Jen Goldston on March 9, 2018
Blog #23 Weight Change – October 21, 2018
If you’ve been at the JCC lately, you may have noticed a slew of people wearing “JCC PGH Made of Steel” shirts. The accompanying idea is that Change Happens Here, right at the JCC. From my own experience, I can personally attest to that. But for fitness specifically, how do you measure change?
In the beginning of my journey, when I was focused primarily on weight loss, measuring the change was more simple. I knew if the scale was going down, or if I bought smaller sized clothing, then I was ‘winning’. I took a lot of photos to track my progress, and followed the rule that the change I sought was going to come from what I did consistently over time, not how hard I could push myself quickly.
I have relied on those photos as the scale has slowed its downward trend, always assuring myself that I was still on the right path because I was ‘smaller’ than a year ago. However, that’s not a sustainable solution. Continually downsizing means eventually disappearing, and my intention is to live loud in my own life, not shrink from it.
In the spring I spent a liberating afternoon in my bedroom closet, at first fearfully, then gleefully tossing away clothes that were too big for me. These past few weeks however, I have been struggling. I was in the same closet, trying on a few shirts from last fall. Although they fit, they felt different. Tighter through the biceps and across the back. This was new for my journey, and I felt panic rise up in me. What was I doing wrong?
So I pulled up a photo of myself from this time last year and snapped a quick selfie to compare it to.
I want to take a minute to talk about something I’ve been pushing myself through. Self Acceptance. I looked at the two photos I had taken and I thought ‘well maybe if I retake the selfie, if I pose differently, if I pose better…‘ but you know what? This is where I am right now. I worked hard to be here, and I am doing okay.
Those two photos are both fine. Different, but fine. I was going after particular goals in each of them. In the first, to take off the weight, in the second, to be strong. They shouldn’t be the same, because the goals aren’t the same. I was scared when my shirts didn’t fit the same way. After being heavy all of my life, I think I will always harbor the fear that right now is a dream I don’t deserve, and if I am not extremely diligent, I will go back to where I was; unhappy, unhealthy. This is part of what they don’t tell you when you sign up for a membership at the J. That when you are uncertain of what is happening, when you have a question, a worry, (or better, a success, a victory!) that there is a tribe, a community to support you through it. To help answer your fear with information, to celebrate your success with joy. My shirts fit differently because I am stronger, more muscular than I was a year ago. My body is not in a worse place than last year, it is in a different place, one I have worked towards.
I, you, we- need to assess where we are now, and live in that moments strength. Fight for that days goal, accept that Self. The Change Happens physically, yes, but it also happens on the inside. I think the subtle wording is what makes the JCC’s slogan so personal. You can make it fit what you want, what you need, as you need it.
Maybe your fitness goals are changing. Maybe you are slowly turning from weight loss to weight maintenance or after a summer of lazy days by the pool, maybe you are ready to kick the cardio back into high gear. The underlying message is the same, The Change will meet you where you are, and it will take you to where you want to be. With dedication, effort and consistency, which should be no problem, since you are indeed, Made of Steel.
Blog #22 – September 20, 2018
Two weeks ago, I said yes to being on the billboard for the JCC, something I would have balked at the year prior. Today was Photo Shoot Day, and yes, I’m a little emotional about it.
So I want to tell you a story, about how the girl who would have never, became the girl who did.
“Do not disparage the girl who got you here.”
I looked up from my phone, opened to a list of pictures labeled Fluffy Photos and rolled my eyes. I had been scanning the photos for a comparison aid, a “before” picture to accompany a more recent one. “They are all terrible.” I had muttered. “I mean look at them.”
If this were a movie I would have had a watershed moment of enlightenment, I might have realized I was asking someone who cared about me to agree with how awful I was. I might have even heard what they were saying as more than kind commentary. But this is real life, not highlight-reel life, so I continued to belittle that girl in the photos, the girl who would Never.
However, I have been thinking about that short, powerful sentence since it was said. I never needed to step on that girl to be elevated, I needed to hug her.
That girl, who took the first faltering, frightened steps on this journey, deserves my respect, not my desire to excommunicate her from my successes. She had no idea how hard this would be, no promise of completion or triumph, no experience to lean on, or marks in the road to assure her that she was still on the right path. She jumped every hurdle I was scared of, if not with grace then with grit. That girl was shifting the way she thought about what was impossible, how she viewed what was insurmountable, what she was willing to accept as ‘good enough’ and what she was going to crawl and claw to achieve instead, but she didn’t do it alone.
The JCC says ‘Change Happens Here’, and it is a catchy phrase, well suited to so many situations and stages of life. For me, the change literally happened here, inside these four walls, with a group of people who have become my mentors, my friends, and my team.
It was that very slogan that inspired me to request that my team be represented up there on the billboard with me. Group Exercise, Personal Training, and You – the complete trifecta for Change. The perfect team. The change happens. I have said this over and over. Trust the process, trust yourself, give yourself the chance to succeed, but do not think you have to do it alone.
There has been nothing as supportive as knowing that when I triumph, my team is going to clap for me, and that when I falter, they are going to be there just the same. They have been the answers to my questions, the comfort to my worries, the steadfast believers and challengers. I had to show up for classes and training, I had to be accountable for what I ate and how hard I worked, but I am telling you, the
Change doesn’t just happen here, it happens because of Who is here
I am done with the line of thinking that Fluffy is a synonym for Unworthy, and it is thanks to the people who dedicate their days, evenings and weekends to helping others realize the change they wish to see.
So when you drive past the JCC’s billboard in Squirrel Hill, you’ll see me (OMG!), Michael and Evan, representing Personal Training and Group Exercise, and that ridiculous smile on my face? That’s all my gratitude leaking out in big mushy feelings, because my cup of thanks runneth over.
Blog #21 Group Blast – September 12, 2018
Group Power may be the (barbell) strength training class at the JCC, however, I have never felt as strong as I do after a Group Blast class. But it wasn’t always that way.
Group Blast is “a one-hour, results-driven cardio workout that uses The STEP as its primary training tool. The workout is designed to make you feel like an athlete in training” (and if your eyes just started to glaze over, don’t worry, I’m done quoting the MOSSA website, I really just want to talk to you about your inner strength.
I was unsure about Blast, before I took it. I had already made the firm decision that I was absolutely not an athlete, so if this class was going to train me like I was one, then it couldn’t be for me. It seemed impossibly difficult, coordinated in a way that I simply wasn’t. After a few back and forth conversations about what an actually athlete is, I looked up the definition.
“Definition of athlete:
1 : a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina”
Athletes are not just born. They are made, every day, by consistency and dedication. They aren’t just on the field, the TV, or in the Olympics, they are standing next to you in the check out line, they are looking back out at you from the mirror. They are all around in Group Ex classes at the JCC, and I am continually inspired
Because Blast can be intense, I feel a camaraderie with my fellow participants. There was one song in Blast that went;
“We’re in this together
Hear our hearts beat together
We stand strong together”
Every time that song would play, I would feel something extra surge up inside of me, the energy of the music pulling me along, asking me to give the workout a little bit more than I thought I had in me to give.
At the end of those classes, you have to feel proud of yourself. You don’t just find willpower in those moments, you create it. You strengthen your physical self each workout, but your inner self is reaping those rewards as well. Soon, you will be walking into Blast not apprehensive but confident, excited.
The JCC currently offers Group Blast at the following times:
Mondays at 6:15 am, Wednesdays at both 9 am and 5:15 pm, Fridays at 8:15 am and Saturdays at 8:45 am.
My hope is that you will come to a class if you haven’t already. That you will give yourself the hour to bask in your own inner tenacity, to feel the exceptional gift of strength and stamina. If you are feeling a bit nervous, I will be at the Wednesday 5:15 pm and Friday 8:15 am classes the entire month of September (excepting Wednesday the 19th when the JCC will be closed for Yom Kippur.)
I keep the following quote in my gym bag. I look at it before nearly every class I take, a reminder of how far I have come, and the respect I have for what I have done, I share it now with you, in the hopes that before your next class, you’ll think of it too.
“There will be obstacles. There will be doubts. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are No Limits.”
Blog #20 I Went on Vacation – August 28, 2018
I went on vacation.
I went on vacation and at the gentle urging of friends and mentors, I took a complete week off. In fact, the most strenuous activities I participated in were sea shell hunting walks along the beach, and refereeing my three rambunctious children who (gasp) had to share a bed in our hotel room. The vacation was great. A perfect mix of leisurely down time and the kind of crazy that only kids can create.
However, before we left, I was over whelmed and anxious at my proposed time off. Would I undo progress while away? Could I stay out of the gym and not feel sluggish, or worse, resentful? Would I be able to pick up where I left off upon my return home? Could I be actively and willingly 100% present in the moment without feeling like I ought to be doing something else?
Taking a week off, vacation or not, is not for everyone. My reasons were layered. Firstly, I knew my body needed a rest. I had been pushing hard at the gym for a while now, soreness that would fade a day or two after a workout had become a constant companion. I knew taking a week off, would only do good things for me upon my return to the gym. Shocking the body with change is one way to break a plateau.
Body pre vacation: High Intensity Work outs forever!
Body on vacation: ….I don’t understand… are we lazy now? Should I… put sweatpants on?
Body post vacation: OMG We are back at the gym! What is happening?!
I imagine that’s what my body is currently going through.
Secondly, I owed it to my family. My husband, and my kids have been staunch supporters of this huge shift in my life, but it has been an adjustment period for all, as I have plodded blindly along, succeeding, and sometimes failing to figure out what works. I owed them my complete attention, and I wanted to give it to them.
Thirdly, I finally understand what my father-in-law has been talking about all these years when he gripes about going away. “I can’t get my workouts in” he will complain to my husband, and when met with the consolation prize of a different gym he will dig his heels in and say “It’s just not the J.” Well I get that now. There is something familiar and comforting about the JCC, not easily replicated. For me, the allure of a different gym just wasn’t there.
Look, I talk to my kids a lot about balance. About what is fair. Balancing what they want to do, with what they need to do. Balancing what they take, with what they give. Explaining that it can’t be all or nothing, it can’t be their way or the highway. There must be compromise.
The lesson is hard, and I (re)learned it this past week. I talk about balance, but I have been rusty in the act of self practice, and this vacation was a good reminder about stepping outside of myself and my routine.
Everyone is different. For me, balance is allowing myself to feel uncomfortable outside of my everyday norm, and knowing that it’s okay. Balance is making a plan, but keeping room to include ice cream. Balance is knowing that the gym will be waiting for me with open arms when I get home. Balance is knowing that I didn’t make this progress in one week, and I can’t undo it in one week. Balance is hitting the gym as hard as I want and need on some weeks, and not on others. Balance is giving myself permission to feel the things I feel. Even if that includes worry, or anxiety. My inside journey is as unique as the one occurring on the outside.
