I wrote last week about falling in love with the gym again, and about being grateful to be in such an accessible, welcoming space full of people moving their bodies in the ways that work for them. But there’s another reason I’m loving the gym right now: I have a much greater focus than I’ve had in a long time because I worked with a personal trainer for just one session to develop an upper body workout plan that I can do on my own.
Personal training has never been a thing for me, except for a brief stint 23 years ago when I had the chance to work with a new pilates instructor one-on-one before she opened her now veteran studio. That was a long time ago, but my time with her helped me develop a deep understanding of core work as foundational to everything else I do, and I still incorporate some of the moves we did together into my regular routine. Despite that, I never felt a need to work with another personal trainer.
Mostly over the past two decades I’ve been a runner and a cyclist who looks at the gym to stay a wee bit in shape during the times it’s too horrible out to move outside. (I admit I’m a winter running wimp, and I put away the bike at the end of October). Last fall, though, I became sort of self-consciously aware that while I was doing plenty of running and riding/spinning, and occasional yoga classes, I really wasn’t doing anything focused for my upper body. I would go to the weights/conditioning section of my gym and sort of half-assedly move weights around, using various phone apps for suggestions on how to lift things well. Then I had a brainstorm.
The 218 in 2018 group Sam and I have written about a lot is organized by Jason, a pal of Sam’s who runs a personal training and coaching business. I liked the way Jason-the-trainer answered questions on our facebook group, and I happened to be going to Saskatoon for work, where Jason lives. So I booked a personal training session with him, and asked him to help me develop an upper body freeweight workout.
It was deep winter when I arrived in Saskatoon, and my flight was late, so I went straight from the airport to Jason’s gym. The world immediately went from frozen to warm, both in actual temperature (Saskatoon is COLD in early February!) and in the way Jason and his colleagues welcomed me. Because of the FB group, I felt like I already knew him, and we dived right in.
Before we met, Jason asked me a bunch of questions about how much I worked out, the mix of things I do, and why I wanted to focus on my upper body. He told me he’d come up with a plan and teach it to me in our in-person session.
When I got there, he was all set up with a white board with three different sets of five exercises he’d designed for me. The intention was for me to start with the first one for about a month, then when I got comfortable, move onto number 2, then number 3. The first routine was more basic and included exercises I’m familiar with — but rarely do. By the time we got to the third set, it was mostly new-to-me things. This made me happy.
In our in-person session, Jason and I had a great time working out together. He taught me about the three different planes of the body and how it’s important to build fitness in all of them. (I can’t name them, but I can show you with hand gestures). We joked that he and I have the same body type — not too tall, quick to build muscle and strength, not too flexible and quick to build softness and roundness. Because of that I felt far more comfortable working out with him than the tall, super-muscley, 10% body fat guys who lead the bootcamp classes at my Y. He also subtly made me feel strong, observing my form in planks and pushups, noting that I have good control over my body, gently making adjustments and suggestions to correct my habits of relying on certain muscle groups.
Within our 45 minute workout, I immediately recognized that I always ignore my triceps and that I have more discipline than I have been drawing on. Even though we were working mostly with dumbbells and elastic straps, the big scary machines were demystified for me, and I had a new felt sense of the right level of weights for different moves.
I returned home and to my Y with an actual sense of fun and excitement about incorporating a 30 minute weight workout to my existing time at the gym once or twice a week. It’s been four weeks, and I feel like I’ve “mastered” the form on the first set of exercises and gone up one weight set in each of them. I’ve discovered I actually like to watch myself lift small weights into upright rows in the mirror — it makes me feel strong and reinforces my desire to work harder.
I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve already done 50 workouts so far this year — it feels good to feel like I know what I’m doing, and to have a sense of my growing strength. And it feels good to feel competent around the guys in the weight area who are a foot taller than I am.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto when she’s not flying all over the world. She is a regular contributor to the blog.