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Benefits of Weight Training: Week One


Today I finished my 4th workout, completing my first week of training in my new program (Fierce Definition with coach and mentor Suzanne Digre).

Reflecting on this first week, I’ve already seen benefits of starting back with a structured weightlifting program.

1. Mindfulness training

Mindfulness” is quite a buzzword nowadays. Coming from Buddhist practice, in popular Western culture today, this practice of awareness in the present moment is being used in many different arenas, from psychology and counseling and teaching, to parenting and romantic relationships. The “father” of the introduction of the practice of mindfulness in Western culture, or at least in the United States, is generally accepted to be Jon Kabat-Zinn, originally a student of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine, is the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

I doubt that many people would immediately associate weight training with mindfulness practice. And yet, knowing a bit about the practice myself (having nearly graduated with an MSW from University of Washington as well as having practiced Zazen, Zen Buddhist meditation), I can say with certainty that for me, weight training is in fact an excellent mindfulness practice.

Focusing on form, concentrating on the lift, the discipline required to practice and learn different types of lifts: all of these things require you to stop and be very present in the moment. If you’re attempting a heavy deadlift, you certainly don’t want to have your mind wandering. Fact of the matter, frankly, is that the lift itself won’t permit it: you are forced to stay in the moment, be very aware of your body, your surroundings, and your movements.

Weight training brings a very acute awareness to your body in space, what you’re doing in the present moment each second, and the energy required to lift heavy weights means that your mind and body must work together in a concentrated and focused effort. There’s no room then for anxious thoughts, wondering what you’re going to buy at the grocery store, or what appointments you have later in the day. Weight training creates a mental discipline and calming of the mind that I personally find quite similar to meditation.

2. Awareness around using food for fuel

Using My Fitness Pal to track my daily diet has been essential in coordinating my lifting and nutrition efforts. I have a specific macronutrient intake goal to hit each day, so the program calculating this for me is very helpful. In addition, the practice of logging my food after each meal keeps me very aware of what I’m putting into my body, how it affects my overall energy, and how much food I’m consuming. I’m also able to avoid careless late-night snacking when I hold myself accountable this way. Another benefit of food tracking is that you develop a healthier relationship with food. Rather than seeing your diet as a list of “can’t eat” and “have to eat,” you can see clean eating as a lifestyle choice. That way, rather than being totally restrictive which obviously isn’t sustainable in the long run (ie, “I can’t EVER eat X”), you’re able to balance and monitor your overall food intake so that even if you have to go “off plan” for specific occasions or if you eat something processed, etc., you don’t sit there and beat yourself up over it. You see the bigger picture of your diet as an ongoing mechanism for fueling your workouts and your overall energy, rather than a battle of you against food. Something my coach told us regarding a clean-eating mindset, that I really like and think of often, is: Don’t say ‘I can’t eat this’ but rather ‘I don’t eat this.’ I like that because it reminds me that this is a lifestyle choice, not a quick-fix or a temporary restriction. Clean eating is something that is sustainable for the very fact that it’s not restrictive but rather a way to provide your body with the optimum fuel it needs for weight training performance and overall health.

3. Discipline, consistency and routine

In our overly technological and super fast-paced modern world, the idea of doing everything “fast” and being super productive is prevalent everywhere. Connected to the idea of slowing down with mindfulness practice, I find that weight training also brings me an excellent benefit of adding valuable discipline, structure, routine, and consistency to my daily life. The practice of going to the gym on the designated days, following a specific plan, doing things for a specific reason in order to obtain specific results, all of which I won’t see on the same day or the same week or even necessarily the same month: all of this is part of a practice that goes outside of what’s encouraged in our current culture of immediacy. In my view, there’s a lack of “follow through” in our modern society and the way we’re trained by pop culture and the surrounding environment. New models of technology come out all the time and everyone is rushing, rushing, to get the latest gadget, know the latest status update, and the hashtag #FOMO is becoming a cultural concept!

Weight training requires discipline, dedication, and consistency. It’s a day-in, day-out practice. It’s not a quick fix, and it’s not a temporary choice. Although my current program is a 12-week program, I certainly have no intention of stopping this practice at 12 weeks. Rather, that will be a fork in the road where I’ll decide where my next goals lie and how to achieve them.

