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:

I AM

I AM.

I wasn’t sure what it meant when that statement popped into my head. Not “I am.” I AM. All in caps, even in my head. Bold, maybe, too.

I AM.

Thinking about all of the “I am” statements that come out of our mouths on a daily basis, I wonder how many of us are truly aware of these declarations. I nearly started this paragraph with “I am”. It’s not just about labels though, as I originally thought it was. It’s deeper than that.

Think about it: when I say “I am…” I’m declaring, affirming, labeling, calling into being, and accepting whatever it is that I follow it up with.

I am an introvert.

I am in a transition period.

I am a single mother.

All of these declarations carry meaning and depth to them beyond the original statement. And while all of those declarations may be true, as may be the labels, I can choose something else. YOU can choose something else. We don’t have to be caged by these declarations.

We also get to, if we so choose, to accept or reject the declarations given to us from others in the oh so common “you are” statements we so love to dole out unconsciously.

You are more fun when you’re drunk.

You are too intense.

You are brilliant.

I’ve been on the receiving end of all of the above statements. The two negative statements I accepted without question. The positive one I only accepted because I trusted the source, though it was still shocking to me. Isn’t interesting to notice how quickly we accept negative statements?

One of the best things about being a writer is that I get to think. I like to think. It’s fun for me. Except when it’s not. Except when declarations go unchecked and I’m blindly accepting everything my mind generates.

The mind loves a good story and it’ll create one when there’s an absence of information.

I AM. It’s a complete sentence. I don’t have to quantify it. I don’t have to create a story. I just AM.

It’s quite liberating.

Try it. Let me know what you think.

“Always” + “Never” = Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Words are things.

Very powerful things.

Last night my mentor wondered aloud if I realized how often I made “always” and “never” statements. It’s been pointed out to me before how often I do this, but I hadn’t (nearly used “never” there) stopped to actually notice.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many people have stopped me recently to point out how often I use those two words. It’s no wonder I feel stuck, I’m creating and perpetuating myths of my own design, whether that’s what I consciously want to do or not.

Now I’m left wondering how I can be more conscious of my word choices. I’m usually pretty conscious, especially when I write. But when I’m just talking, especially from the heart, rambling, unfiltered, the truth always reveals itself. “Always” and “never” sprinkle themselves like salt and pepper through my speech and it is immediately constricting.

When I decided that I was going to complete Bigness Project, a strength training program designed around hypertrophy, I was adamant this be the one I finished. I was saying things like “I NEVER complete these programs” and “I ALWAYS get bored halfway through and quit”. For about 5 weeks after I started I was STILL making these statements, even though that wasn’t the reality I wanted to create. Even though I knew better. Then it was pointed out to me and I was a bit gobsmacked. Am I really saying those things?!

Today I ask you to consider your words, to notice them and how they feel when you say them. There is no need to judge them as correct or incorrect, right or wrong. But consider them within the context of the reality you are trying to create. Do they serve your intended creation? If not, how can you choose differently?

Rewards, Habits and the “I Deserve It” Trap

Over the past several weeks, the subject of “rewards” has come up multiple times. Each instance was within the context of reinforcing a behavior, not an outcome. And each instance brought out varying degrees of resistance from me, so much so I exercised my “phone a friend” option to get some help unpacking what was going on.

I’m at the tail end of the last generation before everyone started receiving participation awards. Every single award I received, I earned, whether it be first place ribbons for music competitions (I played trumpet from the time I was 9 until I was 19), prize money for a poem I wrote about trash in the 6th grade or placing in the top three during a Speech competition.

But it goes further than being a generational thing: I was reared on outcome based rewarding. If I wanted my driver’s license, I had to give my parents straight A’s. 3 YEARS IN A ROW. And then I had to KEEP my grades where they were in order to keep driving. That’s actually the only example I can give because otherwise, all reinforcement was negative i.e. so I didn’t get yelled at.

So rewarding myself because I DID something I said I would feels very “participation award” to me. But as I dig deeper into the research I’m starting to understand something key: rewarding the behavior is like focusing on progress as opposed to the goal. You’re reinforcing pleasantly something you want to keep doing so that you eventually reach the goal. The goal is a reward in and of itself. It’s about progress, not perfection.

Eventually, in this conversation with my friend, I agreed to try rewarding myself though I didn’t do exactly what we talked about. By the end of the week, I knew I’d reached an obvious reward point: I completed the first week of a new strength training program. I want to reinforce this behavior because I want to complete the program, something I’ve never actually done. But the second I started thinking about how I could reward myself, I came up with my daily movement goal as a trump card.

I try to get some type of movement in every single day, whether it be a walk with my dog, yoga, or even 25 kettlebell swings. Because I missed a single day of movement due to my work schedule last week, I wanted to negate the fact that I’d completed the strength training program as prescribed – 4 days, each day with a different focus. I even managed to get in a mobility day and a walk. And yet, I didn’t want that to be enough.

Eventually, I saw reason and decided that I had done what I said I would. So I chose to paint my fingernails, something I rarely take the time to do anymore.

This is where we get into the “I deserve it” trap. Sometimes people take things too far and decide that EVERY behavior is worth reinforcing, including the negative. I hear an awful lot of “I deserve it” when it comes to unhealthy rewards. This often looks like rewarding with food/drink or spending money, two behaviors that often generate guilt and can be (and often are) forms of self-sabotage. As a matter of fact, one of my rules is no rewarding with food/alcohol or by spending money (though a small expenditure can be warranted and/or necessary sometimes).

Here’s why: most people have health goals they want to reach or financial goals they are working towards. By rewarding your week of no missed workouts with a donut, because let’s face it, we don’t reward ourselves with healthy food, you’ve already undone any positive emotional progress. The same goes for buying yourself a new $300 handbag because you just paid off one credit card while you still have $20k in student loans. And what you’ll almost always hear when something like this happens is “I deserve it”.

The question you should always ask when rewarding yourself is what am I rewarding? Am I rewarding a behavior I want to reinforce? The follow-up question should be how do I reinforce this in a way that is positive and not in a way that might set me back?

Ultimately, I ended up painting my nails while I had my Sunday night bath. That might sound risky but I assure you everything worked out just fine. Multitasking is something I kind of have to do presently, so I ran with it. I have no idea what I’ll do when I complete this week, but I will reward myself when I complete all the workouts for the week.

What’s your relationship with rewarding? Are there any behaviors you want to reinforce that you think might benefit from rewards? I’d be really interested in your thoughts and experiences.

IMG_4441

Results May Vary

Sometimes great things come to me during my morning meditation. Here’s an excerpt of the email that is going out to my subscribers Friday morning, sparked by a meditation session:

You see that disclaimer with just about anything that is trying to sell a dream, weight loss programs especially and get rich schemes; anything that tries to circumnavigate actual effort; anything that wants us to ignore what we already know – that anything we want takes effort and work.

You know that saying we all heard as kids? Money doesn’t grow on trees (well, yes, actually it does, but I’m not trying to be a smartass here). Sometimes it was said in exasperation when we were careless with our things. Most often though, it occurred to me in this meaning: there are no handouts in life. You have to earn it.

Are you subscribed yet? Click the link in the sidebar to get on the list. This content will not be shared anywhere else.