Beyond the Macros – What About Micros?

Most people are aware of the macronutrients – proteins, fats, and carbohydrates – and they are the building blocks of a balanced diet. But, in our quest to ensure we are “meeting our macros” we often overlook the micronutrients, or vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy diet. In my nutrition coaching, I start with the basics, focusing first on total daily caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown. But in the next phase of coaching, I work with clients to review their micros. Often when something isn’t quite right with our bodies, it’s not due to the macros, but the micros. If you haven’t paid attention to micros here is a roadmap to help you dial them in.

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Some are essential, such as Vitamin A, Vitamin D, iodine, iron, folate, and zinc. I also focus on B-complex vitamins, sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. It sounds like a lot but these nutrients are found in many foods. Typically, people tend to be deficient in Vitamin D, magnesium, and potassium, but sometimes I find they are not getting enough sodium. This happens most often when they eat a healthy diet consisting of whole foods. Processed foods and take-out are most sodium rich. Contrary to popular belief, sodium is not bad. You need it for your body to run optimally and if you don’t get enough, you run the risk of dehydration.

Magnesium is another micronutrient that tends to be low in most people. Not getting enough can impact your sleep and make you feel tired all the time. If you live in a mostly cloudy climate, make sure you have a physician check your Vitamin D levels. Especially if you are feeling down or get sick often. Lack of Vitamin D has been linked to depression and can suppress your immune system. Plus you need adequate levels of Vitamin D for optimum calcium absorption, another micronutrient that we all need to prioritize, especially women!

How do you know how much of each micronutrient you need? Which foods contain these micronutrients?

Below is a handy reference listing micronutrients, the recommended daily allowance, and some select foods to eat for each (Source: CDC.gov).

Calcium (1,000mg) – milk, yogurt, cheese, canned sardines, salmon, kale, broccoli, Chinese cabbage (bok choi)

Folate (400mcg) – asparagus, brussels sprouts, and dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and mustard greens), fruits and fruit juices (especially oranges and orange juice), nuts, beans, peas, peanuts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans

Iodine (150mcg) – fish (such as cod and tuna), seaweed, shrimp, and other seafood, milk, yogurt, cheese, iodized salt

Iron (men: 8mg; women: 18mg) – lean meat, seafood, and poultry, iron-fortified breakfast cereals and breads, white beans, lentils, spinach, kidney beans, peas, nuts, dried fruits, such as raisins

Magnesium (men: 400mg; women: 310mg) – legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, spinach, fortified breakfast cereals, milk, yogurt

Potassium (men: 3,400mg; women: 2,600mg) – dried apricots, lentils, acorn squash, dried prunes, raisins, potato, kidney beans, orange juice, soybeans, bananaSodium (2,300mg max)

Vitamin A (men: 900mg; women: 700mg) – herring, salmon, organ meats, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and winter squash, cantaloupe, mangos, apricots, milk, cheese, fortified breakfast cereals, eggs

Vitamin D (15mcg) – milk (including almond, soy, etc.), fortified breakfast cereal and orange juice, fatty fish (like trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel)

Zinc (men: 11mcg; women: 8mcg) – oysters, red meat, poultry, seafood (such as crab and lobsters), fortified breakfast cereals, beans, nuts, whole grains

How do you know if you are getting enough micronutrients?

My first recommendation is to track your micronutrients using an app, such as MyFitnessPal or Cronometer. If it appears that you are significantly low, try to add the appropriate foods to your diet. I also recommend that everyone obtain a full bloodwork panel once a year. Vitamin D and iron deficiencies will definitely show up in the results. If you try to adjust your diet and still come up short in some areas, taking vitamins is just fine! In fact, I recommend a multivitamin and fish oil supplement for everyone. You also may have specific micronutrient needs based on your lifestyle/diet, health status, or age. As a nutrition coach, I can help you dial in on the right micronutrient profile for you. Contact me to learn more!

