We're Different– Together.

Motivational Monday: Scientist Finds Her Formula for Fitness!

I met Oana while training group classes at Invicta Fitness in Pasadena. My brother Jake had already told me about this girl who had been coming to classes, working ridiculously hard, and making incredible progress. She now trains with me twice a week (in addition to her rowing and circuit-training classes), where she is learning basic barbell movements like the squat, deadlift, and overhead press. Her motivation is infectious, and her DAILY progress is a true testament to hard work and smart training. In a few short months, she’s lost weight AND GAINED a ton of muscle, which is pretty tough to do. Now she’s ripping heavy things off the floor at work, wrenching open jars, and otherwise wreaking all kinds of lab havov (she’s a scientist!)Check out the transformation in her own words. :)

“What Doesn’t Kill Me Had Better Start Running”

I am a scientist. I’ve worked in a lab for the past 9 years, living in the high-stress world of research. Long hours on your feet, poor diet, sporadic exercise–some sports here and there–fencing in college, some climbing in graduate school–got hurt: a dislocated kneecap here, a broken toe there. For the past several years, I just got very good at making excuses for myself when it comes to physical activity. I was just “too tired” to do this or “too busy” to do that.

164lbs and incredibly out of shape is what I was rocking when I moved to California from the East Coast a year ago after getting my PhD.

After a couple of months of working at Caltech I had some health woes and tried to eat better–managed to get down to around 150lbs. Man-drama then emerged (there’s always that). Hell hath no fury as they say. But realistically speaking, I suddenly realized I had spent most of my adult life trying to make other people happy. There is nothing wrong with that, but I needed to find something that made me happy and just go do it. I had always wanted to be fit, but it never really happened- so I decided I needed to get over my aversion of gyms and the beautiful, intimidating people and do something.


oana before

“Then.” Size 6, 145 lbs.

I Decided I Needed to Start “Going to the Gym”

I had no idea what that meant. I had looked through the window of a gym before and saw people staring around at each other. Some ripped dude lifting something Heculean-looking in a corner… Not intimidating at all… Oy Vey.

I’m a big fan of formal training and know I am historically really bad at self-motivating myself. I needed something or someone that could teach me this whole workout business and how to keep at it. The prospects seemed pretty grim.

I have been in school for 21 years now and before 7 months ago, I had never stepped foot into a gym for a “workout”. I had always judged the “beautiful people” with their perfect arms and abs and always thought to myself, “They are not me.”

I had “stuff” to do and was busy being an academic. Did I really? No, not really. I just was avoiding the truth. I was lazy and chubby had just let myself go down a spiral of making excuses for myself. It was on!

I googled “Gym 91106” and the rest is history. I found it.



My it was this mysterious place called Invicta Fitness [Invicta is the female declination of Unconquered, thank you Latin class!]. My first time there, one of the trainers was kind enough to ease me into workouts with a one-on-one session, since I wouldn’t have survived any of the classes and I am not exaggerating.

Even so, I had to excuse myself to go throw up from exertion twice. That was so humbling and motivating that I can’t begin to explain. So I decided to make the best my Groupon and get tough and push through the soreness of the classes. No more excuses about “not having time”- you make time to take a shower, brush your teeth and do laundry on a regular basis. I just added Invicta to my schedule. And it’s not something I cancel lightly. I’ve now been training at Invicta for 7 months as often as I can physically do it.

After the first couple of classes at Invicta it dawned on me that exercise and fitness is just exactly like going to school, and man do I go to school- I mean it’s literally what I do. When you’re young you go to school every day, you take a class, you do your homework, you show up, rinse and repeat. You generally have a goal to get a degree, and like a heat-seeking missile you power through all those horrible electives. (Does one ever really need to know how the ancient Greeks washed their feet? I don’t think so).

Regardless of the topic, knowledge doesn’t possess you overnight. It takes time and sustained effort to cement concepts, it takes years for you to make it from Gen Chem to Orgo.  And then you start liking it because you get good at it. And next thing you know you get a degree in it!

Fitness is fortunately exactly the same. After a while, you accumulate a certain amount of know-how, gains, agility, mobility and the ability to live and jump around better. And you start liking it more and more as you get more in shape and your body is becoming a fine-tuned machine.

The Muscles Are Coming

So I want to be one of the beautiful people. I want to be strong. I want to lift all of the heavy things. I want to adventure! I want to compete with myself every day! Every morning, the new me is a little fitter than yesterday’s me. Sure, that all looks great on a sticker, but when reality knocks… you’re still on the “heavy side” and you still cringe at the thought of a pushup or a plank…

I can’t do that all at once, especially when you feel the jiggle in your abdomen when you walk around and your flabby arms are flailing in the wind. It’s tough when you’re crawling your way into holding plank. Every time though, I push a little harder, a little more, an extra squat, an extra overhead press, a shade heavier on the kettlebell, or not… because it’s painful and you’ve lost all feeling in your arms, or legs, or your entire body…

The muscles are coming. Hang in there.

