‘This week, for the first time in my life I feel strong’
I kept going until every breath was like my last. It felt awful. And wonderful
Dominique McMullan working out at The Vaults: “What’s really motivated me is realising that I’m capable of more than I thought.” Photograph: Dave Meehan
I had a strange reaction when my trainer, John Belton, told me that he was going away on holidays for a (well-deserved) week in the sun. Instead of relief at the thought of a potential week off, I felt a mild wave of panic wash over me – who would I train with? I wasn’t sure I was ready to squat all on my own yet.
I needn’t have worried: Belton had scheduled me in with two of his female trainers, Erica and Adrienne. But the fact that I was concerned told me three things. One, that I am feeling the pressure to take this whole “getting fit” thing seriously; two, I need to grow up; and three, am I starting to enjoy this?
After my intense prowler session (still can’t write that without smirking) last week, I took a day or two to repair. My back and shoulders were sore, so sore that turning over in bed was a challenge, but it was nothing a few baths and a bit of stretching couldn’t solve.
What was left was a change in my frame of mind. I had pushed myself to my absolute limit, and I didn’t die. I realise how nonsensical that sounds, but on some level I was frightened I might have a heart attack from pushing a weight up and down a room. Or that I might find it so hard to breathe that I just stopped breathing. (I’m still working on those dramatic tendencies.)
That fear, like fear often does, ruled me. Just when something was getting hard, just at the point when my muscles started to scream or my chest got tight, I would stop. But last week I didn’t stop. Instead, I listened to Belton as he quietly encouraged me.
I ignored the inner voice goading me, telling I didn’t have to be so uncomfortable, that my leggings were riding up and that I was making ridiculous noises and that my face was going red. Instead, I kept going until my mouth tasted of metal and every breath was like my first and my last. And it felt awful. And it felt wonderful. And I’ve done it again since.
This week for the first time in my life I felt strong. I was able to do things that I hadn’t been able to do a month ago. After the prowler, I naively thought we’d have an easy session. I’ve since learned that there is no such thing as an easy session, because this was the day I was to be introduced to bench-pressing and chin-ups. No one was more surprised than me when I was able to lower myself down with some control after jumping up into a chin-up.
Later that week, I trained with Erica Quinn. Erica could probably do a chin-up with her three children on her back. This wonder woman gave up working in accounts, which she had done for 17 years, to become a full-time personal trainer. She is the fittest person I have ever seen in real life. She is tiny but so unbelievably strong. She looks a bit like a miniature more muscular version of Lara Croft. Can you tell she’s my new hero?
On our first session she introduced me to ropes, which are basically the ropes you use to dock cruise ships, they’re that heavy. The idea is to bounce them up and down and Erica made it look like superhero skipping.
She gave me an easy, medium and hard option. She said to start on the hard and change to the easier when I get tired. I stayed on the hard option for a full 30 seconds. I want to be like superwoman Erica.
Without getting all “fitness changed my life” on you, I’ve been thinking a lot about feeling uncomfortable and pushing myself that little bit further than I thought I could go.
There is something so satisfying in surprising yourself, even at the grand old age of 30. On occasion, writing this column has made me uncomfortable, and seeing a rather unflattering “before” picture of yourself blown up in The Irish Times every two weeks is a great motivator. But what’s really motivated me is realising that I’m capable of more than I thought.
Nothing is impossible
I’m used to seeing everything impossible that I can’t do: every weight I won’t lift and every run I won’t complete. But instead, by pushing myself that little bit further, past the wheezing and squealing, I’m able to look back and marvel at what my body is capable of. I’ve started applying this theory to other parts of my life too.
Everyone seems to have realised something a bit before I did – that being a little bit uncomfortable probably means you’re growing, be it a bicep or something a bit deeper.
Erica Quinn personal trainer is available at firstname.lastname@example.org