The Many Sides of Stephanie

Last weekend, I did one of the most girly things possible: I went to try on wedding gowns for the first time.

Surrounded by white, ivory, pearl, tulle, lace, beading, and sparkles galore, I was in and out of so many gowns I lost count. But, and this probably goes without saying, it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I don’t know about you, but I spent most of my childhood playing dress up. My sister and I spent many afternoons traipsing around in thrift store gowns and high heels that were twice as big as our feet. Trying on wedding gowns is like the ultimate game of dress up! Do I want to be a princess? A slinky sexy vixen? A modest bride? A big pouf ball of tulle?? I was all of those things on Saturday, it was a-freaking-mazing.

But then on Sunday, I hit the gym and put up a 100 lb bench press which I haven’t hit since before the summer started due to a weight room hiatus.  My weight room session was sweaty and tough, as evidenced by the gross calluses on my hands.

ladylike

So.. Princess bride or weight room beast? Which one is the real me?

Both!

So many people think that lifting weights and  having muscles is too masculine. Well let me ease your mind a little bit if you’re in that camp: I did not look anything like a man on Saturday in those gowns (nor do I on any day). I looked like a woman. A woman with strong shoulders and curves. I looked like a bride — a bride who does pull ups 😉

The point is, you can still be a girly-girl and lift weights; you can enjoy dresses and sparkles just as much as barbells. You do not have to choose one side or the other! Just because I lift heavy weights does not mean that I have to give up my girly side, and vice versa.

The truth is, if my finances and wardrobe would allow it, I’d wear dresses almost every day when I’m not at work. Being dressed up, having my hair done, getting my nails done — these are all things that I love. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I also love to squat, deadlift, and run through the mud!

So I guess my message today is pretty short and sweet: be who you are, embrace every side of you (even if those sides are very different), and don’t ever think you have to be one way or another. I’m a lady, I’m a klutz, I’m a goofball, I’m an athlete. What you get on any given day may be different parts of me, but they’re all me, and they’re all genuine.

To the ladies: do you consider yourself a girly girl? Do you find that there are different sides of you that seem to contradict each other?

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Top 10 Reasons Why I Lift

Last week, Tara asked many of her readers why they lift. She then shared all of their responses in this awesome post (which, if you “like” my facebook page you’ve probably already seen, because I shared it there too!). This got me thinking about why I lift, but when it came time to comment on her post, I had a hard time coming up with a quick answer. There are many reasons why I lift, and fitting it all into a couple of sentences for a blog comment was tough! So I’ve decided to take Tara’s prompt and turn it into a post of my own.

I think there are a lot of ladies (and quite frankly, men as well) who don’t understand why ladies like Tara and myself lift heavy weights. “Do you want to look like a man?” Some people ask. Or, more frequently, “what are you training for, anyway?“, as if the only reason to train hard is to have a specific event or end point. The simple answer is, I lift for me.

training for life

Language! Sorry mom. 

The longer answer? Read on.

The top 10 reasons (in no particular order) why I lift are…

1.  It makes me feel powerful. Plain and simple. I’ve done many types of exercise in my life, and while I do enjoy other things besides lifting, none of them make me feel as powerful as when I have a loaded barbell across my back or when I lock out at the top of a dead lift. There is nothing like finally benching 100 lb, or finally squatting my body weight that I’ve experienced when it comes to fitness. Weight room PRs are purely about power and strength. That is amazing to me.

2. It helps me live life a little easier. I don’t struggle carrying heavy grocery bags home from the store. I can bike to work with a heavy bag on my back and not worry about it. I am able to lift heavy boxes and move furniture when moving day arrives, and I’m not going to cry about it or organize while the boys move the heavy stuff. Give me the heavy stuff. I promise, I can handle it. As an athletic trainer, I carry a med kit that runs anywhere from 30-40 pounds on a given day. That med kit goes with me wherever I go when I’m covering an event, so you’d better bet that lifting makes that a little bit easier to carry around.

3. I hate running. I’ve said it on here before, and I’ll probably say it again. I hate running. (see?) I’ve tried to enjoy running; I’ve tried to hit that mythical “runners high”, but it just isn’t there for me. You know what is there? “Lifters high”, if that’s even a thing. Big lift days leave me both exhausted and on top of the world, a combination that I’ll take any day of the week.

