Wendy Watkins

Your fitness. Your goals. Your life.

The single most important exercise you must do

A few years ago I wrote an article for the Bangor Daily News about the most important exercise you should do, and you don’t even have to go to the gym to do it. You can do this one in the comfort of your living room, your kitchen, or even at work with no one noticing.

It’s sitting down and then standing up, repeatedly.

Here’s a video that shows how to do it. It’s not hard, trust me. But if you don’t keep doing it, it gets more difficult and eventually you might even need some help to get it done.

Gym rats will recognize the exercise as the basis of a “box squat.” If you want more information, check out this article.

The best! fitness! program! ever invented

The other day I posted a call-out for blog topics on Facebook. I got some great ideas — and I’ll be writing about all of them, thanks — but I was left with one nagging question: What fitness program *should* people be following? How do we know what to do? Should we run, lift stretch or follow the program on the infomercial? And how much of all that should we do, how often, etc.? What’s optimum?

Here’s what you should do: SOMETHING. The best program ever invented is the one you will follow. I do not care what it is. Just do something. Get into a routine. Incorporate it into your life. MOVE. If you’ve not been active recently, move for 5 minutes every day. And then bump it up to 6 minutes, and then eventually, you’ll find yourself able to handle it for 30 minutes or more. But start with 5 minutes if that’s all the time and energy you have to give. (True story: I started with 5 minutes on a creaky old stationary cycle that was in my parents’ basement.)

Once you get into a routine, tweak it a little. Try something new: a class, a video, a sport. If you like that new thing, keep doing it. If you don’t like it, try something else. Mix it up. Have fun. If you love being outdoors, get into the garden, take a hike, pedal the carriage trails or go swimming in a lake.

If you’re an indoor person, don’t limit yourself to only the treadmill or the weights room, or to only Turbo/P90X/yoga/Zumba. Do some of everything. But only after you’ve already started SOMETHING and it’s become part of your daily life.

We tend to overcomplicate fitness. And yes, once you get into it for a while, those complications can make it fun and even more effective. But at the beginning or even in the middle? Don’t worry about that (or even what your neighbor/sister-in-law/coworker is doing). Do what you like to do, and know that you’re following the best program ever — simply due to the fact you’re following it.

Changing the website … thanks for patience!

I’m modifying the website to help better serve my clients but I don’t want to take it down in the meantime. Thank you for your patience. :)

Chocolate and PB frosted protein cupcakes

So the cupcakes pictured below aren’t the prettiest on the planet … in my defense, they were my first try. They were pretty darn tasty though! At 190 calories for both of them and with 26 grams of protein, who can resist?

chocolate pb protein pancakes


Chocolate and PB-frosted cupcakes


3/8 cup (1/2 packet) IsaLean Pro vanilla shake
1 egg white

1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1-2 tbsp. PB 2 (or to taste)
1/2 packet of stevia (or to taste)
1 tbsp (or so) of water

How to:

Stir the shake powder and egg white together in a small bowl. It will be thick. In each of two small bowls (I used Pyrex custard dishes), spoon in half of the mixture. Microwave for 50 seconds to 1 minute. Mixture will rise. Remove from microwave. Cakes should come out of the bowls pretty easily.

In another small dish, mix cocoa, PB2 and stevia with a small amount of water. Mix together, and spread on top of the cupcakes. Eat.

Nutrition: 190 calories, 17 grams carbs, 5 grams fat, 26 grams protein, 5 grams sugar, 6 grams fiber.

Spinach Pumpkin Sausage Frittata — 200 calories!

This morning I woke up H U N G R Y and wanted a hearty breakfast. I looked through my cupboards and this is what I came up with — super yummy and, best yet, the recipe makes 6 filling servings at only 200 calories a whack!

Spinach  Pumpkin Sausage Frittata

photo (16)


10 ounce bag of organic chopped frozen spinach (I am all about convenience, hence the frozen)
1 can (15 oz.) organic pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling!!!)
8 egg whites
4 whole eggs
1/2 cup 50 percent reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese
1 package Fit & Trim Wildfire Buffalo Chicken Sausage

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Thaw spinach in microwave.

