The first time I went into the high school weight room, I headed straight to the upright stationary bikes, hopped on, and began pedaling. And pedaling.
And that was it.
I didn’t venture to the “guys” side of the room where the football players were benching and deadlifting. Nor did I attempt using the lat pull down machine for fear of being unable to pull the bar down. I stuck with what was comfortable, what I knew I could do.
Ride the stationary bike.
Far too often, that is the story of our lives. We stick with familiarity. Comfort. It’s messy to go outside of our realm of knowledge, so we don’t.
For me, weight training was a definite step out of my comfort zone. Given that I was an endurance sport enthusiast most of my adult life, I had no idea how much a barbell weighed, what the difference was between a snatch and clean, or even how to properly squat. As a result, taking up a strength training program was the best thing I could have done to combat an eating disorder relapse.
First and foremost, there was no rigidity like I experienced when running 10 miles a day. Each time I trained in the weight room, the exercises were different. The rep and set schemes changed. Even the amount of time I rested between sets varied.
And yes, I rested in between sets.
This was a novel concept given that endurance training requires one to keep on moving and going for hours on end.
You may be wondering, “Lauren, how did you know what kind of weight training program to follow if you had no clue on what to do??”
Simple answer: I asked a trainer who knew all about strength training to create a program for me.
This trainer was (and still is) awesome. He knew my physical condition and limitations (that I was recovering from anorexia and compulsive exercise), the end goals I wanted, and thus made a 3x a week program for me to follow. That’s it.
Besides only having me train three times a week (I was a daily runner back then), the program itself was challenging because I didn’t understand the periodization concept–that intensity would build as weeks progressed and then there would be a period of deloading when the muscles, body, and mind could “take a break” and recover. Then the process would start all over again.
When long distance running, I was so used to just pushing and going without a clear end in sight, that my body was constantly on the verge of collapse. During that time, it was mentally draining to think that there WAS no absolute cut off point. With lifting weights, I could see where each day of training was taking me, the purpose behind each movement, and why certain reps and sets were designated as such.
The program my trainer gave to me appeared quite simple, but like most newbies to the gym, that was what I needed. The main movements were compound, multi-joint lifts that people use in everyday life: squats, deadlifts, over head pressing. There was also benching, back and shoulder accessory movements, as well as unilateral exercises. Main lifts were done first using heavier weights with a low to moderate rep and set scheme. Accessories were done after with higher volume but lighter weights.
There was no “cardio”, no running, no biking, no swimming. It was not a body-builder style program.
I just wanted to get physically and mentally stronger, so the program was written as such.
I am extremely thankful for that initial strength training program, as seeing my progress throughout the weeks (I eventually ended up being able to do a pull up and push up!) kept my spirits high. Yes, my body went through a transformation of sorts, but more importantly, my mind evolved. I felt stronger because I lifted weights I previously didn’t think were possible for me to hold overhead, yet the true victory lay in the fact that I also felt more able and ready to combat the eating disorder voice that would sometimes try to rear its’ ugly head.
You need to do another set, another rep. Heck, add on another exercise. Then go for a run. Why not?
I knew my body could do things I never thought possible as evidenced by my ability to squat more than my bodyweight and pick up heavy objects I once shied away from. Being able to do those actions spurred me on to also think, “Hey, if my BODY can do THIS, then surely my MIND can do THIS.”
Maybe you are reading this and think strength training sounds like a great idea, but you are too involved, too addicted to running or swimming or biking or cardio to start lifting weights. If that is you, half the battle is already won because you recognize that there is an issue with your exercise. You see that you have a compulsion. Now it’s just getting across that bridge and hurdle to do something about it.
Maybe you are in a different boat–you want to start a strength training program but are not sure how. My advice? Find a coach, a trainer, an expert in the field who CAN create an unbiased program for you. Why elicit the help of another? Because if you write a program yourself, especially in the initial stages of recovery, you’ll program ALL the sets and ALL the reps without a clear idea of what kind of rest you need. Also, if you feel insecure about your legs, you may create a training plan that is ONLY focusing on thighs, neglecting the other major muscle groups that are so important.
What is your experience with weight training and eating disorder recovery? Are you looking for someone to help you create a thoughtful and purposeful weight training plan? I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below!
***Zentai Health and Wellness is also offering free consultations if you’d like more information regarding setting up a strength training program. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.