There are a few things in life I know so well that I could easily navigate with my eyes closed: the Whole Foods rosé section, my childhood neighborhood, Neiman Marcus’ makeup department, and the 3-mile loop around Lady Bird Lake. And then there are those things that immediately elicit my famous “uh, what?” face (as evidenced here, here and here): haunted houses, maps (I’m directionally challenged), and up until three months ago, the weight room at the gym. While I’m usually pretty fearless when it comes to navigating unchartered and new-to-me territories, I’ll admit it — I have a shy side and enjoy a familiar face to show me the ropes.
A few months ago, I hit that plateau so many people talk about. No matter how much time I spent on my bike or how many spin classes I did, I couldn’t push past a specific threshold. Hill climbs were tough and sprints were harder than ever. While explaining to a friend that I didn’t feel like I was improving or getting stronger, she suggested I add strength training to my weekly workout routine. Aside from using a few machines at the gym or doing a quick workout from a tear out of Shape Magazine, I was as novice as they come.
I knew I was capable of hitting any goal I set. That wasn’t the problem. My biggest hurdle was finding that person to show me the ropes — because to me, the weight room was foreign and, for lack of a better word, intimidating. Lightbulb. . . hire a personal trainer! Through a bit of serendipity, I found Jessica Wurtzebach, an ACE Certified Master Trainer at Castle Hill Fitness, who unbeknownst to me is also a cyclist (not to mention a mom, former bodybuilder and all-around badass). She was just the security blanket I needed to help guide me around a room of confusion, and after the first day of working out together, I felt like I belonged in that room. It was just like any other situation — everyone is so wrapped up in their own world that whatever you’re doing doesn’t matter to them.
Admittedly, I didn’t see much physical change. Aside from new definition in my arms and leaner quads, I haven’t evolved to this ultramega-all-muscles girl. By the way, according to Jessica, it takes a lot of work and dedication to get there. But physical change wasn’t my ultimate goal. Remember, I want to crush it on the bike and get stronger.
What kept me coming back (and still keeps me coming back) was how I felt — physically and mentally. I told Jessica my goals were to “crush it on the bike and get stronger.” I didn’t think I would learn so much about my potential in the process. I lifted heavier weights than some of the guys in that room. I was breathless on leg day and was almost crawling out of bed into the shower the next morning. I felt like I stood taller, did a lot less second-guessing and more demanding (kindly, of course), and most of all, I started to feel stronger and stronger on the bike.
If you’re wondering if you should add strength training to your routine, Jessica and I sat down and chatted about the added benefits and importance…
“There’s nothing better than feeling strong and powerful in your own skin. When you know you’re physically stronger, emotional strength easily follows.” Amen, Jess.
It makes you happy.
“Not only do you get a surge of endorphins when you lift weights, but commitment to a regular strength training plan has been found to help alleviate depression better that talk therapy — there was a Harvard study done on this specifically.” I was happy 2-3 days even after our workouts!
Burn more calories.
This is my favorite. Fun Fact: muscle is the largest metabolically active organ in our body. “The more muscle we have, the hotter our metabolism burns. Which means, if you simply increase your muscle mass, you will increase your resting metabolic rate, or the amount of calories your body burns just to stay alive.” I think my trainer is giving me permission to order dessert at dinner.
Improve your quality of life.
“A stronger body makes your daily life much easier. Going up stairs, lifting babies, getting up off the floor or even out of a chair. Increased strength will help make all these things much easier.” I can vouch for this one, everything IS easier.
Maintain muscle and bone mass.
“As women age, we lose on average 1% of muscle mass a year and bone mass decreases as well. This decrease in muscle and bone mass carries all sorts of negative side effects. Moderate to intense strength training helps maintain muscle and bone mass.” This was alarming. We have to work that much harder to stay stronger. Challenge, accepted.
As luck would have it, just before I sat down to write this story, I took a break and went to a spin class. About 35 minutes into the class, I got an overwhelming burst of energy and was able to sprint the hardest I’ve ever done and stay on a beat I’ve been trying to master for almost 2 years. For the first time in my life, the instructor used me as an example, citing my speed. She quipped to the guy next to me, “Ok Matthew, you have to keep up with Kelly.” I looked down, thinking she was likely looking at the wrong legs, and saw that I was going faster than him and lit up like a firework. I don’t think “Kelly” and “fast” have been used in the same sentence before.
I would’ve never equated strength training to getting faster. I’ve spent the past 2 years working on cardio and endurance and thanks to a few months of lifting weights, I pushed myself to another unknown limit. That’s the best part about this journey. I get to always look forward to “what’s next?”