Exercise 101 With The PCOS Personal Trainer Erika Volk

Welcome to Episode 3 of Season 4 of The PCOS Revolution podcast

In this episode, you’ll discover:

-What exercise strategies work best for PCOS if you’re just starting out or want a concrete plan

-How to get the most out of your home workouts

-The tremendous benefits of exercise for insulin resistance

To learn more about the PCOS Revolution Academy, click here!

About Our Guest:

Erika Volk, The PCOS Personal Trainer, guides women living with PCOS toward a lifestyle that gets their symptoms under control so that they have the time, energy, and confidence to thrive. She is a certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, and creator of the PCOS Fit Studio workout videos.  Erika was diagnosed with PCOS in 2005 and has been coaching women with PCOS since 2010. Through her personal experience and work with clients, she has discovered that exercise is a fantastic, PCOS-fighting tool.

—>>Download Erika’s Quick 10-Minute Workout Plan Here<<<—

Read Full Transcript

Farrar Duro: I’m Farrar Duro, and you’re listening to the PCOS Revolution Podcast.

Farrar Duro: Well, it’s probably no surprise to you guys that treating PCOS at the root takes time and a lot of effort. Even when working with our acupuncture patients one-on-one, there just isn’t enough time to really just sit down every week and make sure we’re on the right track with diet, supplements, herbs and self care, not to mention discussing all that’s involved with hormone testing and bbt or temperature charting. Now I’ve been searching for a way to fill in this gap for many years and to help as many women with PCOS as possible. So I developed the PCOS Revolution Academy. It’s a 100 percent completely online program that goes deeper into PCOS than any program I’ve seen and I wanted to invite you personally to become a founding member at thepcosrevolution.com.  That’s where I’m going to actually be inside of our private community holding your hand every step of the way, month after month, helping you get your PCOS symptoms under control once and for all.

Farrar Duro: And I’m super excited about it because each month we’re going to cover different topics through our live Q&A sessions inside of our private community to discuss issues like improving your fertility and regulating your cycle, naturally using the powerful combination of the right supplements and time-tested Chinese herbal medicine strategies that we use with our patients along with specific acupressure points that you can do at home. We’re also going to be talking about the perfect strategies for getting rid of fatigue and upping your libido, along with learning precisely the right amount of portions and how to eliminate cravings at their source at mealtime. We’ll also get into getting your exercise and meal planning in place so that you can incorporate it easily into your daily routine, and most importantly, you’re going to feel confident that for the rest of your life, even during pregnancy and beyond, you’re going to have a plan that you can rely on.

Farrar Duro: And I’m so looking forward to getting to know you and I want to make it easy for you to join. So here’s a special savings for you as one of my listeners. Just use the code “Podcast” to receive 20 percent off your first month and once again, go to The PCOSRevolution.com and sign up now to get this special founding member rate as a listener of my Podcast. I can’t wait to get started with you! Okay, let’s get back to the show!

Farrar Duro: Well, hello everyone and welcome back to the PCOS Revolution Podcast. We have today a special guest named Erica Volk. She’s known as the PCOS Personal Trainer, and she guides women living with PCOS towards a lifestyle that gets their symptoms under control so that they have time, energy, and competence to thrive. So besides being a personal trainer and a nutrition coach, she’s also the creator of The PCOS Fit Studio workout videos. Now, Erica was diagnosed with PCOS in 2005 and she’s been coaching women with PCOS since 2010. And through her personal experience and work with clients, she discovered that exercise is a wonderful tool for fighting PCOS. So welcome Erica!

Erika Volk: Hi!

Farrar Duro: If you could just tell me a little bit about what motivated you to start developing  an exercise program for women with PCOS and a little bit more about your background.

