Archive for month: August, 2015

Earlier this month, my family and I spent a week in Italy for our annual get-together. We spent the first six days in Lake Como and the last full day in Milan. We stayed in a villa during our stay and, as you can imagine, a proper gym was hard to come by.

Given that I’m in the middle of contest prep for my upcoming bikini show, not getting in workouts wasn’t really an option. At the same time, however, I was aware that so long as I planned ahead and got in some type of exercise on some days during my trip, I could still stay more or less on track with my prep.

I know many of you travel quite a bit, sometimes to places where getting to a gym is simply not feasible. So I’ve put together some travel workouts for you. These are great because they don’t take much time and, more importantly, you can do them anywhere. All you need is a few pieces of equipment (that are very portable!) and probably some good tunes to jam out to.

You’ll notice in the workouts below that I stick largely to some pretty basic movements – pushups, inverted rows, etc. I don’t see a need to get super creative when you’re simply trying to maintain coordination and work up a light sweat during this time.

As always, please proceed with common sense. If anything hurts, stop. You may substitute out exercises as you see fit. If you don’t have a TRX for the inverted rows, then you can try bentover rows with whatever weights you can find as an alternative, or maybe even do inverted rows off a table or something equally sturdy.

There are 1,001 ways to get in quality workouts without a gym. You can do hill sprints, you can do bodyweight metabolic conditioning sessions, you can use the Shake Weight (just kidding about the last one). These are just three of a multitude of ways.

If you miss a workout, don’t stress.
If you have to cut a session short, don’t stress.
Whatever you do, don’t stress.

Lastly, remember that no amount of exercise is going to counteract eating like a glutton. It’s far easier to consume 1,000 calories in one sitting than it is to burn that off in exercise bout. With that said, workout when you can, get in extra walking whenever possible, but be sensible with your eating.

What you need: minibands, long bands (Perform Better, eliteFTS, are all good brands)
Time required: 30 minutes
Recommended frequency: 4x/week maximum, or whatever works with your schedule

Ready to workout in Lake Como, Italy!

Ready to workout in Lake Como, Italy!

Day 1

For the first tri-set (A1-A3), complete all exercises three rounds through with little to no rest. The second tri-set (B1-B3) is to be done in the same manner.

For C1-C2 and D1-D2, you can casually alternate between the exercises and rest as needed.

A1. Banded step-out to squat 3x10ea

A2. Seated band hip abduction 3×15

A3. Banded walking lunge with pulse 3x5ea

B1. Banded squat to reverse lunge 3x15ea

B2. Standing band hip abduction 3x15ea

B3. Feet-elevated BW glute bridge with band around knees 3×20

C1. Pushups 4×8-12

C2. Inverted rows 4×8-12

D2. Band push press 4×12-15

D2. 1-arm band rows 4×12-15ea

Day 2

The first giant set (A1-A4) is to be completed in  circuit fashion with little to no rest for all four rounds. The bodyweight walking lunge (B) is a stand-alone exercise and is to be done for just one set. Follow that up with C1-C2, resting as needed, and then D1-D2, also resting as needed.

A1. Band hip abduction from the floor 4×20

A2. Banded single-leg hip thrust 4x10ea

A3. Monster walk 4x10ea

A4. Band glute kickback 4x15ea

B. BW walking lunge 1x30ea

C1. 1-arm band chest press 3x10ea

C2. Bentover row 3×10

B1. Band bicep curl 3×12-15

B2. Band tricep extension 3×12-15

Day 3

This third day is to be done using a weight. If you have access to a dumbbell or a kettlebell (or a pug!), that would work perfect. If not, try to get creative by using whatever weighted object you have access to. I’d recommend something between 15-30lbs.

If you don’t have access to any weights whatsoever, you can omit day 3 and simply alternate between day 1 and day 2 above.

