“Yet…” – Diana’s Story of Strength

by Diana Andrews | February 19, 2020

bench press at stronger together meet

Yet. Such a powerful and important word when I use it with young students. My elementary students will often tell me, “I can’t do it.”

“Yet,” I’ll respond. And it’s very true when talking to children, who are at a time of life with rapid physical and intellectual growth. 

However, three and a half years ago, yet didn’t apply to my own life. As a woman approaching 50, I knew that if I couldn’t do an activity or skill now, I certainly wouldn’t ever be able to do it. I might only be able to look forward to my body’s slow decline: slower metabolism, weight gain, and the gradual loss of strength, bone density, and vitality. And that would have been the path I was on had I not discovered strength training and my coach, Emily Socolinsky

My journey actually started a few years before that, when I was in my mid-forties and trying to stay in shape. I took up running, an exercise I did frequently as a teen and young adult, but had gotten away from during my years as a young mother. When I started running again, I ran several 5Ks and even did a sprint triathlon with my 20 year old daughter, Jackie. Overall, I was relatively active but not very consistent with any training regimen. Despite the exercise, as I approached my late forties I noticed changes in my metabolism and bodyweight. And on two separate occasions I had to undergo meniscus surgery, one on each knee, probably due to overtaxing them while running. I knew I was starting to hit the limits of what I could do running as I got older. 

I first met Emily when she coached Jackie, who had taken up strength training to help her swimming the summer after her sophomore year in college. I was impressed with the gains Jackie made in the gym and in swimming, but I never considered strength training for myself. After all, I wasn’t a young college athlete. What could strength training do for me? When thinking of exercise for middle-aged women, lifting heavy barbells isn’t what immediately comes to mind. It definitely wasn’t anything I’d ever considered for myself.  Barbell training is for bodybuilders, other serious athletes, or young men in general, right?  

My husband, Steve, was the next strength training convert, after developing a bad back in his forties. Always the consummate engineer, he searched for local strength training gyms to help Jackie find a program to help her, and he was attracted to the physics-based model of Starting Strength, and the how and why it works to build strength. The following winter, he started training with Emily and her husband Diego, both Starting Strength Coaches. Steve raved about the program to anyone who’d listen, mostly to me. Still, I couldn’t imagine myself lifting heavy weights. My younger daughter, Courtney, soon heard his message, and shortly thereafter she, too, began training with Emily. 

It wasn’t until after my second knee surgery and my frustrated attempts to stay in shape and control my weight, that Steve finally convinced me to make an appointment with Emily. Somewhat reluctantly, I began training in the fall of 2016, after recovering from my second surgery. Emily taught me the lifts, and I accompanied Steve to the gym throughout that fall and winter. Unfortunately, I dropped off when my teaching job became busy and stressful in the spring. I was going through menopause, gaining weight and was often feeling tired and moody. The thought of going to the gym seemed too stressful, and honestly, it was not something I really looked forward to doing, and I did not make it a priority at the time. 

However, after the school year ended, I decided to take a long hard look at my health, my behavior, and my commitment (or lack thereof) to self improvement. I understood Starting Strength’s philosophy and approach, and had been to the lecture by Dr. Jonathan Sullivan, author of The Barbell Prescription, about the overwhelming benefits of strength training on an aging body. I had trained, albeit somewhat inconsistently, for 10 months, and I decided to put that knowledge to work and really commit to my training. 

During the summer and fall of 2017, I started to track my food and limited my calorie intake to 1700 calories per day on non training days. On training days, I moderately increased the number of calories to make sure I had enough energy to train, and made a point of increasing my protein intake to help with muscle development. Most importantly, I trained. I knew I had to prioritize my training if I wanted to make progress, so I committed to training at Fivex3 twice a week. I followed my linear progression and finally started to make real gains. As I hit inevitable plateaus, Emily would analyze my lifts, tweak my program, and help me focus on my sticking points. 

The changes were gradual, but over the next six months, I lost 25 pounds while at the same time, gaining strength. I was getting leaner, and I noticed my body felt and looked younger than it had in years, and that my energy level increased. At that point I was post menopausal, but I felt like I was turning back the clock on aging. In between training, I still ran, but without getting hurt. I also increased my running speed with my stronger, more powerful legs. 

I am now 53 years old and completely hooked on strength training. Steve and I consistently train twice a week, even when we travel. During the past summer, when I wasn’t working, I increased my lifting to three days a week and made even more rapid progress. On days that I train after dealing with work or home stress, I notice my spirits lift along with the bar, and I leave the gym feeling better equipped to handle life’s difficulties.

stronger together teams

Recently, I discovered just how far I’d come with this process when Emily asked me to partner with Jackie and compete in a mock lifting meet she was holding as a fundraiser. Jackie and I competed as a team, each doing two lifts. I agreed to bench press and deadlift, which in itself says something about how much my attitude has changed. Some lifts can “get inside your head” and the deadlift was that lift for me. Early in my training, I referred to it as the “dread lift” because it absolutely terrified me. Oftentimes, I just couldn’t convince myself the bar would come off the ground – and as a result, it didn’t. I used to ask my family and coaches not to watch me deadlift, because I would become extremely self conscious. However, at the Stronger Together meet in December 2019, I deadlifted 185 pounds for a third attempt in front of a room full of spectators. It flew off the ground, and I later wished I’d tried to lift even more. 

Now, if anyone asks me whether I recommend strength training, I give them a resounding Yes!

If there was ever a “fountain of youth,” strength training done correctly and consistently is it. I feel younger than I did ten or even 15 years ago.  I have more energy and certainly much more strength than I've had at any point in my life. And I learned to overcome fear.  Lifting isn’t easy and the weights are heavy.  It’s hard work and takes commitment. In the beginning, I didn’t realize that successful lifting was as much mental as it was physical. I, who have never considered myself to be very strong, had to convince myself that I was capable of lifting something heavy. However, through training and the encouragement of my coaches, I have become more capable than I thought, and can now lift a good deal more than my bodyweight. 

This training will benefit me for the rest of my life. We’re all aging, and with age comes the inevitable loss of function. I would encourage anyone my age to develop habits that will improve their quality of life now, which will in turn help them later in life. Strength training, along with competent, personalized coaching, will dramatically improve a person’s odds of remaining healthy and mobile well into old age. The benefits on an aging body are well researched. I personally have reaped the benefits with a stronger, leaner body, and have discovered the psychological and emotional benefits as well. With a knowledgeable coach and consistent training, the sky’s the limit! 

If I can’t do it now, it only means I can’t do it yet.

Diana Andrews: Wife, mother, teacher, runner

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