My Hard Gainer Fitness Routine

As I mentioned earlier this week, my workout journey has been a long, winding road but I’m in a place now where I feel like sharing it might help others reach their own health and fitness goals. So, here I am.

Since finding Lyzabeth Lopez, I’ve been in a place where I finally feel like my formula is working. But, it was a long time getting there. In this post, I’ll share the fitness side of my formula. In upcoming posts, I’ll focus on calories/macros and tracking, as well as supplements. Plus, I’ll share how I eat (this is my weakest link, I think), and in another post, I’ll try to lay out how I’m staying on track with all this. I’m very consistent and I’d like to think it’s because of how I’ve set up my routine and my schedule. So, I’ll share that.

So, back to fitness. As I mentioned in my previous post, my first ever lifting workout (recently, anyway) was from Simply Shredded. It was a 12-week program. I think it was a success for me because of its simplicity. Essentially, the routine was a four-week one that you repeated three times. The first four weeks was high reps up to 15, the second was lower around 10 and the third was only about four to six. The idea was that you got used to the exercises at low weight, high rep and as you gained strength and confidence, you could lift heavier. By the end, I was shocked at how much I was able to bench press and squat. I did this one a few cycles through before finding Lopez.

Train with Lyzabeth

Lopez has two separate workout options. The first, Train with Lyzabeth (TWL), is a fitness and meal plan product that you pay for once and you have it for life. It’s pricey but she offers discounts and I found a discount code online when I purchased it for $50. It is well worth the money. Although her website is a bit clunky to navigate at first you will soon find it has everything you need, if you put in the time to review it all.

First of all, she has downloadable meal plans. You select the one you want so in my case it’s the muscle building plan. Most ladies go for the classic plan but she also has a vegan option and others that are geared toward more specialized nutrition needs. The cool part is you don’t have to stick with the one you purchase. She will let you try others once you’re in the group. I also have the vegan plan though I still haven’t tried it yet! I’ll explain the plans more in detail in a future post.

Since I’m focusing on the workouts in this post, I’ll share that she has both a downloadable pdf and an online version of the workout. The online version has the videos of her doing the exercises so you can learn how to do them, correct form, what to look out for, etc. What’s great is that it works very well on my phone. So, I just bring up the workout for the day right on my phone and follow along. This workout is actually a 20-day workout done three times in a row for three months. She programs five days a week but some girls do fewer days and it all works out in the end.

The workouts all have clever names but essentially, you do about two leg workouts a week and two to three upper body with abs and sometimes metabolic conditioning thrown in. Metabolic conditioning or METCON is a high intensity workout that gets your heart pumping but also builds muscle. She also advises that you should add cardio. Depending on your goals, you might do it once to three times a week and it looks different for various goals. For me, I’m trying to build so I do bike sprints which build your legs. Other ladies might do sprints or other types of cardio depending on what they’re trying to achieve.

And here is the first place where I’ve made the TWL program my own – I tend to only do one cardio a week, maybe two. I found when I did more than that I lost weight and/or had difficulty making gains. Lifting weights is work enough and I often get my heart rate up plus I’m an active person all day. So, the lack of a ton of cardio works for me.


So, the second product from Lopez is a workout app she released fall 2017. I have a year subscription to that, as well. It’s cool because it allows for more flexibility and fun and you can’t possibly get bored. You still get your training videos but it’s easier to follow on your phone than her original program.

Equipment Needed

Over the past two years, I’ve learned what kind of equipment and items I need at the gym and how to adjust the workouts so I can get in and out in about an hour. I often do the exercises out of order to fit them in and sometimes I substitute other exercises when I don’t have access to something I need. Below is a list of equipment I have with links to the exact items, where appropriate:

I also use my phone to track the weights I’m using so I can constantly strive to lift heavier. I track this in my bullet journal, as well, which I’ll share more about in my post about tips for success. Lopez encourages tracking, as well, and her program comes with a downloadable tracking guide that you can pop into a three ring binder and use. I did that the first time through but found that the binder was too much and I do better keeping it with the rest of my life in a bullet journal.

