What does it mean to be strong? What does it mean to be healthy? What does it mean to be fit?
These are questions that I find myself revisiting lately. I used to associate strength with painstakingly sculpted muscle mass and being able to lift a lot of weight in the gym. I used to associate being healthy with an athletic and very lean physique, eating whole grains, veggies, and lean protein. I used to associate being fit with doing strength training by muscle group splits 5-6 days per week and being able to do cardio on a machine for 45-60 minutes at a time.
Well…things have changed. And I think it’s for the best.
Before I explain how I have redefined these concepts for myself, I want to explicitly state that I am not saying my definitions are “right” and any other definition is “wrong.” Concepts like strength, health, and fitness are much more abstract than supplement and pharmaceutical companies would like you to believe, and I think these ideas really exist on a continuum. For some, being fit might mean that they can walk around the block without getting winded, while to others it might mean running a half marathon. Eating healthy might mean ditching the McDonald’s drive thru for a Lean Cuisine for some, while for others it might mean following a strict Paleo diet. Being strong could mean being able to do regular push-ups instead of “girl” push-ups (I hate that term – ugh), or it could mean being able to clean and jerk your body weight. And furthermore, I think it is normal to travel this spectrum during your life. I certainly have. I’ve gone from competitive dancer to figure competitor to runner to bikini competitor to Crossfit enthusiast. We all have different starting points, physically, mentally, and medically, and where we start will significantly influence how we define these things for ourselves. They become moving targets. Some people will make negligible movement on the spectrum, while others may make it all the way from one end to the other. It’s not black and white, it’s not right or wrong, and it is highly individualized.
Because I don’t want this to turn into an epically long post, I’m just going to write a little bit about how I have redefined strength for now. First epiphany – looking strong and being strong is not necessarily the same thing. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I think I mostly just wanted to look strong in the past. I wanted the muscle mass (and I also wanted to be lean enough to see that muscle mass clearly defined), and any strength gains that came with it were just icing on the cake. I was eating to be lean, not for performance or for recovery. However, thanks to my new boyfriend, Crossfit, I’ve been introduced to Olympic weightlifting (aka: the snatch and the clean and jerk), which has really opened up my eyes to a new way of defining strength. Olympic weightlifting requires such a beautiful and complex combination of strength, power, technique, and coordination to execute – it’s incredible. It’s also pretty challenging to learn, I am finding out. Perfectionist tendencies aside, I always look forward to WOD’s with cleans, jerks, and/or snatches in them because to me, the execution of those lifts has become the epitome of true power and strength. That has become the Holy Grail of my training for the time being.
Switching to Crossfit workouts also has introduced me to an intensity that has been unmatched by any other training style I’ve experienced so far. It’s one thing to do heavy squats for 3 sets of 10 with 2 minutes of rest in between. It’s quite another to do 5 rounds of overhead squats with 400 m runs in between or having just completed 75 snatches for time. Yes, we are getting into endurance territory here, but both physical and mental strength are required to exercise at that level of intensity, even though the actual workout itself may be short compared to a bodybuilding workout.
You may totally disagree with me on my perception of strength – that’s okay. We are allowed to have different points of view! And who says we can’t both be right?
My Crossfit gym has a two-hour Olympic weightlifting class on Saturdays…so guess what I will be doing this weekend?! I have developed a burning desire to eventually compete in Olympic weightlifting, but we have to crawl before we walk and walk before we run, right? I need to master the fundamentals first (aka, practicing with PVC pipe, then an empty bar, and then finally getting to put some 10 lb bumper plates on there!)
Basically, I want to be these girls. Incredible.