I am doing something called "sprints" - a ten second burst of running in place, bringing your knees up as high as you can. Sgt. Steve is counting down the seconds, and I'm beginning to feel a bit woozy. It's one of the few exercises I can do well at this point, so I want to make it count. The sound of pounding feet around me reaches a crescendo in the final seconds. "Three! Two! One!" yells Sgt. Steve, and twenty of us all let out a collective sigh of relief.
It's funny how a head injury in December landed me in Kickstart Boot Camp for Women with Sgt. Steve. Having allergies to so many major medications, I had asked my neurologist for a more holistic approach to healing. I assure you that a "Core-Nado" of exercise was not what I had anticipated. It was day three of boot camp, and today we were working out our core - and not just the abdominals as I had assumed. "Your core is the thighs, the abs, the back, your chest," Sgt. Steve explained. They are interconnected, and need equal strengthening." "Core-Nado" is the term coined to describe that day's workout - a series of calisthenics chosen by a role of the die. Sgt. Steve gave each person the chance to roll one to five dice, and the number rolled was matched to a list of thirty second to two minute sets. I was impressed by the roll of the die strategy, it put the burden of the selection on the campers. it was hard to be upset with the order or intensity when we, the campers, were choosing the order. The element of surprise lightened the mood, and made what could have felt like a never-ending series of sets into something that had a defined end: when we got to the last camper in the the room, cool-down would start. Throughout the sets, Sgt. Steve kept up a light banter, demonstrating each set before we started, and helping campers having a tough time with form (I got a lot of attention.) The running topic of the day? Sgt. Steve's "bird legs."
Apparently, someone had seen a photo of Sgt. Steve online and had commented that Steve had "bird legs" and he "needed to get some muscle on them." Now this is a man who can do this:
I fall over most of the time I try to squat on two legs, yet this man can do one with a leg full extended and he has "bird legs?" The women in the class were full of righteous indignation. A few wanted to know the person's name so they could set them straight. Sgt. Steve took it in stride, taking the opportunity to talk about body image. He admitted he was offended at first, but not as much as he would have been in the past. "I've pretty much made peace with my body image. Yep, I have itty bitty lower legs. It's not from a lack of training or weakness, it's how I'm built. My legs are strong and get me from point A to point B. To hell with looking like a fitness model. I like my bird legs!"
The discussion over body image continued through the sets, and at the end of the class it was noted by my fellow campers that I should have some "before" pictures. Ugh. Although I was pleased to say the six ripples on my right thigh and the five on my left looked relatively smooth after two weeks of hiking, I still have a body image issue. Add to that my "I'm at boot camp so I didn't mess with my hair or makeup" and these pictures are so unflattering.
Now, I can hear many of you saying one of three things. 1) "Oh, you don't look that bad/you don't need to loose any weight." 2) "Why is one hip higher than the other?" 3) "There is work to be done." Number three is the honest answer. I am twenty pounds over my ideal weight, but at 5'11" I can hide it well in an a-line skirt. Did I mention I typically only wear dresses/skirts from April - October? This is why.
Sgt. Steve will tell you that there is no "correct" body image that we all must conform to. While blessed genetically with a relatively flat stomach, my most recent weight gain, combined with poor posture habits, has done a number on my lower back. Up until this week, I was typically in pain from too tight psoas muscles – as evidenced in the photo, that's why one hip is higher than the other. Fitness is the state of being healthy - and my body, whatever it looks like, is simply not. I am not trying to conform to an image (although I freely admit rippled thighs had me worried), rather I am listening to my body tell me that I am in pain and unhealthy due to the extra weight - where it sits on my frame simply hurts. With my aversion to medicine due to my allergies of eight major prescribed medications, I wasn't able to take a pill for my back. Looking at these pictures, it's plain to see how contorted my pelvis had become due to the extra weight and bad posture. What is incredible? From day one the pain in my lower back had disappeared-simply from doing simple stretches. So as Sgt. Steve challenged us with open discussion of body image, these photos weren't far from my mind. I want to get healthy - that's what Fitness Quest is about - but was I ok with my body image? It was something I was glad he brought up, and needed to address as my quest progressed."Core-nado" turned out to be high in cardio, but not as high intensity because I was able to modify it to my fitness level - something all of Sgt. Steve's workouts are known for. It wasn't until bedtime I felt the soreness, and even then it was mild. Interestingly, my hike later that day was up the "easy side" of Thumb Butte; I had an awful time keeping up with my hiking partner, being unable to catch my breath. Was it the three days of Boot Camp plus a three mile hike the day before that did me in? To me, it was just further proof of how far I had yet to go. While hiking, I did find my improved level of fitness helped prevent a bad fall - I hit black ice and felt my body pull off a neat forward lunge. I skinned up my left knee in the process, but the added stability kept me upright (no scraped hands, no twisted hips.) Other than pulling a stone out of my knee and a little soreness, I was no worse for the wear, and showed up ready to go the next day.
