Last week, I had the privilege of interviewing Lauren McCurdy – feminist and fitness guru – about all things fit. She was gracious enough to give tips, share honest experiences, and even give us a playlist and circuit for motivation! When asked about her overall fitness perspective, Lauren says: “I try to use my platform to encourage women to not see fitness as something that makes them look good, but helps them to feel good, develop confidence, and improve their overall quality of life. I try to promote self-love and acceptance of one’s body in a society that tries to force girls into one type of physique. I struggled a lot of body image growing up so learning how to take control of my body and loving it for it what it can do for me on a day to day basis has changed my life, and I hope to share that through my social media platform.” Read on to hear her advice.
When did you first take an interest in personal fitness? What was the impetus?
I first took an interest in fitness my freshmen year of college. I had played several sports growing up and settled on volleyball in 7th grade. Junior year of high school I decided I didn’t want to play in college. I felt somewhat burnt out from being a student athlete and I wanted to focus on school and finding my career path in college. Going into college I had already gained some weight from the lack of playing a sport, but I had gotten some experience in basic resistance training from going to the gym with my mom. The whole “beware of the freshmen 15” hit home with me because I was already struggling with my body image and I didn’t want to find myself gaining even more weight. I started going to the gym 5-6 days a week, doing mainly cardio, abs, and using a few machines that I had used before. Certain free weight exercises seemed intimidating and I didn’t feel like I knew enough about form to perform them in public. The lifting floor was dominated by males and for many females it can be intimidating to be surrounded by guys who are throwing around a lot of weight and seem to know what they’re doing (not all of them do, by the way). Towards the end of my freshman year, I made a friend, Rickey, who is extremely knowledgeable about lifting/nutrition and let me tag along with him. I felt more at ease having a partner to teach me about form and I didn’t feel alone or that the other guys were critiquing me. I quickly fell in love with lifting and getting stronger. I wanted to be lifting just as much or more than the guys around me, but my main competition was myself; I wanted to change my body and turn it into something I was proud of. Lifting and fitness made me feel good about myself, it gave me energy and confidence. Although my weight wasn’t going down, I was building muscle and changing the shape of my body which would provide me a solid foundation to make weight loss easier and leave me with a physique that displayed the work I had put in.
How much time do you spend weekly working out? Walk me through an average day for you.
I workout 6-7 days a week. Although rest days are good for allowing your body and mind to rest from the stress that intense workout places on your body (intense workouts tax not only your muscles but your hormones and central nervous system), I listen to my body. If it doesn’t need some time off, I hit the gym. Most of my workouts fall between 45min-90min depending on what I’m training and if I’m focusing on strength or hypertrophy.
My week looks like this:
Sunday: Legs, strength focused (typically longer due to longer rest times)
Monday: Shoulders/Chest/Triceps, strength focused
Tuesday: Back and Biceps
Wednesday: Cardio/Core – this is usually when I take a rest day if needed or just do some cardio and do a lot of stretching/mobility work
Thursday: Legs, hypertrophy focused
Friday: Shoulders, hypertrophy
Saturday: Back, hypertrophy
For a strength day, my main lift, leg day for example, is focused on using heavier weights for less reps and with longer rest times in between so my body can prepare for the next set. I do 4-5 accessory lifts that hit different areas of my legs with challenging weight but that I can successfully achieve 8-12 reps. On a hypertrophy day, my main lift will be using lighter weight with more reps to work on muscle endurance and growing muscle (12-20 reps). My accessory lifts for that day will also have higher reps.
What does an average day’s menu look like for you?
When it comes to nutrition, I follow the principles of flexible dieting which operates on the undeniable truth of caloric balance. If you are eating more calories than you are expending, you will gain weight. If you’re eating less than you expend, you lose weight. And if they are equal, you maintain weight. I track my calories for the day (I try to eat a certain amount of carbs, fat, and protein everyday) in order to achieve my goals (weight loss, muscle gain, or maintenance) BUT I can use whatever foods I want to hit those carb/fat/protein goals. Most of my diet is whole, minimally processed foods, but flexible dieting allows me to enjoy foods that are more calorically dense but satisfy cravings that I have. Denying yourself foods that are “bad” can eventually lead to binging behaviors and developing a really bad relationship with food. There are no bad foods; overeating is bad because it puts you in a caloric surplus which leads to weight gain. Foods labeled as “bad” are very easy to overeat because they are less filling, and people associate them with weight gain. I have the biggest sweet tooth known to man. Brownies, cookies, muffins, ice cream, you name it. I find ways to enjoy those things without over-indulging to the point of hindering my process. It’s OK to have a pop tart or go enjoy drinks with friends. Moderation and balance is key to living a healthy, satisfying life.
