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Why I Lift Barbells Like A Teenage Boy

by Meaghan posted June 27, 2016

Today we have a GUEST POST from Focus Barbell Class newcomer, Jessica Taft. jessica taft

Jessica has come a long way since she started lifting – both physically and mentally. Read on to learn what motivates her to keep getting stronger:

I didn’t really grow up with boys around so I wasn’t privy to working out with weights in the garage as might have been the case for many of you reading. Fast-forward 30 years, however, and I’ve had the pleasure of being a step-mom to two teenage boys. And in NYC, apartment living is the norm, so there’s no basement or garage for them. Both diligently go to the gym instead.. My initial thought on this matter was, ‘Oh, barbells…That’s nice.’ And then I tuned out.

But I’ve lately changed my mindset completely. Maybe you are like me in that you only associate barbells with teenage boys working out to make their muscles bigger. Because this is not what I was looking for, I never took barbell training seriously. But the benefit of having two teenage boys who “know it all” is that sometimes they actually do.

The “not for me” attitude is unfortunately what stops most of us “older” people (especially women) from beginning a barbell training program. The stigma is also carried by many doctors (my own chiropractor included) who typically caution against doing such things. But I spent 37 years in a job that involved sitting 100% of the time and my low back gave me problems all the time – so clearly not lifting (or moving for that matter) wasn’t so good either. In fact, my back was so bad at that point that if I were walking and had to sneeze, I literally had to stop walking and brace myself (no pun intended). When deciding to hustle across the street to catch the traffic light, I couldn’t because my back felt so unstable.

As I turned 55, I began to feel weak all over. My muscles were mush and I didn’t like what I was seeing in the mirror. Knowing that at this age it will only get worse, I had a wake-up call. I began to listen with different ears to my step-sons’ vast knowledge about working out and barbells. In addition to hopefully feeling stronger, I figured lifting might also help my chicken legs and create a more balanced look to my body. I definitely didn’t like my rear-end, so an improvement there would be also be a huge plus.

It was early in 2016 that an effective online marketing campaign by FocusNYC caught my eye. It was an ad for a barbell class given by a certified Starting Strength coach in NYC. I must admit, sometimes it’s good to be naive. I had no idea that Starting Strength is the name of the program that is utilized in the class, so when I signed up for the 2-for-1 deal on the classes I just figured I was starting a strength class! What I ended up getting was so much more.

The first day I met another new participant who also had a history of bad back problems. For him, surgery was not a choice. There were two other 30-something-year-old men who had been working out in this class for the past several months as well. Then there was our coach: Brent Carter. He was as warm as a male trainer could be in an environment typically suited for young men. But I had called in advance to make sure the class could accommodate a 55-year-old female training alongside 35-year old men and  I was assured it would not be a problem and that they would even look forward to it!  “That’s good,” I said, “because it’s gonna be a real challenge!”

I took the two classes and then promptly signed up for a package of 24 classes. My answer when my friends ask how it’s going usually leads to a much longer answer than they anticipated!

I learned that I can’t squat worth squat. It literally took me five sessions to be able to do just a body weight squat with proper form. Then I graduated to squatting with a PVC pipe to simulate the barbell. I continued to work on my form by squatting back to a box. I originally needed a cushion on the box because psychologically I was so hesitant that I would fall back, and this mental hurdle was preventing me from successfully squatting. The cushion was my “spotter,” so to speak.

Eventually, the training wheels came off and I started squatting with a 15-lb. barbell. My form is always an issue; I struggle to get full depth. It seems to come slowly, maybe partly due to my long-femured body. But as I write this, I’m up to a 40-lb squat! I work up in weight by just a few pounds each time I come, which is now three times a week. I also do deadlifts and things seem to be progressing well. Moreover, I’ve never once had a back issue as a result like promised by my doctor… 

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a qualified trainer supervise me through these lifts, however. Brent is fantastic at analyzing my issues and making adjustments, or modifying the program specifically for me (like not deadlifting three days a week but doing body rows on one of them instead to activate and build my back muscles until I have the strength to progress. My husband’s only request is that I get up to a 200-lb. deadlift so that if I find him in the pool, I can drag him out! But I seem to have hit a plateau at 140…

Overall, I love the concept of this small barbell training class. I also love that we all watch one another’s lifts and encourage everyone, recognizing accomplishments and offering support when we fall short. There’s not much non-relevant chit-chat and instruction is very individualized despite the group setting. It’s great to work out in an atmosphere I enjoy.

But what’s even greater is the physical benefit I am gaining. I cannot rave enough about how great my low back feels now that’s being strengthened. I no longer have the pain and discomfort I described earlier and I can get up much more easily. Before the Focus Barbell Class, I never realized that my entire back side was weak and that my hamstrings were not activating. Now I understand the importance of muscle strength and how a lack thereof can be the culprit in back pain.

My legs are filling out nicely as well and I look more balanced. I’m not quite where I want to be aesthetically yet but I’d say I’m about a third of the way there… Wherever “there” is…

know I’ve only just begun, though, and I’m so excited at the thought of how much better I will feel as I continue to gain strength. I feel muscles working that I never even knew I had, and I’m definitely more stable in my hips and low back. In fact, I attended a trade show a few weeks ago where I had to stand for 10 hours and, where normally I’d be dying by the end, I felt fantastic and could have gone dancing afterward! Another benefit of this type of training is improved sleep. It took a lot out of me in the beginning, but I can tell that my body is waking up and adjusting to a new norm. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!


Thanks, Jessica! We look forward to seeing how far you go!

Filed under: strength training

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