When working harder stops working

My story of strength training, bodybuilding and recovery.

Strength training has given me physical & mental confidence and taught me how to transfer focus of my worth as a human from how I looked to who I was on the inside. I’ve learned mental toughness, the value of commitment and discipline, especially when it came to my health. I will absolutely go so far as to say strength training saved my mental & physical health as I was headed down a bad path, albeit slowly, but now I see the signs clear as day.

For most of my life I’ve viewed exercise and food as a tool to look a certain way. I fed in to the cultural ideas we’re bombarded with, women are meant to be thin, that clothes only look good on you when you look a certain way, and that that’s what men want. As a younger kid, I was active, did acrobatics for a few years and you could find me outside climbing tress & fences most days. But come puberty I put on some weight and started to feed in to that negative self talk and some lovely middle school peer review. I remember one kid calling me a beached whale (even though in reality I was probably only 5-10 lbs heavy).

High school could have been a disaster for me, but I ended up at a boarding school and had very little time to worry about what I looked like. But, I just picked back up where I started when I came home & went to college.

I started eating less to lose weight, dabbled in some fat burners and exercise here & there, mostly cardio like running & aerobics classes. Anyone else relate to this??

Fast forward to my first job out of college & I was thin, but not healthy. I’d gotten into running, ran a half marathon, found I loved spin classes (which, I still do btw). Even though I was thin, I was still frustrated with how I looked! I wanted that toned look, to look lean but solid. To not have loose skin & visible “fat.” I wanted to look like a “fitness” model. But I kept trying to achieve that with very restrictive eating & cardio!

During that time I’d pick up magazines & started getting into tracking my food. But it wasn’t enough. So, I went to my doctor and she did a metabolism test on me, some machine that I breathed into for a few minutes while I sat there.

And the results came back saying that my resting metabolism was 1100 calories! I remember feeling so devastated that day. My friend had invited me out to dinner with friends & I went but didn’t eat anything but chips & salsa. What I thought at the time was that I was doomed to only eat 1100 calories for the rest of my life or I’d gain weight.

I feel so sorry for myself thinking back now at how defeated I felt. If I’d only known what I know now, that my metabolism was low because I wasn’t fueling my body properly and I’d forced my metabolism to adapt to a lower caloric intake!

And this is one of my goals for all of my clients and for my business at Level Up Strength Society – to help people get out of or never even learn those disordered eating habits, to teach them how to never look at food as the enemy, help them find a balanced & sustainable nutrition habit that fuels and nourishes their body.

So there I was eating barely anything, and I met Alberto. I started strength training with him, but for the most part my goals were still based on how I looked. Slowly I started to learn how to value performance goals, I learned to crave getting stronger and being able to do more. I mastered squats, deadlifts, presses, pull-ups…

The transference of value to action and not physicality was truly transformational!

I realized that I’d always has a more muscular build and that I should just embrace it! That I had the potential to really transform my body to be strong and capable and that I could train to accomplish so may physical feats!

After my son was born, I decided to train harder, to focus on muscle building & getting my calories up as high as I could! And it worked. I packed on muscle, got stronger and truly transformed my body. I decided to compete in bodybuilding competitions and did well!

Unfortunately, at the time, I still didn’t know enough about health. I was working a full time sales job, traveling a lot, training a lot and had an 18mo at home. A bout of food poisoning & sinus issues put me over the edge and I fell hard into digestive problems and adrenal fatigue.

It took me 2 years to get through the digestive problems & I still haven’t entirely healed my adrenal system. But I’ve learned so much through this process and is why at Level Up we have a Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist on our team who can help our clients with these more complex internal health issues that, honestly, more of us struggle with than want to admit.

It wasn’t necessarily that I was training hard that I ended up with adrenal fatigue, but the hard lesson I had to learn was that once I was there, regardless of what got me there, was that I had to focus on healing for my body. Training hard, doing HIIT, and all those things people think are “good exercise” would not benefit me. I had to learn how to spend less time in my sympathetic nervous system, your fight or flight system. I had to learn to tap into my parasympathetic system – rest & digest. This would allow my body to absorb maximal nutrients from my food and give my adrenal system a break from what I’d put it through.

So, did I stop lifting weights? No. I took a break for 2-3 months, did light full body work when I felt okay, but I truly gave myself a break. And I didn’t lose all of my muscle or my strength. I didn’t gain a ton of weight. I just healed. Then I worked slowly back into training and have learned to listen to my body more. If a workout or workout schedule leaves me exhausted it’s too much for my body at the time.

Another lesson I learned during this time is that when your internal health is not optimal, it will be near impossible to lose body fat or reach an optimal body composition. You’ve got to fix what’s going on inside first! Believe me, I tried all the tricks that worked for me in the past to lose fat & nothing worked until my body had healed. Working or dieting harder DID NOT WORK.

In the end, I’ve learned that my overall health and longevity is more important than sticking with some arbitrary training schedule just because I think I should be able to train as hard as so & so on Instagram.

I’ve learned that I want to be able to function well and stay strong but that if I continue to ignore my body’s cues I will end up with more internal health issues like autoimmune disorders, thyroid disfunction, gut disbyosis…and that’s not worth it!

This is exactly why we don’t coach transformations, we don’t push people to just attain some physical, aesthetic goal while ignoring what their body is telling them. We don’t coach people to sacrifice their health for the sake of fat loss.

Now, everyone is different & some people have more capacity for stress than others, but the coaches out there who just give everyone a cookie cutter plan that not only shreds them physically but internally, are doing their clients a disservice in the long run.

It’s why I cringe when I see people doing challenges like 75 hard and similar things. They’re pushing their body so hard and, sure, they may see results, maybe even for a year or two, but at some point the stress will take its toll. They will burn out in some way. And that’s when they come to us.

I’d love to catch those people before they burn out like I did, because that recovery can take time and be hard.

You can have a fit, capable body that looks great and performs optimally. Just because someone you see on IG has great abs, it does not mean they are healthy or their joints are pain free!

This is why at Level Up Strength Society, we teach people how to train their body for health & longevity, not aesthetics, to train to reduce pain & improve function, not to beat up their body for not looking they way it “should” or exercise just because they want desperately to lose weight.

I’d love to hear your story if you can relate to this journey!

Until next time…

Amelia (& Alberto) @ Level Up Strength Society

For more information on our workout programs, coaching or to schedule a free Clarity Call with us, visit https://www.pdxstrengthsociety.com/

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Published by Level Up Strength Society

Level Up Strength Society is a family-owned personal training business. If you've been working hard & not seeing results, you're missing the COACHING ingredient! ‍ We take coaching very seriously. As certified personal trainers, we became disillusioned by the traditional model of ONLY helping clients in the 1 hour time slot we saw them. And definitely take issue with trainers who just stand there & watch their clients workout. We combine online & in-person training along with nutrition & mindset coaching to truly LEVEL UP your health! Our mission is to coach you through a sustainable lifestyle transformation.

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