For me, exercise is a form of therapy, and this vacation brought to light that exercise is part of my balance. It’s important to my physical and my mental health, so while it’s important to take a week off, it’s equally as important to come back.
Blog #19 Then and Now – August 9, 2018
I had a party to go to. We had been invited, had RSVP’d yes, hired a babysitter, and I had bought a dress to wear. I used to turn down invites without thought. They would stress me out. The desire to connect with my friends was outweighed by… well, weight. My weight. The act of finding something to wear, and would I fit where we were going, would I have to eat in front of people, was I going to be judged, was I going to be comfortable, it was entirely overwhelming
But I’m not that girl anymore I reminded myself, as I put on the dress, then practiced sitting down, and standing up, twisting in front of the full length mirror. I sat down again, crossed and uncrossed my legs, stood up and checked myself from either side. Something felt wrong. The mirror showed a body that fit the dress I was wearing, but my body was emphatically telling me otherwise. I could feel my arms, my belly, with each breath. I felt every bit as unsure and uncomfortable as I did in the body that was 70 lbs heavier.
Sometimes the work you put into your body doesn’t translate to the work that needs to be done in your head. Some days, I still feel like the girl from before, like I take up too much space, like I inhabit a body that I don’t have complete control over how to move. Losing weight is a mind distorter, I’m sorry, but it’s true. It doesn’t fix all the mental distress you came into the battle with.
It won’t cure you of the emotional bad habits you’ve formed, and it won’t silence the voice in your head that tries to tear down what you are building. It doesn’t fix everything. What I have found is that exercise is like a dimmer switch for that distress. Working out with a personal trainer at the JCC, and participating in the multitude of Group Exercise classes offered gives me enough calm to do the necessary work in my heart, after I’ve spent an hour or so working on my physical self. Although the work I do on the inside is a solo act, I have come to feel immense gratitude for the camaraderie of the gym. I’m not a great self motivator, but you get swept up in the energy of a room full of people striving for a common goal. It’s really special.
However, I need to keep it real with you. Before and after photos, mirror selfies, self motivational hashtags… they are a highlight-reel end product. They are the polished commodity on an end cap ready for sale, and what you aren’t seeing, are all the re-takes, and the fails, the hard work and the mess ups that happen in-between those two photos. There is so much more occurring than weight loss. I am still fighting for self acceptance. I will always be fighting, because it is worth it, to be strong for my kids, to be strong for myself, to be healthy.
Some days you come out on top, some days you take the dress off, and you put on jeans and a black tank top instead. You look in the mirror and you aren’t sure you’ve made the right choice, because you want to be the girl who just wears the dress, but you are also the girl who is learning that it is okay to do what is right, for that particular moment. Life, and this journey, are not an all or nothing situation. A donut does not derail a journey, and neither does a dress. But I’m sharing this photo with you, as a promise, to myself.
I am going to wear that dress out, eventually.
Blog #18 – 365 days. 52 weeks. 12 months. 1 year.
July 28, 2018
A year ago I had my first Personal Training session with Michael. Since then, I’ve told people how I arrived absurdly early, and that I walked up and down the hallway debating whether I should cancel and leave, or stick it out. I’ve recounted the story of puking in a bush on the way home, and never being sure if it was nerves or the exertion of that first workout. I have spoken up about being unsure if I would come back for a second time, and how it was only because Michael texted me after our first training session, congratulating me and telling me ‘Good work,’ that I did return. I remember coming home and telling my husband that I was able to do 5 pushups (from my knees), and how that was 4 more than I thought I was capable of.
Last month I banged out 120 pushups during a Personal Training session.
I keep a journal and in it, beneath July 27, 2017, it reads *Michael had me do Dead Lifts during the evaluation, I did two sets of ten with 20 lb weights, for a total of 40 lbs.*
This week I dead lifted 230 lbs.
The changes happen. They are fought for, they are hard won, I have earned them, and I am proud of them, but they have not been achieved solo. The journey is mine, but I do not walk it alone. Michael has been unbelievably dedicated to helping me realize, and then smash goals I set for myself. He is as hard working and resolute as they come, and he has been a safe space for me to ask questions, to push farther, to rage when things felt impossible. He has been a sounding board for advice and at times, he has been the one to shake me back to reality when I needed a reminder that progress is progress no matter how small or slow it seems.
And there have been times when it has felt slow, you guys. When it has felt like a steady march in place, going nowhere fast. There have been days where I have been unbelievably sore, when I have had to reevaluate how I take care of my body. I have had to incorporate Epsom salt baths, massages, general self care that took not just more time, but a physical heart shift. I had to remind myself that Self Care is not Selfish, it is mandatory, it is essential. You must care for your body. It works hard for you, you demand a lot of it, it is the only one you get, it is precious, and you must respect it.
In the last year I’ve squatted 165 lbs. Deadlifted 230 lbs. I’ve done chin ups, ladder drills, TRX work, presses and sit-ups, wall balls, Russian twists, run the stairs, pushed the sled, burpeed till I thought I’d die, box jumped and bear crawled. I have performed workouts that have left me sucking wind and exhausted, and it has made me want more. I am more driven now, than ever, I have seen what dedication can reap, and I like it. I like feeling strong. I like turning what feels impossible into something I can say I have achieved.
Of the changes that have occurred in this last year, yes, some have been physical, but not all. It is those invisible changes I treasure most, the exceptional changes to my core being. Yes, I have dropped a total of 60 lbs, and I have brought my body fat percentage down from 35.4% to 20.7%. I have gone down in sizes and up in weights. I don’t worry anymore, whether I will fit into a chair, or be able to squeeze into my car in a tight parking lot space. Personal Training has freed me from those things, and instead, given me the opportunity to combat stress and anxiety with something that is *good* for me. It has given me the gift of being able to play with my children, to run the laundry up our four flights of steps without worrying if I will make it, the confidence to know I am strong and capable **and it is because of the work that I have done**.
A year ago, I was scared. I didn’t know how to take care of myself, I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know if Personal Training was for me, but I knew I needed someone to help me help myself. I feel such gratitude to the JCC, and most especially to Michael, for helping me find my way, for not giving up on me when I felt like giving up on myself, for countless questions that were met with gracious advice and sound answers, for pushing me harder than I would have ever pushed myself, and for giving me the opportunity to become a version of myself I never thought I would know.
Do not give up. Do not quit on yourself. The time is going to pass anyway. Be good to yourself because you deserve to put yourself first. The changes happen. Make them excellent ones.
Blog #17 Launch Time – July 18, 2018
It was October, and I was grateful. Summer was a hard season to be self conscious. I didn’t know how to dress for the heat while hiding myself under layers of clothes, and I didn’t think I deserved any different. I saw the winter as a reprieve from the stress of self-judgment, chafed thighs, and bat-wing arms.
I had already performed my yearly summers-end soliloquy, that this would be the last year I allowed to be stolen from me, so I went to Group Active. Well, I walked in, and then back out. Back down the stairs, back out to my car, back home. I had been training with Michael for a few months at this point, but training in a well lit room, lined with mirrors and filled with other people… that sounded hard, very close to punishment.
”I’ve been punishing myself for years already. It has been hard for years.” I told myself, trying to talk myself into going to Group Active the following week. I had vacillated between restricting my calorie intake and binging on ‘bad’ foods when I couldn’t take it anymore for so long that I was unsure of what balance looked like, or how good health could feel. I turned down invitations out, refusing to take part in my own life and I told myself that this is just who I was. I was a mother, a wife. Not a gym go-er, not an athlete. ”It’s not for everyone.” I consoled myself, but I was wrong. Group Ex is for everyone, and especially Group Active, which meets you exactly where you are at, in this very moment.
You have to choose your hard, or it will be chosen for you.
And I was done letting other factors choose my path.
The challenges in the beginning of this journey with Group Ex were different than the ones I face now, and the ones I don’t even know about yet. In the beginning, it was the fight to get through the soreness of an unconditioned body, to wade through the anxiety of stepping far outside of my comfort zone, of listening closely enough to hear the cues for the class, and remembering to match them up with the right steps. It was simply holding on long enough to get my feet under me. By January I felt (dare I say) comfortable in Group Active, and Group Power, I had struggled, then succeeded through 12 weeks of Group Ex, an entire cycle of the class, from start to finish, and then they changed the program, as they do every 12 weeks.
I’ll admit I felt a little betrayed by this switch; where were the songs I had begun to hear in my sleep? Where were the moves that felt tattooed into my very being? Why, I wondered, change something I was finally feeling good at? Something that I could now do without feeling like I needed a break in the middle (okay, maybe more than just at the middle).
Well there’s a reason for that.
MOSSA (which provides the programming for most of the JCC’s group exercise classes) has four quarterly launches per year, breaking down into 12 week programs. This change is necessary for growth, to continually shake up how we train our bodies. If we do the same workout, with the same weights on into infinity we would stagnate, our muscles would get used to the stress of that exercise, and eventually, the benefits of what was once a challenging workout, would decrease. The idea that “if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you” is real.
I like this philosophy. The same way MOSSA titles its classes with words that evoke power, strength, fighting for it, centering yourself, so to, does MOSSA invite you to treat working out much the same way you might treat the rest of your life. You likely could not watch the same tv program on repeat ad nauseam, or perform chores or errands in the same order, on the same day, at the same time forever. Your mind craves change, and it can be exciting, as well as nerve wracking.
I have found that through the different launches since I began Group Ex last fall, though the bones of the program remain the same (example: Group Active is always twenty minutes of cardio, twenty minutes of strength training, a balance track, a core track and a stretch/cool down) in the beginning weeks I am always sore somewhere different. This tells me I am shocking my body with new workouts, I am using my muscles differently, and those things will get new results.
In Group Power, I am constantly surprised that each launch manages to utilize and strengthen the same muscles, in different ways. It is important to have variety in your workouts, not only so you don’t get bored and quit on yourself, but so that you continue to give your body what it needs to improve and to stay healthy.
Group Launches are super fun classes to attend. There are lots of instructors teaching the class, and all the participants are learning it for the first time also, so no reason to feel pressure to keep up.
The Summer 2018 Group Active launches this Friday, July 20th, at 9:15 am! I’ll be there. Will you?
Blog #16 – “You’re right. I am different.” July 5, 2018
Whatever you call it, losing weight, getting fit, getting strong, becoming active, changing your trajectory: A lot of the work doesn’t happen in the public forum. In fact, I have found most of it occurs in your head long before it’s displayed outwardly. While you’ve been adjusting to the ever-changing dynamic of your Self, the change may seem abrupt and shocking to others.
