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April 24, 2013 / Angela McCuiston

We Have Moved….

For those of you who have come here recently, maybe you found my address on the back of a business card, or an old website link, I want to let you know that while this website holds a lot of my old articles, I have moved all of them and written a LOT of new ones over on my new blog-style website at

I will be keeping this website, but only as a personal blog, which you may or may not find useful. 🙂

So if you’re interested in Strength Training for Musicians, or any variation thereof, hop over to my website and read my articles there. I’d LOVE to hear your comments!

You can also read some of my articles at Innovative Ideas in Performance and Pedagogy and Flute Focus.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at Music!

January 14, 2013 / Angela McCuiston

2012 in review

It’s been a good blogging year!
Apparently, I’ve had some good blog posts you found interesting, I’d love to hear more feedback from you and find out what you would like to read about from me.  How can I help you? I’ll be interested to read your comments below.

By the way, if you wonder why I don’t update this blog very much it is because this blog is now  my personal blog and I do MUCH more article writing on my website:  So, if you’re looking for more articles from me (and I’ve had several new subscribers in the past few months, thanks!) please head over to my website and see my blog posts there, because I really don’t update this one very much anymore.  When I do, it will be more about my personal life and thoughts about things.

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

October 10, 2012 / Angela McCuiston

Flute Day 2012

Check out the Brochure! flute day brochure

Flute Day is November 3, 2012 and will be held at Altus Flutes in Mt. Juliet, TN. They will have Altus, Azumi and Jupiter flutes, piccolos, altos and basses available to play and try.

This Flute Day is really focused on middle schoolers and high schoolers, and what’s important to them, though anyone is invited to come. I am very blessed to have Dr. Roger Martin from Tennessee Technological University (my alma mater!), Dr. Deanna Little from Middle Tennessee State University and Dr. Jessica Dunnavant from Belmont University and the Music City Baroque coming to share their wisdom and knowledge.


8:30 Registration (if you haven’t already registered here) and goody bag handout

9:00 Welcome and Physical Warm Up

9:30 Flute Warm Up and Scales

10:00 Tone Production

10:30 Phrasing

11:00 Sight Reading

11:30 Performance Anxiety Management (aka: how to perform well when you’re nervous)

12:00 Break for lunch and to try the Altus/Azumi/Jupiter flutes and piccolos

12:45 Open masterclass of prepared pieces (3 volunteers) with Dr. Martin and Dr. Little

2:15 Joint flute choir!

3:00 END


Cost for the day is $25 if you pre-register, $30 if you register on-site, so avoid the lines and the extra money and register early!

If you would like to be on the email list for more details about Flute Day, Music Strong OR Flute lessons (you can choose on the sign up page), you can sign up here:

Love to hear your thoughts and comments and hope to see you there – help us get the word out!

October 6, 2012 / Angela McCuiston

Music Teacher’s Helper – Your Studio Assistant

Innovative Ideas in Performance and Pedagogy (IPAP)

Having just moved to a new area, I now have a studio of about 24 students and growing – come from an area where getting students was like pulling teeth, being inundated with this many students is not only wonderful but can also be a little overwhelming with trying to keep track of all the finances.   To any other music teacher who understands the frustration and confusion of having a large studio (or heck, of having a studio period) keeping track of student’s information, their payment status, who owes what when, who’s working on what, what school is out for fall or spring break at what time, etc. can be exhausting work.

I have found a lifesaving solution. Seriously,it’s taken the hassle out of running a studio and if you haven’t checked it out yet, you owe it to yourself to give it a look over.  It even comes with…

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March 20, 2012 / Angela McCuiston

My First Century Ride

Ok before you get excited, no I haven’t completed a century ride yet, but I AM training for one.  Like I have talked about so many times, one must have goals, and since my love for my bike and riding has only grown, I needed a goal.  I have come close to 50 miles, but that isn’t enough, I wanted a BHAG – or what Jim Collins calls in “Good to Great” A Big Hairy Audacious Goal.  For me, that is to ride a century, or 100 miles in a day.

The challenge that faces me here is that I’m a sprinter.  I’m good at tennis, short distances, weight lifting, all that.  I do short bursts of things.  That’s why running the Army 2 miles is such a challenge for me and why getting over the 50 mile hump on the bike is challenging.  My genetics are geared towards sprinting.  It doesn’t mean that I am limited by them though, and so I have chosen to educate myself.

What  I have learned that I didn’t know I needed to know:

1)Nutrition on the bike is different than in real life

What do I mean by this?  Well, normally, I eat 2-3x’s per day, big meals and I like it that way.  I don’t go carb-heavy, and I focus my eating around my workouts.  Well, that works when I’m not on the bike.  When it comes to bike eating, if you are going longer distances, over an hour (as are most of my rides) you

  1. can’t do it fasted (learned this the hard way)
  2. HAVE to bring food with you (also learned this the hard way)
  3. Need more water and yes, sports/electrolyte drinks (hello I live in FL where it’s hot, but yes, had to find this out the hard way, too)
  4. Need a pre-workout meal that won’t make you crash
  5. Figure out what doesn’t work for you.

