Great Dane. Baby hippo. Hellfire missile. Small person. Large child. 55-pound squat bar with two 25-lb plates.
What do these random items have in common? They all weigh over 100 pounds.
The same amount of weight I have lost over the past three years. 104 pounds, to be exact.
Hitting this astounding milestone coincides with my three-year anniversary of walking into Ludus Magnus and training with Matt Wenning.
Was losing 100 pounds my goal when I walked through that door?
At that point in my life, losing 100 pounds was about as tangible to me as walking on the moon. It was too big, too far way, too unattainable.
The transformation in pictures at roughly 1 year intervals, from May 2014 to July 2017:
I’ve been feeling reflective lately, so in that spirit I’d like to take a trip down memory lane and re-visit my very first workout at Ludus.
Picture it: Columbus, Ohio, late July, 2014…
I am hovering around 285 pounds and living with the daily misery of chronic back pain. I have been watching my friend Amy transform in front of my eyes for months, and listening to her talk enthusiastically about this gym, Ludus Magnus, and her trainer, Matt Wenning. I finally get up the nerve to ask her if she can get me in with Matt, and we set up an appointment for a Tuesday afternoon. Matt says, “come dressed to work out.” (For the more detailed version of this story, check out one of my first posts, Patient Zero)
That first workout went something like this: I did a few rounds of sled drags with barely any weight. It might have been a 45 lb plate, or even a 25 lb plate, I don’t quite remember. By my standards today it was ridiculously light, but at the time it felt heavy and left me out of breath.
Next up: the belt squat. That did not go well. It felt horrendously awkward, and heavy, and I could not do one squat anywhere close to parallel. Not one.
So we had to go even simpler: pole squats. These are just what they sound like. I held onto the pole of one of the squat racks for leverage, and did squats with just my body weight. (We also call these “stripper squats,” for obvious reasons!) A few sets of 10-15, that was all.
We moved over to reverse hypers. They were difficult, but I was able to do a few rounds with just my body weight. Then some hamstring curls. Decline sit-ups were out of the question, so we did basic crunches instead. We may have done a few other exercises, but not much more.
I woke up the next morning in agony. My neck was completely locked up. I had told Matt about my back injury, but I neglected to mention my history of neck problems. I carried all of my tension in my neck; it was a terrible habit. During the workout, I unwittingly tightened my neck and seized my shoulders whenever I had to strain. I wasn’t even aware that I was doing it in the moment, but now I could not turn my head a bit in either direction without blinding pain.
I couldn’t even drive. Thankfully my best friend picked me up and took me to urgent care. They gave me an anti-inflammatory shot and told me to ice, take ibuprofen, and rest for a few days.
I was humiliated. One workout, and this was the result? I knew I was in bad shape, but seriously???
Most of my friends urged me to not go back. It was too much; I wasn’t ready for this; I needed to find something else; there was no shame in quitting. They were concerned for my well-being and didn’t want to see me in pain.
Miraculously, I didn’t listen to them. I have never required much prodding to quit physical activity, but this time was different. I just felt this inexplicable urge to give it another chance. As I sat on my couch healing up my neck, it occurred to me that nothing Matt had me do that day hurt my back. It took more than a week before I was able to go back for another session, but I did go back.
That was Workout #1. Fast forward three years, and this is what some of my most recent leg days have looked like:
- I can drag a sled with 135 lbs on it.
- I can warm-up with 4 sets of 25 belt squats with a 25 lb plate (that’s about 75 lbs given the weight of the frame). Last week I did one set of 25 with 90 lbs on the frame.
- I can do a proper free squat with more than 100 pounds for reps.
- I can deadlift 135 pounds for reps and 160 pounds for one.
- I can do multiple rounds of decline sit-ups holding a 25-lb dumb bell.
- I can swing a 25-lb kettlebell for one minute.
This may not seem like much to some people, but for a girl like me, this is huge. It was utterly unimaginable sitting on my couch with an ice pack on my neck popping ibuprofen like tic-tacs after that first workout.
So how did I get from there to here? How did I go from whimpering at urgent care to walking on my metaphorical moon?
A bit at a time. Slow and steady progress. The tortoise, not the hare. Clichés perhaps, but nevertheless true.
Showing up for my strength training sessions with Matt two times per week, religiously. Good day, bad day, didn’t matter. I only missed when I had the flu or a serious family commitment.
Gradual changes to my diet, as I have discussed at length in other posts on this blog. Letting go of my old all-or-nothing approaches to food. Make a small change, stick with it until it’s ingrained as a lifestyle, then change the next small thing.
It’s not a sexy message. It doesn’t make an easy slogan for a billboard or click-bait.
But by God, it works.
If I had worked out more times per week, or made changes to my diet more rapidly, I might have reached this point sooner and be in an even stronger position by now.
More likely, I would have crashed and burned, and wound up right back where I started. Or worse.
Food issues and problems related to obesity have been the central struggle of my life. I firmly believe that for me to be successful in this arena, it could not have happened any other way. I had to do it slow in order for it to stick.
Many well-meaning people joke that they are watching me “disappear” before their eyes. I know they are trying to pay me a compliment and congratulate me on my success.
But I am not less than I used to be: I am more! I feel more visible than ever before. I feel stronger and more capable inside my own body than ever before. I have taken the weight I used to carry on my frame and transferred it to iron in my hands.
I don’t want to just be “skinny;” I want to be healthy and strong. I’m not obsessed with having a perfect flat stomach or cellulite-free thighs. Sure, being able to shop wherever I want rather than in the “big girls” department has been a blast. Wearing sizes that haven’t fit since I was a pre-teen is positively thrilling. I worked hard for these moments, and I enjoy them. I felt smoking hot in this new dress I bought for my recent trip to San Francisco, and I loved every minute wearing it!
But I also understand that these moments are fleeting, a euphoric short-term reward. I’m in this for the long haul. I want to be mobile, and active, and energetic into my middle age, and hopefully my old age. I want to be the gray-haired old coot still pulling deadlifts at the gym while the young whippersnappers shake their heads.
This… This is the goal!
If you need help making progress in your own journey to greater strength and wellness, I would love to help however I can! Call 614-517-2520 or email gtlwithjennifer.com to discuss my individual coaching services!