The desire to begin. The will to continue through those first difficult months. The stamina to endure. The willingness to honor yourself. Those aren’t things you learn in the kitchen, or on the gym floor. They are the absolute decisions you make when you look into the mirror, and are able to search out your soul. What you do with those newfound building blocks, those are the things that occur in view of other people. The hours you log at the gym, the way you decide to fuel your body, and yes, the way your body looks, are the tangibles in this journey. When you respect your body because your soul demands it, something else might begin to change also: your self worth.
When you change how you see your base self, others notice.
“You seem different”
“You seem so busy”
“You aren’t the same”
I’ve stopped answering these statements with apologies and have instead begun to say “You’re right.” I am different. I am busy. I am not the same, but that’s not a bad thing.
Undergoing any kind of transformation is enough to shake a person’s core, and fitness is no different. All of my relationships have changed. All of them. How could I not anticipate, even expect this? Why shouldn’t all the dynamics shift when my relationship with my own self changed? But I didn’t anticipate the transition, and it has been a different kind of challenge than the one I have faced in the gym. The way I parent, my marriage, my friendships, and familial relationships; there have been growing pains and growing closer in each of them.
While challenging my body’s strength has changed my outward appearance, it has also changed my insides. What I insist on from the world at large is different. What I no longer apologize for is different: I refuse to be sorry for the space I take up because I deserve that space. You deserve the space you occupy also. I refuse to be apologetic for the dedication I give myself. What we are doing, you and I, it takes focus, it is hard, and it is rewarding. I no longer accept that my size needs to dictate my confidence. My happiness dictates my confidence, and I alone control my happiness.
I actively choose happiness.
When I was at my most unhealthy, I felt more than invisible, I felt ignored. Doors that were opened (literally and figuratively) for others, remained closed to me. After I began to lift weights, and lose weight, I noticed a shift in some of my relationships. It felt as though people who seemed to support me getting healthy at first were now questioning if I needed to be at the gym so often, if I needed to lose anymore weight, why I couldn’t be satisfied with what I had. They questioned when I ate, what I ate, if I ate. These comments impacted me at first, in the fragile infancy of building my self-esteem.
Was I going too far? Did I want too much for myself? Did I even deserve to feel confident? It has been one of the more quiet and painful parts to this journey to realize that some relationships were not flexible enough to accommodate change. It has also been difficult to confront my own inflexibility, to acknowledge that while I wanted instantaneous results in the gym, so to did I want the unquestioning support and seamless switch in my relationships without putting in any of the work that is required for strong connections.
This journey has also opened me up to people whose paths I never would have crossed, had it not been for the commonality of the JCC. Across faith, or age or gender, I have found like-minded change-seekers. The worthy bonds, the strong relationships are adjusting. I am learning how to fully and authentically live in this new journey, and the people who love me are gracefully accepting that change is overwhelming, that more is happening than 215lb deadlifts, or researching protein shakes.
I think the shift from ‘fat’ to ‘thin-presenting’ is the most under-talked aspect of living a healthy and active life. Your body has changed, but has your head? When you think of yourself, are you wrestling between recognizing all you’ve achieved and still feeling like the version of yourself you began this journey as? The way the world reacts to you is a direct reflection of what you tell the world your value is
Tell the world you are worth everything, but that you always were worth everything. Our worth is not wrapped up in the mirror’s reflection, despite insistence on the opposite, which is why it’s important to talk about the gym as a place to get and stay healthy and strong, not a place to get skinny. It’s also one of the things I find most attractive about MOSSA programming for the JCC’s group exercise classes. Have you looked at the posters? Group Active, Group Power, Group Fight, Group Blast, Group Centergy. Those words, they evoke a sense of strength and health, they do not ask you to look a certain way, or to want become a certain thing. They require that you show up, and that you invest in yourself. They literally ask you to be active, powerful, to fight for it, to center your energy. In a way, they are the silent cheerleaders urging you to continue onwards on your path, whatever that path looks like for you.
Talk to your support network, your friends, your loved ones, speak your heart loudly about where your mind is at. Change does not mean finality, and let them know while you’ve been finding your self, you’ve been reminded how much better life is with people you care about, same path or not.
Blog #15 – Foundations for Fitness – June 22, 2018
“Don’t give up on the person you are becoming”
When my personal trainer Michael first came to me with the idea for a class for beginners, ‘for people like you’ he said, ‘who are unsure of where to start, or nervous to come to the gym, but who want to get strong, who want to see change’ well… I was worried. (Surprise surprise!) I loved the idea, I believed in it, but would he find the people for a class of nervous gym-goers, by advertising in the gym? If it didn’t work out, would this class ever get another chance?
Nearly every morning from the time the posters were hung till the day before the class launched, I checked in with the concierge desk asking if anyone had signed up. I asked Michael how he felt about the impending start date and he calmly told me he believed people would show up. And me? Well, true to my modus operandi, I continued to worry over it. I thought about the long June weeks the year before when I walked back and forth to the JCC from my house, fully intending on putting some solid foundation down for the changes I so desperately wanted, and how hard it was at first. I worried whether people would hear about the class and whether they would be brave enough to sign up.
I needn’t have worried.
June 5th, Fitness Foundations launched to a small group of dedicated change-seekers. They came into the class timid, but willing, and Michael has guided them through stretches and basic forms for all the exercises they will need to build upon. And though it isn’t my class, and I haven’t done more than gratefully participate in it along with these women, I am as proud of them as if it were. They ask all the right questions, they fight through fatigue and soreness, they pay attention to every detail, they support each other.
From 12-12:45 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the Garage in the gym becomes an island unto itself where I get the great gift of bearing witness to people building each other up for no other reason than that it feels good to do good. It’s nearly an hour of safe space realizations, no question is dumb, no explanation is hurried through. Michael is completely at ease, this is what he is good at; quickly learning a persons limits, strengths and comfort zone, and compassionately but insistently pushing them just outside.
I’ve written about this before, but during one Spinning class, my instructor was deep in the throes of being super motivational (and semi-funny) when he said “Find your comfort zone, and then leave it. It’s right behind you, but I want you to try to stay outside of it, stay here, with me.” And I have held to that tightly ever since. I believe in the truth behind those words. I believe that growth comes from being scared, being in a place of temporary discomfort, and doing it anyway. I believe in the idea that we have to take fear of failure off of the table. You have to expect failure, not fear it. Failure lasts only as long as it takes for you to make the come back greater than the set back. We don’t succeed the first time at everything, and that’s okay, because we learn every time we try something, success or failure aside.
This journey is not a win-or-lose, this is win-or-learn.
I have learned more than just a refresher course on how to get a parallel squat, or to be reminded to keep tension when I dead lift. I am learning that strengthening the body strengthens the soul, it makes your voice stronger, the one you use to connect to other people, and when you have a confident voice, you gladly, loudly, use it to build other people up, because you are no longer conditioned to tear your own self down.
It’s not just foundations for fitness in that class, although we are certainly covering those bases too. It is laying the groundwork for huge change, clearing the way to imagine all the possibilities, set all the goals, and yes, how to do a proper pushup, because I’ve been told that eventually, if I say I love them enough, eventually, they will bring me joy.
Blog #14 – 15 Months – June 15, 2018
Rewind 15 months. My family is at The Happiest Place on Earth (yes, Disney), and I’ve purchased the all mighty Photo Pass (which is where you can go up to anyone who works at Disney who is carrying a camera, and get your photo taken) and I have never regretted a purchase more in all my life.
Every time my kids spot someone with a camera they beg for their photo. They beg for their photo with me. They don’t know that having my photo taken is the last thing I want to do, standing in the Florida heat at the heaviest weight I have ever been. What they are asking is for me to be present with them, to be available. I take the photos.
When we come back to Pittsburgh I go through the dozens of pictures looking for one taken at the right angle, the flattering angle, the angle that will not photograph what is there, but there are none to be had.
“I don’t know what I expected” I lament to my husband. “I’m fat. So I look fat in photos.” But it wasn’t that I looked fat in the photos that bothered me, it was that I knew I didn’t want to be in those photos. I was letting, had been letting, my body dictate what parts of my life my soul was participating in. That, much more than weight or size, was the catalyst that brought me to the precipice of change.
I look through my photo albums of 2016/2017 and I think ‘here is the birthday party I did not attend because I couldn’t bring myself to go shopping for something to wear’, ‘here is the event I made my husband go to alone because I was embarrassed’, ‘here is my kids’ performance where I would not take a photo because….’ and the list goes on.
For me, this journey has not been entirely about losing weight, so much as it has been about finding strength. Strength to parent better, strength to partner better, strength to participate in my own life in a way that wasn’t viable 15 months ago.
If you read my blog posts, I want you to really hear this: The gym, specifically the JCC, it saved my life. Not because I was close to death, but because it gave me back to myself. It gave me back to the people who love me. Personal Training and Group Ex guided me, continue to guide me without judgment or demands, to be the version of myself that I am most happy with. Happy people participate in their lives better.
You do not need to know how to work out to come to the gym. You do not need to be fit to come to the gym. You do not need to be coordinated to come to the gym. You need to be brave. You need to come to the gym on the days when it is easy, and you need to come to the gym on the days when it is hard. The days when you feel scared, the day after you walk out of a class because you got nervous.
The weight loss, the muscle gains, they are the physical manifestations of the emotional changes that have occurred to me, within me, in the last year, but if you asked me what has made me happiest since I started at the J, I would tell you; photos. I have taken more photos in the last year, than in the five before that combined. It’s not because I have the perfect body now, or even my perfect body, it’s because I am proud of myself, and I want you to feel proud also.
15 months ago I sat on the edge of my bed and regretted the Photo Pass purchase, but I have grown grateful to it. I am thankful to that woman who uncomfortably side-shuffled into photos for her kids, and I am grateful she recognized how unhappy she was, and I am unbelievably grateful that she took those first shaky, terrifying steps to change the trajectory she was traveling.
15 months. The time passes anyway, make it serve you. Allow yourself your own dedication, invest in yourself. Imagine where you could be 15 months from now. Maybe dead lifting your body weight, maybe having discovered your love for spinning, perhaps having made a friend or two (hiiii, pick me), but without doubt, finding yourself in a more whole, happier frame of mind, simply by telling yourself “I’ve got this, and I’m not going to let you down.”
Blog #13 “Operation: Train the Quit out of Me” – June 8
“Honor the space between no longer and not yet” – Nancy Levin
I have talked about body image, and self care, about rest, recovery and The Journey. I have taken closer looks at Personal Training, Spinning and Group Ex classes. I’ve told you about my missteps, my fears and my failures, while also celebrating victories, successes and progress.