So what I”m finding out is that sometimes, a bowl of Special K or Frosted Mini-Wheats and milk is good for me for a shorter ride, but the other day I experimented with a whole wheat bagel with 1 TB peanut butter and sf jelly and lo-and-behold, I wasn’t hungry for a good long while, no crash>  I love prunes and love the potassium they provide, but found out that 1 1/2-2 servings of them on the bike doesn’t make my intestines happy. 🙂

You get the idea.  When it comes to long distance cycling, if you are trying to lose weight, create your deficit off the bike and make sure you fuel for your rides.

2. Get the right equipment!

I’ve been buying mine a little at a time, which is fine, because I only have so much money, but what I’ve found is this:

  1. make sure you get a proper bike fit.
  2. if the bike fits and you hurt, get the right bike shorts
  3. if the bike shorts are fine, get a new saddle – try a bunch of them
  4. yes, you need winter bike clothes because your toes will fall off from cold!
  5. A biking computer is ESSENTIAL. You need to know your speed, your cadence, distance and time if nothing else
  6. Did you wear sunblock?  YOU NEED IT.
  7. Get flat equipment.  You WILL get a flat. So get a bag to put on the back of the bike, get a spare and  C02 and yes, learn how to fix a flat before you go out on the road.
  8. Make sure you have two water bottle cages or a camelback

I could go on and on, but it’s amazing what you don’t know when you first start out.

3. Get a Plan

Just going out and riding longer and longer distances each time 3x’s a week will not cut it to get you to your first century.  I’ve got three books I’m reading right now:

  1. The Time-Crunched Cyclist by Chris Carmichael 

    Cover of "The Time-Crunched Cyclist: Fit,...

    Cover via Amazon

  2. Training Plans for Cyclists by Gale Bernhardt
  3. Bicycling for Women by Gale Bernhardt

I’m reading these books as fast as I can and adapting the training programs to my schedule and

what I’ve found out is that I need more intervals, of different kinds, single leg work and even negative splits.  Stuff I didn’t know existsed.  So, if you want to ride a century, get educated and get a plan and then follow it!


I’m hoping to chronicle some of my training/diet info as I go, so I can keep you updated on my progress. If you’ve completed a century or have tips, feel free to post below!


December 14, 2011 / Angela McCuiston

Why I Hate the Word TONE

As the phrase goes “you can’t swing a dead cat” without hitting the word “tone” in today’s media.

Get toned in 5 minutes a day!

Tone up on vacation!

Get toned with kettlebells!


From Webster’s dictionary:

Tone (noun)

Definition of TONE

vocal or musical sound of a specific quality <spoke in low tones> <masculine tones>; especially: musical sound with respect to timbre and manner of expression
a sound of definite pitch and vibration b:whole step
accent or inflection expressive of a mood or emotion
the pitch of a word often used to express differences of meaning
a particular pitch or change of pitch constituting an element in the intonation of a phrase or sentence <high tone> <low tone> <mid tone> <low-rising tone> <falling tone>
:style or manner of expression in speaking or writing <seemed wise to adopt a conciliatory tone>
a (1): color quality or value (2): a tint or shade of color b: the color that appreciably modifies a hue or white or black <gray walls of greenish tone>
: the effect in painting of light and shade together with color
a: the state of a living body or of any of its organs or parts in which the functions are healthy and performed with due vigor b: normal tension or responsiveness to stimuli; specifically:muscular tonus
a: healthy elasticity :resiliencyb: general character, quality, or trend <a city’s upbeat tone> c: frame of mind :mood

Examples of TONE

  1. He replied in a friendly tone.
  2. They spoke in hushed tones.
  3. Don’t use that rude tone of voice with me.
  4. the low tones of an organ
  5. The speech had religious tones to it.
  6. The author’s tone shows her attitude toward the subject.
  7. The professor’s condescending tone irritated some students.
  8. a bright, dark, or light tone of blue
  9. the softtones of the painting

Tone (Verb)

toned, ton·ing
Definition of TONE
transitive verb
: to give a particular intonation or inflection to

intransitive verb

: to assume a pleasing color quality or tint

: to blend or harmonize in color


Ok, in all of that do you see one reference to “tone” being used as a verb to describe the shape of a women’s body?  No. Not one.  In fact, this might just be the Grammar Nazi in me coming out, but if you put any of those definitions in for the sentences you see in any women’s magazine today, they’d at least be laughable, at most, downright confusing:

“Get inflection or pitch in 5 minutes a day!”  ”


Ok, now given, there is one: 

