Friday, December 29, 2017

Starting Strength, Six Months In

I am a proud, independent adult! ...Okay, actually, I am a "I think I maybe got this..." adult. Either way, I'm doing well enough that I'm trying my first month without a starting strength coach constantly at my side.

Not that Carmen doesn't occasionally call out form corrections to me anyway, and double-checks my plans on how much to lift when I ask, and happily helps spot me when I'm struggling to do my work sets. (Those are the heavy ones.)

But anyway, what do I think of this whole starting strength thing, after six months of it? Well, the fact that I'm still doing it is a really good clue. The pros: I'm much stronger, now. I hurt less, I sleep better, and I'm generally less stressed as I have this awesome opportunity to burn off all the adrenaline and cortisol three times a week. I also am recovering from injuries faster... and not getting injured as often! It's a real blessing to step off a curb with my foot in exactly the wrong position for the pothole I didn't notice, and to be able to catch myself without feeling like I've wrenched every muscle in the knees and ankles - I am more stable as well as stronger.

Funnily enough, it's also doing wonders for the seasonal affective disorder - the winter blues. I'd forgotten just how much I had to regularly work out when in Alaska, in the winter, in order to avoid my brain deciding that since there wasn't much light, all was doom and gloom and despair. Lifting weights is like a reset button: I can actually feel the endorphin and dopamine flood resetting my background emotional state to normal.

And, mirable dictu, I'm finally over the "I'm completely exhausted and everything hurts" post-workout feeling. I knew this was coming when my body got accustomed enough, as I knew there were plenty of guys who feel revved up and ready to take on the world after a workout. Well, I may still feel like only doing light work, but I no longer want a nap and an epsom salt bath and a blankie after working out. So, yay!

The cons: The scale is still stubbornly stuck at a number I'd be embarrassed to divulge. I'm the heaviest I've ever weighed. And I'm still size mumble-mumble in jeans. Carmen, my coach, warned me about the not losing jeans size - that the increased muscle in my thighs would offset the loss of fluffiness around the waist, especially as I did not start with tiny and delicate anything to begin with.

And yes, I know it's gaining muscle. I know that. Unfortunately, intellectually knowing that I shouldn't judge myself by a number doesn't measure up emotionally when I've been judging myself by that number since I was a preteen, you know?

For numbers that I don't mind sharing, because some of y'all are hard data geeks like me:

On July 12, I bench pressed 32 pounds - on Dec 26, I benched 87 pounds.
On July 14, I overhead pressed 15 pounds - on Dec 29, I pressed 60 pounds.
On July 17, I deadlifted 55 pounds - last week, I deadlifted 150 pounds.
As for squats, I started with leg presses and had to work my way up to squats, because I was neither strong enough nor stable enough to try 'em right off.
On Jul 21, I squatted 15 pounds - on Dec 29, I squatted 120 pounds.

Clearly, I am not morphing into muclebound anything. It's a shame; I wish those scare stories about "If women lift weights they'll turn into Sarah Connor!" were right. However, they're not, and I'm one shirt size smaller, but still me.


  1. Nice progress! I am waiting until after the new year to talk to my VA ortho doc and see what I might be able to do to get back to lifting weights again. I was a fairly intense lifter for years, until I blew out both shoulders, (not weight lifting related) and found I really miss it. I hate cardio, and am not built for running as my sleeve length is actually longer than my inseam. Yes, I am built along the lines of a 5 foot 5 inch gorilla! Happy New Year to you and Peters.

    J.D. Brown

  2. Rev. Paul - thank you!

    JD - You and I both hate cardio! "Exercised induced asthma" being a phrase I've learned to hate, right along with cardio - although the gym has a torture device called a prowler, and an indoor astroturf track for using it, that takes the whole concept of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and cranks it about as I high as I can go. One lap prowler, and when I can breath again, fit in a round of lat pulldowns, then repeat...
    And the prowler has places to stack the barbell plates just as soon as I finally master it enough to think that it's no longer pure torture. Guess what I do on Fridays?

    On the other hand, I am finally getting enough lung volume back, and aerobic ability, that there's a chance I'll make the next plane on a bad connection instead of having to do the standby shuffle.

    Happy New Year!

  3. Came back to read this, knowing you have been working out.

    I can't wait to move to where the retirement community will have a pool and a gym, and even with CFS, I will start doing what you're doing: lifting.

    I'm positive it's key to dealing with the spinal stenosis - the last thing I want is another destructive surgery. I keep saying that if I were healthy (no CFS), I could have beaten the spinal problems, or that if I didn't have the spinal problems, I would have been able to improve a bit on the CFS (you have to be VERY careful with exercise, and go exceedingly slowly), but with both I'm kind of lost.

    Help, a pool, and proper equipment may help. I sure hope so. But I read of your progress, and I know I can improve SOMETHING. Thanks for writing about it.

  4. Alicia - I can't recommend enough getting a copy of The Barbell Prescription; it's aimed directly at folks like us, with health issues and bodies that have accumulated damage and creakiness.

    If there's a starting strength coach nearby, they're worth their weight in rubies for helping getting the form right the very first time, so you don't have any chance to get injured by wrong form.

    Good luck!