Above picture: Me at the gym doing Rectus Abdominis work (abs) using a weight between my feet.
“He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.” – Psalm 18
Today around 6:00 p.m., I was happily driving through our high school parking lot to pick up my football players, when my daughter spotted an old friend, “Look, Mom, there’s Rick Dean.” Being about as energetic as the “Eveready Bunny” with greeting people, I stretched my arm in a friendly arc and waved vigorously. Rick looked absolutely vacant, about as empty as a jug of sweet tea in the south at a church potluck on the hottest day of Jul-Eye (yes, it has to be spelled that way in Miz-ippi). He must not have spotted me yet, so I tried again, this time with a full arm extension and an overjoyed smile. “Hi, Rick!” Yeah, nothing. Either Rick’s brain was taking a serious mental vacation, drifting off to the land of milk, honey and unicorns after a long day or………… WAIT, That wasn’t Rick! And, then the ocean of hilarity hit me. That man had looked at me with such absence and, yes, a strong hint of, “Who the heck is that zealous idiot?!” Oh my, I was doubled over in my Suburban seat, as wave after wave of the humor of the situation hit me. Ok, maybe you had to be there. But, the extreme contrast of my exuberance and his, “Who the heck is that,” tickled me.
Can I just say, when I get to that point, it just isn’t pretty, folks. I mean, tears pour down my face, my voice takes on a very high pitched, squeaky quality, strongly resembling a chipmunk on Helium, I jabber nonsensically, like little girls rapidly comparing glitter hair products and I get more revved up with each passing throttle of laughter, just as a bright yellow, happy convertible would at a car show full of old men who wear their jeans about five notches too high, belted and tucked, and talk about the good old days.
When I first started lifting weights, it was an awful lot like that gigantic, unreturned wave above – I was definitely a fish out of water. I waltzed into the weight room, my happy, girly self, only to realize, aside from the occasional older person using the machines to strengthen their weak knees, I had entered (drum roll) The World of Men. Not only that but also The World of Muscle Men. They are a unique, committed breed. People, people people, let me just say, there is a whole language that exists in the weight room. It comes out as grunts and nods but it is loud and absolutely culture- shaping. I’ve discovered a few tips to help out newbies and girls, as they enter the inner sanctum. The following is Laurie Letterman’s Top Ten Tips for the Weight Room:
1. Walk in like you’re the boss (even when you’re clueless). There’s a whole culture there of many people acting like they know everything when they don’t, so in regards to self confidence, join them. Lol.
2. When someone asks to work into your set, generously let them. BUT, don’t get intimidated; make sure they don’t take over but you insist on your turn.
3. Don’t create circuits (long chains of various workouts) unless the weight room is empty. You will just tick people off, as you hog multiple pieces of equipment at once.
4. Lift what you can handle. No matter what looks you’re given or the giant beast that is squatting a 1,000 pound bar next to you, like it’s a toothpick on the back of Goliath, lift what you can handle, while pushing yourself. If it’s a stretch for you, you will see results. And, that’s why you’re there after all!
5. And, on that subject, women get lots of looks in the weight room, ranging from, “What are you doing in here,” “That puny weight you’re lifting is hilarious”, “You’re hot, can I catch your eye” to normal/ healthy. Ignore it all. Go there to work and work hard!
Also, steer clear of the creepy guy with a cut off t-shirt and mullet, who groans loudly like he’s with his lover, as he strains the weight into position. Sorry, but someone had to say it; it happens! I crank my music higher and don’t lift anywhere near that one. Talk about dodging a 1980’s, bad hair decade bullet!
6. Eat a healthy carb option (an apple or handful of grapes, for example) before you go to the gym and some protein (a protein smoothy or non-fat greek yoghurt with a few cut up strawberries in it) afterwards. It will help with your energy and muscle building, respectively. I also take a quality amino acid combination supplement afterwards.
7. Do your research before you get there. If your problem area is arms, then research weight lifting options for arms on utube before you go. Plan on at least 3 (I do 3-5) different weight lifting options for each muscle group you are working. I tend to focus on two muscle groups at once, because I run every other day and need to squeeze it all in lifting wise. Personally, I have seen the greatest results when I do 4-5 exercises per focus area.
8. I usually can tell I’m working my muscles enough because they have a “pumped up,” tight feeling. And, later, while being sore isn’t everything, that has also certainly been a strong indicator for me that I’ve worked enough to build muscle.
9. Get into a habit of “cooling down” with a mile run (start with less if you need to). Running just a little bit after your lift is great for your metabolism and fitness!
10. Form is more important that adding weight. You can hurt yourself if your form is incorrect. I have found squats difficult to get just right and have made my back sore trying. Also, there are body weight/ low weight exercises that yield great results.
I hope you find these tips helpful, as you navigate the testosterone filled world of the weight room. Remember: you belong there and most of them don’t know as much as they think they do.
This leads me to a topic that has been on my mind- facing criticism. I am a very tender hearted person. In the past, I let people’s harsh critiques cripple me, just like a balloon that crumples instantly when pierced with a needle point. I’m not sure what has happened; all I can attribute it to is the goodness of God working in me but, nowadays, I have developed a stubborn tenacity to receive fair, truthful critique (even when it isn’t delivered perfectly) but to quickly let go and move on when a comment is just mean spirited, inaccurate (I have to be careful on this one to soberly weigh it) or unhelpful (nothing can be done now except a heartfelt apology). I think this change in me happened because 1. I grew fed up with not living fully as a result of that and made a deep decision within, 2. I pray every time I feel the slimy barnacles of a harsh word sticking to me and 3. I mentally choose to move forward and even say out loud, “No, I am moving on, that wasn’t fair.” Can I just say, men in general are better at this and I have learned so much from my husband, father and sons, as I listen to how they process hard words. Their mental clarity inspires me.
It is such a fine balance, like a new construction worker who precariously learns to walk on scaffolding, as he works. I want to be soft hearted, sober minded and receive what I need to hear but, also, shut out the words that shouldn’t have been said.
This morning as we drove to school, I was sharply correcting a kid who was late. My sons all calmly asked me to explain the problem gently, so they could work on it. They were absolutely right; I was feistier than a cat who’s been hosed down by the neighbor boy, stalking around with it’s hair on end. I swallowed hard and forced my driven personality into submission to do what I knew was right. I quietly said, “You boys are right. I’m sorry for being so intense.” Oooo, baby, receiving the good stuff is just as hard as not taking on the unhelpful words. My prayer is that God himself will continue to teach me until I confidently maneuver the struts of the high rise of relationship with experience, kindness and humility.