Erika Volk: Absolutely. Well, I made the program I wish I had had when I was first diagnosed with PCOS in 2005. It took me a while to get a diagnosis and I’m sure almost everyone listening can relate to that. In fact, I was diagnosed by my mom’s Obgyn just from my mother having a casual conversation with her about me and I think otherwise I probably would never, not never, but it would have been years before I got a proper diagnosis. And once I had received this diagnosis, I went to the doctor and I went to metabolic endocrinologist. I was struggling with my weight, acne, the whole package and people were saying just lose weight, just go to the gym. And I felt like that was kind of vague, you know, the more I Googled and the more I realized that there’s this huge deficit as far as where exercise actually works into your PCOS treatment plan. And since I personally had always been very interested in fitness, I started out doing Jane Fonda workouts with my mom when I was five, it was a natural fit for me to just kind of figure it out for myself. I’ve got a personal training certification and multiple certifications and after that I connected to some really wonderful people in the PCOS community who supported me. I developed a program that’s really based off of the best information we have right now about and exercise and PCOS.

Farrar Duro: Wonderful. It’s such a great resource and anyone in the world can do these online programs.  I’ve seen the different levels you have for different fitness abilities and it’s really amazing. A little bit about what types of exercise you recommend and what’s the best strategy as far as getting started?

Erika Volk: Okay. So those are two really good questions. So the answer I start with just getting started and the best type of exercise, no matter what situation you’re in, is the type of exercise that you will do. So I always recommend, what you need to start an exercise habit is just to pick something that appeals to you initially. Don’t worry about it being optimal and just get in the habit of moving every day in a way that makes you happy, that appeals to you, that you’re comfortable with, and once you feel like you’re consistent with making that time in your life, whether it’s 10 minutes a day or half an hour everyday, then move to looking into what might be some of the best types of workouts for PCOS. As far as the best types of exercise for PCOS, I would encourage everyone who is ready to take that next step to prioritize strength training improve your PCOS symptoms.

Erika Volk: And the reason why I say put strength training first as your number one priority is because it affects three, maybe four hormones, but three key hormones that we hear about a lot when we’re talking about PCOS. And those are testosterone and androgens, insulin and cortisol. And the case of testosterone, we’ve seen in medical studies that when women strength train their androgens go down. And insulin resistance is a condition that’s associated with diabetes and it’s been a long time established fact that working out in strength training is actually one of the best approaches to reducing your insulin resistance, and that is because our muscles are the number one consumers of glucose in our bloodstream. So the more muscle cells you have, the more you’re going to burn, so to speak, the glucose that you’re consuming every day, but not only that, it’s also been discovered is that the quality of your insulin receptor sites on a cellular level in your muscles improve when you are strength training.

Erika Volk: And recently there’s been some studies that suggest that strength training actually changes the expression of the genes associated with PCOS. So you are burning more sugar. Conversely, consuming more sugar because you have more muscle and you’re using it more often. The muscles that you do have are better at responding to the hormone insulin, so you’re driving down that high insulin level and then there might be some benefits on a genetic level. And then the third column of when I talked about was cortisol.  Exercise in general is great for reducing emotional stress and anxiety, but it actually affects your stress levels, on a real hormonal cellular level. So you know, the hormonal responses we have to emotional stress were really designed to prepare the body to move quickly because a long time ago when you felt stressed, saber tooth tigers were chasing after you, not because you have a deadline at work. So the best way to kind of expel some of that extra cortisol and those stress hormones is to actually get up and move and, in an intense movement.

Farrar Duro: Yes. And that’s something that if we think about the way that our lives are structured now, a lot of

Farrar Duro: Our patients and people basically commute to work and sometimes that takes about an hour sitting in the car (if you live in south Florida  or any major city) and another 45 minutes or an hour, you’re stuck in your car and then you’re stuck in your desk for another eight hours and then you are stuck in your car again on the way home and then you get home and you’re exhausted, so it’s like a kind of a never ending cycle there. How do women break the pattern and say, okay, I’m going to get my exercise in. I’m not gonna tell myself anymore that I don’t have the time. Where do you make the time and find it?

Erika Volk: Yeah, that is probably the number one barrier to getting started in keeping an exercise program going and there’s so many variables that come into not having time, but I think one simple step is just to start working out first thing in the morning and that’s because if you put yourself at the beginning of your day, first of all, you’re going to have better energy levels throughout the day, but you’re also going to have a little bit of a confidence boost because you’ve kind of checked off something. It seems to be really connected with people’s sense of pride when they, when they regularly get in a workout, they seem to feel more confident about themselves and their ability to do other things as well. So you’re getting kind of an emotional high and this physical, hormonal boost. And then the next thing like when I suggest that out of women’s mouths are like, oh, then I’m going to have to wake up earlier.