I review the workouts the night before so I can familiarize myself with the exercises and figure out my game plan. Often, I watch her tutorial videos for the exercises once more to make sure I have the form down. The more I do the exercises the more comfortable I become. Plus, I find that going to the gym early in the morning, I see the same people and it’s not intimidating to me to be in the free weight area. I feel like the other people are family even though I barely know them. Some of them wave, others just keep to themselves. (I do a mix of both.)

But, I would say if you are truly scared to death about lifting a gym full of mostly men, try the app at home first and get used to the exercises. (The traditional, 20-day program really can’t be done at home.) Then, try the gym at a less busy time or find a partner to go with. Safety in numbers, right? Some other gym/home apps I’ve come across are below.


In between and since landing on my current routine, I’ve also been introduced to others, including the SWEAT app, which features Kayla Itsines and Kelsey Wells, as well as a yoga instructor. I tried it for a few workouts but it really wasn’t for me. I didn’t like the way it cycled through and it sort of felt like I was in a race. But, on the bright side, I did love the workouts Wells featured and have since been following her on Instagram. She posts workout videos and writes out her exercise routines in the captions of her posts. I’ve enjoyed quite a few of her workouts when I just want a little something different and off my routine.


One Saturday morning at the gym, I was there a bit later than usual and an older woman nearby seemed to be doing a similar workout app to Lyzabeth Lopez! I got a little excited thinking there was a comrade! But, when I asked her, she told me she was doing the Nike app, a free app that has dozens of workout routines, depending on your interest and level. What I like about this one is that it allows you to try a workout app to see if you like workout this way. It has all the key features of a good fitness app, including videos to show you how to do the exercises, timers, a search feature and a save feature. I still go to this app every once in a while when I just need a quick yoga routine or ab workout.

The Yoga Collective

Some of the ladies in the TWL group shared a Groupon with me for a year’s subscription to The Yoga Collective for just $12 so I purchased it. I have only been using it a short while but so far, it appears to be a great way to get a good yoga workout in at home. I will say it’s challenging for me to find the space and quiet time to do it but it’s there for when I figure that out! Here and there I’ve followed countless other routines that I find on social media or in magazines.

Couple Extra Tips for Success

I am very focused on form with my lifting. I watch the videos carefully and I try hard to emulate exactly what the trainer is doing. It has also been effective for me to really think about the muscles I’m using, because it focuses on them, consistent with correct form and building the muscle in the most efficient way.

It’s also recommended that you take lots of selfies along the way. This helps you see your own progress. Have you ever noticed that when you see someone every day you may not notice they are losing or gaining weight? But, someone you hardly ever see, you can definitely see changes right away? Well, that’s why pictures help. Now, I am very uncomfortable taking my own selfies and I hardly ever do it but every once in a while I try. Here are two I’ve taken recently – one last month and one just this morning. As you can see, I’m not great at photos! But, it’s supposed to help so I try!

What else do you want to know about my fitness routine? Comment below and I’ll answer! Or, if you have a great routine you follow, please share!


Wine for Sharing My Workout Journey – Part 1

A few years ago I became very interested in fitness again. I say again because back in college was when I first got the lifting bug. I would go to the SUNY Geneseo gym with my friend who taught me a ton of exercises. I figured some out on my own, as well, from watching others and I logged countless miles on the Stairmaster, which in the 1990s was all the rage.

When I first graduated from college, I continued to go to the gym but I mostly did the machines and not too many free weights at all. I’m not even sure what routine, if any, I followed because I honestly don’t remember back that far! But, I recall at least going every day after work.

As the years went by I continued to go every day and a couple years before Maria was born I met and worked with my first personal trainer. His name was Tony and he owned a tiny gym associated with a physical therapy place in Liverpool. Tony was a former trainer for the New York Yankees and he was awesome. He would just wander around the small gym offering tips and tricks and his ab workouts were amazing. When he sold his gym I continued to go, paying for my very first personal training sessions. That’s when it began – my love affair with weightlifting.

