Strengthening Your Core

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In weightlifting, the key to being able to heft increasing amounts of iron is to have a sturdy, strong Core: your foundational strength you build on.
You don’t develop a core overnight. It is built up – workout by workout, day by day, month by month. As it grows in strength, it supports and assists the development of your other muscles. I didn’t just start lifting 200 pounds one day. I had to build up my core strength, increase my bone density, and build the muscle in an intentional way. My ability to lift is dependent upon the foundation I have laid. I am fortunate and blessed to have (the best!) trainer in the world to mentor me and keep me safe. Under his watchful and experienced eye, he has seen me go from puffing away under a few measly pounds of barbell weight, to lifting a full 200 pounds…more than once. Having a firm, sturdy core allows my body to not only perform in the gym, but also in all other aspects of life: carrying groceries, lifting my bike up on the rack, vacuuming, climbing stairs. All are easier because we have invested in its development.

My favorite way to illustrate this is with a tree: A towering Redwood would not stand with a weak core. It would topple under the weight of the branches, or snap with simple gust of wind. It stands though, because it developed its Core along the way.

What I would like to suggest is this: Is your Core strong?
In this case, I’m not talking about your physical strength. I am talking about your non-physical Core. I’ll call it your spiritual side, the ‘you’ who makes you, you. It’s what resides inside your head, that little voice that whispers only to you.
Is it strong? Have you taken the time to develop it? Do you have what it takes to weather the storms in life? Can you stand strong through the hurricanes of life? Can you remain standing, like the Redwood?

This subject is pertinent considering the news of the day:  A potential Greek economic collapse and the negative potential it has for the Eurozone. We are seeing the rise of barbaric beheadings and persecutions going on in the Middle East. Here in the States we feel the division in civil discourse and financial concerns growing. The entire world feels on edge, and in this case (unlike in past world shifts) we have social media to make it all broadcast in real time.

So I ask again, how is the condition of your Core? Have you invested in it, given it the conditioning and training that are necessary to weather the pounding waves that life throws at it?

First you must take an assessment:
What are your weaknesses, what worries you?
What are your strengths, where do you feel confident and in charge?

Next, take those weaknesses and develop a plan to strengthen them. I was terrified of some sort of economic disaster that would lead to hyperinflation and obscene food prices. To alleviate myself from that fear, or weakness, my husband and I developed a plan to stock up on and store food. I taught myself how to can food both water-bath method and pressure canning. I taught myself to preserve foods. I shopped sales and stocked up on dry and canned goods that I know we will eat. We invested in some long term food storage. Tackling that fear and developing a plan we followed, removed that from my ‘weakness’ category. Now, it’s a strength.

Build on your strengths. One of my friends sweetly calls me Miss Martha. I have always loved to entertain and socialize. I love being a Domestic Goddess. I love home-keeping, nurturing and gardening. Knowing this is a strength, I have used it to build my social network. I have ‘loved on’ friends and family, securing those bonds tight. In times of adversity, it’s those bonds we have forged that can help us weather through tough times.

Lastly, stay in shape, build on the core you have developed. I never, in my wildest dreams, would have thought that I could ever lift that much weight. But I did. And I am continuing build on it, so that I hope to one day lift 2 of the big plates, which is 235 pounds. I also continue to build on my spiritual core. I continue to look at the areas I harbor fears and doubt. I tackle them one by one, working to turn them into strengths, shoring up, and building on that internal core.

When the winds, or hurricanes of adversity blow through my life, with a strong foundational tree trunk, I should be able to weather them and be a shelter for others. And lets be honest, isn’t that a much preferable way to approach life? I want to be stable in my boat when the oceans turn dark and stormy. I want to be able to have what is necessary, emotionally and physically, to ride out the squall. And, as a person of faith, I want to be a source of comfort, stability and hope for others whose boats may be sinking, or taking on water.

I am reminded of the story in the Bible of the Disciples out on the Sea and getting caught in a storm. Jesus, exhausted, was resting in the bow of the boat, calmly sleeping through a ocean raging around them. His followers freaked out, waking him up and carrying on about how they were all going to die…AND DIDN’T HE CARE?
Jesus, being a dude I’d have love to have met face to face, calmly stands up and with a wave of his hand, the seas turn flat as glass. In the disciples recounting, he gets a bit crabby and frustrated at their lack of faith.

Just think if those disciples had strengthened their inner Core, would they have panicked the way they did? They certainly were buff guys in good shape, they were seasoned fishermen. But what about their inner core? Maybe they would have been calm, maybe not, because Jesus was a guy who liked to teach and they had a lesson they needed to learn. But I can learn from their unpreparedness. I can read about their weaknesses and I can learn from it. I can be strong spiritually as well as physically. A calm place, in the middle of a stormy sea, for others.

I hope this gives you the motivation to not just be focused on the ‘physically’ fit. I hope that it inspires you to take your inner core as seriously as you might your physical one. I am no prophet of old, but just read the headlines sometime. There is a storm on the horizon. It may not come ashore, but it may. I know that I sleep better at night now, knowing I’ve been strengthening my Core.


