Week 3 Update

As you guys noticed in my last post, week two flew by. Well, week three flew by pretty quickly as well. I gained another pound this past week, which tells me something is off. Even with working out almost every day and calorie restriction, I have been gaining weight. This tells me that something in this equation is not working for my body. For those of you who have been following the 30-day challenge, you might remember the second week I switched to a lower calorie limit. I found myself hungrier more often, feeling as if I didn’t have as much energy, and not feeling as motivated at this lower limit. Due to these reactions and the weight gain, I have decided to try the final week of the challenge back at the higher calorie limit. The higher limit is what ActivTrax calculates for me with a goal of losing a pound a week, instead of and pound and a half (which was the plan I was on for week two and three).

Additionally, when I started the challenge I set the time of my resistance training routines for 25-35 minutes. I was finding that these plans the system was generating were not long enough or intense enough for me. Since I was already at an advanced setting, to increase intensity I needed to increase the allowed time for my workout. I changed to 35-45 minutes and have found my workouts to be more challenging and fulfilling. I will be leaving the workout times the same for the final week.

One thing that I find hard to remember but am constantly reminded of is that no plan is one size fits all. We are all very different in our metabolisms, body styles, bone structures, genetics, hormones, lifestyles, tastes, etc. Thinking one person’s methods are going to work for you is usually not the case. It is great to get ideas from others and try a lot of different things, but ultimately you have to find the routine that fits your needs and your body to see the results you want. While I’m discouraged about my weight gain, I will not let it ruin me. I will take this final week to tweak my plan and hopefully see better results. What if that doesn’t work? I will keep trying. Something has to work to help me achieve my specific goals, but I have to find that specific formula and so do you. Don’t get discouraged if one method doesn’t work. Keep trying, stay positive, and be kind to yourself. Being happy and enjoying life is the overall end goal, so don’t let the little things rip you apart. I’ve learned a lot of great things about the ActivTrax system through this challenge and am happy I tried it, no matter the outcome at the end of week four (although I do hope it is a better week results wise).

Week 1 Update & Revelations

Getting set up with ActivTrax, one of the advantages I always talk about with my clients is the highly customizable nature of the program. To start the program, your wellness coach will discuss the F.I.T.T.R principles with you and decide which settings are best for your personal goals. What is F.I.T.T.R?

F – Frequency. How many days per week do you want to perform strength training exercises?

I – Intensity. How intense do you want each workout to be?

T – Training Type. Which muscle groups are you wanting to work and how often? Do you want to do full body exercises or set a specific muscle split?

T – Time. Approximately how long do you want each workout to take you?

R – Results. What are your overall results desired?


My starting F.I.T.T.R matrix was as follows:

F –  5 days or more

I – High intensity

T – Isolated muscle groups (with a training frequency of 5 days or more per week, this is one of the only options for me. It is important to remember that muscle groups need 24-48 hours of rest between training sessions, so your frequency will determine what kinds of options you have for training type.)

T – 25-35 minutes of resistance training (with warm-up, abs, and cardio this should make the overall workout time about 1 hour – 1 hour and 15 minutes)

R – Weight loss and toning

One of the things I learned from the first week of ActivTrax was that the workouts, while set as high intensity, were not intense enough for me. One way to make workouts more intense is to watch the rest time between sets. It is not unusual to hear that you should be resting for a full minute between sets, but for the purpose of weight loss I only rest for 30 seconds between sets. Even with this adjustment, I did not feel that the workouts were as intense as I desired. This week I will be changing the time component of my workouts in the system to allow it to give me slightly longer workouts. Changing the time allowed will increase the intensity and the amount of exercises or sets the system gives me. The ease of changing your settings in ActivTrax is another positive about the system. At any point if you need to change a setting, restrict an exercise, or complete a new strength assessment, these are variables that can be easily changed on your own or with your assigned wellness coach.

A few other things I learned in my first week of ActivTrax

Location – The way ActivTrax is set up, it assigns a home YMCA branch to the user (the branch where they complete their initial strength test, usually) and knows all the equipment at this branch that it can choose from when creating workouts. Previously, I had been telling my clients if they went to a different branch and that branch didn’t have a piece of equipment in their workout, they could ask a wellness coach about what they should substitute to work the same muscle group. After trying ActivTrax at three different branches, I was pleased to learn that ActivTrax will create a new workout at each branch you go to. Already printed your workout at the Ankeny YMCA but then decide to workout at Wellmark? Not a problem. Just log into ActivTrax at Wellmark and try to print your workout again. The system will come up with a message about how your pending workout was designed for a different facility. You will only have to wait a few minutes for it to create a new workout that is similar but contains equipment at the current branch.

Cardio Recommendation – ActivTrax shows a section at the bottom of a workout that recommends a length of cardio and a target heart rate zone for that cardio session. Originally, I assumed it always recommended the same heart rate ranges because it always recommends the same amount of time, 20 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized the system gives different heart rate ranges based on the intensity/duration of your strength routine. When you use bigger muscle groups, such as back and legs, your workouts include heavier weight and burn more calories or feel more intense. On these days, the target heart rate for cardio is lower. On days where you are using smaller muscle groups, such as shoulders or arms, the heart rate zones are higher, indicating that you will be doing more intense cardio on the days that your strength routines may not feel as intense.


