A big shout out to Inna Koppel, owner, chief cook and bottle washer at Woodmere Fitness Club in Woodmere, NY (Long Island) and all of her people, especially Nick D'Agostino. That's Coach Nick to the uninitiated.

Connecticut, not being nearly as enlightened as it thinks it is as a state, caused me to go looking a little bit farther afield to find a Starting Strength coach for help. Inna responded to my email request for coaching assistance right away. I mean, within hours. So I got myself an appointment and drove the hour to Woodmere on a beautiful Sunday morning. Yesterday to be exact.

First, I felt like a celebrity when I walked in. Everyone seemed to know I was coming, from where and how far I traveled. Inna, came right up, introduced herself and gave me a tour, introducing me to everybody along the way. Though I didn't meet everyone who took the 9AM aerobics class, it was pretty close! Everyone was so friendly. And for me, that was key. Having started the program in January by myself and at that point I had only done a few sets of squats and bench presses under the tutelage of a trainer, so I wasn't exactly sure if I was doing anything right. Until then, I had read the book and watched the videos (repeatedly), but I knew my form needed some tweaking. At 48, I can't afford injuries - not only because I'm getting older, but because I've become a bit addicted to the strength training. If learning proper form would keep me in the gym, I'd have driven even further.

Coach Nick is the real deal. He is personable, fun, funny, and wicked smart, but not arrogant. And, he laughed at my self-deprecating jokes. A VERY good sign. Points all around. He was also encouraging while correcting and clearly supportive of my progress thus far. As a teacher myself, I know a good one when I'm in his presence: Nick is a natural teacher. In no way did he allow his ego to get involved in the training. For this middle-aged woman new to the sport, I was so very grateful. The tweaks made in my form were seemingly minor, but I know they will have a profound effect. The following are just some notes I took while sharing my experience with a friend and fellow lifter:

With the squat I finally felt what the hell hip drive is. Of course I had seen Rip in the videos putting downward pressure on the lifters he was coaching, but I didn't understand that until I felt the resistance there. That should make a difference . Nick echoed what my sports med doc has said, too, about ankle mobility and my issue with it not allowing me to reach full depth in the squat. And I'm off balance too (and I mean that with regards to the squat, but feel free to take it as you wish). Nick and Vicky, another trainer who was observing (no pressure there!!! ha ha!), lent me a pair of weightlifting shoes and it made a huge difference. Balance is key, of course, but the slight heel lift kept the momentum forward enough so I wouldn't fall backwards. The other key was a phrase like the one my friend gave me for the bench press (shoulders in the back pocket), but slightly more untoward in its utterance: nipples to the floor, Nick told me. Sure enough, it worked. Everything else I seem to have been doing mostly okay, but with those two takeaways I will sure to see some improvements. And, with those fixes, I finally felt the full-body engagement (yes, even in the "f'ing core" as Rip calls it).

The press and I have never been friend. I now know why. I wasn't doing it right at all. While I was muscling through the whole thing and teetering at the top of the lift, with the adjustments I learned, I should be good. First my grip on the bar was incorrect. Nick showed me not only where to place my hands in relation to the crosshatch, but how. The trick for me is to place my hands and then internally rotate them 25-30 degrees and have my fingers rest on the bar, rather than around it. I didn't like the feeling at all at first, but it made sense to me when I did the lift as the weight of the bar was, in fact, in the heel of my palm where it should be. I also wasn't keeping my wrists straight and in line with the rest of my forearm so the drive of the bar upward was inefficient. And the hip thing. I didn't want to do the hip thing. I have a hip phobia, or rather a hip movement phobia. I don't shake it, as they say and I sure as hell don't dance. I told Nick that too, to which he replied, "It's a rhythm." I said, "Yep, I'm out. I don't dance for this very reason: I don't got rhythm." Bluster on my part, per usual, because I figured it out on the first go. I guess I just needed to set my mind along with the rest of my body to get it done right. I learned where the bar needs to float at my throat (I don't rhythm, but I can rhyme) and when it needs to go up following the hip movement. It's not natural for me, but I was so delighted that I managed it, that I didn't care that it felt weird. Oh, and finishing the lift, or with the bar at the top, I now know what it feels like to be in that shrug. The press and I are now acquaintances with hopes of strengthening our relationship (pun intended).

My favorite, who so damaged me last week: the deadlift. Okay it wasn't the lift that did the damage, but my not doing it right. Now I have a whole set of set-up steps that I have to go through before even touching the bar: step up to the bar, feet at shoulder width, step back one and a half inches, bend over with straight legs to grab the bar, bend knees til they touch the bar... I know you all know this. Set the back and stand up. Oh, and the breathing for each lift. That will be key if I can remember it, along with everything else. It helped so much on all of the lifts. I mean, I'll remember to breathe, I just need to remember to do it so it is helpful in affecting more progress.

I wish I lived closer so I could be coached by Nick more frequently. I also wish I would win the lottery so I could afford to do so, but that's another matter entirely. I am delighted with the session, not only for what I learned, but because IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! As a threat or a promise, I told both Inna and Nick that I would be back. And I will.