My family and I spent a bit of time in the mountains around Independence Day. It was a great trip and we were blessed to have friends and family for guests most of that time.
One of my favorite young people, my 11 year old niece, came along for a few of those days. When she walked into the cabin, she saw my pull up bar in one of the doorways and asked what it was for. I told her it was what I used for one of my exercises and demonstrated pull ups using different grips so she could see what I was talking about. She looked at me for a minute and said “I can’t do pull ups.” I told her she most certainly could and that the only reason she couldn’t is that she thought she couldn’t.
I explained that she probably only tried to use her arms to accomplish the task and explained that what she should be thinking about is using her back muscles (which are much stronger) to help her get her chest up to the bar. I could tell she was contemplating that for a while.
The next day, my younger son and I were doing a workout. We’ve been concentrating on compound, large muscle group exercises to help him make an easy transition into his upcoming football season and she asked to join us. I told her that would be fine but pull ups were part of the routine and that she had to try. She agreed and did a great job keeping up with what we were doing. I modified some of the exercises for her (like having her do bent knee push ups) so that she’d be successful and before long, it was time for pull ups. I told her once again that she absolutely COULD do pull ups and reminded her to visualize using the muscles in her back.
Lo and behold, she did not one, not two but three complete pull ups! They weren’t consecutive but each one was perfect. I gave her lots of praise and made sure that everyone knew about her little victory. I was very proud of her and she was proud of herself. I joked with her about getting her a pull up bar for Christmas and turning her into a workout phenom.
When it was time to go home, she looked at me very seriously and said, “Auntie Lynn…I really DO want a pull up bar for Christmas.”
…and a pull up bar, she shall receive! There’s nothing I like better than passing on my love for fitness.
I follow a lot of other blogs and Lifting My Spirits is one of my favorites. The author has a wonderful story. She’s living proof that it’s never too late to change your physique for the better. She absolutely explodes the myth that once you’re past 40 or 50 years old you just have to resign yourself to falling apart physically. I’m about to turn 53 and I just love seeing how she transformed herself. I want to give her a standing ovation! This reflects a bit of the journey she undertook to make herself stronger and to sculpt her body into a form that she found pleasing.
Transforming Into An Athlete In The Second Half Of Life
The first time I touched a barbell, I was 48 years old. I’m now 54.
Some people say my age is an irrelevant point about me as an athlete, but they are wrong. It’s extremely relevant. I was a fully formed adult with scars and strengths from living life before I decided to live a completely different way. And my decision impacted a lot of people who thought they knew who I was before I decided to be someone else. I’m still working on making sense of all this. Something yanked my chain this last week and I need to write to figure out what I think about things. Sorry – I need to be a bit cryptic about it because it’s private. But I believe humans have similar responses to things, even if details are different.
Please forgive me for veering into the past for a moment. If what I’m going to say later is going to make any sense, I need share parts of my personal history. I don’t feel comfortable doing that, because I don’t want to give the impression that I think my life has been difficult. It’s just been a “life”. But these things are a bit relevant to why I think what I think as I keep transforming into an athlete in the second half of my life…
- My scoliosis was diagnosed early in high school and I was pulled from all sports. I was told to be “careful” for the rest of my life. Between the ages of 17 and 24, I had at least two episodes when my back would freeze up and I could not move for about a week. I remember my mother pushing me around in a wheel-chair at the hospital to get x-rays. I believed all the adults who told me I was fragile.
- In my 20’s, I got a job at a gym as a receptionist. That’s when I first saw female bodybuilders in magazines. They were about my age, but they looked so strong – not fragile. I wanted that, but I was intimidated by it for a couple of really good reasons. 1) I have scoliosis and shouldn’t lift, and 2) women aren’t supposed to look like that – guys didn’t like it. I didn’t question those beliefs at the time. I accepted them and set other goals for my life.
- My mother died from a brain aneurysm when she was 56 and I was 28. I was the family member who was tasked with the decision to remove her from life support. I watched her die. I know some of you have had to do that, too. It’s not exactly like how they show it in movies or on Grey’s Anatomy.
- I decided to get a degree in mathematics and teach math because I was intimidated by it. That was when I began to do battle with my fears. The time span from my first day of college to my graduation with a degree in mathematics was 16 years. Mom died during this time and I lost my job because I needed to take a leave of absence to handle my mother’s affairs out of town. Once I could get back to work, I had as many as three part-time jobs to support myself and still have a schedule flexible enough to attend school during the day when the classes I needed were offered. This was the first time I set a scary goal and achieved it.
