Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Getting Bulky

One of the biggest misconceptions out there concerning women and lifting weights is the excuse... "I don't wanna get bulky." I used to think it was kind of funny. Like, "Oh, those confused people-- they just don't get it." Now, I'm starting to become a little hostile about it. Seriously. I find myself thinking, "Are you freaking kidding me? BULKY?! Do you KNOW how hard I've worked in the last year and a half-- 4 days a week, EVERY week of HEAVY lifting to try to get stronger?! BULKY?! I wish!" 

Let me try to calmly walk through this with you. Women have to try very hard to get bulky. Why? Because we do not have copious amounts of testosterone in our body. Those women bodybuilders that win the big shows-- you know, the ones who look like men? Well, they look like men because they're taking male hormones. Note the deep voices and the jaw line. They aren't bulky because they are lifting heavy weights; they're bulky because they're injecting testosterone and lifting heavy weights. 

Now, if by "bulky" you mean fat... well, let's talk about that. Lifting heavy weights may make you gain weight. I hear this comment often, "I've started working out, and I've GAINED weight!" People all the time respond with, "Oh, that's ok-- muscle weighs more than fat, so you're probably gaining muscle." I hate that comment. First of all, a pound is a pound-- an lb. of muscle = an lb. of fat. But that's semantics-- what they mean is a pound of muscle is denser-- takes up less space-- than a pound of fat. However, it's very hard to gain a pound of muscle let alone the 5 or so people lament to gaining in a week or two of lifting. Actually, it's proven to be impossible to gain more than a few pounds of muscle in a month. 

So, why are people gaining weight when they begin weight training? My theory-- 1) they greatly overestimate the calories they're burning; 2) they greatly underestimate the calories they're consuming; and 3) they "reward" themselves with treats for the hard work they're doing. OR they've added extra work (stress) on the body without also adding the recovery that they need, and the body is reacting by retaining water

Here's what will happen if you begin lifting heavy weights: 
1. Your appetite will increase. If you're trying to gain weight, then increase your calories. If you're trying to lose body fat, be sure you're eating the proper balance of macronutrients and continue eating the same amount of calories. If you aren't sure about calories and macronutrients, then use an app such as My Fitness Pal to help. 
2. You will develop muscle. Notice I didn't say bulk. Thanks to heavy squats and deadlifts, I now actually have a butt instead of a flat slope at the end of my back. And my quads just really don't fit into my jeans anymore. This is not a bad thing.
3. Your metabolism will increase. Adding muscle will help speed up your metabolism.
4. Build stronger bones. Not only will your muscles develop and become stronger, but also your bones will become stronger to carry the extra muscle.
5. You can lower your risk for diabetes. A study shows that men who lift 150 minutes a week lowered their risk for developing diabetes by 34 percent. Weight training has also been shown to help regulate blood sugar. 

A few "before" and "after" pictures: 
April 2011- my first Spartan. Training was more running than lifting.
Weight: about 120
May 2012- before beginning a heavy lifting program
 Yikes, now I'm HUGE:
October 2014
Weight: about 135
November 2014- after 18 months on a heavy lifting program

Friday, November 21, 2014

GORUCK: All Girls Challenge/Light/Scavenger 2014

My son asked, "How was your GORUCK?"
Without skipping a beat, my sleep deprived brain was able to sum it up perfectly:
"It was totally miserable and completely awesome."

I really only have lots of mushy things to say about the first All Girls GORUCK event. And that is completely unlike me. I almost cried at the end. Completely unlike me. You see, I'm pretty quiet, love to stay at home, avoid awkward social situations (and for me, most social situations feel awkward), and absolutely thrive under carefully planned events. 

I don't like the unexpected. Ok, I hate it. I don't like not being in control. And I don't like being told what to do, especially when it makes no sense. Basically, all of those things pretty much completely describe a GORUCK.

If you haven't heard, GORUCK, created in 2008 by Jason McCarthy, is a company that exists to give civilians a taste of military life, specifically, Special Operations training. GORUCK not only produces some challenging events, it also sells gear-- everything you need to complete an event and apparel. You can find descriptions of all the events they offer on the GORUCK site. I'm just going to give an event recap of my experience.
Photo Courtesy of Rita Potakh

This first ever All Women's Challenge/ Light/Scavenger was made even more awesome with the addition of a Firearms Day, War Stories and Free Beer, and the opportunity to test for the 500 lb club. I participated in the lifting event, the Challenge and the Light. I had fully planned to do the Scavenger as well, but 2 weeks before the event, our high school football team earned entry into the championship game, which was to take place at the exact start time of the Scavenger.

GORUCK 1000 Pound Club
Photo Courtesy of Rita Potakh
A total of 11 strong women earned their 500 lb. club patches. This means that the ladies lifted a combined total of at least 500 lbs. from the three main lifts: squat, bench, and dead lift. CrossFit Miami Beach was generous enough to open their doors and allow us to take over half their box to lift and be judged by Cadres Aaron and Bert. They ensured lifts were done safely and completely.  