I had kids, went through lots of personal stuff and got out of my routine but when Christopher turned two or thereabouts, the new Y opened near our house and I went back. I quickly remembered all of what I loved about weightlifting but there was one thing missing – I needed a roadmap – a journey, and a goal – a destination. I loved going but didn’t know what to do with myself once there. Plus, I really wanted to look better. I was tired of looking so skinny all the time. I wanted a few curves!

I began to voraciously read everything I could online about lifting for women. I knew what my goals were and I Googled relentlessly trying to find the magic formula. I searched Pinterest looking for workouts and recipes and I started following everyone I could find on social media for inspiration. The first lifting workout I landed on was pinned by Jersey Girl Talk, a 30-something professional woman in New Jersey who blogs about fitness, health and beauty. She shared a bit about her own journey and as I read her experience it was like looking in a mirror. I, too, was sick of being skinny. I, too, wanted to look and feel better. So, I tried the workout she shared from Simply Shredded. For the first time ever, I was growing muscles! I was so proud of myself and that summer I regained my confidence and wore short shorts again for the first time in years.

Jersey Girl Talk ended up becoming my primary motivator and educator for the months that followed. She would post workout videos, recipes and supplement regimens, all of which I tried. She would post about sales on workout gear and I found a few stores I never knew sold activewear, such as Forever 21, and I bought new clothes that made me feel feminine and strong.

Everything was giving me confidence and I was thrilled. I even read a few books on lifting for women, including “The New Rules  of Lifting for Women,” which was a bible of all the exercises and things to know. Honestly, lifting as a female is really no different than it is for a male. We all have our goals and the path to get there is a similar road. Everything was going great that first year until…I hit a plateau. I was bored. I wasn’t gaining. I wasn’t even feeling that great. So, back to the drawing board I went and lo and behold, one day I stumbled onto a website that has changed my life, literally.

I searched for “workout plans for hard gainers” one day, after learning that was what the fitness world called people like me who have trouble gaining muscle and weight. One thing led to another and I found Lyzabeth Lopez, a personal trainer with dozens of health and fitness certifications, based in Toronto, Canada. She had an online program that was perfect. After locating a coupon I purchased it for $50. It’s a one-time purchase that has paid great dividends so far – I now have a formula for success, her Muscle Gain program, which is a combination of a workout and meal plan. What’s more, I’ve found my “people,” and I’ve found something that works that I have not gotten bored with – I feel better than I have in years.

In my next few posts, I’ll explain all that I’ve learned from Lyzabeth, including how to set your goals, how to figure out how many calories are right for you to eat each day and what percentage of protein, carbs and fat you should have. I’ll explain how I arrived at my vitamin and supplement regimen, and what I’m striving for in terms of meals. Finally, I’ll explain how I became addicted to my 5:30 a.m. gym time, what I do and how I do it.  I don’t simply preach what Lyzabeth says, but I’ve made it my own. I don’t even follow every single one of her rules, some because I can’t and others because it won’t work for me personally. I’ll explain how I figured all of that out.

Why do these posts now? In the past week, two women in my life, both on different health and fitness journeys, have marveled at how much I know about health and fitness and bodybuilding for women. One said I really should consider sharing it more widely for others. So, here I am.

One rule of Lyzabeth’s that I break? I enjoy wine. She doesn’t condone it much at all, except maybe for special occasions. And, while I’m on a bit of a break from wine during Lent, my husband and I are treating Sundays as the feast days they are, and have chosen to enjoy wine on Sundays. Today, I’ll make my famous eggplant parmesan and we’ll enjoy a yummy Barolo he picked up. Because I believe we all have to have the things we enjoy in life. I believe we can, and can still meet our health and fitness goals. It just might take us a bit longer! Cheers!


