Lora Dietrich is no stranger to the gym. She has spent countless hours in the cardio room on an elliptical or a treadmill, in the pool swimming, in spin, TRX and Pilates classes, and in the free weight room lifting dumbbells. In fact, that’s where she was the first time she saw me working with a small group of women in the squat rack. Up until that moment, barbell training had always impressed Lora, but had seemed “out of her league.” She says, “I did not see it as something the ordinary person would do.” Watching other women about her age working under the bar challenged her perception. Shortly after that, Lora contacted me to say she wanted to give it a try. After consistently training for several months, and coincidentally celebrating a milestone birthday, Lora continues to add weight to her lifts is stronger than ever.
When Lora first started thinking about doing strength training with me, she was at a point where she felt she had hit a plateau; she was not increasing the weight she was able to lift, and she felt like her body was in a slump: “I was getting frustrated with spending hours in the gym and not getting the results I was looking for at this time in my life. I wanted training that would make me stronger – training that would maximize the time I spent in the gym.” In addition to that Lora was also becoming tired and frustrated by her seemingly endless quest to be “smaller.” “The world bombards women with the idea that they should be smaller, skinnier, thinner,” says Lora. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with being smaller … skinny is beautiful too, but when being smaller becomes an obsession… the focus of your life – that’s when it can become a problem. I was getting caught up in that obsession part.”
Lora has found that strength training has allowed her to build herself up and get out of her exercise slump. With practice, focus, and perseverance, Lora has been able to increase the amount of weight she can move and the amount of muscle her body has built. It was a slow process initially, since we didn’t have access to some of the equipment she needed. Once the gym (SPRFC) invested in bumper plates and a 33# bella bar, Lora has been able to progress her lifts significantly. This process has been both empowering and exhilarating, (for both of us). Lora describes the correlation between her increasing physical strength and a stronger sense of self: “With each lift I am a better version of strong. I’ve at least doubled my working weights in all my lifts. I could not do one pull-up when I started. Now I can do sets of four. I can lift more than my bodyweight in my deadlift. I can use the full weight Oly bar on all my lifts now and ADD weight to it. I don’t compare my lifts with anyone else’s. It’s all about my individual bests, what I can do. It has been very empowering for me… It’s so energizing and freeing to know that I am strong.”
While some may think heavy lifting might best be left to athletes and younger folks, Lora has found that she has maximized strength while minimizing risk of injury. The lifts are controlled, full-body lifts that strengthen the body as one unit. With strict attention paid to bracing and form, there is less risk of injury than in settings where speed of movement is encouraged at the expense of form. Rest days are essential and are stressed with strength training in a way that does not always get emphasized in other fitness formats. Lora says, “I chose this type of training because I’m in it for the long run and it’s what I need. I’m 50 years old now. As we age, we all lose muscle mass which can lead to many issues. Strength training, using proper technique, is building my muscle. It’s giving me more muscle mass so that as I age, I will stay strong.”
One of the most profound changes Lora has experienced in her strength training is a shift in her views on food. Just as rest is emphasized with strength training, so too is proper nutrition. Lora has learned to fuel her body for strength instead of trying to get away with eating the minimum amount to maintain an exercise habit. She has readjusted her focus from being smaller to being stronger and healthier: “I was always limiting my calories .. I think this was the main reason my body was in a fitness slump. I did not eat breakfast and was not getting enough protein. It was and still is a big mental challenge for me to fuel my lifts so I can get stronger. No more size zeros for me. But that’s okay. I’m working to get my body in the shape it’s meant to be in and I feel the best I have in years. … Just turning 50, I’m in this for the long run. Stronger and healthier is what my body and mind need to enjoy the long run. … Part of being stronger and healthier is being happier. When I eat right to fuel my muscles and hit a lift goal …. So exciting!!!” Lora has learned to celebrate each accomplishment, each lift, even on the days when she doesn’t nail all her reps. It’s all part of the process of becoming stronger. At the end of the day she says, “mentally, I know I’m strong. I know I’m healthy. I have a positive self- image. And I’m working to stay that way, one lift at a time.”