Love Your Body #3: Strength

I started seeing a really great personal trainer last summer after my bone density test showed the typical post-menopausal decline…nothing dramatic or out of the ordinary, but because my mom and her mom both developed osteoporosis, I figured I should get to the gym. A friend told me about a new app called “Splitfit” that let you book a small group training session for just 20 bucks; she’d heard about a highly recommended trainer—Kathryn—on the app from a friend of hers. So we decided to go together. What did we have to lose?

I had forgotten how much I like weight training.  It doesn’t seem like something I’d be into, given that in Nia I’m wafting around in my fancy dance pants, expressive and flowy.  But when I was in my twenties, in Jane Fonda’s heyday, I’d put on my ankle weights and leg warmers and cheerfully perform any number of leg lifts or hamstring curls on the plush carpet of my hi-rise studio in Chicago’s Gold Coast.  In the late 1980’s, I discovered a video workout series called “The Firm,” and I became a convert to the gospel of aerobic weight training. One price of my devotion was the purchase of a small rack of dumbbells, a weighted “body bar”, and a set of aerobic steps. (They have exactly the same set twenty-five years later at the Wellesley gym where Kathryn is based).  The ladies of “The Firm” held my attention for a solid ten years, the equipment traveling with me and John from our small garden apartment in Chicago’s Old Town, to my godfather’s freebie rental property overlooking the Boston common (no kidding.  I once saw Mitt Romney in the elevator), to our starter house and home to this day (four major renovations later) in Lincoln. When John and I Kon-Mari-ed the house last summer, I found ten volumes of “The Firm” videos that had been ossifying in the family room media cabinet for decades. I so relished the feeling of resistance that body sculpting entailed, gaining competence and strength against a worthy adversary, even if that foe was just a rusty fifteen-pound hand weight.

In Nia, we describe strength as “packing the muscle against the bone,” and we use this prompt to create the sensation of resistance.  But without progressively overloading the muscles, you just don’t develop the same power.  After entrusting myself to Kathryn last summer, I learned that Nia strength and gym brawn are not equivalent.  Squats, wall balls, planks, step-ups, farmer carries, bring ‘em on, load me up. I’m happy at the push-up bar. I love power drumming with the tabada battle ropes. My muscle memory must have somewhere encoded the Southern-accented voices of all those Firm video starlets, exhorting me to curl, press, fly, dip, step up; I felt at home.

I went back to see Kathryn today for the first time in the six weeks since I injured myself, to say goodbye for now.  Sadly for me, but happily for her, she landed a fantastic new job in strategic marketing for Harvard Pilgrim Health’s corporate patient populations. She says she’ll still train a few hours a week, but I doubt it. She has a BIG new job and three young kids. I’m so appreciative I had those six months of working with her before her return to corporate life.  She’s whip smart (clearly). Endlessly knowledgeable and creative, she puts together workouts that cultivate muscles I didn’t even know I had, and I’ve studied anatomy.  I forgot to tell her before I left today that I credit much of the speed of my recovery to the fact that I had robust, symmetrical strength to draw on. More than one healthcare professional on my path of hamstring diagnosis commented on it, surprised; I guess because I’m 59 and curvy, they don’t expect me to be so hardy. On my way out the gym door today, Kathryn gave me a few additional exercises to help isolate my medial glutes, abductors and adductors, which will be critical to stabilizing my left thigh, untethered as it has become…a nifty clamshell maneuver in fetal position, a raised bridge with a TheraBand. 

I’ll find another trainer to work with, and I’m sure they’ll be great, too, in their own way. But it was Kathryn who helped me reconnect to my inner gym rat, handing me a 40 pound weight for a goblet squat, telling me “you got this,” distracting me with hilarious tales about her over-committed life as a sports mom to three growing boys or her behind-schedule bathroom renovation.  I’m tougher than when I met her, and I need to be.  I’m grateful to her.

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