3a: to impart tone to :strengthen <medicine to tone up the system> b: to soften or reduce in intensity, color, appearance, or sound :mellow —often used with downc: to change the normal silver image of (as a photographic print) into a colored image
But that still takes things out of context.  And it bothers me.  The misuse of grammar isn’t what bothers me most though, it’s the connotation that is being given to the word as to what is an acceptable body image to women.
If I didn’t have a clear vision in my mind of what I wanted to look like, if I was your average woman who just wanted to lose weight, be smaller, have some shape for crying out loud that didn’t demand Spanx to create and a body she felt happy and comfortable with….I would be so confused just looking at the magazines in the checkout aisle.
Whatever body shape you want is up to you, not me and who am I to say that what you want isn’t acceptable?  However, what I DO have a problem with is the false advertising that gets women to believe that they can “tone in 5 minutes a day” or find weight loss in a pill, the Shake Weight or any of the crap Jillian Anderson does.
I’m sorry, but it’s not as simple as a pill.  It IS as simple as enforcing self-discipline and doing what your common sense tells you to do.  Getting shape to the degree you want might require the use of a structured training program and a personal trainer, but for the most part, you know what to do, you just want an easy way out, a pill that means you don’t have to do the work.
You want the body?  You have to do the work.  And it will take a heck of a lot more than 5 minutes a day.  You think even 20 minutes a day will offset the other 23+ hours in the day?  I’m sorry, but if so, those are delusions my dear.
Back to Hating “Tone”
Most of the advertisements behind the phrase tone imply a body like this:
or even this: Jamie Eason (the 2nd picture) obviously has more muscle “tone” (a state of the muscle) than the first woman, but I can tell you this: Jamie Eason sure didn’t get her shape by using a Shake Weight, or anything that just came out of a bottle.
No, you want to look like Jamie?  You need to say no to the daily calorie splurges and binges.  You need to eat for the body you want.  Are you soft?  Too soft?  You ate for that body.  You need to train HARD.  You want shape and definition?  That comes from muscle, muscle shape and size is created through strength training.  That means lifting something heavy enough, repeatedly CHALLENGING the muscle enough to change.  Muscle responds to stimulus and has to overcome challenge in order to change.  You will not “bulk” up (whatever the crap that means….I already addressed that in this post) but you will get stronger, you will get “tighter” and by that I mean your muscles adapt and as they get stronger, they get more dense, and if your diet is in tune with your goals, you will begin to see definition.
As Leigh Peele states so often, if you put a pea on a bed and put a sheet over it, you’d have a hard time seeing it, right?  What about a sack of potatoes?  You’d see it pretty easily.  You HAVE to grow, challenge and develop muscle if you want to see it after you lose the fat.  What if you lose a lot of fat and just look like a skinny version of your soft self?  That means you need to grow some muscles.  Hire a trainer with some sense who can write you an individualized program to help meet your goals and you’ll get there.
So to break it down, why do I hate the word “tone”?

  • It implies to women that they will get “bulky” if they lift anything heavier than 5 lbs less than 12-20 times.
  • It keeps women enslaved as cardio bunnies, constantly in a state of disappointment, frustration and a body that won’t change even though they do hours of elliptical work.
  • It’s false advertising that perpetuates myths and is misleading.

So ladies, if you come train with me, you won’t “tone up”, because in all honesty there is no such thing.  I am also a professional musician and I recognize the first definition as such…if you tell me you want to tone up, I will assume you have bad intonation.  There, now we are both confused. 🙂

No, if you train with me, you will gain strength, endurance, you will grow “shape” and maybe a little size, because you know what?  When you lose the fat, you have to have SOMETHING to see under it and if you have no size in the first place, you can guarantee you won’t have any to see when you lose fat.

A side note, I would NEVER try to make anyone look like how I want to look, or how I only want them to look. If you want to look a certain way, I respect that and I will do all in my power to get you to that ideal.

But just for the record, I want to look like this; Ms. Erin Stern, courtesy of Flex Magainze:

Or my favorite, Mrs. Monica Brant:


(courtesy of

October 18, 2011 / Angela McCuiston

Everything You Know is WRONG!

Last weekend, October 7-8, 2011 I spent two days at the NASM Live Workshop and my head is about to explode from knowledge and all the things I’m dying to share with you!

First off, let’s say my ego took a real blow.  Back up; first off, I didn’t realize I HAD that much of an ego until I got there.  Between struggling to do a single leg balance, figuring out what to do for my excessive low back arch compensation and getting worn out by STATIC stretches, then throw in finding out I was doing it all wrong….let’s just say I’ve been humbled. 🙂

To back track a little bit (and so my clients don’t start to look for another trainer) let me clarify by saying no, I don’t really mean that I’ve been doing everything wrong.  You see, I have been training for years; I was certified by ISSA 3 years ago and this past year in January I received my NASM-CPT certification, no easy feat.  Besides the comps for my master’s in music, easily the hardest and most stressful thing I’ve done.  There is simply a TON of knowledge that goes into understanding the material, and the certification is just the basics to get you started!

I studied for my exam by reading the book, doing the workbook, watching the videos and listening to the audio, doing the flashcards, practice tests and all that, but not a lot of hands-on. That’s unfortunately because I’m a tactile learner, which simply means that 1)I’m getting started in building my business and since I’m on my own, not part of a gym, that means the building process can take longer (read, not as many clients as quickly) and 2) there’s a lot of information that you can forget.