4. I find muscles to be aesthetically pleasing. This is purely personal taste. I find muscular people to be very attractive, while some people don’t. You might look at a woman with muscles and find her “manly” or “bulky”, while I will probably look at her and think she looks strong and beautiful. It’s just my opinion, and while I strongly support your choice to a differing opinion, I’ll still probably tell you you’re wrong on this one.  Just saying.

5. I love being able to say “no”, and truly mean it, when someone asks me if I need help carrying something. This one is not a catch-all. Sometimes I truly do need help carrying something (I’m not superwoman, as much as I’d like to think I am), and sometimes I just want someone to help out. But it is comforting to know that I usually don’t need the help, and that if there were no one available to help, I’d be ok. It’s also nice to see the look on some people’s faces when they see me carrying something that a girl my size “shouldn’t” be able to carry.

6. I can climb things. I know this sounds a little silly, but being able to lift your own body weight is truly a valuable skill in my opinion. I can climb ropes if I’m doing an obstacle course race, and God forbid if I ever got in a situation where I had to be able to pull myself out of somewhere, I know that I’m strong enough to do so. Pull ups can be life savers, and while I say this somewhat facetiously, it’s actually true in certain situations. (Like, say, being chased by dogs… or zombies… or if you happen to find yourself in the Hunger Games. You know, those types of real life scenarios).

7. I’m constantly working towards new goals. Just like runners who are on an endless hunt for race PRs, I’m consistently working towards PRs and new goals in the weight room. It gives me something to look forward to, and also a huge sense of accomplishment each time I reach one of these goals. 

8. Because I love to eat. You didn’t think I would leave this off this list, did you? I love food. Food loves me. You know what muscles need in order to get bigger and stronger? Food. You know what helps your muscles recover after a big lift? Food. You know what doesn’t help your muscles recover? Avoiding food like it’s the devil. Many different varieties of protein, fats, and carbs are all part of my regular diet, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

9. It’s good for the soul. This goes back to #3 in a way. I have never been able to find peace while running, and yoga, while I love it, isn’t my go-to stress reliever either. The number one thing that I’ve found that helps me when I’m stressed is lifting. There is something about the focus, the rhythm, and the selfishness of lifting that calms me and de-stresses me. It is my therapy, as running or yoga is for many others.

10. I like my shoulders. And I want to keep them this way (and also continue to improve them!).  I still have a lot to work on and I know I’m very far from perfect, but I’m proud of my shoulders every time I see them in the mirror. Lifting weights can make you see amazing progress, and can make you fall in love with your body when most people spend their days criticizing theirs. I still don’t love every part of me, and I know that that’s something I’ll work on forever, but lifting really has given me some nice things to focus my attention on in the meantime.

pudgy_02

Lady lifters aren’t anything new! This is Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton, a famous female weightlifter from the 1940s. 

So now that you have my top 10, what are some reasons why you lift? Or if you aren’t as into weight lifting as I wish you are, what are some reasons why you run/yoga/zumba/etc? Do you tend to set more aesthetic or performance based goals? 

My Mother, My Strength

As yesterday was Mother’s Day, today’s post is in honor of my mother, the woman who made me who I am today.

IMG_1397From left to right, my sister, grandmother, mother, and myself 

On this blog I talk a lot about strength, particularly in the physical sense. But there are other forms of strength that are even more important, and I don’t know anyone who exemplifies this more than my mother. No, she may not be able to bench press her body weight, heck, I don’t even know the last time she has stepped foot in a weight room, but my mother is strong.  I wanted to take today to celebrate her, because strong is not just about weight lifting or running marathons, it’s about much, much more than that.

Strength is…

…Raising your two daughters on your own, but  never letting them feel like they have any less than any other family.

Mom1

My mom, my sister and I circa…. 1983? 84? 

…Giving selflessly to your children for their entire lives, often forgoing personal wants for the needs of your two little girls.

…Teaching those two little girls that beauty is on the inside, and that we are all beautiful because of, not despite, our differences.

Mom5

My sister and I on a first day of school… I don’t know why I look so miserable but our mom  made us feel beautiful no matter what. 