There’s really something to be said for slow and steady discipline and consistency. I find personally that this practice brings a very healthy mental balance to my overly hectic and fast-paced daily life.

These are just three benefits I’m finding after week one. There are several others but I’ll leave those for a future post.

What benefits do you find from your weight training program and practice? Share in the comments!

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One Arm + Dumbbell = Exhilaration

When I first learned this exercise, I thought it was insane, and I had scary images dancing through my head. Super clumsy me + a heavy object that I was supposed to launch in “one explosive movement” over my head, was sure to = disaster, a cracked gym mirror, at least 7 years of bad luck, eternal humiliation. The list goes on.

After a bit of practice, however, I’m getting pretty good at it. And while I started out at 10 kilos, I’m now up to 16, and that is pretty exciting. It’s so awesome when you realize that what used to be painstakingly heavy (it was hard for me to get the 10 kilo dumbbell overhead when I first started) is now a lot lighter.

So, I give you the one arm dumbbell snatch. Why not try it in your next workout? Select a dumbbell that you can “explosively” pump into the air over your head, that’s going to feel heavy but obviously not fly out of your hand. You definitely want it to be challenging, but not so heavy that you can’t get it up in a smooth movement.

I like the description here on the Gubernatrix: The Joy of Strength Training site.

Here’s a nice little video I like, because it shows a girl doing what I want to do by the next 3 weeks. (Remember people: goals!) 16 kilos is equivalent to 35.2 pounds. That’s what I’m at right now. So in three weeks I want to get up to 20 kilos, which is 44 pounds. Here she does a warm-up set of 5 with 45 pounds. I am currently working on these with 4 sets of 4 reps, which permits me to lift the heavier weights.

Then, because we always need to set our standards high and keep progressing, here’s a girl doing it with a 60 pound dumbbell. Kick ass.

And, just so that you’re aware that not everything on the Internets is accurate, look at this video of something called the “dumbbell snatch challenge” which isn’t even a dumbbell snatch. The form is totally wrong. Gotta do your homework before you go into the gym, if you don’t have a trustworthy source providing you information about how to perform an exercise. The idea of me trying to lift my arm up straight overhead (like they show in this video) with a 35 pound dumbbell, without the squat at the end to position your weight under it, makes me feel slightly nauseous. Plus: 30 reps? Careful who you turn to when doing your research and building up your tool box of strength training exercises. If your gym has a trainer, perhaps you can ask them to check your form or explain an exercise to you as well, if you are going in unsure. Nothing wrong with the exercise in this video, to be sure, but it’s not what we’re talking about here.

Start at :55 to avoid all the blabbedy blah in the beginning.

Happy lifting! Go kill it!

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Strapping in for Work

When I first starting working out, I had absolutely no gear whatsoever. I’d always just worn “whatever” to the gym. Baggy cut off sweats, old ill-fitting t-shirts. The equivalent of pajamas, now that I think about it. It almost makes me laugh to think back on.

Once I started getting serious, I realized how ill-equipped I was to enjoy a really hard workout in that kind of get-up. Ew. The technology that goes into athletic apparel, like Nike’s Dri-Fit, serves a real purpose if you’re training like an athlete.

I used to think that buying brand-name stuff was just an overpriced marketing scheme, or way to show labels off. Now I realize that it’s necessary.

My beloved Coach even goes so far as to say that you should always wear name-brand matching top and bottom. “What’s the point of that?” I asked him.

“Shell, when you look good, you feel good, and you can do good work. It matters, trust me.”

And he’s right. I might not always match brand names (that’s still a little expensive for me) but I definitely buy the best I can afford and don’t scrimp any more. As G always says, “Quality over quantity.” Good life philosophy, and great philosophy for fitness.

So once I started seriously weightlifting, my hands were getting really calloused! Honestly I had never even thought about this. At first it was cool. Like this sign that, yeah, I’m lifting heavy shit so often that my hands are kind of getting torn up.

But then it just got to be annoying. My hands were rough and sore, and lifting was becoming kind of uncomfortable.

Hence that picture above. My Everlast weight lifting gloves, my virgin pair. Wow.