It was really a lot of fun, especially watching the “meatheads” in the room get schooled on how they’re old bodybuilding myths (i.e. anything gotten out of Muscle and Fitness, or Fiction”  as they called it) were  full of error, not scientifically based and overall….wrong.  The emotional teddy bears got snatched out of a lot of people’s hands.

Teddy bear, born in Germany about 1954

Image via Wikipedia

What were the emotional teddy bears?  Here are some:

  • There is no need to do full squats (ATG) unless prepping for a sport that requires it.  Going that low causes the pelvis to tuck under which takes the lumbar spine out of neutral and therefore puts greater stress on the spine.
  • Plie or sumo squats are also not such a good idea.  There is a high increase in abduction, which, coupled with the fact that most people’s knees cave inward already, is a recipe for nastiness.
  • Balance and stabilization work is HARD, not sissy easy
  • Tempo is SUPER important and if you think you can hold a plank for 3 minutes, you’re doing it wrong.
  • If you think you are doing crunches or squats right, you’re probably doing it wrong
  • If you haven’t assessed someone first, all you are doing is GUESSING.
  • You don’t need to work out 6 days in a row
  • You can get an EFFECTIVE workout in 9 minutes.  Enough with the excuses.
  • Almost every ab exercise you’re doing probably is more of a hip flexor exercise
  • You train MOVEMENTS not MUSCLES 🙂
  • You cannot truly isolate a muscle

And I could go on and on!

What were some of the main things I learned that I will be sharing?


I thought I was a form-Nazi…until I went here. Then I realized how wrong my form was. My form is still better than 99% of the people in the gym, but was it optimal? Not until now.  I will elaborate later.


You need to assess everyone with whom you work with, and this is not optional.  If not, you have no idea what compensations they have, what they are capable of, what you need to stretch, what they DON’T need to stretch,etc. Beyond the initial assessments, there should be CONTINUING assessments after each phase is completed.

The OPT Model

I have actually tried to stay pretty close to this with my clients since learning this, but my eyes were REALLY opened up to how effective it is and how truly difficult the first phases can be.  Hypertrophy, max strength and power?  No, those are the easy phases.  Stability and strength endurance?  BEYOND necessary.  How necessary?  So necessary that I will be scrapping my current program and going straight to Phase I myself, treating myself just like a beginner.

Pushups – you’re doing it wrong

This is where my former confusion of form comes in.  First off, when I joined the military I did MASSIVE amounts of pushups.  They didn’t care how you did them either, as long as you “broke the plane” and went past parallel.  One drill sergeant told us to do wide pushups, because since you had a shorter distance to go down, they were easier, so I’ve been doing them that way for at least 8 years.

I’ve been reading up a bit on articles since then, and I thought you should keep your shoulder blades depressed and retracted during all movements, including pushups.  Well, at this workshop I got schooled. Apparently, I am so jacked up from years of doing them “wide” that even though I could do them on my toes and all, I had a bad case of scapular winging going on and was told that I need to do them on a Smith machine and progress downward until I get my form righ, my core is strong enough and my shoulder blades move correctly (they need to move smoothly outward across my rib cage and back…mine want to just go up).

I”ll address a lot of these in more detail in later posts, check my Music Strong site for more posts, but this is just a precursor to some of the amazing stuff I learned!  I’ll be posting more as I go back through my notes, too.  In the mean time, look at this list of stuff, does any of this strike a nerve with any of you?  Leave me your feedback and let the humbling begin. 🙂

October 17, 2011 / Angela McCuiston

New Website, New Blog

For a long time, my business, Music Strong, had a very sad website, if you ever visited it.  That is, until recently.  If you go to and check it out now – things look VERY different.  One of the great things about that site is that it allows me to import my blog posts from here onto that site, so you’ll see all the posts that are here, over there. And, since it makes sense to have things in one place, I will gradually be transitioning things more and more to writing my blog posts and posting them at  They will be under the different categories of fitness, flute, etc. but I wanted to let you guys know, the ones to subscribe, the ones who find me via Google searches and however else you find me, that all my content is over at the main site.

So, check it out, read the  posts, leave feedback and I’ll continue to bring you the best information I can.  In fact, I have a post up right now over there called “Supplements for General Health” – seems to be a question I get a lot and having worked for 2 years at The Vitamin Shoppe, believe me I heard every question in the book about supplements, so that post should help clear some things up.

So come see me on my new site, browse around, read the articles, check out the store, share with your friends and leave me some feedback!  I’ll be adding things almost daily as I go along, so check back frequently.

October 14, 2011 / Angela McCuiston

Meet Staci: Your New Powerlifting Super Hero | Nerd Fitness

Meet Staci: Your New Powerlifting Super Hero | Nerd Fitness.

