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Strong Mind; Strong Body

I first started doing Les Mills Body  Pump classes at my gym because the timing of the class worked well for me and because it wasn’t cardio-focused I knew I wouldn’t have to jump around a lot. I was just beginning my fitness journey at the time with the goal of finding workouts I didn’t dread doing. I would dread cardio. Pumping some weights – no dread, plus I got a night off from the kids’ bedtime duty.

At the time, I didn’t know the benefits of strength training, but hey, it was a workout and any workout at that point was better than no workout. If you’re not familiar with Body Pump, it’s pretty hardcore. You use barbells (like the long metal stick with round metal plates that you attach to the end). The workout follows the same basic format each class: warmup, squats, chest, back, triceps, lunges, shoulders, abs, and cool down.  Every so often Les Mills comes out with a new release which sets the entire workout to different music (meaning different timing and combinations for the pumping). For example, the most recent release has my favorite triceps routine yet. A perfect mix of dips, tricep push-ups, overhead presses, and plate work set to great music.

When I first started, I wasn’t particularly interested in working my back or shoulders – at that point I was so much weight to lose and so much toning to do I wanted to see results on my legs, arms and abs. But I persisted with my twice a week workouts – body pump one night and a cardio step class the second.

About 11 months later, I started participating in the beachbody challenge groups run by my coach. Everyone else was working out 6 or 7 times a week! By that point, I had already added a third day to my workouts (yoga) but felt like I needed to try for more days. I picked up Shaun T’s Focus T25 for the only reason that it was 25 minutes long and I knew I could squeeze that in at least a couple if times a week. So there I was, working out about five days a week.

I met with a nutritionist while a participant in my challenge group, and as we were determining my daily caloric goal, she pointed out that the Body Pump (or really any strength training) was amazing for the metabolism. She said that your body burns more fat (as opposed to muscle and fat) while at rest for up to 48 hours after a strength training workout. Being over 40, anything that is going to rev up my metabolism was definite “yes, please!” For me. So I added in a second Body Pump class each week and also substituted my regular yoga with power yoga. I figured that doing chavasana and crescent lunges with this heavy body should be activating my muscles as much as push ups or squats!

Then the change really started happening. I didn’t change my diet (which was generally clean except for generous wine thought the week). I wasn’t losing weight but I was getting smaller. I was living proof that a pound of muscle was definitely smaller than a pound of fat.

It was now August 2014 and I was completing my final challenge group as a participant and getting ready to begin organizing and coaching my own challenge groups. I decided it was time to finally take a full set of after pictures – all angles. So while I’d been taking front poses all along, I wasn’t completely thrilled with my abs (working off stretched out abs from two babies after all). I was pleasantly surprised by my back and shoulders. Even when I was “skinny” I didn’t notice particular muscle tone in those areas like I have now. This was entirely due to body pump (and probably a healthy dose of power yoga in there too).

Interestingly, as I’ve gotten more fit, I’ve been enjoying a different Les Mills program – Body Combat.  It’s my favorite workout. It’s a super intense cardio workout where I probably  burn close to 700 calories a session. That said, I still pump it out with a goal of two pumping sessions per week.  I continue to get comfortable and then realize I need to get uncomfortable again (usually this means upping my weights so that I barely can do the last two reps in each routine). Or, a new release comes out that gives my muscles a little confusion so they have to really start working hard again!

I think the moment that will always stick out as a transformational moment for me was when I realized that this journey isn’t all about getting smaller. I was getter stronger. The first release I did when first starting body pump had a particularly killer biceps track. Or at least I thought so at the time. I couldn’t do even one triceps dip. A few releases later, my instructor was mixing in some old releases for fun. I immediately recognized the Train song that meant it was time for THAT triceps routine.  Well, I did it – every single dip. I felt so strong after that moment. There was still arm jiggle but I knew there was muscle in there somewhere!!

This adorbs infographic from the Daily Burn describes all the benefits of strength training for women.


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