What follows are two personal essays on weight lifting from our Spring
2000 issue. One article follows right after the other ends!
Enjoy! -- Alice
--- By Catherine Taylor
From Radiance Spring 2000
t a time of books with titles like Strong Women Stay Slim (by Miriam Nelson at Tufts University) and articles in magazines that extol the benefits of weight lifting, with weight loss at the top of their list, it is so very important to remind ourselves that our countryís number one Olympic hopeful in the sport weighs almost 300 pounds. Weíre talking number one in both menís and womenís divisions, and weíre talking young, fit, and fat. (You go, Cheryl Haworth!)
And more and more Radiance readers are letting us know how much they enjoy pumping iron to build strength and stamina, make everyday tasks and movement easier, and strengthen weak knees and arms to build personal confidence . . . maybe even take on other sports and activities theyíd only dreamed about before.
Here we feature sixteen-year-old Cheryl Haworth and three Radiance readers whoíve incorporated weight lifting into their daily lives, for different reasons and with different results. Lifting weights, to whatever degree one chooses, is said to make the body more efficient and the mind more nimble. And women often express feeling increased psychological power after theyíve built up some muscle. Thereís even a political side to this story. Early feminists like suffragist Katie Sandwina (who used her husband as a barbell) and even the famous British suffragist Mary Wollstonecraft and the American suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton encouraged weight training for women. According to historian Jann Todd, these activists believed that muscles, and being a woman of substance and size, would help free us from being treated as insignificant or childlike (see Physical Culture and the Body Beautiful: Purposive Exercise in the Lives of American Women, 1800Ė1875).
So what about those of us who donít want to take on a big new project, or have good reason to hesitate for fear of straining a bad back or stressing sore joints? Remember this: your own body weight counts. Just walking is a weight-bearing exercise, and the same principle applies to arm and leg movements: even using one-pounders, or no weights at all, will build muscle and coordination.
One place to turn for tips is Judy Alterís fifteen-year-old classic, Stretch and Strengthen. Alterís emphasis is on safe movements, at the individualís own level and initiative. She also addresses special problems and exercise that promotes healing and avoids injury. (Her book just saw me through a bad bout of sciatica and ended up inspiring me to stretch and strengthen my way out of further trouble.) As far as strength training goes, Alter says, ďFor the most part, you need no other weights than the ones built into your body.Ē
Of course, a good personal trainer or instructor could give you the right moves for your body and your goals, that is, if you can find the right class or coach and can afford the commitment. For do-it-yourself guidance, we asked one of our size-friendly experts, Jake Tommerup, to give Radiance her favorite resources (see sidebar page 37). As you read this issueís articles and look over our recommendations, keep in mind that you donít have to become an athlete or an exercise junkie. Adding just one or two simple new moves to your daily life can make you feel great!
CATHERINE TAYLOR is the senior editor for Radiance.
--- by Patricia Corrigan
From Radiance Spring 2000
leven oíclock on Saturday morning, and Iím at the gym. After five trips around the padded walking track, I adjust the weights and the seat position on a weight-resistance machine and climb on for my first ďrideĒ of the day.
Laugh if you will, but I like thinking of the red-and-white Body Masters machines as rides at an amusement park. That first machine is a biggie: Iím pushing ninety pounds with my legs, to build up my thighs. I start slowly, with a few cleansing breaths. Then I begin to breathe in rhythm, inhaling while at rest, with knees bent, and then exhaling as I push back, straightening my legs. Eyes closed, hands relaxed, I do twelve repetitions, rest for sixty seconds, and then do twelve more reps. Sweat trickles down the back of my neck, a sure sign that I am working hard.
Then itís on to the leg-lift ride, the back stretcher, the push-me pull-you, the ďpec deck,Ē the rowing ride, the pull-down bar, and the rope-on-a-pulley. Oh yes, and the ďchicken-wing ride,Ē which strengthens my shoulders as I flap my bent arms up and down, pushing against the weights. I give full credit to this machine for allowing me to easily carry a heavy backpack all around Colorado this past June.