Ladies, this post is foryou, yet another nail in the coffin of the “bulky” women myth.  This lady is living proof of eating a lot, lifting heavy and doing sane amounts of activity CAN and WILL get you the body that you want.  Read and be inspired.

Ladies, PLEASE don’t be afraid to lift heavy!  The body you want comes from lifting heavy things, not hours of endless cardio and from eating stuff as close to nature as possible in smaller amounts, not pre-packaged Lean Cuisines.
Oh and if you want more inspiration, check out some of my other blog posts on the topic:

Blogs to Check out: Fit Females!

Ladies, How NOT to Get Bulky

What Can I Eat?  Making Sense of Dieting NonSense

By the way, I’ve gotten a lot of requests from my clients AND my friends about nutritional information.  I’ll be posting something about that in the near future, so we on the lookout! And without further ado: Meet Staci!

Ladies, meet your new hero.

Men, prepare to be humbled.

My friend Staci, or Spezzy as she’s known around the Nerd Fitness community, has one of the best transformations I’ve ever seen.

She’s also a nerd (check out that Waluigi costume).

  • If you are a female, you will be inspired beyond belief after following Staci’s adventure.
  • If you are a dude, you will be in awe of Staci’s lifting power – I bet she can out lift an overwhelming majority of the male population.
  • If you’re a robot, I’m really freaking impressed that you’re reading my blog.
  • If you’re my mom, thanks for letting me borrow your car to go to the Nerd Fitness meet up tonight in Boston.

So, where was I?

Right! Staci!

Staci’s story is awesome for a number of reasons, but a few in particular stand out to me:

  • Working a sedentary desk job, Staci slowly packed on weight and ate like a typical unhealthy American.
  • Before getting educated, she tried to get in shape by doing what 95% of the female population does when they try to lose weight: she ran a lot and essentially starved herself – Not surprisingly, she dropped to an incredibly low and unhealthy weight.
  • She educated herself, cleaned up her diet, and immediately started feeling and living better.
  • She found the Nerd Fitness community, discovered a love for barbell strength training, and started lifting HEAVY weights.
  • She’s now in the best shape of her life, healthier and happier than ever before.

For the women out there who are scared about “getting too bulky when lifting weights,” this article is for you.  If you’re curious what happens to a girl who packs on twenty pounds of muscle and starts lifting heavy weights, you’ll find your answer here…I have no doubt it will surprise the hell out of you.

Staci in 2009 – 170 pounds

This is a picture of Staci back in 2009 before she decided to make some changes in her life.

As I said previously, Staci works a typical American desk job where she spends all day in front of a computer screen.

Starting around age 16, she started to put on weight relatively steadily through high school and college and after, when she reached her peak at 170 pounds in 2009 at the age of 25.

Here’s her background:

“Growing up I was never comfortable in my own skin.  Never.  I was always the weird one.  I mean, I raised rabbits for a hobby!  RABBITS.  The only after school activity I did was band, and never participated in any sports.  I always thought I was fat.  I always hated my legs, and would refuse to wear shorts in the summer because I was so uncomfortable with them.  If we went to the beach, I’d wear shorts over my bathing suit bottom.

I was super timid, super shy, afraid to talk to ANYONE I didn’t know, even if we were all out with a group of people.”

I asked her what a normal day used to be like for her back in 2009:

“I’d get up at like 9, go to work, have a Slim Fast shake because I never had time for breakfast.  I wasn’t a big snacker but I ate a lot for my meals – I’d typically go out to eat for lunch every day and get a sub or something from D’angelos or Subway – and it was never the 6″ one, it was the big one.  And chips. Lots of chips.  Or french fries.  Getting home I’d either go out to eat with friends or plop in front of the tv playing video games for hours.

My favorite meal was tacos and nachos.   I just asked my old roommate what I used to eat because I didn’t remember, and she said ‘oh, you used to plop in front of the TV with a big plate of meat and cheese, and go ‘Hm, I guess I should have some chips with this.’  On many occasions we’d order pizza around 11PM too.  On top of all of that, I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day!”

I’m sure this is a daily scenario that you can relate to: too tired in the morning to eat a healthy breakfast, lots of unhealthy meals, general apathy towards what you’re eating and when, and no real direction.  She went to the doctor, who told her that she had high cholesterol and needed to lose some weight if she wanted to live a long healthy life.

Except that she wasn’t really sure how to lose weight and get in shape.  And she certainly didn’t want to get bulky by lifting weights (gasp!), so she did what most women do when they want to lose weight: eat way less and run way more.

Staci in early 2010

To get started on her weight loss journey, Staci joined a gym and started doing the elliptical as much as possible (because that’s what you do when you want to get skinny, right?).  She said:

“At first I was only able to make it like, 10 minutes, but eventually got up to about an hour a day.  Keep in mind though, I’d smoke a cigarette walking up to the gym, and light up again immediately after leaving.”