Erika Volk: And that’s really difficult because I’m tired. And , one thing that I would say is just start small. Don’t get into the all or nothing mentality here. Any amount of exercise is better than none at all. What I see happening is we start out really excited about working out and you want to go into the gym for an hour, which means we’re going to wake up at [5:00] AM before we go to work and pack all our makeup and hair stuff and get to the gym. And when a woman discovers that she can’t sustain that longterm, she gets really down on herself and I’m here to tell you that is a huge expectation to set for yourself and you shouldn’t feel bad that that’s not working for your lifestyle. So instead of saying, well, if I can’t do it all, I’m just going to do nothing. Maybe you just start with popping in a workout video or just doing something on your own in your pajamas, in your bedroom before you hop in the shower every morning. And maybe that is just 10 minutes, but two, you’ve got the ball rolling.

Farrar Duro: And I know we spoke about this a our 30 day private facebook group a couple of days ago, a little q and a session there. And we had a question come in that said, I’m just, I have a gym phobia. And so that comes up a lot. And could you talk a little bit about some of the clients you’ve worked with, how they got over that?

Erika Volk: This is real and I get it. There’s this whole, I think almost mystique around fit people that they’re somehow better or more capable than people that aren’t really into fitness or don’t work out on a regular basis. So for, as a personal trainer, let me just strike that from your mind. We all have our flaws, but just one of my individual gifts is that I’m attracted to working out and I find it really easy to get into a routine just like,  my best friends an accountant and one of her natural gifts is that she’s really good with numbers and money. And if I compared myself to her when I’m doing my family’s financial planning, I’d probably feel pretty bad about myself. But those just aren’t my gifts. And so if you are trapped in this comparison trap or this idea that you don’t belong in a gym because you’re not as good as all these other folks that have been here since they came in the summer, winter and fall, didn’t just show up for new year’s resolutions, you know, give yourself a break and give yourself some time to get good at this whole showing up at the gym and working out.

Erika Volk: And I guess the second point to that would be invested in some workout clothes you feel good at. Don’t wait until you’ve dropped a certain amount of weight to go out to an athletic store and just get a couple of nice workout outfits that make you feel like you’re putting your best foot forward. There’s some magic in clothes.

Farrar Duro: Definitely. And just getting started. It’s like telling yourself, I’m just going to go and I don’t care. Shut up voice. If you tell me that I can’t go because of this or that and all these different excuses, just to ignore that little voice in your head sometimes that’s just telling you that and just do it. And it becomes a routine, like you said, it just takes, I think, going and getting there and just getting that routine in place and ignoring the little voice that says everyone’s going to stare at you.

Erika Volk: You know, to your point about  worrying that everybody’s staring at you, everybody’s going to the gym to work on themselves, they’re not interested in you. And if they are watching you, they’re kind of a creepy weirdo!

Farrar Duro: Everybody’s at different levels, obviously, unless you’re going somewhere where there’s professional athletes training or something, you know, that they’re all in different. Everyone’s in different levels, in different places. So it’s really, counterproductive. like you said, to compare yourself. but I think it’s just human nature sometimes.

Erika Volk: it is. It’s such a trap that we all do it.

Farrar Duro: And you have developed a Freebie for our listeners to help them get started talk a little bit about what’s in that listed in our show notes.

Erika Volk: Okay. Well, I think what I set up today on my new website is a giveaway for my Do It Yourself Strength Training guide. As I just mentioned before, I think strength training is super important for everyone with PCOS and this guide will just break down for you the basic steps of what a good, solid no-frills kind of strength training program would look like. So that you can do it yourself.

Farrar Duro: Very cool. Okay, so that’s a good start. Definitely. And what do you need to do it with? Just your own hand weights or resistance bands or what sort of things?

Erika Volk: So, there’s all different kinds of pieces of equipment that you could use. the guide itself doesn’t use one exclusively. So you could do dumbbells, you could use machines, you could use a suspension trainer, just a great piece of equipment for working out at home. Those resistance bands that you can get off Amazon for a few bucks. All of those pieces of equipment would work with this guide.