…Knowing that we couldn’t afford lavish vacations often, but enriching our childhood through adventures in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where imaginations could run wild and “Camping Women” could take on anything in our path.

…Guiding two teenage girls through good decisions and bad, first loves and heart break, and staying sane throughout it all.  Putting up with the very, very wrong relationship mistakes we both made, but helping us to make the best decisions on our own, and ultimately, teaching us how to respect ourselves.

….Wrestling the dog into a Tuxedo, because you know it will make your daughter smile when she comes home on a visit from college.

Mom3But isn’t he handsome? 

…Teaching two teenage girls to drive, making sure we know when the road is “TOO congested!”, and still loving us after two accidents totaling two cars. Yikes.

…Sitting all day (literally, all day, with my grandmother) outside of a financial aide counselor’s office until they finally agreed to see her, just to make sure that I would have a fighting chance of paying for college. 

…Teaching us to always cross in the crosswalk, and somehow knowing every single time when we did not. (How do moms know these things??)

…Hand-sewing years of Halloween Costumes, and always making us feel that our costumes were far more special than all of the fancy store bought ones.

Mom4

I was a ballerina, Kristen was I don’t know what, maybe a princess? Whatever we were, the costumes were always made with love. And apparently pink fabric. 

…Teaching two little girls that no matter what life throws at you, no matter what obstacles and seemingly impossible challenges lie in front of you, strong women can overcome, and d’Orsay women always will. 

Mom64 Generations of d’Orsay women, taking the world by storm. 

My mother has taught me how to be strong, and she as taught me that although life is rarely fair, it’s up to us to control how we live it. She took control of her own life years ago, and because of that she was able to provide my sister and I with an amazing childhood, filled with memories, laughter, and yes even tears (we are a family of criers, after all). I would never be who I am today without my mother and all of her support, guidance, reprimand, and wisdom. She is stronger than I can explain in a few short paragraphs, and I certainly don’t have the proper words to express how her strength has inspired me in my own life.  I guess the only thing left to say is…

Thank you, Mom, I love you!  

4 Tips To Improve Your Pull Ups

So, you want to do more pull ups huh? Or maybe you just want to be able to do ONE. I don’t blame you, because pull ups are badass.

Not only are they badass, but they are fully functional should you ever find yourself running from a rabid dog or say… a pack of zombies. If you can’t pull yourself up and over a wall or fence, those zombies dogs will get you every time.

Needless to say, not only are pull ups a great test of upper body strength, they’re also an excellent life skill. And although the ever popular kipping pull-ups from Cross Fit can be equally as functional in times of danger, what I’m talking about here are true, dead hang pull ups.

None of that “use your whole body for momentum” crap. (Sorry Cross-fitters)

I have had several readers send me questions on pull ups, and how I have been able to increase mine. The answer is really more simple than people think: Do More Pull-ups.

pullups ecard

“But how can I do more pull ups if I can’t even do one yet?” you might be asking. Last summer, I could do 2 unassisted chin ups and zero unassisted pull ups. Now I am up to 8 chin-ups and 3  conventional pull ups. The methods I used are listed below, and these are methods that can be helpful to anyone looking to increase their pull ups/chin ups. I’m still working on mine, and I still include these methods in my workouts, although I’ve had to take a slight hiatus lately because of my decreased grip. I’ll be back at it soon though, and hoping to get to 10 chin ups and 5 pull ups by the end of this summer!

Bands – Resistance/Assistance bands should be your best friend, especially if you can’t do at least one pull up on your own. You can buy a heavy duty band, hook it up to a pull up bar, and you’ve got everything you really need to begin your path to pull up domination.  How to use them: Loop the band around a pull up bar. Put either one knee, both knees, or your feet in the band and pull away. Make sure to keep your core engaged, control any excess swinging from the band, and lift yourself in a controlled motion bringing your chest toward the bar.  Variations: Holding your position at various points will help your body to build strength at various points in your lift. Try holding at your top position for 1-2 seconds before lowering, making sure to really engage the lats. When to include them: Bands can be used at any time! They are a valuable tool for those who can’t yet do a pull up, but they’re also a valuable tool for those who can already do pull ups, but want to work on increasing reps, or strengthening a weak point in their lift.

