You are finishing dinner out with a few friends. As your stomach fills up and you fight the urge to undo the top button of your jeans, one friend groans “Ugh, I have to work out tomorrow.” Soon enough, everyone at the table agrees to exercise as a group tomorrow at 11 AM sharp (Actually, make that whatever time people roll out of bed) before grabbing lunch together.
Many of you know how this scenario goes. The time gets pushed back until mid-afternoon. After everyone straggles into the gym, your group recaps the previous night during a warm-up walk, followed by a generous twenty minutes of stretching. After waiting for two or three ellipticals to open up next to each other, you hop on but quickly realize ellipticals do not offer an optimum setup for conversation. Over the next hour or so the group makes their way around the gym, producing more laughs than sweat, before someone expresses their hunger. You call it, and head to lunch.
While everyone may not experience this exact scenario, most people who work out leave the gym feeling unsettled from time to time. Whether you spent too long chatting with your friends, couldn’t motivate yourself to push, or reach a plateau in your progress, it is never enjoyable to feel as if something stunted your drive. As someone who usually walks into the gym with high expectations, I’ve realized surrounding myself with old friends prevents me from kicking into the laser-focused mindset necessary for challenging workouts.
For a while, I was under the impression you could either work out independently and push yourself, or workout with friends and have fun. Admittedly, I once thought joining Strength for Life and abandoning an open gym meant goodbye, Socialization. As one of the few college students at SFL, I did not see myself being one with the established professionals, retirees, and parents of multiple children. I thought age and circumstantial differences would stand between myself and the majority, so I prepared to push myself independently just as I was conditioned to do with long runs. To my pleasant surprise, my experience at SFL proved it’s possible to exercise with friends and have fun without sacrificing a challenging workout. In fact, joining SFL has allowed me to connect with all different types of people that I would not know otherwise. I accredit much of my progress to the encouragement and camaraderie of the friends I’ve made at Strength for Life. Having others genuinely invested in my personal success and vice versa, has become a source of motivation and pride on every trip I make to the gym.
What bonds the people are SFL has nothing to do with age or gender; it is a shared understanding. By educating every person—potential member, current member, or trainer—in the same way, only those who understand the effort required to produce change through physical exercise come aboard. There is a cohesive understanding how time is spent after walking through the door of SFL, and everyone is committed to the hard work required for producing tangible change. From here, organic connections inevitably grow.
While there is nothing wrong with spending time with old friends through a leisurely workout, those friends aren’t necessarily the ones you hit the gym with for an intense conditioning class. It is important to recognize what you want to get out of the time you spend in the gym. If you’re looking for an excuse to catch up with friends, leisurely workouts are an easy way to get the blood and conversation flowing. For those looking to challenge themselves and produce specific results, finding a gym environment that fosters physical and mental growth is crucial. While finding people equally motivated as yourself may require putting yourself out there to new people, if your experience is anything like mine, the reward is well worth the risk.
“Emma, look at you!” commented a family friend as she squeezed my sore bicep. I guess my hard work in the gym is finally paying off, I thought to myself. The swell of pride was cut short when she followed with the observation, “You’re beefing up!”
Hmm. “Beefing” up. The tone of her voice was complimentary, and rationally I knew she was saying this as a comparison to my old body. But I couldn’t get past the word “beef.” Beef, as in a thick meat patty? Beef, as in cow? I thought. This adjective replayed through my mind for the rest of the day as I tried to make sense of it.
Up until a few months ago, I had a very rigid definition of what it meant to be “in shape.” Anything not synonymous to “lean” or “thin” felt like an insult, whether I admitted it or not. Embodying “runner” in every sense—physical appearance, nutrition plan, and overall lifestyle—was my definition of fit. Words like “beefy” certainly did not fall into the runner category.
When I first attended SFL with my mom last spring, I was hesitant to sacrifice runs for strength training days. However, I couldn’t help but catch the lifting bug after trying a few strength classes. Every time I returned to the gym on my school breaks, I gained more education, reassurance, and appreciation for strength training. Reassurance was key; reassurance that I would not attain a meat-head physique if I packed on calories and started lifting more. I loved that every strength class left me inevitably sore (a sign of change) and held the potential for heavier lifts as I became stronger.