I admit, I was intimidated when I first showed up. This was my first powerlifting event, even though it was all in fun. My first 2 squats were back to back, with just enough rest to add weight. Then one of my fellow lifters suggested that I may want to take a break between lifts. Yeah. Duh. All of the women were so encouraging, helping each other and cheering each other on. These strangers became lifting partners and are forever stored in my memory.

I hadn't planned to go all out and try to get new PRs in my lifts, but by the time my dead lift came around, the adrenaline had fully kicked in. I pulled 285 easily-- my previous max. I stepped away, stating I was done and quickly found Cadre Aaron telling me to put 300 on. He practically demanded that I lift 300-- not in a mean or forceful way-- in an encouraging way that a coach would do. He and Bert both knew I could pull 300, and so I loaded the bar and did it. A new max and a total of 650 lbs lifted. I had no idea I was capable of so much. I told Bert how much it meant to me-- it's been a very long 18 months of very heavy lifting. Showing up 4 times a week to do my main lifts-- even when I didn't feel like it. This event has given me confidence. I am strong. Stronger than I realize.

GORUCK Challenge Class 1270
Photo courtesy of Chris Strasser
The Challenge began promptly at 8pm. We lined up and were given a tiny amount of time to completely strip our carefully, perfectly organized and packed rucks. We may have done this twice-- the events of both the Challenge and Light are a bit fuzzy (I've looked at a few pictures and thought, "When did we do that?"-- I'm going to do my best to recap both events as best as I remember.) IDs and rucks were inspected-- rucks are to have 4 bricks (or the equivalent weight) for people weighing under 150 lbs, 6 bricks for those weighing over 150. We earned 110 burpees for 11 items left out on the grass after repacking the rucks. Burpees were completed as a team with rucks on. They weren't the prettiest burpees I've ever seen, but they were done to the best of our abilities. We were then given a few minutes to organize into 3 teams-- Alpha with 40 members, under the care of Cadres Garrett and Machine; Bravo with Cadres Aaron and Bruce and 40 females; and Charlie with the remainder (56) and Cadres Bert, Surfhog, and Big Daddy.

I chose Charlie. Frankly, although this was my second GRC, I've not been a huge GORUCK fan or follower. I don't often visit the closed Facebook group for those who've done an event. I didn't love my first event-- I was glad I'd done it, but wasn't really interested in doing more. In preparation for this event, I'd seen posts in our Facebook group about Cadre-- who they were, how they work, but I didn't really pay much attention. Sometimes it's just best not to have expectations. I had heard of Big Daddy and Bert-- quite frankly I wanted the biggest challenge and my money was on them to really bring it.
Photo courtesy of Chris Strasser

After dividing into groups, we headed to the beach for all kinds of physical training (PT). I have no idea how long we were there or how much we did in what order. Push ups, squats, flutter kicks, burpees... all 4 count. Countless amounts of getting down to lie on our backs with our rucks on our fronts, only to get immediately back up with rucks on our backs. In the surf, under the water, out of the surf, crawling and rolling in the sand. Buddy carries, low crawls, bear crawls and low crawl buddy carries. Periodically we would stop, and I'd find myself wishing we were doing jumping jacks again so that I could warm up. Yes, despite being in Miami, the ocean breeze and soaked clothing made for chilly conditions. Early in the night, the tips of my fingers began to go numb, my body shook, and my mind flashed back to the early medical screening questions about hypothermia. I'm not sure I can do this. I'm not even 2 hours in and my fingers are numb. How am I going to make it another 10 hours? 
Photo courtesy of Chris Strasser

At some point 2 of our teammates struck a deal with Cadre-- they would dance all night long if Cadre would agree to withhold the burpee penalty we had earned by dropping our precious eggs (Bert apparently enjoys handing out raw eggs to be protected for the the duration of the event). We moved off the beach, but not before loading 5 (?) bags full of sand-- 3 were large duffle bags, which cadre said weighed 500 lbs. each and the other 2 were lighter, maybe 60-80 lbs. Slowly we made our way through the city. Casualties occurred, which meant we had to carry our teammates and their rucks. We were given a fat log to carry after a lost wager... a successful 3 minute dead hang from a pull up bar by any female would have resulted in our freedom from the added weights. And another large log after a teammate's valiant, but failed attempt to eat 2 steaming hot pieces of pizza in 1 minute. We couldn't resist attempting to beat Cadre at their game.