We have talked to one another, in class, the locker room or elsewhere and you have asked me about this past year as though it were linear, a straight shot from Before to After. A clear decision and then forward progress from there on, and I want to tell you, it’s not. It hasn’t been, it won’t be. That doesn’t mean there isn’t Joy in the Journey, but it does mean that when you’re in it for the long haul, the days will be like a sliding scale. Great to Bad and all the in-betweens. I try to remember that the bad days have their place, they give me perspective and teach me gratitude for the great days.
Inside of my own personal Journey, there has been a semi-covert side mission that I have been working on which I call; Operation: Train the Quit out of Me. The quest is to achieve the most Great Days possible. To make the concerted effort to consistently choose happiness.
Catchy, right? Yes, I’ve been jumping my hurdles, sometimes smashing goals (and sometimes hauling myself bodily along, resisting all the way), however, there has to be something deeper in the crusade for health than smaller clothes or a trimmer waist. I want to take the lessons I am learning inside the gym and apply them to life. I want the word health to be a wide net that catches all the ways I can be healthy; body, soul and mind.
I don’t want my default to be “I can’t” anymore. I know better now. I know “I can’t” really means “I am afraid” or “I don’t want to try”, because I actually CAN. We actually CAN. It might not be perfect, or pretty, but trying is brave, and essential to progress.
When I started Group Ex classes, it was enough to show up. To be moving, was enough. To feel proud for having made it my priority to practice self care, was enough. At first it was enough to show up, and then it wasn’t. I wanted more. Listen, there are days when I make myself go to class (I’m looking at you: Group Core), and I remind myself ‘I’m here. I did it. I’ve won’, but for the most part? I’m constantly on the hunt for the next thing to challenge myself with, and maybe you are also.
After the initial weight drop and lifting gains occurred, it was a growing-pains kind of season for me where I tried to figure out (still try to figure out) how to measure my progress and set goals for myself. I have found that working towards something keeps me motivated and in check, rather than feeling like I am treading water. Treading water is boring and when you get bored, it’s easy to find other things to do.
MOSSA (from whom the JCC licenses some of their Group Exercise programming) is terrific at keeping boredom at bay since they switch up their classes every 12 weeks. It’s just long enough to be uncomfortable with the new stuff, confident as you get to know it, and on the verge of boredom by the time the next launch rolls out. But what about outside of Group Exercise? What about Personal Training, or when you’re working out alone?
Did you know the JCC is currently having a 100 Days of Summer Challenge? You log your workouts after signing up online or at the concierge desk (it’s free!) and when you reach 50 workouts for the summer, you get a free personal training session (which I strongly urge you to do, you can get some new ideas for how to shake up your own workouts!) When you reach 75, you get a 1/2 hour massage and 100 will get you three months of Platinum membership! You’re going to be working out anyway, why not make the workout work for you?
My personal trainer, Michael, and I have been switching my workouts up to help keep the boredom at bay, and also to continue to kick start my body fat loss when it starts to plateau. Instead of heavy lifting sessions that focus on a specific part of the body, he has been writing out full body workouts. They are fast paced, intense, exhausting and awesome and I am seeing progress. If you aren’t working with a trainer, HIIT class is a great full body workout that occurs several times per week. You can go as often as you are able for one set price and since the class is different every single time, I ensure you will be kept on your toes.
These are a few of the ways I am shaking things up this season. After a long winter, I want to enjoy the summer season and know that I am also honoring and respecting my Self and my body, and really, who doesn’t want a free massage?
Blog #12 Self Care – May 25
At the turn of the new year I got a tattoo. It’s a line from a poem by T.S Eliot called ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. The line reads “Do I dare to eat a peach?” and in it, Prufrock contemplates old age, his failing teeth, and if he should be as reckless as to eat a fruit with a stone pit inside. To me, the line sums up the simple things we worry over, and the every day acts of bravery we commit when we decide to go for it anyway.
I want to talk about self care – what self care means to me. Before I started going regularly to the JCC, before Personal Training or Group Ex classes, before long walks or healthy eating intentions, there was only the seedling of hope that I could turn around what was rapidly becoming a very uncomfortable life. There were many false starts that seemed to validate my doubts, and little progress to contradict my concerns.
Everything felt like it had a stone pit at the beginning. I was overwhelmed with the choices before me. There is so much information out there telling you how to be the best version of yourself. Who to train with and how, what to eat, when to sleep, how to be happy, how to be healthy, how to be everything to everyone else.
But little of the internet’s highlight reel focuses on how to be good to yourself, just for the sake of making your Self happy.
I knew before I embarked on this journey that I had to get right with myself. It took time, and if I am honest, was a sad affair. I struggled with what I saw as the cessation of Me as I had been, and worried over getting to know this changed version of myself. For me to succeed, I knew it could not just be by going to the gym and eating better. I had to buy into the idea that I was worth the work , I had to come to terms with both being an okay person, and reconcile that with actively trying to change that person.
Moving from punishing myself for mistreating my body to self care required a huge heart shift. I had to make a concerted effort to make space and time for Me, when my habit was to say ‘I can wait.’ or ‘I don’t deserve it.’ Was I being fair with my time? Was I important? Couldn’t I just make do with what I had already? The weight of uncertainty felt like a slow strangle.
Every person will have their reasons for why they participate in acts of self care or why they don’t. For me, after a year of committing to actively caring about my body and the soul that resides inside of it, I can tell you that the idea of not being able to serve from an empty vessel is a valid one. There is a reason they tell you, on an airplane, to put your mask on first before assisting others.
Before I had carved out dedicated gym time, I hoarded every scrap of every minute I could find, never knowing when I would get another moment of quiet. Part of that is being in the deep trenches of parenting, but a lot of it is just being over extended, like all of us. When I gave myself permission to be absent from my everyday life for X amount of hours a week in order to get to the gym, I suddenly found I was not resentful of how full the remaining hours were, because I knew I was my own ally. I had given myself permission to care for my Self, and I wasn’t going to let me down.
Since then Self care has morphed to fit my changing needs. A rest day, or a day with an extra class when I am feeling stressed, a week of dedicated food journaling, or one where I don’t enter a single calorie. A massage (which, at 33, I had my very first one at the JCC last week, and it was great!), or even a selfie, to be reminded that it’s okay to love myself enough to take my own damn photo. Self care has extended beyond the gym, since my Self extends beyond there as well. It is buying the book by your favorite author instead of borrowing it from the library, it is treating yourself to the good coffee from the place that is a little out of the way once in a while. It is what makes the deep rooted part of you sit up with anticipation and say ‘Thank You’.
There is something visceral about taking care of your Self, it is as though you are rebelling against the world at large, shouting into the void that you don’t need to be told how you measure up, because you treat yourself kindly regardless of what the world shouts back at you. Your worth is unmeasurable, your basket is full of peaches, and on any given day, stone pits can be found in your trash can, as you devour worries and find bravery in the smallest of acts.
Blog #11 Fitness Foundations – May 17
“I don’t want to be in the main gym.” I told my trainer at the beginning of one of our first sessions. “I don’t know how to do anything correctly. I don’t want to be judged. I don’t know what I am doing.”
“I’m intimidated, I’m nervous. I might actually die I am so nervous.” I continued my soliloquy to Michael, not breathing as I tried to verbalize what made the idea of the gym so difficult and anxiety inducing. Everyone at the JCC had been kind to me, there were floor staff to help with any questions I might have had, it was clean and well kept, and everyone else seemed to know exactly what they were doing. Everyone except me and I knew I did not want to do anything wrong, be judged, or make a fool of myself.
When I signed up for Personal Training with Michael I arrived for my evaluation extra early and paced the glass wall outside of the cardio room for long enough that a staff member asked me if I needed help. Why are first steps so frightening? Why is that the free fall after you’ve stepped off the diving boards edge is liberating, but curling your toes over the end is terrifying? Because to let go, it requires trust; trust in the process, and more importantly, trust in yourself.
”I belong here. I want to be here” I repeated to myself, as I descended the stairs to the weight room, but I did not feel as though I belonged. I did not know the difference between a squat, a row or a bench press. I could not tell you the correct way to do a push-up, or the difference between a set and a rep. I looked at the myriad of machines and dumbbells and felt weighted by my lack of knowledge.
As I poured out this worry to Michael, he didn’t brush it off or condescend to me. He made it a point to go over each exercise as we performed it. He explained why we have a warm-up set when we do squats, how to push my hips back so I don’t put pressure on my knees, why it’s important to get parallel, how to push against the bar with my back, while lifting my chest first on the way back up out of a squat. He didn’t just explain the correct form for these workouts either, he related them to what parts of the body I was working, what muscles were there, how they related to other muscles, how strengthening my hips can lead to more depth and heavier squat capability. He was as patient, careful and kind as I needed, while also constantly pushing me to challenge myself more. He taught me, continues to teach me, not to say ‘I can’t’, but to train the quit out of me, to accept that I am strong and capable.
I have been able to take these foundational concepts and bring them with me when I attend Group Ex classes, or when I go on vacation and need to make do with hotel gyms. Understanding the basics of form has helped me avoid getting injured, and has allowed me to progress to heavier weights and harder workouts.
A few weeks ago Michael came to me with an idea for a class he wanted to teach, and he called it Fitness Foundations. A class for people who want to lead a healthy, active lifestyle but are not sure where to start, who are nervous about being in the gym, who want to learn the correct ways to perform their workouts, want to do so with a small group of like-minded individuals and need the guidance of someone who doesn’t judge, but just gets it.
Fitness Foundations will begin under the tutelage of Michael Kroll on June 5 and will run twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12-12:45 pm for the month of June. Pricing information and sign ups can be handled at the Concierge Desk. In addition to twice a week training with Michael, our incredible Group Ex instructors Evan Aiello and Molly Rubenstein invite you to join them on Sundays at 11 am for Group Active as a great way to round out your workout schedule. I will be joining this inaugural class, as well as the Sunday class; please say ‘Hi!’
Listen, it was blind fumbling and a lot of luck that I ended up piecing together Group Ex, and my training with Michael to give me a platform for triumph. So when Michael came to me with the idea for this class, “a class for people like you” he said, “for people who really want to be working out and leading healthy lives but are nervous and unsure”, it was not without a lot of emotion that I told him I wanted to be a part of it.
This is the class I was looking for when I first started. It is designed and shaped to help you succeed, to show you that investing in yourself is worth it. That you do not have to be afraid to begin. We all took our first stumbling steps to the edge of the diving board, and felt the rush of concern when we wondered ‘maybe this is a mistake?’, but if you trust yourself and the process, step off and into a life that gives back as much, no, more, than we give to it. This wellness journey gives you back your health, your mobility, your confidence. It gives back the desire to star in your own life again, to be in your photos, to feel freedom in your body. To feel worthy of the space you take up, and it starts with the fundamentals, as naturally, all things do.