- For the last 20 years, I’ve taught math to teenagers, ages 15-18. Takes a little courage to show up and do that every day. Not many adults would want to attempt to manage a room of 30+ teenagers. Fewer can handle it when a whole bunch of them are anxious about what you are asking them to do. Math teachers are in short-supply these days. Burn out is high. Many students believe they will fail before they try, so they won’t try. They will do a lot of other things to avoid trying. While teaching geometry, I teach a lot of other things, too.
And that brings me back to my first point – the first time I touched a barbell, I was 48 years old. All of these other things happened years prior to that.
To decide to become a female bodybuilder at that point in my life, I had to challenge and beat down a lot of my own thoughts about what women can do, what a person with scoliosis can do, what a busy teacher can find time to do, and what a post-menopausal woman can accomplish in bodybuilding. I’m not saying my journey has been harder than someone else’s, because I know it hasn’t been. There is no comparison to what others have had to deal with to just get through another day. I have not had to survive trauma.
That said, I’ve still accomplished enough hard stuff to feel like I can do more. It’s my journey. I’ve already lived a life and I’m still in the mix. My ego tells me that I should be respected for that, but I can’t control what others say or think. (Yeah, something happened a couple days ago. I was hurt by it, but I learned something useful.) I remind myself what I’ve done to get here. My ego wants to puff up – that’s what others do, right? But that’s not going to help me do anything except become an asshole. I don’t need to defend my thoughts.
I am sensitive. I am scared. I am brave. I reflect. I learn. I overthink. I lose my focus sometimes, but I get it back. I tell my ego to shut the hell up. She just wants to generate negative thoughts that feed uncertainty about whether I will ever have tangible success as an athlete. I may always be a novelty act in public, she tells me. Ageism is alive and well, we all know that. Is that my only obstacle? Of course not. But it’s there. I can’t get younger, but I can improve. I may always be switched to the outside of the youngest, most novice bodybuilder in the line. If I’m a better bodybuilder than I was the last time I showed up, I guess that’s going to be enough. My voice may shake when I say “my journey on my terms“, but I’m still saying it. I’m still insisting on it.
“Why bother?” I ask myself almost every day. Almost every day, I quit. And then I recommit to what I’m doing as an athlete. The last year has been difficult. I may not be able to break this cycle until after I compete again. That last competition experience needs to be replaced by a new one before I’m going to get closure on what happened that day. Simply getting on stage again will be a win because I will be able to put away two years of trying to make sense of what will now be called the “2015 WTF Happened? Blesson”.
And then I touch a barbell and I happily battle gravity. I get a little bit of clarity when I’m at the gym. Lifting still fixes me. I love to train. That’s why I bother. Everything else is just distracting noise, whether it’s external or internal.
I’ve completed week 1 of my new plan by Jim Stoppani. I’m feeling happy and energized. At the end of the week, I was quite sore. I see that as a good thing since it means I’m taxing my body differently than I was before I started the program. They say “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Apparently, I had a lot of weakness that needed to be shown the door. That’s perfectly fine by me!
I thought I’d take a “before” photo so I could do a side-by-side comparison after week 12. That way I’ll be able to see how it’s going.
It’s time for something new! I’ve been coming up with my own workout programs for 25 years and even though I was tweaking them and rearranging them regularly, the ideas in my head were just feeling stale. I decided to let someone else do the planning for a change. I went to Bodybuilding.com and found a free 12 week workout plan that seemed fresh and interesting. Yesterday, I started Jim Stoppani’s 12 week Shortcut to Size. Yes, of course, I’m looking for more mass as always. My body defaults to scrawny very quickly if I’m not careful. This program relies on periodization. In this case, it means alternating in micro-cycles between high reps (doing a rest-pause on the last set of each exercise), using lighter weight and low reps (doing drop sets on the last set of each exercise) using heavy weight.
It’s actually refreshing to have a prescribed program like this. I’ll have to personalize it a little to make it effective. I often workout at home these days and I don’t have access to a seated calf raise machine, for instance. That’s O.K. I can figure out the few little kinks while still relying on the program overall.
This program comes with a nutritional guide which I will also customize to fit my tastes. There are sound, scientific reasons for the amount of sugar (particularly after the workout) he recommends but I don’t like to spike my blood sugar. I’ll pass on the after workout big blast and cut down on the rest of the sugar a bit too. Since the program is designed for people between 160lbs and 200lbs I’ll adjust my food intake to reflect my much lower weight. I’ll just cut the portions in half (or just above half) for now and see how that works. I’m also not big on supplements. I’ll take the multi-vitamin and the protein powder but leave the rest of the suggested supps alone. In this plan, there are no cheat days/meals and as you know, that isn’t the Lynnie plan. I’ll stick to the guide carefully during the week then allow room for some deviation on the weekends. I actually like the food he recommends and it’s not far off from what I eat anyway so I don’t expect this part to pose any challenges.