After riding all the machines, itís back to the track for another four or five trips around to cool down. By now, Iím exhilarated, proud of myself for ignoring the whiny voice in my head listing the reasons not to go to the gym: Itís too hot. Itís too cold. Itís raining. Itís too far. Iím too tired. Iím too busy. Iím proud of myself for pulling on sweatpants and a baggy shirt and actually getting there anyway. My body feels good, too: stronger, more toned, and maybe even taller. When I do every exercise carefully, mindfully, my breathing and the movement become a form of meditation, and I am left with a great sense of accomplishment and physical well-being.
Iím a most unlikely jock. Iím fifty-one years old, and round, a size 22Ė24. But then, the gym I go to is full of unlikely jocks. Women and men of all agesóand all fitness levelsówork out there. Some of the members have had heart attacks, strokes, or other serious illnesses, and exercise therapy is part of their treatment. I see them (and silently, I salute them) as they pedal on the bikes, pump away on the treadmill, or walk around the track with oxygen tanks at their side. Other members clearly are athletes in training, lifting huge weights and running wind sprints. Still others, like me, are on self-directed fitness missions. When you join my gym, you start with an hour-long medical evaluation to determine your present fitness level, and you may ask to be reevaluated from time to time, to measure your progress.
y goals are to gain stamina and to become stronger physically. Because Iíve done this before, I know that those goals are reasonable. Of course, you do have to show up on a regular basis and do the exercises. You also have to learn to forgive yourself if, for some reason, you miss a session or two, or even more.
One Friday, at the end of a hectic week when I hadnít made it to the gym a single time, that message of forgiveness reached up from the pages of a book I was reading. In Anne Lamottís Crooked Little Heart (Pantheon, 1997), a man explains something to a girl whoís cheated in a couple of tennis matches. ďIím just saying that you donít need to see yourself as a cheater. Because thatís not who you are. Youíre someone who cheated. Thereís a difference, and you should try to get that difference, or thatís who youíll grow up to be,Ē.
By extension, if I donít get to the gym every time I plan to, Iím not a failure. And even though Iíve flat out quit exercising a few times, for months or even for as long as a year, Iím not a quitter. This kind of thinking has led me to self-forgiveness, and also, every time, back to the gym.
In spite of all the publicity about physical fitness, studies show that only about one-third of all Americans exercise three times a week, and that estimate is considered high. How many more of us would, if we hadnít labeled ourselves quitters or failures?
Iíve worked out on weight-resistance machines for twenty years, off and on, and Iíve participated in water aerobics classes for ten years, also off and on. Now, when I donít get to the gym, itís okay, because I know I will get there again, and sooner, rather than later. I know this because I feel better when I go, and because I know better than to think badly of myself when I donít.
When I first joined the gym, I didnít have to point out that I was fat and out of shape, but I was asked to report any health problems. I have allergies that sometimes trigger asthma, arthritis in my elbows and wrists (the result of repetitive strain injury earned on the job), and a penchant for respiratory infections. Also, Iím a breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in the fall of 1995 and had a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
owever, none of those conditions challenges my efforts to get fit quite so much as my job. I am the restaurant critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, so basically I eat out for a living. Iíve had the job for more than two years. The first three weeks, I ate everything I was served and tasted everything on my companionsí plates as well. All my clothes got tight, and that was the end of that. In the line of duty, I still taste each course, including dessert, but now I also bring home lots of leftovers.
I joined the gym in October 1998 and got off to a great start, working out three times a week. The following February, I got bronchitis and missed almost three months of exercise. I finally got back to it at the end of April, in expectation of the thinner air where I planned to visit. Because my breathing is especially stressed at elevations with less oxygen, I knew that I had to work hard to be active and comfortable on my vacation. I worked out on the machines three times a week (muscles need to rest in between), and I started walking for twenty or thirty minutes on the track two or three additional days each week.
I got stronger and I had more stamina. Also, my body started to change shape. My pants got longeróIíve hemmed one pair three times alreadyóand my dresses got looser. The steering wheel on the car moved farther away than Iíd remembered it. My spirit changed, too, leading to a most unexpected new way of celebrating good news. When the radiation oncologist told me that I need not report for a checkup every six months anymore, that he would see me in a year, I marked the occasion by increasing all the weights at the gym by ten pounds. So far, so good. Even my massage therapist has commented on my new muscles. And now that I have some muscles, I want more, so I have started doing sit-ups every day, just for fun.
