The only way out is through

That’s a line from an Alanis Morissette song.

Some of you reading this might suddenly have a flashback to that time you were on a date with a frat guy named Alan who had a six-disc changer in his car when it was cool and he played the song Ironic for you while you were busy getting homesick at the site of a stop sign because you’d only been away at college for two weeks, and you were thinking that his car smelled like sweaty gym socks and he was wearing too much Drakkar Noir.

I mean, generally speaking that might have come up for you.

Well, I’m just letting it all out here. This is what I dressed like when I was listening to Alanis Morrissete my freshman year of college.

Well, I’m just letting it all out here. This is what I dressed like when I was listening to Alanis Morrissete my freshman year of college.

This song lyric is actually not from Jagged Little Pill, which I know half of you out there reading remember as her debut album of the early nineties - but I’ve always liked the phrase - the only way out is through. It seems a milder version of Nike’s Just Do It.

I was reminded of this lyric recently while reading a nutrition article. Like many people, I’m an avid consumer of information, whether that’s through reading or listening to podcasts and books. I just really enjoy learning. One of the challenges of the constant influx of information though, is paralysis. So the other day, when I read this line:

Action is more important than information - I had a mind blown moment.

The article went on to say that no matter how much you know, or how much you want to change, in the end, it’s only action that creates change.

I mean I know that action is more important, I just forget it all of the time.

I think we all do.

I’m trying to apply the action concept to my writing as I work on my second book (the first one is due out in September). On any given day I spend more time thinking about my book, talking about the concepts or reading about writing than I actually spend writing. Which somehow leaves me feeling exhausted without anything to show for said exhaustion.

Sound familiar?

I actually had this conversation with my therapist last week, and so she gave me an assignment, which I’m practicing right now. Write for 15 minutes a day.

I lobbied her to drop the number down, you know, to set me up for success in case I missed a day, but she’s a hard ass and didn’t budge.

Everyday, she said.

And what if I don’t hit that? I asked.

Then we’ll talk about it next time.

So far, I’ve hit my 15 minutes a day.

Because I’m spending 15 minutes a day working on the action of writing. I’m not reading about it, thinking about it or talking about it.

Let me emphasize that last point a bit:

I’m not thinking about it.

Sometimes we think ourselves into exhaustion about any given change on any given day. We’re so toasted from mentally ruminating on something that it wears us out.

But these past few days, I’ve just be shutting up and doing it.

And it’s been ugly.

Stream of consciousness, ranting, no punctuation, lots of ellipses - ugly. But it’s happening. The only way to write is to put your butt in the seat and write.

The only way to change is to take action towards that change.

The only way out is through.

You can’t get through if you’re not moving. You can’t see change if you’re not doing. I know you know this. But since when does knowing mean doing? How many times have you ever said to yourself, or your coach or therapist, I know what I need to be doing, I’m just not doing it?

If everyone did the thing though, I probably wouldn’t have a job because coaching isn’t about telling people what to do - it’s helping them figure out how to do things.

So this is what I want you to do. I want you to, right now, at this very moment, put your phone down and pull out a piece of paper and write down anything you’d like to change in your life.

You’d like to be more physically active, you’d like to clean off your desk, dust your bookshelf, go through one drawer of clothes and go all Marie Kondo on it (does that 15 year old stretched out sports bra give you joy?) - finally make that dentist appointment you’ve been putting off - whatever the task may be, pick one thing and take action on it for five minutes a day.

You can do anything for five minutes.



Good talk.

P.S. Are you ready to take action with your nutrition, but not sure where to start? Comment below or send me an email at to find out more about my online nutrition coaching program that starts in July.

**Not open to Spurling Fitness members - we’ve got your nutrition coaching covered :-)

You are bathing suit ready

It’s getting to be bathing suit season, and so there is a lot of talk about getting bathing suit ready. Presumably, in our culture, “bathing suit ready” means endless squats, lunges, push ups, ab work, spin classes, bootcamp classes, running and generally beating the sh*t out of our bodies.

