I woke up this morning with a little bit of panic. Did I actually agree no, commit, to competing in November this year. What was I thinking? Doubt began to creep in and take hold of my thoughts as I questioned my ability to dedicate myself once again to the rigorous training and strict diet that was necessary. Do I have it in me? The mind is willing but sometimes the flesh is so weak. Repeatedly I began to tell myself “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. At the age of 51, post-menopausal and soon-to-be grandmother, would this body actually transform to be stage-worthy in the time frame set before me? I had my doubts. I also felt excitement. I was excited at the idea of challenging myself. Terrified, but excited. Having done this numerous time before, I know what it takes to step on stage to win your class and to even take overall. It is a lot of hard work, mental and physical stamina, discipline and dedication. You cannot slack off. Every time you miss a day of training or don’t give it your all in the gym, every morsel of food you eat that is not part of your diet is when you give the other competitors the edge. I always trained with this in mind.
I’ve always said that “my memory is long and wide” (not necessarily a good thing if you happen to be married to me) but my memory serves me well at this time as I prepare for my first show in ten years. Now, I’m hoping this same principle will apply to something we refer to as “muscle memory” because at my age, this body is going to need all the help it can get.
This journey is just beginning and I hope that in the process I will not only discover new strength from within but, will inspire and motivate others. Challenge yourself to try something new and do not ever think that you have arrived. Live a healthy and active life so that you not only look better but feel better as well. I am a living testament to coping with a chronic illness and how much more manageable it is when you take care of yourself. You owe it to yourself to at least try.
Week one of my training has proven to be even more challenging that I had thought it would be. I considered myself to be in relatively “good shape” when I made the decision to compete after a ten year “hiatus” from the competition stage. In fact, if you looked at me or saw the way that I trained already, you too would have been under the impression that I was in good shape. Maybe even aspired to be in “half as good of shape” as I am already. However, as I have been through this process numerous times and spent many years portioning my food and counting down the number of workout sessions that remained until my contest, I know exactly what it takes to prepare. Well, maybe not exactly. When I competed I was not post-menopausal and dealing with the body that comes after menopause when all of your hormones have shut down.
I have also re-discovered that as important as my workouts are, so is my diet. That is not to say that I have eaten anything bad since the day that I began this journey a few days ago. I have actually prepared and portioned all of my meals. Now, I am finding that the challenge is finding the time to eat all of those meals. I am noticing that the intensity that I am bringing to my workouts has increased dramatically. However, I am also noticing that if I do not consume the meals that I should have by the time I am going through my weight-training session I am literally “running out of gas”. My mind is willing but my body has burned up all its fuel and has no more to give. I have long tried to impress upon the people in my life that “food is fuel for your body” and that if you do not feed it properly it will not perform. This week has been a reawakening for me of the importance of eating properly and at the right time. We do not expect our vehicles to run on an empty tank of gas nor would we expect a high-performance vehicle to function optimally on poor quality fuel so why would we expect anything less for our own bodies? If my tank is empty as in I have not eaten enough of the nutritious foods that I need or have already burned up those food sources during my early morning cardio session, then I cannot expect that I will be able to make it through an intense weight-training session later that afternoon. Eat to perform is a philosophy that I stand behind and desperately try to promote to those around me. Be mindful of what you put into your body and do not mindlessly eat empty calories that are laden with preservatives and chemicals that your body doesn’t even know what to do with so it ends up storing as fat. If you are satisfied with the status quo, then keep doing what you are doing. However, if you would like to feel better, perform better and in general, have a better life, actually think about what you are eating and ask yourself, “is this going to make my body perform the way that I truly want it to?” I am not even going to begin to address the diseases that you will be preventing by changing your eating habits as today, this is about performance and training.
My first day of training was “leg day” interspersed with abdominal exercises. It was intense and I realize six days later that I have not been training my abs at all. I am still struggling to sit upright in bed when I wake up in the morning. I’m laughing a little bit to myself as I feel aches and pains like never before. Not in a bad way, just in the way when you realize you are not in as good of shape as you thought. I was proud though of that first leg day session when I left the gym dripping in sweat with the feeling that I had nothing left to give or I would have been lying on the gym floor.