We all shared the burden. We all gave everything we could. Some struggled through injuries and others carried heartbreaks larger than the team weights. But I'm completely confident that each woman gave her all. Even when muscles screamed, bodies ached and fatigue set in. Smiles were abundant most of the time. Laughs were shared. Songs were sung. Dances danced. Memories made.
Photo courtesy of Chris Strasser

Eventually the sun came up. It was nearly as beautiful as all of us sand-covered, hair-matted, soggy-footed women. We continued back to our original starting point, moving much more slowly and stiffly than we had begun. Into the surf again and back out. Up and down. Rucks off and on. We didn't care. At that point, we would've given our lives for each other. And suddenly it was over. The Challenge completed. Patches awarded. See you laters said. 

GORUCK Light Class 535
Photo courtesy of Stephen Gonzales
The unofficial numbers report that 60 who completed the Challenge returned for the light, joined by 21 others. My beast friend, Cindy, had spent the 2 hour's break with me. We had brushed the sand off (in theory, anyway), changed clothes and shoes in our parking garage, grabbed a quick breakfast and returned to the starting point. Although we had separated during the Challenge, I was happy to hear that all women would be part of one enormous team. The light was more... well... lighthearted than the Challenge, at least at first.

"Harvey" Photo courtesy of Stephen Gonzales
After ruck and ID inspections and penalty burpees, we began with a relay race to find and detonate bombs (eggs) on the beach-- after spinning around with empty rucks on our heads serving as blindfolds. The challenge was to listen only to our teammates' directions. My team failed miserably, but we still had fun. I personally think this was all about mind games-- I began to believe we were in for a day of frolicking on the beach without rucks, laughing and having a good time. Those thoughts ended quickly as we were instructed to fill up several 5 gallon buckets with sand and water. We also carried our team weights. And soon we met "Harvey." The 4 or 5 hours we spent walking around Miami Beach were anything but "light."
Photo courtesy of Stephen Gonzales

But once again, every woman gave everything we had. We worked together, laughed together and supported each other. We had the extra special experience of having a young girl, Lily, come out and shadow our Light. Carrying her own ruck, she watched, rucked and even did burpees alongside us. Cadre made the decision to award her a patch, and it was well deserved.

Lily wasn't our only inspiration. I was blessed to finally meet Momma Stump. To say that Momma has endured a hard 2014 is a gross understatement. Earlier this year, she lost her great niece and her 8 year old great, great niece, Kaylynn, to cancer. Cancer reared its ugly head in her own life midway through this year. And in a cruel twist of fate, while undergoing chemo in October, Momma's house burned to the ground. Fighter that she is, she hasn't let any of those challenges stop her. She came, conquering the event with Kaylynn's ruck always on her back.

This series of events, these women are written in my heart. It took me a long time to write this blog, because I'm not ready to close the book on these adventures. This truly was the best event of my life. I learned much about myself and much about the strength of women.

By the way... only 2 dropped from the Challenge (a 98.5% pass rate) and 100% of the class conquered the light. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Should Health and Fitness be a Goal?

I just stumbled across the bazillionth Facebook post on a health and fitness goal. You see them all the time, right? 30 day challenges. 10 day cleanses. New Year's Resolutions.

I'm having a bit of a problem with that whole thing. I mean, I get it. People want a short term, quick fix. People want the feeling of accomplishing that goal. And sometimes, people need to get really serious about digging in and completely hitting the reset button on their habits.

But here's what I hate about the 30 day things... the focus doesn't seem to be on getting healthy and fit. Some people come off a successful 30 day thing and dive headfirst into a bowl of ice cream that leads to a week of binges on food they had just cut out because it's not healthy. OR before even entering into a commitment to 30 days of clean living, they eat everything in sight. This does not even make sense. 

If you find yourself in a place that you don't like, the best thing to do is to get the heck out of there now. And then stop going back there. Eating junk food, not exercising makes a person feel bad. Some of us never know how good we are supposed to feel until we step away from the bad food and start filling up with the good.

Eating well, sleeping well and moving your body is not about a number on the scale or the pant size.
Eating well, sleeping well and moving your body is about taking care of yourself, living longer and feeling good.

So, maybe instead of a 10 day or 30 day quick fix, you should just gradually wean yourself off the crap.

Pick one thing to eliminate. Cut it out. Wait a few weeks or a month.
Pick another thing. Cut it out. Wait a few weeks or a month.
Pick another.
Then another.

It's taken me about 3 years to completely overhaul my diet. But I've been successful and happy.

First it was the ice cream. (When I was training for marathons, my after school snack was ice cream. Every day. And I don't mean one half cup serving.)
Then is was the fru-fru coffee "creamer." So gross. I can't even drink it now-- it tastes like chemicals. (And no wonder, check the ingredients-- can you even pronounce ANY of those?)
Then it was white sugar.
Then processed foods.
Then fake sweeteners (and adding back honey).
Then gluten-- breads, pastas, etc. and dairy. (I just don't feel good after eating meals heavy with either of those.)

I don't know what "diet" (way of eating) is right for you. Only your body will tell you. But just try cutting back and cutting out some things. I guarantee you will feel better. And after the initial pity party, you won't miss those things at all.