Now I agree that watching weightlifting (or American football) is about as interesting as watching paint dry. But lifting itself is a sport that is not only extremely gratifying; it's an excellent way to counteract some of the worst side effects of my cancer treatment.
I first learned about lifting in France, Yes, the land of wine drinkers and cheese lovers is also one that is very sportif. For one of the best shows in town, I invite you to go stand somewhere near the Eiffel tower in the morning and watch the local fireman out for a run. A not-to-be-missed sight for tourists and residents alike. Furthermore, my French spouse has been lifting for years, is an avid Crossfitter, and recently did the Spartan Race in Tokyo. He had a very good score but I still winced when I saw all the bruises.
I started lifting about 7 years ago. About the time I stopped drinking and before I was diagnosed with cancer. I began with a Jane Fonda tape and what you might call the "baby bells" - small dumbbells ranging from 1 - 6 kilos. Consistency meant that I outgrew the small weights and went looking for something a little harder and I found Stumptuous, a site run by a Canadian woman lifter with advice, encouragement and challenging routines. That was my entry into the world of Ladies who Lift which is still a tough one because sterotypes abound. As Mistress Krista writes, "You see, dear milennial babies, there was a dark and silly time when old men in suits decreed that girlpeople could not lift heavy things at the Olympics, because lo, their uteruses would explode and all males present would spontaneously be emasculated."
That attitude is alive and well and it goes something like this: "don't lift heavy weights because you might get muscles and that's so unattractive in a woman. The phenomenon appears to be cross-cultural; a Japanese Crossfit coach I know sometimes despairs of ever getting Japanese women into the gym because they would rather be skinny as opposed to having the beautiful muscles of a ballet dancer. Something that is entirely within their reach, mind you, but they prefer to believe that dancers look the way they do because they eat nothing but lettuce morning, noon and night. Right.
But forget the dancers and have a look at these lady lifters. They are amazing.
I still enjoy Stumptous but I found my joy with The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess by Lou Schuler, Cassandra Forsythe, and Alwyn Cosgrove. The one bit of advice I read there that has stayed with me? Women almost always underestimate how much weight they can safely lift. Always go a little bit heavier than you think you can manage because, chances are, you will be pleasantly surprised. There is a lesson in there for women and life in general and I'll let you consider the connection for yourself.
So I moved from baby bells to bigger and bigger dumbbells and finally, with Crossfit, into the world of Olympic lifting: squats, deadlifts and so on. My front squat still sucks but I now have a bar and weights at home so I can work on it.
Why do I like it so much? Well, I can lift just about anywhere - at home or in a box. Crossfit, by the way, is often criticized but one thing they do very well in the boxes I've been to in Belgium, the US and Japan is welcome women without any condescending crap. Asshattery is not permitted in a well-run box.
Another reason is that the results are very pleasing regardless of where you start. Age is certainly no impediment. In Seattle there was a 75 year old man and women of all ages and fitness levels in the box and, damn, was I impressed. They could lift far more than I and with better form. I've been thin for most of my life but I can't say that I was fit or that I am at the peak of personal fitness now.
What I can say is that around 40 beating my body into submission with a starvation level diet and cigarettes just didn't work anymore. I was writing checks my body could no longer cash. I was starting to get things like flabby skin under the arms. I like that I have muscle tone in my arms and legs. I look good in a pair of jeans (all those squats and lunges). At 52 I can wear shorts and show off my long legs and tattoos. :-) I can lift heavy boxes off the floor and head home from the supermarket with big bags of groceries in hand. I can run up stairs in the metro. I can walk for miles without getting tired. I just feel good when I lift. It's a huge confidence-builder to know that you are strong and not just skinny.
Most importantly, I can EAT. You don't build muscles with lettuce and water. You need a balanced diet with lots of protein. Your actual bodyweight is not terribly significant so to hell with the scale. As Schuler and Cosgrove say, "The scale doesn't know what you looke like, much less how strong you are or how good you feel. It's just number detached from context." As for this notion that you have to be fanatical about food, you learn when practicing any sport that food is primarily fuel and the effects of poor eating habits have immediate consequences; I feel weaker when I lift after a few days of fast food or baked goods. And the cherry on the cake I will regret eating? I have osteoporosis and lifting and running/walking are perfect ways to combat it. Lifting is, in my case, oncologist approved.
So there you have it. I really recommend it as a sport. Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove just published a new lifting book for women called Strong. I'm at Phase 1, Stage 2 in the routine and I love it. There are planks, Romanian deadlifts, goblet squats and lots of push-ups and inverted rows. It's a huge kick to watch your progress from week to week as you add plates to the bar.
As you can tell I'm pretty happy and motivated to be a lifter. If you have liked what you have read so far but you are still on the fence about exercise in general and lifting in particular, just listen to Mistress Krista:
"Lifting weights is not rocket science. Find a heavy thing and pick it up. Put it down. Pick it up again. Rest a while. Pick it up and put it down again. Next week, try a heavier thing. Occasionally, pick up your right foot and put it in front of your left foot. Repeat with other side. Perform this alternating motion for 20 minutes a few times weekly."
"Look, honey, you only get one container. And you get what mom and dad gave you. You can make it the best possible container it can be, and love it for what it is, or you can waste your life pissing and moaning about something that isn’t possible. Control what you can control, change what you can change, and forget about all the other stuff. Celebrate health and living free of pain. Stop obsessing about BEING and LOOKING, and start DOING."