Shoulder day was next and this was a different story. My shoulders are definitely lacking the fullness that I once had as I experienced “frozen shoulder” or encapsulated shoulder a few years ago and literally could not lift or rotate my arm in a range outside of the “T-rex” motion for nearly two years. Fortunately, with perseverance and determination, I was able to avoid surgery and gradually rehabilitated my shoulder to regain most of the range of motion. I have been able to train using fairly light weight but of course, some muscle atrophy has occurred and I am now going to need to work extremely hard to get it back. I started off with a drop set of shoulder presses on the smith machine. My hubby kindly spotted me and gave me the confidence to push a little harder than I would have on my own. It was a difficult set but I felt myself focusing as I dug deeper than deeper still, and used every fiber in my body and all of my mental strength to push through the set. It felt good. I felt the “old Michelle” returning in that workout.
Sunday was my official rest day and this is not always easy to take. It is always a struggle to force myself to take a rest day but I know how important rest is for my body. Like eating well or training hard, rest plays a vital role in taking care of your body and should not be taken lightly nor viewed as being lazy. Sometimes, its difficult when we have goals to attain within a certain time frame to take a day off but it is also important to not burn out nor overdo it as this can lead to more serious issues including injuries. Rest is not something that most people need to consciously decide to do but most people underestimate its value. For the average person, they may need to make more of an effort to exercise. However, for the athlete, they actually need to schedule time off from their routines. Performance begins to suffer when you deprive your body of adequate rest. When we think of “rest” we usually think of it in relation to physical activities but equally important is giving yourself a mental break from your usual activities. Sometimes, we need to just tune everything out. All the noise and clutter that consume our thoughts from the moment we wake up. Just let it all go and enjoy being in the moment without worrying about if you trained hard enough, ate perfectly or how you are going to look when the day of competition finally arrives.
Last night, after a not-so-noteworthy back training session due to “lack of food”, I attended a yoga class for the first time. I must say, it far exceeded my expectations. I dragged along my husband and a friend. I figured if I was going to try yoga for the first time I was going to detract any attention from myself by bringing along two very large men. And when I say large, well, I mean large. My husband is not actually that big but lets just say he doesn’t fit the typical mold for someone taking yoga. On the other hand, our friend is around 6’5” and over 300 lbs. To say he has a presence when he walks into a room is an understatement. I knew that walking in with these two would definitely have the benefit of no one even noticing how pathetic my “downward dog” or “child pose” actually was. Our instructor was very patient and encouraging as an added bonus and the other class members generously agreed to taking things down a “notch” for us newbies. The flexibility required for the moves was not a surprise to any of us but the strength and balance required was unexpected. I found myself challenged in a way I had not expected at all. I noticed that my balance was even more of an issue than I had thought. Apparently, I have done well in my normal every day life compensating for the vestibular issues that remain after my last MS attack but the yoga exercises that we were performing brought this issue back into the light for me. I was as challenged with the balance portion as my husband was with his flexibility (okay now that was funny but hey, at least he tried). Near the middle of class and just as I was beginning to feel more confident about my abilities to perform yoga, our instructor announces that anyone who feels like going into a “bird of paradise” pose may do so. My fellow newbies and I look around completely bewildered as two classmates begin to contort themselves into positions I’ve never seen. Apparently, everything up to this point was simply a warmup for these ladies.
At the end of the class, we were instructed to relax for five minutes lying on our mats. When in life do we give ourselves permission to relax like that? This is exactly what I need. I decided that this was a new style of training that would be added to my repertoire for this contest. If I could improve my balance and flexibility, strengthen the “forgotten” muscles, and get a nap in at the end of each session, this was going to be a “win-win” for me. I will be signing up for another class soon. One more bonus that I could not comment on until this morning was the restful sleep that I had last night. Our instructor promised this benefit but I wasn’t so sure as my sleep had been somewhat evasive as of late. Well, I am happy to say that both hubby and I slept much better.
Today is a new day and with it brings another challenge. I’ve never been one to attend classes. I see the benefits for many such as the social network, the familiarity, having someone else instruct you on every thing you are to do for that hour. However, it has never been my personal style of staying in shape. So, I decided to break out of my own box and join a Barre class held by Nina at Gravity Fitness Center. It was awesome! Not only did my gluts muscles burn non-stop for an hour, I had a lot of fun doing it! I have to admit I caught myself checking the clock when there were still 20 minutes of this “hurt-so-good” kind of torture left. I couldn’t believe it. Did I really check the clock like I find my clients doing when I am training them and they are trying to estimate how much longer they have to endure. Way to go Nina!
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