Category Archives: Settling in Austin

Setting Resistance Training Goals

Today I took my first of five personal trainer exams at the Personal Fitness Trainer Association school in Austin. After two weeks of learning the Green section, which is all about program design for clients, I sat down for an hour and fifteen minute test that consisted of over 60 multiple choice questions, 25 matching questions, and identification of all the main muscles in the lower body and abdomen.

PFTA of Austin Notes

A lot of what we learned I would consider basic fitness knowledge that anyone who reads health magazines already knows, things like aiming for 3-5 days of cardio a week, and resting muscle groups for 48 hours before working them out again. Then there is a whole chunk of new information I learned that I never quite knew the details of before: from what types of exercises to avoid when working with a pregnant woman, to types of plyometric training and stretching techniques.

Of everything I learned, I think one practice that escapes many people is how to do resistance training for a certain goal. When most of us head to the gym, our goals are fairly general: lose weight, tone up, or get big (I’m clearly doing it to get big). How we choose to get there is also fairly general: run on the treadmill, do some crunches, do some bicep curls and call it a day. “That was good right? A little of everything, feeling tired, my arms hurt. Let’s get a smoothie,” –and this is where we go wrong. Because we’re just wingin’ it, there is no structure to stick to or results to look for besides movement in the scale (do I weigh more/less this morning? The same AGAIN? WTF). What happens next is, you lose motivation, seethe at your gym bag, and buy a chocolate chip cookie for comfort because nothing seems to make a difference anyway. I was totally guilty of this in the past.

Now I realize that one of the most important things to do before ever walking into a gym is to make a plan. I learned this mostly from my own experience with bodyrock (high intensity interval training). Writing down my reps day in and day out gave me something to fight for the next time I worked out–one more push-up to beat last week’s count. But what if I wasn’t doing a bodyrock workout? I wouldn’t know how many reps to do to achieve my goals, or more importantly, how to structure a plan for a future client of mine who wants to “get big.”

There are four main types of resistance training to plan for:

  1. Endurance. This is typically used for weight loss efforts and involves 15-20 reps of an exercise with only 30 seconds rest in between sets. This is where most people who want to lose weight should start, and with weights that make the last two reps burn.
  2. Hypertrophy. This is when a person wants to get larger muscles (get ripped, get huge, become a bouncer). Here you want 8-12 reps, with 30-90 second seconds rest in between, with heavier weights that in the endurance category.
  3. Strength.This is… when someone wants to get stronger (seriously, that’s my best definition). Think power lifters, strong man competitors, or loggers like Paul Bunyan. This means exercises consist of only 3-6 reps with 3-5 minutes of rest in between, and very heavy weights.

    paul bunyan

    Nice to see you again, Paul

  4. Then there’s also Power. This is the need to generate force quickly to meet a certain demand. Think athletes like football players–they need to react with quick, powerful movements at all times. There are many different ways to train for power, but generally it’s 3-5 reps of exercises that prevent deceleration (like squat jumps–no slowing down on the way up) with about 2-4 sets. *Thanks for this, Dave G.

By textbook definition, this would make bodyrock a mix of endurance training and strength training. I’m completing circuits of exercises with between 8-15 reps each depending, with 10 seconds in between each new exercise set, but maybe a minute and thirty seconds before I go back to repeat the first exercise (if that confused you, don’t worry–I got confused just writing it). The point is, if someone is trying to get a “toned” look, it’s a mix of endurance and hypertrophy resistance training that will accomplish that. I’m not there yet though, my six pack is still Bud Light-like at the end of the day, but let’s not focus on that.

Now if someone were to ever approach me and say “Mel, I want to get toned! What’s the deal?!” I have the answer: less cookies. I kid–it’s starting with endurance training and mixing in some strength over time (a good diet and weekly cardio will help drop the pounds hiding your muscles, too–that’s key). Also, writing down the reps and weights you’re using will ensure you’re staying on track to achieve a specific goal. No more jumble of crunches that will hopefully do something if you just can get 100 more reps in. You’re gettin’ real, baby.

Do you follow a training plan when you workout?

