I come from an Italian family, so food has always been a big part of my life. But fitness wasn't. After participating in high school basketball, I didn’t really break a sweat in spandex for close to 10 years. I’m lucky enough to have a fast metabolism and, at first, working as a waitress and constantly running around kept my love for pizza in check. But when I switched to working from home, all that sitting caught up with me.
I started to feel sluggish but was so unmotivated to make any changes. Every year, I'd resolve to get fit and start eating healthy. But every year, it didn't happen. Then, in 2016, one day—not even a particularly special one—I just decided enough was enough. I had been complaining about my body and about feeling lazy for so long; I needed to actually do something about it.
My initial goal was a pretty common one: to get lean and have abs definition. I wasn’t miserable about my body, but I just felt like I could do better. I was intimidated by the gym because I didn’t want to look like an idiot or be humiliated in front of other people. I was so self-conscious, and even feared men would tell me what I was doing wrong or judge my body.
So I started doing the Sweat with Kayla app. I loved how it eased me into working out and that I could do the routines at home, without a gym. I learned how to do burpees, jump squats, jumping lunges, etc.
HIIT helped me feel more energized, but I hadn’t reached that next-level confidence that I was seeing all over my social media feed. I follow heaps of girls on Instagram and loved how they looked, but they were seeing more muscle gain and definition than I was getting with the type of training I was doing. These girls were lifting heavy, and seeing their gains started changing my goal from just wanting to be lean to wanting to build quads and glutes and delts.
I was still super intimidated by big gyms and all the people in them who knew more than I did. Luckily, I had a small workout room in my apartment complex, so I just started doing a few really simple exercises there—triceps extensions, shoulder presses, biceps curls, leg extensions.
I didn't do anything too complicated since I didn’t know my way around the machines yet. But once I got the basics down, I had a trainer create a program for me, which helped introduce me to some new exercises and really blossomed my love for lifting.
My tiny apartment gym quickly became too limited for me, so I made the jump and joined a full gym about a year ago. At the same time, I decided to hire a real personal trainer to help me feel more comfortable and confident in the new environment.
He helped me learn a lot about the basics of the body and the mentality of lifting—things like how you have to leave your ego at the door, and start light to focus on form over weight and the importance of tempo and rest periods during and between sets. Having a trainer was especially great in the beginning since I was scared to lift heavy on squats and deadlifts, and I think it’s super important for people to learn to master these moves with someone who knows what they’re doing first.
Even though my trainer was great, I felt like there was a disconnect between him understanding where I really wanted the focus to be. I don’t think a lot of men really understand how much some women want to build their glutes, and I just wasn’t getting as much work in that area as I wanted. So I started doing my own research. I read everything I could on the topic and enrolled to become a personal trainer, eventually creating my own programs that were more focused on building my booty and quads.THE WORKOUTS
I don't do any straight cardio besides walking my dog, but I typically do HIIT routines two to three times a week to focus on fat loss. Overall, I follow a hypertrophy program that involves high and low reps with resistance bands and weights, focusing largely on the lower body, particularly the glutes. I usually work out five days a week with a day dedicated to legs, booty, chest and back, lower-body strength, and arms.
Two of the best things I learned from working with a personal trainer is that hip thrusts are crucial to build your glutes—more so than squats—and that deadlifting is the single most important full-body compound exercise you can do (and that most people steer clear of!). You want abs? Stop crunching and start deadlifting.
One of the biggest surprises is that I never realized how important nutrition was to achieve your goals. I never thought I would enjoy working out or nourishing my body with healthy foods; in fact, I used to think people were lying when they said they enjoyed healthy food more than junk. Turns out you can learn to love a healthy lifestyle as long as you choose what works for you.
When I first started getting into cardio, I was more focused on eating less, and I was eating far too few calories for how much I was exercising. Once I started lifting heavy, I starting fueling my body with the proper nutrients and eating more—a lot more. I went from around 1,000 calories a day to 1,800, and now, when I’m bulking, I eat 2,300. I started counting my macros (which I would highly recommend). Doing so especially made me realize how little protein I was consuming each day. Now, my daily diet looks something like:
Breakfast: Protein shake
Snack: Yoghurt + fruit
Lunch: Basil pesto chicken + salad
Snack: Avocado + carrots
Dinner: Sweet potato + zucchini fritters with salmon + sour cream
The funny thing is, once you clean up your diet, you actually start to feel better inside. Now when I eat "bad" foods, I genuinely feel sick. I have a huge sweet tooth, but I’ve learned I really don’t want to overindulge anymore as I'll just end up feeling worse.
When I started going to the gym, I was 70kg. Now, thanks to lifting, I’m at 56kg and am the most confident I've ever been. Before, I was always striving for a body I didn't have. As soon as I decided to create my best body, working with what genetics I was dealt and aiming for the best that I could be, that's where the confidence really kicked in.
I like to keep my life fairly balanced, and if I am really too busy to get to the gym one day or eat healthy, I don't beat myself up about it. I just make an effort to find the time tomorrow.
MADALIN’S NUMBER-ONE TIP
Find a workout you love. If you don't love it, you won't stick with it. Fitness doesn't just mean squats and cardio; it can be basketball, powerlifting, HIIT. Working out used to be a chore, but once I found lifting, I actually started looking forward to doing it. That’s how you get your fitness to become something that makes you feel good inside and out.
Follow Madalin’s fitness journey @MadalinGiorgetta. As told to Rachael Schultz
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.