IMG_1181

Here’s me doing some assisted chin-ups last summer. I have one knee through the band, as that’s most comfortable for me. 

Negatives: Pull up negatives are devils in disguise. The idea of them sounds quite easy, but the execution is far from simple. To perform a pull up negative, jump up into your top  position, hold for a second, and then lower your self very slowly to the bottom dead-hang position. How to use them: When I say lower slowly, I’m talking anywhere from 4-8 seconds to lower all the way to your dead-hang position. The key is to keep your lats and upper back engaged without letting your shoulders creep up around your ears. This should be a very controlled motion, and when done correctly, should either leave you wimpering, nauseous, or curled up on the floor begging for mercy. When to include them: Negatives are great on their own or as a way to finish out a set. Try doing them on their own with 3 sets of 8 nice slow reps. Or you could do what I do, and finish out my sets to my goal rep range. For instance, it’s my goal to do sets of 8 neutral grip pull ups. When I’m at the gym, I’ll do as many unassisted neutral grip pull ups as I can, which at this point is 4. I’ll then finish out the set with 4 negatives, to end up at 8. The next set, I may only hit 3 full pull ups, so I’ll finish that set out with 5 negatives, and so on.

Repetition – If there is one thing that will help you be able to do more pull ups, it’s doing more pull ups. If you want to increase your reps, you have to be doing them more than once per week. If you’re doing 3 sets of 3 once per week, it’s going to be damn near impossible to add more reps without a little magic. If you’re mixing in high reps with the bands, sets with negatives, and just plain old hopping on the bar whenever you get a chance, you better believe you’ll increase your reps! I can’t stress this enough: more reps will lead to more reps. It’s really pretty simple.

Accessory Work- To be able to do more pull ups, not only do you need to up your reps, but you also need to get stronger in all of the right places.  Your Lattissimus Dorsi (or Lats, or bat wings) is the prime mover in a pull-up, along with a smaller muscle called the Teres Major. You get significant help from other muscles such as biceps, triceps, trapezius, pecs, and others throughout the movement as well, depending on your hand position.  Rowing motions will help to strengthen your back musculature, as well as the accessory muscles in your arms and will be the most beneficial. Including inverted rows, or “let me ups” in your programming  is a great way to get yourself used to lifting your own body weight.  These will also help you increase your grip strength on the barbell (which will transfer to the pull up bar).

inverted-rowInverted row. The more horizontal your body, the more challenging this exercise will be. 


Bonus Note: If you really want to increase or improve your pull ups, your first order of business needs to be buying a pull up bar. Having a bar in your house will allow you to work on your pull ups all the time, not just when you’re at the gym. Plus, when it’s staring you in the face day in and day out, it’s harder to ignore and avoid it! 

Now get out there and do some pull ups!  Do you have any other tips for increasing your reps on this badass lift?

Strong For A Girl

I’m NOT Strong “for a girl

I’m just strong.

I’m strong because I can deadlift 155 pounds from the floor.

I’m strong because I can squat with 145 pounds on my back 

I’m strong because I can do 6 unassisted chin ups

5 unassisted parallel grip pull ups

and 2 unassisted traditional pull-ups

Strength.

I’m strong because I can run 19 sections of Harvard Stadium in 20:04

I’m strong because I can run all 37 sections of Harvard Stadium in 43:45

I’m strong because I get up at 5:45 am to run Harvard Stadium every Wednesday…

…in the cold, dark, rain, and potentially snow.

I’m strong because the barbell is my favorite accessory.

I’m strong because I ride my bike to work even when it’s 30 degrees (or lower) outside.

I’m strong because I gain strength from my mother, who never gave up.

strength!

I’m strong because I’m a d’Orsay woman and that’s just how we do.

I’m strong because my heart is strong, both literally and figuratively.

I’m strong because I know that I can handle whatever life throws at me.

I’m strong, even if my tears tell you otherwise.

I’m strong because if you tell me I can’t, I will. 

I’m strong because if I’m not, no one else can be strong for me.

I’m strong because I always want to Be Better

I’m not strong for a girl. 

I’m strong because I AM a girl.

strength & dignity

Why are YOU strong?

