In the summer of 2008, I was on vacation with my family at Disney World. After a long day at the parks, I spent every moment we had in the hotel room watching the Beijing Olympics. This is when I fell in love with watching gymnastics!
I remember watching Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin and the rest of the women’s team absolutely destroy their events – doing flips! spins! splits! tumbles! the rest! (I don’t know gymnastics terms!) I was enthralled! I wanted to be as strong as them, fly through the air like them, be as confident as them, the whole thing!
While watching one night, one of my family members commented on how chubby the girls looked. Why were they wearing leotards when their legs were so fat? If they worked out so much, why weren’t they all skinny?
My brain started short-circuiting. They’re some of the strongest athletes in the world! It’s all muscle! They responded, Eh, is it worth being so strong if they look so chunky? I wouldn’t want to look that heavy.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to reckon with these conflicting values. Do I want to be strong and healthy? Or do I want to look thin and “beautiful”, according to traditional values?
As I’ve mentioned in the past, though my “strong” lower body muscles have carried me through countless road races, I have laughably weak upper body muscles.
Over a year ago, my friends and I did a push-up challenge, where I challenged myself to do 20 push-ups every day for a month. While I technically made it through the month doing the push-ups on most days, my form is horrible and my chest gets nowhere close to the floor. I felt my muscles working, for sure, but didn’t feel like I was making any great progress toward doing a good push-up.
Likewise, I used to like rock climbing. I started with top-rope climbing in college, then moved on to bouldering after graduating. I did enjoy it a lot, but definitely felt limited by my lack of upper-body strength. Anything with an overhang or inward slope? Forget about it!
In quarantine, my fitness goals have shifted from running (because it’s hard to motivate myself to run, especially in the heat, especially with a mask, especially when there are no races in the near future) to general, total-body fitness. While cleaning, I came across the pull-up bar that I made as an aspirational purchase a long, long time ago, and decided to finally do something about my lack of upper body strength.