One more note from my first week of ActivTrax is concerning nutrition. I am following the daily calorie and macronutrient values suggested by the ActivTrax nutrition dashboard along with my workouts. When I originally set my goals, I told the system I wanted to lose 1 pound per week. While many people want to lose more in a given week, 1-2 pounds per week is the recommended amount by health and fitness professionals because it is more manageable to keep off in the long-term, as opposed to large weight jumps or crash dieting. Although I set my goal at 1 pound per week, I only lost half a pound this week. Now, if you think back to my post about initial measurements, you will remember that weight is not the only indicator of success. While I am discouraged that I did not lose more weight this week, I am not gauging my success on this one variable and am at peace with that loss. In the end, I hope that my body fat and circumference measurements will show more change than my weight because that will show me that I have changed my muscle mass and body fat percentage.

If you do not lose the amount of weight you want every week, please do not become distraught! Think of the other reasons you are trying to be healthy, other goals you are striving toward, and keep a positive attitude! That being said, I am changing my nutritional goals in the system to a loss of 1.5 pounds per week. I will try this plan for a week, be mindful of good nutrition, and monitor my energy and hunger levels. After this week, I’ll see what changes (if any) occur at weigh-in and decide whether the lower calorie levels are sufficient or if my body needs more energy from the higher calorie levels.

Have you tried the ActivTrax system yet? If you have, how are you liking the system so far? What feedback and questions do you have? If you have not, what else can I help you with this week? I would love to hear from you!

Jumping off point

To begin the ActivTrax 30-day challenge, I decided to start with some basic measurements that are commonly used in the fitness world when people are looking to make body modifications. Weight can fluctuate greatly from day to day or week to week, making it a somewhat inaccurate depiction of what is going on with your body. Don’t get me wrong, weight definitely tells us something, and it is a starting measurement we all want to know, but it can also cause crippling worry and self-doubt. For example, if someone who was previously uninterested in fitness started lifting heavy weights and working out regularly, they might actually notice an increase in weight due to increased muscle mass. However, they might be leaner and better looking than before because of their larger muscles. So while weight has its place in the world, it is not a measurement that should be taken as the be-all, end-all when it comes to health and fitness.

So what should we measure if not weight? One of the things that is often measured is body fat percentage. The most accurate way to measure body fat is by a process of submersion. This process is usually not widely available and may also cost a substantial amount. While less accurate, there are scales and biometric systems we can use to measure our body fat in the fitness industry. I met with a personal trainer at the Ankeny YMCA and had him hook me up to the biometric machine to get a base indicator of how much of my body was fat. While this system carries about a 3-4% error margin, I will be re-testing with the same system at the end of the program, so it will have the same percentage of accuracy.

While meeting with the personal trainer, I also had him take some basic body measurements with a tape measure. The most common sights to get these measurements done are the chest, waist, and hip, but I also had him measure the bicep, shoulder, neck, thigh, and calf. As part of the biometric fat measurement system, you can enter certain tape measurements and the system will re-assess your fat percentage. The measurements that were entered in the system were neck, shoulders, waist, hips, thigh, and stomach.

While I’m not happy with my fat percentage, my measurements, or my overall body progress thus far in life, I am sharing all of this information in hopes that I will see some positive changes after this program. I also hope sharing these ugly facts will help others to realize it’s ok not to be happy with where you are, but to still keep trying your best and not let that obliterate your fitness journey. Stay tuned for more background into my history with fitness and nutrition and how I got to where I am today.

**Side note- if you are a member of the Des Moines YMCAs, you can schedule a free appointment with a wellness coach to get your body fat or tape measurements assessed at any time. Contact your nearest branch to learn more. **

ActivTrax Challenge

Those of you joining me from the YMCA crowd may have heard of ActivTrax before. Those of you who are not YMCA members, I’m sorry for your loss. (Just kidding, kind of.) One of the great free perks of being a YMCA member is the ability to use the ActivTrax system to help you add variety to your workout, stay on track, and learn new exercises you might have never learned otherwise.


So what is ActivTrax? It is a web-based system that creates strength training workouts based on your goals, experience level, personal variables (think age, weight, height, etc.), and a strength test administered when you sign up for an account. This system can be used to track your resistance training, cardiovascular workouts, and nutrition all in one place. You can log into the system on a computer or kiosk at one of the Des Moines YMCA branches, from a computer, or even from your smartphone which makes it easy to access wherever you are.


What is the challenge? I have decided to follow ActivTrax for 30 days and blog about my experience. You will get my honest opinion on the system and the workouts, information about where I started and where I end up progress-wise, progress pictures, and other fun facts and opinions from yours truly. Through this process, I hope I can help my members understand the system better, be more excited to use/enroll in the system, and empower them to make the system work for them.

Fear not my non-YMCA/non-ActivTrax users, this challenge should also provide you with tools you can utilize in your own health and fitness journey and a place to come when you need someone who just “gets it”. I will be posting recipes and information about exercises that can be utilized by anyone and everyone. Let me know as we go if there are things you are wanting to see more of and questions that I can help you answer.