As I strived to maintain my weight with running while trying to gain strength, a contradiction became evident. I would come home on college breaks, attend classes at SFL, and become excited about the strength I gained. When left to my own devices back at college, I would fall into the comfortable routine of daily long runs. Every time I returned to SFL after weeks of strictly running, I would become frustrated and disheartened by the loss in muscle. In hindsight, I had not yet realized just how much nutrition (specifically protein) I was lacking. When I came home for summer break, I realized it was time to commit to one or the other. Feeling “strong and powerful” (as we like to say at SFL) felt way better than depleted, as I often felt after a week of running, so I sat down with Ed and designed a strength-oriented plan.
After a year of routine 4-6 mile runs at least five days a week, I slowly transitioned to three strength classes, one conditioning class, and one sprint day a week. In addition, I signed up for a Spartan Race, completed a SFL-approved birthday challenge based upon my newfound strength goals (My original running-intensive birthday challenge was nixed by Ed, who reminded me running is too comfortable), and most recently, joined the new Power Lifting Club at SFL. Of course, my nutrition needs had to align with my new training regimen, so I have been focusing on increasing protein and caloric intake.
If you understand the logic behind your training plan and follow through, change of some type is going to take place. Outside influences may make you doubt the new path you’ve chosen. The media, for example, likes to misleadingly portray weight as the ultimate symbol of someone’s fitness level. For women, losing weight is always for-the-better, and gaining weight is only commendable when men put on “gains.” With this in mind, it’s no wonder I had a negative reaction (almost involuntarily) when someone insinuated my weight gain. The point is, setting new goals and veering from a familiar routine takes bravery, reassurance from people you trust, and the ability to block out negative influences.
Although I may have disliked my friend’s word choice, I was not about to let months of working to correct my definition of “fit” go to waste. I reflected on recent accomplishments, such as completing the Spartan Race, rising to the challenge of my three-hour-long birthday workout, and climbing a rope up and down three times without stopping on upper-body days (easy). If I wasn’t brave enough to set new goals and veer from a familiar routine, I wouldn’t be nearly as “strong and powerful” today. In my case, putting on weight in muscle mass was essential in reaching my strength goals. A few more pounds gave my body tons more capability. After giving it some thought, I’m definitely proud of “beefing” up.
My name is Emma Frick, and I am a journalism major at Temple University. I had been looking to take on a creative project when SFL graciously offered to post my writing on their social media pages. In the next few months, I plan to publish a series of articles relating physical and mental wellness to my recent experiences. To provide some context, here is a little background on me:
Late high school into college, I considered myself a runner. I stuck to a running oriented fitness regimen and often struggled to recognize my nutritional needs. After hearing such great things from my mom about Strength for Life from my mom, I started attending last spring. The people at SFL helped me realize how fitness and overall health requires a holistic approach. The guidance and education I receive at Strength for Life has inspired me to redefine my idea of fitness and empowerment. Over the past six months, I adapted a more balanced exercise routine which consists of running, conditioning, weight training, and rest days. Also, I have worked on varying my food choices and increasing caloric intake in order to build muscle. However, what was most pivotal in my fitness evolution was emotional growth. In order to see positive changes in my body, I had to take a giant leap outside my comfort zone. If I didn’t find this emotional strength within myself, I would still be the depleted, rigid-minded runner I once was. In other words, I wouldn’t be nearly as happy today.
So, why am I suddenly sharing all of this? Well, all of the emotional strength I gained this year has been tested past month. On September 24, 2017 my dad was in an accident and sustained traumatic brain injuries. As a result, he underwent numerous surgeries and has remained in a coma state up until recently. The prayers of our community have obviously worked, because he has slowly shown signs of increasing awareness.
Nowadays, I reserve most of my energy for my dad. With that said, I have recognized the importance of finding other outlets to recharge, and for me, Strength for Life is that outlet. Not only are the workouts a time to focus on my physical health, but Ed and Jim at SFL have recently encouraged me to document my journey through this vista. My hope is that the experiences I am going to share in the next few months will help educate, empower, and inspire others to step out of their comfort zone.