I always thought that being super skinny would make me happy, like it was the one missing piece of my life.  I bought countless exercise machines for my apartments, which all ended up sitting in the corner gathering dust.  I bought DDR thinking that if I could exercise in a video game, that would do it.  But it didn’t.  I even tried “Sweatin to the Oldies” (which, for the record, everyone should do, because it at least gets you laughing and moving).  But nothing stuck.

Until I was finally ready.  I can’t say what it was, but I just got up one day and said “ok, I’m going to do this now”.  I can’t tell you what it was – I didn’t set a date ahead of time, I just woke up knowing it was time. I went on weight watchers, I started running.  But as I started to feel the effects of the weight loss, I got obsessed.  I’d weigh myself every day, I got a scale that measured every ounce so I’d know what I lost.

Following this unhealthy plan, Staci went from 170 pounds all the way down to 117 pounds over the course of a year.  And then she started to open her eyes…

“I did lose the 50lbs that I needed to lose, but instead of ‘finding myself’ and becoming comfortable in my own skin, I ended up being LESS comfortable.  Everything I did was based on appearance. I couldn’t do certain things because I was afraid I’d gain an OUNCE back.  It got to the point where a friend of mine would IM me all the time with just “EAT SOMETHING”.  I was tired all the time, I had no energy to do anything even when I was sleeping like 10 hours a night. the bags under my eyes were insane – I simply wasn’t getting the nutrients i needed.

It was at this point that I dated a bodybuilder for like, three weeks (hey, we all make mistakes, right?). He informed me I was doing it all wrong (but didn’t tell me what to do right, just said “youre doing it wrong).  That made me start researching nutrition and strength workouts because I was so incredibly unhealthy, tired, and weak all the time.  I got a set of 5lb dumbbells and a Jillian Michaels DVD and tried doing pushups.   I remember struggling doing chest presses with the 5lb dumbbells.  I was so weak.  And I wouldn’t use weights at the gym because I was so scared of all of the boys on the weight floor.  SO SCARED.

As I found more info on nutrition, I started questioning Weight Watchers, and finally stopped going after I asked a question on how something was healthy and he pulled the line, “we’re not trying to get healthy here, we’re just trying to lose a little weight”.    I started doing more research, read Good Calories, Bad Calories, and started my transition to eating more Paleo in April or May 2010.  I upped my calorie intake to like 1500 a day and immediately started to feel better.”

[Steve’s note: I understand that this representative of Weight Watchers certainly doesn’t reflect the beliefs and views of all employees at Weight Watchers.  However, I do think WHAT you eat is very important along with how much you’re eating.”]

Staci starts weight training, goes full Paleo, finds Nerd Fitness

On June 1st, 2010, Staci’s work office opened up a gym with free weights.  Because she was working out with coworkers rather than random strangers, she felt comfortable with strength training; she felt okay asking coworkers questions on different exercises.  Over the next few months, from June until late August, she continued to educate herself on eating better and getting stronger:

“I finished the paleo transition in August or September, and stopped counting calories.  One of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life; it’s a freedom I can’t even describe.  I just…ate when I was hungry.  I gained weight, but I stayed the same size clothes, so what the scale said didn’t matter.  I went from 117 pounds (at my lowest) to around 130 pounds and felt GREAT about it.  My scale broke in May, so I threw it away and only weigh myself probably once a month these days out of pure curiosity.”

This is Staci at 117 lbs. on the left (doing her best “deer in the headlights” impression), and 131 lbs. on the right.

It was right around this time on her search for Paleo diet information that she stumbled across Nerd Fitness and saw my latest article about the Legend of Zelda (her favorite video game series too).  She joined our community, signed up for one of the monthly challenges, continued to put her focus on strength training, and made sure she ate enough to fuel her workouts.

And then things got interesting.  After tons of encouragement from members of the Nerd Fitness community (thanks Dantes!), she began a torrid love affair in October that most women would scoff at.

Staci began barbell training.

And not wimpy barbell training either.  I’m talking old school heavy deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, and bench presses – the exercises usually reserved for strongmen in the back corner of the gym:

“When I say that the second I touched a barbell I fell in love, I’m not joking.  When people say to me, “oh, its not healthy to lift that much, etc…”  Lifting to me is like going and playing basketball is to someone else.  Its a hobby, and a passion.  I’m not doing it because I have to, I’m doing it because I want to.  I’m simply happier days that I deadlift.”

Staci gets super strong.

Beginning in October 2010, Staci jumped headfirst into the world of power lifting. Over the following six months, she strength trained like her life depended on it, keeping track of her gains and making sure she ate enough to continue getting stronger.  I honestly cannot tell you how refreshing it is to hear that from a woman!  She packed on another ten pounds of muscle and got incredibly strong.

Seriously, how many 5’4″ females who weigh 140 pounds do you know that can deadlift 315 pounds?

Here are her weight training stats for those six months:

Over those six months, Staci put on ANOTHER 10 pounds of muscle while strength training like a World’s Strongest Man contestant and eating A TON of food to make sure she could continue to get stronger. She raised her deadlift from 135 pounds to 315 pounds, added 50 pounds to her overhead press and 50 pounds to her bench press.