Wine for the Olympics (Olympics for Wine)

The Winter Olympics are on in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and it’s one of the only times I actually watch regular television. We got rid of cable years ago and hardly ever watch network TV, preferring instead Netflix and Amazon Prime. And, I have to say, I don’t miss network TV at all. I mean, it’s the most frustrating thing to have two minutes of commercials literally every two minutes, not to mention the constant yammering on of the commentators. I wish they added value but they just don’t. Take figure skating, for example. We often wonder what music they’re skating to but no one ever says. In fact, we can barely hear the music over the incessant talking between the two commentators.

While we’re on the subject of figure skating, let me say it’s my favorite Olympic sport to watch but I never get to see it because it’s on too late. I guess maybe if I lived in a different time zone but, for now, I have to read about it on social media and search in vain for video clips of what I missed. It’s sad.

It got me thinking… would it be different if I was more into all the sports, instead of just interested in skating? What if they made wine into an Olympic sport? A few years ago, Netflix released a documentary called, “SOMM.” It followed several young people who were studying for the dreaded and prestigious sommelier exam. The exam has several parts, if I understand correctly, and through the film, we were able to be flies on the wall for some portions of it. They have to prove they can serve wine, and they are given tables to wait on. They also have to prove they can identify wine in a blind taste test, and there is a written exam. Much of the process is in secret, but what if it wasn’t?

I would totally watch people try to taste. We could see the score on the screen or maybe even the answers at the end. We could watch them botch a table service or drop a tray, just like when skiers wipe-out on the slopes. We could get behind these would-be master sommeliers, just as we do the athletes. I think I could be on to something!

The commercials would be much more interesting to watch, to me, since they’d likely be about food and wine. Plus, the stories that accompanied the wine Olympic games would be more interesting to me. They’re filming the next installment of “SOMM” now. I can’t wait to see what’s in store. My own “winolympics.” Cheers!

cross and wine glass with red wine

A Wine for Va”Lent”ine’s Day

Faithful followers may recall in the past I’ve given up wine for Lent. Sometimes, that’s gone well; other times? Well, let’s just say I was a bit grouchier for those 40 to 45 days!

As a “wine blogger,” I struggled with the idea of giving it up again this year. In a way, wine is work for me, when you consider this blog. That being said, I have to say that the nights where I don’t have a glass of wine before bed, I sleep SO much better. I know it impacts my sleep and it might be interesting to further test that theory!

What’s more, Lent is about sacrifice and this is a BIG sacrifice for me and would be a hardship that would force me to truly “suffer.” The icing on the cake that prompted me to go ahead and commit to giving up wine was my husband. He decided to give up wine for Lent. I’ve never had a partner in crime before on my Lenten sacrificial journey. I think it would be a nice way for us to reconnect and support each other in our faith.

This year, Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent and the first day of “fasting,” fell on Valentine’s Day, which posed an interesting problem! We decided together that we would open the sparkling wine that came in my First Leaf shipment as a celebration of the holiday and would begin our sacrifice the next day.

So far, so good without the wine but it’s only been a night! Weekend might be tough! Good thing the husband bought some yummy herbal tea to take its place.

As they say, you definitely can have “too much of a good thing.” So, maybe it’s good to want sometimes and to take breaks from the things we enjoy. That way, we enjoy them that much more when we can get back to them again.

As for this blog, no worries! For the next 40 days or so, I’ll still post but it won’t be about the wine I’m drinking currently. There is plenty to share, including wine book reviews, restaurant reviews (including one overdue review from our trip to Laci’s Tapas Bar for our anniversary) and thoughts on wines I’d love to try and regions I’d love to visit…someday. Meantime, cheers (as I hold up my cup of tea)!

lucia praying

Wine for First Penance

My middle child experienced a rite of Catholic passage this past weekend when she made her first penance. Catholics believe in confession of our sins as a way to be forgiven and live anew. We all make mistakes and this allows us to atone for those errors in judgment and become closer to God in the process.