Thursday is sport yoga with Sgt. Steve, the gym is unlit, and the music is not the upbeat tunes of the late 80's as usual. Having never attempted yoga in any form, I was intrigued. With our mats laid out in a semi circle, Steve lead us through a series of yoga stretches and poses. My thoughts?
Where has Yoga been all my life?
To say I loved it would be an understatement. While it brought out my inflexibility, my lack of balance and the fact I had to be quiet and not joke with my neighbor; I found it soothing while distinctly challenging. I could feel the stretch of the muscles, and found myself challenged to perform better. With traditional exercise, the dread and fear of exhaustion, and the inability to breath, brings fear to push harder. Sgt. Steve had negated that fear by allowing us to each tailor or workouts to our fitness level, but with yoga I felt the need to take it a step further.
Right up until I found it nauseous.
There is a standard in the health world that says "breakfast is the most important meal of the day." I digress. I hate breakfast almost as much as I hate exercise. This was the second day that I had eaten something before boot camp in the name of science, and the whole "most important part of your day" regime. Both Wednesday and Thursday, I was mildly nauseated by the time class was done. Yes, I drank lots of water. I have drunk so much water in the past week it could fill a swimming pool. I talked to Sgt. Steve about it, who reserves time after every Tuesday and Thursday class to talk about nutrition and motivation. You can have a public chat with him, or a private chat to address your specific needs. It's all included in the cost of the camp, so several take advantage of this time.
Sgt. Steve asked me if I normally ate breakfast. I smirked at the notion, and told him I avoided it. Much to my surprise, he told me it was most important for me to listen to my body. He asked if I had had difficulty on Monday or Tuesday without breakfast - and I told him I had felt fine. He shared that listening to our bodies needs was more important than fitness dogma, and he supported my decision to not eat before class, and to see how I felt on Friday (I was fine physically with no breakfast.) I was impressed that I didn't have to argue, but I had found with Sgt. Steve you didn't have to have an argument for him to win one. He had a way of helping you see his point when he needed to.
Friday morning was an 8am class; I had attended three 5:30am classes and would attend two 8am classes. The 5:30am class was quieter, with a sincere intent to "get 'er done" as many had to get to work still. The 8am class was much more chatty, and I was delighted to find another friend in Friday's class. As the week had passed, and I got to know the women more, I was struck by the friendly camaraderie that had been built into the boot camp. As I had learned that week in hiking, having a hiking partner to be accountable to was essential - I had hauled someone to a hike on Wednesday, only to have myself hauled to a hike on Thursday when I desperately wanted a nap instead. Kickstart had the accountability factor built in not because of the money spent, but because of the people you met there. What's more, was to see that camaraderie in action. On Sgt. Steve's facebook page you see this image:
Which is awesome - don't get me wrong, it truly is! More impressive, however, was what I saw repeatedly that morning:
Sgt. Steve and other campers gathered around a woman, intent on making the medicine ball plank work for her. That's the type of support that brings you back to a gym week in and week out. I was envious.
Our circuit training for the day was called "Crazy 8's," which you would think would be something I enjoyed, due to my obsession with the number eight (long story-you may want to read my blog. It's talked about in-depth there.) Basically, this was circuit training, with 8 reps done at each station. Not too hard, right? I enjoyed some of the stations, delighting in the few muscles that had strength, and loathed those that exposed my still very weak body. My fourth time through the circuit, I was trying my hardest to stay planked on two medicine balls for more than 15 seconds. I tried pushing myself mentally, telling myself I could hold the position longer. Inside, I could hear my mind getting forceful - telling myself that I could do this - when the little voice that is truly me said - "I hate this. I hate pushing through. I hate not having what I want when I want it. I hate going without, and I hate the pain of trying."
I crumpled to my knees, in tears. My friend Kristen, seeing my distress, came rushing over. Sgt. Steve made sure I wasn't hurt physically, and tactfully let my friend handle my mini meltdown. Fitness is the state of being healthy - both physically and mentally. It seems some of the physical had brought out an emotional area of distress. Kristen and I walked a lap, and I talked out what I knew was truly bothering me. My hatred of exercise was a symptom of more than just my lifelong breathlessness - it was tied into the fact that I gave up when I said I no longer wanted to do something. It was tied to regrets of letting go too soon, and not pushing through ideas and projects to the end, often in the face of opposition. Sgt. Steve came over, and I briefed him lightly on my tears. He assured me I should just walk laps (we were 4 minutes from finishing! I had almost made it!) and that I had made incredible strides through the week.
My first week of the quest was complete - 51 more weeks to go, and just 50 weeks until I meet with the toughest trainer in the world. Kickstart Boot Camp for Women had provided me with just that: the perfect kickstart to my quest. I was actually saddened that I wouldn't be joining Sgt. Steve and the campers the following week - I'm off to Fusion of Movement in Prescott Valley - but I knew they would all be there - continuing their own quests for fitness. Throughout the week, I have often likened fitness to religion - there is truly something out there for everyone. I am delighted that Sgt. Steve has created such a safe environment for women to get fit, and I am thankful my quest began with his kickstart!
Read Katie's Fitness Quest blog and follow her progress.