A1. Goblet squat 4×20

A2. Reverse lunge 4x20ea

A3. Zercher good morning 4×20

A4. Weighted hip thrust 4×20

B. Seated band hip abduction – 3 ways 3×15,15,15

C1. Pushups 3×8-12

C2. Inverted rows 3×8-12

D1. Band push press 3×12-15

D2. 1-arm band rows 3×12-15ea

My mother has put on five pounds.

She and my father have been traveling across Europe on and off since this spring, you see. Or rather, they’ve been eating their way through Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and now Italy.

We’re convening in Milan for our annual family trip this year, and my parents are picking us up at the airport. By this point, they’ve been wining and dining every night for the better part of a month straight.

After a short jump to JFK airport and then a longer leg across the ocean, we groggily get our passports stamped and pick up our luggage before stumbling out to the meeting area. I look across the airport and there they are, my father walking swiftly toward us with a smile on his face and my mother not far behind him. They have their arms outstretched in anticipation of a hug before they even reach us.

Mirthful is the best word I can think of to describe how they look. My mother has a twinkle in her eye as she beams over at me, her one and only daughter. She asks about our flight as we walk toward the car to begin our weeklong adventure. She recounts stories about the operas they’ve been to, the sights they’ve seen, and the meals they’ve consumed. She pulls out her phone and shows me the hundreds of photos she’s already taken so far. She’s as lively as ever, and her energy is contagious.

Later, on the drive to the villa, she leans over to me in the backseat and whispers, with a smile on her face, that she’s put on some weight since their travels. “Can you tell?” she asks. “Actually, no,” I respond. And then, “How much?”

Five pounds, she replies.

But they’re five happy pounds.

She laughs. And then without skipping a beat, she moves onto the next topic of conversation: the spaghetti bolognese that she’s already planning on ordering for lunch.

I can’t tell you how much exactly she’s been eating as of late, but I can assure you that calories have been the last thing on her mind. She and my father have been having the time of their lives together. She’s been living life – that’s what she’s been up to.

My mother and father after a six-course dinner in Milan.

My mother and father after a six-course dinner in Milan.

That’s my mother. She’s put on five pounds, and she’s still as happy as ever.

The five pounds don’t by any means take away from her as a person. If anything, they give her more life. I guess you could say they serve as a tangible reminder of the delicious foods she’s eaten all through Europe.

My mother is carrying a little more love on her hips, but she doesn’t let that faze her one bit. In fact, she doesn’t dwell on it at all. She’s too busy making memories and gasping over four cheese pizza to care right now.

I don’t look at her any differently, and I don’t love her any less. She’s still as hilarious, fun-loving, and kindhearted as ever. When I see her, I don’t see her extra curves; I see my mother, and she is love.

When she and my father eventually return back home to Korea, they will sit on the couch and scroll through their pictures and videos. They will reminisce on the dinners that we as a family spent gathered around a cramped table as our wine glasses clinked together in toast after toast; they’ll laugh at the time we debated over whether my mother’s homemade tiramisu was better than the authentic Italian dessert (I voted my mother’s, hands down); they’ll marvel at the miracle of the Last Supper painting; they’ll chuckle at the pictures from the afternoon when the alleged “leisurely walk” unexpectedly turned into a sketchy, back-of-the-woods hike thanks to my father’s incredible sense of direction.

A family picture in the middle of our "leisurely walk" that none of us were prepared for. Th-thanks, dad.

A family picture in the middle of our “leisurely walk” that none of us were prepared for. Th-thanks, dad.

These are the memories they’ll cherish and hold in their hearts forever.

And who knows? Maybe by then, those five happy pounds will be eight happy pounds. Maybe they’ll be more, or maybe they’ll be less.

But my mother won’t remember how her clothes were a little more snug or how her cheeks were slightly more full when she smiled. No one will.

And it doesn’t matter.

In time, those pounds will melt away as she returns back to real life. There’s no guilt or shaming or remorse. She’ll pull back her indulgences and get back to exercising a little more regularly, and sooner or later, she’ll have whittled herself back into her former shape.

She will not regret those five happy pounds.

