Journey to the Stage Week 8 – Pushing Limits

Increasing Cardio & Training Intensity (Program Included)

Journey to the Stage Week 8 - Pushing Limits
In order to compete in a fitness competition, the gym becomes an imperative part of one’s “journey to the stage.” I love going to the gym. It is where I feel the strongest, the most beautiful and the most confident. However, it is also where, at times, I feel the most self-conscious. The combination of my super competitive nature and the pressure I put on myself to perform has turned the weight room into more of a battleground. I want to lift heavier than the guy next to me. I want to run faster and longer than the girl beside me. I want to win. These mini-competitions have helped to push me farther in the weight room and harder on the cardio equipment. However, when I’m not able to push harder than others, I feel like I have failed. Pushing past this feeling of failure takes time and practice. Through this 12-week journey, I am learning to do this. Each day I must focus on what I can do today to improve myself and grow within.


In order to sculpt a stage-worthy physique, I have changed the manner in which I workout. Prior to training for the Emerald Cup, I was working out six days per week for about two hours each day. I would do about an hour of cardio and forty-five minutes to an hour of weight training. Training in this manner brought me good results. (As I mentioned in my first post, I lost 16 lbs before I started training for the Emerald Cup.) However, in order to take my physique to the next level, I started breaking up my two-hour workout into two sessions to ensure my workouts were getting my best effort and energy. Now, I wake up and do an hour of cardio in the morning. Then, after I am done with class or whatever needs to be done in the day, I head back to the gym to lift.

Journey to the Stage Week 8 - Pushing LimitsBefore I started this new training plan, I was not excited. The thought of having to go to the gym twice per day and having to lift in the middle of “gym rush hour” did not exactly thrill me. However, I have learned to love this new plan. Now that I have broken up my cardio and weight training, I am able to focus on giving 100% to each session. I have found that I have been able to lift heavier, and push myself father during cardio.

When it comes to lifting, I believe we all know what the weight room can be like at 5:00 p.m. in a large chain gym. It’s busy. My expectations for lifting in this environment were not good, but to my surprise, I really enjoy it. As mentioned before, I am very competitive and love the feeling of lifting heavier than the boys. So, when surrounded by man muscles, I push harder and that leads to greater results.


I have included a sample of my weekly workout regimen. I try to do at least an hour of cardio during each session. This does vary depending on whether it is steady state or interval training. During my steady state cardio workouts, I tend to workout for a little more than an hour, because I am able to push myself longer versus during HIIT training. I try to use a variety of cardio equipment and different programs, but I spend most of my time between the treadmill and StepMill. That said, I am working towards improving my running pace for long distance. Thus, during my steady state cardio sessions, most of it is spent on the treadmill.

When it comes to HIIT training on the treadmill, I either do Tabata sessions (8 rounds of 20-seconds sprints followed by a 10-second rest) mixed with steady jogging or a 30-minute hill-climbing interval. On the StepMill, I am doing 15 rounds of a 30-second sprint followed by a 90-second slow/moderate step rate. My goal is to work up to 45-second sprints with a 1-minute recovery.

While both the treadmill and the StepMill ramp up my heart rate, I also try to incorporate the spin bike and elliptical machine into my cardio workouts. I tend to limit my bike and elliptical sessions, because I don’t push myself as hard on those machines as I do on the treadmill or StepMill. I know many women that get great workouts from the elliptical and bike, I’m just not one of them.


Journey to the Stage Week 8 - Pushing LimitsWhen it comes to weight lifting, I maintain the same split, but I change the routine every two weeks. I began with straight sets for all body parts, completing 5 sets and 12 reps for each exercise. I have now begun doing more super sets and active rest in order to keep my heart rate elevated. My recent focus has been on pushing myself past failure to complete all 12 reps for each set. I know doing this is vital to seeing muscle growth and increased strength.


In addition to my time at the gym, I have started to attend yoga classes. I never thought that I would like yoga, because it wouldn’t feel like I was working out hard enough. Enter Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga. This style of yoga is done in a 105℉ room for 90 minutes. The heat allows for your body to stretch further, and holding the 26 poses really pushes one’s mental and physical abilities. With my extensive weight training, yoga helps to balance my body’s alignment and keep my head clear and refreshed.

With every day that I spend on this journey, I am learning more and more about my body and its abilities and limitations. I continue to grow both on the outside and within—sharpening my focus on the end goal and pushing past my limitations every day.

My Current Training Program:

Day AM Cardio PM Weights
Monday HIIT Shoulders/Abs
Tuesday Steady Back/Arms
Wednesday HIIT Legs
Thursday Steady State Chest/Arms
Friday HIIT Shoulders/Abs
Saturday Steady State/Team Conditioning Rest
Sunday Yoga/Rest Rest
Rachael Olkin

Rachael graduated from UCLA in December 2010 with a degree in International Development Studies. She is currently working towards admission to nursing school, where she hopes to obtain both a Bachelors of Science in Nursing as well as a Masters of Science in Nursing.

Rachael is also preparing for her first Figure competition and will share her journey along the way, including her goals, aspirations and struggles.

Find more of Rachael on:

Muscular Development