The pursuit of strength

I’ve been working in this industry for awhile.  Started early in my career at a big box gym, where the new members were sold personal training as if it were the next coming of Christ.  The majority of clients were seeking weight loss, and unfortunately spent too many hours watching reality television.  It would be just like The Biggest Loser – right?  Pounds dropping off every week, emotional outpourings, life changing experiences, new relationships…..

My plan from the beginning was to spend a year maximum in this environment.  Further my education, learn as much as I could, and then move on.  It’s impossible to make a living training in a facility like that, where you receive maybe 30% of your hourly rate.  Many of the trainers had received their certification the week before they began training, and had little experience and knowledge to draw upon.  I saw all kinds of horrors while I was there – a ton of so called “functional exercises” performed on top of bosus, while the mentally absent trainer checked her text messages.  Then there were the trainers who had stuck around and made a career out of being there – seeping negativity at the powers that be, putting cash in their pockets instead of the till, training clients on the side hoping they wouldn’t be caught and terminated.  Clearly dysfunctional yet too frightened to make the leap to being self employed and hunting their own kill.

I grew up deep in cowboy country – Alberta to be exact.  I was a scrawny kid who couldn’t fill out a pair of  Wrangler jeans to save my life.  My only taste of endurance training was what we attempted in PE class – horrible aerobic classes to a disco soundtrack led by a Richard Simmons lookalike – and I was dreadful.  Always last in sprint, sucked at the flex arm hang, could never do a proper push up.  I wasn’t a complete foreigner to sports – played basketball and volleyball in high school – figure skated like all the other girls – but never stood out.

My first role model for strength was Linda Hamilton.  I remember watching her rattle off pull ups during The Terminator, and I was awestruck.  To me she looked amazing, and I knew someday I wanted a piece of that.   That image has been forever burnt in my mind.  I didn’t understand why at the time, but its impact was huge.

I moved to the North Shore when my youngest child was 9 months old, and it was November.  Dark, rainy, depressing.  I hadn’t really adjusted to the reality of having two young kids at home, working around preschool, nap schedules, a husband with a very busy schedule, and the routine was killing me. 

On a whim, I signed up for a trail running clinic, and thus began my love affair with the forest.  The smells, the rain, the quiet, the dirt – I began to crave these Sunday mornings as much as coffee.  Not long after, someone invited me to ride a trail close by.  All I had was my old rigid Norco, but a bike, is a bike, right?  We went out, rode up, down and around.  I had no cycling fitness, my lungs were on fire, quads burning, heart beating out of my chest – but this was it – I had found my passion.  I felt alive in a way that I hadn’t in a very long time. 

I quickly signed up for a 6 week “learn to mountain bike” course, and purchased my first mountain bike – a pinner Canondale hardtail with a lefty fork.  Having little knowledge of what suspension is supposed to do, I rode that bike, which likely wasn’t much superior to my old Norco, down every North Shore trail I could muster up the courage to, believing my bike was helping me.  I died a thousand deaths that summer, crashing repeatedly, often resembling a downtown Eastside regular after a rough night, but progressed solidly.  Not to mention that the lefty fork was a very easy conversation starter for most men.

My newfound passions propelled me to the gym.  The simple desire to be strong, to not suck like I did back in high school, knowing somewhere deep down that putting some time into strength training would get me there, and maybe someday, I’d look like Linda Hamilton.  I hired a trainer, figured out what I should do in the weight room, and made it a habit.  My body responded well, and it wasn’t long until other women I rode with noticed.  Noticed that I looked strong, and actually was strong.  I remember being in the parking lot loading downhill bike after downhill bike onto bike racks before a group ride (back in the day when downhill bikes were heavy), and hearing comments like “but you’re so small, why can you lift that over your head and I can’t?”  I preached the benefits of strength training over and over, but few listened.   Who would help them?  Where would they train?  Most of them hated gyms, and the culture that go along with them.

After my one year anniversary at the big box gym, I quit.  I found a facility I could start training groups out of, and focused initially on all those women I rode with who couldn’t lift their bikes over their head.  These group hours quickly became my favorite every week.  I loved sharing the knowledge and watching these women get strong.  As their strength evolved, so did mine.  But it really peaked when I discovered kettlebell training.  While at the box gym, I did a 2 hour workshop on kettlebell training.  Anyone who understands RKC/StrongFirst certification standards, realizes how ridiculously simplistic this workshop must have been.  But again, it was that moment of falling in love – finally, a training tool that incorporated athleticism, power, conditioning, skill.  And there are some crazy strong women in the kettlebell community, lots of role models to look up to and be inspired by, and follow when it came to the pursuit of strength.   Linda Hamiltons everywhere.

I received my first level of kettlebell certification in 2011 (HKC), then set my sights on obtaining my RKC, which includes the infamous 100 reps, 5 minute snatch test.  The certification also requires a flexed arm hang of 15 seconds for women, but I preferred to make Linda Hamilton proud, and trained until I could pass the standard for men – 5 proper dead hang chin ups.

Fast forward to 2013.  I own my own gym, with a pull up bar that is 35 feet long.  Several nights a week, I look up to see Linda Hamilton clones finding their strength, rattling off pull ups with a look of determination that makes me proud.  They press kettlebells overhead, knowing that no longer will someone else load their bike onto their roof rack.  The perform Turkish get ups, knowing that if somehow they end up on the ground underneath their downhill bike, they have the core strength and shoulder stability to single handedly get back onto their feet. There are no meat cakes here, no bicep curls, no flexing.  It’s a culture of outdoor athletes, who connect over lifting heavy, and discussing their last trail experience.  It’s full of inspiration, community, support.  What a gym should be.  A place to pursue strength, and have a lot of fun doing it.

All materials ©2019, Monika Marx | Design by Action Design | Development by John Housser | Photography by Stephen Wilde and Danielle Baker