The Soft Side of Strong

  • By:  Cindy Tingen

Women excel in building a culture of caring. We’re often so busy giving that we neglect our own mental and physical health. Neglect creates health risks. Here are a few statistics. According to the American Heart Association, more than 1 in 3 female adults have some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Since 1984, the number of CVD deaths for females has exceeded those for males. The death rate for African American women is higher than white females, and 64 percent of women who die suddenly of CVD have no previous symptoms. 

Whether everything seems fine or subtle health changes are surfacing, smart women regularly take inventory of their health/fitness levels and adjust accordingly. Fitness is not just about improving muscle performance. It’s about boosting brain power, sharpening memory, managing stress, improving self-confidence, being productive, feeling younger, maximizing longevity, thinking creatively—the effects last much longer than the sweat. Did you know a heart- pumping gym session can boost creativity for up to two hours afterwards? 

At age 56, I’d spent most of my life as a caregiver. The fibers that had been holding me together were fraying and unraveling. I needed change. Encouraged by a friend, I met his trainer. “Working out is not a chore,” the trainer said. My brain acknowledged something profound. Next she asked me to write down the food I had eaten the previous week. “Cheez-its, red wine, Dairy Queen,” she read my list. “Oh good, here’s a vegetable! Where’s the fruit?” 

She proposed a workout consisting of 20-pound kettlebell swings and squats with no weight lifted but my own. No problem. A few minutes into the set, I was out of steam. My brain flashed through a seven-step program. You might recognize some: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance. Sweat drenched and humbled, I looked up to see my trainer smiling. “By the way, your squat needs work! How have you managed to sit down?” Her tone carried no judgment, only understanding. I had experienced my first lesson in the art of squatting. 

Bodies are load-bearing structures. Think about the body mechanics enabling us to move about. Prime muscle movers include quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Squatting builds these muscle stabilizers and improves bone density in all ages—a must if we expect to move independently in our later years. 

We prepare financial plans to meet short and long-term needs. Why shouldn’t we create plans that protect our body’s assets? In a culture concerned with mobility and anti-aging, squatting deserves our attention. Watch children squat —it’s a relaxing and natural form; and so it should be for us, the same sweet repose.

While I chose CrossFit for my redemptive plan, fitness programs are plentiful and adjustable. Working out helped me optimize life. Humanely softer and stronger, I have not regretted prioritizing my health. Two years later, and at times practically craned out of the gym and lowered into my truck, my trainer’s question has remained the same: “Don’t you feel better now?” Sweat drenched and humbled, I nod. After an hour of recovery time (i.e. shower and food), I perform routine tasks of the day more effectively. My trainer is right about another thing. Good health should never be considered a chore! 

The art of squatting is one of ten valuable lessons my trainer has taught me. As you read her strategies below, think about the scene from “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens when Marley’s ghost appeals to Scrooge to alter his fate by changing his ways. Many women understand Marley’s plea. In the spirit of goodwill, women need to create balance. If you haven’t done so, please make one of your presents to yourself the gift of fitness. 

• Always take inventory of your beliefs. In the gym, managing the cognitive load is as important as the weight load. Your belief system is your proverbial glass ceiling or room with no roof. What beliefs do you tight-fistedly cling to and are they real truths?

• To become more functionally fit, you don’t have to lift weights. Many people can’t control their body weight. Respect your body and build strength using your weight as resistance. 

• Healthy exposure conquers fear. Challenge comfort levels and become stronger.

• “You are what you eat” is true if you consider our bodies grow and repair themselves using the material we ingest. Reward yourself reasonably. Do no harm!

• When a goal feels overwhelming, do it by ones! Steady, consistent steps help you gain ground. 

• Eliminate the “quit” option. Much success is born from failure and frustration.

• The phrase “Be harder to kill” may not resonate with all women, but upon closer examination, don’t we all face personal battles? Make educated choices that increase your success. Building physical endurance sustains your mental outlook, which impacts your outcome.

• See setbacks for what they are: a part of being human. Acknowledge your current state, but allowing it to define your future is a great tragedy.

• Remember, no matter what, you got this! By staying in motion, you improve your gains.

• Learn the art of squatting. Appreciate progression. 

 

Cindy Tingen is a customer service trainer in Chesapeake. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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