“The most effective way to do it, is to do it. - Amelia Earhart.”
In Part I of “Empower Yourself Ladies. Use a Barbell,” we met many of my awesome female clients who talked about why they train for strength. Their honesty and passion shone through and their feelings about why they train this way struck a chord with many other women out there who are also experiencing the same thing. In Part II of “Empower Yourself Ladies. Use a Barbell,” we meet Karla, another one of my badass women. Karla and her cousin Shannon were my inspiration for writing my first post. I overheard them talking one day after a session about why they feel so empowered to train this way. When I asked Karla to write down her experience with strength training, she sent me an email that went on forever! I realized that there was no way I could just pull a couple quotes from her response. I read and re-read her email and finally decided that she needed a whole post to herself. Karla is THAT woman whom I try to win over. The one who has tried EVERYTHING and is still unhappy with herself. And Karla really has tried it all. If you created a DVD about crunches, squats, butts and guts, she bought it. If you opened a studio and offered classes that promised you long, lean muscles like a dancer, she was the first one to sign up.
(On a side note: This whole “long, lean” muscle crap is false advertising and I am so sick and tired of seeing it in every magazine out there. I want to shout from the rooftops that “There ain’t no such thing as “getting long, lean muscles!” from a barre class, Pilates class or Yoga class. You cannot get long, lean muscles unless: A. You are born with long bones. Thank your parents or not thank them for this one. B. You are one of those dancers who is born with a body that allows you to look this way, along with having very little body fat from not eating. This is why professional dancers are professional dancers. Just like professional powerlifters, football players, basketball players. You are born with the body you have and you work it for all its worth. If we were all made this way, we would all be professional athletes.)
But getting back to Karla. Barre classes, aerobics, Body Pump, running. Nothing made her feel better about herself. In fact, all of these activities just made her feel bad. Bad that she could not lose the weight. Bad that she did not look like the women on the DVD or in her barre classes. Bad that what she was doing was causing her more harm than good. Nagging injuries from running. Sore knees from squatting. She was convinced that she was stuck feeling like crap about herself. After her cousin kept nagging her over and over again to just try strength training, REAL strength training, she reluctantly did. 8 months later, she is still squatting, deadlifting and pressing. Why?? Because it works.
Here is Karla’s story.
Why do I strength train? Short answer is because it makes me feel GOOD about myself. I have tried A LOT of exercise classes and videos, and they all left me feeling bad about myself. Bad because I couldn’t change the basic shape of my body to look like that of an underfed teenager. Bad because I couldn’t seem to get back to my pre-pregnancy self. I felt bad for not being able to achieve these ridiculous goals and for even having them in the first place. I knew I was setting myself up for failure. But that’s why women go to gyms, right? To get skinny and look younger, right?
But I felt silly the whole time. I felt silly doing my Slim in 6 videos in my basement, and I felt uncoordinated and incapable of performing the exercises in my Barre class. Finally, I decided to give up on the goal of being skinny. I decided to become athletic, and I ambitiously decided to start training for a full marathon. I loved that getting skinny was no longer my goal, and I felt like my mind was in a healthier place. The sense of achievement I felt after completing my first half marathon was amazing! I was hooked! Unfortunately, I was also injured. While I completed two more half marathons, I never made it to the full, and I kept getting slower and weaker. New injuries popped up every month or so. I didn’t feel strong anymore, and I felt like I had decided to become something that I was not meant to be.
As much as I loved running, it just didn’t love me back. And while my goal was not to focus on becoming skinny, I was kind of hoping for some positive changes to emerge from all that running. But I didn’t really look that much better. I certainly didn’t look athletic. I realized that I was becoming weaker from all my running and decided to start adding in some strength training. I tried BodyPump for a short time, but the squats killed my knees.
Luckily, my cousin Shannon bugged me for months to come lift with her. It’s hard to put into words how much I have learned and gained from strength training the correct way. I had believed for years that I was not physically able to do squats because of my knees. Turns out, I have just been doing them the wrong way this whole time! I learned that in my first 15 minutes in the gym. No other instructor had ever showed me the correct way to perform a squat! I have absolutely no knee pain when I do a squat the right way!
I am not damaged! I am not getting old before my time! And that’s the addictive thing that keeps me excited about going to the gym. I am constantly learning what I CAN DO. I am strong. I can be stronger. I can work every week to achieve goals that make me feel the same elation as completing a half marathon. All this without knee pain and injury! This kind of confidence boost naturally spills over into other areas of my life. I can tell I am more positive in my interactions with others after I’ve reached a new goal at the gym.
I have found myself smiling at strangers that I would normally avoid eye contact with. I brag to my husband about how much weight I can squat, and he has noticed that carry myself differently when I walk – he calls it strutting. And why shouldn’t I strut? Have you seen my overhead press? I have been so proud to bring my young daughters to the gym and show them how hard I work. I hope they have memories of me working out to get stronger, not skinnier.
And that’s why I think of strength training as therapy. It’s not just about getting a great workout. It’s about reminding myself of what is important and what is not. It’s about setting goals for myself that are achievable and beneficial. I walk out of the gym feeling GREAT about myself and the progress I’ve made. No other form of exercise has done this for me. I’m hooked.