I give my husband a hard time about how much beer he drinks. He swears it’s not the alcohol he loves, it’s the taste he craves. To which I usually say, “well then why can’t you just drink a good non-alcoholic beer?” You can probably guess his reply… “because it doesn’t taste as good!”
I can’t blame him, I can remember a time I had to switch to decaf coffee because my doctor forbid me from having any caffeine. Being a coffee lover, I immediately went out and bought a pound of quality decaf from Starbucks, and ground it up fresh. I only made it through about half a cup the first morning. Sure it tasted like coffee, but something about knowing that cup of goodness wasn’t going to chase away my morning haze made me realize that the taste of coffee wasn’t really what I loved.
What I’m trying to say is that the effect we believe something is going to have on us can influence how much we enjoy the experience of it. I’m sure psychologists or philosophers have a name for this, but I have no idea what it is.
I think this is also true for exercise. For years I have told people that I ran because I loved it, not because I was trying to get my body to look a certain way. I wasn’t lying. I believed what I said. In the 10 years I’ve been running, the only times I had lost weight were due more to the fact that I was eating a very low-calorie diet. Running without a change in my diet generally had little effect on my body composition.
It is absolutely true that I love running for the endorphin high, the self-confidence boost, and the excitement of racing. That said, as I’m learning more about the effects running has on my body composition, I’m realizing that I really don’t love running every day for an hour or more as much as I thought. I get tired, it gets boring, sometimes the weather is bad, or I’m sore, or I want to sleep in a little more. That endorphin high doesn’t come as easy when I’m running every single day. In the past, I kept doing it because I thought I loved it, but unconsciously, I was still hoping it would help me beat my body image blues and look better in a bathing suit.
I know this now. I don’t think I would have been able to tell you that 2 months ago. What changed?
In the last 7 weeks I have learned something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to unlearn. You may want to stop reading now if you don’t want me to spoil running for you…. alright, are you still here? Are you ready?
There is a good chance that all those endless miles were actually doing NOTHING to help me look good in a bathing suit. In fact, the day in, day out routine might have even been slowing down my metabolism and increasing my hunger, making it harder to keep my weight in check.
I first read the book The Female Body Breakthrough by Rachel Cosgrove last summer when I started working with trainer Teri Chadwick at my YMCA. I was curious about weight training at that point, but only wanted to do it in small doses with hopes that it would improve my running. So when I got to the part in the the first chapter of the book where the author stated that running is one of the worst things you can do if you’re trying to change your body, I rolled my eyes and took it with a grain of salt. Still, Cosgrove had an interesting story. She trained for an Ironman triathlon, logging close to 20 hours a week of moderately-paced endurance work, running, biking and swimming. Over the course of training for the race she only managed to lose about 5 pounds even though she was very careful with her diet and exercising for very long hours. She claimed she still felt “soft” and most of the loss was muscle mass.
She went on to describe how 6 weeks after her Ironman, she was able to get her body back in bathing suit shape by working out only 4-6 hours a week including lifting weights 3 times a week. Weight training–not steady state cardio–was the key, she said.
I read the book last summer, after which I returned it to the library and kept running most days and weight training once a week. Maybe she was right, but I was too afraid to test the theory.
Around Christmas time I suffered a set back with running. Painful tendonitis in my foot set in and I had to stop running completely. I picked up The Female Body Breakthrough once again, this time from the bookstore instead of the library, and I re-read it cover to cover, underlining as I went. Luckily, at that point I had already been working with my trainer once a week for months so I had a plan and some experience in the weight room under my belt. I also had my trainer gently coaxing me to give it a try and I couldn’t deny that it sure seemed to be working out well for her.
So for the last 7 weeks, getting in 3 full-body weight training sessions a week has been my top priority. I do one with Teri, and the other 2 on my own, using as heavy a weight as I can handle. It takes all of about 45 minutes to an hour to complete (including an easy warm up and a fair amount of rest between sets). Almost all of the cardio I have done has been interval style, with very short periods of hard work, followed by standing around for a rest interval trying to catch my breath. Those have mainly been in the form of a boot camp class and an elliptical workout and they take around 45 minutes as well. Overall, it’s about 4 to 5 hours of working out a week.
And the results? In 7 weeks, my body fat went from 20.0% to 16.9%. I added about half a centimeter to the circumference of my tricep, and my weight has not changed at all (this is good, I’m small to begin with, losing weight was never the goal). My tummy has flattened out, my thighs and butt definitely appear thinner and more firm. Last weekend I bought size 2 jeans in a brand I’d previously bought 4s. To sum it up, I feel way less jiggly. And the results aren’t just in my body composition. I can finally do a single unassisted chin up and I can back squat 100 pounds! Achieving both those things felt a lot like crossing the finish line of a hard race! Will somebody please give me a medal?!
I also want to note that I didn’t make any drastic diet changes either. All I did was add 2 eggs to my breakfast and a protein drink post workout, followed by a normal dinner when I got home. No crazy cleanses, no counting calories, no low carbohydrate diet. I’ve eaten pizza at least once a week, and I have had a few glasses of wine on the weekends.
The tendonitis in my foot has healed up and in the past 2 weeks I’ve started to work running back into the schedule here and there. I definitely still love it and running will always be the sport that makes me feel like an athlete. I’m realizing, though, that I don’t love it enough to go back to running 35-40 miles a week. At least not right now. I want to run when I feel like it, when the weather is good, when I have the time and the energy. It’s so freeing to not have to do it everyday. I might get back to running more in the future if I’m training for a race. But for now, I’m not.
And just as my love for running decreased a little bit, the level of enjoyment I’m getting out of weight training has dramatically increased. It’s interesting how once you truly believe an activity is working for you, how much more you enjoy doing it. I used to hate weight training because I thought if I did too much of it, I was going to get big and bulky. That certainly hasn’t been the case for me so far. Having read every book and blog post on female weight training that I can get my hands on, don’t think I’m an anomaly. There are many gorgeous, very feminine women out there who weight train exclusively and do not look remotely like The Hulk.