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My Fitness Journey (So Far)
I’ve had an interesting fitness journey over the past ten years. In high school, I was a two sport athlete (lacrosse and volleyball), and when I got to college, I played on the varsity volleyball team for a year. Even though I was cut as a sophomore, I learned a ton about how to build strength, speed, and agility, and how to work my tail off to become better every day.
After I reached the peak of my physical fitness at 19 years old (so far at least), I became far more interested in maintaining that fitness, for both good and not-so-good reasons. I dabbled in all sorts of fitness pursuits, from running, to pilates, to spin classes, to yoga, to high intensity intervals, to total body weight training.
I had tons of time on my hands and very little stress as an undergrad, so I could spend hours at the gym simply for fun. I never became dangerously thin, and I did love the exercise I did, but I always had a belief in the back of my mind that I needed to be fitter. That I could always be a little thinner. This thought drove me to continue working out.
In grad school, suddenly stress was on the table. My life suddenly got more sedentary as I was spending hours on the computer studying, researching, writing, and working as a content manager for Chris Kresser. Slowly my high level fitness started to fade, despite regular trips to the gym, riding my bike to class, and daily walks with my aging dog.
Over the past two years running my own business, the stress levels continue to be high (though for much better reasons), and I continue to spend way too much time sitting on my rear end, staring at a screen. I still make it to the gym a few times a week, still do yoga on a weekly basis, and now I have a young dog whom I walk most days.
Last year I was in a car accident that left me with whiplash and a mild concussion. I couldn’t work out for 2 solid months. Even bending over in an “air deadlift” gave me a headache. I took muscle relaxers on the days where the back and neck pain was too much to handle. My fitness kept fading, and I gained almost 10 pounds over the course of 3 months.
When I finally could handle moving vigorously again, I found myself having strange injuries that I never had before. My achilles tendons ached going down the stairs. I had a tightness in my pectorals that kept me from fully engaging my back and shoulders. My hip flexors might as well have been made out of steel, they were so tight. Taking my dog on 2-3 mile walks left me with deep hip pain.
Almost 3 months off from the gym and I felt like I was 90 years old.
It was incredibly discouraging and I started to feel negatively about my body. Not just how it looked, but how it felt. Something had to change.
The Road To Recovery
I decided that in order to recover more quickly and safely, I’d hire a trainer to work with. I signed up for personal training with a strength and conditioning coach, and began the process of physical recovery. I started to recover my strength and eliminate the random pain I was experiencing simply moving around my house.
As time went on, I not only recovered my strength, but I started to build new strength as well. I started hitting PRs that I never expected. Me, deadlifting 225 pounds? Seriously?
And while I haven’t lost all the weight I gained from my accident, I’m significantly stronger, my posture is better, and I have muscle definition in places I never had before. There are three things I’ve learned from my experience with heavy weight lifting over the past 9 months.
1. I get injured when I stop moving.
I used to think injuries came from overuse or doing something stupid in the gym. (Like burpees. Burpees are stupid.) After my car accident and subsequent 3 months out of the gym, I realized that injuries can come from UNDER use too.
It’s not just me: My sister had been experiencing deep hip pain as well a few months after she started a new job. No one could figure out what was causing the issue until she changed jobs and suddenly wasn’t in the car for hours a day anymore. Turns out we Schoenfelds are prone to underuse injuries, I guess!
If you’re experiencing an injury that hasn’t gone away despite the fact that you don’t go very hard at the gym, consider the possibility that underuse is the actual issue at hand. Heavy weight training can help you build back strength and mobility that you’ve lost from years of working a desk job.
You may actually need MORE movement to recover from your injury.
2. I can “grind” even when I’m afraid.
One time my coach was having me work on strict overhead presses, and he kept adding weight until we got to 70 pounds: my current threshold. I started to shake, and my heart went into my throat. I could feel tears welling at the corners of my eyes. Wait, am I crying? I’m actually crying because I’m scared to press 70 pounds?
Now, I hate overhead presses. For whatever reason I’m quite weak over head, and the thought of losing strength with a 70 pound barbell over my skull is understandably frightening. My coach isn’t a total drill sergeant or a bully but let’s just say he doesn’t quite understand my moods all the time. Especially when I start crying at the thought of doing a heavy lift. Usually he just tells me matter-of-factly that I can do it, and to just try.
So I decided to change the fearful self-talk into confident self talk, and approached the bar. I un-racked it, took a deep breath, and pushed. Half-way up I felt the momentum cease. But I kept pushing. Gritting my teeth. Pushing. “Grinding.”
Suddenly, the bar was above my head and my elbows were straight. I had pushed the 70 pounds, and I didn’t die. I didn’t drop the bar. I did it!
I dropped the bar back down to my chest, and tried pushing again. My arms told me “HECK NO.” So we took weight off to continue the rest of the reps.
Even though I only got one rep at 70 pounds, I learned that yes – I can grind through a challenge even when I’m scared to the point of tears.
And I don’t have to back down from a challenge that I’m afraid I might not accomplish.
My physical ability is more important than my appearance.
In college and grad school, I worked out to maintain my physique. I was by no means a fitness model, but I was in pretty darn good shape in my early 20s. The saddest part about this is that I never felt that I was fit enough, attractive enough, good enough. I didn’t have any sense of inherent self worth. So I tried to earn it by improving my body.
Now, at the ripe old age of nearly 29 (ha) I strongly believe I have inherent worth that goes well beyond my appearance. I have a relationship with a God that loves me, and a Savior who died for me. Fitting into a size 6 or being confident in a bikini never gave me that kind of inner peace.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate my body, or enjoy being able to do challenging things with my body. I just come from a perspective that my body’s ability to take what life throws at me is the most important reason for working out, not whether I have flat abs or defined arms.
Just last month I was in Costa Rica testing out my new body’s ability to do a wide variety of stunts, including climbing a 70 foot tree, being both a base and a flyer during acroyoga, surfing for the first time in 2 years, and hiking through 8 miles of jungle. The tree climb was the most impressive of these feats, as it combined an intense fear of heights with a level of upper body strength I didn’t realize I had.
Now my goals for exercise are ability focused instead of appearance or weight focused. I want to be able to do a pull up. I want to deadlift 300 pounds. I want to bench press my body weight. And I want to be able to continue trying new things, taking adventurous vacations, and seeing just what this fearfully and wonderfully made body can do.
Who knows if I’ll still be powerlifting in a year or two. I tend to be the type of person who bounces around between activities all the time.
But I do know that whatever type of activity I choose to pursue, that by challenging myself physically on a regular basis, I’ll be living my life to its fullest capacity.
Do YOU want to get stronger too?
If you’re interested in getting started with strength training but have no idea where to start, I recommend checking out the Women’s Strength Summit, hosted by Steph Gaudreau of Stupid Easy Paleo.
Some of my favorite women’s strength role models are speaking, including Neghar Fonooni, Molly Galbraith, Jen Sinkler, Noelle Tarr, and Jen (JVB) Vogelgesang Blake. And guess what – I’ll be speaking as well! I’m thrilled to be part of such an incredible free event.
My presentation is on Sunday March 6th at 8PM EST/5PM PST.
This isn’t just about physical strength. It’s about emotional and spiritual strength as well. It’s about fueling your body well and training appropriately to have the strength to get through anything life throws at you. It’s about building confidence to face life without fear.
Grab your free ticket to this incredible online event now, and start living your strongest life today!