You’re probably wondering what happens to a woman’s figure when she goes through this transformation.

Prepare to be shocked.

Staci Now

Believe it or not, she’s 11 pounds HEAVIER (142 pounds) in the picture on the right (May 2011) compared to the picture on the left (131 pounds, October 2010).

So what the hell happened?  How the heck does she look like she weighs less even though she weighs more?

She packed on the right kind of weight while getting rid of the wrong kind.

When you strength train with very heavy weights for low numbers of repetitions, you build incredibly DENSE, tight muscle.  It’s funny, but if you really want that toned look in your legs, stomach, and arms – picking up small weights and doing lots of repetitions isn’t doing anything – it’s really heavy weights with low repetition that will sculpt the body you’re after.

On top of super heavy strength training, Staci had to eat between 3000-4000 calories per day (all healthy calories, mind you) to put on the extra weight.  Had she not overloaded her system with calories, she wouldn’t have gained an ounce.

As we’ve learned from Mark Twight, trainer for the actors from 300, “appearance is a consequence of fitness.” Rather than worrying about every calorie, every ounce of food, and every pound on the scale, Staci put her focus into getting stronger – she ate to get stronger, she exercised to get stronger, she lived to get stronger.:

“The thing that I really gained the most in all of this is that I’m now comfortable with who I am.  I’m comfortable in my skin, I’m not nearly as shy and awkward as I used to be, I’m not afraid to try new things.  I stand up for myself.  I learned about failure and success, and I’m not afraid to try something (and fail) over and over again even if people are watching.  My attitude for life pretty much just changed.  I still remember the day I looked at my legs and said “you know what, these are the legs that help me deadlift, so who cares what they look like.

So the whole point in all of this is really that yeah, appearance is one thing, but it’s not the main goal.  I would gain ten pounds tomorrow if it meant I could add 50lbs to my deadlift.”

Staci is now a machine that can’t be stopped. She joined a Crossfit gym back in March and now does crazy things like “1000 burpees on the 4th of July” for fun.  Yeah, she’s nuts…in the best way possible :)

What Staci eats

Want to know what you need to do to pack on a lot of weight as a female while lifting very heavy weights?  Here’s a look at Staci’s weekly routine for eating:

  • Every Sunday (or whatever works, but usually its Sunday) I cook a few pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast.  I then portion it out into 3oz portions and keep them in ziploc bags.  If I don’t have time for that, you can get all natural precooked sausage (both chicken and pork) that works just as well as a “bring to work” meat.
  • 5AM: pre-workout: (first thing in the morning) – protein shake. ( nothing special).  Its not paleo, and i love every sip of it.  Then I go and work out.  If I go to the gym with a full stomach, I will not leave with a full stomach.  :)
  • 7:30AM: on my way to work: apple or pear.
  • 9:30AM: sweet potato with cinnamon. I keep them at work, and cut them up, throw it in the microwave for 5 minutes with cinnamon.  Comes out amazing.
  • Another protein shake somewhere in here between breakfast and lunch.
  • 11:45AM-12PM: lunch: two of the bags of chicken I precooked and a bag of the steamfresh vegetables.  The entire bag, its like 3.5 servings of vegetables.  My favorite is broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.
  • Lunch option 2: spinach salad with shrimp, red peppers, green peppers, red onion, lemon juice.
  • 2-3 snacks in the afternoon. Could be one of these: Apple with almond butter, bell pepper (I eat them like apples… I’m weird), carrots (they even make carrots cut like chips), bags of chicken (yes, those 3oz bags of chicken I consider a snack as well, not just a meal), a zucchini (yes, plain, raw, uncooked), celery with almond butter and raisins, strawberries, frozen mixed berries.
  • 7-8PM: dinners: 95% of the time it’s meat (steak, sausage, shrimp, salmon, or chicken) with one of the following: red peppers, green peppers, red onions, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower (steamfresh bags!), and/or summer squash and zucchini
  • Every once in a while i make something awesome, like this: (but really, that takes a lot of time).  When i DO make something like that, i make it in mass bulk and will eat it for the week.
  • In the winter, I’ll usually make a beef stew on Sundays that I can eat for a lunch or two as well.

Seems like an absurd amount of food right?

That’s because it IS an absurd amount of food.  This is what Staci does, day in, day out in order to gain weight so that she can lift heavier weights.

And I think you’ll agree with me that despite all of this extra work to pack on a lot of weight, the last word you would use to describe Staci’s physique these days is “bulky.”

Why was Staci successful?

Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty solid transition, how about you?

So let’s do a quick recap why Staci was so damn successful:

She educated herself. When Staci started her weight loss journey, she didn’t really know any better and didn’t know where to turn…so she did what she thought was right: she starved herself and spent hours and hours on treadmills and elliptical machines.  After that, she started doing her research and learned how to eat properly.  She did the research on strength training and started learning how to get stronger.

