One of the biggest pluses of 2014 has been that it was the year I discovered and enjoyed weight training. The obvious benefits of higher strength and increased muscle mass aside, it has totally changed my body. And possibly changed me considerably too. Outside and inside.
For a hardcore lover of all things cardio, my previous experience with weight training has been in the weights room of a gym, where the routine was interspersed with cardio on any given day, dividing the upper and lower body, and frankly that was insufferable. The sheer drudgery of lifting weights all alone, while my beefed up trainer would painfully spot me, dragging the suffering along, didn’t get me very far. It did help me tone up (which was the goal back then) but with it I also lost interest in weights itself. I was never made to see the benefits of it, anatomically.
It is only last year that I discovered the biological working of how fat turns to muscle mass and what it does for my body, learned to appreciate strength over thinness, and have completely stopped getting on the weighing scale. I used to be the sort that would jump around and get my heart racing for 35-40 minutes, lift a few weights for 15-20 minutes and call it a day. And that probably works for some people. But the thing about fitness is to find your sweep spot, what works for you, and I found mine in a combination of high intensity cardio three times a week, supplemented by two hours a week spent just lifting weights, focusing on muscle groups across the entire body.
What it’s done for me on the outside is this:
– Shred flab faster than I ever have. The results are visible, and they came quicker than I’ve ever experienced in my life.
– Toned those areas that I’ve always thought were prone to fat deposits that refuse to budge. For me, its been my arms, hips and thighs and the remarkable changes I’ve seen have been accelerated only due to the weight training.
– Boosted my metabolism back to where it used to be. I wake up hungry, yet energetic and my hunger cycles are regulated with my stomach ringing like an alarm clock every 4-5 hours.
– Upped my resistance by leaps and bounds, to the point where I can proudly say I only fell prey to the flu twice this year (as opposed to at least once every 2-3 months), and I sailed through 2014 without a single tummy issue.
But those are the obvious things to look out for. If you’re weight training and you don’t feel like your metabolism is soaring, your immunity isn’t as solid as it used to be and you’re not feeling toned even after 6 months to a year of pumping iron, you’re probably not doing it right.
The beauty of weight training, and why I got so addicted to it though, is what it has done for me on the inside.
1) I feel super strong. Sometimes even stronger than I actually am. And that feels really fabulous. When you stop fearing the possibility of turning into a bodybuilder with disproportionately bulky muscles popping up in unwieldy places (because that won’t happen even if you try! Here’s why.), you realise what weight training actually does is make you stronger. For real.
You’ll suddenly realise it when you have silently gone up from lifting 20 pounds to 25 pounds one day, without feeling a thing.
I realised it one fine day when I no longer called the hugsband down to help me carry my month’s worth of groceries up the stairs.
I realised it when my gas cylinder needed to be carried home and I happily and very easily lifted the heavier side.
I realised it when VC comes home after a cycle ride, calls for help to assist carrying the cycle up the staircase and after weeks of sharing the load, I pulled it off all alone.
I realised it when I take down boxes from the loft, when I open impossible-to-open jars, when I lift suitcases that others rush to help me with.
I realised I stopped asking for help, because in most situations you realise you’re damn well capable of taking care of yourself.
(and you read stuff like this and actually relate to it and chuckle like someone in-the-know)
2) When you feel stronger, you begin to believe you are stronger. And it shows on the outside. Lifting weights has boosted my confidence as much as it has my metabolism. That in turn has made me more positive, to an extent more social and outgoing too. I feel that extra puff of confidence in carrying myself of in situations I’d previously have been awkward about.
3) Weight training has turned my idea of fitness up on its head, pulled it out of the box where most of us aspire to be a perfect size, dedicated by a number. The number of times I’ve looked at my hips and wished they were narrower, or at my tummy and wished it was flatter have been far fewer this year. And yet, I’ve voluntarily pulled out clothes I had tucked away inside my cupboard, pretty sure I’d never wear them again. Sure, I feel fabulous when I find that a forgotten, old skirt now fits me, or when a much-loved pair of pants is suddenly slipping off my hips; but those moments are pleasant surprises that I come upon rather than go after and seek obsessively. The number on the scale no longer dictates my work outs. I’m more motivated by doing an extra set of push ups or upping the weight on my dumbells every few weeks. And when I go in to check my body fat percentage, to see that it has plummeted, I go out and eat an extra cupcake.
4) Weight training has given me small bursts of winning every so often. It’s a win when I lift a higher weight. It’s a win every time I do an extra set. It’s a win when I can do the tricep hover. It’s a win when I can do spider-man-push-ups. I’ve also realised that winning in the gym so often has a tremendous effect on the intensity of the endorphin release. It gives me the surge of energy that I can harness and slowly release through the day. It’s given me happier times, the courage to take on challenges and basically not say no to almost anything.
5) This has put the focus of fitness back where it should be — on building endurance and strength, rather than getting slim. This has had an enormous consequence on my food habits. Whether it is unconsciously cutting down eating out, barely reaching out for packaged/processed foods in the supermarket, or eating freely knowing that there is going to be a workout in 24 hours that will bust a lot of those calories out of my system — I’ve come a long, long way from where I was last year.
6) Every time I look in the mirror and the beginnings of the thought “oh, still some way to go” begin to creep into my head, I’m quicker to remind myself that I can do many things in the gym today, that I absolutely couldn’t even imagine doing 12 months ago. I’ve learned to see the things about my body that make me, me and I have accepted that that no matter how lean and toned I get, they will remain.
I think I’ve put some of of the healthy in my body image. And this has extended out to my attitude to women around me too. I’ve consciously cut down commenting on the way people look and how they carry themselves off physically. I’m trying everyday to respect my body for what it does for me on a daily basis.
It’s ironic that women often fear that lifting weights will make them look less feminine and probably turn them bulky and manly, because personally, lifting weights has in many ways shaped the very idea of femininity for me. Whether its a new found confidence, the ability to slowly wear clothes I was afraid to, made me talk freely, to do more, grab opportunities, stretch myself.
I don’t see “problems areas” or “flaws” anymore, just reasons to push out another set of squats or perfect that chest-press. More importantly, I’ve begun to look at my body lovingly, rather than constantly being harsh and criticising it.
I’ve learned to love myself the way I am, because my body has cooperated with me, stood by me and done so much more than I imagined was possible. Isn’t that a gorgeous discovery to make?
I’ve learned that weights don’t make you bulky. They make you beautiful.