Farrar Duro: Excellent. And if you could look at the clients you’ve worked with over the years and just share something maybe that we don’t know, that every woman should know about with PCOS that’s just not common knowledge out there, what would it be?

Erika Volk: That is a really good question! But since I’m the personal trainer, I’ll go for a workout angle here. So there’s a lot of women, in fact, women who have worked really hard at the gym and in their diet to get their symptoms under control. And a lot of times the results are not reflecting that hard work. So instead of maybe giving yourself some grace and some more time, they just start escalating their exercise and their workouts. They work out harder and longer, like they’re trying to sweat out PCOS out of their body. And that actually that relationship she’s got exercise that’s not based off joy. It’s kind of an adversarial relationship that you’re developing with exercise. And it also can be counterproductive. Women with PCOS tend to think that like more exercise is better because it’ll burn more calories and that will really address body fat, which is what we’re all thinking about when we work out.

Erika Volk: However, I see exercise more as a tool to improve your hormones and metabolism and mood so that, with those, with that more balanced hormonal profile with a higher elevated metabolism because you have more muscle a better mood, it’s easier for you to make healthier food choices, but it’s also that your body, because your hormones have improved, you’re gonna start responding to the changes you make in the kitchen. So I would say that exercise has this unique way of helping you balance your hormones, a clear your head of the stress that maybe is triggering some stress eating behaviors and then increase your metabolism so that your weight loss is more of a longterm thing beyond the initial diet.

Farrar Duro: Okay. That’s good advice. And we do hear that a lot where we have some of our patients go to the gym every day and say, “I’m just not losing any weight. I’m actually gaining weight”, so as far as, there is such a thing as too much exercise too. So what’s what’s a good guideline Like 30 minutes a day, an hour a day or what would you say?

Erika Volk: Well, the answer is it depends. It depends on how much you liked to work out and how your body responds and what’s realistic for your schedule. So, I think it’s pretty easy for women to kind of gauge how long they want to work out. That’s like a personal preference and hopefully you can say, all right,  with very little friction or resistance, I can agree to a 20 minute or 40 minute workout. My magic number tends to be between 45 minutes and an hour and 15 minutes depending on my mood because I’m a gym nerd.

Erika Volk: The other thing is to pay attention to how your body is responding. If you are over exercising, there are some pretty clear signals and they’ll be not just occasional soreness but almost constant muscle soreness. It’ll be kind of, you’ll, you might sense depression, especially when you start thinking about working out, if you have a lot of negative emotions surrounding your workout, if when you finished your exercise, you know, sure. Initially after workout you’ll be a little bit tired. But if you don’t start feeling that boost of positive emotions and shortly there after, that could be a sign that you’re overdoing it. And then I think it may be your clinician, you know, someone like you who takes a look at the hormone tests and says, “Hey, looks like your thyroid’s taking a huge dive…maybe two hours at the gym every day is too much.

Farrar Duro: And the adrenals too. And I always say if you feel more tired the next day after exercise repeatedly, just feeling wiped out, you’re doing too much. And it’s just, we see it a lot. where, you know, say, just start small and I think we listen to our body because it’s normal to feel a little sore. But like you said, if you’re feeling like a truck hit you every time you exercise, then it might be that you’re overdoing that.

Erika Volk: Yeah.

Erika Volk: And I think a useful thing when we say listen to your body, that’s such a woo-woo kinda thing to say, you know, it’s hard to put your finger on what that is. So sometimes what I recommend to do is just get out a notebook or like an old fashioned planner. And everyday I take some notes. Sometimes I say, write down what your energy levels are, your hunger levels, how many, how often are you craving things, what about muscle soreness, what does that feel like. You know, every day it’s like I have radical cravings, I’m hungry all the time and my muscles are sore. Maybe you’re working out too much or maybe the opposite. It could be you’re not moving nearly enough and it’s causing cravings and hunger because it works both ways. You got to find that.