Blog #10 What about Body Positivity? – May 13
The question came after an intense conversation about the sometimes contradictive way people talk about losing weight, and loving or loathing their bodies.
“Well what about it?” I asked.
“How can you be a proponent of the Body Positivity movement, while you are also actively seeking to change the way you look? Body Positivity is about every body being a good and worthy body.
I need to clear something up. I’m a proponent of everybody-needs-to-do-what-is-good-for-them. All of them, their outside, and their inside. For me, trying to be positive about my body began when I started caring about it, and treating it respectfully. It was never about my Fat Self not being worthy or good; it was about recognizing that I was deserving of being treated that way by me. It was no one else’s job to love myself completely.
When I really dug deep about my feelings of self worth, it was easy to see that I reflected how I felt on the inside, on the outside. I often didn’t feel like I deserved my own time, so I would eat standing up at the counter, multi-tasking instead of eating mindfully, sitting at a table like a human being. I was not nourishing myself. Not by my food choices, and not by my flippant attitude towards my own contentment. I was the last priority on my long list, and it showed.
When we talk about positive body image, it is with a very narrow scope of language. Most people don’t think twice when someone around them gets their hair cut, paints their nails, gets a tattoo, pierces their ears, applies makeup, wears heels to be taller, or plucks their eyebrows, but these are all ways we change our appearance. The idea that losing weight, bulking up or slimming down would somehow be wrong, when all these other ways are acceptable, is not right.
Positivity is confidence, self assuredness, and those qualities can describe anyone’s insides, regardless of their outsides. The freedom comes when you feel your insides and outsides match. Whatever that looks like for you.
Losing weight and getting strong has made me feel good. I feel capable and proud because I know how much work I have done, to show my body that my soul cares. That we are a team who need each other, who work best when both parts are feeling tended to.
Although losing weight to reach an end goal of the ‘perfect’ size, or perfect body may be what gets some people motivated initially (ahem: Hi), that is more like what 3 am infomercials sell you while telling you that in just 8 minutes a day you can have ‘ripped abs’. It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not reality. At some point in Your Journey, you’ll have to adjust your goals, or you’ll make yourself crazy striving for perfection instead of progress.
Hitting the gym and getting strong has given me the positivity and confidence to be a version of myself that more closely mirrors the me I strive to be, but it has not, and never will, give me the perfect body.
No amount of working out or diet changes will completely reverse having three kids or losing 50+ lbs. I think that is where the balance of Body Positive actions come into play. Working to make yourself feel as good on the outside, as you do on the inside, while also being able to look at yourself objectively. To appreciate the parts that you consider less than ideal, because they played a role in you being who you are today. Because you are enough, just as you are, right this minute.
That’s the mantra I say to the mirror every morning. I am enough. Just as I am right this minute, but actively loving my body is something I am working on, and I don’t know that it is a job that ever finishes. I catch sight of my flabby upper arms in the mirror and my first thought is ‘Really? Still?’ I put those thoughts in their place when I can haul 12 bags of mulch by myself. My arms are dutiful, they serve their purpose, they are good arms and so are yours.
I would take stretch marks, flabby arms and loose skin 101 times out of 100 over how I felt when I started this all. The leap of faith it takes to say ‘I am going to trust the process. I am going to trust myself. I am going to work hard. I am going to give myself the chance’, it is terrifying, and exhilarating. It is empowering, and humbling. It is worth it. You are worth it. You deserve as many chances as it takes to feel successful, to feel like your insides match your outsides. Changing the language you use to speak to, and about your body is challenging. To talk reverentially about your physical self can feel as awkward as learning the right forms for all those new workouts you’re doing, but it is no less essential. Your body houses your soul, and it deserves your respect
I am grateful for my strong body, I am thankful that it does what it does, and I hope you are taking some time each day to be grateful to yours too.
Blog #9 A New Favorite – May 6, 2918
“I know YOU.” Evan was saying to me after Group Active one morning, “and it takes a few classes to get comfortable, but if you stick with Centergy, it is going to be so good for you.”
“That sounds super convincing. Thanks.” I told him, intending to definitely not show up for his Centergy class that week. I had never tried yoga before, I’m about as flexible as a brick, and I like to feel successful immediately, not a few weeks out. But then I tried it anyway, and OMG, I’m glad I did.
Group Centergy incorporates yoga and Pilates fundamentals with athletic training for mobility, flexibility and the core. I touched briefly on this class a few blog posts ago. Evan and Holly had been gently nudging me towards Centergy for some time and while I had moved (mostly) past the days where I was running out of classes with anxiety, this was still far outside what I was comfortable with. A comfort zone is great, but nothing grows there.
I thought about what I wanted, ultimately, from Group Ex classes, from the Personal Training, and mostly, from myself. I knew, but because it wasn’t a goal anyone else could see or touch or measure, I didn’t know how to voice it. It felt flimsy, and day-dreamy, but I wanted it all the same.
I wanted to feel strong and capable in my own body. To feel ownership of my skin. To really connect my head and my body for a heart to heart. The two had been at such odds for so long, they were nearly strangers. Neighbors, staring sullenly at one another across a stockade fence. My body had been training hard for several months by now, giving each new hurdle its utmost dedication. My brain, meanwhile, hyper-focused on the far away, often elusive end-goals, brushed off all the in-the-now progress as inconsequential. They needed to be reintroduced to one another. “Hello brain, I am your body.” and “Hello body, I am your brain.”
Centergy is, in my opinion, the best class for this kind of honest self discussion. In classes like Active and Blast, they offer their own challenges, but once you get the steps down, you can lose yourself in the mindlessness of Doing The Work, which is sometimes exactly what I need. However, I know that when I want it, there is a solid hour to be had wherein my two warring neighbors will be forced to work together.
Centergy is difficult at first. It is not just about flexibility, or strength, although it absolutely incorporates both those things. It is about mindfulness, and mobility. Being mindful of your posture and aware of lengthening yourself from head to toes. Holly and Evan often describe this feeling as though there were a rope attached to the top of your head, pulling you upwards. There is no ‘being lost’ in Centergy, because all of your muscles should be constantly activated. For me, this involves a lot of trembling, wobbling, sweating, and for every inch I haul myself bodily forward, every position in which I feel more stable and strong, there is satisfaction.
I readily admit, and I think most people under a certain age will agree, that we take our mobility for granted. We inhabit capable bodies, but in order to keep them mobile well into our lives, we have to take care to stretch them, and to strengthen them. During class we work on opening our hips, keeping our balance, strengthening our backs and cores. It is this type of correlation between what we do in class, and how it can help in our lives, that makes Centergy special. I didn’t think yoga was for me, I figured it would be too difficult, I am still learning that when an obstacle arises, I may need to change my direction to get to my goal, but I don’t change my decision to get there.
I have taken all of my Centergy classes with either Holly or Evan, and they both teach wonderful classes. MOSSA (where the JCC licenses most of its Group Ex classes from) is great in that no matter which instructor you take a class from, the content will be the same. However, each instructor brings their own personal experiences (semi funny jokes) and strengths to their classes, and I look forward to learning from Evan and Holly every week.
One of the things I have appreciated each of them spending time on in Centergy is the focus on breath. Breathing is particularly important in linking your brain and your body, as you literally cannot do it mindfully without both parts being engaged. Your neighbors have to talk to one another. There is a section in this Centergy’s launch, in a part of the class called ‘Spirals’ where you elongate your body and then push off of your finger tips while using your exhaled breath and core muscles to propel your body upwards. It is amazing to see the difference in how your body performs when you use your breath correctly.
So Evan was right. I did not like Centergy the first time I tried it. I felt like I was in a room of dancers and someone had tied cement blocks to my feet. Clumsy, which isn’t far from my every day lack of grace, truth be told. And I didn’t like Centergy the second or even third time I tried it. Adults do not like not being good at what they are trying to do, right away, but this is a class you are going to have to put that notion aside for, because it is worth it. It is worth it, and so are you. Slowly, I have seen progress in myself. I am understanding the correlation between breath and positions, I am able to pull myself up and out of the ground into a lengthened position, and I understand what it means to truly activate your muscles for an entire class.
Centergy has become one of my most looked forward to classes of the week. I feel full, and satisfied after a class, so much so, that instead of going on just Thursday nights at 7:15 pm, I’ve begun to go on Tuesdays at 6 pm and Saturdays at 10 am in addition.
I love the Group Ex classes the JCC offers, and am grateful to their diversity. I never would have considered a yoga and Pilates class to be something I could endure, let alone enjoy and it has been exciting to watch plans being drawn up for the fence to come down, to watch the heart to heart happen class by class, week by week.
“Hello body, I am your brain.”
“Hello brain, I am your body.”
Blog Post #8 On Rest and Recovery – April 28, 2018
There are times when this Journey feels like a lazy Sunday drive. I’ve got the windows rolled down, the road is winding, it’s scenic and I am along for the ride. Then there are times when it feels like sitting in rush hour traffic, during a snow storm, behind an accident, and most likely, road construction up ahead. I want out of the car, and off of the road.
My Personal Trainer has taken a lot of time to try to drill into my head that I cannot expect results that I don’t put in the work for, and that work-related results take time. That’s a frustrating concept when your brain is basically like ”Okay. I am finally ready.” and your body is all ”Uhm, yeah, this is going to take a while.”
In January of this year I had a stretch of Personal Training sessions where I felt stronger and more capable than I ever had. It seemed that every time my trainer, Michael, would put weights on the bar, I could achieve that number, and surpass it. I was dead lifting 170lbs, 195lbs then 205lbs and finally 215lbs. I was making progress with squats and bench pressing, overhead presses, the leg machine, pushups. I felt unstoppable.
The adrenaline rush of going heavier, harder, proving how strong I was, fighting for it every session, was addicting. I wanted all results faster, and figured if this much working out is good, then more can only be better. Right? This is that moment where you’re sitting in traffic, and you decide to bust an illegal U-turn, you drive two times as far around the traffic, it takes you at least as long as if you’d just waited the traffic out, but you think to yourself ‘At least I’m moving’ and you pat yourself on the back like you’ve done something smart.
Michael gently coached me on how to tell if my body needed a rest day and offered tips about Epsom salt baths, icing, and foam rolling. I listened, lazily heeding some of his advice, ignoring other parts. In the coming weeks, previous weights felt heavier, and I felt sluggish. I chalked it up to not enough sleep, or mismanaging my diet, and vowed to buckle down. The body is a miraculous thing, but it can only make so much progress in a given time, and when mine stopped to regroup, I grew frustrated. You can continue to crack the whip at a tired horse, but you’d benefit more if you gave the horse some water and let it rest.
