Seeking Strength

I met with a trainer today. And it was awesome. So far beyond cool.

That is a picture of my bicep. I am already pretty darn strong. But I don’t “do” strength training these days, my fitness is all very functional.

I’ve been having some upper back and neck and shoulder pain (trapezius, mostly) and I’ve been reflecting on what the best course of action would be. And I thought, you know what, stronger muscles (or more balanced ones) would probably help.

I like strength training. Maybe because for me, it’s never been connected to weight loss. I build muscle easily (something fairly common among women with type 2 diabetes and PCOS). I make fairly rapid gains in strength, which is rewarding. If I had been born to different parents and perhaps 15 years later than I was, I might have stumbled across weight lifting as a sport when I was younger.

My desire to have more strength work in my life (because I like to follow the “rules” I am aiming for 2 times a week for working all major muscle groups) is hard to fit in, time-wise. So I asked the trainer for exercises I could do wherever I was — at home, at the park with the little girl, at work. Ideally, not a lot of equipment required. He showed me some fun but challenging dynamic warm-up moves, and some new and not-so-new-to-me exercises using primarily my own weight as resistance, sometimes a fitness ball, and resistance bands.

When I first came in and was sitting in his office, he said, “I’m trying to figure out how to work with you.” I didn’t come in with usual goals — losing weight, gaining muscle definition, improving or excelling in a sport. My goals have to do with thriving in a busy life. As my friend/mentor/colleague/buddy put it “You are a middle-aged woman in the U.S. with a child working full-time. Your life is exhausting.” I am an athlete of sorts, and my sport is life. I also dance, and walk, and sometimes jog or sprint. I love and miss doing yoga (and maybe will start again soon) — many of the moves he showed me were not far from yoga positions (a low plank, something called “inchworm” that starts off in downward facing dog, a bridge-like position that uses the ball). I told him “I am not a Pilates person” (some of my best friends are, though) and he didn’t make any comment, but when I mentioned that I didn’t do much that focused solely on the core but sometimes crunches, his biases came out (in a good way) — he said “don’t do crunches — they have been shown to have little to no value.” He’s a hardcore functional fitness person, evidence-based, and so reasonable. I said to him, “I’m holding back from hugging you right now” after the crunches comment. And he laughed.

Going in, I was a little nervous. I made it clear up-front that I wasn’t there to talk about losing weight. When talking on the phone, I said, “I’m a little worried you are going to look at me and think ‘she should have weight loss as a goal'” and then he gave the A++ top of the class answer “It’s not about my goals, it’s about your goals. That’s what I’m here to do.” As the session went on, and he was adding more and more potential exercises to the workout options, I could see that he saw I took this whole endeavor seriously and yet approached it with fun and a light heart. He also listened when he heard about my time and financial pressures, and we figured out how to work in what I wanted in two sessions.

I got so much more than an awesome series of full-body, functional exercises that I can do at home or work or in the park out of it. I got the feeling that maybe I really am an athlete. Merriam-Webster defines it this way:

a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina

Yep. I am trained and skilled in exercises requiring physical strength, agility and stamina.

My main goal at the moment is to increase my stamina for the whole, uh, life thing.

But this is causing me to reflect on those “rules” from the CDC (which are probably crying out to be taken down) — which includes these statements:

When it comes to weight management, people vary greatly in how much physical activity they need. Here are some guidelines to follow:

To maintain your weight: Work your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent mix of the two each week. Strong scientific evidence shows that physical activity can help you maintain your weight over time. However, the exact amount of physical activity needed to do this is not clear since it varies greatly from person to person. It’s possible that you may need to do more than the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to maintain your weight.

To lose weight and keep it off: You will need a high amount of physical activity unless you also adjust your diet and reduce the amount of calories you’re eating and drinking. Getting to and staying at a healthy weight requires both regular physical activity and a healthy eating plan.

So, I’m already doing more than my combo of the equivalent of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise, I usually well exceed this. There are the studies out there that show that an hour a day of activity is what’s common among people who have maintained a weight loss past the two year mark. And, heck, I wouldn’t mind doing an hour of a combination of moderate, intense and strength exercise most days — that would feel pretty darn good. But will I lose weight? Nope.  Not because I would “out eat” the “calories burned.” But because my body loves the exercise, but it also seems attached to the lovely adipocytes that grace my form. My muscle and fat tissue coexist very nicely.

The CDC issued physical activity guidelines also say this:

For Even Greater Health Benefits

Adults should increase their activity to:

jogging 5 hours (300 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).
jogging 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) each week of vigrous-intensity aerobic activity and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).
walking jogging An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).

And I think that’s what I’ll be aiming for, out of a stubborn desire to know what that would look like for me in my life — a mix of moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity using this equation — moderate hours + intense hours (2 x moderate hours)  = 5 hours/week, and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups. I think a total of 5 hours including strength training would be a worthy goal. I’m not that far from it at this point.

And why would I do this? Ah — I think that’s what makes me feel like an athlete — sheer curiosity. Not to look a certain way, or reach a certain number of the scale, or to be able to say I’m fit or strong. Just because I want to know what it would feel like. Plus, moving this much makes me feel pretty darn good.

Oh, and one last thing? I want to turn my cubicle at work into a functional fitness center. I want a treadmill desk (not for burning calories but for burning nervous energy) and a place to put a bar for reverse pull ups (supine row). I would also like it built in such a way that I can use resistance bands. A far less extensive move might be to actually start using a headset for the telephone — which also might help relieve the neck and shoulder pain.


1 Comment

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One response to “Seeking Strength

  1. Jo

    I’ve been trying to place what was missing activity-wise for me, and you’ve just reminded me that I Love Weight Training.

    I can’t afford the yoga classes right now, although I love yoga and miss it. But I adored the weight training units in whatever health and P.E. classes I had to take, from junior high on, and I build muscle/strength relatively quickly too – at least I can see progress before I start to wonder if I’m making progress. 🙂

    I have a relatively active life now, walking around a city (no car), pushing a stroller with a 30+ lb. toddler in it a good bit of the time, and picking up/holding said toddler too. A bit of tossing in the air from time to time, piggy-back rides, that sort of thing.

    I still have the odd back moment, and I do manage to find money for the chiropractor every couple of weeks so I can sleep well enough to get on with things.

    I’ll have to think on this. I’ve had a little training, and I might be able to ask my sports-medicine-heavy chiropractor for good moves to do with a resistance band or similar low-to-no-equipment situations. I love feeling strong, I take pride in it, and I know it improves my quality of life.

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