Day 1 I started off with barely being able to hold a 5lb. dumbbell up. One dumbbell. And I needed two arms to do it. I remember thinking to myself that my arms were going to fall off doing overhead presses. Thank you Epsom Salt baths- I am sure I may be single-handedly responsible for the quarries running dry. Oops. Sorry about that!

4 months later, 6 pants sizes less (size 0?! I kid you not-)- man do I have a story for you. My own mother can hardly believe it [love you Mom!].

2nd day deadlifting with the olympic bar

2nd day deadlifting with the olympic bar

During this initial training period- some more of the health troubles emerged. I had to get emergency surgery, got a stent placed in my left kidney, but I just had to keep on going. Afterwards, my doctor was frankly amazed at my range of motion and my ability to move and exercise with it in place. There were some bad days, but exercise and no longer being overweight had actually made the whole health adventure 1000 times less bad than what it could have been and was able to recover in record time.

first 8 weeks

It’s been 7 months now and I cannot remember a time that I felt better in my entire life. I have found this new “fitness-loving” me that I never knew existed. I find myself thinking about workouts and goals and perfecting form for the movements we do and I just love it. It’s not something that I am forcing myself to do, it’s something I grew to enjoy and look forward to.

Diet – Ask for Help and Advice to Find What Works for You!

Pretty sure I read this on a motivational poster somewhere, but some people diet and exercise, other people eat well and train. As a female, my hormonal predisposition is to store fat. And man, do I pack those pounds like a champ. I could tell you all about body changes and hormones, but that will be for a different time.

Nutrition and workouts go hand in hand when talking about fitness. Richie has really helped talk me through food do’s and don’ts and I have identified what works for me.

Depending on your exercise regime, you may want to alter your diet to accommodate your goals and the way your body handles food. In my case, I exercise what one would call “a lot” (1-2hrs/day, 4-5 days a week consistently) so I need to compensate for the calories. I count calories using this app called “myfitnesspal”. It’s pretty nifty- you can even scan barcodes for the food you’re having. This app lets you track your caloric intake and breakdown within the trifecta (protein, fat, carbohydrate). If you have questions about what and how you should be eating to fit your lifestyle and daily activities, do ask for help and advice from nutrition-savvy people [and make sure they’re not some shaman trying to sell you eucalyptus leaves].

Ultimately you need the mass for the muscle building to come from somewhere. You have to feed the beast! You also need to drop the beer and the processed sugars ( Yes, I do feed myself a Caramel Macchiato in the am to take the edge off and have an emergency margarita on occasion, but I count it all and cheating is allowed.) I usually ingest something around 1900 calories a day with a spread of 50/30/20 carbs/protein/fat- and I do enjoy my eggwhite protein coconut almond milk shakes.

In my humble opinion, losing weight is absurd if all you’re doing is literally starving yourself so that you can fit in that dress. Who cares if you’re giving yourself ulcers eating nothing but kale and three olives a day for a month? Especially when you’ll just celebrate with a Big Mac after you’ve reached your skinny goal. Sure, we all have this “skinny” we want to be. We should have a “healthy” and something we can sustain in the long term and improve on.


rest day

My favorite. The resort and spa time.

You get weekends off from school and Summer and Winter and Thanksgiving and Spring Breaks. You have to know your limits. It does not count as quitting. It doesn’t help anyone that you are performing at 20% if you’re absolutely exhausted. You’re likely on your way to burning out and getting injured [ I work in a chemistry lab so sleepy tired and achy is no bueno] so stop it. Go take a nap or three! It soothes the soul! It clears the mind. Sleep allows your muscles to recover and grow.

I nap every chance I get. And I sleep like a baby. I’ve historically had trouble sleeping well, but those days are over.

The Now, and the Next

I’m going to continue exercising. The worst has passed. I am slowly getting into shape.

I would like to continue to get stronger. Handstands are pretty cool. I’d like to be able to do them. The thing is, I now know I can. I just need to be patient and the strength will come.

I can now open my own jars (YES!!!) and have more energy than I’ve ever had.

I am healthier and am living better and keeping at it. I have a Percent Body Fat goal of 17%, and I will get there. I started off at 32%, am down to 21% and 128lbs… 4% more to go and it keeps on getting more fun as I progress.

Maybe I’ll get to compete in something at some point- those obstacle races look like a lot of fun.

Hope people read this and it helps them to start moving and finding their fit selves. Walking, Running, Climbing, doing a Spartan Race, going to the gym for a couple of classes. Fitness will change your life irreversibly, and that is a fact.



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