E. Kim - August 3, 2012
Until I met Sarah and began this program, I had always approached exercise as a necessary chore - something that I knew I had to do to release my stress, to stave off early diabetes (which both my parents have), and to try to lose weight (I'm one of those people who's been trying to lose weight since I was 16 years old). Throughout college, I did lose a little weight when I actually started exercising and restricting how much I ate, but every day I was either jogging on the treadmill or using the elliptical...which I grew tired of after a year. I avoided lifting weights because I thought that was something only athletes should do, and I didn't want to become bulky. Actually, I didn't even know the proper techniques for lifting weights. I tried to incorporate more salad into my diet, but didn't really change anything else. In my mind, being "healthy" as a woman meant being thin.
Sarah and I were both on the Fulbright program together, and I got to know her better in March 2012. She's probably the fittest woman I've met in real life and seemed to really enjoy discussing issues of health and fitness, so I asked her what kinds of exercise she did. She introduced me to a workout program called Crossfit, which I did on and off for the next two months. Crossfit was amazing, but I had difficulty adjusting the workouts to my abilities as someone who was totally new to that level of "fitness".
Then I heard that Sarah was starting her own program for women - and considering this girl's vision, her expertise, her passion to reach out to others through health and fitness, and her incredibly motivating voice of encouragement, I knew that I wanted to sign up and try the program. What do I have to lose? I thought.
In the 10 weeks that I've done this program, I've seen more changes in the physical composition of my body (more muscle, less fat) than in the 7 years that I've been trying to lose weight. For real, sistas. I've lost inches from my upper thigh, waist, hips, chest, calves (MY CHICKEN CALVES ARE SHRINKING!) and a little from my arms. Slowly yet steadily, I'm gaining muscle and developing a more defined physique. And all of this from often less than 40 minutes of working out/day! Sometimes, workouts are even 10 minutes or shorter.
More significant than my physical changes, though, have been the changes in my attitude and approach to the ideas of health, fitness, and diet.
Now, I actually look forward to working out, and by that I mean I get really excited to wake up and go to the gym, or to go after work. I want to push my body and see how fast I can complete the exercise challenge, how far I can go; the program repeats some movements, so I can compare my time today with a time from 10 weeks ago and track my improvement.
And I think Sarah's approach to "functional strength building" makes total sense. Even though I'm lifting a dumbbell up and down, how is strengthening that one muscle on my upper arm going to help me lift heavy groceries, push open an iron door, or pull myself up if I'm hanging over the edge of a cliff? Doing these things, and anything else in life, doesn't take one isolated muscle in your body. Even if we might not realize it, these actions require different muscles and parts of our bodies to work in tandem; and this "functional" training is what Sarah's program offers. Now, I can walk up the flight of over 100 steps to my apartment from downtown Amman without resting. Now, my comfortable running pace is what was before, my fastest sprinting pace. 150 sit ups in one workout session are challenging but doable. I FEEL stronger and more confident. I am EXCITED to see how much stronger and fitter I can get.
I've learned that lifting weights is important not just for athletes but all women and all men - and that bulkiness occurs only if you're taking a bunch of other supplements, etc. For many reasons that Sarah can explain much better than I can, building muscle is key to fat loss and maintaining one's health.
I've also realized that health and fitness is not just about exercise but also about the food you put in your body (about 80% diet and 20% exercise). I've been learning about something called the Paleo Diet and have been doing a version of the Paleo Diet, modified to my needs/preferences and even my cultural background (I'm Korean-American, and there are some foods and ingredients that are NOT Paleo but that I just cannot give up. I'm trying to learn how to incorporate the Paleo Diet into Korean cooking methods and traditions). I have a ball just looking up new paleo recipes, allowing me to be creative in my approach to cooking and incorporating more vegetables in my diet. I've come to the previously unimaginable point of actually craving veggies, and my palate has slowly changed such that even bananas taste super sweet. I also never realized how much processed junk I put in my body every day and am learning to look to food as a source of nutrition for my body - food as not just something to fill my stomach or something I enjoy, but an essential part of my health in helping me be stronger, in helping my heart live longer.
