Strength training (a.k.a entering the house of pain)

It is with great pride that I’ve assembled quite the cast of characters in my life. They are entertaining and uplifting. They listen to my rants. And most importantly, they challenge me.

Regular readers of this space are familiar with my friend Sue. She is a fabulous runner, a survivor in more ways than one, and recently has taken up weight training to participate in figure competitions.

Sue challenges my mental game, encouraging me to mine every situation for positives. And let me tell you, this takes practice. I’ve spent a long time honing my skills of scanning the horizon for negatives, for potential disasters in the making. That, I have found, is unproductive. Instead, turning my attention toward positives tends to bring those desired attributes to the forefront. When I find myself slipping during a run or a difficult stretch of training, Sue brings my focus back to the positives. It does wonders not just for my emotional state of being, but for the basic quality of my existence.

Ah, but Sue also challenges me to grow in other ways. Like this whole strength training business.

One day after she had participated in her second muscle show, she suggested that I should train and enter one of the local figure competitions with her.

On this occasion, there was no filter from my brain to mouth. I believe my response was something along the lines of an aggressive head shake and a forceful, “No FREAKING way that is EVER going to happen.”

I’d like to say I’m a “never say never” kind of gal, but truth be told, I write things off as ridiculous and end up doing them all the time. (See: Ironman) While I don’t anticipate being part of the competitive weight-training scene, Sue’s descriptions of workouts with her trainer, Maureen, piqued my interest over the past year. As someone who has sporadically strength trained, I wondered what dedication to an organized, thoughtful program would do for my triathlon skills, for my fitness and for my overall health.

And so, as part of my return from injury coupled with my curiosity for new athletic endeavors, I signed up to work with Maureen.

In our first session, Maureen worked me through a circuit which included upper body, lower body and core. (And I can tell the BOSU ball and I are not going to be friends. At least not to start.) We increased weight as we moved through sets to fatigue my muscles but not cause undue soreness.

But what was most interesting was not so much how my body felt but how my attitude toward the weights changed. I didn’t judge the weight. I didn’t think of anything as light or heavy. I looked at my form, tried to remember to breathe (this, oddly enough, was the hardest part for me) and focused on the exercise. It wasn’t quite a house of pain, but it definitely was an escalating challenge.

It’s difficult to enumerate the lessons of strength training after session No. 1. But it was different, encouraging and, as I find with almost all new endeavors I’m drawn to, fun.  And while scientifically it’s probably not true, I  feel stronger. Which is really all that matters. After all, I’m practicing scanning the horizon for the positives these days.

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