Strength training off to hot start


I owe Leslie Snyder 50 cents.

It was Monday when I uttered the foul phrase, "I can't." Each offense is a quarter and I said it twice. Through gritted teeth.

But not when I sat cross-legged for the first time in nearly a decade. Then I grinned and practically announced it to the entire facility.

Let's back up. I told you two weeks ago I was dragging my friend Ann along to the YMCA. The Y offered to let us do this for free so I could tell you all the wins and woes of strength training.

As I said before, Ann and I both have our reasons for wanting to muscle up.

Like my bone-on-bone knees. Basically, I have nothing but a thin layer of cartilage left in those puppies. It's been that way for 20 years, ever since I stupidly did a stair-stepper workout every day for a year-plus. My knees never could forgive that and arthritis hasn't helped.

I've treated the mess with regular cortisone shots, pain medication and so much whining.

Sometimes I limped, sometimes I could barely cross the street before the light changed. And the stinging and aching has robbed me of what adds up to months of sleep.

I read recently that exercise reduces inflammation, which is the major cause of my pain. That's a little factoid I probably knew but chose to completely ignore. When I started losing a lot of weight last year, I attributed a lack of knee pain to a lightened load -- I didn't take into account that I was working out regularly for the first time in years.

I know, I know. I'm blaming the fact that I was busy falling in love.

Leslie, a personal trainer and who knows what else at the Y, drew the short straw of working with us middle-aged mamas. She officially started us off by assessing where Ann and I were in terms of strength and stability. And how much of our bodies could float in water. In other words, fat content.

Turns out we're middle-roaders. I ranked "good" in biceps strength -- probably from squeezing Camo Man's waist in bear hugs -- and average in the "sit and reach." Although, to be fair to myself, when I did a Y series a few years ago, I could barely yank myself out of the "poor" category.

Then Leslie applied the calipers for the "pinch" test. Three skinfold measurements later, we had our answer: I wasn't in the red alarm zone, but "slightly over your ideal body fat," the computer's report told me. Inside my head I mocked the wording with a smirking "ya think?"

The good news is, by losing less than eight pounds, I can move "moderate" to "optimal."

Leslie assured me I can do this. In less than two months. Without a lot of fancy machinery or bulking up, which is apparently a big fear among women. Myself, I like seeing some muscle in the mirror.

Which just happened this week. I was lotioning up my arms and caught a glimpse of my shoulders that stopped me cold. What was this I was seeing? The smooth mound of muscle coming from the back of my shoulder to wrap down to my biceps ... this belonged to my arm?

It didn't happen overnight, but a whole lot faster than I had figured. And that "criss-cross-applesauce" cross-legged maneuver was downright miraculous.

I'm going to give a road map of where Ann and I are traveling on this road in future columns. I'll talk about what exercises Leslie has us do, what machines we're trying (most for the first time, since we both considered them off limits to us weaklings) and how we're translating much of that for use at home and on the road.

You'll want to hear about Port-a-Potty squats, for example.

Watch for tiny updates on the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin Facebook page, as well. Maybe a video if I get very brave. And if you do nothing else today, write yourself a note and put it on your mirror: "I can be stronger, I can be in less pain and I will be healthier because of it. Sheila said so."


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