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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Blasting Through the Ceiling

Today I picked 110 pounds off the floor, five times, in a movement called the deadlift. I have never been more thrilled, or felt more accomplished. I have lifted more weight with my 58-year-old body than I ever thought possible, and this is just the beginning.Lifting heavy weights with your body via compound exercises is a transformative experience. (Compound exercises train several muscle groups at once, and include the front squat, deadlift, and shoulder presses.) Sure, strength training does change the body, and quite quickly. It is one of the fastest ways to lose fat, slim down, revamp your posture, and build muscle. The deadlift (my favorite) and squat work every major muscle group in the body. As well, I’m in and out of the gym in about an hour, and train three times weekly.
Great photo; too bad about the caption.
But there are benefits of a higher nature. Strength training—because of the focus on your form and concentration—is quite the meditative experience. You have to stay in the present moment to move a large amount of weight with good form. When I’m lifting, everything else falls away.

Fear of the Triple Digits

What’s curious, though, is that I have been close to lifting this weight before, but was afraid to do so. I’ve been back at the gym now for four months, and focused on compound exercises for the last six weeks. In the last two weeks, I’ve deadlifted up to 90 pounds, and then backed off. There was something about triple digits that scared me, even though there’s only a 10-pound difference between 90 and 100. I was also familiar with the concept and benefits of linear progression in weightlifting—adding 2.5 or 5 pounds to the highest weight I’d lifted the last time I was in the gym. It didn’t matter; I just couldn’t step up. The fear (as is true for all feelings) wasn’t based in logic, but stopped me in my tracks.
An excellent article on adult novice women and weight training by Fran Mason, (owner and head trainer at Seattle's CrossFit 206), informs me I'm not alone in that. Apparently this Fear of the Triple Digits is common to adult women new to barbells and strength training. (In my case, I’d done bodybuilding in my late twenties and early thirties, but did little barbell training.) The article is for weight-training coaches, but several sections really spoke to me.
Mason writes, “Women’s expectations are often too low …Many women don’t know we have significant strength potential, [and] that we owe it to ourselves, just as men do, to explore it.” That was me!  For example, although I deadlifted 50 pounds for five sets of five repetitions (also known as a 5x5) three weeks ago, I didn’t think I be able to lift 100 pounds for at least a couple of months. (Where did I even get that idea?) 
Mason had been one of the women she writes about: she started weight training at 40, and has trained for nine years. That gives her a real-life understanding of her adult women clients staring at a barbell for the very first time.
I love how she characterizes the value of linear progression in weightlifting: “Lifting a barbell for strength is like putting money into a 401(k). Deadlifting 100 is like saving $1000 – you’re on the right track, but it’s not enough to live on when you retire. Keep inching it up. You have no idea where the ceiling is. You might lift twice your own weight someday.” (And if you want to be impressed by what a 49-year-old can lift, check out her training blog).
I thank Mason for her article, for her example, and for our great email exchange. Here are my revamped lifting goals for the next 3 months: shoulder press 60 lbs (now at 40), deadlift 180 (now at 110), and front squat 80 lbs (now at 20). Ceilings be damned!


  1. Thank you, Angela! I'm so glad my article was helpful. Congratulations on your continuing PRs!

  2. Thank *you*! Your encouragement, your kind words, and your example have been wonderful gifts to me. I appreciate each of them.
    And thanks for reading (and commenting on) my blog!


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