How to Set up a Home Gym

At the end of this post you will see a short tour of my home gym. If you recall, I established this back in summer of 2020 shortly after we moved into our new home. It was mostly due to the pandemic. Gyms were closed and I needed a place to continue my resistance training. Now that everything is reopened, I still remain a home workout girl. I’ve added quite a few pieces of equipment over these two years, too.

Before I share the inventory of my home gym, I want to point out that this is extreme. I am a personal trainer and workout nearly every day. I love to try new things and as I progress in my weight training I need new ways to impact muscle growth. So you will see a lot in my gym but by no means is this a requirement for anyone looking to workout at home or who is just starting out.

The Basic Home Gym

All you need is a pair of dumbbells to get started. Resistance bands come in handy, as well. That’s it! Super easy. Not expensive. As you progress you will want a barbell with weights. You may want a pull-up bar, too. You can do nearly everything with these pieces. And remember, body weight works, too! My beginner workout uses dumbbells and I have body weight options, as well.

My Home Gym Inventory

Below is a list of what you will see in the video that follows:

Bench
Hip thruster
Barbell pad
Barbell
Bumper plates – 45s, 35s, 25s (2), 10s (2), 5s and 2.5s (2)
Bumper plate rack
EZ bar
1” plates – 5s (2) and 10s (3)
T bell
Trap bar
Adjustable Dumbbells
Adjustable Kettlebell
10, 8, 5, 3 and 2 lb dumbbells (plus a single 1 lb)
10 and 8 lb kettlebells
Ankle weights (medium and light)
Bosu
Stability ball
TRX suspension system
Resistance bands
Booty bands/resistance loops
Resistance bands with handles (makeshift cable system)
Ankle cuffs (two sets)
Steps
Liebert row
Mobility stick
Pull-up bar
Jump rope
Ab roller
Push up handles/bars
Landmine
Monkey feet (for hamstring curls, leg extensions, and donkey kickbacks)
Nordic curl pad
Slam ball (8 lbs)
Yoga mats
Yoga mat sling (can be used for stretching)
Yoga block
Pilates balls
Foam roller
Peloton
Wall mirrors
Freestanding mirror
Clock

There are many benefits to my home gym; here are a few:

  1. Long-term cost savings – It costs a lot to get started but I have added little by little over two years so it was a bit more manageable. Once you have all the equipment, though, you can save nearly $500 a year on a gym membership. This allows you to spend that money on more equipment or even personal training.
  2. You can workout when you want – You don’t have to take the time to drive to the gym or worry if it’s open. Just head to your space and get started!
  3. You can wear what you want – I often wear only a sport bra now and never have to worry!
  4. You can keep the temperature the way you need it – Often gyms are too hot or too cold. At home, you control the climate.
  5. You can fart in peace – protein farts are a thing, let’s face it. In a home gym, you don’t have to worry (provided you’re working out alone). Plus, if you need to pee you can do it more easily than if you were in a gym.

I never considered a home gym prior to a few years ago. I loved going to the gym and seeing the same faces and being in the environment. But, after establishing my own space and routine, I can’t imagine ever going back. I may some day but for now with my busy lifestyle this is perfect. If you want any more details on where I got any of my equipment, shoot me a message. I’m happy to help you set up your own home gym haven.

How to Start Resistance Training

If you’ve been following my recent posts you know that cardio alone is not the answer to sustained weight loss. It is great for keeping your heart muscle healthy but when it comes to longevity resistance training is king. Personally, I think it’s easier for people to walk, run, or bike than it is to start a resistance training program. For one thing, you don’t have to learn how to do anything; we all know how to walk, run, or ride a bike (well, most of us). And it can be intimidating to think about lifting weights. I mean, that’s only for fitness fanatics and bodybuilders, right?