Muscle Imbalances – My Twisted Shoulders

Happy Friday!

This post was originally going to be about some training methods that I use at home on days when I can’t get to the gym. So  a couple weeks ago I had some pictures taken, just so that I would have some sort of visual reference for you guys.

However, looking through the pictures, I realized that that particular post was going to have to wait. Instead, today I need to focus on something I saw in these pictures, something that deserves a little lot of attention.

As I was perusing through my pictures, trying to find the best ones to post here, there was something that caught my eye, and not in a good way. I’ll take you back to the pull-up bar, which I referred to in this post as well. This bar was given to my boyfriend for Christmas, and I must admit I’ve done a pretty good job at hijacking it. I mean, what’s his is mine, right? RIGHT?

Typically, I do a mix of traditional pull-ups, chin-ups, and neutral grip pull-ups, so you’ll see a mix of these in the pictures below. Now let’s examine the problem. I present to you, Exhibit A:

This is at my hang position, clearly, although I think in this picture I’ve actually just begun the pull. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Hey Steph, Cute Pink Shorts! What’s so bad about this? And my answer to you is: Read on.

Now here at my top position, it also doesn’t look too shabby. Nothing to write home about, anyway. Moving on… Wait for it…

I’ve enlarged this one a little bit so that you could see what I’m talking about (and please excuse the blur… I’m like lightning, the camera just can’t keep up with me). What we’re looking for here, in case you can’t see it, is the fact that my left shoulder is jacked up to about my ear lobe, and the rest of me is all twisted because of it.

What does this mean?

Compensation, Muscle Imbalance, you name it.

Technically speaking, my Left Upper Trapezius has clearly kicked into overdrive and has taken control of this lift, most likely compensating for weakness elsewhere, such as my middle trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, and most likely rotator cuff, among others.

source

I think the most important thing to note here is that I don’t typically walk around with my left shoulder up to here, and that my start and end positions didn’t show this posture. Some other views of different points in the pull/release also didn’t show this, meaning that it’s most likely a very quick compensation, and one that I maybe never would have realized had I not seen it on film.

So why does it matter? Who cares if I’m all twisted like Quasi Moto while I do a pull up?

Well for one thing, I can almost guarantee you that it’s not just when I’m doing pull ups. I’ve been told that I overcompensate with my upper traps while doing push ups, and since these pictures, I’ve started to notice it with many of my overhead lifts once fatigue starts to set in.  The main reason I care about this is because muscle imbalance not only makes you look a little funky while lifting, but can also cause serious injury and discomfort.  Compensation and imbalances in the shoulder can cause rotator cuff dysfunction, biceps tendon injury, thoracic pain, neck pain, or a whole other slew of injuries that I won’t get into here.  Imbalances between quads, hamstrings, and glutes can lead to knee pain, hip pain, low back pain… and on and on and on.

So what do I do to fix this? Well, as I noted above, it seems likely to me that this is due to weakness  in my mid-upper back, and that is where I will begin my correction. Since these pictures were taken a couple of weeks ago, I have added more “pulling” lifts (different variations on rows) to my upper body days, increased time spent on thoracic mobility exercises daily, and focused more on my form, especially on overhead lifts. I’ve gotten to the point now where I can feel those upper traps kicking in when I get fatigued on a pull-up set, and that is now the point where I stop.  Why stop?

Finishing a set just to finish will get you nowhere if you don’t have proper form. (And may just leave you really, really injured)

So, my charge to you is to keep this in mind next time you are working out/training/exercising/zoomba-ing or whatever YOU do to stay active and healthy. Keep your eyes on the mirror, not only at the end points of your movement, but throughout. Ask someone to snap a few photos especially during that mid-range movement, so that you can see if you too have any funky  movement patterns that have gone unnoticed. You may be able to save yourself from injury down the road, or at least correct faulty movement patterns before they become too ingrained to change.  I’ll keep you guys updated, and hopefully eventually show some mid-range pull-up pics without this little shoulder twist I’ve got going on!

Does anyone have any movement patterns they are working to fix? Have you seen things in pictures of yourself that you didn’t previously see? Do you have any other suggestions for me to fix my twisty pull-ups?