Several years ago I was in love with running. Half marathons were my jam! I loved plotting out winding 10 mile long runs through the White Mountains of NH and spending my Sundays running for a few hours followed by an epic brunch. I enjoyed the time outside, the satisfaction of finishing a particularly challenging run and the thrill of chasing a PR. There was just one problem:
I felt like a runner but I didn't look like one.
Through several half marathons and hours of training, my body didn't seem to change much. I've always held on to weight in my midsection and no matter how much I ran, that didn't seem to change. I noticed other runners around me looking lean and fast meanwhile I felt as if I looked like a pregnant spider, spindly limbs with a bulging middle.
I didn't know it at the time, but I was falling victim to a common misconception: participating in a certain sport will help you achieve a body type similar to other athletes in that sport. Under this assumption many of us chase certain types of activities while avoiding others all based on the appearance of the more elite participants. What I didn't realize is that some bodies are more predisposed to perform certain activities and people with those bodies will be drawn to what they're good at because being good at stuff feels awesome. Many of those runners that I was envying didn't run their way into those lean bodies. They didn't find running, running found them.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that although I loved running, it was not loving me back. Despite efforts to lose weight my body was not changing and I was plagued with back and hip injuries. I was at the chiropractor or getting a massage weekly. I was spending time and money in the pursuit of something that was constantly hurting me while not helping me achieve my goals.
The last half marathon I raced in left me hobbled for weeks. It was a heartbreaking choice but I decided to take a break from running. I was terrified that I'd gain weight and worried that I wouldn't find another way to get that "runner's high".
I turned to strength training because I missed how running made me feel and I was worried when I stopped running I'd gain weight
Strength training ended up changing my life.
Just as I had enjoyed improving my 5k time, I loved working to increase my weights. When I did my first chin-up I was ecstatic. Anyone can hobble their way through a road race, it took me a year to be able to pull my chest to that bar.
I went from near constant back/hip pain to an occasional flare up once a year (or not at all).
My legs which had always been lean, gained muscle and shape and for the first time in my life I had a booty. Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing all of my flaws, I had pride in what I was building.
When you think about it, it's odd that we somehow assume that performing a sport/activity at a novice level could get us the physique of an elite athlete in that sport. We hope that a few hours of Barre class a week will give us those "long, lean" muscles of dancers and we shy away from lifting weights because we don't want to look like a body builder. In both cases these athletes have devoted their lives to their sport. When you're considering how to exercise I encourage you to worry less about what people in the top 1% of that sport look like and instead ask yourself a few questions:
Do I enjoy this workout?
Does it cause me pain beyond some muscle soreness?
Is it moving me toward my goals?
Is it sustainable?
We get caught up in what we think we should be doing and what other people are doing, forgetting that each body responds differently to different exercises. Don't let the stereotypical body type of a sport/workout draw you in or deter you, give it a try for yourself.
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I recently had the honor of attending a party with a client and friend of mine. We were hanging out by the water chatting and she was smoking a cigarette when someone I knew came by. Introductions were made and my client proudly announced that I was her trainer and then proceeded to chat with someone else. My other friend leaned in and asked "You let your clients smoke?" I was a little taken aback at first because I honestly hadn't given a second thought to her smoking. We were out having a good time completely separate from the gym but even so, it isn't my job to stop my clients' actions and it certainly isn't my job to judge them. I told my friend as much and carried on with my evening.
I take issue with this guy's comments for two reasons. First of all, he assumes that I expect my clients to act perfectly. This is most certainly not the case. In fact I spend much of my time helping them face their own perfectionism. I've experienced it with myself and my clients, when our actions don't match our very high expectations we give up and fall prey to the infamous "Fuck Its". One "bad" meal can lead to days if not weeks of overeating before we finally pull up our big girl leggings and get back "on the wagon". Also, unless you're a professional athlete or bodybuilder and physique/performance are your main goals, no one really wants to be perfect all of the time, it sucks. I work with my clients to fit fitness and healthy nutrition in to their lives, ideally without making huge sacrifices or unsustainable changes.
My friend/client and I dressed as Wilma Flintsone and Betty Rubble: The Real Housewives of Bedrock
The second thing that bothered me was the idea that I would judge my clients. We are our own worst critics, we don't need to pay someone to judge us more. I don't judge my friend for smoking, and I know that she's made a ton of progress over the past few months, consistently exercising for the first time in a while. She's proud of her efforts and so am I. I remember when I first began training I would cringe when people sat on the recumbent bike peddling slowly as they read a magazine. I'm not going to lie, I judged. What's the point, they're barely even moving? One day a woman shared with me that she figured peddling and reading was better than sitting at home, reading and snacking. It opened my mind and forced me to assess my own notions of what exercise should be. You're moving, you're enjoying yourself, great! I've been coaching for almost a decade and I've learned that people approach things at their own pace. They may start with the gym and not be ready to look at nutrition right away. I'm there with my hands out to give them a boost when their ready to make that step, I don't push them into it.
People have preconceived notions of what a personal trainer does and how they coach.
If you're my client I am here to:
- Meet you where you are at
- Listen to your concerns and struggles without minimizing them
- Help you come up with solutions to your problems
- Know what your day looks like and what realistic expectations will look like
- Celebrate your victories with you because sometimes people in your life won't understand how exciting those achievements can be
I'm NOT here to:
- Make you feel judged
- Put you down
- Tell you what to do
- Write strict meal plans
- Lecture you
If that sounds like the kind of coaching you could get on board with, take a minute and fill out this BRIEF application for my 1:1 coaching program. I have 2 spots available for clients looking for simple, sane and supportive nutrition and fitness coaching. Feel free to contact me with any questions and I'm happy to jump on the phone and chat about any struggles your having.
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What my clients are saying about me:
"Now that I've worked with Jen I see the value of having a trainer. She helps keep me on track and focused. I'm a busy mom and it's nice to have someone I trust give me my work outs. No more researching workouts in magazines or instagram. I get my own personalized program that works with my schedule and helps me achieve my goals faster."