Sit-ups for fun? Well, once I was in the habit of moving my body, it felt so good that I simply wanted to move some more. Iíve ordered the videotape Yoga for Round Bodies (call 800-793-0666; see feature in Radiance, Winter 1995 issue) to supplement my workouts at the gym. I donít for a minute think that I will wake up one day a size 16 because I exercise. Iím not even sure Iíll wake up more days than Iím entitled to, that my life necessarily will be prolonged because I exercise. I do know that I will wake up every day feeling happier and stronger than before, because thatís already true.
Sticking to a fitness program makes me move with more confidence and think more highly of myself. My increased energy level helps me get through long days at work more easily. And working out regularly convinces me that I deserve to lie on the couch and watch the Cardinals play baseball at least once a week. Off season, it justifies crawling into my big soaking tub to read a book or magazine. The point is, when I work out, I also feel more entitled to relax. Itís a personal thing. For me, this is what a balanced life is all about.
Iíve always been big, and, as an adult, Iíve always had a desk job. Yet when interviewed at the gym about my exercise history, I was startled to discover that I actually had one. Almost twenty years ago, just after a divorce, I joined a neighborhood fitness center that had a room full of weight-resistance machines. I had never done anything quite so bold, but I was under the impression (and I remain so) that my money was as good as anybodyís. I encountered no smirks or sarcastic remarks from other members about my size or lack of fitness, no resistance at allóexcept, of course, from those machines. The longer I worked on them, the better I liked them. I developed more strength and I liked competing against myself, increasing the weights or the number of repetitions only when I was ready. Ironically, the place closed right at the beginning of the fitness craze that remains in force today.
A few months later, I joined a YMCA, where I took water aerobics classes for a couple of years. I love being in water and have always felt particularly graceful in it. I couldnít afford the full membership at the Y, which allowed you access to the room where they kept the weight-resistance equipment. After another break from exercise, during a time when I was convinced that I was too busy to go to the gym, I decided that I needed to make time to go, and that I was worth the extra money. I returned to the Y to work out on the machines and to attend water aerobics classes.
hen I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was more fit and feeling healthier than ever. Perhaps my quick recovery from surgery and the rigorous cancer treatments is testimony to that. Still, I sat out exercise while undergoing treatments, saving what little energy I had just to get to the office five days a week. About six months after the treatment ended, I started again slowly, by enrolling in water aerobics classes for people with arthritis at the Y. Prices at the YMCA continued to rise, and they also started double-booking the pool with kids learning to swim, which eliminated any chance of quiet and relaxation. In the middle of an Irish fit one day, I quit.
Months went by. Then I signed up to use weight-resistance machines at my community center. I bought a used treadmill, which I actually did use for a while, and I enrolled in a water aerobics class at a nearby university. In September 1998, I moved across town to a new neighborhood, into a spacious condo. God, in Her wisdom, provided the West County Sports Fitness and Rehabilitation Center across the parking lot from my building. When I look out my living room window, there is the gym, just steps away. Once I was unpacked and settled, I made an appointment for a tour. I liked what I saw and was delighted to learn that I qualified for a special discounted membership category because I live close enough to walk. I found room in my tight budget for the $135 three-month membership and hope someday to be flush enough to pay for a year at a time.
That would be a big commitment, paying a yearís membership to a gym, and not like me at all. By the time you read this, I will have been a member for more than a year. Yes, Iíve already missed some workouts, but mainly when I was ill or out of town, or that time I sprained my little toe on the edge of the bathtub. I know now that illness, vacations, sprained toes, and even giving in occasionally to that whiny voice that tries to talk me out of going to the gym are all part of my life. Fortunately, so is working out.
Hey, Iím a jock. ©
PATRICIA CORRIGAN is a restaurant critic and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She can be reached at email@example.com or by writing to her at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 200 South Bemiston Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63105.
