Sarah lifts some really big weights with Sally Moss of Gubernatrix
A few years ago, I realised I was in a bad way. My body – a steady size 10 since I’d been a teen – had started to slump and spread. I snuck up to a 12, and then a 12 started getting tight. At a health check, the nurse reassured me that I wasn’t very far outside the healthy weight range. In the winter, I started to come down with hideous, racking coughs that lasted for months; in the summer, I wrapped my arms and legs up in the heat. I was pretty miserably.
I decided that something had to change. Perhaps what should have changed was my attitude to myself. Instead, I decided just to change myself. I stopped eating the office doughnuts. I started weighing my portions rather than eating till my tummy hurt. And I started exercising – riding a bike, then running a bit, and then running a lot. The winter coughs and the summer shame stopped.
Initially, I didn’t have a very clear idea what my plan was. If you’d asked me, I’d have said I wanted to look “like me, but less fat”. There’s a problem with that, and it’s not that being less fat is a bad thing: it’s that I consciously didn’t want to get more muscly, because (ew!) muscles are for boys.
Girls get strong
Clearly, that is a pretty dumb way to think. Maybe I thought a nice female body was made of delicate bones and moved by miraculous girly telekinesis. But a couple of friends started to talk to me about how weight training could benefit my running, and after I’d been reassured that touching a dumbbell wouldn’t make me instantly hypertrophy into WWE Diva, I gave it a try.
First of all, I did it on my own with small weights – just a couple of pounds. Then my friends who do weights laughed at me so I moved onto a set of dumbbells and found that I could easily lift 8kg, 12kg, 16kg, and then I was using every plate in the box: 20kg. And it wasn’t just that I could do it. It was that I loved doing it. As for the way I looked? I hadn’t turned into a bulging tangle of sinews, because that doesn’t happen without intensive exercise and *cough* nutrition *cough* plans.
Instead, I looked pretty hot. Not that I’d suddenly turned into Beyonce or anything, but where I wanted to be round, I was round; where I wanted to be firm, I was firm. My muscles were bigger, but I was smaller: a size 8. And my posture was better – I actually measured a half inch taller at my next GP check-up, bringing me up to a mighty 5’2″. This was amazing.
So, I was ready to do more. And the next step took me to personal trainer Sally Moss and Jubilee Hall gym in Covent Garden. She started me off by asking some questions about my exercise routine and my aims, then we moved into the gym for some warm-up stretches – including one called “the pissing dog” (see, weightlifting is for girls). Then she got me in the squat rack (that’s a big metal cage that holds a barbell while you load it with weights, allowing you to start the squat with the bar on your shoulders).
Coach me up
With her talking me through the actions, I’d lifted double my personal best within 30 minutes – 40kg. I was pleased with myself, but when I saw Sally lifting 60kg with the wheel-sized plates, I was really impressed. The feeling of accomplishment at shifting that bar was immense; the aches in my thighs, calves, stomach muscles, shoulder and arms say it was a proper workout. Sally also noticed that I was weaker on my left side than my right, and gave me some exercises to help get me balanced – without an experienced spotter, that’s the kind of thing you might unthinkingly compensate for until it caused an injury, so it pays to work with a partner every once in a while.
To finish off, she gave me a ladder and inverse ladder routine. This is a neat trick if you find a constant number of reps (that’s repetitions of an exercise) in a set (that’s the complete number of repetitions on one exercise before you rest or move to something else) to be a bit of a bore, and I do. In a ladder, you start with one rep and increase by one with each set up to the maximum number (in this case, ten). An inverse ladder starts with the maximum, and moves down to one.
For my workout, Sally set me alternating sets of inverted rows and pushups-into-burpees. After ten of the former, one of the latter felt like a lovely rest; when the counts crossed over, I felt a little burst of achievement; and counting down my last set of burpees with Sally cheering me on was triumphant. I ended the session having learnt a lot about both my own body and exercise, and with a hankering to find a squat rack near home to do my stuff in.
Sally runs the Ladies Who Lift course