It’s true that it takes a little bit more of a learning curve and patience to learn resistance training but it’s so worth it. Consider these five facts:

  1. Resistance training builds bone mass. The older we get, the more our bone density declines and this is a big deal. Our bones are the structure for our bodies. When they get brittle, they break more easily. Our movement depends on our bones, muscles, and nervous system all working optimally. Resistance training contributes to strengthening all of it.
  2. More muscle equals a faster metabolism. The more muscle our body has, the more we are able to burn calories while at rest. This is why people with lower body fat can eat so much!
  3. Less fat means a more toned look. Muscle takes up less space than fat does so you will look tighter. If you decrease your body fat percentage over time, you will also notice more muscles, especially in your abs!
  4. Exercise increases energy levels. When you work out, you feel more energetic. Those endorphins are real!
  5. Adding curves helps your clothes fit better. Enough said.

Cardio only goes so far. You may lose weight initially but to keep it off, you have to do more. If you skip a week of cardio, you feel it the next time you run. If you skip a week of resistance training, you can pretty much pick up where you left off. In fact, once you consistently lift weights, even just a few days a week, building that muscle over time, you can pause for a while and still find that you will easily build it back up in a shorter amount of time. It’s called muscle memory and it’s a thing!

If you’ve followed me for a while you know I post videos of my workouts and many people have shared that I inspire them. But inspiration isn’t a plan. I decided to create a beginner program for those of you who have wanted to start resistance training and just didn’t know how. You only need two days a week, approximately 45 minutes. Plus, I’ve added in two days of cardio for just 20 minutes each time. That’s all you need! If you find that you love resistance training and want to advance, message me. Or, if you have trained in the past and want to get back into it, I can create a custom program for you. Let’s start a new healthy habit to help you look and feel better!

Beginner Program

Notes:
Each exercise should be done in two sets of 8 to 12 reps unless otherwise specified
Strive for 7,000 steps each day
I have built in three days of rest but you don’t need to do nothing on those days. Feel free to stretch, do yoga, walk, or hike.
If you don’t have weights, alternate exercises are provided. If you aren’t sure how to do an exercise, message me at kerri@fitprmomlife.com and I’ll send you a video and walk you through it! 

Day 1

Warm-up: Wall slide (5), Pigeon stretch (:30 per side), Arm circles (5 in each direction)

Goblet squat (alternate: step-up)
Dumbbell chest press (alternate: push-up)
Dumbbell Romanian deadlift (alternate: bodyweight single leg Romanian deadlift)
Dumbbell single arm row (alternate: plank with alternating single arm row)
Calf raise
Dumbbell hammer curl  (alternate: use soup cans)
Tricep kickback (alternate: close push-up)
Plank Hold – :30

Day 2

20 minute cardio 

Day 3

REST

Day 4

Warm-up: Wall slide (5), Pigeon stretch (:30 per side), Arm circles (5 in each direction)

Glute bridge (alternate: donkey kickback)
Dumbbell fly (alternate: push-up)
Dumbbell reverse lunge (alternate: step-up)
Dumbbell bent row (alternate: dumbbell rear delt raise)
Booty band side walks – :45 (alternate: fire hydrants 8 to 12 reps per side)
Dumbbell shoulder press (alternate: pike push-up)
Dumbbell lateral raise (alternate: hold arms outstretched for as long as possible)
Russian twist

Day 5

20 minute cardio

Day 6 and 7

REST 

 

Why Soreness Doesn’t Equal Gains

Unpopular truth: sore muscles are NOT an indication of muscle building. In fact, being sore all the time actually slows muscle growth.

When you first start lifting weights, it is likely to make you sore simply because your body is not used to the effort. Your muscles need to adapt to the new stimulus you are giving them. But, over time, as you continue resistance training, soreness is not ideal. When your muscles are sore, it means you’ve overtrained and they need time to repair themselves. If you do this time and time again, you actually inhibit growth by stressing the muscles too much.

The best resistance training programs distribute exercises throughout the week in a way that enables you to train each muscle group but not overdo it. Studies show you only need to hit each muscle about three times a week to see growth. And each time is not the same intensity. Varying the amount of sets, reps, and weight you use helps to develop the muscles in a balanced way.

You may still get sore from time to time, especially if you introduce a new exercise or start a new routine. But, if you find yourself sore after every workout, stop and pay attention to what your body is telling you. The volume is likely too much for you and you should adjust down accordingly.