Hey, exercise is great for improving your overall physical (and mental) healthy - and there is nothing wrong with any of the activities listed above. With the exception of spinning (I’ve never taken a class if you can believe it), I enjoy them all.

But I don’t think more exercise is what you need to do to get “swimsuit ready.” (The phrase swimsuit ready came from a reader when I was surveying for potential blog topics.)

Regardless of what swimsuit you wear, resist the urge to bring back acid washed joggers. Please. For me.

Regardless of what swimsuit you wear, resist the urge to bring back acid washed joggers. Please. For me.

I believe the number one action you can work on to get prepared for a season that invites shorts and tank tops is….drum roll please……

Develop a positive relationship with your body. 

Yup. No big thing, right?*****

Most of us would find wrestling an alligator more natural than being kind towards our bodies.

If we met in person, you might describe me as fit - and with a lot of help from genetics and some weekly effort on my part - I hold my own. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with my own body.

On the outside of my right knee is a pale white scar from a teenage, neighborhood game of hide and seek. On the inside of my right leg is a small spiderweb of varicose veins that seems to puff up closer to the surface with each passing year. Sometimes you can’t really see them, and other times that’s all I see when I glance down at my legs. I have them on both legs, in several different places, and at times I am reminded of my grandmother, who rarely wore shorts, but I caught glimpses of her varicose veins when she wore dresses to church. 

These veins bother me in a way that I’d like to deny. But if I’m going to preach a positive relationship with our bodies, then you should know that I struggle in my efforts too. Those varicose veins makes me feel my age in a way that’s uncomfortable.

And so I’ve been joking that I won’t wear shorts at all this summer - because I’ve become embarrassed of my legs.

I’m not proud of that, but hey interwebz - I’m telling you anyway. So I’m working on that positive body image.

The thing is, my legs have taken me many places. They’ve hiked over 200 miles of Rocky Mountain National Park. They’ve run thousands of miles in all parts of the country, from New Mexico to Colorado to Oklahoma and more. They’ve worked 12 hour days on cement floors doing retail, walked through the farm fields of Western Pennsylvania to interview farmers, and stood in the dugout wells of minor league baseball teams, shifting from side to side to stay warm. They barked and complained when I did last year’s Tough Mudder, and they still don’t take very kindly to deep squats or lunges. 

But my legs, like the rest of my body, carry my story. 

And this summer, maybe more than any summer in the past, I find myself having to work very hard to be kind to my body. To be appreciative of my body. To be gentle with my body. To trust and appreciate that I am the best version of me that I know how to be right now, and that is all I can ask of myself.  

For the record, no I don’t think varicose veins are the end of the world, and yes, I know you can have them removed when they start causing pain. For right now, I’m just being vain about my veins. 

Yes, I did that. 

It’s not easy to avoid self-deprecating comments about your appearance and your body. We punch holes in all kinds of compliments that people pay us. 

You look great!

You’re lying!

I love your glasses!

They hide my fat face!

Those responses are reflexive - much like our apologies - and those are the comments that we need to corral.

As we get ready to head into summer on this Memorial Day weekend, and even those of us in Maine will experience warm weather, I want you to take this reminder and put it on your refrigerator and your bathroom mirror and your phone and maybe even a post-it note on your co-worker’s forehead:

You are bathing suit ready, just as you are.

***** Soooooo much sarcasm there. So much.

Losing fat with free weights


If you've followed my writing for any length of time, you know that I'm a fan of using free weights (dumbbells, barbells, kettelbells) in my workouts. 

But it wasn't always like that.

In fact, when I first started lifting weights regularly, in the spring of 2010, I went to the top floor of the Holmes Sports Center on the campus of Simmons College in Boston and used all of the machines. I did what anyone else would do  - I went down the rows of machines and tried to hit all of the muscle groups. 

I did what I knew how to do, and there was nothing wrong with that.