Farrar Duro: Yes, that’s so true. And sometimes what we actually do hormone testing to look at cortisol and the patients we find that are actually doing acupuncture or getting their exercise even though they have a lot of stress going on the cortisol patterns are actually much better and I think that, in the beginning they’re just the ones taking it step by step and not going all out hours and hours trying to sweat it out. Even just walking sometimes. And I think that that’s a great start, you know, and we can see it in their hormone levels even. So it’s so helpful and sometimes you might not feel like you’re doing much in the beginning, but you are. So that’s great.

Erika Volk: Yeah, totally. A big fan of walking, especially outdoors. And that’s how I recovered after I delivered our son this year. I couldn’t really get back into the gym. Just having something to kind of hold a place of exercise and get out and get fresh air and spend some time on myself.

Farrar Duro: Definitely. And I’m sure that you needed that to just to kind of get your mind at ease a little bit and I think that’s one of the benefits of exercise- the mental part. We just think about focusing on weight loss and the physical but I don’t think we talk enough about the emotional benefit. So can you share with us what you’ve seen with your clients and with yourself perhaps when you’ve noticed someone actually being pretty diligent about their exercise program and what kind of changes have you seen with possibly depression and anxiety?

Erika Volk: I see first anxiety just sort of naturally goes down and in the beginning it seems to be just in the time surrounding the workout. And then I think that that’s really just a chemical high probably so as women get more into exercise and they become more consistent, I think that there’s this huge boost in self esteem and self efficacy because they’re checking off that thing every day. And there’s a lot of things we cannot control in the day. Like you can’t control how your coworkers react to what you’re doing in the office and you can’t control traffic, but exercise is actually something that’s really in your power. You can choose to do that 10 minutes even though you’re busy or you can choose to five minutes longer and those things really have a powerful impact on our self esteem.

Erika Volk: And then I noticed that as women get stronger. So the thing is is like even if you are losing weight at first in the gym, you get stronger pretty quickly and it’s very easy to track. So you starting to see numbers and results that maybe you weren’t even paying attention to before you really learned how to work out and that physical strength starts to kind of spill over into a mental strength.

Part of working out is being able to push out of your comfort zone.

Erika Volk

And once you’re able to push out of your comfort zone in a physical sense, I’ve noticed that my clients have a much easier time doing it in some social settings, whether it’s telling family, like, hey, I’m not cooking two meals anymore, you guys need to eat vegetables just like me. We’re all going to start eating healthier. Or maybe it’s explaining to your employer that, you know, I’m not gonna answer emails on the weekends and everything will be fine, but there’s this amazing sort of like blossoming that happens in all areas of your life. You stronger physically.

Farrar Duro: That is definitely an Aha moment for me actually. It’s like setting boundaries a little more- physical and mental boundaries. You’re actually improving it all. So I think, that’s so important and it can’t, be ignored. The fact that, anxiety and depression can be a little bit more significant with PCOS. So I think the better approach instead of, you know, take this or that, it’s really looking at improving those internal endorphins too. And exercise is one of the ways to do it. Definitely. And I think the word exercise has a little bit of a negative connotation for some and I think it can go back to…actually I was reading a report that said however you experienced your PE class growing up has a reflection on how you feel about exercise. And I’m like, Oh that explains it.

Farrar Duro: We played dodge ball all the time and I hated it and it was brutal and when we weren’t, we were running in the cold all the time in my PE class growing up and I really just dreaded PE every single day. So it made me dread exercise later on until I found what worked for me, like Yoga and Barre class and ballet. I just did not ever want to go into a gym or any of that. So I think it’s different for everybody and hopefully you guys didn’t have that experience . But if you had a negative PE experience in school, it could definitely affect your outlook with exercise. So maybe examine that a little more too. If you are feeling that dread when you hear the word exercise, there might be something coming up, you know, in an earlier time for you that wasn’t so positive.

Erika Volk: So I remember that too. I never thought about that because I was like, the runt of the litter and came in last on national tests. My deep dark secret, and we always joke about this, is like the only C I got in college was physical education. I think it’s weird,hated it so much. I would barely show up.

Farrar Duro: I mean I just remember in dodge ball, like the goal of the class was to nail all the girls in the face with a had glasses and I’m like please, glasses and braces and head gear. So if hit me in the face, it’s not going to feel good. So I think that I’m looking at that article is like, wow, that’s pretty eye opening. So, going back to  what you feel comfortable with is starting with something that you actually enjoy and if it’s something that puts you also in a good mood, when you think about it, it’s going to be more fun for you to do long-term too.

