Mean People and Sissy Squats

I was 27 the first time I snow skied. Not exactly prime time for learning new motor skills, but I was positive I’d get the hang of it. Everybody skis. Besides, I know my functional anatomy, and I’m kinda athletic. Those things should count. Right? Ha.

Beginner lessons started at 10:00 am, but we southern snow bunnies hit the slopes earlier than that. We got our boots and skiis, bought me a big dorky helmet, and clomped over to the baby hill. I felt restricted by all those layers of clothes, and had zero dexterity with those gloves on. The sight of me walking in the boots even without skis was probably comical. We carried on.

 My kinda vacation.

My kinda vacation.

The approximate .5% grade of the hill was actually enough fun for me to really enjoy my first few runs. I don’t know that anyone in the history of skiing has ever gone slower, but at least I didn’t have to worry about falling or running anyone over.  

Come lesson time, the instructor divided us into categories. Since I had already put on my boots and skis and run the baby hill, she sent me to a group she labeled level 3.  I protested; “No no, I want to learn from the beginning… I’ve never been in snow before yesterday.” She assured me I would be bored in Level 1, so I acquiesced.  

We Level 3s did a few test runs down the little slope I had practiced earlier. "Lookin’ good," I thought. This is fun!

Next we loaded up onto the ski lift, which I managed to do without embarrassing myself. I got this. The view was fantastic, and I soaked it in. By the time I looked down, I felt like it should be letting us off. It just kept going. And going. We dismounted at the top of a hill which was a wee bit outside my comfort zone.  

 The ski lift of death.

The ski lift of death.

I made my way down the slope, making a wide slalom pattern so as to not pick up too much speed. I did let myself move a little faster as I went along, and really began to enjoy it. For a minute, I forgot the encumbrances of layers of clothes, gloves, goggles. The cold didn’t cross my mind. The skis didn’t seem like giant sticks tied to my feet. It was almost exhilarating.  Not exhilarating yet, but I could see the promise.

Suddenly I realized our class was stopped about halfway down the slope. I was moving at this point. Not fast, mind you, but moving, and I suddenly had to stop. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to stop. Pizza french fries, pizza french fries! Pizza panic!!

For every skier who is reading this, I ask for a bit of empathy, ok? Regardless of how easy it seems to you, I didn’t know what to do. I was on a collision course with the instructor and an audience of my classmates, and pizza wasn’t working. Rather than knock her out (which in hindsight would have been the proper course of action) I bailed. Yes, I threw myself onto the ground because I didn’t know how else to stop.

The instructor was highly amused. Had she not been so scornful, I think she would have laughed harder. I don’t remember her exact words, but I remember how she made me feel, laying there a cold mess in the snow. She mocked me in front of everyone but never bothered to teach me how to stop.

And so, that is how I skied for the duration of the week. I tempered my speed, and chose a fluffy snow pile to fall into when I needed to stop. Better than running over a kid or breaking a leg.

 Stylin'.

Stylin'.

The instructor continued to think I was hilarious, and made mention of it for the remainder of the lesson. She was in her 50s. Plenty old enough to know she should treat people kinder. Or do her job, for goodness sakes and HELP ME. Luckily for her, I was a much more patient and reserved person back then, and I held in my anger.

I literally had to pep talk myself on that mountain. I told myself I am worthy.  After all, I am a child of God! Some people love me! I may not be good at skiing, I am good at something! Put me in a gym and I can show you something! Really, I told myself that my strength is working out, literally and figuratively, and that reminder kept my head up.

How Are Your Workouts Going?

Where are you now with your fitness goals? Did you make New Year's Resolutions 8 weeks ago? Have you started a new workout plan, or health habit?  

New Year's feels like so long ago! Many people have fallen off the wagon, broken resolutions, missed workouts. Is that you? If so, why?

I want to talk specifically about gyms. Utilized properly, well equipped gyms will give you the opportunity for the best results. Boot camps, outdoor workouts, group exercises classes, and workout DVDs certainly provide some health benefits. If those are your favorite things, by all means, continue with those.

But, if you aren’t reaching your goals despite putting in time and energy, look into adding resistance training to your routine. Join a gym. (Need more convincing? Read here.) You don’t have to be a gym rat or a workout zealot to make it work for you. You just have to realize that a well designed program is a tool to get you where you want to be. You don’t have to love it, even though many people grow to.  

Even in gyms, experienced lifters have strengths and weaknesses. The best Olympic lifters aren't the best powerlifters. Even among the powerlifters, the best squatters aren't always the strongest deadlifters. Don't let others in the gym intimidate you, because they are bad (and good) at different things too.

Therein lies your challenge: find the right workout for you. I encourage everyone to learn the basic movements. Squats, deadlifts, overhead press, chest press, and pulls. Modify as you go.  Skip exercises that cause pain. Add exercises specific to your goals. 

Most importantly, remember: you do not have to be the best at it.  You just have to do it.  

Are you an accountant? A marketing manager? A mom or dad? You’ve probably spent your whole life working in a career outside the gym, or two. Of course you won’t walk in and be the best at it. You might not even be comfortable with it. That’s ok; you just have to do it.

Don’t compare yourself to experienced lifters and think you should be able to do what they do. Remember all the things you can do. You can probably play an instrument, provide advice on a niche subject, and learn new things. Those things make you YOU. Keep those things in your head, and then seek out the advice of a certified, intelligent trainer, and learn lifts that will help with your physique and performance goals.

In the end, the Witch of Steamboat Springs paid me one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. She said that she’s never seen an adult get up after falling as easily as I did.  She said only children get up that easily, and that I just “pop up”. Fitting that her compliment referenced how many times I fell. (Commentary in my head: “Yeah you know why, mean old woman?  Because I SQUAT.” It's just a sissy squat.  Your feet stay anchored, and you just extend your knees [use your quads] to stand back up.)

 Here I am demonstrating a sissy squat, which enabled me to "pop up" like a kid after falling in the snow. Notice my torso is upright, which makes the squat harder.  If this is too difficult, hinge forward at the hips as you descend.  The long counterbalance of the machine is similar to skis in the way it anchors you to the ground.  Imagine those are skis.  Imagine I am freezing.  The mittens are to help you envision the bitter cold.

Here I am demonstrating a sissy squat, which enabled me to "pop up" like a kid after falling in the snow. Notice my torso is upright, which makes the squat harder.  If this is too difficult, hinge forward at the hips as you descend.  The long counterbalance of the machine is similar to skis in the way it anchors you to the ground.  Imagine those are skis.  Imagine I am freezing.  The mittens are to help you envision the bitter cold.

The incident taught me 2 other things: 1, I vowed to never make anyone feel as small as she did to me. That’s not the way to coach people. 2, I have weaknesses, yes. But I also have definitive strengths. I carry that thought with me and it gets me through situations where I am less experienced.

Surely we will fall again. We will ski into a snowbank, miss a lift, snip at a friend, or miss an opportunity to show someone love. But what do you do? Get back up. Remember your worth. Tell yourself what you are good at, what you can do. Then get up, do it again, and do it better.

 This view...  almost made it all worth it.  Yes, it was worth it.  Steamboat Springs 2011.

This view...  almost made it all worth it.  Yes, it was worth it.  Steamboat Springs 2011.