The Secret Ingredient For Maximum Results

By Neghar Fonooni

One of the best parts of having kids is that it’s a built in "excuse" to watch animated films. I can often be found at the movie theatre for the opening weekend of whatever new Disney-Pixar or DreamWorks masterpiece is out, and I am an unabashed lover of How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek. But, I truly think that kids or no kids, we should all watch them. Why?

1. Because they are usually HILARIOUS.
2. Because they always carry an important life lesson that as adults, we often forget.

secret-ingredient-penguins-450x347Animated films aren’t just for kids or moms—they’re for everyone to enjoy. But an interesting side effect of motherhood, is because of how often you watch these films (the 17th viewing of The Lego Movie, seriously?) your brain becomes attune to certain word associations. When I hear otherwise normal phrases, my brain automatically goes to some animated film or another. For example, the phrase "you didn't see anything" immediately takes me to Madagascar, or more specifically, the Penguins. Seriously, I can’t hear that without thinking of those clever little penguins.

secret-ingredient-cartoon-450x318But the life lesson I want to convey today isn’t from Madagascar, although I would argue that its second installation is one of the best animated films of all time. Instead, we’ll be looking to Kung Fu Panda and the Dragon Warrior’s father, Mr. Ping. Mr. Ping is a funny, hardworking goose who runs a busy noodle shop, with the help of Po the Panda. He spends most of the movie withholding from Po the secret ingredient of his famous noodle soup, only to disclose at the end... 


"The secret ingredient is...NOTHING! There is no secret ingredient. To make something special, you just have to believe it's special." 

I mean, what?! All this time…

All kidding aside, let’s think about this in terms of fitness. How many times have you heard that "x program" is the secret to fitness or that "x diet" has all the secret tricks? You hear it so often that it confuses you, and you spend your limited breathing moments searching for the secret—looking for the best program, the best diet, and the ultimate secret to living the best possible life.

It’s frustrating to say the least.

The truth is, there really is no secret.

There isn't a secret fitness fad that is going to magically transform you. There isn't a secret diet that will shed absurd amounts of fat with no significant lifestyle changes. There isn't a magic pill or a lamp harboring a fitness genie. There's you, and your choices. That's all.

To me, the real "secret" is this:

Find something that produces both results and enjoyment. Keep doing that. Be willing to adapt when that thing changes.

This means that everyone's secret is different. What works for you might not work for someone else, and vice versa. You might say "there is nothing better than sprinting," or “Paleo is the best way to lose fat,” but what you're really saying is there is nothing better for YOU than sprinting, and that Paleo is your preferred way to eat. It's your preference, your body, your secret.

secret-ingredient-neg-and-son-450x388I’ve got my own secret recipe, too, of course, but I don’t want to keep it a secret. I’d rather share it with you so that you can see how a busy mom and entrepreneur like myself lives a wholehearted, vibrant, fit lifestyle of my own design. Like I said, yours will look different than mine, but that doesn’t mean we cant learn a thing or two from each other.

My lifestyle didn’t always look like this; I used to have trouble balancing heavy strength training with my yoga practice, and I often found myself leaving out the fun stuff in favor of what I thought was necessary. But one day, I decided I’d had enough, and that life was too short to do things I didn’t enjoy doing. I wrote down my intentions for my body and for my life, and then spent some time picking out the activities that would not only help me manifest those intentions, but that I truly enjoyed.

This “secret recipe” is the culmination of that self-exploration, and is what works well for me now—although that could always change, and I’m fully open to that possibility as well.

Nutritional Harmony

Before we talk movement and training, it’s important to discuss nutrition, as it’s probably the most important aspect of living a fit life. No matter how hard you exercise, if you’ve got anxiety around food, you’re not living healthfully from the inside out.

secret-ingredient-capreseomelet-450x318Personally, I don’t count calories or obsess over food. I don’t binge and restrict. I eat to please my palate and my physique, and never eat anything I don't love. I eat mindfully and intuitively so as not to over consume, and I never feel deprived because I indulge regularly within moderation. It’s taken me years to get to a place of nutritional harmony, but just like learning to play the piano, things like this take daily practice.

In general, I build my plate around a large protein source, add tons of veggies, and lastly, a healthy fat source. I eat to about 80% fullness, and if I choose to indulge in something it’s only in my absolute favorite things. Basically, I won’t eat a cookie or a bag of chips just because it’s there, rather I will only eat my absolute favorite cookie in the world or my most favorite chips. And even then, I use the first bite rule to determine how much of that I eat.

And yes, of course, I indulge in wine, as it really is my primary indulgence of choice. But I don’t drink every night, and I never drink at home alone. I have a glass or two if I go out to dinner with my husband, or if I have a night out with girlfriends.