--- by CAROL L. GAUTNEY II
From Radiance Spring 2000
o you notice that climbing stairs stinks? Do you notice that sitting on the floor does, too, because it means that you will have to get back up again? Do you get out of breath just walking from your living room to your bathroom?
Sound familiar? Well, Iíve recently found something that makes everyday physical activity a heck of a lot easier. I lift weights. Donít stop reading now. Just hear me out.
In September 1999, I took the EAS (Experimental and Applied Sciences) Body of Work Challenge, a bodybuilding competition designed for the average person who wants a new way to get fit. (Incidentally, you can be fit and fat at the same time.) Some of the contestants set goals to lose body fat: others wanted to tone and build muscle. I confess that when I started, I wanted a little of both.
I have severe scoliosis, and the muscles on the right side of my back are weak. Pain used to scream through most of my joints and under my right shoulder blade because my spine curves unnaturally, like a question mark, throwing everything out of whack.
The reason that I am sticking with weight lifting is because it has brought amazing relief. Most of the pain caused by my spinal curvature is gone. Though I weigh exactly as much as I did when I began lifting weights, I can now climb stairs without gasping. I can get up from the floor easily without leaning on furniture for support. I can walk through my house without panting, and I can answer the phone without sounding out of breath. Every minor physical activity I did before is ten times easier now. And it took a mere three and one-half weeks to achieve this. Thatís the great thing about lifting weights: the results are fast.
I lift weights only two or three times a week. It may sound like a lot to some people, but this averages out to about four hours per weekófour hours I no longer spend watching TV programs that I never really liked in the first place. Iíve occasionally used my own dumbbells at home, but I have outgrown them, and I am always looking for new exercises to strengthen my legs. So at the start of the bodybuilding competition, I began going to the gym: a little fifteen-by-fifteen-foot room at our nearby community center.
I always take music with me. One miserable time I decided to lift weights without music, and I was bored out of my mind. Fast-paced, high-energy music pushes me through a workout and dulls out the sounds of grunting. (Just so you know, men in gyms grunt not to annoy you, but to let off steam or to push themselves through their own workout. You can observe this in any strongman competition.)
Even with music to spur me on, some exercises are not fun. Those I hate, I donít do. Why do something I hate? On the other hand, weight lifting isnít supposed to be delightfully easy. I currently leg press 380 pounds, which is quite a bit. I began by finding a weight I could lift with some discomfort. Once it became easy for me to leg press 320 pounds, I raised the resistance to 340 pounds. The new weight was something I could lift, but was somewhat uncomfortable. When it, too, became easy, I added another 20 pounds. Thatís how Iíve progressed safely, steadily strengthening my muscles without feeling like a failure. If you start out with the heaviest weight that you can lift, then you will not only have zero fun, but you will probably rip your muscles to shreds and never set foot in a gym again.
If you are interested in weight lifting, I canít design a program for you, because everyone has a different physique and fitness level. And I canít tell you which exercises will help you or hurt you, because I am not your physician. But I will suggest this: Find someone with a friendly face and no judgment in his or her eyesóbe it a trainer, a fellow bodybuilder, or anyone else who knows about weight-lifting equipment and trainingóand tell him or her exactly what you need. Donít pussyfoot around the subject. If your goal is to climb stairs without experiencing cardiac arrest, you might say something like, ďI am not here to lose weight. I just want to be able to climb stairs easier at the weight I am now. Which equipment will help me do that?Ē
No one has ever teased me about lifting weights or snickered at my efforts, but I have heard horror stories about the way some fitness buffs and even trainers treat large women and men who want to better their health in the gym. Be warned and be prepared. Even if you find a kind individual to assist you, assume that he or she thinks that you are there to lose weight. You have to take the initiative in this situation and make your intentions very clear from the start. In time, you will find that the faces in the weight room become familiar and welcoming. And, in time, you will find that you feel fabulous at the top of the stairs. ©
CAROL L. GAUTNEY II is training to become the first respected full-size professional woman wrestler in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). She is sick of seeing only skinny, (yet) busty female wrestlers, and it is her goal to elevate womenís wrestling. She lives in San Luis, Colorado, where, in her spare time, she writes childrenís books.
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