June 14, 2012

One year later...

     I started strength training one year ago this month at McKenna's Gym.  When I started, the 15 kg women's bar seemed so heavy I could barely lift it from its rack.  My first back squats were painful literally and figuratively.  I was certain I had crushed several vertebrae in my neck that first session.  Every joint and muscle let me know the next day that I had gone far too long without true exercise.   But thanks to my daughter, who went with me for the summer sessions, a group of women regulars who are always encouraging, and Mike, the owner/trainer, who quietly and inexhaustibly corrects, cajoles, consoles, and repeats the numbers of sets and reps for those of us who never seem to listen the first time, I've stuck with it an entire year and have no intentions of stopping.
     I stopped weighing myself about four years ago because of the head games a number can play with your mind.  I burned the scale in our burn ring in our garden area and felt guilty as I did so.  I felt guilty about burning a scale!  How can an object like that hold so much power? Burning that scale was cathartic.  My worth is not based on how much I weigh - it never was and intellectually I knew that -  but society's judgement is still hard to live with. I also went gluten-free that same year which set me back on the path of eating real food, which led me to research on paleolithic eating, which got my health to a place where I feel better now than I have felt for 40 years, maybe even my entire life.  Strength training was the capstone piece that pulled it all together.
     Two years ago, my neighbor, whom I have known for 24 years, told me one day that she was lifting weights and that I should join her.  What, really?  I only knew men who had lifted weights and was only aware of professional women body builders who did not really look like I wanted to look. Nothing wrong with how they look, but it wasn't for me.  The last regular gym I belonged to discouraged women from using free weights and directed us to the machines and light dumbbells.  "No grunting or dropping weights allowed please." I was skeptical of my friend's request, but could see the improvement in her confidence as well as her body.  The location was about 1.5 miles from my house, so I had no excuse there.  It took me a year to finally get up the nerve to contact Mike.  I dragged my daughter along for backup and I've been going regularly (2-3 days per week for 1 hour sessions) ever since.   There are a lot of reasons why.  Mike is an awesome olympic weightlifting coach and trainer.  He also writes a weightlifting blog with references to Shakespeare, has an equally awesome family, likes a variety of music and good food, and can carry on a conversation about most subjects.  The women of the gym are also amazing.  Mike said once we were a community and that is an apt description.  We do our weightlifting and conditioning but we talk about our day, our families, our disappointments, and our celebrations because that is what women do.  We are quiet when we need to be.  We bitch about turkish get-ups, pulling the sled, and jumping rope, and we encourage each other good-naturedly with a nod, a "Yes," or perhaps a consoling roll of the eyes. We help each other put weights on and off the bar.  We encourage the new person as much as the heavy lifter.  It is a community.
If you've driven up I83 in Pennsylvania, you've seen this guy.
     I went through a lot of changes over this past year.  Outwardly my body changed.  I lost inches and I think weight (though I can only guess based on clothing sizes which decreased two full pant sizes).  I know I lost 2.5 inches of fat from my waist.  That is important to me because I know that belly fat indicates metabolic problems and it literally disappeared even though my paleo-based diet has remained pretty steady.  I also went through a 6-9 month period of time when one joint would act up - a wrist, an elbow, a shoulder, a knee, an ankle, maybe some back pain.  I'm not really sure what was going on here but it worked its way around my body from right to left.  Cleaning up the diet helped (dairy is not my friend) but  I feel much more balanced now and I think that is what was happening.  As muscles strengthened, they pulled on tendons and joints, causing some pain, but eventually it all just balanced out.
     I've always been a fairly confident person, but I feel much more confident now.  I like the muscles that are now defined.  I like the greater flexibility and strength.  I like that I can lift a pretty darn good bit of weight.  I'll finish up with some PR numbers for the past year.  I started keeping track last August but I started with an empty 15 kg bar.
     Back squat - 80 kg
     Front squat - 60 kg
     Snatch - 30 kg (my most difficult form challenge)
     Clean - 42 kg
     Press - 40 kg
     I'm happy and looking forward to another year.

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