Learning to be Unapologetically Powerful
First blog post! Welcome! I’ve been jumping around deciding what to write about first, and my experience with Unapologetically Powerful over the last 2 months made this a no brainer.
Partly because of my unparalleled keenness and FOMO and partly because of lucky timing, I got to participate in the beta testing for Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake’s powerlifting program “Unapologetically Powerful.” First off, if you haven’t heard of JVB, you need to search her out. Fantastic coach, strong and powerful woman, competitor, and she is doing some amazing work not only helping people get stronger, but changing the way we (particularly women) speak and think about our bodies.
UP is a 12 week lifting program, fairly typical in its set up for a powerlifting program, with one major difference – biofeedback. Now before I explain, there’s always a bunch more questions about biofeedback once you start playing with it. You can check out David Dellanave’s work if you’re so inclined, but I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty. (David owns The Movement Minneapolis with his wife, Jen Sinkler – this is also where JVB works her magic. They’re all well-versed on the subject).
The idea is that your body gives you signals (if you’ll listen!) to help determine what is good or bad for you in a given moment. One also learns to avoid excessive effort in training, as it comes with a price tag of increased recovery, increased risk of injury, and slower long-term progress. In practice, we tested using range of motion before and after a lift. If ROM increased post-set, then that lift is good to go, and vice versa. So instead of just having it be bench press day with a specified number of sets and reps at a specified weight, we tested 3 macrovariations of a lift, were given a range for reps (to help determine load), and sets would last as long as your best-tested movement would test well for. Within each macrovariation, you could also play with microvariations (foot/hand/head position, etc.) to really find what works for you – because perfect form is the one that’s perfect for you in that moment.
No more about the details of the program though – I wanted to provide some background but it isn’t the point of this post. I found myself really thinking about how and why I lift throughout this program. Some of my takeaways I already “knew” but sometimes these things have a way of popping up and saying hi when you really need to hear them.
- From Jen Sinkler – “suspend your disbelief long enough to see what happens.” I know this all seems like voodoo. But what’s the harm in trying it? Nerd alert: Csikszentmihalyi’s work on flow shows that when the level of challenge meets one’s skill level, we are in a flow state – we are accomplishing something difficult and worthwhile, feeling in effortless control and at the peak of abilities; if the challenge is too high relative to our skill then we face anxiety, and if the skill level is too high relative to the challenge offered then we face boredom. Learning how to ask “can I do that?” in a safe and controlled strength training environment allows you to transfer the process to less controlled environments and empowers you to step out of your comfort zone.
- You’re capable of more than you think. Maybe your intensity (in the form of weight being used) in the gym can’t be where you want it on a certain day but when you start using biofeedback, you can look for other ways to set a PR in the gym with every visit – density, volume, etc. And I dare you to try telling me that setting a PR everyday doesn’t translate to increased confidence and empowerment.
- Your body knows best. I’ve had a few injuries over the years, none of which had a concrete mechanism of injury and were due to wear and tear over time as well as improper training (whether major or minor). I can’t just say “if my training had been different, this wouldn’t have happened” because we can’t actually know that, and injuries are bound to happen when we participate in sports. But, all those moments when I pushed through for the sake of getting better may not have actually been making me better. Do you really think your body is going to perform the same on days where we face varying levels of anxiety, boredom, happiness, positivity, or fatigue? Even without injuries, it’s a valuable measure of how our bodies are reacting to daily stressors and paying attention can have both long- and short-term payout.
- Learn to be unapologetic. Stop downplaying your strengths. Own your abilities. Accept what is, and don’t attach your sense of self to what others may say or think. Acknowledge when you’re good at something. Thank you! And guess what? When you build and own your physical strength, it starts leaking into all other areas of your life. I noticed gradual transformations from the other women in the beta group (we had a facebook group) and holy hell it was cool!
- Positive versus negative competition. The group of women who made up the beta/facebook group were of varying strength levels, age groups, and walks of life. All were so refreshingly positive towards each other about everyone’s achievements. We were guided by some wonderful role models, but the dialog had a VERY supportive tone and there were more displays of “daaaaamn girl!” than anything remotely negative. We are typically surrounded by people who are more worried about what other people have accomplished and where they stand relative to these people, instead of where you stand relative to yourself yesterday, last month, last year. Job rank, what someone looks like, whatever. Powerlifting is an amazing example. There’s no way I’ll be the strongest competitor at my first, second, third meet so trying to beat everyone becomes a practice in disappointment, excessive pressure and expectations of myself, setting myself up for possible injury, and possibly having an overall worse meet if I just focus on what matters – doing MY best and supporting other lifters. I’ll likely come out happy, pleased with my numbers/progress/placing, pain free, and a part of a community of like-minded women.
These are just my experiences – biofeedback (or lifting in general) doesn’t need to be something that makes you reflect on life, but it’s done a lot for me and UP happened to come at a time when I needed to be reminded of these takeaways (thanks, JVB!). And being Unapologetically Powerful is a huge part of what being a Force of Nature is all about.