For the Love of Weight Training

Just after I posted my latest blog post, For the Love of Yoga, it dawned on me that it would be fun to continue to write about my two other fitness passions that formed the original basis of the “Bend Burn Breathe” ethos. “Bend Burn Breathe” was born out of my long-standing love affair with yoga, weight training, and spinning. See, it corresponds to my balanced three-pronged approach to fitness – flexibility (bend/yoga), strength training (burn/weight training), and cardio (breathe/spinning). “Bend Burn Breathe has morphed into much more since then, but it’s fun reminiscing about my fitness roots. If you have been following my blog this month, you also know that I am navigating a recent lay-off and using physical activity as one of my well-being anchors – and lifting weights has been vital.

If 30 years is a long time to practice yoga, as I mentioned in last week’s post, I can’t believe it when I say that I’ve been lifting weights on and off for 40 years! First, I did it for pleasure, and later on in my life, I turned it into a career for half a decade as a personal trainer. One thing is constant for me: lifting weights is like a slow, deliberate-moving meditation. It’s an excellent metaphor for overcoming life’s obstacles. I had a saying during my personal trainer days, “If you can push the weight around here (in the gym), you can push the weight of the world out there (in the real world).” I saw it in action with myself and client after client, especially my older clients. Weightlifting breeds determination, grit, and confidence!

Two things happened in high school in the mid-1980s to spark this lifelong love affair of mine. First, our health ed teacher gave a tour of the weight room for one of our classes. I excelled at the leg press right away! Second, not soon after, I stepped into my first gym when my orthopedist suggested I do some leg exercises to strengthen my knees to counter the tendonitis that had sidelined my dancing (which I had been doing since I was a kid). I became enamored by the array of equipment, and my curiosity was piqued! It also didn’t hurt that the gym I went to catered to bodybuilders and got my first exposure to what a human physique was capable of.

A year into college at Rutgers University, I decided to officially start dancing again and enrolled in a second bachelor’s track. I knew I had to get myself in shape quickly. During my summer break, I joined another local gym (and bodybuilder friendly), where I got serious and taught myself how to lift weights by watching others, asking many questions, and buying bodybuilder-specific magazines. Women’s bodybuilding began taking hold, and I was utterly inspired, so I decided to train and compete in the well-known Ms. Rutgers bodybuilding championships. My sophomore year was extraordinary. I had to take anatomy and kinesiology as part of my new dance major as I was seeing my muscles develop just like in the books. I was also in training – eating clean, no drinking, or late-night parties. My dedication worked, and I won my weight class and the overall title! Dancing in posing routines was my absolute nirvana!

All the training and dancing took its toll with an unfortunate hip injury that would set me back and derail my dancing dreams, but I stayed connected to fitness and the NJ bodybuilding scene for the rest of college (and what a scene that was!). It was also the time my first symptoms of bipolar showed up (depression first), and I had a pretty rough go of it for a few years after graduation. I persevered, though, and again used the gym to get back in shape and find the strong and determined person I knew myself to be.

After a stint at grad school, living abroad, and working in the non-profit arts world, I got laid off and struggled to find a job in the industry. I was 37, thought about pursuing commercial film and television, and wanted a more flexible working schedule. I leaned into my love of fitness and became a personal trainer. I knew I had to build my business, so I stored my belongings and temporarily moved in with my parents to make it happen. I loved it! I quickly got into the best shape of my life, moving and lugging weights around all day. I got certified, took every training available at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute, and became a master instructor. I loved designing programs and talking about fitness for hours on end. It was like breathing air to me. I did this for half a decade, at which time I had decided commercial film and TV were not for me, and I wasn’t the best salesperson to keep a high roster of clients to earn the income I wanted. I turned to fitness management and more regular hours.

As I transitioned, I was still in pretty good shape and connected with the old New Jersey gym I attended in college. So in 2012, at 43, after a 23-year hiatus from competing, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and enter a bodybuilding figure competition, and eventually, enter the physique category (without getting into too much detail, women’s bodybuilding over the years has splintered off into several categories delineated by a certain level of muscularity vs. femininity. Although not overly muscular, I wanted to enter a physique competition since posing routines were my passion. There was no posing routine in figure). And holy cow, I won the show – nirvana once again.

Photo: Spencer Jung, 2012

I love to reminisce about this because it reminds me of the fierce person I know myself to be when unexpected things happen – like chronic pain, surgery, and a lay-off. It does help you to push the weight of the world out there. Weight lifting (or any resistance training) is also significant as we age since muscle loss is a natural occurrence. But you can counter it! Read more here to learn about the benefits. It’s never too late. Take it from the oldest female bodybuilding in the world at one point, Ernestine Shepherd (now 86), who got started in her 50s!

Cover photo: Bob Adamenko, 1988

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