Typically a child has a first reconciliation experience a few months before their First Holy Communion, which for Lucia will take place in May. Lucia did a great job. Many children are scared to death to confess to a priest for the very first time. And while she really had wanted to see her own priest, she was fortunate enough to meet with another local, young priest, who was generous and kind with her.

She said her prayers and afterward lit a candle to symbolize the “light turning back on” and her beginning anew. She grabbed her certificate and we left. I asked her if she felt better since often I feel better after going to confession. She said not really. But, it was her first time!

It’s exhilarating to watch your child do something impactful for the very first time and it reminds me of things that I really should be doing to model behaviors and actions. In fact, last month, I took Lucia with me to confession so she could see that grownups do it, too! Children really do keep you honest!

In my last post I mentioned the two wines we enjoyed over the weekend, both from Icellars Estate, Niagara-On-The-Lake, Canada. Really, anything goes for a big day like Lucia had. We went all out with a big, juicy red and some yummy pasta, making us both happy after a long day!



Wine for a Hurt Paw

Pets are a lot like children. They need constant care and feeding, playtime, discipline and all your love. They also are not immune to accidents. Saturday afternoon around 4 p.m. we had our first experience with the emergency vet clinic. I let Daisy out as usual and when she came back in her paw was bleeding all over the place. I immediately laid her down and called for help. Everyone came running. We couldn’t determine what was wrong and even though we wrapped it tightly, it didn’t stop. To make matters more challenging, we couldn’t find the special pencil thingie that stops bleeding.

We called our regular vet and a voice mail advised us to go to a clinic across town. We weren’t too sure about it for a variety of reasons not the least of which was the distance. Plus, we sort of remembered there might be one in Camillus or Baldwinsville. Luckily, we were right. I grabbed my things and put her in the car, headed for the Veterinary Clinic and Emergency Care Center about 12 minutes from our home.

Daisy was a good girl throughout the ordeal. She was a little hyper when we arrived but the clinic staff were quick to respond and they took her back immediately while I checked in. I didn’t have but a minute to text the family to tell them we had arrived when Daisy came out as good as new. Turns out she had torn her dew claw completely off. We have NO idea how or where she did that. A bandage for about 24 hours and now she’s as good as new.

If you live in the northern suburbs of Syracuse and every require emergency vet care, I highly recommend the VECCC. They were friendly, efficient and caring. I was in and out in less than 10 minutes. All told, the entire experience from when Daisy came in to when we arrived back home safe and sound was only about 40 minutes.

Needless to say after the adrenaline rush of the whole thing, I was ready for a glass of wine. Good thing we had our choice of the Icellars Estates reds that my husband brought back from Canada. I enjoyed the Syrah with our creamy tortellini and tomato soup, and the Arinna with our Instant Pot pizza pasta (which is so good, it’s like crack!) the following evening.

That means there’s only one bottle left of our special Canadian stash, besides a couple of ice wines in the fridge, which last forever. We’d better make that one count! Cheers!


Featured on MovingBabies


“No” Wine for a Week

This past week, and the week before it, have been crazy busy in our household. Jon has had back to back opera performances, which means lots of rehearsals nearly every evening. I’m not used to doing the evening routine alone every single night! It’s not necessarily hard but because it’s not the norm, it’s left me completely exhausted. I literally have been getting up at 5 a.m. and haven’t relaxed until 8:30 or 8:45 p.m. every single day.

I don’t tell you this as a sob story because it’s totally fine. I share this because it’s meant I have not had a single glass of wine this entire week! Usually, on normal evenings, I sit down around 8 p.m. with Jon and we open a bottle of something. Without Jon, I hesitate to open a bottle that I know I’ll only drink one glass from. Plus, I’ve been so tired, the last thing I want is a glass. I really just want bed! LOL.

But, not having wine this week reminds me that although I truly enjoy trying all different kinds and thinking about them in the context of my daily life and times, I don’t “need” to drink wine. In fact, I’ve slept a whole lot better and more soundly! Of course, I’ll never know if it’s because I haven’t had that night-cap or if it’s my intensely long days of working out, work (which has been insane due to a crisis project), teaching, kids’ activities (swimming two nights and piano the third night) and general household chores.

