Post #3184: The life-changing magic of heavy lifting

A funny thing happened yesterday when I was riding my bike: I fell off for the first time in my life. I was cycling on a muddy trail and having trouble getting much propulsion going when I spotted a stick across the trail. It wasn’t a big stick and I figured I could jet over it no problem, but because of my slow speed, my bike tripped on it, and fell over, pitching me onto the ground. I was going pretty slow, so really it wasn’t much of an accident, but it *was* surprising, and I had to laugh at myself as I sat there in the muck feeling myself over to make sure I wasn’t actually hurt.

My biggest fear about trail riding, and the reason I’ve stayed away from it all these years, is the potential for accidents like this one. I’m really a city rider, preferring pavement to packed earth, which explains why I’ve barely ridden since moving to this rural island. Lately though I’ve been itching to get back on my bike and I realized that in order to learn to love riding here, I’m going to have to get over this fear of falling so I can get off the windy (dangerous) rural roads and into the places the cars don’t go. Falling off my bike yesterday was a liberation of sorts, a demonstration that one can walk away from a small accident smiling, and a reminder of what to watch out for when navigating narrow footpaths.

Getting back on my bike has been part of a trajectory that started this summer with some changes in diet (lowering the refined carbs and moving to an intermittent fasting schedule) and a return to the gym. I started working with a trainer in a group setting in October and as part of that process I had to submit to an interview that included questions about when I had felt my best physical self. As out of shape as I was feeling at that moment, I instantly perked up when I talked about riding my bike to and from work every day, and my long distance backpacking trips of the past.

So I started this program with my instructor Tasha and a group of other women who were all at varying fitness levels. She started us off simple, with the goal of giving us a workout program using fitness bands, blocks, and body weight that we could do at home or anywhere, and incorporating core and recovery work into every session. At week three though, Tasha asked to see a show of hands for how many of us middle-aged women wanted to learn about lifting heavy weights: dead lifts, weighted squats, chest presses. Though a couple of the women were sure they *couldn’t* do dead lifts because of physical issues, everyone expressed some interest, and so the next week we showed up early to learn all about proper form.

I won’t bore you with the details except to say that even the people who had hesitated in the beginning found a form and a weight level that worked for them, and pretty soon everyone was coming early to fit in a heavy lifting session before the regular class. It’s been 3 and a half months since, and my body shape has really changed as a result. I’ve firmed up all over and lost close to 3 inches on my waist. When I flex my arms the muscles are noticeable, when I engage my abs I can see the contraction, my back is stronger than ever and when I’m steeling myself to dead lift my thighs are – well, they are solid!

This is not my first time at the exercise rodeo – I have a history of hiking, cycling, weight lifting and more – but this is the first time I’ve seen such dramatic change in so short a time period. I’ve been using yoga practice as a bit of a barometer as it’s one activity I’ve done pretty consistently for the last three years – and I have seen vast improvements in poses that require balance and strength in the last few weeks that I can only chalk up to the change in my weight lifting routine.

My weekly workout circuit includes walking, cycling, yoga, heavy weights, free weights and machines, and floor work for a total of six out of seven days doing something. Sometimes the something is a single yoga class (like this morning) or a walk, other times it’s power lifting. My workouts feel balanced and because my interview with Tasha was such a jolting reminder of what I’d been missing, I’m making sure to incorporate outdoor play a couple of times per week, rain or shine.

Until recently I had been holding tight to the believe that at my age (nearly 47) weight loss was pretty much impossible and my metabolism wasn’t supporting any great fitness improvements either. And though I’d been interested in power lifting in the past, I kept hearing the echoing voice of my last trainer telling me that “at your age, lots of people injure themselves with that kind of activity”, which put a fear in me, similar to the fear of falling off my bike on a trail, that injury now would mean I might never recover. Better to stick to the safe things: yoga, pilates, cardio machines, right?

These are the kinds of messages and fears that hold us back increasingly as we get older, as we experience more injury in our bodies, and as we absorb other people’s expectations of our bodies. One of the owners of the local gym (who is a weight lifting champ) says, “how much weight you can lift is in your mind as much as anything else.” And though I’m not sure that’s exactly true, I’m aiming to dead lift 200 pounds this year, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll meet that goal. Even at 47, and even though I’m sometimes afraid I might hurt myself. I feel good these days, I feel strong – and if I can just keep remembering that on the days I don’t feel like going to the gym – perhaps I’ll be fitter at 48, 49, and 50 than I am right now. That’s a goal worthy of getting over my fears for!

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