I had arrogantly thought that I had already been through the toughest parts of training: The beginning. What could be harder than splitting yourself open for introspection and finding yourself lacking? What could feel worse than those wretched first attempts-turned-failures at self care, when you felt so low that you couldn’t bring yourself to Walk Into a Gym? Well, for me, it was the first time I knew how good it felt to feel strong, and then I had to step back and recover.
When Michael suggested I take a rest day, I found it hard to say “okay.” As a matter of fact, I stood in the kitchen with my husband and whined, “I could if I wanted to. But I don’t want to. I. Don’t. Want. To.” I thought I was strong, to want to power through, however I wasn’t speaking from a place of strength, but a place of fear. What if a rest day became a rest habit? What if one break became the catalyst to drag me down off the wagon? Fear is funny. It is able to take reasonable things and twist them until they are terrifying. Where once I was afraid to come to the gym, now I was afraid not to.
I began heeding my trainer’s advice in earnest. Foam rolling, Epsom salt baths, extra water to stay hydrated, icing followed by heat, but I began to wake up in the middle of the night with stiff legs and painful knees. I felt perpetually sore. I was not being mindful or respectful of my body’s cues. In my need to keep moving, to not sit in traffic, I had blown out a tire and instead of stopping to get a new tire, I figured driving on the rim would be okay.
“We are going to take a deload week” Michael told me one morning and I stared at him, not comprehending. “Don’t freak out.” he added, and I was sure it was because, like a cartoon character, my thumping heart was making an outline in my chest as it pounded against my rib-cage. “It’s lighter weights, but more intense work.” he continued. “We will focus on your form and your pace.” In my head all I could hear was ‘You are going to sit in traffic forever.’
People have different approaches and feelings to deload weeks, but the premise is, to give your body a short planned recovery window after a period of intense gains. That’s why Michael is the trainer and I’m the one being trained, because he is so knowledgeable and tuned in to each of his many clients’ needs, that he recognized what I needed before I did. Those are the kinds of people the JCC employs for their Personal Training Staff. He knows when to tell me to stop stalling and squat, and he knows when I’ve hit a wall.
The deload week was mentally tough on me. Somewhere in the months of training I had begun to see the number on the bar as important as the number on the scale. They were both owning me. I needed one to be constantly in a upward trend, and the other in a downward. My feelings had attached themselves to these ideas–that I needed to perform, that I needed to progress faster, that I was in a hurry.
Stop. They call this a Journey for a reason, not just to make cute catchphrases. There is meaning behind it. It is not a race, a destination, certainly not a sprint for the end. The JCC talks about being Active For Life. That’s the goal. You can’t achieve that if you’re running yourself into the ground in order to reach some perceived finish line.
Variation is helping me keep that at the forefront of my thinking. Taking Active, Blast, Power, Core, Centergy, HIIT, Spinning and Personal Training ensures that I am not doing any one type of workout too often, and balances the kind of training that I do. Keeping an open communication with my trainer, and my friends at the gym lets me check in on how I am feeling physically, but also emotionally. I don’t know about you, but I feel better when all of me is on the same page.
I like lifting heavy. I am excited to return to it. I want to see the amount of weight I can lift go up. It’s part of the challenge, it is part of what makes each training session an adventure, that you never know what you might witness yourself achieve. But I also want to be in the gym when I’m 80, so balancing those two goals is an important aspect for how I will proceed going forward, and in the mean time, Michael has me doing complexes and tabata workouts…to get ready for what’s next; maybe pray for me!
Blog Post #7 Meeting the Nutritionist – April 23
A few weeks ago I had my first meeting with Brittany Greene, one of the JCC’s on-site nutritionists. After our initial meeting, a friend of mine inquired as to when she might see a blog post about it and I curtly responded “Never.”
“Why?” she asked me “Did you not like it?”
“Oh, no, nothing like that. Brittany is lovely,” I said, and she is. Warm, knowledgeable, disarming, smart and clearly dedicated, but the meeting was about nutrition, and that means food. If you’ve been reading along, you might have noticed that I’ve written about Group Exercise classes, Personal Training, Spinning, my very own rock bottom, even my fears for the future, but I don’t talk about food. Or I didn’t, until now.
In the beginning of March, I made a promise in the first lines of my first blog post. I promised that I would vulnerable with you. That I would be honest. Food is a complicated thing, for so many of us. We do it in public, but stress about it privately. It’s often eating that we do to celebrate, and eating that we turn to in order to console ourselves. We may eat out of boredom, or anger, or happiness, but it’s when you eat when you’re feeling one emotion in order to make yourself feel something else, that things start to get twisted up.
I have been fat for as long as I can remember. Through the cruel middle and high school years and ever since. Eating was a comfort to me during stressful seasons of childhood. Food never said ‘No’. Food never turned me away. It never didn’t want to be my friend a week after we had been best-friends-forever. It didn’t care if I was feeling too quiet to talk. It was portable, and always available.
By the time I reached adulthood, I began to think of my Fat Self as unchanging. It’s just who I was, and slowly, without realizing, the types of food choices I made no longer made me happy, or sated; they made me tired, and feeling self loathing. I tried, momentarily, all the popular fad diets, but I wasn’t ready to fully invest in what it means to live a healthy lifestyle, so they never stuck.
When I started coming to the JCC in earnest, after I had added in Personal Training and then Group Exercise, when I had depleted my modicum of kitchen acumen (maybe modicum is too generous a word, I can sometimes boil water without burning it), I went hunting for someone who understood this mysterious side of a healthy life. I kept hearing people say things like, “You can’t outrun a bad diet” and “You go to the gym to get strong, but you go to the kitchen to get slim.” What were they talking about even? Would I have to eat boneless skinless chicken breast and broccoli forevermore?
No one else’s diet is going to work 100% for you. Not your trainer’s, not your friends’, and not mine. Furthermore, I have no nutrition knowledge to drop on you. The extent of my advice is: Make an appointment with a nutritionist at the JCC and find what works for you. But what I can share with you is that your complicated feelings about food are normal, and you are not alone.
I went into my first meeting with Brittany already having decided that I didn’t need any more help. I had spent the last several months having sought advice from people who logged every calorie they consumed, who made math problems out of their macronutrient requirements, and from people whose casual approach made me feel like I was making things way more complicated than they needed to be. I was searching for the goldilocks diet. The one that would feel just right. Within two sessions with Brittany I heard something I hope to hold onto forever: That I don’t have to borrow anyone else’s plan. I am capable of making my own. So are you.
Brittany didn’t offer me guidelines to stay inside of, or a list of foods she suggested I eat more or less of. Instead she asked probing, insightful questions about what I was hoping to achieve, and how I pictured myself getting there. This was different, and at first, uncomfortable to participate in. In Group Exercise classes, Spinning, Personal Training, there is someone in charge, and it isn’t me. That is comfortable for me. The formula of ‘find someone who is the best at what they do, listen carefully, and do what they say’ makes sense. I can follow directions, and I work hard. But Brittany was asking me to be in charge of my own wants and needs. These are the very first tender footed baby steps of me trying to own my issues with food and how to balance fueling my body so it performs, while also leaving room for pasta (because what is life even, without pasta?).
It’s too soon for any sort of conclusion, but I urge you to really think about the way you eat. Whether it’s eating while standing at the counter instead of giving yourself the respect of sitting down at the table, or hiding in the corner after the kids have gone to bed and carb-loading instead of just making room in your day for something delicious. Our food quirks often have a lot to do with how we are feeling in the moment, and what we’ve dragged from the past to the present, and if nothing else, it is immensely helpful to understand the ‘why’ behind an action.
May you find your own path, and love both the you who starts upon it, and the you who grows comfortable while walking it.
Blog Post #6 – April 15
The first time I put on a shirt with no numbers or X’s in front of its letter, I immediately went home, and tore apart my closet. Into black garbage bags went nearly every piece of clothing I bought because I had to. Because I had an event for which I had put off buying anything, hating how everything looked. Because it cost twice as much as what my friends paid, proportionate to the amount of space I took up. Because it was what the store carried that fit, even if it wasn’t my style, even if it didn’t bring me joy. I didn’t realize that those purchases were little notches in my self esteem, reaffirming that I didn’t fit anywhere comfortably. Not in my life, not in the eyes of the fashion industry, and not in my body.
I stuffed three trash bags of billowy, ill fitting, ugly patterned, worn out clothes and heaved them down the stairs. I was feeling victorious. I was also feeling scared. That night I lugged all three trash bags back up into my closet and left them there. What if I failed and I needed these clothes again? The clothes sat in my closet, feeling as heavy as the weight itself. A reminder of where I had been, instead of encouragement to keep heading where I was going.
I have learned a few things in the last year. I have learned that people are fueled differently. Some people need constant goals to strive for, while others are pushed forward by the fear of returning to a place of unhappiness. I’ve found that while I am equally as motivated to not return to my starting line, my mental health requires that I continually try to refocus on planning and positivity. If I’m working out to relieve stress, while also mentally (and sometimes literally) staring at a pile of clothes mocking my progress, that is counterintuitive.
Victories, non-scale and scale related alike, were the first ways I charted my progress, and lessened my fears that the process was too slow, stalled, or not happening at all. I wanted changes, I needed reassurance that I was doing the right things, headed in the right direction. Smaller clothes, lower numbers on the scale, these were a thumbs up. Stagnancy, or an upwards trend, well, you can guess how I felt about that.
“I just want to see what it would be like, to be the smallest I’ve ever been.”
I was on the phone with a friend, seeking some guidance for my increasing frustration. I had been stricter with my food choices, harder on myself during workouts, and the numbers were infuriatingly inactive. “Wait. Stop. The smallest you could be would be dead.” came my friend’s reply, and I shrugged it off, responding how that wasn’t what I meant, but it awakened a very real fear in me.
They were right. At some point, the scale, the clothes, they would be unable to help measure my progress, because soon, losing would no longer be the goal. Maintenance would be the name of the game.
What will maintenance look like? When I am doing this just to stay where I am health wise, and not to prove anything to anyone, even to myself? Will doing what feels good for my core being, be enough? We are quick to knock ourselves off our own priority lists. In an attempt to not let that happen I’ve started planning and re-focusing on that positivity I mentioned. I put the scale away in preparation for stepping away from loss-focused-triumphs, and I’m working on switching the way I think about the things I do. Instead of “I have to go to the gym”, I am thinking “I am able to go to the gym.” Instead of “I hate how [this body part] looks, I want to change it,” I am trying to think: “I want my strong body to serve me the best way it can.” It sounds cheesy, and I’m okay with that.
The other thing I have begun to implement is a focus on strength over smallness. This is where classes like the JCC’s HIIT class (High Intensity Interval Training) and Centergy classes come into play. Maintenance doesn’t mean Finished. To me, it means a shift in the direction of my focus and energy. It means honing the strength, muscles and health I have worked hard to discover this last year. Maintenance means honoring the work I have done by continuing to include healthy activity in my every day life.