These are only some of the things I've been learning about health and fitness, and about myself, over the past two months or so. I can't even believe it. TWO MONTHS and all of this?!
I also cannot express the extent of my gratitude for Sarah. She is very informed on the mechanics of our body, on exercise and diet and strives to share her knowledge. She is always, always so encouraging - even on the days when I admit that I've splurged on my weakness, chocolate - and her enthusiasm is infectious.
I can't wait to see where I'll be 6 months from now. I hope you consider joining us in this program. The program is not easy, and you really have to push yourself (sometimes I grunt and count out loud and say cheesy motivational "YOU CAN DO IT!" phrases when I just don't want to do that last sit up or push up), but it's worth it. We only have one body to live in right? Why not just go for it? What do you have to lose?
Sandy - August 6, 2012
I am a 45 year old divorced woman who grew up in a family with weight issues. I was the kid who hated gym class and couldn't do any sport. Three years ago I went through a very painful period that began with my divorce, and as I bottomed out I resolved that one thing I could do for myself was get in shape. I enrolled in an exercise boot camp program, bought a membership to my local Y, tried a wide array of new sports, from rock climbing to skiing, and got in the best shape of my life. But two years into my new fitness experience, I injured my knee in a ski accident and the pounds and flab started piling up again. I still exercised - mainly long, slow runs - but I just couldn't figure out how to regain what I had lost. Then I met Sarah.
Sarah and I were both living in Jordan as Fulbright fellows when she introduced me to Crossfit. I tried it, but it felt so hard, and so many of the exercises were unfamiliar and intense, that I quit after less than a month. But when Sarah started developing her own program focused on women, a mutual friend and I signed on, and have been reaping the benefits ever since.
Beginning the program was demoralizing. We started by taking measurements, and I had to come face to face with the inches I had gained, particularly around my waist. The first two weeks of the program I doubted every day whether I could complete the Workout of the Day (WOD) we had been assigned. And mid-way into the first week I felt like my clothes were actually even tighter. But then at the end of the first week we repeated an exercise from the first day and I saw my first tangible improvement. It was enough to keep me going. By two weeks I wasn't perpetually sore anymore, and some of the exercises I'd dreaded most were getting easier. (I'd actually like to strongly encourage anyone on the program to make at least a commitment for two weeks - that's the point where the gains start coming in, and from there they just keep coming. But if you quit before that, you'll leave never knowing that you were right on the verge of some exciting results).
When I started the program, I lacked not only strength, but range of motion. I couldn't squat down as far as the exercise called for, and I did all my pushups from my knees. Now my movements are not only faster and stronger (I am starting to do many of them carrying or holding weights), but also deeper and with much better form. I am a slow-moving person, and Sarah's program has challenged me to move faster - when running, when doing reps of exercises, and between rounds of exercises. All of these changes are in turn changing my body. I've lost more than three inches off my waist, and my arms, chest and back, hips, upper thighs and calves are all smaller and shapelier as well. I feel much more confident in my abilities to do so many other activities - from rock climbing to the half marathon that I've started training for.
The program has also changed my diet and my way of thinking about food. From Sarah I learned that diet is even more important than exercise, and it is amazing to me that I - the biggest consumer of bread products and baked goods I knew - have cut them almost entirely out of my diet. Sarah works with us to make sure our diets are sustainable, and so I am not on a purely Paleo diet that Crossfit endorses - I still eat a lot of dairy products, for instance. But my consumption of processed food, sugar and wheat products has drastically decreased, and I can see the results in how my body looks and performs.
Two and a half months in, it's been a challenging ride. There were times when I doubted my ability to do what was expected for the day, and honestly, there were days when I came up short in the workouts I did. But Sarah was always there, encouraging me not to quit and I didn't. As a result, I'm on the way to getting in the best shape of my life, and I feel stronger and healthier than I've ever felt. It's not the easiest program I've ever seen, but it is definitely the most effective. Then again, as they say-no pain, no gain! I feel great, and can't wait to see where it takes me next.