I am a creature of habit and if you track your macros, you start to just know what meals/snacks can fit into your day and you tend to rotate the same, or similar, foods. Every morning I have an omelet (1-2 whole eggs + 150g egg whites) with canadian bacon and cheese, and oatmeal. I love eggs and oatmeal and I could eat them for every meal of the day (and I have, several times). For lunch I typically have a salad and either chicken breast or some lunch meat for protein. For dinner, I vary my protein source and rotate between ground turkey, chicken, or fish. I usually have some kind of vegetable (brussels sprouts and asparagus are my favorites) and a carb source such as rice or sweet potatoes. In between meals, I have snacks – usually yogurt with granola and fruit, more oatmeal, a protein shake with rice cakes and peanut butter, or a smoothie made with berries and yogurt. The best thing about flexible dieting and IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) is that I can use whatever carb/protein/fat sources I want to hit my daily intake goals.
Discuss the relationship between diet and exercise for your personal fitness.
I didn’t understand the importance of diet when it comes to achieving fitness goals until my senior year of college. I was introduced to tracking macros and flexible dieting before the start of my senior year, and from just logging what I ate every day and being more aware of the food choices I was making, I lost 5lbs. A lot of people would be surprised to see what real portions look like or see everything they eat in a day laid out before them. For the past few years, I had been getting stronger/gaining muscle, but I wasn’t that much leaner. Yes, I looked more muscular but it was still hidden under unnecessary fat. That’s because I wasn’t in a caloric deficit and I was eating to maintain weight. I began cutting weight by being in a caloric deficit and I was able to reap the rewards of all the work I had put in at the gym. Diet is not only crucial to fueling yourself for workouts and just daily life, but it is what is key for attaining your physique goals. People will start working out to lose weight but then they get in the mindset that, “I just worked super hard in the gym, I can totally have 4 slices of pizza.” Their hunger might increase because they’re expending more calories, so they eat more to compensate for that deficit they created, which just eliminates the whole point of creating the deficit in the first place. Having a diet filled with nutrient dense, whole, minimally processed foods gives you energy and helps your immune system. Abs are definitely made in the kitchen. You can do 500 crunches a day, but they won’t “show up” unless you have lower body fat in that area which is the combination of genetics (where your body likes to store fat) and being lean. I eat to fuel my goals in the gym and life while also enjoying what I’m putting in my body.
What are some of your favorite workouts? Least favorite?
One of my favorite things to do (which I don’t do as often as I used to because my focus and goals changed), is deadlift. There is something that feels so good about pulling a really heavy object off the ground. It puts you in touch with your primal side and makes you feel powerful. It requires the use of your entire body and a lot of mind-muscle connection to keep good form. Form can make or break a lift, especially for extremely technical lifts such as the deadlift. I’ve not been able to hit a lift that I had previously hit for several reps because my form was off. It really requires focus and that forces you to be very in touch with what your body is doing; it’s a really good feeling.
My least favorite thing to do is cardio. Or at least running. I find it monotonous and I can never truly zone out. If I do run, I do sprints during HIIT (high intensity interval training) where I sprint for 20-30 seconds and rest for 30-60 seconds. It gets the job done quicker. If I feel like doing LISS (low intensity steady state), I typically do the stair master and things to make it less boring like skipping a step, kickbacks, going up sideways, etc. LISS is good for when I want to watch some YouTube videos and don’t have the energy to sprint.
How much do clothes and gear matter to workout success?
