I’m strong. But I don’t think of myself as SO strong. This isn’t a brag blog, in case you were wondering. I’m writing this for a couple reasons. Mainly because I was asked two questions recently - one from a client and one from a blog subscriber - that I wanted to answer honestly. This is essentially my answer to them … in handy dandy blog-list format, that I hope YOU can use on your own personal quest for strength.
A client asked me:
“How long did it take, and how did you get SO strong?”.
Then, a blog reader asked me:
“How does your physical strength change your perceptions of and shape your interactions with the world around you?”.
Not easy questions.
The stronger I get, the less strong I think I am. Compared to some of the (in my opinion) greatest, I move peanut weights in comparison. My training and obsession this past year has been mostly powerlifting and grip focused. For those curious, I weigh 147lbs today and my best lifts to date are: Bench-150lbs, Sumo Deadlift-325 lbs, Back Squat-245lbs. I’ve done a 30kg Turkish Get-up and have some gripsport records (mostly b/c we need more girls competing!). I tend to spend a lot of time though, trying to be stronger and better … my head in the clouds dancing a celebratory jig about one day hitting a 400lb Deadlift, a 300lb Squat, or an Amy Wattles level gripper close … that I forget, that to many of my clients or newbie readers, I already am SO strong. And it took me a while to get that way.
All that to say, if you think I’m going to give you a secret workout program or fancy rep scheme details that haven’t been aired before, skip this, those things don’t exist. I’d be happy to share my current workout programming - but that won’t make you any stronger than you already are, nor will it give you the tools you might need to get there. Pretty much everything is out there on the internet already - it’s just packaged a million different ways and there is a ton of horse crap advice to sift through.
1) I Have Always Been Consistent
It doesn’t really matter what workout you do. Well it does a little bit. More important than any other factor, is that you show up, regularly, and do your very best. I can write the best program in the world for my clients or myself, but if they or I don’t do it - it doesn’t matter how good it is. In strength training, consistency means 2-3 days per week minimum. And it means learning proper form and consistently working towards progressive overload week by week.
I didn’t find powerlifting until last year, but I was pretty strong before that. I did kettlebell work, bodyweight training, crossfit, body building programs from magazines, different types of yoga - you name it. I was, and this is key - no matter what the discipline, always improving and trying to set PRs, even if they were small. Were there years that maybe my training wasn’t the most efficient? Yep. But I was always consistent. And I was flexible and open to adjusting something if I needed to. Consistent doesn’t mean rigid.
2) I Ask For Help (often and without shame!)
I have a lot of coaching experience but I DO NOT have all the answers. And it’s hard AF writing programs for yourself. I prefer to surround myself with people that are way smarter than me that can teach me. And I’ve had some extremely good coaches. Currently, I’m working with one of the best steel benders and grip guys in the world - Aaron Corcorran.
I value donning a ‘beginners mind’ whenever I can. This has allowed me to grow in ways that are more than physical. I don’t have coaches for the accountability. I’ve got that part down. Rather, I have them because I always want to be better and know that I can be, and I truly want to learn from people who have mastered what I haven’t yet. Good coaches make us focus on the things that we don’t particularly like - often because those things are our weaknesses. Bringing up our weak points though, is commonly the key to busting through a plateau and taking the next step. It’s easy to get in a rut and just do the exercises and movements we already rock at and find easy.
3) I Stopped Giving A lot of Fucks About the Scale
When I first started lifting stuff and hanging around gyms, 13 years ago, I used to say I wanted to be strong. But what I really meant was that I wanted to be skinny, ”be toned”, and for boys to think I was hot. I wanted, to quote Marshall Roy, "buoyant buttocks", but I also wanted to look skinny in a bikini.
Skinny + “buoyant buttocks” don’t really go together like peanut butter and jelly though. Being “toned” means gaining muscle and losing body fat so that the muscle is visible. A muscular body can weigh more than a skinny one - and you have to truly be ok with that if you are seeking strength. Not to say that one can’t lose weight and get stronger at the same time. They can. But in order for me to really get muscles and lift all the big weights - I had to let go of wanting to be under 130lbs and obsessively jumping on the scale every minute. I had to learn, and this took time, that the scale does not define me, my beauty, my worth, or my success at fitness.
People sometimes come to me for coaching and say they want to get strong. It can take some digging, but that is not always what they mean. Luckily for me, once I started to feel strong, I also started to feel empowered, and I cared less about the scale. I got more excited about the weights I was able to lift and the feats of strength I might one day accomplish. I still sometimes focus on the scale. I’m currently planning to compete in Grip Nationals at 138lbs which will take some planning and discipline. But it isn’t for the wrong reasons. Get honest and ask yourself what your underlying motivations and goals are.
