Laura is a personal trainer at Equinox in Southern California, with an incredible success story that gives her first-hand knowledge on the struggle to find her healthiest self. She grew up overweight, just over 5′ at 200 lbs, and began her weight loss journey through extreme cardio and dieting–as most do–but quickly realized these practices weren’t sustainable, nor would they be effective for longevity. She was introduced to resistance training in college and became fascinated by it’s capacity to change the human body from the inside-out. Through building lean muscle, she lost fat without depriving herself of food, repaired her metabolism and felt stronger and more confident than ever before. She now guides others with similar paths on a safe, effective road to weight loss, but more importantly, strength. Read on for Laura’s best exercise and nutrition tips!
Q: How long do you recommend warming up and cooling down before a strenuous workout? Why is this important?
A: I recommend a few minutes of SMR (self-myofascial release) with a foam roller and at least five minutes of dynamic stretching and activation drills. Dynamic warm-ups are essential to prepare your joints for proper movement and prevent injury, muscle spasms, and compensations during exercise. Following a specific “cool down” protocol is not necessary for everybody. The more trained you are, the faster your heart rate returns to its resting rate anyway. Some people feel that cooling down prevents dizziness. I do believe in additional stretching and foam rolling after a workout, however, as this is a great time for your body to pattern in a new range of motion if you are working on your mobility/flexibility.
Q: What should we be eating before and after a tough, sweaty workout?
A: Eat something that contains a balance of complex carbohydrates and protein 30 minutes to an hour before a workout. Complex, low-glycemic carbs digest at a slower rate than high-glycemic carbs and provide a more steady energy supply. A protein shake with fruit and protein powder, yogurt with oats, and grilled chicken with sweet potatoes are great options. Immediately after a tough workout another protein + carb combo is due. Something like a chicken stir-fry with white rice or even another protein shake would suffice.
Q: What do you feel is the biggest ‘mistake’ made in the gym, when the goal is for weight loss?
A: People often neglect metabolic resistance training in favor of cardio. For sustainable fat loss, the goal should be to raise one’s metabolism. Building muscle raises your metabolism because muscle requires more calories per unit volume to maintain than fat. If your caloric requirements are higher, it is easier to achieve the caloric deficit needed to lose fat and keep it off. Resistance training for the major muscle groups is the most efficient way to preserve/build lean muscle, and is thus the only activity that inherently changes your metabolism. Interval-style, or HIIT cardio can preserve muscle and burn additional calories, but this does not yield the same effect as weight training. Too much steady-state cardio (low intensity, long duration) can even consume muscle tissue and work against long-term fat loss goals.
Q: Can you give some tips on how a beginner would get started with strength and resistance training?
A: Do your research on human movement and understand how your joints are designed to work! I believe everyone should work with a knowledgeable trainer at some point (not just because I happen to be one), but for feedback on form and insight into program design. Avoid machines and attack fundamental movement patterns like squats, rows, deadlifts, and presses. I recommend a full body workout each day. Also, start conservatively with the weight. No one should be trying to find their one-rep maximum (1RM) on the first day of strength training. Choose a weight that is challenging for 10-15 repetitions for the first month or so; this will build neuromuscular efficiency and teach your body to recruit the appropriate muscle fibers. Then you can increase the weight and work in the 8-12 repetition range to capitalize on these adaptations.
Q: What advice do you have to overcome the infamous ‘plateau’ in exercise routines?
A: Change up the types of physical demands you are placing on your body. For example: if you have been lifting in the 10-15 repetition range for resistance training exercises, try going heavier and dropping the reps. Your body will need to adapt by becoming stronger or synthesizing lean muscle to meet new force production demands. You can also change how you are loading specific movement patterns. Say you’ve been doing lunges with dumbbells at your side for a while, swap the dumbbells for kettlebells and hold them in the front rack position (resting at your collarbones). This changes the levers of the exercise by emphasizing shoulder stability and encouraging a more upright posture, making your body work in new ways. It’s all about research, and balance!
Q: If you could share one piece of advice for someone joining a gym for the first time, what would it be?
A: Don’t be intimidated. No one ever stepped into a gym for the first time with a perfect idea of what they were doing. Ask plenty of questions; many trainers are excellent fitness resources. Have fun learning and becoming stronger; there are so many ways to move.
Q: You also practice jujitsu regularly, if you only had three word to describe it: what would they be?
A: Cerebral, humbling, limitless.
Q: What are the first three things you do when you wake up?
A: I guzzle down a full glass of water and eat a Quest bar. Then I get my fitness gear together for the day. If I have extra time, I roll out the soles of my feet by standing on a lacrosse ball (which is such an important, overlooked movement!).
Q: What is your go-to breakfast?
A: The first thing that goes down the hatch is that Quest bar, as I have early morning clients and just need to hold myself over. Two-three hours later I’ll have something more wholesome, like a breakfast wrap with egg whites, turkey sausage, and an assortment of veggies.
Q: Do you have a longtime quote or mantra that you always go back to?
A: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”- Wayne Gretzky
Train with Laura at Equinox in Marina del Rey, Los Angeles.