Ah, the good ole clothes and gear debate. It seems like people who are just getting into fitness feel the need to go out and buy leggings and sports bras from Lululemon or Nike and a bunch of gear like lifting straps, bands, or fancy headphones. After all, they see their role models wearing them and they make a correlation between fitness success and material items. I can see this debate from both sides. Is it important to have clothes that allow you to move freely, hold things in where you want them in, are comfortable, and are durable? Yes. Are those things found solely from brands charging upwards of $60 for a shirt or $98 for leggings? NO! There are plenty of more affordable brands that produce quality active wear, Target and Old Navy, for example. I also own several pairs of Lululemon leggings that I purchased after talking to their merchandise educators about what kind of training I was doing and what I wanted out of a clothing item. They do produce high quality items with cutting edge fabrics that can be durable IF you take care of them. I think if you are able to make an investment and like the product (not just because everyone else is wearing it), then there is no problem dropping down chunk of change on a pair of leggings or shoes. Most of my wardrobe consists of brands that are more affordable or were on sale. Most of them perform just as well as more pricey items. The one item I think people should not skimp on quality because of price is shoes. If you are working out frequently, you need to take care of your feet. Shoes that are not appropriate for your activity can lead to foot problems which can develop in the long term to more physical issues. Running shoes should be supportive and cushion-y to absorb shock. If you are lifting weights, you want a harder sole with a flatter bottom that helps you keep your weight in the center of your feet and provides and more stable connection to the ground (this is especially important for squatting, deadlifting, and Olympic lifting). Do some research before you make a shoe investment and make sure they are going to support the demands of your activity.
When it comes to gym gear/equipment, there are very few things I think that are actually worth spending money on to better your workout if you are just a casual gym goer who wants to be in shape. Mini bands can go around your knees or ankles to encourage more glute usage during certain lower body exercises as well as providing a great tool to warm up! You can buy them online pretty cheap with different levels of resistance. They are by far my favorite tool I keep in my gym bag and they also allow you to up the intensity of any home workouts you want to do. Any gym gear you buy can be found at more affordable prices than with name brand companies. I find that the more serious you get with training (if you’re a powerlifter, crossfitter, or training for a competition), you might need to spend more money on certain things to support your goals. For every person that says you need to buy something for better results, there is another person who has gotten the same results without said item. It’s up to personal preference, needs, and ability to invest in different things. The most important tool in finding success along your fitness journey is your motivation to work hard. (Although I have totally have had newfound motivation to kill a workout after buying new gym clothes, LOL)
How do you define your fitness goals?
My fitness goals are ever evolving. Right now I am cutting weight for the summer and leaning out. When I’m done cutting weight, I will be reverse dieting (slowly increasing calories to a maintenance level to avoid excess fat gain) with the goal of revving up my metabolism and increasing the amount of calories I’m eating to maintain weight. However, there are several things that are always goals of mine: 1) feeling comfortable in my skin and loving my body, 2) FEELING good and having energy/the ability to do the things I want to do, whether it be working out, playing sports, or just getting through a long day, 3) fueling my body with nutrient dense foods to help it function optimally while also loving the food I eat and not depriving myself of foods that aren’t as nutrient dense but taste phenomenal, 4) being strong.
These four things are important to me personally because they are what keep me balanced and happy. Fitness and health should not be solely about how it makes you look, but about how it affects you mentally and emotionally. Being healthy and being in a good spot with your body image/self-love is more important and impactful than feeling good that you can see your abs. Physical appearance is fleeting, but developing a good relationship with your body can last forever.
I got into fitness from the pure fear of gaining weight. I began to love the way it made me feel. Then I made friends at the gym, started watching fitness YouTubers such as Nikki Blackketter, Emily Duncan, Emily Hayden, Amanda Bucci, Brittany Lesser, Steve Cook, and several others who opened up doors to different types of training and nutrition. They share a lot of valuable information and their own personal experiences. Emily Duncan and Emily Hayden in particular do a lot of motivational work and focus less on the aesthetic portion of the fitness community.
Now, I’m about to say something that could potentially come off as self-centered or egotistical: I am my own inspiration. As great as it is to look to others to inspire you and make you want to work hard to achieve your goals, it is more important to acknowledge your own progress and ability to do great things. From my freshmen year of college to summer after my senior year, I lost 32lbs. It still blows my mind that I did that. I learned so much about my potential, work ethic, will-power, and ability to transform my body. It always seems impossible until you do it. The impact that my progress has had on my motivation for the future is greater than any YouTuber has had on me; it will also endure longer because I will always remember the feeling of achieving a goal I set for myself. People tend to not give themselves enough credit for the changes they’ve made in their life and the progress that they’ve made. Being proud of yourself should be more of a priority than looking like your role model. I realized this after cutting weight last year. I was stoked that I transformed by body, but I was more proud of every lifting session, every early morning cardio, every time I said declined food that didn’t fit into my planned calories, and every day I thought about quitting and ending my cut early. It was a long journey with plenty of road bumps, but I made it through. Be your own inspiration. Be your own motivation. You shouldn’t reach your goals and focus on the fact that you’ve caught up with someone else, you should focus on the fact that you’ve bettered yourself. Compete with your past self; that’s the only person who matters.