Are you looking for a custom workout program designed specifically for your lifestyle, body and goals? Contact me today and get started on the path to health and fitness.

Why Your Weight Doesn’t Matter

When people decide they want to change the way they look, they typically start with the scale, weighing themselves and determining that the number they see needs to be lower. But, your weight is not the whole story. There are other more meaningful metrics that often get overlooked but if you pay attention to them, you will see much greater success.

Simply speaking, weight is a combination of height, lean muscle, and body fat. Because of this, it can be a deceiving number. Take, for example, a woman who lifts weights regularly. You may look at a petite woman who is “toned” and decide she must weigh very little when in fact she weighs more than you think. Why? She has more lean muscle than she has body fat. Muscle weighs more than fat. What’s more, muscle is more compact. So, our bodies can cram a lot more muscle than fat. Why is this important? Well, if you think you’re trying to lose weight, you’re probably really wanting to lose body fat. And, if you shed the fat the proper way, through building muscle and eating enough protein and nutrients to fuel that growth, you may actually see your weight go up! That’s a huge mind bender!

If you read my post a few weeks ago you know that cardio alone will not bring sustained weight loss. This is why you may see someone who runs regularly but who isn’t actually fit. Or they may appear skinny but they don’t have enough muscle on their frame hence the term “skinny fat.” The best way to change your body is not thinking about moving the scale down, but think about moving the muscle up. The only way to do this is through resistance training combined with a healthy diet.

Resistance training often is not the first thing people think of when they want to lose weight but it’s the best thing for them. And it doesn’t take much time. Two to three days a week for 45 minutes to an hour is all you need. In fact, beginners will see huge gains with just 30 minutes of weight training two to three times a week. And it doesn’t require a gym membership or a ton of equipment. Your own body weight is all you need. If you have a pair of dumbbells, even better.

So, the next time you look in the mirror and think “I need to lose some weight,” change the conversation to “I need to recomp my body and pay closer attention to my nutrition.” Take a selfie, save it, and find a quality resistance training program or trainer to help you on the journey. I promise you, it will be worth it. You will see sustained results and you will look and feel better.

Review: Booty by Bret

I’ve tried many workout programs over the years. I love to see how other trainers program and I often pick up tips and tricks that I can incorporate into my own programming. You have to be careful, though, especially when purchasing a program online. There is a lot of garbage out there! But, if you stick to the tried and true coaches and trainers, you should be fine. For a long time, I’ve had Bret Contreras’ Booty by Bret program bookmarked and have religiously followed him on Instagram. I even stalk podcasts for his interviews! After completing his new StrongLifting Certification, I became more interested in seeing how Contreras programs.

StrongLifting is a cross between power lifting and body building. It prioritizes five main lifts–squat, deadlift, hip thrust, pull-up, bench press, and overhead press. Everything is built around making gains with those compound movements. The certification makes me eligible to judge a StrongLifting competition, something Contreras has already hosted and plans to do more, but it also helped me learn more cues about how to perform these main lifts. This will help me and my clients in the long run.

Booty by Bret emphasizes glute development–hence the name– but also overall muscle growth and strength. I can see the emphasis on the main lifts already! The program consists of four-week cycles of three full body or four-day body part split, depending on your preference. Two optional glute days are also included that are mini circuits to further work those muscles and he recently added upper body to those days.

Wow… what was I waiting for? This program is perfect for me! I love full body, three days a week. It works best for my schedule and recovery. What’s more, the additional two days are perfect because my goals are to grow my glutes and shoulders. Those circuits include glute exercises, as well as shoulder/delt exercises. It also leaves room for a rest day or two, as well as my Peloton rides, which I like to incorporate as much as I can without compromising my muscle gains.

This month–May/June–the two main lifts are the squat and the bench press. There is also hip thrust–because of course there is–and compound exercises for the back, such as the pull up. But three days a week, we are doing a squat and bench press variation. This allows you to get really good and practice with a movement. It also allows for progressive overload and improved form since you are hitting the exercises so often. As someone who needs to work on both of these exercises, I was thrilled to start here! The first week is a deload week and you progressively add effort through week four.