4) I Cultivated Patience (for the Process)
Strength is not something that happens overnight. It takes years to develop. Once I realized that strength is a skill - not a ‘workout’ done mindlessly - the process became more important to me day by day and week by week. I had a light bulb ah HA moment, and started to appreciate where I was instead of bemoaning where I wasn’t all the time.
Strength is built from the inside out and with respect to the condition your body is in right now. You can’t boot camp ass kick your way to strength in 4 weeks in time for swimsuit season. If you can understand this piece - the consistency part will come easily. Look at your sessions as “practice” - not workouts you are trying to get over with as fast as possible. By all means, keep your long term goal in site, and be excited about it. But don’t focus solely on the outcome - focus on the process.
5) I Prioritize Myself and My Support System
I don’t really give a **** if someone doesn’t understand why I spend a lot of time in the gym. I love the gym. It is the one time in the day that my brain doesn’t race with other thoughts. If that’s what I want to do with my early evenings most nights, then that’s on me. Does this mean giving up other things? Yes. Do I expect people to love fitness as much as me? No. And you don’t have to spend as much time in the gym as I might want to in order to be strong. But you have to make it a priority and you have to have a support system in place that lifts you up.
I don’t do negative people. I respect the time that other people spend on their hobbies and I expect the same in return when it comes to mine. Have you created the boundaries that you need in order to make time for your strength practice? If not, look at your support system and the time you currently have allotted for strength. Sometimes this means saying no to other things that sound fun and more appealing than the gym. Sometimes it means finding friends that get your lifestyle and want you to be better.
6) I Take Rest Days
Real rest days. At least 2 -3 per week. No gym and No workouts. I also sleep at least 7-8 hours per night, sometimes a little more. Our bodies get strong when we are resting - not when we are breaking them down. I learned this the hard way. Back when I really wanted to be skinny, if I didn’t feel sore I thought I hadn’t worked hard enough. If I was taking a day off, I would beat myself up and call myself lazy. I got skinnier - more miserable - and less strong. When I really started building muscle and moving more weight I was working my ass off in the gym, but I was also proactively scheduling (and taking!) my rest days. Overdoing it for me, just lead to injury, weights on a bar that felt heavier than they should have, dissatisfaction, and ironically - more body fat.
7) I Don’t Eat Like an Asshole
I say this a lot - Food is not therapy. It is meant to be enjoyed, shared with people, and celebrated. We are supposed to eat carbohydrates, they aren’t evil, and no food is a bad food. Chocolate and whiskey cannot cure my problems even if I momentarily think they can.
If you regularly restrict food because you still just want to stay skinny … or you routinely say Fuck It! and go HAM on beer, oreos, and chips because you think that your workouts are making up for you eating like an ass - they aren’t. You cannot cannot cannot out exercise a bad diet. We get one body. Not two. Not three. Why, do we think, that abusing our one body by routinely underfeeding or overfeeding it, is a good idea? I have been on both sides of this and neither of them work when it comes to getting strong.
If you are spending the time in the gym it takes to get strong - do yourself a favor and take the time to learn how to eat well to support your goals. Hire a nutrition coach or reach out for help if you need it.
8) I Got Real Sick
This one is more personal. I hope that you never get really sick, but you still might be able to learn from me here. I had tick borne Lymes Disease in the earlyish 2000s which led to a long course of antibiotic treatment (over a year) and subsequent autoimmune diseases that popped up afterwards. My joints swelled up to obnoxious sizes. There were months when I had to swap out exercises because I couldn’t use a wrist or an ankle or a finger. I refused to give up lifting or exercising, even when people thought I would have to. Ten or so years later, I finally surrendered to the idea that I might have to take some type of medication, after years of fighting it and trying to fix everything myself. I am better now than I have ever been, and stronger than I once thought possible. The lessons and gifts that came from all of this, I carry close.
Gratitude can be a magnificent tool. I learned to be grateful for what I could do, and not what I couldn’t do. Otherwise I would have given up - no question. Being sick forced me to appreciate the days I didn’t feel terrible and to look forward to getting better. Fitness allowed me to redefine myself as a strong person, not a sick person, when the going got a little bit rougher than I ever let on.
I gained empathy for clients who are working through struggles. I remain grateful for the workouts I get to do - and this is pivotal in how I view my strength and what it means to me. There are days I don’t necessarily feel like being at the gym. Most of us won't have as many easy peasy workouts as hard ones. If I stop though, and remind myself that I am extremely lucky because I GET TO GO TO THE GYM, a lot of that self induced chatter drama goes away. There are people that are injured, sick, or paralyzed, that don't get to pursue strength in the same way that I do, and I do not take that for granted.
Hope this helps you all if you were looking for motivation or are thinking about getting strong. Stick with it and be smart - all the good stuff will come.