Since I started today, the end date of the 12 weeks will be close to my birthday. I always take a birthday photo to document my physique from year to year so we’ll all see if the program produces results. If I look like a doughy, skinny wreck I’ll put the workout in the circular file and re-tool. Hopefully, I’ll be pleased with the results! At the very least, it’s a new adventure in my routine.
This was what I did today (day two of the program)
Oh my! it’s August, which means that summer for the kids is just about over. Both of them start school this month. My oldest will be heading off to college (he already got a head start by taking a couple courses at a junior college this summer) and my “baby” will be moving into middle school (7th grade). They do have a couple weeks of summertime fun left to enjoy but I can see the end of their carefree days from here.
The transition of summer into fall means I inevitably return to a more standard workout schedule. The days lapse into a routine and so does my lifting. I like it. I’m a creature of habit so although the “catch as catch can” workouts of June and July are refreshing in a way, I love chugging along during the school year with regular intervals for my fitness pursuits.
As most of you know, I changed my routine around significantly several months back. As a result, I’ve lost some muscle mass which I’m still struggling to accept. I could go back to my heaving lifting days and tweak my eating a little to hold onto more muscle but my joints are much happier these days and my enthusiasm for workouts is holding steady. The heavy lifting was taxing my motivation level quite heavily in the year or so before I made the changes. Right now, although I miss a more muscled physique when I look in the mirror, I know what I’m doing is sustainable into the future…and isn’t that the whole point?
Wishing you warm and joyful days as we head into a brand new month!
“Those who won our independence believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty.” (Louis D. Brandeis)
Let us be courageous in the coming days. We have a country to save. In the meantime, I’m wishing you and yours a most wonderful day of celebration. God bless you and God bless America!
I find it amusing when people, especially women, tell me they don’t exercise because they don’t want to get “bulky.” Gaining muscle mass isn’t something that happens accidentally. It takes extreme effort and dedication to sculpt a physique that’s noticeably muscular and it takes incredible stamina and unwavering commitment to come anywhere close to resembling an elite body builder.
That being said, it’s that little bit of muscle mass that most of us can attain if we work at it that makes us look toned, fit, strong, more youthful and healthy. If you take time to educate yourself so that you lift properly, you’re definitely going to be on the road to a more pleasing physique but nothing you can do (even if you try) is gong to make you look like Arnold!
I get motivation lots of places. I heard this story on a news broadcast when it first happened and it’s one of those many illustrative events that I rest my mind on when I’m feeling personally weak and uninspired.
Most of us have challenges in life that nobody else really sees. We’re not in a stadium full of people who watch us overcome or who applaud us to the finish line. Nevertheless, it’s the personal strength and determination that I enjoy watching on display in this video. It reminds me to keep pushing. It reminds me that even if everybody else around me has already reached their goal, as long as I’m still putting one foot in front of the other, I’m in the game. It doesn’t matter how fast I’m going, as long as I’m still fighting.
This short video makes me laugh. I’m sure almost every woman who goes to the gym can relate.
I should add that I am not a member of Planet Fitness. It doesn’t suit my particular style but they captured “one of those moments” perfectly in this commercial.
This is a silly meme but it actually does contain a relevant message, particularly for women. I hear women say they want a tight, toned body all the time but that they don’t want to lift weights for fear of looking “bulky” or “too muscular” or “like a man.” I always assure them that isn’t going to happen. In order to really put on enough mass to look that way, they’d have to pursue a very purposeful, properly designed, mass-building, lifting and nutritional program. It definitely won’t happen by mistake!
A toned female body IS a muscular body. They are one and the same. You can lift to your heart’s content and unless you mean to pack on mass that will give you the physique of a bodybuilder, physique competitor or even a professional bikini competitor, you won’t. Contrary to what they think, It’s very hard to do. It requires intentionality that they clearly don’t have.
I happen to like a more-than-just-toned female physique. I guess that’s why I’ve spent so many hours/months/years in the gym actively trying to add those lovely (big) muscular curves I love so much. Even with supreme effort, I’ve never been able to pack on or maintain as much mass as I’d like. That’s how I know that it’s not going to just happen because a woman dares touch the iron. Plenty of women lift a lot and end up with a nice, jiggle free, toned physique as a reward.
I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the time, when women say they don’t lift because they just want to be toned but not bulky, it’s really because they don’t want to put in any hard work. Lifting looks like hard work (and it is) but it’s the best, fastest way to get toned that I know.