Booty by Bret is a well-programmed routine that is perfect for beginners to advanced lifters. There are different versions of the exercises to align with your skill level and what you have available as far as equipment. Each exercise has a video demonstration, if you need it. There is also a private Facebook Community that you can join to ask questions, get assistance with form, and more. At $29.95, it’s a steal compared to gym memberships that don’t offer ANY support or programming whatsoever.

I have learned so much from Contreras over the past few years. It’s amazing to experience his research and expertise through his programming. I look forward to future months to come on the program!

Why Running Won’t Help You Lose Weight

I see it all the time. People who run regularly, daily even, but who have a higher body fat percentage and/or complain that they want to lose weight. You would think running would burn calories and lead to weight loss, right? Wrong! It’s one of the most believed myths in the fitness space. Cardio does not equal fat loss. Here’s why.

When you perform a cardio activity, such as running or a high-intensity circuit or any other activity that gets your heart rate up, you do burn calories. But it’s not as many as you think. If you’ve ever used a cardio machine at a gym, for example, the machine will provide a reading based on your height, weight, and age. When you think about how long you are on that elliptical or treadmill versus how much you burn? It’s not much! Even if it was, it cannot last. This is because our bodies are super smart. They are adaptable. It’s how we can build strength, flexibility, and overall fitness. The more you practice something the better you get at it. The more you lift, the greater your strength and muscle gains. The more you run, though, the less calories you burn. Wait a second, what?

That’s right. Let me say that again. The more you run, the more you will have to run to continue burning calories. This is because your body is made to be as efficient as possible. When you run, you are telling your body to become as lean as possible to be aerodynamic, making it easier for your body to run. And by lean, I don’t just mean less fat. It means less muscle, too. And the more you run, the more you shed that muscle. Have you ever heard of being skinny fat?

You might step on the scale to check your weight, but you may not know your lean muscle mass to body fat ratio. And that is the more important number. You want your body fat percentage to be around 15 to 20% for a male, 20 to 30% for a female, depending on factors, such as age. I’m generalizing this range. The more muscle you have, the more compact your body will become and the more calories it will burn at rest. Some people who are very fit weigh more than they look like they weigh based on the amount of muscle they have on their bodies. And they can eat WAY more calories daily because that muscle helps them burn those calories efficiently throughout the day.

The best way to approach cardio and running is to think of it as a supplement to your resistance training. Always prioritize muscle building first to lose weight and build muscle. If you like to run or are training for a race, that’s fine. But just know at the end of that race, you’ll want to pause and work on building muscle, too. This will keep your heart healthy and your metabolism strong. And, if you’re like me and you can’t run or dislike running, stop worrying that you’re missing out on some magical weight loss activity. Resistance training is king. Focus on that and the results will come.

 

The Best Exercise Programming to See Results

So you’ve decided you want to start training. Maybe you have a few pounds to lose. Maybe your physician advised you to start exercising. Maybe you just want to look and feel better in your own clothing. Once you’ve made this choice, you want results, right? I mean, why bother, if you’re not going to see positive change. 

In this day and age, there are so many options when it comes to choosing an exercise program. From books to websites to social media influencers to brick and mortar gyms offering the latest group classes, it can be overwhelming. Where in the world do you start? Let’s begin with where NOT to start.