Gypsy Picinc in Downtown Austin

Two of our friends were in town this weekend for a wedding, and being that this was the first time we ever had friends “in town”, Dave and I took full advantage of their company for the day. We picked them up from their hotel, and headed over to the Gyspy Picnic, a food truck festival that was taking place in downtown Austin. It was perfect, end of summer weather, and we strolled in ready to eat.

gypsy picinc in austin

The event really epitomized the vibe of the city. Known for it’s food truck movement, the Austin festival corralled thirty-five local vendors into a park next to Lady Bird Lake for a day of finger food, craft beers, live music, lots of dogs, and free entry. That’s an equation for some serious chill-time. Now that I think of it, why didn’t we bring a frisbee? 

Our first truck stop was East Side King, with a menu inspired by Southest Asian street food. They had three options on the menu, and we jumped in for all of them: chicken kaarage (sounds like chicken garage, I know… and I have no idea what was in it), a pork bun, and fried brussel sprout salad. I see brussel sprouts on a menu and I just can’t say no. I know Dave felt the same ;).

East Side King food in Austin

The bun on the left was so white it blended into the paper tray in this photo, but it was really good. The chicken was our favorite–it had that sweet, fried, dry chewy Chinese food consistency that you would get from an order of sesame chicken. That description sounds weird, but I promise it was yum. And the brussell sprouts were also good, topped with a balsamic dressing and some large french fry like croutons. I dominated the sprouts, and Dave handled the chicken–teamwork. While we ate we watched the hipster marching band go by, naturally.

Hipster Marching Band in Austin

Next we stopped at Blenders and Bowls for a refreshing dessert type treat. To me it was really more like breakfast: an acai smoothie (pronounced ah-sigh-eeeeee!), topped with granola, strawberries, blueberries, goji berries, chia seeds, and a drizzle of honey. Mix two plastic spoons with two hungry people, and some silent food domination battles are bound to break out. It was like low-impact passive aggressive fencing as we both oggled the smoothie bowl out of the corner of our eyes while pretending to nonchalantly walk. Oh, I was aware.

Blenders and Bowls

We wandered around the park for probably another hour or so while our friends tried some other food trucks, and Dave tried pizza at Spartan Pizza. He’s on a quest to find pizza worthy of his New York pizza-obsessed palette–but I’m pretty sure that day will never come in Texas. I forgot to snap photos of the pizza, but I would compare it to Domino’s and Ellio’s coming to together to make upscale thin crust. Can you picture the undercooked white bread like crust? Someone commented on the blog the other week asking me not to compare Austin food to New York City food, and to that I say: fair enough.

Besides the pizza, everything was delicious, and we left there looking like sun-burnt, swollen blueberries. The day with our friends was a lot of fun, and Austin’s unique culture was definitely the catalyst.


Dave is a do-er. He is the kind of person who wakes up thinking about the list of things that need to get taken care of, and then knocks them off one by one that same day. He’s the guy who gets home from working late, calls the phone company to take care of a bill discrepancy, and then unloads the dishwasher. He had all of his boxes unpacked the first day we got them. He’s currently hanging a picture on our balcony, after painting the living room wall. His twitter name is even “whatdavedoes,” (he does everything).

I, on the other hand, am the exact opposite kind of person. I’m simply not a do-er.

Before we moved in together, I was certain this was going to drive Dave crazy. I’m a “take-care-of-the-really-critical-things-only” kind of person, an “if-it’s-not-really-affecting-my life-I-won’t-think-about-it” kind of person. I’m a small task procrastinator. I’d rather pay the extra five dollars on my phone bill then spend time calling to clear it up. My twitter name is “melruns-awayfromdoingthings”. Heh.

Dave calls me “melventually,” because eventuallyin time… I’ll do it.

Now that we’ve been living together for a month though, I’ve been putting my best effort in: making the bed, going furniture shopping with him every weekend until we had every last thing we needed (who really needs a dresser that badly? Oh..), going to target to get things like an ironing board and a hamper, and buying a duvet cover that we BOTH like, instead of insisting that we use my pink blanket because it works just fine. Why did we have to do everything so quickly?

But the good news (for me) is that the tasks are finally slowing down. We have all of our furniture, our electronics are hooked up, and our things are put away. Our bedroom is looking kind of nice, too. He’s making a good impression on me. It would have taken me months to pull it all together.

I even have my clothes put away in my dresser. A feat that was accomplished within two days. Miraculous.