List 10 songs that you love for workouts right now.
MUSIC IS SO IMPORTANT TO MY WORKOUT. I tend to workout alone because I love putting on my headphones, zoning out, and letting my workout be all about me and my lifts. Some songs that I am loving right now are:
HUMBLE – Kendrick Lamar
Purple Lamborghini – Skrillex and Rick Ross
Romantic (NOTD Remix) – Stanaj
Work (R3hab Remix) – Rihanna
16 Shots – Stefflon Don
B.Y.O.B. – System of a Down
CRZY – Kehlani
Stay – Alessia Cara
COMA – Issues
Breathe – Astrid S
List 5 moves that could be used for high intensity intervals and any repetition suggestions.
Here is a circuit that I put together for myself that hits both upper and lower body while getting your heart rate up for some cardio!
- Single Arm Kettle Bell (KB) Clean and Press: pick a kettle bell (or dumbbell) weight that you can do a shoulder press movement with but is still challenging. Start in a slightly-wider than hip width stance with the KB on the floor between your legs. Squatting down keeping your back flat and your chest up, grab the KB. Come out of the squat explosively while simultaneously pulling the KB up to shoulder height, then rotating your wrist to catch your KB clean with the KB resting on your forearm. Press the KB up as in a shoulder press, and then return the KB to the floor. Do both arms for 10 reps. Video example.
- Side lunge with Medicine Ball Wood Chop: hold a medicine ball with both hands standing hip width apart. Step out into a side lunge bringing the med ball to the inside of the bent knee with straight arms. Pause in the bottom of the lunge, then push through the heel to return to standing while moving the ball in a diagonal path across the body and stop when it is above the shoulder opposite the leg you just lunged with. Keep the arms straight when moving the ball from the low to high position! Don’t let the ball twist your torso, keep your core tight to keep your hips and shoulders square. Do both sides for 10 reps.
- 90 degree squat jumps: Stand with feet wider than hip width apart. Squat down swinging your arms back behind you, then jump up, turning 90 degrees to the right in the air and landing in squat position again. Jump again, this time rotating to the left so you are facing where you started. That is 1 rep. Do 10! Hold a dumbbell/kettle bell/bar weight if you want to make it harder.
- Reverse Curtsy Lunge with Bicep Curl: grab a pair of dumbbells you can do 20 reps with. Stand hip width apart holding the dumbbells by your sides, palms facing your body. Lunge with your right leg backwards and slightly behind your left leg, like a curtsy. While you are lunging, curl the dumbbells, rotating your hands all the way until your palms are facing upwards. Think about rotating your pinky up as much as you can for maximal contraction of your bicep. Drive through the heel of your left foot to return to starting position while lowering the dumbbells back to your sides. Do 10 reps with each leg.
- Plank Shoulder-Taps: Get into plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders creating a straight line from your shoulders to your toes (don’t let your hips sink or rise up, do a plank in front of a mirror to get a feel of what it’s like to be in a good plank position). Take your right hand and tap your left shoulder in a controlled motion. Repeat with your left hand. That is 1 rep. Do 15-20 reps. To make it harder you can put your feet on an exercise ball or a bosu ball. If you really want to make it tough and also get a chest workout in, add a pushup in between each shoulder tap: KILLER!
Make sure to do each exercise immediately after the other then rest 1-2 minutes after each round of the 5 exercises. Repeat for 3-5 rounds.
Needless to say, Lauren is a rock star. I’m so grateful she took the time to speak with me and share some insight regarding fitness in today’s world. Be sure to follow her on Instagram and check out her site here. I do have to say that discussion of fitness, health, and dieting can be especially tedious or triggering when it comes to our society’s understanding of eating disorders. Discuss your thoughts and plans with a doctor or fitness professional to develop what is most appropriate for your body. If you think you might be struggling with an eating disorder or body image, contact the NEDA hotline: (800) 931-2237.