But one day, I was fitness-shamed (I don’t recommend this approach) by a co-worker for not using the actual weight room. After my conversation with her, I went back to my office and sat down thinking, what do I even do with free weights?

Growing up, my dad had bought my brother a set of Sears free weights and a bench that I taught myself to use. I followed the poster that came with the weights, though the only exercises I could recall were the Military Press and the Dumbbell Curl.

Fortunately, in the age of Google, I found a routine on and made my way in to the free weight room at Simmons College. It was tiny, filled with mostly men, and there were no convenient instructions on what, exactly, I should do with said weights.

But it was enough to get me started.

Why use free weights for fat loss?

My original goal in lifting weights was to get stronger. I couldn’t even do a push up, and like many women, I assumed that was the ultimate litmus test for how I weak I was (OMG IF YOU TAKE NOTHING ELSE FROM THE ARTICLE PUSH UPS ARE ALL OF THE HARD AND NOT A GOOD LITMUS TEST FOR STRENGTH.

But truth be told, I was also at a point in my life where my weight and my body fat was creeping up. Pants were getting tighter and I was beginning to feel more sluggish. I still used running for exercise, but I was constantly battling nagging injuries that made it difficult to run with any consistency. As it turns out though, lifting weights doesn’t just help you lose weight.

1. Lifting weights helps you lose more fat

Not all pounds are created equally. I could lose a pound of muscle or I could lose a pound of fat. The scale would only let me know that I lost a pound - most scales can’t tell you what kind of weight you’ve lost. In a Penn State study that put dieters into three groups - non-exercise, aerobic exercise and aerobic exercise with weight training, all groups lost 21 pounds. But the lifting group lost more body fat, six pounds of fat.

If you have ever said to yourself or a friend that you want to get more “toned” losing fat is what you’re talking about.

2. You’ll burn more calories

You might burn
The bar (pun intended) to entry for using free weights is much higher than that for using machines, but if you think you're ready to get started, I want to give you six exercises to get you started with free weights. 

This is how you can split them up (after you do your foam rolling and warm up).

For your first set, follow this format:

A1. DB Goblet squats 3x8
A2. Chest supported DB rows (or TRX rows) - 3x8
A3. DB Floor press 3x8

This means that you will do one set of 8 repetitions for the goblet squat, then one set of rows, then one set of the floor press. Once you’ve done each exercise one time for eight reps each, that is one set. Repeat two more times and then move on to your second set.

B1. Pallof Press 3x8
B2. DB Split Squat (or TRX Split Squat) 3x8
B3. Farmer’s carries (two DB’s of the same weight) 3x 30 seconds per carry.

Follow the same format as above.

DB Goblet Squats

Skip to the 1:00 part if you just want to move past the instruction and see the exercise.

Chest supported DB rows

DB Floor Press

Pallof Press

Skip to the 1:00 mark to see just the exercise.

DB split Squat

DB Farmer’s Carries

How do you get out of your fitness funk?

It happens to all of us at some point - we get on a good roll, with work, with fitness, with life - and then life happens.

This is a photo taken by my friend Joe Chandler, whom I worked with at Rocky Mountain National Park all those years ago - he named this sleepy owl “Lefty” and I’m guessing Lefty is having his own fitness funk…

This is a photo taken by my friend Joe Chandler, whom I worked with at Rocky Mountain National Park all those years ago - he named this sleepy owl “Lefty” and I’m guessing Lefty is having his own fitness funk…

We miss one workout, then another, and then before you know it, you haven’t worked out in weeks, or did any meal prep, and you feel like a sloth.

Sloths are pretty cute though, you have to admit….

When we start to feel like we’re behind on everything - then we start to get overwhelmed. And I don’t know about you, but when I’m overwhelmed, I’m also prone to anxiety and fits of existential despair, fearing that I’ll never amount to anything every and also I’m a horrible person.

It’s a completely logical place to to when you get off track, obviously.