I began going to Centergy and HIIT at the JCC in January of this year. Centergy is a class that incorporates yoga and Pilates fundamentals with athletic training for balance. It’s the perfect counterpart to classes like HIIT which is a 45 minute class of intense anaerobic exercise with short recovery periods. While HIIT offers conditioning and improved athleticism, Centergy focuses on mobility, flexibility, core strength and stress reduction, it ends with a five minute Restore track, where the instructor encourages you to find a comfortable position and clear your mind. It is, hands down, the most peaceful five minutes of any given day. While they require different intensity levels from one another, Centergy is every bit as challenging as HIIT, it requires true awareness of your body, and determination. If you take HIIT (especially Michael’s 9 am on Thursdays, you are required only to not die, and there have been some weeks where I felt like that was asking a lot.)
Both of these classes have brought new depth and variety to my experience at the JCC. They serve to remind me that The Journey is not tied to the scale, or the tag on your clothes, it is tethered to your soul, it belongs to no one else but you.
Blog Post #5 – April 8
I love to read fiction. Take me into a story, place, time, that isn’t true and I will happily submerge myself for hours. But if I were ever to write a book, it would need to be non-fiction, because I am really only comfortable writing about what I have experienced. So when I attempted to write a blog post about how to handle not wanting to continue at the gym, a friend of mine read it, and gently told me ‘I don’t think this is something you’ve had to deal with.. yet.’
“Of course there have been days when I didn’t want to come to the gym!” I retorted. Then, thinking carefully on it, I back pedaled some. They were right. I love the gym and what it affords me. The ability to be grateful to my body for what it can do, and the quiet introspective minutes where there is nothing to be done but the physical motions my workout requires. I get more than sore from the gym, I get centered.
These aren’t the things I expected when I started coming to the gym consistently, eight months ago. Eight months ago, when I finally signed up for Personal Training and came for my hour evaluation, I filled out a sheet which asked me what my short and long term goals were. I said my short term/ one month goal was to see shoulder definition, and my long term goal was weight loss and overall increased muscle visibility. Four weeks later, I expected results. That’s a symptom of our instant gratification obsessed society, the expectation that four weeks of hard work should not only undo years of mistreating an unconditioned body, but make it more like one you see in a magazine (which are, of course, all touched up). That was what I expected from the gym: hard work, visible results. The entire breaking and rebuilding of my thought process as to what victory and progress are? That was unexpected.
A calm moment with Centergy teacher Holly Mihm
I’ve talked in past blog posts about how I’ve walked out of classes. New classes, classes where instructors switched, classes where I felt inadequate, basically anything my anxiety could submit a reason for, my brain would be like “Abort Mission!” There was a time when I thought the gym was stressful, but I was wrong. It wasn’t the gym that was overwhelming, it’s just new things that are overwhelming. When I got past the initial uncomfortable feeling, I realized something was happening on a more primal level when I was working out; I was feeling closer to peaceful. If you are someone who struggles with this, then you know how important it is (if you don’t, let’s chat, I want your secrets). Mental clarity, anxiety reduction, I had heard people talk about feeling better after working out, but I thought it was some sort of daily mantra you just repeated to yourself until it felt true. It’s not a myth. It is still sometimes difficult to find the space inside myself that can be quiet amidst a flurry of physical action, but it is happening with more regularity now, and I attribute that to my consistency at the gym.
When the first month of personal training ended and my shoulders weren’t ripped, I didn’t think about quitting, I thought ‘How can I make this happen faster?’ The answer is: you can’t. (I’ll wait till you stop hissing.) When I heard this, first from my trainer, then from other mentors at the gym, I balked. Patience is not my virtue, so while I needled people for loopholes, I began to keep a record of what I was doing in the gym. If I wasn’t going to find satisfaction in the mirror’s results, then maybe I could track my progress a different way.
A month into training I was writing this in my journal:
Today I celebrated one month of personal training. I’ve gone from doing squats with no weight to doing squats while wearing a 40lb vest. I’m deadlifting 65lbs, I’ve gone from being able to do 2 x 10 bench presses with 10lb weights to doing 3 x 15 with 20lb weights.
Two months out and I had progressed to: 95lb deadlifts, 95lb squats, 120lbs on the sled.
The progress was occurring, I just couldn’t see it reflected back at me yet. Muscles take time. Training is a meal made in the oven, not the microwave, and yes, it takes longer to cook, but it is so much more satisfying. It is difficult to be patient for something you want so badly but I am telling you, if you stick with the gym, whether it’s personal training or group exercise classes, the change happens.
It is not just the change to your physical self, but the change in the way your brain logs progress and victory. I was a die hard The-Scale-Doesn’t-Lie believer. Guess what? The scale lies. You know what doesn’t lie? Your body. When you go from dead lifting 65lbs to 215lbs in eight months, that is progress. When you go from not being able to hold a plank for 30 seconds to holding one for a full minute with a 35lb sandbag on your back, that is progress. When you realize that you can sprint the three sets of stairs in your house without having to pause or feel out of breath, that is progress. When you spin for 60 minutes and you feel good afterwards, that is progress.
There have been setbacks, times when I needed to let my body recover, but I have made real progress. There have also been, and will be times when I doubted my perseverance, doubted the process, but that is the voice of insecurity talking, and slowly, I am learning to tune that voice out. My brain and my body are both on journeys and sometimes they need a heart to heart, to catch up to one another in their self discovery.
Going to the gym feels like self care, it feels like coming home, there is something deeper than the surge of enthusiasm at the beginning of your journey. Beyond that, the consistent determination of choosing daily to invest in yourself is infinitely more rewarding. You are telling your soul that success does not come from what you do occasionally, but what you do consistently. Give it time, and be kind to yourself.
Blog Post #4 – March 30
“So at some point, I’m going to get you into my spin class” Evan says to me in the fall, and though I smiled and demurred, the seed was planted. Long before I ever said ‘Yes’, I knew I wanted to spin.
I passed the Spinning room nearly every time I had a Personal Training session. Often, the room would be full of people, loud music and shouts of encouragement. I would watch from the doorway, reminding myself that fear is not failure. Other times the room would be empty, the normally dim lights darkened, and I would promise myself, that when I was ready, I would go for it.
Sometimes though, you have to try to be ready, simply because you want it bad enough.
November 4th. I signed up for a class and went to the Spin room, crossing the threshold. Inside people were chatting, adjusting the height of their bike seats, clearly veterans of the class and at ease. New classes are hard, for me, and maybe for you too. I started to question why I thought I would be capable of spinning for an hour, when I was seemingly incapable of figuring how to set up the bike. Do you ever let the voice in your heard talk you out of things? I let nerves get the better of me, so I gathered my things, and bolted up the stairs to the locker room, on the way, running into Evan.
“I’m really sorry. I signed up for your Spin class, I took a bike, and now I don’t want to do it. So thanks but byyyyeeee.” I yelled to him (okay, at him), intending to complete my retreat to the locker room, grab my coat, and basically never come back to the JCC. “Are you sure?” he asked me, seeming alarmed. “You can walk down with me” and he began to explain the cues he’d give the class, things like ‘climb’, ‘jumps’, what moderate resistance vs heavy resistance meant. I wanted to spin, I reminded myself. I wanted to feel strong.
We walked back down to the Spin room together, my heart jack-hammering in my ears. The only bike left? Front Row. Dead Center.
I glanced at Evan and in a rush of breath said: ‘Yeah, no. Sorry again. Some other time!’ and for the second time in ten minutes, I took the stairs two by two while Evan called my name and tried to catch up to me. I did not turn around, I did not come back. It was the first time since I had decided to really buy into a healthy lifestyle that I had come upon an obstacle that felt insurmountable, and the first time I sat in my car and cried in the gym parking lot.
What did this mean for me? What was on the other side of Wanting something and still not being able to achieve it? I kicked myself for a few days. I had a run of classes where I felt the same inadequacy that had pushed me out of the Spin class, and I ended up walking out of more classes than I attended. I worried that maybe it was just too hard. Too much, too fast. Maybe I was not good enough.
What IS on the other side of Wanting something and Still not being able to achieve it? The question gnawed at me. The only answer I could fathom was; You try again. You do not listen to the voice that says ‘you aren’t strong enough’, you create a different dialogue. You demand your own self respect. You sign up for another Spin class. You call in for your safety net, whether that means bringing a friend who makes you feel at ease, or alerting the instructor that you are nervous, sitting in the back of the room where you feel less seen or going to a class that is more empty than full. You do what feels right for you in the moment, because it is Your Journey to experience, no one else’s.
That first Spin class I completed was a 60 minute reminder that we are capable of huge feats in every day acts. You don’t need to be anything more than what you are Right Now to take a class as challenging as Spin, and it IS a challenge. The kind that leaves you dripping sweat, and your heart pumping (the good way), the kind that lets you tune into your body and be grateful for what it can do.
I’ve taken Spin classes now with Evan, Molly, Patti and Lauren, some but not all of the JCC’s terrific spin instructors. Each of their classes offers something different because they each approach what they teach with a voice unique to themselves. I’m learning how to rely on and trust my body to perform, to endure, to be strong. Sure, there are stationary bikes in the Cardio room, but nothing beats a good playlist and a motivational teacher urging you on, encouraging you to dig deep, promising that the crest of the hill is nearly in sight.
I want to end with this: It is Your journey, but you do not travel it alone. What happened when I stepped back and assessed what I needed to succeed? I learned that walking into that first class early, with Evan to help me set up my bike, assuaged my anxiety. When I told someone what was holding me back, I received the help I needed to jump the hurdle. The insurmountable became possible. Being strong does not mean you have to do it alone. Often, the most brave thing we can do in a moment of perceived weakness, is say ‘I need your help’, and that is what will always hold the JCC apart and separate from other health facilities, their desire to create a space that is safe and effective for everyone.
So come to Spin, and if you need help setting up your bike, I’ve finally figured it out, I’ll help.
Blog Post #3 – March 23
July 2017: My phone alerts me to a new text message. It’s from Michael Kroll, the personal trainer I was assigned to at the JCC, and he’s letting me know when our appointment is. I hover over the reply bar and consider typing in ‘Sorry. Jen moved. Left her phone. No forwarding number’ but I settle for ‘Terrific! Can’t wait! See you there!’ and press send, while questioning my overuse of exclamation points.
I cannot be the only person who imagines that purgatory probably resembles the weight room portion of the gym, right? Surrounded by mirrors, machines that look like torture devices, and everyone looking like they know exactly what they are doing.
In gym purgatory, you have to decide; will you languish or overcome?