  • Social Media Influencers – It may be tempting to purchase the workout that your favorite Instagram fitness account is selling or even to try his or her workouts that may be posted for free from time to time. This is a bad idea. First of all, just because a social media influencer looks a certain way, it does not mean the workouts they are selling or sharing got them to look that way. Forget about Photoshop, some people are just genetically gifted or they know how to stage a good photo. Some of these stars do completely different workouts from what they are sharing online, too. It’s best to skip these folks when it comes to selecting a program.
  • Group Fitness Classes – Your local gym probably offers group classes, and to start, it’s not a terrible idea to enroll. But, it’s not a good long-term strategy for success. Group classes are designed for the masses and are not customized in any way. You could end up doing too much or too little to reach your own goals. Where group fitness excels, however is that it helps motivate people to get to the gym and get into the habit of working out. You also may be fortunate enough to find group classes small enough to allow for customization and if you can do that, even better! The idea is to find what works for you and fitness training is never a one size fits all.
  • Trainers Without Credentials – Personal trainers are prolific nowadays and the internet has made it even easier for people to share fitness information and workouts whether they are qualified or not. Be careful when selecting a trainer or program to check the credentials. If none are listed, skip them. I mean, would you choose to get surgery from someone who was not a medical doctor? Enough said.

The best place to start is to search for qualified, certified trainers or programs. You can do this in person at any gym, or you can also search online. The main certifications trainers typically have are International Sports Science Association, American Council on Exercise and the National Academy of Sports Medicine. It’s also helpful if the trainer has a nutrition credential, too. If not, it’s fine but be wary if they try to give you nutritional advice!

Once you’ve located a reputable trainer or program, you want to review the testimonials or reviews and if you can’t find any, be sure to ask. You want to find out if others with similar goals have seen success. For example, before I became certified, I was looking for someone with certification and experience training “hard gainers” or people who struggle to build muscle. Once I located Lyzabeth Lopez, I checked her credentials and reviewed what others were saying about her training. She had a muscle building plan and there were lots of females who had seen success with the plan. It had been established for several years, too, another sign that it worked!

While you can find online programs like the one I used from Lopez, the gold star for anyone looking to meet specific fitness goals is a personal trainer. No two people are alike; a custom program is essential to maximize the benefits of exercise. A personal trainer will get to know you, your goals, your limitations, your lifestyle, everything. He or she will create a program that will help you meet your goals efficiently and effectively. 

So, instead of spending a dozen a day on coffee, invest those dollars in a quality personal trainer. You can afford it and the dividends you will reap are priceless. Interested in starting today? Hit me up. I’d love to work with you! Good luck!

What is the Best Exercise?

Often I am asked, “What’s the best way to grow my shoulders?” or “How can I strengthen my hamstrings?” There are so many exercises out there–too many to count! But, there are tried and true weight training exercises that I have incorporated into routines over the years. Below is a mini exercise library. It’s my gift to you. Bookmark it and reference it the next time you are looking to focus on a specific body part.

 

Chest

  • Bench press*
  • Dumbbell press
  • Incline dumbbell press
  • Decline dumbbell press
  • Dumbbell fly (flat)
  • Incline dumbbell fly
  • Cable fly
  • Underhand cable fly (bottom to top)
  • Pushup*
  • Chest dip*
  • TRX press

Triceps

  • Triceps dip*
  • Barbell skull crusher 
  • Dumbbell skull crusher
  • Triceps overhead press
  • Triceps kickback
  • Triceps pressdown
  • Triceps overhead cable press
  • Close grip barbell bench press
  • Narrow grip pushup
  • TRX overhead triceps extension

Back

  • Pullup*
  • Chinup*
  • Underhand bent over barbell row*
  • Overhand bent over barbell row*
  • Dumbbell single arm row
  • Seated row
  • Seated cable row
  • Wide grip seated cable row
  • Straight arm lat pulldown
  • Lat pulldown
  • Inverted row
  • TRX row

Biceps

  • Barbell curl
  • Preacher curl
  • Concentration curl
  • Dumbbell curl
  • Incline bicep curl
  • Hammer curl
  • Chinup
  • Zottman curl

Core

  • Cable crunch
  • Russian twist
  • V situp
  • Decline situp
  • Cable chop
  • Lying leg lift
  • Plank
  • Side plank
  • Thread the needle
  • Ball crunch
  • Toe touch
  • Bicycle crunches

Shoulders

  • Shoulder press
  • Military press*
  • Arnold press
  • Front raise
  • Side lat raise
  • Bent arm lat raise
  • Around the world
  • Rear delt dumbbell fly
  • Rear delt cable fly
  • Neutral grip shoulder pres

