Martha started training with us on October 23, 2015. She visited the gym the week before and spoke to me at length about her back issues, that she was starting physical therapy soon but also wanted to start strength training. My first reaction to this was,”Well, that’s great but I hope this person doesn’t try to talk you out of it.” After meeting with the PT, Martha emailed me immediately: “Hi Emily, I went to PT yesterday and I am cleared to start! I just need to start with bodyweight or low weight and progress slowly.” My response was simple: “Hi Martha, Awesome! Squatting, pressing, deadlifting and benching will get you stronger. Hands down. When would you like to start??” This was Tuesday. On Friday, she squatted 45# on her first day. Six weeks later, she squatted 135#. How’s her back? Awesome.
A friend of hers had told her about Starting Strength back in 2011, but she never really considered barbell training until this past year. Martha is a dream client. She showed up early for every coaching session, kept meticulous notes in her training log and listened intently to every instruction you gave her. And she continues to keep meticulous notes, always pushes herself to that next level, listens to every instruction you give her and loves everything and anything about barbell lifting. For her, Starting Strength is not just a program a friend of hers talked about a few years ago. It is now a way of life.
1. Give us a brief history of your training – other gym classes, gym experiences. What did these classes provide or not provide for you?
Fitness for me has looked very different over the years. Before now, I was probably in the best shape when I was in college—I had easy access to a gym and spent a lot of time studying on the elliptical, running on campus, taking pilates, and attempting strength training with weight machines. I didn’t really have any goals other than looking good and managing stress, and didn’t keep track of my training or improvements.
Then my senior year of college, I was in a very bad accident, and broke my right foot, my right wrist, my left hand, two of my lumbar vetebrae, and fractured my pelvis. I was very lucky to have survived and to not have injured my head or spinal cord. That was six years ago, and in the intervening time I moved to Baltimore and started medical school. My weight and my fitness level fluctuated a lot over these years, but nothing really stuck or made a huge impact. I tried to continue with yoga, both at home and in the studio. At a heavier bodyweight and with my foot injury, running didn’t feel good anymore, and I was a happy newlywed who ate too much food and drank too much craft beer. By late 2014 it was clear to me that something had to change. I was overweight, and if things continued I would become obese.
2015 has been a really good year to me, and it started very slowly. I tried to be mindful of portions, reminding myself that I didn’t need to eat as much as my husband, who is much taller. I cooked at home more and became more confident in meal planning. I lost 10 lbs through simple changes that didn’t take a lot of willpower, and then in July I really started to focus on diet. Calorie counting was a huge change and consistently gave me results. (I started the year around 154 lbs, and currently weigh 120.) I weighed less and ate better, and had more energy—I was ready to start exercising more consistently.
2. Why did you decide to begin strength training? What is different about this type of training compared with your previous experiences?
A close friend of mine did Starting Strength in 2011, and has occasionally talked to me about barbell strength training since then. In retrospect, he was way ahead of the curve, and it took a good amount of time before his advice actually sunk in. Finally, this year was going to be the year I lifted heavy.
With my previous back injury, I was nervous to train on my own without help with form and technique. There is a personal training studio near my house, where I tried a few sessions this summer as part of an introductory package. I was told to lift what I could do for 15-20 reps, and we were always changing up the exercises so I didn’t see the amount I was lifting increase. When I asked about squatting with the barbell, I heard a bit of scoffing—”kind of pointless unless you want to become an amateur powerlifter…”—and was told to squat with my toes pointing forward, my back vertical, and while looking straight ahead or up at the ceiling. I was frustrated after this particular session, and googled “Starting Strength Baltimore” on my walk home, which brought up the website for Fivex3. It immediately looked perfect and exactly what I was looking for.
3. What has changed in your body, mind, etc. since beginning your training here at Fivex3?
I am so, so much stronger. Exercising again revealed the weakness in my back and core, and so in addition to training at Fivex3 I’ve been going back to physical therapy. Between the two, I feel balanced and a little bit badass. I have pain free days now, and I just keep getting better; I can squat over my bodyweight, I can do three chin-ups in a row, I can pick up the 125 lb sandbag and walk with it. I feel tougher, and I understand how my body works so much better than I once did. I also have visible and defined musculature, seemingly in new places every week—I even have abs for the first time in my life.
4. How has your daily living changed as a result? Do you have more energy during the day? Do you sleep better at night? Are you more aware of your body, how you are standing, sitting, carrying things, lifting things?
I am better at everything I ask my body to do, without question. I can carry all the grocery bags in to the house in one trip, even if I have to park two blocks away from my house; I can carry 40 pound bags of cat litter up and down the stairs; the full laundry basket feels like it weighs nothing. We have one heavy skillet that I used to need help to lift, but now it’s not a problem, even one-handed. I’m just more useful.
5. How much more active now are you than you were two, three, five years ago?
This is definitely the most active I’ve been since moving to Baltimore. Small changes start to snowball, and now my life looks very different from a year ago. I’m more conscientious about what I eat; I cook more and make sure my caloric intake matches my goals. My dog is my walking buddy, and we probably cover more than 3 miles a day. I enjoy my walking commute, and now it’s a pleasant stroll instead of exhausting (I count my steps with a Fitbit, and average about 15,000 a day). I’ve continued with yoga, which along with physical therapy has been a great complement to weight lifting. I’ve made huge strides in my practice that hadn’t even come with daily yoga in the past—my chaturanga feels strong and the transition to upward facing dog is seamless, I can sink deep into poses like chair or warrior II, and I can hold crow pose for longer than I’ve ever been able to. I’m generally active, and now hanging out with friends and loved ones doesn’t just mean eating and drinking; we can go for a hike, or rock climbing, or a long dog walk or stroll through a museum.
6. What do you enjoy most about strength training?
It makes me feel capable. It is reinforcement—three times a week—that I am resilient and can perservere. When everything just feels really heavy, but I grind through and get the weight over my head, or push up out of the hole on my squat, I feel strong. I can do this, and all the other difficult things that life will throw my way; I can figure it out.
Everything about lifting at Fivex3 will keep me coming back. It’s fun, I’m enjoying getting to know the other lifters, and I’m seeing amazing results (seriously, I have abs!).