In a medium bowl, beat egg whites, whole eggs and pumpkin together.  Slice chicken sausage into rounds.

When spinach is thawed, add it and the sausage to an oven-proof skillet over medium heat. When warm, add egg and pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle cheese over the top. When the eggs start to settle (5 minutes?), put skillet in the oven to finish cooking — 10 to 25 minutes, depending on how done you like this. :)

Remove from oven, slice into 6 pieces, and eat!

Calories per serving: 200.  Carbohydrates: 9 grams. Fat: 5 grams. Protein: 25 grams.

One woman wolf pack

one woman wolf pack

Yesterday I slid off the leg press machine and kneeled on the floor, dizzy. As I steadied myself, I couldn’t help but smile. I’d smashed my old PR (personal record) by 20 pounds, for reps. Wow, I thought. Last week I couldn’t even budge the machine at that weight. This week, I got 8 reps. I probably could even have gotten 10 if I wasn’t so worried about my back.

I looked around, wondering if anyone had noticed. Across the gym, a pack of guys was lifting (the same pack that always lifts at the same time I work out, pretty much the quietest time of day at the gym, mid-morning). A retired guy walked by me on his way to a different machine. “Are you OK?”

“Yeah,” I said, gripping the side of the machine. “I feel awesome.”

Except I kind of wanted someone to high-five. I wanted someone to say, “Good job.”

Sometimes I want a lifting partner.

Studies show that most of us like to work out with other people. Exercising with others helps motivate us, keeps it fun, pushes us to work harder, and also helps us stick with our fitness program. That’s why exercise classes are so popular – they’re fun.

And here’s a little food for thought: That pack of guys who work out together at the same time every day, the guys who wouldn’t be caught dead in a group ex class? Well, technically, they participate in group exercise, as they work out together in a group, right?

So anyway, yes, sometimes I want a lifting partner. I mean, it’d be great to have someone spot me on certain lifts, someone to help move things along and motivate me when I’m having an off day. But that’s never happened for me on a consistent basis. And despite those times I would kill for a spot (like today, when I had to drop the dumbbells on the floor halfway through a chest-press rep because my right side needed an ounce of assistance) or would like an atta-girl, it has occurred to me that I probably am best served working out alone.

It’s time to fully (and further) embrace this lone wolf vibe I’ve got going on.

People don’t want to hear this next bit, but whatever, it’s true. As we get older, we need to be smarter about our workouts, especially if they are intense and focused toward specific goals. We need more recovery. We get more weird aches and pains. We have to work around little tweaks and old injuries. We can’t give into them – we have to find ways of coping. This happens at a fairly young age for anyone who uses their body hard (like athletes and those who engage in physical labor), but it escalates once you get past a certain age.  And yeah, I rock my age (if I do say so myself), but I crossed that threshold a while ago.

Take today, for instance. I had great plans going into my chest and shoulder day. I quickly had to come up with another plan when my neck decided it wanted the day off. I ended up having to scale the workout back and then ended it early. If I’d had a workout partner, knowing me I’d have felt bad about cheating them out of their workout, and chances are I’d have kept on going, and my neck would hurt a lot more than it does right now.

And also, face it, as a trainer, I don’t shut off when I watch someone lift. Maybe it’s a woman thing, maybe it’s part of being hypervigilant, but I tend to worry about everyone, and when people do work out with me, I end up training them. I don’t get to recover between my sets. So yes, having a lifting partner probably isn’t the best for my long-term goals, unless the right person walks through the gym door. I’m not holding my breath.

But come to think of it, I do have workout partners. I teach Zumba, yoga and sometimes other classes, too. Everyone who comes to those classes is my workout buddy – they’re in the pack. We all sweat together, and we have a blast in the process. In fact, doing those workouts with them makes the time fly, and often I forget to count those classes as workouts for myself, because they are so much fun.

