5 Valuable Lessons I Learned from Following My First Strength Training Plan
This seven-time marathoner shares the humbling experience of following a strength training plan for the first time ever.
I was on the verge of a total meltdown.
With wet eyes, staring at a silver hex bar (a hexagon-shaped barbell that you stand in the middle of, also called a trap bar) at my feet loaded up with 125 pounds.
It was something I'd lifted multiple times before. Heck, I'd lifted heavier weights before, no question. But on this particular Thursday, it just wasn't clicking. My chest felt tight. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. A tear rolled down my cheek. I felt like the past month of consistent programming was falling by the wayside.
Hard stop for a little, albeit important, background information: I'm a fitness journalist, which means that not only do I write and edit fitness-related content for a living, but I'm also constantly trying the latest, greatest, and newest workouts out there. From HIIT to hot yoga, barre to Pilates-I'd guesstimate that I typically work out nine times a week and have been doing so for the past four-or-so years. Some days, it's a run in the morning followed by a hot yoga class in the evening. Others, it's Barre3 for a quick catch-up with a work contact before taking a break midday to get in marathon-training miles. And, BTW, I'm a seven-time marathoner. I'm good at running. Most of the time, it feels enjoyable and effortless. Most of the time, it's my chosen way to de-stress and decompress.
To date, I've followed more race training plans that I can count on all of my fingers and toes. But, until January 1, 2019, I'd never, ever followed any kind of structured training plan for strength.
After running the New York City Marathon last November, I knew I needed to take a step back from pounding pavement, if only just temporarily. I had a few injuries throughout the three months leading up to the race that weren't really healing properly, and my physical therapist stressed that I needed to take time to strengthen and better my body. So I enlisted the help of Lacee Lazoff, a trainer and kettlebell specialist at Performix House in New York City.
We did an hour consultation, during which I told the pint-size powerhouse (seriously, just look at her Instagram) that I feel as though I'm in pretty good shape, despite wanting to lose a few pounds. We went through all the typical movement pattern evaluations, like a squat range of motion screening. We talked about my history of CrossFit years ago and my affinity for running. On that first day together, she had me doing a kettlebell circuit that involved Bulgarian split squats. After the second round, I remember thinking maybe I'm not that strong after all.
Lazoff worked with me to create a plan that allowed me to still incorporate a bit of running and my "work-meeting" workouts. I would strength train (and only strength train) three days a week. Otherwise, it would be a mixture of activities that keep me sane, like running to my favorite hot yoga class or meeting a girlfriend for boxing. The goal: For 31 days, I would get to know my body better, work on the wonky movement patterns we discovered during those initial tests, and get stronger in the process.
Thirty days later, I had learned a lot.
1. I'm not as fit as I thought.
Just because I've been working out like a maniac for the past four years doesn't mean I'm in the running to be CrossFit's next Fittest Woman on Earth. Workout after workout, I felt humbled by new movement patterns and challenged by weights. Workout after workout, I felt absolutely gassed from about 50 minutes of work that made me feel like a beginner all over again.
2. It's OK to not be great at everything.
That novice-feeling has been a hard one to appreciate. Fact is: You only get to be a beginner once. During that time, you have the opportunity (keyword: opportunity) to learn so much about a skill and yourself. I realize in all of this that it's easy to look past the days when I was a total novice runner; the days when I would run (that's a gracious term, here) a half-mile in 14 minutes. I remember how much I didn't like it. I remember those sweat-drenched Target cotton tights that I've since swapped out for better-performing Lululemon leggings. I remember thinking I'd never be able to run a 5K, then months later crossing that off my list. Then a half-marathon. Then more.
3. Training solo is daunting.
But still, being a beginner is extra hard when you're trying to do something mostly alone. I felt really, really lonely doing round after round of this training plan solo. When someone else was using the set of dumbbells I wanted or I couldn't find the right kettlebell on the rack, it was easy to make excuses and walk away, but I kept remembering why I started. To become better. To stay on track, I made sure to check in with Lazoff after the sessions I completed on my own, providing an entire report. This way, I was accountable and didn't ditch out.
4. Progress is success.
Thirty-one days later, I can say without a doubt that I've accomplished my initial goals by setting out on a strength plan. The annoyance levels of past injuries-a weak hamstring and some sensitive nerves in my feet-are certainly improving. The moves that were totally taxing me on week one felt more doable come week four.
5. Nothing worth it comes easy.
After I had my small meltdown with my friend the hex bar, I went upstairs to the treadmill almost on autopilot. I turned up my ever-evolving "Run Your Mind" playlist and ran a quick two miles. Drenched in sweat, I got off the treadmill, exhaled, and remembered why I work out in the first place: because it makes me happy. Just like everything in life, hard work will make me better. Maybe one day, throwing kettlebells around will make me feel the same warm feeling that a Saturday morning 10-miler does. In the meantime, it's time to keep on getting comfortable with the uncomfortable and figure out the next phase of the training plan.