Years ago, a psychologist friend commented to me that those who can laugh at themselves are usually emotionally healthy people and fun to be around. I think she would have liked Skwigg. My interview with her follows. -LF
My name is Renee. I’m known online as Skwigg. I’m from Kansas City. I’m 43 and I’ve been happily married to my husband Michael for 20 years. I don’t have any human kids. My “child” is an Australian Shepherd named Ripley. I work in broadcast operations, so I watch television for a living. I usually spend 40-50 hours per week sitting in front of a TV. It’s a good thing I like to workout!
Q. At what age did you begin training and what motivated you?
A. I started lifting weights when I was a teenager. I was inspired by the bodybuilder Rachel McLish. The early female bodybuilders looked more like today’s figure competitors, tiny and strong. I wanted to look like a little super hero too, so I started picking up heavy things.
Q. You write about the evolution of your workouts and your dietary practices. How did they come about? What is typical for you now?
A. I went from anorexic college student, to pudgy binge-eating vegetarian, to bodybuilding fanatic, to mixed martial artist, to . . . well, I don’t know what I am now. Balanced, I guess. And happy.
I used to be very obsessive about everything. I was addicted to nutrition software. I tracked every bite of food for years. I had a trainer and was at the gym five days a week for nearly a decade. I pushed myself to the limits. By the end of my martial arts phase I had broken my hand, my leg, two toes and a rib. I’d torn my ACL. I had a bad back, nerve damage and titanium hardware. I was exhausted and starting to really dread training. It slowly dawned on me that I was destroying myself and that maybe I should back it down a just a "bit" on the intensity level.
Since then I’ve made fun the priority. I’ve fallen in love with all kinds of new workouts like Pilates, kettlebells, and the TRX suspension trainer. I’ve totally relaxed my OCD food rules. Instead of worrying about calories and ratios, I tend to follow Michael Pollan’s wise suggestion, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” So, mostly healthy whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, nothing totally off limits, but I keep the portions under control.
Q. Do you take vitamins or other supplements?
A. I once took a part-time job at GNC to support my supplement habit. I needed that employee discount to buy all the protein bars, fat burners, meal replacement shakes, muscle builders, vitamins and miracle herbs I blew through every month. Thankfully, I’m over that. You don’t need mountains of pills and food substitutes if you’re eating a healthy and varied diet. I’m down to a multivitamin, calcium, and fish or flax oil. Occasionally, I’ll put a scoop of Sun Warrior rice protein in a smoothie.
Q. Generally, what are Skwigg workouts like? How often do you train and, on average, how much time do you spend at each session?
A. I walk the dog 3-5 miles up and down hills every morning. If we’re feeling squirrely we throw in some sprints. The total time is usually an hour or more. Three or four days a week I’ll follow the dog cardio with a total body strength workout. I’m not interested in time-consuming body part splits and isolation exercises. I like shorter, more intense, metabolic resistance workouts, usually about 30 minute sessions. I’m a big fan of body weight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, dips, and walking lunges. I mix those up with kettlebell training and my TRX suspension trainer. I also love Pilates and will use that as at least one of my total body workouts each week. It does wonders for my core strength and has eliminated my lower back pain.
Q. Do you train at home or at a gym or health club?
A. I was a gym rat forever but now I’m happy doing my own thing at home. I’ve learned so much from great trainers like Alwyn Cosgrove, Craig Ballantyne and Valerie Waters. I follow their principles when putting together my own workouts. I also like to catch a solo session at the Pilates studio whenever I can.
Q. If you had to pick one indispensable piece of exercise equipment, what would it be and why?
A. I’d say a kettlebell. One kettlebell is a complete gym. You can train strength, flexibility, cardio, and endurance all in one shot.
Q. What advice would you give out-of-shape beginners wanting to get fit?
A. Don’t do anything radical at first, just get moving. You don’t need to choose a hardcore six day per week routine and start setting your alarm for 4:00 am. Workout at the time that’s most convenient for you and start with something you genuinely enjoy. Also, keep in mind that fitness is more than just the minutes spent on a treadmill or in a gym. Your activity level throughout the day has a big impact on your results. So, move it as much as possible.
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