me accountable. Yes, creating workout programs for my clients is a normal daily occurrence, but doing them for myself is another story. I recognized my weakness and hired both a triathlon coach and a strength/conditioning coach because even a physical therapist needs coaching. Why two coaches? This is where another realization occurred…I love learning about everything---my body, movement, how to move better, and how to get stronger both mentally and physically.
The triathlon coach taught me how to stay consistent, how to push my cardiovascular endurance, the importance of recovery, and understanding the role of strength training in endurance sports. The strength and conditioning coach taught me proper powerlifting movements, the ability to use my body as a unit for driving power (rather than just the arms or legs), and the skill of lifting heavy weights to create the necessary changes for building muscle and reducing injury. The one thing these both had in common was mindset. It required pushing outside of my comfort zone, and my head always had to be in the game.
To make this happen, I had to make some serious changes. Now ten months later, there’s no looking back! So, what were the changes that helped me lose fat and build muscle?
1. InBody Scan
I set two goals for myself. My initial goal was to get my body fat mass below 20%. And my second goal was to achieve the recommended lean skeletal muscle mass for women, which is 45% of total body weight. Why was this important? We know that skeletal muscle mass is the biggest predictor of longevity in life. When we strength train, we build more skeletal muscle mass, which boasts lots of benefits including injury prevention, the building of stronger systems to fight against disease and death, and a decreased prevalence of pain.
However, my favorite reason for strength training is to increase my metabolism. Body composition is the primary factor that determines your resting metabolic rate (or the number of calories your body burns at rest). Doing an InBody will not only give you this number, but it will help you understand your own body composition so you can set fitness goals that enhance it.
To better understand what an InBody scan looks like over time, check out my InBody results over the past several months.
At the bottom, you can see my Body Composition History. The graph shows that as my skeletal muscle mass (SMM) increased, my percent body fat (PBF) decreased. This is how a typical graph should look over time. It is important to note that a scan should only be done every 3-6 months as that is how long it takes to build muscle mass through regular strength training.
2. Develop a Consistent Program
Far too often in my life, I viewed exercise as a destination. “If I train for this half marathon, it will keep me on a training plan for a while, then I’ll take a break from exercise.” I was always checking a box on a list of exercises without a real long-term goal in mind. I didn’t view exercise as a lifestyle of wellness. It was just something that was “good for my body.”
That’s why I hired a coach, someone to hold me accountable and create different workouts each week through our online portal via the Train Heroic app. What I realized is that when I took the control away from myself and allowed someone else to show me a consistent plan, I had to show up and put in the work. I couldn’t let them down or make excuses. When I took the personal accountability off of myself and allowed my coach to become my partner in exercise, I stopped going through the motions and started living the lifestyle. And the Train Heroic workout app was so easy. It literally puts the workouts in the palm of my hand so I can do them anytime, anywhere.
3. Push Harder
The best way to build lean muscle mass is by lifting weights until you are tapped out. This means you lift to the point where you physically can’t do it anymore – because this is the point where your muscle fibers get the signal that they need to grow. This may require doing five reps with heavy weight or 20 reps of a lighter weight – whatever it takes to get to the point of near failure.
Now you may be asking, “Won’t I injure myself if I push harder?” Well, yes and no! “Yes,” if you do it recklessly without any guidance, but “No,” if you do it properly and gradually progress the weight over a period of months. Heavier weight recruits more muscles and more muscles means more stability for your body resulting in less room for injury.
We like people to use the Rating of Perceived Exertion Chart. If you use this as a guideline, the goal is to hit an exertion level of 8/10 or higher when lifting weights. This means you are loading your body enough to build muscle mass.
4. Sleep More
I used to think sleep was overrated, as if sleeping less meant I was more mentally or physically tough. By learning to prioritize sleep and aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, my body now feels energized and less stressed when I wake. Why is that? Sleep is an active time for tissue repair and hormonal changes. When our body gets less sleep, the level of stress hormone cortisol elevates. High levels of cortisol can slow muscle growth causing your body to hold onto fat.
Our team likes to track our sleep and recovery by using the Whoop fitness tracker. If you’re into super granular data about your sleep patterns and your body’s level of recovery each night, check out this post that outlines it’s benefits and why we love Whoop.