There’s really no snappy ending to any of this, except that working out with other people is fun. Working out on your own can be fun, too, if you can motivate yourself to push hard while at the same time staying safe. You just need to be prepared to give yourself an atta-girl on days you earn little victories.

Heck, give yourself an atta-girl every day, for getting it done. You are part of an elite group that works out on a regular basis. High-five!

I am a big chicken.

baby chicken

I do not believe in writer’s block. Before fitness, my background was in daily newspaper journalism, where we never had the luxury of being “blocked.” In fact, we used to kind of laugh when people from the Sunday paper’s staff (the “weekly”) would moan about not knowing how to approach their stories. Give them a 30-minute deadline, and they’d find an approach, all right. Or they’d be out of a job.

So anyway … guess who is blocked? Me. What have I done about it? Given myself a deadline.

Here’s one of those annoying trainer clichés (sorry ’bout that …): A goal is a dream with a deadline. I’m not sure what my dream is with this blog. Maybe it is to just push through to a new level, which, to bring it back to fitness, is what we’re all trying to do, yes?

I know why I’m blocked. It’s because I’m scared. I’m a chicken. So, to get over that, I’ve decided to write about why I am a big chicken.

  • Good writing is authentic. You have to be honest and transparent. And it’s not that I’m dishonest, it’s more that I don’t know how much of a light I want to shine into myself.  However, the fact that this scares the shit out of me makes me think it is an important barrier to break through. When you constantly give in to your fears, you trap yourself. And the truth is, I feel pretty fucking trapped right now.
  • (Oh hey, if you don’t like swearing, you might want to move on. I probably am going to swear a lot. Not because I have a poor vocabulary, it’s just that I like how those words feel when I say them. One of my fears is to appear classless and shrewish. I’m neither, trust me. Or don’t trust me. It’s all good.)
  • So yeah, I feel trapped. Why? Over the past year, I have become fairly significantly depressed. Or maybe it’s more that I have realized I am depressed – that could be more accurate. My eyes are now opened to this lifelong battle I’ve waged. Realizing this is a good thing/bad thing situation.Depression has carved wide, deep crevasses down both sides of my family tree. Some have fallen out of the tree. Hell, there even has been some jumping out of the tree. I had forgotten this fact until I visited some family members recently. OK, truth: I didn’t really forget. It was more that I had walled myself away from it all.
  • It is a good thing to realize this, and to know that the darkness I sometimes feel is not mental weakness. And it is good to acknowledge that I don’t have any quit in me. I have lived enough days to know that all things eventually pass. And another truth is, I think that creativity and depression tend to go together for some people. You just have to learn how to manage it, and I think I have. I think admitting this here is a big part of that, because I know so many other people secretly feel this same way. I think they are part of my tribe.That being said, the thing that sucks big-time about admitting this is that my job as a fitness pro is to motivate people. Personally, I don’t see the two – being depressed and being motivational – as mutually exclusive. In fact, in a strange way I think they kind of go hand-in-hand – I know intimately what it’s like to feel that deep sense of pointlessness and meaninglessness, and I know what I can do (and have done) to keep myself moving forward. But the fear, I suppose, is that people think if you’re depressed, you’re the opposite of motivating.
    Hell, if you’re one of those innately upbeat people, you don’t need to be motivated. You were born with it!
  • Now I am scared that as I walk through real life, people are going to look at me with those big scared eyes, like I’m a pathetic sad sack.
    A little warning: If you do that, be prepared for me to motivate that expression right off your face.
  • So here’s today’s motivating tip: Go get it done. Focus on helping someone else. You’ll feel better. And if you don’t, you will have helped someone else feel better. And that’s pretty fucking awesome!


Vanilla-berry protein cake

This little doozy of a recipe is satisfying my sweet tooth AND keeping my nutrition on track. It’s very easy, super modifiable and as far as I can tell, you can’t mess it up.

I came up with it by putting together parts of other recipes. I made a chocolate version and a vanilla-berry version, and I have to say I think I liked the vanilla-berry better.