Erika Volk: Absolutely. And if you’re the person, like, I just want to do whatever she tells me, you know, whatever the PCOS Personal Trainer says, I’ll do the optimal thing. Go ahead and do that. But if you’re hearing me say “Pick up a dumbbell” and you’re getting a queasy feeling in your stomach, just put that aside for now. Just get moving, have some fun, and then worry about being optimal or perfect another day.

Farrar Duro: You’re perfect the way you are. And how about one of your personal habits that you could share that contributed to your success with overcoming your PCOS symptoms?

Erika Volk: Okay. So I would say it’s kind of my mantra for a lot of things in life, particularly in dealing with health behaviors, is to begin with the end in mind. Whether I’m walking into my kitchen, you know, the baby’s crying, just got down. I have a lot of emails and I just need a break and I’m thinking I bet I could find some dark chocolate somewhere in this pantry or I’m tired. And I’m thinking about skipping my workout. I always pause and think…

Erika Volk: “What am I trying to get out of this , what is my end result?” And when I’m standing in that kitchen thinking about eating dark chocolate when I’m not hungry and it’s like 10 in the morning, the end result isn’t that I want the sugar. It’s like I need a break. So instead I just sit down, be quiet, or if it’s, you know, I want to skip my workout because I’m tired and I need more energy. I know that if I need more energy, I need to do some kind of a workout. So maybe it’s, less than planned previously, but I’m gonna start with the thing that’s going to give me the end result instead of the emotional kind of cave girl reaction to whatever I’m experiencing.

Farrar Duro: Over the quick fix. I see. That’s awesome to keep it in mind. And as far as that goes, we just finished up our first week of our 30 day Jumpstart and it was based on planning and how to deal with cravings and those cravings come from being tired a lot of times. I think, your brain is tired like, give me glucose. So, and I think that is the short term, right. But the long-term is what’s really going on and then, and yeah, it could be time for a break, it could be time for some more water or something else that your body’s needing that you’re just not giving it. So that’s a good tip. And if you could recommend a book that has really helped you or helped your clients, what would that book be?

Erika Volk: So many good books. it’s called “Grit” by Angela Duckworth and she is a researcher, I believe Harvard, if you Google Angela Duckworth, you’re going to find her Ted talk. She talks about this psychological concept called grit which is basically about, developing passion and perseverance for the longterm. And there’s even a fun little quiz in there that you can take tells you how gritty you are to begin with. Basically, it’s a really interesting work about the character traits and not the talents or the environment that we all start out in, but the actual character traits that lead to success and she hypothesizes that even if you’re a little bit less gritty than like to be, you can develop more grit. So I think that’s a really great place to start.

Farrar Duro: Definitely. That’s awesome. Well, we’ll link to that in our show notes too. And also link to your Freebie as well. As far as the exercises to get started,  those are home exercises you can do and it really doesn’t take that much time. And can you tell us parting piece of guidance that you can give for our listeners and just also had a how to find you online?

Erika Volk: Sure. So you can find me online, thePCOSpersonaltrainer.com. You can type that into your social media and you’ll probably find me too. Piece of advice:

Never underestimate the value of self compassion. So give yourself a break. You are the most influential person in your life.

Erika Volk

And if you are not saying nice things to yourself right now, I’m not telling you to stop saying the negative things because it’s really hard to get yourself to stop doing something, but make it a daily practice to say something nice to yourself because obviously you were put here for a reason. You belong here and there are some awesome things about yourself as you should be saying to yourself every day.

Farrar Duro: Definitely that is so crucial and seem like if we wrote down everything we told ourselves, we would be horrified.

Erika Volk: You would never say it to your best friend or a stranger,

Farrar Duro: So be kind to yourself everyone and thank you so much Erica, for being on our show today. I really look forward to seeing your new website and seeing what you have going in the future and thank you guys for listening. Have a wonderful week everybody.

Erika Volk: Yes. Thank you for having me. It’s been a lot of fun everybody. Have a great week. Get out there and move!


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