5. Recovery Days
It wasn’t until my coach forced me to add in recovery days, did I understand the value of taking a day off from exercise. However recovery doesn’t just mean not exercising. It also means getting enough sleep or even changing up your workout routine to let your muscles rest. Simply switching from a moderate aerobic workout to a high intensity anaerobic workout gives the body different challenges to adapt and prevent overtraining. When I started adding in recovery or cross training activities (biking, running, swimming), my muscles were less tired and produced a stronger result during the next workout.
6. Eat Smart After Exercise
This was also something I did not think was that important. I’d exercise then drink a bunch of water. Often, I would not eat for a few hours after a workout. The result was headaches and fatigue later that day. Thanks to our dietitian Allyson Balzuweit, MPH, RDN, LD, I learned the importance of eating a combo of carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes of a workout. The carbs replenish my glycogen stores, while the protein repairs wear and tear on my muscles. The next time I exercise, I feel stronger and less sore so I can perform at a higher intensity.
As you can see, change doesn’t happen overnight! It has taken me nearly 10 months of hard work to see these changes. Just like the engine under the hood of a car, our muscles under our skin burn fuel. Powering our muscles requires most of the energy we use during the day. This is more than just crushing a workout. Muscle power is needed to pump our heart, maintain our breath, and improve our balance. How we strain our muscles, allow our bodies to recover, and fuel all its parts with the things it needs to perform is complex. Adding one of these changes will produce long lasting results that may surprise you. Tracking these results through an InBody scan is even better as it provides the metrics that matter for your success.
If you’d like to take advantage of maximizing your workouts, we can help you navigate your lifestyle of wellness. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment for goal setting, progress tracking, and a team that will hold you accountable so you can stay healthy and well for years to come.
Thanks for reading!
Lauren Sok PT, MPT
Assa, Tal & Geva, Nirit & Zarkh, Yoni & Defrin, Ruth. (2018). The type of sport matters; pain perception of endurance athletes vs. strength athletes. European Journal of Pain. 23. 10.1002/ejp.1335.
Mickle, Kelly. “Fat and Muscle: The Power Players,” Shape, July 2021, pp. 19-21.
Ruiz Jonatan R, Sui Xuemei, Lobelo Felipe, MorrowJames R, Jackson Allen W, Sjöström Michael et al. Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2008; 337 :a
Fearless leader and mother of the team, Lauren took the leap to found Functionize in 2015 after nearly 20 years in conventional physical therapy practice with the ultimate goal of creating a new legacy for her family and her colleagues.
Finding energy in helping others and joy in watching them succeed, Lauren embraces childish enthusiasm and overt optimism in the face of entrepreneurship. Despite doubts and challenges, Lauren braved starting a cash-based physical therapy practice at a time when private-pay was a novel concept in the healthcare industry.
Raised in a small, blue-collar town in Pennsylvania, Lauren grew up with her parents constantly encouraging and enjoying an active lifestyle; as a result, she grew up watching them age with grace and agility, which became a prime motivation for her to help others do the same. Lauren came to learn that a proactive approach to health and wellness is the key for living your fullest life. The first in her family to go to college, Lauren laid the foundation for Functionize in hard work and determination.
To create the dream team, Lauren carefully curated a culture comprised of dynamic, invested and innately curious experts in relentless pursuit of providing best-in-class care and a customized approach for each individual patient.
Lauren’s intention is for her clients to feel they have a coach, partner and friend in Functionize. Her goal is to ensure every person who comes into the Functionize fold leaves with the education, support and empowerment to regain control over health and optimize wellness. Ultimately, she is dedicated to disrupting the current approach to healthcare for one that focuses on humans as a whole as opposed to the sum of symptoms.
Today, Lauren lives in Dunwoody with her husband, Kevin, teenage twin boys, Ethan and Austin, and spunky daughter, Sienna. When she is not running between sporting events, networking socials, supper clubs, carpooling, and school volunteering, Lauren enjoys traveling, running, a lazy day on the beach, OrangeTheory Fitness, and exploring the food and events in Atlanta, GA.