Quads

  • Leg extension
  • Raised goblet squat
  • Wall sit
  • Kneeling banded lean back
  • Stationary lunge
  • Sguats*
  • Front squat
  • Zercher squat
  • Goblet squat

Calves

  • Standing calf raise
  • Seated calf raise

Hamstrings

  • Leg curl
  • Ball leg curl
  • Nordic curl
  • Romanian deadlift
  • Stiff legged deadlift
  • Cable hamstring curl
  • Squats*
  • Adductor machine
  • Deadlift*

Glutes

  • Sumo deadlift*
  • Deadlift*
  • Hip thrust (variations)
  • Glute bridge
  • Squats*
  • Cable kickback
  • Donkey kickback
  • Frog pulse
  • Side lying leg lift
  • Banded crab walks
  • Abductor machine
  • Reverse lunge
  • Lunge
  • Step ups
  • Walking lunge
  • Elevated glute bridge
  • Hyperextension
  • Reverse hyperextension
  • Clam shells
  • Fire hydrant

*Compound movements that work more than one body part.

 

A Weekend to Remember

Taking a pause on fitness-related content to share a story with you all – a story about perseverance, grit, hard work, and overcoming obstacles. And, truly, this should inspire all of you who are attempting to meet health and fitness goals. It’s a long game and it takes dedication and commitment, no matter what. 

Faithful blog readers will recall that one of my daughters is in all-star cheer. All-star is different from school cheer. It’s the cheer featured in the Netflix documentary, Cheer, and it’s what you see if you happen to tune into ESPN this time of year and see the crazy stunting styles of the NCA teams in Florida. Lucia came home one day and asked if she could cheer. I had no idea even where or how? But, we figured it out and four years later, she’s completing her fourth season and, wow, this past weekend was a doozy.

End-of-Season Cheer Events

All-star cheer culminates in many end-of-season events across the country that require bids to compete. Our gym, New York Icons, typically goes to the Regional Summit and Summit Championships run by Varsity. It also has a World’s team and attends that competition, as well. Regional is for youth teams, the younger girls under 13 years old. The Summit, held at Disney World, is for junior and senior teams, the older girls. This year, Lucia is a crossover athlete, meaning she cheers for two teams, one is a youth and one is a junior. So, she attends both end-of-season events since both teams received bids for those respective events. Anyway, I digress but I wanted to set the stage.

The Northeast Regional Summit was held April 9-10 in Richmond, Virginia. I had been dreading this trip for months. I hate driving and knew the 10-hour trip would be hard for me to do alone. I tried to book a flight, but it was way too much money and hard to schedule, not knowing her cheer schedule. I tried to get my husband to take us but we couldn’t find care for our son for while we were gone and didn’t want to take him and his sister due to missing school and the extra cost. Cheer is expensive and money is tight. I tried to find a carpool but everyone had someone to drive with–so, it would be Lucia and me. 

Northeast Regional Summit Day 1

The trip down took more than 10 hours. The horrific traffic was just unreal. I never left the car for six and a half hours! But, we made it, went to bed at a decent hour and got up early for Day 1. Now, her team, Prodigy, has faced a ton of obstacles this year. Kids came and went from the team; kids got COVID-19, kids got injured. You name it, it happened. Just a struggle. In fact, the team wasn’t even ready for its first competition and had to pull out. By some miracle, we got a bid to the Regional Summit at our first competition (actually the second but first one at which we actually competed). The kids worked and worked to get to a place where they were going to be a force. I recall that Lucia struggled with the dance. It was a lot faster than she was used to and dance is her weakest link anyway. Finally, they were scoring better and winning! They were headed into this Regional weekend feeling pretty good.