My weightlifting journey began in January of 2008. After picking up a copy of Oxygen magazine at the store and realizing for the first time that attaining a lean, athletic physique as a woman was entirely possible without making exercise my full-time job, I was hooked.

I dove in headfirst to the world of training and was overwhelmed with the plethora of information. I became a top level lurker on numerous fitness forums and stayed up late many nights, reading up on the latest and greatest routines that all the pros were busting out in the gym.

During this time, I also had well-intentioned friends doling out some, eh-hem, not-so-spot-on advice that I quickly devoured: Exercise order really doesn’t matter; Oh, you want nice triceps? Then do isolation movements nonstop; Okay, but as a girl, you really, really shouldn’t lift more than 20lbs… or else!

The first six months of my weightlifting journey, unsurprisingly, consisted of a whole lotta wheel-spinning.

I wanted my arms to look athletic, so I would do bicep curls, preacher curls, and concentration curls for a full hour followed by another hour devoted to tricep rope pushdowns, tricep extensions, and skull crushers.

Then I’d go run around the track for an hour in an effort to slim down my legs.

No, it wasn’t the most fun, but I was on a mission and there really was no other way to get the body I wanted… right?

The magazines told me I could do it. They said that 20 minutes of arm flapping a day would firm up the jiggle and blast the fat away.

(Who’s “they”? Why do people always refer to some mysterious “they” entity when trying to prove a point? This is hilarious to me.)

In short, I was trying to spot reduce.

What is Spot Reduction?

Spot reduction refers to the phenomenon in which fat can be specifically targeted on different parts of the body, generally via exercise.

Thousands of crunches for leaner abs.
Squats on squats on squats for lean legs.

You get the gist.

Is it Possible?

Unfortunately, as nice as it would be if it were the case, saying something enough times doesn’t actually make it true.

A 2011 study with Vispute et al. investigated the effects of abdominal exercises on abdominal fat. The exercise group was prescribed seven different abdominal exercises, while the control group received no intervention, and both groups maintained an isocaloric diet for six weeks. There was found to be no significant difference in abdominal subcutaneous fat. (It did improve muscular endurance, but that’s unrelated to the point of this post.)

Another study found that a localized lower body muscle endurance resistance training protocol did reduce overall body fat mass but not specific to the legs (Ramirez-Campillo et al., 2013).

And here’s another fun one: a 1971 study on tennis players examined the difference in the thickness of subcutaneous fat in their right and left arms and found that there was none (Gwinup et al.)! You’d think that for athletes who spend countless hours hitting a tennis ball using predominantly one arm would have significantly less fat in the working arm if spot reduction were a real thing, no?

All of this to say that fat loss is not site-specific, meaning that spot reduction is not actually possible.

Why Do Different People Lose Fat from Different Places?

In a word: gender.

Women in general tend to have higher levels of bodyfat than do men (Nielsen et al., 2004). As well, women tend to store bodyfat in the lower body in the form of peripheral subcutaneous, whereas men tend to store bodyfat in the abdominal region in the form of visceral fat (Nielsen et al., 2004). This gives women more of a pear shape and men more of an apple shape.

Additionally, when bodyfat is lost, women lose more femoral FM (Mauriege et al., 1999) while men lose more abdominal fat (Farnsworth et al., 2003), highlighting a sex discrepancy when it comes to regional fat loss (though this goes against my experience working with hundreds of female clients who typically lose bodyfat in their upper bodies first and lower bodies last, but I digress). The physiological mechanisms behind this phenomenon is not fully understood at this point.

Image from

Image from

In still another word: genetics.

I understand that genetics can be a soft spot for many (Okay, I totally did not intend for that to be a pun, but now I see how accidentally clever that was, so I’m sticking with it. Please don’t click away?). I think it’s worth taking some time to at least touch on the topic, though.

Where’d I get my body from?

I got it from my momma.

Kind of. But also from years and years of dedicated strength training and proper nutrition. It doesn’t sound quite as sexy to say that, though, does it?

