fitness · Guest Post

Rethinking measurement and PRs

Business gesture indicating success

by MarthaFitat55

The past two months have been a journey of discovery. Probably the most obvious change was starting work with a new trainer who is also a good friend of mine, so the transition to a new mode of training has been smooth.

My new trainer worked with my previous trainer, so there are some similarities in approach. But Vicky brings her own style to her workout programming, and I’ve been enjoying new exercises.

Yes, enjoying. I will be honest and note I still haven’t embraced split squats with the same joy I bring to using the ab wheel, but there is always something positive to take away. Like finally rehabbing my knee to a point where I can do split squats on the floor instead of a raised platform.

Because this is a new training relationship, we have spent time figuring out how to work together while maintaining the recovery focus. I took some time to read up on my hip problem and we’ve built in exercises that help strengthen that cranky joint.

It’s been great fun to try new things and to work out what my capacity is. Sometimes it’s like when your optometrist asks you “is this is a little better or a little worse,” when they change lenses, except Vicky asks me how much more can I do in a series of reps.

After two years, my previous trainer was an expert at recognizing when I was ready to fold and when I needed that extra push. Now I am working with someone new who is working at understanding how my body performs, where we need to be careful, and where we can push harder.

It’s meant that I am looking at what I do in the gym and after, and I have been really listening hard to the cues my body sends and documenting the results in the gym. I haven’t always tracked my personal records (PRs) because showing up to the gym twice a week consistently has been such a huge accomplishment for me.

Because of my own lack of consistency in the past with fitness, I trust my trainer to keep me moving forward. The fact is, I know the next day or the day after when we’ve bumped up the weight or the reps by how deeply different muscles ache to remind me of the work we have done.

Tracking anything else has just not been my thing. Occasionally I make notes to remind myself of key milestones, but for the most part my focus is “hey, I can do this now,” or “I can do it better/faster,” and I’m good. So you can imagine my surprise when Vicky mentioned the weighted glute bridge I’ve been doing regularly the last six weeks to strengthen the hip joints was now at 130 pounds.

“Go on,” I said, disbelief written all over my face. “Well, how much did you think it was?” she asked me. “I figured it was about 50 pounds,” was my response.

Nope. I was lifting 130 pounds without effort, even with wonky hip joints. That my friends is equal to a Spanish ibex or a slightly underfed aardvark. Of course, then I had to think about the weights I use for the deadlift, military press, bench, and hack squat. The range falls in between a jaguar (80kg) for the deadlift and a cheetah (54 kg) for the squat.

Oh yes, the animals. This started a few years ago when Vicky found a site that plotted your weights lifted in terms of animals. It’s a nice visual for me since trying to grasp what poundage looks and feels like as a set of plates isn’t all that useful to me. You can use this list to find your own:

Anyway, here I am, looking at measurement and tracking in a whole new way. I started thinking about the roots of my (passive) resistance to tracking. I’ve come to the conclusion that I avoid it, mostly because traditionally, the standards for progress in fitness have been based on weight loss and inches lost.

Yes, PRs matter, but they haven’t always been given the same pride of place in society as they could be for women. As a feminist, I look at things with a gender lens, and it has always bothered me that we measure women’s success in fitness by how we look and measure to a particular “feminine” ideal, that isn’t necessarily realistic nor respectful of the diversity expressed in what we think of as cis-gender female bodies.

And so I’ve been thinking about my own work to achieve fitness, and realize that there is no endpoint. I may have chosen to label my goal/blogname as MarthaFitat55, but the fact is I am fitter than I was when I started, I will be fitter at 55 than I am now, and I’ll be fitter when I am 60, and so on. As the other Martha is fond of saying, that’s a good thing.

— Martha is a writer living in St. John’s whose next lifting goal will be one of Santa’s reindeer (101kg).