But wait, what are those?

Oh that’s right.


Those are the boxes I just haven’t been able to bring myself to unpack; the boxes that have been staring Dave in the face every morning for two weeks. There are just some things that will never change, no matter how much Dave influences me.

But hey, at least I’ve been changing our sheets.

Are you a do-er? Or an “if-it’s-not-really-affecting-my life-I-won’t-think-about-it” kind of person?

The Professional Fitness Trainer Association of Austin.. and Me

Fact: I love everything health and wellness. Most of my friends either make fun of me for ordering healthy food at restaurants all the time.. or ask me what they should order (go ahead, ask me). I’ve been a runner and fitness fanatic since I was fourteen, have tried out tons of different workout routines (here, here, and here to name a few) and am currently riding out a bodyrock addiction (check out what bodyrock is here).

I’ve always debated doing something serious with my passion. Should I become a nutritionist? A dietician? A personal trainer? AH! Lately, my mind has been toying with the last idea. Focusing on strength training for the last year has really opened my eyes to what our bodies can do and how we shape them. The quote “we are how we move” rings very true to me. A couch potato looks exactly that: like a round potato. Dancers are long and lean as they stretch and power through routines. Baseball players have fine behinds as they run up and down the field (if you’re reading this and you’re a guy, embrace this fact. Start running).

Wouldn’t it be cool to know the science behind what makes our bodies tick and how to make them kick ass even harder? I think so. Also, having a personal trainer certification would allow me to write about fitness credibly, which is one of my end goals. I’m not talking about acomplete career change, I’m talking about expanding my horizons :).

This is a time in my life where I have an opportunity to explore some options, thankfully, so today I went over to the Professional Fitness Trainer Association (PFTA) school in Austin to see what they’re about.

Mel and PFTA

peanut butter & jelly possibilities

Their website looks pretty ghetto, but from working in advertising I know that that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good school–they just didn’t pay someone thousands of dollars to make them one. (I also talked to them about how I could help out a little.. we’ll see about that ;)).

The Austin location is located twenty minutes out of downtown in Round Rock. The school is in a storefront in a strip mall, and when I first walked in… I wasn’t so sure! I walked into an empty room with gym equipment, and then walked out, called the guy Mark I talked to on the phone the day before, and said, “um.. I think I’m here?” He kindly came to the front to meet me, and then escorted me through the gym room to a classroom in the back. In the room there were about twenty-five students, all with a binder out open in front of them, in t-shirts and sweatpants (I can do that), looking ahead at a projector where a presentation was displayed. It took two minutes of silent stares for me to realize that Mark was actually teaching the class, not sitting in an office, and he interrupted the class to come get me. No big deal stop looking at me, swan!

For the half hour that I was there, I could see that Mark was a very, very enthusiastic teacher, and his students were engaged with him. It wasn’t one of those classes where the teacher reads off each slide and makes you fall asleep. Bueller? Instead of paragraphs of small text, there were maybe three bullet points on each lesson page, and Mark talked through it with examples, anecdotes, and math equations on the board. Awesome. I also noticed that each student’s binder wasn’t just for taking their own notes–there were printed notes in there. Meaning the PFTA school supplied that in addition. Cool.

When class was over, I met with Mark and asked him about my main concerns, and what PFTA can offer me. I ultimately want to be able to write about fitness and be certified to do so, so my questions started there, and grew. Here are the most important questions I asked, with summaries of his answers:

  • Is the PFTA certification recognized nationally? It’s primarily Texas-known because the school is rooted here, but we’ve had students land jobs in California, Nevada, etc. What happens is, their gym contacts us, we get them over our documentation against the certification, and the student is all set. Within Texas itself, we have a lot of gyms that recruit from us directly because they know our reputation and the quality of our education. We have fantastic job placement from that.
  • In the case of writing about fitness, I need a certification that will speak for itself on a national level. If I wanted to take the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) test after your courses, would I be able to pass without additional course work? Yes. And if you do pass on your first try, we will refund you $350–the cost you will pay to take it because we get you a subsidized rate. (SWEET DEAL)

What I like about the course setup is that it’s half in the classroom, and half hands-on at a gym. So I’d get the on-paper knowledge I need, but then get the practical experience of how to apply what I’m learning (and get workouts in, too… bonus!).