Bouchard found that the degree of truncal-abdominal subcutaneous fat is determined by a genetic effect of 30% (1993), and Perusse et al. attribute 42% to 56% for subcutaneous fat and abdominal visceral fat, respectively, to heritability.

And of course, there a number of other factors as well that contribute to regional bodyfat distribution, including hormones, exercise, diet, and more.

Graphs from Kissebah and Krakower, 1994.

Graphs from Kissebah and Krakower, 1994.

All of this to say that yes, genetics do play a role in where an individual stores fat on his or her body, and it also appears to largely determine where we lose bodyfat first and last from (and conversely, where we gain bodyfat). But it should by no means be used as a scapegoat.

“My body looks like this because of my genetics, and there’s nothing I can do about it!” is a poor excuse (and an incorrect one, at that). There’s still a lot that can be done via behavioral intervention to change your physique.

Let’s cover that below.

Spot Enhancement: Creating the Illusion of Spot Reduction

Spot enhancement, or physique enhancement, is when you change the shape of your body by building muscle in specific areas. Weightlifters should be very familiar with this concept.

Because unlike bodyfat, muscle is site-specific (Wakahara et al., 2013).

For example, if you want to give off the illusion of having a smaller waist, then build wider lats by performing more lat-specific movements. If you want rounder, firmer, and/or more muscular glutes, then it would be in your best interest to perform exercises that target the glutes, such as hip thrusts, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, seated abductions, and glute kickbacks.

(Please note that I’m not saying that you should stick exclusively to bodypart splits or strictly to isolation movements. I actually tend to prefer full body or upper/lower splits for most people, though there is certainly a time and a place for other kinds of training programs as well.)

The cool thing about building more muscle all over is that having more muscle mass can actually give off the appearance of looking leaner overall. This applies to women as well, so ladies, don’t be afraid to build muscle. As long as you keep your nutrition in check (and we’ll cover that below), you will not look bulky.

Me in 2008 (102lbs) vs. me today (109). This is the result of almost 8 years of heavy lifting and smart nutrition. As you can see, I've been able to add curves to my frame by adding some lean muscle mass all over.

Me in 2008 (102lbs) vs. me today (109lbs). This is the result of almost 8 years of heavy lifting and smart nutrition. As you can see, I’ve been able to add curves to my frame by adding some lean muscle mass all over.

Finally, it’s important not to overlook the three main mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy: mechanical stress, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. You can thank Dr. Brad Schoenfeld for this discovery a number of years back. We won’t flesh that out too much here, but can read his first original paper on muscle hypertrophy here and you can also find an interview with him on Bret Contreras’s site here.

Lose Bodyfat the Smart Way

While you can’t change your genetics, that doesn’t mean that it’s not ever worth leaning out.

I’ve written extensively on how to lose bodyfat the smart way on my blog, so I’ll just cover the basics here:

Make sure you’re eating at a caloric deficit – but that’s not to say that you should crash diet. Rather, you want to eat as much as you can get away with while still making fat loss progress. Here‘s a quick primer on determining your fat loss macronutrient numbers.

Increase dietary protein consumption. The general consensus so far is that a higher protein (compared to a higher carbohydrate) diet promotes a higher degree of weight loss with increased loss of fat mass (FM) and retention of lean body mass (LBM) (Due et al., 2004). As a general rule, I like to recommend 1g protein/1lb body weight for most people. Yes, it’s more than what an individual “needs” so to speak, but consuming more protein can also aid with satiety.

Lift heavy weights and get stronger over time. Resistance training coupled with a caloric deficit can result in maintenance of lean body mass (Ballor et al., 1988). In other words: What builds the muscle keeps it. Lift heavy and hard (while maintaining good form, of course). Place emphasis on the compound movements (pushups, pullups, squat, deadlift, hip thrust, etc.) and toss in accessory work as you see fit.