Strength Training

secret-ingredient-neg-TGU-450x388I absolutely love lifting and being strong. It’s incredibly empowering, uplifting, and confidence boosting. Not to mention, lifting has really changed my "shape" as opposed to my "size.” Meaning, that although I weigh about the same as I did before I started lifting, my body looks completely different.

I lift typically lift heavy once per week (roughly 60 minutes), and perform two metabolic lifting sessions per week (roughly 30 minutes). My workouts will often look like this (although I willingly adapt based on my travel schedule and how my body feels):

Monday: Barbell Complex 

In a complex, perform all the exercises in a row without ever setting down the weight, then rest after one complete round. You’ll want to start light! 

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
A1) Bent over row 3-5 5 I typically string together exercises that transition well. My complexes range from 45-85 pounds depending on how my body feels.
A2) Clean 3-5 5 Usually a power clean from the floor.
A3) Front squat 3-5 5
A4) Push press 3-5 5
A5) Front or back loaded reverse lunge 3-5 5 R/L I rest about 1-2 minutes between rounds.


 Wednesday: Heavy Strength Day 

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
A1) Deadlift (or Squat, depending on what I’m focusing on) 5 5 I do a few warm-up sets first.
A2) Pull-up 5 AMAP Often these are weighted.
B1) 1 leg DL 3-5 8-10 R/L Holding a heavy barbell, from the ground.
B2) Pushup 3-5 10-15 Often from a decline or on a stability ball.
B3) Heavy KB swing 3-5 10-15 I use a heavy KB, typically 32-36 kg.


Friday: Density Training

For density training, set a timer for 25-minutes, and perform A1-A6 sequentially, resting as infrequently as conditioning allows. Try not to rest between exercises, or even circuits.  Remember, these are not complexes, and therefore not done with a single pair of DBs or KBs; rather, use weight that is appropriately challenging for each exercise.

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
A1) Single leg squat NA 8-10 R/L Either pistol style, or standing on a box.
A2) BB Overhead press NA 8-10 This can often turn into a push press!
A3) Jump squats NA 8-10
A4) Chin-up NA 8-10
A5) Jump lunges NA 8-10 R/L I switch legs every rep or do a split jump from a deficit.
A6) 1 hand KB swing NA 8-10 R/L



secret-ingredient-neg-yoga-450x349I’ve been a yogini for 14 years, and nothing gives me as much peace as time on my mat. Yoga offers strength, balance, and flexibility--both inside and out. In short, it’s what keeps me sane!

I practice yoga every single day, but the intensity and duration with which I practice will vary depending on what else I’ve got going on. If it’s a training day, I might just do 15 minutes of sun salutations or light yoga. If it’s a non-training day I’ll either get to the studio for a full, advanced class, or I’ll spend an hour at home on my mat practicing inversions and arm balances. Either way, I make sure to spend time on my mat every single day.

Sweat Sessions

This is my term for anything that resembles "cardio." I prefer sprinting, kettlebell swings, intervals, complexes, battling ropes, jump rope, and running stairs (or the stair machine). A typical sweat session will last anywhere from 5-20 minutes, depending on if I’m doing a short finisher (post training session), or a full sweat session on a non-training day. I often do longer sweat sessions on days when I know I’ll also be doing a longer yoga practice.

This particular sweat session is a killer, but so much fun!

Battling ropes 5 sets 20/10
Medicine ball slam 5 sets 20/10 Back and forth between the two exercises.

Recovery and Relaxation

Every single day I do something for my soul that doesn’t require a ton of physical effort. I read for 30-60 minutes each morning, walk my dogs, and often spend afternoons paddle boarding in the marina. This type of activity is what helps me unwind and stay balanced, and it’s truly integral to living a wholehearted, centered life. If all I did was go-go-go, I’d eventually go insane!

This is my lifestyle, and what really works for me, embracing the truth that there isn’t a secret ingredient, and I get to design my own life. Your day-to-day could look entirely different or perhaps even quite similar. Maybe you've got the same categories, but in a different order. Maybe the way you approach your nutrition is different, or you have different means of recovery. Either way, it's what works for you, because the secret ingredient is YOU.  The secret ingredient isn’t any one thing: it’s an amalgamation of behaviors, preferences, and activities that not only produce the physical and mental results you're after, but that you thoroughly delight in.  Remember: It has to be both, effective and enjoyable.

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About the author:  Neghar Fonooni

Girls Gone Strong co-founder Neghar Fonooni is a fitness and lifestyle coach, writer, entrepreneur, veteran, wife, and mom. Neghar’s mission is to help women all over the world live fit, happy, empowered lives without stress and shame. Learn more about Neghar on her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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