Friday, I asked my therapist to hold me accountable to three workouts over the course of the next week. Yes, I asked my therapist to keep me accountable to my strength workouts. Here’s why:

My workouts are my domino - I know that when I get my workouts in, other habits fall into place. 

If you are off track or have found yourself in a fitness funk, you don’t need all of the things, even if you have all of the feels.

Stop thinking of all of the things you need to or want to do, and find one.   

What’s the one action that can take that will propel you forward with all of the other actions?

I have a list of things I’d like to do, and a bigger list of things I feel that I should do. The best way for me to get out from under the weight of those project lists is to focus on the one.

For me, it’s my workouts. When I get my workouts in, I feel better. When I feel better, I eat better. When I eat better and workout, I sleep better - and have better brain function and I'm a better coach, co-worker, and spouse. 

For instance, I have many clients tell me that they know that if they go grocery shopping, that meal planning happens more easily. And when meal planning happens, meal prep happens. When meal prep happens, they feel in better balance and like they have more energy. When they have more energy, they workout.

And on and on it goes. 

So what’s the one thing you need to do?

Perhaps you need to put your screens away and get into bed by 9:00, because you know that when you do that, you get more sleep and wake up feeling more rested. Maybe you need to hit your 10 minutes of meditation, or a morning walk with your dog or 30 minutes on that new Peleton in your basement. 

The bottom line is that you don’t have to figure out everything. Not today, and not tomorrow. 

You need to figure out the one thing. That one domino that will help all of the other ones fall into place. 

How do you gauge strength gains?

I’m bad at math. I know that, you know that because I’ve written about it, and at least a handful of my clients know it because of that one time someone accidentally hit a personal record of 205lbs on the trap bar deadlift…

One the biggest challenges I have day to day is helping clients focus on what they are gaining, and not what they are losing. On convincing them that they can set out to be more, and not less. This is an uphill battle when most of us, women especially, come in to the gym trying to lose body fat, inches, weight or appetite.


If you include a dynamic warm up in your program (hint: do your warm up and here’s why), as well as using the foam roller, you’re gaining better range of motion. Hopefully exercise is helping you to move better, think better, sleep better and feel better overall.

These are the things that you’re gaining.

But often, after a few months in the gym, clients can become frustrated with all of the things that they are “only” doing. (Which is why no one is allowed to say only to me.) On the other hand, I understand how lifting weights can feel stagnant sometimes. Which is when I like to bring out my calculator and introduce the concepts of progressive overload and total volume.

Progressive whaaaa??

Progressive overload is fancy schmancy way of saying that you increased your workload for an exercise by either adding more weight or more repetitions to your workout. For example, if you perform three sets of eight dumbbell goblet squats with 15 pounds in week one, you squatted a total of 360 pounds.


The next week, let’s say you lifted 15 pounds, but added more repetitions and sets. So you did 15x10x4.

Most clients are still stuck on the idea that they are “only” lifting 15 pounds. But when you do the math (with a calculator if you’re me), the reality is that you have now lifted a total of 600 pounds.

600 pounds.

That’s an increase of almost 50%.

The deadlift is another lift where clients tend to minimize their workload.

In the beginning, we start with the kettlebell deadlift, which is an excellent exercise to learn how to properly hip hinge (which translates into helping you pick things up from the floor in a way that keeps your back healthy and your knees happy).

Often we begin clients with a 35lb kettlebell to build a solid movement pattern, but it isn’t very long before we graduate to 50 or 60lbs. After that we progress to the trap bar.

Most clients average between 85-105lbs when they begin using the trap bar. Last week, I had two clients use the trap bar for the first time, both at 85lbs. They did 8 reps for four sets.

They lifted 2,720 pounds. And that was just on the deadlift.

Next time you’re frustrated with what you’re not losing, or the fact that you only lifted a certain amount of weight, step back, pull out your calculator, and do the math.

You’re gaining strength every day.

Celebrate that.

Celebrate you.