Being that I have zero practical OR class experience, this is key for me. The truth is, to get the NASM certification all I really need to do is order a book and sit in the for the test.. but I don’t know if that will give me nearly the name amount of confidence in how to apply what I learn.

Mark offered me a price just below $3k, and so far I’m thinking this is something I’m going to pursue. The schedule would be Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9am-1pm, for ten weeks, and it includes a gym membership, and textbooks. Also–Mark said that I’m welcome back into the classes anytime after I’ve completed the ten weeks. So if there’s something I want to brush up on, or a new piece of equipment that’s been incorporated into lessons–I can come back for free and learn. Pretty good deal.

The next time I can sign up and jump in is this coming Tuesday. I’ll let you know what I decide!

Anyone out there a certified trainer? Thoughts? Talk to me!

Setting Up Home: The Little Things

If you voted for the “I Always Wanted Cool Vintage Furniture Table” coffee table in my last post–right on. We love it. And it was a sixth of the price of the new shiny table! No brainer. It’s interesting to me that the votes were completely split 50/50 from so many people. I guess there’s two very different kinds of coffee table people in this world. Obviously my sample size is large enough to represent the world.

Our belongings from Brooklyn finally arrived in our apartment on Monday last week, and we went from zero to where are we going to put all my our clothes in two hours. Plus we got our couch to go with the coffee table.

Next, we set out on a mission to get the place set up as quickly as possible by getting the small things that turn an apartment into a place that feels like home. This means we practically laid down in Bed Bath and Beyond while they robbed us of all our decency, and gave us back an ironing board and a whisk in it’s place. But hey, that seems to work for us (see our Walmart experience).

These are some of my favorite touches to our place so far:

pine cones in a candle holder

fruit bowlI have a thing about fruit bowls. Probably because we always had one in my house growing up. It’s one of those items that just makes the place feel lived in for me. Then for the coffee table centerpiece, we grabbed a bag of cinnamon scented pine cones that were on sale at BB&B and then a $12 candle holder at Marshalls, and threw them together. I probably saw this in a Martha Stewart magazine once or something.

While we were at Marshall’s and I was debating over which glass to put the pine cones in, Dave pointed to this one. Thankful for some input, I said, “Yeah? You like this one the best?” to which he responded, “There’s only a certain amount I’m going to care about this stuff, so the fact that I’m saying ‘I kind of like it’ means it’s probably the one I like best.” I grabbed the glass and said, “Fair enough.”

Though I would like to fast forward to an hour later, when Dave made it his personal mission to cut drawer liners for each drawer individually. A little man arts and crafts if you will. It’s cool, bro.

man arts and crafts

It’s lookin better around here 🙂

When you first moved into your new place, what things made it feel like home for you?

The Coffee Table Showdown

Welcome to the coffee table finals!

In the right corner, hailing from the Five Elements boutique on South Congress Street, weighing in at three hundred and twenty dollars, with a nice shiny retro yet contemporary look, and a matching console, we have the “I Like Shiny New Things in My Shiny New Apartment” table.

shiny new coffee table by sitcom

And over here, in the left corner, hailing all the way down the block from Five Elements, at a thrift store that I forgot the name of, weighing in at fifty four dollars, with a vintage, I might be worn but I’m really cool look, and a matching end table, we have the “I Always Wanted Cool Vintage Furniture” table.

Vintage coffee table austin texas

Who will make it? Who will rein champion of Dave and Mel’s empty living room? Who will go back to his owner-less corner of the showroom?

The battle is on.

The Drought in Austin

austin drought landI’ve never experienced a drought before. When I got to Austin, one of the first things I noticed when I was looking for a place to live was that everyone’s lawn was brown. The kind of brown you see after the snow melts in the winter. And the air smelled like autumn, that wonderful earthy scent of fallen leaves. Except instead of seeing reds and oranges strewn all over the ground, the trees were simply dying. Half green, half brown, with piles of fallen leaves blowing across the ground like plastic bags in the wind in New York City. This photo above was taken in Mueller Park on Saturday morning in what I imagine used to be a sprawling green field. It makes you want to just give that dirt a drink.

To see photos on the impact outside of urban Austin, check out the Statesman’s photo blog here. These are pretty disturbing and really show how serious of a situation this is.