I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve battled weight and body image issues. It’s all over this website and my Beachbody website. The day I broke off my relationship from the guy I spent more than three years planning to marry, I was the thinnest I had been our entire relationship, but I was not healthy. I was not strong in either body or spirit and I used food over the next several years to fill the emotional voids of my life.
Then the day came when I made the choice to change my life. I worked out seven days a week under the direction of a trainer. I counted every calorie and I started to see changes in the mirror. I reveled in the compliments and accolades as I left the Lane Bryant store behind me forever.
But there was still a lot of work to do. The trainer I worked with had my head focused on the wrong thing – being thin. She told me that once I dropped the weight, I’d have to beat the men off with a stick. Well, that didn’t happen and the emotional damage was almost as bad as the Pizza Hut physical damage from years earlier, but that story is for another day.
Despite dropping such a significant amount of weight, and despite being able to leg press as much as a man, I wasn’t really strong. What I was lacking was core strength. I could bench press 80 pounds for two minutes without stopping, but I could not hold a plank for 5 seconds without dropping my knees. The core, our midsection, is where our life-saving strength comes from.
What do I mean by “life-saving strength?” It’s the physical strength that would be required of your body if you had to save your child or grandchild from drowning in a pool or from an overturned car. It’s the kind of physical strength that allows your body to change directions quickly and shift your weight against the pull of gravity.
A new trainer started working on my core strength and within weeks I was much stronger, my back pain was gone and I was standing and walking taller. I could do more in the gym no matter what I tried and I felt a confidence coming from inside that had been missing with the first trainer. And then, my strength was tested.
I was with my sister and her kids at the neighborhood pool. Laying on a lounge chair about 15 feet away from the shallow end, I was watching a toddler bounce up and down the stairs while her mother sat on the steps about chest-high in water with a baby. The little girl got a step too far and went under. Her mom, a man across the pool and I all saw her at the same time and we all reacted. Both the man in the deep end and I reached that little girl before her mother who was a mere arm’s length away. Why? The woman did not have enough core strength to pull herself against the water from a reclining to a reaching position. The little girl was fine and I am no hero, but that scene made me rethink the functional purpose of exercise.
A few years later I was trying to help my Monday night weight-lifting class understand why I wanted them to work on upper-body and core strength so much. They were often packing up and leaving class when we got to the core-building work. I told the story about the pool. If I had not built up my core strength, I could not have leapt off that chair and into the water so fast. And I can’t
imagine the terror that mom must have felt seeing her baby under the water and unable to pull herself forward. You can’t count on adrenaline doing the work for you because I am positive that mom had a ton of it, but her feet kept flying up out of the water every time she tried to reach forward.
The light bulbs went on for several of the ladies in my class and they started doing their planks, pushups and overhead shoulder presses without complaining. They visualized their own children or grandchildren under the water and wanted to know for certain that they could reach for them and pull them up if they had to. Working out was no longer a drudgery, no longer about getting skinny. They now wanted to be strong enough to save a child.
And that’s my hope for all women – that we focus on being strong and nutritionally healthy, not just looking to reach a number on the scale or a size in our closet.
If you want to start your core strength transformation, the best three exercises for women are: full-body pushups, holding planks, and squats. Make sure you are using safe and correct form to protect your joints. You can find good demonstrations on YouTube or shoot me a message and I will help you. Start with as much as you can do and build up each week. It doesn’t take long to get that child-saving core strength once you start.