She focused on strength, not her weight. We know that “appearance is a consequence of fitness.”  Rather than worry about her weight and how it fluctuated on a daily basis, Staci focused on getting stronger.  She tailored her meal plan (which is quite extensive) around her getting stronger.  She understood that it is ALMOST F***ING IMPOSSIBLE FOR WOMEN TO GET TOO BULKY FROM LIFTING WEIGHTS.  Unless you are eating 5,000 calories a day, doing a workout program specifically designed to pack on lots of big muscle, and taking performance enhancing drugs, you will not get bulky.

If you strength train while eating a normal amount of calories, you will lose the fat on top of your muscle, and leave behind the muscle you already have – giving you that toned look.  Make the mistake of just eating less and running more, you’ll burn through both fat and any muscle you have as you lose weight.

She had a community of support. Staci jumped headfirst into the Nerd Fitness community, asking questions about strength training, participating in our monthly challenges, and asking for support in her quest to live a healthier life.  She now also has a community of Crossfit folks at her gym that help support and push her to be stronger and faster.  She knows that she has 2,000+ people on our message boards who encourage and support her every single day she’s in that gym. 

She ate right! What you eat will be 80% of your success or failure when it comes to fitness and health.  Staci tried the “eat way less food” method of weight loss, and it turned her into a weak twig that couldn’t lift 5 pound dumbbells.  She educated herself, started focusing on eating the right food, and now no longer cares how many calories she eats.  She has boundless energy, way more confidence

She tracked her workouts. You can go back through Staci’s old posts on the message boards and see exactly how much she was lifting and how she was training over the past year.  On weeks where she didn’t see enough success in the gym, she adjusted her diet.  On weeks when she didn’t feel as healthy, she could figure out what needed fixing and how to fix it.  As long as the amount of weight on the ends of the bar kept going up, she knew she was progressing in the right direction.

Be strong like Spezzy

I love Staci’s story because she tried different methods, educated herself, and learned how to get healthy the right way. She focused on getting stronger and eating healthier, and as a result her appearance followed suit.

She doesn’t bother stepping on a scale anymore, and she doesn’t count calories.  She eats when she’s hungry, she eats to get stronger, and as a result she’s healthier and happier than she’s ever been in the past.  She is now full of confidence and feels comfortable in her own skin, something that she’s never had in the past.

I’ve highlighted a number of successful success stories over the past few weeks (like Saint, Tony, and these 6-week success stories): ordinary people, with ordinary desk jobs, who have had tremendous success in radically leveling up their lives.  Although everybody’s story is unique, they all have common themes that helped them succeed:

Do you have any questions for Staci? She’s more than happy to hang out in the comments or on the boards and answer any questions you have relating to weight training, her mental or physical transformation, and anything in between.  I’m just excited that I now have an article to reference anytime a female reader tells me “I don’t want to get too bulky.”

Leave a comment or question and she’ll answer it!  She’s nice like that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go work out!


October 8, 2011 / Angela McCuiston

Where are the music posts?

I know I know, I’ve been pumping out a lot of fitness articles, most seemingly having little to do with the flute or music world.

For those of you musicians missing the musical side of things, I apologize, but just like it pays to listen in rehearsal with the conductor talks to another section and rehearses them (instead of tuning out) you just might learn something beneficial to your own musician-focused workouts if you pay attention to the seemingly  “meat-head” articles.
I confess I’m a little obsessed  with the weight loss aspect of things, because I myself am losing weight and want to share the knowledge with people.  I’m not just a musician and I’m not just a personal trainer, I feel like I have a voice and I want to use it as best I can to bust apart the myths and bring the truth to whomever happens across the blog.

Musicians, do you need to know how to squat?  Absolutely!  Any Alexander Teacher will go on and on about babies’ perfect posture when squatting.  While my squat post seemed to have little to do with musicians, if you can control your body under a bar with heavy weight, not only will you be strong, but you can make your Alexander Teacher proud by having a correct Use of Self while performing the lift!

What about The Secrets of Being Lean?  What if you aren’t losing weight?  What if you want to gain, or think it flat out doesn’t apply to you.  Oh, but it does!  Did you read it?  Take away the “weight loss” or “lean” part of the equation and insert a musical term like “practicing”.  How many of your non-musician friends understand the joy you get from locking yourself in a practice room for hours?  You have to put up with ridicule and stares just like people who are fitness minded get when they insist on healthier food at restaurants.

Oh yes, there is crossover.

I am doing a bit of studying as well and since I do not want to just bring you anecdotal stories and theories about how weight training can help musicians be stronger and play longer pain free, or how stretches help and which ones are best to use before playing, I want to get my facts right and bring you the studies that back up my findings.  There is enough anecdotal nonsense and bro-science in the world, I don’t want to add to it.

So, please bear with me as I seek to bring you more meaningful and evidence-based  “strength training for musicians” related-material.  It is coming, I assure you.  In the meantime, take these articles that are already up and the ones forthcoming and apply them to life outside the weight room. You just might surprise yoruself at the take-away.

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