Jen training with Michael
Maybe you are like me. You walk past the glass walls of the cardio room and back into the locker room. You lace your shoes, and you listen to your heart pound out the steady hammer of nervousness. It thrums ‘you. don’t. belong. here. you. can’t. do. this.’ You sit straight backed on the curved couch across from the Personal Trainer’s desk and try to figure out which one of them has gotten tasked with changing your life. You remind yourself that you did the hardest part, finally walking into the JCC, and making the appointment for a personal training evaluation, and now you’ve actually showed up for it. You are here. Winning. Living your best life, scared out of your mind.
The JCC offers a wide variety of ways to live a healthy life. Last post, I talked about a Group Ex class called Group Active, which I feel is a great foundation class, but this week I want to talk about the gains from Investing in Yourself (and I don’t just mean upping your weight on the machines).
Personal Training is different from Group Exercise classes in that it’s one on one instruction with your trainer. Here is the safest place to lift heavier weights (with a trainer to spot you), to learn the correct form for any exercise, to ask questions, to push your body. You can tailor Personal Training to fit your needs. Whether you need early morning or evening sessions, half hour or hour long, whether you want to train once or three times a week, there is a trainer who will be able to meet your schedule.
The entire personal training staff is helpful and friendly, and my trainer, Michael, is truly capable. He has a strong sense of dedication and a huge wealth of knowledge. He can assess, encourage, push, demand, strengthen, empathize and help you recover. There is not a question about form or fitness that I have brought to him (and I have brought him many) that he has not efficiently and fully explained. I promised I would be honest here, and Personal Training, for me, has not come without growing pains, of the emotional kind.
It is not easy to be in a room full of wall length mirrors, and not pick apart all the parts of yourself you find unworthy. It can be nearly unbearable to face the body you have mistreated, and spent the last x amount of years avoiding. An honest conversation with your trainer will quickly pinpoint what those trigger areas are, and target them. There have been times when Michael has had to gently remind me that no one else in the gym is paying attention to my form, except for the two of us, that no one else is watching or judging. There have been days when I have felt like quitting and he has reminded me that I Belong In The Gym. That’s what an excellent trainer is capable of, not just strengthening your muscles, but encouraging your heart. Finding a comfortable place inside of a Fit Life often means working on the bruised parts of your soul.
It means taking pride in showing up. It means pushing that last rep. It means learning that resting doesn’t mean quitting and how to let yourself recover. How to go farther, harder, more efficiently. It looks like growth, it feels like steady success and sometimes frustration. It requires patience, perseverance and a dedication to yourself. You Deserve Your Own Dedication.
Am I so different from the girl ‘before training’? Not really, I am still her. Most of the time, I struggle to see the difference, to allow myself to feel the work I have done. I have most of the same insecurities, the same family drama, my kids still don’t put their shoes in the shoe bin or their plates in the dishwasher.. but there is marked change. I did not prepare for how strong I would feel, how capable, or that I could ever think sweating would feel liberating. In some ways, losing weight can be disappointing if you are looking for a cure-all (and I’ll admit, I wanted one), but Personal Training is a whole different animal that focuses on strength training instead of just losing weight, and that is empowering.
Now I can do pushups, and sit-ups, rows with 55lb dumb-bells and bench press 125lbs. I can dead lift 205lbs, squat 165lbs, and Michael even has me convinced I can do chin ups. This part of me, definitely does not resemble the girl of before. Most importantly, I’ve brought my BMI down from 34.4 to 26.9. That’s what I’m doing this for, to be healthy, so I can continue to bear witness to my kids’ unwillingness to ever put anything away.
If you are interested in Personal Training I encourage you to take advantage of the JCC’s free one hour orientation. It will allow you to set up some short and long term goals, meet your trainer, and allow you to develop a plan for action!
Blog Post #2 – March 16
It started with Group Active.
Well, it actually started with seemingly endless rounds of texts and pep talks from my girlfriends that I could ‘totally do it’ and that ‘it was a great workout’, that I just needed to ‘get used to the cues and the moves, it would be easier after a class or two.’ But let’s fast forward.
Group Active is perhaps, the most well rounded Group Exercise class the JCC has, so if you are looking to get a little taste of what all the other classes offer, this would be where to start. It has 20 minutes of cardio, just enough to make you feel like finding the nearest ditch and laying down in it. 20 minutes of weight training, just enough to make you feel like you could probably train to be an Olympian. It also consists of a balance track, a short workout for your core, and a cool down. It touches on other classes that focus more in depth on all of these things, Centergy: which is yoga and Pilates, Power: which is strength training, Blast: which is an hour of cardio, and Core: which is exactly what it sounds like.
What I like about Active is that it meets you where you are currently at. Anyone can start there. You can push yourself as hard as possible, or if you are feeling tired, or are new to class, you can slow down to meet your body’s needs. The instructors offer modifications as they go through the workout, so if you’re worried about your knees for squats or your shoulders for pushups, they’ve got you covered. The class changes its content every 12 weeks, which is plenty long enough to learn the moves and get comfortable, and just long enough to think that you couldn’t possibly listen to that cool down song one more time, before you get a fresh workout to challenge you again.
The first time I took Active, I walked into the room, and straight back out. There were people building weights, setting up aerobic steps, lacing their shoes, and I was overwhelmed. I’ve walked out of classes before, I’ve let the voice in my head talk me out of doing things that are good for me, simply because it was scary. Please know that the instructors are there for you. They love their jobs, they care about the people they instruct, they genuinely want to see you succeed in whatever your health and fitness goals are.
When I met Evan, it was as though someone had thrown a life preserver to me while I treaded water, trying to decide if I was going to swim or drown. He introduced himself to me as the instructor, helped me set up my step, walked me through how to choose weights, and told me it was going to be fun. He looked up at me in the middle of class, after telling a semi-funny joke that I was too nervous to laugh at and said ‘That’s about as good as my humor gets!’ and I thought to myself ‘Okay. This is a person who I can learn from, someone who knows how to not take themselves too seriously (and also, who is fit enough to breathe while pumping out cardio, because I was struggling.)’
Look, I’m not going to lie, the first class wasn’t fun. It was sweaty, I was scared, I couldn’t keep up, but I was also inspired by the people around me. THEY were having fun, they were even smiling? I wanted that.
At the end of class, Evan checked in with me. That’s the type of person he is, warm, and funny, dedicated and smart. There is not a class of his that I have attended where he hasn’t taught me something new about the Why of how we do things, regarding form or technique. He encourages people to ask questions, he never rushes an explanation.
So I came back. I came back again, and again, and again. There were hard days, where I felt frustrated by my clumsy body and the soreness that I took as a sign of weakness when I was done, (spoiler alert, soreness does not equate weakness), but there were, and continue to be really fantastic days, and they outnumber the hard ones. Days where I feel capable and strong, where I can see the progress from that first timid class. This is going to sound cheesy, but there is something fundamental and important that happens in Group Exercise classes, an exchange of energy between people who are there, striving for a common goal. You lean on each other, you learn from each other. What starts as a fragile goal for health has become an imperative stress reliever and a true joy in my life.
And if you’re lucky enough to have free time when Evan teaches Group Active, you’ll get to hear all his semi-funny jokes. So make sure you laugh; he likes that.
March 9, 2018 – Blog Post #1
When I was approached about sharing my fitness journey, I balked. That’s my MO, and maybe yours too. Who would want to read about this? Who could relate to this? But that mentality is exactly what held me down and back for so long, so instead I said ‘Yes.’
Yes I will be vulnerable with you.
“How should I start?” I queried, imagining an awkward Q & A session.
“Think about what motivates you” came the reply. Okay. I can do that. #GymMotivation is my favorite instagram hashtag after all. But my motivations felt embarrassing, and inauthentic.
I wanted to stop shopping at stores that made me pay more simply because I took up more space. I wanted to set up a healthy foundation for my kids. Those were my highlight reel reasons, but the truth? The truth was that I was disappearing from my own life.
We took a trip, I stared in wonderment at the photos and when we came back, I got angry. I scoured my phone for past photos, evidence of how I had led myself here, and realized with a sinking heart, that the worse I felt about myself, the more I removed myself from my own happy memories. There were my kids and my husband, my friends, and my family doing all these fun things, and I know I was there, but I’m not in the photos.
I told myself, I deserved my own dedication. I deserved to win my life back from myself.
I started walking, drinking water, and alternating over-eating and under-eating. Punishing myself for making such a mess of things, and bad talking myself in the process. I wanted ownership over a body that I had not treated very well, and that body was just not having it.
I stopped, I reassessed. I walked up to the JCC and back home more times than I care to admit, each time with the intention of signing up for Personal Training and each time, not doing it.
It is not failure if you keep trying, friends. It is brave to be scared of something, and to do it anyway.
I consider the day in July of 2017 that I met with Jason Stowell, the Health and Wellness Division Director to be a day when the world said, ‘I’m going to pitch this one to you real slow, so knock it out of the park.’ He assigned me to Michael Kroll for Personal Training, and it has been a game changer.
Michael’s breadth of knowledge, dedication to his job, his willingness to carefully push while refusing to let you slack.. they are all markers of an excellent trainer. With his guidance I learned to appreciate strength over smallness, to understand the importance of form and stretching, to be grateful to my body for what it was learning to do. I can also dead lift 205 lbs now, so.. that’s pretty awesome.
Michael began suggesting adding cardio to round out my gym sessions. I had a group of girlfriends who had been going to Group Active and Group Power, so in October, I hesitantly joined them. Now look, before July of 2017, I had never stepped foot in a gym. I’m not going to say I busted out some flawless cardio and we all lived happily ever after. I was a sloppy, hot mess and if it were not for the encouragement of the instructors, I would have waltzed myself straight out of there and not returned. But that’s just it, it’s what sets the JCC apart. Evan, Molly, Holly, Patti, and all the instructors for the group workouts are incredible. They care if you succeed. They check in with you, they Teach you, they Guide you. They are hands down the single most comforting factor about getting sweaty in a room full of other people.
Nothing worth fighting for is easy. Every day you have to wrest victory from self sabotage. Every day you have to make the dedicated choice that You are Worth Investing in. BECAUSE YOU ARE. Those classes that I was so intimidated by? They are some of my favorite hours of the day now. Hours that belong to no one but me. Minutes that are tunnel-focused into pushing my body to better itself. It doesn’t matter how you come to the JCC, where on your journey you find yourself inside her non-judgmental walls, the people there will accept you and welcome you right as you are.
My trainer is my friend. Those instructors? They are my friends too. The strangers at the gym? Friends. Because we’ve all got a common goal. Self Investment. Self Dedication. Self Worth. So if you see me at the J, and you want a new gym friend, say ‘hi’, I’ll likely drag you to whatever class I’m headed to. #GymMotivation indeed.