How Hypertrophy Training Taught Me to Stop Hiding and Start Being Myself

Confession: I am sometimes still 200 lbs in my head.

I have a hard time seeing myself as I am when I look in the mirror and I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the camera for as long as I can remember. There are actually NO photos of me at 200 lbs because I just could not bear to see myself.

It’s been 3 years since I started making major changes which ultimately changed my life in a multitude of ways, including losing weight and eliminating my dependence on the pharmaceuticals managing my PCOS symptoms. It was just the beginning though.

Last year at about this time, Kourtney Thomas and Jen Sinkler released a strength training program designed to encourage hypertrophy for women. Hypertrophy is specifically intended to build muscle mass, something that many women have been taught to shun. We’ve spent our whole lives taught we must be smaller, why would we want to train our bodies to be bigger?! Why would we want to take up space?!

I liked the idea of it, adding muscle mass to my body. I wanted to LOOK like all the work I was putting in. But it also messed with me. Taking up space isn’t just a physical thing, it’s a mental thing. I’ve expended a great deal of energy making myself small throughout my life, and not just physically.

Because it scared me, I put off actually starting the program for MONTHS. I didn’t actually start it until the end of August. I hadn’t even joined a gym yet, something that is a requirement for the program (unless you have a well-equipped home gym, which I do not).

My only goal was to see what my body could do. There was no “I want to drop a certain percentage of body fat” though that was definitely on my mind, nor were there any strength goals. I wanted to fall back in love with the process. I wanted to see what my body would do with consistent training.

Even though there is talk of the positive psychological effects of this type of training written into the program (which is really well written, by the way), I didn’t expect what has ultimately happened.

Yes, my body has changed, pretty dramatically. Yes, I’m stronger physically. Yes, I’ve fallen back in love with training my body much the same way I did while I was in high school. Yes, I’m a little addicted to watching the numbers climb as I move heavier and heavier weights and the accompanying endorphin rush.

I didn’t expect this program would create an opening for me to find confidence in my voice. I didn’t expect that finding my confidence would open up a path for me to explore the things I’m passionate about. I didn’t expect that it would completely alter the way I walk, the way I speak, the way I see myself, and the way I occur to the people around me.

I didn’t expect that it would be a key contributor in teaching me to fly.

Underneath everything that I do and am, I am a writer. I probably have been my whole life even though I’ve spent most of it hiding it from people. It has only been very recently that “I’m a writer and I teach people how to heal themselves through the written word” came rolling off my tongue of its own accord, unbidden, free as a bird.

You see, in August, just as I was starting Bigness Project, I enrolled in a mentoring program and was matched up with an art therapist as my mentor. It was an instant heart connection. Within the first hour of meeting with her, she’d planted this little seed in my creative mind that I could teach. By October, right as I was completing Phase 1 and entering Phase 2, I actually started to believe that I could. By the time I finished the program, I had a name for the course I’ll be teaching at a local community center here and the encouragement of my teenaged son to create a teen version. I’m also working on creating a virtual version of the course.

Somewhere in the middle of the program “no more hiding” became my mantra. Even though you haven’t seen much of me here in this space, I’ve nearly completed my second book of poetry and begun a poetry podcast. I plan to do a wellness podcast as well. Interestingly, the first time I tried to record I lost the recording because I didn’t fully understand the software I was using. I thought it was great what I’d recorded, but in hindsight, I’m glad I lost it. It wasn’t my voice. It was my “please don’t see me voice”.

Since completing the program, I’ve had several interactions with people that allowed me to show my passion, all bright eyes, huge grin, hands and arms gesticulating and they weren’t scared off. Better, they were drawn in! It was a major aha moment for me to realize that the me that I’ve been hiding is so much more enthralling than the me I’ve been walking around as for 30 years. The me I’ve been hiding ISN’T overwhelming or too much, contrary to what I believed.

Make no mistake, being seen and heard is still scary for me. Correction: the IDEA of being seen and heard is still scary for me. Actually BEING seen and heard is a revelation, a thermal updraft in my wings. Every time I allow it, it gets easier. Every time I allow it, the space between allowances becomes smaller.

Ultimately, training my body to be bigger has shown me the path that leads back to the me I was before the world told me I had to be smaller, quieter, to cross my legs, that men were dangerous, that it’s too scary out there for a woman. The genie cannot be stuffed back in the bottle. And even if it could, living out loud is too much fun for me to allow it.

Without further ado, the particulars:

I’ll admit that I didn’t do a very good job with the numbers. I didn’t take the measurements called for before I started, so I’ll give you the overall changes for 2017, most of which occurred during the program:

Lbs lost: 13 Body fat % decrease: 5% Waist inches lost: 3.5 Chest inches lost: 2.5 Hips inches lost: 1.5

And here are the photos:

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Things I’m Pondering Volume 2

I’ve been bouncing around a lot this month, mostly in my head, some out of it. What can I say, I really enjoy THINKING, which not to be confused with RUMINATING. Ruminating is bad, m’kay?

I’ve mentioned previously that I’m participating in a 10-month mentorship program. I’m getting immense value from my relationship with my mentor. In the last few weeks, the switch finally flipped and things are starting to snowball for me, which is amazing. I’m lighter, free-er, and oh so much more open. Like WIDE open. While I originally thought I’d be working on my business acumen, I’ve shifted to getting back in touch with my creativity and the ways in which that creativity strengthens me. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I’m wrapping up Week 13 of Bigness Project, a hypertrophy program written by Kourtney Thomas and Jen Sinkler (who is one my favorite people I’ve never met…one day), and with only one week left I’m beyond proud of myself. I’m actually FINISHING! This has been about rewriting my story about being a quitter (I’m NOT) and really just seeing what my body can do. I cannot wait to show you the before and after pics because WOW. Suffice it to say my body LOVES training this way. I’ve fallen back in love with the gym and it’s a boatload of fun.

One of the byproducts of the changes in my body has been noticing how others see (with their eyes) me. This is often a double-edged sword for women. We’re told so many conflicting things about how we should view ourselves, how others are allowed to view us, we’ve experienced so much negative and positive around our appearances that sometimes we aren’t sure what to do. Here’s what I’ve decided for myself: your value isn’t in your appearance. But there is nothing wrong with valuing your appearance or wanting it to be valued by others. This came to me after not once, but twice, men opened the door for me just so they could watch me walk away. And I LIKED it. Note that this wasn’t done in a way that I felt threatening or sleazy. They were simply appreciative. I guess the bottom line is that I get to choose. I get to choose to feel empowered by being appreciated for my appearance, even though I’m so much more than that. After nearly 30 years of hiding, this is a MASSIVE shift for me.

Another thing I’m pondering is around where the line is between compassionate self-improvement and the self-hatred of obsessively striving for better. I don’t have any solid thoughts here yet, only that I’m reaping the benefits of compassionate self-improvement as I write this. As Brené Brown has written, at any given moment we are all doing the best we can. Compassionate self-improvement comes more from acknowledging that making changes is about feeling good whereas obsessive self-improvement is about perfection. It’s letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. It comes at the expense of various things in our lives, such as our relationships. This line may or may not be indelible and its position will vary by person. All I can say with any certainty is that fighting myself has not yielded nearly the results that loving myself has.