Stay consistently adherent on a program long enough to see progress. I cannot emphasize this point enough. If you’re cutting out food groups left and right and you’re feeling miserable, there’s a high probability that you’re not going to last on your diet for very long. The most successful people stay away from dietary extremes and instead become masters of moderation. This is why I’m such a huge proponent of flexible dieting and macro counting – it’s sustainable, it balances health with life, and it allows you to actually enjoy your food. You can learn more about how to count macros by picking a copy of my latest product.

In Summary…

Here are the take-away points:

  • Spot reduction is a myth, but spot enhancement is absolutely possible.
  • Genetics, along with a multitude of other factors, determine where you store bodyfat on your body.
  • You can change your physique pretty drastically over time by lifting weights and manipulating your diet.
  • Focus on the big rocks of fat loss rather than obsessing over minutiae. Then stay consistently adherent. The best program for you is one that you can actually stick to.


Ballor, D.L., Katch, V.L., Becque, M.D., & Marks, C.R. (1988). Resistance weight training during caloric restriction enhances lean body weight maintenance. Am Soc Clin Nutr. 47(10:19-25.

Bouchard, C. (1993). Genes and bodyfat. Am J Hum Biol. 5:425-32.

Due, A., Toubro, S.k, Skov, A.R., & Astrup, A. (2004). Effect of normal-fat diets, either medium or high in protein, on body weight in overweight subjects: a randomized 1-year trial. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 28:1283-90.

Farnsworth, E., Luscombe, N.D., Noakes, M., Wittert, G., Argyiou, E., & Clifton, P.M. (2003). Effect of a high-protein, energy-restricted diet on body composition, glycemic control, and lipid concentrations in overweight and obese hyperinsulinemic men and women. Am J Clin Nutr. 78:31-9.

Gwinup, G., Chelva, R., & Steinberg, T. (1971). Thickness of subcutaneous fat and activity of underlying muscle. Ann Intern Med. 74(3):408-11.

Kissebah, A.H., & Krakower, G.R. (1994). Regional adiposity and morbidityPhysiol Rev. 74(4):761-811.

Klausen, B., Toubro, S., Astrup, A. (1997). Age and sex effects on energy expenditure. Am J Clin Nutr. 65(4):895-907.

Kuk, J.L., & Ross, R. (2009). Influence of sex on total and regional fat loss in overweight and obese men and women. Int J Obes (Lond). 33(6):629-34.

Nielsen, S., Guo, Z., Johnson, C.M., Hensrud, D. D., Jensen, M.D. (2004). Splanchic lipolysis in human obesity. J Clin Invest. 113:1582-88.

Mauriege, P., Imbeault, P., Langin, D., Lacaille, M. ALmeras, N., Tremblay, A, & Despres, J.P. (1999) J Lipid Res. 40:1559-71.

Perusse, L., Despres, J.P. Lemieux, S., Rie, T., Rao, D.C., & Bouchard, C. (1996). Familial aggregation of abdominal visceral fat level: results fro the Quebec family study. Metabolism. 45:378-82.

Ramirez-Campillo, R., Andrade, D.C., Campos-Jara, C., Henriquez-Olguin, C., ALvarez-Lepin, C., Izquierdo, M. (2013). Regional fat changes induced by localized muscle endurance resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 27(8):2219-24.

Schoenfeld, B.J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance trainingJ Strength & Cond Res. 24(10):2857-72.

Skov, A.R., Toubro, S., Ronn, B., Holm, L., & Astrup, A. (1999) Randomized trial on protein vs carbohydrate in ad libitum fat reduced diet for the treatment of obesity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 23:528-36.

Vispute, S.S., Smith, J.D., LeCheminant, J.D., Hurley, K.S. (2011). The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat. J Strength Cond Res. 25(9):2559-64.

Wakahara, T., Fukutani, A., Kawakami, Y., & Yanai, T. (2013). Nonuniform muscle hypertrophy: its relation to muscle activation in training session. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 45(11):2158-65.



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