G had told me to get gloves. He said, “The cool side benefit is that when you’re in the gym and you put them on, it kind of makes you feel like you’re strapping in to work.”

Yeah, it kind of does. And, now when I’m doing burpees, I get some traction on the floor too.

Going to strap in for work now. Get out there and get your training in today.

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I Never See Results

That’s what I hear a lot, from people who have thrown in the towel and given up on their fitness routine. “I didn’t see any results. It’s just not worth it.”

Have you ever said this? Can we unpack this loaded statement for a moment?

Here are, in my experience, some of the most common reasons that people don’t “see results”

1) They’re focused on results.

Sorry to sound tongue-in-cheek, but frankly people, if you are into fitness just for the “results,” and by results I’m assuming you mean something related to a visibly changed body, increased muscle tone, weight loss, and the like, then I’m here to rain on your parade. It’s like when you shoot for a particular number on a scale, and keep telling yourself that once you hit “that number,” everything will be nice and peachy.

Focusing on results can be useful as a motivating tool, but it shouldn’t be the reason you’re investing your time and energy in a fitness regimen.

Fitness at its best is a lifestyle. That means that results will come, because you are going to be engaging in your fitness routine on a consistent and regular basis with forceful effort. Bringing me to:

2) They give up too soon.

Once again, fitness should be a lifestyle. Any lifestyle choice means it is a part of your daily/weekly routine, and doesn’t come and go with the seasons, weather, moods, etc. Just like eating or getting dressed, or going to work or making time for the things you enjoy doing, your fitness routine needs to be a regular and steady part of your life. That means you aren’t working out until you hit “X” size or “X” weight. Get those markers out of your head. You are working out because this is now part of what you do, every day or at least every other day or throughout the week.

3) They don’t modify their diet.

Let’s be honest here. You can lift weights and do burpees until the cows come home, but if you’re eating Krispy Kremes and drinking margaritas, your body won’t respond to your physical activity. Diet and exercise go hand in hand. You already know that. But it takes dedication to eating healthy in order to see consistent and visible results. When I started training I cut out all bread, pasta, non-water drinks, and sugar. For me personally, that strictness wasn’t sustainable long-term (for example I have re-incorporated bread in a limited amount and I do have more than one glass of wine a week), but for my own personal “results,” it took some major, life-altering sacrifices. So if you’re really hung up on results, you have to make drastic changes.

4) They don’t have a clue what they’re doing in the gym.

If you’re going to the gym, I commend you, as that’s more than a lot of people out there. However, what are you doing once you get there? Do you have a plan? Are you working towards specific goals? No? Then don’t complain about not getting results! You have no specific goals, so you wouldn’t even know results if they knocked you over the head, because you don’t know what results you want! Wait, you do? Ok, good. Start with that as a goal. What do you want to achieve? Then, like you would with any other goal in your life, start doing research about how to get there. Maybe you need to hire a personal trainer to get you going. Maybe you can read up and research on the Internet. Maybe a good book will give you the information and workout plans that you need (I really love this one, which I’ve probably mentioned before.) All that to say: don’t just go to the gym so you can catch up on reading a magazine while you mindlessly put one foot in front of the other on a zero-speed treadmill or bike. Going to the gym is work time. Focus, pay attention, concentrate, push yourself. If you aren’t nearly dying and soaking wet with sweat every time you finish your workout, then don’t you dare come to me complaining that you never see results.

5) No one is going to do it for you.

What is this? People often times don’t take responsibility for their lack of seeing results. Honestly. If you are saying “I didn’t see any results,” ask yourself why. Were you in the gym at least 3 times a week doing a structured training regimen with specific goals? Were you closely monitoring your diet to make sure that you were eating foods to support your fitness goals? Results won’t come to you. You have to work for them. That takes time, effort, and dedication.

No one is going to do this for you. You aren’t entitled to results. But if you work for them, you’ll get them, because at the same time, results aren’t only for “special” people. They are for anyone and for everyone — those who are willing to put in the effort, time, and dedication to making fitness their lifestyle and not just a passing fad.

What has been your biggest challenge regarding seeing results in your fitness regimen?

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