Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Birds of a Fitness Feather Part III: Flying Solo

I'll be honest, I'm a bit of a timid soul when it comes to exercise. Not the exercise itself, I like being sweaty, out-of-breath and sore; but the act of exercise, exercising *gulp*, alone.

Years ago when I was a long distance runner I preferred to run alone primarily because I was slow and when I ran alone, I could run as slowly as I wanted. I found a run group whose members were also slow, and I liked them, but unless you too were slow, I wanted to run solo.

But then I started doing Crossfit. Crossfit scared the heck out me, it was totally unlike anything this runner had ever experienced and it was hard. Like really hard. So I recruited a buddy to go with me (birds of a feather and all) and she and I would plan our schedules so we could workout together. After a few months my buddy moved on, but that was okay because I had met new buddies with whom I could coordinate. My dependency on the buddy system was such that there were times when my buddies wouldn't show-up and even though I was already at the gym and ready to workout, I'd skip it. Yep, it was that bad.

After years of Crossfit, I began to drift toward powerlifting, which is where my ship has harbored today. Powerlifting, like Crossfit before, scared the heck out of me. Luckily for me, my husband is a powerlifter (what a coincidence!) and I began planning my training schedule around his training schedule. Like the buddies before him, if he couldn't train, I didn't train.

But then something happened. We moved. We moved to an Army post in the middle of nowhere (like all good Army posts are). I didn't have any buddies and my most important buddy, my husband, well his schedule and mine don't exactly mesh anymore. With a powerlifting tournament looming, not training wasn't an option. So I had to do something rather terrifying for this timid soul: I had to train alone.

I've been training alone for two months now and I have to be honest, it's been the best thing to happen to my training. Some of the benefits have been big and some have been more discrete. A few worth mentioning are:

1) I have become more aware of my form and technique. When you train with a partner or a coach, you receive feedback about what you're doing wrong (or right, but in my case, mostly wrong). Of course this is valuable information, especially for a novice. But since I am no longer a novice, I *should* be aware of my form and technique errors most of the time without coaching. And more importantly, I *should* be able to correct those errors myself. And now that I have to, I have. Training alone has forced me to be more self-aware and self-corrective.

2) I have more space to think and reflect. Like everyone, I have a lot of chatter in my mind. The inner monologue bounces all over the place and contains an endless loop of to-do-lists, grading rubrics, doctor's appointments, dinner recipes and random observations about foreign affairs. Sometimes my brain is exhausting! But an interesting thing has happened since I started training alone: the chatter quiets. Since I must now focus on my form and technique (see: above) and I don't have any distractions (like gossiping with my buddies) I am able to quiet my mind and enjoy the solitude. Training as meditation perhaps.

3) I am no longer afraid. I have always feared the back squat. I became less fearful by relying on a buddy who could spot me. But when it comes to squatting, you can safely do it alone if you do so in a rack. And this process scared me. What if I got stuck? What if I couldn't stand-up? What if I failed and people stared? Training alone showed me these things aren't a big deal. And more importantly, because I didn't want to get stuck, not stand-up or make a lot of noise by dropping the bar, I worked a heck of a lot harder in my squats than I ever did with a spotter.

4) I am a strong, capable woman. Sure, I knew I was fit before I had to train alone. But walking into a gym (a gym where you have no buddies) alone can be intimidating. But every time I walked into that gym, did my training, didn't need help, could quiet my mind, I left there with more confidence. And now, now when I walk in, I feel like Helen Reddy, "I am woman, hear me roar!"

In summary, there is a lot to learn about training. By identifying "experts", mirroring them and being mentored, you can take your training to the next level -- find an elite flock to fly with. But be sure to on occasion fly alone. Training solo is a way to learn something about yourself, your abilities and your limitations. Find a flock, then soar to your own heights.

Happy flying friends.

Posted by Rachel May
School of Health Sciences




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