body + creativity: on lifting weights

Around this time last year, I went for a routine check-up with my family doctor. She put the blood pressure cuff around my arm and took my blood pressure as usual. She looked a bit worried at the reading, and took it again. 

Again, it was high. 

She suggested I get a blood pressure cuff of my own, and track my blood pressure. So, I did, for a month, and it was high the whole time. I went back to see her. We looked at all the factors and prescribed some changes: eat less salt, take a sodium pill, and try to lose weight.

I wouldn't call myself heavy, necessarily, but definitely I'm a curvy gal. I'm 5'8" and at the time I weighed 205 lbs, and wore anywhere from a size 15 to a size 18, depending on the store and brand of clothing. I've always been fairly comfortable in my own skin, though, and believe in body-positivity and in all different shapes being beautiful. "Losing weight" had always been one of those "maybe someday, wouldn't that be nice" things, kind of like "going to Hawaii" or "having a $4000 buffer in the bank". Not necessary to daily life, but a someday-sort-of goal that I wasn't really doing anything about. 

Anyway, there I was, with high blood pressure, at 30 years of age. Not cool. I already did yoga regularly, and walked on my lunch break sometimes, but there wasn't really much else I was doing to try to lose weight. After several months of this, and no weight loss, I felt frustrated. I thought about it, and realized that I was having such great success with having a business coach, why not seek help with weight loss? 

So I asked the guy at the counter of Downtown Nutrition if he knew of any personal trainers. He in fact did, and he wrote a name of a gal down on a piece of receipt paper. I remember thinking, as I picked up the paper and folded it and put it in my pocket, "This piece of paper is going to change my life." 

I messaged the gal. Her name was Stephanie and she lived near me. We agreed to meet at the Tim Hortons by the mall here in North Sydney, to talk about options. We had a great chat, and agreed on so many things: that weight isn't necessarily the important thing, but fitness is; that food is to fuel the body; and that getting outside to work out is fun.

The next time we met it was at the local gym, Platinum Fitness. I signed up to see her twice a week. We measured around my waist, my hips, my bust, one of my thighs and one of my arms. (I'd share these numbers with you but they got lost.) She said most guys measure their necks too, but we would skip that. "For guys it's important, for some reason," she said. 

We began each workout with a ten minute warm up, just walking on a treadmill. Then we walked over to the area with all the machines, the racks of weights, and the big muscle-y dudes. It's the area of a gym that scares off most people, and for good reason: it's scary to go to a place you don't know, where there are people who know what they're doing, and in clothes tight enough to show off all your fat rolls, no less! 

But with Stephanie there with me, I felt confident, at least enough to give it a try. 

And that's all it took: trying. Twice a week. Each week. Following her instructions, and trying out these new movements. Lifting the weights. Being pleasantly surprised by what my body could do! 

At the end of each workouts, we'd do some H.I.I.T., or High Intensity Interval Training. It sounds super bad-ass, but it really just means doing cardio in intervals: one minute on medium, one minute on high, on minute on medium, and so on, to get the heart-rate up. 

So that was in June, that I started working with Stephanie. By August, when Adam and I went to Chicago (and I took a three week break from working out), Stephanie had moved gyms, to Ascendo Fitness in Sydney. Even though it's in a different town, it's right on my drive home from work, so I happily switched gyms with her. (She's super rad!) 

By September, my measurements were: Bust, 43", Waist, 39", Hips, 46", Thigh, 27.5", and arm 13.3" My weight, funnily enough, stayed exactly the same, at 205. 

By October, I was ready to work out on my own. (Plus, I'm actually trying to save some money, for that other goal of having a buffer in the bank, haha.) Steph set me up with a program to follow, and suggested I go three times a week: twice for lifting, and once a week for just cardio, 30 minutes of "playing with my heart rate." I'd lost three inches, 1 at the hips, 1 at the thighs and 1 at the arm.

By November, I'd lost another 4.5 inches. (At waist, hips, thigh and arm.) My weight, on the other hand, went up: I currently weigh 217 lbs. But I honestly don't even care, and in some ways am proud: it's muscle I'm building! And it's obviously just a number, as I'm the trimmest and strongest I've ever felt.  

Alexandra Franzen has said that everyone has different ways to be motivated, when it comes to fitness, so you need to find your thing and why you like it, in order to keep doing it. I think that's certainly true! And, I have found my "thing". I love the feeling of being powerful, of being strong, of being able to lift those badass big manly weights. I love the clank when I rack the deadlift bar and it falls back into place. I love the feeling of pressing through my heels and feeling my legs engage when I squat in the squat rack. I even love my cardio sessions: I put my music on in my earbuds and I kind of go into another place, almost like meditation, swing-walking on the elliptical, feeling the sheen of sweat come out on my skin. 

And, I find that my mood and my creativity is increased as a result. Here it is, November, the time of year when I normally find my mood dropping, and I feel pretty damn good. 

My blood pressure? Well, that's dropping too. I'll know more next year about the long-term effects of my working out, but for now it's looking pretty good. 

So that's my fitness story, at least the story of the past year! Maybe some other time I will write about how I felt about fitness as a teen (and how I would do anything to avoid participating in Gym class), or about my love for yoga, for hiking and for swimming. 

In the meantime, I'd love to hear about your fitness story, and how fitness contributes to your mental wellbeing and creative work, too. Leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you.