That was the question I was asked at the gym yesterday. It caught me off guard, and I replied, “No, I just walk around like this.” and then explained that I had been a college athlete, a swimmer, totalling in a twenty year career. The young woman who asked smiled and said, “I was just wondering, you are so fit!” I smiled back and told her to have a good day, but her question really got me thinking.
What am I training for? If asked that question again my first response would be, “life.” I am training for what comes next, the surprises, the “oh shit” moments, for the good days, and the bad. I am training to be an active, healthy life-partner (for at least the next 65 years) to my husband. I am training to one day, hopefully, have a very healthy, low-risk pregnancy that culminates in an all natural, home birth and a beautiful, perfect child. I lift so I will be able to give my children piggyback rides, to do cartwheels in the yard, and teach them how to be athletes. I am training to open my own pickle jars when I my seventy years old.
Life is hard, and so I lift. I cannot explain in one post how much my life has improved since I have started lifting heavy weights. There are small things that have changed and improved. I can pick up a cast iron skillet with one-handed. I can carry all of my groceries in one trip. I can carry a box full of ten reams of paper all on my own. I love that my husband calls me “Beast-Mode Bae.”
There are also big things that have changed as well. I have zero back pain. This in and of itself is a huge milestone. I was plagued with moderate to severe pain for almost a decade, it was one of the biggest motivators for me to change my lifestyle and get serious about finding a pathway to lose a hundred pounds. For years I went to different specialists. My chiropractor did acupuncture. My doctor did epidural injections that provided short-term relief but also made me gain more weight. My physical therapist had me do leg lifts with no weight and stretching, that just seemed to aggravate my back and nerve pain more. My husband was the first person that said, “lift heavy and you will not have pain.” That was the opposite of what all of the doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors had told me but none of their suggestions and treatments worked and so when my husband (then boyfriend) suggested a machine called the reverse hyper extension and a heavy lifting regime, I thought I had nothing to lose.
I am so glad that I listened to him. From the beginning he said, “this will work.” and it did, I train my back and I lift heavy every day. A good friend of our said it best, “you can lift and hurt less or not lift and hurt more.” I make sure to have perfect technique and I listen to my body if a rep does not feel right, or a muscle starts to complain. Through patience, education, and finding an engaged powerlifting community I have overcome my four herniated discs. I no longer have to work through the pain, I control it, becoming a better athlete and person throughout the process.
Another big improvement in my life is that I have found my competitive edge again. Growing up I was a strong, competitive athlete and it helped me develop a mentality that set me up for a successful life. I knew I was a fierce person, that I was a hard worker, that I could overcome obstacles in my way. When I hurt my back in college, when I was no longer able to swim; I lost a part of my identity. I lost a major part of the center of my self, what made me tick. I was adrift for a time, mourning my unfulfilled goals, trying to gather the pieces of my torn soul, my shattered identity. Getting back in the gym, getting my athletic figure back, and lifting more than the “average bear” has brought me full circle. I know I am a contender, I never lost it, I just lost confidence in myself for a while.
Finally, it has changed how I interact with people. I am no longer a doormat. I grew up in a home controlled by a narcissistic mother. She gaslighted, belittled, sabotaged, and manipulated me for thirty years. As I gained my confidence and my strength I also gained my voice. I learned to say no, I realized my worth, and I also started weighing decision based on my own self-interest and preservation. No one will make me feel bad for putting my family (my husband and me) first, for becoming healthy, for having a strong body. I no longer tolerate bullies, I no longer tolerate passive-aggressive attempts at controlling me. I realized that you are the hero of your own life, you have to save yourself from the monsters, from the wolves that would lead you like a lamb to slaughter.
That is what I am training for, to be the hero of my own life. Maybe the woman at the gym saw my determination and thought it must be geared towards something. Assuming I had to have an outside motivation to push myself to be the best I can be, to strive for a better body, a stronger self. I have alway been an internally motivated person, some would call it being a perfectionist. I tend rub against that label. I see my motivation as striving for efficiency, precision, optimal outcomes, and most importantly happiness. I want to do things better, to add value to the world. I want to be better because I believe that is why we are alive, to learn, and to make ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world a better place.
One Body, One Life. Make it Count!