Feel free to play with your own flavors and ideas! If you don’t have coconut milk, use almond or cow’s milk, play with the proportions, or just use water. You probably can skip the the gelatin/pudding. You can use stevia. It’s all good. (My chocolate variety used chocolate IsaLean and 1 tbsp of sugar-free dark chocolate pudding mix.)

For fewer calories, use IsaLean, or 1/2 packet of Isalean and 1 scoop of IsaPro. I used this as a pre-leg workout breakfast and it was just right!

Vanilla-berry protein cake

1 package IsaLean or IsaLean Pro (I used vanilla IsaLean Pro)photo (9)
1 tsp. sugar-free raspberry Jello
1 tbsp. almond meal (you can use other “flour”)
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. raspberry extract
1 tbsp. coconut milk
4 tbsp. water

Mix it all up in a bowl. Mixture will be THICK. Put in the microwave on high for 1 minute. Mine was done at that point. If yours isn’t, mix it up and put in for another 30 seconds to 1 minute.


Nutrition info: 340 calories, 24 grams carbs, 10 grams fat, 39 grams protein, 10 grams sugar, 7 grams fiber

Butts and guts July challenge!

Are you ready to tighten your tush and work your abs this month? I thought so! Join us in this challenge, which you can change up to suit your fitness level. If you want to add intensity, add weights. If you want to mix up your cardio, insert these circuits between 5-minute cardio intervals.

Have fun (especially on that fourth fun little circuit, bwahahahahaha)! Click the picture for a bigger version.


Even the air is full

My dog Maxwell has degenerative myelopathy, an incurable disease that’s very similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). His back legs are pretty much useless right now. Sometimes he can walk, sometimes he can jackrabbit across a room, but mostly he falls a lot and has to drag himself around.

The disease is now working its way up to his front legs and it’s turning into a big struggle for him to pull himself up when he falls. His condition is degenerating a little faster than the vet had predicted, but we still have good moments. He still has fun.

When he was first diagnosed I put him in physical therapy and started him on some pain meds. We discontinued the therapy when he got worse. But he does get a lot of exercise and love, as he’s kind of a big deal at the gym where I work. He’s a boxer, 11 years old, and I’m his 3rd or 4th person (I’m unclear on the specifics of his early life) but once he was mine he was mine.

We’ve had some bad days recently. It’s been a lot of work for both of us. There are a lot of details but none of them really matter.

A few months ago I bought him a cart/wheelchair. I had visions of him tooling around the gym and going on walks but it hasn’t worked out that way. The cart itself is pretty cool, but as he’s a tall boy, it easily tips if he turns too quickly or leans over too far to sniff the grass. It also can tip if one of the wheels hits a doorway or the edge of a piece of furniture.

It is very bad when he tips over — we’ve had two rollovers, and both were traumatic. It can’t happen again.

So at first, he hated the cart, and he still hates it. But now that his legs are worse, he hates it a little less.

Yesterday I strapped him into his cart for a walk. He started off slowly, and when he realized he could move the pace picked up. It wasn’t long until we were jogging across a parking lot, going until the asphalt ran out and then we were on dirt, and we ran to the edge of that, until we hit some railroad tracks, where we stopped. On the other side of the tracks were trees and a bog. It was cool and breezy, a mild early summer morning.

He sniffed.

And in that moment, as he lifted his head, closed his eyes and  smelled all the smells, I was aware of all the layers of life surrounding us, the depth and the breadth of it all. Life blooms aggressively in Maine this time of year. Leaves are fresh and new, insects are feeding, and you can feel the woods teeming with birds and critters. Even the air is full.

Everything slowed down as the two of us stood there, breathing, listening, feeling the air stretch from here to the Atlantic, and then beyond, filled with life: things we’d never see, things we would never know.

We stood there quite a while. I thought about letting him go. I thought about the people I miss. He shook his boxer jowls, his legs wobbling beneath him, the cart catching his weight.

He turned to look at me, and we trotted back the way we came, a little more tentatively, a little more aware.