Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Kettlebell Extraordinare: Tracy Seffers of A Plate Full of Crazy.
I want to say a huge thank-you to Strong By Choice for asking me to write a guest post for his fabulous blog. It is an honor to be asked, and to write for The Strong Nation!! My own (occasionally neglected) blog, A Plate Full of Crazy, tells a bit of my journey—physical, mental, spiritual—over the last couple of years. I invite you to check it out, especially those posts in the “Kettlebells and Strength Training” category.
As you might guess after reading those entries, I’m a believer in The Iron, particularly Hard Style kettlebell training, my tool of choice. Especially for women. Especially for those “of a certain age”–who like me a couple of years ago, are thinking that things will NEVER get any better. They can. They will.
Here’s what I teach the women in my Hard-Style kettlebell classes:
1) You need strength, not toning. Life is heavy lifting. Sometimes just getting out of bed is heavy lifting! (Can I get an AMEN?) We have dozens of obligations and expectations to meet, tasks to do, all at the same time. All before 7 am. Whether we are retired, working outside the home, working at home, raising a family–our lives are demanding and exhausting. The Iron makes us strong for the work of our lives.
2) You need high-intensity, short-duration work addressing big-muscle compound movements, NOT hours and hours of isolation exercises in one corner of the gym, then hours and hours of steady-state cardio in another corner. Who’s got time for that? You need a form of exercise that multitask as much as you do. Juggle a phone call to the boss, two bags of groceries, a dog, three kids, the front door, and the mail? Check. Then look to The Iron. Lift heavy stuff. It will work your core, flexibility, strength in all the biggest muscle groups. Do it safely, after being properly trained. Do it intensely. If you need cardio, do it faster. But do it.
3) You need excellent nutrition. You cannot out-train a doughnut. The gurus and TV doctors and infomercials saying you don’t have to change the way you eat? They lie. Garbage in, garbage out. That “bulky muscle” women are so afraid of? It’s a lie. Remember the coach in your grade school PE class, scaring you with the model of a pound of fat as compared to the pound of muscle? Yeah, think about that. The pound of fat was HUGE, the pound of muscle small and sleek.
Translated: what’s bulky is the layer of fat over the muscle you’re building, because you haven’t changed your nutrition. Don’t focus on cutting calories—focus on improving the quality of the food you eat. Eat whole foods, focusing on one-ingredient foods: vegetables, fruits, high-quality protein. If it’s in a box with a list of ingredients you can’t pronounce and don’t recognize as food? It ain’t food. It’s a chemistry experiment in your pants. Eat to support The Iron, so that it can support your life.
4) You need to focus. In my experience, too many gyms urge you to come in, plug in, zone out, and let a machine do the work for you. Your fearfully-and-wonderfully-made, hard-working, long-suffering, surprisingly strong body needs—deserves!–your attention. The Iron requires your attention.
My hard-style classes are intense, but at the same time almost meditatively focused on developing “proprioreception“—awareness of body positioning and movements—mindful movement. A heavy bar or kettlebell in motion is mighty unforgiving of carelessness. Focus on moving . . . then on moving better . . . then on moving stronger. But focus. Pay attention. Be mindful.
5) You need to change the way we’ve all been taught to think. The bill of goods we’re sold, day in-day out: quick fixes. Cut-rate, pseudo-science, short-term solutions. How we’re NOT taught to think: consistent, long-view, incremental progression. Tectonic mental shift: the changes you are making are for a lifetime. My classes are called “Work in Progress!” I’ve called them that for a reason.
We do real work. Each of us is a work-in-progress, including me. No one has all the answers or has finally arrived. Including me. We focus on getting better. We help each other. The Iron keeps us real, and keeps us working. For each other. For today, for tomorrow. For our lives.
I’m a believer in The Iron after years of being taught that women should NEVER lift heavy weights. Itty-bitty cute pink and purple paperweights—high reps—lots of cardio—tone up those arms, women! Work it! Squeeze! Feel the burn!
Bleaagh. Let me tell you how I really feel.
For example. I NEVER thought I’d be writing an email like this:
Good morning, strong women! As the first six-week session of Intro to HardStyle Kettlebell Training comes to a close (give or take a few sessions due to the flu, travel, etc.), I want to say THANK YOU for trusting me–for letting me come alongside for a while and be a help to your journey, if I could. You have amazed me (and, I think, yourself!) with your strength and consistency and determination to overcome the self-doubts, the fears that the iron, in its own determined way, reveals: moving from “I couldn’t possibly . . . there’s no way . . . I’LL NEVER be able . . . ” to ”Wow, I can’t believe I did it!”
Also: I NEVER thought that I would earn a certification in a form of physical training. Or even want to.
Or that I would ever begin working with a certified trainer. Or even want to.
Or that I would would find myself, on the uphill sprint to 50–and after twenty-plus years of upwardly-spiraling weight and downwardly-spiraling health–getting back into single-digit sizes in clothes.
Or making my teenage son’s eyes bug out when I jokingly popped my “guns” at him one day at the kitchen counter. You have to understand: he had grown up seeing me gradually being eaten alive by our couch . . . while eating myself to death. I could see the confusion in his eyes: Mama got guns??? He looked at me as though he had never (there’s that word again) seen me before.
Maybe he hadn’t, not really.
My life over the past 2 ½ years has changed so profoundly—for the better—and has done so only by doing things that I NEVER imagined I would/could/should be doing. By facing down fears I NEVER thought I would overcome.
This is why I say to you: never say never.
If you’re reading this, if you’re a member of The Strong Nation, maybe you know these things already. Super! Keep it up!
But I’ll bet you know someone who is in that dark place I found myself a couple of years ago, walking along a windy beach with a beloved sister, crying and scared to death: I’ll NEVER be healthy again. I’ll NEVER be attractive to my spouse again. I’ll NEVER be able to break this cycle. It’ll NEVER get any better. I’ll NEVER . . . I’ll NEVER . . . NEVER . . .
Send a ray of light into that darkness, a hand of safety into that stormy sea. Reach out to them, maybe with this post, if it can help. Let them know: it can get better. It will. Never say never.
Go strong, friends.
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