But, if I can focus on just Lucia for a minute. The Monday before the Regional, she rolled her ankle coming down from a jump (she’s a point jumper for both of her teams – the one front and center). She stayed home from school one day it hurt so badly. It wasn’t 100 percent when we arrived in Virginia but Tylenol and an ankle brace were keeping her together. Plus, our household was hit with COVID, finally, after all this time. My son had it and my husband wasn’t feeling well. Lucia and I stayed as far away as we could prior to leaving but when we got there, she had a sore throat and wasn’t feeling great. She ended up testing negative three times so not sure what was going on but she wasn’t 100 percent. OK, back to the story.

Day 1 the girls looked great. Everything was hitting and they were loving life up on that mat and then, it happened. The left side of the pyramid was unsteady and then just sort of melted to the ground. One of the girls was dry-heaving and we found out after she had actually gotten sick. Everything that happened in the remaining 30 seconds was off. The girls came off the mat in tears. It had all gone so horribly wrong. The athlete who got sick had anxiety/nerves. She wasn’t ill. But, still, it caused an implosion and major deduction for the routine. They were devastated. There was still Day 2 but they knew there was only a slim chance of victory after that performance.

A Second Chance?

Lucia and I made our way back to the hotel sadly. She was silent on the ride back. Quietly, I took her hairpiece out and she removed her makeup while we talked about finding some macaroni and cheese, her favorite, to make it all better. And then I got a text. The team mom was calling everyone back to the venue. The judges were giving the girls another chance! They could do another full-out (the entire routine) and the judges would simply score from the pyramid on. The rest of the score would stand. Lucia immediately burst into tears. “I can’t! I can’t! She screamed…because we literally had minutes to get her hair back in, makeup redone and back to the venue which was about a 15 minutes drive plus parking. A few frantic minutes later we learned we had 45 minutes. “Plenty of time!,” I calmly told her! And got to work redoing everything.

We made it back to the venue, paid for parking again, and rushed to meet the team. The girls were still kind of frantic. Some were still redoing makeup. They all looked tense. The coaches arrived and calmly talked them through the scores for their first run. They had done phenomenal. The judges obviously liked what they saw. Perfect scores in jumps, which made Lucia happy. It was easy to see why the coaches fought for that second chance. The girls had a shot at winning if they could keep hitting the routine.

They went back out and killed it… they just cheered their hearts out! At the end of the day they were only behind the first place team by .1! We went back to the hotel again, happier, and headed for the mac and cheese. Later that evening, after a long nap, Lucia felt awful again. I worried she was sick but she rallied to hang out with her team a little. We went to bed early again and luckily, the next day she felt better, just still had a sore throat and laryngitis.

Northeast Regional Summit Day 2

Day 2, the girls knew they had to pull it all out. It would be their last performance as a team and they were within striking distance of the title. After we dropped them off for check-in we got a text from the coaches. The scores were miscalculated, we were actually in the lead by the tiniest of margins – .04! We discussed whether we thought the girls should know or not and waited with bated breath for their performance. And, wow, did they deliver. The best performance they ever did. We were crying, the girls were crying. It was just amazing. We agreed no matter what happened, we won. Those girls overcame everything. They gave it all they had and that is winning, no matter what the score says.

Then came the awards. We were up against 10 teams, one of the largest, if not the largest division at the Regional Summit. So, the announcer started with 10th place and worked his way back. We waited, phones in hand, ready to see if they would pull it off. And he said, “In second place….New…. Jersey Premier All Stars!” Hanging on that New had us on pins and needles. They won!!! Not only did they win, they were in the running for Grand Champions, which is the highest score of the entire event. They were sized for rings, in case they won. They ended up not winning that one but still. What a weekend. What a season. One of the coaches said she’s coached for 22 years and this will go down as one of the most memorable of her career.

These kids. This sport. There are no words. They learn how valuable hard work is. How you never give up. How even when one person struggles, the team lifts them up. It’s an expensive sport and I complain bitterly about the money and the travel. But at the end of the day, if she loves it and she’s learning these life lessons, I suppose it’s worth it. Money isn’t everything and we’ll survive, right? Lucia, on the other hand, will thrive.

If you made it this far through my story, congratulations! I hope it inspired you as it inspired me. Below is a photo gallery from the event, as well as a video of their final, amazing performance. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!