The off- season of the UP Ladies’ Football team was the push factor for my hitting the gym when I was still in university. Being a soccer varsity player was exhilarating. When I tried out for the team, the senior players were sceptical that they even had a wager that we newbies – there were three or four of us – wouldn’t be back for the next training session. They were wrong because we were back for the next session all sore but raring to train. Compared to the senior players, I still had a lot to learn from ball handling to strategies and a lot to develop in terms of stamina and muscular power. So, stoked to succeed as a full-back player, I went to the gym to develop muscular strength so I could kick the ball harder and send it flying across the pitch like the professional football players. My goal was to able to kick it half across the field which would clear our side of the pitch, and make it easier for our forward players – two tall, lean, and nimble ladies – to carry the ball towards the opponent ‘s side.
My soccer days are over, but the habit of lifting weights never left me. There is something about the feeling of power surge through your body as you lift those dumbbells or barbells, and seeing how the weight increases every session. That feeling of strength isn’t that obvious while you are at the gym because you move through the exercises continuously which tire you out. And you certainly are not as poised and graceful as Wonder Woman. I know I look like the world caved in on me! I enter another world when I am at the gym. It is all about being focused and getting the lift right. I lose notion of time, the count of reps, work, the gym itself that I am only pulled back into the gym floor when I feel that extra tug at my resolve to dig deeper for that power to lift the barbell off the ground. At times, my personal trainer, Agus, tells me he had increased the weight because of the look of incredulity I flashed him as I, sprawled on the floor, tried to catch my breath. Or when he whispers to me that some of the men in the gym were remarking to him about how heavy the weight I was lifting which, to their minds, is not usual for women.
I love lifting heavy although there are days I loathe it because I am either very sore or tired from work. When I lift heavy, I am more aware of my breathing, my body posture, and getting the form and breathing correct to avoid injury. I like my chest and back days – it is so empowering to do push-ups. I am determined to do heavier dumbbell and barbell presses, and to go lower for the push-ups while I enjoy the cable row and the bent over back row. On the other hand, I am not that thrilled about my shoulder and arm sessions, but I know I have to strengthen my weakest parts. I love-hate my leg workout. It takes a lot of determination to get through the arduous squats and lunges, which knock the wind out of me always, but I look forward to doing the leg extension. Admittedly, I brace myself for the Bulgarian lunge because, apart from testing my strength, it tests my balance greatly.
Lifting heavy is all about establishing a good relationship with one’s self. Along the way, as the weights increased, I have learned to strive for balance between my professional and personal lives, that one cannot simply overwhelm the other. On a personal basis, I have learnt to have a better relationship with food by choosing to eat better but not to be overly stringent that I, feeling deprived, go on a crazy food binge when the stress level or hormones go out of whack. I also have learnt that prioritizing myself is equally important as being considerate of others’ feelings. Professionally, I have become less of an individualist and push myself to be more of a team player, but without compromising my ethics and beliefs. Lastly, lifting heavily is also my fail-safe plan to stay loneliness, eliminate self-doubt, get strong, and face the vicissitudes of life with aplomb.