Tonight, I’m headed to Jon’s opera performance at Syracuse University’s Setnor School of Music. They are doing a modernized, English translation of Gianni Schicchi. Maybe we’ll have a glass of wine after the performance. I’ll get right on that! Cheers!

journaling, drinking water and eating steel cut oats

Wine for Perseverance

colaneri estate winery

Wine for a Road Trip to Canada

Faithful readers know that a couple of years ago, my husband and I made a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada to spend a few days and nights in wine country. We had a wonderful time and fell in love with one winery that had just opened literally days before we visited, Icellars Estate Winery.

Although we did purchase bottles from them, we drank them almost immediately and then missed them; you can’t purchase their wine here in the United States so we’ve been out of luck, following them on social media and wishing we could try the new vintages. The owner even commented back to me once that perhaps I could do a barrel tasting sometime!

At any rate, my husband decided that for Christmas he would surprise me and he made the trip in one day to Niagara-on-the-Lake to get some wine for me from my favorite winery there. The border patrol thought he was crazy, driving all that way for a few bottles of wine but he made it across and on to the winery.

After a minor snafu with the credit card not working (he had to drive to the nearest “petrol” station for an ATM), he procured a few bottles of my favorites. Plus, he did a barrel tasting! He even carefully brought a pipet back to me in a sealed jar. It probably wasn’t exactly the same but even so, how cool is that?

We’ve already enjoyed one bottle but there are a couple left in the wine fridge that we’ll open sooner rather than later. He also stopped at a nearby winery, Colaneri Estate, and picked up a few of their wines, which we also enjoy. They use the Appassimento style, where the grapes are dried in the sun a bit before the wine is made. It’s popular in Italy and brings out interesting, full flavors in the wine.

How far have you gone to get a favorite wine? I’d love to hear your story; share in the comments below! Cheers!

rigatoni with meat sauce in the instant pot

Wine for an Instant Pot

Happy new year! I have been so focused on goal setting and other projects that this blog has taken a back seat for a couple of weeks. But, I’m all set to get back into the swing of posting. One new development I’ve been wanting to share with you is the addition of an Instant Pot to the Howell kitchen.

I received one from my husband this past Christmas and it’s been interesting! The first couple of recipes we tried were pretty good – macaroni and cheese, chicken soup and hard boiled eggs. My husband made a yummy goulash for New Year’s Eve and I’ve since been doing weekly meal prep, including steel cut oats for breakfast each day, as well as lots of other dinner recipes.

For the most part, it’s delicious, fresh food prepared quickly but if I’m being honest, it’s not that much faster than stove top or oven, depending on the recipe. One of the recipes I tried was Portugese Tomato Rice and Shrimp and that bombed. It burned the bottom of the pot and caused it not to pressure cook as it was intended to. That gave me pause and I was nervous the next couple of times I used it, but I’m still using it a few times a week.

I am using a combination of recipes I find on Pinterest, along with three cookbooks I received for Christmas, as well. Tonight, we had rigatoni with meat sauce and I also made banana bread steel cut oats for breakfast for the week.

I’ve cooked with wine in the instant pot but as far as wine that goes with it, really anything goes! We’ve enjoyed so many yummy dishes from steamed fish and veggies that went well with a Chardonnay to pasta dishes with Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you’ve been contemplating an Instant Pot and you are interested in preparing fresh, delicious food for your family in an efficient way, I definitely recommend it. It’s a great addition to our kitchen. In fact, I haven’t even stored it yet! Even the crock pot goes from the basement to our kitchen counter on a somewhat weekly basis. The Instant Pot still hasn’t made it’s way down; it’s being used that much!

If you’ve tried it or if you do try it, please comment below and let me know what you think. Better yet, share your favorite recipe! Cheers!