Transformation

A year ago June (which would be 2013) I began my journey to transform my mind and body. I had gotten to a point where I just became – as I like to describe – uncomfortable in my skin . I was overweight, tired and unmotivated. My body was in a state of constant ache and injury, and I was unable to enjoy physical activities with my family and friends. I just felt, well, way older than 50. The thought of being 90 and feeling this way, or worse, was overwhelming. Spurred on by this depressing realization, and on the suggestion of a friend, I went to The Biggest Loser Resort in Chicago for a week which I journaled: Here, here, here, here and wrapped up my experience here. It was the kickstart I needed to get me turned around and headed in the right direction.

Upon returning home, I enthusiastically embraced my new active lifestyle. I started walking 6 miles with my buddy, Big Girl (Little Man had not arrived on the scene yet), as well as putting a few miles on my bicycle. I also began in earnest, training with Ron Hoff, a personal trainer who specializes in Progressive Weight Resistance Training which I mention HERE in a previous blog post.

Well here we are a year later and you are probably wondering where I’m going with this.  And why did I post that grainy photo above?

Transformation.

When I started out, one of the exercises he started me on was the Dead Lift, (see here for an explanation, but DO NOT TRY without a professional to guide and spot you) for which my trainer started me with dumbbells. Very, VERY light dumbbells. Looking back, ridiculously light dumbbells! But, as he coached me, everyone starts at the beginning. As my strength started to build, we progressively worked up to lifting just the bar. Then we began to add weight plates to the bar. The photo above was the first time Ron put the BIG PLATE on the bar. That day was a milestone for me, and a gauge of my accomplishments. That meant that I had gone from holding a couple of weights in my hands probably totaling about 24 pounds to now lifting a bar off the floor that weighed 135 lbs. I was so excited when the ‘big plate’ was put on, I ran upstairs, grabbed my phone and texted the picture to my family!  (It appears iPhotos blown up in wordpress come out grainy, sorry for that! I’m gonna work on figuring out how to get better resolution)

Today, this is my ‘warm up’ weight! I easily lift this for 12 repetitions not only for Dead Lifts, but also Back Squats. After the warmups,  we move up to the higher weights. My heaviest lift has been 185 pounds for 3 reps.

My goal? To lift 200 pounds by Thanksgiving.

And I will achieve that goal!

That is what I mean by ‘transformation’. Not only have I leaned out, built muscle, increased bone density (always good for aging women) and have rockin awesome legs; but I also have discovered that living life is so much more pleasurable! It’s a breeze to haul the summer clothing bins to the basement and heave them on the shelves. Bicycling 40 miles is pleasurable, even up hills. Carrying the 50 pound salt bags to the basement isn’t even work. Carrying 4 loaded grocery bags to the car is a snap. Everything about my life is easier and requires less effort. I don’t feel 90 at 50. I’m 51 feeling better than I did when I was 40, 30 even.

That. Is. Transformative.

Everyone has their favorite exercise, or lack thereof. But I can honestly say that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE would benefit from progressive weight training. Not only does it build bone density for women and men alike, it helps to increase your metabolism by adding muscle, which at a resting rate burns more calories than fat. I love that my body is now actually burning more calories now as I sit and blog! But the primary benefit that keeps me coming back for more is: it is an AMAZING endorphin booster. I live in the arctic tundra where Vitamin D is in short supply for many months. That can lead to the blues and lethargy, a downward spiral none of us needs! Because you use so many muscles in your body to Dead Lift or Back Squat heavy weight, it floods the brain with endorphins. You know, the stuff that makes us ‘happy’ and invokes a pleasurable feeling?  I use my weight training to manage the negative emotional effects of the long winters as well as keeping that ‘fat coat’ off! (Weight training may not look like it burns a lot of calories during the workout; but your body’s metabolism is super charged and you will continue to burn that 300-400 calories/hour for the next 4-7 hours. You also build muscle, which as I mentioned above,  burns more calories than fat at a resting rate.  Now THAT is awesome!)

I mean it when I say that every single human being can benefit from this type of training, because the benefits are NUMEROUS! I will add the following caution: Please consult with a trainer that is educated or very experienced in weight training, specifically Progressive Weight Resistance Training. My trainer is a Power Lifting champion many times over. He has decades of experience as well as certifications in Personal Fitness and Nutrition. You can achieve great results, but only if done properly. Honestly, that means having a professional to ensure your form is correct, you are lifting enough, but not too much. A trainer can watch you as you lift and assess your bodies ability to handle the weight, moving you up only when your body can handle it. They will help prevent injury, which leads to setbacks, and help you maximize the benefit of your workout. (I’ve had a few injuries and setbacks, but my trainer never let me quit. He tailored my workouts around the injury, building up supporting muscles and keeping me motivated)

If you are not familiar with this kind of training, I highly recommend you do some research for yourself. If you take my advice, please, leave me some feedback. If you have had success with weight training, tell us your story in the comment section. If you have had challenges in your fitness journey, please share how you overcame them. And if you happen to be where I was a year and a half ago, looking for support or motivation, reach out and lets make this a community support group.

We only grow older. The clock only moves in one direction. But we do not have to succumb to the effects of time without having a little say about the matter. I intend to have a LOT to say about it…for a lot more years to come!

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(And here we go, moving up in weight! 200 pounds? Here I come!)